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SEANCES HISTORIQUES DE GENÈVE—THE NATIONAL CHURCH.
IN the city of Geneva, once the stronghold of the severest creed of the Reformation, Christianity itself has of late years received some very rude shocks. But special attempts have been recently made to counteract their effects and to re-organize the Christian congregations upon Evangelical principles. In pursuance of this design, there have been delivered and published during the last few years a series of addresses by distinguished persons holding Evangelical sentiments, entitled Séances Historiques. The attention of the hearers was to be conciliated by the concrete form of these discourses; the phenomenon of the historical Christianity to be presented as a fact which could not be ignored, and which must be acknowledged to have had some special source; while, from time to time, as occasion offered, the more peculiar views of the speakers were to be instilled. But before this panorama of historic scenes had advanced beyond the period of the fall of heathenism in the West, there had emerged a remarkable discrepancy between the views of two of the authors, otherwise agreeing in the main.
It fell to the Comte Léon de Gasparin to illustrate the reign of Constantine. He laid it down in the strongest manner, that the individualist principle supplies the true basis of the Church, and that by inaugurating the union between Church and State 146Constantine introduced into Christianity the false and pagan principle of Multitudinism. M. Bungener followed in two lectures upon the age of Ambrose and Theodosius. He felt it necessary, for his own satisfaction and that of others, to express his dissent from these opinions. He agreed in the portraiture drawn by his predecessor of the so-called first Christian emperor, and in his estimate of his personal character. But he maintained, that the multitudinist principle was not unlawful, nor essentially pagan; that it was recognised and consecrated in the example of the Jewish theocracy; that the greatest victories of Christianity have been won by it; that it showed itself under Apostolic sanction as early as the day of Pentecost;—for it would be absurd to suppose the three thousand who were joined to the Church on the preaching of Peter to have been all ‘converted’ persons in the modern Evangelical sense of the word. He especially pointed out, that the Churches which claim to be founded upon Individualism, fall back themselves, when they become hereditary, upon the multitudinist principle. His brief, but very pertinent observations on that subject were concluded in these words:—
‘Le multitudinisme est une force qui peut, comme toute force, être mal dirigée, mal exploitée, mais qui pout aussi l’être au profit de la vérité, de la piété, de la vie. Les Eglises fondées sur un autre principe ont aidé à rectifier celui-là; c’est un des incontestables services qu’elles ont rendus, de nos jours, à la cause de l’Evangile. Elles ont droit à notre reconnaissance; mais à Genève, qu’elles ne nous demandent pas ce que nous ne pouvons faire, et qu’on me permette de le dire, ce qu’elles ne font pas elles-mêmes. Oui! le multitudinisme genevois est resté vivant chez elles, et certainement elles lui doivent une portion notable de leur consistance au dedans, de leur influence au dehors. Elles font appel, comme nous, à ses souvenirs et à ses 147gloires; elles forment, avec nous, ce que le monde chrétien appelle et appellera toujours l’Eglise de Genève. Nous ne la renions, au fond, pas plus les uns que les autres. Elle a été, elle est, elle restera notre mère à tous.’109109 Séances Historiques de Genève—Le Christianisme au 4ième Siècle, p. 153.
Such are the feelings in favour of Nationalism on the part of M. Bungener, a member of the Genevan Church; a Church to which many would not even concede that title, and of which the ecclesiastical renown centres upon one great name; while the civil history of the country presents but little of interest either in ancient or modern times. But the questions at issue between these two Genevans are of wide Christian concern, and especially to ourselves. If the Genevans cannot be proud of their Calvin, as they cannot in all things—and even he is not truly their own—they have little else of which to speak before Christendom. Very different are the recollections which are awakened by the past history of such a Church as ours. Its roots are found to penetrate deep into the history of the most freely and fully developed nationality in the world, and its firm hold upon the past is one of its best auguries for the future. It has lived through Saxon rudeness, Norman rapine, baronial oppression and bloodshed; it has survived the tyranny of Tudors, recovered from fanatical assaults, escaped the treachery of Stuarts; has not perished under coldness, nor been stifled with patronage, nor sunk utterly in a dull age, nor been entirely depraved in a corrupt one. Neither as a spiritual society, nor as a national institution, need there be any fear that the Church of this country, which has passed through so many ordeals, shall succumb, because we may be on the verge of some political and ecclesiastical changes. We, ourselves, cohere with those who have preceded us, under very different forms of civil constitution, and 148under a very different creed and externals of worship. The ‘rude forefathers,’ whose mouldering bones, layer upon layer, have raised the soil round the foundations of our old churches, adored the Host, worshipped the Virgin, signed themselves with the sign of the cross, sprinkled themselves with holy water, and paid money for masses for the relief of souls in purgatory. But it is no reason, because we trust that spiritually we are at one with the best of those who have gone before us in better things than these, that we should revert to their old-world practices; nor should we content ourselves with simply transmitting to those who shall follow us, traditions which have descended to ourselves, if we can transmit something better. There is a time for building up old waste places, and a time for raising fresh structures; a time for repairing the ancient paths, and a time for filling the valleys and lowering the hills in the constructing of new. The Jews, contemporaries of Jesus and his Apostles, were fighters against God, in refusing to accept a new application of things written in the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms; the Romans in the time of Theodosius were fighters against Him, when they resisted the new religion with an appeal to old customs; so were the opponents of Wycliffe and his English Bible, and the opponents of Cranmer and his Reformation. Meddle not with them that are given to change is a warning for some times, and self-willed persons may ‘bring in damnable heresies;’ at others, ‘old things are to pass away,’ and that is erroneously ‘called heresy’ by the blind, which is really a worshipping the God of the Fathers in a better way.
When signs of the times are beheld, foretelling change, it behoves those who think they perceive them to indicate them to others, not in any spirit of presumption or of haste; and, in no spirit of presumption, to suggest inquiries as to the best method of adjusting old things to new conditions.149
Many evils are seen in various ages, if not to have issued directly, to have been intimately linked with the Christian profession—such as religious wars, persecutions, delusions, impositions, spiritual tyrannies; many goods of civilization in our own day, when men have run to and fro and knowledge has been increased, have apparently not the remotest connexion with the Gospel. Hence grave doubts arise in the minds of really well-meaning persons, whether the secular future of humanity is necessarily bound up with the diffusion of Christianity—whether the Church is to be hereafter the life-giver to human society. It would be idle on the part of religious advocates to treat anxieties of this kind as if they were forms of the old Voltairian anti-Christianism. They are not those affectations of difficulties whereby vice endeavours to lull asleep its fears of a judgment to come; nor are they the pretensions of ignorant and presumptuous spirits, making themselves wise beyond the limits of man’s wisdom. Even if such were, indeed, the sources of the wide-spread doubts respecting traditional Christianity which prevail in our own day, it would be very injudicious polemic which should content itself with denouncing the wickedness, or expressing pity for the blindness, of those who entertain them. An imputation of evil motives may embitter an opponent and add gall to controversy, but can never dispense with the necessity for replying to his arguments, nor with the advisableness of neutralizing his objections.
If anxieties respecting the future of Christianity, and the office of the Christian Church in time to come, were confined to a few students or speculative philosophers, they might be put aside as mere theoretical questions; if rude criticisms upon the Scriptures, of the Tom Paine kind, proceeding from agitators of the masses, or from uninstructed persons, were the only assaults to which the letter of the Bible was exposed, 150it might be thought, that further instruction would impart a more reverential and submissive spirit: if lay people only entertained objections to established formularies in some of their parts, a self-satisfied sacerdotalism, confident in a supernaturally transmitted illumination, might succeed in keeping peace within the walls of emptied churches. It may not be very easy, by a statistical proof, to convince those whose preconceptions indispose them to admit it, of the fact of a very wide-spread alienation, both of educated and uneducated persons, from the Christianity which is ordinarily presented in our churches and chapels. Whether it be their reason or their moral sense which is shocked by what they hear there, the ordinances of public worship and religious instruction provided for the people of England, alike in the endowed and unendowed churches, are not used by them to the extent we should expect, if they valued them very highly, or if they were really adapted to the wants of their nature as it is. And it has certainly not hitherto received the attention which such a grave circumstance demanded, that a number equal to five millions and a quarter of persons, should have neglected to attend means of public worship within their reach on the census Sunday in 1851; these five millions and a quarter being forty-two per cent. of the whole number able and with opportunity of then attending. As an indication, on the other hand, of a great extent of dissatisfaction on the part of the clergy to some portion, at least, of the formularies of the Church of England, may be taken the fact of the existence of various associations to procure their revision, or some liberty in their use, especially that of omitting one unhappy creed.
It is generally the custom of those who wish to ignore the necessity for grappling with modern questions concerning Biblical interpretation, the construction of the Christian Creed, the position and prospects 151of the Christian Church, to represent the disposition to entertain them as a disease contracted by means of German inoculation. At other times, indeed, the tables are turned, and theological inquirers are to be silenced with the reminder, that in the native land of the modern scepticism, Evangelical and High Lutheran reactions have already put it down. It may be, that on these subjects we shall in England be much indebted, for some time to come, to the patience of German investigators; but we are by no means likely to be mystified by their philosophical speculations, nor to be carried away by an inclination to force all facts within the sweep of some preconceived comprehensive theory. If the German biblical critics have gathered together much evidence, the verdict will have to be pronounced by the sober English judgment. But, in fact, the influence of this foreign literature extends to comparatively few among us, and is altogether insufficient to account for the wide spread of that which has been called the negative theology. This is rather owing to a spontaneous recoil, on the part of large numbers of the more acute of our population, from some of the doctrines which are to be heard at church and chapel; to a distrust of the old arguments for, or proofs of, a miraculous Revelation; and to a misgiving as to the authority, or extent of the authority, of the Scriptures. In the presence of real difficulties of this kind, probably of genuine English growth, it is vain to seek to check that open discussion out of which alone any satisfactory settlement of them can issue.
There may be a certain amount of literature circulating among us in a cheap form, of which the purpose, with reference to Christianity, is simply negative and destructive, and which is characterized by an absence of all reverence, not only for beliefs, but for the best human feelings which have gathered round them, even when they have been false or superstitious. But 152if those who are old enough to do so would compare the tone generally of the sceptical publications of the present day with that of the papers of Hone and others about forty years ago, they would be reminded that assaults were made then upon the Christian religion in far grosser form than now, and long before opinion could have been inoculated by German philosophy—long before the more celebrated criticisms upon the details of the Evangelical histories had appeared. But it was attacked then as an institution, or by reason of the unpopularity of institutions and methods of government connected, or supposed to be connected, with it. The anti-christian agitation of that day in England was a phase of radicalism, and of a radicalism which was a terrific and uprooting force, of which the counterpart can scarcely be said to exist among us now.
