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MANIFESTATIONS OF GOD'S WILI.
fore said, we find an expression of the will of the Lawgiver, and a rule to which we must conform when we are called upon to act within its jurisdiction. The laws of physiology, for instance, are the expression of the Creator's will with regard to our physical nature, and afford the rules to which, if we would obey Him, we must conform our bodily habits. Again, the moral law written in the conscience, and more clearly revealed in the Gospel, is the expression of God's will with regard to our moral conduct, and affords the rules by which it should be guided. In many things which do not admit of a positive law, we may trace a design which indicates with equal clearness the Creator's intentions. The beauty of nature, so profusely lavished, and so independent of material utility, taken in connection with the capacity given us for enjoying it, sufficiently proves that this source of pure and delicious pleasures was designedly opened to us by the Father of good. The enjoyment we derive from art, from the pursuit of knowledge, the attainment of truth, are all indications of the same kind, and assure us that in the cultivation of these things in their due degree we are as truly conforming to His will as when practising moral virtue. The place which they should hold in our system of life and their relative value is measured by the great end of life itself, i.e., the attainment of the highest degree of perfection of which God has made us capable. It is scarcely necessary to point out that this view of religion, as the governing principle of life, is widely different from the mistaken notion that every thought and every action should have a directly religious tendency. This is to require that the mind should be invariably fixed on one object, and thus to violate instead of obeying the law which makes variety of action the condition of mental health. By disregarding this law, we may attain to the enthusiasm of the fanatic, or the wild visions of the religious recluse, mistaking insanity for inspiration; but we shall assuredly not possess that religion which the Apostle describes as the "Spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."
The view that we have taken of religious obedience, as including obedience to all the laws of God, whereby His will becomes the rule of our intellectual and physical, no less than our moral government, is necessarily opposed to the doctrine of some religionists which virtually represents human nature and the material universe as belonging to another power, and governed by another will than the God of the Scriptures. In their view the constitution of man and the external world would appear as the creation, or at least the undisputed possession of Satan, whilst the dominion of the Almighty is restricted to the narrow circle of the elect, beyond which His word is only an ineffectual
protest against the power of his enemy.* It would be vain to urge reason to those who hold such doctrines, since reason, according to their theory, is only a false light bestowed upon us by the Spirit of Evil, on purpose to mislead. To those, however, who, without having gone so far, might be seduced by the apparent concord of such doctrines with detached passages in Scripture, it may be of use to point out that they are utterly irreconcileable, not only with fact and sound philosophy, but with the general tenor of Scripture itself. The unity of design in creation, the tendency of every law to a beneficial end, the admirable adaptation of man's constitution to those very pur poses of progressive, social, and individual improvement which the Scriptures represent as the true end of his existence,—all refute these low and partial views. They are the offspring of a superstitious theology, framed in a barbarous age, and looking only to the one dark fact of human imperfection, while leaving out of sight or abhorring as equally imperfect the vast and magnificent system to which man is indissolubly linked, and whose laws,-disregarded or contemned by them,-are the conditions of his existence. Such a theology, by placing religion at variance with knowledge and consciousness, has weakened its power in proportion to the narrowness of its basis, and has exposed it to attacks from all who had not acuteness or honesty enough to separate Christianity itself from the superstructure which has been built upon it. It were better and safer to admit that some passages in Scripture are too obscure, some words too doubtful in their meaning, to be interpreted with any certainty, than to build upon them system, the discrepancies and fallacies of which must be exposed by the advance of knowledge, and by such exposure endanger, for a time at least, men's faith in the fundamental truths with which the system has been connected. In the wider and nobler view we have taken, these discrepancies disappear; the harmony of the material universe is carried into the system of human life by the regulations of every part in accordance with God's will and design, as far as we know them; and each advance in knowledge becomes an advance towards a better comprehension of that supreme Will, which is the law of our being.
The peculiarity of the Christian religion is not so much in enforcing this principle of obedience, which was common to the
To avoid misconception, we think it better to state here that we are not denying the fact of human corruption, but simply that that corruption has proceeded so far as to obliterate the original design of the Creator in the constitution of man, or to change the laws impressed upon his mental and moral nature.-See Butler's Sermons on Human Nature.
PECULIAR FEATURE OF CHRISTIANITY.
Jewish dispensation, as in the motive to obedience held out by it. Obedience alone would assuredly not constitute religion in the Christian sense; its value must depend on the motive by which it is prompted. If this motive be fear, then our obedience rises no higher than the unwilling and slavish service of a bondsman, which degrades, instead of elevating the mind, and may co-exist with the love of every sin which it dares not commit. Religion to exalt and purify the soul must spring from love, not fear, and our religious improvement cannot better be tested than by ascertaining which of these principles predominates in the mind, for "perfect love casteth out fear." The external actions may be the same in both cases, but how different the inward state of mind! Where fear is the ruling motive, we shall find only so much of integrity, purity, and obedience, as may secure safety from punishment, instead of the unconstrained and joyful obedience of the heart, "whose service is perfect freedom." Compare also the feeling, whether of crouching terror, or indignant resistance, with which the slave meets the punishment inflicted by his master, with the keen sense of shame and sorrow, awakened by the simple expression of disapproval from a beloved parent. What punishment could cut a noble heart so deeply as the consciousness of having deserved such disapprobation? Religion, to be worthy of the name, must be inspired by love like this; the love of goodness, truth, holiness, of which the source and essence is God. It admits no fear so great as that of evil, no punishment so severe as the consciousness of unworthiness. It is this which distinguishes the Christian from the Jewish dispensation. In the latter we have only a law enforced by rewards and punishments, and so far similar to human laws, that it was one of external repression, and left the heart untouched. It was, as St. Paul terms it, 66 our schoolmaster, to bring us to Christ." Christ came, and gave to this dead law a spirit, by supplying a new motive to obedience, and he thereby raised the human race as he had promised from bondage to freedom, from the law working by fear, to obedience working by love. In the forcible expression of Scripture, "He
has called us from death unto life."
