13 OCTOBER 1866, Page 19


Mu. HiGGIESON is a Unitarian of culture and learning, and in these essays he attempts the task of defending the position assumed by the older and, as we understand, now the least popular of the two schools into which the Unitarians are divided, with regard to the fundamental assumptions of religious philo- sophy and faith. The type of conviction which he represents is, however, by no means confined to the Unitarians, and especially on its deepest subject,—the function of the supernatural in revels- tion,—Mr. Higginson probably expresses the conviction of number- Iasi thinkers, both in our national Church and all other Christian -denominations, and especially, as far as we can make out, the shade of .opinion with regard to inspiration which is assumed throughout that volunie of a Rural Dean's (Mr. Gee's) on Sermons, which we lately noticed, and which starts by assuming that inspiration ceased with the Apostles. That is not indeed pre- cisely Mr. Higginson's view, for he is rather more cautious, and verbally a little more orthodox, than his Anglican contemporary, maintaining that there are two kinds of inspiration, natural and supernatural, corresponding, apparently to the two kinds of divine government, the providential, which acts through the laws of nature, and the miraculous, which acts by an agency which, though, says Mr. Higginson, it need not break or suspend, yet supersedes the ordinary natural laws. Mr. Higginson is only less orthodox, and at the same time perhaps more consistent than his Anglican contemporaries, when he excludes, if we understand him rightly, all expressions of devout human feeling even in the Scriptures, all the psalms of penitence or praise from the field of what he calls supernatural inspiration, and puts them down as the merely " natural inspirations " of the human mind when once the power and love of God are clearly realized by it. As we have some difficulty in clearly grasping what the sup- posed distinction, apparently so widely accepted by religious thinkers, between natural and supernatural inspiration, is, it is only fair to Mr. Higginson, who appears to have a distincter notion of it than some of his contemporaries, and is certainly bolder in applying it, since he excludes the psalms from the field of the latter, and attributes them only to the former, to quOte his own words. "The Scriptures," he says, " speak both of a natural inspiration and of a supernatural." It is to the former the book of Job refers when we read, "There is a spirit in man ; and the in- spiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding," " the Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty bath

given me life." •

"To the devout Hebrew all things speak of God. Sun, moon, and stars, which other nations worship, are but heaven's choristers singing the glory of the Eternal and showing His handiwork. The mysterious but resistless forces of nature are Hie Word, His Spirit, or the Angela of His pleasure. Life is instinct with. His love ; reason is the candle of the Lord in the soul of man. All this, properly understood, is accepted by modern thought, as the truest philosophy of Creation, of Providence and of the Human Mind. That God is in all, and over all, and through all His works, is the devout anticipation, on the part of the poets and prophets of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, of the sublimest con- elnsions of our modern science, which looks through all-prevailing law to its source in supreme intelligence and power. One of the greatest blessings, therefore, that we can derive from the supernatural in the Jewiala and Christian revelations is when, op their suggeation, we carry a religious spirit to the appreciation of the constant divine doings in Nature and Providence, and especially in Man. Much has been lately said and written, not always wisely perhaps, though devoutly and in -earnest religious zeal, respecting divine inspiration, tending on the one hand to bring an unreality into the deep, but natural experiences of the human heart, by representing them as supernatural or miraculous ; and on the other hand, to disguise the speciality of divine revelation itself, by representing all things; in nature and human life as divinely inspired, till the only distinction left (if, indeed, that be left) woult,1 seem to be a distinction in degree."

• /3;x Essays on Ipspiration, Reseakd Religion, and Miracles. By Edward ffiggaison. tendon: wsitestd. And in a later page he goes on, as we have said, to identify with the, higher side of this natural inspiration, and to exclude from the

supernatural, the Psalms, so far at least as they simply express religious joy or sorrow

"But we entirely sympathize with the feeling which, in describing the higher emotions of the human soul in its immediate search for sacred wisdom and its expression of devotional feeling, whether joyful ' or, sorrowing (as in the Psalms), claims the conscious presence and aid of the Holy Spirit. Nor, perhaps, do we minutely ask ourselves whether the idea of the sacred writer on such occasions distinctly was to describe that holy presence in the heart as a natural or as a supernatural inspi- ration. We claim it, philosophically, as. a natural one ; but many Christians, leas philosophical than devout, seem even in these modern days to regard it as supernatural."

We confess that we have the greatest possible difficulty in grasping this diitinction between two kinds of inspiration. Whatever the due development of our own nature yields, say a poem, or a mathematical discovery, or a sound political measure, or a virtuous action, or a religious emotion, that, if we understand Mr. Higgin- son aright, is properly to be ascribed to the guidance and inspi- ration of God, but only to " natural " inspiration. On the other hand, whatever teaching comes straight from God, and not through the development of our own nature, is, we suppose, 'super- natural' inspiration. The Psalmist, when he said, As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, 0 God,' was expressing his own nature, and was, we gather, only naturally inspired ; Isaiah, in saying, ".My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord ; for as the heaven is higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts," was, we gather, supernaturally inspired ; the former only naturally because he expreased a human feeling,—the latter supernaturally because he delineated what he had seen in a divine vision. Is that Mr. -Higginson's meaning? If it is, we can imagine him defendiug,his pesition by saying that what comes out of man's nature, even if purified, and to some extent filtered by God's guidance and natural Providence, will bear more traces of human imperfection than that which has only been just received into it by the exer- cise of the spiritual recipient faculty. The former is a current which has flowed right through a frail human character ; the latter has at worst been only just, refracted by the superficial im- perfection of an inadequate human perception. We can imagine such a defence, we say,--though we do opt think it would be in the least valid,—but we are by no means stun that it represeots the real meaning of those who believe in a natural inspiration as distinguished from .a supernatural. Mr. Higginson gives as no trace of this distinction in the following paseage :— "One practical conclusion of the highest impqrtanoe is quite clear. It is the natural, and not the supernatural, inspiration that is.now accessi- ble to our minds. Miracles, once given for special purposes, have long since ceased ; once charged with revealed blessings, they have done their work in so blessing the world for ever. But the mercy seat of our Heavenly Father is known and felt to be ever open to our prayers. His Holy Spirit never ceases to hold communion with our spirits and re-atisnre us that we are the sons of God. We do not expect the gift of tongues to be repeated each day of Pentecost. We do not need -it for our thitias in God's household or husbandry. We need net, nor may we thh2k qur- selves worthy to desire, miraculous gifts of any kind. But we, do need more and more of the healthy spirit of divine grace, to keep us upright in temptation and devoted to duty. We do need the spirit of sincere piety to bless our joys and soothe our troubles. We do need to cultivate the conscious presence of our Heavenly Father and the sweetly sym- pathizing example of our blessed Lord and Master in our hearts and conscienees, to enable us truly to do the work of life as the work of God. And this spirit of holiness the Father of our spirits still sends in his Son's name upon every true disciple who seeks it in prayer and aspiration, and welcomes it and walks by it in daily life, Other objects of desire, even innocent in their kind, may be denied us. In other efforts, even for things allowable, we may be disappointed. But here, and here only, it is always true, according to the Master's pronnee, that every one that seeketh findeth, and he that asketh receiveth, and to him that knyclieth it is freely opened. This is the permanent law of natural inspira- tion, as revealed to us, explained and gaarded by the supernatural inspi- ration of Jesus Christ."

Our author tells us that he uses the words natural' and 'super- natural' in the ordinary sense, but then we have very little idea what natural' as applied to inspiration can mean in an ordinary sense. Natural inspiration seems to us in the passage we have just quoted to come very near to natural supernaturalism.' If the Holy Spirit never ceases to hold communion with us and to answer our petitions, then it addresses us directly, we suppose, and presents to us the truth we crave. Now what is the dis- tinction between a natural communication of the Holy Spirit end a supernatural communication of the same Spirit? When we pray to know right from wrong, and the answer comes in a strong illumination of our conscience, we suppose Mr. Higginson would call that a natural communication of the Holy Spirit's. That would be quite consistent with attributing sayings like the Psalmist's, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit ; a broken and a contrite heart, 0 God, thou wilt not despise," to natural inspiration, for this, too, is only the utterance of a spiritually illuminated conscience. But then what is left for supernatural inspiration ? What are the Commandments but the imperative legislation of a divinely illuminated conscience ? What is the commandment, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray far them that despitefully use you," but the clear, imperative language of a conscience in close communion with God ? There are parts of Mr. Higginson's essays in which he seems for a moment to think that that which in its first promulgation must have been due to supernatural inspiration,' in its subsequent con- firmation and reiteration is to be ascribed only to natural inspiration ; so that it would be a question of dates whether a given answer of God's Spirit to a prayer of man's spirit were the product of ' natural' or of ' supernatural' inspiration. That, we think, can scarcely be Mr. Higginson's meaning. The light which falls on a modern conscience is as new to it as if it had never fallen before on any previous conscience ; and if a little thief in a reformatory suddenly feels the whole spiritual force of Thou shalt not bear false witness,' it is as much or as little supernatural, neither more nor less, as when the divine command first took its hold of the mind of the Hebrew legislator. Or would Mr. Higginson say that the distinction between natu- ral' and 'supernatural' inspiration lies in some token, sometimes accompanying the teaching conveyed, and sometimes not accom- panying it, that it comes from beyond the range of our human faculties ? Would he say, for instance, that a communication con- taining a wholly supernatural piece of knowledge, such as the immortality of man, or a future judgment, or a positive prediction of events now improbable, must, if believed at all, be accepted as 'supernatural' inspiration, while the mere illumination of a faculty belonging to us should be attributed to natural' inspiration? If that is the distinction intended, then it is worth very little more than a direction not to be confident that anything does come from God, except we are intellectually incapable of having discovered it for ourselves, and really amounts to throwing distrust on the deeper and primary inspirations of God's Spirit concerning human righteousness and unrighteousness.

Take it how we will, we cannot even discern a meaning for the phrase natural inspiration.' If it be inspiration at all, then it is God's Spirit entering our souls, and is supernatural in the sense of depending purely on the spirit, and volition, and love of God, and not on any law of human nature, and human nature only. When God taught St. Peter that our Lord was " the Christ, the Son of the living God," this, according to Mr. Higginson, would be a supernatural inspiration. But in what possible respect does it differ from His teaching any one of us to-day that Jesus is " Christ, the Son of the living God," except in the newness and oldness of the respective lessons ? That seems to us to be supernatural in- spiration which is inspiration from above our nature, inspiration lifting our nature from its present level towards a higher nature by no will of ours. If it does this by illuminating afresh our moral per- ceptions, it is just as supernatural, as if it does this by presenting a new image of glory to our affections, though the last exercises a more powerful and permanent effect over us than the first. That which constitutes the supernatural, whether in inspiration or anything else, is the introduction of a divine agency from above the natural laws previously at work. Christ, in heal- ing the withered hand, introduced a divine agency from above the physiological laws of the sufferer's constitution, and in forgiving his sins he introduced a divine agency from above the moral laws of the sufferer's constitution. In both cases the influence was strictly supernatural. But so also, as it seems to us, and for precisely the same reason, is the power which floods any modern conscience with the cons iction that its sins are forgiven, and with a fresh power 'to go and sin no more.' ' Natural inspiration' seems to us precisely as unmeaning as ' uninspired inspiration' or ' natural supernaturalism ;' and we cannot understand how the inspiration by which we receive any true gospel, moral or spiritual, to-day, is a bit less supernatural than the inspiration by which it was revealed to the Apostles or Prophets centuries ago. If mathematical and poetical faculty is properly called natural as distinguished from spiritual power, which we call supernatural, it is because the former involves only partial glimpses of divine laws which are not visions of God, not know- ledge of His holiness, of Himself—in short because the former does not consciously introduce any new agency from above our nature, but only develops a single element in it, while the latter raises us above ourselves, and by its own proper force transfigures for the time the nature which it touches into the image of God's.