Modern Deism.

1889 299 [God without Religion: Deism and Sir James Stephen. By William Arthur, author of "The Tongue of fire," etc., etc. London: Bemrose and Sons.]

As Mr. Arthur gave us "Religion without God," in dealing with the Positivism of Comte and the Agnosticism of Herbert Spencer, so he makes Justice Stephen the type of Deism in our day, or "God without Religion." Those who have to do with either the Atheist or the Deist will do well to provide themselves with these excellent volumes, each of which is the natural complement of the other.

The work before us consists, besides preface and contents (pp. i–xx.), of nine chapters (pp. 1-454). The first is Sir Jas. S.'s attitude towards Positivism, Agnosticism, and Christianity. His view of his opponents is not flattering. His own position is expressed in the words, "If human life is in course of being fully described by science, I do riot see what materials there are for any religion, or indeed what would be the use of one, or why it is wanted. We can get on very well without one; for, though the view of life which science is offering to us gives us nothing to worship, it gives us an infinite number of things to enjoy." Of Positivism and Agnosticism he says, "Humanity with a capital H (Mr. Harrison's God) is neither better nor worse fitted to be a God than the Unknowable with a capital U. They are as much alike as six and half a dozen. Each is a barren abstraction, to which any one can attach any meaning he likes." Mr. Spencer's "whole theory is a castle in the air, uninhabitable and destitute of foundations." As for Mr. Harrison's "collective power of the human race," he calls it "a bag of words which means anything, everything, or nothing, just as you choose" (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, 2nd Ed. p. xxx.). In the Nineteenth Cent. No. 88, p. 918, he says, "To deny that Christianity in its various forms has been, and still is, one of the greatest powers in the world; or to deny that its leading doctrines have in fact been associated in many ways with all that we commonly recognise as virtue, is like denying the agency of the sun in the physical world." How strange after such an admission, the terms of which need not be criticised here, to think that life moral and social would go on equally as well, "as far as I can see," whether there is or is not God as a future state. Sir J. S. is sadly blind. He is not astray however in saying, "Attempts to construct a religion out of science are like attempts to fly without air and without wings," nor in thinking that what unites and governs men religiously must be based on the Supernatural accepted as true. Faith is in God, as well as bowing to His revelation.

In chapter 2. Mr. A. shows what is involved in the supposition of all religion passing away. But scripture is plain that the Lord will ere long receive His own to Himself, and that the apostasy will come and the man of sin be revealed, and not only Christianity but even Judaism vanish as far as public profession; for God will have hidden ones, and even witnesses suited to that dreadful day. The nearest analogue in the past was the day of Noah's deluge, or (on a smaller scale) of Lot's rescue from Sodom, to which the Lord compares the day when the Son of man will appear. Mr. A. does not exaggerate in his effort to describe its moral horrors, but rather falls short; and Sir J. S.'s supposition is heartless nonsense, and his reasons, given in ch. iii., are poor, as Mr. A. proves conclusively in ch. iv. History is all against Justice S.; how much more is prophecy! For it reveals the Lord in judgment, of which our author has little or nothing to say.

In chapters 5, 6, Mr. A. discusses the question: Does the scientific view of life destroy the foundations of religion? Sir J. S. assumes that this view is the basest form of development, such as Haeckel's, which excludes God and denies Him. It is unbelieving biology, without question of an immortal soul, or of God either as Saviour or as Judge; it is life here in its lowest aspects without a present superior or an everlasting future of heaven or hell, to say nothing of the new relationships of grace. Yet even in the lowest object Darwin confessed "the Creator" as the sole source of life and power, whatever his fanciful theory; and Huxley, that "the present state of our knowledge furnishes us with no link between the living and the not-living." Spontaneous generation is opposed to all facts. And what of "eternal life"? It is unknown to science; yet without it none can live in God's presence. Christ is the way, the truth, and the life: in Him the believer has and knows them all. Some words Mr. A. cites from Mill's Utilitarianism p. 14 are not unsuitable here: "It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is because they know only their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides." Infidelity may glorify man and his fancied rights; but where is respect or pity or love? How different is Christ! "This is life eternal, to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent." But the natural man knoweth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged or examined. All is vain till a sinner judges himself by God's word and believes in God's Son. Spiritual life, eternal life, is in Christ for faith, God's free gift through Jesus Christ our Lord. Then too His love constrains us.

Even of human life science knows and has told us indefinitely little; but all life, according to Darwin himself, points to God as the Giver: how much more the life capable of communion with Him! Even as to natural life biology is dumb; it cannot surely presume to speak of eternal life.

Chapters vii,, viii., essay to meet the question whether all religion, and next Christianity, will pass away. Here Mr. A. as ever writes interesting facts, but he does not rise on his own showing above what is "probable." Why should a believer with an open Bible, and the Holy Spirit given him, descend to such an arena? God has spoken; and it is ours to believe His word as to the future no less than the present and the past, all of which are equally known to Him and quite plainly enough revealed to us. There was a vast amount of conversion over the known world before the first century closed. Mere profession came in largely in the fourth century and onwards. Even were its appearances as genuine as some excellent men conceive during the last century, it would, according to scripture analogy, indicate no more than that grace was converting souls with unusual rapidity before judgment falls on increasing boldness of unbelief and blasphemy; just as the early labours were the most fruitful among the Jews before God destroyed Jerusalem.

In chapter 9. Mr. A. has the easy and sure task of answering the question, Could all religion pass away without causing moral and social deterioration? Sir J. S. is summoned himself to give testimony to the effect of doctrines on conduct; and this even when those who were educated as believers in God and among such became Atheists. "As a man's religion is, so will his morals be … Many persons in these days wish to retain the morality which they like, after getting rid of the religion which they disbelieve. Whether they are right or wrong in disturbing the foundation, they are inconsistent in wanting to save the superstructure … It should never be forgotten that opinions have a moral side to them." This witness is true: let it suffice.