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Speaking generally, then, the Rationalist in theology is one who, professing to adhere to Christianity, yet receives the Christian Revelation only so far as it agrees with his own notions.
Historically, the development of this spirit, since its first decided manifestation in the eighteenth century, may be summed up as fol. low8:—The first declared aim of Rationalists was to interpret the Bible, as has been said, on rational principles; and by this they really meant to find nothing in the Scriptures beyond the scope of human reason. Not supposing the sacred writers to be impostors, nor denying the Sacred Record to be a legitimate source of religious instruction, they sought to free it of everything supernatural. Gradually they came to regard it, not as a direct revelation from God, but as a product of the human mind under the general guidance of Divine Providence, but in no miraculous or supernatural way. The miracles of Scripture, there. fore, had to be explained away; and this was done in any mode that the ingenuity or the philosophy of the expositor might suggest. But even the most elastic exegesis would not explain every case; some parts of the narrative were stubbornly unyielding. For men who had gone so far, it was easy to go further; the text itself was attacked ; this passage was held to be doubtful; that was corrupt; a third was spurious. Still the Rationalists agreed with the orthodox Supernatu. ralists in admitting that there was at the bottom a basis of substantial truth in the records. The admission was a fatal one. It was soon shown that the vaunted "criticism ” of the Rationalists was not only rash, but arbitrary and absurd; that the chief objections, which it brought against the Gospel history, were as old as Porphyry, or, at least, as the English Deists, and had been refuted again and again ; that the errors of interpretation into which the older expositors had fallen, might be avoided without touching the truth and inspiration of the Evangelists; and, in a word, that there could be no medium between open infidelity, and the admission of a supernatural revelation. It was at this point that Strauss brought out his mythical theory. His book gave the coup de grâce to Rationalism, properly so called, by its masterly exposure of the paltriness of the so-called Rationalistic criticism, in its application to the text and interpretation of Scripture. Strauss drove the old Rationalism out of the field, to make way for his myths. Neander, Ebrard, and others, in turn exploded the myths; so that nothing remained but a return to honest, candid, and believing criticism.
The object of the work before us is to unfold at length the history which we have thus summarily sketched.
But Dr. Hurst's field has necessarily been widened still further by the bearings of Rationalism proper upon infidelity on the one hand, and upon orthodox theology on the other. The theological Rationalists are not the only class of writers and thinkers who claim to obey reason, and reason only, as the supreme guide. The principle of the abeolute supremacy of the natural faculties of man is common to all classes of infidels. They all agree that truth, so far as man is capable of reaching truth, can be reached by unassisted reason. In this view, Semler and Renan, Bretschneider and Comte, though
wide as the poles asunder in many respects, may be classed together, in a general way, as Rationalists.
The double title wbich Dr. Hurst bas prefixed to his work binds him to trace the origin of Rationalism; to follow its progress, marking its steps of development and degradation; and to show its results within the whole field of theology.
After an introduction, comprising various definitions and descriptions of Rationalism and of the various classes of Rationalists, he gives a rapid sketch of the controversial period in German theology, succeed. ing the Reformation, and of its unhappy effects in the decay of vital religion, as seen in the condition of the Protestant church at the Peace of Westphalia. This is followed by a brief history of the Pietistic reaction against dry and lifeless orthodoxy; of its spiritual and philanthropic triumphs, and of the causes of its decline.
In the fourth chapter the speculations of Descartes and Spinoza are described in their influence on the rise of modern European Rational. ism. The next chapter treats of the philosophy of Wolff, and of the importation of English and French Deism into Germany. The spirit of the age found its representative man in Frederic II., so called, the Great, King of Prussia. The general ferment of the intellect of the age affected, of course, the spirit of theology and the life of the church, The period from 1750-1810 is fixed by our author as the limit of the range of the "destructive” theological Rationalism, beginning with Semler, and ending with Schleiermacher, who, in fact, though to a certain extent unconsciously, inaugurated the renovation of the theology of belief.
