Copyright
Samuel John Baird.

Theological essays: online

. (page 86 of 90)
Online LibrarySamuel John BairdTheological essays: → online text (page 86 of 90)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


an Atheist, of whom it may with equal truth be said, that he be-
lieved in nothing but God. But in the sense stated above, which
is a correct and acknowledged sense of the term, Spinosa was an
Atheist.

'• We come now," says the Alumnus, " to a still more extraordi-
nary mistake, which arose probably from the habit, too prevalent
among us, of grouping together theologians who have scarcely
anything in common, but the language in w^hich they write. You
class Schleiermacher with the modern German school, wiiose dis-
ciples are called Rationalists or Naturalists." — P. 133. This, he
says, is as whimsical a mistake as if a foreigner were to describe
the celebrated Dr. Beecher as one of the most noted of the Unita-
rian school, in New England. This mistake is not quite as whim-
sical as the author supposes. The term Rationalist is, indeed, com-
monly employed to designate those who, making reason the source
as well as the standard of religious truth, deny all divine revelation.
Have the Pietists, says Rohr, the superintendent of Weimar, yet
to learn that we admit no other revelation in Christ than such as
occurred in Socrates or Plato ? Of such Rationalists, who are in
Germany just what the Deists were in England, Schleiermacher,
and all the transcendental school, were the determined and contempt-
uous opponents. In another sense, however, the term Rationalist is
applicable, and is in fact applied, to the Transcendentalists of the
highest grade. Under the head of the Mystisch-spekulative Ra-
tionalismus, Tholuck includes the gnosticism of the first centuries,
the Pantheists of the middle ages, and of modern Germany.* To
this class of mystical Rationalists, Schleiermacher undoubtedly
belonged. As, however, the term is generally applied to the de-
istical opposers of a supernatural revelation, with whom he was
ever in controversy, it certainly produces confusion to call Schlei-
ermacher himself a Rationalist. As to the question, whether he
was a Pantheist, as it is a matter about which his learned contem-
poraries in his own country are at variance, we may stand in doubt.
Few unbiassed readers of his "Reden iiber die Religion," however,
could regard him in any other light, when those discourses were
written. They are, to be sure, a rhapsody, full of genius and feel-
ing, but still a rhapsody, in which the meaning is a very secondary
concern, which the reader is not expected to understand, but
simply to feel. Such a book may betray a man's sentiments, but
is hardly fit to be cited in any doctrinal controversy. Schleierma-
cher was a very extraordinary man. Though he placed far too
little stress on historical Christianity (i. e., on the religion of Christ,
considered as objective revelation, recorded in the New Testa-

* Tholuck's Glaubwiirdigkeit der Evangel. Geschichte, &c., ch. 1.



TRANSCENDENTALISM. 671

ment), yet as he made Christ the centre of his mystical system,
exalting him as the perfect manifestation of God, he exerted an
extraordinary influence in breaking down the authority of those
deistical Rationahsts, who were accustomed to speak of Christ as
altogether such an one as themselves. He was once a Moravian,
and there is reason to believe that the interior life of his soul ex-
isted, after all, more under the form thus originally impressed upon
it, than under the influence of his subsequent speculations. It was
no uncommon thing for him to call upon his fomily to join with
him in singing some devout Moravian hymn of praise to Christ ;
and though his preaching was of a philosophical cast, yet the
hymns which he assigned were commonly expressive, in a high
degree, of a devotional feeling and correct sentiment.* Such a
worshipper of Christ ought not to be confounded with such heart-
less Deists as Paulus, Wegschcidcr, and Rohr.

