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The title of this paper was not entirely approved by 
myself, although I was not quite irresponsible for the 
choice of it. The tendency of the present time to sum up 
great questions within very limited compass is a dangerous 
one. Moreover,, the temptation which the circumstances 
of this year offer alike to readers and writers only increases 
the danger. We have reached a turning point in the 
history of England, which is suggestive of the most fasci- 
nating analyses of all the thoughts, the words, and deeds, 
which have occupied the subjects of Her Majesty during 
the sixty years of her wonderful reign. 

The progress of religious thought during these sixty 
years has not been so considerable or so rapid as it may 
be the fashion to profess. After all, the changes which 
have taken place have been mainly confined to the 
personal influence of some small group of individuals. On 
the other hand, large elements of change which have come 
to pass cannot be considered to have been in the direction 
of progress at all. And some movements which belong to 
tbe epoch have been both retrogressive and progressive at 
the same time. The Tractarian Movement at Oxford has 
left these double traces on the mind of England, the growth 
and development of the High Church party have undoubt- 
edly stimulated religious thought, and it has not been 
without its intellectual influence also. At the same time it 

1 A paper read before the Jewish Literary and Historical Society at 
Bradford, on Sunday, May 30, 1897. 


has given a new lease and fresh encouragement to natural 
tendencies towards superstition. Furthermore, under the 
immediate wing of Ritualism in its early days, there was 
a new impetus imparted to the spirit of intolerance. The 
Roman Catholic Church has made even greater progress 
than the Anglican and perhaps with less mischief to itself. 
There has grown up within the Church of Rome in this 
country more breadth of view than it contained formerly. 
This has been mainly owing to the Tractarian Movement, 
which imported into the Roman Church so many of the 
best educated men from the Church of England. The 
accession by the Catholic Church of such people as the 
Oriel Fathers — Newman, Manning, Wilberforce, and Ward, 
as well as a host of others of slightly later date, gave to 
that organization just what it had previously lacked — the 
spirit of the then modem University life— for the Roman 
Catholic clergy were not trained at Oxford and Cambridge. 

Within the Church of England itself, the changes that 
have occurred are very remarkable indeed ; but as I have 
just observed, it is not all those changes which can be said 
to have contributed to the progress of thought. We had to 
wait for a somewhat advanced period in the present reign 
before we reached the time when the Church really 
broadened out and manifested its power of surviving and 
of fructifying under conditions which at the beginning of 
the reign would have been imagined to be fatal to it. 

The other day I was speaking to an octogenarian, who is 
a man of great distinction in the scientific world. And 
he made two remarks to me which are suggestive in 
connexion with the subject of this paper. "The sixty 
years of this reign," he said, "just cover the period during 
which I have been able to think for myself. When the 
Queen came to the throne I was twenty. In those days 
the Bible was taken literally and swallowed whole. No- 
body ventured to question anything which it contained." 

Now if I were asked to sum up the actual progress 
which religious thought has made in these sixty years, 


I would say that it has enabled religious people to transfer 
the seat of authority in religious matters from a condition 
of bibliolatry to one of natural religion. Formerly it was 
believed quite simply and honestly that the eternal truths 
of religion actually rested upon particular interpretations 
of biblical narratives. The Bible was considered as the 
book which literally and exclusively contained the Word 
of God. And that Word of God was supposed to have 
confined itself within the limits of the two covers of 
the Bible. It was actually thought that God had fully 
and finally revealed himself to mankind at a stage in 
human history prior to the period of the world's adoles- 
cence. The altered attitude of religious people among the 
educated classes in regard to the interpretation of the Bible 
is far more important than it may appear. Progress in 
religious thought is a constructive process and not a de- 
structive one. The views which are now held in regard 
to the Bible among religious persons who are also very 
thoughtful, differ considerably from what was formerly 
believed. But this change is not, as some uncritical people 
imagine, in a direction which is hostile to the Bible. Quite 
the contrary. The Bible is much more than it was because 
we understand it better. The popular notions which were 
held both by Jews and Christians in regard to the Bible 
was harmful both to the Bible itself and to the true cause 
of religion. Religion is either of vital consequence to 
human nature or it is a mere word without any practical 
meaning. Jews and Christians all agreed that religion 
was a vital matter ; but they were unwise enough to 
contend that this vital matter was dependent upon some- 
thing else which was necessarily uncertain, doubtful, 
susceptible of many meanings. I will give a simple 
illustration. I have known persons in my youth, who 
actually thought that the authority of the Ten Com- 
mandments rested upon the supposed miracle which is 
described in the nineteenth chapter of Exodus and which 
is said to have attended the circumstances of their being 


