This, taken in conjunction with the passage quoted above from Clark’s Life, in which it is hard to believe that he is not speaking of himself, seems decisive enough, and in a mind of such speculative grasp and activity it is remarkable. “Right down through the storm-zone of the nineteenth century,” writes one who knew him well, “he comes untroubled by the force of the ‘aliquid inconcussum.’ Edinburgh, Germany, Berwick; Hamilton, Kant, Hegel, Strauss, Renan, it is all the same. The cause seems to me luminously plain. Saints are never doubters. His religious intuitions were so deep and clear that he was able always to find his way by their aid. They gave him his independent certainty, his ‘aliquid inconcussum.’”
His influence on the religious life of his time was largely due to the spiritual faculty in him that is here referred to. He was the power he was, not so much because of his intellectual strength as because of his character,—because he was “a great Christian.” But in this respect he had the defects of his qualities; and it is open to question whether he ever truly appreciated the formidable character of modern doubt, just because he himself had never had full experience of its power, because the iron of it had never really entered into his soul.
George Gilfillan, who, with all his defects, had often gleams of real insight, wrote thus in his diary 14th January 1863: “I got yesterday sent me, per post, a lecture by John Cairns on ’Rationalism, Ritualism, and Pure Religion,’ or some such title, and have read it with interest, attention, and a good deal of admiration of its ability and, on the whole, of its spirit. But I can see from it that he is not the man to grapple with the scepticism of the age. He has not sufficient sympathy with it, he has not lived in its atmosphere, he has not visited its profoundest or tossed in its stormiest depths. Intellectually and logically he understands it as he understands most other matters, but sympathetically and experimentally he does not.”
There is a considerable amount of truth in this, although it is lacking somewhat in the sympathy which the critic desiderates in the man he is criticising. Cairns did not feel that the battle with modern doubt was of absolutely overwhelming importance, and this, along with the other things to which reference has been made, kept him from giving to the world that new statement of the Christian position which his friends hoped to get from him, and which he at one time hoped to be able to give.
THE APOSTLE OF UNION