A Series of Ten Lectures
Scientific & Christian Intuitions
- CHRISTIAN INTUITION.
- INTUITION DEFINED.
- OBJECTIVE INTUITION.
-- SUBJECTIVE INTUITION OF CHRISTIAN ETHICS.
- OF TRUTHS APPERTAINING TO GOD.
- OF TRUTHS APPERTAINING TO CHRIST.
- EVIDENTIAL VALUE OF INTUITION.
I PROPOSE this evening to compare the evidence of intuition for the ultimate and fundamental truths of science with the evidence for the alleged truths of Christianity derived from the same source.
Intuition is the last test of science. When facts and phenomena have been duly collated, when experiments have been fully made, when partial inductions have been generalized, and a law or principle of extended application has been reached, it seems to the scientific man a necessary truth. He sees, not only that it is, but that it must be. It becomes self-evident, and forms thenceforward a part of his scientific consciousness. No universal scientific truth is fully established, until it is thus intuitively recognized as, of a priori necessity, appertaining to the department of science which it defines and comprehends.
A like intuition the Christian possesses as the result of his experience. He may at the outset rest for his belief mainly on testimony; he may enter on a series of experiments in Christian living with faith rather than with knowledge : but, if he is true to his own soul, the time comes when he sees and knows from his own spiritual intuitions the verities of his religion; the excellence of its precepts; the beauty, holiness, loveliness, power of its Author. There is a stage at which argument or cavil may impair or overthrow his belief. There is a stage at which the truths of Christianity and the divine attributes of its Founder have so become a part of his own consciousness, that no force of reasoning can by any possibility dislodge them. Here, for instance, is a lone widow, who has been a mark for all the shafts of adverse fortune. Poor, infirm, lowly in estate, she has no treasure but her Bible, no hope but in its promises, no fountain of joy but that which flows "fast by the oracles of God." Yet she has a peace more profound, a joy more intense, than worlds could give. Her soul is a living transcript of the evangelic record. Her prayer is not the groping after an unknown God, but, as it were, a face-to-face communion. Her heaven is not in the far-off future, but in her own beatific experience. She has realized the promises. She has entered into the rest that remaineth for the people of God. Ply her with all the infidel arguments that have been started from the days of Celsus to the present moment, you cannot ruffle for an instant the serenity of her faith and trust. She knows whom she has believed. His life throbs in her veins. His words are strung in the living fibres of her whole being. She feels herself transformed into his image, - a member of his body; and who shall separate her from the love of Christ? Now this intuitive knowledge of Christianity has been possessed by thousands for every one who has intuitive knowledge of scientific truths.
It is, moreover, the prerogative of Christianity over all other religions that its alleged truths can thus become intuitions. There could have been no intuition of the ceremonial law, which forms an essential part of Judaism. There can be no intuition of the vaga-ries of the Koran, of the avatars of the Hindoo mythology, of the chimæras of Buddhism. But there is not a (so-called) truth of Christianity, which, if true, is not of such a nature that it may, in some form or measure, enter into the consciousness, and thus rest on the same evidence on which we believe in our own existence. This statement cannot indeed be made as to the individual facts of the biography of Christ, nor yet as to the objective side of certain Christian doctrines : but the facts of Christ's life are mere tokens of and pointers to the spiritual relations in which he professes to stand to the individual soul, as a sure guide, as a safe exemplar, as an infallible teacher, as an all-sufficient Saviour, and these relations, if real, may all become subjects of consciousness; while of the doctrines of Christianity there is not one which is simply and solely objective.
Let us not, however, content ourselves with general statements. Let us see what intuition comprehends, and how far, or under what conditions, it is availing as a source of evidence.
Intuition is inlooking. It is intellectual perception. It is that apprehension of the truth which comes not from reasoning or proof, but from the nature of the case, from the nature of our own minds, or both. What we perceive intuitively shines either in its own light, or in light which we ourselves cast upon it. It either is self-evident, or it has the attestation of our own consciousness, and needs no other proof.