written. The logical consequence was that there was a 
danger of these Ten Commandments losing their authority 
and their claim upon the human conscience the moment it 
was suggested that the miracle was improbable. 

Again, Christians have imagined that the natural belief 
in a life after death was dependent upon the supposed 
miracle of the bodily resurrection of Christ. So that in 
this case the moment bodily resurrection was thought to 
be improbable, people were expected to part with their 
belief in a future state. 

It seems almost incredible to some of us now, that 
ideas which are so sacred and in many instances so 
essential to personal happiness, should be regarded as 
being dependent upon anything else which is at all ques- 
tionable. I remember hearing the ridiculous assertion that 
Christ must have been either the Incarnate God or an 
impostor. It is now perceived that there is another 
alternative to the hypothesis of his divinity, and that 
he might have been, while quite human, the greatest living 
example of spiritual and religious manhood. It is difficult 
to say which band of religionists has fallen into the most 
grotesque extravagances in regard to the claims they put 
forth on behalf of miracles. The great lesson which the 
present generation has learnt is that whether miracles in 
the ordinary sense have ever taken place or have never 
taken place, the deepest truths of religion and the permanent 
principles of ethics are entirely and absolutely independent 
of the question. To prove nowadays that a given miracle 
did not take place, does not disprove a single religious idea 
which is of any value. The fact of disproving a miracle 
has no other effect than to dispel some fond illusion or to 
remove a superstition. This is the greatest achievement 
in the progress of religious thought which our era has 

It may not be easy to trace this change or development 
to any specific cause. Perhaps it is mainly due to the 
natural progress of human intelligence and to a Divine 


Providence which watches over mankind. At the same 
time it is not difficult for a student of religious and 
philosophic literature to single out the men whose influence 
has been most potent in the direction indicated within the 
period with which we are now dealing. I should be sorry 
to think that the number of those vigorous and highly- 
gifted leaders of thought are confined to one or two. At 
the same time there can be very little doubt that in this 
particular work of emancipating the religious mind from 
false theories of religion, and of disentangling it from the 
confusion of past ages, there stands out in the Victorian 
era two names of unsurpassed influence, both intellectual 
and religious at the same time. I refer to James Martineau 
and Benjamin Jowett. These two eminent leaders of 
thought have, in my judgment, done more for the progress 
of religious thought during the Victorian reign than any 
others. And I do not hesitate to make this assertion with 
a full consciousness of the services which have been rendered 
in the same cause by three contemporaries of theirs, namely 
the late Bishop Colenso, Dean Stanley, and M. Renan. But 
Martineau and Jowett have done more than any to place 
religion on a rational basis. 

The great Unitarian divine, James Martineau, who of 
the five I have mentioned is the only one living — now in 
his ninety-third year — has occupied a position of extra- 
ordinary spiritual force in this country. There probably 
has never lived a man of more profound piety and saint- 
liness of life than he. As a preacher he stood alone in the 
combination of qualities which most strongly appeal to 
highly educated minds. He possesses a literary grace and 
a philosophic insight which will always enshrine his name 
among the very princes of English letters. His deep 
learning and singular mental grasp place him among the 
foremost intellects of his age. The work of his life has 
been a steady march of thought on the highest planes of 
religious culture, ever ascending to loftier pinnacles in the 
double province of intellectual and spiritual aspiration. 


If we judge him from his volumes, Types of Ethical Theory 
or his Study of Religion, or his numerous sermons published 
under the titles of Endeavours after the Christian Life 
and Hours of Thought, we cannot escape the conclusion 
that this thinker has touched the deepest chords in the 
religious and intellectual susceptibilities of scholars, students, 
and men of thought. Perhaps his latest work, published 
when he was over eighty years of age, was the crown of 
his career — The Seat of Authority in Religion. It is an 
exhaustive and remarkable analysis of those different 
centres of authority in which religionists have from time 
to time reposed their confidence. The Catholic Church, 
and the belief in miracles both of the Old and the New 
Testament, are examined and dismissed as being inadequate 
for the great purpose of leaning upon as the props of 
religious life and trust. The ultimate seat of authority 
which he discovers to be unassailable is in the human 
conscience. The great power of Martineau's teaching, as 
of Jowett's (of whom I shall speak presently), includes 
something which is distinct from the school of biblical 
critics in Germany. The Higher Criticism in England has 
been generally conducted in a way which has not weakened 
the hold which the Bible makes upon the literary as well 
as the religious imagination of the reading and thinking 
world. In Germany I suppose it would be true to say 
that the Bible has been somewhat detached from the place 
which it occupied in pre-critical days. Now in England, 
on the contrary, the authority of the Bible — both as a body 
of literature and as a manual of religion, has rather gained 
than lost in consequence of the Higher Criticism. To 
those men who owe their religious and literary stimulus 
to the influence and teaching of such men as Martineau 
and Jowett, the Bible has not become of less value, but 
rather of greater value, since they have learnt to consider 
the interpretation and the criticism of it by the same 
methods with which they interpret or criticize other books. 
The stories of the Creation in the early chapters of Genesis 


have lost nothing in their impressiveness — in their stately 
literary simplicity and in their inherent spiritual beauty — 
because the narrative has passed out of the sphere of 
history and entered into that of folk-lore. A story which 
contains any element whatever of philosophical truth or of 
literary merit does not sink into insignificance when the 
perception of it passes from the region of historic record 
into one of fiction. A myth may have in it all the stirring 
qualities of a true story, so long as it contains the elements 
of permanent abstract truth. To the modern disciple of 
a Martineau or a Jowett the Ten Commandments would 
gain nothing if we were to attempt to add to their intrinsic 
value a belief that they were spoken amidst thunder and 
lightning and thick darkness and trumpet sounds. We 
can understand that such associations did not unnaturally 
gather around the tradition in respect to them. And 
having gathered in the minds of a highly imaginative 
people who were yet in a state of archaic civilization, 
it was not unfitting or extraordinary in any way that 
these traditions should have been written down in the 
very documents which contained the imperishable code 
itself. No words of mine can so fitly express the in- 
dependence of the religious idea of the belief in miracles 
and of bibliolatry than those memorable words spoken 
by Martineau at the opening of the Unitarian College at 
Oxford in October, 1893. With your permission, therefore, 
I will here quote them :— 

Is there then, you may perhaps ask, nothing permanent in the 
contents of religious faith ? Yes, of religious faith, even though 
you should pass from church to church, and your assent should 
shift from creed to creed. For the abiding element is to be found, 
not in the intellect's theoretical conception of things divine, but 
in the order, depth, and power of the moral and spiritual affections, 
and in the adoring and living sense of an infinite Personal relation 
in which they place us. All the time that the understanding may 
be on the move in its escape from imperfections, the responsible 
and aspiring soul may for ever kneel before the eternally Perfect. 
The reverential conscience, the trustful love, the self-devoting will 


