AMERICAN LUTHERANISM VINDICATED; OR, EXAMINATION OF THE LUTHERAN SYMBOLS, on CERTAIN DISPUTED TOPICS: INCLUDING A REPLY TO THE PLEA OF Rev. W. J. MANN. BY S. S. SCHMUCKER, D. D., Professor of Christian Theology in the Theological Seminary of General Synod at Gettysburg, Pa.
Earnestly contend for the faith, once delivered to the saints. JUDE 3.
BALTIMORE: PUBLISHED BY T. NEWTON KURTZ, No. 151 WEST PRATT STREET. 1856
Entered according to act of Congress in the year 1856, BY S. S. SCHMUCKER, IN THE CLERK'S OF THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES, FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA. STEREOTYPED BY GEORGE CHARLES, NO. 9 SANSOM ST., PHILA. PRINTED BY C. SHERMAN & SON.
TO THE READER. The design of the following treatise, and the occasion which elicited it, are indicated both on the title page and in the introduction of the work itself. Its primary object is not to discuss the obligation of Synods to adopt the doctrinal basis of the Platform. What we felt it a duty to the church to publish on that subject, we have presented in the Lutheran Observer. But the pamphlet of the Rev. Mann, entitled Plea for the Augsburg Confession, having called in question the accuracy of some of the interpretations of that Confession contained in the Definite Synodical Platform, and affirmed the Scriptural truth of some of the tenets there dissented from; it becomes a question of interest among us as Lutherans, which representation is correct. For the points disputed are those, on the ground of which the constitutions of the General Synod and of her Seminary avow only a qualified assent to the Augsburg Confession. In hope of contributing to the prevalence of truth, and the interests of that kingdom of God which is based on it, the writer has carefully re-examined the original documents, and herewith submits the results to the friends of the General Synod and her basis. Since these results as to the question, what do the symbols actually teach? are deduced impartially, as must be admitted, from the original symbolical books themselves, as illustrated by the writings of Luther, Melancthon, and of the other Reformers of the same date; those who approve of those books should so far sustain our work: and those who reject these tenets, that is, the New School portion of the church, will not object to seeing a vindication of the reason why they and the General Synod avow only a qualified assent even to the Augsburg Confession, namely, because these errors are there taught.
The topics here discussed, are all such as are left free to individual judgment, both by the Constitution of the General Synod, and that of her Theological Seminary. Both explicitly bind to the Augsburg Confession, only so far as the fundamental doctrines, not of that confession, but of the Scriptures are concerned. A fundamental doctrine of Scripture is one that, is regarded by the great body of evangelical Christians as essential to salvation, or essential to the system of Christianity; so that he who rejects it cannot be saved, neither be regarded as a believer in the system of Christian doctrine. The doctrinal peculiarities of no denomination, though often highly important, can therefore be regarded as fundamental, without unchurching all other denominations and consigning them to perdition. The topics here discussed are, 1. Ceremonies of the Mass. 2. Private Confession and Absolution. 3. The Divine institution of the Christian Sabbath. 4. Nature of Sacramental Influence. 5. Baptismal Regeneration. 6. The nature of the Saviour's presence in the Lord's Supper; and, 7. Exorcism. Now, not one of these is found in the list of fundamentals published by the Synod of Maryland, and by the great Evangelical Alliance of all the prominent Christian denominations assembled in London in 1846, consisting of more than a thousand ministers of Christ, delegated from nearly all parts of Europe and America. That list is found in the Lutheran Manual, and is the following:—
"1. The Divine inspiration, authority and sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures. 2. The right and duty of private judgment in the interpretation of the Scriptures. 3. The unity of the Godhead, and the Trinity of persons therein. 4. The utter depravity of human nature in consequence of the fall. 5. The incarnation of the Son of God, his work of atonement for sinners of mankind, and his mediatorial intercession and reign. 6. The justification of the sinner by faith alone. 7. The work of the Holy Spirit in the conversion and sanctification of the sinner. 8. The Divine institution of Christian ministry, and the obligation and perpetuity of Baptism and the Lord's Supper; and 9. The immortality of the soul and the judgment of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, with the eternal blessedness of the righteous and the eternal punishment of the wicked." Not one of these are here discussed.
As to the doctrines taught in this little volume, they are the same inculcated in our Popular Theology twenty-one years ago, and in our different works published since that time. And here it seems proper to avail ourselves of this public opportunity to correct an error committed by our esteemed friend, Dr. Schaff, of Mercersburg, in his recent work on the American churches, in which he represents us as denying the reality, as well as the guilt of natural depravity. This is entirely a mistake. The reality of Natural Depravity is a doctrine so clearly taught in God's word, as well as by the history of the human race, that we have never even been tempted to doubt it. In the eighth edition of the Popular Theology, (p. 144,) which has recently left the press, our views on this subject are thus summed up:— "The Augsburg Confession seems to combine, both these views, (i.e. both absence of holiness and predisposition to sin,) and the great body of Lutheran divines has regarded natural, or original, or innate depravity, as that disorder in the mental and bodily constitution of man, which was introduced by the fall of Adam, is transmitted by natural generation from parent to child, and the result of which is, that all men who are naturally engendered, evince in their action want of holiness and a predisposition to sin. Without the admission of such a disorder in the human system, no satisfactory reason can be assigned for the universality of actual transgression amongst men." "Our own views on this disputed subject, maybe summed up in the following features: 1. All mankind, in consequence of their descent from fallen Adam, are born with a depraved nature, that is, their bodily and mental system is so disordered, as in result of its operation to evince a predisposition to sin. 2. This natural depravity disqualifies its subjects for heaven. Because the action of depraved (disordered) faculties and powers, would not, even in heaven itself, be conformed to the divine law, and could not be acceptable to God In our natural state, moreover, we have not the qualifications requisite for the enjoyment of heaven, having no spiritual appetites. But we cannot suppose that God would condemn us to positive and eternal misery merely on account of this depraved (disordered) nature; for we are in no sense the authors or causes of it; and a just God will not punish his creatures for acts which they did not perform;" (p. 147.) It is evident, therefore, that we do maintain the reality of natural depravity inherited from our first parents, but deny the imputation of it to us as personal guilt. This correction, we doubt not, Dr. Schaff will make in the future editions of his work. Nor are we more chargeable with even the remotest tendency to rationalism, than the great mass of American and English theologians, including such men as Drs. Dwight, Mason, Woods and Alexander, who all distinguish things above reason from those contrary to it, and whilst they deny that revelation teaches any doctrine of the latter class, admit and believe a number of its doctrines, such as the Trinity, Incarnation, &c., to be above the comprehension of human reason. With them, moreover, we maintain, that in doctrines which lie within the grasp of human reason, it is proper and a duty to expect and to inculcate a harmony between the teachings of revelation and the dictates of reason, thus to exhibit and confirm the intrinsic moral fitness and glory of those truths of revelation. And it is these and similar things which a certain class of German theologians of late are wont to style rationalizing tendencies.
As to the necessity of this work; two little volumes have appeared, assailing some of the positions of the Definite Platform, and none in vindication of them. The New School must therefore receive credit for moderation. Those volumes were hailed with exultation by the four or five Old-School papers of our church, and all of them, even the Missionary, invite the continuance of the discussion in pamphlet form. Those publications did not agitate the church, neither will this. That man must be ignorant of human nature, who does not perceive a vast difference between a controversy conducted in the newspapers of the church, and one confined to independent pamphlets or volumes. In the former case, the dispute is forced upon all who see the paper, and reaches fifty times as many persons, amongst whom may be many who, from prejudice, or want of sufficient intelligence, do not appreciate the importance of the discussion; in the latter, it reaches only those who desire to see it, and feel sufficient interest to purchase the volume. Yet the Definite Platform, be it remembered, was not the cause but the result of Symbolic agitation, continual, progressive, and aggressive, in the several Old-School papers and periodicals, for eight or ten years past. As it evinced a spirit of resistance, they of course pounced down upon it, and labored hard for its destruction. But their continued discussion has brought to light such high-toned and intolerant grounds of opposition, that the church generally, we doubt not, will settle down, in a just appreciation of the case.
