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Introductory Lecture: The Historical Study of Religion

Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht.

Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht—this is one of those pregnant sayings of Schiller's which have a far wider application than we at first suspect. It is difficult to translate these words literally, without depriving them of their idiomatic force. Literally translated they mean, ‘the history of the world is the judgment of the world.’ But in German, the judgment of the world means at the same time ‘the day of judgment,’ or ‘doom's day.’

What Schiller meant therefore was that every day is a day of doom, that the history of the world, if comprehended as a whole, is the true judgment of the world, and that we must learn to understand that judgment, and to accept it as right. If we adopt this view of Schiller's, and learn to look upon the history of the world as an unbroken vindication of the highest wisdom, and of the most perfect justice which, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, govern the world, it would follow that what applies to the history of the world in general, must likewise apply to all that constitutes that history. Schiller's dictum would in fact express in general terms what I have tried to explain to you in my former lectures as the fundamental principle of the Historical School.

The Fundamental principle of the Historical School.

The followers of that school hold with Schiller that the history of religion, for instance, is the truest vindication of religion, the history of philosophy the best judgment of philosophy, the history of art the highest and final test of art. If in this spirit we study the history of the world, or any part of it, we shall learn that many things may seem wrong for the time being, and may, nay must be right for the time to come, for all time or for eternity. Many things which seem imperfect, are seen to be most perfect, if only understood as a preparation for higher objects. If we have once brought ourselves to see that there is an unbroken continuity, a constant ascent, or an eternal purpose, not only a mechanical development, in the history of the world, we shall cease to find fault with what is as yet an imperfect germ only, and not yet the perfect flower or the final fruit; we shall not despise the childhood of the world, nor the childhood of the religions of the world, though we cannot discover therein that mature and perfect manhood which we admire in later periods of history. We shall learn to understand the imperfect or less perfect as a necessary preparation for the more perfect. No doubt such a view of the history of the world requires faith; we have often to believe, even though we cannot prove, simply from a firm conviction that it cannot be otherwise, that there must be law and order and purpose in the world, and that there must Be goodness and justice in the Godhead. That faith was expressed by Friedrich Logau in the well-known verse, as translated by Longfellow, ‘Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small.’ And the same faith found utterance long ago in Euripides also, when he said: ‘'Tis true the working of the gods is slow, but it is sure and strong1.’

Anyhow, those philosophers who have become reconciled to the idea of the survival of the fittest, can hardly object to the principle that what is, is fit, and will in the end prove right, or, to put it into Schiller's words, that the ‘Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht.’

History of Religion is the True Philosophy of Religion.

You will understand now why I felt so strongly that the most satisfactory way of carrying out the intentions of the founder of this lectureship, the only effective way of studying what is called the philosophy of religion, or the philosophical criticism of religion, is to study the history of religion. History sifts and tests all forms and varieties of religion far more effectively than any single philosopher could possibly hope to do. I do not mean to say that a purely theoretic, as distinguished from an historical treatment of religion, is utterly useless. Far from it. I know that Kant scouts the idea that the history of philosophy is itself philosophy. But is not Kant's own philosophy by this time part and parcel of the history of philosophy? It is quite true that we can study a science apart from its history. We can, for instance, study the science of Political Economy apart from all history. We can learn what ought to be and what ought not to be, according to the general principles of that science. All I maintain is that it is better to test the truth of these general principles by history, and not by theory only. Certain theories of Political Economy which seemed quite perfect in the abstract, have been tried and found wanting. We hear it said even now that the principles of free trade and protection are on their trial. What does that mean, except that, they are being tried by the judgment of history, by results, by facts, by statistics against which there is no appeal, unless we say with some philosophers ‘tant pis pour les faits,’ or ‘tant pis pour l'histoire.’

A strategist in his study may know all the rules of the science of war, but the great general must know how these rules have stood the test of history; he must study the actual battles that have been fought, and thus learn to account for the victories and the defeats of the greatest commanders. In the same way then, as the true science of war is the history of war, the true science of religion is, I believe, the history of religion.

Natural Religion the Foundation of our Belief in God.

