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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 scheme 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 supplant 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.”
Dr. Nevin assumes that his “idea or theory” is the Christian Church! As well imagine, in a similar way, that his “idea or theory" of God is identically God himself. Not so. The so-called ideal whole is purely an abstraction, and as such can have no concrete existence. Dr. Nevin seems to have unbounded confidence in his own exposition of the creed. He says:
"The idea of the Church as it meets us among other fundamentals of the Christian faith in this primitive æcumenical symbol, is not of a whole depending upon its parts (in which case it would be a mere thought) but that of a whole comprehending its parts in itself, and possessing them with its presence. In other words, it is the idea of an organic whole, and not the notion of a simply mechan. ical whole. A mechanical whole is made up of single things or particulars, put together in a purely outward way. An organic whole, on the contrary, is the union of particular existences and a general existence, through the power of a common life. In the first case, the general follows the particulars and depends upon them entirely: but this is not so at all in the second case. In an organic whole the general is before the particulars, underlies them and actually brings them to pass.
Let no one say this is absurd.”—See Mer. Rev., vol. XV., pp. 577-8.
The Christian Church has just as little to do with this metaphysical notion of a whole as with the idealism of Plato, or the dialectics of Aristotle. Like Romanism, this scheme is more in sympathy with priestly heathenism than with the Gospel of Christ. Man can lay down no principle for the Son of God. Dr. Nevin is sadly mistaken in supposing that his abstract notion of a whole can have any thing to do with the Church of Christ.
II. MERCERSBURG THEOLOGY, IN PRINCIPLE, IGNORES THE GosPEL VIEW OF THE PERSON OF CHrist. An inquiry into the merits of a principle, must necessarily involve careful reflection. Primarily, the metaphysical notion held by Dr. Nevin, as the principle of his scheme, has to do with the human apprehension of that which is divine. To follow him, in his transcendental wanderings, requires patient thought and careful reflection. As a speculative writer, Dr. Nevin has allowed himself to be thrown into the maelstrom of German pantheistic transcendentalisın. Other metaphysical speculatists of equal, and even greater, power have been equally mistaken. “Let him
" that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”
“ The whole comes first, and forms the only possibility or potential reason, for all the particular existences by which it is brought to pass." What does this mean? Dr. Nevin seems to teach that the universe comes into existence first as a whole, which of course must include all its parts; and that this whole
forms the “potential reason” for the existence of the particui lar worlds, suns, and systems. This is metaphysical mysticism,
and as such involves a pantheistic conception of the uni
“ The whole comes first.” How? Christian philosophy recognizes the existence of the Personal God anterior to the the existence of the suns and systems constituting the present universe. To affirm that the whole existed anterior to an actual creation, is only a confusion of ideas. God existed, and therefore the worlds, suns, and systems were created. Plato inay confound an idea with the existence of the Being of God. No such barbarian philosophy can stand for a moment amid the light brought into the world by the Son of God. The Gospel refers the understanding immediately, and not mediately, to God manifest in Christ, as the condition as well as the ground of all that exists. An ideal whole is an abstraction. Dr. Nevin can have no right, scientific or logical, to try to confound a human notion, whatever its character, with that which is divine.
“ The whole comes first.” In no sense is this true with regard to Personal Being. God is in himself both the ground and the condition of personality. Dr. Nevin does not seem to see the pantheistic tendency of his “idea or theory.” Not a word has been found in all he has ever written in which he has regard to God as the condition of personal existence. This may explain why he should speak of the whole as being the “potential reason” for the particular existences.
Dr. Nevin makes no proper distinction between life in the sphere of animal nature, and life in the higher world of personal being. He confounds individuality with the infinitely different idea of personality. In this way bis scheme, in its last analysis, brings the human down into the sphere of animal nature. This is the baldest kind of pantheism. But he says: “Certainly I do not confound God with the world,
nor Christ with the church.”_See Mer. Rev., vol. xv., p. 592.
All know that no conscientious minister of the Gospel could knowingly teach a pantheistic “idea or theory." Whether consciously or not, Dr. Nevin does refer the mind bent on knowing the truth to his generic whole as the condition of the particular existences. This is pantheistic. It is explicitly said that the whole “ forms the only possibility, or potential reason, for all the particular existences.” Thus the Gospel view of the Personal Being of Christ is set aside, and a pantheistic mysticism substituted. The “idea or theory" of the Christian Church, entertained by Dr. Nevin, falls back upon this pantheistic view of personality. A philosophical notion, wholly without any foundation in the sphere of Christianity, is assumed to be a reality. A human notion is thus made to take the place of the Christian Church. Speaking of the socalled Apostles' Creed, Dr. Nevin says: “Its doctrine of the
" Church falls back on its doctrine of Christ.”—See Mer. Rev., vol. x., p. 415.
Will any intelligent minister affirm that this creed, admit- . ted, as to form, to be in accordance with the mind of the corrupt hierarchy of the fifth and sixth centuries, actually teaches any view, idea, or theory of the person of Christ ? Certainly not. Dr. Nevin inust see that his “idea or theory” is purely his own imagination. The word of Christ goes before every human form, or creed. Dr. Nevin must admit that this creed is simply a summary of doctrines : it may not be regarded as an essay on Christology. Speaking of his own peculiar exposition of the creed in contrast with the view of others, Dr. Nevin says: “ The principle of this difference
is not just the doctrine of the Church itself in the form in which it is here made a part of the Christian faith, but the Christology which lies behind it—the peculiar way in which the coming of Christ in the flesh is here apprehended and confessed.”— See Mer. Rev., vol. x., p. 425.
Dr. Nevin condemns himself. He admits that it is not the doctrine of the Church itself in the form in which it is here made a part of the Christian faith” that constitutes his imaginative “idea or theory.” Is not this what logicians call