Sunday, 3 February 2013


 When the invitation was given to me to lecture before the Scots' Church Literary Association, the Rev. Charles Strong requested me to select a particular subject, and he assigned a reason for his request. The position of the Christian churches in the world at the present day ; their relations to mankind and to one another ; the relations of the clergy and the laity to each other in the several churches ; the effects of existing disunion between the churches ; and the prospect and the means, if any exist, of a return to unity; all these aspects of one most difficult and thorny subject are, we know, often present, and suggest disquieting and desponding thoughts to a large and increasing number of educated minds, both lay and clerical, in this day. But such thoughts rarely find adequate and complete expression ; they never form the subject of friendly discussion or of deliberation with a view to active effort of any kind. . . . " Men," said Keats, "ought not to debate or dispute about truth ; but they ought to whisper results to one another." The Rev. Charles Strong thinks, as I understood him, that laymen should now whisper their thoughts to one another about the present state of the Christian churches ; he is of opinion that the time has come when laymen should confer together with freedom upon questions which affect the very existence for any useful purpose of one and all of the churches. . . .
There is a certain kind of freemasonry between laymen upon these burning questions of religious thought. . . the particular question—namely, the growing division between the minds of the clergy and of the educated thinking laity in the Christian churches, its origin, and the means of restoring union, to which I desire to invite your attention this evening.  There are, of course, many exceptions in every church, and in every congregation of every church , but I take it to be certainly true that the intellects of the great majority of educated and thinking laymen at this day lie wholly outside the influence of the intellectual teaching of the Christian clergy. The observation is true, we have good reason to believe, of all the Christian churches and in all countries of Christendom. It is true of the Greek Church in Russia, we are told by the author of a remarkable book lately published—Underground Russia—that the whole of the educated classes in Russia are materialists. It is true of the Roman Catholic Church in Italy and the other countries of Europe where that church prevails. It is true, though the fact may be less obvious and there may be a larger number of exceptions, of one and all of the Protestant churches of Germany, Great Britain, America, and these Australian communities. In all countries professedly Christian the laity evince by their conduct in reference to great public questions such as education and the relations of the state to the churches a growing and profound distrust of all church systems of religious and moral belief. In all the churches the clergy display more and more unwillingness even to allude in their addresses to the laity to the intellectual bases of religious truth and of moral obligation. In all the churches in all Christian countries the adult male laity, by whom the affairs of the world are managed, on whose judgment and mind and character the highest interests of mankind in the present and in future generation, mainly depend, remain intellectually untaught by those whose mission, if they have any mission, it is to teach. . . . .
The late Rev Professor Dinan in an able article on "Religion in America," written in 1876, describes the most recent phase of American religious culture as "the æsthetic phase" in contradistinction to the ethical and the theological phases which preceded it. He observes that the present tendency of American Christianity is to assign to "sentiment" a more prominent function in religion ; that a widespread reaction has set in, not so much against any particular tenet of the old theology as against the whole dogmatic apprehension of Christianity, while at the same time, owing to the quickening of ecclesiastical activity and the impulse to ecclesiastical development, there exists a strong conservative preference for stable ecclesiastical order and a decided tendency to agitation in a few great denominational types. This description may be extended to Great Britain and to those colonies of Australia, and it will represent with tolerable accuracy, I think, the present state of religious organisations in the mother country, and amongst ourselves. Everywhere, in all Protestant churches, dogmatic truth is either not presented at all to the intellects of educated laymen, or it is presented in such a manner as that the large majority cannot understand it and will not accept it. The reasoning intellect of men demands ideas as its needful and sole proper aliment. It is only through ideas that the human intellect can be enabled to render that service, which the religion professed by all the Christian churches claims from the intellect as well as from the affections of our human nature.
   But the clergy of the Christian churches, abandoning the attempt to educate the layman's intellect, appeal to human sentiment, and employ art in various forms to evoke sentiment and to attract and influence the feelings by pleasing the senses. Let me not be supposed even to think disparagingly of any human sentiment that is true, or of art that is genuine ; but I venture to affirm that neither the best and the noblest sentiment nor art when it is most pure and refined can be a substitute for the verities of religion—if religion have any verities. What is sentiment at its best ? " How beautiful is noble sentiment," exclaimed Carlyle, without any touch of scorn, I think, but taking a just measure of its slight and fleeting value in the serious concerns of politics and religion "How beautiful is noble sentiment ! Like gossamer gauze, beautiful and cheap, which will not stand any tear or wear. Beautiful and cheap gossamer gauze, thou film shadow of the raw material of virtue, which art not woven, nor likely to be, into duty ; thou art better than nothing, and also worse." And of art, when it is employed in a church as a substitute for intelligent religious thought, hear the opinion of the greatest living master of art, Mr Ruskin, whose supremacy, I think is most clearly proved by his constant reference of even true art to a second place only in human esteem. He ranks music, the purest of all the fine arts, and unquestionably the most rational as well as the most attractive art element in our church services, on the same level with tangible idols or images, and other sources of influences which address them selves to the commonest instincts of the human mind ; and of all of them, as used for ecclesiastical purposes to an unexampled degree in the Church of St. Mark's, Venice, he observes that they are "The stage properties of superstition, employed to produce a false emotion in minds incapable of apprehending the true nature of the Deity."  Must not the same observation be applied to every Protestant church in the Christian world in which art is present and is used for the sake of its attractive influence, and from which religious and moral teaching, which the intellects of rational plain men can understand and accept, is continually absent ?