To show that, given the human mind such as it is, and its environment such as it is, the concept of God and a belief in God would be inevitable, is something, no doubt. Still you know how all the proofs of the existence of God that have been framed by the most eminent philosophers and theologians have been controverted by equally eminent philosophers and theologians. You know that there survive even now some half-petrified philosophers and theologians who call it heresy to believe that unassisted human reason could ever attain to a concept of or a belief in God, who maintain that a special revelation is absolutely necessary for that purpose, but that such a revelation was granted to the human race twice only, once in the Old, and once in the New Testament. They point triumphantly to Kant's Critique of Pure Reason which has demolished once for all, they say, such poor human cobwebs as the cosmological, the teleological, and the ontological proofs of the existence of a Divine Being, and has thus proved, from a quite unexpected quarter, that unassisted human reason cannot possibly attain to a sure knowledge even of the mere existence of God.

It may be said that such views are mere survivals, and not exactly survivals of the fittest. Those who maintain them, certainly know not what they do. But such views, though really subversive of all true religion, are very often preached as essential to Christianity, and many who know not the history of religion, are deceived by their reiterated assertion.

You know that in a court of law a clever pleader can defend almost anything; and in the court of philosophy also, I believe that pleaders can always be found to argue most eloquently whether for the plaintiff or for the defendant. The only evidence, however, which safely tells in the end, consists in facts.

The Real Purpose of the Biography of Agni.

That being the case, I devoted the principal part of my second course of lectures to placing before you facts,—facts which cannot be controverted, or which, at all events, have not been controverted, and which show how the human mind, unassisted by what is called special revelation, found its way step by step from the lowest perception of something material and visible to the highest concept of a supreme and invisible God. I chose for that purpose what I called the Biography of Agni or fire, that is the succession of the various ideas called forth in the human mind by the various aspects of fire, which beginning with the simplest perception of the fire on the hearth, as giving warmth and light and life to young and old, culminated in the concept of Agni as the god of light, the creator and ruler of the whole world.

This was an arduous task, and it may have proved as tedious to my hearers as it proved laborious to myself. Still, there was no other way of silencing all gainsayers once for all. If any so-called Christian Divine doubts the fact that in times past ‘God did not leave himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fire also, that is light and warmth, from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness’ (Acts xiv. 17), what I call the biography of Agni will in future supply evidence that ought to convince both those who believe and those who disbelieve the words of St. Paul and Barnabas, and that anyhow cannot be gainsayed. I can quite understand the anger that has been roused by the production of this evidence, though I cannot admire the efforts that have been made to discredit it. It is quite possible that in putting together this biography of Agni, I may have left out some passages from the Veda which would have been helpful for my purpose. Let them be produced, and I shall be most grateful. It is quite possible also that here and there I may have misapprehended the exact meaning of a verse taken from the Veda. Again, let it be proved, and I shall be most grateful. I am the last man to claim infallibility, not even in the interpretation of the Veda. But if people wish to controvert any statements of mine of which they disapprove, they ought to know that there are two ways only of doing it. They must show either that my facts are wrong, or that my deductions from these facts are faulty. In either case, no one will feel more grateful to them than I myself. For, if they can show that my facts were wrong, they will of course supply us at the same time with the true facts, and if my conclusions were faulty, that can be settled once for all by the rules of logic. If critics would confine themselves to these two tasks, they would be conferring a benefit on us for which every true scholar would be truly grateful. But if they deal, as so many do, in mere rhetoric or invective, they must not be offended if no notice is taken of their rage and vain imaginings. These matters are far too serious, nay, to my mind, far too sacred for mere wrangling. Though some excellent divines may differ from me, they ought to know that the cause of truth is never served by mere assertions, still less by insinuations, and that such insinuations are far more dishonouring to those who utter them than they could possibly be to those against whom they are uttered.

Natural Revelation.

I maintain, therefore, until any of my statements have been refuted by facts, that we can see in the history of Vedic Religion, how the human mind was led by a natural revelation, far more convincing than any so-called special revelation, from the perception of the great phenomena of nature to the conception of agents behind these phenomena. The case of Agni or fire was chosen by me as a typical case, as but one out of many, all showing how the phenomena of nature forced the human mind with a power irresistible to human reason, to the conception of and a belief in agents behind nature, and in the end to a belief in one Agent behind or above all these agents; to a belief in One God of Nature, a belief in a cosmic or objective Deity. Here was my answer to the statement repeated again and again, that the human mind, unassisted by a special revelation, was incapable of conceiving a Supreme Being. My answer was not an argument, nor a mere assertion. My answer consisted in historical facts, in chapter and verse quoted from the Veda; and these facts are stubborn things, not to be annihilated by mere clamour and chiding.

