Page images

in the theological, as well as the literary and political world. Prophecy, for example, or some particular point of prophecy, as the restoration of the Jews, the destruction of mystical Babylon, or the battle with Gog and Magog. Some ingenious theory of regeneration, some peculiar view of the atonement, or some unique representation of the Trinity. Extreme views sometimes result from a love of the bold and the startling, or an ambitious desire of rhetorical effect. It is not alone in the splendid productions of Macaulay, or on the historic page, that a fondness for brilliant antithesis has sometimes strained truth out of shape, and error into truth.

The influence of circumstances, it was remarked, is concerned in the formation of extravagant views. They have an indirect bearing, of course, as they have to do with the fashioning of individual character. But they have, also, a direct influence. Controversy often drives men into extremes. Many a man, doubtless, has been made a heretic, or at least more one-sided, by being hard pushed. A particular extreme in which you find either an individual or a community, will often appear, on inquiry, to be simply a reaction. The mind, in that pendulous movement to which it is so prone, does more than escape

from some other extreme. It is driven past the legitimate point of rest. So was it, as we have already hinted, with the great Reformer. So, to some extent, with Puritan England in Cromwell's time. Probably there is not one of our readers who might not detect in himself so rie overstrained view, to which he has fled, almost unconscious. ly, as a refuge from its opposite. Or, it may be apparent, that obliquities of opinion on some subjects, are at present rife in the community, and need to be rebuked ; and in the effort to set things right, they may be pushed as much awry in another di. rection. Certain extravagant teachings on the subject of human ability, for example, uttered abundantly from our pulpits some twenty years ago, were justified, or at least excused, it will be remembered, on the ground that impotence and passivity had been so immoderately taught. Only the opposite view, it was thought, could move the people ; and so error was unwisely invoked to cast out error.

From the origin of extremes in religious doctrine, we pass to the evils which spring from them. These are numerous and serious. Errors in principle are ever worse than mere errors in act. Far better adopt a wrong measure in religion, than preach a wrong doctrine. The measure may be of evil influence; like the spring torrent it may carry ruin in its course. But, like that, it is in its nature temporary; while error, once received, is like a perennial fountain.

Of the class of errors in hand, it may be observed, first, they take from our spiritual being its appropriate nutriment, and substitute that which is hurtful. As food is essential to the health and growth of the body, so is truth to our spiritual health and growth. And as our physical being requires food of a wholesome sort, fitly prepared, and without any noxious admixture, so with the soul. To its highest good it is essential that it live upon pure truth-clearly presented, fully apprehended, undistorted, uncorrupted. The body, it is true, has great power of accommodation; it may live on, with a degree of strength, in spite of no little unwholesomeness of aliment; in spite even of small quantities of poison mingled with its food. Yet some harm it must suffer; and as surely, yea more surely—in proportion as the spiritual machinery is more delicate than the material-must the soul suffer from any

the least corruptness of doctrine. Merely misrepresent a truth-shade it improperly, or give it undue prominence-dwarf it or exaggerate it, iake any extravagant view of it—and the wants of the soul are not fully met; something is detracted not only from its intellectual wellbeing, but from its spiritual vigor, and symmetry and beauty. A little poison is taken; and to use the mildest terms, a little harm is done. Yet that little—when we call to mind the accustomed growth of spiritual evil-how much! It may prove, indeed, the soul's ruin.

These minor errors, moreover, do ever more or less countenance the grosser departures from truth. Errorists of all sorts are always watching for such encouragement. Let some one-sided view be taken of the doctrine of future retribution, whether on the lenient or the severe side-as, for example, that of John Foster, that ignorance of the consequences of sin detracts from its ill desert, or that sometimes ascribed falsely to Calvinists, that multitudes of infants are among the lost—and what a joyful clamor is raised among the Universalists. They are helped alike by the concession on the one hand, and the revolting extreme of orthodoxy on the other. Let the incarnation be transformed, under evangelical shows, into a mere manifestation, or the atonement into an “artistic” representation-a scenic display for the simple purpose of moral teaching and inoral suasion--and what gladness is diffused through the Socinian ranks. “ Art thou become,” they cry,“ like unto us?” As orthodoxy sinks, so in their view does heterodoxy rise. One piece of ultraism, advocated in respectable quarters, does more to sustain grossly heretical views, than a multitude of the most plausible direct defences. Especially are the common people in danger, as you narrow the line of demarcation between the true and the false. How shall they distinguish, or believe there can be much difference, when the one is so nearly confounded with the other ?

This suggests the further remark, that extreme views not only favor gross error, but are apt to grow into it. This was, indeed, hinted in our opening remarks, and was not unapparent in some of the instances given by way of identifying our subject. But it deserves in this connection to be more fully set forth. We see here the subtlety of Satan. He knows full well that the human mind is so constituted—with such an original aptitude for truththat it can scarce receive unmingled error. No more in its theology than its morals does it become grossly vicious at once. So, trivial errors are inculcated-slight perversions of truth. And these increase unto more error.

Once borne off from its proper orbit, the centripetal attraction lessened, it is easy for the human mind to go farther. Extremes tend naturally to become more extreme. It is even a proverb that extremes meet. The unity of God has been so insisted on, in connection with the incarnation, as to bring us to the very borders of a sort of pantheistic polytheism. The doctrine of depravity has been so represented as to take away all sense of guilt. The office of faith has been so magnified, as to make it the highest kind of working-even a substitute for Christ. The duty of being perfect has been so urged, as to lower the great standard of all perfection. No man can say whither his bark will drift, if he allows it to be drawn, either on the right hand or on the left, into the shifting and deceitful currents of ultraism.

