EVIDENCES OF CHRISTIANITY.
LECTURE I .
THE LIMITATIONS OF THE HUMAN MIND ON THE SUBJECT OF RELIGION.
I Have been requested to deliver a course of lectures in this seminary on the " Ely Foundation," on the " Evidences of Christianity." By the terms of that " Foundation" the course is to " comprise any topics that serve to establish the proposition that Christianity is a religion from God, or that it is the perfect and final form of religion for man." Among the subjects discussed, as specified, may be,
" The nature and need of a revelation;
" The character and influence of Christ and his apostles ;
''The authenticity and credibility of the Scriptures: miracles and prophecy;
" The diffusion and benefits of Christianity; and
"The philosophy of religion in its relation to the Christian system."
The course, by the terms of the " Foundation," is to be comprised in Ten Lectures, and the general subject which I shall endeavor to illustrate in this course will be The Evidences Of Christianity In The Nineteenth Century. I have selected this as being in accordance with the subjects suggested for the general course; as sufficiently comprehensive to embrace the points which can be considered in so limited a course; as suggesting important inquiries in regard to the present relation of Christianity to the world; and as leading to the discussion of topics originated or matured in our own age, and difficulties suggested in this age, which must be met by those who are, by their office and by the purposes of their lives, to be regarded as the public defenders of Christianity.
Christianity now exists as among the undisputed great moral powers or forces in the world. It has a place among other powerful systems of religion, and among philosophical systems, deeply affecting the destinies of mankind. It has a history of its own—a history extending now through more than eighteen centuries, and leaving unmistakable, evidence of its existence and its power on the general course of events. It is a " power" on the earth undeniably. exerting a vast influence on human affairs.
It is very closely connected with liberty, with domestic arrangements, with civilization, with literature, with the arts of life, with manners, customs, ana. laws, with the governments of the nations, with the adnunistration of justice, with the doctrine of human rights, with prevailing views of morals, with the prospects of the world in regard to the future, and with the religious hopes of individual men. It was among the things, even in its feeble beginning, which Tacitus could not pass over wholly in silence; one of the things which demanded all the talent of Mr. Gibbon to explain, and which now, whatever may be men's individual faith in it, must enter into every philosophical view which is taken of the present condition and prospects of the world.
In regard to many or most of those things referred to — civilization, literature, arts, manners, customs, laws, governments, the administration of justice, the doctrine of human rights, the prevailing views of morals, and the hopes of men in regard to the future, it has either originated them, or it has shown a decided affinity for them, combining readily with them when suggested, enlarging their sphere of influence, and seizing upon them for its own promotion and perpetuity in the world. In this respect it is unlike all other forms of religion, and has now become so incorporated with those things, and so identified with them, that it could not be detached from them without disturbing, if not destroying, the whole frame-work of modern society. The Christian religion was fatal to many things that entered into the notions of civilization, the laws, and the governments of the ancient world, as it will be to many of those things as they exist in other lands if it is propagated among them; nor could those ancient things be restored, or those modern things be perpetuated, without an entire destruction of the Christian system.
It is a perfectly fair question for any one to ask, What is the origin of this system of religion ? and the question is one which the friends of the system may be held to answer. Is it of man ? Is it a development or outgrowth of some former system of religion ? Is it a necessary result of the progress of the race in civilization—on the same level, in this respect, with the comforts of domestic life, the blessings of liberty, the useful arts, the sciences ? Is it a well-executed imposture ? for such it must be if it is an imposture at all. Is it the result of delusion and fanaticism ? Is it expressive of the conscious wants of man, founded on a myth, and wrought by human wisdom into a system that commends itself to enlightened understandings, and to hearts troubled by sin and sorrow, as being all that man needs ? Or is it of divine origin, as it claims to be —a true revelation from God ?
The Westminster Review (January, 1866) therefore is perfectly right in asking the question," How did Christianity originate? Did it originate as an outcoming of a natural order, or by a supernatural interference ?"
The question implies that it had an " origin," that is, a beginning at some time since man began to exist on the earth. It is not, as is implied in the question, coeval with man. There was a time when it did not exist; when there was no trace of it on the earth. History, in each and every ancient nation, so far as those nations have a history, goes back to a period when Christianity did not exist. It was not in Egypt, in Assyria, in Babylonia, among the Chaldees, in the Teutonic nations, among the early inhabitants of the British Isles. Have the annals of any nation preserved the record of its origin, so that now, after the lapse of ages, and after it has been matured in its present form, we can understand how it made its beginning in our world? Did the wants of men suggest it? Did the friend of men devise it ? Did the wisdom of God, seeing that it was needful for man, reveal it ?
It is with a view to furnishing an answer to these questions that the Course of Lectures on the "Ely Foundation" in this seminary has been established, and that the range of topics which I have indicated has been suggested as limiting the subjects to be discussed in the Lectures, and specifying the field to be occupied. The range is a wide one, and it can not be supposed, as it was not designed, that the subjects should be exhausted in a single course. It is wisely intended that the course shall be continued from year to year, not by the same lecturer, but by new lecturers, with fresh minds and hearts, with new powers, with views taken from different stand-points, with the results of varied experience and observation, with illustrations drawn fresh from the experience of pastors in the work of the ministry,and especially with a designed reference to the wants of the world, and the state of the public mind outside the Church, as demanded by the progress of science, by new difficulties that spring up, by questions that have not before occurred that may need solution, by new forms of objection that may be made to the Bible, by new aspects of philosophy, presenting to the minds of thinking men new difficulties in regard to the Christian system.