The True Object of comparing the Christian and Other Religions.

I must confess, however, that I did not expect that the attacks on what I called the historical proof of the existence of a Supreme Being would have come from the quarters from which they came. I thought that those who profess and call themselves Christians would have welcomed the facts which confirm the teaching of St. Paul. I hoped they would have seen that the facts which I collected from the ancient religions of the world formed in reality the only safe foundation of Natural Religion, and indirectly the strongest confirmation of the truth of the Christian religion. That religion, I say once more, should challenge rather than deprecate comparison. If we find certain doctrines which we thought the exclusive property of Christianity in other religions also, does Christianity lose thereby, or is the truth of these doctrines impaired by being recognised by other teachers also? You know that it has often been said that almost every Christian doctrine could be traced back to the Talmud. I am no judge on that subject; but if it were so, what should we lose? All I can say is that I have never met in the extracts from the Talmud with the most characteristic, nay, the fundamental doctrine of Christianity, the recognition of the divine element in man, or the divine sonship of man. Many things which Christianity shares in common with the Talmud, it shares in common, as we know now, with other religions likewise. It is true that Hillel, when asked to describe the religion of the Jews in a few words, replied, ‘What thou wouldst not have done to thee, do not that to others. This is the whole law; all the rest is but interpretation. Go, then, and learn what it means2.’ But it is well known by this time that the same doctrine occurs in almost every religion. Confucius said: ‘What I do not wish men to do to me, I also wish not to do to men.’ We read in the Mahâbhârata: ‘Hear the sum total of duties, and having heard, bear it in mind—Thou shalt not do to others what is disagreeable to thyself’ (Pandit, 1871, p. 238). Why then should Christians wish to claim an exclusive property in this truth?

The Talmud, we must remember, sprang from the same historical soil as Christianity, its authors breathed the same air as the disciples of Christ. Coincidences between the two are therefore most natural, and it does by no means follow that the Talmud can always claim a priority in time. But whoever may claim priority, whoever may have lent or borrowed, I confess I rejoice whenever I meet with passages from the Talmud or any other Sacred Book, that remind me of the Old or the New Testament. We read, for instance, in the Talmud: ‘Be not as slaves that minister to the Lord with a view to receive recompense; but be as slaves that minister to the Lord without a view to receive recompense; and let the fear of Heaven be upon you’ (Antigonus of Sochow, in Pirké Abôth I. 3; Kuenen, l.c. p. 212). And again, ‘Do His will as if it were thy will, that He may do thy will as if it were His will’ (Gamaliel, l.c. II. 4).

These are Christian sentiments; they may or may not have been borrowed from the Talmud. They are rays from a sun that lighteth the whole world. Marcus Aurelius said: ‘Love mankind, follow God’ (vii. 31); Epictetus said: ‘Dare to look up to God and say: Do with me henceforth as Thou wilt. I am of one mind with Thee. I am Thine. I decline nothing that seems good to Thee. Lead me whither Thou wilt. Clothe me as Thou wilt. Wilt thou that I take office or live, a private life, remain at home or go into exile, be poor or rich, I will defend Thy purpose with me in respect of all these’ (Discourses, II. 16). These are truly Christian sentiments, Christian, because eternal and universal; but it would be very difficult to prove that they were borrowed either from or by Christianity. And why should every truth be borrowed from Christianity? Why should not Christianity also have borrowed? And why should not certain truths be world-wide and universal? To me these truths seem to gain rather than to lose in power, if we accept them as springing up spontaneously in different minds, than if we maintain that they were conceived once only, and then borrowed by others.

The reason why people will not see the identity of a truth as enuntiated in different religions, is generally the strangeness of the garb in which it is clothed. No doubt the old heathen names of the Gods, even of their Supreme God, are often offensive to us by what they imply. But is it not all the more interesting to see how, for instance, Aristides the Sophist (176 A.D.), though retaining the name of Jupiter, is striving with all his might for a higher conception of the Deity, purer even than what we find in many portions of the Old Testament. This is how Aristides speaks of Jupiter:

‘Jupiter made all things; all things whatever are the works of Jupiter—rivers, and the earth, and the sea, and the heaven, and whatever is between or above, or beneath them, and gods and men, and all living things, and all things visible and intelligible. First of all, he made himself; nor was he ever brought up in the caverns of Crete; nor did Saturn ever intend to devour him; nor did he swallow a stone in his stead; nor was Jupiter ever in any danger, nor will he ever be.… But he is the First, and the most ancient, and the Prince of all things, and Himself from Himself.’

