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THESE volumes contain the Gifford Lectures delivered in the University of St. Andrews, during Sessions 1890-91 and 1891-92. I have, however, introduced into the First Course two additional Lectures, the Sixth and Twelfth, which seemed necessary to complete the argument.

A Course of Lectures which attempts to give a general view of so great a subject as the Evolution of Religion, without going into detail on any special question, and, so far as possible, without using the technical language of philosophy, must leave much to be desired in precision and completeness of statement. And for a time I thought of using what I had written merely as materials for a more systematic work. But on consideration it seemed to me impossible to change the plan originally adopted, without practically writing a new book. The looser form of Lectures seemed also to have some advantage in concentrating attention upon the main issues apart from the details of criticism, and, at the same time, in meeting the wants of readers whom a more elaborate treatise might have repelled.

In preparing these Lectures I have specially had in view that large and increasing class who have become, partially at least, alienated from the ordinary dogmatic system of belief, but who, at the same time, are conscious that they have owed a great part of their spiritual life to the teachings of the Bible and the Christian Church. To separate what is permanent from what is transitory in the traditions of the past is a difficult task which every new generation has to encounter for itself. In the present day there are many who find it hard to understand themselves, and “the signs of the times”; nay, who are divided between two feelings: perplexed on the one side by a suspicion that in clinging to the orthodox forms of the creed of Christendom, they may be untrue to themselves, and may even seem to assent to doctrines which they have ceased to believe; and checked on the other side by a fear that, in discarding those forms, they may be casting aside ideas which are essential to their moral and spiritual life. What they want, above all, is some principle or criterion, which will make it possible for them to distinguish what is tenable from what is untenable in the opposite claims which are made upon their belief—claims which, on both sides, they cannot help to some extent acknowledging. They want some Eirenicon to reconcile them with themselves, and to enable them to see that there is no discord between the different aspects of truth which their own experience has forced them to recognise.

In dealing with such difficulties, in the present day, we are greatly assisted by those better methods of historical and philosophical criticism which are making the book of the past so much less hard to read than it was to a previous generation; and, above all, by the great reconciling principle of Development, upon which these methods are based. That principle has for the first time put into our hands “the leaden rule of Lesbian Architecture”1 which can adapt itself to all the inequalities of the varied and complex structure of human opinion. It has made it possible for us to understand the errors of men in the past as partial and germinating truths; and to detect how ideas grow up under forms which are inadequate to them, and which finally they throw off when they have reached maturity. It has made it possible for us to give a more satisfactory, because a more discriminating answer to many questions which a previous generation settled with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’; to stop the strife of warring dogmatisms by showing that the question is not one between absolute verity and absolute untruth, but between more or less of each. For, so long as we have our life “am farbigen Abglanz,”—in the varied and coloured reflex of our partial human thought and feeling; so long as our developing thought is divided as it is, between the truth which we have consciously realised, and that which we are only striving to make conscious, so long the question between different schools or stages of thought will not be simply: ‘True or false?’ but ‘How much truth has been brought to expression, and with what inadequacies and unexplained assumptions?’ The idea of development thus enables us to maintain a critical spirit without agnosticism, and a reasonable faith without dogmatism; for it teaches us to distinguish the one spiritual principle which is continuously working in man's life from the changing forms through which it passes in the course of its history. It teaches us to do justice to the past without enslaving the present, and to give freedom to the thought of the present without forgetting that it, in its turn, must be criticised and transcended by the widening consciousness of the future.

The plan of these Lectures is as follows. After the general statement, in the First Lecture, of the problem which I propose to discuss, I have given in the next six Lectures an explanation, as clear as I could make it, of the principles upon which my view of Religion and of its History is based. It is in this part of the book mainly that difficulties are likely to be felt by readers who are not familiar with philosophical discussion. In the rest of the course I have described what I conceive to be the main stages in the development of pre-Christian religions. In doing so I have been led—partly by a desire to get at the issues that are of most importance, and partly by the limitations of my own knowledge—to pass very summarily over the earliest stages of religious thought, and to dwell mainly on those higher forms of religion which may be still said to survive as recognisable influences in modern life. In my Second Course of Lectures I have confined myself almost entirely to the development of the Jewish and the Christian religion. Of course, even these could only be dealt with very briefly and inadequately, though what I have said about them contains the result of the reflexions of many years. What, however, I have aimed at throughout has been rather to illustrate a certain method of dealing with the facts of religious history in the light of the idea of development, than to exhaust any one application of that method.

Professor Henry Jones, of the University of St. Andrews, has read all the proofs of these volumes, and I owe to him many suggestions and criticisms which have been of great help to me. I have also to acknowledge the valuable assistance of Miss MacLehose, who has prepared the Index for this, as for a former work of mine.


GLASGOW, December, 1892.

  • 1. Aristotle's Ethics, v. 10. 7.