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doctrines. We quote the following as evincing the anxiety which he felt for the overthrow of belief in the inspiration of Scripture.
"I seem to see distinctly that the hour must come for the disclosure to England of a scientific theory of the Bible; which, however, will not, in my view, directly affect the faith of the multitude, but will certainly modify all our theology and theological no-education. I hold it very immaterial for the ultimate result, whether this revolution shall be brought about by the writings of an infidel, or of a scientific believer; but of course most important for the believer's own being, if he should do the work, not to feel or write, even momentarily, as an infidel. I can, I trust, sincerely affirm, that I am ready in heart to receive the whole narrative of the Pentateuch, as that of Paul's preaching at Ephesus and Athens, if the grounds of belief were equal; but where there is a clear conviction of the reason, I feel less and less inclined to approve of an entire and contented suppression of one's opinion on such subjects."— p. cvi.
The latter sentences of this passage strike us as being intended as an answer to some friend who had been urging him to refrain from publishing his opinions on Revelation. If so, it is rather a curious fact, that they are now published. What are we to infer from this! We do not trace in his letters any evidence of marked disapprobation on the part of his friends of his views on inspiration. In the case, indeed, of a publication in the London Review, on Montaigne, we learn from Mr. Hare, that "there were several things both in the matter and style which displeased" him, and that he wrote "to express his objections, with a good deal of severity." Yet Mr. Hare has published this most objectionable paper, in these volumes, without any attempt to point out its errors. We should have been glad to see the points in which Mr. Hare differed from such statements of this essay as the following, that the theology of the sixteenth century, "whether Romanist or Protestant," was constructed, "chiefly from the schoolmen," and "admitted a cumbrous element of what was purely arbitrary and capricious;" that "the religious creed" of that day was "partly the product of a tradition grounded in foreign and ancient modes of thought and feeling, partly of the metaphysical science of intermediate times, partly of accident and caprice;" that "all that religion requires, all that philosophy can grant," is "the existence of an absolute and eternal element in the vague and shifting mass of the common beliefs;" that "supersensual and universal realities, relied on and worshipped by the heart, are objects of religion, and embodied in beautiful symbols are the deified forms of the imagination, and haunt and spiritualize the highest poetry;" that it is a question "what is meant by belief, and what by Christianity;" that one day or other "the puzzle of existence may find
its solution in the accompanying puzzle of Revelation," &c. The expression of such sentiments was, we say it with amazement, satisfactory to the literary and theological school of which he was a member. "From everybody, with one other exception," he says, "I have heard only flattery about it" (the essay on Montaigne). We learn further (p. cxxxiii., &c.), that subsequently, Mr. Sterling perused Strauss' Life of Jesus, and became so far a partisan of this infidel writer, that some "controversial letters " passed between him and Mr. Hare on the subject. Mr. Hare remarks very correctly, that the criticism of this writer which "eats away all the facts of Christianity," must undermine "all its essential doctrines ;" and this sufficiently accounts for the repugnance which he manifests to receive the doctrines of this remarkable work.
Mr. Sterling appears to have been continually under the impression, that his friends would view with great uneasiness and displeasure any premature declaration of views and principles on religious subjects. "I write plainly to you," he says (after expressing his view of the necessity of a great crisis in England "which will indeed destroy Socialism and Sectarianism, but will just as certainly shake of the Thirty-nine Articles"), "but pray believe that I am far from thinking it right to blaze up suddenly in the face of a Nation's Creed and customs." We presume that the object was to be attained rather by a slow and cautious sapping and mining of the bigoted and antiquated belief on the subject of the Inspiration of Scripture, and the truth of the Creeds and the Thirty-nine Articles, which at present opposes so many obstacles to "freedom of thought."
It is a favourite idea amongst such persons, that Religion in England consists chiefly in attachment to certain words and terms-in fact, to the Creeds and Thirty-nine Articles. We extract the following illustration of these views selected from the imaginary travels of "Theodore Elbert," and supposed to be written in the dome of St. Paul's ::
"I am now standing on a building which proclaims to every eye in the Capital of England the nominal supremacy of Christianity. Yet nine in ten of its inhabitants never turn a thought towards the benevolence and piety of Christ; while the majority of the remainder.. feel, it is to be feared, no whit of love to God or man, but angrily cling to their sect, and idolatrously bow to some lifeless creed. Nor is this to be wondered at. Every thing tends to make religion a matter of forms, and names, and lip-service."-Vol. ii. p. 11.
We do not know whether we are to understand in the same
sense Mr. Maurice, the friend of Mr. Sterling, in these words taken from a recent publication:
"In all ages a disposition has been apparent, not in irreligious minds,
to turn their devotion towards that which has been, rather than to that which is, towards images and relics. . . The modern English form of it, which makes words, rather than visible objects, the substitute for the unseen realities, is externally so unlike the other, that we are not easily persuaded of their essential identity." (The Lord's Prayer, p. 7.)
Another doctrine which is prevalent amongst these persons, is that the external evidences of Christianity are valueless, and may be dispensed with. This is, in fact, the position assumed by the German writers in general, who have subverted those external evidences by the aid of criticism. "To found an argument," says Mr. Sterling, "for the value of Christianity on external evidence, and not on the condition of man and the pure idea of God, is to hold up a candle before our eyes that we may better see the stars" (Vol. ii. p. 121).
He argues that miracles cannot prove the truth of a Revelation :
'Physical results can prove nothing but a cause adequate to produce such, that is, a physical cause; though doubtless these results, when subservient to a spiritual system, may be used as illustrations of it. But the proofs of a spiritual system must be drawn from itself, must be spiritual proofs, and spiritually discerned."-Vol. ii. p. 121.
