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What then is theology, and what is religion, and what is the relation which they bear to each other ?
Theology, according to the etymology of the two Greek words from which it is derived, is an account of what God is, what we are in relation to God, and what God is in relation to us. Religion, according to the derivation of the Latin word from which it springs, and which signifies to bind, is simply duty, the feelings we ought to cherish and the course of conduct we ought to pursue towards God, ourselves, and each other. This distinction it will be necessary to keep in view through the following discourse, as some very important consequences will be drawn from it.
We often hear it said, that it is of little consequence what a man believes, provided he leads a good life. This is in some sense true, when applied to an individual. There are some persons of a temperament so well constituted, that they seem to be virtuous without effort, from the spontaneous promptings of a good heart. There are others who seem to need the strong constraint of a religious faith, the authority of a Supreme Being, and the prospect of an eternal retribution, to induce them to do right.
All men are in some degree religious beings, for all men have a conscience, which appeals to some higher authority than any thing human, for if it were human, then we might control and silence conscience. The religious principle in man appealing to something without him for its sanction and authority, its influence will much depend on what he conceives that something to be, a being omnipotent or weak, omnipresent or afar off, merciful or severe, perfectly holy, or subject to imperfection, just or partial, liable to change or immutably the same.
Religion, as an outward institution, all mankind must have, for it is in them by nature. Man must worship. It is in him to do so. No nation has ever existed without it. There are in him the sentiments of wonder, adoration, gratitude. He knows that there must be something above him to worship. These sentiments always have found and always will find expression. But they will always react on the worshipper. He who worships an image or an ox may be as religious -I mean in the sense of being earnest, and fervent, and sincere --- as he who worships the Infinite Jehovah, nay, he may be more excited and passionate at the time. The difference between the two men is not in their religion, but their theology. Both are religious, both worship ; but one worships God, the other worships a beast. One is elevated, purified, strengthened, ennobled. The other is degraded, weakened, polluted, debased. Does it make no difference, then, what a man believes ? What a man believes is his theology, the very thing which makes whatever religion he has, -blind superstition, or intelligent worship ; exalted reverence, or slavish fear; an aspiration after whatever is pure and holy, or an apology for his own follies or vices or crimes.
Religion always invents rites and ceremonies. All religions have their ritual, which men imagine will be pleasing to those beings to whom it is directed. But the nature of that ritual will depend on the theology of those who invent it. The Hindoo is perhaps as religious a being as is found
upon the face of the earth. His whole life is a series of penances and privations, and he will often close it with a death of martyrdom. But his religion fails to ennoble and exalt him, because of the wretched theology
with which it is connected. What can follow but degradation, when the Infinite God is symbolized and represented by an enormous wooden statue, drawn about on wheels by human strength ?
The whole continent of Asia is at this moment in a state of moral degradation, of which we in the Western world can form no idea. What is wanted for their redemption is not more religion, for generally they are eminently a religious people, but a better theology, the knowledge of the true God. Let theology be right, and religion will take care of itself.
All this is not only theoretically, but historically, true. The true glory of the Old Testament consists, not in its religion, but its theology. The author of the Pentateuch stands on a pinnacle of glory, with reference to the advancement of the human race, far above all the other lawgivers and founders of states, wise men and philosophers, and has but one competitor in the annals of time. We look upon him with veneration, as he came radiant from the presence of God with the tables of the Law, to mould the civil and religious institutions of the favored people of God. But the glory of his mission, I apprehend, is not usually put in the right place. It is, I believe, in his theology, rather than his religion. It is in the book of Genesis, rather than in the last four books of the Pentateuch. The power, the vitality, of those laws which he afterwards introduces lies entirely, in my estimation, in the preamble contained in the introductory history of the earth and of the human race. It lies in the promulgation of the great and fundamental truths of the unity, the spirituality, the all-comprehending providence, and the moral perfections
of God. A belief in these is the basis of all scientific truth, of moral order, of social refinement, of progressive civilization, of personal integrity, of public virtue. The
power of that law mainly consisted in the source whence it came. It is the purpose of the book of Genesis to display the being and attributes of the true God, the Jehovah of the Jews. It comes from none of those deities which had hitherto been the objects of the superstitious reverence of the nations, not from the sun and moon and stars, which had been adored as Gods by the Babylonians, Sabeans, and the people of the East, - not from the oxen and crocodiles which had been worshipped in Egypt, but from Jehovah, the Creator of them all, that spiritual, eternal, immutable Being, who is without beginning and without end, whose essence every material representation dishonors and degrades, and who finds his only image in the highest conceptions of the human soul ; whose power nothing can resist, whose knowledge nothing can escape, and whose providence extends to all events.
It was this theology, reiterated and kept alive by the succession of prophets, and the faith in it which was thus preserved, which gave vitality and permanency to the Jewish constitution, kept burning the fire of true religion upon the altar at Jerusalem, breathed the breath of immortal life into the Psalms, and set apart as divine and perennial the words of the prophets, and preserved the seed of true religion to be spread abroad in due time all over the earth.
It was the theology of the Pentateuch which first set up the standard of true religion against the multitudinous idolatries which then existed in the world, and which are not yet exterminated. And it is a remarkable fact, that the splendid invectives of Isaiah and the Psalms, written more than five-and-twenty centuries ago, are now found by our missionaries, the most powerful weapon against the image-worship of the East. It is not long since a Christian minister wrote home an account of his reading a part of the one hundred and fifteenth Psalm in one of the idol temples of China, in the very presence of the grotesque and worm-eaten images which insult humanity by their hideousness and deformity, till every worshipper shook with laughter and derision. ". Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but they speak not ; eyes have they, but they see not. They have ears, but they hear not ; noses have they, but they smell not. They have hands, but they handle not ; feet have they, but they walk not ; neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them ; so is every one that trusteth in them. But our God is in the heavens ; he hath done whatsoever he pleased.
The theology of Moses can never die. The religion he established to embody and perpetuate that theology was in a measure arbitrary and conventional, and, being practicable only in a particular country, became impracticable on the dispersion of the sacred tribes. But his theology lives in the minds of that scattered people as intensely as ever. Jehovah was no territorial God, nor was his worship confined to the temple at Jerusalem. His temple the Jew felt to be everywhere where there was an humble, lowly, and penitent heart.
The reform which Jesus of Nazareth attempted to in