 Now what is the cause of the waning influence as a teaching power of all the Christian churches ? What is it that has created the wide and ever-deepening chasm between the intellect and the intellectual judgments of the educated Christian clergy, in their capacity as teachers and the intellect and the intellectual judgments of the educated laymen ? This inquiry is one of the very highest interest, and it has not received, I think, its due share of consideration either from clergymen or laymen. I do not think that we should be justified in tracing this fact to any deterioration in the general body of the clergy. So far as the Protestant churches are concerned—and it is with respect to them only that we have information on which an opinion could be founded—it may be affirmed, I think, that at no time previous to the present has more care been bestowed by all the churches upon the preparation and training of candidates for the duties if their office. And it may be affirmed with even more confidence, that at no period since the Reformation have the clergy of all the churches alike displayed so much zeal and devotion in the discharge of their allotted duties, or earned so generally and with so few exceptions a title to the personal influence which naturally and most justly belongs to consistent conduct and a blameless life. Neither should we be at liberty to conclude, I think that the clergy do not and cannot teach the laity, because laymen generally are at this day indifferent to religious truth and refuse to be taught. The growing interest which the general body of educated laymen take in the highest and largest questions of religion and morals is certainly one of the most marked features of the present intellectual life of the world. At no time during the last 200 years have so many persons been engaged, fitfully and unmethodically it must be admitted, yet anxiously and eagerly, in the search for truth. Ideas, "the natural home and resting place of the human mind," as they are fitly termed by Coleridge, are sought for with more or less earnestness by the great majority of educated thinking laymen in the present day. If we look to the history of this city of Melbourne alone we shall find that at any time during the last 10 years any one who has professed to be able to communicate anything to his fellow-men on the subjects of religion and philosophy has been able to secure a numerous, earnest, and attentive audience of thoughtful men, provided only that his hearers were not invited to assemble within the walls of a Christian church, and that the preacher has not founded his teaching upon the lines of any of the Christian creeds. What, then, is the cause ?
 I believe that the best answer to this question will be found in the additions that have been made by modern science to human knowledge, and in the change, or rather the revolution, which those additions have made in the mind and its judgments with reference to subjects of religious speculative thought. I do not allude to the numerous great practical discoveries of recent science. Of the two classes into which the sciences may be divided, founded upon what Bacon calls "the last or furthest twofold end of knowledge," namely those sciences which tend "to the glory of the Creator," and those which tend "to the relief of man's estate," the latter class appear to leave no special enduring mark upon the minds of successive generations of students. On the other hand, the two great sciences of astronomy and geology, which have gradually raised and expanded the human intelligence more than all other influences put together, have done very little to help man in his contest with material nature. A learned and a very practical thinker, Sir George Cornewall Lewis, startled the scientific world half a century ago by the proposition that the discovery of Copernicus had been of little or no benefit to man for any practical purpose, but he proved his proposition as he stated it by showing that almost all the requirements of navigation, the art which more than any other derives assistance from astronomy, might have been supplied by the Ptolemaic system of astronomy if that system had not been supplanted. The science of geology, in like manner, during its briefer history has done comparatively little towards giving effectual practical aid to man in his search for mineral wealth. But astronomy and geology, each exerting a wide and indirect influence, have enormously extended man's conceptions of space and of time in the minds even off persons who know little or nothing of either science, and in doing this they have changed the whole character of human thought upon the highest subjects of speculative inquiry. The extent of this change may perhaps be best understood by comparing, or rather contrasting the state of two minds, before and since the time of Copernicus. Let us take the case of a European, an educated and learned man, at any period between the second and the sixteenth centuries. What were his thoughts about Nature and God? He could see, as we now do, that man was at the head of the animal world. But he believed, in accordance with ancient tradition, that all animal and plant life had been called into existence about the same time as man, and that they had been created for the use and benefit of man. He looked up from the earth, whose shape he did not know, and saw that the heavenly bodies appeared to revolve round it at uncertain but small distances, and he naturally concluded that they, too, like everything else on the surface of this planet, existed for man and to supply his needs, that the sun ruled by day and the moon and the stars governed by night in subservience to man's convenience and wants. He would necessarily infer that man was the centre of the universe, and that all things existed for him. The Creator of the universe could not in the estimate of such a mind be other than a magnified man, not free from the prejudices and caprices, and even the passions, of men of smaller growth. How profoundly erroneous do all such conceptions now appear to us?
  Let me ask you to make the effort that is necessary in order to form an idea, inadequate though it must be, of the universe as it presents itself to the student of science in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Astronomical spaces and geological times are so vast that without some artificial aids the mind fails to apprehend them, the phrase "a million of miles" or "a million of years" conveys no definite conception of distance or of time to a mind of ordinary capacity, and yet it is in such conceptions that the chief value of both sciences consists. . . . . These stupendous discoveries of modern science, in regard to space, have been accompanied during the last century by discoveries equally stupendous, though not by any means so certain or precise in regard to time. The evidence yielded by the earth's strata points with reasonable certainty to the conclusion that man has existed on the earth during a period anterior to history of about two hundred thousand years, and that the age of the earth itself must be measured, not by thousands of years, but by scores, and even by hundreds of millions of years. Both astronomy and geology have surely revealed to us clear proofs of ascertained and unchangeable law, of design and increasing purpose of slow and steady progress and also, I think, in animated nature, of benevolent if stern discipline. The earth and all the other planets revolve, and have revolved for millions of years, round the sun in the same direction, in similar elliptic orbits, at rates of progress that vary in accordance with unvarying laws, and in periods related to each other by a fixed proportion of times and distances.  Kepler's great discoveries are known to us by long verified experience, and are held by us with a minutely accurate certainty, far transcending the certainty we can feel with regard to anything under the immediate cognisance of our senses ; and hence we necessarily feel an undoubting confidence in scientific predictions of events still in the future, and in scientific generalisations which may be as yet only highly probable. In illustration of this, consider the instance of a verified and of an unverified scientific prophecy that occurred quite recently. It was announced that years ago that the planet Venus would begin to pass between the earth and the sun on the 8th day of December, 1874, at 14h. 45m. 57s Greenwich mean time, and preparations were made, as uni will remember, by the Governments of several European countries, in reliance on this exact prediction to take observations in different places, with the view of ascertaining more accurately the earth's distance from the sun. On the day and at the hour and the minute and the second foretold the transit commenced. Again, the same event was predicted to occur on the 6th day of last December, and again the prediction was exactly fulfilled. And now, when we are told by astronomers that another, and the next transit of Venus will take place 121 years hence, in the year 2004, on the 7th day of June, beginning at 17h. 3m and 43s Greenwich mean time, can we have any doubt that, supposing no catastrophe occurs in the meantime to either planet, our children in the fourth or fifth generation will see the same phenomenon that we have seen, on the day and at the minute and the second of time foretold?  The same order, the same unvarying action, the like steadfast purpose and constant exercise of developing power, are observable in the history of plant and animal life on this planet, its revealed by geology : formless matter changing into crystallised inorganic matter, inorganic matter developing into organic matter instinct with life, plants and animals of various degrees of complex structure, with corresponding degrees of internal life, following one another in ascending scale, until now, in these latest days, man, God's last, and undoubtedly His greatest work on this earth, has been reached—   
"One first matter all,
Endued with various forms, various degrees
Of substance, and in things that live, of life ;
But more refined, more spiritous,and pure,
As nearer to him placed, or nearer tending,
Each in their several active spheres assigned,
Till body up to spirit work, in bounds
Proportioned to each kind "
The student who at present contemplates these vast results of modern science is another and a totally different man  from the medi√¶val student. It is not so much a change as a revolution that his mind and its concepts have undergone.  To him man no longer appears to be the centre of all things, but one of the smallest of the works of God, although also the most wonderful and the grandest of those that are known,to us, as is shown by the marvellous capacity displayed by him in the act if discovering his littleness. To the same student God also is presented in an entirely new and inexpressibly grander form of conception, anthropomorphism, or the representation of God in the likeness of man, is no longer possible in any shape ; arbitrary dealing, capricious favour, vengeful punishment, sudden passionate change, are attributes that are wholly unthinkable in regard to the Creator by an educated layman in the present day, who sees with open eyes and ponders upon the vastness and the duration of the works of God, and the majestic simplicity of His unvarying action.
 There is, of course, no opposition or conflict between modern science, with its great results and the enlarged conceptions which it has evolved in the human mind, and religion, using this last word in the sense that points to the existence of the supreme mind and the relations existing between that mind and the derived mind of man. So much was recently demonstrated with rare eloquence, and also with the utmost ease, by one to whom also, is a clergyman, we laymen of all denominations are deeply indebted for the sympathetic and helpful interest he has shown in some of our lay difficulties, and for the broader and more tolerant tone that has been communicated by him to the discussion of many public questions- I mean the Bishop of Melbourne   At present no more can be said than this, that there exists no opposition between religion and modern science. Considerable advances have been made by science in our own day in the direction of the probable unity of the elements of matter and the probable unity of the originating causes of matter and motion.  But science retains an attitude of reserve, and still refuses to speculate. This attitude, however, cannot in all probability long be maintained. It is not merely the right, it is a necessity for science to speculate upon, to inquire into, all the phenomena mental as well as material. But science, affrighted by ecclesiasticism and its not yet exhausted terrors, has for a long time almost wholly abandoned the field of highest speculation to the Christian churches, and they in turn do not care to occupy it. "Non fingo hypotheses," I do not frame hypotheses," exclaimed in the early days of modern science, the illustrious but timid English philosopher, Sir Isaac Newton, alarmed at the consequences that were to follow from his formula of universal gravitation—the grandest generalisation in physical science ever propounded by the human intellect. He wished, if it were possible, to confine his formula to the bare statement of the terms of a mathematical proposition. But Euler, not less distinguished us a mathematician than Newton, declared that gravity must be caused either by a spirit in the particles of matter, like "the directing angel," supposed by Kepler to reside in and to regulate the movements of the planets, or by some subtle material medium. Euler accepted the latter hypothesis, and this is still adopted and applied by science in the present day to explain the operation of particular modes of motion, light and heat, as well as of gravity ; although its sufficiency, even for this purpose, is undemonstrated, while its insufficiency to account for other modes of motion, as will as for any vital or mental phenomena is admitted. But a great and a most happy change has begun, and has made rapid progress within our own time. Ecclesiasticism has become far less aggressive and violent than it was even a quarter of a century ago, while science, on the other hand, has gained confidence and courage in a proportional degree.
