SermonIndex Audio Sermons

An Outline Of The History Of Christian Thought Since Kant by Edward Moore


By the middle of the nineteenth century the empirical sciences had undergone vast expansion in the study of detail and in the discovery of principles. Men felt the necessity of some adequate discussion of the relation of these sciences one to another and of their unity. There was need of the organisation of the mass of knowledge, largely new and ever increasing, which the sciences furnished. It lay in the logic of the case that some of these attempts should advance the bold claim to deal with all knowledge whatsoever and to offer a theory of the universe as a whole. Religion, both in its mythological and in its theological stages, had offered a theory of the universe as a whole. The great metaphysical systems had offered theories of the universe as a whole. Both had professed to include all facts. Notoriously both theology and metaphysics had dealt in most inadequate fashion with the material world, in the study of which the sciences were now achieving great results. Indeed, the methods current and authoritative with theologians and metaphysicians had actually prevented study of the physical universe. Both of these had invaded areas of fact to which their methods had no application and uttered dicta which had no relation to truth. The very life of the sciences depended upon deliverance from this bondage. The record of that deliverance is one of the most dramatic chapters in the history of thought. Could one be surprised if, in the resentment which long oppression had engendered and in the joy which overwhelming victory had brought, scientific men now invaded the fields of their opponents? They repaid their enemies in their own coin. There was with some a disposition to deny that there exists an area of knowledge to which the methods of metaphysicians and theologians might apply. This was Comte's contention. Others conceded that there might be such an area, but claimed that we can have no knowledge of it. Even the theologians, after their first shock, were disposed to concede that, concerning the magnitudes in which they were most interested, as for example, God and soul, we have no knowledge of the sort which the method of the physical sciences would give. They fell back upon Kant's distinction of the two reasons and two worlds. They exaggerated the sharpness of that distinction. They learned that the claim of agnosticism was capable of being viewed as a line of defence, behind which the transcendental magnitudes might be secure. Indeed, if one may take Spencer as an example, it is not certain that this was not the intent of some of the scientists in their strong assertion of agnosticism. Spencer's later work reveals that he had no disposition to deny that there are foundations for belief in a world lying behind the phenomenal, and from which the latter gets its meaning.

Meantime, after positivism was buried and agnosticism dead, a thing was achieved for which Comte himself laid the foundation and in which Spencer as he grew older was ever more deeply interested. This was the great development of the social sciences. Every aspect of the life of man, including religion itself, has been drawn within the area of the social sciences. To all these subjects, including religion, there have been applied empirical methods which have the closest analogy with those which have reigned in the physical sciences. Psychology has been made a science of experiment, and the psychology of religion has been given a place within the area of its observations and generalizations. The ethical, and again the religious consciousness has been subjected to the same kind of investigation to which all other aspects of consciousness are subjected. Effort has been made to ascertain and classify the phenomena of the religious life of the race in all lands and in all ages. A science of religions is taking its place among the other sciences. It is as purely an inductive science as is any other. The history of religions and the philosophy of religion are being rewritten from this point of view.

In the first lines of this chapter we spoke of the empirical sciences, meaning the sciences of the material world. It is clear, however, that the sciences of mind, of morals and of religion have now become empirical sciences. They have their basis in experience, the experience of individuals and the experience of masses of men, of ages of observable human life. They all proceed by the method of observation and inference, of hypothesis and verification. There is a unity of method as between the natural and social and psychical sciences, the reach of which is startling to reflect upon. Indeed, the physiological aspects of psychology, the investigations of the relation of adolescence to conversion, suggest that the distinction between the physical and the psychical is a vanishing distinction. Science comes nearer to offering an interpretation of the universe as a whole than the opening paragraphs of this chapter would imply. But it does so by including religion, not by excluding it. No one would any longer think of citing Kant's distinction of two reasons and two worlds in the sense of establishing a city of refuge into which the persecuted might flee. Kant rendered incomparable service by making clear two poles of thought. Yet we must realise how the space between is filled with the gradations of an absolute continuity of activity. Man has but one reason. This may conceivably operate upon appropriate material in one or the other of these polar fashions. It does operate in infinite variations of degree, in unity with itself, after both fashions, at all times and upon all materials.

Positivism was a system. Agnosticism was at least a phase of thought. The broadening of the conception of science and the invasion of every area of life by a science thus broadly conceived, has been an influence less tangible than those others but not, therefore, less effective. Positivism was bitterly hostile to Christianity, though, in the mind of Comte himself and of a few others, it produced a curious substitute, possessing many of the marks of Roman Catholicism. The name 'agnostic' was so loosely used that one must say that the contention was hostile to religion in the minds of some and not of others. The new movement for an inclusive science is not hostile to religion. Yet it will transform current conceptions of religion as those others never did. In proportion as it is scientific, it cannot be hostile. It may at most be indifferent. Nevertheless, in the long run, few will choose the theme of religion for the scientific labour of life who have not some interest in religion. Men of these three classes have accepted the doctrine of evolution. Comte thought he had discovered it. Spencer and those for whom we have taken him as type, did service in the elaboration of it. To the men of our third group, the truth of evolution seems no longer debatable. Here too, in the word 'evolution,' we have a term which has been used with laxity. It corresponds to a notion which has only gradually been evolved. Its implications were at first by no means understood. It was associated with a mechanical view of the universe which was diametrically opposed to its truth. Still, there could not be a doubt that the doctrine contravened those ideas as to the origin of the world, and more particularly of man, of the relations of species, and especially of the human species to other forms of animal life, which had immemorially prevailed in Christian circles and which had the witness of the Scriptures on their behalf. If we were to attempt, with acknowledged latitude, to name a book whose import might be said to be cardinal for the whole movement treated of in this chapter, that book would be Darwin's Origin of Species, which was published in 1859.

Long before Darwin the creation legend had been recognised as such. The astronomy of the seventeenth century had removed the earth from its central position. The geology of the eighteenth had shown how long must have been the ages of the laying down of the earth's strata. The question of the descent of man, however, brought home the significance of evolution for religion more forcibly than any other aspect of the debate had done. There were scientific men of distinction who were not convinced of the truth of the evolutionary hypothesis. To most Christian men the theory seemed to leave no unique distinction or spiritual quality for man. It seemed to render impossible faith in the Scriptures as revelation. To many it seemed that the whole issue as between a spiritual and a purely materialistic view of the universe was involved. Particularly was this true of the English-speaking peoples.

One other factor in the transformation of the Christian view needs to be dwelt upon. It is less theoretical than those upon which we have dwelt. It is the influence of socialism, taking that word in its largest sense. An industrial civilisation has developed both the good and the evil of individualism in incredible degree. The unity of society which the feudal system and the Church gave to Europe in the Middle Age had been destroyed. The individualism and democracy which were essential to Protestantism notoriously aided the civil and social revolution, but the centrifugal forces were too great. Initiative has been wonderful, but cohesion is lacking. Democracy is yet far from being realised. The civil liberations which were the great crises of the western world from 1640 to 1830 appear now to many as deprived of their fruit. Governments undertake on behalf of subjects that which formerly no government would have dreamed of doing. The demand is that the Church, too, become a factor in the furtherance of the outward and present welfare of mankind. If that meant the call to love and charity it would be an old refrain. That is exactly what it does not mean. It means the attack upon evils which make charity necessary. It means the taking up into the idealisation of religion the endeavour to redress all wrongs, to do away with all evils, to confer all goods, to create a new world and not, as heretofore, mainly at least, a new soul in the midst of the old world. No one can deny either the magnitude of the evils which it is sought to remedy, or the greatness of the goal which is thus set before religion. The volume of religious and Christian literature devoted to these social questions is immense. It is revolutionary in its effect. For, after all, the very gist of religion has been held to be that it deals primarily with the inner life and the transcendent world. That it has dealt with the problem of the inner life and transcendent world in such a manner as to retard, or even only not to further, the other aspects of man's life is indeed a grave indictment. That it should, however, see ends in the outer life and present world as ends fully sufficient in themselves, that it should cease to set these in the light of the eternal, is that it should cease to be religion. The physical and social sciences have given to men an outward setting in the world, a basis of power and happiness such as men never have enjoyed. Yet the tragic failure of our civilisation to give to vast multitudes that power and happiness, is the proof that something more than the outward basis is needed. The success of our civilisation is its failure.

