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I know not to what extent men of eminent minds may thus compensate, by their sincerity and fervor of sentiment, for the void in their belief; but let them not deceive themselves; barren aspirations and specious doubts satisfy a man as little as to his future spiritual interests as with respect to his condition in the present life; the natural problems to which I have alluded will ever be the great weight pressing upon the soul, and religious sentiment will never alone suffice to be the religion of mankind.
Hence we come to the necessity of religious doctrines, of real dogmas, and our author's views of this fact are in his best style of philosophical thought. He says:
To many this word imports an imperious necessity to believe, at once offending and disquieting. Singular contrast! On all sides we seek for principles, and we take alarm at dogmas. This sentiment, however absurd in itself, is in no way strange; Christian dogmas have served as motive and pretext for so much ininiquity, so many acts of oppression and cruelty, that their very name has become tainted and suspected. The word bears the penalty of the reminiscences which it awakes: and justly. All attacks upon the liberty of conscience, all employment of force to extirpate or to impose religious belief, is, and ever has been, an iniquitous and tyrannical act. It will constitute the glory of our time to have discarded this pretension: nevertheless it yet exists, with persistency, in certain states, in certain laws, in certain recesses of the human soul and of Christian society; and there is, and ever will be, need to watch and to combat it, to render its banishment unconditional and without appeal. Subdued, however, it is: civil freedom in matters of faith and religious life has become a fundamental principle of civilization and of law. These questions, affecting the relations of man to God, are no longe discussed or adjusted in the arena and by a recourse to the hand of political and executive power; but they are transported to the sphere of the intellect and left to the uncontrolled working of the mind itself. But again, in this sphere of intellect, these questions still start up and call loudly for their peculiar solution-that is, for the fundamental facts and ideas, the principles in effect which their nature requires. The Christian religion has its own principles, which constitute the rational basis of the faith it inculcates and the life which it enjoins. These are termed its dogmas. The Christian dogmas are the principles of the Christian religion, and the Christian solutions of the problems of natural religion. Let men of a serious mind, who have not entirely rejected the Christian religion, and who still admire it, while denying its fundamental dogmas, beware of this: the flowers whose perfume captivates them will quickly fade, the fruits they delight in will soon cease to grow when the ax shall have been applied to the roots of the tree that bears them.
For myself, arrived at the term of a long life, one of labor, of
reflection, and of trials, of trials in thought as well as in action, I am convinced that the Christian dogmas are the legitimate and satisfactory solutions of those religious problems which, as I have said, nature suggests and man carries in his own breast, and from which he cannot escape.
The Christian dogmas meet the demands of the human soul and the doctrines of no other system do so, except as they correspond with the teachings of Revelation. The dogma of Creaation attests, says M. Guizot, the existence of God as Creator and Legislator, and it attests also the link which unites man with God. The dogma of Providence explains and justifies prayer, that instinctive recourse of man to the living God, to that Supreme Power which is ever present with him in life, and which influences his destiny. The dogma of Original Sin, or the Fall of Man, accounts for the presence of evil and disorder in mankind and in the world. The dogmas of the Incarnation and of Redemption rescue man from the consequences of evil, and open to him a prospect, in another life, of the re-establishment of order. Unquestionably, the system is grand, complete, well connected, and forcible: it answers to the requirements of the human soul, removes the burden which oppresses it, imparts the strength which it needs, and the satisfaction to which it aspires. Has it a rightful claim to all this power? Is its influence legitimate, as well as efficacious?
These dogmas are now examined. The question of Creation, with its corollaries of divine causality and the relation of rational creatures to the Creator, is handled with great ability. The theories of "the eternity of the world" and of "spontaneous generation," melt away under the concentrated light of logic and science which a brief but conclusive chapter pours upon them. The dogma of providence is consequent on that of creation, and the sublime right and duty of prayer rises out of both. Guizot is emphatic on these points:
I express my meaning without hesitation. Whoever accepts as a satisfactory explanation the theory of fatality and chance, does. not truly believe in God. Whoever believes truly in God, relies upon Providence. God is not an expedient, invented to explain the first link in the chain of causation, an actor called to open by creation the drama of the world, then to relapse into a state of inert uselessness. By the very fact of his existence, God is present with his work, and sustains it. Providence is the natural and necessary development of God's existence; his constant presence
and permanent action in creation. The universal and insuperable instinct which leads man to prayer, is in harmony with this great fact; he who believes in God cannot but have recourse to him and pray to him. Objections are raised to the name itself of God. He acts, it is said, only by general and permanent laws: how can we implore his interference in favor of our special and exceptional desires? He is immutable, ever perfect, and ever the same; how is it conceivable that he lends himself to the fickleness of human sentiments and wishes? The prayer which ascends to him is forgetful of his real nature. Men have treated the attributes of God as furnishing an objection to his providence. This objection, so often repeated, never fails to astonish me. The majority of those who urge it assert at the same time that God is incomprehensible, and that we cannot penetrate the secret of his nature. What then is this but to pretend to comprehend God? and by what right do they oppose his nature to his providence, if his nature is to us an impenetrable mystery? I refrain from reproaching them for their ambition; ambition is the privilege and the glory of man; but in retaining it, let them not overlook its legitimate limits. There is only this alternative: either man must cease to believe in God, because he cannot comprehend him, or in effect admit his incomprehensibility, and still at the same time believe in him. He cannot pass and repass incessantly from one system to the other, now declaring God to be incomprehensible; now speaking of him, of his nature and his attributes, as if he were within the province of human science. Great as is the question of providence, the one I have here to consider is still greater, for it is the question of the very existence of God; and the fundamental inquiry is to know whether he exists, or does not exist. God is at once light and mystery: in intimate relation with man, and yet beyond the limits of his knowledge. I shall presently endeavor to mark the limit at which human knowledge stops, and indicate its proper sphere; but this I at once assume as certain: whoever, believing in God and speaking of him as incomprehensible, yet persists in endeavoring to define him scientifically, and seeks to penetrate the mystery, which he has yet admitted, is in great risk of destroying his own belief, and of setting God aside, which is one way of denying him.
