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The North British Review. No. LXVI. Edinburgh-T. & T. Clark.
This periodical has passed into new hands, and promises to be, under its new managers, a Review of the highest literary importance. It professes to uphold “liberal principles” and “to advance the cause of progress in harmony with the permanent order and benefit of society." Of the ten articles contained in the No. before us, there are four which particularly deserve attention, viz., those on “Modern Thought-its Progress and Consummation;" on “Lord Macaulay's Place in English Literature;”. on “Revivals;" and on “the Martyrdom of Galileo.” The first of the four is assigned by rumour to the pen of Isaac Taylor, and the last to Sir David Brewster. In it M. Biot is visited with the censure he so well deserves for having sacrificed truth in relation to Galileo to the influence of the Grand Inquisitor of Rome, whom he accidentally met at the Vatican. Galileo is absolved from the odious charge of having ridiculed and insulted his friendly patron, Urban VIII., and that Pope is vindicated from the heavier charge of having, under the influence of personal revenge, compassed the ruin of the great philosopher. In the eloquent words of the reviewer, Galileo stands “ before his liberated country as the dauntless asserter of physical truth, the morning star of Italian science, and the type of Italy stretching her dungeoned limbs and girding herself for victory.” The article on Revivals is, as might be expected from a journal which professes to “maintain the cause of evangelical Christianity," an apology for these eccentric and dangerous movements; but the moderation of its tone shews that the raking criticisms on the Ulster revival which have appeared in our own pages and elsewhere, have not been without effect. Here is an important concession : “Some movements called revivals have been little else than outbursts of fanaticism.” And again : “Many revivals favourably judged of by the Evangelical churches have borne marks of human error and infirmity, sometimes in a serious degree. The article on Lord Macaulay is an earnest but discriminating eulogy on that illustrious writer. Its commendations of the great historian and essayist, the echo of the popular voice, will be sufficiently unmusical to the ears of Macaulay's detractors. On the Penn controversy, the reviewer asserts that Macaulay's answers to his critics are “altogether convincing." Regret is expressed that Lord Macaulay's triumphant vindication of his History appears only in the small seven-volume edition of his great work. Thousands will say Amen to the reviewer's closing paragraph :
“In spite of the incompleteness of his work, the name of Macaulay will have no lowly place even in the long roll of English worthies. His labours in literature have done more to spread abroad a true understanding of English history than those of any English writer, and his conduct in political life need not fear comparison with the most upright of English statesmen. It is perhaps too much to hope that another such historian will appear to tell of the past greatness of England; but we may surely entertain the expectation, that the men to whom England's future may be confided in times of trouble will have something of the masculine sense, the lofty love of truth, the unswerving adherence to principle, which ennobled the nature of Lord Macaulay.”—P. 460. We have reserved to the last Mr. Isaac Taylor's remarkable essay on Modern Thought. It is founded on Miss S. Hennell's “Thoughts in aid of Faith” and her previous publications. It is satisfactory that a writer whose opinions the reviewer regards as daring and mischievous is treated with respect and candour. Her habitual fairness and general ability are again and again admitted, and she is allowed to be in her own words the exponent of her own opinions. This is as it should be. If unbelievers are treated with the ordinary courtesies of honourable literary warfare, it may perhaps be anticipated that Unitarian Christians will be no longer made exceptions to the common rule of fair dealing. The scope of the reviewer's argument is to shew that if the tendency of modern thought is to push aside Christianity, the consummation will be downright atheism. In stay of the downward progression toward the abyss, there are three forces available. The multiform belief in and worship of invisible powers, and embodied in forms of beauty or of terror. Of these two forces, Brahminism and Buddhism are examples. The only other stay is that religion of which the Bible is the record. Polytheism is impossible in an educated community; and where the religion of the Bible is not accepted, Pantheism is the alternative and the result. This is the reviewer's summary of the intention of modern thought:
“The purpose, differing a little in the instance of each writer, is of this sort:-Modern Thought is labouring, in the first place, to reduce the Hebrew and Christian history to what is called the common level of ordinary history;' yet with a decisive preference allowed it.-Inspiration is that divine providential movement for the education of the human family, of which the ancient Buddhism was an eminent sample, and the Greek poetry and philosophy ano ther sample. — As to the inspiration of the Prophets and Apostles, it was directed to a higher end; and thence the strength and permanence of the hold it has taken of the modern mind, among all civilized nations. So it is therefore—and this is the next purpose in view-that we may still consistently profess ourselves to be Christians; we may sign articles of religion; we may recite creeds; we may preach sermons; we may recommend to the populace, as well of the upper as of the lower classes, the moral and the spiritual elements of the Christian system; while for ourselres, it is a fixed principle, and it is the one postulate of our philosophy, that we utterly reject as incredible whatever savours of the supernatural. There must be no MIRACLE in our gospel. But, if not, then what is to become of the Christian documents! As Christian teachers, how shall we deal with the Evangelists? It is on the sharp ridges of this reef that Modern Thought will strike, and go down. There is here no way of escape. The English writers now in view have allowed themselves to be moored by their German masters into a still water, with ruin around them in every point of the compass, when next the wind shall blow !
“Mystifications and evasions put out of view, it is manifest that the momentous controversy of the preseni time turns upon the belief we shall arrive at concerning the PERSONAL CHARACTER OF CHRIST. It is on this ground that the question must in future be argued, and an issue sought for and accepted: • What think we of Christ ?! Was it so that, while He professed to work miracles in the name of God, He yet did nothing which has not been done by many an impostor ?" — Pp. 315, 316.
Thus powerfully does the reviewer characterize some of the concessions that embarrass modern thought:
“On all sides it is now admitted—and the apostles of Atheism have freely admitted it—that the Christ of the Evangelists is a Real Person, in the fullest historic sense; and, moreover, that the splendour of His virtues and wisdom
beams forth from these inartificial records. It is granted-or one might say, it has been carried by acclamation - that within these writings there is exhibited an unmatched sample of Human Nature—a bright reality of goodness and of truth.”—P. 317.
The reviewer presses the anti-supernaturalist to reconcile the CHRIST whom all men now commend, with the Christ of the Gospels, and argues that if the supernatural is to be excluded, if miracles are to be denied, the whole history is involved in a cloud of moral ambiguity.
“Never again can be attempted to obviate the difficulty by the disintegration of the text of the Gospels; for the rules of textual criticism forbid this to be done. Nor can it be allowed that we should disintegrate them in an historic sense-by expunging, or setting off, those portions out of which the perplexity arises. To do this, would be a violence which the necessities of a desperate argument will not warrant. Nor may we, when we come to the narrative of a miracle, silently put it on one side, as if it did not concern us, or as if we might quietly pass on to a parable, or to a preceptive discourse, heedless of what we have left in the rear. Nor can it be of any use to say, • Miracles are not available as evidences now; for we rest our modern faith upon other grounds.' This evades the difficulty; it does not meet it. The narrative is where it is, in the text; nor is there any power on earth that can dislodge or remove it-if indeed textual criticism affirms the passage to be genuine. This portion-containing the narrative of an event which unquestionably was out of the order of Nature—so intertwines itself with the context, and the circumstances of the event are so woven into the personal behaviour of Christ, and they so form the basis and the reason of what He said and did - they are so tightly wedged into the history, constituting its very
framework —that to remove them, otherwise than by an act of sheer violence, is not possible. To attempt any such operation, is to rend the document itself into shreds :--nothing remains that can be worth the pains of an argument about it.”—P. 318.
Again, on this subject the reviewer says:
“ Vain is it to reiterate the sophism, that · Miracles, even if ever any such events took place, could be of no service to us now.' Be it so; but they do constitute, in great part, the Gospels in our hands; and we must either continue to read these chapters, or we must cease to read them. If we read them, we must plainly tell the people they are fictions! If we cease to read them, then the Scriptures fall away from the popular mind. Christianity, less its miracles, will work its own disappearance from the world ; nor will it be long in coming to this end. No such issue as this shall come about: the Gospel in its integrity shall outlive whims and sophistries—evasions and disbeliefs of all species." --P. 321.
In a note, the reviewer follows up the subject of the destructive influence of the anti-supernaturalist theory upon the New Testament.
“ It may be well to consider what would be the actual consequence, in families and in churches, of an open rejection of the evangelic miracles. To speak now only of the Gospels, we must discontinue the public reading of chapters in the following proportion :-Of the twenty-eight chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, eleven must be omitted; of the sixteen chapters of Mark, eleven also must be marked off; of the twenty-four chapters of Luke, thirteen are on the same ground exceptionable; and of the twenty-one chapters of John's Gospel, ten are excluded. "Or, otherwise stated, it stands thus: of eighty-nine chapters, forty-five must sooner or later fall out of use in the practice of religious instruction. The Book of the Acts could scarcely be read at all; nor quite half the Epistles.”—P. 321.
The reviewer offers some reasons to account for the successes of the VOL. XVI.
destructive element of modern thought, and thus describes, among other causes, the fascination of the weaker reason :
“In minds astutely constituted there is an irresistible gravitation toward the exceptive side in argument. It is an instinct which impels such minds to look always for a way of escape from a foreseen conclusion ;-they make for the chink ;-they run towards the hole in the wall. There is a nervous terror of an impending demonstration :—there is a petulant resentment of the tyranny of Truth. Thus it is—as we think-that minds of more sensitiveness than force, yield themselves to the enchantment of theories which they freely confess to be thin as air,' because such theories contradict overwhelming reasons. Thus it is that the very strength of the cumulative Christian argument is the real cause of its rejection by many. We need not impute motives of a more improper kind to many who resist that argument: it may be, that the resistance takes its spring rather from a fault of the intellectual habitudes than from any immoral repugnance toward Christian doctrines or precepts." —P. 323.
The attempt to hold a Christianity without the miraculous element in it is an impossibility. The hopes that make Christianity infinitely precious are all destroyed by the anti-supernaturalist theory. The Christ who spoke of immortality is no longer to be trusted :
“ – for He Himself died and was buried,' and in that sepulchre, or in some unnoted grave, He underwent the destiny of all men. In that sepulchre, or elsewhere, the · Desire of all nations,' the Hope of the world, mingled His dust with the dust of others! What remains to us after this destruction has had its course, is—an empty tomb, the spices that long since have spent their aroma, the grave clothes, the folded napkin :-what remains to us is a 'teaching,' niore pure and sublime indeed than that of the Greek philosophy; and yet it is a teaching which is so intimately commingled with delusions, if not frauds, that Morality will be better honoured henceforth by consigning our Christianity to oblivion, than by conserving it as a perpetual offence to the instincts of virtue, to common honesty, and to sound reason!”—P. 330.
The reviewer grants but a short lease to the atheistic influences which now agitate modern thought: he believes that a reaction, gaining strength from the enormities of the prevailing infidelity, will not be slow to come.
While we dissent here and there from a thought or a phrase of the reviewer, we feel a general agreement with his views. To one remark in his concluding paragraph we heartily subscribe :
"The strength of modern disbelief is that which it draws from the misapprehensions, from the groundless alarms, from the superstitions, or the rigid prejudices, and, most of all, from unwarrantable dogmatic reasonings of a time gone by.”—P. 331.
We commend the whole article to the careful perusal of all who think religious truth a thing deserving their regard and toil.
The Framlingham Pulpit. 12mo. Pp. 23. THERE has appeared in “The Suffolk Chronicle” of the past and the present year a series of pulpit sketches of the county. This
pamphlet contains a reprint of the sketches that related to the town of Framlingham. The ministers who are selected for portraiture belong to the Independents, the Church, the Wesleyans and the Unitarians. A spirit of catholic kindness pervades the sketches both of the sects and the selected preachers. Nothing, perhaps, more marks the advances made in theological liberality than the treatment of Unitarians and their meetings by the provincial press. Instead of entire exclusion, or a brief and dry notice at the best, Unitarians are now in their turn fairly admitted to their rightful portion of publicity. It is something gained when a newspaper critic of considerable ability makes the concession, that “Unitarianism in doctrine is almost as old as Christianity.” The Unitarian would say, Quite as old. Again, it is pleasant to read a statement like this: “Unitarianism has been a stalwart opponent to superstition, fanaticism and bigotry, in every form of their apparition,a foe to wiredrawn theological refinements, and an obstacle in the way of the unreasoning vagaries of hyper-spiritualism. * * * There are thousands everywhere whose private views of the requirements of religion would bring them within the Unitarian pale, but who neither subscribe to its dogmas nor listen to its preachers." The account given of the Framlingham chapel, and of Mr. Cooper, its worthy minister, is distinctive and altogether satisfactory.
Mr. Brooke Herford': Home Pages-Tract Series. Nos. 7, 8 and 9.
This series of popular religious tracts goes on admirably. The “Home Pages” are not learned, and none of the tracts exhaust their subject, but they are well calculated to set people not familiar with the topics handled a-thinking. In style they are light and conversational, and will not repel the casual reader unaccustomed to theological writings. In No. 7, Mr. Brooke Herford discourses popularly on Faith in God, and, in opposition to orthodox churches, shews how simple and heartmoving are the teachings of Christ respecting the Father in heaven. No. 8 is a pleasant 4-page tract, suitable alike for young and old, sufficiently explained by its title, “Try Kindness.” În No. 9, we have a slight sketch of the story of the Carthaginian martyr, Vivia Perpetua, from the practised pen of Mr. Thomas Bowring. “Home Pages like these deserve a cordial welcome at our firesides. We hope they will at once receive it, and that a wide and steady circulation will encourage Mr. Herford to persevere in his excellent efforts.
The Religious Educator. Vol. I. Boston. This is a new monthly publication, edited by Mr. James P. Walker, of Boston, U.S., and published by the Sunday-School Teachers' Institute. It contains much that will be specially interesting and improving to those who are carrying on the good work of the Sunday-school, and something that all may read with advantage. It is essentially religious and scriptural in its spirit and tone. The details of Sunday-school history which it contains are prevailingly satisfactory.
What is Unitarianism? The Question answered by a Layman. 12mo.
Pp. 27. London-Whitfield. The writer well fulfils his purpose of shewing in plain and simple language what Unitarian Christianity is. The arguments are skilfully arranged, and the writer does not endanger his cause by attempting novelty on a subject which forbids it. The tract may be safely put into the hands of the religious inquirer.