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METHODIST QUARTERLY REVIEW.
Arr. I.—THE ORDER OF NATURE AND MIRACLES.
The Order of Nature considered in Reference to the Claims of
Revelation. A Third Series of Essays, hy the Rev. BADEN POWELL, M.A., Savilian Professor of Geometry in the University of Oxford. London: Longman & Co.
Av impression extensively prevails that some new adjustment of the facts of physical science to those of Christianity is imperatively called for. The intellect of Christendom has for some time been turned with intense eagerness to the study of nature, and we need not be surprised that honest misunderstandings and dishonest misrepresentations of both sciences should lave sprung up. From the difficulty of construing the ancient languages and history of the Bible, and from the immaturity of many scientific investigations, apparent contradictions have been discovered, where, if the Bible be true, there can be none. Men of sceptical predilections have made the most of these, and so pressed the friends of Christianity that the latter have sometimes been confused, and made injudicious concessions. To the credit of those who have been most distinguished for their knowledge of natural science, they have seldom countenanced such efforts. They are too well aware of the uncertainty of many of their theories, and they are too familiar with numerous instances in which the interpretations of the two books of nature and of revelation have so corrected each other as to stand in mutual support. The same cautious spirit which
FOURTH SERIES, VOL. XIII.-12
has made them eminent as inductive philosophers, prevents their preinature application of principles to subjects beyond their special province. Many of them have written in defense of the Christian records; and while some have contended earuestly for a modification of inferences commonly derived from the Scriptures, with singular uniformity the attempts to discredit revelation, at the present time, may be traced to the friends of metaphysical rather than of physical study.
A careful observer of the spirit in which thoughtful minds are “guessing at truth” has assured us, that “the great problem of the present age is to reconcile faith with knowledge, philosophy with religion;" and another, skilled equally in the “ Testimony of the Rocks,” and in the Scriptures, has left us his assurance that “the battle of the Christian evidences for the present day must be fought on the field of natural science.” This may be so; at least it must be shown that the Bible is not in conflict with nature; and yet we suspect that Christianity must gain its victory here by removing the conflict from the field of natural science, and showing that the doubts which philosophy has raised belong really to the region of metaphysical investigations, and depend upon ideas logically prior to all inductive reasoning. In the mean time much mutual benefit would be gained if these students of nature and of the Bible were better acquainted with each other, and were better aware of the real issues between them. The speculative and conservative tendencies of the one, the purely inductive and progressive spirit of the other, and the vast extent of their respective departments of study, in which a mutual correspondence becomes infrequent, render an estrangement from one another, if not a jealousy of each other, almost a matter of course. They are apt to forget that they are studying only different volumes of the same Author, and in the interest of the same humanity. No well-ascertained principle of either book should be impeached or denied, and a contradiction between them shonld be confessed by no one who has confidence in both. No friend of Christianity, at least, can safely admit that a distinct announcement of the Bible is inconsistent with an unquestionable fact of nature; for no historical assertion can be substantiated against a matter of plain observation and experience.
The author of the work before us has, however, done this without reserve, and sometimes, as we think, with gratuitous forwardness. He belongs to a class which make concessions from the side of an evangelical faith much more cheerfully than from that of naturalism. Facts which tend to remove God from direct intercourse are much more easily admitted than those which seem to bring him into affectionate communion with men. A reference to the author's previous works is sufficient to show that in this we do him no injustice. We often find in them, that of two equally probable hypotheses he invariably chooses that which removes God to a distance, and that he usually favors any suggestion, however paradoxical, when it looks to the independence of natural laws. Scarcely any plausible theory of this kind which has gained notoriety during the last twenty years has failed to receive his countenance. This is due not so much to his liberality and candor, great as these unquestionably are, (for such qualities, when genuine, are not confined to opponents of a single class,) but to a predilection for a peculiar kind of speculation. He alleges, indeed, that he favored these merely as “professedly hypothetical yet legitimate conjectures,” and not as “scientific conclusions;" but why has he not only given them all the validity in his power, but shown a peculiar partiality for those which looked in a particular direction? Is it a matter of accident that he should have seen successively nothing incredible in “the broad scientific principle” of what he now calls “the philosophical romance of the Vestiges of Creation,” in “the spontaneous generation of organic life under the galvanic current,” in “the transformation of species from one original type to another," in the independent origin of various races of men,” in “ the complete rejection of the doctrine of final causes, and of all knowledge of a Creator from inductive science,” and yet "the probable resolution of all force into one primary unity,” and in “ the settled and no longer to be disputed fact that human remains are to be found in primitive rocks?” Why has he never discovered anything plausible in the statements of men who, on his own principles, may have had spiritual intercourse with God, and remarkable answers to prayer? We are the more interested in drawing attention to this uniform bias, because in this he is a representative of the general class who favor the conclusions of his book.
We have no sympathy with those who are jealous of all investigations like those of this volume. We regard it as a mortifying concession for Christian apologists to make when they acknowledge that the study of the historical evidences of their faith is dangerous or unprofitable. It can be so only when it is onesided, or pursued with “a foregone conclusion." With most persons it must always be but partial, for a lifetime of learned leisure would be insufficient to master the “sum total of evidences," as recently sketched by a Bampton Lecturer.* But even a single chapter of truth on such a subject ought to have a healthy influence upon sincere inquirers. We only dread sophistry on the one hand and a feeble timidity on the other. We anticipate nothing but dishonor to God's word when its friends concede that its outward history has no solid basis, or is of inferior importance. We have the utmost confidence in the internal witness which the Bible bears to the conscience when it is fully manifested in the sight of God, but we should have great misgiving in the enforcement of the Gospel if we could give no rational and consistent account of its origin.
We have noticed, therefore, with intense interest the recent renewal of the controversy respecting miracles, in their relation to the order of nature. Our own country has contributed an honorable part in this discussion; and although the author of “Nature and the Supernatural" has returned to a view of the object of miracles which always prevailed in the general Church until a comparatively recent period, he has carefully adjusted it to the present demands of science. Real progress has also been made by the labors of Westcott, Fitzgerald, Whately, Wardlaw, Miller, Rogers, Coquerel, and others. Though most of these adhere to the dogmatic narrowness of representing miracles as wrought merely to prove a divine commission, and not rather as the necessary condition of a supernatural life, we think an advance has been made in the definition and application of truth.
Not merely the title of the work before us, but the general reputation of its author for accurate and extensive acquaintance with physical as well as theological science, raised high expectations. The embarrassments of many friends of evangelical
* H. L. Mansel, B.D. Limits of Religious Thought, American edit., p. 214.
truth, and the confident predictions of its enemies that it was about to receive important modifications under the demands of not one science only but of all the sciences, we confess had awakened our fears that there might be dangers we had not comprehended; and we looked with confidence to one who was not only a master of all the sciences, but had a talent clearly to express what he knows, for a comprehensive view of the whole subject. We knew, indeed, something of his prevailing inclinations. We expected more from the Savilian professor than from the evangelical clergyman. We hoped, however, that one who combined these offices, with a distinguished reputation in each, would admirably discuss a subject suited to his double function.
To say that we are disappointed would express the least of the emotions with which we have perused his work. That a man of affluent resources should fail to combine them so as to produce a distinct unity of impression, is just novel enough to remind us of some old, though unpleasant histories; but that ministers of an evangelical Church, composed of honest Englishmen, should renounce all that is essential to historical Christianity, and empty of all content the creed to which they profess allegiance, is yet uncommon enough to produce feelings of extreme mortification. The party to which our author belongs has shown, especially of late, very liberal tendencies, but we were not prepared for a development like this. It contains earnest spiritual elements, from which the English Church has gained in depth of spiritual life as well as in compass of thought. Professor Powell himself is unquestionably a sincere lover of truth, otherwise his doubts would have “smouldered” still beneath “a solemn or cynical hypocrisy.” He would have attempted no absurd reform of a faith which appears to us, on his own principles, annihilated. But his mind lacks vigor. He is more scrupulous in entertaining doubts than in giving free scope to truth. He is more irritated by the perpetual friction of some philosophic exotic in his system than he is animated by his general faith. We need not wonder, therefore, that a dreamy philosophy absorbs all his intellectual and spiritual energies, and that faith can act only under its permission.
As some explanation of the want of directness and of a