Louis Henry Jordan.

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(2) The Necessity of Eeligion. — No objective supernatural
revelation is required, in order that man should exhibit the
propensities of a profoundly religious being; for, wholly
independent of such a revelation, he cannot live without
making at least some response to that unmistakably religious


instinct which has been begotten within him. A man can
no more help being religious than he can help eating or
breathing. Principal Fairbairn puts the case very strongly
when he writes : " Eeligion is so essential to man, that he
cannot escape from it. It besets him, penetrates, holds him
even against his will. The proof of its necessity is the
spontaneity of its existence. It comes into being without
any man willing it, or any man making it ; and as it began,
so it continues. ... It must have been some strong instinct
in the savage that moved him to the creation of those naive
beliefs and rites which we seek so eagerly to explain. . . .
And this means that it was not in the Nature without, but
the nature within the man and behind the beHefs, that was
the really significant and causative nature." ^ " The race has
been haunted by God. The altar which Paul saw in Athens,
dedicated ' To the Unknown God,' is set up in the deep
heart of man."^ That an additional revelation, supple-
mentary in its character, should have followed upon that
subjective revelation which every man possesses, is an event
quite possible in itself, and (under given circumstances)
desirable and even essential; but, apart altogether from
such an occurrence, "Man is incurably religious," as the
late Professor Sabatier used often to phrase it.^

(3) The Universality of Religion. — The proofs of this
principle have been sufficiently adduced in what has been
said already. Comparative Eeligion has shown that man's
exercise of faith in the unseen is not merely a visible
manifestation of a strong inward impulse, but that it is the
necessary manifestation of that impulse. Man is religious
before he is fully aware of the fact ; willingly or unwillingly,
he bows his head when consciously in the presence of
the Divine. It has also been pointed out, in a previous
Chapter, that Eeligion is for man — and hence for all men —
a psychological necessity.* But Comparative Eeligion has

^ The Philosophy of the Christian Religion, p. 196,

2 Hugh Black. Sermon preached in London, May 1902.

3 Cp. page 220. " See page 291.


gone further. Utilising the results of inquiries which have
been conducted by the Historian, the Anthropologist, the
Archseologist, etc., this new Science has demonstrated —
Lord Avebury, the late Herbert Spencer, and others to
the contrary notwithstanding — that the testimony of duly
authenticated facts endorses and confirms the dictum that
Eeligion is universal.

(4) The Indestructibility of Religion. — It was Carlyle
who used to say, "Eeligion is not dead; it will never die.
It has its dwelling-place, and birthplace, in the soul of man ;
and it is eternal as the being of man." Professor Jastrow
declares that " however profound may be the modifications
which religion will undergo, religion (as such) can never
disappear." ^ " We have many proofs that the aspirations
of men after faith — though they may be crushed, baffled,
and apparently deadened — cannot be killed. That the
spirit of man cleaves to the world- to -come is as true as that
he stands erect in this." 2 "Kehgion is not a perishable
commodity. The religious sentiment is an inextinguishable
sentiment, — an element of human nature as universal, as
ineradicable, as the fact of sex." ^ " Eeligion can no more
die out of the heart of man, in his race capacity, than
gravitation can disappear from the physical world. " * The
sense of the nearness of God is " set unchangeably in the
soul of the world, — deeper than fleshly lust, deeper than,
commercial instinct, deeper than lines of cast and colour and
country and sight." ^ " Wherever there are traces of human
life, there are traces of religion." ^ Such testimonies, gathered
from widely separated sources, could almost indefinitely be
multiplied ; but the profound truth they embody, however

* The Stvdy of lieligion, p. 293.

^ W. Robertson Nicoll, in the British Weekly, London.
' The Christian Work and Evangelist, New York.

* Goblet d'Alviella, Tlie Contemporary Evolution of Religious Thought in
England, America, and India, Preface, p. x. London, 1885.

° Charles Cuthbert Hall, Spiritual Experience and Theological Science.
New York, 1904.

