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CHAPTER XIV.


Harmony of Religions Opinions.


1.—The Absolute Religion, so far as it can be established and accepted, necessarily tends to the harmony of opinions. We do not forget, however, in view of the actually existing constitution of the human mind, that absolute harmony of opinion on all subjects is an impossibility. Differences of opinion exist as the unavoidable result of differences in mental structure, and of the different positions and aspects in which objects of inquiry are presented for consideration. And such differences, which have their foundation in the wisdom that regulates all things, are one of the sources of the activity and happiness of life. Nevertheless, when controverted subjects are examined beyond the region of facts to the region of principles, and when principles are recognized by the highest reason, it may justly be anticipated that harmony of views, in such cases and to such extent, will exist.

2.—A controversy of long duration has existed in relation to man’s character at the time of his birth. The controversy involves a variety of questions; and particularly whether man at the time of his birth is a depraved or an innocent being; and if his character be that of purity or innocence, in what way are we to explain the acknowledged fact of great moral evils existing in the world. If we have given a true exposition of the Absolute view, of which we must leave others to judge, we have seen how the various apparently contradictory views in relation to human depravity may be reconciled. And this certainly, when we remember how much time has been spent on the subject and how much bad feeling engendered, is a great gain.

3.—And so in regard to the atonement, as it is theologically, and as it seems to me very properly, termed. Atonement in its etymological sense means reconciliation and union with God; and philosophy declares, that this could not take place without the forgiveness of sin, as antecedent to the removal of that moral antagonism which necessarily exists between a sinning and a sinless being. It will perhaps be said, that the difficulty is not so much with the thing as with the way or manner in which it is accomplished, namely, by the shedding of the blood of Jesus. But when it is remembered, that the blood cannot be separated from the divine, living, and eternal principle which is the life of the blood, and without which the blood would not have efficacy, it can hardly fail to relieve thoughtful and conscientious minds. Many, encouraged by this interior and deeper but necessary view, have hastened to yield their hearts and lives to the mighty and regenerating influences of the great principle, — the principle which both creates and saves — that finds its manifestation in the Cross. And then it is to be remembered further, that words in certain aspects of them are things, and often in their control over the human mind, are very powerful things.

In the case of many persons the long use of certain expressions in relation to the blood of Christ, (words which have a providential and wise relation to the first or sensuous development of man’s nature,) make it very difficult for them after a time to make the distinction which has just now been referred to. Nevertheless, the ultimate philosophy requires the distinction to be made, and at the same time points out the relation and unites and harmonizes the two. And the Scriptures, when rightly interpreted and when searched to their foundations, are not antagonistical, but harmonize, in this case as in all others, with a right philosophy.

4.—Again, the doctrine of the first and second birth and their relation to each other, (a matter which has caused much perplexity,) not only harmonizes with the statements of the Scriptures and with outward facts; but considered, as it truly is, as a great mental and moral problem, vindicates its claims to the highest wisdom. It makes man, not a machine merely, moving no one knows how in the iron tracks of a dead materialism, but a grand and active reality in the universe, even in his first condition of self-hood and of self-asserting independence.

5.—Rome, too, had her teachers; Numa, the founder of institutions and laws; Camillus who announced the great truth, which Christianity has verified,
“adversæ res admonuerunt religionum;” Cato, who did right, “not to be seen to do it, but because he could not help doing it;” Cicero, the eloquent and intuitional expounder of philosophical problems; Seneca, who resisted the corruptions of a degenerate age; and among the long list of those who announced the truth and struggled against error, that wonderful bard of Mantua, whose beautiful and sublime utterances were, in some sense, the Gospel of his time and country. And all this is in accordance with what the Apostle Paul has said of the Gentiles, that they are a law unto themselves, and show the works of the law written in their hearts; in other words, that God has made to all men everywhere an inward moral revelation. It is not surprising, therefore, that Sir James Mackintosh, one of the eminent statesmen and philosophers of modern times, says, in a learned discourse on the Law of Nature and Nations, that “lawgivers and statesmen, but above all, moralists and political philosophers, may plainly discover, in all the useful and beautiful variety of governments and institutions, and under all the fantastic multitude of usages and rites which have prevailed among men, the same fundamental, comprehensive truths, the sacred master principles, which are the guardians of human society, recognized and revered, with few and slight exceptions, by every nation upon earth.” A view which was anticipated, and which is sustained by a multitude of facts and quotations, in the profound volumes of Montesquieu and Grotius.

6.—It is thus we remember, with deep gratitude, what God has done for the nations in the earliest times; how He has borne with their sins, and has always given them that kind and degree of instruction which was best suited to their situation. No nation ever has been, or ever can be wholly forgotten. The God of the Hebrews, although in some respects with less intimate relations, was nevertheless the God of Greece and Rome. And history abundantly shows, that the historical development of those remarkable nations, including literature as well as arms, and art as well as power, was precisely adjusted, in time and circumstances, to the Hebrew development. And when in the fulness of time the Star of Bethlehem arose, which otherwise would have shone only over the waters of Galilee and the hills of Judea, it became the guiding light and the illumination of the world, through the aiding influences of Greek and Roman civilization.

7.—This subject, of which we have thus given a short and imperfect outline, is well worthy of the attention of the Christian scholar. It is a subject which can never be thoroughly mastered, except by those who combine the learning of human schools with a religious nature and deep religious experience. Learning, religion and philosophy must go hand in hand in its development. It may require the destruction or the re-adjustment of nations; but Christ as God incarnate in the great principles which he taught and illustrated, and which are recognized and affirmed by the highest reason, will at last ascend the height of his position and exercise his universal dominion.

President Edwards, in his truly great work on the History of Redemption, is right in giving us to understand that God, as the living principle of the ages, and especially in the great fact of his Incarnation, is the key-note to the philosophy of history, God’s life knows no cessation of activity; and his wisdom and benevolence will always turn that activity in the right direction. The car of the universe is not floating at random; but under the Master’s hand is always tending to one great issue.