« ZurückWeiter »
laurels, and we are entitled unceremoniously to pluck Mr. Gladstone's from his brow.
Again, Mr. G. derives no small advantage from an ingenious device. He claims in behalf of his principles the consent of all antiquity; and takes their existence in the church, unquestioned for eighteen centuries, as conclusive evidence of their truth. But we deny both this consent and this long unquestioned prevalence of his views. Mr. Coleman has clearly shown that for three centuries no such principles were generally adopted. And if then they began to receive form and shape,—if gradually they became established, and during the succeeding 1300 years held rule, what if that period was a period of corruption ? And we affirm not only that it was so ; but that the heresy that arose, on those very points, constituted the worst part of that corruption. We have yet to learn that error becomes truth by long establishment ; accordingly, in spite of Nicene councils or Tridentine decrees, we demur to the church's testimony during this period of her apostacy; we condemn the device of Mr. Gladstone to enlist the sympathies of men on his side by the imposing plea of a venerable antiquity; and would remind him, that with the finding of the key of knowledge, and of the freedom of thought, these principles were resolutely assailed and their opposites affirmed.
There is another source of illusion to Mr. G.: he gives, as the necessary marks of the true church, unity, visibility, &c. Not only, however, does he omit some important features, as soundness of doctrine, and require a unity and an authority of such a kind as cannot exist and ought not to be expected; he also confounds what ought to be with what is ; and treats as an existing substantial thing, what cannot at present be found. We grant that the church should be one ; and that the unity designed by the Redeemer is not spiritual and invisible, merely, (though this is by far the more important kind,) but outward and apparent also. It is not such, however, as to require a visible Head, or to imply uniformity and authority. The conditions of our Lord's most beautiful petition would, we apprehend, be completely fulfilled by such an agreement of sentiment among his disciples, and such a spirit of love as should make it manifest at once and to all, that whatever minor variations there might be, arising out of national peculiarities, or whatever differences of opinion on minor and undetermined topics, it was one and the same church, of one and the same adorable Head and Lord. This would be a catholicity, not answering indeed to Mr. G.'s expectations, but very different from any now to be found, and corresponding alike with possibility and truth. And it is worthy of observation that there once was a unity like this ; that it might have been preserved and have existed now in all its beauty and strength. But it has been lost through the long dominion of the man of sin. The church has been kept : every member has been known to the great Head, though often they have not known each other. So that spiritually, and in the highest sense really, though not manifestly, it has been one : but now, for fifteen centuries, have men looked in vain for that holy, catholic, and apostolic church, which shall convince the world of the Divine mission of Jesus Christ. But again it shall be one ; and if, instead of dwelling on what is not, Mr. G. and his party were earnestly bent on the restoration of this lost and graceful ornament of the body of Christ, they would do good service to the cause of truth; they would soon find, among those they now denounce as heretics and schismatics, many a genuine disciple; and the discovery would abate that arrogant and bitter exclusiveness they too commonly display.
Should Mr. G. object to these views, and still insist that such church, although she may have “lost that original beauty and harmony of form that adorned her youth,” is still manifest and visible; we are then tempted to ask for a definition of the term—What is this church? Who compose
it? Where is the seat of its authority? How may we know its voice and recognise its form? It cannot include all the faithful of past ages, as well as of the present, for that would not be the visible church. It cannot embrace all the members of Christ on earth, at any given moment ; for they, though visible, have not unity, -are not one body. Nor can it mean all who take certain views of the sacraments,—those, for instance, taken by our author himself; for whilst these are in the same predicament, and are to be found in various communities, this definition would exclude a large portion, both of the clergy and laity of the Church of England itself, who entirely reject sacramentarian notions. Does this church, then, include “the whole number of the baptized, wherever found, and to whatever communion belonging, over the whole face of the globe ?"_“The general mass of those who profess and call themselves Christians ?” The clever author of “Essays on the Church,” himself a stout defender of the English Establishment, whilst he admits that this is one of the senses attached to the term in common parlance, has no very high opinion of this body; and tells us that it is "animated, in the proportion of at least nineteen-twentieths, with the most deadly hatred to Christ and his true disciples.” And he declares, that “to take its decisions, or even the decisions of its priesthood, on any question of faith or practice, would be to leave to the wolves the disposal of the sheep,” &c., pp. 23, 25. Pretty strong language, this ; and yet such would seem to be Mr. Gladstone's church. This is obvious from his remarks, pp. 113, 405, where he speaks of its “mixed character,” and describes it as composed “partly of conscientious and partly of unfaithful members, with a great ostensible preponderance of the latter." First, then, we remark that here is Seeley versus Gladstone ; and we want to know which we are to follow. If Mr. Gladstone, then, Secondly, we must express, strongly, our astonishment, that any man in his senses can call this medley of human beings, embracing sceptics and formalists, extortioners, unjust persons, and adulterers, as well as saints,the holy, catholic, and apostolic church. Why, besides its ungodly character, it has, at least to our view, no one of the attributes which Mr. G. states to be essential. Where is its unity? Is light come to an agreement with darkness ? It is not even visible ; for though the individuals that compose it are in the flesh, as a body it has no visibility. Can permanence be predicated of a multitude like this ? or sympathy? or, more wondrous still, if true, authority ? Authority, indeed! Let us look at it. Let us call its members or their delegates together in solemn convocation ;--never was there a period when such convocation was more needed than now, to settle existing differences. They shall meet in the good Catholic city of Paris,-men of all views and characters, but all baptized, and therefore regenerate, and after due deliberation, pronounce their judgment. And now, we ask, what sort of a creed may we expect? What decisions shall we have touching rites and ceremonies? What discipline is henceforth to be established in the church? Yet this is the body which Mr. Gladstone invests with such high prerogatives; whose judgments are final, and whose dicta it is a sin to disobey. We are not conscious of having misrepresented Mr. G. in any point; indeed, he himself seems to be aware how hard it is to believe that this “body, containing within itself so much pollution, can be entitled to those prerogatives which belong to the spouse of Christ.”
“But if God,” he adds, "continues to show his favour to individuals, though so much evil remains in them to the very last, why should we refuse to believe that he will guide his church, corrupt though it may still be, into all truth?” And then, after describing this actual historical (!) church as "the great object of Christ's love and regard, the casket and treasure-house of God's immortal gifts,” he asks, “Why have we lapsed from this magnificent (!) con. ception of a power incorporated on earth .... and substituted for it that misty, formless, lifeless, anomalous, negative, chaotic shape, which is the only counterpart in many minds to the name of the Scripture-honoured church?” We think no error, however gross, no delusion, however complete, will ever surprise us, after having found a mind of the power and sagacity of Mr. G.'s, giving credit to a notion so manifestly unscriptural, so childishly absurd. But the holy, catholic, and apostolic church, is an imposing phrase ; and when the conception of such a body, having unity and universality, authority and visibility, once seizes the imagination, no contradictions are too palpable to be reconciled, -no facts too stubborn to be distorted, no absurdities too absurd to be received,—to defend the theory for the sake of which it has been cherished. Man, says Mr. G., is a compound being: he has senses and affections as well as intellect : they are greatly vitiated by sin, and require to be rectified before the understanding can possibly do its work in religion. Spiritual and supernatural grace only can effect this rectification ; Mr. G. can conceive of no channel through which that grace can come, save the church; thus he must have it, or not at all; and hence these pains to prove the existence of a catholic and apostolic church, though made up of such heterogeneous materials.