The course pursued by the ministers of the General Synod, has always been a liberal one. They have freely expressed their sentiments on these disputed topics, and cheerfully conceded to others the same liberty. This principle pervades the Constitution of the General Synod and of her Seminary. Even within the last few weeks, the Directors of the Seminary have listened to a vindication of the entire symbolic system, in the Inaugural of their German Theological Professor, and resolved to publish it, although it advocates some views rejected by the majority of the Board, and by the other members of the Faculty. After such a specimen of liberality, we may well hope that the propriety of any of the other Professors advocating the doctrines, which have from the beginning been taught in the institution, will be conceded by all.
For the information of those foreign brethren who have recently taken part in our ministry, we deem it just to remark, that the term American was employed in reference to our church, many years before the existence of the political party now designated by this name, and is used by us, not in distinction from those born in foreign lands, but to designate those peculiarities of doctrine, discipline, and worship, which characterize the great mass of the churches of the General Synod, as the terms Danish Lutheran, or Swedish Lutheran, and German Lutheran, indicate the peculiarities of our church in those countries. Some of our best American Lutherans are natives of foreign lands.
In conclusion, we repeat the assurance, that it has been with deep regret that we have felt compelled, in defence of American, that is, New School Lutheranism, to exhibit what we regard the errors of the former symbols. But as the existence of these errors has of late years been perseveringly denied, and New School Lutherans have been incessantly reproached for not yielding an unqualified assent, to these books, necessity was laid on us; and the evil of the controversy, if any, lies at the door of the aggressors.
Praying that our Divine Master may bless this little volume to the advancement of his glory and the welfare of his church, we submit it to the friends of truth.
S. S. SCHMUCKER. Gettysburg, April 23d, 1856.
CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.....13 Religious Controversy. Plea of Rev. Mann. Apostolic Church. Authority of Creeds. Apostles' Creed. Augsburg Confession-altered by Melancthon.
CHAPTER II. REPLY TO THE GENERAL OBSERVATIONS OF THE PLEA.....24 Augsburg Confession the only universal symbol of the Lutheran Church. Definite Platform liberal. The Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Methodists, altered their European Creeds in this country. Creeds subordinate, to Scripture. Progressive light of Scripture. Human creeds fallible. Drs. Lochman, Endress, F. C. Schaeffer, Hazelius, Bachman, &c. Origin of the Definite Synodical Platform. Dr. Kocher on Creeds.
CHAPTER III. DISADVANTAGES UNDER WHICH THE AUGSBURG CONFESSION WAS PREPARED.....47 Diet of Augsburg. Alarm of Melancthon-his complaints to Luther-his letters to Camerarius, remarkable letter to Campegius. Luther checks Melancthon's Concessions.
CHAPTER IV. POSITIONS OF THE DEFINITE SYNODICAL PLATFORM ESTABLISHED.....57 The Reformers progressive. Rigid Symbolic System rejected in Germany. Reinhard, Knapp, Storr, Olshausen, Tholuk, Hengstenberg, &c. Analysis of the American Recension of the Augsburg Confession, it is almost the entire Augsburg Confession.
CHAPTER V. SYNODICAL DISCLAIMER.....63 Luther on the Elevation of the Host. Ceremonies of the Mass. Drs. Murdock, Fuhrman. Import of the term Mass among Romanists, and amongst the Reformers whilst in the Romish Church. Testimony of Luther in his Treatise on the Mass, in his letters to Spangler, to Duke George, in the Short Confession, letter to Justus Jonas, &c. Testimony of Melancthon, in his letter to Luther during the Diet. Testimony of other Reformers, Aurifaber, Spalatin. Testimony of the Romish Refutation of the Augsburg Confession. Internal evidence from the Augsburg Confession itself. Separate captions and articles for Mass and the Lord's Supper. The two kept distinct in Melancthon's translation; if you exchange the words the articles make nonsense. The Romanists understood the Confession to mean mass proper. Melancthon in the Apology to the Confession so understands it. Refutation of the proofs. Reference to the author's former works, the Popular Theology, the History of the American Lutheran Church.
CHAPTER VI. PRIVATE CONFESISONAND ABSOLUTION.....97 Import of the phrase. Dr. Funck's early Lutheran Directories for Worship. Formularies for private Confession and Absolution, Luther's, that of Wolfgang, &c., in 1557. Proof that this rite is inculcated in the Augsburg Confession. Siegel, Prof. Jacobsen. Augsburg Confession admits the want of Scripture authority for it. God alone can forgive sin.
CHAPTER VII. DENIAL OF THE DIVINE INSTITUTION AND OBLIGATION OF THE CHRISTIAN SABBATH.....107 Proofs of the Charge, Drs. Rucker, Hengstenberg, Walter, Murdock. Ground taken by the Plea. The same opinion taught by Luther in his Commentary, Larger Catechism, &c., and by Melancthon, in Loci Communes, or system of Divinity, &c., in Augsburg Confession, and in his Apology to it.
CHAPTER VIII. GENERAL NATURE OF THE SACRAMENTAL INFLUENCE.....121 Doctrine of the Plea-not fully developed. Scriptural view of Sacramental Influence. Man a sinner by nature and practice, Divine truth the grand instrumentality of the Spirit in our spiritual renovation. The stage of progress in this renovation, morally requisite for pardon, is that of living faith, or entire surrender to God. Evidence of this pardon or justification, is internal; peace, love, joy, testimony of the Spirit, fruits of the Spirit, and not any outward rite-Sacraments therefore only mediate and not immediate conditions of pardon-proofs, Mosheim, Reinhard, Knapp.
CHAPTER IX. BAPTISMAL REGENERATION.....135 Is taught in Symbolical books and by the Reformers and early Theologians, Hunnius, Gerhard, Buddeus. Influence of this doctrine on the pulpit-proofs against it.
CHAPTER X. THE LORD'S SUPPER.....148 Extracts from the Symbols. Arguments. Supposed Sin-forgiving Power of the Eucharist.
CHAPTER XI.....155 EXORCISM. Altered interpretation of this rite. Proofs that it was regarded as symbolic and was practised in different parts of the Lutheran Church. Testimony of Drs. Guericke, Koellner, Baumgarten-Crusius, Augusti, Siegel, Sigismund, Baumgarten. At some periods regarded as a test of orthodoxy.
CHAPTER XII. CONCLUDING REMARKS.....161 What is our duty under these circumstances? Erroneous reasonings of the rigid Lutherans. Four different remedies considered—the true one.
EXAMINATION OF THE LUTHERAN SYMBOLS. CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.
Religious controversy, though it often degenerates from that calm and dignified character, which it should ever sustain as a mutual search after truth, seems sometimes to be necessary and proper. It springs out of the nature of that moral evidence, never amounting to demonstration, by which religious doctrines are sustained, and from the fact, that whilst the word of God reveals what is necessary to salvation with entire distinctness, it leaves undecided, or to be deduced from clearer passages of Scripture, many points which are both interesting and important, as well as naturally sought for by the constitutional, systematizing tendencies of the human mind. Discussions on such topics of practical utility, are alike pleasing to God and beneficial to the church, if conducted in a Christian spirit, and if the parties have truth and not victory for their aim. Truth is the will of God, exhibited in the diversified creations of his hand, either physical, intellectual, or moral, and the revelations of his word, correctly apprehended by the human mind. Since truth, therefore, is of God, it need fear no investigation. The divinity that is in it, will secure its ultimate triumph. Though it may for a season be obscured, or crushed to earth by passion, prejudice, or irresponsible authority, it will sooner or later assert its rights, and secure the homage of all upright minds. No friend of truth should dread impartial investigation. If he has unconsciously imbibed erroneous opinions, he will thus be conducted to the truth; and if his views are correct, they will be confirmed by investigation. "Eternal vigilance has been styled the price of civil 'liberty;'" and to "search the Scriptures daily," to "prove all things and hold fast that which is good," is the grand safeguard of religious truth and ecclesiastical purity. No new enterprise of Christian benevolence has ever been achieved, no reformation of established institutions or doctrines ever been accomplished in the church of Christ, without discussion and controversy either oral or written; because error when assailed by the truth, will always make more or less resistance. The life of the greatest moral hero of the sixteenth century, to whom Christianity is so hugely indebted, was almost entirely expended in controversial efforts; and even the mild and peace-loving Melancthon, though he advised his aged mother not to trouble herself about religious controversies, himself felt it his duty to devote much of his time, his learning, and his talents to the vindication of the truth against its enemies. [Note 1] We are commanded "earnestly to contend for the faith once, delivered to the saints," and by inference for those regulations, which tend to secure that faith. We are taught to pray for the unity of the disciples of Christ, "that they may be one as He and the Father are one," and consequently to oppose such regulations as tend to sever the bonds of union among God's people, and cause divisions in the household of Christ. Such means for defending the faith, are creeds which inculcate only those doctrines clearly taught in Scripture; such hindrances to union and apples of discord, are creeds embracing many minor points, not clearly decided in Scripture, on which true Christians differ, and which are not necessary for cordial co-operation among the children of God.