The next prominent figure in Dr. Hurst's picture is Lessing. While in charge of the great Ducal library at Wolfenbüttel, be published certain so-called “Fragments," professedly found in manuscript in the library, but now known to have been the work of Professor Reimarus, in which the principles of the English Deism were substantially taught. The effect of the work was electrical; the theology of the age, both Rationalistic and Christian, seemed to spring into new life in a moment. The “ Fragments” were answered from the press in journals and pamphlets; and the pulpits soon rang out from one end of Germany to the other. What Lessing did for the literature of the age, Kant accomplished for its philosophy. He wrought a change in that domain, which not only affected the current philosophy in Germany, but also gave tone and tendency to modern thought throughout Europe.
Dr. Hurst's sketches of Herder, Schiller, and Goethe, in his eighth chapter, though brief, are spirited, and bring out well the points at which their influence impressed theology. The Rationalistic scheme of popular education, first fully set in motion by Basedow, and under which a whole generation of German children were trained, is clearly set forth, both as to its methods and results.
But Rationalism, not content with its mastery of the philosophy, the literature, the theology, and the education of the age, undertook also to reform the worship of the common people, by corrupting the very hymns in which they praised God in the great congregation. Even the music
which had so long been the medium in which the eternal harmonies of Divine truth found utterance in sound was not spared ; "and the period of coldest scepticism in Germany, like similar conditions in other lands, was the season when the congregations, the common people, and the children sang least, and most drowsily.”
To Schleiermacher is unquestionably owing the revival of spiritual religion in Germany; and Dr. Hurst does not fail to render him due honour. He was born in 1768, and died in 1834. Speaking of his “Discourses on Religion," Dr. Hurst says, “ His labour was inestimably valuable. Since his pen has been stopped by death, those very Dis. eourses have led many a sceptic in from the cold storm which beat about him, and given him a place at the warm, cheerful fireside of Christian faith.” (P. 185.)
The twenty years that followed the pullication of the Discourses included the fair opening of the great battle between Rationalism and Supernaturalism, in which, as in all the strifes in which Christianity has been arrayed against infidelity, from the time of Celsus until now, trath bas vindicated her supremacy. In all this period Schleiermacher is a central figure in the strife, easily pre-eminent as philosopher, theologian, and preacher. In his theological opinions he was, indeed, in many respects far away from what we hold to be the true line of Christian belief; yet the man who, in the midst of infidels all his life, so strenDously upheld salvation through Christ as the real and essential central. point of the Gospel, could not but belong to the “fellowship of saints."
While doing ample justice to the splendid gifts of Schleiermacher, and his great services to theology, Dr. Hurst does not fail to note bis grave errors with regard to inspiration, the Trinity, and other doctrines : “It is astonishing that we find so much truth and error cor. centrated in the same man.” Nevertheless he cites with approval the words in which Neander announced the death of the Professor : “ We have just lost a man from whom will be dated a new era in the history of theology.” In brief, the supremacy of Rationalism, as a doctrine, was overthrown by the labours of Schleiermacher and his school. The crisis for that form of error arrived in 1835, with the publication of Stranss's “Life of Jesus.” Two things of great moment for modern Christianity were accomplished by that book, and by the studies to which it gave rise. First, the old Exegetical Rationalism (such as that of Eichhorn and Paulus) was completely driven from the field of theology; and, secondly, the critical study of the Gospel history was entered upon anew, with better aims, better apparatus, and more complete results, than ever before.
Thus far we have accompanied our author only over the field of German Rationalism. We cannot dwell at length upon his excellent chapters on Holland, France, and England, although it is in these perhaps that the merits of the book are most conspicuous.
Dr. Hurst devotes several chapters to the history of Rationalism in England. He remarks that "the present condition of Anglican theology is an illustration of intellectual repayment. Two centuries ago England gave Deism to Germany, and the latter country is now paying back the debt with compound interest.” (P. 366.)
Dividing English Rationalism into three departments,-philosophical, literary, and critical,—Dr. Hurst finds the modern origin of the first in Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In this he agrees with Dr. Rigg, whose “Modern Anglican Theology” gives the best view of the theological philosophy of Coleridge, and of its influence upon religious thought in England, that we know of. The parentage of literary Rationalism in England is attributed by our author to Thomas Carlyle; while the critical Rationalism of the “Essays and Reviews"is a recent, but inevit. able fruit of the seed sown by the transcendentalists of the Coleridgean school. The culmination of this so-called criticism has already arrived in Colenso, of whose singular episcopal career a copious sketch is given. This is followed by a very valuable chapter on the present state of parties in the Church of England. The Low Church still includes the greater part of the Evangelical clergy; but it has passed its prime, and shows obvious signs of division and decay. The High Church includes the old normal Churchman, or Anglican, as he learned in the last decade to call himself; the Romanizing Churchman, or Puseyite; and the indifferent or political Churchman. The Broad Church includes, first, the energetic class of writers and preachers, of whom Arnold of Rugby was the type, called by Dr. Hurst the First Broad Church ; secondly, the avowed Rationalists of the “Essays and Reviews,” named the Second Broad Church; and, thirdly, a class of hangers-on, who belong to the school by accident of place or circumstances.
