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from the principles on which a Christian church should be based, can be unimportant, because it is small. In the writer's opinion, the form of the early Church was not intended to be a model for all future ages. But any departure, which involves the sacrifice of the great principles which the apostles laid down, must lead, in the end, if not to the same corruptions, yet to corruptions as fearful and anti-christian, as those which, for thirteen centuries, have existed in the Church of Rome.
The Erlipse of Faith."
Such is the title of a recent work,* which must already have attracted the attention of many of the readers of the Christian Spectator,' and which is certainly, in many respects, one of the most remarkable books of our time. It proceeds from a profound study of the religious phenomena of the present day, and a lively feeling of the imminence and greatness of the peril with which we are threatened, by the spread of a subtle unbelief, which, in various forms, is sapping the religion of our people. It possible that the extent to which infidelity is diffused amongst the masses of this country is over-estimated, even by calm and otherwise accurate observers. The very fact that it has taken new forms, and speaks a new language, renders its existence more noticeable, although its amount may not materially have been increased. The old type of infidelity was worn out and powerless ; a new development was wanting for that antagonism to Christianity, which had become sullen and silent, but was not less real or determined. A few, indeed, have now gone over from the Christian side to that of disbelief: but the challenge may, without much fear of long dispute or failure, be boldly thrown out—Show, among recent seceders from Faith to Unbelief, one man of eminently strong nature, one who unites incontestable force and depth of intellect with a true experience of Christianity. Apart, however, from the few perverts to Infidelity, such as Mr. Newman, Mr. Foxton, and Mr. Greg, the mass of disbelievers would seem to be those who can pretend to no personal trial of Christianity, save in exercises of the intellect upon its surface difficulties and necessary mysteries.
But if this phrase—The Eclipse of Faith,' has a peculiarly deep significance in our day,-if darker shades more entirely than aforetime obscure the brightness of the truths of faith,-it is not with a sensation of danger, or with cries of alarm, that it need be regarded; still less should.it excite an angry and vehement spirit, that overflows in general denunciations or personal attacks. Danger there is—to men, not to religion. Alarm is allowable--for souls, not for truth. But it is most
Religious Sceptic." London:
“The Eclipse of Faith; or, a Visit to Longman and Co. Pp. 450. VOL. II.
necessary that every variety of religious error be met with a full recognition of the right of every man to hold and utter any opinion which rests on his conviction or sincere feeling, -and that it be conceded that perfect freedom of inquiry, and an unlimited right to publish and maintain any results to which such free inquiry, leads, is the fundamental requisite to rational conviction and the discovery and defence of truth, and cannot possibly be the ground of an accusation of moral turpitude against any who thus sincerely forms and proclaims his individual opinion. The tone of Christian controversialists, especially in the journals and reviews of the day, towards those who appear in the ranks of Unbelief, has too frequently violated this principle. There is a warmth and earnestness allowable to men who are engaged in defending all they hold most dear, in securing for their fellows the treasures threatened with loss, and in fighting-in a sense deeply significant to them—the battles of truth and God against the lies and wiles of the devil: but there has been more than this, apparent in a tendency to charge dishonesty on those who profess disbelief, and to treat as intentional wickedness all forms of false doctrine. Even if this were true, it were best to preserve an assured composure,-perhaps to the length of declining answer at all,—from the certainty that such hollowness and deceit will speedily become so apparent as effectually to refute its own pretensions, or such wickedness will blaze out in destructive fires, that will warn to a safe distance even the most curious observers. But, in truth, unless it be intended to maintain, that immoral and licentious tendencies necessarily underlic all religious error, it is unjust and injurious, in the absence of the proof of personal vices, to assume that there is a want of genuineness and honesty of purpose in disbelief. But, if disbelief be truly sincere, it is a sad and serious tenderness which, chiefly, it should excite in a man full of faith ; for how touching to such a mind must the reflection be So then, all that is as solid rock to my reason, all that is beautiful to my heart, all that is bright to my faith, is an unreality, a despair, a deep darkness to this brother-soul! And, perhaps, he is so unconscious of all that the reality or unreality of the objects of faith involves, that he rejoices in his ignorance of them, and is jubilant that they are not!' Scarcely could a higher or more affecting claim be made on our gentleness and patience, candour and friendliness, than that a brother is sincerely and unaffectedly an Infidel!
These remarks have succeeded each other almost without premeditation, under the dictate of a feeling, first—that this book may prove to some objectionable, if not even offensive, from its very fairness and general candour,-from its simple use of lawful reasoning, without horror or protestation, where it is the habit of many to bar discussion and to resort to imputations and denunciations,—from its calm and dispassionate handling of questions, which it is deemed by some profanity to propound, impiety to entertain ; and secondly—that even this otherwise fair and candid book is not altogether free from an occasional echo of the tone we deprecate, and is sometimes less just to the opinions and dispositions of antagonists than the author's evidently righteous intention would appear to sanction ;-so difficult is it, where our own convictions are firm and intense, and the subject lies out with clearness and eertainty before us, to give full effect to our proposed sympathy and impartiality towards those, whose oppositions seem to us to rest on a false basis, and their argument and criticism to be perverted as well as erroneous.
• The Eclipse of Faith' is directed against that 'exquisite thing called modern “spiritualism "' into which Christianity has been sublimed; which teaches that when one has ceased to believe all that is specially characteristic of the New Testament–its history, its miracles, its peculiar doctrines--you may still be a genuine Christian ;' which holds a 'faith' sufficiently diversified when you come to examine individual professors thereof; but always based upon the principle that man is a sufficient light to himself; that his oracle is within ; so clear as either to supersede the necessity--some say even the possibility of all external revelation in any ordinary sense of that term; or, when such revelation is in some sense allowed, to constitute man the absolute arbiter of how much or how little of it is worthy to be received.' The aim of the author is to expose the true character and to refute the pretensions of this “sentimental spiritualism,'-' to convince the youthful reader of the precarious nature of those modern book-revelations which are somewhat inconsistently given us in books which tell us that all book-revelations of religious truth are superfluous or even impossible; to convince him how easily an impartial doubter can retort with interest the deistical arguments against Christianity, and how little merely insoluble objections can avail against any thing; to convince him that the differences with which the assailants of the Bible taunt its advocates are neither so numerous nor half so appalling as those which divide its enemies; and, lastly, in some degree to protect those who are being made, or are in danger of being made sceptical as to all religious truth, by the religious distractions of the present day.'
The book purposes to be a journal kept by the author when visiting a nephew who had become a sceptic in relation to theological and ethical truth,' and to report the conversations which took place between the uncle and nephew, the discussions carried on by them with a college friend of the latter, who was a Newman-spiritualist, together with some papers and essays read occasionally in the course of these controversies. The form chosen is exceedingly favourable to the main design of the author ; it imparts vivacity to discussions which otherwise would often have been forbidding to the general reader ; it enables him to use the Socratic method, in which he is as nearly perfect as possible, and employs it with wonderful effect; it provides for the introduction of occasional topics not demanding the elaborate treatment of an essay, and but slightly related to his great characteristic themes; and it secures point and directness of remark, brilliancy and copiousness of illustration, as well as gives scope to a grave wit that plays like evening lightning, and an excellent satire that searches like fire, but is never contemptuous or angry. At the same time, the interspersed essays furnish more regular and finished discussions of such subjects as require to be treated with a strict logic, and ask from the reader more than usual concentration of thought.
Never do we remember to have observed in any modern religious writer, so rare a union of the highest and most precious qualities as ' exists in this author. The potency and comprehensiveness of his thoughts, and the exceeding subtlety of his reasoning, will be evidenced in the extracts we propose to give. The rich language he has at command, the quite boundless variety of expression which he uses, can be felt only in a continuous communion with the book. The fine and expressive images that here and there occur, the brilliant sayings and felicitous allusions that abound, are scarcely to be represented by isolated examples, but in their proper places and relations have insurpassable effect. And everywhere, be the theme ever so abstruse and difficult, the reasoning ever so close and delicate, or the conversational speech ever so slight or free, the style is immaculately pure and crystal clear. We know, as well as any incredulous reader of these high praises, that our words may seem extravagant. And we know that we shall be told from various quarters, that the book is acute rather thạn profound, dextrous rather than able, smart rather than forcible; in short, a very clever book, in which are many astonishing feats of logic, and triumphs of word-fence, but wanting in deep and true insight, and in the philosophical spirit! But we repeat, without meaning to convey an entire assent to all its propositions, or an unmixed approval of all its methods, that we think it everyway a wonderful and incomparable book in these days, both for the variousness and value of its contents, and the perfectness of its literary character. Here, perhaps, instead of returning to such matters, we may remark, that some of the contrivance on which what may be called the interludes of the book depend, is awkward and unpleasing-as the repeated dreams; that there is also something very unsatisfactory in the frequent imputation of Harrington's scepticism to some unhappy affair of the heart, to the burial of passionate hopes; while there is exceeding weakness in the last scene, where the uncle takes leave of his sleeping nephew, but not without peering into his dream-world, by the aid of some characteristic words on the question of questions, that fall from the lips of the sleeper. But, -unless a slight feeling, rather than distinct impression, that we have, be true—that the temper of the book is not always beautiful,—these small things are the only drawbacks we can allow from its great merits.
The principal persons of the book are, as we have said, three. There is the uncle (who appears as the author), an orthodox believer, learned in all the learning of the theologians, but having the stamp of the modern scientific culture—a gentleman who had no pious prejudices, but thoroughly rational convictions, who did not sanctimoniously avoid * Infidels,' but held that it was at least as necessary to meet them sincerely on one level of inquiry and argument, as to pray for them in the closet. The nephew, Harrington, is thus described — He is an impartial doubter; he doubts whether Christianity be true; but he also doubts whether it be false ; and, either from his impatience of the
theories which infidelity proposes in its place, as inspiring yet stronger doubts, or in revenge for the peace of which he has been robbed, he never seems more at home than in ridiculing the confidence and conceit of that internal oracle, which professes to solve the problems which, it seems, Christianity leaves in darkness; and in pushing the principles on which infidelity rejects the New Testament to their legitimate conclusions.' Harrington is certainly an impossible character, or, at least, a barely conceivable one-one uniting the strongest opposites, ever arguing so as to refute all other antagonists of Christianity, vengeful towards the spiritualists' especially, yet rejecting the claims of the religion which he assists to demonstrate to be consonant with sound reason, and the only possible religion for mankind. His friend, Fellowes, is a representative of the opinions of Francis Newman, and his characteristics are quietly hit off in Harrington's description—' He is far enough from being a sceptic. He has believed more and disbelieved more, and both one and the other for less reason than any other man I know. . . . . If he has rejected almost everything, he has also embraced almost everything; at each point in his career, his versatile faith has found him some system to replace that he has abandoned ; and he is now a dogmatist par excellence, for he has adopted a theory of religion which formally abjures intellect and logic, and is as sincerely abjured by them. Poor George! Sufficient unto the day,” with him, is the theology “ thereof !” I picture him to myself going out of a morning, with his new theological dress upon him, and chancing to meet with some friend, who protests that there is something or other not quite comme il faut, he proceeds with infinite complacency to alter that portion of his attire; the new costume is found equally obnoxious to the criticism of somebody else, and off it goes like the rest.' To this description the uncle adds, that though ludicrous it was not untrue; only the “ friend” in the image must be supposed to mean his own wayward fancy, for he is not particularly amenable to external influences.' What follows is so true a characterization of what is worst and weakest in the chief of our recent pseudo-spiritualists, that it ought not to be omitted. • So dominant is present feeling and impulse, or so deficient is he in comprehensiveness, that he often takes up with the most trumpery arguments; that is, for a few days at a time. Yet he does not want acuteness. I have known him shine strongly upon an angle of a subject; but he never sheds over its whole surface an equable illumination. Where evidence is complicated and serious, and consists of many opposing or modifying elements, he never troubles himself to compute the sum total, and strike a fair balance. He stands aghast in the presence of an objection which he cannot solve, and loses all presence of mind in its contemplation. He seldom considers whether there are not still greater objections on the other side, nor how much farther, if a principle be just, it ought to carry him.' ... * But one thing, surely, all must admire in him ; I mean his candour. What less than this can prompt him, after abandoning with such extraordinary facility so many creeds, and fragments of creeds, after travelling round the whole circle of theology, to confess with such