This is by no means a recurrence to the old antithesis of religion and civilisation, as if these were contradictory elements. On the contrary, it is but to show that the present world of religion and of economics are not two worlds, but merely different aspects of the same world. Therewith it is not alleged that religion has not a specific contribution to make.


The permanent influence of that phase of thought which called itself Positivism has not been great. But a school of thought which numbered among its adherents such men and women as John Stuart Mill, George Henry Lewes, George Eliot, Frederic Harrison, and Matthew Arnold, cannot be said to have been without significance. A book upon the translation of which Harriet Martinean worked with sustained enthusiasm cannot be dismissed as if it were merely a curiosity. Comte's work, Coura de Philosophie Positive, appeared between the years 1830 and 1842. Littre was his chief French interpreter. But the history of the positivist movement belongs to the history of English philosophical and religious thought, rather than to that of France.

Comte was born at Montpellier in 1798, of a family of intense Roman Catholic piety. He showed at school a precocity which might bear comparison with Mill's. Expelled from school, cast off by his parents, dismissed by the elder Casimir Perier, whose secretary he had been, he eked out a living by tutoring in mathematics. Friends of his philosophy rallied to his support. He never occupied a post comparable with his genius. He was unhappy in his marriage. He passed through a period of mental aberration, due, perhaps, to the strain under which he worked. He did not regain his liberty without an experience which embittered him against the Church. During the fourteen years of the production of his book he cut himself off from any reading save that of current scientific discovery. He came under the influence of Madame Vaux, whom, after her death, he idolised even more than before. For the problem which, in the earlier portion of his work, he set himself, that namely, of the organising of the sciences into a compact body of doctrine, he possessed extraordinary gifts. Later, he took on rather the air of a high priest of humanity, legislating concerning a new religion. It is but fair to say that at this point Littre and many others parted company with Comte. He developed a habit and practice ascetic in its rigour and mystic in its devotion to the positivists' religion -- the worship of humanity. He was the friend and counsellor of working-men and agitators, of little children, of the poor and miserable. He ended his rather pathetic and turbulent career in 1857, gathering a few disciples about his bed as he remembered that Socrates had done.

Comte begins with the natural sciences and postulates the doctrine of evolution. To the definition of this doctrine he makes some interesting approaches. The discussion of the order and arrangement of the various sciences and of their characteristic differences is wonderful in its insight and suggestiveness. He asserts that in the study of nature we are concerned solely with the facts before us and the relations which connect those facts. We have nothing to do with the supposed essence or hidden nature and meaning of those facts. Facts and the invariable laws which govern them are the only legitimate objects of pursuit. Comte infers that because we can know, in this sense, only phenomena and their relations, we should in consequence guard against illusions which creep in again if we so much as use the words principle, or cause, or will, or force. By phenomena must be understood objects of perception, to the exclusion, for example, of psychological changes reputed to be known in self-consciousness. That there is no knowledge but of the physical, that there is no knowing except by perception -- this is ever reiterated as self-evident. Even psychology, resting as it does largely upon the observation of the self by the self, must be illusive. Physiology, or even phrenology, with the value of which Comte was much impressed, must take its place. Every object of knowledge is other than the knowing subject. Whatever else the mind knows, it can never know itself. By invincible necessity the human mind can observe all phenomena except its own. Commenting upon this, James Martineau observed: 'We have had in the history of thought numerous forms of idealism which construed all outward phenomena as mere appearances within the mind. We have hitherto had no strictly corresponding materialism, which claimed certainty for the outer world precisely because it was foreign to ourselves.' Man is the highest product of nature, the highest stage of nature's most mature and complex form. Man as individual is nothing more. Physiology gives us not merely his external constitution and one set of relations. It is the whole science of man. There is no study of mind in which its actions and states can be contemplated apart from the physical basis in conjunction with which mind exists.

Thus far man has been treated only biologically, as individual. We must advance to man in society. Almost one half of Comte's bulky work is devoted to this side of the inquiry. Social phenomena are a class complex beyond any which have yet been investigated. So much is this the case and so difficult is the problem presented, that Comte felt constrained in some degree to change his method. We proceed from experience, from data in fact, as before. But the facts are not mere illustrations of the so called laws of individual human nature. Social facts are the results also of situations which represent the accumulated influence of past generations. In this, as against Bentham, for example, with his endless recurrence to human nature, as he called it, Comte was right. Comte thus first gave the study of history its place in sociology. In this study of history and sociology, the collective phenomena are more accessible to us and better known by us, than are the parts of which they are composed. We therefore proceed here from the general to the particular, not from the particular to the general, as in research of the kinds previously named. The state of every part of the social organisation is ultimately connected with the contemporaneous state of all the other parts. Philosophy, science, the fine arts, commerce, navigation, government, are all in close mutual dependence. When any considerable change takes place in one, we may know that a parallel change has preceded or will follow in the others. The progress of society is not the aggregate of partial changes, but the product of a single impulse acting through all the partial agencies. It can therefore be most easily traced by studying all together. These are the main principles of sociological investigation as set forth by Comte, some of them as they have been phrased by Mill.

The most sweeping exemplification of the axiom last alluded to, as to parallel changes, is Comte's so-called law of the three states of civilisation. Under this law, he asserts, the whole historical evolution can be summed up. It is as certain as the law of gravitation. Everything in human society has passed, as has the individual man, through the theological and then through the metaphysical stage, and so arrives at the positive stage. In this last stage of thought nothing either of superstition or of speculation will survive. Theology and metaphysics Comte repeatedly characterises as the two successive stages of nescience, unavoidable as preludes to science. Equally unavoidable is it that science shall ultimately prevail in their place. The advance of science having once begun, there is no possibility but that it will ultimately possess itself of all. One hears the echo of this confidence in Haeckel also. There is a persistence about the denial of any knowledge whatsoever that goes beyond external facts, which ill comports with the pretensions of positivism to be a philosophy. For its final claim is not that it is content to rest in experimental science. On the contrary, it would transform this science into a homogeneous doctrine which is able to explain everything in the universe. This is but a tour de force. The promise is fulfilled through the denial of the reality of everything which science cannot explain. Comte was never willing to face the fact that the very existence of knowledge has a noumenal as well as a phenomenal side. The reasonableness of the universe is certainly a conception which we bring to the observation of nature. If we did not thus bring it with us, no mere observation of nature would ever give it to us. It is impossible for science to get rid of the conception of force, and ultimately of cause. There can be no phenomenon which is not a manifestation of something. The very nomenclature falls into hopeless confusion without these conceptions. Yet the moment we touch them we transcend science and pass into the realm of philosophy. It is mere juggling with words to say that our science has now become a philosophy.

The adjective 'positive' contains the same fallacy. Apparently Comte meant by the choice of it to convey the sense that he would limit research to phenomena in their orders of resemblance, co-existence and succession. But to call the inquiry into phenomena positive, in the sense that it alone deals with reality, to imply that the inquiry into causes deals with that which has no reality, is to beg the question. This is not a premise with which he may set out in the evolution of his system.

Comte denied the accusation of materialism and atheism. He did the first only by changing the meaning of the term materialism. Materialism the world has supposed to be the view of man's condition and destiny which makes these to begin and end in nature. That certainly was Comte's view. The accusation of atheism also he avoids by a mere play on words. He is not without a God. Humanity is God. Mankind is the positivist's Supreme. Altruism takes the place of devotion. The devotion so long wasted upon a mere creature of the imagination, to whom it could do no good, he would now give to men who sorely need it and can obviously profit by it. Surely the antithesis between nature and the supernatural, in the form in which Comte argues against it, is now abandoned by thoughtful people. Equally the antithesis of altruism to the service of God is perverse. It arouses one's pity that Comte should not have seen how, in true religion these two things coalesce.

Moreover, this deification of mankind, in so far as it is not a sounding phrase, is an absurdity. When Comte says, for example, that the authority of humanity must take the place of that of God, he has recognised that religion must have authority. Indeed, the whole social order must have authority. However, this is not for him, as we are accustomed to say, the authority of the truth and of the right. There is no such abstraction as the truth, coming to various manifestations. There is no such thing as right, apart from relatively right concrete measures. There is no larger being indwelling in men. Society, humanity in its collective capacity, must, if need be, override the individual. Yet Comte despises the mere rule of majorities. The majority which he would have rule is that of those who have the scientific mind. We may admit that in this he aims at the supremacy of truth. But, in fact, he prepares the way for a doctrinaire tyranny which, of all forms of government, might easily turn out to be the worst which a long-suffering humanity has yet endured.

In the end, we are told, love is to take the place of force. Humanity is present to us first in our mothers, wives and daughters. For these it is present in their fathers, husbands, sons. From this primary circle love widens and worship extends as hearts enlarge. It is the prayer to humanity which first rises above the mere selfishness of the sort to get something out of God. Remembrance in the hearts of those who loved us and owe something to us is the only worthy form of immortality. Clearly it is only the caricature of prayer or of the desire of immortality which rises before Comte's mind as the thing to be escaped. For this caricature religious men, both Catholic and Protestant, without doubt, gave him cause. There were to be seven sacraments, corresponding to seven significant epochs in a man's career. There were to be priests for the performance of these sacraments and for the inculcation of the doctrines of positivism. There were to be temples of humanity, affording opportunity for and reminder of this worship. In each temple there was to be set up the symbol of the positivist religion, a woman of thirty years with her little son in her arms. Littre spoke bitterly of the positivist religion as a lapse of the author into his old aberration. This religion was certainly regarded as negligible by many to whom his system as a whole meant a great deal. At least, it is an interesting example, as is also his transformation of science into a philosophy, of the resurgence of valid elements in life, even in the case of a man who has made it his boast to do away with them.


We may take Spencer as representative of a group of men who, after the middle of the nineteenth century, laboured enthusiastically to set forth evolutionary and naturalistic theories of the universe. These theories had also, for the most part, the common trait that they professed agnosticism as to all that lay beyond the reach of the natural-scientific methods, in which the authors were adept. Both Ward and Boutroux accept Spencer as such a type. Agnosticism for obvious reasons could be no system. Naturalism is a tendency in interpretation of the universe which has many ramifications. There is no intention of making the reference to one man's work do more than serve as introduction to the field.

Spencer was eager in denial that he had been influenced by Comte. Yet there is a certain reminder of Comte in Spencer's monumental endeavour to systematise the whole mass of modern scientific knowledge, under the general title of 'A Synthetic Philosophy.' He would show the unity of the sciences and their common principles or, rather, the one great common principle which they all illustrate, the doctrine of evolution, as this had taken shape since the time of Darwin. Since 1904 we have an autobiography of Herbert Spencer, which, to be sure, seems largely to have been written prior to 1889. The book is interesting, as well in the light which it throws upon the expansion of the sciences and the development of the doctrine of evolution in those years, as in the revelation of the personal traits of the man himself. Concerning these Tolstoi wrote to a friend, apropos of a gift of the book: 'In autobiographies the most important psychological phenomena are often revealed quite independently of the author's will.'

Spencer was born in 1820 in Derby, the son of a schoolmaster. He came of Nonconformist ancestry of most marked individuality. His early education was irregular and inadequate. Before he reached the age of seventeen his reading had been immense. He worked with an engineer in the period of the building of the railways in the Midlands. He always retained his interest in inventions. He wrote for the newspapers and magazines and definitely launched upon a literary career. At the age of thirty he published his first book, on Social Statics. He made friends among the most notable men and women of his age. So early as 1855 he was the victim of a disease of the heart which never left him. It was on his recovery from his first grave attack that he shaped the plan which henceforth held him, of organising the modern sciences and incorporating them into what he called a synthetic philosophy. There was immense increase in actual knowledge and in the power of his reflection on that knowledge, as the years went by. A generation elapsed between the publication of his First Principles and the conclusion of his more formal literary labours. There is something captivating about a man's life, the energy of which remains so little impaired that he esteems it better to write a new book, covering some untouched portion of his scheme, than to give to an earlier volume the revision which in the light of his matured convictions it may need. His philosophical limitations he never transcended. He does not so naively offer a substitute for philosophy as does Comte. But he was no master in philosophy. There is a reflexion of the consciousness of this fact in his agnosticism.

That the effort of the agnostic contention has been great, and on the whole salutary, few would deny. Spencer's own later work shows that his declaration, that the absolute which lies behind the universe is unknowable, is to be taken with considerable qualification. It is only a relative unknowableness which he predicates. Moreover, before Spencer's death, the doctrine of evolution had made itself profoundly felt in the discussion of all aspects of life, including that of religion. There seemed no longer any reason for the barrier between science and religion which Spencer had once thought requisite.

The epithet agnostic, as applied to a certain attitude of scientific mind, is just, as over against excessive claims to valid knowledge made, now by theology and now by speculative philosophy. It is hardly descriptive in any absolute sense. Spencer had coined the rather fortunate illustration which describes science as a gradually increasing sphere, such that every addition to its surface does but bring us into more extensive contact with surrounding nescience. Even upon this illustration Ward has commented that the metaphor is misleading. The continent of our knowledge is not merely bounded by an ocean of ignorance. It is intersected and cut up by straits and seas of ignorance. The author of Ecce Coelum has declared: 'Things die out under the microscope into the same unfathomed and, so far as we can see, unfathomable mystery, into which they die off beyond the range of our most powerful telescope.' This sense of the circumambient unknown has become cardinal with the best spirits of the age. Men have a more rigorous sense of what constitutes knowledge.

They have reckoned more strictly with the methods by which alone secure and solid knowledge may be attained. They have undisguised scepticism as to alleged knowledge not arrived at in those ways. It was the working of these motives which gave to the labours of the middle of the nineteenth century so prevailingly the aspect of denial, the character which Carlyle described as an everlasting No. This was but a preparatory stage, a retrogression for a new and firmer advance.

In the sense of the recognition of our ignorance and of a becoming modesty of affirmation, over against the mystery into which all our thought runs out, we cannot reject the correction which agnosticism has administered. It is a fact which has had disastrous consequences, that precisely the department of thought, namely the religious, which one might suppose would most have reminded men of the outlying mystery, that phase of life whose very atmosphere is mystery, has most often been guilty of arrant dogmatism. It has been thus guilty upon the basis of the claim that it possessed a revelation. It has allowed itself unlimited licence of affirmation concerning the most remote and difficult matters. It has alleged miraculously communicated information concerning those matters. It has clothed with a divine authoritativeness, overriding the mature reflexion and laborious investigation of learned men, that which was, after all, nothing but the innocent imaginings of the childhood of the race. In this good sense of a parallel to that agnosticism which scientists profess for themselves within their own appointed realm, there is a religious agnosticism which is one of the best fruits of the labour of the age. It is not that religious men have abandoned the thought of revelation. They apprehended more justly the nature of revelation. They confess that there is much ignorance which revelation does not mitigate. Exeunt omnia in mysterium. They are prepared to say concerning many of the dicta of religiosity, that they cannot affirm their truth. They are prepared to say concerning the experience of God and the soul, that they know these with an indefeasible certitude. This just and wholesome attitude toward religious truth is only a corollary of the attitude which science has taught us toward all truth whatsoever.

The strictly philosophic term phenomenon, to which science has taken so kindly, is in itself an explicit avowal of something beyond the phenomenal. Spencer is careful to insist upon this relation of the phenomenal to the noumenal. His Synthetic Philosophy opens with an exposition of this non-relative or absolute, without which the relative itself becomes contradictory. It is an essential part of Spencer's doctrine to maintain that our consciousness of the absolute, indefinite as it is, is positive and not negative. 'Though the absolute cannot in any manner or degree be known, in the strict sense of knowing, yet we find that its positive existence is a necessary datum of consciousness. The belief which this datum of consciousness constitutes has a higher warrant than any other belief whatsoever.' In short, the absolute or noumenal, according to Spencer, though not known as the phenomenal or relative is known, is so far from being for knowledge a pure blank, that the phenomenal, which is said to be known, is in the strict sense inconceivable without it. This actuality behind appearances, without which appearances are unthinkable, is by Spencer identified with that ultimate verity upon which religion ever insists. Religion itself is a phenomenon, and the source and secret of most complex and interesting phenomena. It has always been of the greatest importance in the history of mankind. It has been able to hold its own in face of the attacks of science. It must contain an element of truth. All religions, however, assert that their God is for us not altogether cognisable, that God is a great mystery. The higher their rank, the more do they acknowledge this. It is by the flippant invasion of this mystery that the popular religiosity offends. It talks of God as if he were a man in the next street. It does not distinguish between merely imaginative fetches into the truth, and presumably accurate definition of that truth. Equally, the attempts which are logically possible at metaphysical solutions of the problem, namely, theism, pantheism, and atheism, if they are consistently carried out, assert, each of them, more than we know and are involved in contradiction with themselves. But the results of modern physics and chemistry reveal, as the constant element in all phenomena, force. This manifests itself in various forms which are interchangeable, while amid all these changes the force remains the same. This latter must be regarded as the reality, and basis of all that is relative and phenomenal. The entire universe is to be explained from the movements of this absolute force. The phenomena of nature and of mental life come under the same general laws of matter, motion, and force.

Spencer's doctrine, as here stated, is not adequate to account for the world of mental life or adapted to serve as the basis of a reconciliation of science and religion. It does not carry us beyond materialism. Spencer's real intention was directed to something higher than that. If the absolute is to be conceived at all, it is as a necessary correlative of our self-consciousness. If we get the idea of force from the experience of our own power of volition, is it not natural to think of mind-force as the prius of physical force, and not the reverse? Accordingly, the absolute force, basis of all specific forces, would be mind and will. The doctrine of evolution would harmonise perfectly with these inferences. But it would have to become idealistic evolution, as in Schelling, instead of materialistic, as in Comte. We are obliged, Spencer owns, to refer the phenomenal world of law and order to a first cause. He says that this first cause is incomprehensible. Yet he further says, when the question of attributing personality to this first cause is raised, that the choice is not between personality and something lower. It is between personality and something higher. To this may belong a mode of being as much transcending intelligence and will as these transcend mechanical motion. It is strange, he says, that men should suppose the highest worship to lie in assimilating the object of worship to themselves. And yet, again, in one of the latest of his works he writes: 'Unexpected as it will be to most of my readers, I must assert that the power which manifests itself in consciousness is but a differently conditioned form of the power which manifests itself beyond consciousness. The conception to which the exploration of nature everywhere tends is much less that of a universe of dead matter than that of a universe everywhere alive.'

Similar is the issue in the reflexion of Huxley. Agnosticism had at first been asserted in relation to the spiritual and the teleological. It ended in fastening upon the material and mechanical. After all, says Huxley, in one of his essays: -- 'What do we know of this terrible matter, except as a name for an unknown and hypothetical cause of states of our own consciousness? Again, what do we know of that spirit over whose threatened extinction by matter so great lamentation has now arisen, except that it is also a name for an unknown and hypothetical cause of states of our consciousness?' He concedes that matter is inconceivable apart from mind, but that mind is not inconceivable apart from matter. He concedes that the conception of universal and necessary law is an ideal. It is an invention of the mind's own devising. It is not a physical fact. In brief, taking agnostic naturalism just as it seemed disposed a generation ago to present itself, it now appears as if it had been turned exactly inside out. Instead of the physical world being primary and fundamental and the mental world secondary, if not altogether problematical, the precise converse is true.

Nature, as science regards it, may be described as a system whose parts, be they simple or complex, are wholly governed by universal laws. Knowledge of these laws is an indispensable condition of that control of nature upon which human welfare in so large degree depends. But this reign of law is an hypothesis. It is not an axiom which it would be absurd to deny. It is not an obvious fact, thrust upon us whether we will or no. Experiences are possible without the conception of law and order. The fruit of experience in knowledge is not possible without it. That is only to say that the reason why we assume that nature is a connected system of uniform laws, lies in the fact that we ourselves are self-conscious personalities. When the naturalists say that the notion of cause is a fetish, an anthropomorphic superstition which we must eliminate, we have to answer: 'from the realm of empirical science perhaps, but not from experience as a whole.' Indeed, a glance at the history, and particularly at the popular literature, of science affords the interesting spectacle of the rise of an hallucination, the growth of a habit of mythological speech, which is truly surprising. We begin to hear of self-existent laws which reign supreme and bind nature fast in fact. By this learned substitution for God, it was once confidently assumed that the race was to emerge from mythical dawn and metaphysical shadows into the noon-day of positive knowledge. Rather, it would appear that at this point a part of the human race plunged into a new era of myth-making and fetish worship -- the homage to the fetish of law. Even the great minds do not altogether escape. 'Fact I know and law I know,' says Huxley, with a faint suggestion of sacred rhetoric. But surely we do not know law in the same sense in which we know fact. If there are no causes among our facts, then we do not know anything about the laws. If we do know laws it is because we assume causes. If, in the language of rational beings, laws of nature are to be spoken of as self-existent and independent of the phenomena which they are said to govern, such language must be merely analogous to the manner in which we often speak of the civil law. We say the law does that which we know the executive does. But the thorough-going naturalist cast off these implications as the last rags of a creed outworn. Physicists were fond of talking of the movement of molecules, just as the ancient astrologers imagined that the planets had souls and guided their own courses. We had supposed that this was anthropomorphism. In truth, this would-be scientific mode of speech is as anthropomorphic as is the cosmogony of Hesiod, only on a smaller scale. Primitive religion ascribed life to everything of which it talked. Polytheism in religion and independent forces and self-existent laws in science are thus upon a par. The gods many and lords many, so amenable to concrete presentation in poetry and art, have given place to one Supreme Being. So also light, heat, and other natural agencies, palpable and ready to hand for the explanation of everything, in the myth-making period of science which living men can still remember, have by this time paled. They have become simply various manifestations of one underlying spiritual energy, which is indeed beyond our perception. When Comte said that the universe could not rest upon will, because then it would be arbitrary, incalculable, subject to caprice, one feels the humour and pathos of it. Comte's experience with will, his own and that of others, had evidently been too largely of that sad sort. Real freedom consists in conformity to what ought to be. In God, whom we conceive as perfect, this conformity is complete. With us it remains an ideal. Were we the creatures of a blind mechanical necessity there could be no talk of ideal standards and no meaning in reason at all.

[Footnote 6: Ward, Naturalism and Agnosticism, vol. ii. p.248.]


In the progress of the thought of the generation, say, from 1870 to the present day, the conception of evolution has been much changed. The doctrine of evolution has itself been largely evolved within that period. The application of it has become familiar in fields of which there was at first no thought. The bearing of the acceptance of it upon religion has been seen to be quite different from that which was at first supposed. The advocacy of the doctrine was at first associated with the claims of naturalism or positivism. Wider applications of the doctrine and deeper insight into its meaning have done away with this misunderstanding. Evolution, as originally understood, was as far as possible from suggesting anything mechanical. By the term was meant primarily the gradual unfolding of a living germ from its embryonic beginning to its mature and final stage. This adult form was regarded not merely as the goal actually reached through successive stages of growth. It was conceived as the end aimed at, and achieved through the force of some vital or ideal principle shaping the plastic material and directing the process of growth. In short, evolution implied ideal ends controlling physical means. Yet we find with Spencer, as prevailingly also with others in the study of the natural sciences, the ideas of end and of cause looked at askance. They are regarded an outside the pale of the natural sciences. In a very definite sense that is true. The logical consequence of this admission should be merely the recognition that the idea of evolution as developed in the natural sciences cannot be the whole idea.

The entire history of anything, Spencer tells us, must include its appearance out of the imperceptible, and its disappearance again into the imperceptible. Be it a single object, or the whole universe, an account which begins with it in a concrete form, or leaves off with its concrete form, is incomplete. He uses a familiar instance, that of a cloud appearing when vapour drifts over a cold mountain top, and again disappearing when it emerges into warmer air. The cloud emerges from the imperceptible as heat is dissipated. It is dissolved again as heat is absorbed and the watery particles evaporate. Spencer esteems this an analogue of the appearance of the universe itself, according to the nebular hypothesis. Yet assuredly, as the cloud presupposes vapours which had previously condensed, and the vapour clouds that had previously evaporated, and as clouds dissolve in one place even at the moment that they are forming in another, so we are told of nebulae which are in every phase of advance or of decline. To ask which was first, solid masses or nebulous haze, is much like recurring to the riddle of the hen and the egg. Still, we are told, we have but to extend our thought beyond this emergence and subsidence of sidereal systems, of continents, nations, men, to find a permanent totality made up of transient individuals in every stage of change. The physical assumption with which Spencer sets out is that the mass of the universe and its energy are fixed in quantity. All the phenomena of evolution are included in the conservation of this matter and force.

Besides the criticism which was offered above, that the mere law of the persistence of force does not initiate our series, there is a further objection. Even within the series, once it has been started, this law of the persistence of force is solely a quantitative law. When energy is transformed there is an equivalence between the new form and the old. Of the reasons for the direction evolution takes, for the permanence of that direction once it has been taken, so that the sequence of forms is a progression, the explication of a latent nature -- of all this, the mere law of the persistence of force gives us no explanation whatever. The change at random from one form of manifestation to another might be a striking illustration of the law of the persistence of force, but it would be the contradiction of evolution. The very notion of evolution is that of the sequence of forms, so that something is expressed or achieved. That achievement implies more than the mere force. Or rather, it involves a quality of the force with which the language of mechanism does not reckon. It assumes the idea which gives direction to the force, an ideal quality of the force.

Unquestionably that which men sought to be rid of was the idea of purpose in nature, in the old sense of design in the mind of God, external to the material universe, of force exerted upon nature from without, so as to cause nature to conform to the design of its 'Great Original,' in Addison's high phrase. In this effort, however, the reducing of all to mere force and permutation of force, not merely explains nothing, but contradicts facts which stare us in the face. It deprives evolution of the quality which makes it evolution. To put in this incongruous quality at the beginning, because we find it necessary at the end, is, to say the least, naive. To deny that we have put it in, to insist that in the marvellous sequence we have only an illustration of mechanism and of conservation of force, is perverse. We passed through an era in which some said that they did not believe in God; everything was accounted for by evolution. In so far as they meant that they did not believe in the God of deism and of much traditional theology, they did not stand alone in this claim. In so far as they meant by evolution mere mechanism, they explained nothing and destroyed the notion of evolution besides. In so far as they meant more than mere mechanism, they lapsed into the company of the scientific myth-makers to whom we alluded above. They attributed to their abstraction, evolution, qualities which other people found in the forms of the universe viewed as the manifestation of an immanent God. Only by so doing were they able to ascribe to evolution that which other people describe as the work of God. At this level the controversy becomes one simply about words.

Of course, the great illumination as to the meaning of evolution has come with its application to many fields besides the physical. Darwin was certainly the great inaugurator of the evolutionary movement in England. Still, Darwin's problem was strictly limited. The impression is widespread that the biological evolutionary theories were first developed, and furnished the basis for the others. Yet both Hegel and Comte, not to speak of Schelling, were far more interested in the intellectual and historical, the ethical and social aspects of the question. Both Hegel and Comte were, whether rightly or wrongly, rather contemptuous of the appeal to biology and organic life. Both had the sense that they used a great figure of speech when they spoke of society as an organism, and compared the working of institutions to biological functions. This is indeed the question. It is a question over which Spencer sets himself lightly. He passes back and forth between organic evolution and the ethical, economic, and social movements which are described by the same term, as if we were in possession of a perfectly safe analogy, or rather as if we were assured of an identical principle. Much that is already archaic in Spencer's economic and social, his historical and ethical, not to say his religious, chapters is due to the influence of this fact. Of his own mind it was true that he had come to the doctrine of evolution from the physical side. He brought to his other subjects a more or less developed method of operating with the conception. He never fully realised how new subjects would alter the method and transform the conception. Spencerian evolution is an assertion of the all-sufficiency of natural law. The authority of conscience is but the experience of law-abiding and dutiful generations flowing in our veins. The public weal has hold over us, because the happiness and misery of past ages are inherited by us.

It marked a great departure when Huxley began vigorously to dissent from these views. According to him evolutionary science has done nothing for ethics. Men become ethical only as they set themselves against the principles embodied in the evolutionary process of the world. Evolution is the struggle for existence. It is preposterous to say that man became good by succeeding in the struggle for existence. Instead of the old single movement, as in Spencer, straight from the nebula to the saint, Huxley has place for suffering. Suffering is most intense in man precisely under conditions most essential to the evolution of his nobler powers. The loss of ease or money may be gain in character. The cosmical process is not only full of pain. It is full of mercilessness and of wickedness. Good has been evolved, but so has evil. The fittest may have survived. There is no guarantee that they are the best. The continual struggle against our fellows poisons our higher life. It will hardly do to say with Huxley that the ethical struggle is the reverse of the cosmical process. Nevertheless, we have here a most interesting transformation in thought.

These ideas and principles, as is well known, were elaborated and advanced upon in a very popular book, Drummond's Ascent of Man, 1894. Even the title was a happy and suggestive one. Struggle for life is a fact, but it is not the whole fact. It is balanced by the struggle for the life of others. This latter reaches far down into the levels of what we call brute life. Its divinest reach is only the fulfilment of the real nature of humanity. It is the living with men which develops the moral in man. The prolongation of infancy in the higher species has had to do with the development of moral nature. So only that we hold a sufficiently deep view of reason, provided we see clearly that reason transforms, perfects, makes new what we inherit from the beast, we need not fear for morality, though it should universally be taught that morality came into being by the slow and gradual fashioning of brute impulse.

Benjamin Kidd in his Social Evolution, 1895, has reverted again to extreme Darwinism in morals and sociology. The law is that of unceasing struggle. Reason does not teach us to moderate the struggle. It but sharpens the conflict. All religions are praeter-rational, Christianity most of all, in being the most altruistic. Kidd, not without reason, comments bitterly upon Spencer's Utopia, the passage of militarism into industrialism. The struggle in industrialism is fiercer than ever. Reason affects the animal nature of man for the worse. Clearly conscious of what he is doing, man objects to sacrificing himself for his family or tribe. Instinct might lead an ape to do that. Intelligence warns a man against it. Reason is cruel beyond anything dreamed of in the beast. That portion of the community which loves to hear the abuse of reason, rejoiced to hear this phrase. They rejoiced when they heard that religion was the only remedy, and that religion was ultra-rational, contra-rational, supernatural, in this new sense. How one comes by it, or how one can rationally justify the yielding of allegiance to it, is not clear. One must indeed have the will to believe if one believes on these terms.

These again are but examples. They convey but a superficial impression of the effort to apply the conception of evolution to the moral and religious life of man. All this has taken place, of course, in a far larger setting that of the endeavour to elaborate the evolutionary view of politics and of the state, of economics and of trade, of social life and institutions, of culture and civilisation in every aspect. This elaboration and reiteration of the doctrine of evolution sometimes wearies us. It is but the unwearied following of the main clue to the riddle of the universe which the age has given us. It is nothing more and nothing less than the endeavour to apprehend the ideal life, no longer as something held out to us, set up before us, but also as something working within us, realising itself through us and among us. To deny the affinity of this with religion would be fatuous and also futile. Temporarily, at least, and to many interests of religion, it would be fatal.


It must be evident that the total view of the universe which the acceptance of the doctrine of evolution implies, has had effect in the diminution of the acuteness of the question concerning miracles. It certainly gives to that question a new form. A philosophy which asserts the constant presence of God in nature and the whole life of the world, a criticism which has given us a truer notion of the documents which record the biblical miracles, the reverent sense of ignorance which our increasing knowledge affords, have tended to diminish the dogmatism of men on either side of the debate. The contention on behalf of the miracle, in the traditional sense of the word, once seemed the bulwark of positive religion, the distinction between the man who was satisfied with a naturalistic explanation of the universe and one whose devout soul asked for something more. On the other hand, the contention against the miracle appeared to be a necessary corollary of the notion of a law and order which are inviolable throughout the universe. Furthermore, many men have come of themselves to the conclusion for which Schleiermacher long ago contended. Whatever may be theoretically determined concerning miracles, yet the miracle can never again be regarded as among the foundations of faith. This is for the simplest of reasons. The belief in a miracle presupposes faith. It is the faith which sustains the miracle, and not the miracle the faith. Jesus is to men the incomparable moral and spiritual magnitude which he is, not on the evidence of some unparalleled things physical which it is alleged he did. Quite the contrary, it is the immediate impression of the moral and spiritual wonder which Jesus is, that prepares what credence we can gather for the wonders which it is declared he did. This is a transfer of emphasis, a redistribution of weight in the structure of our thought, the relief of which many appreciate who have not reasoned the matter through for themselves.

Schleiermacher had said, and Herrmann and others repeat the thought, that, as the Christian faith finds in Christ the highest revelation, miracles may reasonably be expected of him. Nevertheless, he adds, these deeds can be called miracles or esteemed extraordinary, only as containing something which was beyond contemporary knowledge of the regular and orderly connexion between physical and spiritual life. Therewith, it must be evident, that the notion of the miraculous is fundamentally changed. So it comes to pass that we have a book like Mackintosh's Natural History of the Christian Religion, 1894, whose avowed purpose is to do away with the miraculous altogether. Of course, the author means the traditional notion of the miraculous, according to which it is the essence of arbitrariness and the negation of law. It is not that he has less sense for the divine life of the world, or for the quality of Christianity as revelation. On the other hand, we have a book like Percy Gardner's Exploratio Evangelica, 1899. With the most searching criticism of the narratives of some miracles, there is reverent confession, on the author's part, that he is baffled by the reports of others. There is recognition of unknown possibilities in the case of a character like that of Jesus. It is not that Gardner has a less stringent sense of fact and of the inexorableness of law than has Mackintosh or an ardent physicist. The problem is reduced to that of the choice of expression. We are not able to withhold a justification of the scholar who declares: We must not say that we believe in the miraculous. This language is sure to be appropriated by those who still take their departure from the old dualism, now hopelessly obsolete, for which a breach of the law of nature was the crowning evidence of the love of God. On the other hand, the assertion that we do not believe in the miraculous will easily be taken by some to mean the denial of the whole sense of the nearness and power and love of God, and of the unimagined possibilities of such a moral nature as was that of Christ. It is to be repeated that we have here a mere difference as to terms. The debate is no longer about ideas.

The traditional notion of the miracle arose out of the confusion of two series of ideas which, in the last analysis, have nothing to do with each other. On the one hand, there is the conception of law and order, of cause and effect, of the unbroken connexion of nature. On the other hand is the thought of the divine purpose in the life of the world and of the individual. By the aid of that first sequence of thoughts we find ourselves in the universe and interpret the world of fact to ourselves. Yet in the other sequence lies the essence of religion. The two sequences may perfectly well coexist in the same mind. Out of the attempt to combine them nothing clear or satisfying can issue. If one should be, to-day, brought face to face with a fact which was alleged to be a miracle, his instinctive effort would be, nevertheless, to seek to find its cause, to establish for it a connexion in the natural order. In the ancient world men did not argue thus, nor in the modern world until less than two hundred years ago. The presumption of the order of nature had not assumed for them the proportions which it has for us. For us it is overwhelming, self-evident. Therewith is not involved that we lack belief in a divine purpose for the world and for the individual life.

We do not deny that there are laws of nature of which we have no experience, facts which we do not understand, events which, if they should occur, would stand before us as unique. Still, the decisive thing is, that in face of such an event, instead of viewing it quite simply as a divine intervention, as men used to do, we, with equal simplicity and no less devoutness, conceive that same event as only an illustration of a connexion in nature which we do not understand. There is no inherent reason why we may not understand it. When we do understand it, there will be nothing more about it that is conceivably miraculous. There will be then no longer a unique quality attaching to the event. Therewith ends the possible significance of such an event as proof of divine intervention for our especial help. We have but a connexion in nature such that, whether understood or not, if it were to recur, the event would recur.

The miracles which are related in the Scripture may be divided for our consideration into three classes. To the first class belong most of those which are related in the Old Testament, but some also which are conspicuous in the New Testament. They are, in some cases, the poetical and imaginative representation of the profoundest religious ideas. So soon as one openly concedes this, when there is no longer any necessity either to attack or to defend the miracle in question, one is in a position to acknowledge how deep and wonderful the thoughts often are and how beautiful the form in which they are conveyed. It is through imagination and symbolism that we are able to convey the subtlest meanings which we have. Still more was this the case with men of an earlier age. In the second place, the narratives of miracles are, some of them, of such a sort that we may say that an event or circumstance in nature has been obviously apprehended in naive fashion. This by no means forbids us to interpret that same event in quite a different way. The men of former time, exactly in proportion as they had less sense of the order of nature than have we, so were they also far readier to assume the immediate forthputting of the power of God. This was true not merely of the uneducated. It is difficult, or even impossible, for us to find out what the event was. Fact and apprehension are inextricably interwoven. That which really happened is concealed from us by the tale which had intended to reveal it. In the third place, there are many cases in the history of Jesus, and some in that of the apostles and prophets, in which that which is related moves in the borderland between body and soul, spirit and matter, the region of the influence of will, one's own or that of another, over physical conditions. Concerning such cases we are disposed, far more than were men even a few years ago, to concede that there is much that is by no means yet investigated, and the soundest judgment we can form is far from being sure. Even if we recognise to the full the lamentable resurgence of outworn superstitions and stupidities, which again pass current among us for an unhappy moment, if we detect the questionable or manifestly evil consequences of certain uses made or alleged of psychic influence, yet still we are not always in a position to say, with certainty, what is true in tales of healing which we hear in our own day. There are certain of the statements concerning Jesus' healing power and action which are absolutely baffling. They can be eliminated from the narrative only by a procedure which might just as well eliminate the narrative. In many of the narratives there may be much that is true. In some all may be as related. In Jesus' time, on the witness of the Scripture itself, it was assumed as something no one questioned, that miraculous deeds were performed, not alone by Jesus and the apostles, but by many others, and not always even by the good. Such deeds were performed through the power of evil spirits as well as by the power of God. To imagine that the working of miracles proved that Jesus came from God, is the most patent importation of a modern apologetic notion into the area of ancient thought. We must remember that Jesus himself laid no great weight upon the miracles which we assume that he believed he wrought, and some of which we may believe that he did work. Many he performed with hesitation and desired so far as possible to conceal.

Even if we were in a position at one point or another in the life of Jesus to defend the traditional assumptions concerning the miraculous, yet it must be evident how opposed it is to right reason, to lay stress on the abstract necessity of belief in the miraculous. The traditional conception of the miraculous is done away for us. This is not at all by the fact that we are in a position to say with Matthew Arnold: 'The trouble with miracles is that they never happen.' We do not know enough to say that. To stake all on the assertion of the impossibility of so-called miracles is as foolish as to stake much on the affirmation of their actuality. The connexion of nature is only an induction. This can never be complete. The real question is both more complex and also more simple. The question is whether, even if an event, the most unparalleled of those related in the Gospels or outside of them, should be proved before our very eyes to have taken place, the question is whether we should believe it to have been a miracle in the traditional sense, an event in which the actual -- not the known, but the possible -- order of nature had been broken through, and in the old sense, God had arbitrarily supervened.

Allowed that the event were, in our own experience and in the known experience of the race, unparalleled, yet it would never occur to us to suppose but that there was a law of this case, also, a connexion in nature in which, as work of God, it occurred, and in which, if the conditions were repeated, it would recur. We should unceasingly endeavour through observation, reflexion, and new knowledge, to show how we might subordinate this event in the connexion of nature which we assume. We should feel that we knew more, and not less, of God, if we should succeed. And if our effort should prove altogether futile, we should be no less sure that such natural connexion exists. This is because nature is for us the revelation of the divine. The divine, we assume, has a natural order of working. Its inviolability is the divinest thing about it. It is through this sequence of ideas that we are in a position to deny, not facts which may be inexplicable, but the traditional conception of the miracle. For surely no one needs to be told that this is not the conception of the miracle which has existed in the minds of the devout, and equally of the undevout, from the beginning of thought until the present day.

However, there is nothing in all of this which hinders us from believing with a full heart in the love and grace and care of God, in his holy and redeeming purpose for mankind and for the individual. It is true that this belief cannot any longer retain its naive and childish form. It is true that it demands of a man far more of moral force, of ethical and spiritual mastery, of insight and firm will, to sustain the belief in the purpose of God for himself and for all men, when a man believes that he sees and feels God only in and through nature and history, through personal consciousness and the personal consciousness of Jesus. It is true that it has, apparently, been easier for men to think of God as outside and above his world, and of themselves as separated from their fellows by his special providence. It is more difficult, through glad and intelligent subjection to all laws of nature and of history, to achieve the education of one's spirit, to make good one's inner deliverance from the world, to aid others in the same struggle and to set them on their way to God. Men grow uncertain within themselves, because they say that traditional religion has apprehended the matter in a different way. This is true. It is also misleading. Whatever miracles Jesus may have performed, no one can say that he performed them to make life easier for himself, to escape the common lot, to avoid struggle, to evade suffering and disgraceful death. On the contrary, in genuine human self-distrust, but also in genuine heroism, he gave himself to his vocation, accepting all that went therewith, and finished the work of God which he had made his own. This is the more wonderful because it lay so much nearer to him than it can lie to us, to pray for special evidence of the love of God and to set his faith on the receiving of it. He had not the conception of the relation of God to nature and history which we have.

We may well view the modern tendency to belief in healings through prayer, suggestion and faith, as an intelligible, an interesting, and in part, a touching manifestation. Of course there is mingled with it much dense ignorance, some superstition and even deception. Yet behind such a phenomenon there is meaning. Men of this mind make earnest with the thought that God cares for them. Without that thought there is no religion. They have been taught to find the evidence of God's love and care in the unusual. They are quite logical. It has been a weak point of the traditional belief that men have said that in the time of Christ there were miracles, but since that time, no more. Why not, if we can only in spirit come near to Christ and God? They are quite logical also in that they have repudiated modern science. To be sure, no inconsiderable part of them use the word science continually.

But the very esoteric quality of their science is that it means something which no one else ever understood that it meant. In reality their breach with science is more radical than their breach with Christianity. They feel the contradiction in which most men are bound fast, who will let science have its way, up to a certain point, but who beyond that, would retain the miracle. Dimly the former appreciate that this position is impossible. They leave it to other men to become altogether scientific if they wish. For themselves they prefer to remain religious. What a revival of ancient superstitions they have brought to pass, is obvious. Still we shall never get beyond such adventurous and preposterous endeavours to rescue that which is inestimably precious in religion, until the false antithesis between reason and faith, the lying contradiction between the providence of God and the order of nature, is overcome. Some science mankind apparently must have. Altogether without religion the majority, it would seem, will never be. How these are related, the one to the other, not every one sees. Many attempt their admixture in unhappy ways. They might try letting them stand in peace as complement and supplement the one to the other. Still better, they may perhaps some day see how each penetrates, permeates and glorifies the other.


We said that the last generation had been characterised by an unexampled concentration of intellectual interest upon problems presented by the social sciences. With this has gone an unrivalled earnestness in the interpretation of religion as a social force. The great religious enthusiasm has been that of the application of Christianity to the social aspects of life. This effort has furnished most of the watchwords of religious teaching. It has laid vigorous, not to say violent, hands on religious institutions. It has given a new perspective to effort and a new impulse to devotion. The revival of religion in our age has taken this direction, with an exclusiveness which has had both good and evil consequences. Yet, before all, it should be made clear that it constitutes a religious revival. Some are deploring the prostrate condition of spiritual interests. If one judged only by conventional standards, they have much evidence upon their side. Some are seeking to galvanise religious life by recurrence to evangelistic methods successfully operative half a century ago. The outstanding fact is that the age shows immense religious vitality, so soon as one concedes that it must be allowed to show its vitality in its own way. It is the age of the social question. One must be ignorant indeed of the activity of the churches and of the productivity of religious thinkers, if he does not own that in Christian circles also no questions are so rife as these. Whether the panaceas have been all wise or profitable may be questioned. Whether the interest has not been even excessive and one-sided, whether the accusation has not been occasionally unjust and the self-accusation morbid, these are questions which it might be possible in some quarters to ask. This is, however, only another form of proof of what we say. The religious interest in social questions has not been aroused primarily by intellectual and scientific impulses, nor fostered mainly by doctrinaire discussion. On the contrary, the initiative has been from the practical side. It has been a question of life and service. If anything, one often misses the scientific note in the flood of semi-religious literature relating to this theme, the realisation that, to do well, it is often profitable to think. Yet there is effort to mediate the best results of social-scientific thinking, through clerical education and directly to the laity. On the other hand, a deep sense of ethical and spiritual responsibility is prevalent among thinkers upon social topics.

Often indeed has the quality of Christianity been observed which is here exemplified. Each succeeding age has read into Christ's teachings, or drawn out from his example, the special meaning which that generation, or that social level, or that individual man had need to draw. To them in their enthusiasm it has often seemed as if this were the only lesson reasonable men could draw. Nothing could be more enlightening than is reflexion upon this reading of the ever-changing ideals of man's life into Christianity, or of Christianity into the ever-advancing ideals of man's life. This chameleonlike quality of Christianity is the farthest possible remove from the changelessness which men love to attribute to religion. It is the most wonderful quality which Christianity possesses. It is precisely because of the recognition of this capacity for change that one may safely argue the continuance of Christianity in the world. Yet also because of this recognition, one is put upon his guard against joining too easily in the clamour that a past apprehension of religion was altogether wrong, or that a new and urgent one, in its exclusive emphasis and its entirety, is right. Our age is haunted by the sense of terrific social and economic inequalities which prevail. It has set its heart upon the elimination of those inequalities. It is an age whose disrespect for religion is in some part due to the fact that religion has not done away with these inequalities. It is an age which is immediately interested in an interpretation of religion which will make central the contention that, before all things else, these inequalities must be done away. If religion can be made a means of every man's getting his share of the blessings of this world, well and good. If not, there are many men and women to whom religion seems utterly meaningless.

This sentence hardly overstates the case. It is the challenge of the age to religion to do something which the age profoundly needs, and which religion under its age-long dominant apprehension has not conspicuously done, nor even on a great scale attempted. It is the challenge to religion to undertake a work of surpassing grandeur -- nothing less than the actualisation of the whole ideal of the life of man. Religious men respond with the quickened and conscientious conviction, not indeed that they have laid too great an emphasis upon the spiritual, but that under a dualistic conception of God and man and world, they have never sufficiently realised that the spiritual is to be realised in the material, the ideal in and not apart from the actual, the eternal in and not after the temporal. Yet with that oscillatory quality which belongs to human movements, especially where old wrongs and errors have come deeply to be felt, a part of the literature of the contention shows marked tendency to extremes. A religion in the body must become a religion of the body. A Christianity of the social state runs risk of being apprehended as merely one more means for compassing outward and material ends. Religion does stand for the inner life and the transcendent world, only not an inner life through the neglect of the outer, or a transcendent world in some far-off star or after an aeon or two. There might be meaning in the argument that, exactly because so many other forces in our age do make for the realisation of the outer life and present world with an effectiveness and success which no previous age has ever dreamed, there is the more reason, and not the less, why religion should still be religion. Exactly this is the contention of Eueken in one of the most significant contributions of recent years to the philosophy of religion, his Wahrheitsgehalt der Religion, 1901, transl. Jones, 1911. The very source and cause of the sure recovery of religion in our age will be the experience of the futility, the bankruptcy, of a civilisation without faith. No nobler argument has been heard in our time for the spiritual meaning of religion, with the fullest recognition of all its other meanings.

The modern emphasis on the social aspects of religion may be said to have been first clearly expressed in Seeley's Ecce Homo, 1867. The pith of the book is in this phrase: 'To reorganise society and to bind the members of it together by the closest ties was the business of Jesus' life.' Allusion has been made to Fremantle's The World as the Subject of Redemption, 1885. Worthy of note is also Fairbairn's Religion in History and Modern Life, 1894; pre-eminently so is Bosanquet's The Civilisation of Christendom, 1893. Westcott's Incarnation and Common Life, 1893, contains utterances of weight. Peabody, in his book, Jesus Christ and the Social Question, 1905, has given, on the whole, the best resume of the discussion. He conveys incidentally an impression of the body of literature produced in recent years, in which it is assumed, sometimes with embitterment, that the centre of gravity of Christianity is outside the Church. Sell, in the very title of his illuminating little book, Christenthum und Weltgeschichte seit der Reformation: das Christenthum in seiner Entwickelung ueber die Kirche hinaus, 1910, records an impression, which is widespread and true, that the characteristic mark of modern Christianity is that it has transcended the organs and agencies officially created for it. It has become non-ecclesiastical, if not actually hostile to the Church. It has permeated the world in unexpected fashion and does the deeds of Christianity, though rather eager to avoid the name. The anti-clericalism of the Latin countries is not unintelligible, the anti-ecclesiasticism of the Teutonic not without a cause. German socialism, ever since Karl Marx, has been fundamentally antagonistic to any religion whatsoever. It is purely secularist in tone. This is also a strained situation, liable to become perverse. That part of the Christian Church which understands itself, rejoices in nothing so much as in the fact that the spirit of Christ is so widely disseminated, his influence felt by many who do not know what influence it is which they feel, his work done by vast numbers who would never call themselves his workers. That part of the Church is not therewith convinced but that there is need of the Church as institution, and of those who are consciously disciples of Jesus in the world.

By far the largest question, however, which is raised in this connexion, is one different from any thus far intimated. It is, perhaps, the last question one would have expected the literature of the social movement to raise. It is, namely, the question of the individual. Ever since the middle of the eighteenth century a sort of universalistic optimism, to which the individual is sacrificed, has obtained. Within the period of which this book treats the world has won an enlargement of horizon of which it never dreamed. It has gained a forecast of the future of culture and civilisation which is beyond imagination. The access of comfort makes men at home in the world as they never were at home. There has been set a value on this life which life never had before. The succession of discoveries and applications of discovery makes it seem as if there were to be no end in this direction. From Rousseau to Spencer men have elaborated the view that the historical process cannot really issue in anything else than in ever higher stages of perfection and of happiness. They postulate a continuous enhancement of energy and a steady perfecting of intellectual and moral quality. As the goal of evolution appears an ideal condition which is either indefinitely remote, that is, which gives room for the bliss of infinite progress in its direction, or else a definitely attainable condition, which would have within itself the conditions of perpetuity.

The resistlessness with which this new view of the life of civilisation has won acknowledgment from men of all classes is amazing. It rests upon a belief in the self-sufficiency and the all-sufficiency of the life of this world, of the bearings of which it may be assumed that few of its votaries are aware. In reality this view cannot by any possibility be described as the result of knowledge. On the contrary, it is a venture of faith. It is the peculiar, the very characteristic and suggestive form which the faith of our age takes. Men believe in this indefinite progress of the world and of mankind, because without postulating such progress they do not see how they can assume the absolute worth of an activity which is yet the only thing which has any interest to most of them. Under this view one can assign to the individual life a definite significance, only upon the supposition that the individual is the organ of realisation of a part of this progress of mankind. All happiness and suffering, all changes in knowledge and manner of conduct, are supposed to have no worth each for itself or for the sake of the individual, but only for their relation to the movement as a whole. Surely this is an illusion. Exactly that in which the characteristic quality of the world and of life is found, the individual personalities, the single generations, the concrete events -- these lose, in this view, their own particular worth. What can possibly be the worth of a whole of which the parts have no worth? We have here but a parallel on a huge scale of that deadly trait in our own private lives, according to which it makes no difference what we are doing, so only that we are doing, or whither we are going, so only that we cease not to go, or what our noise is all about, so only that there be no end of the noise. Certainly no one can establish the value of the evolutionary process in and of itself.

If the movement as a whole has no definite end that has absolute worth, then it has no worth except as the stages, the individual factors included in it, attain to something within themselves which is of increasing worth. If the movement achieves this, then it has worth, not otherwise. We may illustrate this question by asking ourselves concerning the existence and significance of suffering and of the evil and of the bad which are in the world, in their relation to this tendency to indefinite progress which is supposed to be inherent in civilisation. On this theory we have to say that the suffering of the individual is necessary for the development and perfecting of the whole. As over against the whole the individual has no right to make demands as to welfare or happiness. The bad also becomes only relative. In the movement taken as a whole, it is probably unavoidable. In any case it is negligible, since the movement is irresistible. All ethical values are absorbed in the dynamic ones, all personal values in the collective ones. Surely the sole intelligent question about any civilisation is, what sort of men does it produce. If it produces worthless individuals, it is so far forth a worthless civilisation. If it has sacrificed many worthy men in order to produce this ignoble result, then it is more obviously ignoble than ever.

Furthermore, this notion of an inherent necessity and an irresistible tendency to progress is a chimera. The progress of mankind is a task. It is something to which the worthy human spirit is called upon to make contribution. The unworthy never hear the call. Progress is not a natural necessity. It is an ethical obligation. It is a task which has been fulfilled by previous generations in varying degrees of perfectness. It will be participated in by succeeding generations with varying degrees of wisdom and success. But as to there being anything autonomous about it, this is sheer hallucination, myth-making again, on the part of those who boast that they despise the myth, miracle-mongering on the part of those who have abjured the miracle, nonsense on the part of those who boast that they alone are sane. There is no ultimate source of civilisation but the individual, as there is also no issue of civilisation but in individuals. Men, characters, personalities, are the makers of it. Men are the product which is made. The higher stages and achievements of the life of society have come to pass always and only upon condition that single personalities have recognised the problem, seen their individual duty and known how to inspire others with enthusiasm. Periods of decline are always those in which this personal element cannot make itself felt. Democracies and periods of the intensity of emphasis upon the social movement, tend directly to the depression and suppression of personality. Such reflexions will have served their purpose if they give us some clear sense of what we have to understand as the effect of the social movement on religion. They may give also some forecast of the effect of real religion on the social movement. For religion is the relation of God and personality. It can be social only in the sense that society, in all its normal relations, is the sphere within which that relation of God and personality is to be wrought out.

[Footnote 7: Siebeck, Religionsphilosophie, 1893, s.407.]

<<  Contents  >>

Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Affiliate Disclosure | Privacy Policy