 We can measure the extent of this change by a comparison of two events, both of them within the recollection of some whom I now address. In the year 1859 Mr Darwin's book "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection" made its appearance, and instantly there rose from scores of English pulpits, and through a hundred channels in the English press, cries of indignation and scorn, and also, it must be said, of fierce personal vituperation, directed against the blameless author of that book. In the early part of last year (1882), when Mr. Darwin died, the English press was unanimous in its eulogies on his life and labours, and sermons were actually preached in Westminster Abbey and in St Paul's Cathedral, by two most distinguished clergymen, in which not only did the simple character of the illustrious student receive due commendation, but his great speculations and their results upon the thought of the age were referred to in terms of respect.
 As soon as science shall be completely set free from its lingering fears it must return, we may expect, as an inquirer and a learner, to the field of deductive speculation and hypothesis. Even now the old and inevitable questions " Whence " and " Why," the questions which every human intellect that really lives at some time puts to its itself and must either find some answer to them or perish in the attempt, again begin to be heard. Whence comes matter ? And whence comes motion, or rather the force or forces which first originated, or which is or which are ever originating motion ? And seeing that, as Sir John Herschel has observed, mere force must produce chaos , but never a cosmos, whence comes the ordered, regulated, directed force, which, never changing, never failing, has produced and still sustains the motions of the planets and all the complex phenomena of life upon this planet? Such is the form which this Sphinx's riddle has now assumed and science cannot rationally refuse either to accept the only hypothesis that has ever been proposed which pretends to explain all phenomena, or to suggest another equally comprehensive and equally consistent with ascertained facts. I mean the hypothesis which supposes that matter was originally created and that every movement of every particle of matter has been in all time and now is impelled and directed by a supreme mind or will, ever and in every part of every natural phenomenon exerting a force analogous to that by which the derived mind in animals and man creates and directs motion in matter. According to this ancient hypothesis, as applied to the facts of modern science, the world is but " manifested deity," or, as Aggassiz has expressed it, "the whole creation is the expression of a thought and not the product of physical agents;" every so-called "law of nature" is merely the continuous action of the Supreme Mind ; every movement of matter is the act of Deity or of some one of the infinite number of derived minds which have been invested with a delegated and like power and evolution, of which progressive improvement is the unvarying mark and ideal perfection, the ultimate end, is the visible operation of the supreme invisible mind. Nowhere has this hypothesis been more accurately or better stated than by our own English poet, Pope :—
" All are but parts of one stupendous whole,   
Whose body nature is, and God the soul ;      
That, changed through all, and yet in all the same,
Great in the earth as in the ethereal frame,
Glows in the stars, refreshes in the breeze, 
Warms in the in the sun, and blossoms in the trees,
Lives through all life extends through all extent,
Spreads undivided, operates unspent ;         
To Him, no high, no low, no great, no small ;
He fills, He bounds, connects, and equals all. " 
 This hypothesis has been declared by one acute thinker of the present day to be "unthinkable," and it cannot, of course, be entertained by those who so regard it. To my mind it appeals to be as thinkable—not more so, and not less—as the fact, of which I am conscious, that my mind possesses the power of moving a finger or a limb. Each of us is conscious of this power, and he cannot rationally refuse to believe in the fact of its existence merely because he knows nothing either of the essential nature of the mind in which the power is lodged or of the relations between the mind and the body on which the power is exerted. To those minds that can apprehend it, this hypothesis yields the only satisfactory explanation of the innumerable and complex facts that go to make up "the burden and the mystery of all this " (otherwise) " unintelligible world." It is the only hypothesis which even pretends to account for all phenomena, mental as well as physical. If it should ever become a theory or even a "working hypothesis " of science, in the same way that the purely hypothetical existence of ether is now necessarily assumed for the purpose of explaining gravity and light, and the nomenclature of science be varied and adjusted to the theory, it can hardly be doubted that the separation (not opposition) that now exists between religion and science will disappear, and that science and religion combined will exercise a most powerful and enduring, as well as beneficial, influence over all educated minds, and through them will transform the world (Applause) My mind has been led to a further conclusion. I believe—and I conceive that in the circumstance under which I am addressing you, I am called on to state to you my belief— that not only is there no opposition between modern science and religion, or natural religion, is it is sometimes vaguely and inaccurately called, but that there is no opposition between modern science and that system of religion which was communicated to the world by the founder of Christianity.