I have' selected as the main topic on which I propose to address you, leaving ampler fields to those who shall follow me, The Evidences of the Truth of Christianity in the Nineteenth Century:—at a time when eighteen hundred years have passed away since the evidence of its divine origin was first submitted to the world; when it has been tried in its applications to the wants of men during those eighteen hundred eventful years; now, in an age remarkable for its advancement, and when evidence on all subjects is examined by rules unknown to the world at the time when the evidences of the divine origin of the Christian system was first submitted to mankind, and by an acuteness of investigation far in advance of that age. As Christianity convincecfthe men of that generation of its divine origin, it can not be improper to inquire whether the evidence that was deemed satisfactory then in regard to its origin should be regarded as satisfactory now. The lapse of eighteen hundred years may at least suggest the inquiry whether it had at first any claims to the attention which it received from mankind.
Under the general topic which I have suggested, I propose to embrace the following subordinate topics as comprehended in it: The limitations of the human mind on the subject of religion; Historical evidence as affected by time; Historical evidence as affected by science ; the evidence of Christianity from its propagation, as that evidence exists at present; Miracles—the evidence in the nineteenth century that they were performed in the first; Prophecy, as that evidence exists now; the inspiration of the Scriptures with reference to the objections made to it at present; the personal character and the incarnation of Christ; the religion itself as adapted to the wants of man, as illustrated in these eighteen hundred years; and the relation of Christianity to the present stage of the world's progress in science, civilization, and the arts.
I may be allowed, before entering upon the particular subject before us at this time, to refer to a difficulty which I very sensibly feel in undertaking this course at all. It is the supposition which seems to be implied in such a course that I could do any thing supplementary to the instructions which are, in the regular course, delivered from the Chair of Theology in this seminary. The proprieties of the place and the occasion would not allow me to speak, as my feelings would prompt me to, of him wi-0 occupies that chair, and whose time is devoted, yet in the full vigor of life, to this very inquiry, among others in his course, and who enjoys advantages for instructing others in studies of this nature which can not be expected from one whose time is so much occupied with the routine of pastoral duties.
There are a few things, however, which I may be allowed to say in reference to what seems to be presumption in undertaking such a task, and which may be applicable to the very purpose of endowing such a lectureship, as well as to my own undertaking. (a) It is known to all that different views of the same subject may be taken by different individuals from the points of observation which they respectively occupy, and that it may require a comparison of many such views to obtain a complete idea of any one object or subject. From how many different points may a landscape, a waterfall, a mountain, an ancient castle be viewed, each presenting some different aspect to the painter, each varied, yet each true, and all entering into the proper and full conception of the object. On moral and historical subjects this is not less true than it is in reference to mountains, to valleys, to waterfalls, to piles of architectural beauty or grandeur. He makes no assumption for himself who surveys from his own point of observation what has been painted by another from his. In the position which he occupies, and in the work of art which he attempts, there is no implied reflection on another. (b) On the great subjects of religion and morals, one man's reflection, experience, and observation may suggest something of value which may not have occurred to another. His own mental structure may be different, his own habits of thought may be different, his own experience in the world may be different, his own opportunities of observation may be differ. ent; and it is no reflection on another one, though engaged in the same general purpose, to submit his own reflections to his fellow-men. (c) It may be true that, while there are great advantages, on such subjects, from the fact of being devoted to one great line of study, as in a chair of theology, and in the ample acquaintance which may be derived from such a position with all that has been written by others, there may be advantages in the labors of a pastoral life, in frequent contact with men, in meeting the difficulties in the minds of those who are inquiring on the subject of personal religion, which may be of not less value in the cause of truth than the more deliberate and learned instructions of a theological chair, and which may assist those who are preparing for the work of the ministry in meeting the actual difficulties which they are to encounter in the living world. (d) I may observe farther that these Lectures are designed and expected, if I understand the purpose of the founder and of the directors of the seminary in making the arrangements for their delivery, to be less studied, elaborate, scientific, and philosophical than those which are delivered in the regular course of instruction in the seminary, and which are especially prepared for students of theology as such. It is the purpose in the " Foundation" to form a new connecting link between the seminary and the churches, to impart instruction here which will not only benefit those who are hereafter to be the guides of the public mind, but also, in union with* them, to do something to diffuse just views on these subjects in the community, and to aid those who are at present acting their parts in the world, as well as those who shall be the actors in the next generation. (e) And, once more, I may observe that neither my friend who occupies that chair nor myself will so exhaust the subject as . to leave nothing for our successors. In our own place and generation we shall each find enough to do; in their generation, those who come after us will find that there is an ample field for all their talents in the work
to be done in their time. The Christian " apologists" of the early centuries, the opposers of Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian, had enough to do in their day; Grotius, Leland, and Clarke had enough to do in theirs; Butler, Lardner, Paley, and Chalmers in theirs; in our day a new field, demanding new powers and new arguments in answering new objections, is opened to us, and in time to come, until the period when Christianity shall triumph over ali the earth, the enemies of Christianity will be careful to give, each in their age, enough for the public defenders of Christianity to do. We, in our age, have a work to do;, those who come after us will have a work to do in theirs. ^
As introductory to*the course which I propose to deliver, and as an argument on the general subject, it seems proper to consider the capabilities of the human mind in reference to the general subject to be considered. If man is capable himself of originating a system of religion that will be all that is needed to guide him in the duties of life, to sustain him in its trials, and to prepare him for the future world, that fact would, of course, prove a revelation to be unnecessary, and would at the same time prove that all pretended revelations are false, since it can not be supposed that God would give by miracle a special revelation when he had already furnished, in another mode, all that is needful for man, or that there would be two methods of communicating the divine will on the same subject. On other subjects than religion this principle is every where observe'd. God does not give special revelations on those subjects which are quite within the range of the human powers, and where there may be a healthful exercise of those powers in ascertaining what is true and what is good. If, for the sake of example, it be admitted that God specially instructed Adam in regard to the appropriate names of the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air (Gen., ii, 19), or that he, with his own hands, made for Adam and Eve "coats of skins and clothed them" (Gen., iii., 21), or that he taught Noah how to construct the ark, or that he endowed Bezaleel and Aholiab with special wisdom in building the tabernacle, " to devise cunning works, to work in gold, and silver, and brass" (Ex., xxxi., 3-6), yet it is certain that this is not the ordinary method in which he endows men for the useful or the ornamental arts of life, nor is this the method on which this subject is referred to in the Bible. The principle every where assumed in the Bible, and a principle on which undeniably the whole Bible is formed, whether that book is a revelation or not, is that, where men have ample powers to accomplish what is needful for themselves, there is no special instruction given by revelation. No book is more destitute of information on the common arts of life, on agriculture, music, and the sciences, on political economy and the forms of government, on the arts of raising grain, of working metals, of mining, or of cooking food, on the structure of ships, wagons, roads, or canals, than the Bible. All these are left to the invention of men, to be wrought out in the proper employment of their own powers, with the presumption that man is competent to this; that he needs no special instruction, and that his own good will be best promoted by the exercise of his own powers on these subjects.
The principle is, that the Bible does not attempt to give knowledge on subjects which men may find out themselves. Agriculture, grafting, planting, architecture, fishing, ploughs, hammers, harrows, machinery, printing, railroads, steam, the telegraph—all these in due time; all by the ski^ of man. Man is competent to these things. There is no need of a revelation. The world, in its infancy, was not prepared for these things, and a revelation in regard to them would not have been understood. It was better to raise up men from time to time who would strike out great inventions when the world needed them than to communicate the knowledge by revelation; it was better that the human intellect should be sharpened and disciplined by these discoveries; it was better that men should be stimulated by the hope of useful inventions; and it was • better that the knowledge of them should be brought on the stage when they would fit into human society, than to anticipate all, and render the human powers flaccid and useless by a revelation anticipating these things.
If religion is of the same nature as this; if man is equally competent to solve the great questions of religion that pertain to him, then it is plain that religion would have been left in this manner, and that a revelation being unnecessary, none would have been given, and consequently that all pretended revelations are false. The enemies of the Bible, therefore, are pursuing a legitimate line of thought in endeavoring to show that man has all the powers necessary to ascertain what is needful to be known of God, and consequently that the Bible and all other pretended revelations are false.
In considering now the particular subject before us —the limitations of the human mind on the subject of religion—it will be proper to direct your attention first to the limitations on the subject from the nature of the human mind itself, and the» the illustrations which have been furnished by the results of the experiments which have been made. '
The particular thoughts necessary to be presented under the first of these topics—the limitations on the subject from the nature of the mind itself—are the following : those limitations in the faculties of the mind in respect to the processes of reasoning; the limitations in the power of intuition; and the limitations in the instruments which man employs in his discoveries, or in enlarging the scope of his natural vision.
(1.) The powers of mind — created mind—mind as found in man—seem vast, are vast. It is not necessary for us, in exalting revelation, or in showing the necessi- * ty of revelation, to disparage or underrate those powers. The developments of mind in the ordinary processes of society, and in the discoveries which men have made in the sciences, lifting the whole race to a higher level, have been amazing. This is especially so when God, departing from the ordinary course of things, creates a great intellect as he originally created great mountains, or rocks, or oceans, or as he creates great worlds as illustrations of what he can do; as showing how he might have made the race; as showing, perhaps, how he does make other races; as furnishing a higher illustration than ordinary of what he himself is, lifting man, as by a sudden elevation, toward himself. Thus, in the upheavings of the lands in the old geological periods, in general the lands upheaved were low plains or elevated plateaus on a level, or gentle eminences diversifying the landscape, or here and there loftier mountains—the ranges of the Andes, the Alleghanies, the Apennines, the Alps, while at great intervals there stands the lofty Dhavalagiri, the Chimborazo, the Sorata of Nevada, and Mont Blanc, rising far into loftier
atmospheres, as a few men, like Newton, stand far above the ordinary individuals of the race.
There are men—a few men—of such capacity that they seem to approach almost all subjects with equal ease; men who have by intuition, as Pascal had, what other men secure by slow processes and by long-continued trial; who begin where other men leave off; " many-sided" men, to whom all subjects appear equally easy, and with whom it seems to be a mere matter of will and choice what particular department they shall pursue to make themselves immortal.
But, while this appears to be so, the range of subjects on which any man, however richly endowed, may distinguish and immortalize himself, is very limited, and is confined within very narrow and very carefully-defined boundaries. There is, and there has been, no " uersal genius." There is, and there has been, no man whose capacities are equally adapted to all the subjects of science and art, of poetry, rhetoric, and eloquence; of war, of statesmanship, of invention, and of practical life, in which they might equally acquire distinction. Society, indeed, required in its adjustments that within a limited range the powers of a man might be adapted —perhaps equally adapted—to any one of a number of pursuits; that in any one of them within that range he might be successful or might excel. This was necessary, in order that at any one time there might be talent enough on the earth for all the necessary objects of life, and that there might be, within a reasonable range, the liberty of a choice—a concession to human freedom and responsibility. But the range is a limited one, and within that a man must make his choice. He must be a farmer, or a seaman, or a mechanic, or a musician, or a poet, or a merchant, or a philosopher, or an artist; he can not be all. Between perhaps four or five of these he must make his choice, and within that range he must determine how his life is to be spent. It is rare that a man is distinguished in more than one of these things. Michael Angelo was, indeed, distinguished, perhaps equally, as a painter, sculptor, and architect ;* Shakspeare was equally distinguished in comedy, in farce, and in tragedy; and there is now one living man among us—a foreignerf—who, it is said, has already, in four separate and distinct departments of science, achieved in each a reputation, a like distinction in any one of which would have placed him at the head of that particular science. This " play" or this variety of endowment is given to men not only that they may have a choice, but that there may be at any one time on the earth talent enough for all that talent is to do in that one age.
Again, there is a necessary limitation in regard to the attainments which men may make, as compared with what remains that is as yet unknown. We all remember the remark of Newton, " child-like sage ;"J
* This idea is expressed on his tomb in the church of Santa Croce, in Florence. Beneath the monument there are three statues, personifying Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, and at the base of the monument an inscription, of which the following is a part: " Michaeli Angelo Bonaratio E vetusta Simoniorum Familia. Sculptori, Pictori et Architeclo Fama omnibus notissimo."
% " I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."—Brewster's Life of Newton, pp. 300, 301, Harper's ed., 1832.
and we remember, too, the sarcastic remarks of Pope on the discoveries of Newton himself, showing how little, after all the discoveries made by him, as compared with the knowledge of higher intelligences, may be, and what, in this respect, is the general condition of mankind on the subject of knowledge:
" Superior beings, when of late they saw
A mortal man unfold all nature's law,
Admired such wisdom in an earthly shape,
And showed a Newto/i as we show an ape."
After all, how limited is the range of human thought and knowledge ! We are to remember. that ordinarily man is compelled to spend one third of the length of life in acquiring what has been known before, and putting himself in a position to begin his own investigations, as if one preparing to explore distant continents should be compelled to spend one third of his days in reaching it; we are to remember that any man is liable to be cut down at any moment, his career of brilliant discovery but just begun; we are to remember that the faculties of man begin soon to decay, and that the imbecility of age, if life is lengthened out, is almost like the imbecility of childhood—life ending as it began; we are to remember that the active average life of man, in which he must do all that he is to do, is but little over twenty years ; and we are to remember, also, that the range of his inquiries is limited by the fact that they must be within the scope of his reason, where he may have instruments to aid him, and where he may have the light of other ages to guide him. But what if there are boundless fields wholly beyond that range; if there are worlds which he can not penetrate; if there is an infinity in God in reference to which he has no faculties or powers to investigate or understand it ? The question has been well asked," Why may there not be a whole sphere of existence, embracing the relations and the communion between God and man, with which natural science has no concern, and in which its dictation is as impertinent as the dictation of theology in physics ? Why may not spiritual experience, and an approach to the divine in character, be a necessary means of insight into the things of the spiritual world, as scientific instruments and scientific skill are necessary means of insfght into the things of the material world ?"*
And, after all, what does man know of the uerse ? How little does he know of his own little world, its history, its origin, in component parts ? What does he know of matter, of oxygen, of galvanism, of life ? And what does he know of Jupiter, of Saturn, of Mars, of Sirius, of the moon, of the sun, of the inhabitants that dwell there, and of their history ? How few are the . words necessary to be employed in telling all that he knows of those worlds ? And what does he know of the millions of worlds in that nebula to which our own solar system belongs, or of the countless millions that constitute the other " islands" that float in the immensity of space?
(2.) The next thought in relation to the point now before us pertains to the subject of intuition—to the question whether, though his range be limited in regard to subjects in which he is required to use instruments and calculation, man may not be endowed with a higher power, that shall bring directly within the sphere of his vision the great spiritual truths which it is necessary for him to understand.
* Lectures on the Study of History, by Goldwin Smith, Professor of Modern History in Oxford, p. 85.
This inquiry would open the whole subject of transcendentalism, and would embrace a range of thought which could not be entered oti now. The only point material to the inquiries in this course of Lectures would be, whether there is such a power in man that the great truths of Christianity, as disclosed in the Bible, could have been the result of such an endowment, and could be traced to such a source.
