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The common error has been in supposing that the Great First Cause would ultimately be reached through the crucible and the microscope. Educated men, it seems, are quite as prone as the illiterate to fall into delusions; but the delusions of learning are the most stubborn. The students of the nineteenth century look with contempt upon the witchcraft of the Middle Ages, while they are caught in the net of a more subtle mischief. Priding themselves on being emancipated from childish superstitions, they fall headlong into the web of sensual fascination; and the chief delusion of the present age seems to be— that it is a humiliation for the human understanding to be guided by a Divine Light!
Nevertheless, there are sounds in the air which seem to indicate a better mind. Leading scientists are becoming less positive; distinguished theologians more liberal. The famous Belfast address to the British Association some years ago by Professor Tyndall, which seemed to throw a prophetic mantle over the learned scepticism of Democritus, evoked a more serious attitude from many quarters; and a subsequent address by Sir Wm. Thompson, containing some romantic ideas about the origin of life on planets, spurred men of even opposite tastes to new thoughts. The bold champions of nature were evidently going too far; they were already out of their depth. The address this year by Dr. Allman significantly showed how fatal it is to be rash! And I question whether we shall again have our piety shocked by the bold enunciation of bald theories adverse to the spirit of religion. Good temper and strong judgment are essential to great teachers. And in the sermon preached by the Archbishop of York, whose eminence both in the religious and the literary world lends weight to his remarks, displayed in a marked degree a disposition to exalt truth above that "strife of tongues" in which it too often suffers. The tone of the discourse was at once liberal, apologetic, and outspoken. He congratulated his hearers on the striking fact that the Congress had been free from any of those collisions between scientists and theologians which appeared to him not only needless but deplorable. He enunciated the great principle that the two distinct lines for the acquisition of knowledge must ever remain separate; the object of science being more especially external and civil uses, that of religion internal and personal experience. He presented indeed, and wisely, the religious argument in a universal form, insisting on no narrow interpretation respecting "the faith of Christ;" but boldly assailing the pompous assumption that civilization was able to dispense with the aid of religion. "Religion" alone could "take charge of those individual interests which are apt to be overlooked in the
general march" of worldly life. "The yearning of the individual soul to get nearer to God found that satisfaction in religion which from science it could not enjoy." Who can really doubt this affirmation? It is not the purpose of the theologian to degrade science, but to exalt religion. It may be that this peculiar truth is making itself felt among our great thinkers. I believe those men recoil from the idea of a blank atheistic system; and that, as regards revelation, they must be classed among those who (for reasons not difficult to conceive), if they do not affirm, do not absolutely deny. This is a very different spirit from that shown by the sceptics either of the first age of Christianity or of the eighteenth century, and should be a reproof to those rabid divines who can never speak of science except with bated breath.
There is one feature of the Archbishop's discourse which is somewhat remarkable; it is the entire silence in it respecting the triumphs of science over theological prejudice in the past. From the institution of the printing press the thunders of cardinals and curates alike have been hurled against those great scientific truths which are the common glory of our day. Copernicus, Galileo, Lyell, amongst other eminent names, were bitterly denounced for teaching views said to be contrary to the Scriptures. Yet astronomy triumphed; geology must triumph. It is now seen that the Bible does not impugn scientific
facts; it was "the wise men "who were at fault. Let us put together
these two propositions-that the Bible does not reveal science, and that science does not teach salvation. Surely men on both sides should be ashamed of the hard words they have used one against the other, and may well imitate the temper shown by the Prelate of York in his latest contribution to the cause of truth.
To the receivers of the doctrines of the New Church it is a grateful task to contemplate this great change in the literary world, and to point to the Writings of Swedenborg as the first clear exponents of this grand unity of faith and science. Our Author's works are a rare example of the spirit which should guide men in all their theosophic investigations. At a time when scepticism and indifference were fast overwhelming society we find Swedenborg engaged in framing a majestic system of truth, incorporating at once the wonders of the Divine works and the Divine Word. Furnished by genius and education with all the means for an unintermittent investigation of the arcana of existence, we find him unweariedly pursuing, from a high affirmative standpoint, every subject of human knowledge; first -like another but more favoured Newton-as a scientist; subsequently as a theologian; patiently inaugurating without display a
We cannot but
new era of literary thought and sublime faith. admire the method and progress of his career and the vast scope of his Writings. These works present themselves in a striking chronological order by a natural growth of the mind, guided by a singular Providence. As the first blossoms of his manhood we have his purely scientific works; in maturer years we find a higher philosophy treading on the confines of a new kingdom; lastly, he takes up the pen of the theological expositor, blending his exegesis with a psychological experience both marvellous and unique.
Let us for a moment longer dwell upon these respective periods of his Writings. As regards some of his scientific views, it must be admitted that the world has not stood still; for no man is miraculously gifted with the knowledge of nature. Yet his scientific opinions will always stand pre-eminent in comparison with those of his own age. They bear the stamp of a rare penetration in handling all the discoveries of his day. But as regards the second and third periods of his works, the claim to an enduring dominion stands untarnished and untouched; they contain sentiments to which, it must be admitted, the world is yet slowly approaching. His authority as the teacher par eminence of a grand philosophico-theological system must undoubtedly rest upon the evidence of its truth: this is indeed the proper basis of all mental authority, and I am not aware that Swedenborg has laid claim to any other. There is one feature of his teachings which must gradually come into prominence with men of broad mind; it is the integral connection of the highest and the commonest truths; and, above all, the absolute necessity of combining the good with the true, of making truth a practical lesson. No future essayist will be able to bring against Swedenborg the objection which Macaulay, in his review of Bacon, makes to the system of Aristotle. It may be a question whether there be not fallacy as well as bias in Macaulay's ideas touching the famous Stagyrite's teachings; indeed, Macaulay's partiality for Bacon seems to have warped his judgment respecting the three celebrated Grecians. But there can hardly be the shadow of a doubt that Swedenborg's works combine all the excellences of Aristotle and Bacon; and that the more they are understood their study will make men, by a natural growth in truth and goodness, not only busy citizens of this world, but, at the same time, practically and internally angels of heaven. ROBERT ABBOTT.
In the prehistoric ages, when men lived on the raw flesh of animals or on the roots they dug from the ground, a man, wiser than the rest of men, with a keen eye for the observation of nature, saw among the grasses one that bore a fruit of hard seeds. This ear of corn he plucked, and rubbing it between his hands the wheat fell out. Hungry as he was and ever ready to find means of subsistence, he put the wheat into his mouth, and was surprised to find that the flavour was not unpalatable. He availed himself of his discovery by collecting all the ears of corn he could, and knowing from experience the fertile growth of grasses, he planted them around the place in which he was wont to dwell. But the soil was sandy and barren, without sufficient firmness to allow the roots to grow, and he found only a scanty crop. Being endowed with the gift of patience, he persevered in his efforts, till at last a happy thought occurred to him—that he would try another situation. This being a soil of clay, afforded the seeds the nourishment they needed, and he was rewarded with a better harvest. Gradually he increased his store, and lived in comparative abundance. The world then was, however, not less chequered than now, and the smut and the mildew, among other diseases, ravaged his little cornfield. By thinking how to prevent these evils, and neglecting no effort, he at last was able to see his cornfield waving around him with a harvest sufficient for his wants. He had found the staff of life, but with it he had also learned the lesson that his own activity and thought were necessary for the continuance of the blessing.
I had just read this to Amicus, whom I was then visiting, when he said to me, "Verus, I see in that an outline of the search for truth. Truth seems to come as an inspiration, but it is necessary to test it in the battle of life."
I thought my friend was disposed to enter into one of those conversations on philosophic subjects I always enjoyed, so I laid down from which I had read the above passage and drew my paper chair a little nearer to him. Although he was engaged in the busy turmoil of trade, he could still at times indulge in the society of the Muses, and he had not forgotten his early love for intellectual pleasure.
"Yes," he continued, "the growth of knowledge is rapid in these days, but it is chiefly the growth of science. Poetry has lost somewhat of its inward fire and grace, although it may have gained in mechanical symmetry. Philosophy is a mass of conflicting opinion
in which we vainly seek for the ladder connecting earth with heaven. And even our practical common sense is only the knowledge of gaining wealth to indulge in outward luxuries."
"True," I replied, "in some of its manifestations, but not in all."
"No," said Amicus, "I have not lost faith in the instinctive yearning of the soul for truth. Even a Socrates, whom the oracle is said to have pronounced the wisest of men, could still question and answer as though at least he felt he knew something and desired to know more. I often wonder if he really believed the highest wisdom a man could learn was to know that he knew nothing. But, Socrates apart, I do not see why we should all be Pyrrhonists in this age. Agnosticism has no charms for me. I know that I know little compared with the vast universe of knowledge that lies beyond my ken, yet I cannot help, and no one can help, the consciousness that something is known, perhaps too vividly for satisfaction with the past, yet for activity in the present and hope for the future."
"You do not share," said I, "in the prominent belief that things will be regenerated by Positivism. Well, neither do I. For my part I cannot see that Comte made any improvement in what Bacon had taught except perhaps in sociology. His idea of the theological, metaphysical, and positive stages of human philosophy is a mere sham. The bad influence of theology on science has resulted from a corrupt theology, and I cannot see how you can educe law in science without metaphysical effort."
"I am no advocate of Positivism," was the reply of Amicus, "yet I cannot help thinking that it has done good. It has stimulated inquiry and enlarged our knowledge of facts, and that is better than spinning intellectual cobwebs. The mistake of Positivism seems to be that it regards itself as the only source of knowledge, and thus becomes a free lance in things beyond its province. But this reminds me that it is always a vexed question what truth is, and many regard it as a Proteus assuming different forms. You remember an old friend of mine who used to share in our conversations when you were living here; he was not rich in the things of this world, yet I believe he had wandered through many books gathering what knowledge he could. Since you left he has departed from this world; and I was astonished to find that he had wished his papers to be given to me. I have often looked over them; for he was a genuine seeker after truth, and even sacrificed his worldly prospects in the search. The other day I came across a paper on 'Seeking for Truth,' which I know you would like to hear-if not for its intrinsic value yet from your love of old associations."