« PreviousContinue »
of doctrines are curling the surface of society, and affecting the current of opinions in the world—what are the peculiar forms in which the old hostility of the human heart to the truth of God is clothing itself, and what the peculiar weapons with which it is waging its ancient warfare. He must be skilled to detect the symptoms which afford a diagnosis of the peculiar disorders under which the latent poison that has infected our race is manifesting its ever-constant, but ever-changing action. He must be a patient and a pitying listener to the utterances, however fretful, and however unreasonable, which proclaim the felt uneasiness and wants of the age, and know somewhat of the fit response to give to each. In short, whatever delight he, as a scholar and meditative thinker, may have in the past or the future, he must, as a teacher, strive to be a man of the present. His own age is the proper sphere of his activity ; in it must be his working, for it his anxiety, of it his account at last. To know it, therefore, that so he may fitly speak to it, should be the prime ambition and chief effort of his life.
When we look around us on the religious teachers of the day, we feel as if there were some serious shortcoming among them in this matter. The fault may not be altogether theirs, but certainly the fact presses itself upon us, that the pulpit is not now that place of authority and influence in religious matters which it once was in this country, and which we think it ever ought to be in every Christian community. Without claiming for the public teachers of Christianity any mystic honours, or any power beyond that which a teacher of divine truth to men may fairly claim, we cannot help thinking that they have, in the present day, an amount of influence greatly below what they are entitled to hold. We cannot help thinking that a body of men whose business it is to expound to their fellow-men such truths as the Bible contains, ought to occupy a position of more commanding influence over the community than at present they seem to occupy. Why things should be, in this respect, as they are, may be accounted for from various causes, into which we do not at present stop to inquire. But among these we think no mean place is due to a want of that due harmony between the pulpit and the age, without which the latter will not continue to respect and appreciate the former. There seem to us to be but few men who, in the right and lawful sense of the words, are now preaching to the times. A large majority of the clergy of all denominations seem to have made up their minds quietly to abide by the stuff, happen what will — to reiterate the ancient formulæ with the ancient monotony-to force the new wine into the old bottles—and to
bid the new demon defiance with the old exorcism. Others, still more reverential of the past, would carry us back to the superstitions and incantations of the dark ages, and propose to
, heal the wound of an age that has fretted itself into sickness by its dread of shams, by wrapping it in the cerements of the dead shams and exploded delusions of the times of ignorance.' Others, again, have taken wing to the future, and are dreaming over pictures of thrones and glories, triumphs and felicities, to be won by the church, when her now invisible Lord shall descend in person to lead her armies; and meanwhile, such would stay the restless and uneasy spirit of the age by bidding it wait, and be still, for the time is at hand, though, as yet, no symptoms of it appear. And of the rest, not a few are wringing their hands, and mourning heavily, seeing clearly that the age is in an evil plight, yet not knowing how to minister to its necessities; whilst here and there are to be found some of large and free minds, who, assured that, be the wants or weaknesses of the age what they may, there is that in the divine religion which the Bible unfolds to meet and remove them all, are setting themselves thoughtfully, and with earnest prayer, to search the evil to its core, and out of that exhaustless treasure-house which God has placed at their command to extract the medicine that shall be best adapted to its cure. In this last class we recognise the true spiritual heroes of our age, whom it should be our desire to encourage, and to follow; for to them we believe will the age listen, and at length respond.
And thus to study and work for the age in which they live is, we take it, worthy of the best energies of our best men. noble age this nineteenth century of ours, after all. For aught we can read in history, the world has seen none nobler. And as for the ages that are to come, is not the germ of them in the bosom of that which is now passing over us?—and will they not come forth bearing marks of honour or disgrace derived, if not wholly, yet in part from it? Here, then, we would say to the great minds of our day, here is your proper work-field, to do such work as the Master has fitted you to do; here is this restless, noisy, pushing, fretful present. Listen with both ears, that you may catch the voices it is sending up from amidst the smoke and din of its busy workshop; they have a meaning in them which it is worth your while to understand and ponder. Shrink not because the problem offered to you is intricate, and hard of solution; the worthier is it of your power, the higher will be your honour, should you solve it. Bend on it these powers, then, and let it not be said of you that God cast you upon an age that had need of you, and called upon you for
It is a
help, but that, when its cry came up to you, you were asleep, or hidden, or were too indolent to speak. Rather let it be said of you, that what truth you had found you were prompt to communicate--that you had a deep sympathy with the throbbing anxieties of the men around you;
found no more congenial exercise for your faculties than in trying to comprehend their wants, and to guide them to the pleasant places of truth and goodness, where they might find satisfaction and repose.
Especially would we address such appeals to the religious chiefs of the age ; for the great problem of the age, after all, is a religious one-in truth, none other than that expressed on the title-page of the volume now before us. "The Age and Christianity: it is even so. The grand question of the day-that which rises above all others—which, in a sense, gives life to all others, and which society is everywhere panting, as in the throes of a great birth, to answer—is just this : What has Christianity to do with this age ? and what has this age to say to Christianity? Whether consciously or unconsciously, this is the point to which the aggregate mind of the community, not in England alone, but throughout Europe—nay, even in India and other parts of the East, is drawn as by an irresistible impulse. The subject will not depart from men's thoughts. There is an uneasiness pervading society at large, which is forcing men upon the consideration of spiritual problems; and a deep feeling is abroad that this great question of Christianity must be probed to the core, and some firm result secured respecting it. Is it in this old traditional faith that rest is to be found for the excited spirit of the age ? or must the age seek elsewhere? And if not wholly elsewhere, must Christianity be allowed its ancient place of supremacy, as the one utterance of God to men? or must it be brought down to stand as only one revelation among many, which in divers manners have conveyed the mind of the Invisible to his creatures here below? Is this religion to be accepted as wholly and infallibly true, or is it to be viewed as having an admixture of error and infirmity with the truth it contains-as having much of the real gold in it, but that embedded in less valuable matter, from which it must be carefully sifted ? Must the men of this age go as their
? fathers did aforetime, and sit down as meek learners in the school of Christ and his apostles ? or must they renounce all such docility, and, trusting to the reason God has given them, form for themselves, by some high Eclecticism, a philosophy and a theology, the sources of which shall be found every
where, but the oracle of which shall speak only from within?
These, we say, are in substance the great ploblems of the age -its vital questions, to which it must find answer or die. To what else tend its manifold strivings after the good, and the true, and the beautiful? What else is the meaning of its manyvoiced cry for liberty, equality, and fraternity? Why else its half-inarticulated longings for some prophet who shall recal its forgotten dream, and give the interpretation thereof? What are all its Socialisms and Eclecticisms—its Pantheistic philosophies and New Gospels—its cryings of 'Lo here, and lo there !'—but so many evidences that it has awaked from its apathy, and is in earnest resolved to find some spiritual verities in which to rest? It is not now a kingdom which is meat and drink, but one which in some sort is righteousness, and peace, and joy, that the age is resolved to build up
if it can. From this quest the age will not be easily turned aside. When men once seriously grapple with such questions, it is no light matter that will drive them from their minds. The age will assuredly answer these questions after its own fearless fashion. The bugbear of innovation has lost its terrors; the prestige of authority is gone. If any good men are reposing in the belief that this is but a passing breeze which is agitating society, and that ere long men, baffled in these new pursuits, will quietly relapse into their old indifference or formalism, they are seriously mistaken. The age will come to a decision upon the great spiritual questions it has taken up. The only thing yet in doubt is what its decision shall be. On this decision great issues hang suspended. This nineteenth century will go down to posterity either as the age when infidelity triumphed over Christianity, or as the age when Christianity baffled infidelity; not, as heretofore, in the schools, but on the broad platform of general society.
Holding these views, it is with peculiar pleasure that we welcome the volume now before us. We know few men better qualified to treat such a subject than Dr. Vaughan. His freedom from narrow prejudices, his honest and bold avowal of his convictions, his sympathy with all true thought and genuine emotion, his breadth of intellectual view, no less than his sincere attachment to the truths of Christianity,--his reverence for the word of God, and his extensive acquaintance with philosophy and history, combine to fit him in an eminent manner to address the age on its relations to the Christian religion. More than this it would not be seemly for us to say in a journal with which Dr. Vaughan is himself intimately con
nected; but less than this we could not say without violating our convictions of Dr. Vaughan's just claims when handling such topics, in the audience of the public.
This work was undertaken in consequence of an application to the author, by the trustees of Coward College, 'to deliver a
course of lectures in the metropolis on some of the aspects of 'the times as affecting Christianity. These lectures were delivered in February and March last, first at the Hanover Rooms, and afterwards in the Weigh-house Chapel, London, to large and interested audiences. The great aim of the author, throughout his lectures, is to vindicate the claims of Christianity and the Bible as divine, and to show that in them alone is to be found what will meet the wants and assuage the uneasiness of the age.
• Our age, amidst its many forms of scepticism and worldliness, is ill at ease; and, in common with all preceding ages, exhibits an irrepressible yearning of the human spirit after something more settled and satisfactory than it has found. Its sense of want is going out, conspicuously enough, in search of something higher-of something more noble. My object is to demonstrate to some of these bewildered and weary wanderers, that the old path is, after all, the true one; that the new paths opened out on either hand, are harder to make way upon than the one on which we may trace the footprints of our sires; and that, seeing all men are compelled to be believers in some shape, it is really a much easier thing, and assuredly a much happier thing, to believe after the manner of a Christian, than to believe after any other manner.'
With this object in view, Dr. Vaughan has, after delineating the characteristics of the age in their general religious bearings, proceeded to consider minutely the characteristics of the age in relation to the proofs of Christianity, and its characteristics in relation to the truths of Christianity. These topics occupy the first five lectures. The sixth is on the characteristics of the age in relation to the Christian religion. In traversing the field thus marked out, the author has found suitable opportunities for examining all the leading objections which have been adduced against the Bible and the Christian system, as well as those systems of human philosophy which have been of late advanced as fitted to supersede or entitled to modify the theology of the Bible. The objections and the theories examined are chiefly viewed in the form in which they have been of late imported amongst us from the Continent.' We could have wished that it had comported with the author's plan to bring his historical reading to bear upon the proof of the slender pretensions to novelty which these vaunted attacks upon