Page images

Art. IV.-1. L'Eglise et la Société Chrétienne en 1861. Par

M. Guizot (Paris, 1861). Chap. IV. Du Surnaturel. 2. The Supernatural in relation to the Natural. By the Rev.

Jas. M'Cosh, LL.D. Cambridge: 1861. 3. Nature and the Supernatural as together constituting the One

System of God. By HORACE BUSHNELL, D.D. Edinburgh:

1860. 4. Beginning Life. Chapters for Young Men on Religion, Study,

and Business. By John TULLOCH, D.D., Principal of St. Mary's, St. Andrews. Chap. III. The Supernatural.

Edinburgh. 5. Essay on Miracles as Evidences of Christianity. By H. L.

MANSEL, B.D. Aids to Faith. Edited by W. THOMSON,

D.D., Lord Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol. London: 1861. 6. On the Various Contrivances by which British and Foreign

Orchids are Fertilized by Insects. By Ch. DARWIN, F.R.S. London : 1862. THE Supernatural -- what is it? What do we mean

by it? How do we define it? M. Guizot* tells us that belief in it is the special difficulty of our time—that denial of it is the form taken by all modern assaults on Christian faith; and again, that acceptance of it lies at the root, not only of Christian, but of all positive religion whatever. The questions then which we have now asked are of first importance. Yet we find them seldom distinctly put, and still more seldom distinctly answered. This is a capital error in dealing with any question of philosophy. Half the perplexities of men are traceable to obscurity of thought hiding and breeding under obscurity of language. In the treatises which we have placed at the head of this article, the Supernatural' is a term employed often in different, and sometimes in contradictory, senses. It is difficult to make out whether M. Guizot himself means to identify belief in the supernatural with belief in the existence of a God, or with belief in a particular mode of Divine action. But these are ideas quite separable and distinct. There may be some men who disbelieve in the supernatural only because they are absolute atheists; but it is certain that there are others who have great difficulty in believing in the supernatural who are not atheists. What they doubt

* L'Eglise, &c., ch. ir. p. 19.

or deny is, not that God exists, but that He ever acts, or perhaps can act, unless in and through what they call the Laws

of Nature.' M. Guizot, indeed, tells us that God is the Super* natural in a Person. But this is a rhetorical figure rather than a definition. He may, indeed, contend that it is inconsistent to believe in a God, and yet to disbelieve in the supernatural; but he must admit, and indeed does admit, that such inconsistency is found in fact.

As for Dr. M'Cosh, generally a most clear and able writer, we arrive at the 146th page of a treatise on the • Supernatural in relations to the Natural,' before we come to the announcement that this is the proper place for a statement as to the phrases employed in such discussions.' We must add, that the statement which follows is by no means clear or definite. Dr. M'Cosh frequently uses the supernatural' as synonymous with the superhuman.' But of course this is not the sense in which anyone can have any difficulty in believing in it. The powers and works of nature are all superhuman—more than man can account for in their origin more than he can resist in their energy

more than he can understand in their effects. This, then, cannot be the sense in which so many minds find it hard to accept the supernatural ; nor can it be the sense in which others cling to it as of the very essence of their religious faith. What then is that other sense in which the difficulty arises ? Perhaps we shall best find it by seeking the idea which is competing with it, and by which it has been displaced. It is the natural' which has been casting out the supernatural — the idea of natural law, the universal reign of a fixed order of things. This idea is a product of that immense development of the physical sciences which is characteristic of our time. We cannot read a periodical, or go into a lecture-room, without hearing it expressed. Sometimes, though perhaps not in the majority of cases, it is stated with accuracy, and with due recognition of the limits within which law can be said to comprehend the phenomena of the world. More often it is expressed in language vague and ambitious, as if the ticketing and orderly assortment of external facts were in the nature of explanations, or were the highest truths which we have power to reach. And herein we see both the result for which Bacon laboured, and the danger against which Bacon prayed. It has been a glorious result of a right method in the study of nature, that with the increase of knowledge the “ human family has been endowed with new mercies.' But every now and then, for a time at least, from the unlocking of the gates of sense, and the kindling of a greater natural • light, incredulity and intellectual night have arisen in our minds.'

But let us observe exactly where and how the difficulty arises. The reign of law in nature is, indeed, so far as we can observe it, universal. But the common idea of the 'super

natural' is that which is at variance with natural law, above it, or in violation of it. Nothing, however wonderful, which happens according to natural law, would be considered by any one as 'supernatural.' The law in obedience to which a wonderful thing happens may not be known; but this would not give it a supernatural character, so long as we assuredly believe that it did happen according to some law. Hence it would appear to follow that to a man thoroughly possessed of the idea of natural law as universal, nothing ever could be admitted as supernatural; because on seeing any fact, however new, marvellous, or incomprehensible, he might escape into the conclusion that it was the result of some natural law of which he had before been ignorant. No one will deny that, in respect to the vast majority of all new and marvellous phenomena, this would be the true and reasonable conclusion. It is not the conclusion of pride, but of humility of mind. Seeing the boundless extent of our ignorance of the natural laws which regulate so many of the phenomena around us, and still more so many of the phenomena within us, nothing can be more reasonable than to conclude, when we see something which is to us a wonder, that somehow, if we only knew how, it is all right'-all according to the constitution and course of nature. But then, to justify this conclusion, we must understand nature' in the largest sense, - as including all that is

* In the round world, and in the living air,

And the blue sky, and in the mind of man.' We must understand it as including every agency which we see entering, or can conceive from analogy as capable of entering, into the causation of the world. First and foremost among these is the agency of our own mind and will. Yet strange to say, all reference to this agency is often tacitly excluded when we speak of the laws of nature. One of our most distinguished living teachers of physical science began, the other day, a course of lectures on the phenomena of Heat by a rapid statement of the modern doctrine of the correlation of forces—how the one was convertible into the other - how one arose out of the other -- how none could be evolved except from some other as a preexisting source. Thus,' said the lecturer, we see there is no such thing as spontaneousness in nature.'


What !- not in the lecturer himself? Was there no 'spontane

ousness' in his choice of words in his selection of materials in his orderly arrangement of experiments with a view to the exhibition of particular results? It was not, we believe, that the lecturer was denying this, but simply that he did not think of it as within his field of view. His own mind and will dealt with the laws of nature, but it did not occur to him as forming part of those laws, or, in the same sense, as subject to them. Does man, then, not belong to · Nature'? Is he above it-or merely separate from it, or a violation of it? Is he super-natural ? If so, has he any difficulty in believing in himself? Of course not. Self-consciousness is the one truth, in the light of which all other truths are known. Cogito, ergo *sum,' or 'volo, ergo sum'—this is the one conclusion which we cannot doubt, unless reason disbelieves herself. Why, then, is their action not habitually included among the laws of

nature'? Because a fallacy is getting hold upon us from a want of definition in the use of terms. Nature' is being used in the narrow sense of physical nature; and the whole world in which we ourselves live, and move, and have our being is excluded from it. But these selves of ours do belong to Nature.' If we are ever to understand the difficulties in the way of believing in the supernatural, we must first keep clearly in view what we are to understand as included in the natural.' Let us never forget, then, that the agency of man is of all others the most natural — the one with which we are most familiarthe only one, in fact, which we can be said, even in any measure, to understand. When any wonderful event can be referred to the contrivance or ingenuity of man, it is thereby at once removed from the sphere of the supernatural, as ordinarily understood.

It must be remembered, however, that we are now only seeking a clear definition of terms; and that provided this other meaning be clearly agreed upon, the mind and will of man may be considered as separate from nature, and belonging to the supernatural. We have placed among the works to be noticed in this article the treatise on · Nature and the Supernatural,' by Dr. Bushnell, an American clergyman. Though its effectiveness is impaired, in our opinion, by some speculations of a very fanciful kind, it is a work of great ability, full of thought which is at once true and ingenious. Dr. Bushnell says: • That • is supernatural, whatever it be, that is either not in the

chain of natural cause and effect, or which acts on the chain of cause and effect in nature, from without the chain.' Again :-—'If the processes, combinations, and results of our

“system of nature are interrupted or varied by the action, • whether of God, or angels, or men, so as to bring to pass what • would not come to pass in it by its own internal action, under • the laws of mere cause and effect, such variations are in like 'manner supernatural.' We have no objection to this definition of the supernatural, except that it rests upon a limitation of the terms 'nature' and 'natural,' which is very much at variance with the sense in which they are commonly understood. There is indeed a distinction which finds its expression in common language between the works of man and the works of nature. A honeycomb, for example, would be called a work of nature, but not a steam-engine. This distinction is founded on a true perception of the fact that the mind and will of man belong to an order of existence very different from physical laws, and very different also from the fixed and narrow instincts of the lower animals. It is a distinction bearing witness to the universal consciousness that the mind of man has within it something of a truly creative energy and force - that we are fellow-workers

with God,' and have been in a measure 'made partakers of the · Divine nature. But in that larger and wider sense in which we are here speaking of the natural, it contains within it the whole phenomena of man's intellectual and spiritual nature, as part, and the most familiar of all parts, of the visible system of things. In all ordinary senses of the term, man and his doings belong to the natural, as distinguished from the supernatural.

We are thus coming nearer to some precise understanding of what the supernatural' may be supposed to mean. But before we proceed, there is another question which must be answeredWhat is the relation in which the agency of man stands to the physical laws of nature? The answer, in part at least, is plain. His power in respect to those laws extends only first to their discovery and ascertainment, and then to their use. He can establish none: he can suspend none. All he can do is to guide, in a limited degree, the mutual action and reaction of the laws amongst each other. They are the tools with which he works -- they are the instruments of his will. In all he does or can do he must employ them. His ability to use them is limited both by his want of knowledge and by his want of power. The more he knows of them, the more largely he can employ them, and make them ministers of his purposes. This, as a general rule, is true; but it is subject to the second limitation we have pointed out. Man already knows far more than he has power to convert to use. It is a true observation of Sir George Lewis that astronomy, for example, in its higher branches, has an interest almost purely scientific. It reveals to our knowledge

« PreviousContinue »