PHASES OF FAITH
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PASSAGES FROM THE HISTORY OF MY CREED.
Francis William Newman, 1874
PREFACE TO FIRST EDITION.
This is perhaps an egotistical book; egotistical certainly in its form, yet not in its purport and essence.
Personal reasons the writer cannot wholly disown, for desiring to explain himself to more than a few, who on religious grounds are unjustly alienated from him. If by any motive of curiosity or lingering remembrances they may be led to read his straightforward account, he trusts to be able to show them that he has had no choice but to adopt the intellectual conclusions which offend them;—that the difference between them and him turns on questions of Learning, History, Criticism and Abstract Thought;—and that to make their results (if indeed they have ever deeply and honestly investigated the matter) the tests of his spiritual state, is to employ unjust weights and a false balance, which are an abomination to the Lord. To defraud one's neighbour of any tithe of mint and cummin, would seem to them a sin: is it less to withhold affection, trust and free intercourse, and build up unpassable barriers of coldness and alarm, against one whose sole offence is to differ from them intellectually?
But the argument before the writer is something immensely greater than a personal one. So it happens, that to vindicate himself is to establish a mighty truth; a truth which can in no other way so well enter the heart, as when it comes embodied in an individual case. If he can show, that to have shrunk from his successive convictions would have been "infidelity" to God and Truth and Righteousness; but that he has been "faithful" to the highest and most urgent duty;—it will be made clear that Belief is one thing and Faith another; that to believe is intellectual, nay possibly "earthly, devilish;" and that to set up any fixed creed as a test of spiritual character is a most unjust, oppressive and mischievous superstition. The historical form has been deliberately selected, as easier and more interesting to the reader; but it must not be imagined that the author has given his mental history in general, much less an autobiography. The progress of his creed is his sole subject; and other topics are introduced either to illustrate this or as digressions suggested by it.
March 22nd, 1850.
PREFACE TO SIXTH EDITION
I had long thought that the elaborate reply made for me in the "Prospective Review" (1854) to Mr. Henry Rogers's Defence of the "Eclipse of Faith," superseded anything more from my pen. But in the course of six years a review is forgotten and buried away, while Mr. Rogers is circulating the ninth edition of his misrepresentations.
As my publisher announces to me the opportunity, I at length consent to reply myself to the Defence, cancelling what was previously my last chapter, written against the "Eclipse."
All that follows p. 175 in this edition is new.
I. MY YOUTHFUL CREED
II. STRIVINGS AFTER A MORE PRIMITIVE CHRISTIANITY
III. CALVINISM ABANDONED
IV. THE RELIGION OF THE LETTER RENOUNCED
V. FAITH AT SECOND HAND FOUND TO BE VAIN
VI. HISTORY DISCOVERED TO BE NO PART OF RELIGION
VII. ON THE MORAL PERFECTION OF JESUS
VIII. ON BIGOTRY AND PROGRESS
IX. REPLY TO THE "DEFENCE OF THE ECLIPSE OF FAITH"
PHASES OF FAITH.
MY YOUTHFUL CREED.
I first began to read religious books at school, and especially the Bible, when I was eleven years old; and almost immediately commenced a habit of secret prayer. But it was not until I was fourteen that I gained any definite idea of a "scheme of doctrine," or could have been called a "converted person" by one of the Evangelical School. My religion then certainly exerted a great general influence over my conduct; for I soon underwent various persecution from my schoolfellows on account of it: the worst kind consisted in their deliberate attempts to corrupt me. An Evangelical clergyman at the school gained my affections, and from him I imbibed more and more distinctly the full creed which distinguishes that body of men; a body whose bright side I shall ever appreciate, in spite of my present perception that they have a dark side also. I well remember, that one day when I said to this friend of mine, that I could not understand how the doctrine of Election was reconcilable to God's Justice, but supposed that I should know this in due time, if I waited and believed His word;—he replied with emphatic commendation, that this was the spirit which God always blessed. Such was the beginning and foundation of my faith,—an unhesitating unconditional acceptance of whatever was found in the Bible. While I am far from saying that my whole moral conduct was subjugated by my creed, I must insist that it was no mere fancy resting in my intellect: it was really operative on my temper, tastes, pursuits and conduct.
When I was sixteen, in 1821, I was "confirmed" by Dr. Howley, then Bishop of London, and endeavoured to take on myself with greater decision and more conscientious consistency the whole yoke of Christ. Every thing in the Service was solemn to me, except the bishop: he seemed to me a made-up man and a mere pageant. I also remember that when I was examined by the clergyman for confirmation, it troubled me much that he only put questions which tested my memory concerning the Catechism and other formulas, instead of trying to find out whether I had any actual faith in that about which I was to be called to profess faith: I was not then aware that his sole duty was to try my knowledge. But I already felt keenly the chasm that separated the High from the Low Church; and that it was impossible for me to sympathize with those who imagined that Forms could command the Spirit.
Yet so entirely was I enslaved to one Form,—that of observing the Sunday, or, as I had learned falsely to call it, the Sabbath,—that I fell into painful and injurious conflict with a superior kinsman, by refusing to obey his orders on the Sunday. He attempted to deal with me by mere authority, not by instruction; and to yield my conscience to authority would have been to yield up all spiritual life. I erred, but I was faithful to God.
When I was rather more than seventeen, I subscribed the 39 Articles at Oxford in order to be admitted to the University. Subscription was "no bondage," but pleasure; for I well knew and loved the Articles, and looked on them as a great bulwark of the truth; a bulwark, however, not by being imposed, but by the spiritual and classical beauty which to me shone in them. But it was certain to me before I went to Oxford, and manifest in my first acquaintance with it, that very few academicians could be said to believe them. Of the young men, not one in five seemed to have any religious convictions at all: the elder residents seldom or never showed sympathy with the doctrines that pervade that formula. I felt from my first day there, that the system of compulsory subscription was hollow, false, and wholly evil.
Oxford is a pleasant place for making friends,—friends of all sorts that young men wish. One who is above envy and scorns servility,—who can praise and delight in all the good qualities of his equals in age, and does not desire to set himself above them, or to vie with his superiors in rank,—may have more than enough of friends, for pleasure and for profit. So certainly had I; yet no one of my equals gained any ascendancy over me, nor perhaps could I have looked up to any for advice. In some the intellect, in others the religious qualities, were as yet insufficiently developed: in part also I wanted discrimination, and did not well pick out the profounder minds of my acquaintance. However, on my very first residence in College, I received a useful lesson from another freshman,—a grave and thoughtful person, older (I imagine) than most youths in their first term. Some readers may be amused, as well as surprized, when I name the delicate question on which I got into discussion with my fellow freshman. I had learned from Evangelical books, that there is a twofold imputation to every saint,—not of the "sufferings" only, but also of the "righteousness" of Christ. They alleged that, while the sufferings of Jesus are a compensation for the guilt of the believer and make him innocent, yet this suffices not to give him a title to heavenly glory; for which he must over and above be invested in active righteousness, by all Christ's good works being made over to him. My new friend contested the latter part of the doctrine. Admitting fully that guilt is atoned for by the sufferings of the Saviour, he yet maintained, there was no farther imputation of Christ's active service as if it had been our service. After a rather sharp controversy, I was sent back to study the matter for myself, especially in the third and fourth chapters of the Epistle to the Romans; and some weeks after, freely avowed to him that I was convinced. Such was my first effort at independent thought against the teaching of my spiritual fathers, and I suppose it had much value for me. This friend might probably have been of service to me, though he was rather cold and lawyerlike; but he was abruptly withdrawn from Oxford to be employed in active life.
I first received a temporary discomfort about the 39 Articles from an irreligious young man, who had been my schoolfellow; who one day attacked the article which asserts that Christ carried "his flesh and bones" with him into heaven. I was not moved by the physical absurdity which this youth mercilessly derided; and I repelled his objections as on impiety. But I afterwards remembered the text, "Flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God;" and it seemed to me as if the compiler had really gone a little too far. If I had immediately then been called on to subscribe, I suppose it would have somewhat discomposed me; but as time went on, I forgot this small point, which was swallowed up by others more important. Yet I believe that henceforth a greater disposition to criticize the Articles grew upon me.
The first novel opinion of any great importance that I actually embraced, so as to give roughness to my course, was that which many then called the Oriel heresy about Sunday. Oriel College at this time contained many active and several original minds; and it was rumoured that one of the Fellows rejoiced in seeing his parishioners play at cricket on Sunday: I do not know whether that was true, but so it was said. Another of them preached an excellent sermon before the University, clearly showing that Sunday had nothing to do with the Sabbath, nor the Sabbath with us, and inculcating on its own ground a wise and devout use of the Sunday hours. The evidently pious and sincere tone of this discourse impressed me, and I felt that I had no right to reject as profane and undeserving of examination the doctrine which it enforced. Accordingly I entered into a thorough searching of the Scripture without bias, and was amazed to find how baseless was the tenet for which in fact I had endured a sort of martyrdom. This, I believe, had a great effect in showing me how little right we have at any time to count on our opinions as final truth, however necessary they may just then be felt to our spiritual life. I was also scandalized to find how little candour or discernment some Evangelical friends, with whom I communicated, displayed in discussing the subject.
