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science is not merely an accumulation of new facts, but a correction and an advancement of human opinion on them.
Religion is as purely a question of facts as any other science, and it has this special advantage, that the ultimate facts have been held implicitly or explicitly from the first. Thus, on the soterial side we have—(1) Humanity is a race, only capable of full development and perfect government as a race. (2) Man is a sinner, not only because he has violated the Divine law, but because he has a nature tending to sin, and consequently to deterioration. (3) In opposition to his Creator and King man cannot improve, because all such opposition is the living of an unnatural life. (4) Man has neither the disposition nor the power to turn himself back again to God. (5) As the tendency to deterioration has come from the disobedience of the first father, who has transmitted his taint to all his posterity, so the Creator, in His wisdom and love, has remedied this lapse of the first man, in its transmitted influence, by the substitution of the God-man in the place of Adam, that, so far as the spiritual side of our nature is concerned, He might become the new fountain
of life, which does not fail any man but by his own voluntary rejection of its promptings. This does not remove the taint, but it is the sanatory power which is to master the disease and restore the soul to health. (6) This sanatory power has been introduced into humanity by the Incarnation of the Son of God. Beyond these facts we cannot go, but we may use all the illustrations of their influence which the facts of past and present time supply; and in doing this we are as truly scientific, and are as much within the range of real proof, as the geologist or chemist in his discoveries and classifications.
It must be remembered, that in the science of religion, as in all the other sciences, contradictions can only come from the subject-matter of the science itself. Facts of optics cannot contradict facts of gravitation, nor can they be employed to modify their force or value. In like manner, the whole range of mechanical science cannot supply rules for vital operation; and on the same grounds, neither vital nor physical modes of operation can be applied as the measure of religious facts. The ultimate facts above mentioned can only be modified by other equally well-established facts, in the same side of human nature, and of equally direct connection with the relations we sustain to one another and to our Maker and King. We should lightly esteem the electrician who refused the conclusions of the chemist and the astronomer because he could neither measure nor prove them by the operations of electricity. And we can have no higher esteem for the physiologist who refuses to accept the unquestionable phenomena of the spiritual life because he cannot measure them by the pulsations of the brain, which pulsations he is, after all, unable to observe. Much more can no purely physical fact modify nor contradict a spiritual fact. It will be seen that we assert no new principle, but simply ask that the rule which is applied in all the other sciences should be applied in this also.
Pursuing the course already indicated, we contend that the incarnation of the Son of God, and His consequent death, has not only a vicarious influence, by which the whole race is put into a more favourable relation to the Divine
government than the original one, but that it has established a vital individual union of the God-man with the whole
But we must remember, that it is a
union with a race, every member of which has the power of spontaneous thought, emotion, and action; and therefore, although the influence be recovering and improving, it cannot be coercive, because the nature can only be recovered and improved in harmony with itself; and therefore, in the measure in which it is improved, the spontaneity or freedom of volition will be increased likewise. Thus, while the law will be more and more fully obeyed, even in its outward commandments, yet the action will be more spontaneous—it will be a free choice; because the whole law, both that which is written in the nature, and that which is imposed from above the nature, is the perfect law of liberty.' This comes from the fact that the whole law is natural, required by,
, and tending to the improvement of the individual and the community.
To this law the spiritual life conforms the nature, and therefore, as the power of that life increases, the writing within, which in the lower stages of the life was scarcely legible, now stands forth in brilliant clearness, and as a consequence obedience is rendered as the most natural, pleasant, and unfettered action.
In the stage above indicated, there is little
fear of failure, but in the earlier stages great difficulty occurs in bringing the soul under this saving rule. In accordance with the general order of the world, man begins his life in helpless infancy, and only gradually learns his own individual powers by their exercise. In the normal condition, this period of pre-personal recognition is passed in a state of absolute subjection to rule, and so is suited to the beginning of a life which, by necessity of nature, is under the rule of law for ever. If, therefore, the rule of the infant were uniform and complete, and, moreover, were always exercised in avowed and real subordination to the supreme authority, we might expect, that as conscious individuality dawned and brightened into a full recognition of its powers and obligations, there would be a gradual progress into a full acknowledgment of the supreme authority, and submission to it.
This, however, is a condition of things which we seldom or never witness. The infantile rule is imperfect in all its parts; its exercise is fitful, arbitrary, often only personal, and therefore in its assumed supremacy it leads away from the true supreme, while not unfrequently its influence is wholly opposed to