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It is a large inquiry. I can but belief, once absolutely universal in touch on a few salient points.
Christendom, that no human being I. First, there is the essentially could be saved who had not passed progressive element in religion itself. through the waters of baptism ; Lord Macaulay, in his celebrated that even innocent children, if not essay on Ranke's History of the Popes, immersed in the font, were doomed maintains, with all the exuberance of to endless perdition? Or where are logic and rhetoric, the difference be- the interminable questions respecting tween theology and all other sciences the doctrine of predestination or the is in this respect, that what it was in mode of justification which occupied the days of the patriarch Job, such it the middle of the sixteenth and the must be in the nineteenth century, close of the eighteenth century in and to the end of time. No doubt in Protestant Churches ? Into what limbo religion, as in all great subjects of has passed the terrible conflict between human thought, there is a permanent the Burghers and the Anti-Burghers and unchanging element; but in every
now United Presbything which relates to its form, in terians ? What do we now hear of much which relates to its substanc the doctrine of the ouble Procesthe paradox of our great historian is sion, or of the Light on Mount Tabor, as contrary to fact as it would be which in the ninth century and in the crushing to our aspirations if it were fifteenth filled the mind of Eastern true. In the practice of theological Christendom? These questions for controversy, it has been too much the the time occupied, in these several custom to make the most of differences Churches, the whole horizon of theoand the least of agreements. But in logical thought. They are dead and the theological study of the past, it has buried; and for us, standing on their been too much the custom to see only graves, it is idle to say that theology the agreements and not the differences. has not changed. It has changed. Look in the face the fact that the belief Religion has survived those changes ; of each successive epoch of Christendom and this is the historical pledge that has varied enormously from the belief
that it will, survive a thousand of its predecessors. The variations of more. the Catholic Church, both past and Even the mere removal of what may present, have been almost, if not be called dead matter out of the path quite, as deep and wide as the varia- of living progress is of itself a positive tions of Protestantism; and these gain. But the signs of the capability variations, whilst they show that each of future improvement in Religion are form of theology is but an approxima- more direct than this. No doubt theotion to the truth, and not the whole logians have themselves to thank for truth itself, contain the surest indica- the rigid, immutable character which tion of vitality in the whole body of has been ascribed by philosophers religious faith. The conceptions of to their beliefs. The Jesuit maxim, the relations of man to man, and, still Sint ut sunt, aut non sint, has been too more, of man to God, have been in- often accepted in all Churches for any contestably altered with the growth of the Churches to complain if they of centuries. Not to speak of the have been taken at their word. But total extinction of ancient polytheism, already, as far back as the Reformation, and confining ourselves within the there were indications of a deeper inlimits of the Christian Church, it is one sight-exceptional and quaint, but so of the most consolatory fruits of theo- expressive as to vindicate for Christianlogical study to observe the disappear- ity, even then, the widest range which ance of whole continents of useless future discoveries may open before it. controversies which once distracted In the first Confession of John Knox, the world. What has become of the the Reformers had perceived what had been so long concealed from the eyes England, exclaim :-“I will not beof the Schoolmen and the Fathers—that lieve that the Reformers locked the the most positive expressions, even of door, and threw away the key for their own convictions, were not guaran- ever!” It is in the light of this proteed from imperfection or mutability; gressive historical development that the and the entreaty with which that Con- confessions and liturgies, the doctrines fession is prefaced, contains at once a and usages, of former times find their tine example of true Christian humility proper place. All of them, taken as the and the stimulus to the noblest Chris- final expressions of absolute truth, are tian ambition—“We conjure you, if misleading. All of them, even the most any man will note in this our Con- imperfect, may be taken as the various fession any article or sentence repug- phases and steps of a Church and a nant to God's Holy Word, that it faith whose glory it is to be perpetually would please him of his gentleness, advancing towards perfection. and for Christian charity's sake, to II. When we examine in detail admonish us of the same in writing ; the materials of Christian theology, iind we, upon our honour and fidelity, they give abundant confirmation of dlo promise him satisfaction from the this general truth. Theology has Holy Scriptures, or due reformation of gained, and may gain immensely, by that which he shall prove to be amiss.” the process which has produced so And perhaps even more striking is the vast a change in all other branches like expression in the well-known of knowledge---the process of diving address of the first pastor of the below the surface and discovering Pilgrim Fathers, before embarking on the original foundations. How much the great enterprise which was to issue has been effected for archæology by in the foundation of new churches the excavations of Pompeii, of Nineveh, and new commonwealths beyond the of Rome, of Troy, of Mycena! How Atlantic—“I am verily persuaded much for history, by the explorathat the Lord has more truth yet tion of the archives of Simancas, of to come for us-yet to break forth out the Register House of Edinburgh ! of His Holy Word. The Lutherans How much for science, by the crucible cannot be drawn to go beyond what of chemistry, by the spade and hatchet Luther saw.