We have, perhaps, dwelt sufficiently on Mr. Sterling's religious views. To say that this accomplished and amiable person held doctrines altogether contrary to the unanimous sense of the Church of England, and even to that of all other religious denominations amongst us, except the Unitarians, and contrary also to his own engagements as minister of the Church, is sufficiently evident. But his Infidelity (we cannot give it any other appellation) went to the very root of the claims of Christianity. He denied the Bible to be the Word of God-for this is simply the meaning of his rejection of its inspiration. He denied its supernatural facts, and therefore must have believed the sacred writers to have been either impostors and relaters of fables; or else must have supposed the sacred text to have been so extensively interpolated as to render its authority altogether valueless. He was an admirer of that philosophy and of those writers who resolved the existence of God into the Universe, and Man as its chief object; and whose vain and empty conceit leads them to the worship of all material objects, or to open Atheism. Such was the religion-theoretically-of this disciple of the school of Coleridge and Carlyle.
We do not mean to say a word against the moral character of Mr. Sterling. We do not accuse him of treating Christianity as Tom Paine and Voltaire treated it. There was no vulgarity or brutality in his attack upon Revelation. He was withheld by some of his friends from making a premature assault on its foundations. But still his case affords a very salutary caution to those who may be tempted to embrace the class of views which led to the subversion of his faith in Scripture; and which, were they generally adopted, would reduce this country to the level of Germany or France as regards its religious belief that is, to complete Infidelity.
Of the philosophy in which these tendencies have taken their rise in the minds of a certain class of thinkers, we are, it seems, to recognize Coleridge as the English interpreter. Mr. Sterling, who was one of his most ardent disciples, says: "Coleridge is the genial interpreter of the lore, now of Kant, and now of Schelling" (Vol. i. p. 385).
Now in reference to the influence exercised by the writings of Coleridge, in thus propagating German philosophy in England, Mr. Hare, the editor of Sterling's Remains, speaks thus distinctly :
"At that time it was beginning to be acknowledged by more than a few, that Coleridge is the true sovereign of modern English thought. The Aids to Reflection' had recently been published, and were doing the work for which they are so admirably fitted; that book, to which many, as has been said by one of Sterling's chief friends, even their own selves.' Few felt this obligation more deeply than Sterling. 'To Coleridge (he wrote to me in 1836) I owe education. He taught me to believe that an empirical philosophy is none, that Faith is the highest Reason? He became an enthusiastic admirer and reverer of his great Master; the riches of whose wisdom, he, in his earlier writings, was continually asserting and proclaiming, as is apparent even in the portion of them incorporated in this collection. When an opportunity occurred, he sought out the old man in his oracular shrine at Highgate, and often saw him in the last years of his life, and he was one of the two disciples who attended his funeral, my own duties rendering it impossible for me to make a third."-pp. xiv. xv.
It is not for us to deny the reality of Mr. Coleridge's faith in many most important points, but at the same time it is clear from his "Confessions of an Enquiring Spirit," that his intimacy with the German writers' had not been without a disturbing influence on the very foundations of his faith in the Holy Scriptures
1 "M. Guizot is a pupil of those deep and zealous schools.”—Sterling's Essays, vol. i. p. 385.
as the Word of God. In that work he speaks of the Grecisms and heavier, difficulties in the biographical chapters of the Book of Daniel, while he thus refers to the New Testament :
"Accommodations of elder scriptural phrases, that favourite ornament and garnish of Jewish eloquence, incidental allusions to popular notions, traditions, apologues-for example, the dispute between the Devil and the Archangel Michael about the body of Moses (Jude, 9,)-fancies and anachronisms imported from the synagogue of Alexandria into Palestine, by, or together with, the Septuagint Version, and applied as mere argumenta ad homines-for example, the delivery of the law by the disposition of angels (Acts vii. 53; Gal. iii. 19; Heb. ii. 2 ;)—these, detached from their context, and contrary to the intention of the sacred writer, first raised into independent theses, and then brought together to produce or sanction some new credendum, for which neither separately could have furnished a pretence."—Confessions of an Enquiring Spirit, pp. 48, 49.
The tendency of Coleridge's sentiments in this work, may be gathered from the language of his admirer, Dr. Arnold, who considered them as "well fitted to break ground in the approaches to that momentous question which involves in it so great a shock to existing notions; the greatest, probably, that has ever been given since the discovery of the falsehood of the doctrine of the Pope's infallibility."
Mr. Hare also furnishes the following testimony to the character of the religious views held by Coleridge, and "adopted" from him by his disciple Mr. Sterling. In speaking of the latter he says:
"There was always a broad divergence in his opinions from those which are held by the great body of the Church, the very same divergence of which Coleridge speaks in his Confessions of an Enquiring Spirit.' These Confessions, though they were not printed till after Coleridge's death, had been written many years before. . . . . Sterling, however, had read them in manuscript with delight and sympathy, had been permitted to transcribe them, and had adopted the views concerning inspiration expressed in them; deeming these views, as Coleridge did, to be thoroughly compatible with a deep and lively Christian faith, and with a full reception of all that is essential in the doctrines of our Church'."-p. 129.
We shall see hereafter, what security for the maintenance of the first elements of the Christian faith is afforded by such distinctions as these. Coleridge, as we find in the volumes before us, was certainly not a Pantheist, nay he held the personality of the Deity as the Great Essential of Religion. But Sterling appears to
2 Blanco White held the same opinion.
VOL. X.-NO. XX.-DEC. 1848.