These are truths acknowledged by all who call themselves Christians. Why then, may it be asked, dwell upon principles none attempt to dispute? Why, but because like many other truths, they are acknowledged and forgotten; repeated in pulpit and school-room till they have become trite, and people believe that what they know so well as a maxim, they really act upon as a principle. But let us look round and see whether obedience to God's will through love is the ruling principle of life, or whether for love is not substituted the fear of future punishment,
and obedience itself narrowed to a few positive observances in which the business, the pleasures, or the pursuits of life find no place. How many shall we find, who in the care of their health, the regulation of their time, the cultivation of their faculties, the choice of their pleasures, make the physical, moral, and intellectual laws of their Creator their rule and measure? Again, while from almost every pulpit the terrors of a future retribution, represented too under the images of corporeal pain, are held out as the worst consequences of sin, can we say that love is really the principle of our religion, the love of goodness which would make the consciousness of sin a punishment with which no bodily torture could bear a comparison? We can love God only in his attributes; but do we love the truth we care not to seek, the wisdom on which we never dwell, the goodness we do not imitate? Let us try ourselves and the society we live in by these tests, and we shall be forced to confess with deep humiliation that it is not superfluous even now in the Nineteenth century of Christianity to dwell upon its elementary principles.
If we turn from this survey to examine the principles themselves, we shall find more to lament than to wonder at in their oblivion in a world like ours. Truths so simple, yet so comprehensive, offered no allurements to human passion or superstition, afforded no lever for the power of a priesthood, admitted no compromise of external purity for inward corruption. Their simplicity made them "foolishness" to minds sophisticated by the mysticism of Oriental theo-philosophy; their comprehensiveness made them a stumbling-block to minds narrowed by the slavish observance of forms, and thus even in the earliest days of Christianity, the "Mystery of iniquity" was already working to leaven it with human superstition, and to narrow it within human prejudices. How successfully the leaven has worked, the low views of religion we have already noticed, as still prevailing in this age of comparative enlightenment, but too surely prove; and we must now go on to point out some of the more prominent errors which have thus degraded our faith, and to trace their influence on principles and practice.
Before entering, however, into the consideration of these errors, we are anxious to disclaim in the strongest terms any intention of stigmatising the individuals who hold them, or of encouraging the young in the un-Christian practice of blaming or despising their neighbours for the opinions they hold. No system can be fairly judged by the character of individuals belonging to for if such a mode of judgment were admitted, it would lead us to approve the worship of Esculapius sanctioned by Socrates, and to reject Christianity dishonoured by a Cardinal Dubois or an
Alexander. It is as we have once before said, by the general consequences of a system on the greater number of average minds, that its influence for good or evil must be estimated; and it is this test we shall now try to apply. Each error we are forced to blame has, unfortunately, advocates among those we admire and revere, but our business is to point out the errors, not the virtues, which exist in spite of them."
It is a remarkable fact, that the errors which have been grafted on the primitive simplicity of Christ's religion, are precisely those which he himself denounced in express terms, or discountenanced by his silence. Amongst the former is that superstitious observance of forms and ceremonies which tends to substitute them for practical virtue, and which in our own day leads us to give the name of religious duties exclusively to the observance of external worship, of public or private prayer and devotional reading, which are, in fact, only means. It has been admirably said, that "form in religion is the penny glass which holds the elixir of life;" but the danger is, lest in contemplating the glass, we should forget the precious essence it contains, or with superstitious weakness imagine, that the efficacy of the latter depends on the vessel through which it is conveyed. We believe forms to be absolutely necessary in the present imperfect state of our being, whilst we remain so subject to the impressions of the senses and the law of association; but it should be our constant endeavour to look beyond the temporary form to the eternal spirit which it embodies. It may be necessary that there should be buildings expressly consecrated to the worship of God, that the associations connected with them may assist our languid piety; but we must not forget in our reverence for them, that the wide universe is God's true temple, in which every spot is equally consecrated by His all-pervading presence. It may be necessary that stated times and forms of prayer should be appointed to arrest the busy tide of worldly affairs, and recal, as from the visible and transient, to the invisible and the eternal; but we must not overlook in their observance, that the whole of life is the appointed time for the service of God, and that every act of social duty, every attempt at self-improvement, is part of the real homage which public services only symbolise.
The error of substituting the means for the end, is common to the two great parties which now divide what is called the religious world, and which, under different names and different forms, have existed from the time when they struggled under the very eye of the Apostles, as the Judaising and non-Judaising party, down to the present day. It lies at the bottom of their whole system of religious teaching, the only difference between them arising