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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The New Testament considered by itself as a body of teaching is such an
advance on all that preceded it as to be quite unique in the history of
the world. The ideas conveyed in the Old Testament are absorbed,
transformed, completed, so as to make them as a whole entirely new; and
to these are added entirely new ideas sufficient by themselves to form a
whole system of doctrine. And because of this it is difficult to speak
of the new teaching as having grown out of the old.

But the Old Testament covers many centuries, and within its range we
can trace a steady growth, and that growth always of the same character,
and always pointing towards what the Gospel finally revealed. The
strength of the moral sentiment in the earlier books is always assigned
to the belief in, and reverence for, Almighty God. It is evidently held
to be more important to believe in God and to fear Him than to see the
perfection of His holiness. If we distinguish between Religion and
Morality, Religion is made the more important of the two. It is more
important to recognise that the holy God exists and reigns than to see
clearly in what His holiness, and indeed all holiness, consists. The
sentiment of reverence is more important than the perception of that
universality which we now know to be the essential characteristic of the
Moral Law. In analysing the origin and nature of Religion in the second
of these Lectures, it was necessary to follow the order of thought, and
beginning with Duty to end with God. But the order of fact is not the
same. In actual fact man began with God and ends with a clearer
perception of Duty. Hence in all the earlier stages the morality is
imperfect. The profaneness of Esau is a serious offence. The ungenerous
temper, the unfairness and duplicity of Jacob are light in comparison.
Truth is not an essential. Blood-shedding and impurity when in horrible
excess are treated as most grievous sins; but restrained within limits
are easily condoned. Women are placed below their true and natural
place; polygamy if not distinctly allowed is certainly condoned; divorce
is permitted on one side, not on the other. Slavery is allowed though
put under regulation. But the unity and spirituality of God are guarded
with the strongest sanctions, and nothing could be said against idolatry
and polytheism now, in sterner and clearer language than was used then.
The reverence for God required then was as great as the reverence
required now. But the conception of the holiness which is the main
object of that reverence has changed; has in fact been purified and
cleared. And the change is traceable in the Old Testament. The prophets
teach a higher morality than is found in the earlier books. Cruelty is
condemned as it had not been before. The heathen are not regarded as
outside God's love, and the future embraces them in His mercy even if
the present does not. Conscience begins to be recognised and appealed
to. Idolatry is not merely forbidden, its folly is exposed; it is
treated not only with condemnation, but with scorn. Individual
responsibility is insisted on. Children are not held responsible for
their fathers, though the inheritance of moral evil and of the
consequences of moral evil is never denied. And even trust in God rises
to a higher level in Habakkuk's declaration that that trust shall never
be shaken by any calamity that may befall him, than in the earlier
belief that calamities would never befall those who held fast that

If we review this progress in moral teaching we recognise that it
corresponds to the natural and for the most part unconscious working of
that instinctive test which, as was pointed out before, we apply to all
moral questions, the test of universality. The pivots of all the
prophetical teaching are the incessant inculcation of justice and mercy;
justice which requires us to recognise the rights of others side by
side with our own; mercy which demands our sympathy with the feelings of
other creatures that can feel.

We are bound to recognise the claims of others to equal treatment with
ourselves, and any refusal or apparent refusal to do so must be
justified by a universal rule applicable to all alike. The perpetual
attempt to justify exceptions in this way is sure to end in diminishing
the number of those exceptions. If we are compelled to think much of the
position of woman in marriage, we are sure at last to come to Malachi's
declaration that God hateth putting away. If we are compelled to think
of the position of slaves, we cannot continue for ever to believe that
there are some beings with consciences and free wills, who nevertheless,
because of the accidents of their lives, have no rights at all; and we
acknowledge the righteousness of Jeremiah's denunciation of the breach
of covenant when the nobles of Judah re-enslaved those whom they had
solemnly emancipated. If we think of the nature of responsibility and
the justification of punishment, we find it impossible to believe that
an innocent man shall be rightly punished for the wrong-doing of
another, even if that other be his father or his mother; and we are
convinced that Ezekiel is speaking God's words when he proclaims on
God's behalf that 'the soul that sinneth it shall die; the son shall not
bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the
iniquity of the son.' And once more, whatever divine purpose gave the
chosen people a priority among all peoples in knowledge of divine will
and possession of divine favour, it is impossible to find any rule by
which this priority shall for ever exclude all other peoples from being
within the range of God's manifested love; and conscience cannot but
accept as a divine message that the Gentiles also shall come to the
Heavenly 'Light, and their kings to the brightness of His rising.' So
again, to turn from justice to mercy, we recognise that we are bound to
spare pain to all creatures that can feel, and this duty can only be set
aside by some higher duty which makes that pain the means to a higher
moral end. And if we are set by our consciences to seek for some rule
of universal application for this purpose, it becomes perpetually
clearer that nothing can excuse cruel punishments inflicted on criminals
or enemies, or hard-hearted indifference to the poor and the weak. Our
own nature cries out for kindness in our pain, and that very cry from
within compels our consciences to listen to the cry from without. And
the denunciations of cruelty and oppression we recognise as we hear them
to be the voice of God.

But however true it be that this progress corresponds exactly throughout
with the necessary working of the great moral principles implanted in
the spiritual faculty, it nevertheless remains true also that all this
teaching in its successive stages is given by men who did not profess to
be working out a philosophical system, but who claimed to bring a
message from God, to speak by His authority, and in many cases to be
trusted with special powers in proof of possessing that authority.
Looking back over it afterwards we can see that the teaching in its
successive stages was a development, but it always took the form of a
revelation. And its life was due to that fact. As far as it is possible
to judge, that union between Morality and Religion, between duty and
faith, without which both religion and morality soon wither out of human
consciences, can only be secured - has only been secured - by presenting
spiritual truth in this form of a Revelation.

When we pass to the New Testament, all that has previously been taught
in the Old, in so far as it is related to the new teaching at all, is
related as the bud to the flower. The development, if it be indeed a
development, is so great, so sudden, so strange, that it seems difficult
to recognise that it is a development at all.

First, the morality is in form, if not in substance, absolutely new. The
duty of justice and mercy is pushed at once to its extreme limits, even
to the length of entire self-surrender. The disciple has his own rights
no doubt, as every other man has his; but he is required to leave his
rights in God's hands and to think of the rights of others only. The
highest place is assigned to meekness in conduct and humility in spirit.
The humility of the Sermon on the Mount may possibly by careful
analysis be shown to be identical at bottom with the magnanimity of
Aristotle's Ethics. But the presentation of the two is so utterly
opposed that in the effect on life the identity is altogether lost. And
as justice and mercy, so too self-discipline is pushed as far as it can
go. Instead of the enjoyment of life being an integral part of the aim
set before the will, hunger and thirst for righteousness, and penitence
for failure in keeping to it, are to fill up the believer's hopes for
himself. Of inward satisfaction and peace he is often assured; but
these, and these only, are the means to that peace. The disciple's life
is to consist in bearing the cross, and bearing it cheerfully; in
returning good for evil, and love for indifference and even for hatred;
in detaching his affections from all the pleasures to be obtained from
external things; in fixing his trust and his love on his Eternal Father.
Taken as a whole, this is quite unlike all moral teaching that preceded
it, and there is no indication that any philosophy could ever have
evolved it. It has fastened on the human conscience from the day that
it was uttered; and whatever moral teaching since has not been inspired
from this source has soon passed out of power and been forgotten. We
find when we examine that it exactly agrees with the fundamental
teaching of the spiritual faculty when that teaching is applied to such
creatures as we are, and to such a God as the New Testament sets before
us. But we find it impossible to assert that by any working of human
thought this morality could have been obtained by the spiritual faculty
unaided. On the contrary, it seems more near the truth to say that we
could never have obtained so clear a conception of the great Moral Law,
if the teaching of the New Testament had not enlightened and purified
the spiritual faculty itself. And to this is to be added that the moral
teaching of the New Testament recognises what we may now almost consider
a proved necessity of our nature, or at least a sure characteristic of
the government of the world, that perpetual progress without which
nothing human seems to keep sweet and wholesome. Perfect as the New
Testament morality is in spirit, it is nevertheless imperfect in actual
precepts. It leaves questions to be solved some of which have not been
solved yet. It left slavery untouched, though assuredly doomed. It said
nothing of patriotism. It gave no clear command concerning the right use
of wealth. It laid down no principles for the government of states,
though such principles must have a moral basis. There has been a
perpetual growth in the understanding and in the application of this
perfect teaching, and there will yet be a growth. Of no philosophical
system of morals is it possible to say the same.

But in the second place, the New Testament contains not only a new
morality, it contains also a new account of human nature. The mystery of
that discord which makes the noblest and best of human souls a scene of
perpetual internal conflict is acknowledged and its counterpart in God's
dealings with mankind is set forth. The struggle between the spiritual
faculty asserting its due supremacy, and the lower passions and
appetites, impulses and inclinations, is so described by Saint Paul that
none have ever since questioned his description with any effect. And our
Lord's teaching of our absolute dependence on God and helplessness
without Him; and Saint John's teaching that the whole world, outside
Christ, 'lieth in the wicked one,' lay down the same truth. And as the
mystery of moral evil in mankind is thus set forth, so too the mystery
of the remedy for that evil. In the love of God shown in the Cross of
Christ, in our union with God through that same Death upon the Cross is
the power which conquers evil in the soul and carries a man ever upward
to spiritual heights. And as all profounder thinkers have confessed the
truth of the account thus given of the internal contradiction of man's
moral nature, so have all believers borne witness (and only they could
bear witness) to the account thus given of the solution of that
contradiction and the renovation of that nature. Millions have lived and
died in the Christian faith since the teaching recorded in the New
Testament was given, and among them have been the purest, the justest,
the most self-sacrificing, the most heavenly-minded of mankind. And they
all concur in saying that the one stay of all their spiritual lives has
been communion with God through Christ.

