Page images
PDF
EPUB

see now how the prior point can be resisted, that rationalism in refusing to respect any form of argument in favor of the doctrine of a special communication of divine truth, is guilty of unwarranted assumption. It must admit that the soul is powerless except under certain external conditions ; and the facts of these external agencies are what the word implies, facts ; and being facts (and ever keep in mind, facts out of the soul, not in it) are to be inquired into, established by evidence, never to be assumed. So much we must regard as being avowed by the very phraseology in which we are forced to present the subject.

Now we venture the assertion that the 'controversy between rationalism as such, and all theories of special revelations, ends here. Admit that the nature and origin of the instrumentalities whereby the soul of man is brought into its true activity, is a proper subject for historic inquiry—admit this, and you surrender the very peculiarity of rationalism. Admit the point named, and you confess an obligation to receive whatever position is fairly made out by the historic witness ;-if the witness testify to prophecy, miracle, or any form or accompaniment of revelation, its palpable force is not to be resisted with the assumption that the thing testified to cannot be true. It does indeed remain a debateable question, whether the Bible is a revelation from God—whether prophecy and miracle, whether Christ and his apostles were the specially chosen means to enlighten human souls, with rays of heavenly truth? But the question is not debateable with the rationalist in his distinctive character as such. Disbelievers in the authority of the Bible who are not rationalists—who have no pre-conceived theology forbidding them to acknowledge the fact of such authority on any form of testimony-who are disbelievers in the Bible because of supposed difficulties in the way of acknowledging it—who, as yet, feel a lack of evidence to support its claims,—with all such it is a question for debate whether the claims commonly made for the Bible can be substantiated. But all controversy with the rationalist ends the moment he is compelled to admit that the nature and method of the external plan for guiding the human mind and heart, are not matters for assumption, but for inquiry and testimony. Indeed, the moment he makes this concession he ceases to be a rationalist—he surrenders the peculiarity of his position, namely, that no argument to the effect that a special revelation from God-a revelation coming in a form distinct from the ordinary course of events—is even to be tolerated. To our own mind we have established the inconclusiveness of the ground of assumption here implied; and hence we feel that our controversy with rationalism in its distinctive character is brought to a close.

We cannot dismiss the subject of rationalistic theology without an acknowledgment of the fact, that it has an importance in the present age, other than what pertains to its logical conclusiveness. That it is something more than an opinion, that it is a power widely felt, none can deny. Held in something of its purity and consistency by a learned few, through these few it tells upon the great body of the community-whom it indeed reaches in diluted and often mischievous forms. That it has an influence over and above what pertains to its intrinsic force, we think no one, not even its devotees, will dispute. Its existence, as a ruling element in thought and life, has an occasion apart from its inherent truthfulness—perhaps it has a mission, as have the summer storms which, though much mischief ensue from their temporary violence, nevertheless leave the air purer and more bracing after the fury of the tempest is

past.

What Catholicism has done in form and on principle, Protestantism, with occasional exceptions on the part of individuals and minor sects, has done in effect and in spite of principle-has assumed to dictate terms to, and force convictions on, the human understanding and heart. It has presented revelation, not as a help for the soul, but as its master—not as communicating truths to be received by it because congenial to it, and to be welcomed and confirmed by it, but as communicating dogmas and authenticating practices revolting to its innate sensibilities and perceptions, and assuming to do this in spite of remonstrance or appeal. Such has been the course of Protestantism alike on the part of Calvinist and Armenian interpreters and creed-makers. Now we aver that the occasion of the rise and power of rationalism is in this arbitrary attempt to tyrannize over the human soul—an attempt persevered in with personal bitterness and intolerance for centuries. It is true, a

world has dom; and has op else into skeer

better interpretation of Christian revelation--one really in accordance with the wants and intuitions of sanctified souls

-has prevailed, organizing sects and giving tone to no small portion of the Christian community. But the complete doctrines of this better faith have seldom been translated into popular speech-have been, as we may say, esoteric theories with the cultivated few. The protestant world has had but comparatively little benefit from this higher wisdom ; and has been forced either into passive and verbal acquiescence, or else into skeptical antagonism with the letter which it fails rightly to interpret.