It could hardly be necessary to argue this question here, since thei mere statement of the matter may seem to be all that is necessary on the subject, and will, to most minds, settle the question. It is obvious that a claim of this kind must be a claim, in some sense, to an . equality with God, since it implies a power that properly belongs to God, of looking into the whole nature of things, and since it implies a power also equal to that which must be supposed to pertain to God, if there be a God, of determining what is needful for man to know on the highest subjects, of determining what God would communicate if he made a revelation, and of declaring what God would be, and should be, and, therefore, of what he is. Obviously no one could do this who was not himself divine.
Still, as the claim is set up, and as men, on the ground of this, not only presume to judge of a revelation when one is proposed, and to determine whether it is worthy of credit alike in its general character and in the details, and as they claim the power, on the same grounds, to determine that a revelation is not necessary to man, and that, therefore, all pretensions to " book-revelation" are to be rejected at once, it may not be improper to make a few remarks on the subject.
(a) There can be no doubt that, to a certain extent, there is this power in man of looking directly at truth,
or, to make the assertion larger, that it is Of the nature of mind, as such, to do this—the mind of God, and of all minds made in his image. We can not conceive of God without this power; we can not doubt that he could endow created mind with this power as well as with any other power, making it thus in his own image, or so that it would represent or express himself; and we can not limit him in regard to the extent to which he could endow mind in this as well as in any other respect, except that it can not equal his own infinity. There must be a limit, or all beings thus made would be gods, and instead of one God, the uerse would be full # of gods.
But that God has this power of looking at once into truth, of understanding its nature, of separating it from error, without the slow process of reasoning, there can be no doubt.
(b) That man has this power, to a certain extent, is apparent from our own consciousness. The belief in mathematical axioms or first principles is founded on this. We look at the truth at once without any medium or intermediate idea. We could not be assisted in this by any intermediate idea. We could not be made to doubt the truth by any objections that could be urged. That the whole is greater than a part, that the whole is equal to the sum of all the parts, that if equals are added to equals the sum will be equal, are points which do not and can not depend on reasoning, nor could we reason at all if there were not such points on which all men agree.
(c) But it is obvious that the range of this must be very different in different minds; nor, as has been already intimated, is it possible where, short of infinity, the limit might be made. To the mass of men the number of such truths is not large. To some minds truths, which to others could be learned only as the result of labored reasoning, are a mere matter of intuition. To most minds, for example, in studying Euclid, after a very few statements of that kind which are laid down as maxims or axioms which all men will assent to, every successive proposition is believed only as the result of clear demonstration in some labored process of reasoning ; to Newton all these propositions were as axioms not demanding any proof, and read as axioms are; to Pascal they led on one another by a power of their own, which he represented, when a boy, on the floor by lines and bars of his own construction.
(d) As pertaining to religion, as in other matters, this subject presents itself in two forms: the one is that of originating truth, or declaring what truth is; tho other is that, more common, of judging of truth when it iz presented to the mind; of determining whether it is truth, and of rejecting it if it does not commend itself to the mind as true.* The latter is Rationalism, the former is the claim of Deism; both are comprised in the term Transcendentalism. Much of this is found in Plato, more of it in Kant; much in all Transcendentalists and Rationalists; more by most men in judging in regard to the evidences of a revealed religion than they are aware of; much is properly exercised in examining the claims of any religion, true or false. There are
* Thus Wegscheider represents the claims of Rationalists: " They claim for sound reason the power of deciding upon any religious doctrine whatsoever, derived from a supposed supernatural revelation, and of determining the argument for it, to be made out only according to the laws of thought and action implanted in reason."— Inst. Theol., § 18, quoted in Mansel, Limits of Religious Thought, p. 234, 235.
certain convictions engraven on the human mind in regard to truth to which I shall have occasion to advert in another part of this course,* which must be met by a pretended revelation, or it can not be received. There is much in man that contributes to the reception of a system of truth in a revelation when it is proposed, and that gives it a power over the soul which nothing can destroy. It is in a large degree owing to this that a.true religion makes its way in the world, and in a large degree also it is owing to this that the world is kept from being imposed on by the pretensions of a false religion.
(e) When we ask, however, whether this is sufficient —whether this is all that man needs, we are met by such answers as the following: (1.) There is no agreement among those who rely on this as to what is the true system. From Plato downward to Kant and Comte, men have speculated on this point, and in regard to what is claimed under this system—the " true," the " absolute," the " infinite"—as to what God is, what man is, or what is the moral system of the uerse, it is impossible to refer to any system on which men have speculated at all, in respect to which there is a greater variety of opinion, or in which more that is incomprehensible has been proposed to the faith of mankind. It would be very easy for any one to make extracts from Hegel and from Kant so far above common apprehenhension, so mystical, so difficult of interpretation, so destitute of apparent meaning, as to turn the whole matter into ridicule if it should be held seriously that this was to be the faith and the guide of mankind at large. Besides, who is to decide which is the true system ? Or who, holding one system on this theory, has
* In the IXth Lecture.
a right to call in question the truth of the system preferred by another ? (2.) But it is to be observed farther that there are—there must be, truths lying beyond the range of intuition—of man's powers. Only the infinite can look intb and comprehend the infinite. There were profound depths in the minds of Newton and Bacon which a child of four years of age could not fathom—which no man could fathom who had not a mind like theirs. It is a matter of the plainest common sense likewise that there must be profound depths in the mind of God which none can fathom who is not the equal of God. Can the arms of a child wield and govern the ' world ? Can a quart - measure take in that which would fill the great " tun" at Heidelberg ? Could Loch Katrine contain all the waters of the ocean? There must be truths respecting God which man can not know unless God shall reveal them. There are things in the mind of the stranger that we casually meet, though on the same level with ourselves, which we can not know unless he shall choose to disclose them. He has the power of hiding them forever from our knowledge.