Intuition may thus be either objective or subjective. We may either so look into the object-matter of our thought or inquiry as to see in it that which could not but have been, - that which, once apprehended, is its own sufficient evidence; or we may so look in upon our remembered and current experience as to recognize in it truths so manifest as to need no other proof than that of consciousness. Objective intuition has its chief scope in the mathematical and physical sciences; subjective, in mental and moral philosophy. Both objective and subjective are claimed in behalf of Christianity.
I will first speak of objective intuition. Christianity alone gives us a tenable theory of the universe. Independently of revelation, there are in the universe unmistakable and innumerable tokens of design, and thus of an intelligent Creator; of beneficent design, and thus of a merciful Creator. There are, in every department of nature, not chance coincidences, but organisms, processes, and products, which are manifestly adapted to the enjoyment of man and of other sentient beings, and which can have no other destina-tion, can serve no other purpose. There are, on the other hand, no organisms, processes, or products, of
which the necessary and inevitable tendency is the creation of pain, grief, or misery; but in the course of events physical evil is incidental, or subsidiary to greater good; its agencies, such as may be evaded, controlled, neutralized, often transformed and utilized, so that in proportion to the growth of man's intelli-gence they become subject to his command, and constantly tend to disappear. Man's own native powers of mind and soul, in their normal exercise, in the only exercise of them which the developed intellect can approve, tend to his self-respect, his growth in intelligence and capacity, and his enduring happiness. There is, however, in human society, and there has been in all past ages, an overwhelming amount of degradation and misery, almost all of which is visibly due to the depraved will of man. To this are chargeable, not only the immediate consequences of vice and sin, but as surely, though less directly, by far the larger part of the poverty, hardship, and physical infirmity and suffering in the world; for in a community of saints there would be no abject want, no social oppression or depression, and probably an ever-diminishing heritage of bodily disease and pain.
That a beneficent Creator should suffer this deteriorated condition of what is in potential capacity his noblest work upon earth to remain uncared for, is inconceivable. That he should provide in man and around him all possible powers of and materials for happiness, and yet leave him to make himself vile, and to bequeath from generation to generation, to the end of time, an accumulating burden of depravity and misery, would imply either a lack of power, which cannot be in him whose Omnipotence has its record in the vastness, order, and harmony of creation"; or a lack of love, which cannot be in him whose tender mercy is manifested in every realm, nay, in every nook, cranny, and crevice of the universe, which is not perverted or made unfruitful by human guilt. Free agency, which is essential to man's highest dignity and happiness, may, indeed, in the nature of things have rendered his fall and guilt inevitable, notwithstanding the infinite goodness of God; and it may be of inestimable benefit to the race as a whole that man should have been left in the earlier stages of his history to solve all great moral problems by a sad experience, which, we believe, is to have immeasurably more than its counterpart in the ultimate reign of righteousness. But we should antecedently expect to find in the divine economy the antidote and remedy for moral evil. This antidote, this remedy, can consist only in God's revelation of his being and will; in the establishing on the earth of a regenerating agency; in the forgiveness of sins repented and forsaken; in help for those who seek to be delivered from inherited or acquired proclivity to evil; in a power of amelioration and progress for the race in this world; and in a state of being in which human virtue, at best imperfect and inchoate here, yet capable of indefinite growth, may have its full consummation. In Christianity, and nowhere else, we have precisely what might have been thus anticipated. We have a revelation of God in the person of Christ, of the law of God in his precepts and his life; a regenerating power in his whole earthly ministry; the forgiveness of sins in his cross and sacrifice; help for our infirmities in the Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Father and the Son in accordance with his promise; a power of progress in his everlasting Gospel; eternal life made manifest in his resurrection. Moreover, by his emphatic recognition of the Hebrew Scriptures as authentic, we learn that God had never "left himself without witness" in the world; that primeval revelation preceded even man's first transgression; that the knowledge of divine things, given to man, was lost by man; that this knowledge was at intervals renewed, only to be circumscribed and obscured by the depraved wills of those on whom it was bestowed; and thus that Christ came, not after ages in which God had abandoned men wholly to their own evil devices, but as the supreme term of a culminating series of interpositions on his part for the relief, reformation, and spiritual training of his human family.
We thus, and thus only, can reconcile the history of man with the being, omnipotence, and infinite love of God. We thus, and thus only, have a rational and consistent theory of the universe, - a God who has never forsaken his own work; a free agency whose proclivity -to evil has never been left without check or remedy; a redemption and everlasting salvation for all who, under whatever culture, are faithful to such light as they have received and such law as they know; a provision by which, without annulling human freedom, sin is to be purged away, the right to culminate, and the reign of God to be ultimately established in the realm of living souls no less than in outward nature. The system is coherent and complete. It satisfies, if I may so speak, the scientific consciousness. To the Christian it not only seems to be true, but he cannot conceive of its not being true. It comes to him through what he receives as the record of divine revelation; but it justifies itself, - it is its own evidence. Still more, it adds confirmation to the very record from which it is derived. We are certain, from such evidence as has been presented in former Lectures, that the Gospels are genuine and authentic; but evidence of a different and even higher type is furnished by the coherence of their contents among themselves, and with what beside is known of God and man. I say, evidence of a higher, not a surer type : for testimony may be - and is, as I have attempted to show you in this matter - sufficiently multiform, explicit, and strong, to produce absolute certainty of conviction; yet there is a more vivid and realizing sense of the veracity of the sacred records, when their contents thus present intrinsic tokens of their truth. While testimony prepares the way for intuition, intuition calls forth the testimony of our own apprehensive powers to supplement the witnesses from without, - indeed, transfers us from the number of those who depend on testimony to the list of those who themselves bear testimony.
We pass now to subjective intuition, or the evidence of Christian consciousness. As I have said, there is no alleged truth of Christianity which may not be tried by this test, and in behalf of which this evidence is not claimed. Such is the case, in the first place, with the ethics of the Gospel. There were in the Sermon on the Mount and in various other portions of the teachings of Christ not a few things so entirely opposed to the mind, voice, and practice of antiquity, as to have made a hard strain upon the faith even of the most docile hearers. It is worthy of remark that it was not any dogmatic statement, but the command to forgive an offending brother seven times in a day, that called forth the exclamation from the disciples, " Lord, increase our faith," - forbearance that could not be wearied out by pertinacity in wrong-doing seemed to them so utterly unreasonable and impossible. Indeed, had not their Master embodied his precept in his life, and re-enacted it on the cross in the prayer for his murderers, it may be doubted whether his followers would ever have had faith enough to make experiment of it But no one has made trial of it, and persevered in so doing, who has not been profoundly conscious of its divine excellence; for it has been as proof-armor to the soul against all assaults from without; it has blunted the keenest weapons of calumny and malevolence; it has kept the spirit in sweet serenity under insult, provocation, and violence, and has made it more than conqueror in its conflicts with evil. Similar has been uniform Christian experience as to the seeming paradox that " it is more blessed to give than to receive." The imperial glutton craved a hundred palates, that he might multiply indefinitely the coarse indulgence of the table. His brutal wish is the type of what has been enjoyed by those who have followed their Master as he went about doing good. They have inwardly fed at every table that they have spread for the needy. They have drunk living waters from every fountain and rivulet of charity that has flowed from their fulness, or trickled from the scanty, yet glad munificence of their penury. They have had as many sources of pure felicity as there are hearts and lives that they have made happy. Above all, when by example, influence, and active effort, they have healed men's spiritual infirmities, shed light upon their darkened souls, led their wandering steps into the path of eternal salvation, they have literally entered into the joy of their Lord, have received immeasurably more than they gave, have drawn a revenue beyond all proportion to their expenditure, have had in their own beatific consciousness the foregleamings of the heaven to which they have pointed and led the way.
Thus, also, have those who have made trial of humility found in it exaltation. It has raised them above the world. It has given them an unassailable position among their brethren. It has in unnumbered instances brought them much larger honor and pro-founder deference than they disclaimed; and even when this has not been the case, it has fortified them against disesteem and misappreciation by the consciousness of the honor that comes from God, and by the realizing foresight of the chief places that shall be theirs, when the Lord shall find them in the lowest room, and shall say to them, " My friends, go up higher."
A like consciousness attests the truths concerning God in his relations to man, promulgated through Christ. The divine Providence is a truth of consciousness. That "all things work together for good to those who love God," the mature Christian needs no longer to learn from the record of the apostle; for the apostle's experience is repeated in his own soul. As he looks back on the way in which God has led him, he sees that it was for him the safe and the best way. He has had trials, but they have strengthened his faith and deepened his joy. He has had sorrows; but the bread of affliction has been to him the bread of life, - in the valley of weeping he has drunk of fountains that flow from the river before the throne of God. He has parted from those with whom half his own life seemed to go; but they have opened for him new avenues to the upper rooms in his Father's house. He has had experiences that have loosened his roots in his native soil; but the vine, unearthed, has struck out tendrils that have clung closer and climbed higher around the tree of eternal life. Thus in the faithful soul is God's loving providence so fully verified, that no words of holy writ can bear to it more explicit testimony than is borne by the inner consciousness of the believer.
The efficacy of prayer is verified in like manner. The Christian knows that he has never prayed in vain. True, there have been specific petitions that have not had their specific answers; but even these have been more than answered. So was it with Jesus himself, and it is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master. He prayed that the cup might pass from him, - it passed not; but there appeared an angel from heaven, strengthening him. So the great apostle prayed that " the thorn in the flesh " - some bodily infirmity which he feared would prove disabling- might be removed, - it was not removed; but it was said to him, " My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness," and he thenceforth gloried in his infirmities, through and above which the power of Christ rested upon him. The Christian finds that prayer and sin, prayer and hopeless sorrow, cannot coexist; that prayer disarms temptation, renders prosperity safe and adversity sweet, makes work worship and joy gratitude, his home a sanctuary, the house of merchandise his Father's house. It more than keeps the soul; for it gives over its guardianship to him of whom it is written, " He that keepeth thee will not slumber." Thus does the consciousness of the praying soul bear perpetual testimony to the words of Jesus, " Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."
Christian consciousness equally attests the truths appertaining to Christ in his relation to the human soul. Do you ask, How is it that in this field of thought there have been so many diverse, nay, opposite theories, while a common consciousness ought to make some approach to a common expression of itself? I answer, that the dogmatic differences among Christians relate to those aspects of Christ's nature and work which cannot be subjects of consciousness; while as to the part which he bears in Christian experience there is a substantial agreement. Who Christ is, cannot be determined by unconsciousness; but I can know what he does, what he is, for me, to me, and in me. There is a divine side of Christ's work of redemption of which I cannot be conscious; but if he has wrought that work for and in me, I can know from my own consciousness the blessedness of having received the atonement, - the inward assurance of forgiveness and reconciliation with God, - the peace, not as the world gives, which flows from the heart of Christ into the heart of his disciple. In fine, the Christian is inwardly conscious of influences at work in his heart and upon his life, which precisely correspond to the power of Christ's death and the power of his resurrection, - influences of which he had no experience till he came within the sphere of Christ's attraction, of which he cannot conceive as flowing from any other source, and through which he feels that he is brought into a vital union with Christ, corresponding to that of the branch with the parent-vine. The physiology, if I may so term it, of Christian regeneration is described with no little diversity of nomenclature; but the phenomena of consciousness which attend it - the death to sin, the consecrated will, the affections set on things above, the fruits of the Divine Spirit in the heart and life - are the same in those whose forma] theories vary however widely; and they are such phenomena as are not alleged to be produced by any other than Christian belief, culture, or influence.
To the individual soul this consciousness of Christian verities, is, of course, the most convincing of all proofs, surpassing even objective intuition. What one feels he cannot but believe; and when there has been for him a source from which he knows that he has derived peculiar inward experiences, it is impossible that he should not associate the source and the experiences as cause and effect. He, the better part of whose being and life has taken shape consciously through the instrumentality of the Gospel of Christ, so far as outward means are concerned, and, inwardly, through an influence upon the soul corresponding in all its characteristics to the influence which Jesus promised should rest upon his followers, cannot but believe in Christ and his Gospel with a positiveness and strength of conviction such as experience alone can produce.
We now arrive at the question, What is the evidential value of intuition to those outside of the Christian circle? Can the scientific or spiritual consciousness of one man be made availing to another, and, if so, how? I answer, first, that the attitude in which intuitive conviction places the Christian believer, inspires, extends, deepens such faith as falls short of intuition. When those who call themselves Christians have a faith like Penelope's web, daily unravelled and rewoven, yielding to every show of cavil or scepticism, bending before every adverse blast, Christianity receives ghastly wounds in the house of its professed friends, is tolerated rather than honored by those outside of its household, and, so far from making new converts, drops from time to time those who hang loosely on its skirts. Equally, when the faith that exists, though firm and unyielding, is traditional and not vital, when the Church clings to its belief without being penetrated by its spirit and its power, unbelief prevails. The epochs when infidelity has been most rampant have been those at which externality rather than inwardness has been the prevailing type of the religious life; and, whenever that life has been so rekindled as to present the spectacle of intense and glowing vitality, unbelief has been arrested in its progress, and new confidence in Christian verities has taken possession of the collective mind of the community. Such faith - sincere, no doubt, of its kind, but dead-sure - as existed in the licentious court and the time-serving clergy of the age of Louis XIV, was among the chief causes of the French infidelity of the eighteenth century. The eminent champions of infidelity in England and Scotland, during the same century, were nurtured in the bosom of the easy-going Erastianism and luke-warmness of the national churches. Its tide was turned, not by the masterly and unanswerable defences of Christianity which it called forth, but by the infusion of spiritual life, alike into the establishments and the dissenting churches, under the auspices of Whitefield, Wesley, and their coadjutors. Men ceased to doubt and cavil when they witnessed a faith which indicated a profound, active, and influential consciousness of its contents.
Similar views would present themselves throughout Christendom, and in every period of its history. At the present moment, you might go from place to place, and in each community, in and around every congregation, you would find that the amount and strength of belief on the part of those not within the circle of professed Christian experience bear a very close proportion to the inwardness and energy of the faith of Christian men and women: the quiescent, worldly, and formalistic church being surrounded by people who either avow their scepticism, or do not think the subject of sufficient importance for them to take any cognizance of it; the living church, surrounded by those who give religion their assent, respect, and honor, and lie open to influences that may win them to sincere discipleship. This principle underlies all successful revivalism. Nothing can be done outside of the Church, till its inward life is renewed. The sole error of revivalism is that it seeks to make occasional and paroxysmal that which ought to be constant and perennial; for did the light shine as it ought and might always in the heart of the Church, it would be seen all the time, and there would be no pause in the accession of those who, seeing it, would give glory to their Father in heaven.
Nor is the conviction thus produced mere feeling. It has a logical basis. Intuition is a valid argument to those who have not attained to it. Even objective intuition is so. It is constantly admitted in other departments than religion. Of those who learn and implicitly believe the truths of science, of astronomy for instance, by far the greater number do not occupy a position in which they can have a clear scientific consciousness of them. Were these truths in the minds of their representative men mere hypotheses, they would be no more than hypotheses to other intelligent persons. But we take them on trust and believe them without a question, because we are assured by those who have given their lives to their investigation that they are so related to one another and to the phenomena of the universe, that they cannot but be true. Now it seems to me that we are similarly impressed by the clear vision of religious truth, which has been a characteristic of the greatest minds of these Christian ages. It is of no small worth to an intellect of feebler grasp that to such men as Milton, Newton, Boyle, Locke, Pascal, and a host beside that might be named, Christianity has seemed self-evident, shining in its own unborrowed light, incapable of being obscured by doubt or cavil. These men, indeed, believed with the heart no less than with the intellect; but their mere intellectual intuition is of itself an independent ground of argument. They were men in whom feeling could not have preceded or produced belief, as in many lesser minds. The eyes of their understanding were wide open. They had before them the grounds of unbelief; they could see round and through the objects of their faith; and that their faith was clear as sight and impregnable to doubt, may well give reassurance to intellects of less keen and comprehensive vision.