 What was Christ's system of religion? What was the truth which He whom we heedlessly call the Great Teacher, diligently sought for and discovered for himself, and when be desired to communicate, as the most precious gift that mind can give to mind, to every member of the human race ? Is it presumption in a layman to ask this question ? I fear that  many who aspire to control the mind of the layman, while they are unable to teach or persuade it, really think that it is. Now, I am very sensible that with regard to questions of this nature, I, and you also my brother laymen, are unlearned and ignorant men, and extremely liable in consequence of our ignorance to fall into grave error. But why are we ignorant ? I say that it is because the chaos of creeds and the babel of strong tongues in the Christian churches leave us ignorant and untaught and compel every thinking layman to set out alone and unaided on the perilous path of inquiry. And what shall a rational man who is constrained to seek the truth for himself upon this subject do other than this, to close his ears resolutely against all other sounds and voices, and try to catch the sound of that one voice which alone above the din of 19 centuries still makes itself heard as the voice of one that has authority ? That it is more profitable to seek the fountain heads than to follow the course of the rivulets is a canon of critical research peculiarly applicable to this inquiry. The precise words employed by a teacher are almost invariably the best exponent of his meaning ; they acquire a supreme and exclusive value when differences arise as to what the scope and the effect of his teaching were, and when those who had the privilege of hearing him, and who might be expected therefore to be competent and concordant interpreters, have admittedly failed to comprehend his meaning and his mission, and do not agree with one another as to several particulars us well as to the general spirit of his doctrine. The words of the great teacher of which the Gospels are not the exclusive depositories have come down to us by tradition only. No contemporary record of them exists, or has ever existed. Not more than two of his immediate followers committed to writing His remembered words,and the Gospel of St. John —assuming, as I do, that it is genuine—was not written until more than 30 years, or, according to another authority, more than 50 years after his Master's last words had been spoken. The general accuracy of his reputed utterances, spoken in one language and recorded in another and a very different language, depends largely in respect to both form and substance on what has been called "the uncertain testimony of slippery memory ;" but an answer conveyed almost wholly in a quotation from an old and and existing book has a very special claim to be regarded as an authentic and probably accurate report of His actual words. Such an answer we will find in a passage that occurs in all the three synoptic gospels, with some important differences in each. The full meaning and force of this passage—the most weighty and significant I think that is to be found in all Jewish and Christian literature—will be apparent if we remember the main tendency of Jewish philosophy during all periods of the history of that people. The highest philosophy amongst the Jews appears to have consisted in the search for a comprehensive rule of life and conduct, founded upon and capable of being traced to a principle or a fact accepted by the understanding.  That this thought pervaded Jewish literature, and is the key to its historical meaning, is shown by a curious and instructive passage quoted from the Talmud by Emile Deutch, which, with your permission I will read to you :—
 "Six hundred and thirteen injunctions was Moses instructed to give to the people. David reduced them to 11 in the 15th Psalm. The prophet Isaiah reduced then to six (c.33 v 45); the prophet Micah reduced them to three (c. 6, v. 8) ; Isaiah once more reduced them to two (c 56, v.1); Amos, reduced them to one (c. 5, v. 4); but lest it might be supposed that God could be found in the fulfilment of His holy law, Habbukuk said (c. 11, v. 4), 'The just shall live by his faith.'
" What is your doctrine? What is the truth sufficient, according to your tending, for the guidance of the life of man ? This was in effect the question put by the jurist or scribe to Him who as a boy appears to have proposed questions of a like nature to the learned doctors of the Jewish law. You know the answer that was promptly given to the question it was quoted from the early records of Jewish history, where it had lain neglected for fourteen centuries, buried under heaps of ecclesiastical traditions and forms. It states the central principle or dogma of the existence of one God and His relationship to man, together with the primary and secondary rules of human conduct founded on and springing out of that relationship. And on these rules the answer proceeds to state, "hang all the law and the prophets," they contain the whole practice and theory of the universal religion which the teacher had himself sought for and had found : none more comprehensive than those exist. With the exception of a few, a very few, discordant notes, which a just and fearless criticism may and must either moderate or reject, all His other utterances are in complete harmony with and merely elucidate this one. I believe that no student who reads with an unpreoccupied mind the record of the sayings of Christ can doubt that it was this simple and sublime idea, realised as an idea never before or since has been realised in his life, that possessed, controlled, and animated it all ; that it was this that gave great and enduring authority to His words, and has gained for His person the tender reverence of millions of men who have never accepted only because they have never been enabled to understand His doctrine ; that this was the good news which He wished to extend from the Semitic to the other races of mankind ; and that the transmission and the teaching of the truth, and the application of it to all the varying circumstances of civilisation in the course of its development, was the wise purpose of the commission which He gave to His Church. If my inquiries upon this subject have led me to conclusions not wholly erroneous, it will be evident that there is no opposition or conflict between the religion of Christ and modern science. The resulting conception of both is the same. " God is a Spirit" is the single central dogma of the first ; it is the highest generalisation towards which the latest and grandest discoveries of the second seem to be conducting the human mind. " When we have really penetrated," a recent writer, Mr, Grey, observes, "to the actual teaching of Christ, and fairly disinterred that religion of Jesus which