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Årt. I.—Review of Dr. Bretschneider's “ Letters to a Statesman."
Berlin. The mind of no country in ancient or modern times has taken bolder or more characteristic flights than that of Germany within the last fifty years. In criticism, philology, and metaphysics, extraordinary discoveries have been made, and the most valuable conquests achieved. During the war with Napoleon, however, the English people were almost entirely ignorant of the intellectual progress of a race who possessed much in common with ourselves; and what little we knew was generally made the ground of suspicion, or some sort of disparaging fear; so strange was its aspect, and frequently so wild its issues. But at length we have come to be much better informed with regard to the German people; and with the advance of our knowledge has been that of our respect and admiration in regard to certain departments of mental culture; among which we may mention as being pre-eminent that of Biblical criticism,—that is, in so far as the structure and philosophy of the language of Scripture are concerned. But with regard to the metaphysical tendencies of the German mind, a distrust prevails amongst us to this day, and not without justice ; for the more that we learn of it, the greater cause have we to be of opinion that not only does it love to soar into untrodden spheres, but that it flits with the most unsteady lights, not seldom following the lurid, and losing itself at last amid the blackness of darkness. There is, indeed, much cause for denouncing the philosophic fancies of Germany, and substituting for them the term scepticism, in so far as religion is to be considered; and for Theology, to employ the word Neology.
A great majority of the Protestant priesthood, and of the professors also, in the seats of learning in Germany, discover nothing in the Bible but themes for cold speculation, or, at best, the exercise of ratiocination ; that man being regarded as the chief amongst them who can the most skilfully refine away the power and the manifest
VOL. III. (1841.) NO. I.
import of any particular promise, injunction, or doctrine, in Holy Writ. One of the most common and convenient shifts, when difficulties occur to their rational system, is to say that the portion of revelation in question is a pure allegory, and means nothing higher, or more inexplicable, than what Plato has delivered. In this way the Old Testament is reduced from its antique and massive dimensions to a common-place epic, and the life of our Saviour is made to represent only a man who was the type of the perfectability to which human nature is destined to arrive in this world below.
All that is grand and miraculous in sacred history is thus driven from us; there is nothing in the wonders wrought by the prophets which may not be explained, if not according to mechanical principles, at least in consistency with the structure of language, as framed at particular stages in civilization ; and, even as respects the character of Christ, there is room for speculation until he again appear, if ever such an event is to occur; nay, that sooner it will be matter for reasonable doubt whether such a Being ever visited our earth before. It will need a second advent to establish the proof of the first.
But whence cometh the Neology of Germany ? and why do the Germans differ so much from the English in theological matters and opinions, while both equally profess Protestantism? Now, some argue that it is this very profession, affected by peculiarities of position, that has opened a way, not only for every vagary of the imagination on the Continent, but for all the sectarianism which distracts the people of England. The liberty to think for yourself, the right of exercising private judgment, the proclaimed dogma that every man is to interpret the Bible for himself, and without the lights of ecclesiastical tradition, or the aids of a systematically educated priesthood, it is maintained by many, are Lutheran sanctions for every error, and for the wildest dreams of scepticism. On the other hand, many are to be met with who argue in this that, while admitting the extravagances of the Rationalists in Germany, and the lamentable divisions in theological belief which prevail in Great Britain and in America, yet that a reaction of the healthiest nature will be the result; and that, without chaining the human mind altogether, and producing far greater intellectual darkness and moral perversion than at present exist, no limit could be proposed to man's religious speculations. In the mean while, however, it is gratifying to learn that, even in Protestant Germany, there has arisen a compact band of orthodox writers and preachers, who have escaped from the school of the Rationalists in which they were trained; and who now turn the weapons of truth against the citadel of error and a foolish philosophy, with whose intricacies and arts they have been so intimately acquainted. We need only mention Hengsterberg, Tholuck, Storr, among others, to authorize the hope that a re-awakened spirit is beginning to vivify and to warm
way, viz., the regions of metaphysical questionings in the land which Martin Luther first reformed and revolutionized.
