IN the opening words of a lecture delivered in this city four years ago, I spoke of the desire and tendency of the present age to connect itself organically with preceding ages. The expression of this desire is not limited to the connection of the material organisms of to-day with those of the geologic past. It is equally manifested in the domain of mind. To this source, for example, may be traced the philosophical writings of Mr. Herbert Spencer. To it we are indebted for the series of learned works on "The Sources of Christianity," by M. Renan. To it we owe the researches of Professor Max Müller in comparative philology and mythology, and the endeavor to found on these researches a "science of religion." In this relation, moreover, the recent work of Principal Caird is highly characteristic of the tendencies of the age. He has no words of vituperation for the older phases of faith. Throughout the ages he discerns a purpose and a growth, wherein the earlier and more imperfect religions constitute the natural and necessary precursors of the later and more perfect ones. Even in the slough of ancient paganism, Principal Caird detects a power ever tending toward amelioration, ever working toward the advent of a better state, and finally emerging in the purer life of Christianity.
These changes in religious conceptions and practices correspond to the changes wrought by augmented experience in the texture and contents of the human mind. Acquainted as we now are with this immeasurable universe, and with the energies operant therein, the guises under which the sages of old presented the Maker and Builder thereof seem to us to belong to the utter infancy of things. To point to illustrations drawn from the heathen world would be superfluous. We may mount higher, and still find our assertion true. When, for example, Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel are represented as climbing Mount Sinai, and actually seeing there the God of Israel, we listen to language to which we can attach no significance. "There is in all this," says Principal Caird, "much which, even when religious feeling is absorbing the latent nutriment contained in it, is perceived [by the philosophic Christian of to-day] to belong to the domain of materialistic and figurative conception." The
- Presidential address to the Glasgow Sunday Society, delivered in St. Andrew's Hall, October 25, 1880.
- "Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion."
- In Professor Max Müller's "Introduction to the Science of Religion" some excellent passages occur, embodying the above view of the continuity of religious development.