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this is what the minds of men must be gradually brought to do, as the process of evolution sweeps on in majestic slowness up to the point where the spirit of man is more and more harmonised with the universe from which it came, more and more perceives the real facts with which it is correlated, more and more drinks of the divine joy of that eternal life which is described by our Lord Himself as • knowing Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.'
In order to be rigidly fair, let us state the other alternative also. • You are, on the contrary,' it will be replied, part of an evolution in which an honest though mistaken belief in the human manifestation of the Son of God has created immense and far-reaching effects which are reproduced in you. You believe, therefore, against your own best interests, a history that is fundamentally false.' What, upon the hypothesis, can be answered to this, save the simple and frank confession, not only that we are mistaken now, but that the mistake will very probably survive for long in ourselves and others; for error, especially when allied with some of the most beautiful parts of human nature, has a powerful hold upon minds that are not yet strong enough to emancipate themselves from its attractiveness. But though this may be true of individuals, of generations, of whole peoples, nay of vast intellectual epochs, yet ultimately, by the necessity of the case, the mind of man must learn to find its true duty and pleasure in accepting the real facts, whatever they may be. If it is not true of any single person, it certainly is true of the world of
perneeds must love the highest when we see it-not Lancelot nor another.' And thus we arrive at the central point of all faith and all thought, where evolution bids religion, science, morality, utilitarianism, and philanthropy agree together-our undying hope in the growing perfectibility of the human race.
This, then, is my answer to Lessing's objection as developed in modern thought. Essentially it may be stated thus: that no factmuch less such a series of events as that which constitutes the revelation of God in Christ ---can ever lose its moral significance for beings created and conditioned as we have been. That significance we may briefly indicate in connection with three great words of religiontruth, faith, and judgment—somewhat as follows.
1. The standard to which the Christian religion appeals is that of absolute truth.
2. The faith by which truth is apprehended is a fundamental faculty of our nature, exercising a decisive moral influence upon character and conduct.
3. The judgment, or discrimination between that which is right and that which is wrong, thence ensuing, is of vital practical importance in the moral progress of mankind. 1. I think it is difficult to overestimate the effect upon
fair and critical mind of the proposition that the criterion of truth to which Christianity appeals turns out to be the most searching and
authoritative that we can discover or even imagine. It confers upon revelation a kind of intellectual dignity, without which an emotional religion is but sorry stuff, and its morality like a fair house built upon shifting sand. There is in nature something that underlies all moral and mental effort, existing prior to the conscience, the will, the intelligence itself; and we call this something plain fact. And therefore, in religion as in science, in grace as in law, facts are, in the truest sense of the word, divine; they are at once the ultimate embodiment of the will of God, and also the veil through which we strain our eyes, not indeed, as St. Paul with excusable ardour affirmed, to see clearly, but to catch some far-off vision of the eternal power and Godhead. And even natural facts speak to us not as mere dead things, not by virtue of a mere material existence, but as living powers that maintain a subtle all-pervading communion with the spirits to which they have given birth. This is the testimony of Pantheism, most true as far as it goes, and vindicated in its truth by the philosophy of evolution. A spirit of truth, conveying the will of God, speaks out to us from the universe of phenomena, and is acknowledged by us sometimes as the perception of beauty, then as the consciousness of right, yet once more as the recognition of divine working. In this view is not the spirit of truth the counterpart of the power of evolution ? And have we not arrived, in the very heart of nature herself, at that ultimate correlation of mind and matter which we discern in each one of her multitudinous offspring ?
