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vestigation of truth cramps and dwarfs its power: hinders intellectual inquiry; and either compels a sluggish acquiescence in opinions voted Orthodox, or a dissembling of the heart where the mind is unconvinced. Many errors and heresies in theology have sprung from the reaction of strong, earnest, honest, inquiring minds against the restraints of human systems and ecclesiastical bodies which have sought to lord it over conscience. Such minds, struggling to be honest and true, have been harrowed into a hatred of the very name of Orthodoxy, when a little open exercise of freedom, a gentle letting alone in the air and sunlight of God's word, would have brought them to a vital soundness in the faith. But when the soul, seeking after truth, sees before it not theological platforms bristling with pikes and bayonets, not porters' lodges with barking dogs, but the palace of the king with gates wide open, and all heavenly symphonies flowing down—when it comes thus into the very presence chamber of God, this sense of supervision and authority is quickening, elevating, purifying. Then is fulfilled that saying of Luther: “To have prayed well is to have studied well.”
There is little danger of permanent and fatal error in a mind that, whatever its aberrations from human standards, still retains a reverential faith in the Bible as a supernatural and authoritative revelation from God. Augustine speculated none the less as a Christian than as a Platonist; but his theological speculations proceeded from his personal faith and returned to it. “Faith precedes knowledge,” was his motto, but he aimed with Paul to attain to that high point of vision where faith and knowledge are merged into one. Faith grasps the great truths of the Bible in the closed and involuted form."* But as the flower thus taken into the heart expands under the warmth of divine love, its structure, colors, lines of grace, its hidden beauties, its inexhaustible freshness and fragrance incite to continual inspection, and fill the soul with that truth which is life. He who has this treasure, may not be skilled in the terniinology of the botanist; his analysis may be imperfect;
* Bernard, quoted by Prof. Shedd; Introduction to Confessions of Augustine. his classification inaccurate—but while the Word of God is hidden in his heart, and his meditations are of that by day and by night, it is hardly possible that he will err radically in his conceptions of the truth. Communion of soul with God in his Word is the High School of Theology.
This view of the adaptation of the Congregational polity to develop a Biblical theology is illustrated by the theology of New England—the product, mainly, of pastors in the ordinary course of their pulpit ministrations, or under the healthful stimulus of a parish ministry. No theology has ever been produced so free from scholasticism, from conventionalism, from ecclesiastical dogmatism, so completely Biblical in origin, tone, and spirit, as that New England theology which the Congregational Board represents in its publications—a theology, in its essence, Scriptural and, therefore, free: combining a healthy conservatism with intelligent progress in the development and application of truth. Jonathan Edwards conversing with God in the groves of Northampton and among the hills of Stockbridge—the assiduous preacher, the patient missionary; Joseph Bellamy, working contentedly for fifty years in the little parish of Bethlem, often in straits for the means of support; Samuel Hopkins, preaching to “meagre auditories” at Great Barrington, and struggling with poverty and hostility at Newport; John Smalley, described by his pupil Emmons as “a man of strong and clear mind,” who made his quiet study at New Britain a very Geneva of Reformed theology; the second Edwards, pursuing his arduous studies amid the cares and distractions of a divided parish in New Haven; Nathaniel Emmons, in his quiet pastorate at Franklin, making it his practice " to seek after and examine the inore difficult points in di. vinity;" Timothy Dwight, teaching and preaching in the parish of Greenfield, and afterwards working out his system of theology for the pulpit of Yale College : these, and men like these with their works, are the product of the Congregational polity in the sphere of theology. Men of few books, of little travel, they thought out their theology in the daily study of the Word of God; and, as they thought it, they preached it to the plain Christian intelligence of New England. Untrammeled by creeds and systems, unsupported by ceremonial pomp and official dignity, they aimed to speak the truth of God, responsible only to Him and to the minds of their hearers as enlightened and sanctified by his Word. Congregational preachers made New England theologians.
Since such is the genius, and such the fruit of the Congregational polity in the sphere of theology, it is obvious,
1. That any attempt to curtail the investigation of divine truth by the authority of creeds and the jurisdiction of bodies exterior to the local church, is a departure from the good old Congregational way, and
from the spirit of the New England theology. When men professing themselves Christians cannot agree to walk together in their views of vital doctrine, the Congregational polity provides the simplest and most effective way for walking asunder. They drop apart-each to his own pole. The history of Unitarianism in Massachusetts, is an apt illustration. But restrictions upon the study of God's word, whether in the form of compulsory rules of faith or through the odium theologicum of popular clamor, are foreign alike to the spirit of this system and to its historical administration in New England. Hence they who would stamp a variation from their creed with the odium of heresy, cry out for some more stringent system of polity. Theological bigotry recedes from the free air of Congregationalism to some fortress of centralized church power. The affinity of such bigotry for a stringent ecclesiasticism confirms our plea for Congregationalism as the law of liberty.