Why should we be less able and willing to see through the mists of mythology than those who were brought up with a belief in their own mythological gods? Why should we decline to recognise the higher purpose that was in these divine names from the beginning, and which the best among the pagans never failed to recognise?

Ancient Prayers.

It has often been said that what we mean by prayer does not or even cannot exist in any of the pagan religions. It may be true that the loving relation between man and God is absent in the prayers of the heathen world. It is certainly true that there are some religions unfavourable to prayer, particularly if prayer is taken in the sense of praying for worldly blessings. The Buddhists in general know of no prayer addressed to a superintendent deity, because they deny the existence of such a deity; but even prayers addressed to the Buddhas or Buddhist Saints are never allowed to assume the character of petitions. They are praises and meditations rather than solicitations. Prayers in the sense of petitions are considered actually sinful by the Sin-shiu sect of Buddhists in Japan. It is different with the followers of Confucius. They believe in a God to whom prayers might be addressed. But Professor Legge tells us that we look in vain for real prayers in their ancient literature, and this is most likely due to that sense of awe and reverence which Confucius himself expressed when he said that we should respect spiritual beings, but keep aloof from them3.

It is true also that when man has once arrived at a philosophical conception of the Deity, his prayers assume a form very different from the prayers addressed by a child to his Father in heaven. Still even such prayers are full of interest. Almost the last word which Greek philosophy has said to the world, is a prayer which we find at the end of the commentary of Simplicius on Epictetus, a prayer full of honest purpose:

‘I beseech Thee, O Lord, the Father, Guide of our reason, to make us mindful of the noble origin Thou hast thought worthy to confer upon us; and to assist us to act as becomes free agents; that we may be cleansed from the irrational passions of the body and may subdue and govern the same, using them as instruments in a fitting manner; and to assist us to the right direction of the reason that is in us, and to its participation in what is real by the light of truth. And thirdly, I beseech Thee, my Saviour, entirely to remove the darkness from the eyes of our souls, in order that we may know aright, as Homer says, both God and men.’ (See J. A. Farrer, Paganism and Christianity, p. 44.)

I shall devote the rest of this introductory lecture to reading some extracts which will show, I hope, that the heathen also could utter prayers, and some prayers which require but little modification before we ourselves can join in them.

Egyptian Prayer.

‘Hail to Thee, maker of all beings, Lord of law, Father of the Gods; maker of men, creator of beasts; Lord of grains, making food for the beasts of the field. . . . . The One alone without a second…King alone, single among the Gods; of many names, unknown is their number.

I come to Thee, O Lord of the Gods, who hast existed from the beginning, eternal God, who hast made all things that are. Thy name be my protection; prolong my term of life to a good age; may my son be in my place (after me); may my dignity remain with him (and his) for ever, as is done to the righteous, who is glorious in the house of his Lord.

Who then art Thou, O my father Amon? Doth a father forget his son? Surely a wretched lot awaiteth him who opposes Thy will; but blessed is he who knoweth Thee, for Thy deeds proceed from a heart full of love. I call upon Thee, O my father Amon! behold me in the midst of many peoples, unknown to me; all nations are united against me, and I am alone; no other is with me. My many warriors have abandoned me, none of my horsemen hath looked towards me; and when I called them, none hath listened to any voice. But I believe that Amon is worth more to me than a million of warriors, than a hundred thousand horsemen and ten thousands of brothers and sons, even were they all gathered together. The work of many men is nought; Amon will prevail over them.’

(From Le Page Renouf, Hibbert Lectures, p. 227.)

An Accadian Prayer.

“O my God, the lord of prayer, may my prayer address thee!

O my goddess, the lady of supplication, may my supplication address thee!

O Mató (Mâtu), the lord of the mountain, may my prayer address thee!

O Gubarra, lady of Eden (sic), may my prayer address thee!

O Lord of heaven and earth, lord of Eridu, may my supplication address thee!

O Merodach (Asar-mula-dag), lord of Tin-tir (Babylon) may my prayer address thee!

O wife of him, (the princely offspring (?) of heaven and earth), may my supplication address thee!

