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tants we reject the infallibility of any human Church, and hold that all doctrines are derived from uninspired interpretation, we can make no reservation in favour of this or that dogma, which we hold to be more especially necessary; for by our own admission all doctrines rest on the same fallible grounds of human interpretation, and all therefore must be liable to error. To be consistent with our own principles we must admit that sincere and earnest conviction is the only test we have a right to require of the religious feelings of another, and that the errors which may follow from such a conviction are amenable to no human tribunal, and can be judged by Him alone "to whom all hearts are open.” "Who art thou," says St. Paul (Rom. xiv.), "that judgest another man's servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth.". -"Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block, or an occasion to fall in his brother's way. For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and joy and peace in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men." If these truths were practically no less than tacitly acknowledged, bigotry and intolerance would disappear. When prompted to resent dissent from our opinions, we should, in obedience to our Saviour's rebuke, "remember what manner of spirit we are of," and conscious of our own liability to error, we should be more patient of the errors of others. In proportion to the earnestness of our convictions, and of our sincerity in acting upon them, we should respect the convictions of our brethren, and be careful to visit only on moral depravity that indignation which is now too often lavished on supposed error of belief.
The proofs given elsewhere of the involuntary nature of belief must make it evident to those who reflect candidly on the subject, that our acceptance with God cannot depend on that over which by His own law the will has no power. Moral responsibility can attach only to voluntary acts, and the injustice which should make man responsible for the involuntary conclusions of his intellect, is utterly incompatible with the character of an allgood and all-just God.
The alm universal prevalence of the error we have beer combating arises, we believe, from its being so seldom clearly and distinctly set before us, with the consequences it involves Creeds and formularies of belief are so early and so strenuously insisted upon, that wę lose sight of the fact that they are simply deductions of human reason.† They acquire a sanctity which belongs only
See Chap. v., Sec. 3, on "Love of Truth."
† We cannot help noticing here the inconsistency of those who, while most
to the Scriptures themselves, and are submitted to as of equal authority. Assent to the abstract propositions they embody, as the absolute truth contained in God's message to us, is confounded with the moral feeling of faith in the message itself, which is the ground of obedience. We will try to make this clearer by an illustration:-Suppose a father to send a message from a distant country to his children at home on the manner in which he wishes them to act during his absence, with regard to their own conduct, to the cultivation of his lands, the general management of his property, the treatment of his tenants and the poor. Suppose, also, that the message contains rather the principles on which they were to act, resting on truths implied, but not explicitly stated, than direct precepts. His children, of different ages and capacities, and trained in different schools, will receive very different impressions from this message. Their first business is, of course, to ascertain that the message does come from their father; the next, to obey its injunctions. Here, however, begins the difficulty; for, although all are agreed as to the general principles on which they are required to act, they differ widely as to their application, and especially in their views of the implied truths on which the principles rest. The most despotic spirit among them will say, "I believe my father meant so and so, and you must believe as I do, or you will altogether lose his countenance and favour." This is the argument of orthodoxy. The wisest among them will say, "We shall never agree in the meaning of words which admit of different interpretations, and of which our different habits of mind and degrees of knowledge lead us to take different views; but we can all agree in this, that each ought conscientiously to act upon that which he believes to be our father's will and meaning. Had he intended that his favour should depend on our all holding exactly the same view of the abstract truths implied in his message, he would have conveyed it to us in such a manner as to preclude the possibility of error." This is the doctrine of toleration; had it been more general, the crimes which disgraced Christianity in former ages, the quarrels and divisions which dishonour it now, might have been spared. We should not, to preserve a doctrine, have destroyed the last commandment of our Divine Master," Love one another as I have loved you."
The constant sense of the fallibility of our own views, which is necessary to produce due tolerance of the views of others, does not imply that we are always to be in a state of doubt.
strongly deprecating the use of reason in religion, actually make salvation to depend on the justness of the conclusions arrived at by the very faculty they exhort us to renounce.
believe," says Archbishop Whately, in the essay before referred to, any doctrines to be erroneous, which we sincerely hold, is impossible, and a contradiction in terms; to suspect them of error, is by no means necessary; but it is necessary to acknowledge and to allow for the possibility of error in every Church, and in every man. But the self-distrust, and perpetual care, and diligent watchfulness, and openness to conviction, here recommended, are as far from necessarily implying a state of painful and unceasing doubt, that, as they furnish the best safeguard against error, so they afford the best grounds for a cheering hope of having attained truth. The more cautious we are, both as individuals and as a Church, to 'work out our salvation with fear and trembling,' the better founded trust may we entertain that God worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure.' As long as all such human compositions as I have been speaking of (creeds and articles of faith), are left open to inquiry, and are incessantly tried by Scripture and by reason, —as long as we hold ourselves ready to renounce any that shall be proved unseriptural, and to alter in form any that shall be proved inexpedient, and as long as we keep these compositions to their own proper uses, and make the Scriptures our only standard of appeal for the proof of any doctrine,- -so long we shall have been making that use, both of the Bible and of the Church, of reason and of revelation,-of all the advantages, natural and supernatural, that we enjoy,—which Divine wisdom evidently designed: so long, we shall have been doing our utmost to conform to the will of God; and so long, consequently, we shall have the better reason for cherishing a humble hope that He, the Spirit of Truth, is, and will be, with us, to enlighten our understanding, to guide our conduct, and to lead us onwards to that state in which faith shall be succeeded by sight, and hope by enjoyment."*
We find, then,-1st, That all creeds, articles of faith, and formularies of doctrine, however true and valuable in themselves, are conclusions drawn from Scripture by the reason of uninspired men, and therefore liable to all the errors human reason is exposed to. 2nd, That, from the nature of the Scriptures themselves, and the nature of the human mind, differences have necessarily arisen with regard to these points, and have widely prevailed in every age of the Christian Church. The inference appears to us inevitable, i.e., that no Church or individual has a right to assert that adhesion to any peculiar confession of faith is the condition of salvation.
* Whately's Essays, Fourth Essay, First Series.
It will, however, be objected by many, that it is not any human Church, but God himself, who, through the Scriptures, has declared faith essential to salvation. The term faith, as used in the Scriptures, appears to us, however, to bear a far different meaning from the belief in dogmas attributed to it by one party, or the mystical sense superadded to that belief by another. We cannot do better here than to quote Dr. Clarke's definition of faith in his excellent sermon on that subject:-" Faith is that firm belief of things at present not seen; that conviction upon the mind of the truth of the promises and threatenings made known by God in the Gospel, of the certain reality of the rewards and punishments of the life to come, which enables a man, in opposition to all the temptations of a corrupt world, to obey God, in expectation of an invisible reward hereafter. This is that faith which in Scripture is always represented as a moral virtue, nay, as the principle moral virtue, and the root and spring of all other moral virtues; because it is an act, not of the understanding only, but also and chiefly of the will, so to consider impartially, to approve and embrace the doctrine of the Gospel, as to make it the great rule of our life and actions. By this faith it is we must be justified, and by this it is that the ancients, whose example is celebrated in this chapter (Heb. xi.), obtained, as the Apostle expresses it, a good report." "This is a very easy and intelligible notion of faith; and such a notion as shows plainly how faith is not a mere speculative act of the understanding, but a substantial, practical, moral virtue."*
NATURE OF FAITH.
We must refer our readers to the sermon itself for the different meanings which the word faith is used to express in Scripture. The passage is too long for quotation, and we must content ourselves with briefly stating that none of them express the simple assent of the understanding to formulas of brief, or, to use the words of Dr. Clarke, " (as some understand it), a confident credulity in they know not what, in whatever their teachers require them to believe; and that, perhaps, with so much the greater assurance, as the things are more absurd and unreasonable to be believed." In support of these views, which are at once scriptural and rational, we may add that the strongest condemnation pronounced by our Saviour against unbelief, is in a very remarkable manner applied to the depravity of the will producing wilful blindness to moral truth. They that believe not on me are condemned already," says our Saviour, and adds this striking explanation: "And this is the condemnation, that they loved darkness better than light, because their deeds were evil.” It must be a wilful perversion, which applies the sentence here so clearly pronounced on those who love darkness because their Clarke's Sermons. Sermon i.
deeds are evil, to the humble, earnest, and single-hearted inquirer after truth, whose only error, if error it be, is to have formed different conclusions from our own on doctrines which the Scripture only partially reveals, and on which the best and wisest of men have widely differed.
PURPOSE OF CHRISTIANITY.
The very doubt and difficulty with which those doctrines have ever been surrounded, might be considered a sufficient proof that a just and merciful God has not made the eternal destiny of so fallible a creature as man to depend on a right apprehension of them. It is surely but reasonable to believe, that a revelation having been vouchsafed for a particular end, that end would be explicitly stated, and the conditions of its attainment expressed so clearly as to preclude all doubt or hesitation. If, in accordance with this view, we assume that the end of the Christian revelation was to teach mankind the principles which should guide human conduct, and the motives which make human actions acceptable in the eyes of God, we find in every page of the New Testament corroborative proof of the justness of our assumption. While abstract dogmas are left to be inferred from detached passages, as deduced by elaborate reasoning from the analysis and comparison of different texts, the moral law is resplendent with light. The moral regeneration of man by the infusion of new motives and new aims, by the conquest of his spiritual over his sensual nature, is held out in every page as the great end of revelation, and to afford him the means of this regeneration is represented as the one object of Christ's life and death. Love towards God, love towards man, ceaseless advance towards perfection,-these are enforced with a clearness which no doubt can obscure; the living principles whence they flow are manifested in their fullest development in the character and life of Christ as our great example, and their presence is required as the sole and unfailing test of his true disciples. "By this," said Christ himself in the last solemn hours of his sojourn on earth, "shall all men know that ye are my disciples;" not by belief in this or that view of the unfathomable mysteries which my words have obscurely intimated, and which your faculties are incapable of grasping, but by this, "if ye have love one to another." (John xiv. 35.)
The consideration of the widely different views of religion we have pointed out naturally leads us to examine the grounds on which we must form our religious belief,-in other words, the evidences of Christianity. Every rational being, that is to say, every being whose religion is not merely an inherited custom; but who, according to the injunction of St. Peter,* is "ready to give a reason for the hope that is in him," will seek that
1 Peter iii. 15.