It is not pure zeal for Orthodoxy that makes this modern cry for a more strait-laced ecclesiasticism in New England. The Calvinism of the early New England fathers was of a higher tone than those who would create or import ecclesiastical bulwarks of Orthodoxy are themselves willing to strike. Yet those high old Calvinists were content to leave their theology to Scripture and Reason under the free polity of Congregationalism, because they were not distrustful of their own theology nor unwilling to exchange it for a better. Believing in “further future light," they would not bar the windows. He who distrusts this good old way argnes a fear not so much of his neighbor's theology as of his own. What his theology lacks in rational and Scriptural evidence he would make up by ecclesiastical authority. “If men would be tender and careful to keep off offensive expressions,” says Hooker, “ they might keep some distance in opinion, in some things, without hazard to truth or love. But when men set up their sheaves, (though it be but in a dream, as Joseph's was,) and fall out with every one that will not fall down and adore them, they will bring much trouble into the world, but little advantage to truth or
. Others there are, who having no knowledge of the good old Congregational way," have come in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage." To such purblind and prejudiced observers, the churches should "give place by subjection, no, not for an hour—that the truth of the gospel may continue with you."
It is no new thing that Congregational freedom should be denounced as fruitful in heresy and mischief. The “ Anatomy of Separatists," published in 1642, dissects “this seditious sect,” as follows: “Ye may know them by their frequent and farfetched sighs ; the continual elevation of their eyes ; their meagre physiognomies, solitary countenances, sharp noses; by the cut of their hair, made even with the top of their prickears; for their hair is as short as their eye-brows, though their consciences be as vast as the ocean.” The following is the quint essence of denunciation : "Their lives are hypocritical; their positions schismatical ; their thoughts perilous ; their words malicious; their acts mischievous, and their opinions impious.” Such were the revilings that priest and presbyter put forth against the Independents of the seventeenth century; adding that “ London was Amsterdamnified with their senseless opinions !"* Amsterdamnified seems even a harder word than Semi-Pelagian.
2. On the other hand, that Congregationalism may be maintained in its unity and power, its ministry must study to bring forth in their preaching a Biblical Theology. For their work of Christian teaching, as good old Shepard said, “There must be that knowledge which may make the man of sin wise unto salvation from the Scriptures. We cannot be without knowledge of tongues and arts in some competency, and study about both.” Our ministry must maintain a sound and Biblical Theology as a means of edifying believers and of convincing or silencing opposers. There are certain tendencies of the times, both in the various communions of Christians and in the outside world, toward the depreciation of a doctrinal theology. Great waves of emotion have rolled over communities and nations, submerging for the time not only ecclesiastical or denominational distinctions, but even old landmarks in theology which former generations had set up with much pains-taking and nicety of measurement. The dykes of Calvinism have yielded before the impetuous fervor of Methodism; the ancient and rigid proprieties of Episcopacy have bent before the impetus of union meetings for prayer and labor. So far as this exciting and absorbing demonstration of religious feeling is spontaneous and natural, it is good as a result and an expression of Christian unity. But it is not itself the fact of Christian unity, nor, perhaps, the best mode of attaining it. The unity of all true believers is strictly normal; it exists by virtue of the union of each with Christ. The expression of that unity is seen in their unanimity of feeling towards Christ as their head, in their mutual affection and esteem because of this personal interest in Christ, and in their harmonious activity for his cause. United prayer and the emotional sympathy of numbers are but modes of expressing and cultivatiug this unity of spirit; but this does not require that we should suppress or lay aside any truth or doctrine we have derived from the Scriptures. A feeling that can be cherished only by stifling our convictions as to what is true, or by contradicting our own judgment in the premises, will neither be lasting nor sincere. Christian union imposes no such condition as that we shall give up thinking for the sake of feeling; nor that we shall agree to think alike in all things before we feel and act together in any thing. The law of Christian union is that “ being rooted and grounded in love,” through our personal union with Christ,
* Sum of Church Discipline, Preface.
+ Hanbury, 2, 164.