better to avail themselves of the absence of St. Joseph to get a few lessons in religious liberality by holding "deacon meetin's" and listening to the reading of "Scotch Sermons."
Scotch Sermons, 1880. New York: D. Appleton & Co. Pp. 346. Price, $1.25.
This book is a surprise, and as gratifying as it is unexpected. Its title is anything but inviting. Of all branches of literature sermons are generally and justly pronounced the dullest, and of the class of sermons, everybody would expect to find the Scotch the driest. This is what sharpened surprise and produced actual astonishment when we looked into this unpromising volume. We have been accustomed to regard Scotch Presbyterianism as the narrowest and most intolerant and intractable form of Calvinistic orthodoxy, which would be the very last to yield to the liberalizing tendencies of the time, but we have been much mistaken. The mechanical law that action and reaction are equal and opposite seems to hold rigorously in the theological sphere, so that the counter-impulse now displayed in the Scottish Church is, perhaps, more vigorous comprehensive, and fruitful than is to be found in any other religious body.
This volume, dedicated to Dean Stanley, consists of twenty-three sermons, preached by various men, located in various places, and all clergymen of the Church of Scotland. Its editorship is anonymous, but its editor declares that it "has originated in the wish to gather together a few specimens of a style of teaching which increasingly prevails among the clergy of the Scottish Church. It does not claim to represent either the full extent of that teaching or the range of subjects on which, in their public ministrations, its authors are in the habit of discoursing. It may, however, serve to indicate a growing tendency and to show the direction in which thought is moving. It is the work of those whose hope for the future lies not in alterations of ecclesiastical organization, but in a profounder apprehension of the essential ideas of Christianity; and especially in the growth within the Church of such a method of presenting them as shall show that they are equally adapted to the needs of humanity and in harmony with the results of critical and scientific research."
There is, of course, considerable inequality in these productions, coming as they do from such diverse sources, but they are all of a superior character, and there are a unity and a harmony in the views advanced which show that the liberalizing movement in the Scottish Church is broad, consistent, well defined, and well matured. The writers treat their respective topics independently, but with a remarkable concurrence of opinion, which shows that the more expanded views are the result less of any effort at agreement than of an unconscious growth of rational conviction.
But these sermons are not less remarkable for their free and catholic spirit and advanced principles than for the intellectual power which various of them evince in dealing with the present phases of religious thought. They are not the mere impatient protests of men chafing under the influence of an outworn system, but they are philosophical in temper, constructive and conservative in tendency, and evince a masterly grasp of the questions that are now tasking the best minds of the age. There is no timidity, no panic about imperiled faiths, and the old errors are repudiated with decision, but without harshness or bitterness. It is ably shown how religion is the gainer by being freed from the false beliefs that have been so long associated with it, and so widely mistaken for it.
These sermons are, moreover, remarkably free from that jealous antagonism to Science which in these days characterizes so much of our mediocre literature of theology. Science is neither fiercely denounced as leading to materialism, nor coldly complimented and left to go her ways. Her results are cordially accepted as a great revelation of truth, and of truth which is also of the highest religious importance. Instead of shrinking with horror at the scientific doctrine of development as something which threatens to sweep away all religion, these clear-sighted men recognize that this doctrine is at the basis of religion itself.