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Pervading Influence of Christianity.
363 manner. As we pass
As we pass from our theological to our moral writers, and again to our writers of Belles Lettres, how often do we seem to enter, not only distinct, but altogether opposite spheres of thought and opinion! We contemplate man, not only under different, but frequently conflicting aspects. It is no easy matter sometimes to discern the same human Substantive under the several representations set before us. The coloured glasses of theology, moral sciences, and Literature exhibit often a quite contrary image, and a strange and sceptical confusion of feeling is apt to ensue in the mind of the student. It will not be supposed for a moment that we deny the necessity of classing the various functions of man's being, and considering them, to a certain extent, apart. It is only to the extreme and exclusive manner in which this has been often done,—whereby, as it were, all sense of men's spiritual unity has been lost,--that we object. In whatever special capacity we regard man, whether as a religious, moral, or æsthetical being, we ought never to forget that all his qualities are only several characteristics or manifestations of the same spiritual essence, which,—however we may ideally separate them for convenience,-are never actually separated.
It is impossible to over-estimate the evil effects which have flowed from the opposite arbitrary and artificial mode of contemplation. One of the greatest of these, however, is undoubtedly the common and fixed notion that has come to prevail of there being a valid division of sacred and profane in human nature and human life. In all relations the fatal error has extended itself, that in redeemed Humanity there are yet parts which may be esteemed common or unclean. This is the radical apostasy, seen in its grossest shape in Popery, but from which no form of Protestantism has been as yet wholly exempt.
Within the kingdom of God there is and can be no such distinction of sacred and profane. All is sacred within,—all is profane without it. This dualism Christianity recognises in the broadest manner. Upon this as its fundamental condition it rests. But within the sphere of its operation this dualism entirely disappears. Wherever the Gospel enters it renews from the most hidden sources the whole being. It exalts and hallows all with a most sacred anointing. A Christian man, therefore, can never legitimately have any pleasures or pursuits that are not Christian. In all moods and all relations, and not merely in special moods and circumstances, he must be religious. His common thoughts, and every-day sympathies, and not merely his most exalted and solemn aspirations, must go forth from a Christian centre, and partake of a Christian character. Christianity, where it asserts its true nature, is pervadingly operative over the whole life, the whole sphere of human thought and feeling, and not only over some special section or moments of it.
It must be very obvious from this that Literature can never be legitimately dissociated from religion. It can never be a valid and consistent step to acknowledge that Christianity is good in its place, and Literature good in its place, but that their provinces are quite apart and dissimilar. This reasoning can only prevail in conjunction with the most mechanical and perverted notions of religion—where it is viewed as a mere factitious increment to human nature—an ornamental crown, as it were, to be worn on solemn occasions, instead of, as it really is, a sacred fire kindled within the most secret affections, and irradiating the whole being.
In exact accordance with this conclusion we find that the characteristically irreligious period of our Literature just corresponds with the age of a negative and mechanical Christianity. Then when we see poetry, and philosophy, and history, most thoroughly and unhappily alienated from a Christian spirit, we see Christianity itself most dead. The separation grew out of no inherent repulsion of the one to the other, but out of the decay and perversion of both. In our earlier Literature, awakened and matured under the fresh impulse of the Reformation,—and while that positive and living apprehension of divine truth which it called forth still survived, we see a Christian influence working with an animating and pervading force. It was only when the genuine conception of Christianity as a divine Life, which must penetrate and sanctify every department of human sentiment and affection, began to die away, that we see our Literature assuming a decidedly unchristian character. And men were then content with such a Literature, just because they were content with such a religion. Where the latter did not affect to govern and transform the whole character, but was regarded merely as a sort of appendage to it, (honourable or otherwise as it might be,) it was only natural that it should remain disjoined from Literature. It is only where Christianity fulfils its true mission, of entering into the inward life of humanity, and purifying it along the whole course of its development, that Literature, with every other form of this development, must own its sway and bear its stamp.
The aspects of our recent and existing Literature bear out the truth of these remarks. Since the appearance of Foster's Essay, British Literature has undergone many changes. He himself, in a note to one of the later editions, remarks on these changes, chiefly in regard to style, -" The smooth elegance, the gentle graces, the amusing, easy, and not deep current of sentiment of which 'Addison is our finest example, have been,” he says, “sucChange in the Tone of our Literature.
365 ceeded by force, energy, bold development of principles, and every kind of high stimulus,”—a change which, with true critical penetration, he hailed as a great gain, but not unaccompanied with serious evils. For along with the passion for vigour, and point, and originality, he discerned the natural excesses of this passion
“an ample exhibition of contortion, tricks of surprise, paradox, headlong dash, factitious fulmination, and turpid inanity."
