Page images

After his elevation to the Bench gave him comparative leisure, he lectured from time to time on aesthetic, literary, philosophical subjects; but he never seems to have given offence, and those who knew him, little suspected this hard-working lawyer of having his whole soul engrossed by Spinoza's Ethics or the metaphysics of religion.

And yet when his Will was opened, the one thing which that excellent man, after making ample provision for his family, had evidently had most at heart, was to help the world to a clearer insight into the great problems of life than he himself in his busy career had been allowed to gain, to spread more correct and more enlightened views on the origin, the historical growth, and the true purpose of religion, and thus to help in the future towards an honest understanding between those who now stand opposed to each other, the believers and unbelievers, as they are called, unaware that as we all see through a glass darkly, we can only speak through our words faintly, and not always, rightly.

Allow me to quote some extracts from this remarkable Will:

I, Adam Gifford, sometime one of the Senators of the College of Justice, Scotland, ... having fully and maturely considered my means and estate ... and the just claims and expectations of my son and relations ... and considering myself bound to apply part of my means in advancing the public welfare and the cause of truth, do hereby make my Trustdeed and latter Will and Testament, that is to say, I give my body to the earth as it was before, in order that the enduring blocks and materials thereof may


he says,

deeply and it is, of

nd Attribedge of God and firmly

be employed in new combinations; and I give my soul to God, in Whom and with whom it always was, to be in Him and with Him for ever in closer and more conscious union.'

When Lord Gifford proceeds to declare that, after having provided for his relatives, he feels himself bound to employ what is over and above, for the good of his fellow men, he says,

'I, having been for many years deeply and firmly convinced that the true knowledge of God, that is, of the Being, Nature, and Attributes of the Infinite, of the All, of the First and only Cause, that is, the One and Only Substance and Being, and the true and felt knowledge (not merely nominal knowledge) of the relations of 'man and of the universe to Him, and of the true foundations of all ethics and morals,-being, I say, convinced that this knowledge, when really felt and acted on, is the means of man's highest well-being, and the security of his upward progress, I have resolved . . . to institute and found . . . lectureships or classes for the promotion of the study of said subjects, and for the teaching and diffusion of sound views regarding them, among the whole population of Scotland.

In a later paragraph of his Will, he defines more fully what he understands by Natural Theology and by sound views, and what subjects he wishes particularly to be taught.

Natural Theology,' he says, in the widest sense of that term, is the Knowledge of God, the Infinite, the All, the First and Only Cause, the One and the Sole Substance, the Sole Being, the Sole Reality, and the Sole Existence, the Knowledge of His Na

ture and Attributes, the Knowledge of the Relations which men and the whole universe bear to Him, the Knowledge of the Nature and Foundation of Ethics and Morals, and of all Obligations and Duties hence arising.

If Lord Gifford had said no more than this in his Will, we might have thought that he had been influenced by the high and noble, yet not very uncommon, motives of a man who wishes to see his own peculiar views of religion perpetuated for the benefit of mankind. He would have ranked among the pious founders and benefactors of this country, by the side of Chichele, Wolsey, Henry the Eighth, and other patrons of the Church in former ages. But no ; and here we see the wisdom and largemindedness of Lord Gifford.

· The lecturers,' he says, shall be subjected to no test of any kind, and shall not be required to take any oath, or to emit or subscribe any declaration of belief, or to make any promise of any kind; they may be of any denomination whatever, or of no denomination at all (and many earnest and highminded men prefer to belong to no ecclesiastical denomination); they may be of any religion or way of thinking, or, as is sometimes said, they may be of no religion, or they may be so-called sceptics or agnostics or freethinkers, provided only that the patronswill use diligence to secure that they be able, reverent men, true thinkers, sincere lovers of and earnest inquirers after truth.'

And further

"I wish the lecturers to treat their subject as a strictly natural science, the greatest of all possible

LORD GIFFORD'S BEQUEST. sciences, indeed, in one sense, the only science, that of Infinite Being, without reference to or reliance upon any supposed exceptional and so-called miraculous revelation. I wish it considered just as astronomy or chemistry is. I have intentionally indicated, in describing the subject of the lectures, the general aspect which personally I would expect the lectures to bear ; but the lecturers shall be under no restraint whatever in their treatment of their theme; for example, they may freely discussand it may be well to do so)all questions about man's conceptions of God or the Infinite, their origin, nature, and truth, whether he can have any such conceptions, whether God is under any or what limitations, and so on, as I am persuaded that nothing but good can result from free discussion.

You will now understand why I call the foundation of these Lectureships a sign, and a very important sign, of the times. Our nineteenth century, which will soon have passed away, has been described as a century of progress and enlightenment in all branches of human knowledge, in science, in scholarship, in philosophy, and in art. In religion alone it is said that we have remained stationary. While everything else has been improved, while new discoveries have been made which have changed the whole face of the earth, while our philosophy, our laws, even our morality, bear the impress of the nineteenth century, nay, of all the nineteen centuries which have passed over them since the beginning of our era, it is said, and not without a certain kind of pride, that our religion has remained unchanged, at least in all its essential elements,

Whether this is really so, depends on the meaning which we attach to the essential elements of religion, and in religion, more than in anything else, essential elements are but too often treated as non-essential, and, what is worse, non-essential as essential. The historian would have no great difficulty in showing that the Christianity of the Council of Nicaea is not in all essential points exactly the same as the Christianity of the Sermon of the Mount, and that the reformers of the sixteenth century at all events did not consider the Christianity of Papal Rome essentially the same as that of the Council of Nicaea. There has been change, whether we call it growth or decay, during the nineteen centuries that Christ's religion has swayed the destinies of the world. Yet the fact remains, that while in all other spheres of human thought, what is new is welcomed, anything new in religion is generally frowned upon. Nay, even when we seem to see healthy growth and natural progress in religion, it generally assumes the form of retrogression, of a return to the original intentions of the founder of a religion, of a restoration or reform, in the etymological sense of that word, that is, of a going back to the original form.

Why should that be so? Why should there be progress in everything else, only not in religion? The usual answer that religion rests on a divine and miraculous revelation, and therefore cannot be improved, is neither true nor honest. And to use such an argument in this place would be disloyal to the memory of the Founder of this lectureship, who wished religion to be treated without reference to or reliance upon any supposed exceptional and so-called miracu

« PreviousContinue »