O (messenger of the spirit) of the god who proclaims (the good name), may my prayer address thee!

O (bride, first-born of) Uras (?), may my supplication address thee!

O (lady, who binds the hostile (?) mouth), may my prayer address thee!

O (exalted one, the great goddess, my lady Nana) may my supplication address thee!

May it say to thee: ‘(Direct thine eye kindly unto me).’

May it say to thee: ‘(Turn thy face kindly to me).’

(May it say to thee: ‘Let thy heart rest.’)

(May it say to thee: ‘Let thy liver be quieted.’)

(May it say to thee: ‘Let thy heart, like the heart of a mother who has borne children, be gladdened.’)

(‘As a mother who has borne children, as a father who has begotten a child, let it be gladdened.’)”

(Sayce, Hibbert Lectures, p. 336.)

A Babylonian Prayer.

‘O my God who art violent (against me), receive (my supplication).

O my Goddess, thou who art fierce (towards me), accept (my prayer).

Accept my prayer, (may thy liver be quieted).

O my lord, long-suffering (and) merciful, (may thy heart be appeased).

By day, directing unto death that which destroys me, O my God, interpret (the vision).

O my goddess, look upon me and accept my prayer.

May my sin be forgiven, may my transgression be cleansed.

Let the yoke be unbound, the chain be loosed.

May the seven winds carry away my groaning.

May I strip off my evil so that the bird bear (it) up to heaven.

May the fish carry away my trouble, may the river bear (it) along.

May the reptile of the field receive (it) from me; may the waters of the river cleanse me as they flow.

Make me shine as a mask of gold.

May I be precious in thy sight as a goblet (?) of glass.

Burn up (?) my evil, knit together my life; bind together thy altar, that I may set up thine image.

Let me pass from my evil, and let me be kept with thee. Enlighten me and let me dream a favourable dream.

May the dream that I dream be favourable; may the dream that I dream, be established.

Turn the dream that I dream into a blessing.

May Makhir the god of dreams rest upon my head.

Yea, let me enter into E-Sagil, the palace of the gods, the temple of life.

To Merodach, the merciful, to blessedness, to prospering hands, entrust me.

Let me exalt thy greatness, let me magnify thy divinity.

Let the men of my city honour thy mighty deeds.’

(Sayce, Hibbert Lectures, p. 355.)

A Vedic Prayer.

Rig-veda VII. 89:

1. Let me not yet, O Varuna, enter into the house of clay; have mercy, almighty, have mercy!

2. If I go along trembling, like a cloud driven by the wind; have mercy, almighty, have mercy!

3. Through want of strength, thou strong and bright god, have I gone to the wrong shore; have mercy, almighty, have mercy!

4. Thirst came upon the worshipper, though he stood in the midst of the waters; have mercy, almighty, have mercy!

5. Whenever we men, O Varuna, commit an offence before the heavenly host; whenever we break the law through thoughtlessness; hurt us not, O God, for this offence!

(M. M., History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature, p. 540.)

Another Vedic Prayer.

‘Let us be blessed in thy service, O Varuna, for we always think of thee and praise thee, greeting thee day by day, like the fires lighted on the altar, at the approach of the rich dawns.’ 2.

‘O Varuna, our guide, let us stand in thy keeping, thou who art rich in heroes and praised far and wide! And you, unconquered sons of Aditi, deign to accept us as your friends, O gods!’ 3.

‘Âditya, the ruler, sent forth these rivers; they follow the law of Varuna. They tire not, they cease not; like birds they fly quickly everywhere.’ 4.

‘Take from me my sin, like a fetter, and we shall increase, O Varuna, the spring of thy law. Let not the thread (of life) be cut while I weave my song! Let not the form of the workman break before the time!’ 5.

‘Take far away from me this terror, O Varuna! Thou, O righteous king, have mercy on me! Like as a rope from a calf, remove from me my sin; for away from thee I am not master even of the twinkling of an eye.’ 6.

‘Do not strike us, Varuna, with weapons which at thy will hurt the evil-doer. Let us not go where the light has vanished! Scatter our enemies, that we may live:’ 7.

‘We did formerly, O Varuna, and do now, and shall in future also, sing praises to thee, O mighty one! For on thee, unconquerable hero, rest all statutes, immovable, as if established on a rock.’ 8.