But in the moral and religious tone of our Literature there has been a scarcely less surprising change, which we wonder Foster, in special relation to his subject, did not also notice, as it had begun distinctly to manifest itself within the period to which he alludes. The same relation between Literature and Christianity no longer exists as in last century. That relation may be briefly defined to have been one of indifference. Literature passed by Christianity—ignored it; and Christianity, in the merely negative form in which it prevailed, permitted itself to be ignored. With scarcely life in it to retain its external forms, it did not think that Literature did it harm or injury in passing it by with a quiet and somewhat scornful dignity. Nay, divines in becoming poets, historians, or philosophers, (and there is hardly a more significant sign of the age than this,) conceived it to be in some sort neces-sary to lay aside any Christian peculiarities, and adopt the indifferent and paganized tone of their brothers in letters. But Christianity, awakening from its death-like slumber, and in every direction giving evidence of new life, could no longer be treated in this fashion. It must either incorporate itself with Literature, or enter into open conflict with it. And this we find accordingly is what to a great extent has already taken place in our day. The old relation of indifference has not, indeed, quite vanished. There is still in certain quarters to be heard the faint echo of the old notion of religion and letters having nothing to do with each other. But generally, and in all the freshest and most significant forms of our present Literature, the cold, external compromise with Christianity is entirely done away, and the two have found a point either of living union or of downright hostility:
It is gratifying that so much of existing Literature breathes a truly Christian tone. In all its various forms, poetical, historical, and philosophical, we see the clear influence of Christian conceptions, and the fruitful working of a genuine Christian spirit. It is not that in a special dogmatic sense any phase of our Literature is more religious than that of last century. The mere theological element is perhaps not much more prominent than before, and it is not desirable that it should be. But a deep flow of Christian sentiment, a tender and comprehensive Christian sympathy, and a warm and genial spirit of love, which is essentially Christian, are found pervading and animating a large proportion of our present literary productions.
But concurrently with this Christian development of our Literature, there has been also a very significant manifestation of an opposite kind. The very same process has to a certain extent taken place among us as among our German neighbours, though with differences significant of the relative characteristics of the two nations. The reaction against the old negative form of Christianity has with us as well as with them assumed two distinct modes of progress-one proceeding from the revival of a practical Christian spirit; the other from the revival of a more genuine philosophical spirit. This was inevitable in the course of things. The mechanical modes of conception which prevailed so largely during last century, could not fail to yield on both sides, as soon as the human mind received a new and invigorating impulse. Empiricism rests not only on a practical but a speculative falsehood. It not only quenches the living spirit of Christianity, in its bare and bald grasp, but it lies against the truths of the human soul, and as soon as under any movement of the national mind a genuine and more comprehensive insight is obtained into those truths, it cannot fail to be attacked also on the scientific side. This we know to have been notably the case in Germany. The older Rationalism fell there as much before the attacks of a new and more exalted philosophy, as before the advance of a deeper and more earnest Christian piety. Kant, and Jacobi, and Fries, and Schelling, and Hegel, in their own way, combated the old empirical system, just as vigorously as the representatives of the new development of a positive Christianity in the German Church.
A twofold movement of a similar kind, although, in the nature of the case, far less definitely and clearly marked out, has occurred in this country. While a revived Christian spirit has spread in many quarters, and pervaded influential sections of our Literature, a new philosophical spirit has also arisen-the latter no less opposed than the former to the cold, negative, and sceptical turn of our former Literature, yet not only claiming no affinity with the revived Christian spirit, but entering into direct, subtle, and energetic conflict with it.
We know how common it is to ascribe this new antichristian manifestation entirely to German influence, and to consider it as altogether an alien importation from the fatherland. It might well make one smile to hear the complacency with which in certain quarters, all that is supposed most vicious in our present Literature and Theology is laid to the account of poor Germany, The fact is, we believe, that this mode of ascribing changes of national taste and sentiment so prominently to foreign influence, Antichristian development of our Literature. 367 is in a great measure a mistaken one. Such changes must ever proceed more from inward and spontaneous tendencies, than from any mere external causes. The history of every people is a growth, each new epoch evolving organically out of the decay and corruption of the old, and not a mere succession of accidental impulses and fortuitous movements. And if there is now, therefore, among us a rapid increase of what is called Germanism, (and we have no objections to the name as sufficiently although vaguely expressive;) we conceive it to spring much more directly from the natural and inevitable reaction against the old empiricism which so long swayed British thought in every relation, than from any immediate and tangible influence that German literature or philosophy are yet exercising. What seems to be generally meant by Germanism, is no other than the deeper and bolder and more thorough spirit of inquiry which almost everywhere, and in so many various forms, has asserted itself against the tamer and narrower spirit of last century. In Britain as in Germany, this new spirit has invaded and beaten back the old ; and in the one country as well as the other, it has assumed a twofold development-a Christian and an antichristian. It is no doubt true that we have followed in the wake of Germany, and that the antichristian development among us has been stimulated by German influence; but it is of the utmost importance, we think, to bear in mind that this influence has only been stimulative, because the latent tendency was already so powerful in the British mind. For mere truth's sake we think it important to remember this. The prevalent method of attributing this or that phenomenon in our Literature or Theology to Germany, and so making an end of it, destroys, in our opinion, all historical accuracy, and even all historical sense.
The character of the present antichristian section of our Literature may be generally defined, for want of a more significant term, as pantheistic. It is the extreme reaction against the character of our previous Literature. Whereas the latter, with a somewhat atheistic indifference, nowhere sought a divine meaning in things,—this discerns a divinity everywhere and preeminently in man himself, who is the great miracle of miracles -the true Emanuel. Whereas the one was content to rest on the mere surface and mechanism—the outward sensuousness and visibility of things—the other would penetrate to the living unity-the reality underlying all the confused phenomena of existence—the great heart of the universe. This, in now familiar phrase, is the “divine idea of the world,” which“ lies at the bottom of all appearance ;” and men of letters, who rise to the consciousness of their true functions, and become interpreters of this “divine idea,” are, in the highest sense of the words, prophets