^ Max Miiller, Introduction to the Science of Religion, p. 65.


diversely expressed, could not possibly be stated in terms
more confident or more convincing than in those which have
been cited already. It would appear, therefore, that God,
having willed that man should never wholly forget Him, has
deliberately incorporated in humanity an irrepressible factor
which renders the divine purpose quite certain of its fulfil-
ment. A man may reject the Faith of his fathers, and also
some other Faith (or Faiths) which he has subsequently es-
poused ; but there is a God-consciousness within him which
will always ensure his allegiance to some type of belief and
deathless hope. The appeals of Pteligion which reach him
from without may be coldly and repeatedly spurned, and
kindred appeals which utter themselves within may be
resented or ignored or only very meagrely obeyed; but
these latter voices persist, and they can never be altogether
silenced within man's breast.^

The four fundamental principles which have just been
specified, and which have been affirmed and enforced with
peculiar emphasis by Comparative Eeligion, draw attention
to one of the ways in which that Science has helped to
diffuse a clearer understanding of what Eeligion really is.
"It is the central, essential, and eternal thing in human
life." 2 "It is the deepest, strongest, and most universal
interest of man. It accompanies him from the cradle to
the grave." ^ It is something that speaks to man of realities
and certainties which, although unseen, constitute the really
permanent forces of the universe. It tells him that the
spiritual world is his true fatherland, and that he is not
home-sick for an abode which he shall one day discover to
have been in truth a mere chimera. The longings that
make man restless, and that often fill him with a painful
dispeace, are not the idle creations of his fancy; on the
contrary, as the needle unwaveringly seeks the pole, so do

1 Cp. pages 239-240. Also Appendix, Note III., page 487.
- Minot Judson Savage, The Passing and the Permanent in Religion,
p. 13. New York, 1901.

3 Philip Schatf, Theological Propaedeutic, pp. 63-64. New York, 1893.


these cravings inevitably and universally direct the soul
towards God.

3. A FRANK Acknowledgment that the " Mysteries "
OF Religion elude and baffle Analysis. — The impression
that at least the foremost Doctors of Theology must always
be able to expound with confidence the mysteries of their
Faith, has of late been dispelled and abandoned. Of those
matters which belong to the innermost verities of belief, it
has become the custom in recent days to speak with a
noticeable caution, and with an unwonted modesty. For it
is at last being admitted that in the domain of Religion, as
elsewhere, — nay, much more there than elsewhere, — the
limits of human knowledge must be recognised and re-

Accordingly, the note of dogmatic confidence and
finality — a note which has often been far too pronouncedly
characteristic of the religious teaching of practically every
school of opinion, and which has unfortunately became so
familiar — is gradually disappearing from the discussions of
thoughtful men. It is now frankly admitted that the
"deep things" of Religion, notwithstanding the closest
scrutiny, often contrive wholly to elude analysis. Hence,
when one has to deal with these complex and controverted
topics, the adoption of a tone which says in effect / am sure
results not only in arousing many needless antagonisms, but
is at once unbecoming and unwarranted. Professor Paterson
does not rebuke too sternly what he calls " the all-daring
and all-embracing Gnosticism of the older theology."
He then goes on to say, speaking of twentieth-century
theology: "One of the most necessary improvements
[about to be effected] is to draw — and that in earnest — the
distinction between verities and problems, and to map off
the realm of certitudes from the region in which assurance
is unattainable, and in which variety of speculation is
admissible." ^ It is of course flattering to a man's vanity
that he should suppose himself able to "understand all

* The Position, and the Prospects of Theology, p. 33. Edinburgh, 1903.


mysteries and all knowledge;"^ but it is now recognised
that, in every Sacred Book which we possess, there are
contained tenets that are not amenable to reason, — many of
which, moreover, taken in their ordinary literal meaning,
are apparently not even reconcilable with one another. If
we interrogate the official representatives of individual
Faiths, they generally answer us with the old-time con-
fidence, and declaim fluently once again about the esoteric
significance of certain rites and beliefs; but the spell of
primitive reverence has been broken, and these reassuring
speeches no longer soothe or satisfy. Occasionally, outside
interpreters of a given Faith, proffering their services as
experts, courageously step into the breach and declare that
the riddle has been solved; but they too often fail to
communicate the measure of their own convictions to their
hearers, who at the end are constrained to confess that the
mysteries remain mysteries still.

