« PreviousContinue »
Surely, by means of them, and the zealous men from whom they inherit their opinions, there has been an influx of living waters into the channel of the Church, in which before the stream was so low, so languid in its motion, though the freshening tide brought no small portion of impurity along with it. Even those amongst us who have less sympathy with them than any other class of religious teachers, except the Socinians, are found to admit that. Wesleyanism has been an agency permitted by God in the
itself, perhaps it attributes too much to the power of the word, as the instrument of salvation ? Too much? Can we speak more strongly on this point than the Bible itself has spoken? Can we say more than that it worketh effectually in them that believe? More than is expressed by the Psalmist, when he declares that the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul? More than is intimated by the prophets, when they compare it to fire, than which nothing in creation is fitted to denote the most rapid and vehement efficacy? Who doubts that it owes this efficacy to the Spirit? Does the writer of the extract given above ascribe to it any independent power? Must we needs suppose that he substitutes motives for the working of the Spirit merely because he speaks of the former, in popular inexact phrase, as influential ? And is this more dangerous language than that adopted by our AntiProtestant writers, when they say that alms-deeds purify the soul,* which, doubtless, in one sense they do? But the truth is, that in the recoil from a certain error on the subject of the means of grace, these writers are going into the opposite extreme. There is a manifest tendency among them to remove the Word of God from that prominent place in the economy of salvation which the Bible assigns to it; a disposition to put on the same ground with inspired discourses, that speak to the reason and spirit of man, the subsequent teaching of the Church in summaries and formularies of doctrine, evinced by an excessive jealousy of an attempt to show, what the interests of Christianity require to be shown, that teaching, thus addressed to the intellect immediately, and to the heart but indirectly, can never convey the whole truth as it is in Jesus, however exactly coincident with it and admirably adapted to guard it inviolate; and further, an eager desire to prove that sacraments are instruments of grace in a higher sense than that which an apostle pronounced to be the power of God unto salvation to them that believe !
“ The objection taken to Mr. A.'s language, in the · Tract on Holy Baptism,' I cannot but believe unwarranted; that this language is not reprehensible on another ground, I am far from denying. The author's view of the chief design of the Incar. nation, and consequently of the Eucharist, appears to be fundamentally erroneous. But my aim is, to show or suggest, that a genuine though imperfect Christian faith may exist, without losing its vitality, in close connexion not only with important logical errors, but with grievous deficiencies of spiritual knowledge thence arising. Mr. A. gives a Socinian turn to his account of the Incarnation and Atonement, yet seems to feel with fervour the truth of our Lord's Divinity. He appears to lose sight of the fountain of spiritual life opened by the Transcendant Act of Redemption, yet dwells with power on the inadequacy of outward means of grace, and the necessity of divine influence, to change the heart. I cannot but agree with his editor, Dr. Henderson, that the contents of his work are singularly adapted to arrest the attention of the careless,' to excite an ardent admiration of the example set by our Lord, and stimulate to practical earnestness in his service; but, on the other hand, there is much to reprehend in his way of drawing out into detail the perfect manhood of our Lord. Something akin to this unchastened boldness may be observed in the accounts given by some writers of the crucifixion, and still more in the treatment of that subject by painters, who choose it as affording an opportunity for the display of anatomical knowledge and skill in the painting of flesh in it various aspects of life and death. But this over-familiarity with sacred subjects and objects has often been found in conjunction with deep devotional feeling among men of all schools. When it appears
* “ In what sense we may allowably so speak, is explained in the Second Part of the Sermon of Alms-deeds.'”
restoration of our Church;' one by which, or with which, men passed from careless. ness to more earnest lives.'* An agency which helped to restore the Church and make men religious, must have been effectuated by the Spirit; and though God may overrule evil for good, yet it would be too much to suppose that the very subversion of Christianity and denial of divine grace could have directly served to make men Christians through submission to power from above. Could they of whom the fruit of righteousness was surely sown, have been deniers of the Holy Ghost ? Could spiritual-mindedness have been the end where want of faith in the operations of the Spirit was the beginning? They who helped in a degree to unsecularise the Church,'t though wanting some points of Catholic truth, so far as they detached her from the world, must have transferred her to the region of the Spirit.
