Its Truths And Errors
James Freeman Clarke
"Soleo enim in allena castra transire, non tanquam transfuga, sed tanquam explorator."—SENECA, Epistolae, 2.
"Fiat lux. Cupio refelli, ubi aberrarim; nihil majus, nihil aliud quam veritatem efflagito."—THOMAS BURNET, Arch. Phil.
American Unitarian Association.
Preface. Chapter I. Introduction. 1. Object and Character of this Book. 2. Progress requires that we should look back as well as forward. 3. Orthodoxy as Right Belief. 4. Orthodoxy as the Doctrine of the Majority. Objections. 5. Orthodoxy as the Oldest Doctrine. Objections. 6. Orthodoxy as the Doctrine held by all. 7. Orthodoxy, as a Formula, not to be found. 8. Orthodoxy as Convictions underlying Opinions. 9. Substantial Truth and Formal Error in all great Doctrinal Systems. 10. Importance of this Distinction. 11. The Orthodox and Liberal Parties in New England. Chapter II. The Principle And Idea Of Orthodoxy Stated And Examined. 1. The Principle of Orthodoxy defined. 2. Logical Genesis of the Principle of Orthodoxy. 3. Orthodoxy assumed to be the Belief of the Majority. 4. Heterodoxy thus becomes sinful. 5. The Doctrine of Essentials and Non-essentials leads to Rome. 6. Fallacy in this Orthodox Argument. 7. The three Tendencies in the Church. 8. The Party of Works. 9. The Party of Emotion in Christianity. 10. The Faith Party in Religion. 11. Truth in the Orthodox Idea. 12. Error in the Orthodox Principle. 13. Faith, Knowledge, Belief, Opinion. Chapter III. The Orthodox Idea Of Natural And Revealed Religion; Or, Naturalism And Supernaturalism. 1. Meaning of Natural and Supernatural. 2. The Creation Supernatural. 3. The Question stated. 4. Argument of the Supernaturalist from successive Geologic Creations. 5. Supernatural Argument from Human Freedom. 6. Supernatural Events not necessarily Violations of Law. 7. Life and History contain Supernatural Events. 8. The Error of Orthodox Supernaturalism. 9. No Conflict between Naturalism and Supernaturalism. 10. Further Errors of Orthodox Supernaturalism—Gulf between Christianity and all other Religions. 11. Christianity considered unnatural, as well as supernatural by being made hostile to the Nature of Man. Chapter IV. Truths And Errors As Regards Miracles. 1. The Subject stated. Four Questions concerning Miracles. 2. The Definition of a Miracle. 3. The different Explanations of the Miracles of the Bible. 4. Criticism on these Different Views of Miracles. 5. Miracles no Proof of Christianity. 6. But Orthodoxy is right in maintaining their Reality as Historic Facts. 7. Analogy with other Similar Events recorded in History. 8. Miracle of the Resurrection. Sceptical Objections. 9. Final Result of this Examination. Chapter V. Orthodox Idea Of The Inspiration And Authority Of The Bible. 1. Subject of this Chapter. Three Views concerning the Bible. 2. The Difficulty. Antiquity of the World, and Age of Mankind. 3. Basis of the Orthodox Theory of Inspiration. 4. Inspiration in general, or Natural Inspiration. 5. Christian or Supernatural Inspiration. 6. Inspiration of the Scriptures, especially of the New Testament Scriptures. 7. Authority of the Scriptures. 8. The Christian Prepossession. 9. Conclusion. Chapter VI. Orthodox Idea Of Sin, As Depravity And As Guilt. 1. The Question stated. 2. The four Moments or Characters of Evil. The Fall, Natural Depravity, Total Depravity, Inability. 3. Orthodox and Liberal View of Man, as morally diseased or otherwise. 4. Sin as Disease. 5. Doctrine of the Fall in Adam, and Natural Depravity. Their Truth and Error. 6. Examination of Romans, 5:12-21. 7. Orthodox View of Total Depravity and Inability. 8. Proof Texts. 9. Truth in the Doctrine of Total Depravity. 10. Ability and Inability. 11. Orthodox Doctrine of Inability. 12. Some further Features of Orthodox Theology concerning Human Sinfulness. Chapter VII. Conversion And Regeneration. 1. Orthodoxy recognizes only two Conditions in which Man can be found. 2. Crisis and Development. 3. Nature of the Change. 4. Its Reality and Importance. 5. Is it the Work of God, or of the Man himself? Orthodox Difficulty. 6. Solved by the Distinction between Conversion and Regeneration. 7. Men may be divided, religiously, into three Classes, not two. 8. Difference between Conversion and Regeneration. 9. Unsatisfactory Attitude of the Orthodox Church. 10. The Essential Thing for Man is to repent and be converted; that is, to make it his Purpose to obey God in all Things. 11. Regeneration is God's Work in the Soul. Examination of the Classical Passage, or conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus. 12. Evidences of Regeneration. Chapter VIII. The Orthodox Idea Of The Son Of God. 1. Orthodox Doctrine stated. 2. This Doctrine gradually developed. 3. Unitarian Objections. 4. Substantial Truth in this Doctrine. 5. Formal Error of the Orthodox Statement. 6. Errors of Arianism and Naturalism. Chapter IX. Justification By Faith. 1. This Doctrine of Paul not obsolete. 2. Its Meaning and Importance. 3. Need of Justification for the Conscience. 4. Reaction of Sin on the Soul. 5. Different Methods of obtaining Forgiveness. 6. Method in Christianity. 7. Result. 8. Its History in the Church. 9. Orthodox Errors, at the present Time, in Regard to Justification by Faith. 10. Errors of Liberal Christians. Chapter X. Orthodox Idea Of The Atonement. 1. Confusion in the Orthodox Statement. 2. Great Importance attributed to this Doctrine. 3. Stress laid on the Death of Jesus in the Scripture. 4. Difficulty in interpreting these Scripture Passages. 5. Theological Theories based on the Figurative Language of the New Testament. 6. The three principal Views of the Atonement—warlike, legal, and governmental. 7. Impression made by Christ's Death on the Minds of his Disciples. First Theory on the Subject in the Epistle to the Hebrews. 8. Value of Suffering as a Means of Education. 9. The Human Conscience suggests the Need of some Satisfaction in order to our Forgiveness. 10. How the Death of Jesus brings Men to God. 11. This Law of Vicarious Suffering universal. 12. This Law illustrated from History—in the Death of Socrates, Joan of Arc, Savonarola, and Abraham Lincoln. 13. Dr. Bushnell's View of the Atonement. 14. Results of this Discussion. Chapter XI. Calling, Election, And Reprobation. 1. Orthodox Doctrine. 2. Scripture Basis for this Doctrine. 3. Relation of the Divine Decree to Human Freedom. 4. History of the Doctrine of Election and Predestination. 5. Election is to Work and Opportunity here, not to Heaven hereafter. How Jacob was elected, and how the Jews were a Chosen People. 6. How other Nations were elected and called. 7. How different Denominations are elected. 8. How Individuals are elected. 9. How Jesus was elected to be the Christ. 10. Other Illustrations of Individual Calling and Election. Chapter XII. Immortality And The Resurrection. 1. Orthodox Doctrine. 2. The Doctrine of Immortality as taught by Reason, the Instinctive Consciousness, and Scripture. 3. The Three Principal Views of Death—the Pagan, Jewish, and Christian. 4. Eternal Life, as taught in the New Testament, not endless Future Existence, but present Spiritual Life. 5. Resurrection, and its real Meaning, as a Rising up, and not a Rising again. 6. Resurrection of the Body, as taught in the New Testament, not a Rising again of the same Body, but the Ascent into a higher Body. Chapter XIII. Christ's Coming, Usually Called The "Second Coming," And Christ The Judge Of The World. 1. The Coming of Christ is not wholly future, not wholly outward, not local, nor material. 2. No Second Coming of Christ is mentioned in Scripture. 3. Were the Apostles mistaken in expecting a speedy Coming of Christ? 4. Examination of the Account of Christ's Coming given by Jesus in Matthew (chapters 24-26). 5. Coming of Christ in Human History at different Times. 6. Relation of the Parable of the Virgins, and of the Talents, to Christ's Coming. 7. Relation of the Account of the Judgment by the Messiah, in Matt. ch. 25, to his Coming. 8. How Christ is, and how he is not, to judge the World. 9. When Christ's Judgment takes Place. 10. Paul's View of the Judgment by Christ. 11. Final Result. Chapter XIV. Eternal Punishment, Annihilation, Universal Restoration. 1. Different Views concerning the Condition of the Impenitent hereafter. 2. The Doctrine of Everlasting Punishment, as held by the Orthodox at the Present Time. 3. Apparent Contradictions, both in Scripture and Reason, in Regard to this Doctrine. 4. Everlasting Punishment limits the Sovereignty of God. 5. Everlasting Punishment contradicts the Fatherly Love of God. 6. Attempts to modify and soften the Doctrine of Everlasting Punishment. 7. The meaning of Eternal Punishment in Scripture. 8. How Judgment by Christ is connected with Punishment. 9. The Doctrine of Annihilation. 10. The Doctrine of Universal Restoration. Chapter XV. The Christian Church. 1. The Question stated. 2. Orthodox Doctrine of the Church—Roman Catholic and High Church. 3. The Protestant Orthodox Idea of the Church. 4. Christ's Idea of a Church, or the Kingdom of Heaven. 5. Church of the Leaven, or the Invisible Church. 6. The Church of the Mustard-seed. 7. Primitive and Apostolic Church, or Church as it was. 8. The Actual Church, or the Church as it is. 9. The Church Ideal, or Church as it ought to be. 10. The Church Possible, or Church as it can be. Chapter XVI. The Trinity. 1. Definition of the Church Doctrine. 2. History of the Doctrine. 3. Errors in the Church Doctrine of the Trinity. 4. The Trinity of Manifestations founded in the Truth of Things. 5. It is in Harmony with Scripture. 6. Practical value of the Trinity, when rightly understood. Appendix. Critical Notices. 1. On the Defence of Nescience in Theology, by Herbert Spencer and Henry L. Mansel. 2. On the Defence of Verbal Inspiration by Gaussen. 3. Defence of the Doctrine that Sin is a Nature, by Professor Shedd. 4. Defence of Everlasting Punishment, by Dr. Nehemiah Adams and Dr. J. P. Thompson. 5. Defence of the Trinity, by Frederick D. Huntington, D. D. Footnotes
The Protestant Reformation has its Principle and its Method. Its Principle is Salvation by Faith, not by Sacraments. Its Method is Private Judgment, not Church Authority. But private judgment generates authority; authority, first legitimate, that of knowledge, grows into the illegitimate authority of prescription, calling itself Orthodoxy. Then Private Judgment comes forth again to criticise and reform. It thus becomes the duty of each individual to judge the Church; and out of innumerable individual judgments the insight of the Church is kept living and progressive. We contribute one such private judgment; not, we trust, in conceit, but in the hope of provoking other minds to further examinations.
CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTION.
1. Object and Character of this Book.
The peculiarity of the book now offered to the religious public by the government of the American Unitarian Association, is this—that it is an honest attempt to find and state the truth contained in the doctrines of their opponents. It is, perhaps, something new for an association established to defend certain theological opinions, and baptized with a special theological name, to publish a work intended to do justice to hostile theories. The too usual course of each sect has been, through all its organs, to attack, denounce, undervalue, and vilify the positions taken by its antagonists. This has been considered as only an honest zeal for truth. The consequence has been, that no department of literature has been so unchristian in its tone and temper as that of sectarian controversy. Political journals heap abuse on their opponents, in the interest of their party. But though more noisy than the theological partisans, they are by no means so cold, hard, or unrelenting. Party spirit, compared with sectarian spirit, seems rather mild.(1)
It is true that theologians do not now use in controversy the epithets which were formerly universal. We have grown more civil in our language than were our fathers. It is also true that we often meet with theological discussions conducted in a spirit of justice towards one's opponents.(2) But to say, "Fas est ab hoste doceri," is a step as yet beyond the ability of most controversialists. To admit that your antagonist may have seen some truth not visible to yourself, and to read his work in this sense,—in order to learn, and not merely to confute,—is not yet common.
This we are about to undertake in the present treatise. We stand in the Unitarian position, but shall endeavor to see if there be not some truths in Orthodoxy which Unitarians have not yet adequately recognized. To use the language of our motto—we come "not as deserters, but as explorers" into the camp of Orthodoxy. We are satisfied with our Unitarian position, as a stand-point from which to survey that of others. And especially are we grateful to it, since it encourages us by all its traditions, by all its ideas and principles, to look after as well as before—to see if there be no truth behind us which we have dropped in our hasty advance, as well as truth beyond us to which we have not yet attained.
2. Progress requires that we should look back as well as forward.
Such a study as this may be undertaken in the interest of true progress, as well as that of honest inquiry. For what so frequently checks progress, causes its advocates to falter, and produces what we call a reaction towards the old doctrines, as something shallow in the reform itself? Christians have relapsed into Judaism, Protestants into Romanism, Unitarians into Orthodoxy—because something true and good in the old system had dropped out of the new, and attracted the converts back to their old home. All true progress is expressed in the saying of Jesus, "I have not come to destroy, but to fulfil." The old system cannot pass away until all its truths are fulfilled, by being taken up into the new system in a higher form. Judaism will not pass away till it is fulfilled in Christianity—the Roman Catholic Church will not pass away till it is fulfilled in Protestantism—Orthodoxy will not pass away till it is fulfilled by Rational Christianity. Judaism continues as a standing protest, on behalf of the unity of God, against Trinitarianism.
And yet we believe that, in the religious progress of the race, Christianity is an advance on Judaism, Protestant Christianity an advance on Roman Catholic Christianity, and Liberal and Rational Christianity an advance on Church Orthodoxy. But all such advances are subject to reaction and relapse. Reaction differs from relapse in this, that it is an oscillation, not a fall. Reaction is the backward swing of the wave, which will presently return, going farther forward than before. Relapse is the fall of the tide, which leaves the ships aground, and the beach uncovered. Reaction is going back to recover some substantial truth, left behind in a too hasty advance. Relapse is falling back into the old forms, an entire apostasy from the higher stand-point to the lower, from want of strength to maintain one's self in the advance.
The Epistle to the Hebrews deserves especial study by those who desire to understand the philosophy of intellectual and spiritual progress. It was written to counteract a tendency among the Jewish Christians to relapse into Judaism. These Christians missed the antiquity, the ceremony, the authority of the old ritual. Their state of mind resembled that of the extreme High Church party in the Church of England, who are usually called Puseyites. They were not apostates or renegades, but backsliders. They were always lamenting the inferiority of Christianity to Judaism, in the absence of a priesthood, festival, sacrifices. It hardly seemed to them a church at all. The Galatians, to whom Paul wrote, had actually gone over and accepted Jewish Christianity in the place of Christianity in its simplicity and purity. The Hebrews had not gone over, but were looking that way. Therefore the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews endeavors to show them that all which was really good in the Jewish priesthood, temple, ritual, was represented in Christianity in a higher form. It had been fulfilled in the New Covenant. Nothing real and good can pass away till it is fulfilled in something better. Thus the Roman Catholic Church stands, as a constant proof that Protestant Christianity yet lacks some important Christian element which Romanism possesses. Orthodoxy, confuted, as we suppose, over and over again, by the most logical arguments, stands firm, and goes forward.
Let us, then, reexamine the positions of our antagonists—not now merely in order to find the weak places in their line of battle, but to discover the strong ones. Let us see if there be any essential, substantial truth in this venerable system, to which we have as yet not done justice. If there be, justice and progress will both be served by finding and declaring it.
We ask, What are the substantial truths, and what the formal errors, of Orthodoxy? But what do we mean by these terms?
3. Orthodoxy as Right Belief.
By Orthodoxy in general is meant the right system of belief. This is the dictionary definition. But as the world and the Church differ as to which is the right system of belief—as there are a vast multitude of systems—and as all sects and parties, and all men, believe the system they themselves hold to be the right belief—Orthodoxy, in this sense of right belief, means nothing. In this sense there are as many orthodoxies as there are believers, for no two men, even in the same Church, think exactly alike. Unless, therefore, we have some further test, by which to find out which orthodoxy, among all these orthodoxies, is the true orthodoxy—we accomplish little by giving to any one system that name.
Here, for instance, in New England, we have a system of belief which goes by the name of Orthodoxy; which, however, is considered very heterodox out of New England. The man who is thought sound by Andover is considered very unsound by Princeton. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, in 1837, cut off four synods, containing some forty thousand members, because they were supposed not to be sound in doctrinal belief. But these excommunicated synods formed a New School Presbyterian Church, having its own orthodoxy. Andover considers itself more orthodox than Cambridge; but the New School Presbyterians think themselves more orthodox than Andover—the Old School Presbyterians think themselves more orthodox than the New School. But the most orthodox Protestant is called a heretic by the Roman Catholics. The Roman Catholics, again, are called heretics by the Greek Church. So that orthodoxy, in this sense, seems an impossible thing—something which, if it exists, can never be certainly ascertained.
Whenever a body of believers assumes the name of Orthodox, intending thereby that they are right, and their opponents wrong, they evidently assume the very point in dispute. They commit the fallacy called in logic a petitio principii. They beg the question, instead of discussing it. They put will in the place of reason. They say, in the very title page of their book, in the first step of their argument, that their book is satisfactory and their argument conclusive. It would be more modest to wait till the discussion is concluded before they proceed thus to state what the conclusion is. This is an arrogance like that which the Church of Rome commits, in calling itself Catholic or Universal, while excluding more than half of Christendom from its communion.(3)
A political party does not offer such an affront to its opponents. It may name itself Democratic, Republican, Federal; it may call itself the Conservative party, or that of Reform. By these titles it indicates its leading idea—it signifies that it bears the standard of reform, or that it stands by the old institutions of the country. But no political party ever takes a name signifying that it is all right and its opponents all wrong. This assumption was left to religious sects, and to those who consider humility the foundation of all the virtues.
The term "Evangelical" is, perhaps, not as objectionable as Orthodox, though it carries with it a similar slur on those of other beliefs. It says, "We are they who believe the gospel of Christ; those who differ from us do not believe it." It is like the assumption by some of the Corinthians of the exclusive name of Christians. "We are of Christ," said they—meaning that the followers of Paul and Apollos were not so.
Probably the better part of those who take the name of Orthodox, or Evangelical, intend no such arrogance. All they want is some word by which to distinguish themselves from Unitarians, Universalists, &c. They might say, "We have as good a right to complain of your calling yourselves 'Rational Christians' or 'Liberal Christians'—assuming thereby that others are not rational or liberal. You mean no such assumption, perhaps; neither do we when we call ourselves 'Orthodox' or 'Evangelical.' When we can find another term, better than these, by which to express the difference between us, we will use it. We do not intend by using these words to foreclose argument or to beg the question. We do not mean by Orthodoxy, right belief; but only a certain well-known form of doctrine."
This is all well. Yet not quite well—since we have had occasion to notice the surprise and disgust felt by those who had called themselves "The Orthodox," in finding themselves in a community where others had assumed that title, and refused to them any share in it. Therefore it is well to emphasize the declaration that Orthodoxy in the sense of "right belief" is an unmeaning expression, signifying nothing.
4. Orthodoxy as the Doctrine of the Majority. Objections.
The majority, in any particular place, is apt to call itself orthodox, and to call its opponents heretics. But the majority in one place may be the minority in another. The majority in Massachusetts is the minority in Virginia. The majority in England is the minority in Rome or Constantinople. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primate of all England, gave Mr. Carzon a letter of introduction to the Patriarch of Constantinople, the head of the Greek Church. But the Patriarch had never heard of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and inquired, "Who is he?"
Nevertheless, it is a very common argument that such and such a doctrine, being held by the great majority of Christians, must necessarily be true. Thus it is said that since the great majority of Christians believe the doctrine of the Trinity, that doctrine must be true. "Is it possible," it is said, "that the great majority of Christian believers should be now, and have been so long, left in error on such a fundamental doctrine as this?" Even so intelligent a man as Dr. Huntington seems to have been greatly influenced by this argument in becoming a Trinitarian. The same argument has carried many Protestants into the Roman Catholic Church. And, no doubt, there is a truth in the argument—a truth, indeed, which is implied all through the present work—that doctrines thus held by great multitudes during long periods cannot be wholly false. But it by no means proves them to be wholly true. Otherwise, truth would change as the majorities change. In one century the Arians had the majority; and Arianism, therefore, in that century would have been true. Moreover, most of those who adhere to a doctrine have not examined it, and do not have any defined opinion concerning it. They accept it, as it is taught them, without reflection. And again, most truths are, at first, in a minority of one. Christianity, in the first century, was in a very small minority. Protestantism, in the time of Luther, was all in the brain and heart of one man. To assume, therefore, that Orthodoxy, or the true belief, is that of the majority, is to forbid all progress, to denounce all new truth, and to resist the revelation and inspiration of God, until it has conquered for itself the support of the majority of mankind. According to this principle, as Christianity is still in a minority as compared with paganism, we ought all to become followers of Boodh. Such a view cannot bear a moment's serious examination. Every prophet, sage, martyr, and heroic champion of truth has spent his life and won the admiration and grateful love of the world by opposing the majority in behalf of some neglected or unpopular truth.
5. Orthodoxy as the Oldest Doctrine. Objections.
Some people think that Orthodoxy means the oldest doctrine, and that if they can only find out what doctrine was believed by the Church in the first century, they shall have the true orthodox doctrine. But the early Church held some opinions which all now believe to be false. They believed, for instance, that Jesus was to return visibly, in that age, and set up his church in person, and reign in the world in outward form—a thing which did not take place. They therefore believed in the early church something which was not true—consequently what they believed cannot be a certain test of Orthodoxy.
The High Church party in the Church of England, in defending themselves against the Roman Catholic argument from antiquity, have appealed to a higher antiquity, and established themselves on the supposed faith of the first three centuries. But Isaac Taylor, in his "Ancient Christianity," has sufficiently shown that during no period in those early centuries was anything like modern orthodoxy satisfactorily established.(4) The Church doctrine was developed gradually during a long period of debate and controversy. The Christology of the Church was elaborated amid the fierce conflicts of Arians and Athanasians, Monothelites and Monophysites, Nestorians and Eutychians. The anthropology of the Church was hammered and beaten into shape by the powerful arm of Augustine and his successors, on the anvils of the fifth century, amid the fiery disputes of Pelagians, Semi-Pelagians, and their opponents.
Many doctrines generally believed in the early church are universally rejected now. The doctrine of chiliasm, or the millennial reign of Christ on earth; the doctrine of the under world, or Hades, where all souls went after death; the doctrine of the atonement made by Christ to the devil,—such were some of the prevailing views held in the early ages of the Church. The oldest doctrine is not certainly the truest; or, as Theodore Parker once said to a priest in Rome, who told him that the primacy of Peter was asserted in the second century, "A lie is no better because it is an old one."
6. Orthodoxy as the Doctrine held by all.
But, it may be said, if Orthodoxy does not mean the absolutely right system of belief, nor the system held by the majority, nor the oldest doctrine of the Church, it may, nevertheless, mean the essential truths held in all Christian Churches, in all ages and times; in short, according to the ancient formula—that which has been believed always, by all persons, and everywhere—"quod semper, quod ab omnibus, quod ubique."
In this sense no one would object to Orthodoxy. Only make your Catholicity large enough to include every one, and who would not be a Catholic? But this famous definition, if it be strictly taken, seems as much too large as the others are too narrow. If you only admit to be orthodox what all Christian persons have believed, then the Trinity ceases to be orthodox; for many, in all ages, have disbelieved it. Eternal punishment is not orthodox, for that, too, has often been denied in the Church. Sacraments are not orthodox, for the Quakers have rejected them. The resurrection is not orthodox, for there were some Christians in the Church at Corinth who said there was no resurrection of the dead.
7. Orthodoxy, as a Formula, not to be found.
Any attempt, therefore, rigidly to define Orthodoxy, destroys it. Regarded as a precise statement, in a fixed or definite form, it is an impossibility. There is no such thing, and never has been. No creed ever made satisfied even the majority. How, indeed, can any statement proceeding from the human brain be an adequate and permanent expression of eternal truth? Even the apostle says, "I know in part, and I prophesy in part, but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away." The apostle declares that his sight of truth is only partial, and that everything partial is imperfect, and that everything imperfect must pass away; so that our present knowledge of truth is transient. "Whether there be knowledge, it shall pass away." If the apostle Paul declared that he had not the power of making a perfect and permanent statement of truth, how can we believe that any one else can ever do it?
8. Orthodoxy as Convictions underlying Opinions.
If, therefore, every doctrinal statement is changeable and changing; if the history of opinions shows the rise and fall of creeds,—one after the other becoming dominant, and then passing away; if no formula has ever gained the universal assent of Christendom; if the oldest creeds contained errors now universally rejected,—what then remains as Orthodoxy? We answer, no one statement, but something underlying all statements—no one system of theology, but certain convictions, perhaps, pervading all the ruling systems. Man's mind, capable of insight, sees with the inward eye the same great spiritual realities, just as with his outward eye he sees the same landscape, sky, ocean. According to the purity and force of his insight, and the depth of his experience, he sees the same truth. There is one truth, but many ways of stating it—one spirit, but many forms.
"The one remains, the many change and pass; Heaven's light forever shines, earth's shadows fly."
Are there any such great convictions underlying and informing all the creeds? I think there are. I think, for example, it has always been believed in the Church that in some sense man is a sinner, and in some sense Christ is a Saviour from sin; that Christianity is in some way a supernatural revelation of the divine will and love; that Scripture is somehow an inspired book, and has authority over our belief and life; that there is a Church, composed of disciples of Jesus, whose work in the world is to aid him in saving the lost and helping the fallen and wretched; that somehow man needs to be changed from his natural state into a higher state, and to begin a new life, in order to see God; that there is such a thing as heaven, and such a thing as hell; that those who love God and man belong to heaven, and that the selfish and sensual belong to hell. These ideas have been the essential ideas of the Church, and constitute the essence of its Orthodoxy.