The Calvinists stick fast of the geologist, by the plummet of the where they were left by that great man Challenger ! To this general law theoof God, who yet saw not all things. logy furnishes no exception. Every Though they were burning and shining deep religious system has in it more lights, yet they penetrated not into the than appeared at the time to its whole counsel of God, but were as votaries, far more than has appeared willing to embrace further light as that in later times to its adversaries. Even which they first received. I beseech in the ancient pagan religions of Greece you to remember that it is an article and Rome, it is surprising to observe of your Church's covenant, that you be how vast a power of expansion and ready to receive whatever truth shall edification was latent in forms of be made known to you from the written which the influence might long ago Word of God.” “Noble words," says seem to have died out. The glory of the eloquent historian of the Dutch the Homeric poems, the solemnity of Republic; “words to bear fruit, after Sophocles and Æschylus, the beauty centuries shall go by.” They are, of the Apollo Belvidere, have, as it indeed, the charter of the future were, risen from their graves after glories of Protestant, and perhaps of the lapse of centuries, and occupy a Roman Christianity. Well did Arch- larger space in the modern mind than bishop Whately, on the eve of a change they have done at any time since their in the constitution of the Church of first creation. Even in the case of 1 Motley, Life of Barneveldt, ii. 295.
Mohammedanism the Koran has,
within the last century, been awakened creased knowledge of the dates and from a slumber of ages, and has been authorship of particular books, much, , discovered to contain maxims which no doubt, remains obscure ; but this Christendom might cultivate with ad- partial ignorance is as the fulness of vantage, but which, in all the long knowledge compared with the total centuries of ignorance, were hope- blank which prevailed in the Church lessly forgotten both by friends and for a thousand years or more.
A great religion is not dead the instruction, inward and outward, because it is not immediately compre- which we have acquired from our dishended, or because it is subsequently covery of the successive dates, and perverted, if only its primitive elements · therewith of the successive phases, of contain, along with the seeds of decay St. Paul's Epistles, was lost almost and transformation, the seeds of living until the beginning of this century, truth. Especially is this the case in but has now become the starting-point Christianity, which is not only (like of fresh inquiry and fresh delight in Mohammedanism) the religion of a every historical or theological treatise. sacred book, but the religion of a The disentanglement of the Psalter, sacred literature and a sacred life. the Pentateuch, and the Book of
Putting aside for the moment all Isaiah from the artificial and fallaci question of the divine authority of the ous monotony in which, regardless of Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, and times and circumstances, a blind traof the dogmatic systems built upon dition had involved them, gives a them, it is certain that their original significance to the several portions of force and grace is far more keenly the respective books which no one who appreciated now than it was when they has once grasped it will ever willingly were overlaid with fanciful allegories abandon.
abandon. The Parables, as has been and scholastic perversions. The spirit of late well described, have by their of the time, the “ Zeit-Geist," very nature an immortality of applicaMatthew Arnold says, “has turned tion which could never have been perthe rays of his lantern” full upon them, ceived had they been always, as they and in the fierce light that beats were in many instances at the time of upon their structure through this pro- their first delivery, shut up within cess, if some parts have faded away, if the gross, carnal, matter-of-fact interthe relation of all the parts to each pretation of those who said, “How other has been greatly altered, yet can this man give us his flesh to eat?" there can be no question that by its or “It is because we have taken no influence, which has penetrated more bread.” In short, when it was peror less, all modern theology, the ceived, in the noble language of meaning, and with the meaning the Burke, that the Bible was not a dead grandeur and the beauty, of the Sacred code, or collection of rigid dogmas, but, Volume has been brought out with a “an infinite variety of a most venerable fulness which was unknown to Hume and most multifarious literature," from and Voltaire, because it had been that moment it became as impossible equally unknown to Aquinas and in the nature of things that the eduAngustine. Whole systems of false cated portion of mankind should ever doctrine or false practice, whole fabrics cease to take an interest in the Old of barbarous phraseology, have received and New Testament, as it would be their death-blow as the Ithuriel of that they should cease to take an modern criticism has transfixed with interest in Homer, or Shakespeare, or his spear here a spurious text, there Dante, or Scott. The Sacred Books. an untenable interpretation, here a which were once regarded as the stars wrong translation, there a mistaken were regarded by ancient astronomers, punctuation.
i Burke's Works, x. 21, Speech on Acts of Or again, with regard to our in- Uniformity.
spangles set in the sky, or floating increasing consciousness of the immasses of nebulous light, or a galaxy portance of definition. It was said by of milky spots, have now been resolved a famous theologian of Oxford thirty by the telescope of scholarship into years ago that“ without definition contheir component parts. Lord Macaulay troversy is either hopeless or useless.” would not deny that astronomy has He has not, in his subsequent career, undergone a total revolution through applied this maxim, as we might fairly Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton-a have expected from his subtle intellect, revolution which has immensely ex- to the clearing away of obstructions tended its grandeur and its usefulness. and frivolities. But the maxim is Erasmus, Lowth, Herder, and Ewald true, not only in the negative sense in have effected for Biblical knowledge a which he pronounced it, but in the revolution no less complete and no less more important sense of the pacifying beneficent. There has been, as it were, and enlightening tendency necessarily a triple chain of singular, one may implied in all attempts to arrive at almost say providential, coincidences. the clear meaning of the words emThe same critical process which has ployed. It was a sagacious remark opened our eyes to the beauty and the which I heard not long ago from a wisdom of the sacred records has, by Scottish minister on the shores of revealing to us the large infusion of Argyleshire, that the vehemence of the poetic element, enabled us to dis- theological controversy
has been tinguish between the temporary and chiefly in proportion to the emptiness the essential, between the parabolical of the phrases used. So long as an and the historical; and thus, at the expression is employed merely as a moment when science and ethnology party watchword, without inquiring are pointing out difficulties, which on what it means, it acts like a magical a literal and mechanical view of the spell; it excites enthusiasm ; it spreads Biblical records are insuperable, a like an infectious malady ; it terrifies door of escape has been opened by the the weak ; it acts as a stimulant to disclosure of a higher aspect of the the vacant brain. But the moment Scriptures, which would be equally true that we attempt to trace its origin, to and valuable, were there no scientific discover in what other words it can be difficulty in existence. Except in the expressed, the enthusiasm cools, the lowest and most barbarous classes of panic subsides, the contagion ceases to society the invectives and the scofis of be catching, the dram ceases to intoxithe last century have ceased. They cate, the cloud disperses, and the clear have been extinguished, not by the
sky appears. This
reflection fires of the Inquisition or the ana- might be aptly illustrated by examples themas of Convocations or General in the history of the Scottish Churches. Assemblies, but by the steady growth But I will confine myself to two inof the same reverential, rational ap- stances drawn from other countries. preciation of the divine processes for One is that of which I have before the revelation of great truths, as has spoken, the doctrine of the Double shut the mouths of the defamers of Procession, which was sufficient to Milton and covered with shame the tear asunder the Eastern and Western despisers of Shakespeare.
Churches; to give the chief practical III. Leaving the grounds of hope fur- occasion for the terrible anathemas of nished to us by the original documents the Athanasian Creed ; to precipitate of our faith, let us turn to those which the fall of the Empire of Constantiare supplied from the study of its nople; and therefore to the doctrines and institutions. And here original seed of the present formidable I will name two bridges, as it were, Eastern Question. This controversy by which the passage to a brighter has in later days, with very few exprospect may be effected. One is the ceptions, fallen into entire obscurity.
But in those cases where it has occu- ---the party collapses, the bitterness pied the attention of modern theolo- exhales, the fear is cast out. gians, its sting has been taken out by Another ground of hope is the growthe process, simple as it would seem, ing sense of the doctrine of proportion. but to which resort had never been It is a doctrine which has dawned had before, of inducing the combatants slowly and painfully on the theological to express their conflicting opinions by mind of Christendom. “In God's other phrases than those which had matters," said Samuel Rutherford, been the basis of the original anta
“there is not, as in grammar,
tho gonism. This, and this only, is the positive and comparative degrees; permanent interest which attached there is not a true, a more true, and to a recent Conference at Bonn, a most true.” “Every pin of the between certain theologians of the tabernacle," said Ebenezer Erskine, Greek, Latin, and English Churches. in his amazement at the indifference What was then done with much which Whitfield displayed towards the satisfaction, at least to those more Solemn League and Covenant, “ is immediately concerned, might be
What Rutherford and applied with still more advantage to Erskine thus tersely and quaintly many other like phrases which have expressed is but the assumption on acted as mischievous a part in the dis- which has rested the vast basis of the integration and disunion of Christen- Rabbinical theology of Judaism, and dom. Another instance shall be given the Scholastic Theology, whether of from a Church nearer home. In the Catholicor Protestant Churches. But to Gorham Controversy, which in 1850 the better spirits of Christendom there threatened to rend the Church of
has penetrated the conviction that England from its summit to its base, these maxims are not only not sound, and which produced the widest theo- but are unsound to the very core. logical panic of any within our time, “ There is a true, a more true, and a the whole question hinged on the word most true.” “ Every pin of the taber"regeneration ;” and yet, as Bishop nacle is not equally precious.” Richard Thirlwall showed in one of those Hooker and Richard Baxter had charges, which I would recommend to already begun to perceive that religion all theological students, of whatever
was no exception to the truth, exChurch, who wish to see the value of pressed by a yet greater genius than severe discrimination and judicial either, in the magnificent lines of serenity on the successive controversies “ Troilus and Cressida," which tells us of our time, it never occurred to the how essential it is in all things to disputants that there was an ambiguity in the word itself—it never occurred
“ Observe degree, priority, and place, to either of them to define or explain
Insistence, course, proportion, season, form,
Office, and custom, in all line of order.” what either of them intended to express by it. What is there said This, if not the ultimate, at any rate with withering irony of “regenera- is the proximate, solution of some of tion” is true of the larger number of the difficulties which have threatened, theological phrases by which truth has or which still threaten, the peace of been veiled and charity stifled. Differ- Churches and the growth of religion. ences and difficulties will remain. But Take the vexed question of Church the bitterness of the fight is chiefly con- government. The main source of the cerning words; the fight itself is what gall which once poisoned, and still in the apostle denounced as "a" battle some measure poisons, the relations of words.? Explain these- define these between Episcopal and Presbyterian
Churches, was not the position that one Bishop Thirlwall's Charges, i. 156.
or other form was to be found in the 1 Tim. vi. 4.
3 Lectures on the Church of Scotland.