Imágenes de páginas

• We have no sympathy with those who are jealous of all investigations like those of this volume. We regard it as a mortifying concession for Christian apologists to make when they acknowledge that the study of the historical evidences of their faith is dangerous or unprofitable. It can be so only when it is onesided, or pursued with “a foregone conclusion." With most persons it must always be but partial, for a lifetime of learned leisure would be insufficient to master the “sum total of evidences," as recently sketched by a Bampton Lecturer. * But even a single chapter of truth on such a subject ought to have a healthy influence upon sincere inquirers. We only dread sophistry on the one hand and a feeble timidity on the other. We anticipate nothing but dishonor to God's word when its friends concede that its outward history has no solid basis, or is of inferior importance. We have the utmost confidence in the internal witness which the Bible bears to the conscience when it is fully manifested in the sight of God, but we should have great misgiving in the enforcement of the Gospel if we could give no rational and consistent account of its origin.

We have noticed, therefore, with intense interest the recent renewal of the controversy respecting miracles, in their relation to the order of nature. Our own country has contributed an honorable part in this discussion; and although the author of “Nature and the Supernatural” has returned to a view of the object of miracles which always prevailed in the general Church until a comparatively recent period, he has carefully adjusted it to the present demands of science. Real progress has also been made by the labors of Westcott, Fitzgerald, Whately, Wardlaw, Miller, Rogers, Coquerel, and others. Though most of these adhere to the dogmatic narrowness of representing miracles as wrought merely to prove a divine commission, and not rather as the necessary condition of a supernatural life, we think an advance has been made in the definition and application of truth.

Not merely the title of the work before us, but the general reputation of its author for accurate and extensive acquaintance with physical as well as theological science, raised high expectations. The embarrassments of many friends of evangelical

* H. L. Mansel, B.D. Limits of Religious Thought, American edit., p. 214.


truth, and the confident predictions of its enemies that it was about to receive important modifications under the demands of not one science only but of all the sciences, we confess had awakened our fears that there might be dangers we had not comprehended; and we looked with confidence to one who was not only a master of all the sciences, but had a talent clearly to express what he knows, for a comprehensive view of the whole subject. We knew, indeed, something of his prevailing inclinations. We expected more from the Savilian professor than from the evangelical clergyman. We hoped, however, that one who combined these offices, with a distinguished reputation in each, would admirably discuss a subject suited to his double function.

To say that we are disappointed would express the least of the emotions with which we have perused his work. That a man of affluent resources should fail to combine them so as to produce a distinct unity of impression, is just novel enough to remind us of some old, though unpleasant histories; but that ministers of an evangelical Church, composed of honest Englishmen, should renounce all that is essential to historical Christianity, and empty of all content the creed to which they profess allegiance, is yet uncommon enough to produce feelings of extreme mortification. The party to which our author belongs has shown, especially of late, very liberal tendencies, but we were not prepared for a development like this. It contains earnest spiritual elements, from which the English Church has gained in depth of spiritual life as well as in compass of thought. Professor Powell himself is unquestionably a sincere lover of truth, otherwise his doubts would have “smouldered” still beneath “a solemn or cynical hypocrisy.” He would have attempted no absurd reform of a faith which appears to us, on his own principles, annihilated. But his mind lacks vigor. He is more scrupulous in entertaining doubts than in giving free scope to truth. He is more irritated by the perpetual friction of some philosophic exotic in his system than he is animated by his general faith. We need not wonder, therefore, that a dreamy philosophy absorbs all his intellectual and spiritual energies, and that faith can act only under its permission.

As some explanation of the want of directness and of a happy combination of the materials of this work, we may notice that “considerable parts of it were composed long ago as ainplifications of an argument pursued in some articles in a periodical,” and that these portions have been connected together by new matter so as to form a series. Such “conglomerates” are seldom equable in composition or proportionate in design. The volume itself professes to be sufficiently distinct to be regarded as a separate work, though it is numbered as the third of a series "mainly directed to the great object of illustrating the true fundamental principles of the inductive philosophy." In the previous volumes, published within the last five years, “special reference was made to several points in which physical science and religious belief were brought into peculiar contact with each other.” The first and chief of these was the grand inference of natural theology respecting the being of a God from an extended study of the laws of the material universe. After a rather strained criticism of the Theistic argument, he concludes that “science cannot conduct to the idea of a creation out of nothing, or of a personal being with the attributes of Divinity.” Such ideas he derives exclusively from revelation through faith.* But besides this main topic, another, involving purely theological considerations, was discussed in a second volume, where the facts of geology were shown “necessarily to contravene the historical character of a very essential portion of the Jewish Scriptures—the six days' work of creation and the seventh day's rest—points so vitally wound up with their whole tenor that if we would maintain any faith in the New Testament we must entirely disconnect it from the Old.”+ It is, however, in this third volume of the series that his fundamental principle of "an order in nature which admits of no interruption is applied to the grounds of religious belief, and especially of our faith in miracles.” He endeavors to supply what he thinks is “wanting in our theological and philosophical literature: a perfectly impartial, candid, unpolemical discussion of the subject of miracles, in immediate connection with the vast progress of physical knowledge.” He is “thus involved in the larger consideration of the whole relations of physical to spiritual and revealed truth.” He first takes a general survey of the history of inductive science, noticing throughout how each class of events, which once seemed casual or supernatural, has gradually been resolved by science and traced to natural laws. Though this essay occupies nearly half the volume, it adds very little to the interest or power of the main argument, for those who needed information on such a subject might better have been referred to more detailed narratives; and intelligent scholars, for whose satisfaction he evidently wrote, would have conceded at first all that he asks in his conclusion. He next contends that “the provinces of natural and religious truth are so independent of each other that the former can yield only the lowest conclusions respecting a Supreme Mind, which is the original cause of natural order; and that the more sublime conceptions of a personal, omnipotent, and moral Governor, who can be worshiped and hold intercourse with men, must be derived, not from natural, not even from moral or metaphysical sources, but from direct revelation.” Reason, he thinks, could never infer a supernatural cause from any event, however extraordinary, but only refer every outstanding case, which transcends its existing powers, to some province of nature yet unknown; and if anything could be conceived of not referable to natural law, we should be compelled to look upon it not as supernatural but chaotic and atheistic. He then reviews the theories proposed by various writers to avoid an entire rejection of our Scriptures, by explaining their origin in a way which admits their miraculous history. The naturalistic system of Paulus, the mythic of Strauss, the subjective of Feuerbach, the psychologic of Ewald, and the doctrinal of Neander, he finds each attended with insuperable difficulties, because they receive the scriptural account in some literal sense inconsistent either with the facts of science or the honesty of its authors. Ecclesiastical miracles, however distinguished from the scriptural in dignity and purpose, he contends, can be discredited only on principles applicable equally to all. In a concluding essay he endeavors to present a more rational basis for our faith. He refers to a distinct order of impressions or intimations which may be afforded to some highly gifted individuals, and worthily ascribed a divine source. The truths communicated “must refer exclusively to moral and spiritual conceptions, to what we experience within ourselves, or to some more extended and undefined world of spiritual, unseen, eternal existence, above and beyond all that is matter of sense or reason, of which science gives no intimation-apart from the world of material existence, of ordinary human action, or even of metaphysical speculation, wholly the domain and creation of faith and inspiration." The only miracles which the author acknowledges are wholly in our minds, and, so far as we can see, aim only at that spiritual elevation of our natural powers which some have named inspiration.


* Essays on the Spirit of the Inductive Philosophy, the Unity of Worlds, and the Philosophy of Creation. By the Rev. Baden Powell, M. A., etc. London, 1855.

+ Christianity without Judaism, a Second Series of Essays, being the substance of Sermons delivered in London and other places. By the Rev. Baden Powell London, 1858.


The views of the school to which he belongs have been more fully developed in the “Essays and Reviews,” to which he contributed an essay “On the Study of the Evidences of Christianity;"* but as we wish to confine ourselves at present to a single subject, and one logically fundamental to the whole discussion, we prefer to review this volume of our author. It is the last distinct work in which he expressed his views previous to his departure to a world where he surveys his favorite universal order from another point of view. It is also the best statement in plain English of the present position of those who assail miracles on the ground of natural science. We shall omit most of what might be said of a personal nature, or which is unessential to the argument, and confine ourselves to a criticism of its main positions.

I. The grand principle, with the admission of which he confesses his whole ensuing discussion must stand or fall, is, that all things and events in nature are governed by laws which admit of no interruption. If any are not prepared to accept this principle in its fullest extent, he hardly condescends to reason with them, but refers them to the most ordinary school of inductive science. Now, fortunately, we are willing to admit his principle, but it must be with our own understanding of it. And yet it may help us all to go back for a while to such a school to ascertain what its precise instructions are. Even with the restrictions which, in the spirit of the most rigid, posi

* " Essays and Reviews,” by eminent English Churchmen, reprinted at Boston, from the second London edition, under the title of “Recent Inquiries in Theology." With an Introduction by Rev. F. H. Hedge, D.D.

« AnteriorContinuar »