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Just when Despair and Doubt were swallowing all,
Lord, I will take no comfort but of Thee.
From whose dear grapes I pressed delightful wine,
Thou hast cut off its joyful fruit from me,
And no green garland, twined among my hair,
ART. VI.-SHORT CONCLUSIONS FROM THE LIGHT OF NATURE.
Short Conclusions from the Light of Nature. London: F. & J. Rivington. 1849.
THE tendency of modern theology to recede from mere textual criticism and interpretation into the discussion of religion in its first principles is visible on the very face of the Publishers' advertisements. Here is another contribution to the ever-increasing class of works, which, while preserving a reverential attitude towards Christianity, pass behind it in quest of the ultimate grounds of faith; and aim to discover, in the structure of the universe and the course of human experience, some real traces of the leading truths verbally embodied in historical Revelation. This little volume belongs, however, to the age more in its subject than in its method. It contends for the fundamental doctrines of a natural Theism," the existence of an Intelligent and Personal Creator, and a Future Life for man," by such arguments as approved themselves to the old school of latitudinarian divines. Of that sagacious and admirable class of men the author indeed continually reminds us by his good sense, his clear statement, his humane feeling and truthful simplicity. Something more of metaphysical penetration, and an understanding differently (we do not say more wholesomely) trained, would be requisite in order to reach the subtle difficulties with which modern philosophy perplexes the great system of Theism : but the reader who is happy enough to know nothing of these, and for whom Spinoza and Hegel have lived in vain, will be pleased to revive, in the pages of this treatise, his pleasant remembrance of Paley and Crombie. As the work contains only in outline, reasonings which, in a more ample form, the author reserves for future publication, we shall take example from his brevity, and touch at present only on one or two characteristic points.
When we open a book of philosophical pretensions, we are in the habit of testing it, in the first instance, by this
inquiry; whether the author can hold his balance between the antagonist tendencies of Idealism and Realism. If he cannot,-if he is so fascinated by the claims of either as to encroach upon the rights of the other, it is easy to foresee the entanglements into which every course of reasoning upon the nature and origin of things must lead him. Our author has not escaped the common snare. He is not only a Realist, but a Materialist,—that is, he maintains "that mind is the result of the organization of what we call matter." With this doctrine it has always been impossible to establish Theism in any hearty and permanent union. The reason is obvious. The Materialist follows one order of deduction; the Theist, just the inverse, the data and quæsita changing places. The one demands material forces in order to account for mind; the other asks for a Mind in order to account for material forces. The one sees in physical power the real ground of the actual phenomena of nature, and traces it in its ascent through the gradations of being, till it culminates in Intelligence and Will; the other treats Thought and Purpose as the primitive reality, and follows it down in its descent through the material universe which it animates and directs. These two modes of thinking cannot co-exist except in uneasy and precarious combination. Once allow that the force of attraction and repulsion is adequate to the production of mind, and what more does the Atheist want? The highest class of phenomena being made over to it, is there anything to which it is not competent? It is a mere accident that saves this kind of Theism from complete surrender. All that now goes on in the universe, following the path of regular law, might accommodate itself readily enough to the atheistic theory: and if the present order, or any other on which it depends by natural links, had always existed, there would have been no opening for the admission of a Divine Will. But happily there occur breaks in the adamantine chain which science cannot yet complete: and until the origin of species is better accounted for, and Sir C. Lyell's geological theory more fully established, there will remain room for the Supreme agency at the Formative Epochs, in which the old idea of Creation is still permitted to take a scattered refuge. When Divine power is thus resorted to, merely to fill in a hiatus in the naturalist's re
cord of the world, to work the philosophers' ferry-boat till they can build a bridge, such residuary Theism appears to us to lose almost all religious value, as well as all permanent security. We are the more surprised at our author's materialistic hypothesis, because, in a subsequent discussion of the question of Liberty and Necessity, he gives his verdict in favour of Freewill. It is not easy to conceive how the contingencies of freedom should issue from the necessary developments of organized matter. Such a combination of doctrines is certainly peculiar, and deserves from our author a few pages of further exposition and defence.
"The principal object of the writer," however, "is to place in somewhat new light the evidences of a future life, without which hope even the existence of an intelligent Governor of the universe would be, to most minds, no more than a high, but barren speculation."-Preface, p. iv. This object is attempted, mainly, by so balancing the cases of preponderant suffering and the oppressive mass of moral evil in the world against the counteracting evidences of divine justice and goodness, that the hypothesis of a future life shall step in to turn the scale, and transfer the whole weight of phenomena to the side of positive faith. We sincerely admire and envy that openness of heart to hope and trust, which, from the very deformities and wickedness of men, from the bitterest anguish of the world, from the brutal scenes where childhood is spoiled and woman loses her nature and all human capacity is turned into corruption, can evolve the august belief in immortality. But the argument, that without a second life the arrangements of the first would be too bad to admit of any defence, is one on which, we must confess, we can never dwell without anxiety. The spectacle of sunk and degraded humanity, instead of leading the imagination from the failure of the present to the promise of an hereafter, is apt to oppress and overwhelm the faith in a divine future. It is not from the dark anomalies, but from the clear glories of this world that we are inspired with hope of another; and did all men exhibit the soul of a Pascal and the life of a Howard, every formidable plea of doubt would be removed. And the rule holds, we think, not merely of the moral deformities, but also of the external inequalities, of men. Those
who are least sensitive as to these inequalities, who are prone to no complaint for themselves or others, who are the last to interpret the mysteries of suffering into the semblance of injury, are just the persons most susceptible of the everlasting hope. They whose world would look best without it are precisely the souls most sure to live with it. They would not recognise the premiss from which our author's reasoning proceeds,-that every being has a right to a certain preponderance of enjoyment from his Creator; nor, if they did, would they admit that happiness, especially that of a free and spiritual nature, was any sort of objective quantity, dealt out upon the person ab extra, and capable of estimate as the graduated measure of the Divine character. We do not indeed deny that, under certain conditions, the argument from the anomalies of life may acquire a just force. Where (as in the extreme case of Christ) the divinest excellence coalesces with the saddest lot, the lot which threatens to render the excellence abortive, the human heart seems incapable of resting in a catastrophe so mournful, and through its own best sympathies obtains insight into the ulterior purposes of God. The argument however requires, we think, delicate handling; and will avail only when the compassionate and the reverential affections centre upon the same object.
When our author quits this grouud, and contends that within our human nature itself are comprised faculties obviously prospective, when he traces in Conscience and the religious Affections a clearly prophetic attitude, all our hesitation vanishes, and we give him hearty assent. Features like these, which are too good for this world only, give us an assurance which we could never derive from those which are too bad. Both alike may be scientifically out of fit with the system in which they appear: but the evidence depends not on this character of incongruity, but on that of inherent excellence and beauty. Of this excellence and beauty we are assured by our own self-consciousness; and in carrying the appeal thither we reach the genuine sources of devout faith. It may be doubted whether criticism of the external universe and life, by rules of scientific judgment, can ever be made to yield any true religious belief. Such a process, though ultimately indispensable for every open-minded man, is in its proper place