Images de page


“It is better to have no opinion of God at all than such an opinion as is unworthy of Him; for the one is unbelief, the other is contumely.”—Lord Bacon,

· Surely I had rather a great deal men should say, there was no such man at all as Plutarch, than that they should say, there was one Plutarch, who used to eat his children as soon as they were born, as the poets say of Saturn.”Plutarch.

It is obvious that many points may be in the mind of a thinking, reading, studious, earnest-hearted pastor, which may give shape and color to the pictures wbich he draws for his hearers, that it is not expedient to give in detail from the pulpit. My object in this Appendix is to describe briefly the field of thought and critical examination passed over in the preceding Discourses, as seen from the study. It seems to me important for us to know something of the views entertained concerning Christ in the ages immediately following that of the Apostles, and to have in view the lights under which the great Council of Nicæa was held, in A. D. 325; and to examine how far and in what respects the skeptical theories of our schools of modern criticism are the reflection of ancient speculations. By taking such a survey of the field, it will be seen that, after all, the Apostles' Creed is essentially the true voice of the Church of God, and that nothing has been brought to light, either by unbelieving science or disbelieving criticism, that should cause us to discard even the articulated utterances of our faith as to its fundamental doctrines. I propose in this Appendix :

I. A few remarks on the vital importance of the question that occupies so large a part of our modern philosophical and critical literature.

[ocr errors]

II. A brief review of some of the opinions advanced concerning Christ, from the days of the Apostles to the Council of Nicæa which are alluded to, denied, and confuted in the Apostles' Creed.

III. The Aspect of Modern Thought concerning Christ, with special reference to the theories of Strauss, Tübingen, and Renan.

And, FINALLY, a few words to theological students and young ministers of the Gospel.

I. The paramount importance of the question now at issue.

It is seen from the sayings of Lord Bacon and Plutarch, quoted above, that it has been long and learnedly debated by great men, whether Atheism or Superstition was the greatest evil to mankind. Formerly, it was held by many that even Atheism was not worse than gross and unworthy conceptions of God; but now it is generally believed that any kind of religion is better than none at all. It is, however, very far from the truth, that all religions are equally good, or that one kind of religion is for one country and one people, and another for another people. This is old heathenism. It is the doctrine of local national deities and patron saints. It is then of great importance to have clear and correct views of God and of His character and Government. For as the stream cannot rise higher than the fountain, and as the effect is of the same character as its cause; so the sum of perfection proposed as attainable by any religion, is to become like the object of worship. There are many ways in which this point might be historically illustrated. It will suffice, however, for our present purpose, to remark:

That our apprehension of what God is, and our belief concerning His works and ways, have a very important bearing upon our mental and moral character, and consequently have an essential influence upon our happiness, here and hereafter. Three facts from the experience and history of mankind may be referred to in proof of this position. First. Our race has and does, and, we may add, erer will, worship something. Secondly. Men become like the objects which they worship as gods. Thirdly. Man has no means within himself, or within the reach of his own inherent power and wisdom, by which to extricate himself from the evil into which he is introduced when he makes his entrance into this world. And hence we may add, fourthly, our race needs Divine help. And

[blocks in formation]

this Divine interposition is the Gospel. Our holy religion is from heaven. It is of God, and is made known to us by Revelation. It is the religion of the ETERNAL WORD. I stop not here to inquire into the historic proofs, that man is so constituted that he does and will worship something. Nor is it necessary here to inquire what that something is, nor whether it is a good desired or an evil feared. Nor is it to our purpose to ask how our race comes to possess such a constitution. It is quite enough that the fact lies over the whole territory of human existence and migration. Whether man's moral and religious constitution is born with him, or is deduced from reason or tradition, or is implanted by culture, or is the result of all such agencies, it is not material to our argument. All we now insist upon is, that man is such a religious being, that he has, and does, and ever will acknowledge and worship something as God. This is characteristic of all the tribes of our race. It is a religious capacity, a moral sense, a conscience, an apprehension of God and a hereafter, rather than any superiority of physical structure or quantity of brain that distinguishes human beings from lower animals. The cases reported by some travellers, of tribes that have no religious belief at all, are not sufficient to disprove the correctness of this position. A more thorough acquaintance with them has thus far shown that such reports were erroneous. If any such example is really found, it will be an exception, and if the whole history of the case were known, doubtless it could be satisfactorily explained. Among all tribes' and nations, and through all ages, there has been found some idea of accountability, of a future state, of a Supreme Being, a God. Wherever our race is found, we are found worshipping something believed to possess attributes of possible good or evil to us. Even if human belief in God is implanted in the soul, and is therefore a native feeling, as we believe, it may be subject to growth and decay, as any other power of the soul, from neglect or the influence of education. Such a belief is potentially inherent in the mind, and is seldom, if ever, so extinguished, that it may not, in favoring circumstances, again revive and exert itself against every attempt made to root it out. The feebleness of the religious sentiment in some races, as is alleged of certain African tribes by recent travellers,* and of the savages of this continent and of the

* See Baker's " Albert Nyanza and Sources of the Nile;" and Reade's "Savage Africa," passim.

Chinese, only proves that the religious feeling, like the moral feelings, a sense of truth and justice, is susceptible of decay. It is admitted that the conscience may be corrupted, but this abuse of the conscience does not prove that there is no native and universal principle of rectitude. We may admit it, therefore, as a fact, that all men do not seem to have equal religious susceptibilities, or to be equally demonstrative in their feelings towards their Creator. But this does not prove that there are any absolutely without a religious capacity. The idea of a God is an original faculty of the soul, and hence we can adopt the saying of Plutarch: that the sum of all religion is to be like the God we worship. It cannot be otherwise. The connection here is that of cause and effect. The character of the object worshipped is regarded as superior. And we naturally desire to be acceptable to the Being we worship as God—that our character may be conformable to His. This is the teaching of our Lord Himself. If we are sincere and consistent, therefore, in our religious views, we will strive to keep the commandments, and acquire the attributes which are according to the will and character of our God. Such views and desires will inevitably produce in us strong aspirations after conformity to the moral character of the object of our worship. We become and are what we supremely admire and adore, as far as creatures can become like their Creator.

All human history is in evidence on this point. The character of every nation and tribe and city has been modified by its religion. Grecian cities and states, and the heathen generally, ancient and modern, are but the counterpart of their gods. There is a correspondence of resemblance between their characters, and their opinions about the attributes and precepts of their gods. Pope has well described their objects of worship:

66 Gods partial, changeful, passionate, unjust, whose attributes were rage, revenge, and lust;" and yet these were precisely the gods whose attributes are reflected historically in their own characters. And after all that can be allowed for their heathen virtues, of patriotism, heroism, and devotion to poetry, philosophy, and the fine arts, the Greeks and Romans exhibit nationalities marked with the traits they ascribed to their gods. And if it were possible to institute such a comparison, the principle here presented applies in our day with more emphasis to the character of Christ than it ever did before. It is only through Christ we can ap

« PrécédentContinuer »