ALTHOUGH it is considered that the design of the following Lectures could hardly be misunderstood by one who should read them without prejudice, yet it seems proper to meet one objection which may be thought by some to lie against them. The writer would, therefore, in advance disclaim the intention of fixing upon every one whose theories on history, on ethics, and on the course and movement of terrestrial things, are in the following pages more particularly referred to, the stigma and reproach of consciously holding the philosophical system with which those theories are undoubtedly allied. For it is a well-known feature of the pantheistic heresy, and characteristic of that profound spiritual disease, that the very individuals whose views most nearly harmonize with it may yet be strenuous in disclaiming the relationship, although it be evident that their position is a complete inconsequence, except as interpreted on the hypothesis of such a tie. We are willing, then, to admit and to give prominence to the fact of their protests and denials, thinking it sufficient to prove the identity of the results reached in either case. If the popular and plausible rationalism of the day is found to involve the same consequences which follow from the principles of simple Pantheism, that should be enough to secure for it the mistrust and aversion of thoughtful men; the question of the degree of consanguinity may be held as not essential.
The object proposed in these lectures is as follows:--To show, after stating scientifically the vast and disastrous heresy of the ages, that modern lines of thought, professed modern discoveries, and modern theories of human progress, of history, of ethics, and of religion, are but new developments of the spirit which invented that fatal system; that they run in parallel lines with it; that they lead to the same conclusions. The author entertains no doubt of the fact of this correspondence. It is not necessary to prove identity of origin: it is enough to show that the principle which underlies the whole system of modern speculation involves the results which were reached by the ancient philosophies, and that the movement is toward the very same position of a final and universal skepticism. After that, it matters little whether the writers of our day consent or decline to be classed as followers of the old pagan masters. They labor toward the same ends, and are walking in the same direction.
The grand idea of the age in which we live is progress. That word is rung in our ears incessantly, from pulpit and platform, with the pertinacious tintinnabulation of a jangling chime. It is a progress without God, and apart from the institutions of Christianity; a progress aside from revelation and in independence of spiritual authority; the progress of humanity, confident in itself and in its own powers. The Church also announces a progress to mankind; but not a progress such as that of which the world is dreaming, and in the fancied accomplishment of which society seems fairly drunk. A progress is implied in the very idea of redemption; the prophets, the evangelists, the apostles, have spoken and written thereof, in language of unmatched sublimity; and God Himself, incarnate, has illustrated its nature and initiated it in His own person. Let us not forget that progress is the symbol of Christianity; but let us also remember of what sort that progress is: that Christ, becoming man, did grow in wisdom and in stature, and in the showing forth of love and sacrifice, until, having been made perfect therein, He was lifted up, and glorified, and set on the right hand of the Majesty on high; and that, in Christ, man is also to be in like manner elevated and exalted, yet only through grace and by the favor of God,--not for his own merits, nor in his own strength; and that he is also to grow to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, and to find at length his home in heaven, and his sphere of action in eternity. This idea of progress,--through grace by faith, and in the path of sacrifice and love,--is the grand idea of Christianity. But it is not that progress which is spoken of in the world and in the philosophic and rationalistic schools. Their's is a godless progress, a merely human progress, an illusion and a dream; the speech is as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal, and the end is disappointment and disgrace. It is so, because men do not include ill their idea of progress the truth concernig the personal and living God, revealed to us in the gospel and through the Church of Jesus Christ. When that faith is lost to man, his progress is that of one who rushes headlong in the dark, and sees not the gulf toward which he is hastening.
The rationalistic schemes in vogue in our own day would seem to rest, as upon a basis, on three principles, two of which are positive and the third negative. The two positive principles are, the unity and identity of substance, and the mutable and variable character of truth. The negative principle is, the denial of the existence of any revelation aside from that which is supposed to be made to each individual through his own mind and spirit. The presence of these principles may clearly be detected, not merely in the writings of the philosophizers of the day, but also in the tendencies of our popular religionists, who have practically annulled the authority of the Word of God, by admitting in its extremest rigor the fatal right of private judgment as to the meaning of the Scriptures, and who have no more idea of a divinely established church than a barbarian has of a constitutional government. It is against that threefold basis of rationalism that we are now called to put forth all the strength we possess; and there is no work of more sacred obligation for us, at this hour, than to declare the opposite principles of the infinite and radical distinction between God and the universe; of the immutable and unvarying nature of truth, as contradistintguished from human opinions; and of the binding force and sole sufficiency of the revelation once for all made to the world by Jesus Christ, and perpetuated in the visible Church. Other themes possess but slight importance as compared with these; about them lie the issues of life death.
With one remark, in addition, these introductory observations shall be terminated. Much has been said in the following Lectures concerning the origin of the world, the course of human events, and the progress of our race. The views entertained upon the latter two of these subjects will vary according to the idea held respecting the foremost of the three. Let it then be observed that there is a crucial test of all theories of the origin of the universe. It is the Catholic dogma of the creation: "In principio Deus creavit coelum et terram." It is impossible to misconstrue those words; it is equally impossible to evade them. A man must accept them or refuse them. If he hold them frankly and honestly, he cannot be a pantheist. If, on the other hand, he stagger at them, and hesitate about receiving them, he is not to be depended upon. And if any one deny them outright, we maintain that there is for him no possible choice save between the schemes of Dualism and Pantheism. The dogma of the creation, as opposed to the hypothesis of emanation or that of development, a dogma sublime above all others, as well as first of all in order,--is declared to us in the Scriptures and secured to us in the Creed, to the end that we may be forever settled and established in the truth; that the dark problem, against which the unenlightened mind has ever dashed itself in fruitless striving, may be cleared up; that we may have a rational and satisfying cosmogony; and that the whole of life may be rendered real and practical and comprehensible to man. When that dogma is denied, all is in effect denied. When the belief in a God who created the world has been lost, all is lost that is stable or permanent in human thought. If the theories to which reference is hereinafter made can be reconciled with the first article of the Christian faith, we are ready to withdraw our objections to those schemes. But if, on the contrary, it be found impossible to harmonize them with that article, we charge them with being radically antichristian; and we shall classify them with the great traditional heresy of the ages, until cause be shown why they should not be assigned to that stock, and until it be proved that, as to leading ideas and practical results, they are not substantially one and the same with it.