We speak our own experience when we say, that while the literature of rationalism has gone to the length of unwarrantable assumption, and has claimed for the soul prerogatives which it does not rightfully possess, it has, in proceeding to such extremities, implied—that is, thrown out by the way—the real truth; and this with an emphasis, with an explicitness, and with a popular effect, such as can be found no where else. Its momentum was too great for it to pause with a simple recognition of the capabilities of the soul to apprehend and confirm truth ; its force was not spent till it had reached the (as we deem it) untenable position, that it also discovers all truth and so renders superfluous all special communication from heaven. The phraseology of prior attempts to state what we have deemed the simple truth touching the powers of human nature, was too calm, too philosophic, too scholastic; it was not apprehended and felt, was not even read by “ the common people.” But the language of rationalism was bold, oracular, denunciatory, impassioned ; it reached the common intelligence; it awaked an earnest response ; providentially, it did a work which more temperate appeals and more logical phrase do not seem fitted to do.

It must however, be admitted that it is only the masters of the rationalistic school, that even the common intelligence can endure. Their followers cannot enunciate the words they appear to repeat. Imitation, however tolerable elsewhere, is most insufferable when coming from the rationalist. Poetry, passion, and earnestness seldom go higher than rationalism speaking through its select oracles ; commonplace, puerility, insipidity seldom get lower than rationalism speaking through the mouths of disciples and copyists. The more emotional of the protestant sects do indeed deal in puerilities of a low grade ; nevertheless puerilities savored with fervor. But rationalism, having a charm only for cultivated tastes, is, in its second or third dilution, commonplace without any seasoning property. As really gifted minds are few, it is easy to understand why rationalistic congregations do not increase, and why imitators fail. The terror which rationalistic boldness has sometimes occasioned we can but think is unphilosophical ; for if it be, what we have attempted to show that it is, an extreme resting on an unwarranted assumption—if it be, what all its opponents virtually assert it to be, a fallacious scheme, it must, in the nature of things, be short-lived as a distinctive power.

If we rightly read “ the signs of the times," rationalism has already seen its best day-it is obvious, we think, that the reactionary tide is setting in. That passing away, it will leave, as incidental to its progress, a deposit of good, we should distrust Providence were we to doubt. We trust the not distant future will exhibit as among its relics, a statement of Christian doctrine more in accordance with the wants and we will add rights of the soul, than has hitherto been popular with leading divines—that the suicidal policy of assuming to tyrannize over the soul in matters of faith and profession, will be more palpable—that Christian teachers will have and exhibit more trust in the permanency of essential truth and that they will feel it to be their proper mission not so much to barricade truth from assault, as if fearful of the issue, as simply to exhibit the truth, trusting in its inherent force to work its way into acceptance and maintain its ascendency as a redeeming power among men.

G. H. E.

ART. II.

Humboldt.

FREDERICK ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT is dead. He departed this life at Berlin on the sixth of May last. The announcement of this event came to us amidst the exciting rumors and the horrid dissonances of war. Scarcely arresting general attention, and calling forth little popular emotion, still it awakened a deep and tender interest in every cultivated mind. It was the announcement of the passing away of a great man ; a man whose peer in all respects his own country—the nineteenth century-has not thus far produced. Though few, if any, of our readers have ever looked upon his face, or listened to his voice, there is not one of them that is not more or less familiar with his name. There is not one that does not know something of his career and achievements. His encyclopedic knowledge, his profound wisdom, the impetus which he gave to every branch of science, his unobtrusive but often powerful influ. ence upon affairs, combined with his patriarchal age, his unaffected simplicity of bearing, the catholicity of his sympathies, his unswerving devotion to worthy ends, and the genuine manliness and nobility of his whole character, not only rendered him one of the most conspicuous monuments of the latter ages, but placed his name high among that immortal few whose memories the world cannot suffer to perish.

Of the life, and works, and character of such a man it becomes us to take notice. He is a messenger of God to men-a medium through which stream the rays of heavenly truth and love with comparatively little refraction. Such souls God does not bestow upon the world so lavishly that we can afford to pass them without observation-without an attempt, at least, to calculate their orbit, detect their controlling law, appreciate their principal uses, and comprehend their final causes. The study of them, moreover, can never be otherwise than profitable. It is provocation of a livelier gratitude. It awakens a profounder consciousness of want. It kindles more earnest aspirations. And these conjoined are the prime conditions of all genuine life.

« PreviousContinue »