MR LESLIE STEPHEN ON CHRISTIANITY.*
WITH the exception of the ninth chapter, which the author calls "An Apology for Plain-speaking," the contents of the present volume are reproductions, with more or less modification, of arti- cles which have appeared in Fraser's Magazine and the Fortnightly Review. Accordingly, whatever other Englishmen may think, Mr. Leslie Stephen is of opinion that the words he has already printed are not such as should be left to the ephemeral notoriety or pos- sible obscurity of a periodical. So far as regards three of the essays—we mean those on Warburton, Mandeville's "Fable of the Bees," and Shaftesbury's "Characteristics "—we are glad to see them in their present form. And though we do not venture to predict here that the others will constitute a specially cherished portion of the permanent literature of the country, it is, perhaps, satisfactory to meet with them, not in single file, but massed together as united representatives of the new " faith " which has found a patron and defender in Mr. Leslie Stephen. This faith, however, so far as we can make out, "is nothing if not critical." No doubt it professes to be "lay- ing the foundations of a temple, though it knows not what will be the glories of the completed edifice." It asserts, further, that its "prospects are beginning to clear." It has, moreover, on its own showing, become a triumphant alchemist, and before its subtle tests "infinite error and distortion disappear " ; while detecting the source of ancient confusions, it can "extract the gold from the dross." All the same it remains, at present, rather in a bad way. The new creed has no ready-made formulm, and, of course, no hallowed associations, and its confessors, "whose fetters are just broken," cannot possibly tell what the world will look like when men, "accustomed from infancy to the free use of their limbs," shall have launched their bolts against all pre-existing systems, and erected the true holy of holies, in which enlightened humanity shall be able to worship and adore. It is admitted, further, that it will be difficult to replace the old forms of worship, by which, it seems, the imagination mainly was stimulated and dis- ciplined, and it is modestly added, that we cannot quite ade- quately realize the state of things when the old hope of personal immortality which, we are to understand, means only or chiefly the hope of posthumous repayment, shall finllay have bade the world farewell, and its place will be occupied by the consciousness of good work done here. Nevertheless, the time has come for the de- struction of the" old husks," the "transparent sophistries," the "oppressing nightmare," the" old halo of erroneous imagination," and for speaking plainly ; and Elihu himself is, perhaps, the only personage who, in our recollection, can be co-ordinated with the present author, either in his estimate of a great occasion, or of him- self, as the arbiter who is to solve its perplexities. But just as intelligent readers of the Book of Job have not found Elihu either a lucid or edifying teacher, so we do not expect that a very dis- similar judgment will be pronounced by the competent respecting the present volume.
We would first of all join issue with Mr. Leslie Stephen in his estimate of unsectarian Christianity. He affirms that without certain special dogmas Christianity ceases to be. It seems to us that it would be quite as rational to maintain that the actual existence of the cosmical phenomena depended, in an ultra-Berk- leyan sense, upon the particular theory which any one Age, or man, may have happened to entertain about them, as that the histori- cal facts which constitute the objective basis of our religion dis- appear unless they are looked at from a particular stand-point: And nothing less than this reductio ad absurdum is tlft logical out- come of Mr. Stephen's contention. We have further to observe that our author's use of the word " dogma " is of the vaguest possible character. In strict speech, a theological dogma is a proposition which has been proclaimed authoritatively by an indi- vidual or council from whose verdict there is no appeal. As Protestants we recognise no such authority, and if Broad Church- men will allow us to speak for them, we do not in the least regard the surrender of individual freedom to any dogmatic * Essays on Free-thinking and Rain-speaking. By Leslie Stephen. London : Longtnans. 1873.
assertion whatever as binding on them, unless, following the inexactness of Mr. Leslie Stephen, we were to desig- nate as a dogma the conviction which characterises all the enlightened teachers of the Church of England, that no system is other than a broken light of the divine humanity which was revealed in Christ, and that the profoundest recognition of his transcendent claims to our trust and love demands, almost as a necessity, that any formula respecting his relationship to God or man must be regarded as more or less experimental or provisional. Mr. Leslie Stephen is of a contrary mind, and the two things which he holds to be impossible are either that a Broad Churchman can remain in the Church intelligently, or that any one can be a Christian at all unless his Christianity is labelled with an ism.
Mr. Leslie Stephen has been condescending enough to speak approvingly of one of St. Paul's very remarkable assertions touch- ing the need which he felt for a sphere of discipline beyond this present life, if Christianity was not to be regarded as a splendid failure. We refer, however, to this passage of St. Paul's writings, because it occurs in a letter the main substance of which is a moral protest against sectarian Christianity, and which we would specially recommend for reperusal to Mr. Stephen. The latter counsellor, like the German philosopher in the well-known story, clearly, at present, "does not agree with St. Paul," for St. Paul was eminently the unsectarian Christian, and if there is any lesson at all beyond that great outlook into the future which Christ's resurrection supplied to him to be derived from the Epistles to the Corinthians, especially the first one, it is this,—that to own Christ as your master is before all to cultivate that charity which, with all its glorious attributes of long-suffering, sweetness, and self-sacrifice, wrought its great marvels in his life and death ; and that to sub- stitute for or append to this inward submission to the holiest trusts and aspirations of our nature any rite or opinion, as possessing in themselves the slightest magical value, was to detach humanity from the root of its spiritual life, was, in fact, to "divide Christ." It certainly would be very curious to find anyone even superfi- tially acquainted with St. Paul's Corinthian Letters who could yet maintain that without sectarianism there is no Christianity. Church history is thickly strewn with the wrecks of systems, but so far as we know, the image of the Founder of Christianity has in consequence become not less, but rather more, divine to every unbiassed student of the past.
Amongst those who " profess and call themselves Christians," we have no doubt that there are many who feel, or who ought to acknowledge to themselves that they are not Christians, if by Christianity is meant the self-consecration of our life, with all its _subordinate interests, to the divine love, as involving in any spiri- tual recognition of its meaning the furtherance of the interests of our brother men. We also quite concede to Mr. Leslie Stephen that it is very likely that there are many so-called Christians who have a very confused notion as to the function of prayer, or who know but little what a reality it is in the development of the spiritual life, and it is quite possible that the latent thought of many modern "professors," if put into words, would be this :—" if in this life, at all events, we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most comfortable p but all the same, it would only then be true to affirm that "we "—not the " we " of Strauss, to whom Mr. Leslie Stephen has affiliated himself, but. the " we " which embraces a section of not the least thought- ful inhabitants of these islands—had ceased to be Christians, if in the first place, we had formally repudiated Christ's own teaching, or in the second, had denied that the life he lived was immeasurably the highest that meets us anywhere in human history. Now, so far from its b eing true that the teaching of Jesus is becoming antiquated, the one eminentresult of modern criticism has simply been this, that it has brought back to this century the words of Christwith a fresh- ness and force such as, perhaps, they have not possessed for any generation, since the language rose spontaneously to the lips of an astonished multitude : "Never man spake like this man."
Our readers will have seen that when we speak of Christ's teaching, we are not confining it to what the old Scotchwoman termed "the cauld morality" of the Sermon on the Mount. We claim, as we believe many Broad Churchmen would affirm, to be the disciples of Christ, not only because he drove the plough- share of a great moral principle more deeply into the human consciousness than any antecedent moralist had ever done, but eminently because he brought to bear upon the growth of our best affections a new atmosphere and a new light. We do not say that the darker passages which occur so abundantly in the on-goings of nature are not as dark as they are represented to be in the pages of Bishop Butler ; but what we maintain is this, that the teach- ing of Christ did not, as the Analogy would make us believe,
transfer that darkness into the purely spiritual region of human destinies, but furnished us rather with a light in the possession of which we can entertain the persuasion that the world, as it is, is the result of a scheme as yet, indeed, imperfectly understood, but which, even amid our present ignorance, is seen to be peculiarly fitted to develop the noblest qualities of our nature. Science has not yet taught us to say that the most fruitless of all studies is to "consider the lilies of the field how they grow," or that Broad Churchmen are bound to believe that you can only learn lessons of atheism or despair from the rain and sunshine which fall equally upon the just and the unjust alike. What we affirm here with reference to the teaching of Christ, we are prepared to maintain with no less confidence with regard to the teaching of St. Paul— especially on the doctrine singled out among others for comment by Mr. Leslie Stephen—we mean that of the Atonement. Our author argues that we can no longer be considered Christians, if we cease to represent the Atonement according to the older, or more popular, conceptions of its object or significance. What we hold, on the contrary, is, that the fact and principle of the Atonement only emerge into diviner fullness and attractive power, in proportion as we eliminate, or ignore, all that has been written on the subject from the pre-Anselmic period, during which the prevailing belief was, that the sacrifice of Christ was necessitated mainly by the position occupied by the Devil in the drama of Redemption — though, certainly, so far as we remember, St. Augustine drew a very different lesson from the contemplation of the Cross—down to our own times, in which a theory of compen- sation has been adopted which simply renders the forgiveness of sin wholly impossible. For, when we turn to the great apostle himself, what we find is not that a life or death has been offered to God, in virtue of which He has been made willing or able to exercise compassion on the creatures of His own workmanship, but that through the rapprochement of a higher life into the inmost depths of our humanity "we have received the atonement." As the readers of this journal need not to be informed, in the day when our Bible was translated, the word atonement was not in the least synonymous with compensation or substitution, but meant bringing to the same tune or tone. In Shakespeare, as we have been specially careful to note, the word " atone " is always used in the sense of harmonizing; and in As You Like It, which we have long regarded as one of the profoundest of our great teacher's moralis- ings, there occurs this snatch of song, which would seem to set the meaning of the word beyond all discussion :— "Then is there mirth in heaven,
When earthly things made even
We would claim accordingly for Broad Churchmen, that in their teaching they cling more closely to the letter and spirit of St. Paul's doctrine on this great subject, than any of the theorists whose propositions Mr. Leslie Stephen would urge upon our acceptance as the indispensable condition of our title to be called Christians.
Mr. Stephen, however, though even hyper-candid in crediting the Broad-Church clergy with sincerity of conviction and purity of purpose, yet holds himself called on to say that the one great impression which their policy and preaching produce upon all competent persons is not that one may be rationalistic and yet Christian, but only that one can be "rationalistic and yet a clergyman." In other words, an English clergyman who really thinks for himself must be a conscientious impostor. He is wholly honourable, be it understood, at the same time, in the regard of Mr. Leslie Stephen ; but it is quite impossible that he can be a reasonable human being like Mr. Leslie Stephen, if he has the audacity to proclaim that he prefers the teaching of the New Testament to the glosses of Romish or Calvinistic pedants. In fact, he is so irate with the whole of the Liberal school, that one would fancy some one or more of them had conferred upon him some special benefit ; and the quite grotesque way in which he is patronising enough to laud Mr. Maurice, and then rushes off to compassionate the poor students who had the misfor- tune to listen to his prelections in King's College, is a specimen of "plain-speaking and free-thinking" quite sufficient to form a psychological curiosity in the annals of "Literature and Dogma." The Church of England has not ceased to be Christian because it has dropped the Romish doctrines of Mariolatry and Purgatory ; and Mr. Leslie Stephen notwithstanding, we will still main- tain that Bishop Hampden, Mr. Maurice, Dr. Macleod Campbell, and the Bishop of Argyle were Christians, though none of them could subscribe the current hypothesis respecting the Atonement. We further hold that it woul4 be a faithless dereliction of duty on the part of Broad Churchmen if they were to forfeit their present position, and forgetful of the great liberating judgment in the case of Essays and Reviews, were to announce to the world that the Christianity of the Church of England is wholly unpro- gressive, and must elect for ever to abide by the light of other days.
Adverting to -the second alternative alluded to above, that relating to Christ's life, we cannot but note how delightfully in- consistent Mr. Leslie Stephen is in writing about it. He main- tain, on the one hand, that we aremot Christians unless we hold the dogma of• Christ's divinity,- an assertion which would exclude from the Christian pale even such devout Unitarians as Mr. John Hamilton Thom and Mr. James Martineau, and then he turns round with great complacency to inform us that Christ's example becomes wholly worthless the moment that he is regarded as pos- sessed of any higher than merely human attributes. We are very sorry to have to write here, but at the same time we cannot help writing, that this fashion of plain-speaking and free-thinking is very hie the dog in the manger, for we are told in the same breath that to believe in Christ's divinity is absolutely essential to genuine Christianity, but the moment you entertain that belief the life of Christ ceases to be influential, and becomes a mere phantasmagoric appearance, from the consideration of which no lessons can possibly be derived for the guidance of our own daily histories. Clearly, however, it is not Broad Churchmen in this instance to whom the epithet " Christian " must be denied, and who must underlie the charge of dogmatic illiberality. But the point which chiefly concerns us here is that, while withholding any expression of opinion respecting the creed of the Unitarian, we claim to be Christians with St. Paul in our admiration of a life, which touches us with all the profounder emotion, because it was one of voluntary humiliation. Apparently Mr. Leslie Stephen is unable to believe that a being higher than man could stoop to sympathy with humanity, but, nevertheless, we are old-fashioned enough to affirm that it FM the transcendent element in the "mind of Christ" which rendered it for the great Apostle of the Gentiles the source of life-long inspiration, and as we said above, it could only then be affirmed with truth respecting us that we are not Christians, if we ceased to maintain that in Christ's life there was such a confluence of the divine and human elements as rendered it at once an object of worship and an example, in the imitation of which our own lives would rise into an indefi- nitely higher elevation. No doubt the life of Christ., if con- ceived of only as that of one seeking after God, would still be very beautiful, and might, perhaps, consistently be regarded as unique in human story ; but the same life appeals to our hearts, with a measureless increase of significance, if regarded as unveiling a specially divine element, which came among us in great humility, to show us the Father of our spirits and lead us back to Him. When, as Mr. Leslie Stephen reminds us, we find the founder of the Positive Philosophy worshipping the memory of a dead woman, we have no ,very great temptation to surrender, for such a plaintive parody of the deepest aspirations of the human soul, the Christian worship of a perfect Father, revealed to us in a life that stooped to our humblest needs, and which is to us, in the divinest sense of the word, more "miraculous" than any of the mighty deeds ascribed to Him by the Evangelists.