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We do not forget the faults of individuals, the harsh words of Luther, the charges against Calvin, the austerities of the Puritans. But a man should be judged by his peers, deeds looked at in the light in which they were done, things that come to pass in spite of a doctrine deducted from the charges against it. The best proof of a doctrine is found in its later rather than its earlier fruits. Of all things human it is true that they deteriorate in time. That, therefore, which gains purity and power with years so far partakes of the Divine. We may point to a saint-like Edwards, the father of New England theology, than whom a meeker, holier, profounder soul has yet to be named, as even more fairly than Calvin an exponent of the real results, upon mind, heart, and life of the doctrinal system which he mainly inherited, through Calvin, from Augustine. Similarly we may point to the lives of our missionaries; their memoirs are in our hands. Wonderfully do these illustrate the power of the doctrine on the life. And we may lay down the broad statement, that, for the most part, the sound men have been, not merely the moral, but, more than that, the godly men.
But let us take a wider survey. To what extent are Scotland and New England indebted to their ancient doctrine of salvation by faith for their proverbial good morals and consistency of religious thought ? Why is it, on the other hand, that the lands where sacramentalism prevails are those where rationalism in various forms and tendencies is likewise the most widely spread ?—the Church of England, the Lutheran Church, and still more the Church of Rome, all permeated with that “ leaven of the Sadducees,” and the dominions of the Eldest Son of the Church the
nest of that newest form of Atheism, which has revived, under the name of Positivism, the scandal of pagan Rome, Nihil nefas. Does rationalism beget moral or religious reforms ? does it inaugurate or sustain missions ? Mark the regeneration of the heathen and half-Christian peoples that distinguishes this century! What is the soul of that redemptive activity, unprecedented since the days of Paul, that radiates from the Bible lands to-day? Is it not a fervent conviction of those strong doctrines of the Bible which we epitomise in our creeds and catechisms, and which the missionary preaches according to those standards ? Said M. Adolphe Monod to the French Churches in 1849, “The first condition of existence for our religious institutions of charity is sound doctrine.” And our hope for the future of . these regenerated communities depends largely on the fact that they have not to go through with the old process of doctrinal development. The Middle Age of Europe has not to be repeated among them. The conflicts
* At one of the Unitarian anniversaries last May the writer listened to a report of the state of that denomination in one of the large towns in the central part of the Commonwealth. Said the reporter: “If I should not show any great results as yet, it must be remembered where my field is. The Connecticut Valley is the home of Jonathan Edwards, and though he has been dead a century, he is a great name and a power for Orthodoxy through all that country to-day." Could a power so permanent, so vital at the close of a hundred years, have proceeded from any. thing less than a life wholly conformed to the doctrine ?
and wanderings through which the tardy Church attained the fruition of her heritage of truth are not for them. Our fathers wandered. Their carcasses fell in the wilderness. The inheritance of Israel is open now to all nations without that dreary pilgrimage that historically prepared it. We give to the nations now, not only the Word of God, but the right understanding
reof, wrought out and certified by the eventful experiences of eighteen centuries of Christian study and warfare.
From these two proposit ons, that definite statements of doctrine are the outgrowth and alsɔ the nourishment of the spiritual life, the following conclusions seem to be legitimately drawn :
1. Doctrinal beliefs are not the life itself. That life is love. He that loveth is born of Gol.” But nothing is easier, as history abundantly proves, than to mistake orthodoxy for faith. . . The brutal violence of the “Robber Council" at Ephesus, assembled in 449 to decide the question of Christ's nature, or natures; the fierceness with which theologians have fought over the words of redeeming love, " This is my body, given for you, attest how easy it is to cover total lack of the spirit with a cloak of zeal for the letter. Indeed, it is not easy to think kindly of those whose religious belief we detest. Nor is the odium theologicum as yet a fossil curiosity, even among
" liberal” Christians. " Without charity I am nothing." “ If any man love God, the same is known of him.'
2. The life only can keep, assimilate, work up the doctrine. Doctrine without life is like food in the stomach of a corpse, sure to corrupt. Let the religion of a creed die out, and its theology will change. Thus rose the Socinian apostacy in Massachusetts, as has been thoroughly demonstrated. When we see the clergy of the Anglican Church subscribing to her Thirtynine Articles, and exhibiting every phase of belief from orthodoxy to rationalism, from high Protestantism to high Ritualism, we learn just how much reliance can be placed on doctrinal tests for securing consistency and purity of faith. Better the apostolic way,-visiting the widows and fatherless in their affliction. Charity which “never faileth” (ÉKTÍTTEL, cf. Gal. v. 4; 2 Pet. iii. 17) keeps “unspotted from the world” better than any subscription. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity buildeth up." Yet we would keep the doctrinal test also, but in its proper place and use.
3. Disparagement of precision in doctrine betokens a low or unhealthy state of the life. Be the creed kept free from antiquated phraseology like a tree from dead wood; reformulated from time to time, as the Christian consciousness attains to clearer thought and more exact expressions; and let it be kept also in its legitimate use, so as to disfranchise no true believer, and it argues a lack of iron in the blood to be impatient of hearing it read, willing to let truth be ambiguously and vaguely held, unfriendly to creeds in general. A little persecution would be good for such good people. If they lived in a martyr period, they would soon define precisely what they did and what they did not believe. And those of them that loved the truth well enough to die for it, would want to stite that costly truth so
truly that no unbeliever could profess it without falsehood. The martyr Church did that in making the Creed of Nicæa such that no Arian could honestly subscribe it. That distinguished New England orator who some time since disparaged the Declaration of Independence as a "string of glittering generalities,” had he lived on into the sacrifices of the civil war, would doubtless have recanted what he said in the degenerate period preceding it. And those “liberal ” Christians who are so hard upon creeds, were they martyred a little, would learn--that is, those that could abide the lesson—the preciousness of the truth which the heroes of the faith have bequeathed as a blood-bought inheritance to their posterity.
4. Imperfection in doctrinal belief should debar no true Christian from Church fellowship. To exclude a child from school for ignorance, to look for the fruit as soon as the root, is preposterous. Where “ the power” of godliness is, there “ the form ” will come under favouring circumstances in time, as the skeleton develops and hardens into proper symmetry with the lapse of childhood into manhood. Not the least of the “ “plagues”-mischiefs —that come upon those who add to the things written in the book is the discouragement of the children from coming early into the Church. Assent to a creed is valueless, if made on the authority of another mind; and yet it is beyond the ability of most children to assent, understandingly, to the theological creeds of some of our Churches. And the closer our observance, with all sorts of persons, of the apostolic terms of Church fellowship, the better for the Church and the doctrine. Every regenerate person has a Divine right to Church fellowship. “ Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity,”—if grace, then, by orderly approach, the means of grace. Cotton Mather says: - The Churches of New England make only vital piety the terms of communion among them.” John Owen says: “ We will never deny the communion to any person whose duty it is to desire it.” Samuel Mather shows that all Christians ought to be admitted to any of Christ's Churches. Dr. Watts, in his “ Terms of Christian Communion,” shows that the Churches should, as a general rule, admit all who make a credible profession of religion, take heed not to make the door of admission larger or straiter than Christ made it, and that nothing be in their covenant but what is essential to common Christianity. The principle of assimilation, every man " to his own place,” together with the strict maintenance of orthodoxy and piety in the pulpit, will be found as potent to produce all desirable uniformity of belief as any initiatory tests in mere theology. We say, then, in the golden phrase of Cotton Mather, let " the terms of communion run parallel with the terms of salvation." Reform whatever is contrary to this rule as unscriptural, and also, as history shows, an innovation upon the primitive and catholic way.