Nor does the scientific postulate that the world is governed by general laws, interfere with the dogma of Providence and the reasonableness of prayer, as viewed from the standpoint of our author. It is true that the providence of God presides over the order of the world which he governs by general and permanent laws: these laws would be more accurately designated by another name: they are the will of God, continually acting upon the world, for not only the laws but the Lawgiver are there ever present. But when God created man,
he created him different from the physical world: free, and a moral agent; and hence there is a fundamental difference between the action of God on the physical world, and his action on man. Admitting man's moral freedom, it cannot be said. that God governs mankind at large by general and permanent laws; for what would this be but to ignore or annul the liberty granted to man, that is to to say, to misconceive and mutilate the work of God himself. Man exercises a free determination, and in his own life actually gives birth to events which are not the result of any general and external laws. Divine. Providence watches the operations of man's volition, and records the manner in which it has been exercised. It does not treat man as it deals with the stars in heaven and the waves of the ocean, which have neither thought nor will; with man it has other relations than with nature, and employs a different mode of action.
This is sound logic, but we could wish that the vindication of prayer had been carried further. It is one of the most distinctive facts of religion as distinguished from mere ethics; it involves, directly or indirectly, all the peculiar principles and almost all the logical difficulties of essential Christianity: a successful vindication of prayer would lay prostrate most of the "religious questions of the day."
A comprehensive view of humanity must take in its three forms of life, physical, intellectual, and moral, and their serial relation. Man's physical life is evidently but the material basis of something higher, of his intellectual being; the former he shares with the brutes that perish, in the latter is his first distinction as a superior existence, the beginning of his real humanity. Yet this grand distinction is but secondary to something still higher, his moral constitution; this is the culmination of humanity. No one questions that the physical world is adapted to man's physical being; no one doubts that his intellectual constitution has also its normal provisions, and that the constitution of the universe is in harmonious relation with it; shall we then doubt that his moral faculties and wants, his highest nature, that which surmounts all else in humanity, is left unprovided for in the constitution of the universe?-that his moral freedom, at the foundation of all distinctions of right and wrong-that Providence, or to return
to the particular fact under consideration, that prayer, the summary fact of devotion or religion, is impossible by reason of the constitution of what is called "Nature," or by what are called the attributes of God? Shall we admit that all things requisite for his physical and intellectual forms of being are amply provided, but that his higher nature, for which these are subsidiary, can find only an impotent conclusion for the scheme of the universe?
"Your God is omniscient," says the skeptic, "why then inform him of your wants in prayer?" We reply, It is this very omniscience, or wisdom of God, that led him to appoint prayer, not as a means of informing himself of our wants, but as a means of bringing us to see them, and of bringing us into communion with himself; in other words, for a sublime ulterior purpose, a great final cause, our moral improvement. Does he not know our physical wants, and could he not by his other attribute of omnipotence supply them, as he did manna to the Hebrews? Does he not know our intellectual wants, and could he not have endowed man with the faculty of intuition in all knowledge? But he has conditioned the physical and intellectual life of the race on labor of body and mind because he saw that man's co-operation with himself in these respects would be salutary to both body and mind. This is the obvious scheme of "Nature." And God's so-called attribute of immutability does not interfere with, but sustains inexorably this arrangement; for his immutability does not imply unchangeableness of act, or administration, but unchangeableness of the fundamental principles of his administration. The analogy extends to his moral economy, and vindicates prayer with all other functions of man's moral nature. The doctrine of fixed laws interferes not with the one case any more than with the other. In constructing the system of the world for humanity, and, ultimately, for man's highest, that is to say, his moral well-being, the Creator, we are compelled to assume, has adapted the laws of nature not only to man's physical and mental constitution, but supremely to his moral constitution. We need not then suppose a miracle to be necessary for his answer to prayer, for, as he made man to pray, could he not so construct his laws as to correspond with this fact, as he has constructed the laws of his physical and intellectual economies