preceded all creeds and schemes and formulas, and which we trust will survive them all, we shall find that so far from this, the true essence of Christianity being renounced or outgrown by the progressive intelligence of the age, its rescue, re-discovery, purification, and re-enthronement as a guide of life, a fountain of truth, an object of faith, a law written on the heart, will be recognised as the grandest and most beneficial achievement of that intelligence." " The Christian religion has existed for more than 18OO years. The religion of Christ has yet to be tried. The contest lies between the Christian religion and the religion of Jesus Christ, the religion of which Jesus is the object, or that of which Christ is the subject," The contrast which these words of Lessing vividly express brings us into the presence of the most portentous fact, as it appears to me, of this age of the the world—a fact so fraught with pain and perplexity that I should be glad if I were able to pass it by. But I cannot do so, for it contains in itself the answer to the question which I have undertaken the attempt to solve. I assume that the Founder of Christianity intended to establish a Church,an organisation which should propagate and should for ever maintain His doctrine throughout the world. The positive evidence of such intention is slight ; the antecedent probability in favour of it is strong. The best and the most fruitful thoughts are usually the most evanescent, and when they are lost it is difficult to regain them. The saying of Wordsworth,
"'Tis hard to keep
Heights which the soul is competent to gain," 
is proved by the history of systems of religious thought to be equally true as applied to communities and to individuals. And the higher the ideal the more difficult it is to propagate, the broader and more comprehensive the principle the harder it is to apply it to the minute and ever-varying circumstances of practical life. It is unquestionably true that the religion taught by the founder of Christianity avowedly claims a right to hold absolute and exclusive control over all the faculties of the human mind, and to employ them continually in their fullest energy. To communicate a religion of so exalted and exacting a character to nations who were ignorant of it and afterwards to keep its claims constantly before the minds of those who should adopt it, as well as to supply the means of applying its principles to the new and more complex events and circumstances of advancing civilisation, might well be supposed to require a permanent teaching organisation of some kind. Of the intended form of the Church, whether it was to be an independent and separate body, or whether it was to be identical with the State, the civil head of the community presumed to be united by the bond of a common faith, we have no knowledge. Certainly no system of government was fixed by the Founder of the Church, no ritual was proscribed, no form of common prayer was directed, but only a closet prayer constructed, according to Wetstein, almost verbatim out of the Talmud. Everything except the central dogma and the rules of life dependent on it was left at large, and free to adjust itself to the different characters and habits of the varying conditions of each nationality and age. How instinctive is this majestic silence in the Founder of a religion that was to affect so largely the destinies of mankind! How deep the debt of gratitude due from all who acknowledge His authority for the liberty with which He intended to make and keep them free! Christianity is, and always has been, represented in the world by the Christian Churches.
 The Churches are organisations, distinguished by different forms of government, by different rituals and forms of worship, and chiefly by different and conflicting systems of religious belief, contained in hostile creeds, articles, confessions, and standards of faith. This last fact is that which appears to me to carry with it the final condemnation of all Christian Churches alike as they exist down to the present day. All other differences may be necessary, or if not necessary, may be expedient and therefore lawful. But unity in the object of worship and in the fundamental principles of belief and practice must be the essential and distinguishing mark of the one Church founded by Him who restored and anointed to the whole world the obscured faith in one loving and true God.  I assume, of course, that not one of the Christian Churches can successfully set up so much as a shadow of a rational claim to regard itself, or to be regarded by others, as being itself the sole Church of Christ.
 A Protestant, and addressing the members of a Protestant Church, I will now further assume that no man and no council or Church has had authority given to it to alter or to add to, in anything great or small, by way of development or otherwise, the doctrine of the Founder of Christianity, or to impose the profession of belief in any added doctrine or practice upon the human mind and conscience as a condition of membership of the Church of Christ.  But the great bulk of the propositions of fact and of belief in even the earliest creeds, and in all the later articles, confessions, and standards of faith, are undoubtedly additions to the primitive doctrine. It we except the first article in the earliest and the least exacting creed— the Apostles' Creed—which is a superfluous repetition, we shall find scarcely anything in any of the creeds and standards, increasing as they multiply in the number and oppressiveness of their arbitrary dogmas, that is not an unauthorised addition to the primitive simple doctrines. Again, some of those dogmas which the Churches have superadded to the doctrine of Christ without His authority, and which they endeavour pertinaciously to force upon the clergy and the laity, are dogmas which, as some of you, I doubt not know from bitter personal experience, are revolting and odious to natural conscience and to the understanding of man. I am well aware that at this point I stand on the borders of the deepest mysteries or being and of Providence. Such mysteries, painful and full of perplexity as are many that the course of nature and the constitution of the human mind present to us must be endured. Faith reposes in the assurance that they all admit of, and that they will yet receive, explanation—
" We trust that somehow good 
Will be the final goal of ill "   
But while the human understanding bows before the mysteries of God, and awaits His solution of them, may we not, ought we not, to resent the attempts made by men like ourselves, only far more ignorant to represent the hideous dreams that our interpretation, no doubt faulty, of those mysteries sometimes suggests, as articles of Christian faith, and the acceptance of such articles as a condition of salvation?