5. Articles of doctrinal belief-a creed-are essential to the historic Church, and to every organisation that is truly a part thereof. For the Creed, the compend of the doctrines that have from time to time been wrought out of Scripture through the experiences of study and conflict, is
an important part of the history of the Church. The fruits of the Christian experience are precious. A“Church” that discards them is an alien body, without interest or right in “the holy Church universal throughout all the world. A lack of the historic spirit, which feeds on the fruits of the past, impoverishes the poet, the philosopher, the statesman, and no less the Christian and the Church. The creed of the historic Church will be a catholic creed,—not emphasising the shibboleths of sect or school. As the historic testimony of the Church to the true meaning of the Word of God, it will be borne in public,-—read upon solemn sacramental days. Why not, when no Fourth of July celebration is complete without a public reading of the Declaration of Independence? “Ye shall know the truth,” said Christ, " and the truth shall make you free.” It should be owned and consented to by every one who is “set for the defence of the Gospel,” ministers and office-bearers in the Church ; and for this use, the fuller the better; the freer from the double entendres (often hidden under the use of] of biblical phraseology, the better also. For the biblical phraseology is the very thing which the creed undertakes to interpret.
6. Doctrinal articles being the products of the spiritual life, the developments of Christian experience from the word of God, we have in the creed thus formed the Word of God tested by history,--a test as much more conclusive than that of any individual mind as the sum of the Christian centuries is longer than a single life. And so we may say, slightly altering Schiller’s famous phrase, the history of doctrine is the judgment of doctrine. In the evangelical creed, then, concerning man's sinfulness and moral impotence, Christ's atoning sacrifice, the Holy Ghost's regenerating work, the everlasting state of rewards and punishments, the deity of the Redeemer, and the tripersonality of God, we hear, not the scattered voices of individuals, but the authoritative testimony of History herself, reaffirming the declaration of the apostle, “ These things are good and profitable unto men.” This is nothing less than the testimony of time to the truth of eternity.
Hadst thou a flower, Thou wouldest mainly heed Its secret root, and feed
Its living power.
A mere machine Goes not, unless the spring Be kept a vigorous thing,
And true, I ween.
A wheel would'st have To turn! No need of stroke,
Or push, or tire, or spoke,
See to thy heart; If only it be right, It beauty gives, and might
To every part.
GOD IS LIGHT.
1 John i. 5. God is light; compared to Him,
Naught is bright, however bright; E’en the light itself is dim,
But the shadow of His light. God is light; there is but sooth
In His word, or in His thought; Truth is light, and God is truth,
Be it breathed or be it wrought. God is light; His holy might
Honours justice, chastens wrong: Right is light, and God is right,
Calm in strength, in calmness strong.
God is light; He lives above
Every sphere of selfishness; Love is light, and God is love,
In its depth and tenderness.
God is light; His joyous sky,
Trouble cannot darken o'er; Joy is light, and God is joy,
Boundless, deep, and evermore.
FOLLOW ON. “ Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord : his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth."-Hosea vi. 3.
Still follow on to know the Lord,
Although unknown as yet ; He will fulfil the gracious word
He seemeth to forget : He only seemeth, and to show Thee more than if thou now didst know.
Still follow on, whate'er thy love,
And holiness and bliss ;
Thy future unto this :
Still follow on ; He'll come to thee,
E'en as the blessed morn;
Like nature newly born ;
He'll come to thee, as Eastern rain,
In rich, abundant showers ;
Refreshing all thy powers ;
Then, travelling spirit, speed thy way,
And, labouring, till the ground; The longest night shall close in day,
Rain after drought be found; And God shall give thy heart the boon Of morn and rain, and give it soon.
See to thy heart;
Whate'er thou art.
'Tis with the soul,
So is the whole.
Light of light, Thyself reveal!
Light of light, Thyself impart! Make us in Thy light to feel
Fellowship with Thee in heart.