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Observer, Dec. 1, 71.
in it, namely, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Our creed placed in human words, is the Divinity and Christhood of Jesus. Underneath this, as its revelation and proof, are the four gospels. If you take the word in its ecclesiastical sense, as meaning a rule of faith and practice
-a standard of truth and right—then the teaching of the apostles of Jesus Christ is our creed, as found in Acts, the Epistles, and the Apocalypse.
Now, rule out the parties above named, and bring together all who profess faith in and obedience to a divine Lord and Saviour, the question is, Is it impossible to reach a common agreement as to what the New Testament teaches in all that is essential to Christian union ? That the prejudices of the past may make it difficult, is admitted; but that it is possible, we surely believe. They are already one in regard to the foundation-truths and facts of the Gospel; in regard also to the infallible standard. In the necessity of faith, repentance and baptism, they are one; also of the Lord's day, the Lord's supper, the church ; and in the main, in regard to Christian piety and morality. Their main trouble will be in ridding themselves of the non-essentials--the things which do not properly belong to Christianity, but have become incorporated with the faith and practice of sects. In that which is essential, they are more nearly one than has ever yet been admitted.
It is still objected, however, that there are many things not provided for in the New Testament which it is neccessary to provide for in some way, and that a creed is necessary for this purpose. We answer, that where there is any thing unprovided for in the New Testament, we have no right to make one view or another, one practice or another, in any sense a term of fellowship. Where Christ has left us free, let us be free; let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind, but let no one judge another. Let us, in expedients, seek after harmony of view and practice, and defer to the judgment of the wise ; but let none be compelled into uniformity. The largest freedom will lead to the greatest unanimity in all such matters.
It will still be objected, after all we have said, that there is something else taught in the New Testament besides faith in Christ and obedience to Him; that there is such a thing as perverting the Gospel of Christ; and that there must be some definite means of detecting false doctrine and false teachers ; that a human creed, therefore, is a necessity.
The premises we admit, but the conclusion is not legitimate. There were perversions of the Gospel in apostolic times ; false teachers did even then arise ; and the apostles warned the churches of greater corruptions in doctrine and practice soon to come ; but, in placing safeguards around the truth and the church, they never made a creed, nor authorized one to be made, other than that which is furnished in the inspired writings. They continually referred to these as “able to make wise unto salvation ;" as “ able to build up” Christians, and “ give them an inheritance among the sanctified;" as "profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
The best way to secure unity in faith and uniformity in practice, so far as unity and uniformity are desirable, is to bring all who profess faith in Christ to the diligent and unprejudiced study of the word of God. Let them "continue steadfastly in the apostles' doctine," and adhere faithfully to “ the form of sound words," and they will “all speak the same things, and be perfectly joined together in one mind and in one judgment.” We say, " so far as unity and uniformity are desirable," because they are only
Observer, Dec. 1, 71
desirable within certain limits. It was not intended that all should receive the same measure of wisdom, or see with the same eyes; nor was it meant to compel all minds to run in the same grooves, or all lips to speak in the same stereotyped language-repeating, parrot-like, the set phrases which it has pleased others to stamp with orthodoxy. In grace, as in nature, every one has individual wants and capacities that are peculiarly his own. The best food for one is not the best food always for another. The stores of revelation have that abundant and various supply that every one may find what his soul most needs; and he should be at liberty to receive it without being forced to live according to the prescription of some system of spiritual dietetics which it may have pleased some doctors of divinity to establish for everybody, simply because it happened to suit them. All the essential truths of salvation can readily be learned from the Scriptures themselves. Where there
no pre-possessions established by previous theological training, there is little difficulty in reaching harmonious conclusions as to all that involves the salvation of the sinner and the character and destiny of the Christian. But, as the truths of Christianity relate to the unseen, the infinite and the eternal, there is much implied or but partially expressed in the Scriptures that is not completely revealed; and we must either cease to think on these portions of revelation, or, thinking, must indulge in thought that is more or less speculative, metaphysical and uncertain. Here is just where diversity may and must be allowed, as there is no method of arriving at satisfactory results but by perfectly free and unembarrassed discussion; otherwise an embargo must be laid on all thought and speech on such questions. There is no danger here, unless such reasonings are employed to subvert faith in Christ, or are insisted on as a bond of fellowship. That there is always danger here, we admit. It is not claimed that the New Testament will infallibly preserve us from apostacy, or that no corruptions will arise where the New Testament is taught. But it is claimed that where these dangers arise, human creeds furnish no remedy, and do more harm than good. For, in the first place, what right has any man or body of men to set up certain dogmatic utterances as an end of controversy ? and, secondly, what capacity have uninspired men to express themselves on high and difficult themes more clearly and satisfactorily than inspired men have been able to do? Take, for instance, the question of the Trinity. There is much in it that is and must be to us incomprehensible and inexpressible, yet much to invite thought and investigation. We have a right to investigate fully the teachings and suggestions of the · Scriptures of truth, and give to others the benefits of all we gather in our investigations; but we have no right to attempt to impose anything on others beyond the plain affirmations and revelations of the Scriptures. What presumption-what madness, on the part of men, to attempt to speak dogmatically on this high and awful theme, beyond what God has spoken! Not the language of the Athanasian Creed as the utterance of free souls
, or as a contribution to theological science, but as a dogmatic utterance by which all souls must be bound, is what we object to ; because it not only does not keep out heresy and silence false teachers, but actually creates heresy and increases sects by the very effort to compel uniformity, human basis, where God has not compelled it. So of the atonement. We have no difficulty in agreeing in the Scriptural statements as to the death of Christ for our sins, or in resting our faith on His sin-offering basis of our acceptance with God. But beyond this there is an immensely wide realm of inquiry as to the philosophy of the atonement. some hints in the Scriptures. There may be interest and profit in seeking
Observer, Dec. 1, '71.