may abide the same through all theological research ; and be ready- 
to take possession of whatever universe and whatever history that 
research may lay open to them as the temple of their worship and 
epic of Divine Life. Be the scale small or great of the scene thus 
filled with God, the religion which so consecrates it is the same, and 
makes a fellowship of heart for the child, the peasant, and the 
philosopher. This it is that carries faithful minds unharmed through 
changes which frighten people helplessly resting on crumbling 
authorities. What " destructive criticism," they say, " is this ! " 
"What is to become of the Sabbath if the six days' Creation is 
given up ? And of the Fall of Man, if we listen to Darwin ? And of 
the Redemption, if we lose the Fall ? " Not only is it true that 
criticism destroys these things as facts, but that, unless it did so, we 
should be still in the stage of Accadian civilization ; imagining the 
universe to ourselves as a two-storied world divided by a Crystal- 
palace roof studded with electric lamps and an arc-light or two 
over the portals of the day and night; its ceiling supplied with 
water-tanks and turncocks to irrigate the flower-beds and fill the 
fish-ponds below ! Of this lower plane we should be thinking as the 
scene of an abortive experiment of a new creature ; who, though said 
to be in the image of God, proved to be so great a simpleton as to 
break down at the first temptation, and so become the progenitor 
of a fore-doomed race peopling a ruined world ; which, at the end 
of the ages, had to be bought off at a frightful cost of suffering 
to the Holiest of all. If criticism is " destructive " of this picture, 
does it not spread before us a more sublime? If it dwarfs the 
Mosaic Chronology, does it not unfold a record that has neither 
Alpha nor Omega ? If it does away with the flat sea and rooted 
earth "that cannot be moved," does it not roll them into a globe 
and fling it spinning and circling on a track from which it never 
swerves ? If it melts away the crystal roof, think whither it is that 
it lets the stars retire ! Suppose what we now know of our abode 
and our environment were to open suddenly upon a devout worshipper 
looking out on the little Hebrew universe. Nay, let it be Jesus of 
Nazareth himself, when he had gone up into the mountain to 
remain all night in prayer to God ; and if then had been revealed 
to him all that comes to us from the vault of stars above him, 
and the dip of the horizon below ; if the moon had told him her 
wondrous tale, and the light of Orion and Pleiades had reported 
its length of way, and what infinitudes it left behind ; if, in short, 
between the second watch and third of that night, he had found 
himself transported from the built firmament of Genesis to the 
open universe of Newton and Herschel ; do you think that he 
would have knelt no more ? That he would have shut up his 


spoken or silent prayer, because there was no longer anything 
adorable ? Would he not rather have been lifted into a devotion too 
rapturous for speech? And so it ever is with all our warranted 
" negations." We discard the relatively mean and low to escape into 
the great and glorious : we leave the rudiments to fall away, that we 
may press on towards perfection. We exchange a God with a " throne " 
and a "footstool," a "right-hand seat" and a left, for the Living 
Presence of a Universal Mind, looking into our eyes in all that is 
beautiful, and communing with us in all that is right. 

Such may be regarded as an epitome of the teaching of 
the greatest non-Jewish unitarian of this century. The 
passage which I have just quoted indicates the real drift 
of the crowning work of his life, which I have already 
mentioned, namely, The Seat of Authority in Religion. 

The other great force in the progress of religious thought 
will be found in the writings of Benjamin Jowett, the great 
Master of Balliol. He it was who, among the clergy of 
the Church of England, was the first to perceive the idea 
of natural religion as distinct from and independent of 
bibliolatry. In the fifties he had already written the 
following memorable words in his commentary on St. Paul's 
epistle to the Romans in the course of his remarkable essay 
on Natural Religion : " The truth seems to be not that 
Christianity has lost its power, but that we are seeking to 
propagate Christianity under circumstances which during 
the eighteen centuries of its existence it has never yet 
encountered." This pungent sentence seems to sum up the 
fact that religion (not only Christianity) must be presented 
upon a different basis from that upon which it was 
formerly supposed to rest. Tied down to the words of 
Scripture, and further hampered by an interpretation of it 
which was only characteristic of the unscientific spirit of 
the Middle Ages, the permanent truths of religion must 
necessarily become obscured. It is only part of the evolu- 
tion of the human mind that at some time or other it 
should assert its independence and break its bands asunder. 
This process does not involve what some German critics 
have unphilosophically assumed, that is the annihilation 

vol. x. A a 


of the religious instincts of human nature. On the con- 
trary, it is rather the assertion of those instincts which in 
the Ealliol school of thought has created this revolution. 
This seems the true spiritual and intellectual diagnosis of 
the condition of thought which induced Jowett to write 
the following criticism in 1859 of the Christian doctrine of 
the Atonement : — 

The doctrine of the Atonement has often been explained in 
a way at which our moral feelings revolt. God is represented as 
angry with us for what we never did : he is ready to inflict a dis- 
proportionate punishment on us for what we are; he is satisfied 
with the sufferings of his Son in our stead. The sin of Adam is first 
imputed to us ; then the righteousness of Christ. The imperfection 
of human law is transferred to the divine : or rather a figment of 
law which has no real existence. The death of Christ is also 
explained by the analogy of the ancient rite of Sacrifice. He is 
a victim laid upon the altar to appease the wrath of God. The 
institutions and ceremonies of the Mosaical religion are applied 
to him. He is further said to bear the infinite punishment of infinite 
sin. When he had suffered or paid the penalty, God is described as 
granting him the salvation of mankind in return. 