Within the last few months, a discussion on creeds has occupied the religious papers of our church in this country, the specific subjects of which were the merits of the "Definite Synodical Platform" recently adopted by several of our Western Synods, and the import and scriptural truth of some portions of that venerable document, the Augsburg Confession. In these discussions we took part, in a series of articles over the initials of our name, in the Lutheran Observer, in vindication of the Definite Platform, which we hold to be a faithful and definite exhibition of the import of the generic doctrinal pledge of the General Synod. That pledge includes, in connection with absolute assent to the Word of God, as the only infallible rule of faith and practice, the belief "that the fundamental doctrines of Scripture are taught in a manner substantially correct in the doctrinal articles of the Augsburg Confession:" and the Platform is an unaltered copy of these articles of that confession, only omitting those parts, which we know by long acquaintance with American Lutherans, to be generally regarded by them not only as nonfundamental, but erroneous. The Definite Platform, therefore, retains even more of the Augsburg Confession than the General Synod's pledge requires; for it contains some specifications of the Augsburg Confession, which though true, are not fundamental. The Platform is, therefore, more symbolic than the General Synod's doctrinal basis, though the contrary opinion has repeatedly been expressed, by those who have not carefully examined. Had both parties in this discussion exhibited more christian comity, and abstained from personalities, levelling their logical artillery against opinions instead of the persons entertaining them; the effect upon the church would, we think, have been favorable, and unity of sentiment might have been promoted. That a different impression has been made on many minds is, doubtless, owing to the human infirmity and passion that mingled in the contest. Which party exhibited the largest amount of this weakness, we will not undertake to decide, although we doubt not, that here as in most other cases, the judgment of the Leyden cobbler would be found correct, who was in the habit of attending the public Latin disputations of the university, and when asked whether he understood Latin, replied, "No, but I know who is wrong in the argument, by seeing who gets angry first." Nevertheless, christian truth has often been defended in a very unchristian way, and doubtless more depends on the natural temper and the manners of the disputants, as well as the extent to which divine grace enables them to subdue their passions. The disposition occasionally evinced, to frown down discussion by invective and denunciation, is not only illogical, as it proves neither the affirmative nor negative of the disputed question; but in this free country, where we acknowledge no popes, and in the judgment of free Americans, who think for themselves, it must always reflect unfavorably on its authors.
The same topic, so closely connected with the prosperity of our beloved church, is to engage our attention on the present occasion, in reply to an interesting, christian, and gentlemanly pamphlet, from the pen of the Rev. Mr. Mann, of Philadelphia, who controverts some of the positions of the Definite Synodical Platform. It shall be my earnest effort to write in the same christian manner, and my prayer is that the Spirit of our Divine Master may direct my pen, that it may record "No line, which dying, I could wish to blot."
In order that our readers may follow, with advantage, the reasonings of this treatise, it is necessary that we should conduct them to the proper stand-point, from which the interesting and important subject before us should be examined. The same object, viewed from different positions, often presents a very different appearance; but contemplated from the same point of observation, by impartial observers of sound vision, it will, by the laws of our organization, appear the same to all. The questions before us relate to the meaning of certain documents, which were adopted some centuries ago in a foreign land and foreign tongue, as a creed or test of membership in the church. A very brief glance at this church, the authority of human creeds, and the circumstances under which this one was published, will prepare us for the more satisfactory solution of the points in question.
The most important visible organization of the human family, is undoubtedly the church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The political institutions of the world, such as republics, kingdoms and empires, are instituted to administer the temporal affairs of men; but the church of the divine Redeemer involves the never-dying interest of immortal souls. The former are established and conducted by the ordinary powers of men; the latter is heaven descended, and was founded by the incarnate Son of God, and his inspired Apostles. The former are sustained, as far as defensible, by the ordinary evidences of human wisdom, manifest in their adaptation to secure our material interests; the divinity of the latter is established by the most stupendous miracles of Jesus and his Apostles, as well as by internal evidence of superhuman wisdom, goodness and knowledge, seen alike in the institutions it embraces and the truths it inculcates.
These inspired Apostles left a written record of this divine institution, of the church with its ordinances, as well as of the doctrines and duties to be inculcated by its teachers. They also pronounce this record to be complete, and threaten to blot out from the book of life, the names of those who add to or subtract from it. Hence it is evident, that the church of this record is not as Romanists and Puseyites imagine, a mere seminal principle or germ, to which equally binding additions may be made by the church of every generation; but on the contrary, that the church of the New Testament is the church in its most perfect and faultless form, is the model church for all ages, which in its development and adaptation to different countries and generations, must ever remain faithful to its primitive and inspired lineaments. This church, whilst administered by inspired men during the first century, must also have been more pure, than in its subsequent periods, when placed under uninspired and fallible teachers, and in corrupting contact with Pagan philosophy, as well as in debasing union with civil governments.
Now, in this apostolic age, this golden era of the church, we hear of no other creed than the word of God itself, which was regarded as sufficient. And certainly, if as Romanists, after the report of Rufinus, believed the Apostles had either written or employed this creed, the piety of that age would have enrolled it in the Scripture canon, and the early church have guarded it with special care. But there is not a word in the Old or New Testament authorizing or commanding the church of any future age to frame a creed in addition to the Bible, as a rule for admission into the church, or exclusion from it. The only scriptural ground for such a creed is inferential. We are instructed "earnestly to contend for the faith (doctrines) once delivered to the saints," and "not to bid God speed," to him who preaches another Gospel, or denies that Jesus is the Christ. In order to obey these injunctions we must demand, of applicants for church membership or ordination, their views of the prominent doctrines of the Bible, and judge whether they accord with ours. Or we may state to them our views of these topics, and require their assent. In either case, we have a creed, and for obvious reasons it is preferable for us to prepare a carefully written statement of Bible truth, so that it may be known, examined and improved by renewed comparison with God's word. On the other hand, the Apostle commands us to "receive into our community the brother (him whom we regard as a true disciple of Christ,) who is weak in the faith, (imperfect in some of his views of the truth) but not for doubtful disputations;" not for the purpose of disputing with him on doubtful points. Moreover, the primitive disciples, of contiguous residence, were all united into one church by the Apostles, and the Savior enjoins it on all his disciples to love one another, to "be one, as He and his Father are one." Therefore, it was then sinful to divide and separate true Christians from one another, and must be so at present, as a general rule. Now, as human creeds, when extended so as to embrace minor doctrines, on which good men differ, necessarily do divide, them, such creeds are inconsistent with the precepts of Christ. The result of these two principles, the duty to exclude fundamental errorists on the one hand, and the command not to separate, but to unite the true disciples of Christ on the other, by reciprocal limitation, affords us the rule, to employ a human creed specifying the cardinal truths of the Scriptures, but not to include in it minor doctrines, which would divide the great mass of true disciples of Christ; nor to introduce more specifications of government or modes of worship, than are necessary to enable enlightened Christians to walk harmoniously together.
Accordingly, we find that such was the character of the earliest uninspired creed of the church, the only one that was extensively employed in the admission and exclusion of members during the first three centuries of her history. We allude, of course to the Apostles' creed, so called, not because the Apostles were at first supposed to have written it, but because, it confessedly contained doctrines promulged by the Apostles. This creed, which was for along time circulated orally among the churches, embraces only fundamental doctrines, forms less than half a page in the Definite Synodical Platform, and is believed by all evangelical denominations at the present time. Here then we have the christian church in her golden age of greatest purity, the first three centuries, relying on the word of God alone, with only this brief human creed.
In the fourth century, (A. D. 325,) the Council of Nice adopted a creed, which is but a paraphrase of the above, following the order of its subjects, and adding various specifications to repel heresies which had arisen. Yet even this does not amount to one page in the Definite Platform. Near the close of the fifth, or perhaps in the sixth century, the so-called Athanasian Creed was adopted, which would form less than three pages of the Platform. During the subsequent, centuries of Romish corruption, different councils made various enactments for the church, but they generally related to the multitudinous rites and ceremonies introduced into the popish worship, or to the functions, rights and privileges of the pope, the different ranks of priests, bishops, arch-bishops and the inferior officers; and in the progress of time, men were allowed to adopt almost any error, provided they paid their dues to the priests, and performed the superstitious ceremonies of the church.