Orthodoxy, then, is not any definite creed, or statement of truth. It is not of the letter, but of the spirit. The letter kills. Consequently those who cling to the letter of Orthodoxy kill its spirit. The greatest enemy of Orthodoxy is dead Orthodoxy. The old statements retained after their life is gone,—the old phrases made Shibboleths by which truth is to be forever tested,—these gradually make the whole system seem false to the advancing intellect of the human race. Then heresies come up, just as providential, and just as necessary, as Orthodoxy, to compel the Church to make restatements of the eternal truth. Heresies, in this sense, are as true as Orthodoxy, and make part, indeed, of a higher Orthodoxy.
By Orthodoxy, therefore, we do not mean the opinions held by any particular denomination in New England or elsewhere. We do not mean the opinions of New England Calvinists or of Southern Presbyterians; not the creed of Andover, of New Haven, or of Princeton: but we mean that great system of belief which gradually took form in the Christian Church, in the course of centuries, as its standard theology. The pivotal points of this system are sin and salvation. In it man appears as a sinner, and Christ as a Saviour. Man is saved by an inward change of heart, resulting in an outward change of life, and produced by the sight of the two facts of sin and salvation. The sight of his sin and its consequences leads him to repentance; the sight of salvation leads him to faith, hope, and love; and the sight of both results in regeneration, or a new life. This system also asserts the divinity of Christ, the triune nature of God, the divine decrees, the plenary inspiration of Scripture, eternal punishment, and eternal life.
9. Substantial Truth and Formal Error in all great Doctrinal Systems.
Within the last twenty-five years, a new department of theological literature has arisen in Germany, which treats of the history of doctrines. The object of this is to trace the doctrinal opinions held in the Church in all ages. By this course of study, two facts are apparent—first, that the same great views have been substantially held by the majority of Christians in all ages; and, secondly, that the forms of doctrine have been very different. The truths themselves have been received by Christians, as their strength, their hope, and their joy, in all time; but the formal statement of these truths has been wrought out differently by individual intellects. The universal body of Christians has taken care of Christian truth; while the Church Fathers, or doctors, have held in their hands the task of defining it doctrinally for the intellect.
By substantial truth we mean this—that in all the great systems of opinion which have had a deep hold on the human mind, over broad spaces and through long periods, there is something suited to man's nature, and corresponding with the facts of the case. The mind of man was made for truth, and not for error. Error is transient: truth only is permanent. Men do not love error for its own sake, but for the sake of something with which it is connected. After a while, errors are eliminated, and the substance retained. The great, universal, abiding convictions of men must, therefore, contain truth. If it were not so, we might well despair; for, if the mind of the race could fall into unmixed error, the only remedy by which the heart can be cured, and the life redeemed from evil, would be taken away. But it is not so. God has made the mind for truth, as he has adapted the taste to its appropriate food. In the main, and in the long run, what men believe is the truth; and all catholic beliefs are valid beliefs. Opinions held by all men, everywhere and at all times, must be substantially true.
But error certainly exists, and always has existed. If the human mind is made for truth, how does it fall into error? There never has been any important question upon which men have not taken two sides; and, where they take two sides, one side must be in error. Sometimes these two parties are equally balanced, and that for long periods. With which has the truth been? Is God always with the majority? If so, we must at once renounce our Unitarian belief for the Trinity, as an immense majority of votes are given in its favor. But, then, we must also renounce Protestantism; for Protestantism has only eighty or ninety millions against a hundred and forty millions who are Catholics. And, still further, we must renounce Christianity in favor of Heathenism; since all the different Christian sects and churches united make up but three hundred millions, while the Buddhists alone probably exceed that number. Moreover, truth is always in a minority at first,—usually in a minority of one; and, if men ought to wait until it has a majority on its side before they accept it, it never will have a majority on its side.
These objections lead us to the only possible answer, which consists in distinguishing between the substance and the form. When we assert that all creeds, widely held and long retained, have truth, we mean substantial truth. We do not mean that they are true in their formal statement, which may be an erroneous statement, but that they are true as to their contents. The substance of the belief is the fact inwardly beheld by the mind; the form is the verbal statement which the mind makes of what it has seen. It has seen something real; but, when it attempts to describe what it has seen, it may easily commit errors. Thus there may be, in the same creed, substantial truth and formal error; and all great and widely-extended beliefs, as we assert, must contain substantial truth and formal error. Without substantial truth, there would be nothing in them to feed the mind, and they would not be retained; and, if they were not more or less erroneous in form, it would imply infallibility on the part of those who give them their form.
10. Importance of this Distinction.
This distinction is one of immense importance; because, being properly apprehended, it would, by destroying dogmatism, destroy bigotry also. Dogmatism consists in assuming that the essence of truth lies in its formal statement. Correctly assuming that the life of the soul comes from the sight of truth, it falsely infers that the essence of truth is in the verbal formula. Consequently, this formula must necessarily seem of supreme importance, and the very salvation of the soul to depend on holding the correct opinion. With this conviction, one must and ought to be bigoted; he ought to cling to the minutest syllable of his creed as the drowning man clings to the floating plank. Holding this view, we cannot blame men for being bigoted: it is their duty to be bigoted. But, when the distinction is recognized, they will cling to the substance, knowing that the vital truth lies there. It is the sight of the fact which is the source of our life, and not the statement which we make, in words, as to what we have seen. Then the sight becomes the thing of immense importance; the creed in which it is expressed, of comparative unimportance.
This distinction would tend to bring the Church to a true unity—the unity of the spirit. All would strive for the same insight, all tolerate variety of expression. Instead of assenting outwardly to the same creed, every man ought, in fact, to make his own creed; and there should be as many different creeds as there are different men. Nor should my creed of to-day be the same as that of yesterday; for, instead of resting on a past experience, I should continually endeavor to obtain new sights of the one unchangeable truth. Seeing more of it to-day than I did yesterday, my yesterday's creed would seem inadequate, and I should wish to make a new one.
Substantial truth means the truth which we see—the inward sight, the radical experience. Formal truth is the verbal statement, and consists in accuracy of expression. And so of error. Substantial error means error in regard to the substance, and is necessarily inadequacy of inward experience. Strictly speaking, there cannot be substantial error; for error, in regard to the substance of truth, is purely negative. It is not-seeing. It is failing to perceive the truth, either from want of opportunity, weakness of vision, or neglect in looking. But formal error is not merely defect: it may also be mistake. We may misstate the truth, and say what is radically false. From this source come contradictions; and, where two statements are contradictory, both cannot be true. Falsehood, therefore, originates with the statement. The errors of insight are merely defects; but the errors of statement may be positive falsehoods.
This leads us to take a special view of theological controversies. In all great controversies, in the conflicts of ages, where the good and wise have stood opposed to each other, century after century, it is probable that there are truth and error on both sides.
Each side may hold some truth which the other has not seen. There is, therefore, also substantial error on both sides; for each may have failed to see some phase of truth which the other has recognized. But there may be formal error, or error of statement, even where there is substantial truth; for the truth may be overstated, or understated, or misstated, and a false expression given to a true observation.
What, then, is the duty of those who stand opposed to each other in these controversies—of Catholics and Protestants, Christians and Deists, Orthodox and Unitarians? They have plainly a twofold duty to themselves as well as to their opponents. They ought to increase their insight, and to improve their statements; to deepen and widen their hold of the substance; to correct and improve their expression of the form. The first is the work of religion; the second, that of theology.
The first is infinitely the most important, because the life of the soul depends on the sight of truth. This is its food, without which it will starve and die. But it is also important that it should improve its theology, because a correct theology is a help to insight, and a ground of mental communion.
11. The Orthodox and Liberal Parties in New England.
The Liberal party in New England have carried on a theological controversy for some forty years with the Orthodox. This controversy was inevitable. Calvinism had neglected important truths which the human soul needed, and without which it would starve. Unitarianism came to assert and vindicate those truths. At first, it was inevitable that the statements on either side should be narrow and mutually exclusive. But, as a battle goes on, the position of the opposing armies changes. The points of attack and defence alter. Old positions are abandoned, and new ones occupied. Seldom does it happen to either army to sleep on the field of battle. Nor has it so happened to us. Neither the Unitarians nor the Trinitarians have gained a complete victory: each has taken some important position, and yielded some other. We have a book called "Concessions of Trinitarians:" another might be written containing the "Concessions of Unitarians." Neither side has conceded, or ought to concede, any real truth of experience or of statement; but it is honorable to each to concede its own partial and inadequate statements.
We intend, in this volume, to endeavor, from our own point of view, to gain what sight we can of the radical, vital truth underlying each great Orthodox doctrine. At the same time, we shall freely criticise the forms, especially the more recent ones, in which Orthodox doctrines have been stated.
We assume, at the outset, that each doctrine does cover some truth of experience, some real solid fact, which is as important to us as to our opponents. We assume, that, though the doctrines may be false, there may be an experience behind them which is true. We have satisfied ourselves of the formal error of their statements. We consider it impossible for a sound Unitarian intellect to accept the Orthodox theology as a whole, without being untrue to itself; but there is no reason why we should not break this shell of doctrine, and find the vital truths which it contains. And if it be said, "Who made you a judge or a divider on these subjects?" we reply, that only by contributions from all quarters can a final judgment be reached. Meantime, it is the right and duty of every serious thinker to add his own opinion to the common stock; willing to be refuted when wrong,—glad, if right, to be helpful in any degree towards the ultimate result.
This is the object of the present work, which, though written by a Unitarian, and from a Unitarian stand-point, and though published by the American Unitarian Association, will, we trust, be sufficiently unsectarian.
CHAPTER II. THE PRINCIPLE AND IDEA OF ORTHODOXY STATED AND EXAMINED.
1. The Principle of Orthodoxy defined.
The principle of Orthodoxy is, that there is one true system of Christian doctrine, and that all others are false; that this system can be, and has been, so stated in words as to distinguish it from all the false systems or heresies; and that this true system of doctrine is the one which is now held, and always has been held, by the majority of Christians; and, finally, that the belief of this system is, as a rule, essential to salvation—so that those who may be saved, while not accepting it, will be saved (if at all) by way of exception, and not according to rule.
2. Logical Genesis of the Principle of Orthodoxy.
The principle of Orthodoxy seems to have arisen, and to have maintained itself in the Church, in some such way as this. Jesus Christ, it is assumed, came to save the soul from sin and evil. He saves the soul by the word of truth. In order that this truth shall become saving truth, it must be believed, and so strongly believed as to have a practical influence on life and action. We are therefore saved by believing the truth taught by Christ. But in order to be believed, it must be expressed in some definite statement, or in what we call Christian doctrine. But truth is one, and therefore the doctrine which expresses it must also be one.
Therefore there must be one system of Christian doctrine, containing in itself the substance of Christian truth, and constituting the object of Christian faith. This system, though it may vary in its unessential parts, must in its essence be unchangeable. In proportion as any system of belief varies from it, such system is heterodox and dangerous, while this system alone is orthodox and safe.
Another form of this argument would be as follows: Christ came to reveal something to men. If revealed, it must be made known. If made known, it must be capable of being so expressed that there can be no reasonable doubt concerning it. Otherwise, Christianity would not be a revelation. But if expressed so as to enter the human mind, it must be expressed in human language. A verbal revelation, therefore, is essential for the purposes of Christianity. Such a revelation is nothing else than a system of doctrine, or that which can be systematized into doctrine. And this system must be one and the same from age to age, or it is not a permanent divine revelation, but only a transient human seeking for such a revelation.
3. Orthodoxy assumed to be the Belief of the Majority.
The natural test of Orthodoxy is assumed to be the belief of the majority of Christians; for if Christianity be a revelation of truth, its essential contents must be easy to apprehend, and when apprehended, they must be generally accepted. The revelations of God in nature are seen and accepted by the human intellect, and so become matters of science. Orthodox science is that which the great majority of scientific men have accepted as such; and Orthodox Christianity, in like manner, must be that which the majority of Christian believers accept as such. Hence it is taken for granted, as regards Orthodox doctrine, that it meets the test, "Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus."
4. Heterodoxy thus becomes sinful.
But if the essential truth of Christianity be thus plain, those who do not receive it must be either stupid or wilful. Its rejection argues a want of intellect or a bad heart. Heretics, therefore, ought logically to become to the Orthodox objects either of contempt or hatred. If they cannot see what is so plain, they must be intellectually imbecile. If they will not see it, they must be morally depraved. Therefore intelligent people who accept and teach heresies ought to be considered wicked people by logical Orthodox minds. Moreover, they are the most dangerous persons in the community, because, by denying that truth by which the soul is to be saved, they endanger not merely the temporal, but also the eternal, welfare of those whom they seduce. And if we have a right to abate a nuisance which only interferes with the earthly comfort and peace of society, how much more one which attacks its spiritual peace and eternal welfare! Have not the majority a right to protect themselves, their children, and society from that which they not merely believe, but know, to be evil? For Orthodoxy assumes to be not merely opinion, but knowledge. Hence Orthodoxy legitimates persecution.(5) Persecution is only the judicious repression of criminal attempts to pervert and injure society. Moreover, Orthodoxy, according to its principle, ought to discourage inquiry in relation to its own fundamental principles. For why continue to discuss and debate about that which is known? Progress consists in advancing from the known to the unknown. The unknown, and not the known, is the proper subject for inquiry. The system of Orthodoxy, therefore, according to its own principle, should be withdrawn from further examination. Intellectual advance requires us to take for granted something—to forget that which is behind in order to press forward to that which is before. The doctrines of Orthodoxy therefore, when once established, should afterwards be assumed, and need not be proved. We do not call a scientific man a bigot because he refuses to discuss fundamental principles. If Orthodoxy be science, why accuse it of bigotry when it follows the same course?
5. The Doctrine of Essentials and Non-essentials leads to Rome.
If Orthodoxy consists in a statement of opinions the belief of which is essential to salvation, the question arises, Are all these opinions essential, or only a part? It is generally admitted that the great system called Orthodoxy contains some things not essential to salvation. How shall these be distinguished? Moreover, some variation of statement is judged allowable. No Orthodox creed is assumed to be inspired as to its language. The same essential truth may be expressed in different terms. How, then, are we to define the limits of expression so as to know what error of opinion is venial, and what vital? Orthodoxy assures us that our salvation depends on accepting its statements. In which particular form, then, must we accept them? In so important a matter as this, where salvation is assumed to depend on accepting the right form of doctrine, one surely ought to be able to know which the right form is. Now, the rule of Orthodoxy, as given above, is, that nothing is Orthodox, as essential doctrine, which has not been believed "always, everywhere, and by all." But this raises an historical question, and one of no little difficulty. For since heresies have always existed, and some one has always been found somewhere to deny the most essential doctrines of Orthodoxy, the question is somewhat intricate who these "all" are who have never disbelieved the Orthodox system. It is plain that the majority of Christians have neither time nor ability for these investigations. The historical inquiry must be conducted for them by others. And here seems to come in the law of Church authority as against private judgment. And so the principle of Orthodoxy, carried out to its legitimate results, appears to land us at last in the Roman Catholic Church, to set aside the right of private judgment, and to justify intolerance and the forcible suppression of heresy. But as these results are not accepted by those who yet accept the principles of Orthodoxy, it is necessary to see if there is a fallacy anywhere in our course of thought, and at what precise point the fallacy has come in.
6. Fallacy in this Orthodox Argument.
The fallacy in all this argument lies here—that faith is confounded with belief; knowledge with opinion; the sight of truth with its intellectual statement in the form of doctrine. Undoubtedly there is only one faith, but there may be many ways of stating it in the form of opinion. Moreover, no man, no church, no age, sees the whole of truth. Truth is multilateral, but men's minds are unilateral. They are mirrors which reflect, and that imperfectly, the side of the object which is towards them. Therefore even knowledge in any finite mind is partial, consequently imperfect; and consequently needs other knowledge to complete it.
This, apparently, is what the apostle Paul means (1 Cor. 13:8-12) in his statement concerning the relation between knowledge and love. Knowledge (Gnosis) "shall pass away." The word here used is elsewhere translated by "destroyed," "brought to nought," "abolished," "made of none effect." "Knowledge" here probably refers to definite and systematic statements of real insights. It is something more than opinion, but something less than faith. Faith abides, but knowledge passes away. Faith abides, because it is a positive sight of truth. It is an experience of the soul, by which it opens itself in trust, and becomes receptive of spiritual influence. Faith, therefore, remains, and its results are permanent in the soul. They make the substance of our knowledge as regards the spiritual world. This substance becomes a part of the soul itself, and constitutes a basis of self-consciousness as real as is its experience of the external world. But Gnosis is this faith, translated by the intellect into systematic form. Such systems embody real experience, and are necessary for mental and moral progress. They are the bodies of thought. But all bodies must die, sooner or later; and so all systems of knowledge must pass away. The body, at first, helps the growth of thought, helps the growth of the soul; but afterwards it hinders it. The new wine must be put into new bottles. Therefore the apostle Paul, the great teacher of doctrinal theology in the Christian Church, distinctly recognizes here, that every system of doctrine, no matter how much truth it contains, is partial, and therefore transient. He makes no exception in favor even of inspired statements—he does not except his own. All bodies must die; all forms are fugitive; nothing continues but the substance of knowledge, which is faith; the inward sight of God's goodness producing that endless expectation which is called hope; and the large spiritual communion with God and his creatures, here called Agape, or love. The apostle speaks in the first person when he says that knowledge passes away—"We know in part, and we prophesy [or teach] in part." He speaks for himself and his fellow-apostles.
We see, therefore, that the great master and head of Orthodoxy in the Church has himself declared every form of Orthodoxy to be transient.
We conclude, therefore, that the apostle Paul, in this famous passage, overturns the whole principle of verbal Orthodoxy. He takes away its foundation. Not denying the reality and permanence of religious experience, not denying the saving power of truth, he declares that no expressed system of truth is permanent. The basis of doctrinal Orthodoxy is the assumption that its own particular form of belief is essential to salvation. But the apostle declares that all forms are transient, and, therefore, none essential. All statement is a limitation, and the moment that we make a definition, we say something which is incomplete. When Paul says, "We know in part," he says the same thing which is said by Kant, by Sir William Hamilton, by Auguste Comte, by Mr. Mansell, and most modern thinkers, when they declare the relativity of knowledge. All thinking is limitation. "To think," says Sir William Hamilton, "is to condition." We only know a thing, says this school, by its being different from something else. The school of Kant declares all knowledge to be phenomenal, and that all phenomenal knowledge consists of two parts—the part given by the thing, and the part added by the mind. Herbert Spencer (in "First Principles") insists on the certainty of the existence of things in themselves, but also on their absolute and eternal unknowableness. According to John Stuart Mill, the same view of the unknowableness of Noumena is taken by M. Auguste Comte.
These modern philosophers, it will be seen, go much farther than Paul, and lay down positions which inaugurate a universal scepticism. According to them there is nothing certain and nothing fixed. Mr. Mansell virtually teaches us that we cannot know anything of God, duty, or immortality; and that faith means, taking for granted on some outward authority. To use a striking expression of President James Walker, "We are not to believe, but to make believe." That is, we are not to believe with our intellect, but with our will. Or, in other words, we are to believe not what is true, but what is expedient. This he calls regulative truth, as opposed to speculative truth.
But this is by no means the doctrine of the apostle Paul. He teaches the certainty of substantive knowledge, but the fallibility of formal knowledge. He thus avoids the two extremes of dogmatism on the one side, and scepticism on the other. The substance of Gnosis, which is the sight of truth, is a reality, and, like all that is real, has its root in God, and shares his eternity. The form of Gnosis is subjective, relative, and transient. Everything which is seen is temporal; only that which is not seen is eternal. All that takes outward, visible form, comes under the law of change; the roots of our knowledge, fixed in God, are unchangeable.
7. The three Tendencies in the Church.
The human soul, a unit, indivisible, and without parts, nevertheless acts in three directions—of will, affection, intellect. These are distinguishable, though not divisible. Every one knows the difference between an act; an emotion of anger, pity, sorrow, love; and a process of logic, or an intellectual argument. These are the three primary states of the mind, evidently distinct. It is impossible to mistake either for the other. I may direct my mind towards action, towards thought, or towards emotion. The first of these, action, is the most within my own power, depends chiefly on myself, lies nearest the will. Will passes instantaneously into action. I will to lift my arm, and it is done. On the other hand, feeling or emotion lies the farthest from this centre of will, depends least of all on my own choice, and in it I am most passive. But the sphere of intellect is intermediate. I am more free when I think than when I feel; less free than when I act. In the domain of will, I act upon external things; in the domain of feeling, I am acted upon by external things; in the domain of intellect, I neither act nor am acted upon, but I see them. In all thinking, in proportion as it is pure thought, both will and emotion are excluded. We are neither actors nor sufferers, but spectators. Things seen pass into our life through the intellect, and become sources of emotion and action. Love of truth causes us to desire to know it; this desire leads us to put our mind in the presence of truth, but when there, the functions of emotion and will cease, and all we have to do is to look.
Now, there have always been in the Church three parties, or at least three tendencies, in regard to the basis of religion. One of these makes the basis of the religious life to consist in thought, one posits it in feeling, the third in action. With one, the intellect must take the initiative; with the second, the heart; with the third, the will, or power of determination. The three parties in the Church, based on these three tendencies, may be characterized as the Orthodoxists, the Emotionalists, and the party of Works. The first says, "We are saved by faith;" the second says, "We are saved by love;" the third says, "We are saved by obedience." The first assumes that the sight of truth must take the lead in all Christian experience; the second believes that love for goodness is the true basis in religion; the third maintains that the first thing to be done, in order to become a religious man, is to obey the law of duty. It is evidently very important to decide which of these answers is the true one. What are we to do first, if we wish to become Christian men or women? Are we to study, read, reflect, in order to know the truth? Are we to go to church and listen to sermons, join Bible classes and study the Scriptures, read compends of doctrine and books of Christian evidence? Or are we to seek for emotion, to pray for a change of heart, to put ourselves under exciting influences, to go where a revival is in progress, to attend protracted meetings, to be influenced through sympathy till we are filled full of emotions of anxiety, fear, remorse, followed by emotions of hope, trust, gratitude, pardon, peace, joy? Or are we to do neither of these things, but to begin by obedience, trying to do right in order to be right, beginning by the performance of the humblest duties, the nearest duties, letting fidelity in the least open the way to more? Shall we know the truth in order to love it and do it? Or shall we love the truth in order to see it and do it? Or shall we do right in order to know it and love it?
Large numbers in the Church have followed each of these three methods, and made each the basis of its action. One has said, "We are saved by works;" a second, "We are saved by faith;" a third, "We are saved by love."
8. The Party of Works.
Two tendencies have joined in teaching salvation by works, or, more strictly, in teaching the initiative of the will in religion. These are the Church-tendency and the Moral-tendency in Christianity. The Church party in Christianity teaches that the first duty towards a child is to make it a member of the Christian Church by baptism, and that the first duty of every baptized person is to obey the commands of the Church. The Church thus becomes a school, in which baptized persons are educated as Christians. The Church of Rome, and the High Church party in the Church of England and in the Episcopal Church of the United States, teach this doctrine of salvation by works. This system by no means dispenses with Christian belief or Christian feeling, but makes them both subordinate. The Church says to its faithful, We do not require you to believe or to feel, but to obey. If we said, "Believe," or "Feel," you might justly reply, "We cannot believe or feel when we choose, and you have therefore no right to ask us to do so." Therefore the Church only demands obedience, which it is in the power of all to render. It, indeed, requires an assent to its creed, and forbids heresy. But this only means, "Receive the creed as true until you are able to see how it is true." The Church also insists greatly on love, and its saints have been filled with the highest raptures of piety. But it never requires feeling. It says, "Use the means we put into your hands, and feeling will come. Pray, as we command you to do, whether you feel deeply or not. Feeling will come by and by." Discipline, therefore, and not illumination, has been the method of the Church of Rome, and is also the method of all other Churches, so far as they are ecclesiastical Churches. All such Churches teach that by a faithful conformity to their ritual, methods, sacraments, services, discipline, the Christian life will surely come. The one thing needful and primary with them all is obedience, and the result of obedience is knowledge and love.
Essentially the same view is taken by the Ethical party, or Moralists, in Christianity. Their statement, also, of the foundation of religion is, that it lies in obedience. They differ only from the Church party as regards the authority to be obeyed. With them it is not the Church, but the Moral Law, as made known to men in revelation, or in the natural instincts of conscience. The foundation of all goodness and religion is right doing. This leads to right thinking and right feeling; or, when it does not lead to these, it is still sufficient, and is satisfactory to God. "What doth the Lord require of thee," say they, "but to do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God?" At this point the extremes meet, and the Roman Catholic Church, or the extreme right, offers its hand to the Liberal Christians, or the extreme left. This is the point of contact between the two, which sometimes, also, becomes a bridge by which proselytes pass either way, from one to the other. But the practical question is, Is this answer sound? Does the will lead the way in religion? Is obedience the first step to be taken at every point of the way? Is the initiative in the religious life always an action? Are we saved by works?
The objection to this view is, that a religious action, without a religious thought and a religious affection behind it, is not in any sense religious. It has in it nothing of the essence of religion. Religion, regarded merely as obedience to God, implies the knowledge of God. We must know God in order to obey him; we must know God in order to love him. Knowledge, therefore, must precede obedience, and not the contrary. Otherwise obedience is an empty form, having no religious character. Unless we see the truth and justice of obedience, we are only yielding to human persuasion, to human authority, and not to the authority of God. It may be well, or it may be ill, to yield to such human authority; but there is no religion in it, or only a religion of dead works.