 I observe, lastly, that some of the articles, and not the least opposed to reason and conscience, of these unauthorised creeds have been undermined by recent science. The ancient tradition that man was created perfect, that the first man so created fell by his own act, and thereby introduced death for the first time into the world, and entailed hereditary guilt and moral ruin upon all his posterity, appears to have taken some hold upon the Jewish mind. The alleged historical fact, and the dogma of hereditary guilt founded upon it, are not so much as mentioned once by the Founder of Christianity ; possibly they were included by Him amongst the traditions which had been the means, He said, of making the commandment of God of none effect.  But both have found their way into the majority of the Christian Churches, and have lent a distinct colour to most of the Christian creeds. Now, if there be any general conclusions to which recent geological science has forcibly drawn the human mind, and to which, although they may not be established by inductive proof, laymen cannot, it they would, refuse to accord belief, they are these :—That man at the first did not fall from a higher state of existence, but that he rose from a lower ; and that what we call death, or the change and dissolution of the organic form in which life temporarily resides, existed on this planet from the time that life first appeared upon it, and millions of years before the comparatively recent date when man first came into being. There is here irreconcilable variance between modern science and the doctrine of the Christian Churches. And now we are brought to the point at which we and the answer to the question—  What is the cause of the failing influence as a teaching power of the clergy all the Christian Churches over the minds of educated, thinking laymen ? Science in its modern, enlarged, and generalising spirits, and also in some of its recent conclusions, is opposed, not indeed to religion, but to the creeds of the churches, all of which urge an unfounded claim to infallible authority. The laity are habitually and of necessity influenced, though they do not always know it, by the broad conceptions of nature and of God which science imperceptibly but irresistibly conveys to their minds. Thinking laymen cannot reconcile these conceptions with the doctrines of the creeds ; they have ceased even to make an effort to reconcile them. They yield an indolent assent, indeed, to the creeds, as they do to every part of the particular church system with which they are connected by birth, but in fact and actual practice they totally disregard them. The clergy of all the Churches, on the other hand, occupy a very difficult position. The clergyman is selected for his office while he is very young, and long before he has had time or has acquired sufficient intellectual expansion to be able to comprehend the nature and scope of the great subject to which his life is to be devoted. His mind is carefully trained to believe the tenets of a particular Church, to defend and to teach them and them alone, and to carry on ceaseless war against the opposing tenets of other Churches, and the fulfilment of these narrow functions during the whole of his professional life is attempted to be enforced by sanctions highly penal in their personal, social and professional consequences. How can a mind so trained, and harshly compelled to submit to such discipline, exercise the commanding power of a real teacher over the intellect, differently constituted, over otherwise occupied, and constantly subject to influences so wholly diverse, of the educated, thinking layman at this day? The thoughts of the two men are not in unison : their is no intellectual sympathy, no common intellectual interest, between them in regard to a large number of the topics and arguments which the clergyman is constrained to select for his pulpit utterances. I must use all brevity in stating to you, the lay members of this society, the practical conclusions upon this subject at which I, a layman born into another Church, have arrived.
They follow from the belief I hold, that the creeds of the Christian Churches, while they have been by far the most potent engine of ecclesiastical power, have also been the most dangerous and insidious enemies of the religion of Christ, that so far as they have expressed His doctrine, they are merely an unauthoritative and superfluous repetition of that doctrine ; while so far as they have pretended to add to it, they have either obscured or falsified it, and in either case have imposed a burden on the intellect and the conscience of the Christian world which is now becoming wholly intolerable.  If this belief be not quite erroneous, it must be clear that the Christian Churches, above all other human institutions at this day, need "the blessed amending hand" of radical reform.
 The laity are the only instrument by which reform can be effected. They are not free from a share of responsibility for the evils that exist. In Protestant Churches they undoubtedly, possess the power to remove them. The aid of the clergy cannot be expected ; it ought not in fairness to be asked ; the opposition of the clergy must be overcome. The means of reform apparently available are suggested by the proposals that were made at the time of the Reformation to abolish the creeds. These proposals were not accepted. The conduct of the Reformation, which in the earlier days of Wyclif and Huss was in the hands of the laity and aimed at a lay reform of ecclesiastical abuses, passed at a later period into the hands of the clergy and of politicians, and it is to them rather than to the general body of the laity that the Church of England owes the added burden of her article a of religion, and the Church of Scotland that of the Westminster Confession of Faith. If the compulsory subscription by the clergy of all creeds, articles, and standards were abolished through the united action of the laity in only one of the older Protestant Churches,consequences most momentous and beneficial might be expected, I think, to follow. The example would be catching and would probably extend quickly to all the Protestant Churches. The intellectual division between the clergy and the laity would soon be removed, for both would rejoice speedily to forget the systems of dogma that now, like a nightmare, oppress them both. Alterations in ritual necessary for the purpose of consigning those systems to complete oblivion would then be readily made.
 Science and the Churches would be no longer alienated, and the unworthy jealousy and emulation between the various churches of which their rival creeds are the constant and by far the most effective cause would cease. A real union, founded upon an enlarged basis of belief, would gradually be established, and formal union would not long loiter behind the removal of every cause of disunion. And when the Protestant Christian world is united, and all its churches combined in one, the open abandonment by the educated laity of the Catholic and Greek Churches, and the final absorption or total decay of both of those churches, would only be questions of time and education . Do not suppose that I am speaking of results which I believe to be at present possible or near. That abolition of subscription by the clergy in any one or more of the churches would be immediately productive of great results, and would probably lead ultimately to the further results I have indicated, I do believe. But before the initial step of practical church reform can be taken, it is necessary that a spirit which shall point to and demand reform shall first be created in the minds of the laity, and I am bound to admit that I do not perceive at present any indication whatever of such a spirit in any one of the Churches.  I would ask you, my brother laymen are you entirely satisfied and contented with the state of things now existing in your own and in the other Christian Churches ?