Dr. Hurst's final chapters treat of the rise and progress of Rational. ism in America.
We must not forget to mention the valuable Appendix of Literature at the close of the volume, in which Dr. Hurst gives a copious list of modern writers on both sides of the Rationalistic controversy. It manifests not only the industry of the author, but also great accuracy and extent of information on the literature of the subject. Nowhere else can so copious and complete a bibliography of Rationalism be found.
Our survey of Dr. Hurst's volume suffices to show that it is a work of great value, and also that it is very timely. It treats the history of Rationalism with a fulness and completeness rivalled by no other English writer, and evinces industrious and extended research and copious learning.
It gives a map of the field of free thought in the present age, showing fairly its length and breadth, where it trenches on the domain of faith, and where it reaches into the dark territory of unbelief. For ordinary readers it contains all the information on the subject they will be likely to need ; and for theological students it is an excellent introduction and guide to the study of modern aberrations. A few thoughts suggested by the book will close this paper.
1. The antichristian school of modern thought is called Rationalistic. But this does not imply that Christianity either ignores or disparages reason. Man is rational, and revelation presupposes reason. In fact, revelation to man is impossible, if man has not a reasoning faculty to which it can be directed. Having this endowment of reason, man must use it. It is the greatest gift of God to man within the sphere of
nature, as revelation is the greatest gift of God to man within the plan of grace. The infidel could seek no higher triumph than the admission, on the part of the Christian, that man must forego his reason in order to accept revelation. To dissever faith from reason, or to set the one over against the other in hopeless antagonism, is really the aim of all unchristian philosophy. It is precisely the first task of reason to examine the veracity of our religion, and it is the glory of Christianity that the whole of its religion is “a reasonable service.” After the veri. fication of the evidences, reason has the further task of apprehending and connecting the truths given by revelation; and this is the function of theology as a science. In fact, the fullest use and the highest cul. ture of reason is not only compatible with the Christian mode of thought, but is imperatively required by it.
2. It is not wise in the defence of Christian truth to abridge the domain of reason, or to stigmatize its highest exercise,-if kept within its proper line,-as Rationalism, in the bad sense which that word has acquired. The difference between the Rationalist and the believer lies more in the material upon which reason is to work, and in the limits of its field of operation, than in any use of reason itself. The orthodox doctrine is, that both in philosophy and theology the first truths are giren, and that reason alone could never find them : the Rationalist asxrts that a complete system of truth, or all the truth that man is capable of knowing, can be found by unassisted reason. It was Herbert of Cherbury who laid down the principle of the sufficiency of our natural faculties to form a religion for ourselves; and this is, really, the fundamental principle of infidelity. One of the chief tasks of Christian apologetics is to show that this principle is itself irrational.
3. Modern controversies gather more and more around the person of Cbrist. All the questions of the older Deistic and Rationalistic con. troversies, such as the integrity of the Scriptures, the nature of inspiration, the possibility of miracles, were but preliminary skirmishes before the close grapple at the main position of the battle-field.
The person of Christ is the very heart and life of the Christian system; it is fitting and necessary, therefore, that it should be the final centre of the conflict between faith and unbelief. So long as the majestic figure of the perfect Man, the Son of God, remains in its ineffable grandeur at the head of the march of humanity, so long is Chris. tianity master of the intellect as well as of the heart of the human race. The great task of Christian theology, therefore, in our time, is to set forth the person of Cbrist historically, so as to satisfy the intellectual as well as the moral requirements of the age, in a Life of Christ springing from the heart of the church, in which all the demands of criticism, of history, and of faith shall be met and barmonized.
VOL. XIV.-FIFTH SERIES.