Systematic Theology, in the narrower sense of " The
Science of Christian Doctrine," has certainly not been the
least notable transgressor in this connection in times past.
The majority of the readers of this Manual will no doubt be
representatives of Christianity; and, lest they should be
found charging others with a fault of which they are guilty
themselves, let Professor Paterson once more bear testimony
in their presence. "The old view of the Bible," he says,
"was that it is a storehouse of supernaturally revealed
truths, and that it speaks with Divine authority in all its
parts and on all subjects. Whether the matter belonged to
the sphere of science, or secular history, or religious doctrine,
it was settled by any declaration of Scripture which was not
inconsistent with other parts of the acknowledged scriptural
system, and it was settled as decisively by the voice of
Genesis or Ezekiel as by the testimony of Christ or St.
Paul. This use of Scripture had the advantage of being
easily worked, of being valuable in polemics, and of giving
a comfortable feeling of absolute certainty ; but it has

^ 1 Corinthians xiii. 2.


become impossible to employ and uphold it." ^ Or, again,
speaking more particularly of his own country, Professor
Paterson says : " The history of Dogmatics in Scotland
during the nineteenth century is not inspiring, or even
reassuring. During the first half of the century the
Scottish Church was in the happy position of having
inherited an elaborate doctrinal system which answered
almost every question as to the being of God and His
works in creation and redemption, and disposed of almost
every religious problem arising out of the nature and
destiny of man, and which was believed to be authenticated
at every point by scriptural statements that rested on
immediate Divine authority." ^

It is timely that such a reproof should be uttered, and
that it should be reiterated with great plainness of speech ;
and, fitting spokesmen having at last been found, sentiments
of this sort — based upon a deeper and truer conception than
heretofore of the perplexities which belong to the very
texture of Eeligion — are now beginning to gain currency
and acceptance everywhere. The mysteries of a man's
Faith cannot be sounded, it would appear, by any human
plummet. That an opposite belief has long prevailed is not,
indeed, surprising, and the universal diffusion of it accounts
for many of the amazing burdens with which Religion has
been shackled and encumbered. It explains, on the one.
hand, how arrogance and ignorance have often managed to
enter and establish themselves, and even exact the tribute
of reverence, in places from which they ought especially to
have been excluded. It explains also how it is that so
many conflicting views have been announced concerning —
not indeed the fact, but the manner of — Inspiration, Incar-
nation, Atonement, Resurrection, etc. The fully-informed
Apologete in each case, be he Christian or non- Christian,
has done his very best (we shall suppose) with the scanty
materials which have been placed at his disposal ; but not

* The Position and the Prospects of Theology, pp. 27-28.
^ Ihid., pp. 4-5.


only have the representatives of different Faiths rendered
entirely different verdicts concerning each of the doctrines
named, but even the representatives of the same Faith have
often arrived at conclusions materially differing from one
another. The fact is that the available data are hopelessly
incomplete ; hence they are capable of being variously
viewed, variously combined, and variously interpreted.
What the Doctors of Theology teach, therefore, concerning
such matters, is manifestly only their theory of the facts.
It is an explanation which seems to account for the facts, —
or rather more or less fully seems to account for them ; but
does it really account for them ? No amount of honesty, or
of ingenuity, or of merely circumstantial corroboration can
justify or avert the evil consequences of a verdict which
even unwittingly misleads ; hence, where the Sacred Books
of one's Faith are obviously silent or obscure, an unbending
dogmatism is liable to become as offensive as it is, in any
case, utterly invalid and unreasonable.

Let it not be supposed that Comparative Eeligion has
any desire to bring reproach upon, or to cast impediments
in the way of, the study of Dogmatic Theology. On the
contrary, it seeks rather to promote that study by raising
it nearer to the plane of a strictly scientific inquiry. It
recognises the extreme difficulty of the task ; and therefore
it greets with a sincere Godspeed all who conscientiously
enter upon it. But it insists upon drawing a line of
demarcation between things which differ. It would have
the theologian expound, carefully and fully, those ethical
and spiritual aspects of his Faith concerning which he can
speak with confidence ; but concerning some at least of its
doctrinal aspects — especially as regards its more mysterious
doctrines — it would have him exhibit a manifest caution
and a more seemly reticence. There is a kind of Agnosticism
which is in the highest degree commendable, but which
unfortunately is rare, viz., the courageous confession of the
learned man who frankly says, "/ do not know." The
temptation to voice one's opinion in some oracular utterance


is unquestionably very strong, because the theologian teaches
in a domain wherein many never think very profoundly for
themselves ; ^ but he who avoids this snare, or who prevents
others from falling into it, is a benefactor of his generation,
and is helping to raise the standard of modern religious
instruction to a worthier and more enlightened level.

FARIOUS Forms which Keligion has assumed. — A third
most important result which has accrued from the study of
Comparative Eeligion is that, within recent years, men have
come to hold a truer and more valid conception of the
individual worth of each of the great Keligions of the world,
and to recognise the function which each has severally
discharged in the course of the unfolding history of the
race. This fact is so manifestly germane to the essence
and purpose of Comparative Eeligion as a Science, that no
apology need be made for discussing it somewhat in detail,
and for allotting to it considerably more space than has been
given to any of the other topics which are dealt with in this

Undoubtedly it has been one of the notable achievements
of Comparative Eeligion, that it has furnished the thoughtful
with a vastly improved, a more exact, and a much more
just conception of the Christian Eeligion than formerly
prevailed. It has compared and contrasted that Faith with
every religious system of which it has been able to obtain
any accurate knowledge, and it has demonstrated that there
are radical differences which separate it, and which set it
far apart, from all the others. To this conclusion, and
to the grounds upon which it rests, fuller reference will be
made in a moment.^ But it is important to remark that
Comparative Eehgion has succeeded, not less conspicuously,
in giving to the world a vastly improved, a more exact, and
a much more just conception of the non-Christian Eeligions.
It has laid compelling emphasis upon the fact that for
thousands of years there have existed a great variety of

^ Cp. page 329. 2 gee pages 353 f.


forms of genuine belief and worship. The non- Christian
Eeligions are not mere empty shadows — flitting fancies,
and easily surrendered by those who have once revered
them ; they are the outcome of genuine (though not always
of profound) conviction, and ought not, therefore, to be
lightly esteemed, or profaned by the merely curious. More-
over, it has been demonstrated that, but for these alien
Eeligions, Christianity would not occupy to-day that lofty
position to which it has manifestly attained; for, by the
instrumentality of these other Faiths, directly or indirectly,
its ascent has been made more easy. This statement, as
will be shown, casts no reflection upon the unique history
and the supreme moral excellence of that Eeligion which
was inaugurated by Jesus of Nazareth ; but even were the
consequences otherwise, a denial of authenticated facts is
never permissible. Nevertheless, the close relationship in
which Christianity stands affiliated with various earlier Ee-
ligions was singularly overlooked, until students of this new
Science began to affirm and enforce this unexpected teaching.
Hence many false impressions as to the absolute isolation
of Christianity, viewed as a distinctive type of Eeligion, are
now rapidly being dispelled ; whilst the dictates of the most
ordinary wisdom, in accordance with which even Christ
Himself was always found willing to utilise "the weak
things of the world," ^ has received an additional and most
emphatic endorsation.

It is quite hopeless, in dealing with so wide and complex
a subject, to attempt to give in the present Manual anything
like a complete survey of it ; but there are four points to
which attention ought especially to be directed, viz. : —

(1) Every historic Religion has fulfilled a distinct mission
of its own. — It would prove a most interesting task, and by
no means a superfluous undertaking, if one were to proceed
to justify — successively and in detail, concerning each of
the great World Eeligions — the statement which heads this
paragraph. Nothing more is possible here, of course, than
^ 1 Corinthians i. 27.


an outline of the argument which will be fully presented in
a subsequent volume ; ^ but if it be indeed true that each
historic Rehgion has fulfilled a distinct mission of its own,
no further inducement ought to be required to lead students
to accord to all of them, Christian and non-Christian alike,
that candid and thorough examination to which each is
abundantly entitled.

