« PrécédentContinuer »
It has ceased to be an attractive book. Biblical teaching has ceased to be an attractive and popular form of instruction. Men are more and more cutting themselves off from direct living contact with the Bible, and are therefore departing from the one source of spiritual sustenance and life. During the week the multifarious occupations and engagements of men prevent them devoting any worthy portion of their time to a thoughtful, meditative, prayerful perusal of the Bible ; and on Sundays they are in the main averse to direct Biblical and expository teaching, mainly because their daily pursuits have left them no leisure for a training that would prepare them to appreciate and delight in a kind of instruction, in the strictest sense of the word, edifying, because of its thorough dealing with what used to be termed experimental religion. Amid many things that we, ministers, deacons, official persons, and leading men, are working and calling out for, can it be said that this high spiritual life as the result of direct handling of the Scriptures, and an intimate personal apprehension of them, occupies the first and most prominent place? I wish it could. We do not want purely theological or purely critical preaching in the pulpit, neither do we want on the part of the people formal doctrinal talk, or frequent repetitions of matters of common experience. We want men, preachers, and people who know how to compare spiritual things with spiritual; men who can tell of growth, of new and enlarged experiences in religious life. We appear to think too little of the power of holy living, whether we regard it as an argument for the truth of Christianity, an appeal to men's consciences and hearts, or a means of Christian usefulness.
To the quickening of this life, therefore, should the main energies, aspirations, and prayers of religious men and communities be directed. According to the measure of its development, it will make forms for itself adequate to its expression, it will originate modes of activity which will, on the one hand, be the measure of its own strength, and, on the other, will meet in the fullest degree possible the requirements of the circumstances amid which it exists. It will override what is defective in form, and will provide what is necessary in organization,
Without it, theoretical and logical completeness is vanity, external reforms are a delusion and a snare, numerous, and otherwise well-appointed organizations, will fail of their anticipated results, and many bright and pleasant hopes will end in dreary disappointments. It is in vain that we multiply political forms and arrangements, if the spirit of freedom be dead ; and equally in vain is it to devise and establish new church methods and organizations, if the spirit of personal piety be dead or dying, sluggish, and unintelligent. I would ask my brethren
what is their experience in going about amongst their people, in respect to this point,—the presence of a spirit of deep, earnest piety, that is manifestly growing out of the common forms of expression and experience. How few are the cases where we meet with men who are living face to face with the truth, and are becoming transformed, through communion with Christ, into likeness to Him; to talk with whom is to have converse with men who dwell habitually in the contemplation of heavenly things—men who are not only growing in appreciation of spiritual things, but gaining clearer apprehensions of them! It is a hard thing to preach a doctrine of religious progress, to preach it hopefully and impressively; and it is equally hard to experience, as a fact, all that is involved in the reality of such progress. Human nature is difficult material to work upon, the results of labour upon it are disappointing to all who are engaged in the work, to none more so than the religious teacher, who may have been praying, hoping, and working for a healthy, vigorous, spiritual life, that should spontaneously express itself in a thousand beautiful ways of goodness and holy activity. In the majority of cases how different is the aspect of things!
To this, then, I think we need to come back, disregarding altogether many of these cries for reform and new agencies; we should make it our first great business to develop, as far as it lies within the range of human power, that higher, purer, stronger, and progressive spiritual life, without which we cannot hope for any worthy or satisfying success in anything we seek to do. Let ministers, deacons, and members become more thorough Bible-readers ; let the ministers in their churches, the deacons in their districts, the members in their families, endeavour to bring all within the circle of their influence more directly into living contact with Bible truth, as set forth in the Bible. Nothing will be less productive of immediate and showy results-nothing will be more fruitful of all that is abiding and widely influential in the spread of religion.
In this way, I think, we shall feel most powerfully the claims of God upon us to serve Him with our very best, our duty will not appear to us as something suggested and mapped out for us by man, but will appear what it really is—the voice of God. We shall feel our utter dependence upon God for all power to work and all prospect of success; and as we consciously but humbly work under this feeling of dependence, shall we have most of Divine aid, and reap the largest reward of success and happiness.
It is this that we need in order to feel the constraining power of Divine love and the indwelling energy of Divine truth. Let us have more Bible truth clearly understood, lovingly appreciated, and diligently added to, and built up into, the structure of our spiritual life; and church officers, forms, activities, will be filled and glow with a Divine and omnipotent spirit. Old things will pass away like dead leaves, thrust from the tree by the opening buds of new life; new things will appear like the New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven.
JOHN CALVIN AND THE AUTHORITY OF THE
If we can ascertain what any man considers to be his Divine informants we may also decide what are his religious opinions, and almost determine the section of the Church to which he belongs.
