Page images

only such affections as are proper to an infinite spirit. But the matter is overdone. It is forgotten that man was made in God's image-that the anthropopathy of the Bible has a meaning-and that we must retain our hold upon it, if we would keep the Divine character within the sphere of human apprehension and sympathy. On the other hand, the Divine is sometimes so humanized as to lose its peculiar glory. Its unchangeableness is compromitted; its justice is in peril ; its impassibility comes to be questioned-yea, even by ancient or modern Patripassians to be stoutly denied.By one class, the agency of God in nature and providence is so magnified, as almost to exclude all other agency. There are scarce left

you what are commonly called nature's laws. You are brought back to the old Cartesian theory of occasional causes. The whole creation is but a vast system of opportunities for the direct putting forth of God's power-an immense transparency which serves only to show God working. Nor is this view confined to unintelligent being. The Divine efficiency is so set forth as to make God's will, virtually, the only will in the universe. In a moral sense, he not only creates good, but he also creates evil. From a distinguished American pulpit such language as the following has been uttered :—" When Moses called upon Pharaoh to let the people go, God stood by him and moved him to refuse. When Moses interceded for him, and procured him respite, God stood by him and moved him to exult in his obstinacy. 'When the people departed from his kingdom, God stood by him and moved him to pursue after them with increased malice and revenge. And what God did on such particular occasions, he did at all times. He continually hardened his heart, and governed all his actions, from the day of his birth to the day of his death.” By a diferent class of reasoners, everything is resolved into natural law, the connection of which with God's power is scarcely recognised. He is well nigh shut out of his own creation. A self-determination is ascribed to the human will scarcely compatible either with Divine government or with human dependence. Instead of looking for God in providence, they look for man there. They discourse of human progress, as if its causes were in man rather than in God,-in our inherent goodness and energy, rather than in the Divine beneficence, wisdom and power ;-as if nature, fallen and corrupt, had not a constant downward tendency-as if its only hope were not in supervening grace.

The doctrine of election is pressed by some into the highest supralapsarian form-taking men, as Dr. Gill expresses it,“ in the pure mass of creatureship," and that not actual, but possible and predetermined. By others, it is not merely reduced to the sublapsarian level, but virtually denied, being made a mere general purpose to save those who repent and believe.-In one quarter,

Rev. Dr. Emmons : Sermon on Reprobation.

[ocr errors]

the atonement is, for the supposed honoring of Divine justice, distorted into the commerical form--the endurance by the Redeemer of just the amount of suffering to which the redeemed were liable. It is no boon to the whole of our race, but a special favor to the elect portion. In another quarter, not only does it embrace the whole world, but an over-sensitiveness is felt as to any application to it of the term penalty. Nay, we have heard of late, that so far from having any penal character, or being designed to meet objective or governmental difficulties, it is mainly of subjective value. It is for man's convenience, so to speak, rather than God's. It is but an "altar form," an “æsthetic” arrangement, suited to dispel all fear of penalty, and to inspire confidence in God as a loving father.—The doctrine of justification, while some so shape it, for the magnifying of Divine grace, as to involve more or less antinomian error, is so held by others, as to make those works of man which are but the superstructure, a component part of the foundation.

In the matter of the sinners turning to God, the Holy Spirit is by some made to do all. Means are nothing—human effort is nothing. The unrenewed are represented, indeed, as under an entire and unqualified inability. To such lengths is this view pressed, that room is scarce left for self-condemnation. By others, the sinner is made to do all, or that so nearly, that he is in no little danger of taking the glory to himself. No distinction is made between regeneration and conversion. Motives are presented by man, and urged by the Spirit. The sinner looks at them as at any other motives, wills as on any other subject, and the work is done. Thus, from the doctrine of purely physical efficiency on the one hand, you pass to the baldest moral suasion on the other. And, like opposites are met with, in relation to the whole subject of Christian progress. In regard to its certainty, as embraced in the doctrine of the saint's perseverance, while in one quarter, the Divine power only being taken into view, a fatal lapse is judged impossible; in another, not only is it deemed as it shonld be—having regard only to man's strength-quite possible, but it is believed to be often matter of fact.

