Tuesday, 7 May 2013

THE OXFORD "ESSAYS AND REVIEWS." No. 4.

Séances Historiques de Genève. The National Church.

By Henry Bristow Wilson, B.D., 

Vicar of Great Staughton, Hunts.

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 reorganise 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 Leon 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 Constantine 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 peut aussi l'être au profit di 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 génevois 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 gloires : elles forment, avec nous, ce que le monde chrétien appelle et appellera toujours l'Eglise de Genève. Nous ne la renions, at fond, pas plus les uns que les autres. Elle a êté, elle est, elle restera notre mere a tous.'

[Google Translate provides:—Multitudinism is a force that can, like any force, be misguided, poorly exploited, but can also be in favor of the truth of piety, of life. Churches based on another principle helped to rectify this one, it is a compelling services they rendered nowadays to the cause of the Gospel. They deserve our gratitude, but in Geneva, they do not ask us what we can do, and allow me to say that they do not themselves. Yes! the Genevan multitudinism remained living at home, and certainly they owe a significant portion of their consistency within, their influence abroad. They call, like us, his memories and his glories they form with us what the Christian world calls and still be called the Church of Geneva. We do deny, at bottom, no more than each other. It was, it is, it will remain our mother at all.]

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 under 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 bills 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. 

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 civilisation in our own day, when men have run to and fro and knowledge has been increased, have apparently not the remotest connection 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 neutralising 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, it 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 of 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 characterised 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 if 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 if, 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—suggests questions to those who on Sundays bear the reading and exposition of the Scriptures as they were expounded to our forefathers, and on Monday peruse the news of a world 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 approximate illustrations of those doctrines must be sought to 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 He 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 to 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 neutralisation for it, if we would set many unquiet souls at rest. 

From the same source of 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 civilised 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 be 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 come 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 ; the 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 as 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 an 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. i. 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 in 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 unChristianised 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, yet 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 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 the who read them only through the ecclesiastical creeds.

Those who belong to very different theological schools acknowledge at times, that they can not 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 till 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 develop Catholic truth.

But although the primitive Christians fell far short both of a doctrinal and ethical ideal, there 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 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 increasingly 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 the 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.*

As monuments or witnesses, discrepant in 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 having 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 realise 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 Christian 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 spiritualised 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.+ 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, 37) ; 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 future reward. 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. 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 and 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, not to eat with him, but he was not to be refused the name of brother or Christian. (1 Cor. v. ll.)

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, or martyrlike 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 Calvanistic 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 are parts of a Calvinistic system, and are held in connection 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 if 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 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 systematising of conflicting views ; and the opportunity of reverting to the freedom 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 have 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 have 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 barrier 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 on 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 an Church in health and vigour. Too great importance attached to a hierarchical order will lead into superstitions respecting Apostolical succession, ministerial illumination, supernatural sacramental influence ; more congregationalism tends to keep ministers and people at dead spiritual level. A just recognition an balancing 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 manner 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 attain able 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 views embraced was much narrower than St. Paul's ;

Qui mo es hominum multorum vidit et urbes.

[Who you are moving, and the cities of many men he saw.]

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 preeminently the Apostle of love. With St. John, 'the whole world lieth in wickedness,' while St. Paul exhorts 'prayer 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 
organisations 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 civilisation. 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 nation—were resolved into its elements, and all its social and religious institutions shattered to pieces, it would reconstruct a political framework and a spiritual organisation, 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.

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 ; whose 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 cases 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 crystalised 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. Pau1, 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 dividing 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 resettled 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. 51-84.) 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 Christianised 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 operated 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, much less, 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 reactions against itself nor provoke the individualist element into separatism. It would do this if it submitted to define itself otherwise than by his 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 identify with the creed of any Church as yet known to him.

It his 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 collectively to the books of the Old and New Testaments,a phrase which is never so 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,' that is, they are 'determined' books ; 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.

*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 presupposes opinions of a Valentinian character, or even Montanist, which would make it later still. At any rate it cannot, by external evidence, be attached to 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 bona 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.

+ So in Luke xx.2 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.

(To be continued.)  

 Empire 5 June 1861,

No comments: