« PrécédentContinuer »
. Revealed religion, on the contrary, has had not simply to contend with losses, lack of energy, and stagnation in places, but it has had to overtake the human race a long way abreast of it, lying in a state of wickedness, and therefore subjectively adverse to its reception. The Jews were not“ non-missionary,” for they incorporated, by baptism and circumcision, members or proselytes from surrounding nations. There were reasons political, geographical, and theological, for not assuming in the early part of their history an aggressive attitude. And their failure at a later period, in fulfilling the great purposes marked out for them, was the chief cause of their being cast off from the Divine favour. Their position in the world fitted them, as with a cradle, to nurse revealed religion in its infancy, and what besides nursing can be done in that stage of being ? But to say, as some have done, that Judaism was essentially “non-missionary,” appears to me to be of a piece with saying that a child does not possess, because it cannot assert, the free claims and attributes of man till it comes of age or reaches "the time appointed of the Father," the time that is, when it ceases to be placed under tutors and governors.
Third.—In regard to main principles and objects, natural and revealed religion have had the same, the latter being authoritative and supplementary, and rendered necessary by the degeneracy and insufficiency of the former. To bring back the world from pantheism, polytheism, or dualism, to a true monotheism, was the first object of revelation, the work specially assigned to it in its earlier stages of development. As to the Incarnation and work of the Holy Spirit which have been said to differentiate revealed religion, this is true, no doubt, in a special sense, but not absolutely. Revelation has brought into prominence the “right belief in the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ” and the work of the Holy Spirit, and it has placed before mankind the necessity of these truths and belief in them. But the Incarnation cannot be regarded as an afterthought, nor the work of the Holy Spirit restricted to the history and sphere of the visible Church. “My spirit shall not always strive with man” was said before any visible Church was organized. The historical fact of sacrifice and of a priesthood throughout the world could have been intended by Providence to point to nothing else but the Saviour of the world. At least, if any do dispute this they
are bound to give some reasonable account of the origin and continuance of sacrifice and of a priesthood in the world of natural religion, and also to shew why the Jews adopted both as parts of their system, preparatory, as it confessedly was, to the great event of the Incarnation.
The remarks in these pages are drawn for the most part from the historical aspect of the question. But several recent authors have dealt with the scientific aspect and pointed to a like conclusion. In the Unseen Universe an attempt is made to bring into harmony religious and scientific conceptions. With a full grasp of the theories of the ultimate constitution of matter, and with a firm hold and acceptance of the current physical philosophy of the day, the authors bring into harmony with it all the doctrines of a future state, of the Incarnation, and of the Sacred Trinity. The second Person is, on scientific grounds, regarded as having entered from everlasting into the universe to develope its objective element-energy; while the third Person, “The Lord and Giver of life,” is regarded on like grounds, as having entered from everlasting into the universe, to develope the subjective element—life. It is plain, therefore, that we must qualify or restrict our use of the term revelation, since natural and revealed religion have been united by scientific men at the extremities of the chain of continuity, and their scientific conclusions are not at variance with historical investigation thus far.
But having grounded so much upon the terms of Bishop Butler, I must here depart a little from him. I desire to refer, with the utmost respect, to the opinions of learned men, and to speak with humility upon so grave and important a subject as the Incarnation of our Blessed Lord. Yet I must take the liberty of departing a little from the lines laid down in the Analogy. Butler's definition of natural religion requires some little modification: it is too narrow for the present times, and the weight which it consequently throws into the revealed scale is the occasion of too great a strain. Natural religion is too much identified with “reason” by Butler, and revealed religion is too much severed from the history and fact of the visible Church. If natural religion meant nothing more than the conclusions of the human reason, revealed religion would be proved to have been contemporaneous with it; indeed, Bishop Butler gives to revelation a sort of priority, yet how on this view could it ever have become necessary on the ground of any aberrations of reason? The germ of the revealed system, according to Butler, appeared before the fall of man, and therefore before it was needed. The order of the apostle is thus inverted where he says, “Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural." But I submit it would be better and much nearer the truth to say, that natural religion was more than reason in exercise, that it had its inspiration of some kind, and was first in order of time; and that revealed religion and a visible Church followed as a subsequent appendage, being occasioned or rendered necessary by the failure of that which preceded them.
The importance of Christianity is shewn, Butler says, in two ways : “First, as a republication and external institution of natural religion, adapted to the present circumstances of mankind, and intended to promote natural piety and virtue; and secondly, as containing an account of a dispensation of things, not discoverable by reason, in consequence of which several distinct precepts are enjoined us. For though natural religion is the foundation and principal part of Christianity, it is not in any sense the whole of it."*
But it may be asked here, was everything connected with natural religion “discovered by reason ?” Were sacrifices, and that which was a necessary complement of sacrifice, a priesthood, the result of any conclusions of the “reason?" If so, it would indeed be difficult to see why the necessity of the Incarnation might not have been so too. But let us hear Bishop Butler again, for his use of terms is not consistent, and therefore it needs to be modified :
“Sacrifices of expiation were commanded by the Jews, and obtained amongst most other nations from tradition, whose original probably was revelation. And they were continually repeated, both occasionally and at the return of stated times, and made up great part of the external religion of mankind. But now once in the end of the world Christ appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And this sacrifice was in the highest degree, and with the most extensive influence of that efficacy for obtaining pardon of sin, which the heathens may be supposed to have thought their sacrifices to have been, and which the Jewish sacrifices really were in some degree, and with regard to some persons. How and in what particular way it had this efficacy,
* Pt. ii., ch. V., p. 121.
there are not wanting persons who have endeavoured to explain ; but I do not find that the Scripture has explained it. We seem to be very much in the dark concerning the manner in which the ancients understood atonement to be made, i.e. pardon to be obtained by sacrifices. And if the Scripture has, as surely it has, left this matter of the satisfaction of Christ mysterious, left somewhat in it unrevealed, all conjecture about it must be if not evidently absurd, yet at least uncertain. Nor has anyone reason to complain for want of further information, unless he can shew his claim to it.”*
Now the italics, which are mine, will draw attention to points that accord strictly with the position in this essay, and I wish to shew that they are not easily reconciled with Bishop Butler's definition of natural religion. His restricted use of these terms needs to be enlarged. For if natural religion were that only which is “discoverable by reason then those sacrifices which obtained among “other nations” than the Jews could not be said to have originated in “revelation.” On the other hand, if those sacrifices had their origin in “revelation" as Butler thought, then in that case, as forming part of the natural religion of heathen nations, that religion could not be said to have its boundary circumscribed by “reason.” There is contradiction in these averments—reason is put out of its proper place. It had as much to do with natural religion as with revelation, an important office to fill in both, but it is not the measure of either.
Nor can the importance of revealed religion be said to be lessened in any way by this larger view of natural religion that is here contended for. Revealed religion might safely rest its whole raison d'être upon the fact of its being what Butler says it is, “a republication of natural religion”—“an authoritative publication of natural religion, and so affording the evidence of testimony for the truth of it;" “so that natural religion seems as much proved by the Scripture revelation, as it would have been had the design of revelation been nothing else but to prove it”—“nor must it by any means be omitted, for it is a thing of the utmost importance, that life and immortality are eminently brought to light by the gospel. The great doctrines of a future state, the danger of a course of wickedness, and the efficacy of repentance are not only confirmed in the gospel, but are taught, especially the last is, with a degree of light to which that of nature is but darkness." +
* Pt. ii., ch. v., p. 178, 9. + pp. 121, 123.
republication” of natural religion, in its widest acceptation, revelation or Christianity might safely rest its claims to acceptance. It matters little whether certain doctrines come to us from natural and revealed religion, or from the latter only, so far as personal piety is concerned. But having regard to the extension of the Christian faith abroad, among those people who know only natural religion, in its degenerate and non-authoritative forms, and among those at home who have of late years assumed a not very friendly aspect towards it, I venture here, with deference, to say that there would be a manifest advantage in giving to natural religion all that breadth and depth of which it is susceptible. I can sympathize most warmly with honest doubts, knowing how narrow and contracted have been the views of revelation sometimes put forward, and how great an injustice has been done to natural religion and the world which knows it only. I do not wonder at Professor Max Müller's severe strictures, while I feel unable to follow his Science of Religion. What is here contended for theoretically, has been admitted practically over and over again by able and earnest missionaries. For example, at the Conference, a year or two back, at the Cannon Street Hotel, one speaker urged that the very first thing to be done by the Christian missioner was to find out what common ground was held by the heathen, and to work upon that. Much, he believed, could be accomplished in that way, especially among the Buddhists who have much in their system that might be developed into Christianity. The same thing has been said of the Brahmans by one of our bishops. Dr. Caldwell advocated the leaving open the question of “Caste,” while another speaker observed that heathen nations were accustomed to recite their religious services in monotone, and argued the wisdom of putting before them a more musical form of worship. To narrow without necessity the boundary of natural religion does not, as a matter of experience, open the gateway to that which is revealed. When the Roman Catholic missionaries came to northern Europe they made use of all that was good in the old Teutonic religion. Where sacred trees had stood they erected crosses. Where holy water from holy wells had been drawn they built churches. They were wise in their generation, and not regardless of the advice given to Christian missionaries by the founder Himself of Christianity: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep