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Christianity now shown in every country, and the in-
creasing interest felt in religion, are the indirect effect,
under the guidance of divine Providence, of the stirring
of the religious apprehension by controversy/

We have tlras at once exhibited the province which
will be hereafter investigated in detail, and stated the
general law observable in the conflict between free
thought and Christianity. The type reappears, perpet-
uated by the fixity of mind, though the form varies
under the force of circumstances. Christianity being
stationary and authoritative, thought progressive and
independent, the causes which stimulate the restlessness
of the latter interrupt the harmony which ordinarily
exists between belief and knowledge, and produce crises
during which religion is re-examined. Disorganization
is the temporary result ; theological advance the subse-
quent. Whatever is evil is eliminated in the conflict ;
whatever is good is retained. Under the overruling of
a beneficent Providence, antagonism is made the law
of human progress.

The restriction of our inquiry to the consideration of
the free action of reason will cause our attention to be
almost entirely confined to the operation of reason in
its attack on Christianity, to the neglect of the evidences
which the other office of it has presented in defence ;
and will also exclude altogether the study of struggles,
• where the opposition to Christianity has rested on an
appeal to the authority of rival sacred books ; such for
example as the conflict with rival religions like the Jew-
ish (4) or Mahometan (5) ; as well as of heresies which,
like the Socinian (6), claim, however .unjustly, to rest on
the authority of the Christian revelation.

The law thus sketched of this struggle needs fuller
explanation. We must employ a more exact analysis
to gain a conception of the causes which have operated

8 A brief view of the history of the Christian evidences will be found
in Note 49 appended to these Lectures.


at different periods to make free thought develop into

It will be obvious that the causes must depend,
either upon the nature of the Christian religion, which
is the subject, or of the mind of man, which is the agent
of attack. The former were touched upon in the open-
ing remarks of this lecture, and may be reconsidered
hereafter ; J but it is necessary to gain a general view of
the latter before treating them in their application in
future lectures.

These causes, so far as they are spiritual and discon-
nected from admixture with political circumstances,
may be stated to be of two kinds, viz. intellectual and
moral ; the intellectual explaining the types of thought,
the moral the motives which have from time to time
existed. 1 " The actions, and generally the opinions of a
human being, are the complex result arising from the
union of both. Yet the two elements, though closely
intertwined in a concrete instance, can be apprehended
separately as objects of abstract thought ; and the forms
of manifestation and mode of operation peculiar to each
can be separately traced.

In a history of thought, the antagonism created by
the intellect rather than by the heart seems the more
appropriate subject of stndy, and will be almost exclu-
sively considered in these lectures. Nevertheless - a
brief analysis must be here given of the mode in which
the moral is united with the intellectual in the formation
of opinions. This is the more necessary, lest we should
seem to commit the mistake of ignoring the existence

9 Viz. toward the close of Lect. VIII.

10 The moral causes of unbelief have been frequently discussed, but the
intellectual rarely. Van Mildert has collected, in his Boyle Lectures (note
to Lect. XXIV.), references to many valuable authors where the moral sins
of pride and impiety are discussed ; and J. A. Fabricius (Delect. Argument.
1725.) has devoted a chapter to the literature of the subject (c. 36. p. 653.)
Dr. Ogilvie wrote in 1783 a separate work on the causes of the recent un-
belief; but the causes alleged by him, though well treated in the details,
are superficial. A satisfactory discussion of this and cognate topics con-
nected with unbelief is given in a popular but instructive book, Infidelity,
its aspects, caicses, and agencies, a Prize Essay (1853) of the Evangelical
Alliance, by the Rev. T. Pearson, Eyemouth, N. B.


or importance of the emotional element, if the restric-
tion of our point of view to the intellectual should here-
after prevent frequent references to it.