In the age of the Reformation, Luther had obligated himself to the entire Romish system, yea, had at the receipt of his Doctorate, taken an oath to obey the Church of Rome, and not to teach any doctrines condemned by her [Note 2] But having been enlightened by the study of the Bible, which providentially fell into his hands, he saw his errors, and wisely judging that an oath to do any criminal deed ceases to be obligatory after the sinfulness of the contemplated act is seen, he renounced those errors one after another, as fast as the light of truth illumined his mind. This work he commenced in 1517, and continued from year to year till near the close of his life. In 1530, eleven years after, he began the work of reform, and sixteen before his death, he approved the Augsburg confession, as drawn up by Melancthon, although he told him in a letter during the diet, that he had yielded too much to the papists, as will be seen in the sequel. But Luther never signed any confession of faith; nor was a pledge to the Augsburg confession or to any other symbol required of the ministers of the church during his lifetime; although the Augsburg confession was regarded as the exponent of the prevalent views of the Protestant churches in Germany. It was not until a quarter of a century after Luther had left the church militant, and not until the Lutheran church had been established in Germany for full half a century, that the so-called symbolic system was regularly and generally introduced by the civil authorities of the major portion of Protestant Germany. Now it is in regard to the import of this Confession of Augsburg, published before the middle of Luther's labors as a reformer, that some differences of opinion have been entertained. To ascertain the true sense of such passages according to the most impartial and just principle of exegesis, is one principal object of our investigations in the following pages.
It has often been affirmed by some, who have not examined the history of that eventful diet with particular care, that the Augsburg Confession was prepared under the most favorable circumstances for an impartial and full exhibition of all the views of the confessors, both of positive truth and papal errors. The contrary was, however, the case, as will be distinctly shown in the sequel. But we will first reply to the _General Observations_ of the Plea of our esteemed brother, the _Rev. Mr. Mann_. Let it be remembered, however, that whatever may be the import of this and other creeds, they have all been formed since the age of inspiration, they are all uninspired and therefore fallible. Hence, it is equally the duty of the church, in every generation, to test her existing creed by the word of God, and to correct and improve it, if found unscriptural in any of its teachings, or if experience has taught that it is too brief or too extended, successfully to accomplish the legitimate purposes of such documents. The idea of the infallibility of any human creed, or even its semi-inspiration, is philosophically unreasonable, and either a remnant of Romish superstition, or an amiable weakness of judgment. Melancthon himself did not regard his Confession as perfect, for he made sundry alterations in it in his successive editions. And even at Augsburg, after the confession had been sent to Luther, at Coburg, and returned with his approbation on the 16th of May, Melancthon, in a letter to him, dated six days later, (May 22,) employs the following language: "In the Apology, (which was the name first intended for the Augsburg Confession,) I daily make _many changes_. The section concerning '_Vows_,' which was too meagre, I have stricken out, and have treated the subject more fully. I am now doing the name with the section concerning '_The Keys_.' I wish you could have reviewed the doctrinal articles," (namely, as now amended,) "and then, if you found nothing defective in them, I would discuss the remaining articles as well as may be. _For, in Articles of faith, some change must be made, from time to time, and they must be adapted to the occasions." [Note 3] Here is anything else than the idea of the immaculate and unalterable nature of the Augsburg Confession for all after times.
Note 1. In 1529, whilst Melancthon was attending the Conferences at Spire, this great and good man made a little excursion to Bretton, to visit his mother. During their interview, she asked him what she should believe amid so many disputes, and repeated to him her prayers, which were free from superstition. "Go on, mother," said he, "to believe and to pray as you have done, and never trouble yourself about religious controversies."
Note 2. As this oath is a literary curiosity, we subjoin it, in the original, for the gratification of our learned readers: Ego juro Domino Decano et Magistris Facultatis Theologiae obedientiam et reverentiam debitam, et in quocunque statu utilitatem universitatis, et maxime Facultatis Theologicae, pro virili mea procurabo, et omnes actus theologicos exercebo in mitra, (nisi fuerit religiosus) vanas, peregrinas doctrinas, ab ecclesia damnatas, et piarum aurium offensivas non dogmatisabo, sed dogmatisantem Dn. Decano denunciabo intra octendium, et manutenebo consuetudines, libertates et privilegia Theologicae Facultatis pro virili mea, ut me Deus adjuvet, et Sanctorum evangeliorum conditores. Juro etiam Romanae ecclesiae obedientiam, et procurabo pacem inter Magistros et Scholasticos seculares et religiosos, et biretum in nullo alio gymnasio recipiam." Lib. Statutorum facultatis theol. Academiae Wittemberg. Cap. 7.
Note 3. An der Apologie (Confession) aendere ich taeglich Vieles. Den Abschnitt von den Geluebden, der zu mager war, habe ich gestrichen und den Gegenstand ausfuehrlicher abgehandelt. Eben so verfahre ich jetzo mit dem Abschnitt von "den Schluesseln." Ich wuenschte, du haettest die "Glaubensartikel" ueberblickt, wo ich dann, wenn du nichts fehlerhaftes darin gefunden, das uebrige, so gut es gehen will, abhandeln werde. Denn es musz zum oeftern an den Glaubensartikeln abgeaendert werden, und man musz sie den Gelegenheiten anbequemen. In the Latin: Vellem percurisses articulos fidei, in quibus si nihil putaveris esse vitii, reliqua utcunque tractabimus. "Subinde enim, mutandi stint atque ad occasiones accommodandi." Christian Niemeyer's Philip Melancthon, im Jahre der Augsburgischen Confession, pp. 13, 14.
CHAPTER II. REPLY TO THE GENERAL OBSERVATIONS OF THE PLEA.
In replying to the general observations, which constitute the introduction of the Plea, we shall pursue the order of their occurrence.
"We shall, in this short tract," says the author, "not speak of the objections, which in the Definite Platform are set forth against some errors, contained in some other symbolical books of the Lutheran Church, but we shall confine ourselves exclusively to the errors pointed out in the Augsburg Confession, the work of Luther and Melancthon themselves, and the only one of our Confessions which was universally received as such, by the whole Lutheran Church in all parts of the world," p. 4. This concession is no less honorable to the reverend author, than the fact itself is important in the discussion of the subject before us. As the contrary has frequently been asserted in this country, in the face of history, it seems proper to advert to its details. The facts in the case are the following:
The Form of Concord was rejected in Denmark, Sweden, Hessia, Pommerania, Holstein, Anhalt, and the cities of Strasburg, Frankfurt a. m. Speier, Worms, Nuerenberg, Magdeburg, Bremen, Dantzig, &c. For particulars see Koellner's Symbolik, Vol. I, pp. 575-77.
The Smalcald Articles were rejected by Sweden and Denmark.
The Apology to the Augsburg Confession, was denied, official authority, by Sweden and Denmark.
The Larger Catechism of Luther, in Sweden and Denmark.
Even the Smaller Catechism of Luther was not received as symbolic in Sweden. See Guericke's Symbolik, pp. 67, &c., 113.
Here, then, we perceive, that those ultra Lutherans of our day, who insist on the whole mass of former symbols as essential to Lutheranism, must unchurch a very large portion of the Lutheran Church even of the sixteenth century. But among these we can by no means class the author of the Plea, who is evidently a Lutheran of the more enlightened and liberal class.
The author of the Plea represents "the Augsburg Confession, as the unexceptionable password of the adherents of the Lutheran Church for three centuries." The idea designed probably is, that the great mass of doctrines taught in this confession has been thus received. For it is a historical fact, that cannot be contested, that private confession, which is enjoined in the eleventh, twenty-fifth and twenty-eighth Articles of the Augsburg Confession, and was retained by Luther, Melancthon and their churches, was from the begining [sic] rejected by the entire Lutheran Church in Sweden and Denmark, as well as other places, and a public confession of the whole church, such as is now employed in Germany and this country, introduced in its stead. See Siegel's Handbuch, Vol. I., p. 200.
"Of course the accusation against the Augsburg Confession, involves an exhibition of Luther and Melancthon, those pillars of the Reformation, as teaching heretical doctrines, which are not in accordance with the word of God." p. 4. This language we regard as not entirely correct. Those errors alone are, in correct English, usually termed "heretical," which are of fundamental importance, and deny some doctrine that is necessary to salvation. That this is neither affirmed or implied by the Platform, must, we think, be admitted by all. But that both Luther and Melancthon did entertain some erroneous views in 1530, some of which are taught in the Augsburg Confession, namely, those specified in the Platform, is affirmed by the great body of our American Lutheran Church.
"The errors are not, on the side of the Augsburg Confession, but on the side of those who agitate our Lutheran Church with the introduction of a fatherless and motherless child, the Definite Platform." To this we reply, the Platform was publicly adopted by three or four Synods in the West, within a few weeks after its publication. As to its authorship, we never denied having prepared it, at the urgent request of some of those brethren, on the plan agreed on by them, and some Eastern brethren of the very first respectability. It was carefully revised by ourselves and Dr. B. Kurtz, and we have not yet found a single one of its positions refuted. That the request was made and complied with, will not be regarded as discreditable to either party by impartial judges, after the smoke of battle shall have disappeared, and the vision of men again be unobstructed. As to the friends of the Platform being agitators of the church, we regard the supposition as erroneous. The Platform was designed to be adopted by those Western Synods, as it has been, publicly, but without controversy, as other Synods had done before with their symbolic platforms. But enemies of the Platform raised the alarm, and agitated the church with threatened dangers. That the friends of the assailed instrument should stand up in its vindication, was an indispensable act of self-defence, to which no impartial man will object.
"We shall endeavor to maintain in this controversy, a dignified and Christian spirit, as becomes this holy subject, and those who, differing in some points, know one Master and one service. People on earth will always differ in their opinions. The truth will gain by giving free scope to investigation, and by the illustration of the different sides of the same question." This position is true, and creditable alike to the head and the heart of the author. Church government and doctrine are topics of primary importance to the prosperity of the kingdom of the Redeemer, and no reason can be assigned why they cannot be debated to the edification of the church, except the human frailty of disputants. Had these subjects been discussed in our religious papers with calmness, and in a Christian spirit, they would have been alike instructive and edifying both to ministers and laity. The discussion would have infused into laymen a deeper interest for the welfare of the church, and a larger liberality in the support of her institutions. Are we not commanded to prove all things, and hold fast that which is good; and to be always ready to give to him that asked us a reason for the hope that is in us? But let us not despond; God will overrule even these controversies to the good of his church. Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit.
"The Synods adopting this Platform are expected to make it a principle not to receive into their membership any one who will not subscribe this Definite Platform," (meaning the whole pamphlet,) p. 6. On this subject the Platform was entirely misapprehended, by the readers not reflecting that the third resolution, on p. 6, must be construed in connection with the two immediately preceding and numerically connected with it. Resolutions first and second declare the "doctrinal Platform" to consist of the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the American Recension of the Augsburg Confession, together with the General Synod's Formula of Government and Discipline. And the third resolution adds, no one shall be received into this Synod who will not subscribe "this Platform," namely, the one just defined. This American Recension or Revision of the Augsburg Confession, contains, unaltered, the doctrinal articles of that Confession, except, that a few sentences are omitted, and nothing added in their stead. Now, if it be admitted that when an enumeration of the parts of a whole is professedly and explicitly made, any thing not included in that enumeration is excluded, then certainly, as the first two resolutions enumerated specifically the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the American Recension of the Augsburg Confession, as the parts constituting the Platform to which assent was required, it follows that the list of Symbolic Errors rejected, which is not named at all, and which formed a separate part of the pamphlet, is excluded. But the misapprehension evidently arose from the fact, that after the term doctrinal platform had been used in the work, to designate the doctrinal and disciplinarian basis contained in the first part of it, the name Definite Synodical Platform was selected for the whole pamphlet, and the distinction not kept up with sufficient prominence before the mind of the reader. This is remedied in the second edition, by employing the phrase Doctrinal Basis or Creed for the first, and "Synodical Disclaimer, or List of Symbolical Errors" for the second part. Moreover it is expressly stated, on p. 5, that "whilst we will not admit into our Synod any one who believes in Exorcism, Private Confession, and Absolution, or the Ceremonies of the Mass," (not one of which is practiced, so far us we know, by a single minister connected with the General Synod), the Platform "grants liberty in regard to all the other topics, omitted from the Augsburg Confession in the American Recension of it." For it adds, "We are willing, as heretofore, to admit ministers who receive these views, provided they regard them as non-essential" (that is, as non-fundamental, not, as has been asserted by others, as of minor or of little importance), "and are willing to co-operate in peace with those who reject them." To the List of Errors rejected no one is required to subscribe, and it is published by the Synod as a disclaimer of these errors, which are often imputed to us, but which are rejected by the great body of the American Lutheran Church. The Platform cannot, therefore, with truth, be said to exclude old-Lutherans, unless they are so rigid as to regard their own views on these disputed points as essential, and are unwilling to co-operate in peace with their brethren: and in that case it is certainly preferable for all parties, that they should organize a Synod for themselves.
Says the author of the Plea, p. 6: "Suppose some Episcopal ministers having arrived at the conviction that some of their church canons were wrong," "would it be regarded as anything else than a most astounding presumption, for such men to dare to change the character of the church canons and denounce some of them as errors, and at the same time to maintain that they themselves are the true representatives of the Episcopal Church, and can unchurch others?" Here are three positions, all of which we regard as erroneous. In the first place, it is not presumptuous, but a Christian duty, when ministers of a church are firmly convinced, that the avowed standards of their church contain some tenets contrary to the word of God, publicly to disavow them, that their influence may not aid in sustaining error; and if the majority of a synod participate in this opinion, it is their duty to change their standards into conformity with God's word. The Augsburg Confession itself was such, a disclaimer of Romish errors, and avowal of the truth: and if it was the duty of the ministry in the sixteenth century to make their public profession conform to their belief of Scripture truth, it is equally the duty of every other age. But although their case involves the principle objected to by the Plea, the following cases are more exactly analogous. The Episcopal ministry and laity did, after the American Revolution, change their doctrine, that the king is the head of the church and adopted the opinion that no civil officer, as such, has any office in the church. They accordingly rejected from their creed Article XXI., and also excluded from their liturgy and forms of prayer, all allusion to the king as the head or governor of the church. Listen to the testimony of the Episcopal ministers of Maryland, in 1783, soon after the acknowledgment of the independence of this country. They passed a number of resolutions, of which the fourth reads thus: "That as it is the right, so it will be the duty of the Episcopal Church, when duly organized, constituted, and represented in a Synod or Convention of the different orders of her ministers and people, to revise her liturgy, forms of prayer and of public worship, in order to adapt the same to the late Revolution, and OTHER LOCAL CIRCUMSTANCES OF AMERICA," [Note 1] &c.
Our Presbyterian brethren also changed their Confession of Faith, and adapted it to their belief. Hear the testimony of Dr. Hodge, in his Constitutional History of the Presbyterian Church in the United States: [Note 2] the Synod then "took into consideration the twentieth chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the third paragraph of the twenty-third chapter, and the first paragraph of the thirty-first chapter; and having made some alterations, agreed that the said paragraphs, as now altered, be printed for consideration, together with a draught of a plan of government and discipline." They were subsequently adopted.
