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Observer, Jan. 1, '71.
and petitions to Parliament through the members for the different constituencies.
Some leading Birmingham Liberals were for making it a test question at parliamentary elections; but this, in the judgment of the Secretary and others present, must be left to the option of the electors themselves throughout the kingdom.
Mr. Vince proposed a resolution urging the importance of Nonconformists generally making strenuous efforts to enlighten the public mind on the principles of disestablishment. He trusted that the Liberationists of Birmingham would support the executive of the Liberation Society. It was seconded by F. G. Callaway, supported by Jesse Collins, H. Crosskey, and R. W. Dale, and carried unanimously.
Mr. R. W. Dale remarked that the work of disestablishment, and that against the consciences of so many good men in the Church of England and also the bigotry of mere sectarianism in many, would be at once a painful and an arduous one; but duty was theirs in the present instance, principle, not feeling, must guide them and the consequences, belonging to God, would in the end be for the good of all parties, both in Church and State. J. A.
REV. F. FURGUSON IN REPLY TO A CHARGE OF HERESY.
THE Edinburgh United Presbytery recently heard a charge of heresy against the gentleman above-named. The prevailing feeling appeared to be that the accused should be " counselled," but he with some indignation disapproved of the process, and in the course of a speech of much earnestness observed :-
"After all, Calvinism, at its best, is but a part of the truth. No system of theology hitherto constructed by men is more than an approach to the whole. It cannot be said of the best human system that it is the most catholic and scientific expression that can possibly be given to the theology of the Bible. So long as there is one outstanding fact or idea irreconcilable with that system, such fact is a declaration that the system is too narrow. Probably that fact contains within it meanings that would revolutionize the whole; and instead of over-riding such a fact by mere authority, it is clearly our duty to accept the position of humble inquirers before it, letting it speak for itself, and tell us what it means. The principle of interpretation called the "analogy of faith" is a fundamental violation of the truest philosophy, at least in the way that principle is generally employed. Its practical result is to set dogma above and before exegesis or free inquiry; whereas dogma should always follow in the wake of exegesis, and be glad to accommodate itself to every true advance. Now, there are countless facts, both in the Bible and in the world, that will not be pressed within the most rigid Calvinistic line. As facts, they are peculiarly stubborn. They will not be coaxed into acquiescence. They utterly decline to duck under in deference to our sweeping generalizations; and is it for us, in these circumstances, to go on setting up between our souls and the light of heaven a human form of truth, which we are in danger of worshipping as an intellectual idol, and to touch which is sacrilege, while in doing so we are casting the deepest dishonour on God's most perfect word, and ignoring some of the most patent facts of existence ?"
The speaker then enlarged upon the result of fearlessly following the Bible in a Creed-bound Church
"The old prophets were regarded as troublers of Israel. The words of Christ reveal the thoughts of many hearts, and when He preached in the synagogues they were considerably perturbed. The multitudes were divided. Some were offended, and walked no more with Him. Some said He was a good man, others said He had a devil, and was mad. The apostles were charged with having taken too much wine on the day of Pentecost, but it was the new wine of the kingdom. The angel of the Church should always be going down to trouble the pool, in order that the people may be healed; and the progress of the Church is itself likened by the Master to the process of fermentation,
Observer, Jan. 1, '71.