The sceptical movements in this generation are the result of observation and thought, not of passion. Things come to the knowledge of almost all persons, which were unknown a generation ago, even to the well informed. Thus the popular knowledge, at that time, of the surface of the earth, and of the populations which cover it, was extremely incomplete. In our own boyhood the world as known to the ancients was nearly all which was known to ourselves. We have recently become acquainted—intimate—with the teeming regions of the far East, and with empires, pagan or even atheistic, of which the origin runs far back beyond the historic records of Judæa or of the West, and which were more populous than all Christendom now is, for many ages before the Christian era. Not any book learning—not any proud exaltation of reason—not any dreamy German metaphysics—not any minute and captious Biblical criticism—suggest questions to those who on Sundays hear the reading and exposition of the Scriptures as they were expounded to our forefathers, and on Monday peruse the news of a 153world of which our forefathers little dreamed;—descriptions of great nations, in some senses barbarous compared with ourselves, but composed of men of flesh and blood like our own—of like passions, marrying and domestic, congregating in great cities, buying and selling and getting gain, agriculturists, merchants, manufacturers, making wars, establishing dynasties, falling down before objects of worship, constituting priesthoods, binding themselves by oaths, honouring the dead. In what relation does the Gospel stand to these millions? Is there any trace on the face of its records that it even contemplated their existence? We are told, that to know and believe in Jesus Christ is in some sense necessary to salvation. It has not been given to these. Are they—will they be, hereafter, the worse off for their ignorance? As to abstruse points of doctrine concerning the Divine Nature itself, those subjects may be thought to lie beyond the range of our faculties; if one says, aye, no other is entitled to say no to his aye; if one says, no, no one is entitled to say aye to his no. Besides, the best approximative illustrations of those doctrines must be sought in metaphysical conceptions, of which few are capable, and in the history of old controversies, with which fewer still are acquainted. But with respect to the moral treatment of His creatures by Almighty God, all men, in different degrees, are able to be judges of the representations made of it, by reason of the moral sense which lie has given them. As to the necessity of faith in a Saviour to these peoples, when they could never have had it, no one, upon reflection, can believe in any such thing—doubtless they will be equitably dealt with. And when we hear fine distinctions drawn between covenanted and uncovenanted mercies, it seems either to be a distinction without a difference, or to amount to a denial of the broad and equal Justice of the Supreme Being. We cannot be content to wrap this question up and leave it for a mystery, as 154to what shall become of those myriads upon myriads of non-christian races. First, if our traditions tell us, that they are involved in the curse and perdition of Adam, and may justly be punished hereafter individually for his transgression, not having been extricated from it by saving faith, we are disposed to think, that our traditions cannot herein fairly declare to us the words and inferences from Scripture; but if on examination it should turn out that they have, we must say, that the authors of the Scriptural books have, in those matters, represented to us their own inadequate conceptions, and not the mind of the Spirit of God; for we must conclude with the Apostle, ‘Yea, let God be true and every man a liar.’
If, indeed, we are at liberty to believe, that all shall be equitably dealt with according to their opportunities, whether they have heard or not of the name of Jesus, then we can acknowledge the case of the Christian and non-Christian populations to be one of difference of advantages. And, of course, no account can be given of the principle which determines the unequal distribution of the divine benefits. The exhibition of the divine attributes is not to be brought to measure of numbers or proportions. But human statements concerning the dealings of God with mankind, hypotheses and arguments about them, may very usefully be so tested. Truly, the abstract or philosophical difficulty may be as great concerning a small number of persons unprovided for, or, as might be inferred from some doctrinal statements, not equitably dealt with, in the divine dispensations, as concerning a large one; but it does not so force itself on the imagination and heart of the generality of observers. The difficulty, though not new in itself, is new as to the great increase in the numbers of those who feel it, and in the practical urgency for discovering an answer, solution, or neutralization for it, if we would set many unquiet souls at rest.155
From the same source of the advance of general knowledge respecting the inhabitancy of the world issues another inquiry concerning a promise, prophecy, or assertion of Scripture. For the commission of Jesus to his Apostles was to preach the gospel to ‘all nations,’ ‘to every creature;’ and St. Paul says of the gentile world, ‘But I say have they not heard? Yes, verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world,’ (Rom. x. 18), and speaks of the gospel ‘which was preached to every nation under Heaven,’ (Col. i. 23), when it has never yet been preached even to the half. Then, again, it has often been appealed to as an evidence of the supernatural origin of Christianity, and as an instance of supernatural assistance vouchsafed to it in the first centuries, that it so soon overspread the world. It has seemed but a small leap of about three hundred years to the age of Constantine, if in that time, not to insist upon the letter of the texts already quoted, the conversion of the civilized world could be accomplished. It may be known only to the more learned, that it was not accomplished with respect to the Roman empire even then; that the Christians of the East cannot be fairly computed at more than half the population, nor the Christians of the West at so much as a third, at the commencement of that emperor’s reign. But it requires no learning to be aware that neither then nor subsequently have the Christians amounted to more than a fourth part of the people of the earth; and it is seen to be impossible to appeal any longer to the wonderful spread of Christianity in the three first centuries, as a special evidence of the wisdom and goodness of God.
So likewise a very grave modification of an ‘evidence’ heretofore current must ensue in another respect, in consequence of an increased knowledge of other facts connected with the foregoing. It has been customary to argue that, a priori, a supernatural revelation was to 156be expected at the time when Jesus Christ was manifested upon the earth, by reason of the exhaustion of all natural or unassisted human efforts for the amelioration of mankind. The state of the world, it has been customary to say, had become so utterly corrupt and hopeless under the Roman sway, that a necessity and special occasion was presented for an express divine intervention. Our recently enlarged ethnographical information shows such an argument to be altogether inapplicable to the case. If we could be judges of the necessity for a special divine intervention, the stronger necessity existed in the East. There immense populations, like the Chinese, had never developed the idea of a personal God, or had degenerated from a once pure theological creed, as in India, from the religion of the Vedas. Oppressions and tyrannies, caste. distinctions, common and enormous vices, a polluted idolatrous worship, as bad as the worst which disgraced Rome, Greece, or Syria, had prevailed for ages.
It would not be very tasteful, as an exception to this description, to call Buddhism the gospel of India, preached to it five or six centuries before the Gospel of Jesus was proclaimed in the nearer East. But on the whole it would be more like the realities of things, as we can now behold them, to say that the Christian revelation was given to the western world, because it deserved it better and was more prepared for it than the East. Philosophers, at least, had anticipated in speculation some of its dearest hopes, and had prepared the way for its self-denying ethics.
There are many other sources of the modern questionings of traditional Christianity which cannot now be touched upon, originating like those which have been mentioned, in a change of circumstances wherein observers are placed; whereby their thoughts are turned in new directions, and they are rendered dissatisfied with old modes of speaking. But such a difficulty as that respecting the souls of heathendom, which must now 157come closely home to multitudes among us, will disappear, if it be candidly acknowledged that the words of the New Testament, which speak of the preaching of the Gospel to the whole world, were limited to the understanding of the times when they were spoken; that doctrines concerning salvation, to be met with in it, are for the most part applicable only to those to whom the preaching of Christ should come; and that we must draw our conclusions respecting a just dealing hereafter with the individuals who make up the sum of heathenism, rather from reflections suggested by our own moral instincts than from the express declarations of Scripture writers, who had no such knowledge, as is given to ourselves, of the amplitude of the world, which is the scene of the divine manifestations.
.Moreover, to our great comfort, there have been preserved to us words of the Lord Jesus himself, declaring that the conditions of men in another world will be determined by their moral characters in this, and not by their hereditary or traditional creeds; and both many words and the practice of the great Apostle Paul, within the range which was given him, tend to the same result. He has been thought even to make en allusion to the Buddhist Dharmma, or law, when he said, ‘When the gentiles which have not the law do by nature the things contained in the law, these having not the law are a law unto themselves, which show the work of the law written in their hearts,’ &c. (Rom. ii. 14, 15.) However this may be, it is evident that if such a solution as the above is accepted, a variety of doctrinal statements hitherto usual, Calvinistic and Lutheran theories on the one hand, and sacramental and hierarchical ones on the other, must be thrown into the background, if not abandoned.
There may be a long future during which the present course of the world shall last. Instead of its drawing near the close of its existence, as represented 158in Millennarian or Rabbinical fables, and with so many more souls, according to some interpretations of the Gospel of Salvation, lost to Satan in every age and in every nation, than have been won to Christ, that the victory would evidently be on the side of the Fiend, we may yet be only at the commencement of the career of the great Spiritual Conqueror even in this world. Nor have we any right to say that the effects of what He does upon earth shall not extend and propagate themselves in worlds to come. But under any expectation of the duration of the present secular constitution, it is of the deepest interest to us, both as observers and as agents, placed evidently at an epoch when humanity finds itself under new conditions, to form some definite conception to ourselves of the way in which Christianity is henceforward to act upon the world which is our own.
Different estimates are made of the beneficial effects already wrought by Christianity upon the secular aspect of the world, according to the different points of view from which it is regarded. Some endeavour, from an impartial standing point, to embrace in one panorama the whole religious history of mankind, of which Christianity then becomes the most important phase; others can only look at such a history from within some narrow chamber of doctrinal and ecclesiastical prepossessions. And anticipations equally different for like reasons will be entertained by persons differently imbued, as to the form under which, and the machinery by which, it shall hereafter be presented with success, either to the practically unchristianized populations of countries like our own, or to peoples of other countries never as yet even nominally christianized.
Although the consequences of what the Gospel does will be carried on into other worlds, its work is to be done here; although some of its work here must be unseen, 159yet not all; nor much even of its unseen work without at least some visible manifestation and effects. The invisible Church is to us a mere abstraction. Now it is acknowledged on all hands, that to the multitudinist principle are due the great external victories which the Christian name has hitherto won. On the other hand, it is alleged by the advocates of Individualism, that these outward acquisitions and numerical accessions have always been made at the expense of the purity of the Church; and, also, that Scriptural authority and the earliest practice is in favour of Individualism. Moreover, almost all the corruptions of Christianity are attributed by individualists to the effecting by the Emperor Constantine of an unholy alliance between Church and State. Yet a fair review, as far as there are data for it, of the state of Christianity before the time of that emperor will leave us in at least very great doubt, whether the Christian character was really, in the anterior period, superior on the average to what it has subsequently been. We may appeal to the most ancient records extant, and even to the Apostolic Epistles themselves, to show, that neither in doctrine nor in morals did the primitive Christian communities at all approach to the ideal which has been formed of them. The moral defects of the earliest converts are the subject of the gravest expostulation on the part of the Apostolic writers: and the doctrinal features of the early Church are much more undetermined than would be thought by those who read them only through the ecclesiastical creeds.
Those who belong to very different theological schools acknowledge at times, that they cannot with any certainty find in the highest ecclesiastical antiquity the dogmas which they consider most important. It is customary with Lutherans to represent their doctrine of justification by subjective faith as having died out shortly after the Apostolic age. In fact, it never was the doctrine of any considerable portion of the Church 160till the time of the Reformation. It is not met with in the immediately post-Apostolic writings, nor in the Apostolic writings, except those of St. Paul, not even in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is of the Pauline or Paulo-Johannean school. The faith at least of that Epistle, ‘the substance of things hoped for,’ is a very different faith from the faith of the Epistle to the Romans,—if the Lutherans are correct in representing that to be, a conscious apprehending of the benefits to the individual soul, of the Saviour’s merits and passion. Then, on the other hand, it is admitted, even maintained, by a very different body of theologians, as by the learned Jesuit Petavius and many others, that the doctrine afterwards developed into the Nicene and Athanasian, is not to be found explicitly in the earliest Fathers, nor even in Scripture, although provable by it. One polemical value of this view to those who uphold it, is to show the necessity of an inspired Church to develope Catholic truth.
