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THE discovery of God, the discovery of the Soul, I and the discovery of the oneness of God and the Soul, such have been the three principal themes of my Gifford Lectures, and I havo ventured to make at least an attempt to treat each of them, not simply as a philosopher, but as an historian. While the philosophy of religion treats the belief in a First Cause of the universe, and in an Ego or Self, and in the true relation between the two, as matters of psychological development, or of logical consecution, it was my purpose to show, not what the process of each of these discoveries may or must have been, but what it has been in the history of the world, so far as it is known to us at present. I am fully aware that this historical method is beset with grave difficulties, and has in consequence found but little favour in the eye* of speculative philosophers. So long as we look on the history of the human race as something that might or might not have been, we cannot wonder that the student of religion should prefer to form bi» opinions of the nature of religion and tLe laws of it* growth from the ma*V:rwork of Thomas A';u;na», the SvT'-.^ta Sarrwt Ti-ttJ/sfi/vt. nthur t-oan from t:.e Sacred hsA>. of The E'tA. But w*»en we have learnt to recognise in history the realisation of a rational purpose, when we have learnt to look upon it as in the truest sense of the word a Divine Drama, the plot revealed in it ought to assume in the eyes of the philosopher also a meaning and a value far beyond the speculations of even the most enlightened and logical theologians.
I am not ignorant of the dangers of such an undertaking, and painfully conscious of the imperfections inevitable in a first attempt. The chief danger is that we are very prone to find in the facts of history the lesson which we wish to find. It is well known how misleading the Hegelian method has proved, because, differing in this respect from Herder and from the historical school in general, Hegel was bent on seeing in the history of religion what ought to be there according to his view of the logical necessity in the development of the idea, if not of the psychological growth of the human mind. The result has been that the historical side in Hegel's Philosophy of Religion is almost entirely untrustworthy. My endeavour has been on the contrary to yield to no presumptions, but to submit to facts only, such as we find them in the Sacred Books of the East, to try to decipher and understand them as we try to decipher and understand the geological annals of the earth, and to discover in them reason, cause and effect, and, if possible, that close genealogical coherence which alone can change empirical into scientific knowledge. This genealogical method is no doubt the most perfect when we can follow the growth of religious ideas, as it were, from son to father, from pupil to teacher, from the negative to the positive stage. But where this is impossible, the analogical method also has its advantages, enabling us to watch the same dogmas springing up independently in various places, and to discover from their similarities and dissimilarities what is due to our common nature, and what must be attributed to the influence of individual thinkers. Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus is not necessarily what is true, but it is what is natural, it constitutes what we have accustomed ourselves to call Natural Religion, though few historical students would now maintain that Supernatural Religion has no right to the name of Natural Religion, or that it forms no part of the Divine Drama of Man as acted from age to age on the historical stage of the world.
It has been my object in these three consecutive courses of Lectures on Physical, Anthropological, and Psychological religion to prove that what in my first volume I put forward as a preliminary definition of religion in its widest sense, namely the Perception of the Infinite, can be shown by historical evidence to have been the one element shared in common by all religions. Only we must not forget that, like every other concept, that of the Infinite also had to pass through many phases in its historical evolution, beginning with the simple negation of what is finite, and the assertion of an invisible Beyond, and leading up to a perceptive belief in that most real Infinite in which we live and move and have our being. This historical evolution of the concept of the objective Infinite I tried to trace in my Lectures on Physical Religion, that of the concept of the subjective Infinite in my Lectures on Anthropological Religion, while this last volume was reserved for the study of the discovery of the oneness of the objective God and the subjective Soul which forms the final consummation of all religion and all philosophy.
The imperfections to which a first attempt in a comparative study of religions is liable arise from the enormous amount of the materials that have to be consulted, and from the ever-increasing number of books devoted to their interpretation. The amount of reading that would be required in order to treat this subject as it ought to be treated is more than any single scholar can possibly force into the small span of his life. It is easy to find fault and say, Qui trop embrasse, mal itreint, but in comparative studies it is impossible to embrace too much, and critics must learn to be reasonable and not expect from a scholar engaged in a comparative study of many religions the same thorough acquaintance with every one of them which they have a right to expect from a specialist. No one has felt more keenly than myself the annoyance whenever I had to be satisfied with a mere reluta refero, or had to accept the judgments of others, even when I knew that they were better qualified to judge than myself.
This applies more particularly to my concluding Lectures, Lect. XII to XV in this volume. These Lectures contain the key to the whole series, and they