Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

351

from each adapting as its end a different set of means. With the one party, sentiments and emotions are considered the test of religion, and to excite these is the object of their every effort. They reject the use of reason as impious, deprecate morality apart from their peculiar system as dead works, and rest salvation upon an impassioned and personal feeling towards the Saviour, which they term faith. Their error is to regard emotion as the end instead of the instrument of religion, and to rest satisfied with having excited it, without sufficiently attending to the necessity of training religious sentiment into a practical principle, ere it can deserve the name of religion.

CHARACTER OF DIFFERENT PARTIES.

The opposite party lay the whole stress of their teaching on the acceptance of dogmas, obedience to the Church, outward acts of conformity, and diligent use of rites and ceremonies, their motto is Works, in contradistinction to Faith. They allow the worldly knowledge, pursuits, and pleasures forbidden by their opponents; not, indeed, without stigmatising them equally as worldly, but regarding them as necessary to the mass of mankind, and ex. piated by the strict observance of Church rites. They reject reason with equal contempt, not because its use is blameable, but because it is of no use, in matters where the Church is the only guide. Salvation, according to them, depends upon the accident of being born in the true Church, and by thus making it entirely irrespective of human volition, they meet the opposite extreme of their opponents. Their error is to attach value to external acts independently of the inward principle from whence they spring.

[ocr errors]

These are, of course, only the general characteristics of each party, within which a thousand shades of individual differences exist. And what are the general results? Amongst religionists of the first class, we meet with the darkest and narrowest views of human nature, while, with strange inconsistency, it is the emotional or passionate element of that nature to which they invariably address their appeals. Amongst them, also, we find the habit of morbidly analysing every emotion and magnifying impulses into divine calls. In ordinary times, they are too often marked by a frivolous and worldly spirit, busying itself with sacred things because denied any other outlet, and in times of excitement bursting into the wildest fanaticism. Their general tone of morals is low, the natural consequence of considering emotions of more importance than practical habits; and with the more extreme of the party there exists a dread of science, and a contempt for literature, art, and the refinement of mind attending their cultivation, which sufficiently prove that they, at least, believe revealed religion to have a different source than the Author of nature and of man For to think ourselves more religious than our neighbours, because our dress is less

1

[blocks in formation]

graceful, our manners less pleasing, and our minds more ignorant and uncultivated, is to shake the very foundation of revealed religion, its derivation from Him who gave us the sense of beauty we despise, the social instincts which we violate, and the love of knowledge we condemn.

With the other party science is equally dreaded, and with justice, for science deals only with facts, and recognises no authority but proof. Its searching daylight would ill suit a system which requires the double veil of mysticism and antiquity to conceal the unsoundness of its foundations and lend dignity to its claims. But learning and art find with them a better acceptance; they cultivate the imagination, the senses, and the memory, that their exuberance may stifle reason. They give ample scope to worldly pursuits and pleasures, lest the activity repressed in one direction should turn to free inquiry, and end in the rejection of their trammels. They will wink at the vice which attends daily services, and subscribes to the building of churches, as the other party wink at the vice which can eloquently portray its temptations, and give to a prayer-meeting the triumph of its apparent conversion. Bigotry and intolerance have ever been common to both,—a fact made but too apparent in the present day, by the manner in which every question is treated which bears however remotely on religious topics. Let the signal be but given, and the flame of intolerance bursts forth, overpowering the voice of justice, honesty, and benevolence, causing the infidel to sneer, and the good man to mourn over his kind.

If we trace such errors as these to their source, we find it in a misapprehension of the real object of the Christian revelation. In both the views of religion we have glanced at above, that object is represented to be the publication of certain dogmas, belief in which is required as the indispensable condition of salvation. Orthodox belief is thus substituted for, or, at least, placed far above, the inward discipline and purification of the heart, as a means of acceptance with God. We are well aware that those who hold this view, consider moral regeneration as the natural and necessary consequence of right belief, and as unattainable without it; but the history of those Christian communities which have laid the most rigid stress upon orthodoxy, but too clearly proves the fallacy of this doctrine. The bloody annals of that Church whose mission was to preach "peace on earth, and goodwill towards men," the crimes which have been committed in the vain attempt to produce that uniformity of belief, which the very nature of things rendered impossible, teach us the consequences of fixing men's attention solely upon creeds and formulas, and drawing it away from the living principles of religion.

Were the doctrine that right belief is the condition of salvation

353

true, we might well exclaim in despair, "Who then shall be saved?" The Christian Scriptures contain no compendium of faith, no creed, no formulary of doctrine, no direct and explicit declaration of that which constitutes right belief.* We must deduce the articles of our faith by the careful and elaborate comparison of text with text, passage with passage, testing each separate conclusion by its harmony with the spirit of the whole. To do this, requires the arduous exercise of reason, on writings neither systematic nor scientific, and subject to the inherent vagueness and inaccuracy of human language, as the only vehicle by which divine truth could be conveyed to us. We are, indeed, promised the help of the Spirit of Truth in all earnest and singleminded search for truth, but still we can have no certainty that we shall be secured against error, and we have the more reason to acknowledge the possibility of error, since we know that from the earliest ages of Christianity, wide differences on points of belief have prevailed amongst men whose lives proved them to be equally sincere and devoted followers of Christ. It is, moreover, evident that the long and difficult process of reasoning by which doctrines are deduced from writings like those of the New Testament, is wholly beyond the capacity of the great mass of mankind. To obviate its necessity, each Church has drawn up or adopted some formulary of Christian faith in the shape of a creed or articles; and such a compendium, where it is not imposed as binding on the consciences of men, is of undoubted utility, as tending to preserve the ignorant and unreasoning masses from gross or mischievous error. But still it offers no security that the doctrines it contains are that absolute truth, belief in which, on the assumed grounds, is necessary to salvation. "If we look abroad," says Jeremy Taylor, "and consider how there is scarce any Church but is highly charged by many adversaries in many things, possibly we may see a reason to charge every one of them in some things; and what shall we do then? The Church of Rome hath spots enough, and all the world is inquisitive enough to find out more, and to represent these to her greatest disadvantage. The Greek Churches deny the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Son. If that be false doctrine, she is highly to blame; if it be not, then all the western Churches are to blame for saying the contrary. And there is no Church that is in prosperity, but alters her doctrine every age, either by bringing in new doctrines or by contradicting her old; which shows that none are satisfied with themselves, or with their own confessions. And, since all

INEVITABLE DIFFERENCES.

See Archbishop Whately's Essays, First Series. Essay on Omission of Articles of Faith, &c., in the New Testament.

[blocks in formation]

Churches believe themselves fallible, that only excepted which all other Churches say is most of all deceived, it were strange if, in so many articles, they had not mistaken every one of them in something or other. The Lutheran Churches maintain consubstantiation; the Zuinglians are sacramentaries; the Calvinists are fierce in the matters of absolute predetermination; and all these reject episcopacy; which the primitive Church would have made no doubt to have called heresy. The Socinians profess a portentous number of strange opinions; they deny the Holy Trinity, and the satisfaction of our blessed Saviour. The Anabaptists laugh at pædobaptism; the Ethiopian Churches are Nestorian Where then, shall we fix our confidence, or join communion? To pitch upon any one of these, is to throw the dice, if salvation be to be had only in one of them, and that every error that by chance hath made a sect, and is distinguished by a name, be damnable."*

It follows from this view of the wide and irreconcileable differences between different sections of the Christian Church, that, if salvation does depend on right belief, and if our belief must be deduced from the interpretations of Scripture, we have no alternative but to accept with the Romanists the necessity of an infallible interpreter of Scripture, or to rest our salvation on the greater acuteness and subtlety of our intellects, an idea so monstrous, that we doubt whether any one ever adopted it in its naked absurdity. It was the consciousness of this absurdity, coupled with belief in the necessity of orthodox faith to salvation, which prepared the way for the bold assumption by the Church of Rome, of that infallibility which alone could make her interpretation of Scripture binding on men's consciences; and, as a logical consequence, of the right to persecute heretics, who, on the assumed grounds, were the wilful opponents of Divine truth. Her intolerance was perfectly consistent; and her edifice, though built upon a falsehood, was in itself intact.

[ocr errors]

The time came when the falsehood was exposed. The Reformers showed the emptiness of Rome's assumption of infallibility, and claimed the right of private judgment. The admission of this right involved the admission that every honest opinion is morally blameless, and consequently cannot affect salvation; but to this inevitable consequence of their own doctrine the Reformers were blind, and the fundamental error of making our acceptance with God to depend on right belief, that is to say,-on the decisions of the intellect instead of the dispositions of the heart, remained in full force. Each of the Reformed Churches asserted its own creed

• A Discourse on the Liberty of Prophesying! Epistle Dedicatory.

355

to be the only saving faith, and condemned its opponents as mercilessly as the Inquisition itself. They practically assumed the very infallibility they denied to Rome, and with glaring inconsistency refused to others the right of private judgment they had claimed for themselves. The same error and the same inconsistency exist to this day, three hundred years after the first bold assertion of the freedom of the human mind; and though justice has so far prevailed, that opinions are now secure from civil punishment. yet the bitterness expressed against dissenters, the intolerance of different sects towards each other, and the moral condemnation passed on those whose religious principles differ from our own, show how deeply rooted this error is. "All these mischiefs proceed not from this, that all men are not of one mind -for that is neither necessary nor possible-but that every opinion is made an article of faith, every article is a ground of a quarrel, every quarrel makes a faction, every faction is zealous, and all zeal pretends for God, and whatever is for God cannot be too much; we, by this time, are come to that pass, we think we love not God except we hate our brother, and we have not the virtue of religion unless we persecute all religions but our own; for lukewarmness is so odious to God and men, that we, proceed ing furiously upon these mistakes, by supposing we preserve the body, we destroy the soul of religion, or, by being zealous for faith-or, which is all one, that which we mistake for faith-we are cold in charity, and so lose the reward of both."

1

99%

OF PROTESTANTS.

[ocr errors]

This fatal error has justly thrown Protestantism open to the ridicule and censure of Roman Catholics for its inconsistency and interminable discussions; and till it shall have been rooted out by the full admission of the right of each individual to examine and judge for himself, and our dissensions healed by unity in the spirit of Christ, under every diversity of creeds and forms, Protestantism must fall infinitely short of the universality, the power, and the purity of Christian truth.

It cannot be too often repeated that whenever we assert the doctrines we hold to be the one and saving truth, and condemn as impious, contrary opinions, however honestly formed, we assume infallibility for ourselves or our Church. If as Protes

Jeremy Taylor's Liberty of Prophesying.

"Whether we assert a doctrine to be true from our own views of it, or whether we assert the views of others concerning it to be correct, we are equally laying down a judgment of our own; a judgment in the one case directly on a doctrine, in the other case on the correctness of other people's views, but in both cases equally a conclusion of our own minds; and if we at any time act upon the assumption that such a conclusion cannot possibly be wrong, we take for granted our own infallibility."—Bailey's Essays on the Formation and Publication of Opinions.

« IndietroContinua »