"And therefore the doctrine of the one (Christ) was never afraid of universities, or endeavoured the banishment of learning like the other (Mahomet.) And though Galen doth sometimes nibble at Moses, and, beside the apostate Christian, some heathens have questioned his philosophical part or treatise of the creation; yet there is surely no reasonable Pagan that will not admire the rational and well-grounded precepts of Christ, whose life, as it was conformable unto his doctrine, so was that unto the highest rules of reason, and must tberefore flourish in the advancement of learning, and the perfection of parts best able to comprehend it."
Sir Thomas Browne.
Religion has suffered from nothing, throughout allChristendom, more than from its science having been mixed up withits spirit and practice. The spirit and practice of religion comeout of morals; but its science comes out of history also; withchronology, philology, and other collateral kinds of knowledge.The spirit and practice of religion are for all, since all bearthe same relation to their Creator and to their race, and areendowed with reason and with affections. But the high science ofreligion is, at present at least, like all other science, for thefew. The time may come when all shall have the comprehension ofmind and range of knowledge which are requisite for investigatingspiritual relations, tracing the religious principle through allits manifestations in individuals and societies, studying itsrecords in many languages, and testing the interpretations whichhave been put upon them, from age to age. The time may possiblycome when all may be able thus to be scientific in theology: butthat time has assuredly not arrived. It is so far from being athand, that by far the largest portion of christian society seemsto be ignorant of the distinction between the science of theologyand the practice of religion. The scientific study and popularadministration of religion have not only been confided to thesame persons, but actually mixed up and confounded in the headsand hands of those persons. Contrary to all principle, and to allpractice in other departments, the student who enters upon thisscience is warned beforehand what conclusions he must arrive at.The results are given to him prior to investigation; andsanctioned by reward and punishment. The first injury happens tothe student, under a method of pursuing science as barbarous asany by which the progress of natural knowledge was retarded inages gone by. The student, become an administrator, next injureshis flock in his turn, by mixing up portions of his scholasticscience with religious sentiment. He teaches dogmatically thatwhich bears no relation to duty and affection; requiring assentwhere, for want of the requisite knowledge, true assent isimpossible; where there can be only passive reception or ignorantrejection. The consequences are the corruptions of Christianity,which grieve the spirit of those who see where and how the poisonis mixed with the bread of life.
The office of theological science is to preserve,-- we mustnow say to recover,--the primary simplicity of Christianity. Itis a high and noble office to penetrate to and test the opinionsof ages, in order to trace corruptions to their source, andseparate them from the pure waters of truth. It is a high andnoble task to master the asscciations of the elder time, and lookagain at the gospel to see it afresh in its native light. It is ahigh and noble task to strip away false glosses, not only ofwords but of ideas, that the true spirit of the gospel may shinethrough the record. But these high and noble labours are butmeans to a higher and nobler end. The dignity of theologicalstudy arises from its being subservient to the administration ofreligion. The last was Christ's own office; the highest which canbe dischargred by man: so high as to indicate that when itsdignity is fully understood, it will be confided to the hands ofno class of men. Theologians there will probably always be; butno man will be a priest in those days to come when every man willbe a worshipper.
On some accounts it may seem desirable that the theologians ofthis age should be the clergy. It was once desirable; for reasonsanalogous to those which constituted priests once the judges,then the politicians, then the literati of society. It has been,and is, the plea that those who professed to clear Christianityfrom its corruptions, and to master its history, were the fittestpersons to present it to the popular mind.
If this were ever the case, the time seems to havepassed by. The press affords the means of placing the clearresults of theological inquiry in the hands of those whom theyconcern. There seems to be no other relation between thetheologian, as a theologian, and the worshipper, which shouldconstitute him the organ of their worship. The habits of mindmost favourable to the pursuit of theological study are not thosewhich qualify for a successful administration of religiousinfluences. This is proved by fact; by the limited efficacy ofpreaching, and by the fatal confusion which has been caused bythe clergy having given out fragments of their studies from thepulpit, with annexations of promise and threatening. It does notfollow that the administrators should be ignorant; only thattheir knowledge should be other than scholastic and technical.The organ of a worshipping assembly should be furnished with theclear results of theological study; and with such intellectualand moral science as shall enable him, if his sympathies be warmenough, to identify himself with the mind and heart of humanity.He must have that knowledge of men's relations and interests inlife which shall enable him to look into infinity from theirpoint of view; to give voice to whatever sentiments are common toall; to appeal to whatever affections and desires are stirring inall. For this purpose, he must be practically engaged in thegreat moral questions of the time, carrying the principles ofreligion into them with his whole experimental force; andbringing out of them new light whereby to illustrate theseprinciples, new grounds on which to reason in behalf of duty, andnew forces with which to animate the convictions of hisfellow-worshippers into practice.
The fluctuations through which the Methodist body in America,as well as elsewhere, is arriving at the true principle as to theministering of religion, are well known. First, they clearly sawthe corruption of christian doctrine and the deadness ofreligious service which must follow from putting closet studentsinto the pulpit: and, holding the belief of immediate and specialimspiration, they abjured human learning. The mischiefs whichhave followed upon the ministry of ignorant and fanatical clergyhave converted large numbers to the advocacy of human learning.It will probably yet be long before they can put in practice thetrue method of having one set of men to be theologians, andanother to be preachers or other organs of worship. The complaintof every denomination in the United States is of a scarcity ofministers. This is so pressing that, as we have seen in the caseof the Catholics, the term of study is shortened. Now seems thetime, and America the place, for dispensing with the formalitieswhich restrict religious worship. It would be an incalculableinjury to have theological study brought to an end by every youthwho devotes himself to it being called away to preach, before hecan possibly possess many of the requisites for preaching. Itwould be far better to throw open the office of administration toall who feel and can speak religiously, and so as to be thegenuine voice of the thoughts of others. Even if it werenecessary to reconstitute religious societies, making themeetings for worship smaller, and the exercises varying with thenature of the case, there could no evil arise so serious as theinterruption of theological study, and the deterioration ofpublic worship. In the wild west, where the people can no morelive without religion than they can anywhere else, the farmer'sneighbours collect around him from within a circuit of thirtymiles, and he reads or speaks, and prays, and they are refreshed.If this is not done, if it is not frequently done, the settlersbecome liable to the insanity of camp-meetings and revivals. Ifthe national want can be thus naturally supplied in the heart ofthe forest or prairie, why not also in tbe city? The city has theadvantage of a greater number of persons qualified to express thecommon desires, and meet the common sympathies of theworshippers.
There are enlightened and religious persons who think it wouldbe a great advantage to religion if the present system ofdogmatical theological study in America were broken up. It mightbe so, if it were sure to be reconstituted upon betterprinciples, and if it were not done for the purpose of supplyingthe pulpit with men who might be even less fit for their officethan they are now. But there is no prospect of such a breaking upat present; and, I am afraid, as little of any great improvementin the principles of research. Though there are differencesarising about creeds; though there are schisms within the wallsof churches and of colleges, and trials for heresy before synodsand assemblies, which promise a more or less speedy relaxation ofthe bonds of creeds, and the tyranny of church government, thereis no near prospect of theological science being left as free asother kinds. There is no near prospect of evidence on the mostirnportant of all subjects being consigned to the heaven-madelaws of the human mind. There is no near prospect of inquirybeing left to work out its results, without any priorspecification, under penalty, of what they must be. There is nonear prospect of the clergy having such faith in the religionthey profess as to leave it to the administration of Him who sentit, free from their pernicious and arrogant protection.
If other science had its results mixed up with hope and fear,its pursuit watched over by tyranny, and divergence from oldopinions punished by opprobrium, the world, instead of being"an immense whispering gallery, where the faintest accent ofscience is heard throughout every civilised country as soon asuttered," would be a Babel; where all utterance would bevociferation, and life one interminable quarrel. It would be anextreme exemplification of the principle of making convictionsthe object of moral approbation and disapprobation. As it is,though natural philosophers sometimes fall out, yet there is apractical admission of the right of free research, and of theinnocence of arriving, by strict fidelity, at any conclusionswhatever, in natural science. The consequence is that, instead ofmen being imprisoned for their discoveries, and made to dopenance for the benefits they confer on the community, scienceproceeds expeditiously and joyously, under the hands of intentworkers, mutually aiding and congratulating, while societygratefully accepts the results, and adopts the knowledge evolved,as it becomes necessarily and regularly popularised.
Whenever moral science shall be undertaken, and religiousscience emancipated, such will be the harmonious progress ofeach, and the christian religion will be anew revealed to men.Meantime, the religious world is in one aspect like aninquisition; in another, like a Babel. The religious world: notby any means the intercourse of all religious persons. Some ofthe most religious persons are quite out of the religious world;voluntarily retreating from it that they may retain theirreverence; or driven from it, because they are faithful toconvictions which are prescribed to them only by God, without thesanction of man.
Is it thus that religion should be followed and professed in ademocratic republic? Does it carry with it any dispensation fromdemocratic principles? any authority for despotism in this oneparticular? any denial of human equality? any sanction of humanauthority over reason and conscience? Is it not rather "theroot of all democracy; the highest fact in the Rights ofMan.?" America has left it to the Old World to fortifyChristianity by establishments, and has triumphantly shown that agreat nation may be trusted to its religious instincts to providefor its religious wants. In order to the complete following outof her principles, she must leave religious speculation andpursuit of knowledge and peace as open as any other; and bewareof making the ascertainments of science an occasion for theoppression of a single individual in fortune, name, or naturalinheritance of spiritual liberty.
From Harriet Martineau, Society in America, VolumeIII, Part IV, Chapter I - "Science of Religion."London: Saunders and Otley, 1837, pp. 244-253.
Forward to Society in America, VolumeIII, Part IV, Chapter II -"Spirit of Religion."
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