SERMONS BY THE PRESIDENT OF CHESHUNT COLLEGE.* MR. REYNOLDS is
one of the ablest, most cultivated, and liberal of the theologians of the Independent denomination, and it is a good sign for the future of that denomination that it trusts its young men to one so little marked by any sectarian narrowness, so much distinguished by the catholic spirit of the profoundest modern theology. There is not a little of course in these sermons with which we cannot sympathize, but comparatively very little in proportion to that with which we feel the heartiest sympathy. What strikes us more than any positive discord of conviction between Mr. Reynolds and ourselves, is his omission to protest against the narrow bigotry of the prevalent orthodoxy where to any one who feels that bigotry oppressively a protest would seem most natural,—but where probably to most of Mr. Reynolds' de- nomination silence was itself a protest conveying clearly enough theimpression of a new and more catholic spirit. These sermons are almost entirely upon the Christian life, rather than on the intellectual questions of the day. Still perhaps the most strik- ing sign of the new temper of modern theology, is the strong tendency to involve intellectual with moral and spiritual ques- tions, and to bridge over that gulf between them which was so convenient to theologians, but so fatal to any reality in our faith. Mr. Reynolds obeys this tendency in more than one of his sermons, and it is when he does so that we most completely realize at once how moderate and free from bigotry is his spirit, and yet how many of what we should call the deepest truths of the modern theology are still unwelcome, if not strangd to him.
Take, for example, the last, not, we think, by any means one of the best, of these sermons,—on " The Judgment of God." This is how Mr. Reynolds criticizes doubters of immortality:— "But oh, my brother, your opinion about 'for ever' can have no manner of effect upon the reality of that for ever !' A party of boatmen on the Niagara river may have a very strong opinion when they are caught by the rapids that it is very pleasant rowing ; but neither their shouts nor their merriment will alter the fact that the world's cataract is close at hand. You have a strong opinion that hell fire is a delusion ; that they are superstitious, and cruel, and ignorant who ask you to pause, and awake, and prepare for this coming, this continued retribution ; but your opinion will not have the slightest, the remotest, the minutest influence on the tremendous fact. I know you may retort upon me, that my opinion that there is such retribution makes no difference, and will have no bearing on the fact. I honestly allow that ; but I should like to know which of us on either alternative is the best off ; the man who believes in God, in godliness, in redemption, in the power of penitence or faith, in the might of the great sacrifice, and who lives in full view of another world ; or he, who having an opinion that they are delusions, does yet, in spite of universal conscience and God's holy revelation, deliberately suspend his judgment and postpone his preparation ? Even should I grant that the Christian may now be deceived, that the Apostles and Prophets, that Jesus Christ, that every great world-teacher, that all the wisest, and noblest, and best of men have in this matter been the most deluded and ignorant of mortals, then let us praise God they have never been undeceived! If there be no for ever' there are none to feel the chagrin of their broken hearts or baffled hopes. It has been a kind delusion, brightening death-beds, and spreading sunshine over open graves' • and no believer in eternity, no man prepared for heaven, no child of God who was longing to behold Him, is really disappointed. But if there be a future life, he who has treated it as a delusion will be sternly and terribly undeceived when it is too late."
We know how many theologians of great name have used this last argument,—the argument that if, believing in a future life, it turn out a delusion, you will be none the worse, indeed the better, by that delusion, for the time it has brightened your existence ; whereas, if doubting it, it turn out a reality, you will be "sternly and terribly undeceived when it is too late," as one worthy of a reasonable man's consideration. To us it seems quite the reverse. If there is any marked nobility in the vaguer spirit of modern theology as compared with the stricter and older orthodoxy, it is in the peremptory determination to face facts, whether sad or plea- sant, quite apart from their sadness or pleasantness. It seems to
* Notes of the Christian Are. A Selection of Sermons preached by Henry Robert Reynolds, ae., President of Cheahunt College, and Fellow of Uuiversity College, London. Loudon and Cambridge: Macmillan.
us that to urge calculation on a hypothetical immortality is entirely contrary to the spirit of revelation, and an outrage on the conscience which it has educated among us of the present genera- tion. There is something so ignoble in the argument as to tend to strengthen a sceptic to whom it is urged in his disbelief, instead of to convince him. The highest element in the modern scientific feeling is the delicate, the accurate intellectual sincerity it tends to force upon us. What scientific man on the eve of a great discovery would think of inclining to one result,—say as to the nature of light or electricity,—rather than another, on the ground that if it turned out in the one way he should make a fortune, and if in the other, he should make none? So, the question of immor- tality, one of the highest of human questions, is not to be perplexed by considerations of that class, and we have the profoundest belief that it is the tendency among theologians to present this sort of spuri- ous consideration which does so much to lower theology in the minds of many thinking men. It has always seemed to us not a little re- markable that God should have revealed Himself to so iany genera- tions of Jews before He raised in their hearts the question of immor- tality distinctly at all. Was not that on the veryground whichtheolo- glans now are so apt to forget,—that a faith in immortality must be founded upon profound faith in God, and rest solely upon it, to be of any service at all ? Faith in God made men righteous with- out any creed as to their own future. Faith in rewards and punishments, if it could be conceived without faith in God and His righteousness,—and it can be conceived, or Mr. Reynolds' argu- ment on the hypothesis of a possible blunder could never be presented at all,—would probably make men worse than no faith at all.
We have given this as a specimen of many subordinate and implied theological opinions on which we find ourselves widely separated from Mr. Reynolds, and which it would be impossible to enumerate here. On the other hand, there are many sermons of the finest and most catholic spirit, for which we feel the deepest sympathy and sincere admiration. The missionary sermon,—preached on occasion of the despatch of a Chinese mis- sionary,—is one of these, excepting only perhaps some few phrases which appear to mean (though of this we are not sure, and it seems to us contrary to the whole spirit of the sermon) that Confucius, and Gautama, and Mohammed were teachers of evil systems, and not.
rather of thoughts as good as it was given them to reach. The sermon on "The Opened Eye," again, seems to us full of fine thought and pure theology,—and also that on " God's Holiness. and Man's." We may take from this last the following specimen of Mr. Reynolds' style, which is always masculine and vigorous, sometimes rich and eloquent, and sometimes also, though rarely, quite too ornate for his subject :—
" That which reveals to the Christian the holiness of the divine cha- racter is of a higher order than that which flashed the same truth upon the mind of the ancient Hebrew. The fact and the consideration, the practical duty, the bright prospect, the living truth, which made Moses, David, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and others feel that God is holy, was of less. general interest, of lower intensity, of humbler pitch, than that which the meanest mind may now easily apprehend. The holiness of God was as much a reason for the holiness of Israel, as the holiness of our Father is the reason for our holiness. The ancient covenant between God and His people is productive of the same results as the relation between our souls and our Father which is in heaven. Thus it comes to pass that though 'the river of the water of life' which has issued out of the throne of God and of the Lamb looks a very different thing from that which leaped from the mountains of Horeb and dashed down the narrow gorge of Judaism, yet it was the same stream, under different aspects, and whoever has drunk at the brink has not afterwards thirsted, and the water thus given him has been within him 'a well of water springing up into everlasting life."
The volume as a whole marks the high-tide line of culture and faith in the Independent denomination. We have said that we cannot always agree with Mr. Reynolds, but his ser- mons are as far beyond the sermons which would have been acceptable to those who jealously guarded the orthodoxy of young Independent ministers a generation ago, as the theology of Mr. Maurice is beyond the theology of Dr. Whately.