But, however this may be, it remains true that it is to plain fact that the Bible appeals. Let us select for illustration the fourth, or that which is commonly termed the most spiritual, Gospel, and see how our theory of absolute truth is just what is wanted to give plain and consistent meaning to assertions that otherwise carry with them to scientific minds an inevitable suspicion of mysticism and obscurity. Our Lord's intellectual method, if so we may speak of it, is contained in the last seven verses of the 12th chapter, in which He summarised the effects of His public teaching, then drawing to a close in rejection and apparent failure. In these He speaks of Himself as a light, which those who saw would not remain in darkness, whereas those who would not see would be judged by the words which He had spoken. Now for an illustration of this principle in actual operation we may turn to His interview with Pilate, and inquire what was the meaning of this declaration : "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. Now can any reasonable man be satisfied with the supposition that this being of the truth' had a merely moral significance in other words, that every man then living in Jerusalem who was of a candid, truth-loving disposition, must necessarily accept His claims? It would, I think, be difficult, upon this hypothesis, to clear His teaching of a somewhat heartless egotism. There must have been honest and even inquiring Jews, who, with the best intentions to act up to the truth, could not discern their long-promised national Messiah in the despised Jesus of Nazareth. What, therefore, He was appealing to was that divinely ordained correspondence between fact and thought of which the Son of God, who came to do the Father's will, must have had an intense intuition, and what He relied upon was the conviction that there was a profound essential truth lying at the root of all things, which must in the long run vindicate itself. And therefore He bids all honest men to bend their utmost endeavour to ascertain absolute truth, emptying themselves of seif-love and its deceptive dogmatism, sometimes succeeding, often failing, yet never forsaken by God so long as they remain true to themselves. And thus will wisdom be justified of her children.'
2. This leads us naturally to faith, or being of the truth. It is simply the faculty of believing that things are as they are without positive proof, or even against the apparent weight of evidence. As applied to things secular or things religious, the only difference that I can see is that verification by positive proof is much more common in the former than the latter. The faith of religion is that which catches at truth and holds fast by it, simply because the man's spiritual being corresponds accurately with the facts with which it is correlated, because his self-consciousness returns an accurate note when questions concerning truth are presented to it. Hence faith is pre-eminently the deciding virtue of religion, that which makes a man to be a Christian or not. Let us state the moral results of right belief (that is faith) or wrong belief (that is superstition) in unmistakable language. If the revelation of Christ be founded on facts, then is the humblest Christian peasant true in the inmost recesses of his moral being in a sense in which the most brilliant sceptical philosopher is false. And if, on the other hand, it is not so founded, then is the shallowest unbeliever that ever aired his doubts true in the inmost recesses of his being in a sense in which the most holy and devoted saint is false. A thousand other influences may conspire to make the mistaken man a better man than the other; nor need it be said is there a ghost of an idea that men will suffer a retributive penalty hereafter for mistakes that have cost them dear enough here. All questions as to the future are as far outside the matter before us as they are beyond the moral perception or mental faculties of the writer of this paper. All we can safely say is, that, other things being supposed equal, the man who believes or disbelieves rightly is in a better moral position, and betrays a better moral character so FAR, than be who disbelieves or believes wrongly. The whole set of his nature is in a right direction; he sees things in a clearer light; he is gifted with an inner harmony and power of self-adjustment, which issues in a higher and more complete moral activity. I desire to keep the alternative of right or wrong belief steadily in view, because I am arguing, not that Christianity is founded upon a true belief, but that
it is morally justified in appealing to historical events, a correct belief as to which begins by placing men in the right track as regards religion, and so goes on to make them better and wiser than they would otherwise have been. It is the vindication of the Christian method that is so sorely needed, and not the mere proof of the Christian creed.
