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ART. IV.-A Phase of the Church Question. So far as the cause of true catholic unity is concerned, the great Christian thought that underlies all these calls for Church union, we cannot see that this Presbyterian movement means much, or that its full success would be of any very great account.-JOHN W. NEVIN, D. D. In the estination of Dr. Nevin, as already shown,* the proper solution of the Church Question centres in a clear apprehension of what is involved in the idea of the Church. Very true. But whence comes the idea ? The Christian Church rests upon no human “idea or theory.” Ministers of the Gospel ought to remember that there is a divine norm. This is not found in the so-called Apostles' Creed. Dr. Nevin does not distinguish between what is divine and that which is simply human. The true creed is the apostolic formula: “IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, AND THE SON, AND THE HOLY Ghost.”
No other creed was known in the primitive Church, no other is divine. This does not define the idea. It matters little what the ancient fathers taught. Christians cannot admit the authority of uninspired men. Every true disciple of Christ can say, with Ignatius: “But to me Jesus Christ is in the place of all that is ancient.”—See Epis. to Phila., chap. 8.
Neither Dr. Nevin, nor any other minister, ancient or modern, has a right to insist upon the binding authority of an exposition of a creed, which is known to be simply a form arranged according to the mind of the corrupt hierarchy of the fifth and sixth centuries. The authority of Christ in relation to the true idea of the Ecclesia goes before the notions of both ancient and modern fathers. The Savionr said: “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”
The form of the so-called Apostles' Creed does not in itself constitute any divine norm. Dr. Nevin is mistaken in supposing that his scheme rests upon the apostolic idea of the Christian Church. The Greek fathers originated the word catholic. There is no apostolic authority for using this word, on the peculiar exposition of which is founded this private judgment scheme. To base an “idea or theory” of the Ecclesia upon what the Greek fathers taught, rather than to accept the Word of Christ, may be the work of a speculatist. No such theorizing can have any weight with those who prefer to follow Christ rather than to put confidence in men.
* See October No. of this Journal, for 1869, Art. IV.
It is useless for Dr. Nevin to affirm that the creed defines the idea. Theological writers of all ages-Roman, Greek, and Protestant-admit that there is One Holy Christian Church. It is no less certain that this Ecclesia has always been regarded as the aggregated assembly of the saints. The notion of an ideal Church finds no authority in a word or phrase uttered by the Saviour. What is equally remarkable is the fact, that this abstract notion can find no foundation in history. It is not a question, therefore, whether the “idea or theory" entertained by Dr. Nevin may be received. History says: No. A privatejudgment scheme, no matter how profoundly philosophical, can have no right, considered historically, to either respect or confidence.
There is only one truly primitive idea of the Ecclesia. The so-called fathers, whether Greek or Roman, may entertain whatever notion, idea, or theory they choose. The notions, ideas, or theories may be ancient: they are not primitive. Dr. Nevin, in company with Romanists, Greco-Romanists, Anglo-Romanists, and all other advocates of a human “idea or theory” may accept as normal what is simply ancient. True Protestantism accepts only the PRIMITIVE CREED.
The Saviour speaks through his Apostles, of the Ecclesia as "the multitude of them that believe.” This multitude is said to increase. “ And the Lord added daily to the Church such as should be saved.” Here is the primitive idea of the Christian Church: it is the Assembly of the saints. .Augustine says: “The Church consists of the faithful dispersed throughout the world.” No other idea was known in the days of the Apostles: the Saviour teaches no other. This Ecclesia is founded upon a truly personal faith. Of this faith the Saviour says: “On this rock I will found my Church.”
Dr. Nevin does not distinguish between a personal faith, as a living reality, and a formal faith. The so-called Apostles' Creed is simply a summary of doctrines. Personal faith, on the contrary, stands related directly to Christ. The words of Ignatius are to the point: “The beginning of life is faith, and the end is love.”_See Epis. to Eph., chap. 14.
Speaking of the apostolic idea of the Church, Pearson says: “For the single persons professing faith in Christ are members of the particular churches in which they live, and all these particular churches are members of the general and universal Church, which is one by unity of aggregation; and this is the Church in the Creed, which we believe, and which is in otber creeds expressly termed one, I believe in one holy catholic Church."-See Pearson on the Creed, p. 507.
This eminent scholar speaks historically. No other idea is primitive: no other is Christian. Even Roman theologians reaffirm this apostolic idea. The Council of Trent says: "The Church is Catholic, that is, universal; and justly is she called Catholic, because as St. Augustine says: 'She is diffused by the splendor of one faith from the rising to the setting sun.'”—See Cat. Coun. Trent, p. 77.
In view of historical facts, it must be regarded as a matter of surprise to find Dr. Nevin willing to offer to the Christian world his own private-judgment exposition of the word, catholic, as the historical sense of the creed. His own “idea or theory” of a whole forms for him the principle of his scheme. Dr. Nevin says: “It is to be borne in mind that there are two kinds of generality or universality, and that only one of them answers to the true force of the term catholic.” Again : “If it be asked, which of these two orders of universality is intended by the title, catholic, as applied to the Christian Church, the answer is at once sufficiently plain. It is that which is expressed by the word whole.”—Mer. Rev., vol. iii., pp. 2–4.
Dr. Nevin ought to know that his exposition is simply his own speculative idea. No such metaphysical conception of the word, catholic, has ever been known or recognized in connection with the historical sense of the creed. Dr. Dorner, the eminent Christologist of Germany, speaking of the “idea or theory” of the Church held and advocated by Dr. Nevin, says: “He himself,” that is, Dr. Nevin, “moves in a subjectivism of his own which deceives itself with a pretended objectivism.' For where does he get his certainty of the idea of the Church and its proofs ?”—See Ref. Ch. Monthly, vol. i., p. 156.
This scientific scholar here charges Dr. Nevin with holding a purely arbitrary "idea,” the product of his own imagination. Why has the inquiry made by Dr. Dorner remained unanswered ? The answer is easily given. Dr. Nevin has not proven, and cannot prove, the absolute certainty of the principle assumed. He must defend his scheine at this fundamental point. It is demanded of him, before the Christian world, in behalf of primitive Christianity, that he shall show positively and conclusively that his metaphysical notion is absolutely the divine truth. It will not do to refer to the advances of modern philosophical investigations. No human philosophy can ever be regarded as authority in matters pertaining to things divine.
True Protestant ministers cannot allow human notions, theories, or ideas, neither traditional nor philosophical, to sup. plant the plain and positive Word of Christ. “ Let God be true, though every man a liar.” “Thy word is Truth.” It is right to allow all necessary room for progress in scientific knowledge. Theological investigations ought to become more and more profound. But science, to be normal, must keep within the sphere of the conditioned. Dr. Nevin mistakes German Rationalism for absolute truth. Of his own imaginative “idea or theory,” he says: “It enters into the very idea of faith, affects the sense of all worship, conditions the universal scheme of theology, and moulds and shapes the religious life at every point.” Again : "It gives rise to two phases of Christianity, which are so different as to appear at last, indeed, in their full development, more like two Christianities than one."-See Mer. Rev., vol. x., p. 191.
It is here said that there are two views. Dr. Nevin knows that there can be but one true idea of the Church. This must be apostolic: the other is Roman. The one is Christian : the other is a corruption. The one is primitive: the other is ancient. The one is divine; the other rests upon a human notion. The one is personal : the other is an abstraction. The one calls men to a life of self-conscious devotion to Christ : the other urges the authority of priests. The one is from above: the other is from beneath. The one leads the soul directly to Christ: the other glorifies human agency. The one is Christly : the other is priestly. The one is the work of Christ: the other the idol of men. The one makes ministers humble: the other glorifies a priestly caste.
The logic of Dr. Nevin is accepted. His representation of the relation his “idea or theory," presumed to be a reality, sustains to his scheme, is correct. He stands charged before the Christian world with holding as absolutely true a principle proven to be unauthorized by Christ, and unknown in the apostolic age.
Each minister, ancient as well as modern, may hold for himself his own “idea or theory; ” but no one has any right-scientific, theological, or Christian—to attempt to identify his speculative notion with the apostolic idea of the Christian Church. Only the Word of Christ is absolute: “ JESUS CHRIST, THE SAME YESTERDAY, TO-DAY, AND FOREVER.”
No mistake can be more fearful than to ignore the apostolic idea in order to accept as a reality a purely human notion. The learned and pious Dr. Neander says:
" In proportion as the idea of the Church diverged from its original spiritual significance, the Christian element was exchanged for the Jewish; and in this was the germ of Catholicism. It was too hard a task for humanity to keep itself up to the spiritual elevation of Christianity; and this mixture of the Jewish and the Christian was wrought into a systematic form in order that the development of the Christian consciousness might come forth with so much greater power at the Reformation. . . . Irenæus shows the first germs of this perversion : it was matured by Cyprian."-See Nean., His. Chris. Dog., Bohn's Ed., vol. i., p. 220.
Dr. Nevin utters a significant truth, when he says: “We know well enough that it is not safe to follow any leader blindly, whether he be an original thinker, or an easy traditionist who never thinks at all.”-See Mer. Rev., vol. iii.,
The German Reformed denomination, in part, has followed Dr. Nevin “blindly” in allowing him to confound a human notion with the divine. In addressing this denomination, Paul would say, as he did to the Christians at Colosse : "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world and not after Christ."