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losophy, when, in endeavouring to solve the riddle of existence, they have approached, albeit with reverence and humility, the source from which all existence proceeds. Shrouded from human comprehension in an obscurity from which chastened imagination is awed back, and thought retreats in conscious weakness, the Divine nature is surely a theme on which man is little entitled to dogmatize. Accordingly it is here that the philosophic intellect becomes most painfully aware of its own insufficiency. .. But the common understanding has no such humility ; its God is an Incarnate Divinity;-imperfection imposes its own limitations on the Illimitable, and clothes the inconceivable Spirit of the Universe in sensuous and intelligible forms derived from finite nature !”
This conviction once gained, the whole rational basis for intolerance is cut away. We are all of us (though not all equally) mistaken; and the cherished dogmas of each of us are not, as we had fondly supposed, the pure truth of God, but simply our own special form of error--the fragmentary and refracted ray of light which has fallen on our own minds'.
But are we therefore to relax in our pursuit of truth, or to acquiesce contentedly in error ?-By no means. The obligation still lies upon us as much as ever to press forward in the search ; for though absolute truth be unattainable, yet the amount of error in our views is capable of progressive and perpetual diminution ; and it is not to be supposed that all errors are equally innocuous. To rest satisfied with a lower degree of truth than our faculties are capable of attaining, -to acquiesce in errors which we might eliminate, - to lie down consciously and contentedly in unworthy con
1 “ Our little systems have their day ;
They have their day, and cease to be .
They are but broken lights of Thee,
ceptions of the Nature and Providence of God, --is treason alike to Him and to our own Soul. It is true that all our ideas concerning the Eternal Spirit must, considered objectively, be erroneous; and that no revelation can make them otherwise ;—all, therefore, that we require, or can obtain, is such an image or idea of Him as shall satisfy our souls, and meet our needs ;-as shall (we may say) be to us subjectively true. But this conception, in order to become to us such satisfying and subjective truth, must of course be the highest and noblest that our minds are capable of forining';- every man's conception of God must consequently vary with his mental cultivation and mental powers. If he content himself with any lower image than his intellect can grasp, he contents himself with that which is false to him, as well as false in fact,- one which, being lower than he could reach, he must ipso facto feel to be false. The Peasant's idea of God-true to him-would be false to me, because I should feel it to be unworthy and inadequate. If the nineteenth century after Christ adopts the conceptions of the nineteenth century before him,-if cultivated and chastened Christians adopt the conceptions of the ignorant, narrow, and vindictive Israelite,—they are guilty of thinking worse of God, of takivg a lower, meaner, more-limited view of His Nature, than the faculties He has bestowed are capable of inspiring; —and as the highest view we are capable of forming must necessarily be the nearest to the truth, they are wilfully acquiescing in a lie. They are guilty of what Bacon calls “ the Apotheosis of error"-stereotyping one particular stage of the blunders through which philosophy passes on its way to truth.
Now to think (or speak) ill of God is to incur the guilt of blasphemy. It is surprising that this view of the matter should so rarely have struck the orthodox. But they are so intently occupied with the peril on one side, that they have
Religious truth is therefore necessarily progressive, because our powers are progressive, -a position fatal to all positive dogma.
become blind or careless to the at least equal peril that lies on the other. If, as they deem, erroneous belief be dangerous and criminal, it must be so whether it err on the side of deficiency or of excess. They are sensitively and morbidly alive to the peril and the sin of not believing everything which Revelation has announced, yet they are utterly blind to what should be regarded as the deeper peril and the darker guilt of believing that Revelation has announced doctrines dishonouring to the pure majesty of God. If it be wrong and dangerous to doubt what God has told us of Himself, it must surely be equally so, or more so, to believe, on inadequate evidence or on no evidence at all, that He ever taught doctrines so derogatory to His attributes as many which orthodox theology ascribes to Him. To believe that He is cruel, short-sighted, capricious, and unjust, is an affront, an indignity, which (on the orthodox supposition that God takes judicial cognizance of such errors) must be immeasurably more guilty and more perilous, than to believe that the Jews were mistaken in imagining that He spoke through Moses, or the Christians in imagining that He spoke through Paul. He is affirmed to be a jealous God, an angry God, a capricious God,-punishing the innocent for the sins of the guilty, -punishing with infinite and endless torture men whom He had created weak, finite, and ephemeral,-—nay, whom he had fore-ordained to sin, -a God who came down from Heaven, walked among men, feasted at their tables, endured their insults, died by their hands. Is there no peril in all this?no sin in believing all these unworthy puerilities of a Creator who has given us Reason and Nature to teach us better things ?-Yet Christians accept them all with hasty and trembling dismay, as if afraid that God will punish them for being slow to believe evil of Him.
