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ART. I. - BASIS AND SUPERSTRUCTURE.
AN ADDRESS BEFORE THE MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE, MAY 29, 1867.
BY REV. ORVILLE DEWEY, D.D.
BRETHREN OF THE CONFERENCE,
I shall venture to speak to you in this discourse on subjects that belong to the time. This opens, doubtless, too large a field to enter, without some definite path to pursue, or some distinct points of view being taken from which to survey it; and I hasten to say at once, that the few thoughts I have to offer will come chiefly under the heads of Basis and Superstructure, — of the foundation in religion and the upbuilding. These themes present a framework of thought too vast, indeed, for discussion, and designed only to limit it. But I desire to look at this great edifice of religion,
go round about Zion, and to mark well her bulwarks ; both because of the dangers that seem to assail it, and because I am sure of its stability. Never, certainly, was every thing in religion called in question, from the lowest foundation to the topmost stone, as it is now; and yet never, I firmly believe, was there so much true religious faith in the world as now.
If this seems to be a contradiction, I do not understand it to be so: because the foundation-truths of religion, though they are questioned, are questioned by very
VOL. LXXXIII. - NEW SERIES, VOL. IV. NO. II.
few; while the general faith is gravitating towards them more and more, is taking deeper hold of the very roots of religion, and is, therefore, becoming stronger and more vital. Very scepticism to-day is often more vitally religious, than was the old Orthodox believing of the Middle Ages; whose stability is so much vaunted by some, and whose decadence is so unnecessarily lamented over by others. I think that I see the general mind sinking deeper and deeper into the truest religious convictions, through the rents of controversial theology, through the chinks of Biblical historic evidence, and the breaking-up of ecclesiastical authority.
I have known well enough what it is to doubt; and to doubt concerning the whole dogmatic creed in which I was brought up. I once gave a year to retirement and study to examine this creed. I examined it; I gave it up, point by point: but never for one moment did I lose my peace of mind. I knew, or thought at least, that my earthly prospects were endangered by my inquiries; but my inmost tranquillity and deepest joy were never for a moment disturbed by all
doubts and difficulties. And why? Because I felt something within me- an assurance, a certainty — that lay beneath all doubts, beneath all dogmatic creeds. Nay, I say it firmly, beneath not only all dogmatic creeds, but beneath all writings, beneath all Scriptures, beneath all church ordinance and authority, beneath Christianity, beneath the mission of the Christ himself, there is, in the solemn recesses of every human soul, a foun. dation of religion and religious truth. Jesus himself spoke to that inner, that diviner sense of things; else as a religious teacher he could not have spoken at all. And if I be reminded that Paul says, “ Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ," I answer, this is true of the Christian system. Jesus Christ is the foundation of that. But that system reposes on a foundation beneath it, — the everlasting truth that underlies all religions. When it is said that an architect lays the foundation of a building, - temple, tower, or pyramid, - it is forgotten, perhaps, that this rests on a deeper and broader foundation, the foundation and basis of the world.