I shall endeavour to show, (1) that these conceptions of the 
work of Christ have no foundation in Scripture; (2) that their 
growth may be traced in ecclesiastical history; (3) that the only 
sacrifice, atonement, or satisfaction with which the Christian has to 
do, is a moral and spiritual one ; not the pouring out of blood upon 
the earth, but the living sacrifice " to do thy will, God " ; in which 
the believer has part as. well as his Lord ; about the meaning of which 
there can be no more question in our day than there was in the first 

Jowett's biographers, Professor Lewis Campbell and 
Mr. Evelyn Abbott, have well focussed the picture of his 
life and teaching. Jowett's philosophy, as they have 
pointed out, had not developed a particular system of 
philosophy such as had Spinoza, or Hegel, or Kant, and 
the rest of them. But he brought a philosophical spirit to 
bear upon the whole problem of religious life and belief. 
One vital work with which the name of the great Master 
of Balliol will always be associated was the impetus and 
the method which he gave to the interpretation not only 


of the sacred canon of the Old Testament and of the New 
Testament, but also to the great classical writings of 
ancient Greece to which he devoted his labours. And 
this reference leads me to make one more reflection in 
regard to the part which Jowett has played in the progress 
of religious thought in oar time. He has — so to speak — 
emancipated religion from the trammels of bibliolatry. 
Formerly— and not so long ago — even within the recollec- 
tion of many of us who are only in the prime of life, it 
was supposed that the truths of religion, which are per- 
manent if they are true, depended in some mysterious way 
upon particular views or attitudes in relation to the Bible. 
It was imagined that a belief in the historic accuracy of 
miracles recorded in the Scriptures was the foundation or 
basis of religious faith. The result was that the moment 
a person came to the conclusion that the evidence of 
miracles — that is sudden interruptions of the course of 
nature — mentioned in the Bible, was seen to be inadequate 
in establishing an alleged miraculous fact, the value of the 
Bible as a religious text-book was undermined and religion 
for that individual was shaken at its very base. We now 
know and are becoming every day more sensible, that the 
essential truths of religion are independent of these alleged 
miracles or of any particular interpretation of Scripture. 
And at the same time we learn that those who do not 
believe in miracles do not necessarily lose their reverence 
for the Bible as a religious text-book. Even the theory of 
inspiration or revelation is not destroyed because what was 
once considered to be a miracle comes to be regarded only 
as a myth. Many religious and devout spirits in our 
generation do not believe in miracles at all. They have 
prima facie objections to the proposition that any miracle 
was necessary to establish a religious idea. And the Bible 
has lost nothing for such people. Indeed it has rather 
gained in authority for them. The Bible is seen to be the 
result rather than the cause of the religious idea in the 
mind of man. It gains in divine authority the more we 

Aa % 


recognize the human hand in it. This is a view which 
was not very prevalent before the time of Jowett. He has 
done a great deal to bring it about. And he has been 
followed in quick succession by other distinguished scholars 
and thinkers, who have come under his immediate personal 
influence. The late Thomas Hill Green, of Balliol College, 
who was Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford, a man 
of genius, who thought and wrote in a method of his own, 
was one of the most religious men who ever lived. He 
entirely repudiated the idea of miracles. 

There is another branch of this subject to which it seems 
necessary to refer, though it is only possible on this occasion 
to do so very meagrely. The present generation has eman- 
cipated itself from the wildest illusions that ever entered 
into the human mind. In former days it was imagined 
that God had only revealed himself in a Book. And 
every fresh discovery which was brought to us from the 
labourers in the field of natural science, was supposed to 
be an assault on the religious idea. Men of science were 
imagined to be the enemies of religion. And so obstinately 
was this notion persisted in, that scientific men themselves 
seemed to think that whatever they were doing in their 
researches, was in antagonism to the efforts of religious 
people. About seventeen years ago, writing on this subject 
to a distinguished friend and an eminent Anglican divine, 
the late Canon Liddon, I was struck with the views which 
he wrote to me, and which seemed to be unusually 
enlightened : — 

" As to the physical sciences," Dr. Liddon wrote, " I daresay that 
religious people often use ill-considered and inaccurate language, 
to say no more. Nature is God's first revelation of himself; and 
his servants can have no quarrel with any true interpretation of it. 
I suppose that the feature in modern physical theories which 
provokes religious men, is the assumption, so often made, that there 
is no real knowledge except that which depends on observation and 

There is probably at the present time no religious person 
of more than moderate intelligence who regards science as 


being opposed to religion. And the greatest men of 
science have given up the supposition that their work 
conflicts with the higher truths of religion. Moreover, 
many devoted Jews and Christians have accepted the 
theory of evolution and have gone so far as to confess 
that the theory extends its operations to the sphere of 
religion itself. The late Professor Huxley expressed his 
ardent appreciation of the religious ideal of the Hebrew 
prophet, which he said could never be undermined by any 
scientific discovery, namely " to do justice, to love mercy, 
and to walk humbly with God." 

Both in the field of biblical interpretation and in the 
relation between science and religion, the progress of 
thought has been considerable. 

Of course it may be said in respect to the consideration 
of religious progress in thought, that it has been limited to 
a few exponents of religion. That the great mass of the 
population are still addicted to notions which are crude, 
superstitious and unprogressive. But it must be remem- 
bered that in all spheres of human progress, the landmarks 
of advance are to be noted by the points which are reached 
by individual leaders of thought, rather than the condition 
of multitudes. It is necessary to remember always that 
the most cultivated minds in whom progress invariably 
originates, are necessarily in advance of their fellow men 
who follow gradually, slowly and at some distance — but 
follow they inevitably will. On the other hand, even 
among the general population throughout England, there 
is much less intolerance than formerly. There is a growing 
disposition among different religious sects to recognize what 
they have in common, and to be less engaged than they 
used to be with the sense of things which differentiate them. 

One sign of the progress of thought is the growing desire 
to make Sunday a brighter day than it used to be — to 
combine with religious exercise the cultivation of other 
high instincts of humanity which are akin to those of 
religion. — the one helping forward the other. Thus the 


opening of National Museums and Picture Galleries, and 
the increased facilities for enjoying good music for multi- 
tudes who had little opportunity of doing so when these 
resources were tabooed and disallowed on the Sunday. 
All these things point to a progress among the mass of 
Englishmen themselves, if for no other reason than the 
tendency it creates to expand the mind and to promote 
what may be termed the cultivation of the national intelli- 
gence and general breadth of view. 

With these remarks, it is necessary to leave this brief 
and imperfect survey of a subject which is large and 
complex enough to fill a volume. I trust, however, that 
I have not wholly failed to convey some idea of the 
direction in which we may look for the evidence of 
religious progress during the reign of Queen Victoria. 

One reflection more. In the case of a constitutional 
monarchy like our own, it is no easy matter to define 
precisely the extent or the limit which the personal 
influence of the Sovereign has exercised over the nation 
in matters of social and religious progress. But just 
because it is a constitutional monarchy and that the 
functions of the reigning Head of our State are limited, 
we have in our Monarch the figure of one who is distinctly 
a social leader. The influence of our noble and beloved 
Queen has been not only a pure one in the religious sense, 
but it has been characterized by all those attributes which 
are distinctive of lofty personal culture as well as of a high 
civilization. The Queen, whilst scrupulously conscientious 
in her duties as the hereditary Head of the Church of 
England, has missed no opportunity of setting an example 
of great liberality. She has cultivated friendships among 
the representatives of many diverse schools of thought, 
and not one of her subjects has rejoiced more than she 
herself in the great triumph which has been achieved within 
her reign for the cause of absolute religious liberty. 

Oswald John Simon.