It will not be denied that, in various ways and in differ-
ing degrees, (a) All these diverse Faiths have fanned the flame
of religious fervour in mans breast. They have delivered
humanity, accordingly, from the catastrophe of an utterly
sordid life. " Dim and cold ... as twinkling distant cloud-
obscured stars, they are nevertheless far removed from the
utter darkness, from the gloom and terror of despair. . . .
Burdened with never so much error, with never so much
superstition, [they are] better, immeasurably better, than
[would be] the error and superstition without the religion ;
and they would be there in undisturbed exercise, if it were
not there." ^ (h) All these diverse Faiths have truth in them,
and that truth they help to disseminate among those who
loyally accept them. Among the Fathers, St. Augustine drew
attention to this fact, over and over again ; but, to this hour,
many refuse to give heed to his words. Justice, morality,
and a score of other virtues — varying greatly as to their
standard, but really the same in principle — are preached
by all Religions, among all races, and in all quarters of the
globe. Whether the teacher be a pagan philosopher, a
militant proselytiser, or Jesus of Nazareth, what matters
it ? — a truth is a truth, be the speaker who he may.
A genuine Confucianist, not less than a Christian, gives
honour to those who reverence lofty ideals ; and he, quite
as sincerely as the Christian, endeavours to practise, and
to lead others to practise, the precepts which he commends.
Superstition, lust, cruelty, selfishness, savagery, wrong, hate,

^ Comjiarative Religion : Its Principles and Problems. [In preparatioii.'\
2 Rev. George T. Candlin, Missionary to China. See Barrows, The
World's Parliament of Religions, vol. ii. p. 1186. 2 vols. Chicago, 1893.


rage would prove a hundredfold worse than they are (wher-
ever they still exist) if they were not in some measure held
authoritatively in check. Base standards, horrible tortures,
and most cruel murders have been deliberately planned and
perpetrated by professed Christians ; deceptions, treacheries,
" envyings, backbitings, whisperings . . . and all uncharit-
ableness"^ too often besmirch the record of that Faith
still ; yet the world is infinitely better off with Christianity
as it is — yea, though it were a hundredfold worse than it
is — than the race would be to-day without it. And since
truth is truth, as God is God, — since, moreover, all sides of
a truth are true, be they ever so varied, — it is manifestly a
poor philosophy, and a sorry expenditure of logic, to strive
to explain any of its unexpected dicta away. All truth is
in its own right worthy : it has everywhere its own work to
do. (c) In all these diverse Faiths there is something of Him
ivho, hy way of an unrivalled distinction, has been called
" The Truth." To some, this statement may at first appear
daring and exaggerated ; but, in the light of the researches
which Comparative Eeligion is conducting, more sober
second-thought pauses, and demands for this plea at least
a patient hearing. Truth, in any and every form, is an
expression of the mind of God; and where truth of an
elevating and definitely religious character is being taught,
God's own high purpose — though often very strangely — is
unquestionably being fostered and executed. It is not too
much to say that there is no Faith that has ever effectually
asserted its sway over a considerable portion of mankind, or
over even an individual life, that has not graciously been
utilised by the Spirit of God. A Eeligion may give only a
very inadequate expression to one's instinctive impulse to
worship, and its earlier forms may completely be outgrown
as man advances to a higher stage of civilisation ; neverthe-
less, every system of belief that is worthy to be called a
Eeligion nourishes within the breast right aspirations, and
lifts men nearer to communion with God. Yea more, each

^ 2 Corinthians xii. 20.


such system has its place, and plays its part, in the spiritual
education of the race. The late Professor Max Miiller felt
constrained on one occasion to express himself very forcibly
as follows : " I hold that there is a Divine element in every
one of the great religions of the world. I consider it
blasphemous to call them the work of the Devil, when
they are the work of God ; and I hold that there is nowhere
any belief in God except as the result of a Divine revela-
tion, the effect of a Divine Spirit working in man. ... I

Online LibraryLouis Henry JordanComparative religion, its genesis and growth → online text (page 31 of 63)