But although the primitive Christians fell far short both of a doctrinal and ethical ideal, them is this remarkable distinction to be noted between the primitive aspects of doctrine and of ethics. The morals of the first Christians were certainly very far below the estimate which has been formed of them; but the standard by which they were measured was unvarying, lofty, and peculiar; moreover, the nearer we approach to the fountain head, the more definite do we find the statement of the Christian principle, that the source of religion is in the heart. On the contrary, the nearer we come to the original sources of the history, the less definite do we find the statements of doctrines, and even of the facts from which the doctrines were afterwards inferred. And, at the very first, with our Lord Himself and His Apostles, as represented to us in the New Testament, morals come before contemplation, ethics before theoretics. In the patristic writings, theoretics assume continually an 161increasingly disproportionate value. Even within the compass of our New Testament there is to be found already a wonderful contrast between the words of our Lord and such a discourse as the Epistle to the Hebrews. There is not wanting, indeed, to this Epistle an earnest moral appeal, but the greater part of it is illustrative, argumentative, and controversial. Our Lord’s discourses have almost all of them a direct moral bearing. This character of His words is certainly more obvious in the three first Gospels than in the fourth; and the remarkable unison of those Gospels, when they recite the Lord’s words, notwithstanding their discrepancies in some matters of fact, compel us to think, that they embody more exact traditions of what He actually said than the fourth does.110110 The fourth Gospel has always been supposed to have been written with a controversial purpose, and not to have been composed till from sixty to seventy years after the events which it undertakes to narrate; some critics, indeed, think it was not of a date anterior to the year 140, and that it pre-supposes opinions of a Valentinian character, or even Montanist, which would make it later still.. At any rate it cannot, by external evidence, be attached the person of St. John as its author, in the sense wherein moderns understand the word author: that is, there is no proof that St. John gives his voucher as an eye and ear witness of all which is related in it. Many persons shrink from a bonâ fide examination of the ‘Gospel question,’ because they imagine, that unless the four Gospels are received as perfectly genuine and authentic—that is, entirely the composition of the persons whose names they bear, and without any admixture of legendary matter or embellishment in their narratives, the only alternative is to suppose a fraudulent design in those who did compose them. This is a supposition from which common sense, and the moral instinct, alike revolt; but it is happily not an only alternative.
As monuments or witnesses, discrepant in a certain degree as to other particulars, the evidence afforded by the three Synoptics to the Lord’s own words is the most precious element in the Christian records. We are thereby placed at the very root of the Gospel tradition. And these words of the Lord, taken in conjunction with the Epistle of St. James, and with the first, or genuine, Epistle of St. Peter, leave no reasonable doubt of the general character of His teaching 162having been what, for want of a better word, we must perhaps call moral. But to represent the Spirit of Christ as a moral Spirit is not merely to proclaim Him as a Lawgiver, enacting the observance of a set of precepts, but as fulfilled with a Spirit given to Him ‘without measure,’ of which, indeed, all men are partakers who have a sense of what they ‘ought’ to be and do; yet flowing over from Him, especially on those who perceive in His words, and in His life, principles of ever-widening application to the circumstances of their own existence; who learn from Him to penetrate to the root of their conscience, and to recognise themselves as being active elements in the moral order of the universe.
We may take an illustration of the relative value in the Apostolic age of the doctrinal and moral principles, by citing a case which will be allowed to be extreme enough. It is evident there were among the Christian converts in that earliest period, those who had no belief in a corporeal resurrection. Some of these had, perhaps, been made converts from the sect of the Sadducees, and had brought with them into the Christian congregation the same doubts or negative beliefs which belonged to them before their conversion. The Jewish church embraced in its bosom both Pharisees and Sadducees: but our Lord, although he expressly taught a resurrection, and argued with the Sadducees on the subject, never treated them as aliens from Israel because they did not hold that doctrine; is much more severe on the moral defects and hypocrisies of the Pharisees than upon the doctrinal defects of the Sadducees. The Christian Church was recruited in its Jewish branch chiefly from the sect of the Pharisees, and it is somewhat difficult for us to realize the conversion of a Sadducee to Christianity, retaining his Sadducee disbelief or scepticism. But the ‘some among you who say that there is no resurrection of the dead,’ (1 Cor. xv. 12, comp. 2 Tim ii. 18) can leave us in no doubt upon the matter, that there were Christians of Sadducee or Gentile prejudices, like those who mocked or those who hesitated when Paul preached at Athens the resurrection of the dead. But St. Paul argues with such elaborately in that chapter, without expelling them from the Church, although he always represents faith in the resurrection as the corner-stone of the Christian belief. He endeavours rather to conciliate and to remove objections. First, he represents the rising to life again, not as miraculous or exceptional, but as a law of humanity, or at least of Christian and spiritualized humanity; and he treats the resurrection of Christ, not as a wonder, but as a prerogative instance. Secondly, he shows, upon the doctrine of a spiritual body, how the objections against a resurrection from the gross conception of a flesh and blood body, fall to the ground.111111 So in Luke xx. 27-35, the Sadducees are dealt with in a like argumentative manner. They understood the doctrine of the resurrection to imply the rising of men with such bodies as they now have; the case supposed by them loses its point when the distinction is revealed between the animal and the angelic bodies. Now, if there might thus be Sadducee, or quasi-Sadducee, Christians in the Church, their Christianity must have consisted in an appreciation of the moral spirit of Jesus, and in an obedience, such as it might be, to the Christian precepts; they could have been influenced by no expectation of a future recompense. Their obedience might or might not be of as high an order as that which is so motived; it might have been a mere legal habit, or an exalted disinterested life. Now, let us compare a person of this description with such as those who are indicated, (1 Cor. xv. 19, 32); and we cannot think that St. Paul is there speaking of himself personally, but of the general run of persons reluctant to exercise self-restraint and to expose themselves to persecution for the Gospel’s sake, yet induced to do so by the hope of a 164future recompense. Let us consider these two descriptions of persons. The one class is defective in the Christian doctrine, and in the most fundamental article of the Apostle’s preaching, the other in the Christian moral life; can we say that the one defect was more fatal than the other? We do not find the Apostle excommunicating these Corinthians, who said there was no resurrection of the dead.112112 St. Paul ‘delivered to Satan’ (whatever that may mean), Hymenæus, who maintained the resurrection to be past already, most likely meaning it was only a moral one; but it does not appear it was for this offence he is so mentioned in conjunction with Alexander, and their provocation is not described: where he is said to have taught that the resurrection is past already, he is in companionship with Philetes, and nothing is added of any punishment of either. These strange opinions afterwards hardened into heretical doctrine. Tertull. de Præscriptione Hær. c. xxxiii. Paulus in 1mâ ad Corinthios notat negatores et dubitatores resurrectionis. Hæc opinio propria Sadducæorum: partem ejus usurpat Marcion et Apelles, et Valentinus et si qui alii resurrectionem carnis infringunt—æque tangit eos qui dicerent factam jam resurrection: id de se Valentini adseverant. On the Other hand, we know it was only in an extreme case that he sanctioned excommunication for the cause of immorality. And upon the whole, if we cannot effectually compare the person deficient in a true belief of the resurrection, with an immoral or evil liver—if we can only say they were both bad Christians—at least we have no reason to determine that the good liver who disbelieved the resurrection was treated by St. Paul as less of a Christian than the evil liver who believed it. We cannot suppose the evil life always to have brought on the disbelief in the doctrine, nor the disbelief in the doctrine to have issued always in an evil life.
Now, from what has been said we gather two important conclusions:—first, of the at least equal value of the Christian life, as compared with the Christian doctrine; and, secondly, of the retaining within the Church, both of those who were erroneous and defective in doctrine, and of those who were by their lives unworthy of their profession; they who caused divisions 165and heresies were to be marked and avoided but not expelled, and if any called a brother were a notoriously immoral person, the rest were enjoined, to not to eat with him but he was not to be refused the name of brother Christian. (1 Cor. v. 11.)
It would be difficult to devise a description of a multitudinist Church, exhibiting more saliently the worst defects which can attend that form, than this which is taken from the evidence of the Apostolic Epistles. We find the Pauline Churches to have comprised, not only persons of the truest doctrinal insight, of the highest spiritual attainments, of martyr-like self-devotion, but of the strangest and most incongruous beliefs, and of the most unequal and inconsistent practice. The individualist could say nothing more derogatory of any multitudinist Church, not even of a national one; unless, perhaps, he might say this, that less distinction is made within such a Church itself, and within all modern Churches, between their better and worse members, than was made in the Apostolic Churches. Any judicial sentence of excommunication was extremely rare in the Apostolic age, as we have seen, and the distinction between the worthy and unworthy members of the Church was to be marked, not by any public and authoritative act, but by the operation of private conduct and opinion.
The Apostolic Churches were thus multitudinist, and they early tended to become National Churches; from the first they took collective names from the localities where they were situate. And it was natural and proper they should, except upon the Calvinistic theory of conversion. There is some show of reasonable independence, some appearance of applying the protestant liberty of private judgment, in maintaining the Christian unlawfulness of the union of Church and state, corruption of national establishments, and like propositions. But it will be found, that where they are maintained by serious and religious people, they 166are parts of a Calvinistic system, and are held in connexion with peculiar theories of grace, immediate conversion, and arbitrary call. It is as merely a Calvinistic and Congregational commonplace to speak of the unholy union of Church and State accomplished by Constantine, as it is a Romish commonplace to denounce the unholy schism accomplished by Henry the Eighth. But in fact both those sovereigns only carried out, chiefly for their own purposes, that which was already in preparation by the course of events; even Henry would not have broken with the Pope it he had not seen the public mind to be in some degree ripe for it, nor would Constantine have taken the first steps towards an establishment of Christianity, unless the empire had already been growing Christian.
Unhappily, together with his inauguration of Multitudinism, Constantine, also inaugurated a principle essentially at variance with it, the principle of doctrinal limitation. It is very customary to attribute the necessity of stricter definitions of the Christian creed from time to time to the rise of successive heresies. More correctly, there succeeded to the fluid state of Christian opinion in the first century after Christ, a gradual hardening and systematizing of conflicting views; and the opportunity of reverting to the freedom of the Apostolic and immediately succeeding periods, was finally lost for many ages by the sanction given by Constantine to the decisions of Nicæa. We cannot now be very good judges, whether it would have been possible, together with the establishment of Christianity as the imperial religion, to enforce forbearance between the great antagonisms which were then in dispute, and to hove insisted on the maxim, that neither had a right to limit the common Christianity to the exclusion of the other. At all events a principle at variance with a true Multitudinism was then recognised. All parties it must be acknowledged were equally exclusive. And exclusion and definition 167have since been the rule for almost all Churches, more or less, even when others of their principles might seem to promise a greater freedom.
That the members of a Calvinistic Church, as in the Geneva of Calvin and Beza, or in the Church of Scotland, should coincide with the members of the State—that ‘election’ and ‘effectual call’ should be hereditary, is, of course, too absurd to suppose; and the congregational Calvinists are more consistent than the Calvinists of Established Churches. Of Calvinism, as a system of doctrine, it is not here proposed to say anything, except, that it must of necessity be hostile to every other creed; and the members of a Calvinistic Church can never consider themselves but as parted by an insuperable distinction from all other professors of the Gospel; they cannot stand on a common footing, in any spiritual matter, with those who belong to the world, that is, with all others than themselves. The exclusiveness of a multitudinist Church, which makes, as yet, the ecclesiastical creeds the terms of its communion, may cease when that test or limitation is repealed. But the exclusiveness of a Calvinistic Church, whether free from the creeds or not, is inherent in its principles. There is no insuperable harrier between Congregationalists not being Calvinists, and a multitudinist Church which should liberate itself sufficiently from the traditional symbols. Doctrinal limitations in the multitudinist form of Church are not essential to it; upon larger knowledge of Christian history, upon a more thorough acquaintance with the mental constitution of man, upon an understanding of the obstacles they present to a true Catholicity, they may be cast off. Nor is a multitudinist Church necessarily or essentially hierarchical, in any extreme or superstitious sense; it can well admit, if not pure congregationalism, a large admixture of the congregational spirit. Indeed, a combination of the two principles will alone keep any 168Church in health and vigour. Too great importance attached to a hierarchical order will lead into superstitions respecting Apostolical succession, ministerial illumination, supernatural sacramental influence; mere congregationalism tends to keep ministers and people at a dead spiritual level. A just recognition and balance of the two tendencies, allows the emerging of the most eminent of the congregation into offices for which they are suited; so that neither are the true hierarchs and leaders of thought and manners drawn down and made to succumb to a mere democracy, nor those clothed in the priests’ robe who have no true unction from above. And this just balance between the hierarchy and the congregation would be at least as attainable in the national form of Church as in any other, if it were free from dogmatical tests and similar intellectual bondage. But there are some prejudices against Nationalism which deserve to be farther considered.
