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in a different faith, he would endeavour to learn from him the ground of his dissent in order that he might establish or correct his own belief.
And that is just the happy result which is beginning to accrue from the attempt to study theology in a systematic manner. When men, instead of clinging to their old traditions and prejudices and contemning the grandest revelations of modern science because they conflict with those preconceptions, shall have gathered together from the physical universe, as well as from the pages of history, all the materials necessary for a true understanding of the nature of that God who is now, as of old, often ignorantly worshipped, then will theology, instead of being the bone of contention which keeps men asunder and narrows their intellects, become the broadest, grandest, and the most edifying of all sciences which the human mind can grasp and study. This truth is already beginning to dawn upon mankind, and it is the object of the author of these pages, a layman addressing the laity who are beginning to think for themselves, to indicate the direction which, in his humble view, such studies are likely to take in the future, and to suggest one of many methods of thought which may be useful to scientific theologians. When, however, he says, “a layman addressing the laity,” it is far from the author's wish to cast a slur upon the priesthood of any denomination; and to those large-minded and liberal ministers of religion who are to be found alike amongst Christians, Jews, and so
far as his experience has enabled him to judge, amongst Parsees, and in other oriental denominations, the following imperfect outlines will, he hopes, not be without some interest. But the materials for the composition of a systematic book on theology are not yet at hand. In order to form anything like a correct conception of the Deity and to study his attributes, we require data which are at present either uncertain or wholly wanting. It is impossible to ascertain with accuracy at what particular period in the history of Man he gave expression to this or that view of the Deity, inasmuch as the most contrary opinions exist; even amongst theologians of one and the same school, as to the chronology of their sacred writings. Hence it is most difficult to trace the development of the image of God as it has been reflected in the human mind. And so, too, in science, there is hardly a theory of importance which is not debated and controverted; and until we are in full possession of at least all the leading facts in the history of creation it will be impossible to deduce with accuracy the laws which are based thereon—the laws of the Creator. In order to add to this perplexity, we find that the students of theology, the believers in revelation as the infallible guide of Man in all matters of theological faith (and who arrogate to themselves the sole claim to communion with the Deity), and the apostles of science, instead of coming to each other's aid in their incapacity and ignorance, stand aloof from one another, each
watching with hatred, fear, and jealousy, every step which the other attempts to make in advance.
These circumstances naturally multiply the difficulties of those who seek to obtain a glimpse of the Deity as He is revealed in nature and tradition, and they must serve as an additional excuse for the inaccuracies, and there will doubtless be many, in the following essay, concerning the plan of which little need be added. The first part is devoted to the contemplation of pictures of the Deity, transferred from the pages of tradition. They have been sketched from the Veda, the Old Testament, the four Gospels, and the devotional works of modern Christians, including Churchmen, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Wesleyans, Independents, and Unitarians; and in the concluding chapter of that part of the work an effort has been made to collect into one survey those various conceptions of the Godhead. In the second part it has been attempted to systematise the study of His attributes as reflected in nature, but the merest outline is presented to the reader, to be filled up from the treasures of Science, by abler minds, should any be found willing to adopt the scheme shadowed forth. Here the author, after having briefly, but as frankly as possible, dealt with the conflict between Science and Orthodoxy, a conflict which it is as dishonest as it is futile to conceal or deny, has availed himself of the observations of the most advanced scientific thinkers and investigators of the day, rather than of his own
limited experience, to trace by the inductive method the existence and action of God in nature. In so doing he has retained as far as possible the terms and ideas extant and familiar to the general reader, concerning physical and vital force and the operation of those forces. He has sought to explain why the argument from design has been so violently assailed and wherein it has failed, and has endeavoured to re-state that argument upon a broader and he trusts a more permanent basis.
Finally, after devoting a brief chapter to the consideration of the realms of nature in which the perfections of God may be made the subjects of an edifying study, the author has essayed to combine in one view, the two revelations of Him as they are seen in science and in tradition, and the more prominent features of which are found to coincide, and to present a real and lifelike image of Him whom no human eye has seen.
As it has been already stated, the author claims for his essay only a suggestive value, and there is one injunction with which he would accompany its publication. Let not his adverse criticisms upon any phase of faith, even if they should seem unjust or severe, lead the disciple of that faith to believe that his religion is contemned. It is very difficult for a writer, born and nurtured in theological liberty and accustomed all his life to criticism, to feel the bonds which fetter the reason of those who have been rigidly trained as
members of a sect, or fully to understand and appreciate the devotion with which those sacred bonds are regarded by their wearers; and therefore he may be apt to let his thoughts and pen run riot a little when he treats of what appear to him to be theological errors. But the reader is earnestly asked to believe, first, that the author respects all sincere worshippers of whatever faith, and that nothing is farther from his wish than to wound their feelings; and secondly, that he is deeply impressed with the fact that every religion which has for its object the elevation of Man, is in so far a true religion as it is the direct influence or inspiration of a perfect God into imperfect human minds.
This principle applies equally, as a matter of course, to the original views enunciated in the following essay; and if that appears to the reader to contain offensive errors, let him attribute them to the fallible reason and imperfect knowledge of the author, and let him seek to benefit by what appears to be true, ennobling or hope-inspiring, for that at least he may feel satisfied proceeds from Him concerning whom these pages seek, however unworthily, to treat.