Слике страница

non of our time. In the higher walks of modern literature, an attitude is not unfrequently assumed toward Christianity which, in these ages at least, is new. It is concluded by the serene worshiper of reason or of man, that the Christian religion may now be treated with that polite and complimentary tolerance with which a generous victor treats the distinguished prisoner whose sword he has hung on the side of his tent. We are told that Christianity is the highest thing man has “done,” that it is the purest of earthly religions, that it has given voice to the deepest emotions in the human breast. Language, which reaches the gorgeousness, and force, and sweetness of poetry, has been woven into wreaths to crown it; intellect, which, in the width of its domain and the greatness of its might, suggests comparison with the central power of imperial Rome, has shrined it in a temple, or offered it a vassal throne. And how are Christians bound to receive the haughty condescension of all this praise? They are not left without an example by which to shape their conduct; their fathers taught them how to act in still more trying circumstances. We have not forgot the ancient offers, tacit or express, which were made to the religion of Jesus, and the wrath which awoke on their rejection. It might have obtained a seat on Olympus, a niche in the Pantheon of the ancient world; it might have sheltered itself under the wide wings, dropping gold and manna, of the Roman eagles. That the Crucified of Judea should be deemed mightier than the Jupiter of the Capitol, that the words of a few fishermen were to be esteemed more worthily than the ancient voice of the Sybil, and the mystic whisperings of a thousand sacred groves; this astonished and incensed the Pagan world, this cut to the heart the pride of Rome. But the declaration of the smitten Galileans was explicit and unchanging: the Gospel of Jesus is


problem is the formation of individual character, or rather the procuring for its formation a vital principle and solid basis.

Long and careful study of the works of Fichte and Mr. Carlyle give us assured confidence in defining the essential starting-point and characteristic of Fichtean pantheism. It is its assertion of the divinity of man. This is of course broad and explicit in the philosophy of Fichte. It is not so clear and definite in the works of Mr. Carlyle; that great writer, although giving evidence of a powerful influence from Fichte, having experienced one still more powerful from Goethe, and having clothed his doctrines, not in the statuesque exactitude of philosophic terminology, but in the living language of men. It

were, however, we think, difficult to conceive a more perfectly worked-out scheme of pantheism, in application to practical life, than that with which Mr. Carlyle has furnished us, and its essential principle ever is, the glory, the worship, the divinity of man. In our general literature, the principle we have enunciated undergoes modification, and for the most part, is by no means expressed as pantheism. We refer to that spirit of self-assertion, which lies so deep in what may be called the religion of literature; to that wide-spread tendency to regard all reform of the individual man as being an evolution of some hidden nobleness, or an appeal to a perfect internal light or law, together with what may be called the worship of genius, the habit of nourishing all hope on the manifestation of “the divine,” by gifted individuals. We care not how this last remarkable characteristic of the time be defined ; to us its connection with pantheism, and more or less close dependence on the teaching of that of Germany, seem plain, but it is enough that we discern in it an influence definably antagonistic to the spirit of Christianity.

The great point to be established against pantheism, and

that from which all else follows, is the separate existence of a Divine Being. We shall glance at the evidence of this in one of its principal departments-a department in which, we think, there is important work to be done—that of conscience.

There has appeared, in a recent theological work, what we must be bold to call a singularly shallow and inaccurate criti. cism of Butler's doctrine of conscience. It has been spoken of as depending on “probable” evidence, and certain problems which it enables us to solve are alluded to as momentous or insuperable difficulties. The former of these assertions seems to us plainly to amount to an absolute abandonment of what Butler has done, to a reduction of it to a nonentity or a guess. As Mackintosh distinctly asserts, and as might be shown by overpowering evidence, his argument is based on the “ unassailable” ground of consciousness—on that evidence which is the strongest we can obtain. Even the author of the Dissertation, however, has fallen into palpable error in treating of Butler; and we must quote the following clauses from him, both to expose their inaccuracy and to indicate wherein consist that definiteness and that precision which the author to whom we first referred desiderates in Butler's masterly demonstration :“ The most palpable defect of Butler's scheme is, that it affords no answer to the question, 'What is the distinguishing quality common to all right actions ? if it were answered, 'Their criterion is, that they are approved and commanded by conscience, the answerer would find that he was involved in a vicious circle; for conscience itself could be no otherwise defined than as the faculty which approves and commands right actions."

Let us hear Butler : :-“That your conscience approves of and attests to such a course of action, is itself alone an obligation. Conscience does not only offer itself to show us the way

we should walk in, but it likewise carries its own authority with it, that it is our natural guide,” &c.

This is quite sufficient. The supposed circle of Mackintosh is at once broken. To the question, What is the distinguishing quality common to all right actions ? our answer is explicit: The distinguishing quality is, that they are approved and commanded by conscience; and, we add, the word “right” is that by which, in common speech, the common conscious ness recognizes them to be thus approved and commanded. To the question, What, then, is conscience? we answer, Not a faculty which approves and commands right actions, as if they were right before, and were enforced for some outlying reason, but one which claims a power, whether original or derived, to set apart certain actions, and stamping them with its approval, constitute them right.

In one sentence, we think, we can sum up what Butler has done in this all-important matter. His doctrine simply is, that, by the constitution of the human mind, the essential characteristic of conscience is its power supreme among the faculties to adjudicate on actions; that the man who calmly interrogates consciousness, finds its declaration explicit, to the effect that refusal to obey the dictate of conscience is a denial of his nature.

Does this imply that man, by obeying conscience, becomes infallible ? On no conceivable hypothesis. It is right, in a matter of inductive reasoning, to consult the logical faculty, and not the imagination; a man who substitutes the fantastic limning of the latter, beautiful indeed in its place and time, for the substantial chain-work of the former, outrages his nature. But do we therefore say that the understanding errs not in the search for truth? or do we consider the fact that it does often and grievously fail an argument for discarding it

« ПретходнаНастави »