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tions are supple and strong enough to endure forever, would be too much to predict; but we are persuaded that such a fate as the future ensures for us has never yet been written or acted out elsewhere; and that, as our existence has been thus far, it is destined to be still more emphatically, a new chapter in the history of mankind.
Art. III.— The Eclipse of Faith ; or, A Visit to a Religious
Skeptic. Boston: Crosby, Nichols, & Co. 1852. 12mo.
pp. xvi. 452.
This book is confessedly the work of Mr. Henry Rogers, a frequent and favorite contributor to the Edinburgh Review. It is a discussion of the Evidences of Christianity, with special reference to the forms and grounds of the skepticism and infidelity of the present day. In our last number, we expressed our conviction that a prominent place among the existing causes of religious unbelief is to be assigned to the overcrowding of the general mind with material interests and pursuits, to such a degree as to render inquiry irksome, and to give a vantage-ground to doubts, and scoffs, and sneers, as assented to with less trouble than it costs to refute them. In this state of things, the writing of a sound book, if dull, would have been of little or no service. Mr. Rogers has wisely made his book attractive and amusing. It is pervaded by a thread of personal narrative; and the skeptic par eminence ; the hero of the story, — has a history and a character, that enlist the reader's strong sympathy, while the interlocutors are sketched with a bold and skilful pencil. The successive chapters are, for the most part, a series of brisk and earnest conversations, some of them dialogues in the Socratic vein, others, close and keen discussions, enlivened by brilliant repartee, and by the sharp encounter of wit, banter, and ridicule. But this easy, dashing style, so far from being made the vehicle of superficial or second-hand reasonings, covers thorough analysis, profound thought, weighty argument, and searchingly
solemn appeal. Thus the attempt is made to conciliate classes of readers that would be repelled by the grave aspect of a set treatise on the Christian evidences.
The body of the work is a journal, by F. B., a person of mature Christian belief and experience, in which he records the incidents and conversations of a visit to his nephew Harrington, a young man, who has returned from a three years? residence on the continent of Europe, a professed skeptic as to all religious systems and dogmas. Harrington is, at the same time, visited by a swarm of free-thinkers, of the various schools of Newman, Parker, Gregg, Strauss, et id omne genus. Against these, successively, he turns the weapons of his skepticism, and triumphantly vindicates the simple Christianity of the Gospels as beset by fewer difficulties, objections, and doubts, than any of the ostensibly half-way systems that coquette with the name, and reject the essence, of Christianity. In the essays of intellectual gladiatorship into which he is drawn by his misbelieving friends, he gradually changes his own ground. He becomes suspicious of his doubts, skeptical as to his unbelief, weary of negations. He gravitates more and more toward a positive faith in Christ and the Scriptures, as involving the theory, which, of all possible theories, makes the lowest demand upon credulity, accounts for the greatest number of facts and phenomena, and leaves the fewest unaccounted for.
The book is unique in its kind. To compare it with any other, would be to point out not so much specific resemblances as generic differences. Its aim is identical with that of Butler's Analogy, namely, to demonstrate that positive Christianity is the least improbable hypothesis concerning the facts which it covers. But Butler's alternative was between Deism and Christian orthodoxy; Mr. Rogers is between the latter and utter non-belief on the one hand, and various forms of pseudoChristianity on the other. Butler's work is fitly characterized by that so sadly cockneyized epithet “immortal ;" for it is designed to rebut the simple phasis of unbelief, which must perpetually recur until the far-off age of universal faith, and can hardly be of less validity and worth a thousand years VOL. LXXVII. NO. 160.
hence than now. “ The Eclipse of Faith,” on the other hand, must soon be obsolescent; for the modes of misbelief, with which it grapples, are in their very essence ephemeral, are composed of elements that, like some of the metallic bases in chemistry, vanish so soon as they see the light, and are dissolved in the very process of development. Then, too, the contrast in point of style is the widest possible. “ The Eclipse of Faith" yields not one whit to the “Analogy” in keen and vigorous logic; but the latter is thoroughly scientific in its form, while the former is vividly dramatic, and barbs its arguments with innuendo, invective, and sarcasm. The “Analogy” marshals the heaviest artillery, and brings all its guns to bear with faultless aim, against a fortress whose defenders must surrender at discretion when they can stand to their arms no longer; the “ Eclipse of Faith” wages a guerilla warfare against enemies in ambush, under covert, perpetually on the wing, or hurling missiles from road-side thickets or momentary lurking places.
The air of levity, in the work before us, may offend some of its more staid and solemn readers, especially those who are not familiar with the so-called theological literature of the modern schools of infidelity. But our author might plead, in his justification, the precept of the Hebrew sage, “Answer a fool according to his folly.” It is impossible to offset gibes by homilies, jests by formal stately argument, sneers and scoffs by pious saintly apophthegms. The aim, in many quarters, is not to show Christianity to be irrational, but to render it ridiculous. The challenging party have made their choice of weapons. To decline the weapons is to evade the conflict. To accept them is to demonstrate that religion can stand the test of ridicule, as it has for ages sustained that of reasoning. But while Mr. Rogers has enriched the Christian armory with the implements of the least dignified style of warfare, we cannot detect an instance in which he has suffered them to recoil upon the sacred cause in whose behalf he wields them. He preserves inviolate the sanctity of holy things; and there are abundant tokens of his profound personal interest in the doctrines, consolations, and hopes of the Gospel. Indeed, for
ourselves, we have derived from the book deeply serious impressions; and we never should have dreamed of objections to it on that score, had they not been offered more than once in our hearing by persons whose judgment seemed worthy of respect.
It may be alleged against this book, with more plausible show of truth, that it reaches only indirectly the actual source and seat of infidelity, namely, a moral nature alienated from the spirit of Christianity. It may be asked, of what avail is it to convince the intellect, while the heart is spellbound in self-sufficiency, or distracted by the tumultuous rush of secular affairs, or committed to anti-christian maxims as regards all the great practical issues of the life? We feel the full force of this objection; nor do we imagine that mere logomachy can ever christianize a human soul. Yet in numerous instances, the heart is sounder than the head. The spiritual nature often craves a positiveness of conviction, yearns for an assured repose of faith and trust, when the mind has been bewildered by sophistry and deluded by the impostures of pretended erudition. And where mind and heart have strayed together, definite intellectual convictions are an essential prerequisite to the restoration of the emotional nature and the active powers. Pantheism offers the soul no Father, and the moonshiny travesties of Revealed Religion hold forth but vague and faint promise of the openness of his welcome and the bread of his house; yet without full assurance that God is, and is always our Father, whence shall spring the resolve, “I will arise and go to my Father?” There is a twofold work to be done, and it may not unfittingly be performed through separate instrumentalities. Mr. Rogers has not pretended to enter on the department of parenetic theology; but without the basis which he has endeavored to lay for it, its whole apparatus resolves itself into mawkish sentimentality and paltry rhetorical artifice.
We agree with our author in the fundamental idea of his work, namely, that enlightened skepticism, so far from cherishing infidelity, naturally resolves itself into Christian faith, and that the charge of excessive credulity rests emphatically on those who rejoice to term themselves skeptics. Skepticism, strictly speaking, is the attribute of a sound and noble mind. It denotes wariness in the investigation and admission of evidence— the disposition to survey the whole ground before acquiescing in definite convictions. It has its legitimate scope on all subjects beyond the range of mathematical science. It is in pure mathematics alone that we can have positive demonstration. In every other department, belief results from the balancing of opposing argument and testimony,- in fine, from the balancing of probabilities, or rather of improbabilities. A skeptical habit of mind by no means necessitates perpetual doubt or vacillation, but simply assent in every case to the alternative, which is attended with the few. est and the least improbabilities. Every alleged fact is either true or false. Every proposition in morals, economics, and theology is true, or else its converse is true. And skepticism tends to a belief apportioned in each case to the excess of the improbabilities against any given fact or proposition over the improbabilities against its negative or its converse ; while credulity disregards this proportion, and believes at haphazard. Infidelity has numbered among its standard-bearers not a few of the most credulous men that ever lived. Voltaire and Rousseau claim a foremost place on this list; for the veriest tyro could detect the incoherency and absurdity of their theories of education and government. The author of the “Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation” has carried credulity to its climax, in accounting for the order and beauty of the Cosmos by the fortuitous concourse of atoms, and in tracing man, with his marvellously wrought body, and his soul of boundless capacities and longings, to a primitive ancestry of ambitious animalcules and aspiring tadpoles. Strauss merits a similar distinction for his theory of the Gospels, the composition of which he makes a more stupendous miracle, a wider departure from the natural and experienced order of events, than the walking upon the sea, the transmutation of water into wine, or the recall of Lazarus from the sepulchre. Very many of the disciples of Newman, Gregg, and Parker are enrolling themselves on the same catalogue of the omniverously credulous; for none are so ready to believe in the latest and most absurd forms of necromancy, in the