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True Greatness Of The Old Testament - Part 3

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Learned religion, however, the pseudo-science of dogmatic theology, merits no such indulgence. It is a separable accretion, which never had any business to be attached to Christianity, never did it any good, and now does it great harm, and thickens an hundredfold the religious confusion in which we live. Attempts to adopt it, to put a new sense into it, to make it plausible, are the most misspent labour in the world. Certainly no religious reformer who tries it, or has tried it, will find his work live.

Nothing is more common, indeed, than for religious writers, who have a strong sense of the genuine and moral side of Christianity, and who much enlarge on the pre-eminence of this, to put themselves right, as it were, with dogmatic theology, by a passing sentence expressing pro-found belief in its dogmas, though in discussing them, it is implied, there is little profit. So Mr. Erskine of Linlathen, that unwearying and much-revered exponent of the moral side of the Bible : ` It seems difficult,' he says, 'to conceive that any man should read through the New Testament candidly and attentively, without being convinced that the doctrine of the Trinity is essential to and implied in every part of the system.' Even already many readers of Mr. Erskine feel, when they come across such a sentence as that, as if they had suddenly taken gravel or sand into their mouth. Twenty years hence this feeling will he far stronger ; the reader will drop the book, saying that certainly it can avail him nothing. So, also, Bunsen was fond of maintaining, putting some peculiar meaning of his own into the words, that the whole of Christianity was in the Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith. Thus, too, the Bishop of Exeter chooses to say that his main objection to keeping the Athanasian Creed is, that it endangers the doctrine of the Trinity, which is so important. Mr. Maurice, again, that pure and devout spirit,—of whom, however, the truth must at last be told, that in theology he passed his life beating the bush with deep emotion and never starting the hare,—Mr. Maurice declared that by reading between the lines he saw in the Thirty-nine Articles and the Athanasian Creed the altogether perfect expression of the Christian faith.

But all this is mischievous as well as vain. It is vain, because it is meant to conciliate the so-called orthodox, and it does not conciliate them. Of his attachment to the doctrine of the Trinity the Bishop of Exeter may make what protestations he will, Archdeacon Denison will still smell a rat in them ; and the time has passed when Bunsen's Evangelical phrases could fascinate the Evangelicals. Such language, however, does also actual harm, because it proceeds from a misunderstanding and prolongs it. For it may be well to read between the lines of a man labouring with an experience he cannot utter ; but to read between the lines of a notion-work is absurd, for it is of the essence of a notion-work not to need it. And the Athanasian Creed is a notion-work, of which the fault is that its basis is a chimæra. It is an application of the terms of Greek logic to a chimæra, its own notion of the Trinity, a notion unestablished, not resting on observation and experience, but assumed to be given in Scripture, yet not really given there. Indeed the very expression, the Trinity, jars with the whole idea and character of Bible-religion. But, lest the Unitarian should be unduly elated at hearing this, let us hasten to add that so too, and just as much, does the expression, a Great Personal First Cause.

Learned pseudo-science applied to the data of the Bible is best called plainly what it is,—utter blunder ; criticism of the same order, and of which the futility will one day be just as visible, as that criticism about the two swords which some way back we quoted. To try to tinker such criticism only makes matters worse. The best way is to throw it aside altogether, and forget it as fast as possible. This is what the good of religion demands, and what all the enemies of religion would most deprecate. The hour for softening down, and explaining away, is passed ; the whole false notion-work has to go. Mild defences of it leave on the mind a sense of the defender's hopeless inability to perceive our actual situation ; violent defences read, alas ! only like `a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.'

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