9. The Party of Emotion in Christianity.
There are those, and always have been those, who have placed the substance of religion in love, in which they have, perhaps, not been mistaken. But they have often taken another step, by degrading love into mere emotion. They have considered that feeling was the basis of religion; not thought, nor action. They too have texts to quote in support of their view. They say that "with the heart men believe unto righteousness;" that we must "be rooted and grounded in love;" that the first commandment is to "love God with all the heart." As with them religious emotion constitutes the essence of religion, they make use of all means of producing it, and especially the excitement which comes from sympathy. The Methodist Church has, perhaps, gone farther than any other towards making this a principle. This great and noble body has done its vast work for Christianity by making prominent the love-principle in all its operations. If the Church party stands at one extreme, Methodism, in all its forms, stands at the other. The Roman Catholic Church sums up all the inspirations of the past, collects in its large repertoire all ancient liturgies, all saintly lives, all sacred customs, and so brings an imposing authority, a reverend antiquity, made up of the best history of man. Methodism drops the past, and finds God in the present—in present inspirations, in the newly-converted soul, born out of darkness into light, by the immediate coming of the Spirit of God. According to the Catholic Church the Christian life commences with an outward act,—that of baptism,—and is carried on by outward sacraments; according to Methodism, the Christian life begins with an inward emotional experience,—the spiritual new birth,—and is carried on by successive emotions of penitence, faith, hope, joy, and pious devotion. According to Catholicism, the one thing needful is the outward sacramental union with the Church; according to Methodism, the one thing needful is the inward emotional union with the Holy Spirit.
10. The Faith Party in Religion.
If Churchism and Moralism place the essence of Christianity in action, and Emotionalism puts it in feeling, Orthodoxy places it in something intellectual, which it calls faith. All the sects of Christendom do, indeed, place faith at the root of the Christian life; but some make it essentially an intellectual act, others essentially affectionate, and others an act of will. Orthodoxy makes it, in substance, a sight of faith, or an act of looking at spiritual realities. Sometimes it is called a realizing sense of spiritual things. But, at all events, the sight of truth is considered the beginning and root of religion by the Orthodox party in the Church. We are saved by the word of truth; and the Saviour himself is called "the Word,"—belief in whom constitutes eternal life. Rationally, it is argued that the essential difference between the Christian and the unbeliever, or the unchristian, must lie in seeing Christ or not seeing him. The first step in the religious life always consists in looking at the truth.
11. Truth in the Orthodox Idea.
Admitting, then, what all these systems and parties in the Church unite in asserting,—that an act of faith is always at the foundation of every Christian state and of all Christian experience,—we ask, Which is the most essential element in faith—will, intellect, or affection? Is an act of faith chiefly an act of the will, a determination, or is it a loving desire, or a state of knowledge, a looking at truth? Suppose we call it a state of love, for this reason, that in order to be good, the first thing requisite is to wish to be good. A longing for goodness, it may be said, must precede everything else. But what makes us long for goodness, if we do desire it? What shall produce that longing, if it does not exist? The only answer must be, The sight of truth. The sight of God's holiness and of God's tenderness, the sight of law and gospel, whatever shows us the beauty of goodness and the meanness of sin, must come first to awaken this desire. Or suppose it be said that the essential thing in faith is the active element, because it is submitting to God's law, trusting in his help, coming to the truth, opening the heart to the Holy Spirit,—all of which are determinations of the will. We must reply, True; but these determinations will never be taken unless we first see the will of God to which we submit, see the salvation of God on which we lean, know that there is a truth to which we may come, know that there is a Holy Spirit, in order to ask for it.
So that, on the whole, we may say that Orthodoxy is right in making the sight of truth the beginning of the Christian life, and the beginning of every Christian state, act, or experience. All human goodness is the reflection of God's goodness; it all has its source in the sight of a divine holiness, truth, beauty. This is the fundamental idea of Orthodoxy, and in this Orthodoxy is right.
It is no answer to this to say that man has an instinctive longing for goodness, which causes him to feel after God before he finds him. For what are these instincts themselves, as soon as they begin to act, but the voice of God speaking in the soul, showing it some glimpses of a divine truth? The longing in the soul must be aroused by the sight or knowledge of something better than that which one has or is. Consequently, we say again, that the sight of truth is that which saves the soul, and first creates in it a better life.
If we make Christianity to be essentially obedience, we make of it, at last, an oppressive form. If we consider it as essentially an emotional experience, we destroy its moral character; for emotion is both passive and blind, while the definition of morality is the freely choosing what we see to be right. Ecclesiasticism and Emotionalism both tend to demoralize Christianity. They remove from it the element of moral freedom in the interest either of Church authority or of mystical piety. Then Christianity must come anew, in the form of truth, to purify the air, and renew the moral life of society.
Protestantism arose in this way, to salt the corrupting Church. Ecclesiasticism, in its well-meant efforts at training men, by a complete discipline, to a perfect virtue, had suppressed the individual love of truth to such an extent, that religion had become a mere surface, without substance. Jesuitism abolished the distinction between things right and wrong in themselves, and made right to consist solely in the intention; that is, made it wholly subjective. The Lutheran reformation was the revival of the intellect in regard to religion—the demand for conviction instead of assent; for the sight of God in place of obedience to the Church. It repeated, with an emphasis adapted to the needs of the sixteenth century, the words of Jesus, "This is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." In these words is the sufficient defence of Protestantism. It was the cry of the soul to know God, and not merely to assent to what the Church taught concerning him; it was the longing to know Christ, and not to repeat by rote the creeds of the first centuries, and the definitions of mediaeval doctors in regard to him. In a subsequent chapter we shall consider the truth and error in the Protestant principle of justification by faith. Our purpose here is to show that the truth in Orthodoxy is identical with the truth in Protestantism. Both place, as the root of all religion, an individual personal sight of God and truth. To this, freedom of thought is an essential means. Right thinking involves free thinking. If to know the truth makes us free, freedom, again, is the condition of knowing the truth. Protestantism and Orthodoxy have often attempted to limit the application of this principle. Protestants, as well as Catholics, have persecuted heretics. But while Catholics, in doing this, have been faithful to their own idea, and have therefore made of persecution a system, Protestants have been vacillating and undecided persecutors. They have been drawn in opposite directions by antagonist principles. Fundamentally, Protestantism, as such, claims for all the rights of private judgment, and is, therefore, in its whole stress and influence, opposed to persecution, and in favor of religious liberty. It has conquered the Catholic Church on this point so far as to compel it to renounce the practice of persecution, if it has not relinquished the theory. During three centuries Protestantism has been, more and more, emancipating the human mind—making it the duty, and consequently the right, of every human being to see truth for himself. It has been drawn into inconsistencies by its belief in the saving power of certain doctrines, and the supreme importance of believing them. On one hand it has claimed, with a trumpet voice, the freedom of conscience and opinion for all, and then has cried out against those who freely came to opinions differing from its own.
But, notwithstanding these inconsistencies, Protestantism has steadily given freedom of spirit to mankind. And with the awakened and emancipated intellect all the elements of progress have shown themselves in Protestant lands. In 1517, when Luther nailed his theses to the church door, Italy, Spain, and Portugal were far in advance of Northern Europe in civilization. In commerce, art, and literature, Italy was the queen of Europe. In military force, extent of possessions, and unbounded wealth, Spain was the leading power of the world. The Portuguese mariners had ransacked every sea, and discovered new continents and islands in every zone. How insignificant, in comparison with these great nations, were England, Holland, and Germany! But England, Holland, and Germany became Protestant; Italy, Spain, and Portugal remained Catholic; while France and Austria adopted a half-way Catholicism.
The result has been, in the course of three centuries, a complete reversal of the position. The last have become first, and the first last. What now has become of the terrible power of Spain, the enterprise of Portugal, the art and literature of Italy? When the element of Protestantism was crushed out of these nations by the Inquisition, the principle of national progress was also destroyed. But the northern powers who accepted the Lutheran reform received with it the germs of progress. Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Prussia, Saxony, England, and Scotland, have, by a steady progress in civilization, wealth, knowledge, and morality, conclusively demonstrated the impulse of progress contained in the Protestant idea.
So far, therefore, as this great experiment, continued during three hundred years, can prove anything, it proves the truth of the central idea of Protestantism and Orthodoxy, namely, that saving faith is essentially not emotional nor volitional, but intellectual.
12. Error in the Orthodox Principle.
We are well aware of the reply which might be made, from the stand-point of Ecclesiasticism, to the historical argument just given. The Roman Catholic might answer thus: "We admit that the tree must be known by its fruits; but the tree of true Christianity is known by bearing the fruits of Christianity, not those of worldly civilization. Suppose that England is to-day richer than Italy, more powerful than Spain; is she better? Are there more piety and more morality in Protestant than in Catholic countries? In which communities do you find the most humility, simplicity, religious faith, reverence for religious institutions, fear of God? In which do you find most of sympathy, kindliness, good will from man to man? The fierce civilization of Protestantism is hard, cold, and cruel. It tramples under its feet the weak. It accumulates wealth and power; but are these Christianity? Is London or Rome the best model of a Christian city? Is it London, with its terrible contrasts of enormous wealth and naked want, its proud aristocracy and brutalized mob, its empty churches and illuminated gin-shops? or is it not rather Rome, poorer in material wealth and luxury, but rich in grace—Rome, with its odor of sanctity about it; its numerous churches, on which art has lavished her resources to make them worthy to be the temples of God—Rome, with its priests and monks; its religious houses, the centres of the great religious orders, whose missions have been known in the four quarters of the earth? Protestant countries may have a higher worldly civilization, more education and intelligence, more manufactures and commerce; but Catholic countries have more humility and reverence, a more habitual piety, more gentle manners. If Protestants have more knowledge, Catholics have more love."