The influence of the moral causes in generating
doubt, though sometimes exaggerated, is nevertheless
real. Psychological analysis shows that the emotions
operate immediately on the will, and the will on the
intellect. Consequently the emotion of dislike is able
through the will to prejudice the judgment, and cause
disbelief of a doctrine agaiust which it is directed. 11
Nor can we doubt that experience confirms the fact.
Though we must not rashly judge our neighbour, nor
attempt to measure in any particular mind the precise
amount of doubt which is due to moral causes, yet it is
evident that where a freethinker is a man of immoral
or unspiritual life, whose interests incline him to disbe-
lieve in the reality of Christianity, his arguments may
reasonably be suspected to be suggested by sins of char-
acter, and by dislike to the moral standard of the Chris-
tian religion, and, though not on this account necessarily
undeserving of attention, must be watched at every
point with caution, in order that the emotional may be
eliminated from the intellectual causes.

It is also a peculiarity belonging to the kind of evi-
dence on which religion rests for proof, that it offers an
opportunity for the subtle influence of moral causes,
where at first sight intellectual might seem alone to
act. For the evidence of religion is probable, not de-
monstrative ; and it is the property of probable evidence
that the character and experience determine the com-
parative weight which the mind assigns in it to the
premises. 12 In demonstrative evidence there is no op-

11 Compare some remarks on this point in Whately's Rhetoric (part 2.
ch. I. § 2.)

12 Proof being of two kinds, viz. antecedent probability, et/ctfc, (Arist.
Rhet. i. 2. § 15. which shows the cause ; and evidence, o-^eToj/, which shows
the fact ; it is clear that the latter, if of the positive kind, reKfi-fipiov, is
demonstrative ; but if merely of the probable kind, or of the nature of cir-
cumstantial evidence, avcavvjxov <rr)fxe?ov, requires the antecedent probability
in addition for the purpose of effecting conviction. Otherwise the evidence
may seem to be an accidental concatenation of circumstances, unless ex-


portunity for the intrusion of emotion ; bnt in probable
reasoning the judgment ultimately formed by the mind
depends often as much upon the antecedent presump-
tions brought to the investigation of the subject, as
upon the actual proofs presented ; the state of feeling
causing a variation in the force with which a proposi-
tion commends itself to the mind at different times.
The very subtlety of this influence, which requires care-
ful analysis for its detection, causes it to be overlooked.
Accordingly, in a subject like religion, the emotions
may secretly insinuate themselves in the preliminary
step of determining the weight due to the premises,
even where the final process of inference is purely intel-

We can select illustrations of this view of the sub-
tlety of the operation of prejudice from instances of a
kind unlike the one previously named ; in which it will
be seen that the disinclination of the inquirer to accept
Christianity has not arisen primarily from the obstacle
caused by the enmity of his own carnal heart, but from
antipathy toward the moral character of those who have
professed the Christian faith.

Who can doubt, that the corrupt lives of Christians
in the later centuries of the middle ages, the avarice of
the Avignon popes, the selfishness shown in the great
schism, the simony and nepotism of the Roman court
of the fifteenth century, excited disgust and hatred tow-
ard Christianity in the hearts of the literary men of the
Renaissance, which disqualified them for the reception
of the Christian evidences ; or that the social disaffec-
tion in the last century in France incensed the mind
against the Church that supported alleged public
abuses, 13 until it blinded a Voltaire from seeing any
goodness in Christianity ; or that the religious intoler-
ance shown within the present century by the ecclesias-

plained by the antecedent probability that existed for the occurrence of the
main fact which the accumulation of circumstances is adduced to attest.

13 See below, the commencement of Lect. V. ; and on the influence of
social disaffection in causing modern unbelief, see Pearson's Infidelity,
part 2. ch. 3. p. 373 seq.


tical power in Italy drove a Leopardi 14 and a Bini 15 into
doubt 5 or that the sense of supposed personal wrong
and social isolation deepened the unbelief of Shelley 16
and of Heinrich Heine? 7 Whatever other motives
may have operated in these respective cases, the preju-
dices which arose from the causes just named, doubtless
created an antecedent impression against religion, which
impeded the lending an unbiassed ear to its evidence.

The subtlety of the influence in these instances
makes them the more instructive. If, as we contem-
plate them, our sympathies are so far enlisted on the
side of the doubters that it becomes necessary to check
ourselves in exculpating them, by the consideration that
they were responsible for failing to separate the essen-
tial truth of Christianity from the accidental abuse of

14 Giacomo Leopardi (1798 — 1837), a native of the trans- Apennine
Roman states. His works were published (1845 — 49), consisting of philo-
logical pieces, poems, papers on philosophy, and letters. The Italians con-
sider him to have been a prodigy in philological power that might have
rivalled Niebuhr. As a poet he was one of the finest of his country in the
present century. His letters are very classical in expression, and have
been said to rival the correspondence of the best ages of Italy. His fine
mind was darkened with the deepest shades of doubt. Shelley is the
nearest English representative. A masterly sketch of his mental and
literary character was given in the Quarterly Review (No. 172. March
1850), generally supposed to be from the pen of an English statesman well
known for his knowledge of the Italian literature and his sympathy with
constitutional government.

15 Carlo Bini (1806 — 1842), a native of Tuscany of less note, who
belonged to the Republican party in politics, and like Leopardi burned
with an unquenchable love of la patria. A monument with an inscription
by his friend Mazzini has been recently erected over his grave at Livorno.
The tender pathos shown in his poetry has been compared to that of Jean
Paul. One of his poems, L' 'Anniversario della Nascita 1833, expressive
of deep and afflicting scepticism and life-weariness, will be found in the
Collection of Italian Poetry edited by Arrivabene (1 vol. 12mo. 1855.)

10 Shelley's mental character is discussed near the close of Lect. V.

17 Heinrich Heine (1799 — 1856), a poet who betook himself to Paris,
about 1830, in disgust with the political state of Germany. His poetry
was chiefly subsequent to this event. He had a mixture of German im-
agination with French esprit. In tone he has been compared to Byron.
Vapereau {Diction, des Oontemp.) compares his wit to that of Swift or
Rabelais. His collected works have beeu published at Philadelphia ; and
his poems were translated into English by E. A. Bowring, 1861. In later
life Heine laid aside the extreme unbelief of his earlier years. An article
respecting him appeared in the Westminster Review (Jan. 1856.)


it shown in the lives of its professors, we can imagine
so much the more clearly, how great w r as the danger to
these doubters themselves of omitting the introspection
of their own characters necessary for detecting the preju-
dice which actually seemed to have conscience on its
side ; and can realize more vividly from these instances
the secresy and intense subtlety of the influence of the
feelings in the formation of donbt, and infer the neces-
sity of most careful attention for its discovery in others,
and watchfulness in detecting it in our own hearts.

There are other cases of doubt, however, where the
influence of the emotional element, if it operates at all,
is reduced to a minimum, and the cause accordingly
seems wholly intellectual. This may happen when the
previous convictions of the mind are shaken by the
knowledge of some fact newly brought before its notice ;
such as the apparent conflict between the Hebrew
record of a universal deluge 18 and the negative evidence
of geology as to its non-occurrence ; or the historical
discrepancies between the books of Kings and Chroni-
cles, 19 or the varying accounts of the genealogy and res-
urrection of Christ. A doubt purely intellectual in its
origin might also arise, as we know was the case with
the pious Bengel, 20 in consequence of perceiving the va-

J8 A brief statement of the difficulties raised on this point is given by
Professor Baden Powell in the article Dclvge in Kitto's Cyclopaedia (first

19 These discrepancies formed part of the subject of an early work of
De Wette (ueber die glaubwuerdigkeit der buecher der Chronik 1806), and
are noticed in his Einleitung ins Alt. Test. (See the chapters which refer
to these books) ; also in Dr. S. Davidson's Introduction to the Old Testa-
ment 1862, vol. ii. Chronicles § 6 and 8. Mr. F. Newman, in his work,
The Hebrew Monarchy, has made great use of these difficulties for destruc-
tive criticism. Movers (Unterwchungen ueber die Chronik 1834), and C.
F. Keil (Apolof/etischer Versuch ueber die Chronik 1833), endeavour to
remove them. Also see the translation of the Commentary of Keil and
Bertheau on Kings and Chronicles, the former of the two being based on
the work of the same author previously named.

20 J. A. Bengel (1689— 1752), author of the Gnomon of the New
Testament (translated, with Life prefixed to vol. iv.) Cfr. also the article
by Hartmann in Eerzog's Heal. Encyclopmdie and Burt's Life of him
(translated 1837.) The labour of his life, to fix the text of the New Tes-
tament, was prompted by the alann which his pious mind felt at the uncer-
tainty thrown on the sacred books, the inspiration of which he believed to
extend to the words.


riety of readings in the sacred text ; or, as in many of
the German critics, from the difficulty created by the
long habit of examining the classical legends and myths,
in satisfying themselves about the reasons why similar
criticism should not be extended to the early national
literature of the Hebrews. Causes of doubt like these,
which spring from the advance of knowledge, necessa-
rily belong primarily to the intellectual region. The
intellect is the cause and not merely the condition of
them. But there is room even here for an emotional
element ; and the state of heart may be tested by no-
ticing whether the mind gladly and proudly grasps at
them or thoughtfully weighs them with serious effort to
discover the truth. The moral causes may reinforce or
may check the intellectual : but the distinctness of the
two classes is apparent. Though co-existing and inter-
locked, they may be made subjects of independent

The preceding analysis of the relations of the moral
and intellectual faculties in the formation of religious
opinions might enable us to criticise the ethical infer-
ences drawn in reference to man's responsibility for his
belief. Those who think that our characters, moral
and intellectual, are formed for us by circumstances,
are consistent in denying or depreciating responsibility. 21
There is a danger however among Christian writers of
falling into the opposite error, of dwelling so entirely
on the moral causes, in forgetfulness of the intellectual,
as to teach not only that unbelief of the Christian re-
ligion is sin, (which few would dispute,) but that even

21 The denial of responsibility for belief may either be a denial of all
responsibility whatever, in consequence of the opinion that our characters
are formed for us by circumstances, or else a denial of our responsibility
for our belief, as distinct from our responsibility for the agreement of our
conduct with our belief; the moral responsibility, according to this view,
lying in our adherence to a standard, irrespective of the truthfulness of
the standard. The former of these views is the fatalism advocated in the
system called (English) Socialism (See Morell's History of Philosophy,
i. 4*72 seq.) ; the latter has occasionally been imputed to teachers of the
utilitarian school of Ethics, perhaps with less justice ; their assertions in
reference to it being intended to apply only to political and not to moral


transient doubt of it is sinful ; and thus to repel unbe-
lievers by imputing to them motives of which their con-
sciences acquit them.

A truth however is contained in this opinion, though
obscured by being stated with exaggeration, inasmuch
as the fact is overlooked that doubts may be of many
different kinds. Sinfulness cannot, for example, be im-
puted to the mere scepticism of inquiry, the healthy
critical investigation of methods or results ; nor to the
scepticism of despair, which, hopeless of finding truth,
takes up a reactionary and mystical attitude ; aa nor to
the cases (if such can ever be,) of painful doubt, perhaps
occasionally even of partial unbelief, which are pro-
duced exclusively by intellectual causes, without admix-
ture of moral ones. This variety of form should create
caution in measuring the degree of sinfulness involved
in individual cases of doubt. Yet the inclination to
condemn in such instances contains the fundamental
truth that the moral causes are generally so intertwined
with the intellectual in the assumption of data, if not in
the process of inference, that there is a ground for fear-
ing that the fault may be one of will, not of intellect,
even though undetected by the sceptic himself. And a
conscientious mind will learn the practical lesson of
exercising the most careful self-examination in refer-
ence to its doubts, and especially will use the utmost
caution not to communicate them needlessly to others.
The ^Hebrew Psalmist, instead of telling his painful
misgivings, harboured them in God's presence until he
found the solution. 23 The delicacy exhibited in forbear-
ing unnecessarily to shake the faith of others is a meas-
ure of the disinterestedness of the doubter. " If I say,
I will speak thus ; behold I should offend against the
generation of thy children."

83 Such an attitude of mind, for example, was presented in the seven-
teenth century by Huet, and in the present by De Maistre. On the
former, see Bartholmess' Lc Scepticisme Theologique (1852); for reference
to sources for the study of the latter, see Lect. VII. Consult Morell's
History of Philosophy (vol. ii. ch. 6. § 2) for the history of this kind of
philosophical scepticism.

23 Psalm lxxiii. 15—17.


These remarks will enable us to estimate the man-
ner and degree in which the emotions may, consciously
or unconsciously, influence the operations of the intel-
lect in reference to religion ; and will clear the way for
the statement of that which is to form the special sub-
ject of study in these lectures, the nature and mode of
operation of the intellectual causes, and the forms of free
thought in religion to which they may give rise. This
branch is frequently neglected, because satisfying the
intellect rather than the heart, indicating tendencies
rather than affording means to pronounce judgment on
individuals ; yet it admits of greater certainty, and will
perhaps in some respects be found to be not less full of
instruction, than the other.

We must distinctly apprehend what is here intended
by the term " intellectual cause," when applied to a
series of phenomena like sceptical opinions. It does
not merely denote the antecedent ideas which form
previous links in the same chain of thought : these are
sufficiently revealed by the chronicle which records the
series. Nor does it mean the uniformity of method
according to which the mind is observed to act at suc-
cessive intervals : this is the law or formula, the exist-
ence of which has been already indicated. 24 But we
intend by " cause " two things ; either the sources of
knowledge which have from age to age thrown their
materials into the stream of thought, and compelled
reason to re-investigate religion and try to harmonize
the new knowledge with the old beliefs ; or else the
ultimate intellectual grounds or tests of truth on which
the decision in such cases has been based, the most gen-
eral types of thought into which the forms of doubt
can be analysed. The problem is this : — Given, these
two terms : on the one hand the series of opinions
known as the history of free thought in religion ; on
the other the uniformity of mode in which reason has
operated. Interpolate tw r o steps to connect them to-
gether, which will show respectively the materials of

24 See pp. 7, 12.


knowledge which reason at successive moments Drought
to bear on religion, and the ultimate standards of truth
which it adopted in applying this material to it. It is
the attempt to supply the answer to this problem that
will give organic unity to these lectures.

A few words will suffice in reference to the former
of these two subjects, inasmuch as it has already been
described to some extent," and will be made clear in
the course of the history. The branches of knowledge
with which the movements of free thought in religion
are connected, are chiefly literary criticism and science.
The one addresses itself to the record of the revelation ;
the other to the matter contained in the record. Criti-
cism, when it gains canons of evidence for examining
secular literature, applies them to the sacred books ;
directing itself in its lower 26 form to the variations in
their text ; in its higher 26 to their genuineness and au-
thenticity. Science, physical or metaphysical, addresses
itself to the question of the credibility of their contents.
In its physical form, when it has reduced the world to
its true position in the universe of space, human history
in the cycles of time, and the human race in the world
of organic life, it compares these discoveries with the
view of the universe and of the physical history of the
planet contained in the sacred literature ; or it exam-
ines the Christian doctrine of miraculous interposition
and special providence by the light of its gradually
increasing conviction of the uniformity of nature. In
its moral and metaphysical forms, science examines
such subjects as the moral history of the Hebrew theoc-
racy ; or ponders reverently over the mystery of the
divine scheme of redemption, and the teaching which
scripture supplies on the deepest problems of specula-
tion, the relations of Deity to the universe, the act of
creation, the nature of evil, and the administration of
moral providence.

25 See pp. 8-12.

26 These names for the two respective branches into which literary
criticism is divisible, are commonly used in all modern German works of


There is another mode, however, in which specula-
tive philosophy has operated, which needs fuller expla-
nation. It has not merely, like the other sciences, sug-
gested results which have seemed to clash with Chris-
tianity, but has supplied the ultimate grounds of proof
to which appeal has consciously been made, or which
have been unconsciously assumed : — the ultimate types
of thought which have manifested themselves in the
struggle.' 27

It will be useful, before exhibiting this kind of in-
fluence in reference to religion, to illustrate its charac-
ter by selecting an instance from some region of thought
where its effects would be least suspected. The exam-
ple shall be taken from the history of literature.

If we compare three poets selected from the last
three centuries, the contrast will exhibit at once the
change which has taken place in the literary spirit and
standard of judgment, and the correspondence of the

Online LibraryAdam Storey FarrarA critical history of free thought in reference to the Christian religion → online text (page 6 of 52)