(3.) There is one other thought on this point of the subject. I have adverted to the limitations of the faculties of the mind in the ordinary processes of reasoning and in the power of intuition. I shall now advert to the defect in the limitation of the instruments which man employs in his discoveries, or in enlarging his scope of natural vision. The point now to be made is, that the means or instruments which man employs so successfully in enlarging the range of his natural powers do not disclose or reveal God. Those means or instruments are, in the first place, limited to their own particular range of discovery, and can be employed only in that direction, or can not be employed to aid man in more than one particular line. The telescope discloses wonders, but it can not be employed by the chemist, the metallurgist, the engineer. The tests of the chemist and his blow-pipe accomplish wonders, but they can not be employed in the purposes of astronomy. The electrical machine accomplishes wonders, but it can not be employed to determine the distance and magnitude of the planets, the height of the atmosphere, or the cause of the tides. Least of all can any of these be employed on moral subjects. They can not determine the great questions about God, and the nature of the human soul, and the destiny of man in distant worlds. The astronomer directs his glass to the blue fields of ether, and brings suns and systems to view before unknown to man, but he does not see God on his throne. The electrical machine may be turned forever, throwing out a continuous stream of light, but it does not reveal God, or cast a ray of light on the destinies of the human soul. All these are limited to their proper objects—all come short of revealing God.
Such, then, are some of the limitations of the human mind as suggested by the nature of the case. • We turn to the next general point proposed to be considered, to the illustrations which have been furnished on the subject by the experiment which the world has been making to answer the great questions which it must be the province of a revelation to answer, if a revelation is given to man.
This need not detain us long, though the subject is one that might be pursued to much greater length than the limits of these Lectures will allow.
The general remark to be illustrated is, that the trial has been made, and so made that it is not necessary that it should be repeated.
If a revelation was to be given to man; if it be assumed for a moment that such was the divine purpose, it would seem to be not an unreasonable expectation that man himself should be allowed to make the experiment to see whether he could do without one; that is, whether such a revelation was necessary for man. This may be presumed to be reasonable, because (a) it would settle a great question forever, disposing man to receive and believe the revelation if he himself failed, and (£) it would be in accordance with the ordinary method of the divine arrangements in other things. Whatever man can do, it is, as before remarked, left for him to do; and whatever God may do for man, it is commonly preceded by the effort of man himself in that direction. Great discoveries in science and art are thus left for man to accomplish, if they are within his power ; if the ordinary powers of man are insufficient for them, God creates and brings upon the stage some great mind, endowed in that direction beyond the ordinary powers of man, like Bacon or Newton, Watt or Fulton, Whitney or Morse, elevated above common men on these subjects as Isaiah or David were above ordinary men in the knowledge of spiritual things.
The trial on this subject, as it has actually occurred in the world, has related to two points: to the powers of man in relation to religion in general, and to those powers in relation to a " book-revelation."
In regard to the former of these, the powers of man in relation to religion in general, I remark, first, that the time allowed to man for the experiment was sufficiently long to permit the experiment to be fairly made. If we assume now that Christianity had its •
origin at the time commonly ascribed to it, about eighteen hundred years ago, then, according to the common chronology, there were four thousand years previous in which the experiment was to be made. According to Chevalier Bunsen, Lepsius, and others of that school, there were not far from twenty thousand years from the time when man appeared upon the earth. It could not be denied that, taking either position, the time was sufficiently long to admit of a fair trial on this subject in regard to the capability of the human powers to devise a system of religion; for, if man could not devise a system that would meet his wants in that time, it might be reasonably doubted whether he could do it at all. It may be added also, that, on the supposition that vast and eternal interests were connected in any way with embracing a true system of religion, it might be difficult to reconcile it with any just notions of benevolence in the Deity if the time had been longer, and if those interests were exposed to farther peril. Indeed, one great difficulty now to be explained, on the supposition that the revelation of a plan of salvation was delayed so long, is to reconcile that fact with the benevolence of God, leaving, during that long period, the eternal welfare of so many millions of souls to be jeoparded by the delay in giving a revelation to man: a difficulty which has its parallel, however, in the fact that so many millions were suffered to die of pestilence, of the plague, and of fever, before the healing art was in any way perfected, and while the substances constituting the materia medica of the world were actually in existence, but were as yet undiscovered by man.
The next thing to be observed in regard to this trial is, that the character of the mind mainly employed in the experiment was all that could be demanded in such an experiment. If we were asked which of the classes of mind that have existed on the earth would be best adapted for original investigations of this nature, we should say that the qualifications would be most likely to be found in the Hindu mind, the Arabic, the Greek, and the Teutonic. These, indeed, in some respects run into each other, and may perhaps be regarded as of the same type or class; but of all the intellects that God has made in the world, a great question of this kind could be more safely intrusted to these classes of mind than to any other.
