« PreviousContinue »
Christianity produces Preachers and Theologians.
has been always bringing into being. Mohammedism has its Koran, but where are its theologians? The Greek and Roman mythologies had, properly speaking, no doctrines, nothing which might serve as the foundation for a system of theology. As soon as a Greek or Roman began to think, he began to be a philosopher, and not a theologian. Plato did not speculate upon the gods, nor upon the articles of the Grecian faith; but he speculated upon the principles of the human mind, and upon the laws of being and action. The old dispensation, under the Jews, as compared with the new dispensation, also serves to illustrate the same fact. Christian theologians have made, and justly so, the Jewish dispensation a part of their systems of theology; they have shown where it should stand in such a system; but this the Jews themselves never attempted. They had prophets, but not theologians. They had a revelation, but no theology, strictly so called. They had doctrines, but no system of doctrines. Some reasons for this difference between the two dispensations, might be assigned, but we now content ourselves with simply noting the fact.
What is true of Christianity in regard to preaching, is also true in regard to theologizing: it is the only system of religion which has produced preachers and theologians. As it is only here that we find sermons, so it is only here that we have systems of theology. But not only is it a distinctive characteristic of the Christian religion that it has its doctrines, which are matters of faith, and its system of doctrine which have grown out of the doctrines themselves; but it has likewise had a succession of such systems. Each age, each“ dogmatic period," as it has been called, will be found to have had a system of doctrines, or discussions upon certain doctrines, peculiar to itself. In one point of view, we may say, that there has been a perpetual flux, an unceasing change. The system of theology which satisfied John of Damascus, would not satisfy the “angelical doctor.” Luther was a lover of Augustine, but the central point of Luther's system was different from that of Augustine; Calvin was an Augustinian, and yet the Civitas Dei was quite inadequate to satisfy the wants of the immortal author of the Institutes, or the wants of his times. Jonathan Edwards would not disdain the name of Calvinist; but Calvin could not have written such a treatise as that on the Freedom of the Will, nor such an essay as that on the Nature of True Virtue. No council of bishops from the whole Christian church of the first five centuries, could have drawn up such a Confession of Faith as that of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, nor would it have
issued such decrees and anathemas as are those of the Council of Trent. The terminology of the ancient church is no less strange to our ears, than would be ours to them. We find it difficult to understand their systems of subordination; they might be as little at home in our speculations upon free-agency. If they contended for an iota iu respect to the doctrine of the Son, do not we for a dot in the deciphering of a manuscript? If they, for abstractions in respect to the Godhead, do not we for abstractions in respect to decrees? They defended Christianity against Judaizing cere. monies, and Hellenistic sophistry, and Gnostic reveries; but a different attitude of defence must be assumed, when it is opposed by philosophical deists, and rationalizing critics, and Romish superstition, and pantheistic transcendentalists.
In the different periods of the history of the church, it will be found, either that a different circle of doctrines is discussed; or, that the same doctrines are viewed under different relations and in new aspects, and exposed to the brunt of a fresh class of opponents, assailing it with a new series of questions. Thus Neander, in his History of the Church, has shown with admirable skill how the doctrinal questions which agitated the church of the first centuries were quite different from those discussed in the middle ages; the former having most to do with theological subjects, in the strict etymological sense of the term, with the relation of the Son to the Father, and of the Holy Spirit to both; while the latter were chiefly concerned with anthropological inquiries, and with the conflict about nature and grace. A new series of problems was introduced by the Reformation, described by one author (Kliefoth) as centering in the doctrine of Redemption (Soteriology), while Hagenbach, looking at the subject from a different point of view, describes as the age of“ polemico-ecclesiastical Symbolism." The same writer designates the times in which we now stand, as “ the age of criticism and of speculation, in which faith and knowledge, philosophy and Christianity, reason and revelation, are held up in contrast with each other, and their reconciliation attempted.” “The very existence of Christianity is at stake;" and all present discussions “are preparing the way for a new period, for which history has as yet no name.” The tendency of all present discussions, it has been said, is towards the questions connected with the nature of the church, and, still further, towards. the union of all the separate churches in one great body. Whether we accede to such very general statements, or not, whatever we may think as to the entire applicability of such broad descriptions, 1847.)
Indifference to History of Doctrines.
yet nu reader of church history can fail to feel that they are of value in distinguishing one epoch from another; and, though they may express only a part of the truth, yet that part is what is too often neglected in our ordinary estimation of history. One set of doctrines is more fully discussed in one age and another in another. Centuries may elapse before there is any perceptible advance upon the decisions and conclusions of a given epoch, in respect to certain questions; but, meanwhile, the church has not been idle; it has entered upon a new series of investigations on other points. By and bye, the acts upon the former subjects, long since supposed to be closed, are again opened; the same doctrines reäppear, yet never, or hardly ever, are they discussed in the same way. The terminology is altered ; new questions are raised. The principles and results of intervening discussions are applied to this revived circle of doctrines. How different the Trinitarian controversy in the English church, in the latter part of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century, from the Trinitarian controversy in the age of Athanasius! We are discussing the same doctrines which were in contest between Augustine and Pelagius, and yet who would now be content with the weapons then used, or the answers then given ?
But the history of the changes, and differences of theological opinions, is not the most important or satisfactory part of their history. Where we see only change, we long for rest. Councils af. firming and councils denying the same truths, coinbatants equally eager on both sides of some great question, doctrines with shifting phases from age to age, constant struggle succeeded only by a renewal of struggle, controversy after controversy, controversy within controversy and controversy about controversy, all this may be seen and disparaged by the niost in practised eye. Such an endless multiplicity of conflicting details, were this all, might indeed make a reader of church history faint-hearted and disheartened. Any one might be led to seek for relief in indifference or in devotion to some other pursuit. And the current modes of representing these doctrinal discussions, have helped to make men averse to the study of the history of doctrines. They are presented in scallered notices and fragmentary hints. They are given in the form :—such a man thought so, and another man thought otherwise. The most extravagant notions of the best and worst of men, the vagaries of the orthodox and the paradoxes of the heterodox, have been most diligently served up. And so, many a VOL. IV. No. 15.
sound divine has been made willing to forget that the doctrines he is discussing have been ever before discussed, or to remember past controversy only so far as it gives him help in a present emergency. And the best of Christians have been glad to close the book of controversy, in order to come back to the book of anthority; to shut their eyes upon the spectacle of human passion and infirmity, in order to open ihem to the clear light of the divine Word. The Fathers have been more quoted in detached pas. sages, than examined in their whole spirit; and many have ridiculed who have not read them; the schoolmen seemn to be fliting about in a thick darkness, where no ray of light has penetrated, and where no research will discover more than a penumbra; the Reformers have received more adulation than examination. When any of them are known to be for us, they are quoted and praised; when they are not for us, if quoted they are reviled; and when they are neither for us nor against us, they are neither quoted, nor praised, nor reviled. And when they are quoted, it is in isolated sentences, for polemic ends, and too often without regard to the different characteristics of different ages, to the differences in the usage of the leading terms, and in the general bearings of their theological systems. And thus the whole history of doctrines, (if indeed even the notion of such a history has been made clear to the mind,) is looked upon as a vast collection of unconnected discussion, as an endless repetition of pleas and rejoinders for just the same truths, in the same form, from one age to another. And so many might be led to agree to a remark which an excellent minister once made, that he did not want any other history of doctrines than what the Bible gave him.
It becomes a question of some importance, then, whether there be a wiser way of looking at the changes in theological opinion. Have these ceaseless discussions auswered any valuable end? Have they made truth more clear, and error more manifest ? Has there been any progress, any pernianent result wrought out by these prolonged and reïterated investigations ? Can we find any law of order in the midst of the discord; any principles of stability in the midst of the fluctuation; any growth which is superior to decay? That man is hardly supposed to be a rational believer in God's
a providential government of his church, who doubts that in the church itself as a whole, as an institution established anong men for the redemption of the race, there is such prigress and order and growth. As against the world the church has made ad.
The Church progressive externally and internally.
vances; struggle and conflict indeed there have been, but there has also been victory. Even when it has seemed inactive, this may not have been indolence so much as repose. Even when it has seemed to retrograde we are ready to assert that “a masterly retreat” osten displayed the most consummate generalship. And upon the whole, looking at the church through all the periods of its outward history, while we find it militant, we also find it to be progressive. And its external history as compared with the history of any other institution, or with the history of any nation or empire, is the most wonderful, the most pare, the most triumphant, the most progressive history, which it has been given to man's experience to know, or man's pen to write.
If it is so with the external fortunes of the church of Christ, what might we rationally iufer would be the fact with its internal growth? The true life of the church of Christ is indeed a hidden life, it is hid with Christ in God; but the expression of that life is in its articles of faith, and its systems of doctrine. The truest history of the church is to be found in the history of its doctrines. Its external form has been derived from these; its external changes have by them been determined. The corruption of the church has been through corruption in its doctrines; the reformation of the church has been produced by reformation in its doctrines—the energy and illumination of the Holy Spirit being, of course and necessarily, always presupposed. The external history of the church can be written-can its internal history also be written? The former is a history of its growth in the midst of changes; is then the latter only a history of aberrations, with out advance, and of eccentricities, without an orbit? The former is a history which lies at the very foundation of all modern hislory, and which has strangely influenced, if not deterinined the destinies of the nations in which the church has had its seat; has the latter, then, produced any influence upon the world of mind, and modified the opinions and speculations of mankind? And has it done this constantly and progressively? We believe that this can be shown to be the fact; that the doctrines of the Christian church, have a real history, and that it is a history, which yields to no other in its interest, its importance and its probable influence. And, while the very naine of such a history is almost unknown among ourselves, while the English theology has studied the records of theological opinion almost solely for polemical ends, the patient and far-sighted and speculative German mind has entered into these researches with the most thorough investi