In fact, this opened to me a large sphere of new thought. In the investigation, I had learned, more distinctly than before, that the preceptive code of the Law was an essentially imperfect and temporary system, given "for the hardness of men's hearts." I was thus prepared to enter into the Lectures on Prophecy, by another Oriel Fellow,—Mr. Davison,—in which he traces the successive improvements and developments of religious doctrine, from the patriarchal system onward. I in consequence enjoyed with new zest the epistles of St. Paul, which I read as with fresh eyes; and now understood somewhat better his whole doctrine of "the Spirit," the coming of which had brought the church out of her childish into a mature condition, and by establishing a higher law had abolished that of the letter. Into this view I entered with so eager an interest, that I felt no bondage of the letter in Paul's own words: his wisdom was too much above me to allow free criticism of his weak points. At the same time, the systematic use of the Old Testament by the Puritans, as if it were "the rule of life" to Christians, I saw to be a glaring mistake, intensely opposed to the Pauline doctrine. This discovery, moreover, soon became important to me, as furnishing a ready evasion of objections against the meagre or puerile views of the Pentateuch; for without very minute inquiry how far I must go to make the defence adequate, I gave a general reply, that the New Testament confessed the imperfections of the older dispensation. I still presumed the Old to have been perfect for its own objects and in its own place; and had not defined to myself how far it was correct or absurd, to imagine morality to change with time and circumstances.
Before long, ground was broken in my mind on a still more critical question, by another Fellow of a College; who maintained that nothing but unbelief could arise out of the attempt to understand in what way and by what moral right the blood of Christ atoned for sins. He said, that he bowed before the doctrine as one of "Revelation," and accepted it reverentially by an act of faith; but that he certainly felt unable to understand why the sacrifice of Christ, any more than the Mosaic sacrifices, should compensate for the punishment of our sins. Could carnal reason discern that human or divine blood, any more than that of beasts, had efficacy to make the sinner as it were sinless? It appeared to him a necessarily inscrutable mystery, into which we ought not to look.—The matter being thus forced on my attention, I certainly saw that to establish the abstract moral right and justice of vicarious punishment was not easy, and that to make out the fact of any "compensation"—(i.e. that Jesus really endured on the cross a true equivalent for the eternal sufferings due to the whole human race,)—was harder still. Nevertheless I had difficulty in adopting the conclusions of this gentleman; FIRST, because, in a passage of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the sacred writer, in arguing—"For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats can take away sins," &c., &c....—seems to expect his readers to see an inherent impropriety in the sacrifices of the Law, and an inherent moral fitness in the sacrifice of Christ. SECONDLY: I had always been accustomed to hear that it was by seeing the moral fitness of the doctrine of the Atonement, that converts to Christianity were chiefly made: so said the Moravians among the Greenlanders, so Brainerd among the North American Indians, so English missionaries among the negroes at Sierra Leone:—and I could not at all renounce this idea. Indeed I seemed to myself to see this fitness most emphatically; and as for the forensic difficulties, I passed them over with a certain conscious reverence. I was not as yet ripe for deeper inquiry: yet I, about this time, decidedly modified my boyish creed on the subject, on which more will be said below.
Of more immediate practical importance to me was the controversy concerning Infant Baptism. For several years together I had been more or less conversant with the arguments adduced for the practice; and at this time I read Wall's defence of it, which was the book specially recommended at Oxford. The perusal brought to a head the doubts which had at an earlier period flitted over my mind. Wall's historical attempt to trace Infant Baptism up to the apostles seemed to me a clear failure: and if he failed, then who was likely to succeed? The arguments from Scripture had never recommended themselves to me. Even allowing that they might confirm, they certainly could not suggest and establish the practice. It now appeared that there was no basis at all; indeed, several of the arguments struck me as cutting the other way. "Suffer little children to come unto me," urged as decisive: but it occurred to me that the disciples would not have scolded the little children away, if they had ever been accustomed to baptize them. Wall also, if I remember aright, declares that the children of proselytes were baptized by the Jews; and deduces, that unless the contrary were stated, we must assume that also Christ's disciples baptized children: but I reflected that the baptism of John was one of "repentance," and therefore could not have been administered to infants; which (if precedent is to guide us) afforded the truer presumption concerning Christian baptism. Prepossessions being thus overthrown, when I read the apostolic epistles with a view to this special question, the proof so multiplied against the Church doctrine, that I did not see what was left to be said for it. I talked much and freely of this, as of most other topics, with equals in age, who took interest in religious questions; but the more the matters were discussed, the more decidedly impossible it seemed to maintain that the popular Church views were apostolic.
Here also, as before, the Evangelical clergy whom I consulted were found by me a broken reed. The clerical friend whom I had known at school wrote kindly to me, but quite declined attempting to solve my doubts; and in other quarters I soon saw that no fresh light was to be got. One person there was at Oxford, who might have seemed my natural adviser; his name, character, and religious peculiarities have been so made public property, that I need not shrink to name him:—I mean my elder brother, the Rev. John Henry Newman. As a warm-hearted and generous brother, who exercised towards me paternal cares, I esteemed him and felt a deep gratitude; as a man of various culture, and peculiar genius, I admired and was proud of him; but my doctrinal religion impeded my loving him as much as he deserved, and even justified my feeling some distrust of him. He never showed any strong attraction towards those whom I regarded as spiritual persons: on the contrary, I thought him stiff and cold towards them. Moreover, soon after his ordination, he had startled and distressed me by adopting the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration; and in rapid succession worked out views which I regarded as full-blown "Popery." I speak of the years 1823-6: it is strange to think that twenty years more had to pass before he learnt the place to which his doctrines belonged.
In the earliest period of my Oxford residence I fell into uneasy collision with him concerning Episcopal powers. I had on one occasion dropt something disrespectful against bishops or a bishop,—something which, if it had been said about a clergyman, would have passed unnoticed: but my brother checked and reproved me,—as I thought, very uninstructively—for "wanting reverence towards Bishops." I knew not then, and I know not now, why Bishops, as such, should be more reverenced than common clergymen; or Clergymen, as such, more than common men. In the World I expected pomp and vain show and formality and counterfeits: but of the Church, as Christ's own kingdom, I demanded reality and could not digest legal fictions. I saw round me what sort of young men were preparing to be clergymen: I knew the attractions of family "livings" and fellowships, and of a respectable position and undefinable hopes of preferment. I farther knew, that when youths had become clergymen through a great variety of mixed motives, bishops were selected out of these clergy on avowedly political grounds; it therefore amazed me how a man of good sense should be able to set up a duty of religious veneration towards bishops. I was willing to honour a Lord Bishop as a peer of Parliament; but his office was to me no guarantee of spiritual eminence.—To find my brother thus stop my mouth, was a puzzle; and impeded all free speech towards him. In fact, I very soon left off the attempt at intimate religious intercourse with him, or asking counsel as of one who could sympathize. We talked, indeed, a great deal on the surface of religious matters; and on some questions I was overpowered and received a temporary bias from his superior knowledge; but as time went on, and my own intellect ripened, I distinctly felt that his arguments were too fine-drawn and subtle, often elaborately missing the moral points and the main points, to rest on some ecclesiastical fiction; and his conclusions were to me so marvellous and painful, that I constantly thought I had mistaken him. In short, he was my senior by a very few years: nor was there any elder resident at Oxford, accessible to me, who united all the qualities which I wanted in an adviser. Nothing was left for me but to cast myself on Him who is named the Father of Lights, and resolve to follow the light which He might give, however opposed to my own prejudices, and however I might be condemned by men. This solemn engagement I made in early youth, and neither the frowns nor the grief of my brethren can make me ashamed of it in my manhood.
Among the religious authors whom I read familiarly was the Rev. T. Scott, of Aston Sandford, a rather dull, very unoriginal, half-educated, but honest, worthy, sensible, strong-minded man, whose works were then much in vogue among the Evangelicals. One day my attention was arrested by a sentence in his defence of the doctrine of the Trinity. He complained that Anti-Trinitarians unjustly charged Trinitarians with self-contradiction. "If indeed we said" (argued he) "that God is three in the same sense as that in which He is one, that would be self-refuting; but we hold Him to be three in one sense, and one in another." It crossed my mind very forcibly, that, if that was all, the Athanasian Creed had gratuitously invented an enigma. I exchanged thoughts on this with an undergraduate friend, and got no fresh light: in fact, I feared to be profane, if I attempted to understand the subject. Yet it came distinctly home to me, that, whatever the depth of the mystery, if we lay down anything about it at all, we ought to understand our own words; and I presently augured that Tillotson had been right in "wishing our Church well rid" of the Athanasian Creed; which seemed a mere offensive blurting out of intellectual difficulties. I had, however, no doubts, even of a passing kind, for years to come, concerning the substantial truth and certainty of the ecclesiastical Trinity.