And we, though Protestants of the Protestants, must admit that there is some truth in this. The discipline of Romanism has repressed some amount of evil which the liberty of Protestant lands has allowed to appear. But repressed evil is none the less evil, and often works a greater inward corruption than when it is allowed to show itself as it is. We may also admit that while in Protestantism there is more of TRUTH, and all the virtues which go therewith,—such as honesty, manliness, self-respect, conscientiousness,—in Catholic countries there is more of LOVE, and all the virtues which follow it,—as kindly, genial manners, ready sympathy with suffering, a spirit of dependence and trust. Still, this does not prove that there is more real Christianity among Catholics; for love which does not grow out of the sight of truth is not genuine nor healthy. Its life is weak. Protestant Christianity is an immature fruit, harsh because not quite ripe. Catholic Christianity is a fruit over-ripe, and so rotten.
Therefore we still contend that Protestantism and Orthodoxy are right in making the free and independent sight of truth the root of all religion. But the mistake of Orthodoxy has been in confounding truth with doctrine—the sight of the thing with the theory about that sight. From hence come the hardness and coldness of Orthodoxy. Pure thought is always cold, and ought to be. The sight of spiritual things is truth and love in one; but when we begin to reflect on that sight, the love drops out, and the truth becomes cold.
The defect of the Orthodox principle, therefore, is the confusion of truth with belief. Out of this mistake come dogmatism, bigotry, and all their natural consequences. It is therefore well, before going farther, to explain more fully this distinction and its importance.
13. Faith, Knowledge, Belief, Opinion.
Religion originates at every moment, from looking at truth. Now, there are four kinds of looking; faith, which is intuitive looking; knowledge, which is the intuition itself looked at by reflection, and so brought to consciousness; third, belief, which arranges the products of knowledge in systematic form, and makes them congruous with each other; and lastly comes opinion, which does not deal at all with things, but only with thoughts about things. By faith we see God; by knowledge we become conscious that we see God; by belief we arrange in order what we see; and by opinion we feel and grope among our thoughts, seeking what we may find of his works and ways. Every act of faith brings us into the presence of God himself, and makes us partakers of the divine nature. Thus faith is strictly and literally the substance of things hoped for, or the substance of hope.(6) Substance here has its etymological sense, and is the same word in Greek and English, meaning basis, foundation, support, or substruction. It is the inward experience by which we come in contact with invisible things, as perception is the experience by which we come in contact with visible things.
These steps of intellectual activity may be called by other names than these. What we (with Jacobi) call faith,(7) may be denominated "intuition" (with the transcendentalists), reason (with Coleridge), God-consciousness (with Schleiermacher), or anschauungs-vermoegen (with Schelling and others). But, by whatever name we call this power, we say there is a power in man by which he can see spiritual facts, as with his earthly senses he can perceive sensible facts. If he has no such power, he is incapable of knowing God, but can only have an opinion that there is a God. But if he can know God, this knowledge rests on something back of reasoning or reflection; it must rest on an intuition or spiritual perception. And this, for our present purpose, we call faith. By means of it we know the spiritual world, just as we know the material world through sight, touch, and hearing. The senses are the organs by which we perceive material things; intuition, or faith, the organ by which we perceive spiritual things. He who denies the existence of such a power in man, falls necessarily into dogmatism on the one hand, or rationalism on the other. But as these words also take a very different sense on different lips, we explain ourselves by saying that he puts either a theory or an inference in the place of God. If orthodox, he puts a theory; if sceptical, an inference. Mr. Mansell does the first, Herbert Spencer the other. Neither of them believes that we can know God's existence. So dogmatism and scepticism join hands. All the consequences described in the beginning of this chapter follow as a matter of course when an opinion or theory is put in the place of truth. Then come the inflexible narrowness of bigotry, the hot zeal of the persecutor, the sectarian strife which has torn the Church in twain. The remedy and prevention for these are to recognize that the basis of religion is in faith, in a living sight of God, the soul, duty, immortality, which are always and forever the same.
The best definitions of faith, by theologians of all schools, include the notion of insight, will, and affection. It is an act of the soul by which it looks at truth. But this act implies a desire to see and know the truth. Now, such an act as this lies at the root of all our knowledge, both of the material and spiritual world. How do I know the outward world? The passive exercise of sensation would never give such knowledge. The sights which enter the passive eye, the sounds which fill the passive ear, the feelings which affect the passive sense, give no real knowledge of outward things. That comes, not from sensation merely, but from sensation changed into experience by a voluntary activity. We must not only see, but look; not only hear, but listen; not only feel, but touch, in order to know. Life, therefore, the constant synthesis of these three elements,—life which, in every act, at once thinks, feels, and does,—alone gives us knowledge. Divorce thought from affection and will, and let it act by itself, and it does not give knowledge; it only gives belief or opinion. Knowledge comes only from experience—and experience means communion. Communion with Nature by thought, desire, and action gives us the knowledge of Nature; communion with God by thought, desire, and act, gives us the knowledge of God. The organ by which we commune with God is faith; it includes the desire of knowing God, and the act of looking to him in order to know him.
KNOWLEDGE of God, of immortality, and of spiritual things does not come from any process of reasoning on the one hand, nor from any single intuition of reason. Just so we do not know the material world by a process of reasoning on the one hand, or any single sensible perception on the other. All knowledge comes from life; or, as the apostle John expresses it, "Life is the light of man." We become acquainted with outward nature by living processes—by repeated acts of sight, hearing, touch, taste. So we become acquainted with the spiritual world by repeated spiritual acts; by repeated processes of faith; by continued steps of devotion, submission, obedience, trust, love, prayer. In this way we come to know God just as certainly, and just in the same way, as we know things visible or things audible.
But knowledge is not belief. Knowledge is the rooted conviction of the reality of certain facts or persons, derived from communing with those facts or persons. Belief is the intellectual assent to a proposition—a proposition formed by analytic and synthetic methods. We analyze our notion concerning any subject, and then arrange the results of this analysis in order, and deduce from them a proposition, a law. This we call our belief, or creed, concerning it. The substance of this belief is given us in life; the form of it comes from thinking or reasoning. But it is evident that such a belief differs in each individual according to his experience, and according to his habits of reasoning, and even according to his facility in expression. Moreover, knowledge and belief differ also in this, that knowledge places us in the presence of the reality, belief only in the presence of a proposition concerning it.
Thus John and James are friends. John knows James through a long intercourse. He is just as certain in regard to the essential character of James as he is about his own. But if he tries to express this knowledge of James in the form of belief, he may evidently express it badly. He may fail from a defective analysis, or from imperfect powers of language.
On the other hand John may not know James at all. He may never have seen him. But he has heard about him from a mutual friend, in whose judgment he trusts, or from several persons, and so he has formed a very decided belief in regard to James. He has a creed about him, though he has never known him.
In the same way those who know God truly and well, by the experience of obedience and prayer, may have a very erroneous belief concerning him. Those who do not know him at all, by any personal experience, may have a very correct belief concerning him. But which saves the soul? Which governs the life? Which affects the heart? Evidently not the belief, but the knowledge.
We are not saved by any belief whatsoever concerning God or Christ, concerning sin or salvation, concerning duty or destiny. Belief brings us into contact with the images of things, not the things themselves. Belief has no saving power. But knowledge has. "This is life eternal, to KNOW thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent."
It is therefore a great mistake when Orthodoxy or Rationalism reverses the axiom of John, and instead of saying, "Life is the light of man," tells us that "Light is the life of man." Knowledge comes from life. Belief comes from knowledge, and not the contrary.
The PRINCIPLE of Orthodoxy, as stated at the commencement of this chapter (in 1), is, that there is one true system of Christian doctrine, and that all others are false. The IDEA of Orthodoxy, as stated in 10 of this chapter, is, that the soul is saved by the sight of truth. The idea of Orthodoxy is true—its principle is false. The sight of truth—that is, of the great spiritual realities—saves us, for only by that sight are we lifted above our feeble and imperfect selves, and enabled to partake of the nature of God. But while truth is ever one and the same, doctrine varies from age to age, varies from man to man. Each man's statement is limited by his position, his mode of thought, his power of speech. Nor can any council, assembly, conference, synod escape from similar limitations.