« ElőzőTovább »
progress is in the doctrine of the fool, who hath said in his heart, there is no God !”
We do not care to spend much time upon the style and manner of Mr. Theodore Parker's Letter. It comes from him under circumstances which would effectually repress our indignation were we disposed to cherish it. One who is afar from home, in a foreign land, suffering under a fatal malady, with the realities of eternity drawing very near to him, is entitled to sympathy and kindness, whatever may be our disapprobation of his temper or abhorrence of his opinions. We shall not, therefore, refer to several passages which we had marked, and which we are sure that even he in his better moments would admit to be unfair representations of the views to which he is opposed. We are compelled to say, however, for so much the interests of the truth demand, that Mr. Parker caricatures evangelical doctrine, and then ridicules the creature of his own imagination. We can respect and admire an opponent who strives to be fair and just, and earnest only to find the truth. We have neither admiration nor respect for one who makes a truth odious only by distorting and besmearing it, and whose chief weapons are a quibble and a sneer.
What we are interested, however, to do, is to draw attention to the position which Mr. Parker has come finally to occupy; and which has a peculiar significance for us, since it is, in our view, a logical result of the principles of rationalistic Christianity. This result is startling enough. Mr. Parker, like Mephistopheles, is the great denier. Man's need of Redemption : is denied. The fact of a supernatural redemption is denied. Miracles are denied. A divine revelation and the supreme authority of the Bible are denied. The Trinity in Unity is denied. Regeneration and sanctification by the Holy Spirit are denied. The atonement is denied; and the claims of Jesus to be even an infallible teacher are unequivocally denied. It is an abuse of language to call such a system Christian. If there is any significance in words, it is Deism. There is no truth peculiar to the historic Christianity of all ages, which this one man, on the authority of his own reason, has not ruthlessly trampled under foot and swept contemptuously away.
This sort of daring, we know, excites the admiration of many persons. We confess that it has no charms for us. We can not dignify with the name of courage that recklessness which would lead a man to venture out upon a rope over the boiling floods and raging abyss of Niagara ; and the exploit of madly tilting against the faith of all ages of the Christian Church is in our view as little entitled to the praise of true courage, especially as it may now be performed without the slightest danger of martyrdom.
We have read Dr. Bellows with very different feelings. Fairness, honesty, and earnestness are very prominent characteristics of his mind. We doubt whether any man has ever made so many admissions unfavorable to a cause to which he still adheres. And this he has done, not through want of skill, but simply, as it would appear, because he loves the truth. The “Sequel to the Suspense of Faith" strikes us more favor- . ably in this respect than the original Address. Indeed we can not but regard it as in every respect superior. There is a vast deal of earnest thought and profound philosophy in this pamphlet, and they are clothed in a rich and glowing, though sometimes indistinct and cloudy, style. He admits most diftinctly that Unitarianism must now follow the lead of Mr. Parker into Infidelity, or retrace its steps; that there is great “despondency, self-questioning, and anxiety” in the denomination. He says that “the moment we find ourselves in possession of men, whom genius, character, and scholarship fit to lead us on in our logical career to new victories and the extension of our faith, they almost uniformly become paralyzed by doubts and scruples, and lose their interest in the progress they might assure.” He says, again: “To speak of Unitarianism independ: ently of Trinitarianism, conveys no correct and no valuable idea : and the purely denominational theology of the body has no worth in the decline of the errors or extravagance it was born to balance and compensate.”
He gives a representation which would be appalling, were it really sustained by facts, of what he calls the suspense of faith. In his opinion, the whole Protestant world is chargeable, though in a less degree, with the same tendencies which pre
vail in the Unitarian denomination ; and the logical goal of this progress—for we can not understand him otherwise—is open and avowed infidelity. From such a consummation he recoils, and denounces in several passages of extraordinary ability, the Rationalism and Individualism of the age which are leading to such a result. He has arrived, and we think it a remarkable achievement, considering his point of departure, at some very clear conceptions, most nobly expressed, of Church life and the importance of historic Christianity.
It is impossible for Dr. Bellows to escape altogether the em. barrassment arising from the inconsistency of his views with his position. Whenever he strives to reconcile the two, he seems to us obliged to use words in a sense wholly at variance with their true signification. Dr. Bellows is usually exceedingly intelligible; but when he strives to harmonize a Unitarian position with an acceptance of historic Christianity, he is led into statements which mean nothing unless the signification of the words employed is utterly and entirely changed. What meaning, for instance, can possibly be attached to such statements as these, if the words are used in any sense which they have been accustomed to bear? “I thoroughly believe that the Trinitarian theology of the historic Church, outworn and embarrassing now, was helpful, because relatively true to the times in which it arose; and that the ideas which lay in the minds of the authors of the Athanasian and Nicene Creeds were essential ideas; but ideas which, if they add any thing to a devout and scriptural Unitarianism, (which is doubtful,) contradict nothing in it!" "An evangelical Unitarianism is the most Scriptural Trinitarianism extant !” This language shows con. clusively, in our opinion, that Dr. Bellows can not resist the conviction that the testimony of the historic Church is in favor of Trinitarian and evangelical theology. But the attempt to reconcile this conviction with any possible Unitarian ground is utterly and forever hopeless.
The fact is, that a permanent system on the old Unitarian basis has become impossible. It is subject to two opposite attractions, and to one or the other it must yield. It must lapse into Infidelity, or return into the bosom of historic Christianity.
We hold that there is eventually no escape from one or the other result, and any attempt at compromise is an attempt to harmonize things in their very nature irreconcilable.
We can not sympathize, even in its qualified form, with the satisfaction of Dr. Bellows in a movement which has led to such results. We could admit that this rationalistic movement has had in some respects a salutary effect. It has undoubtedly softened the harsh and repulsive features of a theology against which it was a natural protest. It is certain that it has proclaimed many noble truths about which historic Christianity had of late been silent. But how can we regard a movement otherwise than with profound sadness and disapprobation which has unsettled the religious convictions of men only to lead them into spiritual doubt and alarm, and 'has been the means of producing, in the degree in which it exists, that very suspense of faith, which has farnished Dr. Bellows with the theme of his discourse ?
To this question of the existence of a suspense of faith throughout Protestantism, we wish to ask the special attention of our readers. If there is really such a pause in the faith of the Protestant world, as Dr. Bellows seems to imagine, and we are all really on the brink of a denial and rejection of all that we have heretofore regarded as Christian truth, we are in a most pitiable and wretched position. But, to our mind, the age in which we live, is characterized by a restoration rather than a suspense of faith. This we propose to establish by reference to some of the most remarkable facts and movements of our times.
In order to appreciate more fully the restoration of faith in the present age, we must glance for a moment, at the state of things, in this respect, which has passed away. The eighteenth century was one of almost universal skepticism. The influence of Hobbes and Hume had alienated the philosophy of England from the Gospel. In Germany the way was prepared by Goethe especially, for the naturalism of Paulus, the assault of Strauss upon the credibility of the New Testament, and the dreary pantheism of Hegel. In France, materialism was carried to its most frightful consequences by Condillac. Rousseau
substituted sentiment for religion, and Voltaire, with the hatred of a demon for Jesus Christ, blasphemously called upon the genius and the learning of the world to help him “crush the wretch,"
This literary and philosophical apostasy had its results, not only in the entire alienation of vast numbers from Christianity, but also in the perversion of the Gospel. Where there was not open and avowed infidelity or secret unbelief, there was a vagne and empty system of religion scarcely superior to the mere religion of nature. Evangelical religion was well nigh extirpated in France. In Germany, but few here and there proclaimed the truths of the Gospel. In England, as Mr. Wilberforce says: “ Preaching had degenerated into mere dry and barren ethics.” In this country, a natural reäction from the hard and metaphysical Calvinism in which alone the Gospel was presented, fell in with the skeptical tendency of the age, and evangelical religion was in the most imminent danger of extinction. There was a time when even the avowal of evangelical sentiments required no little amount of moral courage.
That there has been a prodigious change in this respect, no one can doubt for a moment. It is wonderful that it should have escaped the notice of Dr. Bellows, or if noticed by him, that it should not have modified his whole view of the present “suspense of faith.”
We do not deny, indeed, that there is still a lamentable and widely-diffused want of faith in the fundamental facts of Christianity, and that very much of the literature and science of the age is hostile to religion. The question between Dr. Bellows and us would be, in the first place, one of degrees; but we should differ from him entirely as to that element which is most prominent and powerful in the Protestant world. Nobody understands better than Dr. Bellows that there is an historic Christianity. This historic Christianity, we claim, exists to-day; and exists with constantly increasing power and influence. We claim that it is now what it has been essentially in all ages—and that it is always consistent with itself, thus affording a splendid illustration of the words of Horace :
"Servetur ad imum