Thirdly, the New Testament affirms with a clearness previously unknown
the immortality of the soul and the future gift of that spiritual body
which shall in some way spring from the natural body as the plant grows
from the seed. There had grown up, no doubt quite naturally,
anticipations of this doctrine and ever stronger and more deeply-rooted
persuasion that it must be true. But it is revealed in the New Testament
as it is taught nowhere else, and it is sealed by the Resurrection of
our Lord, ever since then the historical centre of the Christian Faith.
How exactly it harmonises with the teaching of the spiritual faculty I
have pointed out before.

And, lastly, the New Testament not only tells us what never was told
before of man's nature as a spiritual being and of his destiny
hereafter; it tells also what was never told elsewhere of the nature of
God and of the relations between Him and His creature man. The unity and
spirituality of the Godhead so strenuously insisted on in the Old
Testament, is no less insisted on in the New. But the mysterious
complexity embraced within that unity, though darkly hinted at in the
older teaching, is nowhere clearly set forth, but in the latter. We may
find anticipations of the teaching of St. Paul and St. John, and of our
Lord Himself as recorded by St. John, in the Book of Proverbs, in the
Prophets, in the Rabbinical writers between the Prophets and the New
Testament, and we can see in Philo to what this finally came unaided by
Revelation. But the Christian teaching on our Lord's nature and on the
Incarnation is distinct from all this. And it is in the Christian form,
and only in that form, that the doctrine has satisfied the spiritual
needs of the great mass of believers.

Now there cannot be any doubt that the hold which this teaching has had
upon mankind has depended entirely on the extraordinary degree in which
the teaching of the Bible has satisfied the conscience. Without that no
miracles however overwhelmingly attested, no external evidence of
whatever kind, could have compelled intellects of the highest rank, side
by side with the most uncultivated and the most barren, to accept it as
divine, nor could anything else have so often rekindled its old fire at
times when faith in it had apparently withered away. The teaching of
the Bible has always found and must always find its main evidence within
the human soul.

And the fact that the teaching of the Bible, though when examined
afterwards it turns out to be development or evolution, yet was always
given at the time as a revelation, so far from diminishing the force of
this internal evidence adds to it still more force than it would
otherwise have. For what underlies the very conception of revelation is
the doctrine that all progress in higher spiritual knowledge is bound up
with conscious communion with God. Now it is an experience common to all
believers that in that communion is to be found not only all strength
but all enlightenment also. The believer knows that he learns spiritual
truth in proportion as he refers his life to God's judgment, prays to
God for clearer vision of what is duty and what is right faith, and
makes it his one great aim to do God's will. He uses all the faculties
that God has given him to understand the great divine law; but he
perpetually looks to God for instruction, and whatever else may be said
of that instruction his experience tells him that his advance in
spiritual knowledge is in proportion to his nearness in thought and
feeling to God Himself. That the progress of the human race in spiritual
knowledge, unlike progress in scientific knowledge, should be due not to
thinkers intellectually gifted, but to Prophets and Apostles inspired by
God, thus exactly corresponds with what the spiritually-minded man finds
within his own soul. And so too does it correspond with what he sees in
others. Often and often the unlearned and untrained by sheer goodness of
life attain to wonderful perception of spiritual truth, and the holiness
of the unlettered peasant reveals to his conscience the law of right
conduct in circumstances which perplex the disciplined and well
informed. As the human race has learnt the highest spiritual truth by
direct communication from God, so too on communion with God far more
than on intellectual power, depends the progress of spiritual knowledge
in every human soul.