We have said that there is a strong body of learned and orthodox divines in Germany; that is,-authors, ministers, and professors, who zealously and powerfully inculcate the peculiar, the oldfashioned doctrines of Christianity, and who also square their lives accordingly,—some of them taking such high and decided ground as would earn for them the appellation of evangelical in this country, This term, in fact, is cordially and boldly assumed by a class of them; and even some of the periodical publications have received the distinctive title.
The following pages contain the spirit and the essential matter of an article which appeared in the “Evangelical Church Journal," published at Berlin, under the direction of Dr. Hengsterberg, written principally in referenee to Bretschneider's “ Letter to a Statesman,” which excited, some years ago, an extraordinary sensation in Germany, and has been regarded as the most able of the innumerable statements and vindications of modern German Rationalism which have been called forth by the attacks made upon it, in the journal we have just now particularized. In this “ Letter,” Bretschneider takes the ground that there must be some compromise between the antiquated doctrines of theology, and the results of modern scientific pursuits. To effect this compromise he regards as the office of Rationalism. “Rationalism,” according to him,
designs to restore the interrupted harmony between theology and human sciences, and is the necessary product of the scientific cultivation of modern times.” He goes on to specify instances of disagreement between the established articles of Christian faith and the latest results in the various departments of natural philosophy. Selecting uniformly those results which militate against the Bible, rather than those which agree with it, and presuming these results to be infallibly true (though they are often notoriously hypothetical), he arrives at this conclusion, that the doctrines of theology must be so modified as to agree with the progress of science, or fall into contempt.
A remark' here occurs to us : the agreement required, of course, must be constant. This would be a shifting scale of religious faith with a witness.
In a full refutation of Rationalism, as thus explained, it would be necessary to show that Revelation is an independent source of knowledge, and not merely co-ordinate with nature, but superior to it; so that its truths, instead of being liable to modification from any alleged discoveries in nature, are rather the standard by which the truth of the latter should be tested. It is, no doubt, to be presumed that Revelation and Nature, when rightly and fully understood, never really clash, having the One infinitely wise Being
for their common author. But, in case of any apparent discrepancy, it is certainly wrong to make nature, which is the less precise and readable, to be the measure and interpreter of Revelation, which is the more direct, immediate, sententious, plain, and complete expression of everlasting truth. But the writer whose ideas we are going to present to our readers-deeming an answer from the quarter in which the Rationalists reign to be particularly deserving of attention-descends from his vantage-ground, on which the theologian is entitled to stand, and meets and conquers scepticism on its own footing and level
. Saying nothing of the right, which might so easily be vindicated, of at once condemning as false any doctrines which conflict with the positive doctrines of Revelation, he shows that there are no confirmed and established results of scientific investigation which do thus conflict with the Bible; and that the highest oracles of the sciences, themselves, have pronounced in favour of the doctrines of Revelation, and in opposition to the hypotheses of an infidel philosophy. The popular way in which the answer is conceived and expressed renders it the more valuable as well as the more agreeable to the general reader. It opens in this strain.
Theologians are beginning to take more notice of natural sciences. And it were very much to be desired that they would do this with the disposition of the pious naturalists of former times, who, while they loved the revelation of God in his works, regarded with still higher affection his revelation in Christ. This, however, is not the case with many of our modern divines; on the contrary, they call in the natural sciences to aid them in the war which they have declared against the Bible. One of them has lately asked, "When you consider the present state of natural science, and how it is advancing to a more complete knowledge of the world than could have been anticipated a short time ago, what think you is likely to be the fate, I will not say of our theology, but of our evangelical Christianity itself?” He then goes on to say, that to him it is plain that we must learn to dispense with many things which many are accustomed to consider inseparable from the essence of Christianity.
But it is with Dr. Bretschneider, who has expressed himself far more definitely than the writer who puts the above question, that the Reviewer especially enters the field. That Rationalist mentions certain points distinctly upon which he builds his argument. He says in his “ Letter,” “ The experimental sciences of every kind have had a more sensible and disturbing action upon the old theological system, than even speculative philosophy.” Among these sciences he enumerates “ the whole knowledge of nature,-geology, geography, ethnology, astronomy.” He then proceeds to mention several of the most important doctrines and facts of Scripture, against which these sciences have come out, either in direct or indi