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With this, indeed, we are not now concerned, the former heing sufficient for our purpose. But the historical development of Christianity is one thing, its doctrinal unity another. This development may he presumed to be subordinate to a system of law and general evolution, similar to the progress of all philosophical thought. It is the idea of such a development as this, subject, indeed, to a secondary process of degradation, due to the mingled presence of lower and higher elements in man's nature, of corruption and perfectibility, which, as has been truly said,1 "gives a continuity to any distinct account of the progress of Christendom, a life to any intelligent analysis
principles do not; doctrines grow, and are enlarged, principles are illustrated; doctrines are intellectual, and principles are more immediately ethical and practical. Systems live in principles and represent doctrines." See some excellent remarks on this subject in Canon Robertson's Hist, of Chr. Ch., I. pp. 82, 91. Dbllinger, First Age of the Church, I. 228-233, leans too far to the side of development, confounding an original tradition of doctrine (which seems necessary and reasonable) with a continuous one, which it was the object of Creeds and of the Canon of Scripture to obviate. Thus Augustine's rule is a positive one: " Nec ego Nicenum nec tu debes Ariminense tanquam pra-judicatums proferre concilium: nec ego hujus auctoritate, nec tu illius detincris: Scripturarum auctoritatibus, non quorumquc propriis, sed utriusque communibus testibus, res cum re, causa cum causa, ratio cum ratione concertet."—c. Maximin. Ar., II. xiv. 3.
1 Dean Stanley, Essays, pp. 465, 470. So Ozanam, Civilis. Chret., I. 22, E. T.: "Every great era of history takes its departure from ruin and ends in a conquest." On the fact that a*p«ris alp«nv qbvrevti, "posthumi hseresium filii," see Bacon, Works, ed. Spedding, VIII. 83. Do Quinoey, Ess. on Protest., admits three kinds of development in doctrine—(1), philological; (2), philosophical, from advance in knowledge; (3), moral and historical; Christianity awaking new powers in man, and being itself modified by times and climes.
of Creeds and articles. In this manner the theology, like the architecture of each age, has always built itself upon the ruins of its predecessors." It is like a tree drawing its growth from its own dead leaves. It is this, in fact, which constitutes the solidarity of human history, and of the laws which compose it, which enables it to be treated philosophically, if not scientifically. It has plainly been the will of God that in the examination and handling of Divine truth the human element should not remain free from controversial doubt and absolute error. The hand of God is manifest here, as in other examples of His superintending providence. It has been finely said, u He never yet sent a gift into the world, which man did not deteriorate in the using."1 Whatever be the immunity extent of His promise to His Church at large, as nowhere regards indemnity from error; whether this apply to't'he^1 to all degrees of it, both in principle and practice; c' yet for each individual Church no such immunity can be pleaded, any more than from corruptions in manner of living.8 But unless it can be shown that, of the larger and dominant divisions of the Christian Church any have cut themselves off from the essentials of primitive teaching, from all that is vital to the unity of the faith; the
1 Archer Butler, Lectures on Romanism, p. 61. See also pp. 288-9, 316-18.
* See Field, Of the Church, Book IV. c. v.
active power of Christ's religion may, though various, be still regarded as uniform in its operation, and definite in its effects. A ration- & !, j}ut there is another side to a theory of
alistic de- s ° _ J
veiopment development which demands consideration. It is
likewise . , .
fatal to the that which, looking at Christianity on the whole
perma- . .
nence of as merely a stage of progress in the human mind, belief. and regarding all religious truth as necessarily progressive,1 because man's powers are so, while accounting for its rise, prognosticates its fall. This system of thought strikes, indeed, at the very root of any defence of our holy religion which rests upon the permanent character of its teaching. An eclectic Christianity, making up a cento of doctrines and precepts, would undertake to distinguish between the permanent and the temporary, the universal and the partial elements of the teaching of Christ. Thus particular doctrines are rejected as forming no part of the Christian consciousness, and are yielded, as a sacrifice, to the speculative difficulties of the time.* "We cannot, however, accept, we can only repudiate and challenge all asserted improvements whether by substitution or omission, in the subject-matter of
1 Mr. Buckle, E. Civ., II. 21, fathers this view on Charron. It was carried on by Hume in his Natural History of Religion, but has reached its climax in the system of M. Comte.
'See Dean Hansel's Hampton Led., pp. 250, 258; Palmer On the Doctrine of Development, pp. 91-100; Dewaron Uei-man Protest, p. 196; Blanco White, Life, 111. 77.
Christianity itself, effected by alleged advances in knowledge and civilization. The progress of science, so far as it extends to religion, touches it on its natural or moral side: not as it is a revelation of spiritual truths. These, simple in their character, are also final, and admit of no rationalizing process of accommodation to a fancied advance in knowledge. Obviously, there can be no progress of this character in regard of truths which human reason is incapable of discovering for itself. In this respect the religion of Christ is really stationary. Civilization and knowledge may be regarded as witnesses to the permanent character of Christian truth, which absorbs, appropriates, and assimilates them without detriment to its own announcements. In a certain sense they form part of that natural revelation of Himself and His dealings with mankind which is a necessary consequence of a Divine government of the world,
and which supplements His more special manifes- Th>s will
mi • l -1 befurther
tations. Those improvements, however, in the treated.
condition and destinies of man which are due to
the particular operation of Christianity, form part
of the proper subject-matter of these Lectures, and
will be adverted to in the course of them.
§ 14. It may perhaps be thought that as he who £^tns
excuses himself and his own cause, in effect ineon the
becomes the accuser; so there is a certain want argument of confidence in the credentials of Christianity,
■when it is consented to weigh the probabilities of its duration. It is enough to reply that the form assumed, and the direction taken by the controversies of an age depend, doubtless, upon laws of thought beyond our volition or control. The course of Christian defence must ever follow that of attack; and arguments which in one age are satisfactory enough, in another fall pointless and beside the mark. There is, then, a duty which belongs to the Church of God in every age and to his "watchmen" in every generation, which may be described as the discerning of the signs of the times. Much of the influence, much of the usefulness of individual ministers of religion, will always depend on their appreciation of the needs and tendencies of the day.1 Much of the narrowness of thought and want of practical knowledge which has been falsely, because extravagantly, attributed to the clerical mind, has been due to this;—an absence of clear-sightedness in apprehending the intellectual posture of the age, its information and particular bent of thought. "Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?" must still be our question, when the clouds of doubt are hanging low, and the darkness of unbelief seems settling on the horizon of faith. It is not always sunshine in the courts of the Lord's house at Jerusalem. Rather
1 See some interesting remarks of Mr. Lccky, Hist. Rat., I. 123.