It was natural for a Christian in the earliest period to look upon the heathen State in which he found himself as if it belonged to the kingdom of Satan and not to that of God; and consecrated as it was, in all its offices, to the heathen divinities, to consider it a society having its origin from the powers of darkness, not from the Lord of light and life. In the Apostolic writers this view appears rather in the First Epistle of St. John than with St. Paul. The horizon which St. John’s view embraced was much narrower than St. Paul’s;
Qui mores hominum multorum vidit et urbes.
If the love felt and inculcated by St. John towards the brethren was the more intense, the charity with which St. Paul comprehended all men was the more ample; and it is not from every point of view we should describe St. John as pre-eminently the Apostle of love. With St. John, ‘the whole world lieth in 169wickedness,’ while St. Paul exhorts ‘prayers and supplications to be made for all men, for kings, and for all that are in authority.’ Taking a wide view of the world and its history, we must acknowledge political constitutions of men to be the work of God Himself; they are organizations into which human society grows by reason of the properties of the elements which generate it. But the primitive Christians could scarcely be expected to see, that ultimately the Gospel was to have sway in doing more perfectly that which the heathen religions were doing imperfectly; that its office should be, not only to quicken the spirit of the individual and to confirm his future hopes, but to sanctify all social relations and civil institutions, and to enter into the marrow of the national life; whereas heathenism had only decorated the surface of it.
Heathendom had its national Churches. Indeed, the existence of a national Church is not only a permissible thing, but is necessary to the completion of a national life, and has shown itself in all nations, when they have made any advance in civilization. It has been usual, but erroneous, to style the Jewish constitution a theocracy in a peculiar and exclusive sense, as if the combination of the religious and civil life had been confined to that people. Even among barbarous tribes the fetish-man establishes an authority over the rest, quite as much from the yearning of others after guidance as from his own superior cunning. Priesthoods have always been products. Priests have neither been, as some would represent, a set of deliberate conspirators against the free thoughts of mankind; nor, on the other hand, have they been the sole divinely commissioned channels for communication of spiritual truth. If all priests and ministers of religion could at one moment be swept from the face of the earth, they would soon be reproduced. If the human race, or a given people—and a recent generation saw an instance of something like it in no distant 170nation—were resolved into its elements, and all its social and religious institutions shattered to pieces it would reconstruct a political framework, and a spiritual organization, re-constituting governors, laws, and magistrates, educators, and ministers of religion.
The distinction between the Jewish people and the other nations, in respect of this so-called theocracy, is but feebly marked on both sides. For the religious element was much stronger than has been supposed in other nationalities, and the priesthood was by no means supreme in the Hebrew State.113113 Previous to the time of the divided kingdom, the Jewish history presents little which is thoroughly reliable. The taking of’ Jerusalem by ‘Shishak’ is for the Hebrew history that which the sacking of Rome by the Gauls is for the Roman. And from no facts ascertainable is it possible to infer there was any early period during which the Government by the priesthood was attended with success. Indeed the greater probability seems on the side of the supposition, that the priesthood, with its distinct offices and charge, was constituted by Royalty, and that the higher pretensions of the priests were not advanced till the reign Josiah. There is no evidence of the priesthood ever having claimed a supremacy over the kings, as if it had been in possession of an oracular power; in the earlier monarchy the kings offer sacrifice, and the rudiments of a political and religious organization, which prevailed in the period of the Judges, cannot be appealed to as pre-eminently a theocracy. At any rate, nothing could be more unsuccessful, as a government, whatever it might be called. Indeed, the theory of the Jewish theocracy, seems built chiefly upon some expressions in 1 Sam. viii., xii. Samuel, however, with whose government the Israelites were dissatisfied, was not a priest but a prophet: and the whole of that part of the narrative is conceived in the prophetical, not in the priestly interest.
Constantly the title occurs in the Hebrew Scriptures, of ‘the Lord’s people,’ with appeals to Jehovah as their Supreme Governor, Protector, and Judge. And so it is with polytheistic nations; they are the offspring of the gods; the deities are their guides and guardians, the authors of their laws and customs; their worship is interwoven with the whole course of political and social life. It will of course be said, the entire difference is no more than this—the object of worship in the one case was the true God, in the other 171cases idols or demons. But it is very clear to unprejudiced persons, that the conceptions which the Hebrews formed of Jehovah, though far superior to the conceptions embodied in any other national religion, were obscured by figurative representations of Him in accordance with the character of His worshippers. The passions ascribed to Him were not those most base and degrading ones attributed to their deities by the pagans; and on that account it has been less easy to separate the figurative description from the true idea of Him. The better pagans could easily perceive the stories of their gods to have been, at the best, allegories, poetical embellishments, inventions of some kind or other. Jews did not perceive, that the attribution of wrath and jealousy to their God could only be by a figure of speech; and what is worse, it is difficult to persuade many Christians of the same thing, and solemn inferences from the figurative expressions of the Hebrew literature have been crystallized into Christian doctrine.
All things sanctioned among the Jews are certainly not to be imitated by us, nor all pagan institutions to be abhorred. In respect of a State religion, Jew and Gentile were more alike than has been thought. All nations have exhibited, in some form or another, the development of a public religion, and have done so by reason of tendencies inherent in their nationality. The particular form of the religion has been due to various causes. Also in periods of transition there would, for a time, be a breaking in upon this feature of national life. While prophets, philosophers, reformers, were at work, or some new principle winning its way, the national uniformity would be disturbed. So it was at the first preaching of the Gospel; St. Paul and the Lord Jesus himself offered it to the Jews as a nation, on the multitudinist principle; but when they put it from them, it must make progress by kindling a fire in the earth, even to the 172dividing families, two against three and three against two. Thereupon Christians appear for a while to be aliens from their countries and commonwealths, but only for a while. We must not confound with an essential principle of Christianity that which only resulted from a temporary necessity. The individualist principle may have been the right one for a time, and under certain circumstances, not consequently the right one, under all circumstances, nor even the possible one. In this question, as in that of hierarchy, and in various ceremonial discussions, the appeal to a particular primitive antiquity is only an appeal from the whole experience of Christendom to a partial experience limited to a short period. Moreover, as to the mind of Jesus himself with respect to Nationalism it is fully revealed in those touching words, preserved both in the first and third Gospels, ‘How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.’
Christianity was therefore compelled, as it were against its will, and in contradiction to its proper design, to make the first steps in its progress by cutting across old societies, filtering into the world by individual conversions, showing, nevertheless, from the very first, its multitudinist tendencies; and before it could comprehend countries or cities, embracing families and households, the several members of which must have been on very different spiritual levels (Acts xvi. 31-34). The Roman world was penetrated in the first instance by an individual and domestic Christianity, to which was owing the first conversion of our own country; in the second or Saxon conversion, the people were Christianized en masse. Such conversions as this last may not be thought to have been worth much, but they were worth the abolition of some of the grossness of idolatry; they effected all of which the subjects of them were for the time capable, and prepared the way for something better in another generation. The conversions 173operated by the German Apostle, Boniface, were of the same multitudinous kind as those of Austin and Paulinus in Britain, and for a like reason; in both cases the development of Christianity necessarily followed the forms of the national life.
In some parts of the West this national and natural tendency was counteracted by the shattering which ensued upon the breaking up of the Roman empire. And in those countries especially which had been longest and most closely connected with Pagan Rome, such as Italy itself, Spain, France, the people felt themselves unable to stand alone in their spiritual institutions, and were glad to lean on some other prop and centre, so far as was still allowed them. The Teutonic Churches were always more free than the Churches of the Latinized peoples, though they themselves had derived their Christianity from Roman Missionaries; and among the Teutonic Churches alone has a freedom from extraneous dominion as yet established itself. For a time even these could only adopt the forms of doctrine and practice which were current in other parts of the West. But those forms were neither of the essence of a national Church, nor even of the essence of a Christian Church. A national Church need not, historically speaking, be Christian, nor, if it be Christian, need it be tied down to particular forms which have been prevalent at certain times in Christendom. That which is essential to a national Church is, that it should undertake to assist the spiritual progress of the nation and of the individuals of which it is composed, in their several states and stages. Not even a Christian Church should expect all those who are brought under its influence to be, as a matter of fact, of one and the same standard, but should endeavour to raise each according to his capacities, and should give no occasion for a reaction against itself, nor provoke the individualist element into separatism. It would do this if it submitted to define itself otherwise 174than by its own nationality—if it represented itself as a part rather than a whole, as deriving authority and not claiming it, as imitative and not original
It will do this also, if while the civil side of the nation is fluid, the ecclesiastical side of it is fixed; if thought and speech are free among all other classes, and not free among those who hold the office of leaders and teachers of the rest in the highest things; if they are to be bound to cover up instead of opening; and having, it is presumed, possession of the key of knowledge, are to stand at the door with it, permitting no one to enter, unless by force. A national Church may also find itself in this position, which, perhaps, is our own. Its ministers may become isolated between two other parties—between those on the one hand who draw fanatical inferences from formularies and principles which they themselves are not able or are unwilling to repudiate; and on the other, those who have been tempted, in impatience of old fetters, to follow free thought heedlessly wherever it may lead them. If our own Churchmen expect to discourage and repress a fanatical Christianity, without a frank appeal to reason, and a frank criticism of Scripture, they will find themselves without any effectual arms for that combat; or if they attempt to check inquiry by the repetition of old forms and denunciations, they will be equally powerless, and run the especial risk of turning into bitterness the sincerity of those who should be their best allies, as friends of truth. They should avail themselves of the aid of all reasonable persons for enlightening the fanatical religionist, making no reserve of any seemingly harmless or apparently serviceable superstitions of their own; they should also endeavour to supply to the negative theologian some positive elements in Christianity, on grounds more sure to him than the assumption of an objective ‘faith once delivered to the saints,’ which he cannot 175identify with the creed of any Church as yet known to him.
It has been matter of great boast within the Church of England, in common with other Protestant Churches, that it is founded upon the ‘Word of God,’ a phrase which begs many a question when applied to the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments, a phrase which is never applied to them by any of the Scriptural authors, and which, according to Protestant principles, never could be applied to them by any sufficient authority from without. In that which may be considered the pivot Article of the Church this expression does not occur, but only ‘Holy Scripture,’ ‘Canonical Books,’ ‘Old and New Testaments.’ It contains no declaration of the Bible being throughout supernaturally suggested, nor any intimation as to which portions of it were owing to a special divine illumination, nor the slightest attempt at defining inspiration, whether mediate or immediate, whether through, or beside, or overruling the natural faculties of the subject of it,—not the least hint of the relation between the divine and human elements in the composition of the Biblical books. Even if the Fathers have usually considered ‘canonical’ as synonymous with ‘miraculously inspired,’ there is nothing to show that their sense of the word must necessarily be applied in our own sixth Article. The word itself may mean either books ruled and determined by the Church, or regulative books; and the employment of it in the Article hesitates between these two significations. For at one time ‘Holy Scripture’ and canonical books are those books ‘of whose authority never was any doubt in the Church,’114114 This clause is taken from the Wirtemburg Confession (1552), which proceeds: ‘Hanc Scripuram credimus et confitemur esse oraculum Spiritus Sancti, cælestibus testimoniis ita confirmatum, ut Si Angelus de cælo aliud prædicaverit, anathema sit.’ that is, they are ‘determined’ 176books; and then the other, or uncanonical books, are described as those which ‘the Church doth not apply to establish any doctrine,’ that is, they are not ‘regulative’ books. And if the other principal Churches of the Reformation have gone farther in definition in this respect than our own, that is no reason we should force the silence of our Church into unison with their expressed declarations, but rather that we should rejoice in our comparative freedom.115115 Thus the Helvetic Confession states: ‘We believe and profess the Canonical Scriptures of the Holy Prophets and Apostles, of the Old and New Testaments, are the very Word of God, and have sufficient authority from themselves and not from men.’ The Saxon Confession refers to the creeds as interpreters of Scripture—nos vera fide amplecti omnia scripta Prophetarum et Apostolorum; et quidem in hac ipsa nativa sententia, quæ express est in Symbolis, Apostolico, Nicæno et Athanasiano.—De Doctrina.
