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ARTICLE VIII.-NATURE AND THE SUPERNATURAL.
Nature and the Supernatural, as together constituting the
One System of God. By Horace BUSHNELL. New York: Charles Scribner. 1858.
The author of this work is our associate in the conduct of this journal, and a friend to whom we are warmly attached. We should need no apology for being disposed to estimate favorably a work like this, because it was written by him. Our readers will expect us to express a cordial admiration for its excellencies, and to pass lightly over its defects.
This book, however, stands in no need of commendation from the friends of the author. Indeed their testimony is likely to be little regarded; it certainly will not be needed, in the general voice of grateful welcome with which it has been received, and the hearty response which has been rendered for its manifest excellencies by appreciating readers, if not by amazed critics, and hesitating reviewers. Even those who are still disposed to question the claims of the author to standingroom among orthodox Christians, cannot find it in their hearts to question that he has rendered an important service to the Christian Faith. Or if this purpose lingers in their hearts, it falters npon their tongues, and they cannot readily give it expression. To many, who care little for the name, but have sighed for the reality of an established Faith, it will prove a benison for which their hearts will ever bless the writer.
We need only open the book and glance through its pages, to see that it is fitted to excite the interest with which it has been received. The style is in the main pure and even classical, certainly it is more exact and finished than in his previous writings, while it has not lost thereby one of its peculiar charms. His so-called affectations are now sobered to an antique quaintness which is well suited to the earnest convictions that throb in every sentence; while the measured rhythm of his stately sentences remind us of the earlier and better days of
English writing, when strong thinkers laid hold of all the words which the once copious English poured forth at their bidding, and wronght them into sentences that rushed along like a river in the spring time. The illustrations are sparkling, various, and expressive, ever declaring the power and peculiarities of the author's genius. Single sentences, sometimes single lines, sum up and drive home an argument. They are not merely “battles,” but victories. We mark here and there a paragraph which rises into the sublimity of prayer, and the chant of praise. One or two chapters, we are sure, “the world will not willingly let die.” The most captions and ill-natured reader must feel the presence of genins, and acknowledge the genuineness of the inspiration. Even the unbelieving critic who is not convinced by the argument, cannot help being lifted from his feet, and borne onward by the force and earnestness of the soul that has imparted such power to the movement of its thoughts.
As we look more closely, we can see unmistakable iudications that the work is no hasty composition, but is the matured product of the earnest thinking of years. The theme has long rested upon the author's mind as one of commanding importance. He has appreciated, as but few men have done, the fatal and appalling progress which the Anti-christ of these days has been making for more than a score of years. The secret of its power he has studied and felt. He has discerned the subtle miasm which has diffused itself so extensively into our literature, that has poisoned our philanthropy, and claimed almost exclusive possession of popular lectures—that has even infected our sermons, and wrought itself into our hymns and prayers. Should it be said that he has felt its power and been affected by its fascinations, we have only to reply, that it would be a shame to him if he had not, for not to feel its power would argne a stue pid and unthinking soul, the stuff fit to make a dogged bigot, or a pliant devotee. The believer in these days, who has no honest doubts, and raises no questions, either does not, or dares not think. If he does not, but believes from the simple promptings of a trusting and loving heart, his lot is blessed, and his life is peace. But if he must find a reason for the faith that is in him, he must be blind not to see, and deaf not to hear, and
senseless not to feel, that the atmosphere is hannted by strange and bewitching spirits, that must be confronted and laid, or they will not "down."
If a man thinks that such a book is not needed in these times, and in this country, it is decisive proof that he does not think at all. If he says that the representations given by Dr. Bushnell of the extent and power of modern unbelief are overdrawn, what he says will only betray his ignorance of the currents of thought that possess the minds of myriads of decent worshipers in churches, and reputable members of the community. The fact is, that these representations are not overdrawn. If some hundreds of earnest preachers would bestir themselves to inquire how far this entire or half unbelief has taken possession of their own flocks, they might be surprised to discover, that while they have been preaching pointless sermons, or flourishing in ornate pulpit orations, the essay, the magazine, the lyceum lecture, and the rampant reformer, have been awakening subtle misgivings in the minds of the most gifted among their hearers. It is now some twenty-five years since the first beginnings of this influence. Those who watched its rise, and predicted the fatal result, were thought to disquiet themselves for a foolish dream. But the dream has become a reality.
Dr. Bushnell was not merely qualified to meet this unbelief, by being aware of its existence, and by having watched its progress. He has sympathized with all that is plausible in the objections which he seeks to answer, and struggled with the doubts and difficulties which he would fain remove. Had he not thus sympathized and struggled, he were not qualified to furnish the remedy, for he would not understand the disease. Without such appreciation of the misgivings and feelings, the reasonings and the associations which exert so prevailing an influence over the men to whom he speaks, he could not gain the ear-much less could he speak to the heart of those for whom he writes. Indeed, not to have been affected by the pantheistic Naturalism of the present time, so far as to be pressed by its difficulties, and to struggle manfully and earnestly for deliverance, argues a nature inferior in native force, or in opportunities for culture ; it assuredly is a complete dis
qualification for the service of strengthening others, in “ the good fight of faith.” Those mellifluous divines who ride smoothly on the buoyant waves of admiring congregations, those fervid evangelists, who gently or hotly stir the sensibilities of the crowd that pants for religious excitement, those positive dogmatists, who having never known a difficulty, or been disturbed by a doubt, anathematize all who, with manly earnestness and prayerful struggles, hare felt after God if so be they inight find him; and last of all, those serene churchmen, of whatever sect, who love the church better than the truth—none of these men are fitted to speak words of sympathy or succor to those who are tempted—for they cannot understand them.
Now it has been the great misfortune of our time, that the new infidelity has either been wholly overlooked in its subtle progress through our literature and criticism, or has been attacked, and confronted by those who have not understood the real force of its arguments, nor the feelings and prejudices of the men over whom these arguments have asserted so potent a sway. In England this unbelief has walked unnoticed and unrebuked through the middle classes, taking possession of tens of thousands of artisans, while the dissenters have been occupied with their noisy brawls. Already it has begun, as it were, to nestle itself in some of the cloisters of Oxford, while sleek and lazy churchmen have been dozing in their stalls. It has spoken with unrebuked and arrogant impudence in the Westminster Review, and the defenders of the faith have been content to declare this infidel journal not to be respectable, and to vote it out of book clubs and reading rooms. At last the an
. thor of " The Restoration of Belief” was stirred to a defense of the old historic faith ; but though he comprehended his antagonists in part, he did not so fully sympathize with their difticulties as to reach their understandings, or touch their hearts. The able author of “The Eclipse of Faith” exposed their inconsistencies, ridiculed their pretensions, and satirized their folly, but he did not understand the men, nor their difficulties-he wrote like an advocate, and had an advocate's reward, -to secure the dislike, but not to gain the conviction of his opponents.
, The learned author of “Perversion” produced a tale to meet the exigency. But he was so unjust to all unbelievers, as to ascribe their doubts to low appetites and debasing vice, and hence his work, though able in its argument, graphic in its portraitures, and often moving by its pathos, is fitted to offend, and for good reason, the men for whom it was written, and to disgust the community whom it would defend against their influence. Other writers of acknowledged gifts have treated of single topics with eminent ability and entire success, except the most important success of making an impression upon their antagonists, through a manifest appreciation of their position and difficulties, and a cordial sympathy with their struggles.
From Dr. Bushnell's book we augur a different result. It will be read by those for whom it is intended. It will be respected as coming from a man of ability and genius. It will attract for the power and beauty of its style. More than all, it will be weighed by candid and considerate men, because it is written by one who understands and appreciates the difficulties with which they are environed, and is alive to the subtle influences and associations that have woven themselves into a 'net-work not easy to break.
The new unbeliet' is preëminently philosophical and learned. It brings to the judgment and criticism of the supernatural and miraculous in Christianity, naturalistic and pantheistic assumptions that have taken the form of a metaphysical theory, bristling with a scholastic terminology, or glistening with the many colored hues of daring speculation. It applies to the disintegration of the historic record, a criticism that is laboriously erudite, and sometimes so learnedly wise as to lose sight of and forget all other wisdom. But in this country it is neither profoundly philosophical, nor laboriously learned. It takes the results of borrowed speculations, which it has not fathomed, and is imposed on by criticisms which it has not followed. But it is none the less dangerous for this. It is even more so, because it believes in results, rather than works out processes, and receives the dicta of favorite critics, without having the means, because it will not be at the pains of weighing their arguments.