But though the hold of the Bible on the faith of believers
unquestionably depends on its satisfying the conscience in every stage
of its enlightenment, it is equally certain that those who gave the
messages recorded in the Bible claimed something more as proof of their
authority than the approval of the conscience of their hearers. They
professed to prove their mission by the evidence of supernatural powers;
and the teaching of the Bible cannot be dissociated from the miraculous
element in it which is connected with that teaching. If, indeed, the Old
Testament stood alone we might acknowledge that the miraculous element
in it occupied comparatively so small a place, and was so separable from
the rest, and the evidence for it was so rarely, if ever,
contemporaneous, that it might be left out of count. But we cannot say
this of the New Testament, nor in particular of the account that has
reached us of the sayings and doings of our Lord. The miracles are
embedded in, are indeed intertwined with, the narrative. Many of our
Lord's most characteristic sayings are so associated with narratives of
miracles that the two cannot be torn apart: 'I have not seen so great
faith, no, not in Israel;' 'My Father worketh hitherto, and I work;'
'Son, thy sins be forgiven thee;' 'Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees
and the Sadducees;' 'It is not meet to take the children's bread and
cast it to dogs;' 'This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting;'
'Were there not ten cleansed, but where are the nine?' 'Sin no more,
lest a worse thing come unto thee.' In fact, there can be no real doubt
that our Lord believed that He could work miracles, and professed to
work them, and that His disciples believed that He worked many, and
included that fact in their meaning when they spoke of Him as going
about doing good. And these disciples professed to work miracles
themselves and believed that they did work them. It is of course true
that they had no strictly scientific conception of a miracle, and would
often have called by that name what was in reality extraordinary but not
miraculous. And it is true too that, if we take each miracle by itself,
there is but one miracle, namely our Lord's Resurrection, for which
clear and unmistakeable and sufficient evidence is given. But while the
exclusion of any one miracle as insufficiently attested is possible, the
exclusion of the miraculous element altogether is not possible without a
complete surrender of the position taken by the first Christian
teachers. As they claimed to be inspired and to have enlightenment which
was not shared by mankind at large, so did they claim, if not each for
himself, yet certainly for our Lord, power not shared by ordinary men,
power to step out of the ordinary course of natural events, and, whether
by virtue of some higher law operative only in rare instances, or by
direct interference of the Almighty, to prove a divine mission by
exhibiting in fact what is an essential part of the supremacy of the
Moral Law, the dominion of that Law over the physical world.

The teachers of other religions besides the Christian have claimed
supernatural powers, and have professed to give a supernatural message.
This is a strong evidence of the deep-seated need in the human soul for
such a direct communication from God to man. Men seem to need it so much
that without it they are unable to accept the truth, or to hold it long
if they do accept it. All who thus claim supernatural authority must, of
course, justify their claim. They must justify their message to the
human conscience. What they teach must be an advance towards, and
finally an expression of, the Supreme Moral Law. And if they profess to
have miraculous power they must give reasonable evidence that such power
is really theirs. But if they fail in this, still the fact remains that
their very claim must answer to something in the spiritual nature of
man, or it would not be so invariably made nor so largely successful.

It seems as if, whatever may be the ground of belief when once
revelation has penetrated into the soul, the exercise of supernatural
power was needed to procure that access in the first instance. We
believe because we find our consciences satisfied, and we bring up our
children in such discipline of conscience that they too shall have
sufficient training to recognise and hold fast divine truth. And if we
had lived at the time and could have had our eyes opened to see the
spiritual power of the Christian Faith, we might have believed without
any external evidence at all. But the first receivers of the message, to
whom the revelation was new, and, as must have often happened and we
actually know did happen, to whom it was hard to reconcile that
revelation with previous teaching, how sure were they to need some
other and outer evidence that it really came from God. The supernatural
in the form of miracles can never be the highest kind of evidence, can
never stand alone as evidence; but it seems to have been needed for the
first reception. And there seem to be minds that need it still, and to
all it is a help to find that reasonable ground can be shown for holding
that such evidence was originally given.

Revelation, in short, takes a higher stand than belongs to all other
teaching, and except for its having taken that higher stand it does not
appear that the highest teaching would have been possible. To look back
afterwards and say that we find a development or an evolution is easy.
And at first sight it seems to follow that, being an evolution, it may
well be no more than the outcome of the working of the natural forces.
But look closer and you see the undeniable fact that all these
developments by the working of natural forces have perished. Not
Socrates, nor Plato, nor Aristotle, nor the Stoics, nor Philo have been
able to lay hold of mankind, nor have their moral systems in any large
degree satisfied our spiritual faculty. Revelation, and revelation
alone, has taught us; and it is from the teaching of revelation that men
have obtained the very knowledge which some now use to show that there
was no need of revelation. That altruism which is now to displace the
command of God is nothing but the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount
robbed of its heavenly power, robbed of the great doctrine which
underlies the whole sermon. For that doctrine is the Fatherhood of God
which has been shown most especially in this, that from the beginning He
has never forgotten His children.



Evolution examined. The formation of the habitable world. The formation
of the creatures which inhabit it. Transmission of characteristics.
Variations perpetually introduced. Natural selection. On the other side,
life not yet accounted for by Evolution. Cause of variations not yet
examined. Moral Law incapable of being evolved. Account given in Genesis
not at variance with doctrine of Evolution. Evolution of man not
inconsistent with dignity of humanity.



'Know ye that the Lord He is God: it is He that hath made us, and
not we ourselves.' _Psalm_ c. 3.

Religion is rooted in our spiritual nature and its fundamental truths
are as independent of experience for their hold on our consciences as

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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 7 of 11)