When the period arrived for taking my Bachelors degree, it was requisite again to sign the 39 Articles, and I now found myself embarrassed by the question of Infant Baptism. One of the articles contains the following words, "The baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained, as most agreeable to the institution of Christ." I was unable to conceal from myself that I did not believe this sentence; and I was on the point of refusing to take my degree. I overcame my scruples by considering, 1. That concerning this doctrine I had no active dis-belief, on which I would take any practical step, as I felt myself too young to make any counterdeclaration: 2. That it had no possible practical meaning to me, since I could not be called on to baptize, nor to give a child for baptism. Thus I persuaded myself. Yet I had not an easy conscience, nor can I now defend my compromise; for I believe that my repugnance to Infant Baptism was really intense, and my conviction that it is unapostolic as strong then as now. The topic of my "youth" was irrelevant; for, if I was not too young to subscribe, I was not too young to refuse subscription. The argument that the article was "unpractical" to me, goes to prove, that if I were ordered by a despot to qualify myself for a place in the Church by solemnly renouncing the first book of Euclid as false, I might do so without any loss of moral dignity. Altogether, this humiliating affair showed me what a trap for the conscience these subscriptions are: how comfortably they are passed while the intellect is torpid or immature, or where the conscience is callous, but how they undermine truthfulness in the active thinker, and torture the sensitiveness of the tenderminded. As long as they are maintained, in Church or University, these institutions exert a positive influence to deprave or eject those who ought to be their most useful and honoured members.
It was already breaking upon me, that I could not fulfil the dreams of my boyhood as a minister in the Church of England. For, supposing that with increased knowledge I might arrive at the conclusion that Infant Baptism was a fore-arranged "development,"—not indeed practised in the first generation, but expedient, justifiable, and intended for the second, and probably then sanctioned by one still living apostle,—even so, I foresaw the still greater difficulty of Baptismal Regeneration behind. For any one to avow that Regeneration took place in Baptism, seemed to me little short of a confession that he had never himself experienced what Regeneration is. If I could then have been convinced that the apostles taught no other regeneration, I almost think that even their authority would have snapt under the strain: but this is idle theory; for it was as clear as daylight to me that they held a totally different doctrine, and that the High Church and Popish fancy is a superstitious perversion, based upon carnal inability to understand a strong spiritual metaphor. On the other hand, my brother's arguments that the Baptismal Service of the Church taught "spiritual regeneration" during the ordinance, were short, simple, and overwhelming. To imagine a twofold "spiritual regeneration" was evidently a hypothesis to serve a turn, nor in any of the Church formulas was such an idea broached. Nor could I hope for relief by searching through the Homilies or by drawing deductions from the Articles: for if I there elicited a truer doctrine, it would never show the Baptismal Service not to teach the Popish tenet; it would merely prove the Church-system to contain contradictions, and not to deserve that absolute declaration of its truth, which is demanded of Church ministers. With little hope of advantage, I yet felt it a duty to consult many of the Evangelical clergymen whom I knew, and to ask how they reconciled the Baptismal Service to their consciences. I found (if I remember) three separate theories among them,—all evidently mere shifts invented to avoid the disagreeable necessity of resigning their functions. Not one of these good people seemed to have the most remote idea that it was their duty to investigate the meaning of the formulary with the same unbiassed simplicity as if it belonged to the Gallican Church. They did not seek to know what it was written to mean, nor what sense it must carry to every simpleminded hearer; but they solely asked, how they could manage to assign to it a sense not wholly irreconcilable with their own doctrines and preaching. This was too obviously hollow. The last gentleman whom I consulted, was the rector of a parish, who from week to week baptized children with the prescribed formula: but to my amazement, he told me that he did not like the Service, and did not approve of Infant Baptism; to both of which things he submitted, solely because, as an inferior minister of the Church, it was his duty to obey established authority! The case was desperate. But I may here add, that this clergyman, within a few years from that time, redeemed his freedom and his conscience by the painful ordeal of abandoning his position and his flock, against the remonstrances of his wife, to the annoyance of his friends, and with a young family about him.
Let no reader accept the preceding paragraph as my testimony that the Evangelical clergy are less simpleminded and less honourable in their subscriptions than the High Church. I do not say, and I do not believe this. All who subscribe, labour under a common difficulty, in having to give an absolute assent to formulas that were made by a compromise and are not homogeneous in character. To the High Churchman, the Articles are a difficulty; to the Low Churchman, various parts of the Liturgy. All have to do violence to some portion of the system; and considering at how early an age they are entrapped into subscription, they all deserve our sincere sympathy and very ample allowance, as long as they are pleading for the rights of conscience: only when they become overbearing, dictatorial, proud of their chains, and desirous of ejecting others, does it seem right to press them with the topic of inconsistency. There in, besides, in the ministry of the Established Church a sprinkling of original minds, who cannot be included in either of the two great divisions; and from these a priori one might have hoped much good to the Church. But such persons no sooner speak out, than the two hostile parties hush their strife, in order the more effectually to overwhelm with just and unjust imputations those who dare to utter truth that has not yet been consecrated by Act of Parliament or by Church Councils. Among those who have subscribed, to attack others is easy, to defend oneself most arduous. Recrimination is the only powerful weapon; and noble minds are ashamed to use this. No hope, therefore, shows itself of Reform from within.—For myself, I feel that nothing saved me from the infinite distresses which I should have encountered, had I become a minister of the Episcopal Church, but the very unusual prematureness of my religious development.
Besides the great subject of Baptismal Regeneration, the entire Episcopal theory and practice offended me. How little favourably I was impressed, when a boy, by the lawn sleeves, wig, artificial voice and manner of the Bishop of London, I have already said: but in six years more, reading and observation had intensely confirmed my first auguries. It was clear beyond denial, that for a century after the death of Edward VI. the bishops were the tools of court-bigotry, and often owed their highest promotions to base subservience. After the Revolution, the Episcopal order (on a rough and general view) might be described as a body of supine persons, known to the public only as a dead weight against all change that was distasteful to the Government. In the last century and a half, the nation was often afflicted with sensual royalty, bloody wars, venal statesmen, corrupt constituencies, bribery and violence at elections, flagitious drunkenness pervading all ranks, and insinuating itself into Colleges and Rectories. The prisons of the country had been in a most disgraceful state; the fairs and waits were scenes of rude debauchery, and the theatres were—still, in this nineteenth century—whispered to be haunts of the most debasing immorality. I could not learn that any bishop had ever taken the lead in denouncing these iniquities; nor that when any man or class of men rose to denounce them, the Episcopal Order failed to throw itself into the breach to defend corruption by at least passive resistance. Neither Howard, Wesley and Whitfield, nor yet Clarkson, Wilberforce, or Romilly, could boast of the episcopal bench as an ally against inhuman or immoral practices. Our oppressions in India, and our sanction to the most cruel superstitions of the natives, led to no outcry from the Bishops. Under their patronage the two old Societies of the Church had gone to sleep until aroused by the Church Missionary and Bible Societies, which were opposed by the Bishops. Their policy seemed to be, to do nothing, until somebody else was likely to do it; upon which they at last joined the movement in order to damp its energy, and get some credit from it. Now what were Bishops for, but to be the originators and energetic organs of all pious and good works? and what were they in the House of Lords for, if not to set a higher tone of purity, justice, and truth? and if they never did this, but weighed down those who attempted it, was not that a condemnation (not, perhaps, of all possible Episcopacy, but) of Episcopacy as it exists in England? If such a thing as a moral argument for Christianity was admitted as valid, surely the above was a moral argument against English Prelacy. It was, moreover, evident at a glance, that this system of ours neither was, nor could have been, apostolic: for as long as the civil power was hostile to the Church, a Lord bishop nominated by the civil ruler was an impossibility: and this it is, which determines the moral and spiritual character of the English institution, not indeed exclusively, but preeminently.
I still feel amazement at the only defence which (as far as I know) the pretended followers of Antiquity make for the nomination of bishops by the Crown. In the third and fourth centuries, it is well known that every new bishop was elected by the universal suffrage of the laity of the church; and it is to these centuries that the High Episcopalians love to appeal, because they can quote thence out of Cyprian and others in favour of Episcopal authority. When I alleged the dissimilarity in the mode of election, as fatal to this argument in the mouth of an English High Churchman, I was told that "the Crown now represents the Laity!" Such a fiction may be satisfactory to a pettifogging lawyer, but as the basis of a spiritual system is indeed supremely contemptible.
With these considerations on my mind,—while quite aware that some of the bishops were good and valuable men,—I could not help feeling that it would be a perfect misery to me to have to address one of them taken at random as my "Right Reverend Father in God," which seemed like a foul hypocrisy; and when I remembered who had said, "Call no man Father on earth; for one is your Father, who is in heaven:"—words, which not merely in the letter, but still more distinctly in the spirit, forbid the state of feeling which suggested this episcopal appellation,—it did appear to me, as if "Prelacy" had been rightly coupled by the Scotch Puritans with "Popery" as antichristian.
Connected inseparably with this, was the form of Ordination, which, the more I thought of it, seemed the more offensively and outrageously Popish, and quite opposed to the Article on the same subject. In the Article I read, that we were to regard such to be legitimate ministers of the word, as had been duly appointed to this work by those who have public authority for the same. It was evident to me that this very wide phrase was adapted and intended to comprehend the "public authorities" of all the Reformed Churches, and could never have been selected by one who wished to narrow the idea of a legitimate minister to Episcopalian Orders; besides that we know Lutheran and Calvinistic ministers to have been actually admitted in the early times of the Reformed English Church, by the force of that very Article. To this, the only genuine Protestant view of a Church, I gave my most cordial adherence: but when I turned to the Ordination Service, I found the Bishop there, by his authoritative voice, absolutely to bestow on the candidate for Priesthood the power to forgive or retain sins!—"Receive ye the Holy Ghost! Whose sins ye forgive, they are forgiven: whose sins ye retain, they are retained." If the Bishop really had this power, he of course had it only as Bishop, that is, by his consecration; thus it was formally transmitted. To allow this, vested in all the Romish bishops a spiritual power of the highest order, and denied the legitimate priesthood in nearly all the Continental Protestant Churches—a doctrine irreconcilable with the article just referred to and intrinsically to me incredible. That an unspiritual—and it may be, a wicked—man, who can have no pure insight into devout and penitent hearts, and no communion with the Source of holy discernment, could never receive by an outward form the divine power to forgive or retain sins, or the power of bestowing this power, was to me then, as now, as clear and certain as any possible first axiom. Yet if the Bishop had not this power, how profane was the pretension! Thus again I came into rude collision with English Prelacy.
The year after taking my degree, I made myself fully master of Paley's acute and original treatise, the "Horae Paulinae," and realized the whole life of Paul as never before. This book greatly enlarged my mind as to the resources of historical criticism. Previously, my sole idea of criticism was that of the direct discernment of style; but I now began to understand what powerful argument rose out of combinations: and the very complete establishment which this work gives to the narrative concerning Paul in the latter half of the "Acts," appeared to me to reflect critical honour on the whole New Testament. In the epistles of this great apostle, notwithstanding their argumentative difficulties, I found a moral reality and a depth of wisdom perpetually growing upon me with acquaintance: in contrast to which I was conscious that I made no progress in understanding the four gospels. Their first impression had been their strongest: and their difficulties remained as fixed blocks in my way. Was this possibly because Paul is a reasoner, (I asked)? hence, with the cultivation of my understanding, I have entered more easily into the heart of his views:—while Christ enunciates divine truth dogmatically; consequently insight is needed to understand him? On the contrary, however, it seemed to me, that the doctrinal difficulties of the gospels depend chiefly either on obscure metaphor or on apparent incoherence: and I timidly asked a friend, whether the dislocation of the discourses of Christ by the narrators may not be one reason why they are often obscure: for on comparing Luke with Matthew, it appears that we cannot deny occasional dislocation. If at this period a German divinity professor had been lecturing at Oxford, or German books had been accessible to me, it might have saved me long peregrinations of body and mind.
About this time I had also begun to think that the old writers called Fathers deserved but a small fraction of the reverence which is awarded to them. I had been strongly urged to read Chrysostom's work on the Priesthood, by one who regarded it as a suitable preparation for Holy Orders; and I did read it. But I not only thought it inflated, and without moral depth, but what was far worse, I encountered in it an elaborate defence of falsehood in the cause of the Church, and generally of deceit in any good cause. I rose from the treatise in disgust, and for the first time sympathized with Gibbon; and augured that if he had spoken with moral indignation, instead of pompous sarcasm, against the frauds of the ancient "Fathers," his blows would have fallen far more heavily on Christianity itself.
I also, with much effort and no profit, read the Apostolic Fathers. Of these, Clement alone seemed to me respectable, and even he to write only what I could myself have written, with Paul and Peter to serve as a model. But for Barnabas and Hermas I felt a contempt so profound, that I could hardly believe them genuine. On the whole, this reading greatly exalted my sense of the unapproachable greatness of the New Testament. The moral chasm between it and the very earliest Christian writers seemed to me so vast, as only to be accounted for by the doctrine in which all spiritual men (as I thought) unhesitatingly agreed,—that the New Testament was dictated by the immediate action of the Holy Spirit. The infatuation of those, who, after this, rested on the Councils, was to me unintelligible. Thus the Bible in its simplicity became only the more all-ruling to my judgment, because I could find no Articles, no Church Decrees, and no apostolic individual, whose rule over my understanding or conscience I could bear. Such may be conveniently regarded as the first period of my Creed.
[Footnote 1: It was not until many years later that I became aware, that unbiased ecclesiastical historians, as Neander and others, while approving of the practice of Infant Baptism, freely concede that it is not apostolic. Let this fact be my defence against critics, who snarl at me for having dared, at that age, to come to any conclusion on such a subject. But, in fact, the subscriptions compel young men to it.]
[Footnote 2: I remember reading about that time a sentence in one of his Epistles, in which this same Cyprian, the earliest mouthpiece of "proud prelacy," claims for the populace supreme right of deposing an unworthy bishop. I quote the words from memory, and do not know the reference. "Pleba summam habet potentatem episcopos seu dignos eligendi seu indignos detrudendi."]
[Footnote 3: A critic absurdly complains that I do not account for this. Account for what? I still hold the authenticity of nearly all the Pauline epistles, and that the Pauline Acts are compiled from some valuable source, from chap. xiii. onward; but it was gratuitous to infer that this could accredit the four gospels.]
[Footnote 4: He argues from the Bible, that a victory gained by deceit is more to be esteemed than one obtained by force; and that, provided the end aimed at be good, we ought not to call it deceit, but a sort of admirable management. A learned friend informs me that in his 45th Homily on Genesis, this father, in his zeal to vindicate Scriptural characters at any cost, goes further still in immorality. My friend adds, "It is really frightful to reflect to what guidance the moral sentiment of mankind was committed for many ages: Chrysostom is usually considered one of the best of the fathers."]
[Footnote 5: I thought that the latter part of this book would sufficiently show how and why I now need to modify this sentiment. I now see the doctrine of the Atonement, especially as expounded in the Epistle of the Hebrews, to deserve no honour. I see false interpretations of the Old Testament to be dogmatically proposed in the New. I see the moral teaching concerning Patriotism, Property, Slavery, Marriage, Science, and indirectly Fine Art, to be essentially defective, and the threats against unbelief to be a pernicious immorality. See also p. 80. Why will critics use my frankly-stated juvenile opinions as a stone to pelt me with?]
STRIVINGS AFTER A MORE PRIMITIVE CHRISTIANITY.
My second period is characterized, partly by the great ascendancy exercised over me by one powerful mind and still more powerful will, partly by the vehement effort which throughout its duration urged me to long after the establishment of Christian Fellowship in a purely Biblical Church as the first great want of Christendom and of the world.
I was already uneasy in the sense that I could not enter the ministry of the Church of England, and knew not what course of life to choose. I longed to become a missionary for Christ among the heathen,—a notion I had often fostered while reading the lives of missionaries: but again, I saw not how that was to be effected. After taking my degree, I became a Fellow of Balliol College; and the next year I accepted an invitation to Ireland, and there became private tutor for fifteen months in the house of one now deceased, whose name I would gladly mention for honour and affection;—but I withhold my pen. While he repaid me munificently for my services, he behaved towards me as a father, or indeed as an elder brother, and instantly made me feel as a member of his family. His great talents, high professional standing, nobleness of heart and unfeigned piety, would have made him a most valuable counsellor to me: but he was too gentle, too unassuming, too modest; he looked to be taught by his juniors, and sat at the feet of one whom I proceed to describe.
This was a young relative of his,—a most remarkable man,—who rapidly gained an immense sway over me. I shall henceforth call him "the Irish clergyman." His "bodily presence" was indeed "weak!" A fallen cheek, a bloodshot eye, crippled limbs resting on crutches, a seldom shaven beard, a shabby suit of clothes and a generally neglected person, drew at first pity, with wonder to see such a figure in a drawing-room. It was currently reported that a person in Limerick offered him a halfpenny, mistaking him for a beggar; and if not true, the story was yet well invented. This young man had taken high honours in Dublin University and had studied for the bar, where under the auspices of his eminent kinsman he had excellent prospects; but his conscience would not allow him to take a brief, lest he should be selling his talents to defeat justice. With keen logical powers, he had warm sympathies, solid judgment of character, thoughtful tenderness, and total self-abandonment. He before long took Holy Orders, and became an indefatigable curate in the mountains of Wicklow. Every evening he sallied forth to teach in the cabins, and roving far and wide over mountain and amid bogs, was seldom home before midnight. By such exertions his strength was undermined, and he so suffered in his limbs that not lameness only, but yet more serious results were feared. He did not fast on purpose, but his long walks through wild country and indigent people inflicted on him much severe deprivation: moreover, as he ate whatever food offered itself,—food unpalatable and often indigestible to him, his whole frame might have vied in emaciation with a monk of La Trappe.
Such a phenomenon intensely excited the poor Romanists, who looked on him as a genuine "saint" of the ancient breed. The stamp of heaven seemed to them clear in a frame so wasted by austerity, so superior to worldly pomp, and so partaking in all their indigence. That a dozen such men would have done more to convert all Ireland to Protestantism, than the whole apparatus of the Church Establishment, was ere long my conviction; though I was at first offended by his apparent affectation of a mean exterior. But I soon understood, that in no other way could he gain equal access to the lower and lowest orders, and that he was moved not by asceticism, nor by ostentation, but by a self-abandonment fruitful of consequences. He had practically given up all reading except that of the Bible; and no small part of his movement towards me soon took the form of dissuasion from all other voluntary study.
In fact, I had myself more and more concentrated my religious reading on this one book: still, I could not help feeling the value of a cultivated mind. Against this, my new eccentric friend, (himself having enjoyed no mean advantages of cultivation,) directed his keenest attacks. I remember once saying to him, in defence of worldly station,—"To desire to be rich is unchristian and absurd; but if I were the father of children, I should wish to be rich enough to secure them a good education." He replied: "If I had children, I would as soon see them break stones on the road, as do any thing else, if only I could secure to them the Gospel and the grace of God." I was unable to say Amen, but I admired his unflinching consistency;—for now, as always, all he said was based on texts aptly quoted and logically enforced. He more and more made me ashamed of Political Economy and Moral Philosophy, and all Science; all of which ought to be "counted dross for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord." For the first time in my life I saw a man earnestly turning into reality the principles which others confessed with their lips only. That the words of the New Testament contained the highest truth accessible to man,—truth not to be taken from nor added to,—all good men (as I thought) confessed: never before had I seen a man so resolved that no word of it should be a dead letter to him. I once said: "But do you really think that no part of the New Testament may have been temporary in its object? for instance, what should we have lost, if St. Paul had never written the verse, 'The cloak which I have left at Troas, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.'" He answered with the greatest promptitude: "I should certainly have lost something; for that is exactly the verse which alone saved me from selling my little library. No! every word, depend upon it, is from the Spirit, and is for eternal service."
A political question was just then exceedingly agitating Ireland, in which nearly everybody took a great interest;—it was, the propriety of admitting Romanist members of Parliament. Those who were favourable to the measure, generally advocated it by trying to undervalue the chasm that separates Romish from Protestant doctrine. By such arguments they exceedingly exasperated the real Protestants, and, in common with all around me, I totally repudiated that ground of comprehension. But I could not understand why a broader, more generous and every way safer argument was not dwelt on; viz. the unearthliness of the claims of Christianity. When Paul was preaching the kingdom of God in the Roman empire, if a malicious enemy had declared to a Roman proconsul that the Christians were conspiring to eject all Pagans out of the senate and out of the public administration; who can doubt what Paul would have replied?—The kingdom of God is not of this world: it is within the heart, and consists in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. These are our "honours" from God: we ask not the honours of empire and title. Our King is in heaven; and will in time return to bring to an end these earthly kingdoms: but until then, we claim no superiority over you on earth. As the riches of this world, so the powers of this world belong to another king: we dare not try to appropriate them in the name of our heavenly King; may, we should hold it as great a sin to clutch empire for our churches, as to clutch wealth: God forbid that we covet either!—But what then if the enemy had had foresight to reply, O proconsul, this Paul talks finely, and perhaps sincerely: but if so, yet cheat not yourself to think that his followers will tie themselves to his mild equity and disinterestedness. Now indeed they are weak: now they profess unworldliness and unambition: they wish only to be recognised as peaceable subjects, as citizens and as equals: but if once they grow strong enough, they will discover that their spears and swords are the symbol of their Lord's return from heaven; that he now at length commissions them to eject you, as vile infidels, from all seats of power,—to slay you with the sword, if you dare to offer sacrifice to the immortal gods,—to degrade you so, that you shall only not enter the senate, or the privy council of the prince, or the judgment seat, but not even the jury-box, or a municipal corporation, or the pettiest edileship of Italy; nay, you shall not be lieutenants of armies, or tribunes, or anything above the lowest centurion. You shall become a plebeian class,—cheap bodies to be exposed in battle or to toil in the field, and pay rent to the lordly Christian. Such shall be the fate of you, the worshippers of Quirinus and of Jupiter Best and Greatest, if you neglect to crush and extirpate, during the weakness of its infancy, this ambitious and unscrupulous portent of a religion.—Oh, how would Paul have groaned in spirit, at accusations such as these, hateful to his soul, aspersing to his churches, but impossible to refute! Either Paul's doctrine was a fond dream, (felt I,) or it is certain, that he would have protested with all the force of his heart against the principle that Christians as such have any claim to earthly power and place; or that they could, when they gained a numerical majority, without sin enact laws to punish, stigmatize, exclude, or otherwise treat with political inferiority the Pagan remnant. To uphold such exclusion, is to lay the axe to the root of the spiritual Church, to stultify the apostolic preaching, and at this moment justify Mohammedans in persecuting Christians. For the Sultan might fairly say,—"I give Christians the choice of exile or death: I will not allow that sect to grow up here; for it has fully warned me, that it will proscribe my religion in my own land, as soon as it has power."
On such grounds I looked with amazement and sorrow at spiritual Christians who desired to exclude the Romanists from full equality; and I was happy to enjoy as to this the passive assent of the Irish clergyman; who, though "Orange" in his connexions, and opposed to all political action, yet only so much the more deprecated what he called "political Protestantism."
In spite of the strong revulsion which I felt against some of the peculiarities of this remarkable man, I for the first time in my life found myself under the dominion of a superior. When I remember, how even those bowed down before him, who had been to him in the place of parents,—accomplished and experienced minds,—I cease to wonder in the retrospect, that he riveted me in such a bondage. Henceforth I began to ask: what will he say to this and that? In his reply I always expected to find a higher portion of God's Spirit, than in any I could frame for myself. In order to learn divine truth, it became to me a surer process to consult him, than to search for myself and wait upon God: and gradually, (as I afterwards discerned,) my religious thought had merged into the mere process of developing fearlessly into results all his principles, without any deeper examining of my foundations. Indeed, but for a few weaknesses which warned me that he might err, I could have accepted him as an apostle commissioned to reveal the mind of God.
In his after-course (which I may not indicate) this gentleman has every where displayed a wonderful power of bending other minds to his own, and even stamping upon them the tones of his voice and all sorts of slavish imitation. Over the general results of his action I have long deeply mourned, as blunting his natural tenderness and sacrificing his wisdom to the Letter, dwarfing men's understandings, contracting their hearts, crushing their moral sensibilities, and setting those at variance who ought to love: yet oh! how specious was it in the beginning! he only wanted men "to submit their understandings to God" that is, to the Bible, that is, to his interpretation! From seeing his action and influence I have learnt, that if it be dangerous to a young man (as it assuredly is) to have no superior mind to which he may look up with confiding reverence, it may be even more dangerous to think that he has found such a mind: for he who is most logically consistent, though to a one-sided theory, and most ready to sacrifice self to that theory, seems to ardent youth the most assuredly trustworthy guide. Such was Ignatius Loyola in his day.
My study of the New Testament at this time had made it impossible for me to overlook that the apostles held it to be a duty of all disciples to expect a near and sudden destruction of the earth by fire, and constantly to be expecting the return of the Lord from heaven. It was easy to reply, that "experience disproved" this expectation; but to this an answer was ready provided in Peter's 2nd Epistle, which forewarns us that we shall be taunted by the unbelieving with thin objection, but bids us, nevertheless, continue to look out for the speedy fulfilment of this great event. In short, the case stood thus:—If it was not too soon 1800 years ago to stand in daily expectation of it, it is not too soon now: to say that it is too late, is not merely to impute error to the apostles, on a matter which they made of first-rate moral importance, but is to say, that those whom Peter calls "ungodly scoffers, walking after their own lusts"—were right, and he was wrong, on the very point for which he thus vituperated them.
The importance of this doctrine is, that it totally forbids all working for earthly objects distant in time: and here the Irish clergyman threw into the same scale the entire weight of his character. For instance; if a youth had a natural aptitude for mathematics, and he asked, ought he to give himself to the study, in hope that he might diffuse a serviceable knowledge of it, or possibly even enlarge the boundaries of the science? my friend would have replied, that such a purpose was very proper, if entertained by a worldly man. Let the dead bury their dead; and let the world study the things of the world: they know no better, and they are of use to the Church, who may borrow and use the jewels of the Egyptians. But such studies cannot be eagerly followed by the Christian, except when he yields to unbelief. In fact, what would it avail even to become a second La Place after thirty years' study, if in five and thirty years the Lord descended from heaven, snatched up all his saints to meet him, and burned to ashes all the works of the earth? Then all the mathematician's work would have perished, and he would grieve over his unwisdom, in laying up store which could not stand the fire of the Lord. Clearly; if we are bound to act as though the end of all earthly concerns may come, "at cockcrowing or at midday," then to work for distant earthly objects is the part of a fool or of an unbeliever.
I found a wonderful dulness in many persons on this important subject. Wholly careless to ask what was the true apostolic doctrine, they insisted that "Death is to us practically the coming of the Lord," and were amazed at my seeing so much emphasis in the other view. This comes of the abominable selfishness preached as religion. If I were to labour at some useful work for ten years,—say, at clearing forest land, laying out a farm, and building a house,—and were then to die, I should leave my work to my successors, and it would not be lost. Some men work for higher, some for lower, earthly ends; ("in a great house there are many vessels, &c.;") but all the results are valuable, if there is a chance of transmitting them to those who follow us. But if all is to be very shortly burnt up, it is then folly to exert ourselves for such objects. To the dead man, (it is said,) the cases are but one. This is to the purpose, if self absorbs all our heart; away from the purpose, if we are to work for unselfish ends.
Nothing can be clearer, than that the New Testament is entirely pervaded by the doctrine,—sometimes explicitly stated, sometimes unceremoniously assumed,—that earthly things are very speedily to come to an end, and therefore are not worthy of our high affections and deep interest. Hence, when thoroughly imbued with this persuasion, I looked with mournful pity on a great mind wasting its energies on any distant aim of this earth. For a statesman to talk about providing for future generations, sounded to me as a melancholy avowal of unbelief. To devote good talents to write history or investigate nature, was simple waste: for at the Lord's coming, history and science would no longer be learned by these feeble appliances of ours. Thus an inevitable deduction from the doctrine of the apostles, was, that "we must work for speedy results only." Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat inchoare longam. I then accepted the doctrine, in profound obedience to the absolutely infallible system of precepts. I now see that the falsity and mischief of the doctrine is one of the very many disproofs of the assumed, but unverified infallibility. However, the hold which the apostolic belief then took of me, subjected my conscience to the exhortations of the Irish clergyman, whenever he inculcated that the highest Christian must necessarily decline the pursuit of science, knowledge, art, history,—except so far as any of these things might be made useful tools for immediate spiritual results.
Under the stimulus to my imagination given by this gentleman's character, the desire, which from a boy I had more or less nourished, of becoming a teacher of Christianity to the heathen, took stronger and stronger hold of me. I saw that I was shut out from the ministry of the Church of England, and knew not how to seek connexion with Dissenters. I had met one eminent Quaker, but was offended by the violent and obviously false interpretations by which he tried to get rid of the two Sacraments; and I thought there was affectation involved in the forms which the doctrine of the Spirit took with him. Besides, I had not been prepossessed by those Dissenters whom I had heard speak at the Bible Society. I remember that one of them talked in pompous measured tones of voice, and with much stereotyped phraseology, about "the Bible only, the religion of Protestants:" altogether, it did not seem to me that there was at all so much of nature and simple truth in them as in Church clergymen. I also had a vague, but strong idea, that all Dissenting churches assumed some special, narrow, and sectarian basis. The question indeed arose: "Was I at liberty to preach to the heathen without ordination?" but I with extreme ease answered in the affirmative. To teach a Church, of course needs the sanction of the church: no man can assume pastoral rights without assent from other parties: but to speak to those without, is obviously a natural right, with which the Church can have nothing to do. And herewith all the precedents of the New Testament so obviously agreed, that I had not a moment's disquiet on this head.
At the same time, when asked by one to whom I communicated my feelings, "whether I felt that I had a call to preach to the heathen," I replied: I had not the least consciousness of it, and knew not what was meant by such language. All that I knew was, that I was willing and anxious to do anything in my power either to teach, or to help others in teaching, if only I could find out the way. That after eighteen hundred years no farther progress should have been made towards the universal spread of Christianity, appeared a scandalous reproach on Christendom. Is it not, perhaps, because those who are in Church office cannot go, and the mass of the laity think it no business of theirs? If a persecution fell on England, and thousands were driven into exile, and, like those who were scattered in Stephen's persecution, "went everywhere preaching the word,"—might not this be the conversion of the world, as indeed that began the conversion of the Gentiles? But the laity leave all to the clergy, and the clergy have more than enough to do.
About this time I heard of another remarkable man, whose name was already before the public,—Mr. Groves,—who had written a tract called Christian Devotedness, on the duty of devoting all worldly property for the cause of Christ, and utterly renouncing the attempt to amass money. In pursuance of this, he was going to Persia as a teacher of Christianity. I read his tract, and was inflamed with the greatest admiration; judging immediately that this was the man whom I should rejoice to aid or serve. For a scheme of this nature alone appeared to combine with the views which I had been gradually consolidating concerning the practical relation of a Christian Church to Christian Evidences. On this very important subject it is requisite to speak in detail.
* * * * *
The Christian Evidences are an essential part of the course of religious study prescribed at Oxford, and they had engaged from an early period a large share of my attention. Each treatise on the subject, taken by itself, appeared to me to have great argumentative force; but when I tried to grasp them all together in a higher act of thought, I was sensible of a certain confusion, and inability to reconcile their fundamental assumptions. One either formally stated, or virtually assumed, that the deepest basis of all religious knowledge was the testimony of sense to some fact, which is ascertained to be miraculous when examined by the light of Physics or Physiology; and that we must, at least in a great degree, distrust and abandon our moral convictions or auguries, at the bidding of sensible miracle. Another treatise assumed that men's moral feelings and beliefs are, on the whole, the most trustworthy thing to be found; and starting from them as from a known and ascertained foundation, proceeded to glorify Christianity because of its expanding, strengthening, and beautifying all that we know by conscience to be morally right. That the former argument, if ever so valid, was still too learned and scholastic, not for the vulgar only, but for every man in his times of moral trial, I felt instinctively persuaded: yet my intellect could not wholly dispense with it, and my belief in the depravity of the moral understanding of men inclined me to go some way in defending it. To endeavour to combine the two arguments by saying that they were adapted to different states of mind, was plausible; yet it conceded, that neither of the two went to the bottom of human thought, or showed what were the real fixed points of man's knowledge; without knowing which, we are in perpetual danger of mere argumentum ad hominem, or, in fact, arguing in a circle;—as to prove miracles from doctrine, and doctrine from miracles. I however conceived that the most logical minds among Christians would contend that there was another solution; which, in 1827, I committed to paper in nearly the following words:
"May it not be doubted whether Leland sees the real circumstance that makes a revelation necessary?
"No revelation is needed to inform us,—of the invisible power and deity of God; that we are bound to worship Him; that we are capable of sinning against Him and liable to his just Judgment; nay, that we have sinned, and that we find in nature marks of his displeasure against sin; and yet, that He is merciful. St. Paul and our Lord show us that these things are knowable by reason. The ignorance of the heathens is judicial blindness, to punish their obstinate rejection of the true God."
"But a revelation is needed to convey a SPECIAL message, such as this: that God has provided an Atonement for our sins, has deputed his own Son to become Head of the redeemed human family, and intends to raise those who believe in Him to a future and eternal life of bliss. These are external truths, (for 'who can believe, unless one be sent to preach them?') and are not knowable by any reasonings drawn from nature. They transcend natural analogies and moral or spiritual experience. To reveal them, a specific communication must be accorded to us: and on this the necessity for miracle turns."
Thus, in my view, at that time, the materials of the Bible were in theory divisible into two portions: concerning the one, (which I called Natural Religion,) it not only was not presumptuous, but it was absolutely essential, to form an independent judgment; for this was the real basis of all faith: concerning the other, (which I called Revealed Religion,) our business was, not to criticize the message, but to examine the credentials of the messenger; and,—after the most unbiassed possible examination of these,—then, if they proved sound, to receive his communication reverently and unquestioningly.
Such was the theory with which I came from Oxford to Ireland; but I was hindered from working out its legitimate results by the overpowering influence of the Irish clergyman; who, while pressing the authority of every letter of the Scripture with an unshrinking vehemence that I never saw surpassed, yet, with a common inconsistency, showed more than indifference towards learned historical and critical evidence on the side of Christianity; and indeed, unmercifully exposed erudition to scorn, both by caustic reasoning, and by irrefragable quotation of texts. I constantly had occasion to admire the power with which be laid hold of the moral side of every controversy; whether he was reasoning against Romanism, against the High Church, against learned religion or philosophic scepticism: and in this matter his practical axiom was, that the advocate of truth had to address himself to the conscience of the other party, and if possible, make him feel that there was a moral and spiritual superiority against him. Such doctrine, when joined with an inculcation of man's natural blindness and total depravity, was anything but clearing to my intellectual perceptions: in fact, I believe that for some years I did not recover from the dimness and confusion which he spread over them. But in my entire inability to explain away the texts which spoke with scorn of worldly wisdom, philosophy, and learning, on the one hand; and the obvious certainty, on the other, that no historical evidence for miracle was possible except by the aid of learning; I for the time abandoned this side of Christian Evidence,—not as invalid, but as too unwieldy a weapon for use,—and looked to direct moral evidence alone. And now rose the question, How could such moral evidence become appreciable to heathens and Mohammedans?
I felt distinctly enough, that mere talk could bring no conviction, and would be interpreted by the actions and character of the speaker. While nations called Christian are only known to heathens as great conquerors, powerful avengers, sharp traders,—often lax in morals, and apparently without religion,—the fine theories of a Christian teacher would be as vain to convert a Mohammedan or Hindoo to Christianity, to the soundness of Seneca's moral treatises to convert me to Roman Paganism. Christendom has to earn a new reputation before Christian precepts will be thought to stand in any essential or close relation with the mystical doctrines of Christianity. I could see no other way to this, but by an entire church being formed of new elements on a heathen soil:—a church, in which by no means all should be preachers, but all should be willing to do for all whatever occasion required. Such a church had I read of among the Moravians in Greenland and in South Africa. I imagined a little colony, so animated by primitive faith, love, and disinterestedness, that the collective moral influence of all might interpret and enforce the words of the few who preached. Only in this way did it appear to me that preaching to the heathen could be attended with success. In fact, whatever success had been attained, seemed to come only after many years, when the natives had gained experience in the characters of the Christian family around them.
When I had returned to Oxford, I induced the Irish clergyman to visit the University, and introduced him to many of my equals in age, and juniors. Most striking was it to see how instantaneously he assumed the place of universal father-confessor, as if he had been a known and long-trusted friend. His insight into character, and tenderness pervading his austerity, so opened young men's hearts, that day after day there was no end of secret closetings with him. I began to see the prospect of so considerable a movement of mind, as might lead many in the same direction as myself; and if it was by a collective Church that Mohammedans were to be taught, the only way was for each separately to be led to the same place by the same spiritual influence. As Groves was a magnet to draw me, so might I draw others. In no other way could a pure and efficient Church be formed. If we waited, as with worldly policy, to make up a complete colony before leaving England, we should fail of getting the right men: we should pack them together by a mechanical process, instead of leaving them to be united by vital affinities. Thus actuated, and other circumstances conducing, in September 1830, with some Irish friends, I set out to join Mr. Groves at Bagdad. What I might do there, I knew not. I did not go as a minister of religion, and I everywhere pointedly disowned the assumption of this character, even down to the colour of my dress. But I thought I knew many ways in which I might be of service, and I was prepared to act recording to circumstances.
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Perhaps the strain of practical life must in any case, before long, have broken the chain by which the Irish clergyman unintentionally held me; but all possible influence from him was now cut off by separation. The dear companions of my travels no more aimed to guide my thoughts, than I theirs: neither ambition nor suspicion found place in our hearts; and my mind was thus able again without disturbance to develop its own tendencies.
I had become distinctly aware, that the modern Churches in general by no means hold the truth as conceived of by the apostles. In the matter of the Sabbath and of the Mosaic Law, of Infant Baptism, of Episcopacy, of the doctrine of the Lord's return, I had successively found the prevalent Protestantism to be unapostolic. Hence arose in me a conscious and continuous effort to read the New Testament with fresh eyes and without bias, and so to take up the real doctrines of the heavenly and everlasting Gospel.
In studying the narrative of John I was strongly impressed by the fact, that the glory and greatness of the Son of God is constantly ascribed to the will and pleasure of the Father. I had been accustomed to hear this explained of his mediatorial greatness only, but this now looked to me like a make-shift, and to want the simplicity of truth—an impression which grew deeper with closer examination. The emphatic declaration of Christ, "My Father is greater than I," especially arrested my attention. Could I really expound this as meaning, "My Father, the Supreme God, in greater than I am, if you look solely to my human nature?" Such a truism can scarcely have deserved such emphasis. Did the disciples need to be taught that God was greater than man? Surely, on the contrary, the Saviour must have meant to say: "Divine as I am, yet my heavenly Father is greater than I, even when you take cognizance of my divine nature." I did not then know, that my comment was exactly that of the most orthodox Fathers; I rather thought they were against me, but for them I did not care much. I reverenced the doctrine of the Trinity as something vital to the soul; but felt that to love the Fathers or the Athanasian Creed more than the Gospel of John would be a supremely miserable superstition. However, that Creed states that there is no inequality between the Three Persons: in John it became increasingly clear to me that the divine Son is unequal to the Father. To say that "the Son of God" meant "Jesus as man," was a preposterous evasion: for there is no higher title for the Second Person of the Trinity than this very one—Son of God. Now, in the 5th chapter, when the Jews accused Jesus "of making himself equal to God," by calling himself Son of God Jesus even hastens to protest against the inference as a misrepresentation —beginning with: "The Son can do nothing of himself:" and proceeds elaborately to ascribe all his greatness to the Father's will. In fact, the Son is emphatically "he who is sent," and the Father is "he who sent him:" and all would feel the deep impropriety of trying to exchange these phrases. The Son who is sent,—sent, not after he was humbled to become man, but in order to be so humbled,—was NOT EQUAL TO, but LESS THAN, the Father who sent him. To this I found the whole Gospel of John to bear witness; and with this conviction, the truth and honour of the Athanasian Creed fell to the ground. One of its main tenets was proved false; and yet it dared to utter anathemas on all who rejected it!
I afterwards remembered my old thought, that we must surely understand our own words, when we venture to speak at all about divine mysteries. Having gained boldness to gaze steadily on the topic, I at length saw that the compiler of the Athanasian Creed did not understand his own words. If any one speaks of three men, all that he means is, "three objects of thought, of whom each separately may be called Man." So also, all that could possibly be meant by three gods, is, "three objects of thought, of whom each separately may be called God." To avow the last statement, as the Creed does, and yet repudiate Three Gods, is to object to the phrase, yet confess to the only meaning which the phrase can convey. Thus the Creed really teaches polytheism, but saves orthodoxy by forbidding any one to call it by its true name. Or to put the matter otherwise: it teaches three Divine Persons, and denies three Gods; and leaves us to guess what else is a Divine Person but a God, or a God but a Divine Person. Who, then, can deny that this intolerant creed is a malignant riddle?
That there is nothing in the Scripture about Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity I had long observed; and the total absence of such phraseology had left on me a general persuasion that the Church had systematized too much. But in my study of John I was now arrested by a text, which showed me how exceedingly far from a Tri-unity was the Trinity of that Gospel,—if trinity it be. Namely, in his last prayer, Jesus addresses to his Father the words: "This is life eternal, that they may know Thee, the only True God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" I became amazed, as I considered these words more and more attentively, and without prejudice; and I began to understand how prejudice, when embalmed with reverence, blinds the mind. Why had I never before seen what is here so plain, that the One God of Jesus was not a Trinity, but was the First Person, of the ecclesiastical Trinity?
But on a fuller search, I found this to be Paul's doctrine also: for in 1 Corinth, viii., when discussing the subject of Polytheism, he says that "though there be to the heathen many that are called Gods, yet to us there is but One God, the Father, of whom are all things; and One Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things." Thus he defines Monotheism to consist in holding the person of the Father to be the One God; although this, if any, should have been the place for a "Trinity in Unity."
But did I proceed to deny the Divinity of the Son? By no means: I conceived of him as in the highest and fullest sense divine, short of being Father and not Son. I now believed that by the phrase "only begotten Son," John, and indeed Christ himself, meant to teach us that there was an unpassable chasm between him and all creatures, in that he had a true, though a derived divine nature; an indeed the Nicene Creed puts the contrast, he was "begotten, not made." Thus all Divine glory dwells in the Son, but it is because the Father has willed it. A year or more afterward, when I had again the means of access to books, and consulted that very common Oxford book, "Pearson on the Creed," (for which I had felt so great a distaste that I never before read it)—I found this to be the undoubted doctrine of the great Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, who laid much emphasis on two statements, which with the modern Church are idle and dead—viz. that "the Son was begotten of his Father before all worlds," and that "the Holy Spirit proceedeth from the Father and the Son." In the view of the old Church, the Father alone was the Fountain of Deity,—(and therefore fitly called, The One God,—and, the Only True God)—while the Deity of the other two persons was real, yet derived and subordinate. Moreover, I found in Gregory Nazianzen and others, that to confess this derivation of the Son and Spirit and the underivedness of the Father alone, was in their view quite essential to save Monotheism; the One God being the underived Father.
Although in my own mind all doubt as to the doctrine of John and Paul on the main question seemed to be quite cleared away from the time that I dwelt on their explanation of Monotheism, this in no respect agitated me, or even engaged me in any farther search. There was nothing to force me into controversy, or make this one point of truth unduly preponderant. I concealed none of my thoughts from my companions; and concerning them I will only say, that whether they did or did not feel acquiescence, they behaved towards me with all the affection and all the equality which I would have wished myself to maintain, had the case been inverted. I was, however, sometimes uneasy, when the thought crossed my mind,—"What if we, like Henry Martyn, were charged with Polytheism by Mohammedans, and were forced to defend ourselves by explaining in detail our doctrine of the Trinity? Perhaps no two of us would explain it alike, and this would expose Christian doctrine to contempt." Then farther it came across me; How very remarkable it is, that the Jews, those strict Monotheists, never seem to have attacked the apostles for polytheism! It would have been so plausible an imputation, one that the instinct of party would so readily suggest, if there had been any external form of doctrine to countenance it. Surely it is transparent that the Apostles did not teach as Dr. Waterland. I had always felt a great repugnance to the argumentations concerning the Personality of the Holy Spirit; no doubt from an inward sense, however dimly confessed, that they were all words without meaning. For the disputant who maintains this dogma, tells us in the very next breath that Person has not in this connexion its common signification; so that he is elaborately enforcing upon us we know not what. That the Spirit of God meant in the New Testament God in the heart, had long been to me a sufficient explanation: and who by logic or metaphysics will carry us beyond this?
While we were at Aleppo, I one day got into religious discourse with a Mohammedan carpenter, which left on me a lasting impression. Among other matters, I was peculiarly desirous of disabusing him of the current notion of his people, that our gospels are spurious narratives of late date. I found great difficulty of expression; but the man listened to me with much attention, and I was encouraged to exert myself. He waited patiently till I had done, and then spoke to the following effect: "I will tell you, sir, how the case stands. God has given to you English a great many good gifts. You make fine ships, and sharp penknives, and good cloth and cottons; and you have rich nobles and brave soldiers; and you write and print many learned books: (dictionaries and grammars:) all this is of God. But there is one thing that God has withheld from you, and has revealed to us; and that is, the knowledge of the true religion, by which one may be saved." When he thus ignored my argument, (which was probably quite unintelligible to him,) and delivered his simple protest, I was silenced, and at the same time amused. But the more I thought it over, the more instruction I saw in the case. His position towards me was exactly that of a humble Christian towards an unbelieving philosopher; nay, that of the early Apostles or Jewish prophets towards the proud, cultivated, worldly wise and powerful heathen. This not only showed the vanity of any argument to him, except one purely addressed to his moral and spiritual faculties; but it also indicated to me that Ignorance has its spiritual self-sufficiency as well as Erudition; and that if there is a Pride of Reason, so is there a Pride of Unreason. But though this rested in my memory, it was long before I worked out all the results of that thought.
Another matter brought me some disquiet. An Englishman of rather low tastes who came to Aleppo at this time, called upon us; and as he was civilly received, repeated his visit more than once. Being unencumbered with fastidiousness, this person before long made various rude attacks on the truth and authority of the Christian religion, and drew me on to defend it. What I had heard of the moral life of the speaker made me feel that his was not the mind to have insight into divine truth; and I desired to divert the argument from external topics, and bring it to a point in which there might be a chance of touching his conscience. But I found this to be impossible. He returned actively to the assault against Christianity, and I could not bear to hear him vent historical falsehoods and misrepresentations damaging to the Christian cause, without contradicting them. He was a half-educated man, and I easily confuted him to my own entire satisfaction: but he was not either abashed or convinced; and at length withdrew as one victorious.—On reflecting over this, I felt painfully, that if a Moslem had been present and had understood all that had been said, he would have remained in total uncertainty which of the two disputants was in the right: for the controversy had turned on points wholly remote from the sphere of his knowledge or thought. Yet to have declined the battle would have seemed like conscious weakness on my part. Thus the historical side of my religion, though essential to it, and though resting on valid evidence, (as I unhesitatingly believed,) exposed me to attacks in which I might incur virtual defeat or disgrace, but in which, from the nature of the case, I could never win an available victory. This was to me very disagreeable, yet I saw not my way out of the entanglement.
Two years after I left England, a hope was conceived that more friends might be induced to join us; and I returned home from Bagdad with the commission to bring this about, if there were suitable persons disposed for it. On my return, and while yet in quarantine on the coast of England, I received an uncomfortable letter from a most intimate spiritual friend, to the effect, that painful reports had been every where spread abroad against my soundness in the faith. The channel by which they had come was indicated to me; but my friend expressed a firm hope, that when I had explained myself, it would all prove to be nothing.
Now began a time of deep and critical trial to me and to my Creed; a time hard to speak of to the public; yet without a pretty full notice of it, the rest of the account would be quite unintelligible.
The Tractarian movement was just commencing in 1833. My brother was taking a position, in which he was bound to show that he could sacrifice private love to ecclesiastical dogma; and upon learning that I had spoken at some small meetings of religious people, (which he interpreted, I believe, to be an assuming of the Priest's office,) he separated himself entirely from my private friendship and acquaintance. To the public this may have some interest, as indicating the disturbing excitement which animated that cause: but my reason for naming the fact here is solely to exhibit the practical positions into which I myself was thrown. In my brother's conduct there was not a shade of unkindness, and I have not a thought of complaining of it. My distress was naturally great, until I had fully ascertained from him that I had given no personal offence. But the mischief of it went deeper. It practically cut me off from other members of my family, who were living in his house, and whose state of feeling towards me, through separation and my own agitations of mind, I for some time totally mistook.
I had, however, myself slighted relationship in comparison with Christian brotherhood;—sectarian brotherhood, some may call it;—I perhaps had none but myself to blame: but in the far more painful occurrences which were to succeed one another for many months together, I was blameless. Each successive friend who asked explanations of my alleged heresy, was satisfied,—or at least left me with that impression,—after hearing me: not one who met me face to face had a word to reply to the plain Scriptures which I quoted. Yet when I was gone away, one after another was turned against me by somebody else whom I had not yet met or did not know: for in every theological conclave which deliberates on joint action, the most bigoted scorns always to prevail.
I will trust my pen to only one specimen of details. The Irish clergyman was not able to meet me. He wrote a very desultory letter of grave alarm and inquiry, stating that he had heard that I was endeavouring to sound the divine nature by the miserable plummet of human philosophy,—with much beside that I felt to be mere commonplace which every body might address to every body who differed from him. I however replied in the frankest, most cordial and trusting tone, assuring him that I was infinitely far from imagining that I could "by searching understand God;" on the contrary, concerning his higher mysteries, I felt I knew absolutely nothing but what he revealed to me in his word; but in studying this word, I found John and Paul to declare the Father, and not the Trinity, to be the One God. Referring him to John xvii, 3, 1 Corinth. viii, 5, 6, I fondly believed that one so "subject to the word" and so resolutely renouncing man's authority in order that he might serve God, would immediately see as I saw. But I assured him, in all the depth of affection, that I felt how much fuller insight he had than I into all divine truth; and not he only, but others to whom I alluded; and that if I was in error, I only desired to be taught more truly; and either with him, or at his feet, to learn of God. He replied, to my amazement and distress, in a letter of much tenderness, but which was to the effect,—that if I allowed the Spirit of God to be with him rather than with me, it was wonderful that I set my single judgment against the mind of the Spirit and of the whole Church of God; and that as for admitting into Christian communion one who held my doctrine, it had this absurdity, that while I was in such a state of belief, it was my duty to anathematize them as idolaters.—Severe as was the shock given me by this letter, I wrote again most lovingly, humbly, and imploringly: for I still adored him, and could have given him my right hand or my right eye,—anything but my conscience. I showed him that if it was a matter of action, I would submit; for I unfeignedly believed that he had more of the Spirit of God than I: but over my secret convictions I had no power. I was shut up to obey and believe God rather than man, and from the nature of the case, the profoundest respect for my brother's judgment could not in itself alter mine. As to the whole Church being against me, I did not know what that meant: I was willing to accept the Nicene Creed, and this I thought ought to be a sufficient defensive argument against the Church. His answer was decisive;—he was exceedingly surprized at my recurring to mere ecclesiastical creeds, as though they could have the slightest weight; and he must insist on my acknowledging, that, in the two texts quoted, the word Father meant the Trinity, if I desired to be in any way recognized as holding the truth.
The Father meant the Trinity!! For the first time I perceived, that so vehement a champion of the sufficiency of the Scripture, so staunch an opposer of Creeds and Churches, was wedded to an extra-Scriptural creed of his own, by which he tested the spiritual state of his brethren. I was in despair, and like a man thunderstruck. I had nothing more to say. Two more letters from the same hand I saw, the latter of which was, to threaten some new acquaintances who were kind to me, (persons wholly unknown to him,) that if they did not desist from sheltering me and break off intercourse, they should, as far as his influence went, themselves everywhere be cut off from Christian communion and recognition. This will suffice to indicate the sort of social persecution, through which, after a succession of struggles, I found myself separated from persons whom I had trustingly admired, and on whom I had most counted for union: with whom I fondly believed myself bound up for eternity; of whom some were my previously intimate friends, while for others, even on slight acquaintance, I would have performed menial offices and thought myself honoured; whom I still looked upon as the blessed and excellent of the earth, and the special favourites of heaven; whose company (though oftentimes they were considerably my inferiors either in rank or in knowledge and cultivation) I would have chosen in preference to that of nobles; whom I loved solely because I thought them to love God, and of whom I asked nothing, but that they would admit me as the meanest and most frail of disciples. My heart was ready to break: I wished for a woman's soul, that I might weep in floods. Oh, Dogma! Dogma! how dost them trample under foot love, truth, conscience, justice! Was ever a Moloch worse than thou? Burn me at the stake; then Christ will receive me, and saints beyond the grave will love me, though the saints here know me not But now I am alone in the world: I can trust no one. The new acquaintances who barely tolerate me, and old friends whom reports have not reached, (if such there be,) may turn against me with animosity to-morrow, as those have done from whom I could least have imagined it. Where is union? where is the Church, which was to convert the heathen?