In like manner did our Methodist Episcopal brethren deal with the Thirty-nine Articles of the Episcopal Church, which they had avowed from the days of Wesley. They not only rejected the recognition of the king as the head of the church, but also entirely omitted Article XVII., which is supposed by many to inculcate Calvinism, together with several others; and materially altered Articles I., II., VI., IX., XXVI., and XXXIV. If, then, it be competent for these several Synods, or Conferences, to change the Westminster Confession and Thirty-nine Articles, which were prepared far more deliberately, and with much less restraint, and had become equally venerable by age, without any one pretending to deny their authority, or to pronounce the measure "presumptuous," why may not the Synod of Wittenberg, and other similar bodies, correct the Augsburg Confession, by the omission of several tenets, believed not only by her members, but by the great body of American Lutherans, to be unscriptural? Now the Definite Platform was prepared at the request of the leading members of those Western Synods, according to a plan previously agreed on among them and others, for the express purpose of being proposed for discussion, correction, and adoption by these Synods; and, until so acted on, was a mere unofficial proposal, such as any friends of the church have a right to make. And who can dispute their right, or the right of any Synod, to adopt a Confession of Faith for herself, when the Constitution of the General Synod originally conceded this power specifically to each Synod, and still does so, in Article III., Section 3, by requiring them only to adhere to the fundamental doctrines of the Bible, as taught by our church? Is not a Lutheran Synod possessed of as much power as an Episcopal or Methodist convention? And although an individual necessarily drew up the document, it was prepared according to the plan decided on by about twenty brethren, and claimed no authority until acted on by Synod. The Definite Platform could never, with truth, be regarded as the work of a few individuals. Its inception was the result of a consultation of a large number of influential brethren, especially of the West, who had been convinced by the aggressions of surrounding symbolists, that a decided, but also a more definite stand on the ground of the General Synod, was necessary in self-defence. It was prepared and published at their request, not as an official document, but as a draft of such a basis as they had agreed on. It was presented to them, and taken up for consideration by their several Synods; and the unanimity with which they adopted it is conclusive proof that it was prepared according to the stipulated principles. By denying the right of the several Synods of Ohio, and of any other Synod, to improve or decide on their own doctrinal basis, within the fundamentals of Scripture as taught in the Augsburg Confession, the enemies of the Platform renounce the principles of the General Synod, which expressly allows this right; and they also renounce the original and universally acknowledged Independent or Congregational principles of Lutheran Church Government, avowed by Luther, Melancthon, and all the leading divines of our church, one part of which is the right and obligation to form our own views of Scripture truth, and to avow them to the world.
No individual can justly pronounce the Platform an invasion of his rights; for it has never even been proposed by its friends to any Synod other than those at the request of whose members it was prepared; and should it, at any time hereafter, be presented, it will possess no authority unless conferred on it by Synodical action, in which each minister has a right to participate. The war that has been and is still waged against the Platform, by old Lutheran Synods, and papers, to whom it was never proposed for adoption, is wholly offensive; and whilst we do not deny the right of any Synod to take it up by way of counsel, the intolerant and aggressive principles avowed by Old School papers, is a direct assault on the rights of American or New School Lutherans, which cannot in the end fail to unite them in measures of self-defence.
Secondly, the Plea is mistaken, in supposing that the friends of the Platform profess to be the true representatives of the Lutheran Church in the symbolic sense of the term: for have they not reiterated, in a score of publications, for five and twenty years past, that they do not hold all the views of the former symbols; and does not the Platform itself explicitly disclaim any such idea, by publicly protesting against the errors of those books?
Thirdly, the idea of our "unchurching others," is openly disclaimed by the Platform, as was proved above.
Again, says the Plea: "Those who undertake to change the doctrinal basis of a church, take upon themselves an awful responsibility," p. 7. True; but there is an equally awful responsibility resting on those who, favored by Providence with the increased light of three centuries, continue to avow in their creed, and thus lead multitudes to embrace the superstitious and truly dangerous errors, which remain in these documents issued in the earlier and immature stages of the Reformation, and some of them under circumstances unpropitious to a free expression of views of Scripture doctrine. If these errors constituted the essence of Lutheranism, we ought to forsake the church; but as they do not, we are under sacred obligation to expunge them from our creed, so that we may not aid in their perpetuation.
"From this renewed church (of the Reformation) as from a new heart, of mankind, new and fresh and vigorous blood flows in an uninterrupted stream through mighty arteries, into the whole world." p. 7. Or rather, we would say, this fresh and vigorous blood flows not from the church, much less from the errors which she retained in her symbols, but from that amount, of God's truth, which constitutes the great mass of her confession. The separation of these errors, instead of impairing the efficiency of the church, will greatly multiply her energies, and pave the way for new and enlarged conquests over the world.
"Let any one examine the theological mastership, which this learned and honored disciple of Christ (Melancthon) exhibited in his Apology for the Augsburg Confession—and he will be convinced of the folly of those, who presume to think, that he, or his mighty coadjutor, (Luther,) might be materially benefited by the dogmatical and exegetical instructions of the theological professors and authors of the present times." p. 7.8. This all sounds well enough in the abstract, and we ourselves have frequently and with equal sincerity, praised these great reformers. But after all, they were fallible men. This same Melancthon, in this same Apology for the Augsburg Confession, regards Private Confession and Absolutism [sic] as the third sacrament. At the Diet of Augsburg, he was willing to yield to Romish bishops the dangerous powers which they formerly had exercised over the churches, and when he saw danger thicken around him, he positively wrote to Luther, inquiring whether they might not, yield to the papists in the matter of private and closet masses, as will be seen in the sequel! Besides, these modern "professors, authors," and, we will add, pastors, do not propose to improve the Confession by any light of their own; but by the progressive light, which the Providence of God has vouchsafed to the prayers, the philological and exegetical studies of three centuries. This light we receive with gratitude to God, and cannot for a moment doubt, that if these noble servants of Christ were now living, they would be amongst its most grateful recipients. They both continued through life to study the word of God, and to profess their improved views without the least hesitation. So far was Melancthon himself from regarding any of his works perfect, that he continued deliberately to make improvements, even in this same Augsburg Confession, after the storms of papal persecution had subsided, till the end of his life. And we might easily fill pages with the declarations of Luther, avowing his sense of the imperfections of his publications, and of the work of Reformation in his day.
"We believe," says the Plea, "that they (Luther and Melancthon) are no more than guides to the fountain of truth, to the gospel; and whenever we find that they lead us off from the Word of God, we are bound not to hesitate in our decided deviation from their views." p. 8. This is precisely the noble, enlightened, and christian stand point of the American Lutheran Church. In principle, the respected author of the Plea, does not differ from us. It is only in its application to particular cases, that we may occasionally not coincide.
"The state of theology and religion of an age, does not at all depend upon the progress of general science and social life." p. 10. From this sentiment and the train of observation in reference to it on the same page, we do not dissent. But no American Lutheran appeals to this spirit of the age, exhibited in the progress of the physical sciences, as proofs of any advance in theology. The sciences to which we refer as media of increasing life, are those on which the proper interpretation of the sacred volume depends, philology, archaeology, hermeneutics, &e., and certainly our brother cannot dissent from this position, he will not maintain, that no progress has been made, in the knowledge of the original languages of Scripture by continued studies of scores of the ablest philologians the world has ever seen, especially during the last half century. He will not deny, that the exploring labors of travellers [sic] to the lands of holy writ, the increased study of the manners and customs and institutions of the nations inhabiting them, have illustrated some portions of the sacred volume. Nor will he affirm the utter fruitlessness of all the prayerful efforts of men of God, during the last three centuries, to understand the general principles of languge, [sic] the different significations of words, (the literal, the tropical, the typical, the allegorical, &c.,) and the proper rules for the interpretation of the Sacred Record. He is too well acquainted with the literary fame of Germany and the writings of that galaxy of theological luminaries, that has reflected so much glory on the land of the Reformation, not to admit that many parts of the Sacred Record are better understood at present, than they were three centuries ago. But the principal difficulty which prevented the full and clear appreciation of divine truth in the earlier Reformers, was the fact that they were educated till adult age, [Note 3] in all the superstitious rites and ceremonies of the Romish Church, and we all know that it is impossible entirely to emancipate ourselves from the prejudices of early education. Under these circumstances the marvel is, not that they retained a few papal views and practices, but that they accomplished as much as they did, in unlearning the errors of their early education.
"If all Christianity were to take its first start to-day;-to-morrow already interpretations and confessions would spring up like mushrooms in a hot-bed." p. 11. This idea is expressed rather too strongly for the claims of history; as it is certain that during the golden era of Christianity, the first three centuries, no other creeds were employed by the churches generally, than the so-called Apostles' and the Nicene Creeds. It is chiefly since the period of the Reformation, that the church of the Redeemer has been cut up into so many denominations, professing different and some of them very extended creeds.