which goes on turning over every particle until the whole is leavened. But your quiet and sleepy congregation, prosperous and complacent in its gilded sin, with a person in the pulpit described by the prophet Isaiah as a dumb dog that cannot bark, having nothing but a distant and disconsolate whine, fitted only to lull to deeper slumbers-that surely is not a spectacle calculated to call forth the approbation of any Presbytery. This is not the time for Presbyteries to recommend the shepherds to be piping Peace, peace,' to their flocks, when there is no peace. It has always appeared to me that that which the age demands from the pulpit is vigorous thought, and not twaddling sentiment; and that in proportion as the pulpit is destitute of thought, to that extent is it a mere cypher in relation to the age. I am well aware that there must be milk for the babes, and meat for the strong men; but I have not met with any redundancy in the shape of strong meat; the superfluity, I fear, is rather in the direction of the milk and the spoon meat. Were a minister a beautiful clerical doll, set up to perorate gracefully over a few innocent platitudes committed to memory, he might hold on very smoothly for a number of years, and vainly dream that he was leading men and women to the kingdom of Heaven, although he never stirred a thought in their minds or a feeling in their hearts. But is that doing the work of the Church? Is it meeting the wants of the age? Christianity is a reasonable word. It means light, thought, intelligence. It is the irreconcilable foe of all darkness and stupidity; and it points out the devil, in the end of his career, to be the supreme ass. A little fermentation of thought then seems a very hopeful sign, and something the Presbytery ought to encourage. And, at the present moment, I challenge the Presbytery to show a congregation within its bounds in which there is a more intelligent, a more active, or a more friendly spirit, than that which exists in the East congregation at Dalkeith.
My third remark refers to the position in which this case leaves every minister in the Presbytery. You have only to suppose that in every congregation there is one unreasonable, vainglorious, and vindictive member, to secure an endless succession of such cases. The minister suggests that the universe was not created between a Monday morning and a Saturday evening, or that the sword of the Magistrate has nothing to do with religion; and in view of the Confession, he may at once be placed under suspicion. He speaks of the death of some as a sleep, and of the second death as the loss of the soul; the Confession saying that souls neither sleep nor die. He may not preach from such texts as these: As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive; God is the Saviour of all men, especially of those that believe"-because they look strangely in the direction of Universalism. He must avoid the declarations, "God will have all men to be saved," and "Christ is a propitiation for the sin of the whole world," lest he should run the risk of appearing to verge on Arminianism. In the region of practical matters he must not catch the spirit of Isaiah, of Paul, or of Peter, who condemn the bravery of tinkling ornaments, and round tires like the moon, the costly array, and the crisping pins lest he should be suspected of an unseemly reference to the fashions of the day. He must wink at the words, "Lay not up treasures upon the earth," lest he should be regarded as disrespectful to bankers, insurance, agents, and other individuals who encourage and practise frugality. You will say, all this is very preposterous. There is no doubt as to that; and yet it does not quite equal in preposterousness some of the complaints in the present case. What is the conclusion of the whole matter? What is the outcome, according to the most inevitable and inexorable logic of such a case? Either, on the one hand, to draw up a libel against all the writers of the Bible in order to protect the compilers of the Confession; to seal up especially the New Testament idea of Christianity to declare the original idea of the pulpit a solecism in relation to modern society, and to enjoin all preachers to maunder on, with due obsequiousness, from one inanity to another; or, on the other hand, to recognise the fact that we are assuredly adrift upon a period of boundless transition; that the sooner we get clear of dogmatic icebergs the better; and that nothing can save us but the possession of living ideas, a more generous appreciation of the providence of God, and a fuller embrace of the Gospel of Christ in its glorious freeness, amplitude, and impartiality. (Applause)." If the Presbytery "counsel" this plain speaking Brother, it will amount to something like Mutual Exhortation.
How happy is he born and taught,
That serveth not another's will;
And simple truth his utmost skill!
Observer, Jan. 1, '71.
THE SPIRIT OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY AND CREEDS. THE nineteenth century is eminently a period of progress. The characteristic unrest of society is something more than uneasiness. Its meaning is that we feel the attraction of some higher good, something better, more elevated and elevating than hitherto the world has ever enjoyed. The progress in the arts, the discoveries in science, the improvements in agriculture, and its implements, all, all attest that the world is in motion. These, however, are but the externals of things, which rise to the surface, and are known and read of all men. But there is something unseen, something working constantly beneath all this mighty upheaval; and this indomitable energy is the spirit of investigation, and investigation is the spirit of the nineteenth century.
How much the new method, the Baconian system of reasoning, has contributed to our present progress, it is hardly possible to describe. So long as the world was led by a sect of philosophers whose greatest merit lay in the ingenuity with which they could press the facts of nature to sustain a theory of their own imagining, so long little progress was made in real knowledge; and when the "Novum Organum" swept away like gossamer the old systems of so-called science, many intelligent men, no doubt, felt profoundly discouraged, and exclaimed, "When shall return such lustre to the coming years?" and, in their discouragement, were slow to avail themselves of the simplicity and truth of the new system. Some, no doubt, felt it a solemn duty to hold on to and repair the old system. A hive of bees, when their comb is broken, will turn all their energies to repairing damages; nor can they be induced to do anything to increase their store until such repairs are effected. So, much time elapsed before the Baconian logic began to show its Samsonic power; it required, too, so much more patience to get a theory by the induction of one fact at a time, and that also carefully compared with every known test of truth, that we need not wonder if its obvious truth and simplicity were sadly disregarded by Lord Bacon's contemporaries.
Whatever is of peculiar interest to man, must endure the test of rigid investigation. Commercial schemes, tariffs, and agricultural hypotheses, are daily passing through the ordeal of the most intense scrutiny, and if we ask the reason of all this searching inquiry, the answer is, "These are questions in which we are deeply interested." But are we not equally interested in that science which reaches beyond time and spans eternity? Shall we apply the logic of the Novum Organum to the knowledge of temporal things, because we know it to be a sure test, but in things of eternal importance shall we plod on in the old system of hypothesis before proof? Shall we not rather let the Bible be to religion what Nature is to science? Why should we not eliminate from religion every thing purely hypothetical, and fill the void thus temporarily created with analytic inductions of Scripture facts, commands, and promises? Shall we boast that "the Bible and the Bible alone is the religion of Protestants," and then subject it to a system of interpretation which, for centuries, held natural science in a death-like incubus? There is something in the analytic method so inviting to the patient thinker, something that beckons him so kindly forward to assured success, that the number of those who think for themselves is increasing every day, and to apply this method to the interpretation of Scripture, would be to throw open the flood gates of inquiry and inundate a territory over which we have for centuries heard a hoarse voice repeating, in solemn cadence," Procul! O, Procul, este Profani!"
Observer, Jan. 1, '71.
But however solemn the warning, it is the spirit of the nineteenth century to regard it not. Even the cherished creeds of the most popular orthodoxy must stand before the judgment seat of searching inquiry. But the spirit of every ecclesiastical creed is a caveat to investigation. It says to each of its devotees, "So far must your inquiry extend, but no further. This must be the end of intellectual improvement on this subject."
The Roman Church deliberately curses every one who may deny the articles of her creed, and all Protestant creeds are permeated with something of the same spirit. To be sure, Protestants have read their Bible too well to be caught cursing their fellow-men. Hence, they say, let him who denies our creed "be separated" from us-a much milder form of words, with almost the same meaning. If the Almighty should pronounce such sentence upon him who rejects the Bible, it should be awfully feared, and not called in question. But when men like ourselves propose, on their own authority, propositions for us to accept on the pain of ecclesiastical curses, we can only look upon them as the quintessence of intolerance.
Human creeds, as terms of fellowship, or as means of preserving organic union, have been ably exposed by the labours of Mr. Campbell and others, so that little remains to be said in that direction. Their influence on the outside world has been shown to be evil, only evil, and that continually. But our present purpose is to develop their internal workings within the bodies over which they shed their balmiest influence. What, then, are the advantages of a human creed to a creed-bound Church? Their answer would doubtless be, "We have peace. We are not troubled with numberless controversies, like those who have no creed. If any one among us gets up a new doctrine, all we have to do is to bring him to our standard, and if his teaching does not correspond with our articles, our process is summary." So, then, a Church blessed with a human creed, can detect a heretic without going to the Bible. When they hear something new and do not know whether to believe it or not, they can search the creed to see if those things be so. If the noble Bereans had had similar facilities when Paul preached to them, they would have had much less labour to perform; but it is very doubtful whether any of them would have believed. If human creeds lighten the labour of their followers in searching the Scriptures, they do them a positive injury; for we need labour in this very department.
To search the Scriptures is a solemn duty, and whatever controversy may arise to drive us to that delightful task, should be hailed as a blessing to us, even if the doctrine in question should be condemned as false, for it has given us a zest for searching the Scriptures. We have accomplished a search—we have triumphed over an error-our horizon is enlarged! We have learned much more than we were seeking for; we have gained much religious strength, and we have also learned something about how to investigate God's Word. But best of all, we have learned more intensely to love and venerate the Holy Book. Now all this legitimately and naturally grows out of making the Bible the sole arbiter in controversy. But the objector will say, "Do not all Protestants always make the Bible such arbiter?" When there is controversy between two denominations, the appeal is to the Bible, but when among themselves it has to be settled by the creed. Hence it is plain the Bible is not their only standard. They have one of
*The term creed is here used in its popular sense: A human summary of religious doctrine, which must be used as a test of denominational fellowship. That it can be used in a sense entirely free from objection, we pretend not to deny.
Observer, Jan. 1, 71.
human origin, for their own use at home, and another of Divine origin, to use in controversy with their neigbours. But whether they pay themselves or their opponents the higher compliment, is left with the reader to decide.
But we are met here with another objection: "If controversy prevails in a Church, there is an end of peace; and peace we must have, or there is no union, and if no union, no Church! Hence, we must have a creed, or we can have no Church." The fallacy of this objection lies in the assumption that investigation and controversy are identical with, or inseparable concomitants of, angry feelings, quarreling, and alienations, etc. But fortunately for the truth, the spirit of inquiry is not one of anger or clamour. But so soon as the angry passions rise, and our hearts and tongues are tempted to strife, so soon are we disqualified to conduct any kind of investigation. None but children are excusable in mistaking anger for argumentation. But the Church is for the education and training of men, 66 even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." But without exercise and practice, we can never learn to discern between good and evil doctrine. But if our senses are to be exercised to develop their powers, it is hardly right and proper for our ecclesiastical superiors to treat us as if we were children, and destined never to attain to majority. Why should a Christion of full age be told, like a child, what he ought to believe? Why should he be saved the labour of investigating and thinking for himself? Why should we fear he might quarrel with some one, if we entrust him with so much liberty? Are we dealing with men, or with children? And children will never become men, but men will become children, if restrained from the use of their own intellectual and moral powers. We may as well think of seeing with another man's eyes, or walking with another man's feet, as to talk of a man's doing his own thinking or believing when restricted to a set of words with the framing of which he had nothing to do, and to which he only gives his assent because he imagines its authors knew more than himself. If such submission be made to God, it is reverential, proper, and elevating, but when made to man, it is servile and debasing. It is because the instincts of nature spurn these thralls that professed creedists so frequently attain to intellectual majority. And these noble exceptions to creedish imbecility are always to be found where the human creed sits light upon the conscience.
But here we are met with another objection; "What any one understands the Bible to teach, he believes, and in this sense of the word it is his creed." This is true in the sense here specified. What any one believes may be called his creed. But should the objector write out what he now believes the Bible teaches, and pledge himself that his faith shall always stand in statu quo-never advance, and never recede-no additional light shall ever be allowed to enhance his faith, or improve his understanding-such a one has really come round to a human authoritative creed and to one, too, which will torpify his soul and hamper his energies equally with those of the most intolerent partisans. If "what any one believes is his creed," let such belief be always open to emendation, when compared with the Scriptures, and we will not object. We all think the Bible teaches something, and that something we all believe. But should that belief be shown to be a great mistake, we do not fly to what we think the Bible teaches to sustain ourselves, but to the Bible itself. The true believer does not feel himself committed to his thoughts about the Bible's teaching, but to the Divine testimony alone. Our faith in the Holy