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it fails, on examination, to satisfy the demands of ordinary scientific reasoning.
In this is the great weakness of Protestantism. In their impatience of the authority of the Church, the reformers threw the proof of Christianity on a collection of documents bound together; they assumed it to be infallible, and its authors to be inspired—a claim not put forth by the authors themselves for writings which they never intended to serve as demonstrations of the faith.
The reformers invited to the perusal of these documents, urged their careful examination, assured inquirers that the proof was decisive, and then anathematized all who declared that they could not see the proofs, and that the evidence produced would not bear the tests of ordinary historical and scientific inquiry. “The more Protestantism has been developed into its own characteristic propensity,” says a writer in the Westminster Review, “ the more atheistic is the aspect of public affairs. It has not known at all better than its Romish rival how to combine religious earnestness with tolerant justice, and has become just only by passing into indifference to religion. Its divines often attack Romanism by insisting on the vast spread of unbelief within the pale of that Church; while they are astonishingly blind to the very same phenomenon within all the National Protestant Churches. This is not a recent fact, as some imagine. Indeed, since the Restoration, it is difficult to name the time at which it may reasonably be thought that the existing English statesmen had any grave and practical belief in the national religion. Montesquieu, who passed for a freethinker in France, found in England (about a century and a quarter ago) he had far too much religion for our great-grandfathers. Equally in the Lutheran Churches of Germany and Sweden, also in the Calvinistic Churches of Switzerland and elsewhere, the same phase of events has presented itself: the clergy tend either to lose all spiritual character, or take refuge in Unitarianism; the laity, in proportion to their cultivation, have been prone to entire unbelief." 1
Of the second authority for the Incarnation, ie, the Church, I shall have to speak in another chapter; as evidence to the Incarnation it is not worth much, as evidence, that is, which is logically convincing, whatever may be its moral cogency to enchain belief.
The narrative of the Gospels may carry conviction to some minds, the testimony of the Church may take hold of and satisfy others, but if so, what is it that really convinces ? It is the fact, or, if the expression be preferred, the idea of the Incarnation commending itself to the soul of man. That idea, looking upon the soul of man, bears its own guarantee with it, and thus, and thus only, through the head or through the heart, enchains consent.
What then to every Christian is the evidence for the Incarnation? It is not Scripture, it is not the Church, it is not history, prophecy or miracle. It is his own nature crying out to see God face to face and live.
By the evidence of man's own nature I mean this :
If I find that such an union of Divinity with humanity is necessary to me, that my nature may find its complete religious satisfaction;
If I find that such a dogma alone supplies an adequate basis for morals;
That such a dogma alone establishes the rights of man on a secure foundation;
That such a dogma alone enables man to distinguish between Authority and Force;
1 New Series, vol. xiii. p. 137.
That such a dogma can alone conciliate my double nature, rational and sentimental, and my double duties, egoistic and altruistic;
That such a dogma alone supplies an adequate incentive to progress;
Then the conviction to my mind becomes a certainty.
These are points which cannot be crushed into one chapter, but will be worked out in the sequel.
It is on points of this nature that conviction must be formed, and then a place for authority will be found. Co
Conviction is never the correlative of authority, whether lodged in a book or a church. If the mind is to be convinced it must be by a process independent of all compulsion. As religion is personal, and not between man and man; it must spring up from a root within man's own breast; it is not like the bind-weed trailing over every plant, strangling all and rooted in none.
“Trust the spirit,
We believe on the testimony of authority after we have assured ourselves of the trustworthiness of authority; measuring authority by the standard of our personal convictions. Our convictions are to us absolute truth; they are purely our own. Just as every man must see for himself, so every man must believe for himself. Acceptation of truth is a purely personal, individual act. Our convictions are the facts assured to us on the testimony of our own nature, our own senses, or our own reason. We may believe that there are other facts of which we are not ourselves cognizant,and these we believe on authority. But such
beliefs must succeed convictions; they are the stones laid upon the foundations. Consequently, those who attempt to make Bible or Church authority the starting-point of religion fail inevitably. Bible authority and Church authority may assist in universalizing our belief, but they cannot strike in us the spark of conviction.
The Bible has its place and its authority, as we shall see presently; and in its place it is unassailable, and its authority is overpowering. As a vehicle for enlightenment and for enlargement of the sympathies, it has perhaps the highest place and is of the truest service.
“Such a position and agency alike the constitution and requirements of man and its own nature assign to it. It claims an oracular character, no more than the freedom of our souls could admit such a claim. It nowhere assumes to be an infallible canon, but line upon line would teach us otherwise. It has neither the subject matter, nor the tone and form of an inflexible standard and absolute guide. Much the greater portion of it could not by any exercise of ingenuity be represented, or misrepresented, as a fixed stereotyped pattern, after which to conform human life. A large portion is devoted to the history of a marvellously privileged, but withal a very wicked nation. It contains the narrative of the lives, the doings and sayings, the thoughts and utterances of men of like passions as ourselves; and of one LIFE ‘in all things made like unto His brethren,' yet 'without sin;' but even this only as seen through the vision of men themselves sinful. It reveals a centre Life, the wonder and the joy of ages-One who spake, indeed, with authority, yet appealed ever to the latent life and suppressed law—of which He Himself was the hidden Head and Fountain—that yet lingered within the breasts of those about Him, making them still human.
But these features, which as much disqualify it from being an infallible rule, as such a rule is unnecessary and undesirable, in nowise render it less adapted to the uses for which it is required and intended. Quite the contrary. The lifelaw, overborne and silenced, cannot be stimulated and roused to self-assertion by a mere rule, however perfect, but only by the pleadings of the same law, working freely in a corresponding sphere; and this is what the Bible, as being the words of holy men of old, who spake moved by the Holy Ghost, displays to us.
So also has the Church its place and its authority. It is not the place or authority of Church or Bible to strangle reason, defy criticism, and fetter inquiry, for reason is a faculty given to man by God for the purpose of criticising, and thereby distinguishing error, so that he may reject it; and of inquiring, so that he may find truth under the veil which ignorance or error has cast over it.
The place of the Church is to declare authoritatively to every man that his own partial view and individual judgment are not the whole truth, and the complete measure of truth, but that the whole truth is the syncretisra of all partial aspects.
1 Westminster Review, N. S. vol. xvi. pp. 422, 423.