But, above all, subjective intuition furnishes valid ground for belief. The Christian camp presents, indeed, not a homogeneous aspect, but unnumbered rival hosts, often turning their arms against one another rather than against the common enemy. Yet there are points of view from which their differences are merged, their enmities harmonized. There are certain traits which are common to the best men of all sects. The definition of the Christian spirit and life given by one would be accepted by all. The same manuals of practical piety are in the hands of all. The same Christian lyrics are sung with equal fervor in sanctuaries that stand over against each other like Zion and Gerizim. To the prayers of each all would add a hearty amen. Were they brought together, forbidden the use of technical phraseology, and induced to utter in the simplest language their several modes of consciousness as to what Christ had done for them, their duty to God, to Christ, to man, their abnegation of self-dependence, their trust in a divine redemption, their hope full of immortality, there would be no Babel-like confusion of tongues, as when they parade their distinctive dogmas, but a sweet concent and heavenly harmony. Now those who would thus with one heart and voice reveal a common consciousness are the foremost men in the esteem of their fellow-men, the leaders in all good works, - those whose lives are confessedly pure, true, faithful, generous, holy. Is there not in the united testimony of such men of all ages, nations, and sects, evidence of no mean worth to that which they all affirm; namely, that Jesus Christ is the Sent of God, the Saviour of men, the Source of all excellence, the Inspirer of all virtue, the Way to the Father, the incarnate Truth, the eternal Life made manifest?
As in thought I take my stand outside of the Church, of any church, I am profoundly moved by the unanimity of this cloud of witnesses. Supposing myself not even in the humblest measure a partaker of their consciousness, I see evidently that it is in them not mere belief, but consciousness; that they are in their inmost souls so identified with Christ that you cannot separate them from him, with his Gospel that you cannot wrest it from their hearts; that to them, literally, "to live is Christ." I must believe that which is so interwoven with their whole being a reality, even though it have not become a reality to me. I must give my assent, though I be not yet ready to give my consent. The elect spirits of my race cannot be the slaves of a puerile superstition. Falsity and delusion cannot bear the noblest fruits that have ever ripened on earthly ground. Their lives give to their testimony a confirmation which I cannot disallow. Their manifest consciousness must constrain my faith. The Gospel which they profess not to believe, but to know as the truth, has proved itself to and in them " the power of God unto salvation " from folly and sin; and can I doubt that the salvation is divine and everlasting, as they believe it to be?
We thus see that as to intuition science and Christianity occupy the same ground, with this advantage on the side of Christianity, that the intuition is more intimate and vital, permeating the whole being, moulding the character, and manifesting its reality and intensity in the life to which it gives aim, direction, and end. How then, from the outer circle, can I accept the intuitions of scientific men, and reject those of Christian men? Or if I can with my own inward vision gain some clear and self-evidencing views of scientific truth, and at the same time trust that I have some measure of insight, independent of and above external proof, into Christian verities, how can I yield credence, as I must, to the former, and yet suffer aught of incredulity or doubt to obscure the latter?
I have now completed the plan which I announced in my first Lecture.
There is in our time no scepticism as to science, but only too willing
assent to whatever purports or claims to be science, though only in the
form of postulates or hypotheses. The established truths of science no
one is so bold as to call in question. Scientific truth rests on the joint
evidence of testimony, experiment, and intuition. I have shown you that
Christianity has in its behalf testimony unequalled in its clearness, fulness,
and validity; experiment, in a vast diversity of forms, in numberless individual
instances, and in the history of the civilized world for these eighteen
centuries; and professed and manifest intuition, on the part of the greatest
and best of our race through these same centuries,- I trust, also, in the
minds of not a few who have listened to me, and have borne witness in their
own consciousness to the divine worth and power of the everlasting Gospel,
and of him who is the believer's hope. Science and Christianity rest on
the same foundations. Let no one, then, suppose that he does honor to Christianity
by jealousy of science. Let no one imagine that he serves science by discrediting
Christianity. They are equally divine, equally from the inspiration of
God, and each has essential ministries for the other. Science illustrates
the very attributes of the Supreme Being which Christianity proclaims;
while Christianity prepares only the more generous receptivity for the
truth which God has written on all things that he has made. May we not,
then, join in the prayer of the great instaurator of the inductive philosophy?
" This also we humbly and earnestly beg, - that human things may not prejudice
such as are divine; neither that from the unlocking of the gates of sense,
and the kindling of a greater natural light, any thing may arise of incredulity
or intellectual night towards divine mysteries; but rather that by our
minds thoroughly purged and cleansed from fancy and vanity, and yet subject
and perfectly given up to the divine oracles, there may be given unto faith
the things that are faith's."