‘Move far away from me all self-committed guilt, and may I not, O king, suffer for what others have committed! Many dawns have not yet dawned; grant us to live in them, O Varuna.’ 9.

(M. M., India, p. 195, from Rig-veda II. 28.)

An Avestic Prayer.

1. ‘Blessed is he, blessed is every one, to whom Ahuramazda, ruling by his own will, shall grant the two everlasting powers (health and immortality). For this very good I beseech Thee. Mayest Thou through Thy angel of piety, give me happiness, the good true things, and the possession of the good mind.

2. I believe Thee to be the best being of all, the source of light for the world. Every one shall believe in Thee as the source of light; Thee, O Mazda, most beneficent spirit! Thou createdst all good true things by means of the power of Thy good mind at any time, and promisedst us a long life.

4. I will believe Thee to be the powerful benefactor, O Mazda! For Thou givest with Thy hand, filled with helps, good to the righteous man, as well as to the wicked, by means of the warmth of the fire strengthening the good things. For this reason the vigour of the good mind has fallen to my lot.

5. Thus I believed in Thee, O Ahuramazda! as the furtherer of what is good; because I beheld Thee to be the primeval cause of life in the creation; for Thou, who hast rewards for deeds and words, hast given evil to the bad and good to the good. I will believe in Thee, O Ahura! in the last period of the world.

6. In whatever period of my life I believed in Thee, O Mazda, munificent spirit! in that Thou camest with wealth, and with the good mind through whose actions our settlements thrive…’

(M. Haug, Essays on the Parsis, p. 155 seq., from Yasna XLIII. 1–6; see also Mills, S. B. E., vol. xxxi. p. 98.)

Verses from Zoroaster's Gâthas.

‘This I ask Thee, O Ahura! tell me aright: When praise is to be offered, how (shall I complete) the praise of One like You, O Mazda? Let one like Thee declare it earnestly to the friend who is such as I, thus through Thy righteousness to offer friendly help to us, so that One like Thee may draw near us through Thy good mind. 1.

This I ask Thee, O Ahura! tell me aright: Who by generation was the first father of the righteous order? Who gave the (recurring) sun and stars their (undeviating) way? Who established that whereby the moon waxes, and whereby she wanes, save Thee? These things, O Great Creator! would I know, and others likewise still. 3.

This I ask Thee, O Ahura! tell me aright: Who from beneath hath sustained the earth and the clouds above that they do not fall? Who made the waters and the plants? Who to the wind has yoked on the storm-clouds, the swift and fleetest? Who, O Great Creator! is the inspirer of the good thoughts (within our souls)? 4.

This I ask Thee, O Ahura! tell me aright: Who, as a skilful artizan, hath made the lights and the darkness? Who, as thus skilful, has made sleep and the zest (of waking hours)? Who spread the dawns, the noontides, and the midnight, monitors to discerning (man), duty's true (guides)? 5.

This I ask Thee, O Ahura! tell me aright: These things which I shall speak forth, if they are truly thus. Doth the piety (which we cherish) increase in reality the sacred orderliness within our actions? To these Thy true saints hath she given the realm through the (food Mind. For whom hast Thou made the mother-kine, the producer of joy? 6.

This I ask Thee, O Ahura I tell me aright, that I may ponder these which are Thy revelations, O Mazda! and the Words which were asked (of Thee) by Thy Good Mind (within us), and that whereby we may attain through Thine order, to this life's perfection. Yea, how may my soul with joyfulness increase in goodness? Let it thus be. 8.

This I ask Thee, O Ahura! tell us aright: How shall I banish this Demon of the Lie from us hence to those beneath who are filled with rebellion? The friends of righteousness (as it lives in Thy saints) gain no light (from their teachings), nor have they loved the questions which Thy Good Mind (asks in the soul).’ 13.

(Yasna XLIV: L. H. Mills, S. B. E., vol. xxxi. pp. 111 seq.)

Chinese Prayer. The Emperor's Prayer.

‘To Thee, O mysteriously-working Maker, I look up in thought. How imperial is the expansive arch, where Thou dwellest…Thy servant, I am but a reed or willow; my heart is but as that of an ant; yet have I received Thy favouring decree, appointing me to the government of the empire. I deeply cherish a sense of my ignorance and blindness, and am afraid lest I prove unworthy of Thy great favours. Therefore will I observe all the rules and statutes, striving, insignificant as I am, to discharge my loyal duty. Far distant here, I look up to Thy heavenly palace. Come in Thy precious chariot to the altar. Thy servant, I bow my head to the earth, reverently expecting Thine abundant grace. All my officers are here arranged along, with me, joyfully worshipping before Thee. All the spirits accompany Thee as guards, (filling the air) from the East to the West. Thy servant, I prostrate myself to meet Thee, and reverently look up for Thy coming, O god. O that Thou wouldest vouchsafe to accept our offerings, and regard us, while thus we worship Thee, whose goodness is inexhaustible!’

‘Thou hast vouchsafed, O God, to hear us, for Thou regardest us as a Father. I, Thy child, dull and unenlightened, am unable to show forth my dutiful feelings. I thank Thee that Thou hast accepted the intimation. Honourable is Thy great name. With reverence we spread out these gems and silks, and, as swallows rejoicing in the spring, praise Thine abundant love.’

(From the Imperial Prayer-book in the time of the Emperor Keatsing. See James Legge, On the Notions of the Chinese concerning God and Spirits, Hong-kong, 1852, p. 24. The date of this prayer is modern.)

Mohammedan Profession.

Qur'ân, II. 255–256:

‘O ye who believe! expend in alms of what we have bestowed upon you, before the day comes in which is no barter, and no friendship, and no intercession; and the misbelievers, they are the unjust.

God, there is no god but He, the living, the self-subsistent. Slumber takes Him not, nor sleep. His is what is in the heavens and what is in the earth. Who is it that intercedes with Him save by His permission? He knows what is before them and what behind them, and they comprehend not aught of his knowledge but of what He pleases. His throne extends over the heavens and the earth, and it tires Him not to guard them both, for He is high and grand.’

(Palmer, S. B. E., vi. 39 seq.)

Modern Hindu Prayer.

1. ‘Whatsoever hath been made, God made. Whatsoever is to be made, God will make. Whatsoever is, God maketh,—then why do any of ye afflict yourselves?

2. Dadu sayeth, Thou, O God! art the author of all things which have been made, and from thee will originate all things which are to be made. Thou art the maker, and the cause of all things made. There is none other but Thee.

3. He is my God, who maketh all things perfect. Meditate upon him in whose hands are life and death.

4. He is my God, who created heaven, earth, hell, and the intermediate space; who is the beginning and end of all creation; and who provideth for all.

5. I believe that God made man, and that he maketh everything. He is my friend.

6. Let faith in God characterize all your thoughts, words, and actions. He who serveth God, places confidence in nothing else.

7. If the remembrance of God be in your hearts, ye will be able to accomplish things which are impracticable. But those who seek the paths of God are few!

8. He who understandeth how to render his calling sinless, shall be happy in that calling, provided he be with God.

9. O foolish one! God is not far from you. He is near you. You are ignorant, but he knoweth everything, and is careful in bestowing.

10. Whatever is the will of God, will assuredly happen; therefore do not destroy yourselves by anxiety, but listen.

11. Adversity is good, if on account of God; but it is useless to pain the body. Without God, the comforts of wealth are unprofitable.

12. He that believeth not in the one God, hath an unsettled mind; he will be in sorrow, though in the possession of riches: but God is without price.

13. God is my clothing and my dwelling. He is my ruler, my body, and my soul.

14. God ever fostereth his creatures; even as a mother serves her offspring, and keepeth it from harm.

15. O God, thou who art the truth, grant me contentment, love, devotion, and faith. Thy servant Dadu prayeth for true patience, and that he may be devoted to thee.’

(Verses from Dadu, the founder of the Dadupanthi sect, about 1600 A.D.)

I confess that my heart beats with joy whenever I meet with such utterances in the Sacred Books of the East. A sudden brightness seems to spread over the darkest valleys of the earth. We learn that no human soul was ever quite forgotten, and that there are no clouds of superstition through which the rays of eternal truth cannot pierce. Such moments are the best rewards to the student of the religions of the world—they are moments of true revelation, revealing the fact that God has not forsaken any of his children, if only they feel after Him, if haply they may find him. I am quite aware how easy it is to find fault with these childish gropings, and how readily people join in a laugh when some strange and to us grotesque expression is pointed out in the prayers of the old world. We know how easy it is to pass from the sublime to the ridiculous, and nowhere is this more the case than in religion. Perhaps Jelâleddîn's lesson in his Mesnevi may not be thrown away even on modern scoffers.

Moses and the Shepherd.

“Moses once heard a shepherd praying as follows: ‘O God, show me where Thou art, that I may become Thy servant. I will clean Thy shoes and comb Thy hair, and sew Thy clothes, and fetch Thee milk.’ When Moses heard him praying in this senseless manner, he rebuked him, saying, ‘O foolish one, though your father was a Mussulman, you have become an infidel. God is a Spirit, and needs not such gross ministrations as, in your ignorance, you suppose.’ The shepherd was abashed at his rebuke, and tore his clothes and fled away into the desert. Then a voice from heaven was heard, saying, ‘O Moses, wherefore have you driven away my servant? Your office is to reconcile my people with me, not to drive them away from me. I have given to each race different usages and forms of praising and adoring me. I have no need of their praises, being exalted above all such needs. I regard not the words that are spoken, but the heart that offers them. I do not require fine words, but a burning heart. Men's ways of showing devotion to me are various, but so long as the devotions are genuine, they are accepted.’”

Advantages of a Comparative Study of Religions.

I have never disguised my conviction that a comparative study of the religions of the world, so far from undermining the faith in our own religion, serves only to make us see more clearly what is the distinctive and essential character of Christ's teaching, and helps us to discover the strong rock on which the Christian as well as every other religion must be founded.

But as a good general, if he wishes to defend a fortress, has often to insist that the surrounding villas and pleasure grounds should be razed, so as not to serve as a protection to the enemy, those also who wish to defend the stronghold of their own religion have often to insist on destroying the outlying intrenchments and useless ramparts which, though they may be dear to many from long association, offer no real security, nay, are dangerous as lending a support to the enemy, that is to say, to those who try to sap the rock on which all true religion, call it natural or supernatural, must be founded.

It is quite true, for instance, that the fact that we meet with so-called miracles in almost every religion, cannot but tell upon us and change our very conception of a miracle. If Comparative Theology has taught us anything, it has taught us that a belief in miracles, so far from being impossible, is almost inevitable, and that it springs everywhere from the same source, a deep veneration felt by men, women, and children for the founders and teachers of their religion. This gives to all miracles a new, it may be, a more profound meaning. It relieves us at once from the never-ending discussions of what is possible, probable, or real, of what is rational, irrational, natural, or supernatural. It gives us true mira, instead of small miracula, it makes us honest towards ourselves, and honest towards the founder of our own religion. It places us in a new and real world where all is miraculous, all is admirable, but where there is no room for small surprises, a world in which no sparrow can fall to the ground without the Father, a world of faith, and not of sight4. If we compare the treatment which miracles received from Hume with the treatment which they now receive from students of Comparative Theology, we see that, after all, the world is moving, nay even the theological world. Few only will now deny that Christians can be Christians without what was called a belief in miracles; nay, few will deny that they are better Christians without, than with that belief. What the students of Comparative Theology take away with one hand, they restore a hundredfold with the other. That in our time a man like Professor Huxley should have had to waste his time on disproving the miracle of the Gergesenes by scientific arguments, will rank hereafter as one of the most curious survivals in the history of theology.

When delivering these lectures, I confess that what I feared far more than the taunts of those who, like Henry VIII, call themselves the defenders of the faith, were the suspicions of those who might doubt my perfect fairness and impartiality in defending Christianity by showing how, if only properly understood, it is infinitely superior to all other religions. A good cause and a sacred cause does not gain, it is only damaged, by a dishonest defence, and I do not blame those who object to a Christian Advocate, an office till lately maintained at Cambridge, pleading the cause of Christianity against all other religions. It is on that account that the attacks of certain Christian Divines have really been most welcome to me, for they have shown at all events that I hold no brief from them, and that if I and those who honestly share my convictions claim a perfect right to the name of Christians, we do so with a good conscience. We have subjected Christianity to the severest criticism and have not found it wanting. We have done what St. Paul exhorts every Christian to do, we have proved everything, we have not been afraid to compare Christianity with any other religion, and if we have retained it, we have done so, because we found it best. All religions, Christianity not excepted, seem really to have suffered far more from their defenders than from their assailants, and I certainly know no greater danger to Christianity than that contempt of Natural Religion which has of late been, expressed with so much violence by those who have so persistently attacked both the founder of this lectureship on Natural, Religion and the lecturers, nay even those who have ventured to attend their lectures.