« ZurückWeiter »
the Christian religion is to be made acceptable to the thinking portion of the community, it must be proposed to the reason and not propounded as something to be taken or rejected without inquiry, under threats of eternal penalties. Christianity has no need of such a defence; of all religions it is the most reasonable, and has less cause than any other to shrink from the fiercest light of investigation and the minutest methods of inquiry. Unhappily, however, it is much easier to meet opposition by denunciation than by argument, and it takes less time to condemn one's antagonist as an "infidel" than to expose the fallacies in his reasoning.
The opponents of the Christian faith assert that "among all but certain of the aged and the very illiterate, belief, in the strict orthodox sense of the term, is practically dead-openly and tacitly, men and women are ashamed of the gospel of Christ." They declare that of those who do not actually quit the Christian camp there remain thousands who live a lie: they are outwardly religious, inwardly heretical. Philosophic doubt, we are told, is in the air, and those who tell us this rejoice in the fact, because " doubt is the source of human progress." But they lament that the poisonous germs of moral cowardice are also present in the intellectual atmosphere, and that nine out of ten of the
1 National Reformer, June 11, 1893, p. 369.
more intelligent professing Christians would be outspoken Atheists or Agnostics if they dared. This would be a terrible indictment if it were true; it is, however, merely the expression of the alarm of the opponents of Christianity at its latest development; it requires only to be stated in set terms for its falsity to be demonstrated. So far from it being the fact that men and women are "openly and tacitly ashamed of the gospel of Christ," it is certain that the teaching of Jesus has a stronger hold on men's minds and hearts to-day than it ever had before. It would seem that the world is only just beginning to grasp the real inwardness of Christ's gospel.
We are not concerned to deny that what is intended by the term "strict orthodoxy' is rapidly dying out, but strict orthodoxy and vital Christianity are by no means synonymous. That we are in the midst of a great crisis in matters religious is not to be disputed, and nothing is to be gained by concealing or disguising the fact.
As the great tunnel under Mont Cenis neared completion, the French and Italian workmen on opposite sides were able to hear each other's voices and the blows of their picks. Soon they met and shook hands. They had toiled for years from opposite sides, but their work was harmonious, and the great international railroad under the Alps was an accomplished fact. Ever
since the dawn of modern science in the beginning of the sixteenth century, two great classes of thinkers have been engaged in an intellectual feat of road-making on similar principles. The men of faith and the men of science have tunnelled their Alps from opposite points. Unlike the engineers of Mont Cenis, they fancied themselves in actual opposition to each other, never expecting to meet, still less to fraternize. The Conflict between Religion and Science has been the theme of many a treatise, and the necessary opposition of the two bodies of labourers in the field of human knowledge has been taken for granted. But already, faintly yet surely, we begin to hear the voices of the workmen of opposite sides, as the roads they are making tend to meet in one central point; they call to each other, not in threatening tones, but as fellow-labourers on the same path. None but the actual workmen can imagine how nearly they approach each other. To the great outside world they are lost in the bowels of the earth, are forgotten, or scarcely thought about. Yet a few more cubic feet of rock to bore, a few more tons of detritus to remove, and the path-makers will throw the road open to the world.
One of our greatest spiritual path-makers and Alp-tunnellers was Robert Browning. Deep down under the mountain he laboured, practically forgotten, misunderstood, and neglected; yet he was foremost amongst the great constructors of
the ways of intellectual activity. Those of us who have been down with the miners, know how many obstacles Browning has cleared away; those who have worked under his orders, know how firm and straight is the roadway he has constructed. Not only has he established a modus vivendi between science and religion, but he has demonstrated that the one is the complement of the other. He has made scientific religion an accomplished fact.
"The malady of the century" is melancholy. Mr. Myers tells us that in many minds there is a bankruptcy of hope; despair dwells in "the splendid and miserable temple which is the heart of man." Religion is held to be an illusion; a belief in the moral government of the world, in a future life in which earth's injustices may be redressed, and virtue victorious, are now everywhere on the defensive, if they are not, as in France, actually rapidly losing ground. Men treat as open questions the problem, "Is there a God?" "Is the soul immortal ?" "Is the Christian revelation credible?" and are but little anxious for an affirmative reply to them. Yet the answer to such questions can never be anything but of vital importance to mankind. Morality must depend largely on the solution of these and similar questions. "There is no historic instance," says Professor Knight, "in which the decay of religious influence has promoted morality." On the other hand, if we
"suppose that there is conclusive evidence not only of a moral order existing independently of the individual, but also of a moral centre toward which individual effort tends, and of an infinite Orderer who, from that centre, controls the moral sphere, such a fact must, in a very important way, influence the conduct of the race."
At first sight it may seem strange that we should be invited to study Browning as a religious teacher. It is not usually to the poets that we turn for lessons in philosophy and theology, but it is perfectly certain that Browning wrote with this object in view. The religious motive is plainly to be seen in almost every poem.
He was above all things a great philosopher. The unity of his work is manifest to the most superficial observer, from the first lines of Pauline -his boyish effort to his death-song in the Epilogue to Asolando. In Pauline the poet confesses his sin and degradation, consequent on his all-encompassing selfishness; he tells how his soul was called out of mental darkness to the light of Christianity; how he was anointed poet; how his redemption and restoration were wrought by Divine love, by means of the mediation of human love; and from that time onwards, to the day of his death, Robert Browning never once looked back; never faltered in his message; never once despaired of God, of life, of human love, or of the infinite worth of the soul's period of training and passage—