Now, laying out of view at present all reference to the others, it may be said that of these classes of mind the Greek was better adapted to this inquiry than either of those which have been referred to. That mind was, in some respects, the best that the world has seen—as if God had created it for the very purpose of settling forever this great inquiry. For acuteness, for depth, for accurate analysis, for subtle philosophical distinctions, for fervor, and for enthusiasm—being equally fitted for eloquence, for poetry, and for philosophy— that mind stands pre-eminent among all that God has made. The Greeks had a language, too, fitted, above all others spoken among men, for such inquiries—a language in which. the highest conceptions of philosophy and religion could be. better expressed than in any other, and in which the nicest shades of thought could be perpetuated—the language, in fact, adopted by the authors of the New Testament under, as we believe, the guidance of the Holy Ghost—selected from all the languages of the world as best adapted to express the great ideas of the Christian Revelation.
The Greeks, too, gave themselves to this inquiry, fully impressed with its importance and its vastness, as if under the impression themselves that the great problem had been intrusted to their hands. They were not insensible to the magnitude of the questions at issue, and alike in their mental acuteness, in their language, and in their zeal, they have shown that the great problem was well intrusted to their hands. If the question were now asked, To what people of all lands and ages such a question could be best submitted ? there would be but one answer—that the question whether man could originate or discover a religion that would be fitted for human wants in all ages could be most appropriately and safely lodged with the Greeks.
The result of the trial is now before the world. The trial is complete. It is not to be repeated. Whether Christianity is true or false, it may be assumed now that a more hopeful trial could not now be entered on; it may be assumed that if there is no revelation given to man, then man, on the subject of religion, must give himself up to despair.
There is no system of religion that man has devised that meets the wants of the race ; there is none, unless it be Christianity, that the race in its progress will care to perpetuate. None of the religions which man originated before the Christian era, if we except Hinduism and Buddhism, have now an existence in the world, and it will not be pretended by those who reject the Christian revelation that these meet the wants of men, or that they can be perpetuated in the advancing periods of the world.
All the others have perished—perished with the empires where they were originated; perished with the priesthood to which they gave power; perished with the temples and altars which time has overthrown— perished never to be revived. The temples of Baalbec and Karnak will not be rebuilt; the altars of Mexico will not be reconstructed; the Parthenon will not be repaired; and the Pantheon will not again welcome the gods of all nations. These ancient systems of religion were dying out when Christianity appeared, and would have died at any rate. It is a fine remark of Augustine that" Christ appeared to the men of a decrepit, dying world, that while all around them was fading, they might receive through him a new, youthful life."* It was not in the power of Julian, with all the influence and wealth of the world at his command, to quicken the old Roman Paganism into life again; it was the task of Mr. Gibbon to record the dying out of the old system, whatever might be his record in regard to the new.
In particular, it pertains to my argument to remark that the system of the Greeks, the result of the highest wisdom of man, has departed forever. That religion has ceased altogether; the " elegant mythology" of the Greeks, as Mr. Gibbon calls it, has passed away. There is not a vestige of it remaining: There is not now an altar, even in Athens, where Paul saw so many, where a heathen god is worshiped; there is no one there erected to an " unknown God." Every altar that stood there in the time of Paul has long since been overthrown, not to be rebuilt; the splendid temples on which his eye rested when he stood on Mars' Hill have disappeared. Even the Parthenon is in ruins, and there has not been vitality enough to perpetuate it in its beauty as a work of art; as a structure for the worship of Minerva it is to be entered no more forever.
There was nothing in the ancient religion of Greece, * Neander,Church History, i., 77..
or in her philosophy as bearing on religion, that the world could lay hold of as worth perpetuating, and the religion of Greece, the highest result of human wisdom —of the speculation of the profoundest and acutest intellect of the world—has departed; the ruin of the ancient religion is uersal. Not more entire is the ruin of kingdoms, dynasties, empires—of thrones and pal
. aces—than is the ruin of temples and altars. All lie in promiscuous ruin : Karnak, Baalbec, Birs Nimroud in Babylon; the splendid temples in Athens and in Corinth ; the temples of Jupiter, and J anus, and Apollo—all in Rome save the little temple of Ceres and the Pantheon—all are in ruin. No part of the world is now
. influenced in the slightest degree by the Egyptian, the Persian, the Assyrian, the Roman, the Greek religions, by the religion of the Druids, or of any of the old Teutonic or Scythian races.
It would be but carrying out this view to remark that the world, as left to itself, has made no advances since. Hinduism indeed survives, but it has made no progress, and it has not commended itself to man as the religion which he needs as civilization advances. Buddhism survives, but it also has made no progress in character, or in adapting itself to the wants of man, since it started from India and spread over China. Nor have men who have rejected Christianity, and renounced the ancient Paganism, although they have shown that they are abreast or ahead of the world in other things, devised a system of religion that would meet the wants of man, or that would commend it self -to mankind as worthy to be perpetuated. Mr. Hume and Mr. Gibbon proposed no new system; Shaftesbury, Bolingbroke, Hobbes of Malmesbury, Morgan, proposed none; the system of Lord Herbert commended itself to but few minds in his own age, and now commends itself to none. The world has not shown that it is satisfied with the views of Hegel and Kant, of Strauss, of Renan, and of Comte. But my present purpose does not require me to pursue this argument.
It remains only to make a remark on the other thing suggested in regard to the limitations of the human mind—that limitation as illustrated in the attempt to give to man a " book-revelation"—to accomplish what the Bible claims to accomplish. The inquiry is, what, in the failure of reasoning on the subject, has man produced claiming to be a " book-revelation" from God, or to supply what reason has not shown itself able to sup
It must be assumed here that those efforts are the result of the unaided human intellect, for a contrary supposition, or an admission that they are inspired, would not, of course, bear on my argument. For the sake of argument, at least, it may be admitted that they are the result of unaided human genius. The question is, whether they meet the wants of man; whether they supply what Grecian wisdom could not supply; whether men will be likely to attempt any thing more with any prospect of success.
The powers of the human mind have exhausted themselves in regard to a " book-revelation" in the Sibylline oracles, the Zendavesta, the Vedas and Shasters, the Koran, and the Book of Mormon—chiefly in the Koran.
It can not be denied that in some of these there is vast power; it can not, with reason, be supposed that in respect to a pretended revelation these are to be surpassed, or that these pretended revelations are to be superseded by those of human origin that will better meet the wants, or that will have higher claims to the faith of men. Including the Bible now in the number of books that claim to be a revelation from God, it may be assumed that, if that is on the same level with respect to its origin, the human powers have exhausted themselves, and that the question whether man can devise what shall be received as a revelation from God is closed forever, and that the choice of that which shall guide the race is limited to these. If the Bible is of divine origin it determines the matter that there is to be no other, for it claims to be final on the subject, and man must, therefore, embrace the Sibylline oracles, or tho Zendavesta, or the Shasters, or the Bible, or the Koran, or the Book of Mormon, or have no revelation.
In respect to the question now before us, however, the Bible is to be put aside, for we are inquiring into the capacities of the human mind on the subject apart from the Bible—from Christianity.
The question for the infidel is whether he shall embrace one of the other books referred to, or whether he shall attempt to originate one of a higher order that will more perfectly meet the wants of men, or whether he shall reject all claims of pretended revelations whatever.
The remark which I am now making is, that the powers of the human mind have exhausted themselves in these efforts, and that it is hopeless now for an impostor to produce a " book-revelation," or such a pretended book, that shall be so far in advance of the rest of the world as to meet the wants of mankind, or that shall control as many millions of the human race as these books do or have done, or that shall have the prospect, as we believe the Bible has, of securing the ultimate faith of all men.
Take, for example, the best of these books—the Koran. What prospect is there now—what possibility— that man shall originate a book claiming to have divine authority, that shall control as many millions of the human race as that book has done, and does now ? For that book has formed the faith of nations. It has controlled armies, and directed wars, and made laws, and laid the foundations of empires. It has ruled for a thousand years some of the most acute, profound, energetic, active portions of mind'that God has made. It controls now one hundred and sixty millions of minds. How many are controlled by Lord Herbert, by Bolingbroke, by Kant, by Hegel, by Comte ? We may not be able, indeed, to read that book, either in the original language or in a translation, but we can not but respect it. The late Mr. Everett said that he had often attempted to read it, but had been unable to accomplish it; and all of us who attempt it, after a few pages or chapters, coincide with his remark, and lay down the book. But it is read, and read as the Bible is, by millions too, as giving them law, and forming their faith, and we can not but respect it. We can not but feel an interest in any book that has power to hold one hundred and sixty millions of the human race in subjection, and to mould the institutions and laws of so large a portion of mankind. There is more to interest us in that fact than there was in the power of Alexander, who subdued the world by arms; or in the power of the Autocrat of Russia, who rules by hereditary right; or in the power of Napoleon, who held nations in subjection by a most potent and active will. For, in such cases, there is living power, and there are vast armies, and there are frowning bulwarks, and there are the means of crushing and destroying men. But the dominion of the Koran is The Dominion Of A Book—a silent, still, speechless thing that has no will, no armies, no living energies, no chainshot, no cannon, and yet it exerts a power which the monarch and the conqueror never wields. It lives, too, when monarchs and conquerors die. It rules advancing generations, and subdues their wills too. It moulds their opinions, leads them to temples of worship, and restrains their passions with a power which monarchs never wielded. It guides them in life, and is the last book which they consult, or call to remembrance, on the bed of death; and I think it will not be denied that I am justified in the conclusion that the powers of the human mind have exhausted themselves in that direction ; that no man—not even Comte—can hope that it is within the range of his powers to originate a system that shall exert an influence on mankind as wide as the Koran, or that, displacing the Bible, and the Koran, and the Zendavesta, and the Shasters, shall disclose a system of religion that shall meet the wants of all mankind.
I infer from these remarks that the powers of man have exhausted themselves in this direction; that the human mind is limited on the subject of religion; that there are boundaries which it does not pass; that, if man is to have light to guide him to his Maker, it must be found, not in the recorded results of human thinking hitherto; not in any intuitions to which the human powers may rise; not in any books of human devising claiming to be a revelation, but in a " bookrevelation" that comes direct from God—not in the Sibylline oracles, or in the Zendavesta, or in the Shasters, or in the Koran, but in the Bible.