We have seen that the highest views of religion which we can attain here must, from the imperfection of our faculties, be necessarily inaccurate and impure. But we may go further than this. It is more than probable that Religion, in
order to obtain currency and influence with the great mass of mankind, must be alloyed with an amount of error which places it far below the standard attainable by human capacities. A pure religion-by which we mean one as pure as the loftiest and most cultivated earthly reason can discernwould probably not be comprehended by, or effective over, the less-educated portion of mankind. What is truth to the Philosopher would not be truth, nor have the effect of truth, to the Peasant. The Religion of the many must necessarily be more incorrect than that of the refined and reflective few, -not so much in its essence, as in its forms-not so much in the spiritual idea which lies latent at the bottom of it, as in the symbols and dogmas in which that idea is embodied. In many points true religion would not be comprehensible by the ignorant, nor consolatory to them, nor guiding and supporting for them. Nay, true religion would not be true to them:—that is, the effect it would produce on their mind would not be the right one,-would not be the same it would produce on the mind of one fitted to receive it, and competent to grasp it. To undisciplined minds, as to children, it is probable that coarser images and broader views are necessary to excite and sustain the efforts of virtue. The belief in an immediate Heaven of sensible delight and glory will enable an uneducated man to dare the stake in the cause of faith or freedom ;-the idea of Heaven as a distant scene of slow, patient, and perpetual progress in intellectual and spiritual being, would be inadequate to fire his imagination, or to steel his nerves. Again : to be grasped by, and suitable to, such minds, the views presented them of God must be anthropomorphic, not spiritual ;-and in proportion as they are so they are false :—the views of His Government must be special, not universal ;--and in proportion as they are so they will be false'. The sanctions which a faith de
1 There are, we are disposed to think, several indications in Scripture that the doctrines which Christ desired to teach were put forth by him, not in the language of strict verity (even as he conceived it), hut in that clothing which
rives from being announced from Heaven amid clouds and thunder, and attested by physical prodigies, are of a nature to attract and impress the rudest and most ignorant minds' perhaps in proportion to their rudeness and their ignorance : the sanctions derived from accordance with the breathings of Nature and the dictates of the soul, are appreciable in their full strength by the trained and nurtured intelligence alone.
The rapid spread and general reception of any religion may unquestionably be accepted as proof that it contains some vital truth ;-it may be regarded also as an equally certain proof that it contains a large admixture of error,-of error, that is, cognizable and detectable by the higher human minds of the age. A perfectly pure faith would find too little preparation for it in the common mind and heart to admit of prompt reception. The Christian religion would hardly have spread as rapidly as it did, had it remained as pure as it came from the lips of Jesus. It owes its success probably at least as much to the corruptions which speedily encrusted it, and to the errors which were early incorporated with it, as to the ingredient of pure and sublime truth which it contained. Its progress among the Jews was owing to the doctrine of the Messiahship, which they erroneously believed to be fulfilled in Jesus. Its rapid progress among the Pagans was greatly attributable to its metaphysical accretions and its heathen corruptions. Had it retained its original purity and simplicity—had it been kept free from all extraneous admixtures, a system of noble Theism and lofty would most surely convey to his hearers the practical essentials of the doctrine -the important part of the idea.—(See Bush's Anastasis, p. 143.)
1 All who have come much into contact with the minds of children or of the uneducated classes, are fully aware how unfitted to their mental condition are the more wide, catholic, and comprehensive views of religion, which yet we hold to be the true ones, and how essential it is to them to have a well-defined, positive, somewhat dogmatic, and above all a divinely-attested and authoritatire creed, deriving its sanctions from without. Such are best dealt with by rather narrow, decided, and undoubting minds.