There are like diversities as to the elements of Christian character. Faith is held by some to be mainly a persuasion on the part of an individual that God's love has embraced him-a sort of intuition of the Divine decrees. By others, the element of affiance is scarcely recognised, and a moral likeness, a oneness of feeling chiefly insisted on. By some, a sort of benevolence is required more disinterested than that inculcated by either Moses or Christ -a transcendental annihilation of self-a willingness to be damned as an indispensable preliminary to being saved. By others it is affirmed, that “of all specific voluntary action, happiness is the end;” advantage is made the foundation of virtue—"gain," on a

[ocr errors]

large scale, “ godliness"--and countenance given to that love for Christ on the sinner's part which is awakened solely by the notion that Christ loves him.

So much concerning theology, as resolvable into the Divine and the human. It may be taken in another view, as embracing the spiritual and the formal-piety in the heart, and the manifestations and helps of piety. To each of these elements—both important in their place and proportion—undue prominence has often been given. By one man, creeds and constitutions are deemed the chief fastenings of orthodoxy. Let these be diligently used, and the faith will be in little danger. By another, they are pronounced mere ropes of sand-like “the spider's most attenuated thread;" and our chief reliance is alleged to be on certain spiritual instincts -on a certain quietistic brooding over nothing--a staring into intellectual vacancy, with a pleasing' expectation, that out of the “vasty deep,” shapes of truth will a: length appear. In one direction, you find the Church exalted above even God's Word. It becomes a sort of many-headed Pope. It is infallible. Nothing is done rightly, that is not done church-wise, or as the church would have it. Any species of voluntary association for religious purposes, is little short of impiety. In another direction, we have nothing but voluntaryism. There is nothing much more Divine about the church, and scarcely anything more venerable, than about a temperance society, or the Society for the Improvement of the Condition of the Poor. With one class, ministerial functions are unduly magnified, the functions especially of those, who along the wires of succession-rusty and foul enough in places—through the Cretan labyrinth of the dark ages, have received the genuine apostolic fluid.' With another class, a clergyman is only a respectable and pious professional gentleman, having little more a sacred calling than the sexton or the undertaker. External observances, on the one hand, are deemed of unspeakable moment. The baptismal ceremony confers grace-confirmation strengthens it—the eucharist augments it. The various rites are not simply expressions, but potencies. All rites, on the other hand, are lightly esteemed the inward exercise is deemed everything, the outward sign nothing. So from the utmost extravagance of Puseyitish formalism in one direction, you may pass in the other to the inward light, the formless piety of orthodox Quakerism. Nay, within our own observation-in the most evangelical of our churches--how often do we perceive an undue reliance either on merely outward proprieties and decencies, or in quite another line, on changeful and evanescent frames and feelings.

These few specimens must suffice to identify the sort of error we have in view. It may be instructive to glance next at its main sources. These are threefold, the limitation of the human powersindividual peculiarities and the influence of circumstances.

[ocr errors]

As to the first of these, there are themes too vast for us in every field of inquiry—themes so vast, that we do but partially grasp them, and so are ever in danger of one-sided theories. God's mind can take in, by a single intuition, the whole universe-all its parts, however minute or multitudinous, with all their mutual relations. But we get beyond our depth in a single drop of water; a single blade of grass, as we study it, stretches out beyond our ken. We are much in the predicament of the insect creeping slowly up the lofty column, and attempting to scan the pile of architecture to which it belongs. Especially is it so in relation to Christianity, that most stupendous and glorious fabric of God, magnified by Him above all his name—that mystery of mysteries into which angels desire to look-into which they have been looking since the world began, but which in all its vastness even their mighty intellects are far from having fully explored. With man there is, besides, a peculiar disability. He is, at the best, a depraved being—the blight and the palsy of sin, though chiefly felt in the affections, have yet extended, more or less, to all his powers. And as to no subject, of course, is this influence so manifest as Divine truth. So it comes to pass, that in no one mind, even the purest and most gifted, do we find a perfectly symmetrical theology. Something is always wanting-something a little out of shape. To embrace the whole, just as it should be, we need to have all good theologians, or the good points of all, combined in one. We need, with the eclecticism of inspiration, to cull from all their systems. Just as in the excellence of the one man Jesus, there were commingled and perfected all the various excellencies of all the Scripture worthies. No wonder, then, that extremes of doctrine meet us in every direction. No superfluous work is it, to “exhort one another daily" against all such corruptness.