to know the why, and the how. Let every one be free to inquire, but let no one presume to impose his speculations or reasonings on others as a test of Christian brotherhood. For what mind is competent to grasp the philosophy of the atonement-reaching, as it does, into the bosom of the infinite, and involving the principles that underlie the government of the whole moral universe ? Or if any one is vain enough to think that he has unriddled the mystery of ages, in what language shall he convey. his discovery to us, when the language of inspiration itself falters and trembles under the weight of the thought, and fails to give it utterance ! The attempt to force the souls of men into set phrases and compel them to mouth a creed made by men--a creed perhaps absurd, or, at least, imperfect
, and unsatisfactory-has caused, over and over, dissent and revolt, and the formation of new sects. Or take the questions of foreknowledge, predestination, election. Unquestionably the Scriptures deal with these subjects. Doubtless there is profit in them. It does no good to ignore them. But who has ever mastered them? Who has yet untied the Gordian knot and reconciled the freedom of man with the sovereignty and foreknowledge of God?, Let us be free to inquire into all that God has spoken on these themes, and let every one bring in his contribution to the general fund of knowledge. But let us be careful how we attempt to dog. matize when there is so much reason for modesty and humility, and let no one presume to insist that his best thoughts and reasonings shall be forced on others.
There are two troubles when we attempt to formulate our thoughts on such questions in a creed: 1. We discourage growth in knowledge. We are compelled to think according to prescription, and the soul is not free to go where truth leads the way, unless it happen to be the way of the creed. 2. When men do, in spite of this, outgrow the creed, they are constantly embarrassed by a sense of inconsistency, and they appear, in the creed which they have outgrown, in the ridiculous aspect of a strapping youth who has outgrown his child's clothes, yet is compelled to wear them.
Let us insist, then, on the faith and the obedience to which the Gospel calls us.
Beyond this, let there be free range of inquiry on all subjects of which the Bible treats, seeing to it, however, that none is allowed to arise into undue importance, or to usurp the place of faith and obedience. If any man denies either the humanity or divinity of the Lord Jesus, put him to silence. If he denies any of the facts of the Gospel, reject him. If he will not keep the commandments and ordinances, cast him out. Or if he attempts to institute false terms of fellowship, or to force his interpretations upon the consciences of others, expel him as a schismatic. The word of God will authorize us to deal with all such, without the help of a human creed.
THE LOADSTONE OF TRUTH. “That it is desirable that some effort be made to attract to New Testament ground, more than has hitherto been done, men of education and culture.”
If the above resolution, which was adopted at the last Annual Meeting of Christians held in Huddersfield, comprises the desirability of making further efforts to attract men of education and culture, whether professors of Christianity or not, to the whole “Faith once delivered to the saints ;" if, in other words, it implies that the efforts hitherto made in contending earnestly for that faith have remarkably failed to reach men of this class, then, surely, the sooner the question is seriously and practically considered the better.
At the time of its discussion this appeared to be the meaning attached to the resolution, certainly not that which some have inferred, viz., that the New Testament ground be made to appear more attractive than it really is, in order unwarily to draw to it educated and cultivated men.
The fact will scarcely be denied that, as a body of Christians standing on the principles of the New Testament alone, and pleading for a return to primitive Christianity, the churches of the restoration are comparatively unknown beyond the one stratum of society to which their members almost entirely belong-a class which does not, as a rule, include men of education and culture in the ordinary acceptation of the term. Educated and cultured men there are, undoubtedly, in the body; but they are almost entirely the veterans of the cause, not the fruits of efforts such as are now generally made by the Churches to spread the truth.
It is, to say the least, remarkable, that men of this class seem to be almost wholly outside the pale of any efforts hitherto generally put forth by the Churches, either in proclaiming the Gospel, or practically illustrating, by the meetings for worship, the primitive Church order. The presence of such men on such occasions is exceedingly rare.
