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An Episcopal Trilogy
by [?]

The preacher, in this case, is of a very different mind from the three bishops–and this mind is different in quality, different in spirit, and different in contents. He discourses on the a priori objections to miracles, apparently without being aware, in spite of all the discussions of the last seven or eight years, that he is doing battle with a shadow.

I trust I do not misrepresent the Bishop of Manchester in saying that the essence of his remarkable discourse is the insistence upon the “supreme importance of the purely spiritual in our faith,” and of the relative, if not absolute, insignificance of aught else. He obviously perceives the bearing of his arguments against the alterability of the course of outward nature by prayer, on the question of miracles in general; for he is careful to say that “the possibility of miracles, of a rare and unusual transcendence of the world order is not here in question” (p. 38). It may be permitted me to suppose, however, that, if miracles were in question, the speaker who warns us “that we must look for the heart of the absolute religion in that part of it which prescribes our moral and religious relations” (p. 46) would not be disposed to advise those who had found the heart of Christianity to take much thought about its miraculous integument.

My anonymous sermon will have nothing to do with such notions as these, and its preacher is not too polite, to say nothing of charitable, towards those who entertain them.

Scientific men, therefore, are perfectly right in asserting that Christianity rests on miracles. If miracles never happened, Christianity, in any sense which is not a mockery, which does not make the term of none effect, has no reality. I dwell on this because there is now an effort making to get up a non-miraculous, invertebrate Christianity, which may escape the ban of science. And I would warn you very distinctly against this new contrivance. Christianity is essentially miraculous, and falls to the ground if miracles be impossible.

Well, warning for warning. I venture to warn this preacher and those who, with him, persist in identifying Christianity with the miraculous, that such forms of Christianity are not only doomed to fall to the ground; but that, within the last half century, they have been driving that way with continually accelerated velocity.

The so-called religious world is given to a strange delusion. It fondly imagines that it possesses the monopoly of serious and constant reflection upon the terrible problems of existence; and that those who cannot accept its shibboleths are either mere Gallios, caring for none of these things, or libertines desiring to escape from the restraints of morality. It does not appear to have entered the imaginations of these people that, outside their pale and firmly resolved never to enter it, there are thousands of men, certainly not their inferiors in character, capacity, or knowledge of the questions at issue, who estimate those purely spiritual elements of the Christian faith of which the Bishop of Manchester speaks as highly as the Bishop does; but who will have nothing to do with the Christian Churches, because in their apprehension and for them, the profession of belief in the miraculous, on the evidence offered would be simply immoral.

So far as my experience goes, men of science are neither better nor worse than the rest of the world. Occupation with the endlessly great parts of the universe does not necessarily involve greatness of character, nor does microscopic study of the infinitely little always produce humility. We have our full share of original sin; need, greed, and vainglory beset us as they do other mortals; and our progress is, for the most part, like that of a tacking ship, the resultant of opposite divergencies from the straight path. But, for all that, there is one moral benefit which the pursuit of science unquestionably bestows. It keeps the estimate of the value of evidence up to the proper mark; and we are constantly receiving lessons, and sometimes very sharp ones, on the nature of proof. Men of science will always act up to their standard of veracity, when mankind in general leave off sinning; but that standard appears to me to be higher among them than in any other class of the community.