"Every denomination has an individual life, and the law of self-preservation ought, to teach her, that she is throwing herself away, if she, is not determined to stand by her banners and to defend her position." p. 11. Whatever definition we may adopt of the indefinite and cloudy term "life" in this passage, our reply is, the life of every Christian church ought to be the life of the Gospel, and the life of the church as established and conducted by the inspired apostles. Every thing in the life of any church inconsistent with this, must be wrong. It is true, since the formation of the different Protestant denominations, each one of them has a different creed, and is characterized by some peculiarities of government or worship, and if these peculiarities are intended by the "peculiar life" of a denomination, we judge it would be equally wrong for the members of any church, to lay it down as a rule in every case to defend them. It would bear some resemblance to the corrupt, political motto, so justly denounced by all good men: Our Country right or wrong. Had Luther adopted this rule, it would have required him to defend all the errors of Rome, which had been fully sanctioned by that church. But his judgment taught him differently, and he gradually rejected every one of those elements of the peculiar life of Romanism, which he found hostile to the life of the [sic] God's word. But if it be replied, that by "peculiar life" is intended those peculiarities of our church, which are accordant with the Gospel; we fully assent to the position. This is precisely the principle, on which we endeavor to act. We defend and retain every peculiarity of the church of our fathers, which we find taught in the word of God, or consistent with its spirit; whilst we deem it a privilege and duty to labor at the improvement of our church and her ecclesiastical framework or platform, by removing from it every thing which, after a life of prayerful study, we are persuaded is offensive to God, because opposed to His word. Even the Form of Concord affirms the principle for which we here contend, by representing creeds as exhibitions of the sense in which Christians of a particular age understood the Bible; and never, until the duty of the church in every age to conform her standards to the word of God, is conceded; can she as a whole become more united, more pure and scriptural, and the kingdom of Christ be extended throughout the earth.
The Plea objects to what it styles "the officious manner in which some persons raise alarm throughout the church, promulgate their intention to change the Augsburg Confession, and act in such a manner as if their views in regard to the so-called errors of the Augsburg Confession were absolutely above all possibility of error." p. 13. This objection is probably based on a want of acquaintance with the history of our church in this country, if it is designed to refer particularly to the Definite Platform; which would be excuseable in our brother, as his residence amongst us is comparatively of recent date. But the truth is, that the rejection of the custom of requiring assent to the Augsburg Confession by the fathers in the Pennsylvania Synod fifty years ago, is proof enough of their dissatisfaction with that document. Nor did they hesitate distinctly to declare their dissent from some of its tenets. This was done not only privately, but also in their occasional publications. As to private confession and absolution, they never adopted that practice in this country; but from the beginning employed a public and general confession, preparatory to the Lord's Supper, as our church in Sweden and Denmark did in the days of the Reformation. As to the ceremonies of the public mass, they were rejected by our church universally, some years after the diet of Augsburg, as private and closet masses had been before. The General Synod, at the adoption of her constitution in 1820, freely expressed her dissatisfaction in the public discussions, with some parts of the Augsburg Confession, and inserted a clause in her constitution, giving power both to the General Synod and to each District Synod to form a new Confession of Faith, for their own use. Dr. Lochman, one of the most active, pious, and respected divines of our church, in his Catechism, published in 1822, states it as one of "the leading principles of our church, [sic on quotation marks] "that the Holy Scriptures and not human authority, are the only source whence we are to draw our religious sentiments, whether they relate to faith or practice." "That Christians are accountable to God alone for their religious principles," and says not a word about adherence to the Augsburg Confession, as one of the principles of our church.
He also published an edition of the Augsburg Confession, in his work, entitled Doctrine and Discipline of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, in which he made more omissions than are found in the American Recension; and yet no one found fault with him for doing so. That the reader may judge of the extent of these omissions, we specify them: In
Art. I. he omitted the definition of person, in the Trinity.
Art. II. omits the condemnatory clause.
Art. III. omits the epithet pure, in reference to the Virgin Mary, and the reference to the so called "Apostles' Creed."
Art. IV. omits the closing sentence, that God will regard this faith as righteousness.
Art. V. omits the condemnatory clause, and part of another sentence.
Art. VI. omits the word "true" in reference to the unity of the church.
Art. VIII. omits the condemnatory clause concerning the Donatists.
Art. IX. omits the name Anabaptists.
Art. X. omits the condemnatory clause.
Art. XII. omits "absolution" and part of the condemnatory clause.
Art. XVII. omits the condemnatory clause.
Art. XVIII. omits the name of Augustine's work, Hypognosticon, and about ten lines at the close.
Art. XIX. omits the last sentence.
Art. XX. omits different portions of this long article, amounting to one-half of the whole.
Art. XXI. omits all that is said on war, and the Turks, &c., and the entire concluding paragraph, amounting to half a page 12mo.
Yet this work was circulated throughout the church, and we never heard a single word of objection, although the notes appended to it are far from being symbolic.
Rev. J. A. Probst, in his work on the Reunion of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches, published in 1826, speaking of this country, and especially the Synod of Pennsylvania, of which he was a member, says, "Zwingle's more liberal, rational, and scriptural view of this doctrine, (election) as well as of the Lord's Supper, has become the prevailing one among the Lutheran and Reformed," p. 74. The same fact, the rejection of some of the articles of the Augsburg Confession, is taught in some publications in 1827, by Dr. Endress, one of our most respected and learned ministers; and is confirmed by the language of the resolution passed by the Synod of Pennsylvania in 1823, on the subject of union between the Lutheran and Reformed churches in this country, between which bodies they affirm a unity of doctrinal views. This dissent, was publicly avowed by Dr. F. C. Schaeffer, of New York, who, in his edition of Luther's Catechism, published in 1820, omitted the word "real or true" in reference to the Saviour's body in the eucharist, (p. 21,) and in his Address at the Laying of the Corner-stone of St. Matthew's Church, thus expresses himself. "We rejoice with thanksgiving before the Lord, because he has given us our great symbolical book, the bible. This is preferable to all the "books" and "confessions" of men. According to a fundamental principle of the Lutherans, we depend not merely on the irrigating streamlets that originate in the fountain to which we have access, but we rather drink from that fountain itself. The study and proper interpretation of the sacred writings, accompanied by the use of all outward helps which God's providence has furnished, and aided by fervent prayer in the acceptable name of Jesus Christ the Mediator, is mainly inculcated in the Evangelical Lutheran Church." p. 10.
This same dissent from the symbols, was also publicly avowed by Dr. Hazelius, who in his Annotations on the Augsburg Confession, published in 1841, says, "The opinions now entertained in the Lutheran church, as to the nature of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, differ in no material point from those entertained by the other protestant churches on the subject." p. 21. This dissent in non-fundamentals from the Augsburg Confession, is also avowed by Dr. Bachman, in his Discourse on the Doctrines and Discipline of the Lutheran Church, published in 1837, and sanctioned by his Synod: also by Dr. Lintner, in his preface to the Augsburg Confession, in 1837, pp. 3, 4; by Dr. Krauth, in his Sketch of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United Slates, for Buck's Theological Dictionary, in 1830; in which he says the doctrines of the Evangelical Lutheran Church are substantially those of the Augsburg Confession," [sic on quotation mark!] implying dissent from that creed in some non-essentials; and recently his own dissent in an article in the Lutheran Observer, and the Evangelical Review of July, 1850. Dr. G. B. Miller published his dissent from the Confession on some of its representations of baptism, (baptismal regeneration, as he contends,) and the real presence in the Eucharist, in his Sermon before the Ministerium of New York, in 1831.
The same dissent was freely expressed by Dr. Baugher, in his Report on the "Doctrines and Usages of the Synod of Maryland," in which he thus describes his position and that of this Synod:
"ON REGENERATION.—We believe that the Scriptures teach that regeneration is the act of God, the Holy Ghost, by which, through the truth, the sinner is persuaded to abandon his sins and submit to God, on the terms made known in the gospel. This change, we are taught, is radical and is essential to present peace and eternal happiness. Consequently, it is possible, and is the privilege of the regenerated person to know and rejoice in the change produced in him."
"OF THE SACRAMENTS.—We believe that the Scriptures teach, that there are but two sacraments, viz.: Baptism and the Lord's Supper, in each of which, truths essential to salvation are symbolically represented. We do not believe that they exert any influence 'ex opere operato,' but only through the faith of the believer. Neither do the Scriptures warrant the belief, that Christ is present in the Lord's Supper in any other than a spiritual manner."
"OF THE SYMBOLICAL BOOKS.—Luther's Larger and Smaller Catechisms, the Formula Concordiae, Augsburg Confession, Apology, and Smalkald Articles are called in Germany the Symbolical Books of the church. We regard them as good and useful exhibitions of truth, but do not receive them as binding on the conscience, except so far as they agree with the Word of God."
To this catalogue we might add the names of many others, who have avowed the same position of dissent from this venerable symbol, long before the Definite Platform was thought of. No one in former times presumed to deny the right of our ministers and synods expressing this dissent, and proposing to form a new creed, if they deem it requisite. To call the dissenting position of the Definite Platform a new one, is therefore a historical error; and to attempt to cast odium on it by the charge of officiousness, is also an act of injustice. The same charge would equally lie against the greater part of our best ministers during the last half century, and against the founders of the General Synod themselves.
With this occasional disclaimer of these errors, American Lutherans have hitherto been satisfied, nor would the question of officially adopting a new creed have been raised at this time, had not the Ultra-Lutherans of our land, of late become animated by a new zeal to disseminate their symbolic errors, and to denounce as not Lutherans, all who do not receive them. When the adoption of a new creed was thus forced upon them, a number of the brethren advocated the formation of one entirely new; but others believing it best to retain the venerable mother symbol of Protestantism, as far as we could regard her teachings as Scriptural, proposed the omission of the few disputed points, and the adoption of the residue unaltered, thus retaining nearly the whole of the doctrinal articles. The suggestion was adopted, as being more respectful to the venerable symbol of our church, we were urged to prepare the work for the consideration of some of the Western Synods; and thus the American Recension of the Augsburg Confession originated from respect for that creed, rather than the want of it. The talk about sacrilege, &c., would sound more natural among Romanists than Protestants; and the idea of deception is utterly unfounded, because the very name adopted, "American Recension," is a constant notification to the reader of some change. Neither one or the other charge was ever made against the Methodist Episcopal Church, for making four times as many changes in the Thirty-nine Articles. As to respect for the Confession, we see but little difference between several methods proposed amongst American Lutherans; to adopt the Confession as to the fundamentals of Scripture doctrine, leaving all free to reject the non-fundamentals; or to publish the symbol, with a list appended of some of its articles, which may be rejected; or to omit those same articles, leaving them free, and adopting all the residue unconditionally. On neither of these three plans does the matter of the Confession remain intact, even if the letter does; for in all, certain parts of it divested of binding authority, and left to the judgment of each individual. The American Recension is nothing more than a revised edition of the Confession, in which those parts are omitted that had already been divested of binding authority, and thus been superseded by subsequent ecclesiastical legislation.
And is it not creditable to any church, when she finds some tenets of her creed in conflict with the Scriptures, and calculated to circulate error, to reform and improve it? We should suppose that every enlightened and reflecting theologian, and still more every intelligent layman, would concur in the sentiments of that devoted friend and defender of the Lutheran Church, Dr. Koecher, of Jena, in 1759, who, discussing the charge that our church had changed her doctrines, says, "It avails nothing merely to charge a church with having made changes in her Creed; we must direct our attention to the subject or doctrine itself, and inquire whether it is true or false. Because, not every alteration in matters of faith is inadmissible and censurable. Suppose a church to perceive that a doctrinal error has crept into her creed, and to correct it by the exclusion of the error; does she not merit our approbation, much rather that our censure or abuse? Suppose that the Lutherans did formerly believe in transubstantiation (as has been charged,) but in the course of time rejected this doctrine, because they found it militate against divine truth; suppose the earlier Lutheran divines did approve of the doctrine of unconditional election, and limited grace of God, whilst our later theologians had renounced them, because they are in conflict with the teachings of God's word:—we say, suppose this had been the case, though it was not; their procedure would not be improper, and their doctrinal change would merit our approbation and praise, rather than censure." How much more christian and manly are these views, than the position which, though not avowed, is acted on by many, that the members of a church should never attempt to improve her symbols; but, as a matter of course, defend any doctrine taught by them, because it is there inculcated. What is this else than practically to elevate Luther, Melancthon, Zwingli, Calvin, or Wesley, above Christ? What is it else, than prefering [sic] to be Lutherans rather than Christians, if we are not ever ready to renounce anything Lutheran, if found not to be Christian? How can the church of Christ continue to develope [sic] herself in accordance with the divine purposes and plan, unless every part of the church is kept in constant contact with the Bible, and is ever willing to improve and conform its entire framework to the increased light of God's word and Providence? It was Luther's deep sense of obligation to the Bible, as paramount to all human authority, which enabled him and his Spartan band of coadjutors, under God, to reform the church of Germany from so many Romish errors, and nothing short of the same noble principle can conduct the church safely in her high and holy mission of converting the world. Whilst, therefore, we love Luther much, let us, my brethren, ever love Christ more. And whilst we respect the soul-stirring productions of the illustrious reformers, let that respect never induce us to sanction any errors contained in them, or bias our minds against the free and full reception of the revelations of God's holy Word!
Note 1. Colton's Genius of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, &c., p. 151.
Note 2. Vol. ii., p. 498.
Note 3. Luther was a faithful papist until he was upwards of thirty years did, when he began to protest against the errors of Rome.
CHAPTER III. DISADVANTAGES UNDER WHICH THE AUGSBURG CONFESSION WAS PREPARED.
In forming an idea of the estimate which should be placed on the Augsburg Confession, as an expression of the results attained by the biblical studies of Luther, Melancthon and their associates, at the date of the diet in 1530; much depends on the question, whether the circumstances under which it was prepared, and the design for which it was intended, were favorable to a free and full exhibition of their views. The affirmative of this question has often been declared in this country; but the contrary is incontestably established by authentic history, as well as by the declarations of the Reformers themselves. The diet, it will be remembered, was appointed by the Emperor of Germany, Charles V., for the purpose of settling the controversies between the Pope and the Protestant princes of his empire, as well as for other political purposes. The place selected was the City of Augsburg, in Bavaria, about two hundred English miles from Wittenberg, and about ninety miles from Coburg, where Luther was left by the Elector during the diet. [Note 1] The Pope had long been urging the emperor to adopt violent measures for the suppression of the Protestants. He fondly anticipated that a deathblow would now be given to the Protestant cause, and with which party the emperor would side was not fully known, although, being a Romanist, little favor could be expected by the Confessors. The Confession was composed by Melancthon out of the Torgau Articles, at Augsburg, where he and the Elector John, with his retinue, arrived on the 2d of May. On the 10th of May, it was sent to Luther, at Coburg, for his revision, and he returned it with his approbation on the 16th, remarking, "I have read Philip's Apology (the Confession,) and am very well (fast wohl, an obsolete meaning of the term "fast,") pleased with it. I know nothing to improve or alter at it; nor would it be suitable, as I cannot tread so softly and lightly." [Note 2] As the emperor did not arrive until about a month later, Melancthon continued to make various alterations, to render the Confession more acceptable to the Romanists; for the fears of the Protestants were greatly excited, as will appear by the following extracts from Melancthon's own letters, penned at this eventful period.
In a letter to Luther, dated Augsburg, June 15th, Melancthon says, "On the day before Corpus Christi festival, at 8 o'clock, P. M., the emperor arrived at Augsburg. From the imperial court, it appears, we have nothing to expect; for the sole object which Campegius seeks to accomplish, is that we should be suppressed by force. Nor is there any one in the emperor's entire court, who is milder than he himself." [Note 3] This was indeed a gloomy prospect, for they were entirely at the mercy of their emperor. He could reenact the scenes of the previous century, and send them, like Huss and Jerome, to the dungeon and the stake.
On the 26th of June, the day after the public presentation of the Confession, he again addresses Luther: "We live here in the most lamentable anxiety and incessant tears. To this a new source of consternation has been added today, after we had read the letter of Vitus (Dietrich, Luther's friend,) in which he states that you are so much offended at us, that you are unwilling even to read our letters. My father, I will not increase my sufferings by words, but I merely beg you to consider, where and in what danger we are, where we can have nothing to tranquilize us except your consolations. Streams of sophists and monks collect here daily, to inflame the hatred of the emperor against us. But the friends, if we could formerly number them amongst our (party,) are no longer with us. Alone and despised, we are here contending against endless dangers. Our Vindication (the Confession) has been presented to the emperor, and I herewith send it to you for perusal. (If it had not been altered after Luther had seen and approved it, it would have been superfluous to send him another copy.) In my judgment, it is strong enough; for you will here perceive the monks depicted sufficiently. Now, it appears to me, that before our enemies reply, we must determine, what we will yield to them in reference to the 'eucharist in both kinds,' what touching matrimony (celibacy of priests,) and what in regard to 'CLOSET MASSES.' In [sic] appears they are determined in no case to yield the last two." [Note 4]