What is the cause of this ? is a question that will arise in the thoughtful mind, and ought to be answered.
Are the unadulterated truths of the New Testament unadapted for educated minds? Or, are the efforts made to present and prove them not adapted to reach and convince such? The former it cannot be. If the latter, then it is manifestly not desirable only, but a duty to God and the world, to make special efforts to bring these truths to bear on men of education and culture.
They are equally fellow sinners, with souls to be saved or lost-equally comprised in the “all men to whom the faithful are commanded to do good. And so long as either the one class or the other is overlooked, through the neglect of any proper means of bringing the truth fairly and forcibly before it, the duty of making known the glad tidings of redeeming love and contending for the faith is only partially fulfilled.
Then the peculiar reason that an additional power for good in the great work of the Church would be gained by the addition of men of—if not greater zeal-greater intellectual ability to present the truth and meet the attacks of its many and subtle enemies, ought to have some force, considering the thousands of perishing souls around, and the vastness of the work to be accomplished.
The examples of the Saviour and His apostles urge also to these efforts. The
poor have the gospel preached unto them,” said our Lord on one occasion. Glorious truth! and especially at the time when it was uttered -When the poor were despised and neglected by all, but, still more glorious truth, not to the poor only, but to all. "Preach the Gospel to bvery creature.'
See that great Friend of publicans and sinners spending the silent hours of the night in patiently instructing the Pharisee Nicodemus in the things concerning the kingdom. He never turned away from Pharisee or publican, as such, for in His sight they occupied the common ground of sinners, needing salvation. Look at the apostles, those " babes” to whom, rather than to the wise and prudent, the hidden things of the kingdom of God were revealed. No longer babes, when equipt for their great work, but endowed with an extraordinary power of intellect direct from heaven, they go forth to all classes, preaching one gospel, but in language
Observer, Dec. 1,,'71.
and with reasoning suitable to the class of hearers. Follow Peter, from the multitude, on Pentecost to the house of the centurion Cornelius ; Philip, from preaching to the Samaritans, into the desert with the eunuch high in authority; and Paul in his journeyings preaching Christ everywhere, in every city, in the synagogues of the Jews, reasoning from the Scriptures, and on Mars Hill, among the most highly cultivated men of his day, quoting their own poets, meeting them on their own ground, and it must be admitted that they aimed to become all things to all men in order that they might save some.
With these reasons in view, surely this question will not be suffered to pass away without careful examination. The Saviour's love, the plan of salvation, the order of the Lord's house, as set forth in the New Testament, do possess attractions to the unfettered mind—in their safety, in their simplicity, and in their adaptedness to the needs of man; and it is the duty, and should be the pleasure, of the saints to hold up those attractions before the world in all their beauty, in order to draw men thereto.
How, then, can they most efficiently be brought to bear on men of education and culture, as well as, not insteud of, the comparatively uneducated, with the view of drawing them also to Christ and to the more perfect way of the Lord. How can they be reached and convinced in addition to, not in preference to, those who already can be, and are, reached.
These are questions that need practically dealing with by all whose joy and desire is to see the Saviour's kingdom extended and the cause of primitive Christianity promoted.
Although not by any means covering the whole ground, yet is the work of public proclamation of the Gospel and teaching in the Church closely connected with this question, as means to the end, and it is hoped a little plain speaking on the subject will not be amiss.
Very clear theories on these matters are held generally, but will not the general practice warrant the assertion, that there has been, to a great extent, a rebound from the unscriptural, one man preacher and teacher, to the equally unscriptural, all men preachers and teachers. Is it not the rule, that practically the platform is open to any brother with sufficient self confidence to take it, if he can
occupy the time; that " petency” is virtually lost sight of, and each brother encouraged to believe it his “duty” to “exercise his talents in this direction, the result being, that, more often than not, the speakiug and preaching, however well intended, have been such as to drive away in disgust any man of education and culture who may have come to listen-disgust, not at the too simple truth, but at the false position of the preacher or speaker ; and then, when the right man is in the right place, his efforts are cramped in consequence of the prejudice raised by the former,
Is it not desirable, nay, necessary, that pastors of churches should exercise more strict oversight in this respect; that young brethren, desirous of being useful in these duties, should be urged, encouraged, and, if needful, aided to fit themselves for the work by education and training, adding sound knowledge to their zeal, so that, whether in the church meetings, or proclaiming the Gospel, they might be able to speak without offending the ear or the head of either the educated or the uneducated, and with some hope of convincing by sound reasoning.
The importance of having the best possible teaching in the Church is too much neglected. It is a mere begging the question, to say that " do not come to hear sermons or fine discourses.” Granted, we do not come for that alone, or chiefly, but is it not a part of the divine whole for