Do you think that we, the laity generally, can view our own conduct and position in respect to the churches with unmixed gratification ? We criticise the clergy with unbounded freedom—usually, as it appears to me, with cruel injustice, and often in profound forgetfulness that our criticism reacts upon ourselves —for their alleged illiberal and narrow views, and for irrational, unpractical, and ineffectual teaching. But may we not be reminded that the views and the teaching of the clergy are the direct and the necessary result of the church systems which we the laity, have helped to form, and which we continue to support, and to guard jealously against all change, even after we have ceased to entirely believe in them ? We imagine that we ourselves are free ; and in a certain sense we are. We are not bound by subscription to any church ; each of us is free to leave the Church in which he was born, and to go anywhere or nowhere. But should we not greatly err if we imagine that we are free from the influence of creeds to which we pay the observance of outward adhesion, but which do not govern our thoughts and convictions ? There is not one of us who does not yield apparent ascent to much that he does not and cannot really believe. Is it possible that assent without belief shall continue for an indefinite time without affecting the natural vigour of a man's intellect, and even the integrity and straightforwardness of a manly character? Every day these burning questions of religious thought in connection with their general tendencies, and also with the personal applications they suggest, are brought nearer and nearer to us, and they naturally inspire an increasing, number of us with uneasiness, and even with vague and terrible apprehensions. The state of the world as it now presents itself to our observation cannot, we may be sure, long tolerate the continued treatment by the laity of these questions with careless levity, or with self-isolating reserve, or with the boastful incapacity of honest agnosticism.
 Is it not an astounding fact— I take it to be an indisputable fact— that at the end of the nineteenth century of the so called Christian dispensation a very large number of the most cultivated, the most thoughtful, the most sober-minded, and the most upright men in all the civilised and Christian countries of the world, are really unable to determine whether good and sufficient reasons can be found for belief in the existence of God and whether there is any basis for morality other than supposed personal interest or utility. We cannot wonder though we may well be appalled to observe, that this mental paralysis of a large number of the leaders of men in every country is extending rapidly to all classes, and is plainly disturbing the springs of action in almost every department of human activity, and in every region in human thought. In religion, in politics, in literature, in art, in the social relations, in scientific search itself, the human mind at this day is divided, weak, irresolute, perplexed, unregulated by a single ascertained and unquestioned law. And this, too, at a time when civilisation is threatened in some countries by new and hitherto unknown perils. Never before in the history of the world have the elements of evil and of danger to human society confederated on a scale so vast, and with purposes so deadly as at present. Never before have the elements of good appeared to be so incapable of combining against the enemies of all. It seems as if the world were hurling towards the realisation of that picture of universal intellectual and moral anarchy in which the human mind is seen to perish while the animal life of man, and even the material civilisation of the race, survive—one of the most terrible pictures ever painted by a poet's imagination, and which we are told the painter himself could not to the end of his life ever look at without being moved to tears—   
" She comes ! she comes! the sable throne behold
Of night primeval and of Chaos old ! 
Before her, Fancy's gilded clouds decay,
And all its varying rainbows die away.
Wit shoots in vain its momentary fires,
The meteor drops, and in a flash expires.
As one by one, at dread Medea's strain,
The sick'ning stars fade off th' ethereal plain ;
As Argus' eyes by Hermes wand opprest,
Closed one by one to everlasting rest ;
Thus at her felt approach and secret might
Art after art goes out, and all is night.
See skulking Truth to her old cavern fled,
Mountains of casuistry heaped o'er her head!
Philosophy, that leaned on heaven before,
Shrinks to her second cause, and is no more.
Religion blushing veils her sacred fires,
And, unawares Morality expires.
Nor public flame, nor private, dares to shine,
Nor human spark is left, nor glimpse divine.
Lo! thy dread empire, Chaos is restored,
Light dies before thy uncreating word.
Thy hand, great Anarch, lets the curtain fall,
And universal darkness buries all."   
We do not, of course, believe that this catastrophe imagined by Pope will finally overtake and overwhelm the human mind, though as yet the way of escape may not be apparent.  Science itself seems to forbid that thought of utter despair. It is a wholly incredible supposition that the light which has guided humanity so far in its painful but inevitable struggle upwards on the eternal hills to the point that it has already reached will be suddenly and finally withdrawn. The power which has been man's help in the ages that are past is, and must be, a rational ground of his hope in years to come. But let us not forget that dangers that have been created by human ignorance and causeless dissensions will certainly be averted only by the instrumentality of wise and united human efforts. The salvation of the mind of Christendom at present appears to depend, so far as we can venture to hazard an opinion, upon union amongst laymen of all Churches, who will retain an intelligent hold upon the ultimate object of faith, and who will combine to cast out from their own minds and from the Christian Churches the spectres of old and now discredited fallacies. . . .

 The Sydney Morning Herald 7 August 1883,

No comments: