Frederick Temple.

The Relations Between Religion and Science Eight Lectures Preached Before the University of Oxford in the Year 1884 online

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as in itself standing on a less sure foundation than our knowledge of
scientific truth. Whether a man has or has not the necessary power of
mind to comprehend scientific reasoning is tested with comparative ease.
And if he have that power, the reasoning is certain in course of time to
be understood, and when it is understood it compels assent so long as it
keeps within its own proper domain. But the perception of spiritual
truth depends on a faculty whose power or weakness it is far more
difficult to test; and it involves the will which may be exerted on
either side. And for this reason men sometimes dismiss this truth as
being no more than an imagination, needed by some men to satisfy an
emotional nature, but having no substance that can be brought to an
external test. The believer in God knows that the truth which he holds
is as certain as the axioms of mathematics; but he cannot make others
know this whose spiritual faculty is not awake; and he is liable to be
asked for proof not of the spiritual but of the physical kind.

Now this much must be acknowledged, that we cannot but expect the claim
to supremacy over all things to show itself in some way in the creation
which has come from Him who makes that claim. It would, no doubt, be a
serious difficulty if things physical and things spiritual were cut off
from one another by an absolute gulf; if we were required to believe
that God had created and now ruled everything, and yet we could trace
not the slightest evidence of His hand either in the creation or in the
history of the world.

There are then two ways in which we are able to recognise Him even in
this world of phenomena. For in the first place, the creation in its
order and its beauty and its marvellous adaptation of means to ends,
confirms the assertion of the spiritual faculty that it owes its origin
to an intelligent and benevolent purpose, exhibited in the form in which
purpose is always exhibited. It works towards ends which we should
expect a holy and benevolent Creator to have in view, and it
accomplishes those ends in so large a proportion that, making allowance
for the limited range of our knowledge, the general aim of the whole is
seen with sufficient clearness. The argument is not strong enough to
compel assent from those who have no ears for the inward spiritual
voice, but it is abundantly sufficient to answer those who argue that
there cannot be a Creator because they cannot trace His action. And the
scientific doctrine of Evolution, which at first seemed to take away the
force of this argument, is found on examination to confirm it and expand
it. The doctrine of Evolution shows that with whatever design the world
was formed, that design was entertained at the very beginning and
impressed on every particle of created matter, and that the appearances
of failure are not only to be accounted for by the limitation of our
knowledge, but also by the fact that we are contemplating the work
before it has been completed.

And in the second place, while the creation, the more closely it is
examined the more distinctly shows the marks of the wisdom and goodness
of the Creator, so the history of the world exhibits in the Revelation
made to man clear proofs of that heavenly love which corresponds to the
character of Him who has put love at the head of all the requirements of
His law. The Revelation given to us has undeniably made a real mark on
the world. It has upheld millions of men in a holiness of life
corresponding in a very real degree to the holiness required by the law
of duty. It has perpetually more and more cleared up the true teaching
of that law. It is still continuing the same process, and generation
after generation is better able to understand that teaching. Its fruits
have been a harvest of saints and martyrs, some known and reverenced,
some quite unnoticed. It has leavened all literature and all
legislation. It has changed the customs of mankind and is still changing
them. And if it be replied that all this is nothing but one form of the
development of humanity and shows no proof of a Divine Ruler, we have a
right to ask what then could be the source of such a development, and
how is it that so great a power should always have worked in the name of
God and should have always referred everything to His command? That
fanaticism should plead God's authority without any right to do so is
intelligible. But is it intelligible that all this truth and justice and
purity and self-sacrificing love, all this obedience to the Supreme Law,
should be the fruit of believing a lie? If there be a God, it is to be
expected that He would communicate with His creatures if those creatures
were capable of receiving the communication; and if He did communicate
with His creatures it is to be expected that His communication would be
such as we find in the Bible. The purpose of the Bible, the form of it,
the gradual formation of it, the steadily-growing Revelation contained
in it, these harmonise with the moral law revealed originally in the
conscience. And the effect which the Revelation has produced on human
history is real and great. The power which God's Revelation has exerted
on the world is an undeniable fact among phenomena. It is not a
demonstration of His existence; but it is a full answer to those who
say, 'If God made and rules the world why do we find no signs of His
hand in its course?'

And thirdly, this Revelation has not merely taken the form of a message
or a series of messages, but has culminated in the appearance of a
person who has always satisfied and still satisfies the conception
formed by our spiritual faculty of a human representation of the divine
law. Our Lord's life is that law translated into human action, and all
the more because human faculties had not first framed the conception
which He then came to fulfil, but He exhibited the ideal, and our
conception rose as it were to correspond to it. And, as He includes in
Himself all the teaching, so does He give from Himself all the power of
the Revelation which He came to crown. And every true disciple of Christ
can bear witness to the reality of that power in sustaining the soul.

Thus has the God, whom our spiritual faculty commands us to worship and
to reverence, shown Himself in the world of phenomena. And He has given
proofs of His existence and His character precisely corresponding to
the conception which He has enabled, and indeed commanded, us to form of
Him. And it is because the proofs that He has given are of this nature
that we are tempted to ask for more proofs of a different kind.

For it is undeniable that believers and unbelievers alike are
perpetually asking for proofs that shall have more of the scientific and
less of the religious character, proofs that shall more distinctly
appeal to the senses. Believers in all ages have longed for external
support to their faith; unbelievers have refused to believe unless
supplied with more physical evidence. Believers shrink from being thrown
inwards on themselves; they fear the wavering of their own faith; they
are alarmed at the prospect of the buttresses of their belief being
taken from them. They find it easier to believe the spiritual evidence,
if they can first find much physical evidence. They wish (to use the
Apostle's words) to walk by sight and not by faith. And unbelievers want
a tangible proof that shall compel their understanding before it awakes
their conscience. They demand a Revelation, not only confirmed by
miracles at the time, but confirmed again and again by repeated miracles
to every succeeding generation. They want miracles in every age adapted
to the science of the age, miracles which no hardness of heart would be
able to deny, which would convince the scientific man through his
Science independently of his having any will to make holiness his aim
when he had been convinced. This kind of evidence it has not pleased God
to give. It is not the scientific man that God seeks as such, any more
than it is the ignorant man that He seeks as such. And the proofs that
He gives are plainly in all cases conditioned by the rule that the
spiritually minded shall most easily and most keenly perceive their

And, as far as unbelievers are concerned, I do not see that more need be
said except to tell them that this rule is inflexible, and that it is by
another way that they must look to find God, and not by the way that
they insist on choosing. But believers who are in the same case need to
be warned of some very real dangers that always attend a faith which
makes too much of things not spiritual.

For, first, there is a real and great danger that the spiritual may be
altogether obscured by the literal and the physical. We look back with
astonishment on the Rabbinical interpretations of the Old Testament, and
all the more because of the really great and true thoughts that are
sometimes to be found in the midst of their fanciful conceits. We can
trace the mischief they did to true Religion by the perverted reverence
with which they regarded the words and even the letters, and the very
shapes of the letters, in which their sacred books were written. Their
perversions of the law of God, their subtle refinements of
interpretation, their trivial conceits, their false and misleading
comments and inferences, all certainly tended to encourage the hypocrisy
which our Lord rebuked, and against which St. Paul contended. But we
still see something of the same spirit in the attempt to maintain a
verbal and even literal inspiration of the whole Bible, filling it not
with the breath of a Divine Spirit, but with minute details of doctrine
and precept often questionable, and, whenever separated from the
principles of the eternal law, valueless or even mischievous. God's
Word, instead of leading us to Him, is made to stand between and hide
His face.

But, secondly, there is a serious risk that if the mind be fastened on
things external in some way connected with, but yet distinct from the
substance of Revelation, it may turn out that these external things
cannot hold the ground on which they have been placed. They have to be
given up by force at last, when they ought to have been given up long
before. And when given up they too often tear away with them part of the
strength of that faith of which they had previously been not only the
buttress outside but a part of the living framework. It is distinctly
the fault of religious, not of scientific men, that there was once a
great contest between the Bible and Astronomy, that there has since been
a great contest between the Bible and Geology, that there is still a
great contest between the Bible and Evolution. In no one of these cases
was the Revelation contained in the Bible in danger, but only the
interpretation commonly put on the Bible. It is easy long afterwards to
condemn the opponents of Galileo and speak of their treatment of him
and his teaching as fanaticism and bigotry; and such condemnation has
not unfrequently been heard from the very lips that nevertheless
denounced the teaching of the geologists. But in all these cases the
principle has been the same, and believers have insisted that the Bible
itself was gone unless their interpretation of it was upheld. And the
mischief is double. For many believers, and more especially unlearned
believers, instead of gently helping one another to form the necessary
modification of their view of the Bible teaching, instead of
endeavouring to find the way out of the perplexity and to disentangle
the true spiritual lesson from the accessories which are no part of
itself, insisted that it must be all or nothing, and prepared for
themselves a very severe trial. There was no doctrine involved whatever;
there was nothing at stake on which the spiritual life depended. The
duty to be patient, to enquire carefully, to study the other side, to
wait for light, was as plain as any duty could be. But all this was
forgotten in a somewhat unreasoning impulse to resist an assault on the
faith. And there cannot be a doubt that on all these occasions many
believers have been seriously shaken by slowly finding out that the
position they have taken is untenable. When men have to give up in such
circumstances they generally give up far more than they need, and in
some cases an unreasonable resistance has been followed by an equally
unreasonable surrender. And while believers have thus prepared a
stumblingblock for themselves they have put quite as great a
stumblingblock before others. For students of Science, informed by
instant voices all around that they must choose between their Science
and the Bible, knowing as they did that their Science was true, and
supposing that the lovers and defenders of the Bible best knew what its
teaching was, had no choice as honest men but to hold the truth as far
as they possessed it and to give up the Bible in order to maintain their
Science. It was a grievous injury inflicted on them; and though some
among them might deserve no sympathy, there were some whom it was a
great loss to lose.

But in the third place, the result of this clinging to externals is to
shut out Science and all its correlative branches of knowledge from
their proper office of making perpetually clearer the true and full
meaning of the Revelation itself. It is intended that Religion should
use the aid of Science in clearing her own conceptions. It is intended
that as men advance in knowledge of God's works and in power of handling
that knowledge, they should find themselves better able to interpret the
message which they have received from their Father in Heaven. Our
knowledge of the true meaning of the Bible has gained, and it was
intended that it should gain, by the increase of other knowledge.
Science makes clearer than anything else could have made it the higher
level on which the Bible puts what is spiritual over what is material. I
do not hesitate to ascribe to Science a clearer knowledge of the true
interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis, and to scientific
history a truer knowledge of the great historical prophets. The advance
of secular studies, as they are called, clears up much in the Psalms,
and much in the other poetical Books of Scripture. I cannot doubt that
this was intended from the beginning, and that as Science has already
done genuine service to Religion in this way, so will it do still better
service with process of time.

On this side also, as on the scientific side, the teaching of the
spiritual faculty and the teaching of Revelation indicate that the
physical and the spiritual worlds are one whole, and that neither is
complete without the other. Science enters into Religion, and is its
counterpart, and has its share to take in the conduct of life and in the
formation of opinion. And the believer is bound to recognise its value
and make use of its services.

In conclusion, it is plain that the antagonism between Science and
Religion arises much more from a difference of spirit and temper in the
students of each than from any inherent opposition between the two. The
man of Science is inclined to shut out from consideration a whole body
of evidence, the moral and spiritual; the believer is inclined to shut
out the physical. And each, from long looking at that evidence alone
which properly belongs to his own subject, is inclined to hold the other
cheap, and to charge on those who adduce it either blindness of
understanding or wilful refusal to accept the truth. And when such a
conflict arises it is the higher and not the lower, it is Faith and not
Science that is likely to suffer. For the physical evidence is tangible,
and the perception of it not much affected by the character of the man
who studies it; the spiritual evidence stands unshaken in itself, but it
is hid from eyes that have no spiritual perception, and that perception
necessarily varies with the man.

By what means then can a man keep his spiritual perception in full
activity? And is there any test by which a man may know whether his
spiritual faculty is in contact with the source of all spiritual life
and is deriving from that source the full flow of spiritual power?
Revelation, if it tells us anything, ought to tell us this. And the
answer which Revelation makes is expressed in the words of St. Paul, 'No
man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.' This
doctrine runs through the New Testament, and it implies that one main
purpose of our Lord's appearance among men was to give them in His
life, His character, His example, His teaching, at once a touchstone by
which they could always try their own spirits, and judge of the real
condition of their own spiritual faculty, and also a vivid presentation
of the supreme spiritual law by which they could for ever more and more
elevate and purify and strengthen their own spiritual power and

Let a man study the Jesus of the Gospels. Let him put before his
_conscience_ the teaching that Jesus gives; the picture drawn of our
Father in Heaven whose holiness cannot allow a stain upon a single soul,
and whose tenderness cannot endure that a single soul should perish; Who
ruleth all the universe, and yet without whom not a sparrow falleth to
the ground; the picture drawn of the ideal human life, the humility, the
hunger and thirst after righteousness, the utter self-sacrifice, the
purity; the picture drawn of human need, the helplessness, the
hopelessness of man without God. Let him ponder on all this and on the
many touching expressions, the truth, the depth, the force, the
superhuman sweetness and gentleness with which all is presented. And if
his conscience bows before it, and can say without reserve and in
unalloyed sincerity, 'This is my Lord; He shall be my teacher; here I
recognise the fulness of the eternal law; at His feet will I henceforth
sit and learn; through Him will I drink of the well-springs of eternal
truth; His voice will I trust to the very utmost;' then may that man be
sure that his conscience is in contact with the Father of spirits, and
that his study will guide him into fuller and clearer knowledge, and
more certain conviction that he is grasping the truth of God.

Let a man put before his _heart_ our Lord's own character. Let him think
of the life of privation without complaint, of service to His kind
without a thought of self; of His unfailing sympathy with the unhappy,
of His tenderness to the penitent; of His royal simplicity and humility;
of His unwearied perseverance in the face of angry opposition; of His
deep affection for the friends of His choice even when they deserted Him
in His hour of darkness; of His death on the Cross and the unearthly
love that breathed in every word He uttered and everything He did. Let
him read all this many times; and if his heart goes out to the Man whom
he is thus beholding, if he can say with all his soul, This is my Lord;
here is the supreme object of my affection; Him will I love with all my
strength; from Him I will never, if I can help it, let my heart swerve;
no other do I know more worthy to be loved; no other will I keep more
steadily before my eyes; no other will I more earnestly desire to
imitate; no other shall be my example, my trust, my strength, my
Saviour; if a man can say this, it is certain that his heart is touched
by God, and the heavenly fire is kindled in his soul.

Let a man put before his _will_ the Lord's commands; the aims, the
self-restraints, the aspirations that the Lord required in His
disciples. Let him ponder on the call to heavenly courage in spite of
all that earth can inflict or can take away; the call to take up the
Cross and follow Him that was crucified; the warnings and the promises,
the precepts and the prohibitions; let him think of the Leader who never
flinched, of the Lawgiver who outdid His own law; let him think on the
nobleness of the aims to which He pointed; of the promise of inward
peace made to those who sacrificed themselves, made by our Lord and
re-echoed from the very depths of our spiritual being; let him think of
the sure help promised in return for absolute trust, tried by millions
of saints and never yet known to fail. Let a man put this before his
will, and if he can say with all his soul, This is my Lord; here I
recognise Him who has a right to my absolute obedience; here is the
Master that I mean to serve and follow; and in spite of my own weakness
and blindness, in spite of my sins, in spite of stumbling and weariness
of resolution, in spite of temptations and in spite of falls, I will not
let my eyes swerve, nor my purpose quit my will; through death itself I
will obey my Lord and trust to Him to carry me through whatever comes;
that man most certainly is moving in the strength of God, and the power
of the Eternal Spirit lives within him.

Our Lord is the crown, nay, the very substance of all Revelation. If He
cannot convince the soul, no other can. The believer stakes all faith on
His truth; all hope on His _power_. If the man of Science would learn
what it is that makes believers so sure of what they hold, he must study
with an open heart the Jesus of the Gospels; if the believer seeks to
keep his faith steady in the presence of so many and sometimes so
violent storms of disputation, he will read of, ponder on, pray to, the
Lord Jesus Christ.


[Footnote 1: The Data of Philosophy.]

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Online LibraryFrederick TempleThe Relations Between Religion and Science Eight Lectures Preached Before the University of Oxford in the Year 1884 → online text (page 11 of 11)