The Alumnus makes another objection to Mr. Norton's discourse,
the justice of which we admit. It does not fulfil the expectations
which the annunciation of his subject excites. It is not a discourse
on the latest form of infidelity ; it is a mere consideration of one
subordinate feature of that form, viz., the denial of the miracles of
the New Testament.. And tliis feature is by no means character-
istic of the system, as this denial was as formally made by Paulus
as it is now by Strauss, men who have scarcely any other opinion
in common. Mr. Norton's discourse gives us little insight into the
form which infidelity has recently assumed in Germany, and still
less into the nature of the opinions which have begun to prevail in
his own neighbourhood. According to the Alumnus, it is better
adapted to mislead than to inform the reader, as far as this latter
point is concerned. " You announce," says he to Mr. Norton, "as
the theme of your discourse, ' the characteristics of the times, and
some of those opinions now prevalent, which are at war with a
belief in Christianity.' This, certainly, was a judicious opening,
and I only speak the sentiments of your whole audience, when I
say that it was heard with universal pleasure. It at once brought
up a subject of the highest importance, of no small difficulty, and of
singular interest to o,ur community at the present moment. It gave
promise that you would discuss the character and tendency of
opinions now prevalent in the midst of us; that you would meet
some of the objections which have been advanced to popular the-
ological ideas ; that you would come directly to the great questions
that are at issue between different portions of the audience which
you addressed. But, instead of this mode of proceeding, you
adopted one which could not have been expected from your state-
ment of the subject, and which I conceive to have been singularly
irrelevant to the demands of your audience, and the nature of the
occasion. Instead of meeting, face to face, the opinions which

* It was his habit to have these hymns printed on slips of paper and distributed to
the people at the door of his church.



672 TRANSCENDENTALISM.

have found favour with many of the theologians in this country,
which are publicly maintained from the pulpit and the press, in our
own immediate community, which form the cardinal points on '
which speculation is divided among us, you appear studiously to
avoid all mention of them ; no one could infer from your remarks,
that any novel ideas had been broached in our theological world,
excepting such as can be traced back to the sceptical reasonings
of Spinosa and Hume, and a comparatively small class of the
modern theologians of Germany."* He then denies that the writ-
ings of Spinosa, Hume, or of the German Rationalists (in the
limited sense of that term), were exerting any influence among the
theologians of Boston, and that the speculations which really pre-
vailed, had a very different origin.

It is clear, from all this, that a serious and wide breach has oc-
curred between different classes of the Unitarian divines in New
England, but the real character of the novel ideas cannot be learn-
ed either from Mr. Norton's Discourse or from the letter of the
Alumnus. It is, indeed, sufficiently plain, from the manner in
which the latter speaks of pantheistic writers, that the new philo-
sophy is the source of the difficulty. Speaking of the system of
Spinosa, which he admits to be pantheistic, in a philosophical
sense, inasmuch as it denies " real, substantial existence to finite
objects," he says, "no one who understands the subject, will accuse
this doctrine of an irreligious tendency. It is religious even to
mysticism ; on that account, as well as for certain philosophical
objections it labours under (the Bible, it seems, has nothing to do
with the question), I cannot adopt it as a theory of the universe;
but I trust I shall never cease to venerate the holy and exalted spi-
rit of its author, who, in the meek simplicity of his life, the trans-
parent beauty of his character, and the pure devotion with which
he wooed truth, even as a bride, stands almost ' alone, unapproach-
ed,' among men." — P. 126. Such language, in reference to a sys-
tem which denies the existence of a personal God, the individuality
of the human soul, which necessarily obliterates all distinction be-
tween right and wrong, betrays a singular perversion of ideas, and
an entire renunciation of all scriptural views of the nature of reli-
gion. To call that obscure and mystic sentiment religion, which
arises from the contemplation of the incomprehensive and infinite,
is to change Christianity for Buddhism. The result, in fact, to
which the philosophy of the nineteenth century has brought its
votaries.

In another place, however, he says of the leading school in mo-
dern German theology, " that the impression of the powerful
genius of Schleiermacher is everywhere visible in its character ;
but it includes no servile disciples ; it combines men of free minds,
who respect each other's efforts, whatever may be their individual
conclusions ; and the central point at which they meet is the ac-

♦ Letter, &c.,pp. 17, 18.



TRANSCENDENTALISM. 673

knowledgment of the divine character of Christ, the divine origin
of his religion, and its adaptation to the world, when presented in
a form corresponding with its inherent spirit, and with the scientific
culture of the present age. There are few persons who would
venture to charge such a school with the promulgation of infi-
delity ; there are many, I doubt not, who will welcome its princi-
ples, as soon as they are understood, as the vital, profound, and en-
nobling theology which they have earnestly sought for, but hitherto
sought in vain." — P. 146.