To this church, Mr. G. assigns a very high place in the education of her sons; and represents the conception as exerting over them a most powerful and salutary influence; such as is exerted by no other view of it, and felt by no other class of Christians. Although such an idea of the church has little effect on our minds, we shall not dispute our author's assertion, but admit its great power over those who can implicitly receive the dogma. But we have a church as well as they ; together with a ministry and sacraments; and we now proceed to compare the notions respecting them, held by the two great contending parties, and to show, that all the advantages attributed by our author to his views, result equally, or in a much greater degree, from ours. It is not so much on our theory of human nature that we are at issue, nor on the necessity and desirableness of some such provisions to act on the sensitive part of our constitution ; neither do we deny their power, when rightly regarded, to be great and salutary. Our difference is, as to their nature, the exact place they hold in the religion of Jesus Christ, and the part which belongs to them in securing to us its benefits. And here our disagreement is serious. We earnestly contend, however, that the views we take answer every good purpose answered by his; and as our personal experience comes in corroboration of the accuracy of our reasonings, we can smile at the self-complacency of an opponent who fancies that he is in exclusive possession of advantages which we are enjoying in common with himself.
Mr. Gladstone imagines that the conception of the church entertained by himself and friends, has a power peculiarly its own, to depress the idea of self, and promote humility; to develope and strengthen the grace of Christian love; to augment the force of the religious principle in the heart by awakening its deeper sympathies ; to stir up a greater warmth of devotion, especially in the exercises of public worship; to give to the Christian a view of the doctrines of grace as salutary as it is lofty,—of the Christian privilege of personal union with the Son of God, and of fellowship with the Father through him; and to aid the believer in the execution of the details of a stricter holiness; that it is a shelter to the conscientious from reproach, and a defence to the obedient, whilst it greatly assists the Christian in his aggressive movements on the irreligion and worldliness of his fellow-men.
Now it must be acknowledged that these are no mean or unimportant results; that that system which really tends to produce them, ought not to be despised; and that if there is any such system possessing exclusively, or in a much larger degree than any other, this power, it is entitled, from this circumstance, to our favourable regard. Mr. G. claims it for the views he advocates. We have said that we shall not dispute this claim; or the opportunity is tempting, to show how far the mind must be brought under the power of superstition or fanaticism, before it can believe such a conception of the church to be capable of exerting a good and holy influence. Yet we know it is possible, and are aware that where there is sincere piety in the heart, God often causes it, in mercy, to neutralise and triumph over much that is erroneous in the creed and vain in the imagination; so that, though in many cases the seeming devoutness of this school is, we fear, but little more than asceticism or sanctimoniousness, it undoubtedly numbers amongst its disciples some wh
its disciples some who have the power as well as the form of godliness. But we affirm that other views of the church are given us in the New Testament, prevailed in primitive times, and are developed in Mr. Coleman's pages, which are not less potent in their influence,—which nourish piety without generating superstition, and whose influence over the mind is exclusively good.
It will be necessary, however, to get before the mind, the clear scriptural notion conveyed by the term church. It has two senses, and perhaps two only. If ever used in a third, either by the sacred writers or in conversation, it must be taken to be a secondary and improper sense. The first embraces the whole family of the redeemed in heaven and on earth. This, and this only, can be called the church universal. The second use of the term is equally proper, and quite as frequent in the New Testament; but instead of conveying a universal, it conveys a local idea, and a church is an assembly of faithful men, &c., as above described. We sometimes, however, want to speak of the aggregate number of the faithful of all countries, and are then obliged to qualify the term by adding “visible,” or “on earth.” On the first sense we need not dwell; it is a grand and elevating-a subduing, yet soul-stirring conception, and cannot have that place in the thoughts of the Christian which it ought, without exerting over his spirit and character, a most determinate and hallowing influence. But it is desirable, also, that we should endeavour to realise the true idea of a local church; and we will look at such a one for a moment, as we may suppose it to have had existence at Rome or at Ephesus, A.D. 80 or 100; or as we may easily conceive, it would be at Leeds or Nottingham now, if what we believe to be the New Testament system, and that alone, were practised in this country, and a church fairly planted and in operation in either of those places. Let us then, for the sake of argument, assign to Ephesus and Leeds each a population of 70,000 souls. The inhabitants of the former are worshippers of the great goddess Diana ; but an