REV. PROFESSOR JAMES ORR, D.D.
Systematic Theology has fallen on evil days. To her may be applied, with scarcely a change of a word, what Kant in the Preface to his famous Critique says of metaphysics: "Time was when she was the queen of all the sciences, and if we take the will for the deed, she certainly deserves, so far as regards the high importance of her object-matter, this title of honour. Now it is the fashion of the time to heap contempt and scorn upon her, and the matron mourns, forlorn and forsaken, like Hecuba—
'Modo maxima rerum, Tot generis, natisque potens . . . Nunc trahor exul, inops.'"1
But a subsequent sentence also of this great thinker may be applied to theology: "For it is in
1 " So lately the greatest woman in the world, powerful in so many sons-in-law and children . . . now I am dragged away an exile, destitute."
reality vain," he says, "to profess indifference in regard to such inquiries, the object of which cannot be indifferent to humanity. Besides, these pretended indifferents, however much they may try to disguise themselves by the assumption of a popular style and by changes on the language of the schools, undoubtedly fall into [theological] declarations and propositions, which they profess to regard with so much contempt."
The grounds on which a denial of the right of Systematic Theology to exist is based are various, but they may at bottom all be reduced to one—the denial of the existence of an adequate foundation on which such a structure can be reared. Whether it be that the human faculties are held to be constitutionally incompetent to such a true knowledge of God and His ways as is presupposed in theology; or that the nature of religion, as lying in sentiment or emotion, is thought to preclude the element of knowledge—■ otherwise, indeed, than as the poetic vesture in which religious emotions transiently clothe themselves; or that there is lacking in reason or revelation a reliable source from which the desiderated knowledge may be obtained; or that the data in Scripture or religious facts on which theology has hitherto been supposed to rest have been rendered insecure or swept away by modern doubt and criticism—the result is the same, that theology has not a trustworthy foundation on which to build, and that, in consequence, it is an illegitimate pretender to the name of science. For it
will be conceded that this last and highest branch of theological discipline proposes nothing less to itself than the systematic exhibition and scientific grounding of what true knowledge we possess of God and His character and His ways of dealing with the world and men; and if no such knowledge really exists,—if what men have is at best vague yearnings, intuitions, aspirations, guesses, imaginings, hypotheses, about God, assuming this name to be itself anything more than a symbol of the dim feeling of the mystery at the root of the universe,—if these emotional states and the conceptions to which they give rise are ever changing with men's changeful fancies and the varying stages of culture,—then it is as vain to attempt to construct a science of theology out of such materials as it would be to weave a solid tissue out of sunbeams, or erect a temple out of the changing shapes and hues of cloudland. A "Science of Eeligions" might still exist to investigate the psychological laws involved in religious phenomena and their mocking illusions, and "dogmatics" might remain as a study and criticism of the Church's historical creeds; but an independent "Science of Theology," as a body of natural and revealed truth about God, and His purposes and dealings, would no more have any place.
We shall not anticipate Dr. Warfield's able discussion of the objections to Systematic Theology in the succeeding pages by going at any length into the subject here, but would only observe that, divested of irrelevancies, the issue resolves itself ultimately into the one question of the fact, nature, and verifiableness of the historical Christian revelation. The time is past when men's minds were captivated by the idea of a "Natural Eeligion" consisting of a few simple articles drawn from, and capable of proof by, reason apart from supernatural revelation—that favourite dream of the Deists and eighteenth-century illuminists; and while the "speculative" theory which would render theology independent of history by resolving its essential doctrines into metaphysical ideas has still its advocates, its sceptre is long broken in the domain of really serious theology. There remains as a source of theological knowledge the positive revealing and redeeming acts and words of God which constitute the subject-matter of historical revelation, though it may be contended that these stand in no antagonism to the conclusions of sound reason reflecting on the structure of the universe, or pondering the deeper questions of origin and destiny, but rather are in truest consonance with the latter, and furnish reason with a light to help it on its way. The chief danger, accordingly, in which theology at present stands arises from the mode in which these historical foundations of revelation are being critically and sceptically assailed,—a process which has already gone to sufficiently extreme lengths with respect to the Old Testament, and is now being applied to subvert faith in such vital facts as the resurrection of our Lord, and the miraculous context of the life of Christ generally, in the New. It is in this part of the apologetic field, probably, that a new decisive battle will have to be fought in the interests of the possibility of theology; and it is satisfactory to observe that one result of the critical movement itself has been to impress on many minds the impossibility of eliminating the supernatural factor from the explanation of the history either of Israel or of Christ.
When we read this article of Dr. Warfield's, on its first appearance, some months ago, in The Presbyterian and Reformed Review, it seemed to us that a special service would be rendered by its publication and circulation in a separate form, and we heartily rejoice that the same thought has independently occurred to others, and that the idea has now taken shape in this little volume. Apart from its other merits, the article will be found exceedingly informatory as to the tendency and bearings of certain recent interesting movements in Continental theology.