We scarce need to say that the errors we speak of dishonor God, and injure his cause. They dishonor Him, as far as they go, in common with all error, by misrepresenting his character. They injure his cause-always by abstracting from the power of the Christian system, and often by bringing upon it needless and undeserved odium. And in this further way do they harm it, they are a fruitful source of dissensions among brethren. That the truly orthodox be kept separate from the radically unsound, is of course desirable. But it is a sad thing for those to be severed, who hold really the same great truths, even though they have fallen into the habit of dwelling somewhat too exclusively on different aspects of them. The great Presbyterian family in these United States, had one portion of it been a little less extravagant in some of its views on the divine side of theology, and the other portion leaned a little less strongly toward the human side, would, to this day, probably, have remained one undivided body. We mourn that it has not been so. For “ behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity;” but “ a brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.”

We add only, in this connection, that extremes in doctrine commonly lead to extremes in practice. So it is under our first classification. With some, for the honor of God, there is nothing but waiting; with others, in the exalting of human ability, there is nothing but striving. Here, growth is all; there, you hear only of aggression. Here you have “new measures ,

in abundance ; and there you have no measures. In one quarter, everything must be done in the regular way--God's ordinances, it is said, must be trusted in ; in another, little is expected from the stereotyped me



thods—all power, it would seem, inheres in novelty. Here all excitement is dreaded, as if it must needs give undue prominence to second causes—as if God's agency were only in the gentle rain, or the falling dew. There, nothing is thought to be accomplished but in a tempest of popular agitation. One would have light alone, another lightning; one can abide only the still small voice, another must have seven thunders. One would throw out truth upon the community-God's truth-as bread upon the waters, and leave it to germinate when and where He pleaseth; and is satisfied only with this method. He is afraid lest in any other he should take upon himself God's work. Another, would have the seed borne, after the manner of Harlan Page, to individual hearts; and has little hope from any process short of this. With one, the power of God's Word is everything; with another, the power of “personal effort.” In respect to preaching, the reliance of some is chiefly on the skill with which the truth is set home; others would leave it, once clearly enunciated, to work its own way. We have had of late-strange to say-in one of our prominent religious quarterlies, a labored argument against the old Baxterian "application.” Those unhappy excesses, which were connected with certain revivals of religion, some twenty years ago, had their origin mainly in exaggerated views of man's agency. Now, it is to be feared, we have fallen into the other extreme, and are even covering our worldliness and sloth with the pleasant names of prudence and moderation, of trust in God and reverence for his ordinances. Like contrasts we see in relation to matters of popular reform. Now you have a wild, self-confident radicalism. It would sweep away at once, with the breath of its own mouth, and the might of its own arm—with little respect either to great social laws, or to the movements of Providence--such evils as intemperance, war, and slavery. Now you have a blind and stupid conservatism, which under pretence of cleaving only to Divinely prescribed methods, is content with letting things alone; except as silence gives consent, and ingenious palliatives, salvos, and excuses serve much the same purpose as positive justification. If we turn to our second classification, the spiritual and the formal, we shall find a similar connection between doctrine and practice; as manifest, for example, in the treatment of the ministry, in the regard paid to ordinancesto baptism, to the Lord's Supper, to the Sabbath-in the attention given to church architecture and church music, and even in the formation of men's private religious habits. Specifications on these points, it is hardly needful to give, so readily will every one's reflections suggest them.

We pass to speak, in the last place, of the proper treatment, both remedial and prophylactic, of the evil under consideration. We might simply refer, here, to what has been said of its causes. When these, as they were set forth, cannot, in the nature of things,


be removed, we should, at least, be on our guard against their influence. But some further suggestions may be offered as to the means of securing a well-proportioned and well-balanced theology.

We mention first, liberal culture for the ministry. Ignorance is neither the mother of devotion, nor of any other good thing. It is, in the popular mind, a fruitful source of error, and not less in the mind of the Christian teacher. If through the predominance of grace, it leads not to rank heresy, it must needs give rise to narrow and ill-balanced views. For proof of this, we may confidently appeal to the history of every unlearned ministry the world has yet seen. . Not only is divinity itself of vast compass, but it has mani. fold relations to other subjects. Bound together as the universe is, by ten thousand ties and affinities, all science illustrates all science; especially do all other knowledges illustrate that which is the end, the centre of all. The more ample and various a man's learning, then, the more likely it is, other things being equal, that his theology will be right. There is no department of science which in this regard may not be found profitable. Besides, amplitude of investigation enlarges the mind, and makes it more capable of complete views. Give the candidate for the ministry, then, sufficient time, and all needful facilities for a thorough course of study. No more in the classical than in the theological course, let meager. ness of attainment have countenance. Dead languages and living

. languages, history, economics, physics, and metaphysics,—will all be helpful to safe as well as thorough theologizing. It is from half-made men, a large part of those errors have proceeded which from time to time has vexed the church. Nor should those who have entered the ministry deem the work of self-culture ended. They should take time for study, and be diligent therein, that their theological views may be growing more and more complete. They will feel, after all, at the close of their course, that they have been but "gathering pebbles on the shore of the great ocean of truth."

Another help to soundness in the faith, is intercourse with men of various persuasions. It is of no little advantage to be conversant with persons of various secular conditions and pursuits, and of various habits of general thinking. As minute metalic fabrics are

. sometimes polished by being shaken together, so by the contact of mind with mind, the excrescences and roughnesses of each are worn away. It is a felicity of the present day, that the whole world are being brought into ready intercommunication. Individuals and nations will learn from each other ; each will be incited to copy the excellences of all. In our own country, especially, where men of all nations are brought together-to labor, to do business, to vote, to worship in company—an amalgam of character may be looked for, a synthesis of all that is desirable in all the varieties of our race, of all possible excellences of humanity, such

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »