Images de page
PDF
ePub

assumes

the work of its own hands. Idols of wood and stone, indeed, disappear before it; but often, alas ! only to be replaced by an intellectual and philosophical Fetichism. The serpent was more subtle than any

beast of the field; and self-love is more insidious and secret in its operations than any passion of the human heart. But its last manifestation in a self-originated and “absolute religion," exceeds all its antecedents. The proud man, whatever his profession, is his own worshipper. God is not in all his thoughts; and it cannot be matter of astonishment that he should claim for himself the power to originate his own religious faith. Indeed, every form of infidelity in heart and action is ever in the effort to originate an intellectual system that shall give to it at least a theoretical impurity. But that all practical infidelity actually

a theoretical form, cannot be said ; still the tendency thereto is inherent in all evil, for in the life to come the wicked are insane.

But it is impossible to account for Sectarianism, Indifference, and Infidelity on moral grounds alone-the condition of doctrinal religion is largely responsible for the existence of these phenomena. For when the evils indicated grow unchecked, it is primâ facie evidence either that truth has lost its power to quell them, or that the place of truth has been usurped by error, with its thousand inconsistencies and mutual repulsions. But Truth is invincible--eternal as its Divine Source; and if any religious system fails in power, it is because it fails in truth. But is it then to be admitted that the documents which utter Divine Wisdom for human guidance, are emptied of their truth and power, and lie as dead things in the world? Is this reverence for the Bible as the infallible utterance of Infinite Wisdom--this, which unites twenty centuries and all Christendom,--all a mistake? If all the mutually destructive opinions of sectarianism have their origin in that Book,—if its teachings are so utterly inconsistent with reason, science, and themselves, so local and temporary, so full of dead forms and effete ideas; if it is powerless to rouse indifferentism, the torpid winter of the soul, by its warnings and its lessons—then, indeed, will infidelity be easily triumphant over those who still affirm its infallibility and divine origin.

But are we forced to these admissions ? Not so. Strong though these positions may be against the traditions and errors with which men have overlaid and obscured the Word of God, against that they avail nothing. For in no region has erratic imagination been more recklessly active than in that of theology ; and in none have its poisonous weeds grown so rankly up as in that of Scriptural interpretation. If the prevalent systems of interpretation be wrong, then the teachings of Scripture become themselves distorted. Look at nature through the disturbing medium of a false theory, and facts and phenomena remain unintelligible; and true science was impossible so long as the right method of interrogating nature was unknown. And it should be no matter of astonishment that from the same Sacred Page are drawn doctrines the most contradictory, when the absence of any fixed and definite law of interpretation, and utter ignorance of the laws of its production, and of the purely spiritual purpose it is designed to subserve, leaves each expositor, in the unlimited exercise of his own imagination, to draw from it doctrines it does not teach, and to force the character of a scientific text-book upon that volume which solely aims to lead the human race to God and heaven. The man of science may give a lesson to the theologian. The former sits patiently beside the grand stream of phenomena that is ever flowing through the universe, adding now and again a new fact or principle to his stores ; and only after close investigation does he venture to assume the office of interpreter, and announce the laws that underlie the facts he has observed. And the letter of the Word is to religion what the phenomena of nature are to science. But the theologians, alas, have not yet learned to interrogate the Scriptures; each comes to its interpretation with his creeds and preconceptions and prejudices, and his own arbitrary method of explaining its principles and facts. And if the religious world is a scene of bitter sectarian warfare, error gnashing its teeth at error, and each holding up the Bible as its warranty and guide, these effects are the necessary consequences of such a mode of procedure.

And, so long as this condition of things continues, it cannot be without effect in producing and perpetuating indifferentism and infidelity. Men cannot feel deeply in earnest about a religion torn asunder by contending opinions, and giving evidence, by that fact, of the obscurity and uncertainty of its principles. The primary axioms of religious belief are involved in obscurity and perplexity, and the firm and enduring conviction, upon which alone true earnestness can be based, is rendered impossible.

But these arbitrary and forced interpretations do not constitute the whole indignity to which the sacred Scriptures have been subjected, even by those who profess to reverence them as divine. The churches have lowered the character of these documents, and have deprived them of the only distinctive feature which can afford ground for according to

them that unlimited reverence which they justly claim. Their Divine Author says—"The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.” And the apostle, following his Master, declares that

the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." But in the face of these declarations, the received methods of interpretation proceed upon the principle that the whole wisdom of God is set forth in the letter of the Scriptures; and when learned theologians have brought to the illustration of the sacred page the minute and laborious investigations of verbal criticism, and the archeological lore gathered among the tombs and ruins and peoples of eastern lands, they are conceived to have fathomed its whole meaning. The Word of God, it is assumed, has no vital spirit, and so its outward investiture is examined with minute attention, whilst its inner depths are left unopened. The clouds are mistaken for the blue sky and the shining sun.

And the wisdom of the Infinite, as revealed in His Word, is supposed to consist of the Mosaic cosmogony, the history, customs, and ordinances of the Jewish nation, with its priests and prophets, judges and kings, and of the prophecies that appear to foretell the future glory of that peculiar people. The Divine Truth is made national and temporary; and that which should be characterised by universality of application, by independence on times, places, and circumstances, is confided to the narrow limits of a people whose national existence has ceased. True it is that the letter of the Word is also divine, but because it contains a divine spirit; and even in the letter alone we can find more that is good, and true, and beautiful, than in all other books.

But it is nothing to say that the Word of God contains more wisdom than the compositions of finite and fallible men. It is demanded, and justly, that the Book which professes to be a Revelation of the Deity should be radiant with Divine Wisdom in every page, in every sentence, and in every word. But how can this demand-this just demand—be satisfied if the whole meaning of the Scriptures is exhausted on the surface? If this be true, of what special value to me, as a spiritual being, are the facts of Jewish history--a record of wanderings, captivities, and wars? What will it help me that I know all the minutiæ of the Levitical Law, and all that is so particularly recorded of the Tabernacle and the Temple, with their adornments and furniture ? How am I forwarded by those obscure prophecies, whether they be fulfilled or remain unfulfilled ? But that which is spoken by the Infinitely Wise must wear the seal of Divinity broadly on its front; it must be equally true to-day and through all the centuries backwards and forwards. Like its source, it must be Infinite and Eternal,--true always and everywhere, in heaven and on earth. But the theologians would chain us to the superficies of the letter, would choke up the Fountain of Living Waters, and convert the Garden of the Lord into a barren and desolate wilderness. They have denied to the Scriptures an inner spiritual and divine sense, and then pour out bitter anathemas because men refuse to reverence them as sacred and divine.

And in this degradation of the Word of God, this confinement of its whole teachings to the letter and the surface, will be found the source of much of that unbelief which now blackens and pollutes Christendom. The fallacies and traditions of men have produced and do perpetuate this evil, and not the weakness of the Word of God; that, coming from the Great Teacher whose wisdom is infinite, has an applicability so universal, that it is adapted to humanity in all states and conditions, alike to wise and simple, good and evil; it gives the needed lesson to the race here, and angelic natures are not beyond its teaching. Those appearances and shadowings of truth of which much of its letter consists, are adapted to the condition of humanity in its early and immature condition, when truth more exalted would be incomprehensible. But in the inner senses exists a depth of wisdom which no finite mind can ever exhaust, and which brings intrinsic evidence that this is verily the Word of God. But it has been the effort of the theologians to confine the minds of men to the letter and its appearances, when the maturity of intellect fitted them to penetrate that veil and to comprehend realities. And some candid and courageous minds have rebelled against this thraldom. They demand reasons and explanations and are no longer satisfied with an ipse dixit. They require that reason shall no longer be warned off from the domain of religion, but shall find its free exercise there also. They ask from the theologians the reconciliation of science with revelation, before they can receive the latter as the continent of infallible wisdom. But so long as it is maintained that the Scriptures were given as authoritative guides in those natural sciences which man is clearly able to construct by his unassisted faculty, and so long as the Word of God is affirmed to have exhausted its whole mission in its literal teaching, such reconciliation is impossible. And when it is further demanded that at least the same consistency shall characterise the utterances of the Deity which is required in the compositions of fallible men, what satisfaction can the literalist afford ? Unless he is able to see that the letter is pliant and subordinate to the spirit, and to show the distinction existing in the Scriptures between apparent and real truth, he is powerless to answer these questions. How will the theologian show that in the Mosaic Cosmogony, the Jewish sacrifices and ceremonials, the minute description of the clothing of the priests, and the furniture and apparatus of the tabernacle, there exists a divine wisdom? We confess, indeed, to no sympathy with that proud and irreverent spirit which too often prompts these objections. But this premised, the men who thus object are human beings with minds to be enlightened, hearts to be purified, and souls to be saved ; and it must be regarded as a great calamity that numbers of such minds should drift unguided down the stream of life, without God, and without the blessed hope of immortality, because the churches have falsified the Word of the Lord.

We regard, then, the present false position of the Christian World, in relation to the Sacred Scriptures, as a chief cause in the production and perpetuation of the Sectarianism, Indifferentism, and Infidelity, so variously and widely manifested. Christendom is sectarian because it possesses no clear, fixed, and definite law of Scriptural Interpretation, and has distorted the Divine Word into an evidence of conflicting and mutually destructive doctrines. Indifferentism abounds because religion never can be vital, powerful, and commanding, so long as its bitter contention and strife give proof at once of its want of certainty and its want of charity. And Infidelity is strong because socalled Christianity is weak, and because its merely literal interpretation of the Scriptures is powerless to reconcile and explain those apparent contradictions to reason, science, and themselves, which the keen eye of modern infidelity has not failed to discover, or its daring pen to expose.

Hence, the causes of these evils are human; but the remedy must be divine: “His mercy endureth for ever.” And when the past furnishes so many and so great evidences of the ever-active Providence of God, to doubt their presence and their power in our present circumstances would be an ingratitude and a crime. Although the creeds that own the sandy foundation of human tradition are tottering to their fall, though all things seem uncertain, restless, and fluctuating—a war of opinions, raising its unintelligible clamour in our midst,--the sects rancorous and bitter - Indifferentism torpid and unheeding, Infidelity subtle, keen, and active to exclude God from His own world, and heaven from human hearts,—though chaos again establish its reign on earth, and the night of the false enshroud it in darkness, still, let the faith and hope be strong in our hearts that the Divine Fiat will again

« PrécédentContinuer »