3. And thus we glide imperceptibly to the consideration of what is meant by judgment. It is an eternal discrimination between rightness and wrongness, which divides what is true in each man from what is false, and also the man who is correct from his brother who is mistaken. And at this point we arrive at some solution of a very painful moral problem. All history declares that, at times of great revolutions in religion or science, there are numbers of good men who, with however small an amount of moral culpability, take the side of error, who resist the truth, and not only remain in darkness themselves, but strive with infatnated energy to bind the chains of falsehood upon the souls of all the world besides. The fanatical temper
. asserts that it is purely their own fault, to be punished hereafter by an appropriate penalty; the cynical, that it makes little matter what men believe so long as their heart is in the right. A wiser philosophy, while deploring, will not deny, the plain fact that much of human virtue and honesty has been too often enlisted in the ranks of error and ignorance, and, while refusing to award moral censure for honest mistakes, will never cease to stimulate men's minds towards the ascertainment of truth by insisting on the evils and even miseries which those who remain in darkness bring upon themselves and upon their fellows. It is the word of truth that judges communities at the last day of an epoch, individuals at the last day of their mortal existence.
And yet, while thus acquiescing in inevitable sadness, and while admitting that there must be a multitude of well-meaning persons who are either believing wrongly or disbelieving wrongly in the Christian revelation, the philosophy of absolute truth, as expounded by evolution, affords a magnificent prospect of ultimate triumph for the cause of right. I venture to think that the most determined opponent of Christianity or its most vigorous defender would in his secret heart prefer the victory of his antagonist to that one other worse alternative-that men should go on doubting and disputing for
Is it conceivable, or, if conceivable, would the thought be endurable, that many centuries hence the minds of men should be in the same state of opinion as to the veracity of the Christian history (that they should be in the same state as to the meaning and nature of Christianity is too absurd to suppose possible) as that which is revealed to us in the current literature of the present year of grace ? Terrible enough to have to realise that the 1881st year of the Christian epoch should find us nearer agreement, our minds no more definitely made up than they are! But if what we have advanced be true, there is the certainty of escape held out to us. Men cannot be mistaken for ever; there must be an end of doubt as of
all things else; sooner or later the truth of things must appear in the minds that are the offspring of the universe, and are continually being trained to recognise the sources of their own origin. And I cannot refrain from claiming once more for Christianity that most powerful and impressive argument legitimately accruing to it from the simple fact that it makes its appeal to fixed and certain truth, absolute in its own nature, and sure to prevail by its own innate force. Can we say as much for science in its attitude towards religion ? Might it not rather be plausibly urged that from not taking up the challenge face to face, from not endeavouring to drive from the field of man's beliefs a religion which, if not true in fact, soon becomes a mistaken and enfeebling superstition, modern scientific thought runs in some danger of committiog that capital crime against truth and progress which contributed so powerfully to the decay and ruin of ancient civilisations. Once let philosophers acquire and propagate, or even sanction, the idea that it does not much matter what the “ vulgar' believe, and that a little graceful superstition may be useful and becoming in the minds of the 6 common people, so long as their own are untainted by it, and not all the victories of positive science, nor all the engines of modern civilisation, will save the society which connives at this high treason in its bosom from destruction, first moral, then intellectual, and finally, as the judgment of God or nature, whichever we please to call it, material also.
In taking what, so far as I can see, will be a final leave of this subject, I desire to be permitted to adduce one more closing argument, and that is-myself. I am a country clergyman, discharging the daily routine of professional duties proper to that office in the sphere for which the Church of England has pronounced me competent. There is not a day in which those duties are not made easier and pleasanter to me by my acquiescence in the teaching of modern science, and especially in the doctrine of evolution. As to feeling any incompatibility between the two, I should consider it an insult to both of them even to imagine it.
But if this be the case with me, why may it not be also the case with thousands like myself, more especially of those who occupy a similar position? And I must warn the genius of doubt that it will never get rid of Christianity until it has disposed of the country parsons, and that we are a stubborn and positive race to deal with. I can imagine a thousand reasons why our brethren in towns should be able to derive their religion from their inner consciousness or some other transcendental source; but for us—why, we must get ours, as our neighbours get their living, FROM THE GROUND. And if, in the attempt to do this for myself, I may have assisted a stray soul here and there in the struggle to obtain a firm footing, it is as much as circumstances allow me to hope for, and I shall be more than satisfied.
T. W. FOWLE.