Speaking in the House of Commons several years ago, that eminent and devoted churchman, Lord Hugh Cecil, expressed himself as follows: "On all sides there are signs of decay of the Faith. People do not go to church, or, if they go, it is for the sake of the music, or for some non-religious motive. The evidence is overwhelming that the doctrines of Christianity have passed into the region of doubt." Once more, the Bishop of Carlisle has affirmed: "There are, perhaps, few things, and certainly nothing of similar moment, about which men give themselves so little trouble, and take such little pains, as the ascertainment, by strict examination, of the foundations and the evidences of their religion." Outspoken and weighty statements by responsible persons seldom lack foundation in fact. Accordingly, in these Lectures, I have attempted a partial review of the situation, so far as my narrow limits permit. Thus, in Lecture I, I have drawn attention to the alterations that overtake reflective constructions of belief. In Lectures II-IV, I have made an effort to summarize movements that justify Lord Hugh Cecil's declaration. But, as I have borne no part in the work of physical science and higher criticism, I am able only to indicate the present view from the conclusions of others. In Lectures V-VIII, I have essayed, in my own way, the examination suggested by the Bishop of Carlisle. I cannot pretend to expert familiarity with theology, so I have deemed it wiser to abandon this standpoint, represented most adequately by many others, and have confined myself to matters where I am more at home.
It is obvious, to students at least, that we are passing through a stage of transition where hazards beset belief. Of course, I am well aware that a broad distinction survives between the "beliefs of the vulgar and of the learned," as they have been called. But, under the educational arrangements prevalent now, - and these Lectures are to hold them in special remembrance, - it tends to fade, with two results. On the one hand, some who deem themselves 'learned' hug the idea that religion has become a negligible quantity. Their learning has not matured enough to make manifest the deeps of our remanent ignorance. On the other hand, many are puzzled, often distressed beyond measure, by the metamorphic process coincident with enquiry. They resent the stress placed upon natural piety, and so they blink the issue, to sore harm of the religious cause; or, unappreciative of what knowledge has gleaned, they cling to belief of such a character that, under assault, it can scarce be distinguished from the despair of a last resort. These are sad hazards....