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NOTE F.—P. 49.

WEAKNESS OF MODERN LIBERAL PROTESTANTISM.

The modern Liberal Protestantism in Germany, Holland, Switzerland, and France, which, while discarding the supernatural in history, still retains the name Christian,—nay, claims to be the true Christianity, purified and brought into harmony with the “modern” spirit.—meets with scant mercy at the hands of those who have gone further, who ruthlessly strip off the veil which disguises its essential rationalism. Pfleiderer and Reville may be named us well-known representatives. The party, while claiming the right to criticise and reject every article of the creed, would retain the traditional forms of worship, and delight, even, to clothe their conceptions in the familiar forms of the traditional dogmatics. It is thus that a service of the “moderns” is described by one of their own number. 397“Only put yourself,” says this witness, “in the position of those who had never received any other teaching, for example, than that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, and suddenly heard their pastor speak on some Christmas Day of ’simple parents of the man of Nazareth,’ or on Easter Sunday of ‘the delusion of the early Christians that Jesus has returned to earth from the grave.’...Yet such preaching was actually heard....The Church listened, thought it over, thought it over again, and finally a large number of her members accepted the new teaching” (quoted by Wicksteed, Eccl. Instit. of Holland, p. 59). It is the glaring inconsistency of this position which is remorselessly satirised by writers hike Strauss amid Hartmann, and the timing which gives their strictures sharpness is that there is so much truth in them.

There was a time when Strauss also wrote: “But we have no fear that we should lose Christ by being obliged to give up a considerable part of what was hitherto called the Christian creed! He will remain to all of us the more surely, the less anxiously we cling to doctrines and opinions that might tempt our reason to forsake Him. But if Christ remains to us, and if He remains to us as the highest we know and are capable of imagining within the sphere of religion, as the Person without whose presence in the mind an perfect piety is possible; we may fairly say that in Him do we still possess the sum and substance of the Christian faith” (Selbstgespräche, p.67, Eng. trans.). But in his The Old Faith and the New Strauss later faced the question “Are we still Christians?” with a bolder look, and gave it the uncompromising answer, “No.” He goes over the articles of the Apostles’ Creed one by one, and shows that every one of theism is taken by the “modern” theologians in a non-natural sense. He invites his reader “to assist in thought at the cycle of festivals in a Protestant church, whose minister stands on the ground of present day science, and see whether he can still he uprightly and naturally edified thereby.” He pictures the statements that such a minister would be compelled to make at Christmas, at the Epiphany, at Good Friday, at Easter and Ascension Day; compares them with the book he reads, the prayers he uses, the sacraments he administers; and shows how completely the whole thing is a ludicrous pretence. His conclusion is: “If we do not wish to escape difficulties, if we do not wish to twist and dissemble, if we wish our yea to be yea, and our nay, nay,—in short, if we would speak as honourable, upright men,—we must confess, we are no longer Christians.”—Der alte und der neue Glaube, pp. 12–94.

Hartmann is even more severe on the unchristian character of the modern Protestant Liberalism in his Selbstzersetzung des Christenthums (chaps. vi. and vii.). “We ask,” he says, “what right the Protestant Liberals have to call themselves Christians beyond the fact that their parents have had them baptised and confirmed. In all ages there has been one common mark of the Christian religion—belief in Christ. . . . But we have seen that the Liberal Protestants cannot believe in Christ as either Luther, or Thomas Aquinas, or John or Paul, or Peter, believed in Christ, and least of all as Jesus believed 398in Himself, for He believed Himself to be the Christ—the Messiah” (pp. 64, 65).

Apart, however, from criticisms of opponents, which may be deemed unfair, it is a fact that, through all its history, Protestant Liberalism has found it exceedingly difficult to maintain itself on the platform even of Theism, not to speak of that of Christianity . Its tendency has been constantly “downgrade,” till either it has ended in open rejection of Christianity, or has been displaced by more. positive forms of belief. Strauss’s case is not a solitary one. A parallel is found in the career of Edmond Scherer, the inaugurator of the modern Liberal movement in Switzerland and France, who, beginning with the most uncompromising traditional orthodoxy, went on, according to M. Gretillat, to the progressive repudiation of all the fundamentals of Christian belief, religious and even moral, up to the point of absolute scepticism. The party of Liberal Christianity initiated by him, of which Reville is a surviving representative, had, according to the same authority, “only a fleeting existence,’ and its name, to speak in popular language, soon disappeared from the handbill”885885It was replaced by newer Ritschlian tendencies. (article on “Theological Thought among. French Protestants” in Presbyt. and Ref. Review, July 1892). In Holland, too, the “modern” school is seen running a remarkable course. Its originator, Scholten, was at first, like Scherer of Geneva, quite conservative. Then he passed to a view of Revelation and of Christianity not unlike Pfleiderer’s. His “thoughts, however, were not expounded with perfect distinctness in the beginning. They were too much clothed in the old orthodox forms, and had too large an admixture of conservative elements f or this. Scholten himself lived in the honest conviction of having discovered the reconciliation of faith and knowledge, of theology and philosophy, of the heart and the intellect. He was able also to impart this conviction to others. Soon the gospel was proclaimed with enthusiasm from many pulpits . . . . Among his followers the illusion was well-nigh universal, that the reasonableness of the faith and of the doctrine of the Reformed Church had been established.” This confidence received a rude shock when, in 1864, Scholten himself declared that, while formerly believing that he found in the Scriptures, rightly expounded, his view of the world, he was no longer of that opinion. “He now begins to recognise that between his ideas and those of the Bible there is no agreement, but a deep chasm. . . . The results soon showed themselves. The illusion had been dispelled; faith and enthusiasm suffered shipwreck. Some ministers, like Pierson and Busken Huet, resigned the office and left the Church. Others felt dissatisfied with the monism of Scholten. . . . A whole group of modern theologians broke loose from Scholten’s system, and sought a closer alliance with Hoekstra. . . . Some adherents of this tendency went to such an extreme in the avowal of these ideas, that, with a degree of justice, an ‘atheistic shade’ of modern theology began to be spoken of.”—Professor Bavinck, of Kampen, in Presbyt. and Ref. Review, April 1892.

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Professor Bavinck thus sums up on the development in Holland: “In casting a retrospective glance at the three tendencies described up to this point, we are struck with the tragic aspect of this development of dogmatic thought. It is a slow process of dissolution that meets our view. It began with setting aside the Confession. Scripture alone n-as to be heard. Next, Scripture also is dismissed, and the Person of Christ is fallen back on. Of this Person, however, first His Divinity, next His pre-existence, finally His sinlessness, are surrendered, and nothing remains but a pious man, a religious genius, revealing to us the love of Cod. But even the existence and love of God are not able to withstand criticism. Thus the moral element in man becomes the last basis from which the battle against Materialism is conducted. But this basis will appear to be as unstable and unreliable as the others.”

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