But individual peculiarities are also to be taken into the account; and their name is legion. The author of “ Ancient Christianity" has it in view, he has lately told us, to trace the peculiarities of all the prominent religious sects to the minds chiefly concerned in founding them. It is to be hoped he may be spared to accomplish his purpose. Meanwbile it is not difficult for ordinary inquirers to achieve something in the same direction. How manifest is it, that Luther lives yet—in his personal excellence and his personal faults—in the creed to which he has given his name. His generous, magnanimous spirit, and his humble trustfulness in the prominence he has given to the doctrine of justification by faith ; his tenderness of conscience, and his conflict with its terrors, in his high-toned and somewhat distorted theory of imputation ; his abhorrence of formalism, misapplied, in his lax views of the Christian Sabbath ; and his profound reverence for God's Word, not wholly guided by knowledge, in his too literal interpretation of the passages relating to the eucharist. Who can fail to see, in the peculiar views of Zwingle, traces of that freedom and independence of thought, so congenial, it would seem, with the mountain scenery amid which he dwelt, and which the storms, both elemental and political, that spent their fury there, served but to promote? It is remarkable what a coincidence there is, in im. portant points, between his mode of theologizing and that which obtained, as the result of somewhat similar circumstances and training, in our own New England. Calvinism, in its sharp, rigid features—its intellectuality-its stern inflexibility—its majestic calmness-its trustful, upward look, how does it remind you of its author—so far as earthly author it had-dying amid the Syndics of Geneva ?_Who that has studied the character of Wesley, but perceives that the whole doctrine, and polity, and genius of Methodism, is but that character re-embodied ?--After following the elder Edwards through his college studies and his ministerial life, from his table to his study, from his study to his closet, from his closet to his pulpit-after noting his power of analysis, his self-renunciation, his chastened austerity, the dignity and absoluteness of his family rule, his coolness of temperament, and his devotion to principle-who could look for a scheme of divinity much unlike that he has given us? It has been thought by some, that the religious opinions of men are apt to express themselves in the very countenance; so that in a circle of portraits, it would not be hard to distinguish the Methodist, for example, from the Presbyterian, and both from the Prelatist. But it may be questioned whether the peculiarities of character expressed be not to some extent a cause, rather than simply a result. The creed may have been fashioned by them, rather than they by the creed. Some men seem born to entertain a particular set of opinions-originally predisposed to be Baptists or Pedo-baptists, Arminians or Calvinists, Independents or “Churchmen.”

Space would fail us to notice all those traits or habits of mind which may lead to the misshaping of particular doctrines. Sometimes it results from a low state of piety-sometimes from an excessive fondness for theorizing-often from a desire of originality. Many of the strange and pernicious fancies promulgated in Ger. many, so numerous and so very fancisul, that to the theologues of that land has been pleasantly assigned “the empire of the air," have had their origin, doubtless, in an effort, by a show of novelty, for the sake either of fame or of bread, to draw around the professor's chair a large class of students. Nor is a morbid and perilous craving for the pleasure or the reputation of originality confined to Germany. Some there are even among us, who seem to prefer new and dazzling errors to plain old truths. A like result may come of undue self-confidence, forbidding a resort to the best means of correcting error. So from the habit of excessive concentrativeness, or a too exclusive dwelling on some particular topic. There are hobbies, if we may be allowed the term,

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »