« السابقةمتابعة »
able to trace to one cause several or many different effects, and including within its range some of the less common and familiar phenomena and qualities and laws of material objects, then may you expect that the idea of God will, in some corresponding measure, be exalted and purified also. The outward forms, therefore, in which the interior religious sense will be embodied and expressed, will vary in different ages and among different classes of men.
Take one of the lowest states which you can find. You see the savage, not, indeed, without any religious sense, any desire to seek after and to worship God, but, on the contrary, giving outward expression to his natural feelings of reverence in the rudest, yet in the most definite and undeniable forms; bowing
; in adoration before visible representations of the gods to whom his untutored mind ascribes the various appearances of nature that strike his attention. Here you have the religious feeling struggling, amidst gross darkness, to give itself an outward expression, unenlightened by the exercise of the reason, or by any intelligent observation of the universe.
In another stage of society, again, you have certain objects or powers of nature, themselves deified and worshiped,—the heavenly bodies, the principles of animal and vegetable life, taken, perhaps, in some instances, only as symbolical or representative of the incomprehensible Deity ; but, in other cases, regarded as the very objects of adoration themselves.
Passing on to a higher condition of society, you will find men making their gods in all essential features like themselves, filling heaven and earth with creations of the fancy almost as numberless as the different powers and phenomena of nature. Here you have the primitive feeling still the same, but assisted to a more worthy outward expression. Voice and form are given to it by the intellect and the imagination, aided by the observation of those traces of Himself which God has planted throughout the material world.
The moral character ascribed to the Supreme Being will, in these various stages, be low and forbidding. The worship is one of fear, rather than of love and duty. Man takes as his ideal that which is best and highest in himself; that is to say, his own imperfect moral conceptions; and so he makes his god just such an one as he is himself, only possessed of greater power, greater knowledge, and, it may be, greater wisdom. For example, even among the more cultivated peoples of ancient times, you find a comparatively low moral idea of the gods. They are beings of passion and prejudice ; ignorant and selfish at times; such, in short, that it would often be little gain to man to be "perfect,” even as they are.
These several cases of imperfect knowledge are mentioned chiefly to illustrate the position that the one primitive religious sentiment is really the hidden basis of all, manifesting itself in different ways, according to the state of knowledge, the moral and intellectual condition, even the physical circumstances, of those among whom it is found. And here it might perhaps by some persons be urged, that what gives origin to such different and often contradictory results, can itself be no safe or trustworthy guide, and that religious Faith is only a weak superstition, the mere product of the credulous imagination, something that but awaits the coming light of true Philosophy to be dissipated as darkness before the sun, and so pass away from the wiser thoughts of men and leave no trace behind. If it be so, then alas the huge deceit which through all time past has ruled the earth! Alas the hopes and the aspirations, the efforts and the sacrifices, of good men, which have been, and are still, from this deep spring of religious belief originated and sanctified ! Could there, in short, be anything true or right or beautiful in life, which we could freely and gladly take home to our hearts, and not feel that, perchance, it might in reality be a thing only of deception and falsehood, if, after all, this trust of the nations, this possession
of all the ages, were so baseless a vision as some would fain persuade us that it is ?
But it is not so ;—for we may surely and with more reason affirm, that what thus shews itself so constantly, in the midst of the most diverse forms of life and civilization, continually producing effects of the greatest moment in the history and condition of men, must be a great and living element of man's nature—must be a thing of truth and reality, and correspond to something true and real towards which it draws us, and of which it gives us our first rudimentary intimations. It cannot follow, because it operates to such different outward effects, that therefore it is a teacher of nothing but error; but only that it needs to be enlightened and guided by the Reason and the Moral Sense, or from some other quarter, before it can be relied upon as the revealer of any sure and abiding result of definite truth.
And this guidance and illumination of the religious faculty will evidently proceed from several sources.
First, the progress of general knowledge and of Science will strongly affect it. Ignorant men will often see, in the outward phenomena of nature, effects which are so contrary to each other, that they must needs ascribe them to different or opposing causes. Light and darkness, for example, they will think must proceed even from hostile principles; and he, therefore, who would deify the powers of nature, cannot, in his ignorance, ascribe such opposite effects to one and the same cause, but must think of at least two divinities from whom the observed phenomena proceed. But another man, with the better knowledge of a more enlightened age, can trace the apparently inconsistent or conflicting results to one original source; he can rise up to a higher view of the unity and harmony of creation ; and to him it is no longer necessary to imagine Beings of attributes or spirit hostile to each other, and contending for the dominion of the world. He can see, on the contrary, that from one cause or one primary law may proceed the day and the night, the winter and the summer, much even of the evil and the good of life.
The tendency of advancing Science is ever to simplify Causes and reduce their number; to rise up, in short, to a single unity of Causation, and, behind the visible material agencies that we see around us, to detect but one Great First Cause. And what is this ? What shall we say but that it is the ever active and beneficent Will of God? And thus do we come back to the simple statements of the Scriptures, which tell us that it is God that maketh the sun to rise and the rain to fall —who maketh the grass to grow, and feeds the fowls of the air, and clothes the lilies of the field. We come back to this simple conception of the Scriptures, having learnt from Science that it is literally true; and that, with all our boasted knowledge, we can say nothing else and give no other explanation than that so the Divine Mind has willed it to be.
A second source of the purification and enlightenment of the religious faculty will be in the strengthening intellect and purified conscience of man himself. As experience and the conflict of mind with mind bring with them a clearer knowledge of what is right, of what is morally good and true, so will the conception formed of the good and holy God necessarily become more elevated and more in harmony with the reality. Man must feel that whatever of excellence may
be developed within himself, is but the faint reflection of what belongs to the Author of his existence; as He to whom our nature leads us to look as the Father of our spirits, must be possessed of at least the same moral excellences which he has given to his children.
Still, however, vast diversity of thought must exist among men respecting God; and this fact again reminds us that we cannot readily or unaided attain to an absolutely true or sufficient knowledge. Different classes of men will have their
different conceptions ; different individuals will form widely different conceptions. Temperament and character, knowledge and ignorance, mental acuteness and dulness, moral sensibility and insensibility, will each form for itself its own idea ; and thus, in short, will men acknowledge and worship, not one and the same Great Father of all, but a multitude of dissimilar and discordant deities.
To the Christian mind of almost every class, this inevitable tendency to diversity will be checked and limited by a reference to that conception of the Infinite Being, and of our relation to Him, for which, in its most attractive and authoritative form, we are indebted to the life and teaching of Christ. The idea of God as our Heavenly Father, if not absolutely new in the world, had never been taught, so far as we can now judge, either by Hebrew prophet or Gentile philosopher, with anything like the power, the feeling, the fulness of realization, with which we find it set forth by Christ. With him it is no abstract or speculative doctrine, but a living and palpable truth. In his daily intercourse with men, he constantly speaks of the Father in heaven in terms which shew the intimate and familiar hold which that great thought had on his heart, and how completely he felt himself ready to give himself up entirely to whatever the Paternal authority or love might require from him. And it is hardly necessary to point out that in this, the pre-eminently Christian conception of God, you have combined and blended together all that the human heart most needs to know respecting the unseen Being. The power and wisdom of God, beheld as they are around us on every side, hardly needed any further illustration. What man might, however, have wished to know,--standing in the presence of the great, ever-active and machine-like powers of the universe ; feeling the frailty and the imperfection of his own life; borne down by the consciousness of his sins, and not knowing how to approach or how to propitiate the mysterious Ruler of