In transcribing the following material from The Reader, an interesting, unfortunately short-lived intellectual magazine of the 1860s, I have used the Hathi Digital Library Trust web version of a copy in the Princeton University Library. The full-text version is generally accurate, and the one common OCR error here takes the form of turning the letter “e” as “o.” I corrected the scanning errors, and for ease of reading I have added a few paragraph breaks. If you come upon any errors I have missed, please do not hesitate to let the editors of this site know. — George P. Landow
The Claims of the Bible and of Science. Correspondence between a Layman and the Rev. F. D. Maurice on some Questions arising out of the Controversy respecting the Pentateuch. (Macmillan &. Co.).
The Subjection of the Creature to Vanity. Sermons preached at Cambridge by R. C. Trench, D.D., Dean of Westminster. (Macmillan & Co.)
t is evident that we are at the beginning of a considerable conflict between the prevalent opinion of the religious world and the discoveries of science. A superstitious worship of the letter of the Bible, resting upon a groundless à priori theory as to the infallibility of our sacred books, has combined with much misinterpretation of what the Bible does literally say to form a set of notions which are manifestly endangered by modern scientific speculation. Science is pressing forward in its three strong divisions, bearing respectively the titles of physical, historical, and critical inquiry, and looks threateningly at the religious traditions of the day. Controversies of a similar kind have occurred before. The true astronomical the ory had to fight its way against religious prepossessions which dignified themselves with the name of Divine Revelation. The early discovories of geology were long discredited as contradicting Scripture. In these cases the prevalent religious opinion was worsted; but we can see now that it was to the advantago of the faith of mankind. Indeed, we might safely deduce three inferences as to the future from this past experience: that science will hold its own in the tooth of religious opposition; that many forward religious champions will bring the reproach of apparent failure on their cause; and that the Christian world will be led against its will to a highor and purer faith.
Divines who can profit by the lessons of the past ought surely to be exceedingly cautious at this time not rashly to pledge the Christian faith to any position which science threatens to assail. There are plenty of preachers and writers whose natural business it is to give comforting assurances to those who feel their habits of thought unpleasantly shaken by new ideas. Their task is easy, and they have their reward. But men who have any title to sincere respect, as they have a more faithful aim, ought also to keep another kind of reward in view. Thirty years ago Dean Milman, following, it is true, the traditions of our higher English theology, incurred some reproach by speaking more freely than was then palatable about the Old Testament. But by giving up to criticism the things which were criticism's he was able to retain for faith the things which are faith's; and his reward is, as he tells us, that no criticism, German or English, during those yoars, has at all shaken his belief in tho substantial truth of the Jewish Scriptures. His brother Dean, Dr. Trench, in the little volume before us, unhappily illustrates the more perilous method. An argument, which in the ordinary popular preacher would be received as a matter of course, excites grave disappointment and regret in a work of the Dean of Westminster. These Sermons, preached recently at Cambridge, enter directly into the controversy between the Bible and Science. the y deal with the theories of Mr. Darwin and the geologists respecting the origin and early history of mankind. All such theories are classed together by Dean Trench as hostile to God's Word; and he undertakes to uphold against their attacks "the first three chapters of Genesis as a truthful record of events which moulded and determined the whole future destinies of our race." Those theories, he says, assort a progression; the Bible proclaims a Fall. the theory of progression has generally been complained of as lowering man's dignity; but Dean Trench makes the opposite complaint, that, according to any such theory, "there is nothing in the retrospect of the past to humble, rather everything to exalt him in his own eyes." He the refore defends the doctrine of the Fall in an argument which is illustrated with the author's characteristic power, but which may be very briefly stated. The pain, the sorrows, the confusion, the death, in a word, the evils, existing in the world, are appealed to as evidences of a curso. To a great extent all Christians, almost all men, must go with the preacher. the evil of the world, we cannot but admit, is a fruit and mark of sin. Sin implies a perfection, of which man, through some fault and disorder, falls short. There is enough in the world to testify that man is not in his rightful proper state. But before we go further, and contradict the doctrino of a progression by asserting that, for a certain period, the ideal human righteousness was actually realized in the life of man upon this earth, we are bound to look warily to our steps. Dean Trench's exposition of Scripture shows how naturally the attitude of antagonism to science connects itself with misreading of the Bible. "Tho return to simplicity,'' as Mr. Maurice says, "like the return of a frozen limb to warmth, is full of suffering." But any ono who can recover simplicity in reading the Bible will see how very different the record of the eating of the Forbidden Fruit is from the popular account of the Fall of Man; and what a total absence there is in every book of the Old Testament of any allusion to the Fall; whilst, in the New Testament, the only places in which the sin of Adam is mentioned are one or two highly mystical passages of St. Paul. Clearly, in the sacred writors, the belief in an "original" righteousness, from which sin is the departure, did not require for its basis a theory that all mankind have depravity inflicted upon them by their Maker as "the penal consequence of the sin of their federal head," nor that man lived onco in perfect righteousness. If the sacred writers held these beliefs, as Dean Trench and others hold them, how can we account for their never giving expression to them?
It is a great contrast, when we pass from that popular religion to which Doan Trench has given his support, to the theological views which Mr. Maurice has applied to the same questions. We perceive a difference at once in the feeling with which science is regarded. Mr. Maurice welcomes that impression of unity and of general laws which physical science is so widely producing; and he makes a striking reference to the story of Job, who, "wearied with his own speculations and the speculations of his friends about the cause of suffering and moral evil, at last hears God himself speaking out of the whirlwind," and is humbled by the glimpse given him "of a vast unity of plan, of laws affecting the least and greatest of the creatures which surround him. His anticipations from the inquiries respecting the antiquity of man "are altogether hopeful." He would not put any restraint upon historical or philological criticism in its application to the Old Testamont. But, in making these concessions to science, he does not give up any part of his theological creed, or oven of his belief in the historical truth of the Scriptural records. He is prepared to hold fast his belief in Christ if the whole Bible were swept away; but he does not regard the truth of the Bible as involved in the speculations of either Sir Charles Lyell or Bishop Colenso. Mr. Maurice's method has much in common with the principle asserted by many, that the Bible was intended to teach us religious truth only and not secular. But this distinction is itself alien from his views. He does not distinguish between the religious and the secular, but between the moral world — the world of man as well as God, to which human relations and therefore the substantial elements of history belong — and the physical world, the world of numbers and dimensions. he holds that the Bible has to do with the former world; but not tho Bible only. All genuine history has to do with this, and not with the physical elements, except in a very inferior degree. Mr. Maurice will not disbolieve in a Persian invasion of Greece, because many of the particulars related by Herodotus are inaccurate, nor in an Exodus from Egypt, because the physical facts mentioned in the books of Moses may be inaccurately stated. The essence of history is in its politics, not in numbers or dimensions. In stating this principle Mr. Maurice has used language which will be thought dangerous, and which is perhaps too unguarded. He speaks of historical facts as certified by their reception into the belief and life of nations, more than by any documentary evidonce. It would be easy to point out how such a doctrine might be abused; but all sound historical inquirers would admit that there is much truth in it; and Mr. Maurice is always ready to run risks for the sake of thoroughness of statemont. Being thus perfectly ready to disengage from the testimony of the Bible whatever is legitimately a subject for physical inquiry, Mr. Maurice finds the real history of the Bible — its unfolding of the nature and will of God through human relations and the government of men — wholly unassailable by criticism. As examples illustrating the method he has followed, he takes the narrative of Creation and the Deluge. the former, he thinks, has nothing whatever to do with the inquiries of physical science. The temper of the physical inquirer, however ignorant and mistaken, is not that of the Hebrew who wrote, or who read, the beginning of Genesis. Moses is not, in Mr. Goodwin's phrase, "a Hebrew Descartes." “It would never occur to a pious Israelite to think of the world as consisting of huge continents, islands, and peninsulas. The little spot on which his home stood would receive the light each morning, would be spanned by a firmament, would contain its pardon-ground with grass and herbs, would be shined upon by sun and stars, would not be far from some river full of fishes, would nourish its own cattle, would have its family of human beings. He would never be obliged to journey back over centuries and millenniums, or to task his fancy with the question what might have been when these things were not. They were there; and God, at the beginning, had said that they should be there. Thus, every day creation would seem to him very old and very young." The Deluge, again, may retain its full historical significance, as an act of Divine preservation, however we may find it necessary to limit its physical conditions. To the objection, "Noah's deluge must havo been universal, else why make so much of it?" Mr. Maurice replies, "Because the whole Bible is occupied about small areas, little families, contemptible tribes, shepherds, fishermen, One who was called a carpenter's son, upon whom the Roman soldiers put a purple robe and a crown of thorns in derision — who was nailed to a cross as slaves were. All is consistent. Bulk, as Southey remarked, is sublimity in the mythology of the Hindoos. Goethe saw that the Gospel was, throughout, doing homage to that which man despises for its littleness." And he accordingly suggests, "It might be true of a deluge covering a very small portion of the earth that God saved a man and his family from perishing in it; that He gave him a warning of the calamity that was coming before it came; that He taught him how to save his family, and how to save creatures of various kinds, in the same building in which he himself took refuge. All this might be a very simple, childlike narrative of an historical fact, not in tho least a-legend." Thore is enough in these Lettors to show how thoroughly Mr. Maurice is possessed by his own principles, and therefore how naturally he can combine a reverent faith in the Bible as a record of Divine Revelation with a fearless trust in the investigations of science. In touching upon that melancholy passage of arms between the Bishops of Manchester and Natal, he repudiates with equal vehemence the language of both Bishops. "I need not say that Bishop Lee's proposition is directly and essentially at variance with the principles which I have maintained in my letter to you. I have acknowledged one foundation as laid for us all. That foundation is not the letter of any book. That foundation, being our Lord Jesus Christ himself, could not be shaken if the whole Bible were taken from us. I say this on the authority of the Bible. I should contradict the Bible if I said otherwise." "But you will perceive also how utterly unpalatable and offensive to me must be the reply of the Bishop of Natal to the Bishop of Manchester. If ever there was an occasion when there was a moral principle at stake, — when a protest, if it was made at all, should have beon made on moral grounds, — when nothing should have beon allowed to rest on a point of scholarship, or on the question of what might or might not be an error in natural history, this was that occasion." Similarly he censures the Edinburgh Reviewer for charging Mr. Huxley's views with a tendency to materialism and atheism. "He who starts with the belief in God as his Father, has no right to cherish thoso apprehensions, or to indulge in those insinuations. Claiming for man a place above nature — a direct relation to God through a Mediator — a mansion in a house which is otemal in the heavens — he cannot be anxious about the place which man niay be found to hold in nature."
the general complaint about the difficulty of understanding Mr. Maurice's writings will find something to lay hold of in this volume; but perhaps less than in some of his other works. The two excellent Letters of a lay friend, at the opening and closo of the book, will help the ordinary reader to take in Mr. Maurice's rapid and profound exposition of his principles. People will still wonder how the line is to be drawn between that in tho Bible which deserves all reverence, and that which he so easily surrenders to criticism. Others will accuse him of betraying the Bible whilst professing to assert its claims. But Mr. Maurice's appeal, here as elsowhere, is to conscience and life and time, and a higher Name than these, and not to the faculty which makes and defends theories. J. Ll[ewelyn]. D[avies ?].
D[avies], J. Ll[ewelyn]. “The Bible and Science: Dean Trench and Mr. Maurice.” The Reader: A Journal of Literature, Science, and Art. (June 1863): 549-50. London: “Published at 112, Fleet Street.” Hathi Digital Library Trust web version of a copy in the Princeton University Library. 23 July 2016.
Last modified 23 July 2016