Page:Modern Rationalism (1897).djvu/34

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34

MODERN RATIONALISM.

Indeed, Maurice gives somewhere a fantastic description of sin as consisting in the fact that some men (the good) recognise their redemption in Christ, and others (the sinful) do not; all, however, were redeemed once for all by Christ; and he says, in a letter to Miss Barton, that he "wishes to treat evil as though it were not, for in very truth it is a falsehood." In point of fact, the Rationalizers were approaching that saner view of the moral law which Bentham initiated, and which is now current among us—that, namely, which ascribes the character of a humanitarian ordination to the moral law, and does not base it upon the arbitrary will of a Supreme Being. On that theory each sin leaves its inevitable imprint in human life, for which there is no atonement. At the same time men were beginning to recognise that the theory of the divine chastiser was an imperfectly sublimated relic of pre-civilized ages. Anger and vindictiveness were coming to be recognised as unseemly attributes of the Platonic deity of the nineteenth century.

And this conception of sin was applied with even greater eagerness to the traditional dogma of original sin. As the moral sense of the community asserted its supreme position it came to throw off that plea of "mystery" which had confusedly reconciled Christendom to so grave an ethical anomaly as the condemnation of countless millions of men to positive, even eternal, suffering for one man's fault. In proportion as the moral sense is refined in man, it recedes with abhorrence from that course of conduct which tradition had assigned to an infinitely good and moral being. During so many centuries conscience had been stifled by the plea of mystery; but conscience triumphed at last and rejected the imputed conduct. It is only from Roman Catholic quarters that we now hear such words as these: "It is a heresy to deny that the souls of unbaptized babies are guilty of sin, or that they are punished for their guilt."[1] Many of the Broad Churchmen began to hope for a change in the baptismal service (though the Gorham case had reduced it purely to a matter of form). Maurice wished that, instead of presuming to make the infant a child of God, it would simply declare it to be one.

  1. The Bishop of Nottingham in a pastoral against Mivart.