An ordinary politician accepts the national faith as sufficient, and cares for little else, so long as he is in conformity with it. The man of the world swears by the oracle of common sense, and so he threads the labyrinth of doubt, or rather never sees it. There are thousands of every section of religious opinion and organization who believe what their fathers believed, and maintain that they are justified in doing so. The latitudinarian and socalled Rationalist submits every principle to his reason and moral sense, and is finally and perfectly satisfied with the verdict of his own mind. The mystic disdains the conclusions of the cold reason, and follows the guidance of taste and feeling. There are millions of our fellow-men who cling to the authoritative announcement of what they believe to be Divine revelations to man, who consider that their sacred books contain all that the human mind needs. Very thoughtful men suggest, in addition to the Book, the need of an interpreter, one who will use reason, moral sense, criticism, Catholic tradition, and antiquity; and by the help of these explain its difficulties and decide on its doctrines. The Anglican lays great stress on antiquity, on the ancient creeds and symbols of the Church, on the first four councils, and disparages the claim of Rome to be the present sole infallible interpreter of Scripture. The assumptions of the Romanist are peculiar. He hopes to simplify matters by removing reason, Scripture, and antiquity, out of the field, and by depending simply on the dictates of the present infallible Church. The claim to infallibility is not so much made, as acted on, by the Romish Church, and though so stoutly maintained, has never been accurately defined.
Let it be observed that the Reformers never hesitated to appeal to antiquity or to Catholic tradition in favour of their own views; they were not ashamed either of reason, or moral sense, or taste, but they did oppose the full force of their characters and influence against the infallibility of the existing Church, against the assumptions of the Roman hierarchy. Two of these divine informants are often brought together, and it is easy to show that no combination of them, no illicit surrender of one another's rights, could adjust their mutual claims, and that neither of them could submit to a subordinate position. These two instructresses are Philosophy and Revelation. They occupy independent spheres of action, and revolve on different axes in the human mind. Each is right in its place, and their combined light may guide us safely through the wilderness. Our present inquiry respects the interpreter of Revelation, the power which is to draw thence the essentials of the Gospel. Philosophy is not the sufficient interpreter of Scripture, because the subject-matter of the Sacred Volume differs from the other phenomena of Nature and Providence. We must, therefore, look to other faculties of mind and heart to assist us to do this. Philosophy at once pronounces a great deal incomprehensible, irreducible to any principles, and laughs at the man who is ready implicitly to submit his mind to the teaching of Revelation. Whatever else John Calvin did, he presented a vast system of philosophic theology, which he drew from the pages of the Divine Word, and exhibited, as we think, a sublime specimen of the true amalgamation of these two forces in a great man's soul..
Rome came forth and said, No man has a right to interpret the Soripture; and with no inconsiderable disparageinent to the early Greek Fathers and to the teachings of Augustine, exalted the modern councils, the Papal authority, and the Church tradition, above both philosophy and the Holy Scriptures. The Reformation generally (and independently of John Calvin) appears virtually to have succumbed to this obedience to Church authority, when it demanded with great eagerness a general council to decide on all matters of faith. Luther, Zwingle, and Melancthon were eager for the diet of Spires and the diet of Augsburg, hoping that thus the Catholic faith might be established, and the Church
-the infallible Church-be brought to sanction the opinions they held. Thus we find that the forms, and many of the ceremonies, of the Catholic Church passed over to Lutheranism. Now, it was the peculiar dignity of John Calvin to have perceived other ways of settling these disputes. “He that doeth the will
Nomble disbaugustchurch. Tieto
of our Father which is in heaven, shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God," formed a central point of his theology. It has been common to censure the gloomy faith of Calvin; to hope to banish any objectionable opinion from modern philosophy, by stigmatizing it with his name; to speak of the chains of fire with which he bound his own limbs, and would have enthralled the world; to ignore the prodigious influence of his mind and position on the fortunes of Britain, France, and America. But we are now drawing to an age in which we can look more calmly and dispassionately at the life of such a hero and teacher of God's Church. It has been, moreover, customary to identify the teaching of Calvin with abstruse speculations on the Divine decrees and human depravity, on eternal necessity and eternal fire. Calvinism has been generally associated with dogmatic statements on the eternal election of some to everlasting life, and of others to everlasting punishment, and with those notions of his on the freedom of man, making it consist in his freedom to sin, and on the necessity of Divine grace to give him the possibility of choosing voluntarily the good. A great writer very recently enlightened the British public with the opinion that the only legacy left by Calvin to the world was the dogma of eternal predestination : strangely ignoring the fact that Calvin was here at one with Luther, and that Augustine and St. Paul had certainly something to do with it.
It would be absurd, in our brief space, to attempt a statement of Calvin's theological opinions, and it is scarcely requisite to say that this description is exaggerated and in some respects false. Our aim, at present, is to show the real position of him and his cause in the reformation of Europe. In few words, we believe, that while Luther fought for a great doctrinejustification by faith-Calvin established a new principle—the authority of the Scriptures. While Luther, with ardent soul and burning heart, struck blow after blow at Popish ceremonies, by robbing them of their real vitality, and paralyzing the hand that held forth indulgences ; Calvin was indicating the nature of the true Church, and preparing means for the future enlightenment of the world. Luther did vast service for one great truth that had been buried beneath a load of human corruptions; Calvin, for the whole circle of truth which was contained in the sacred volume. Luther's conversion was a long and painful process. He went through many dark hours of conflict, and often contended with the devil of doubt in grasping his great truth. His new life and idea slowly developed itself in his writings, and gradually assumed the mastery of his mind. His faith was always open to alteration, or, rather,