It is difficult to know how this paragraph is to be understood.
If restricted to a few of the personal friends and pupils of Schleier-
macher, such as Liicke, Ullmann, Twesten, and a few others, the
description has some semblance of truth. But, in this case, it is
no longer the " leading school of modern German theology" that
the writer is describing. And if extended to the really dominant
school, the description is as foreign from the truth as can well be
imagined.

We have so lately been concerned with the nature of the
prevalent system of German theology and philosophy, that we
may well be excused from enlarging on it here. As, however,
it is a subject of constantly increasing interest, it may not be
amiss to give a few additional proofs of the true character of
the latest form of infidelity. In doing this, we shall avail
ourselves of the authority of such men as Leo, Hengstenberg,
and Tholuck, men of the highest rank in their own country
for talents, learning, and integrity. We shall let them describe
this new form of philosophy which is turning the heads of our
American scholars, inflating some and dementing others ; and we
shall leave it to our transcendental countrymen, if they see cause,
to accuse these German scholars and Christians of ignorance and
misrepresentation.

It is well known to all who have paid the least attention to the
subject, that the prevalent system of philosophy in Germany is that
of Hegel ; and that this system has, to a remarkable degree, dif-
fused itself among all classes of educated men. It is not confined
to recluse professors or speculative theologians, but finds its warm-
est advocates among statesmen and men of the world. It has its
poets, its popular as well as its scientific journals. It is, in short,
the form in which the German mind now exists and exhibits itself
to surrounding nations, just as much as Deism or Atheism was
characteristic of France during the reign of terror. That a sys-
tem thus widely diffused should present different phases might be
naturally anticipated. But it is still one system, called by one name,
and despite of occasional recriminations among its advocates, re-
cognised by themselves as one whole. The general characteristic
of this school is pantheism. This, as we have quoted, is " the public
secret of Germany ;" and "we must," says Hengstenberg, "de-
signedly close our own eyes on all that occurs around us, if we

43



674 TRANSCENDENTALISM.

would deny the truth of this assertion."* And on the following
page, he says, that though there are a few of the followers of He-
gel who endeavour to reconcile his principles with Christianity,
yet these are spoken of with contempt by their associates, who, as
a body, are " with the clearest consciousness, and as consequently
as possible devoted to pantheism." They are, moreover, he adds,
hailed as brothers by the advocates of popular pantheism, who
denounce, under the name of pietism, at once Christianity, Juda-
ism and Deism. This was written four years ago, a long period
in the history of modern philosophy, and since that time, the cha-
racter of the school has developed itself with constantly increasing
clearness.

In allusion to the French Chamber of Deputies, this school is
divided into two parts, the right and the left. The former teaches
the principles of the philosophy in an abstruse form, as a philoso-
phy : the other gives them a more popular and intelligible form.
This latter division, again, is divided into the centre left and ex-
treme left ; the one preserving some decorum and regard to pub-
lic morals in their statements, and the other recklessly carrying
out their principles to the extreme of licentiousness. To the ex-
treme left belong the class which is designated the " Young Ger-
many," of which Heine is one of the most prominent leaders. This
class profess themselves the true disciples of the extreme right ;
the extreme right acknowledge their fellowship with the centre
left, and the centre left with the extreme loft. The respectable
portion of the party of course express themselves with disappro-
bation of the coarseness of some of their associates, but they
speak of them only as the unworthy advocates of truth. Thus says
Hengstenberg, " Prof. Vischer, one of the most gifted of the party,
expresses himself with an energy against the * young Germans,'
which shows that his better feelings are not obliterated, and yet
acknowledges their principles with a decision and plainness which
prove how deep those principles enter into the very essence of
the system, so that the better portion of the party cannot, with
any consistency, reject them. In the Halle Jahrbuch, p. 1118,
he speaks of the Rehabilitationistsf as the ' unworthy prophets of
what, in its properly understood principle, is perfectly true and
good.' He says, ' It is well, if in opposition to the morality of
Kant and Schiller, the rights of our sensual nature should, from
time to time, be boldly asserted.' He complains, p. 507, of the
pedantry of his country, where the want of chastity is placed on
a level with drunkenness, gluttony or theft, and so expresses him-
self that every one sees that he considers incontinence a virtue
under certain circumstances, and conjugal fidelity a sin."J Though

* Kirchen-Zeitung, January, 1S36, p. 19.

t The name assumed by those who plead for the rehabilitation of the flesh, i. e.,
for the restoration of the sensual part of our nature to its rights, of which Chris-
tianity has so long deprived it.

t Preface to Kirchen-Zeitung, for 1839, p. 30.



TRANSCENDENTALISM. 675

this dominant party, therefore, has its divisions, its outwardly de-
cent, and its openly indecent members, it is one school, and is lia-
ble to the general charges which have been brought against it as a
whole.

'It may well be supposed that a system so repugnant to every
principle of true religion and sound morals could not be openly
advocated, without exciting the most decided opposition. This
opposition has come from various quarters ; from professed philo-
sophers and theologians, and from popular writers, who have at-
tacked the system in a manner adapted to the common mind. Pro-
fessor Leo, of Halle, has adopted this latter method of assault.
He is one of the most distinguished historians of Germany ; and,
until within a few years, himself belonged to the general class of
Rationalists, His history of the Jews was written in accordance
with the infidel opinions which he then entertained. Having, how-
ever, become a Christian, he has publicly expressed his sorrow for
having given to the history just mentioned the character which it
now bears, and has, with great boldness and vigour, attacked the
writings of the leading German school in theology. This step has
excited a virulent controversy, and produced an excitement, par-
ticulai'ly at Halle, such as has not been known for many years.
Hengstenberg says, that Leo has not been sustained in this con-
flict by the friends of truth, as he had a right to expect. "One
principal reason," he adds, " of this reserve, is no doubt, in many
cases, the reckless vulgarity of many of his opponents. When
they see what Leo has had to sustain, they tremble and exclaim.
Vestigia me torrent ! A decorous controversy with opponents who
have something to lose, they do not dread, but they are unwilling
to allow themselves to be covered with filth."* Hengstenberg,
however, is not the man to desert the truth or its advocates, let
what will happen. He stands like a rock, despite the violent as-
sault of open enemies and the coohiess of timid friends, the firmest
and the most efficient defender of Christianity in Germany.

Leo entitled his book against the latest form of infidelity, " He-
gelingen;" that is, Hegelians of the left, in allusion to the division
of the school into a right and left side. It is presumed he gave it
this title because it was intended to be a popular work, designed
to exhibit the principles of the school in a manner suited to the
apprehensions of the ordinary class of educated people. It was,
therefore, directed, not against that division of the school which
wrapped up its doctrines in the impenetrable folds of philosophical
language, but against that division which has spoken somewhat
more intelligibly.

With regard to the charges which Leo brings against this school,
Hengstenberg says, " No one at all familiar with the literature of
the day, needs evidence of their truth. Instead of doubting, he
may rather wonder that an abomination advocated for years past,

* Kirchen-ZeituDg, p. 21.



676



TRANSCENDENTALISM.



should now first, as though it were something new, be thus vehe-
mently assaulted, and that the charges should be directed against
comparatively few and unimportant writers." This latter circum-
stance, he adds, however, is accounted for, as Leo professed to
confine himself to the productions of the year preceding the pub-
lication of his own book.

Leo's first charge is this : " This party denies the existence of a
personal God. They understand by God, an unconscious power
which pervades all persons, and which arrives at self-consciousness
only in the personality of men. That is, this party teaches athe-
ism without reserve." With regard to this charge* Hengstenberg
remarks, " Whoever has read Strauss's Life of Jesus, and Vatke's
Biblical Theology, where Pantheism, which every Christian must
regard as only one form of Atheism, is clearly avowed, cannot
ask whether the party in general holds these doctrines, but simply
whether the particular persons mentioned by Leo belong, as to this
point, to the party. About this who can doubt, when he hears
Professor Michelet say, beside many other things of like import,
*God is the eternal movement of the universal principle, con-
stanily manifesting itself in individual existences, and which has
no true objective existence but in these individuals, which pass
away again into the infinite.' [In other words, God is but the
name given to the ceaseless flow of being.] When he hears him
denouncing as unworthy of the name, ' the theistical Hegelians,
who believe in a personal God in another world ?' " — P. 22. " Pro-
fessor Vischer," adds Hengstenberg, " is so far from being ashamed
of Pantheism, that he glories in his shame, and represents it as
the greatest honour of his friend Strauss, that he has ' logically
carried out the princij)le of the immanence of God in the world.'
That the professors Gans and Penary agree with him and with
Strauss, not only in general, but in this particular point, Michelet,
' certam of their assent,' has openly declared. According to Dr.
Kuhnc, Hegel's God 'is not Jehovah,' he is 'the ever-streaming
immanence of spirit in matter.' To this representation Dr. Meyen
agrees, and says, ' I make no secret, that I belon£r to the extreme
left of Hegel's school. I agree with Strauss perfectly, and con-
sider hmi (seine Tendenz) as in perfect harmonv with Hegel.'
Another writer, the anonymous author of the book 'Leo vor Ge-
richt,' ridicules the charge of atheism as though it were a trifle.
He represents the public as saying to the charge, ' What does it
mean 1 Mr. Professor Leo is beyond our comprehension ; Wodan.
heathenism, Hegel's God, atheism ! ha ! ha ! ha !' " '

