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HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE.
The Scripture record, like the stars, is the same from age to age; the words of prophets, the sayings and the deeds of Christ, and the teachings of apostles, are constant luminaries in the moral firmament. As the stars address all men, as they kindle the hearts of all by the spectacle of their glory, as they guide the uncultured sailor as well as the master scientist, so the divine oracles address all men, and speak a language from which all may receive spiritual quickening and guidance.
A still further analogy may be predicated. The starry heavens challenge study and interpretation, in the course of which difficult questions are likely to be raised, and upon these conflicting answers may be, and indeed often have been elicited. In like manner the Scriptures challenge study and interpretation. In many instances they suggest much more than they expressly state. What they give in the shape of historical facts is often fitted to serve as a basis for a whole train of inferences respecting the divine kingdom. So the mind is sent off upon far-reaching paths. What it finds in the pursuit of one topic it naturally wishes to compare with the results of its inquiry upon other topics. Hence theological disquisition, definition, and ultimately the theological system. As the subject is
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complex and touches upon the profoundest mysteries, one interpreter is naturally found disagreeing with another. The importance of the subject, as lying within the realm of sacred things and of immortal interests, tends to magnify . the import of the disagreement in the eyes of the parties concerned. The result is earnest controversy, - controversy quenched at one point only to break out at another, - controversy threatening to be endless. To save from this calamity, as they regard it, some would say, Cease to dogmatize ; cease to trouble yourself and the world with theological definitions and systems; deal with the Scriptures practically, and use them simply for stimulus and direction in righteous living. This advice has the semblance of practical sagacity, and no doubt within certain limits may be healthfully applied; but when designed for a sweeping application it becomes utopian and false. It is to be granted that the one who uses the stellar luminaries simply to enkindle the fires of poetic sentiment, or to guide his voyage, may be profited by them more than the one who becomes absorbed in the mathematics of the skies. It is to be granted that he who uses the Scriptures simply to warm his heart and to enliven his imagination by glimpses of spiritual beauty and majesty, or to guide his conduct by maxims of practical wisdom, may be more benefited by the sacred Word than the one who is occupied with constructing the exact definition and the comprehensive theological system. In either sphere a purely intellectual absorption may stand in the way of acquiring the best riches. But no one on this account thinks of putting a veto on astronomical science; no more should one think of putting a veto upon theological science, or, in other words, upon exact definition and systematic arrangement in connection with the topics of theology. Such a veto would be useless. The scientific impulse of the human mind cannot be held in fetters in any sphere, and must assert itself in the region of religious thought as well as in
any other. Indeed, there is a sacred obligation that it should be so asserted; for while an abnormal engrossment in the intellectual tends to rob the heart and to impoverish the spiritual nature, that nature is enriched by all consecrated use of the intellect. Clear and comprehensive views, searching and subtile thoughts, when not perverted into a mere instrument of mental gymnastics, are an abundant spring of holy emotion and endeavor.
It has been, therefore, in obedience to a natural and normal impulse that the Church in all ages has attempted a construction of Christian doctrine. Its work, however, in this direction, while in part normal, has often been carried on in a wrong temper and by illegitimate methods. Force has often invaded the domain of reason, and free thought has been crushed before an arrogant assumption of infallibility. Factors alien to the essence of Christianity have crept into the Church. False dogmas have sometimes been invented to give countenance to false customs, or to minister to hierarchical pride. Tradition has usurped in no small degree the place of revelation, and theologians have comported themselves like the astronomer who should judge the stars by the theories of some ancient star-gazer, rather than the theories by the facts which may be gained from the stars themselves. Reaction against such perversions has not always stopped at the right limit. Extreme dogmas have been opposed by extreme dogmas. Radicalism has sometimes been as indiscriminate in tearing down as conservatism has been in retaining. In consideration of the alternation between doing and undoing, the reviewer may be reminded of the weaving of Penelope, and be led to question the reality of any progress toward the perfect fabric of Christian doctrine. Upon a deeper scrutiny of the subject, however, he will be likely to adopt a more hopeful verdict; he will remind himself that it is wellnigh inevitable, in a sphere so deep and complex as is that of Christian thought, that progress should be made