“ I think we should consider how fundamental a charge that of rationalism is ; should be careful how we even insinuate it against those who hold to the same foundation as ourselves, or speak of any who spiritually interpret the words, By grace are ye saved through faith, I as if they shared the pomp and pride of Oriental Doctors, walking in the cold light of their own fantastic fires rather than in the sunny beams of the Gospel, respecting the might of the human understanding; though in regard to them it is not quite clear that they believed man able to save, any more than originally to create himself. Men of the Wesleyan school, from Wesley's day to the present, have rather been depreciators of reason, than exaggerators of intellectual efficiency: they dwell on faith as the work of the Spirit; and chiefly rely on a bold,
in a modern construction it is particularly offensive, because there is the vulgar air of to-day about it, which does not belong to the coarseness of a bygone age. The incomprehensible union of the divine with the human in our Lord and Saviour, even in his life upon earth, is left unimpugned, so far as I can see, by Mr. A.'s descriptions. Where does he speak of. Him as ignorant, imperfect, and dependant on the creature, as he is said to have done?' The more serious are a man's errors, the more anxiously should we guard against a statement of them in any respect inaccurate or overcharged.
" Some of the illustrations in The Corner-Stone' are affecting, and not out of harmony with their subject; there is one which not only is wrong in theology, but dishonours the most awful of mysteries by a homely attempt to bring it home to the mind. Would that this fault of placing the things of our holy faith in juxta-position with the familiar and the trivial, were confined to Mr. Abbott and his school. How commonly now are grave church questions and points of doctrine referred to in little volumes, the general strain of which fits them for a place in the juvenile library! We all know the force of association. Are chit-chat dialogue and childish adventure fit introductions to subjects of this sort ? When, however, the religious tale is written in a serious and affectionate spirit, though solemn themes are best approached in solemn books, it is comparatively harmless : but the tone of mimicry and irony adopted in some works of this kind is by all means to be deprecated. Satire and sarcasm, especially when levelled at modes of conduct and practice rather than at mere abstract opinions, are not wholesome food for the minds of simple children ; and to place them in any kind of connexion with the Gospel of Christ, is scarcely to show due reverence to the latter. The heart of a little child is a temple which the world has yet not trodden and soiled. We desecrate this sanctuary by introducing into it the evil spirit of ridicule and contempt. Why should they be led to trace the effect of erroneous principle on the conduct and manners of parents and teachers who are themselves in a state of pupilage, and in most cases are quite incompetent to judge of the principle itself? Why should they be prejudiced against the persons of religious professors, who are as yet too young to have any real acquaintance with their opinions or the grounds on which they are taken up? At all events, whether young or old readers be concerned, error on such a subject as spiritual conversion is no subject for jeering and mockery."
* “ Dr. Pusey's Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, p. 152." + " Ib.” * “ Eph. ii. 8.”
plain, urgent preaching of the word--a direct assertion of the truth, not proofs and arguments in its favour. Pelagianism rests on a denial of original sin, and these men have ever been the strongest asssertors of it. They have never said, “There is no Catholic Church ;* whence it immediately follows, that Jesus is not the Saviour of the world, and that he was not to gather a Church out of all nations; but they have lost sight of one essential part of the structure of this church, as it is an institution consisting of visible and public communities.'t In misunderstanding sacraments, I they fell into an error which has existed in the Church almost from the beginning, but has naturally increased since its area widened. The principal causes of it have no connexion with rationalism, rightly so called. May we not explain them thus? In the first place, men have easily lost sight of sacraments, because they are far less distinctly marked in the Bible, as instruments of the Spirit, than the preaching of the word, and, in general, those means of grace which are such according to the
*“Hooker, Sermon ii. vol. iii. pt. ii. p. 662-3. Keble's ed." of “Coleridge's Church and State, p. 126, 3d ed.”
“The character of the Evangelical or Wesleyan school which I have given, is taken chiefly from the books which it has put forth, and the conversation of persons belonging to it whom I have intimately known. I have spoken of its characteristic principles, not of the weak and unamiable practices, or the coarse and silly preachings and teachings, which these principles have fallen into company with. What else can be the fate of principles which spread among the masses of the people, and lose themselves in spreading! Even the completest system of truth will not of itself draw all men up to it. But that the evangelical principles have borne fruits of righteousness, however imperfect, however largely mingled with a blighted and corrrupted produce, is sufficient to show that they do to a certain extent deserve their name, and are in the main directly opposed to an Anti-Christian rationalism. With the ignorance, indiscretion, and hypocrisy of individual disciples of Wesley I have no concern; my aim only is to show what are the true relations between rationalism and an uncatholic view of the Sacraments, and that they are not exactly such as they have been represented; which I think the interests of truth require; for perhaps there is no surer way to confirm men in error than to represent them as more erroneous than they really are. We are all too ready to imagine ourselves invulnerable, when many missiles are hurled at us which we can easily repel. Doddridge's 'Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul' may be mentioned as a fair sample of the evangelical style of writing. No one will say that it does not represent the work of the Spirit as the alpha and omega of conversion. How strongly the special exalters of faith have ever dwelt on a spiritual regeneration is too notorious to be insisted on; and, till they depart from this doctrine, they cannot be very hard upon rationalism.
“One may read Treatises on the Lord's Supper by evangelical' writers, which overflow with declarations of grace, yet make no distinct mention of the peculiar way in which it comes sacramentally. Dr. Owen's notion seems to have been, that the Eucharist is a more special and particular representation of Christ as our Redeemer, than either the written or preached word.* Undoubtedly, this memorial, instituted as it was by the Saviour himself, and under such marked circumstances, is calculated to have an effect on the imagination and feelings quite peculiar. It would be unjust to say of such view, deficient as it is, that it assigns to the holy sacrament ‘no end but only to teach the mind, by other senses, that which the word doth teach by hearing.'t It is not the instruction of the mind that it refers to, for that is indeed far better effected by preaching, but the address to the heart and feelings through the imagination, and this as an instrument of the Spirit. Such a believer, too, as he acknowledges that the symbols of the sacrament were appointed by God, must feel that He will be disposed to give them a special efficacy, more than they would have as symbols
economy of Providence, and the constitution of things since the beginning of the world, not merely by appointment under the New Dispensation. Sacraments are signs and symbols as well as conveyances of divine blessings; hence they came to be considered as signs and symbols only: they are generally introduced in scripture incidentally, and so implicated with the doctrine of the Spirit at large, that to the minds of many they become merged in it.
“To seek our faith in the book of revelation, or to receive it from thence even without seeking, proceeds from no rationalistic temper. Right reason and piety lead men to this; and in general it is want of sound instruction or capacity to understand it, that has brought numbers to neglect those truths, a reception of which the mere knowledge of the Bible will not ensure even to the well-disposed, rather than a tendency to exalt the original powers of humanity, or to forget that all have sinned and stand in need of the glory of God.”
Into the further question of the manner in which the subject is related to the sacraments, it would not be proper now to enquire, since this argument will be treated in specific papers ; and one is now in course of treatment-we allude to that of the Eucharist, in connexion with Dr. Pusey's justly condemned sermon. Suffice it for the present to declare, that in the Coleridgean philosophy the sacraments are, indeed, admitted to be distinct channels of grace, and that as means of divine influence they are sui generis, God having connected with them a gift peculiar to them, so that the partaker obtains by them a real benefit, or opportunity of benefit, beyond what he could have without them. Nevertheless, it holds, at the same time, that they are not the exclusive channels.
· The dews of heaven," exclaims Mrs. Coleridge, descend upon the whole earth, but sacraments are reservoirs, by admission to which, men obtain them in special abundance. If, on the other hand, the terming Sacraments distinct channels of grace is intended to imply, that through them the soul is brought into an effective communion with the Holy Spirit, when the understanding and consequently the will are not acting, nor in a condition to act; that they are channels of divine blessings, not only distinct from that of thought and imagination, but not necessarily conjoined with it and wholly independent of it; I believe it implies a notion which is contrary to the teaching of Holy Writ, and, though put forward in the present day as catholic, has no proper catholic consent in its favour."
The system of the late Mr. Coleridge involved “the co-ordinate authority of the Word, the Spirit, and the Church," as “the triple link” which distinguished it from the schemes of the Romanist, the fanatic, and the merely negative Protestant, the Dissenter from all established communions. But in all discussions on the Church we should be careful to preserve the due distinction between the ideas of
merely; that the faith and obedience which uses and believes in them, at God's command, will bring down a peculiar blessing. He fully confesses that an inestimable gift of grace belongs to the Eucharist, though he rather connects it with attendance at the table, than with reception of the elements. How he reconciles this view of sacramental influence with the administration of baptism to infants, I know not. The child at the time cannot benefit by the rite through his imagination, though it may strongly affect his mind in after years to see others introduced into the church, as he was himself before his mind was awakened. I would fain hope that many do practically attach a richer boon of grace to sacraments, than their explanations of sacramental efficacy properly imply.
the Church Invisible and the Church Visible between the Church Triumphant and the Church Militant--the Church Spiritual and the Church Temporal. It is by ascribing to the latter the attributes which properly belong to the former, that erroneous and superstitious conclusions are so frequently drawn. But if theologians will not recognise the distinction, the Providence of God has done so; and to this end has so ordered it, that sometimes spiritual blessings should not accompany spiritual ordinances, and that sometimes they should be imparted without them. Not only the external ordinance is required, but the inward regeneration. To show that the Visible Church is divinely appointed and authorised, both, in a large number of instances, concur. Where the tree is good, the fruit will be good.
“A tree,” however, as Mrs. Coleridge well remarks, "may be blighted from without: having been originally good it may cease to be so, and then it will either prove barren or bear bitter fruit. But he who has been born from above, whose principles of action have been reformed and spiritualised, in whom the potential goodness has been rendered actual, the evil tendencies put down, so that they are no longer in the ascendant, is incapable of being perverted from without. He has that within him, in virtue of which he both can, and certainly will, overcome the world. A few texts of the New Testament may be so interpreted as to favour the difficult theory of inward gifts of the Spirit preceding a change of heart; but the clear current of Scripture' is altogether against it; and in dealing with its statements, as it is natural to think of them now when the leaven of Christianity, considered in its relation to speculative reasoning, as the light of philosophy, and not solely as the guide of life, has gone further into the minds of men than it could have done in a world just emerging from Paganism,* the vindicators of such a theory must be ever on the defensive, ever
* “ In reference to the Invocation of Saints, and the original grounds of the practice, South speaks as follows: • The third cause of this was the people's being bred in idolatry: whereupon what worship they gave to devils, and to their heroes before, they very readily applied, upon their conversion to Christianity, to good angels, and to the souls of the martyrs; which, also, the unwariness and facility of many of their teachers and bishops were willing enough to humour them in, as being desirous upon any terms to gain them from heathenism to the profession of the Christian religion." A Sermon on Ephesians iii. 12.
“ Is it conceivable that the Fathers of the Primitive Church were entirely exempt from those influences by which the mass of Christian converts was so largely swayed ? They who rise above the multitude in many things, are yet in many things on a level with their age. It is usual to answer this argument by declamatory invective, wherein the Church, according to the pure idea, is quietly conveyed into the place of the Church, as realised in the world, with all her spots and wrinkles about her, and broken rays of glory. This is as unfair as if we were accused of lowering the character of Christianity, or denying the power of Christ, because we say that few Christians really aim at perfection, and believe our Lord's own words, that many are called but few are chosen. Doubtless, that “Pagano-Christianism' of which Henry Moore speaks, began from the beginning of the Visible Institution, however repressed during the Apostolic age. We know that even the teaching of inspired men did not prevent the grossest errors from arising in the hearts and minds of their disciples; and though Christ has been with his Church always, and has preserved pure Christianity in the world, he never promised to keep Churchmen at large, in any particular age, from a certain amount of erroneous doctrine; the living principles of health, and growth, and self-restoration remaining undestroyed within the Christian Body. There are some interesting remarks, bearing upon this point, in a very good and erudite book just published, The Life and Times of Savonarola,' pp. 88–93."