The Protestant feeling among us has satisfied itself in a blind way with the anti-Roman declaration, that ‘Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation, so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith,’ &c., and without reflecting how very much is wisely left open in that Article. For this declaration itself is partly negative and partly positive; as to its negative part it declares that nothing—no clause of creed, no decision of council, no tradition or exposition—is to be required to be believed on peril of salvation, unless it be Scriptural; but it does not lay down, that everything which is contained in Scripture must be believed on the same peril. Or it may be expressed thus—the Word of God is contained in Scripture, whence it does not follow that it is co-extensive with it. The Church to which we belong does not put that stumbling-block before the feet of her members; it is their own fault if they place it there for themselves, authors of their own offence. Under the terms of the sixth Article one may accept literally, or allegorically, or as 177parable, or poetry, or legend, the story of a serpent tempter, of an ass speaking with man’s voice, of an arresting of the earth’s motion, of a reversal of its motion, of waters standing in a solid heap, of witches, and a variety of apparitions. So, under the terms of the sixth Article, every one is free in judgment as to the primeval institution of the Sabbath, the universality of the deluge, the confusion of tongues, the corporeal taking up of Elijah into Heaven, the nature of angels, the reality of demoniacal possession, the personality of Satan, and the miraculous particulars of many events. So the dates and authorship of the several books received as canonical are not determined by any authority, nor their relative value and, importance.
Many evils have flowed to the people of England, otherwise free enough, from an extreme and too exclusive Scripturalism. The rudimentary education of a large number of our countrymen has been mainly carried on by the reading of the Scriptures. They are read by young children in thousands of cases, where no attempt could be made, even if it were desired, to accompany the reading with the safeguard of a reasonable interpretation. A Protestant tradition seems to have prevailed, unsanctioned by any of our formularies, that the words of Scripture are imbued with a supernatural property, by which their true sense can reveal itself even to those who, by intellectual or educational defect, would naturally be incapable of appreciating it. There is no book indeed, or collection of books, so rich in words which address themselves intelligibly to the unlearned and learned alike. But those who are able to do so ought to lead the less educated to distinguish between the different kinds of words which it contains, between the dark patches of human passion and error which form a partial crust upon it, and the bright centre of spiritual truth within.
Some years ago a vehement controversy was carried on whether the Scripture ought to be distributed in this 178country with or without note and comment. It was a question at issue between two great parties and two great organized societies. But those who advocated the view which was the more reasonable in itself, did so in the interest of an unreasonable theory; they insisted on the authority of the Church in an hierarchical sense, and carried out their commentations in dry catenas of doctrine and precept. On the other side, the views of those who were for circulating the Bible without note or comment were partly superstitious, and partly antagonistic in the way of a protest against the hierarchical claim. The Scriptures have no doubt been received with sufficient readiness by all classes of English people, for there has been something very agreeable to some of the feelings of the Englishman in the persuasion that he possesses, independently of priest or clergyman, the whole matter of his religion bound up in the four corners of a portable book, furnishing him, as he thinks, with an infallible test of the doctrine which he hears from his preacher, with a substitute for all teaching, if he so pleases, and with the complete apparatus necessary, should he desire to become the teacher of others in his turn. But the result of this immense circulation of the Scriptures for many years by all parties, has been little adequate to what might have been expected beforehand, from the circulation of that which is in itself so excellent and divine.
It is ill to be deterred from giving expression to the truth or from prosecuting the investigation of it, from a fear of making concessions to revolutionary or captious dispositions. For the blame of this captiousness, when it exists, lies in part at the door of those who ignore the difficulties of others, because they may not feel any for themselves. To this want of wisdom on the part of the defenders of old opinions is to be attributed, that the noting of such differences as are to be found in the Evangelical narratives, or in the 179books of Kings and Chronicles, takes the appearance of an attack upon a holy thing. The like ill consequences follow from not acknowledging freely the extent of the human element in the sacred books; for if this were freely acknowledged on the one side, the divine element would be frankly recognised on the other. Good men—and they cannot be good without the Spirit of God—may err in facts, be weak in memory, mingle imagination with memory, be feeble in inferences, confound illustration with argument, be varying in judgment and opinion. But the Spirit of absolute Truth cannot err or contradict Himself, if He speak immediately, even in small things, accessories, or accidents. Still less can we suppose Him to suggest contradictory accounts, or accounts only to be reconciled in the way of hypothesis and conjecture. Some things indited by the Holy Spirit may appear to relate to objects of which the whole cannot be embraced by the human intellect, and it may not, as to such objects, be possible to reconcile opposite sides of Divine truth. Whether this is the general character of Scripture revelations is not now the question; but the theory is supposable and should be treated with respect, in regard to some portions of Scripture. To suppose, on the other hand, a supernatural influence to cause the record of that which can only issue in a puzzle, is to lower infinitely our conception of the Divine dealings in respect of a special revelation.
Thus it may be attributed to the defect of our understandings, that we should be unable altogether to reconcile the aspects of the Saviour as presented to us in the three first Gospels, and in the writings of St. and St. John. At any rate, there were current the primitive Church very distinct Christologies. But neither to any defect in our capacities, nor to any reasonable presumption of a hidden wise design, nor to any partial spiritual endowments in the narrators, can we attribute the difficulty, if not impossibility, 180of reconciling the genealogies of St. Matthew and St. Luke, or the chronology of the Holy Week, or the accounts of the Resurrection; nor to any mystery in the subject-matter can be referred the uncertainty in which the New Testament writings leave us, as to the descent of Jesus Christ according to the flesh, whether by his mother He were of the tribe of Judah, or of the tribe of Levi.
If the national Church is to be true to the multitudinist principle, and to correspond ultimately to the national character, the freedom of opinion which belongs to the English citizen should be conceded to the English Churchman; and the freedom which is already practically enjoyed by the members of the congregation, cannot without injustice be denied to its ministers. A minister may rightly be expected to know more of theology than the generality, or even than the best informed of the laity; but it is a strange ignoring of the constitution of human minds, to expect all ministers, however much they may know, to be of one opinion in theoreticals, or the same person to be subject to no variation of opinion at different periods of his life. And it may be worth while to consider how far a liberty of opinion is conceded by our existing laws, civil and ecclesiastical. Along with great openings for freedom it will be found there are some restraints, or appearances of restraints, which require to be removed.
As far as opinion privately entertained is concerned, the liberty of the English clergyman appears already to be complete. For no ecclesiastical person call be obliged to answer interrogations as to his opinions, nor be troubled for that which he has not actually expressed, nor be made responsible for inferences which other people may draw from his expressions.116116 The oath ex officio in the ecclesiastical law, is defined to be an oath whereby any person may be obliged to make any presentment of any crime or offence, or to confess or accuse himself or herself of any criminal matter or thing, whereby he or she may be liable to any censor, penalty, or punishment whatsoever. 4 Jac. ‘The lords of the council at Whitehall demanded of Popham and Coke, chief justices, upon motion made by the Commons in Parliament, in what cases the ordinary may examine any person ex officio upon oath.’ They answered—1. That the ordinary cannot constrain any man, ecclesiastical or temporal, to swear generally to answer each interrogations as shall be administered to him, &c. 2. That no man, ecclesiastical or temporal, shall be examined upon the secret thoughts of his heart, or of his secret opinion, but something ought to be objected against him, which he hath spoken or done. Thus 13 Jac. Dighton and Holt were committed by the high commissioners because they being convented for slanderous words against the book of Common Prayer and the government of the Church, and being tendered the oath to be examined, they refused. The case being brought before the K.B. on habeus corpus, Coke, C.J., gave the determination of the Court. ‘That they ought to be delivered, because their examination is made to cause them to accuse themselves of a breach of a penal law, which is against law, for they ought to proceed against them by witnesses, and not inforce them to take an oath to accuse themselves.’ Then by 13 Car. 2, c. 12, it was enacted. ‘that it shall not be lawful for any person, exercising ecclesiastical jurisdiction, to tender or administer to any person whatsoever the oath usually called the oath ex-officio, or any other oath, whereby such person to whom the same is tendered, or administered, may be charged, or compelled to confess, or accuse, or to purge himself, or herself, of any criminal matter or thing,’ &c.—Burn’s Eccl. Law, iii. 14, 15. Ed. Phillimore.
Still, though there may be no power of inquisition 181into the private opinions either of ministers or people in the Church of England, there may be some interference with the expression of them; and a great restraint is supposed to be imposed upon the clergy by reason of their subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles. Yet it is more difficult than might be expected, to define what is the extent of the legal obligation of those who sign them; and in this case the strictly legal obligation is the measure of the moral one. Subscription may be thought even to be inoperative upon the conscience by reason of its vagueness. For the act of subscription is enjoined, but its effect or meaning nowhere plainly laid down; and it does not seem to amount to more than an acceptance of the Articles of the Church as the formal law to which the subscriber is in some sense subject. What that subjection amounts to, must be gathered elsewhere, for it does not appear on the face of the subscription itself.
The ecclesiastical authority on the subject is to be found in the Canons of 1603, the fifth and the thirty-sixth. 182The fifth, indeed, may be applicable theoretically both to lay and to ecclesiastical persons; practically it can only concern those of whom subscription is really required. It is entitled, Impugners of the Articles of Religion established in this Church of England censured. ‘Whosoever shall hereafter affirm, that any of the nine and thirty articles, &c., are in any part superstitious or erroneous, or such as he may not with a good conscience subscribe unto, let him be excommunicated, &c.’ We need not stay to consider what the effects of excommunication might be, but rather attend to the definition which the canon itself supplies of ‘impugning.’ It is stated to be the affirming, that any of the Thirty-nine Articles are in any part ‘superstitious or erroneous.’ Yet an Article may be very inexpedient, or become so; may be unintelligible, or not easily intelligible to ordinary people; it may be controversial, and such as to provoke controversy and keep it alive when otherwise it would subside; it may revive unnecessarily the remembrance of dead controversies—all or any of these, without being ‘erroneous;’ and though not ‘superstitious,’ some expressions may appear so, such as those which seem to impute an occult operation to the Sacraments. The fifth canon does not touch the affirming any of these things, and more especially, that the Articles present truths disproportionately, and relatively to ideas not now current.
The other canon which concerns subscription is the thirty-sixth, which contains two clauses explanatory to some extent, of the meaning of ministerial subscription, ‘That he alloweth the Book of Articles, &c.’ and ‘that he acknowledgeth the same to be agreeable to the Word of God.’ We ‘allow’ many things which we do not think wise or practically useful; as the less of two evils, or an evil which cannot be remedied, or of which the remedy is not attainable, or is uncertain in its operation, or is not in our power, or concerning which there is much difference of opinion, or where 183the initiation of any change does not belong to ourselves, nor the responsibility belong to ourselves, either of the things as they are, or of searching for something better. Many acquiesce in, submit to, ‘allow,’ a law as it operates upon themselves which they would be horror-struck to have enacted; yet they would gladly and in conscience, ‘allow’ and submit to it, as part of a constitution under which they live, against which they would never think of rebelling, which they would on no account undermine, for the many blessings of which they are fully grateful—they would be silent and patient rather than join, even in appearance, the disturbers and breakers of its laws. Secondly, he ‘acknowledgeth’ the same to be agreeable to the Word of God. Some distinctions may be founded upon the word ‘acknowledge.’ He does not maintain, nor regard it as self-evident, nor originate it as his own feeling, spontaneous opinion, or conviction; but when it is suggested to him, put in a certain shape, when the intention of the framers is borne in mind, their probable purpose and design explained, together with the difficulties which surrounded them, he is not prepared to contradict, and he acknowledges. There is a great deal to be said, which had not at first occurred to him; many other better and wiser men than himself have acknowledged the same thing—why should he be obstinate? Besides, he is young, and has plenty of time to reconsider it; or he is old and continues to submit out of habit, and it would be too absurd, at his time of life, to be setting up as a Church reformer.
But after all, the important phrase is, that the Articles are ‘agreeable to the Word of God.’ This cannot mean that the Articles are precisely coextensive with the Bible, much less of equal authority with a whole. Neither separately, nor altogether, do they embody all which is said in it, and relatively which they draw from it are only good relatively and secundum quid and quatenus concordant. 184If their terms are Biblical terms, they must be presumed to have the same sense in the Articles which they have in the Scripture; and if they are not all Scriptural ones, they undertake in the pivot Article not to contradict the Scripture. The Articles do not make any assumption of being interpretations of Scripture or developments of it. The greater must include the less, and the Scripture is the greater.
On the other hand, there may be some things in the Articles which could not be contained, or have not been contained, in the Scripture—such as propositions or clauses concerning historical facts more recent than the Scripture itself; for instance, that there never has been any doubt in the Church concerning the books of the New Testament. For without including such doubts as a fool might have, or a very conceited person, without carrying doubts founded upon mere criticism and internal evidence only, to such an extent as a Baur or even an Ewald, there was a time when certain books existed and certain others were not as yet written;—for example, the Epistles of St. Paul were anterior, probably to all of the Gospels, certainly to that of St. John, and of course the Church could not receive without doubt books not as yet composed. But as the canon grew, book after book emerging into existence and general reception, there were doubts as to some of them, for a longer or shorter period, either concerning their authorship or their authority. The framers of the Articles were not deficient in learning, and could not have been ignorant of the passages in Eusebius where the different books current in Christendom in his time are classified as genuine or acknowledged, doubtful and spurious. If there be an erroneousness in such a statement, as that there never was any doubt in the Church concerning the book of the Revelation, the Epistle to the Hebrews, or the second of St. Peter, it cannot be an erroneousness in the sense of the fifth canon, nor can it be at variance with the Word of God according to the thirty-sixth. Such 185things in the Articles as are beside the Scripture are not in the contemplation of the canons. Much less can historical questions not even hinted at in the Articles be excluded from free discussion—such as concern the dates and composition of the several books, the compilation of the Pentateuch, the introduction of Daniel into the Jewish canon, and the like with some books of the New Testament—the date and authorship, for instance, of the fourth Gospel.
Many of those who would themselves wish the Christian theology to run on in its old forms of expression, nevertheless deal with the opinions of others, which they may think objectionable, fairly as opinions. There will always, on the other hand, be a few whose favourite mode of warfare it will be, to endeavour to gain a victory over some particular person who may hold opinions they dislike, by entangling him in the formularies. Nevertheless, our formularies do not lend themselves very easily to this kind of warfare—Contra retiarium baculo.
We have spoken hitherto of the signification of subscription which may be gathered from the canons; there is, also, a statute, a law of the land, which forbids, under penalties, the advisedly and directly contradicting any of them by ecclesiastics, and requires subscription with declaration of ‘assent’ from beneficed persons. This statute (13 Eliz. c. 52), three hundred years old, like many other old enactments, is not found to be very applicable to modern cases; although it is only about fifty years ago that it was said by Sir William Scott to be in viridi observantiâ. Nevertheless, its provisions would not easily be brought to bear on questions likely to be raised in our own days. The meshes are too open for modern refinements. For not to repeat concerning the word ‘assent’ what has been said concerning ‘allow’ and ‘acknowledge,’ let the Articles be taken according to an obvious classification. Forms of expression, partly derived from modern modes of thought on metaphysical subjects, 186partly suggested by a better acquaintance than heretofore with the unsettled state of Christian opinion in the immediately post-apostolic age, may be adopted with respect to the doctrines enunciated in the five first Articles, without directly contradicting, impugning, or refusing assent to them, but passing by the side of them—as with respect to the humanifying of the Divine Word and to the Divine Personalities. Then those which we have called the pivot Articles, concerning the rule of faith and the sufficiency of Scripture, are, happily, found to make no effectual provision for an absolute uniformity, when once the freedom of interpretation of Scripture is admitted; they cannot be considered as interpreting their own interpreter; this has sometimes been called a circular proceeding; it might be resembled to a lever becoming its own fulcrum. The Articles, again, which have a Lutheran and Calvinistic sound, are found to be equally open, because they are, for the most part, founded on the very words of Scripture, and these, while worthy of unfeigned assent, are capable of different interpretations. Indeed, the Calvinistic and Arminian views have been declared by a kind of authority to be both of them tenable under the seventeenth Article; and if the Scriptural terms of ‘election’ and predestination may be interpreted in an anti-Calvinistic sense, ‘faith,’ in the tenth and following Articles, need not be understood in the Lutheran. These are instances of legitimate affixing different significations to tones in the Articles, by reason of different interpretations of Scriptural passages.
If, however, the Articles of religion and the law of the Church of England be in effect liberal, flexible, or little stringent, is there any necessity for expressing dissatisfaction with them, any sufficient provocation to change? There may be much more liberty in a Church like our own, the law of which is always interpreted, according to the English spirit, in the manner most 187favourable to those who are subject to its discipline, than in one which, whether free or not from Articles, might be empowered to develope doctrine and to denounce new heresies. Certainly the late Mr. Irving, if he had been a clergyman of the Church of England, could scarcely have been brought under the terms of any ecclesiastical law of ours, for the expression of opinions upon an abstruse question respecting the humanity of Jesus Christ, which subjected him to degradation in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. And this transition state may be a state of as much liberty as the Church of England could in any way as yet have been enabled to attain, a state of greater practical liberty than has been attained in Churches supposed to be more free; it is a state of safety and protection to those who use it wisely, under which a farther freedom may be prepared.
But it is not a state which ought to be considered final, either by the Church itself or by the nation. It is very well for provisions which cease to be easily applicable to modem cases to be suffered to fall into desuetude, but after falling into desuetude they should be repealed. Desuetude naturally leads to repeal. Obsolete tests are a blot upon a modern system, and there is always some danger lest an antiquated rule may be unexpectedly revived for the sake of an odious individual application; when it has outlived its general regulative power, it may still be a trap for the weaker consciences; or when it how become powerless as to penal consequences, it may serve to give a point to invidious imputations.
And farther than this, the present apparent stringency of subscription as required of the clergy of the Church of England does not belong to it as part of its foundation, is not even coeval with its reconstruction at the period of the Reformation. For the Canons are of the date of 1603, and the Act requiring the public reading of the Thirty-nine Articles, with declaration 188of assent by a beneficed person after his induction, is the 13th Elizabeth. An enactment prohibiting the bishops from requiring the subscriptions under the third article of the thirty-sixth canon, together with the repeal of 13th Elizabeth, except as to its second section, would relieve many scruples, and make the Church more national, without disturbing its ultimate law. The Articles would then obviously become for the clergy that which they are for the laity of the Church, ‘articles of peace, not to be contradicted by her sons,’ as the wise and liberal Burnet described them: and there is forcible practical reason for leaving the Thirty-nine Articles as the ultimate law of the Church, not to be contradicted, and for confining relaxation to the abolition of subscription.
A large portion of the Articles were originally directed against the corruptions of the Church of Rome, and whatever may be thought of the unadvisableness of retaining tests to exclude opinions which few think of reviving in their old shape, these Roman doctrines and practices are seen to be flourishing in full life and vigour. And considering the many grievous provocations which the people of England have suffered from the Papacy both in ancient and modern times, they would naturally resist any change which might by possibility weaken the barriers between the National Church and the encroachments of the Church of Rome. It is evident, moreover, that the act of signature to the Thirty-nine Articles contributes nothing to the exclusion from the Church of Romish views. For, as it is; opinions and practices prevail among some of the clergy, which are extremely distasteful to the generality of the people, by reason of their Romish character. Those of the Articles which condemn the Romish errors, cannot themselves be made so stringent as to bar altogether the intrusion of some opinion of a Roman tone, which the Reformers, if they could have foreseen it, might have desired to exclude, and which 189is equally strange and repugnant to the common sense of the nation. No act of subscription can supply this defect of stringency in the formulas themselves. Now it would be impossible to secure the advantages of freedom in one direction without making it equal as far as it goes. We must endeavour to liberate ourselves from the dominion of an unwise and really unchristian principle with the fewest possible risks and inconveniences.
Considering therefore the practical difficulties which would beset any change, and especially those which would attend, either die excepting of the anti-Romish Articles from repeal or including them in it; any attempt at a relaxation of the clerical test should prudently confine itself in our generation, to an abolition of the act of subscription, leaving the Articles themselves protected by the second section of the Statute of Elizabeth and by the canons, against direct contradiction or impugning.
For, the act of subscription being abolished, there would disappear the invidious distinction between the clergy and laity of the same communion, as if there were separate standards for each of belief and morals. There would disappear also a semblance of a promissory oath on a subject which a promise is incapable of reaching. No promise can reach fluctuations of opinion and personal conviction. Open teaching can, it is true, if it be thought wise, be dealt with by the law and its penalties; but the law should content itself with saying, you shall not teach or proclaim in derogation of my formularies; it should not require any act which appears to signify ‘I think.’ Let the security be either the penal or the moral one, not a commingling of the two. It happens continually, that able and sincere Persons are deterred from entering the ministry of the national Church by this consideration; they would be willing to be subject to the law forbidding them to teach Arianism or Pelagianism—as what 190sensible man in our day would desire to teach them?—but they do not like to say, or be thought to say, that they assent to a certain number of’ anti-Arian and anti-Pelagian propositions. And the absence of vigorous tone—not confined to one party in the Church, which is to be lamented of late years in its ministry, is to be attributed to the reluctance of the stronger minds to enter an Order in which their intellects may not have free play. The very course of preparation for ordination, tied down as it is in one department to the study of the Articles, which must perforce be proved consentaneous to the ‘Word of God’ according to some, and to ‘Catholic antiquity’ according to others, has an enervating effect upon the non which is compelled to embrace much scholastic matter, not as a history of doctrine, but as a system of truth of which it ought to be convinced.
It may be easy to urge invidiously, with respect to the impediments now existing to undertaking office in the national Church, that there are other sects, which persons dissatisfied with her formularies may join, and where they may find scope for their activity with little intellectual bondage. Nothing can be said here, whether or not there might be elsewhere bondage at least as galling, of a similar or another kind. But the service of the national Church may welt be regarded in a different light from the service of a sect. It is as properly an organ of the national life as a magistracy, or a legislative estate. To set barriers before the entrance upon its functions, by limitations not absolutely required by public policy, is to infringe upon the birthright of the citizens. And to lay down as an alternative to striving for more liberty of though and expression within the Church of the nation, that those who are dissatisfied may sever themselves and join a sect, would be paralleled by declaring to political reformers, that they are welcome to expatriate themselves, if they desire any change in the existing 191forms of the constitution. The suggestion of the alternative is an insult; if it could be enforced, it would be a grievous wrong.
There is another part of the subject which may be slightly touched upon in this place—that of the endowment of the national Church. This was well described by Mr. Coleridge as the Nationalty. In a certain sense, indeed, the nation or state is lord paramount over all the property within its boundaries. But it provides for the usufruct of the property in two different ways. The usufruct of private property, as it is called, descends, according to our laws, by inheritance or testamentary disposition, and no specific services are attached to its enjoyment. The usufruct of that which Coleridge called the Nationalty circulates freely among all the families of the nation. The enjoyment of it is subject to the performance of special services, is attainable only by the possession of certain qualifications. In accordance with the strong tendency in England to turn every interest into a right of so-called private property, the nominations to the benefices of the national Church have come, by an abuse, to be regarded as part of the estates of patrons, instead of trusts, as they really are. No trustee of any analogous property, of a grammar-school for instance, would think of selling his right of appointment; he would consider the proper exercise of the trust his duty; much less would any court of law acknowledge that a beneficial interest in the trust property was an asset belonging to the estate of the trustee. If the nomination to the place of a schoolmaster ought to be considered as purely fiduciary, much more should the nomination of a spiritual person to his parochial charge. Objections are made against our own national Church bonded upon these anomalies, which may in time be rectified. Others are made against the very principle of endowment.
It is said, that a fixed support of the minister 192tends to paralyse both him and his people—making him independent of his congregation, and drying up their liberality. It would be difficult, perhaps, to say which would be the greater evil, for a minister to be in all things independent of his people, or in all thing, dependent upon them. But the endowed minister is by no means independent of all restraints, as, for instance, of the law of his Church and, which is much more, of public opinion, especially of the opinion of hi, own people. The unendowed minister is dependent in all things, both upon the opinion of his people and upon their liberality; and frequent complaints transpire among Nonconformists of the want of some greater laity in the position and sustentation of their ministers. In the case of a nationally endowed Church, the people themselves contribute little or nothing to its support. The Church of England is said to be the richest Church in Europe, which is probably not true; but its people contribute less to its support than the members of any other Church in Christendom, whether established or voluntary. And if the contributing personally to the support of the ministry were the only form which Christian liberality could take, the stopping up the outflow of it would be an incalculable evil. But it is not so; there are a multitude of other objects, even though the principal minister in a parish or other locality were sufficiently provided for, to give an outlet for Christian liberality. It may flow over from more favoured localities where Churches are sufficiently endowed, into more destitute districts and into distant lands. This is so with ourselves; and those who are familiar with the statistics of the numerous voluntary societies in England for Christian and philanthropic purposes, know to how great an extent the bulk of the support they meet with is derived from the contributions of churchmen. There is reason to think on the other hand, that the means and willingness to give on the part of nonconforming congregations 193are already mainly exhausted in making provision for their ministers.
Reverting to the general interest in the Nationalty, it is evidently twofold. First, in the free circulation of a certain portion of the real property of the country, inherited not by blood, nor through the accident of birth, but by merit and in requital for certain performances. It evidently belongs to the popular interest, that this circulation should be free from all unnecessary limitations and restraints—speculative, antiquarian, and the like, and be regulated, as far as attainable, by fitness and capacity for a particular public service. Thus by means of the national endowment there would take place a distribution of property to every family in the country, unencumbered by family provisions of each succession—a distribution in like manner of the best kind of education, of which the effects would not be worn out in one or two generations. The Church theoretically is the most popular, it might be said, the most democratic of all our institutions; its ministers— as a spiritual magistracy—true tribunes of the people. Secondly, the general interest in the Nationalty as the material means whereby the highest services are obtained for the general good, requires, that no artificial discouragements should limit the number of those who otherwise would be enabled to become candidates for the service of the Church—that nothing should prevent the choice and recruiting of the Church ministers from the whole of the citizens. As a matter of fact we find that nearly one-half of our population are at present more or less alienated from the communion of the national Church, and do not, therefore, supply candidates for its ministry. Instead of securing the excellences and highest attainments from the whole of the people, it secures them, by means of the national reserve, only from one-half; the rest are either not drawn up into the Christian ministry at all, or undertake it in connexion with schismatical bodies, with as 194much detriment to the national unity, as to the ecclesiastical.
We all know how the inward moral life—or spiritual life on its moral side, if that term be preferred—is nourished into greater or less vigour by means of the conditions in which the moral subject is placed. Hence, if a nation is really worthy of the name, conscious of its own corporate life, it will develop itself on one side into a Church, wherein its citizens may grow up and be perfected in their spiritual nature. If there is within it a consciousness that as a nation it is fulfilling no unimportant office in the world, and is, wider the order of Providence, an instrument in giving the victory to good over evil and to happiness over misery, it will not content itself with the rough adjustments and rude lessons of law and police, but will throw its elements, or the best of them, into another mould, and constitute out of them a society, which is in it, though in some sense not of it—which is another, yet the same.
That each one born into the nation is, together with his civil rights, born into a membership or privilege, as belonging to a spiritual society, places him at once in a relation which must tell powerfully upon his spiritual nature. For the sake of the reaction upon its own merely secular interests, the nation is entitled to provide from time to time, that the Church teaching and forms of one age do not traditionally harden, so as to become exclusive barriers in a subsequent one, and so the moral growth of those who are committed to the hands of the Church be checked, or its influences confined to a comparatively few. And the objects of the care of the State and of the Church will nearly coincide; for the former desires all its people to be brought under the improving influence, and the latter is willing to embrace all who have even the rudiments of the moral life.
And if the objects of the care of each nearly coincide, when the office of the Church is properly understood, 195so errors and mistakes in defining Church-membership, or in constituting a repulsive mode of Church teaching, are fatal to the purposes both of Church and State alike.
It is a great misrepresentation to exhibit the State as allying itself with one out of many sects—a misrepresentation, the blame of which does not rest wholly with political persons, nor with the partisans of sects adverse to that which is supposed to be unduly preferred. It cannot concern a State to develop as part of its own organization a machinery or system of relations founded on the possession of speculative truth. Speculative doctrines should be left to philosophical schools. A national Church must be concerned with the ethical development of its members. And the wrong of supposing it to be otherwise, is participated by those of the clericalty who consider the Church of Christ to be founded, as a society, on the possession of an abstractedly true and supernaturally communicated speculation concerning God, rather than upon the manifestation of a divine life in man.
It has often been made matter of reproach to the heathen State religions, that they took little concern in the moral life of the citizens. To a certain extent this is true, for the heathens of classical history had not generally the same conceptions of morals as we have. But as far as their conceptions of morals reached, their Church and State were mutually bound together, not by a material alliance, nor by a gross compact of pay and preferment passing between the civil society and the priesthood, but by the penetrating of the whole public and domestic life of the nation with a religious sentiment.. All the social relations were consecrated by the feeling of their being entered into and carried on under the sanction—under the very impulse of Deity. Treaties and boundaries, buying and selling, marrying, judging, deliberating on affairs of State, spectacles and all popular amusements, were under the 196protection of Divinity; all life was a worship. It can very well be understood how philosophers should esteemed atheists, when they began to speculate upon origins, causes, abstract being, and the like.
Certainly the sense of the individual conscience was not sufficiently developed under those old religions. Their observances, once penetrated with a feeling a present Deity, became, in course of time, mere dry and superstitious forms. But the glory of the Gospel would only be partial and one-sided, if, while quickening the individual conscience and the expectation of individual immortality, it had no spirit to quicken the national life. An isolated salvation, the rescuing of one’s self, the reward, the grace bestowed on one’s own labours, the undisturbed repose, the crown of glory in which so many have no share, the finality of the sentence on both hands—reflections on such expectations as these may make stubborn martyrs and sour professors, but not good citizens; rather tend to unfit men for this world, and in so doing prepare them very ill for that which is to come.
But in order to the possibility of recruiting any national ministry from the whole of the nation, in order to the operation upon the nation at large of the special functions of its Church, no needless intellectual or speculative obstacles should be interposed. It is not to be expected that terms of communion could be made so large, as by any possibility to comprehend in the national Church the whole of such a free nation as our own. There will always be those who, from a conscientious scruple, or from a desire to define, or from peculiarities of temper, will hold aloof from the religion and the worship of the majority; and it is not desirable that it should be otherwise, so long as the national unity and the moral action of society are not thereby seriously impaired. No doubt, speaking politically, and regarding merely the peacefulness with which the machinery of ordinary executive government can be carried on, it has proved very advantageous to the State, 197that an Established Church has existed in this country, to receive the shafts which otherwise might have been directed against itself. Ill-humour has evaporated harmlessly in Dissent, which might otherwise have materially deranged the body politic; and village Hampdens have acquired a parochial renown, sufficient to satisfy their ambition, in resistance to a Church-rate, whose restlessness sought have urged them to dispute, even to prison and spoiling of their goods, the lawfulness of a war-tax. But whatever root of conscientiousness and truth-seeking there has been in non-conformity, whatever amount of indirect good is produced by the emulation of the different religious bodies, whatever safety to social order by the escapement for temper so provided—the moral influence of the better people in their several neighbourhoods is neutralized or lost for want of harmony and concentration, when the alienation from the national Church reaches the extent which it has done in our country. Even in the more retired localities, industry, cleanliness, decency in the homes of the poor, school discipline and truthfulness, are encouraged far less than they might otherwise be, by reason of the absence of religious unanimity in the superior classes. And if the points of speculation and of form which separate Dissenters from the Church of England were far more important than they are, and the approximative truth preponderatingly upon the side of Dissent, it would do infinitely more harm by the dissension which it creates, than it possibly could accomplish of good, by a greater correctness in doctrine and ecclesiastical constitution. If this statement concerns Dissent itself on one side it concerns the Church on the other, or rather those who so limit the terms of its communion as to provoke, and—as human beings are constituted—to necessitate separation from it. It is stated by Neal,117117 Hist. Pur. iv. p. 618. that if the alterations in the Prayer-book, recommended 198by the Commissioners of 1689 had been adopted, it would ‘in all probability have brought in three parts in four of the Dissenters.’ No such result could be expected from any ‘amendments’ or ‘concessions’ now. Much less could anything be hoped for, by means of a ‘Conference.’ But it concerns the State, on the highest grounds of public policy, to rectify, as far as possible, the mistakes committed in former times by itself or by the Church under its sanction; and without aiming at an universal comprehension, which would be Utopian, to suffer the perpetuation of no unnecessary barriers excluding from the communion or the ministry of the national Church.
There are, moreover, besides those who have joined the ranks of Dissent, many others holding aloof from the Church of England, by reason of its real or supposed dogmatism—whose co-operation in its true work would be most valuable to it—and who cannot become utterly estranged from it, without its losing ultimately its popular influence and its national character. If those who distinguish themselves in science and literature cannot, in a scientific and literary age, be effectually and cordially attached to the Church of their nation, they must sooner or later be driven into a position of hostility to it. They may he as indisposed to the teaching of the majority et Dissenters as to that which they conceive to be the teaching of the Church; but the Church, as an organization, will of necessity appear to be the most damaged by a scientific criticism of a supposed Christianity common to it with other bodies. Many personal and social bonds have retarded hitherto an issue which from time to time has threatened a controversy between our science and our theology. It would be a deplorable day, when the greatest names on either side should be found in conflict; and theology should only learn to acknowledge, after a defeat, that there are no irreconcileable differences between itself and its opponents.199
It is sometimes said with a sneer, that the scientific men and the men of abstractions will never change the religions of the world; and yet Christianity has certainly been very different from what it would have been without the philosophies of a Plato and an Aristotle; and a Bacon and a Newton exercise an influence upon the Biblical theology of Englishmen. They have modified, though they have not made it. The more diffused science of the present day will farther modify it. And the question seems to narrow itself to this—How can those who differ from each other intellectually in such variety of degrees as our more educated and our less educated classes, be comprised under the same formularies of one national Church—be supposed to follow them, assent to them, appropriate them, in one spirit? If such formularies embodied only an ethical result addressed to the individual and to society, the speculative difficulty would not arise. But as they present a fair and substantial representation of the Biblical records, incorporating their letter and presupposing their historical element, precisely the same problem is presented to us intellectually, as English Churchmen or as Biblical Christians.
It does not seem to be contradicted, that when Church formularies adopt the words of Scripture, these must have the same meaning, and be subject to the same questions, in the formularies, as in the Scripture. And we may go somewhat farther and say, that the historical parts of the Bible, when referred to or presupposed in the formularies, have the same value in them which they have in their original seat; and this value may consist, rather in their significance, in the ideas which they awaken, than in the scenes themselves which they depict. And as Churchmen, or as Christians, we may vary as to their value in particulars—that is, as to the extent of the verbal accuracy of a history, or of its spiritual significance, without breaking with our 200communion, or denying our sacred name. These varieties will be determined partly by the peculiarities of men’s mental constitution, partly by the nature of their education, circumstances, and special studies. And neither should the idealist condemn the literalist, nor the literalist assume the right of excommunicating the idealist. They are really fed with the same truths; the literalist unconsciously, the idealist with reflection. Neither can justly say of the other that he under. values the Sacred Writings, or that he holds them as inspired less properly than himself.
The application of ideology to the interpretation of Scripture, to the doctrines of Christianity, to the formularies of the Church, may undoubtedly be carried to an excess—may be pushed so far as to leave in the sacred records no historical residue whatever. On the other side, there is the excess of a dull and unpainstaking acquiescence, satisfied with accepting in an unquestioning spirit, and as if they were literally facts, all particulars of a wonderful history, because in sonic sense it is from God. Between these extremes lie infinite degrees of rational and irrational interpretation.
It will be observed that the ideal method is applicable in two ways; both to giving account of the origin of parts of Scripture, and also in explanation of Scripture. It is thus either critical or exegetical. An example of the critical ideology carried to excess is that of Strauss, which resolves into an ideal the whole of the historical and doctrinal person of Jesus; so again, much of the allegorizing of Plato and Origen is an exegetical ideology, exaggerated and wild. But it by no means follows, because Strauss has substituted a mere shadow for the Jesus of the Evangelists, and has frequently descended to a minute captiousness in details, that there are not traits in the scriptural person of Jesus, which are better explained by referring them to an ideal than an historical origin: and without falling into fanciful exegetics, there are parts of scripture 201more usefully interpreted ideologically than in any other manner—as, for instance, the history of the temptation of Jesus by Satan, and accounts of demoniacal possessions. And liberty must be left to all as to the extent in which they apply the principle, for there is no authority, through the expressed determination of the Church, nor of any other kind, which can define the limits within which it may be reasonably exercised.
Thus some may consider the descent of all mankind from Adam and Eve as an undoubted historical fact; others may into perceive in that relation a form of narrative, into which in early ages tradition would easily throw itself spontaneously. Each race naturally—necessarily, when races are isolated—supposes itself to be sprung from a single pair, and to be the first, or the only one, of races. Among a particular people this historical representation became the concrete expression of a great moral truth—of the brotherhood of all humans beings, of their community, as in other things, so also in suffering and in frailty, in physical pains and in moral ‘corruption.’ And the force, grandeur, and reality of these ideas are not a whit impaired in the abstract, nor indeed the truth of the concrete history as their representation, even though mankind should have been placed upon the earth in many pairs at once, or in distinct centres of creation. For the brotherhood of men really depends, not upon the material fact of their fleshly descent from a single stock, but upon their constitution, as possessed in common, of the same faculties and affections, fitting them for mutual relation and association; so that the value of the history, if it were a history strictly so called, would lie in its emblematic force and application. And man narratives of marvels and catastrophes in the Old Testament are referred to in the New, as emblems, without either denying or asserting their literal truth—such as the destruction of Sodom and 202Gomorrah by fire from heaven, and the Noachian deluge. And especially if we bear in mind the existence of such a school as that which produced Philo, or even the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, we must think it would be wrong to lay down, that whenever the New Testament writers refer to Old Testament histories, they imply of necessity that the historic truth was the first to them. For their purposes it was often wholly in the background, and the history, valuable only in its spiritual application. Tire same may take place with ourselves, and history and tradition be employed emblematically, without, on that account, being regarded as untrue. We do not apply the term ‘untrue’ to parable, fable, or proverb, although their words correspond with ideas, not with material facts; as little should we do so, when narratives have been the spontaneous product of true ideas, and are capable of reproducing them.
The ideologian is evidently in possession of a principle which will enable him to stand in charitable relation to persons of very different opinions from his own, and of very different opinions mutually. And if he has perceived to how great extent the history of the origin itself of Christianity rests ultimately upon probable evidence, his principle will relieve him from many difficulties which might otherwise be very disturbing. For relations which may repose on doubtful grounds as matter of history, and, as history, be incapable of being ascertained or verified, may yet be equally suggestive of true ideas with facts absolutely certain. The spiritual significance is the same of the transfiguration, of opening blind eyes, of causing the tongue of the stammerer to speak plainly, of feeding multitudes with bread in the wilderness, of cleansing leprosy, whatever links may be deficient in the traditional record of particular events. Or, let us suppose one to be uncertain, whether our Lord were born of the house and lineage of David, or of the tribe of Levi, 203 and even to be driven to conclude that the genealogies of Him have little historic value; nevertheless, in idea, Jesus is both Son of David and Son of Aaron, both Prince of Peace and High Priest of our profession; as He is, under another idea, though not literally, ‘without father and without mother.’ And He is none the less Son of David, Priest Aaronical, or Royal Priest Melchizedecan, in idea and spiritually, even if it be unproved, whether He were any of them in historic fact. In like manner it need not trouble us, if, in consistency, we should have to suppose both an ideal origin and to apply an ideal meaning to the birth in the city of David, and to other circumstances of the infancy. So, again, the incarnification of the divine Immanuel remains, although the angelic appearances which herald it in the narratives of the Evangelists may be of ideal origin according to the conceptions of former days. The ideologian may sometimes be thought sceptical, and be sceptical or doubtful, as to the historical value of related facts; but the historical value is not always to him the most important; frequently it is quite secondary. And, consequently, discrepancies in narratives, scientific difficulties, defects in evidence, do not disturb him as they do the literalist.
Moreover, the same principle is capable of application to some of those inferences which have been the source, according to different theologies, of much controversial acrimony and of wide ecclesiastical separations; such as those which have been drawn from the institution of the sacraments. Some, for instance, cannot conceive a presence of Jesus Christ in His institution of the Lord’s Supper, unless it be a corporeal one, nor a spiritual influence upon the moral nature of man to be connected with baptism, unless it be supernatural, quasi-mechanical, effecting a psychical change then and there. But within these concrete conceptions there lie hid the truer ideas of the virtual presence of the Lord Jesus everywhere that He is 204preached, remembered, and represented, and of the continual force of His spirit in His words, and especially in the ordinance which indicates the separation of the Christian from the world.
The same may be said of the concrete conceptions of art hierarchy described by its material form and descent; also of millenarian expectations of a personal reign of the saints with Jesus upon earth, and of the many embodiments in which from age to age has reappeared the vision of a New Jerusalem shining with mundane glory here below. These gross conceptions, as they seem to some, may be necessary to others, as approximations to true ideas. So, looking for redemption in Israel was a looking for a very different redemption, with most of the Jewish people, from that which Jesus really came to operate, yet it was the only expectation which they could form, and was the shadow to them of a great reality.
‘Lo, the poor Indian, whose untutored mind,
Seen God in clouds, or hears Him in the wind.’
Even to the Hebrew Psalmist, He comes flying upon the wings of the wind; and only to the higher Prophet is He not in the wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but in ‘the still small voice.’ Not the same thoughts—very far from the same thoughts—pass through the minds of the more and the less instructed on contemplating the same face of the natural world. In like manner are the thoughts of men various, in form at least, if not in substance, when they read the same Scripture histories and use the same Scripture phrases. Histories to some, become parables to others; and facts to those, are emblems to these. The ‘rock’ and the ‘cloud’ and the ‘sea’ convey to the Christian admonitions of spiritual verities; and so do the ordinances of the Church and various parts of its forms of worship.
Jesus Christ has not revealed His religion as a theology of the intellect, nor as an historical faith; and it is a stifling of the true Christian life, both in the 205individual and in the Church, to require of many men a unanimity in speculative doctrine, which is unattainable, and a uniformity of historical belief, which can never exist. The true Christian life is the consciousness of bearing a part in a great moral order, of which the highest agency upon earth has been committed to the Church. Let us not oppress this work nor complicate the difficulties with which it is surrounded; ‘not making the heart of the righteous sad, whom the Lord hath not made sad, nor strengthening the hands of the wicked by promising him life.’
There is enough indeed to sadden us in the doubtful warfare which the good wages with the evil, both within us and without us. How few, under the most favourable conditions, learn to bring themselves face to face with the great moral law, which is the manifestation of the Will of God! The greater part can only detect the evil when it comes forth from them, nearly as when any other might observe it We cannot, in the matter of those who are brought under the highest influences of the Christian Church, any more than in the case of mankind viewed in their ordinary relations, give any account of the apparently useless expenditure of power—of the apparent overbearing generally of the higher law by the lower—of the apparent poverty of result from the operation of a wonderful machinery—of the seeming waste of myriads of germs, for the sake of a few mature growths. ‘Many arc called but few chosen’—and under the privileges of the Christian Church, as in other mysteries,—
πολλοὶ μὲν ναρθηκοφόροι, βάκχοι δέ γε πᾶυροι.
Calvinism has a keen perception of this truth; and we shrink from Calvinism and Augustinianism, not because of their perceiving how few, even under Christian privileges, attain to the highest adoption of sons; but because of the inferences with which they clog that truth—the inferences which they draw respecting 206the rest, whom they comprehend in one mass of perdition.
The Christian Church can only tend on those who are committed to its care, to the verge of that abyss which parts this world from the world unseen. Some few of those fostered by her are now ripe for entering on a higher career: the many are but rudimentary spirits—germinal souls. What shall become of them? If we look abroad in the world and regard the neutral character of the multitude, we are at a loss to apply to them, either the promises, or the denunciations of revelation. So, the wise heathens could anticipate a reunion with the great and good of all ages; they could represent to themselves, at least in a figurative manner, the punishment and the purgatory of the wicked; but they would not expect the reappearance in another world, for any purpose, of a Thersites or an Hyperbolos—social and poetical justice had been sufficiently done upon them, Yet there are such as these, and no better than these, under the Christian name—babblers, busy-bodies, livers to get gain, and mere eaters and drinkers. The Roman Church has imagined a limbus infantium; we must rather entertain a hope that there shall be found, after the great adjudication, receptacles suitable for those who shall be infants, not as to years of terrestrial life, but as to spiritual development—nurseries as it were and seed-grounds, where the undeveloped may grow up under new conditions—the stunted may become strong, and the perverted be restored. And when the Christian Church, in all its branches, shall have fulfilled its sublunary office, and its Founder shall have surrendered His kingdom to the Great Father—all, both small and great, shall find a refuge in the bosom of the Universal Parent, to repose, or be quickened into higher life, in the ages to come, according to his Will.207
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