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§ 6. Concluding Remarks.
In reviewing these several theories concerning the method of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, it is important to remark, —
1. That it is not to be inferred because certain writers are quoted as setting forth one particular theory, that they recognized the truth of no other view of the work of Christ. This remark is especially applicable to the patristic period. While some of the fathers speak at times of Christ’s saving the world as a teacher, and others of them say that He gave himself as a ransom to Satan, and others again that He brings men back to the image of God, this does not prove that they ignored the fact that he was a sin offering, making expiation for the guilt of the world. It is characteristic of the early period of the Church, before special doctrines had become matters of controversy, that the people and the theologians retain the common language and representations of the Bible; while the latter, especially, dwell sometimes disproportionately on one mode of Scriptural representation, and sometimes disproportionately on another. The fathers constantly speak of Christ as a priest, as a sacrifice, and as a ransom. They ascribe our salvation to his blood and to his cross. The ideas of expiation and propitiation 590were wrought into all the services of the early Church. These Scriptural ideas sustained the life of the people of God entirely independently of the speculations of philosophical theologians.
2. The second remark which the preceding survey suggests is, that the theories antagonistic to the common Church doctrine are purely philosophical. Origen assumed that in man there are the three constituent principles: body, soul, and spirit; and that in analogy therewith, there are three senses of Scripture, the historical, the moral, and the spiritual. The first is the plain meaning of the words which suggests itself to any ordinary, intelligent reader; the second is the allegorical application of the historical sense for moral instruction. For example, what Moses commands about not muzzling an ox which treads out the corn, may be understood as teaching the general principle that labour should be rewarded, and, therefore, may be applied as it is by the Apostle, to enforce the duty of supporting ministers of the Gospel. The third or spiritual sense, is the general philosophical truth, which is assumed to underlie the doctrines of the Scriptures; of which truths the Scriptural doctrines are only the temporary forms. Thus Origen made the Bible teach Platonism. The object of most of the early apologists, was to show that Christianity had a philosophy as well as heathenism; and that the philosophy of the former is identical with the philosophy of the latter so far as that of the latter can prove itself to be true. The trouble was, and always has been, that whatever philosophy was assumed to be true, the doctrines of Scripture were made to conform to it or were sublimated into it. The historical and moral senses of Scripture constitute the object of faith; the spiritual sense is the object of gnosis or knowledge. The former is very well in its place and for the people; but the latter is something of a higher order to which only the philosophically cultivated can attain. That the mystical theory of the person and work of Christ, especially, is the product of philosophical speculation is obvious — (1.) From the express avowals of its most distinguished advocates. (2.) From the nature of the theory itself, which reveals itself as a philosophy, i.e., as a speculative doctrine concerning the nature of being, the nature of God, the nature of man, and of the relation of God to the world, etc. (3.) From the fact that it has changed with the varying systems of philosophy. So long as Platonism was in vogue, the spiritual sense of Scripture was assumed to be Platonism; that system discarded, the schoolmen adopted the philosophy of Aristotle, and then the Bible taught the doctrines of 591Peripateticism. Those of them who followed Scotus Erigena found Pantheism in the Scriptures. When the philosophy of Leibnitz and Wolf dominated the schools, that philosophy determined the form of all Scriptural doctrine. And since the rise of the new speculative philosophy all that the Scriptures teach is cast in its forms of thought. No man can be so blind as not to see that all that is peculiar in what the modern theology teaches of the person and work of Christ, is nothing more nor less than the application of modern speculative philosophy to the doctrines of the Bible. This, indeed, is generally admitted and avowed. This being the case, all these speculations are without authority. They form no part of the truth as it is revealed as the object of faith. We are bound to understand the Scriptures in their plain historical sense; and to admit no philosophy to explain or modify that sense, except the philosophy of the Bible itself; that is, those facts and principles concerning the nature of God, the nature of man, of the world, and of the relation between God and the world, which are either asserted or plainly assumed in the Scriptures. To depart from this principle is to give up the Bible as a rule of faith; and to substitute for it the teachings of philosophy. That form of Rationalism which consists in giving a philosophical explanation of the truths of revelation, or in resolving them into truths of the reason, is just as certain in the end to teach for doctrines the speculations of men, as the most avowed skepticism.
After all, apart from the Bible, the best antidote to all these false theories of the person and work of Christ, is such a book as Doctor Schaff’s “Christ in Song.”466466Christ in Song. Hymns of Immanuel: selected from all Ages, with Notes, by Philip Schaff, D. D. New York, Anson D. F. Randolph and Co., 1869. The hymns contained in that volume are of all ages and from all churches. They set forth Christ as truly God, as truly man, as one person, a the expiation for our sins, as our intercessor, saviour, and king, as the supreme object of love, as the ultimate ground of confidence, as the all-sufficient portion of the soul. We want no better theology and no better religion than are set forth in these hymns. They were indited by the Holy Spirit in the sense that the thoughts and feelings which they express, are due to his operations on the hearts of his people.592
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