That Tholuck looks on the doctrine of Strauss, with whom these
other writers j^rofess agreement, and who is an avowed disciple of
Hegel, m the same light, is clear from his language in his Anzeicrer,
for May, 183G; " Strauss," he says, " is a man who knows no otTier
God than him who, in the human race, is constantly becoming
man. He knows no Christ but the Jewish Rabbi who made his
confession of sin to John the Baptist, and no heaven but that



TRANSCENDENTALISM. 677

which speculative philosophy reveals for our enjoyment on the
little planet we now inhabit."

Nothing, however, can be plainer than Strauss's own language.
" As man, considered as a mere finite spirit, and restricted to him-
self, has no reality ; so God, considered as an infinite spirit, restrict-
ing himself to his infinity, has no reality. The infinite spirit has
reality only so far as he unites himself to finite spirits (or manifests
himself in them), and the finite spirit has reality only so far as he
sinks himself in the infinite."* How does this differ, except in the
jargon of terms, from le peuple-dieu, of Anacharsis Clootz, the
worthy forerunner of these modern atheists ?t

" If," says another writer in Hengstenberg's Journal, " mankind
is the incarnate Godhead, and beside this incarnate divine spirit
there is no God, then we have a most perfect atheism, which re-
moves us from Christianity far beyond the limits of Mohammedan-
ism, the heathenism of the Indians and Chinese, or of our pagan
ancestors." "Hegel and his school maintain that God is not an
individual person, as opposed to other individuals, since individu-
ality is of necessity exclusive, limited, and finite. Since God is a
trinity, wherein the outwardness of number is merged in substan-
tial unity, so God is a universal person ; because the comprehen-
sion of individuals in unity is universality. This is what is meant
by the expression, ' God is personality itself.' The simple question,
whether they believe in the God whom Christians are bound to
honour and love," continues this writer, " is here complicated with
an obscure definition of the trinity, which no man can think re-
moves the mystery of the subject by saying. Die Ausserlichtkeit
der Zahl zu einer substantiellen Einhcit umgebogen ist (the out-
wardness of number is merged in substantial unity). The charge
of denying the true God remains in full force, this justification of
themselves to the contrary notwithstanding." And on the follow-
ing page, he adds, " that this school, to be honest, when asked,
*Do you deny God and Christianity?' ought to answer, ' Certainly,
what you Christians of the old school call God and Christianity ;
we would teach you a better doctrine.' "J

We have seen how that portion of this dominant school, who
retain some respect for themselves and for the opinions of others,
veil their God-denying doctrines in philosophical formulas unintel-
ligible to the common people, and mysterious and mystical to
themselves. Stripped of its verbiage, the doctrine is, that men are
God ; there is no other God than the ever-flowing race of man; or
that the universal principle arrives at self-consciousness only in the
human race, and therefore the highest state of God is man. The
extreme left of the school trouble themselves but little with words

* Leben Jesu, p. 730.

f " Je prechai hautement," said Clootz, in the F'rench Convention, " qu'il n'y a
pas d'autre Dieu que la nature, d'autre soiiverain que le genre humain, le peuple-
dieu." — Thiers's Histoire de la Revolution Fran., vol. v., p. 197.

i Kirchen-Zeitung, February, 1839.



678 TRANSCENDENTALISM.

without meaning. They speak out boldly, so that all the world



Online LibrarySamuel John BairdTheological essays: → online text (page 86 of 90)