Page images
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]



[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

authority of the Bible and the Church, rest on the Infallibility of Conscience as expressing God's relation to man; an authority merely internal. We found in Dr Martineau's writings lines of thought which converge in another view,-a view which seemed to go beyond either of these two opposites, and embrace the truth in each ; to this view we shall have to return. But first we may adduce evidence to show that the deistic conception of God as an external Ruler and Judge is directly responsible for most of the “indifference to religion” and “ unbelief” of which we hear so much to-day.

The metaphor of government or kingship admirably adapts itself to the deistic view, suggesting as it does externality (to man and the world) and mere power (over man and the world); the ruler is a distinct being from the ruled, and has power to impress his will upon the ruled. This is precisely the idea of God which is dying out of the modern mind; and it does not appear that any truer conception has yet found general acceptance.

We are asked to accept the notion of an Infinite Man, superintending the course of events in the world. To speak of “Infinite Mind and Will,” and repudiate the expression “Infinite Man," is to make only a verbal change. Man is mind and will; and an Infinite Man is what God has been taken to be : this conception has dominated the piety of Christendom - its hymns and its prayers — for centuries. In order to illustrate our meaning, let us notice some of the characteristics of the selection of hymns in Dr Martineau's two hymn - books. These hymns are typical, as a passage in the Preface to the latter selection shows : “ The religious conditions under which this book is produced have determined the literary principles followed in its compilation. It is offered to a Nonconformist Broad Church by an Editor whose prevailing feeling carries him less to Broad Church sources than to other springs, — Catholic, Mystical, Semipuritan, Lutheran, Wesleyan, — and gives him therefore what he most loves, and what speaks most truly for him, mingled with much which neither he nor his readers can

[ocr errors]




[ocr errors]

believe. May he drop this impossible element, and save the rest ? Or is he bound to forego the whole, and accept his silent exile from a chorus in which he longs to join, and which gives him a voice infinitely better than his own? The common sense of Christendom has rightly recognised a rule between these two extremes.” Hence there is a large circle of hymns which have to be simply put aside ; others are acceptable with an omission or alteration; others are taken without change. “In the recent Anglican hymnals, exaggerated emphasis is laid on objective and mythological elements which have found their way into the faith of Christendom”; here simple exclusion is necessary, almost without exception. The same is true of hymns reciting Biblical incidents which are certainly unhistorical, and hymns which dwell on apocalyptic representations of the future. Dr Martineau proceeds to observe that “the whole hope of any gathering together of Christians in a comprehensive City of God' depends on a gradual falling away of transitory from permanent elements in the sacra transmitted

from the past." Let us notice the result, as far as the idea of God is concerned.

In the earlier compilation, Hymns for the Christian Church and Home, various aspects of the Divine Being are dwelt upon. God is, first, “ the object of praise and homage”; here the tone of the hymns is modelled on that of the laudatory passages in the Hebrew Psalms : he is also “glorious in his works," — in the created world, with its signs of wisdom and power. Again, God is “excellent in his providence,"—in the seasons and order of the created world, the gifts of nature, the general disposition of events, and the paternal government of man. Once more, God is “ venerable in himself,” and “for particular attributes," i.e., in his relations to men : here we have a recital of metaphysical attributes,-immensity, inscrutableness, eternity, power, omnipresence, omniscience, wisdom, righteousness, and love, which is identified with mere beneficence.

These are general types of the ideas which we have in view when we say that God is regarded as an Infinite Man. What view of human life is taken in connection with these


ideas ? Life is represented as consisting of “allotments” and “trials," divinely sent; its brevity and nothingness are dwelt on, compared with the “duration of God” and of the soul. The consciousness of imperfection, failure, and sin, is rightly treated as a “ feeling after God," and the aspect of life as a warfare is rightly emphasised; but the “practice of holiness"—that is, of duty regarded as obedience to God's will—appears simply as the cultivation of “personal excellences” and “duties to others.”

These general views of God and of man remain the same in the later compilation, Hymns of Praise and Prayer, with two important additional sections which introduce the idea of God revealing himself positively in the individual soul and in the constitution and history of humanity. But the range given to these ideas is extremely narrow. There is no recognition of Humanity as a concrete spiritual form of life, and of man's social nature; there is no recognition of any inborn tendencies in men to good or evil. Man is treated as being so independent of his fellow-creatures, so “master

[ocr errors]


« PreviousContinue »