Page images
PDF
EPUB

human error, and genuine religion tainted with an alloy of human weaknesses^ and prejudices. And this it is that gives a certain degree of advantage to any system—whether in itself true or false—which makes union, and submission to a supreme authority on earth, the first point .

If you exhort men to seek truth, and to embrace what, on deliberate examination, they are convinced is truth, they may follow this advice, and yet—considering what Man is—may be expected to arrive at different conclusions. But if you exhort them to agree, and with that view, to make a compromise,— each consenting (like the Roman Triumvirs of old, who sacrificed to each other's enmity their respective friends) to proscribe some of their own convictions,—then, if they follow this advice, the end sought will be accomplished;

But surely the advantages, great as they are, of union, are too dearly purchased at such a price; since, besides the possibility that men may be united in what is erroneous and wrong in itself, there is still this additional evil—and this should be remembered above all,—that whatever absolute truth there may be in what is assented to on such a principle, it is not truth to those who assent to it not on conviction, but for union's sake. And what is in itself right to be done, is wrong to him who does it without the approbation of his own judgment, at the bidding of others, and with a view to their co-operation. On the other hand, the unity—whether among all Christians, or any portion of them—which is the result of their all holding the same truth,—this unity is not the less perfect from its being incidental, and not the primary object aimed at, and to which all else was to be sacrificed. But those who have only incidentally adhered to what is in itself perfectly right, may be themselves wrong; even to a greater degree than those who may have fallen into error on some points, but who are on the whole sincere votaries of truth.

Another disadvantage that is to be weighed against the advantages of an unity based on implicit submission to a certain supreme authority, is that the adherents of such a system are deprived of the character of witnesses.

When a man professes, and we are unable to disprove the sincerity of the profession, that he has been, on examination, convinced of the truth of a certain doctrine, he is a witness to the force of the reasons which have convinced him. But those who take the contrary course give, in reality, no testimony at all, except to the fact that they have received so and so from their guide. They are like copies of some printed document (whether many or few, makes no difference), struck off from the same types, and which consequently can have no more weight as evidence, than one. So also, the shops supply us with abundance of busts and prints of some eminent man, 'all striking likenesses—of each other.'

If there were but a hundred persons in all the world who professed to have fully convinced themselves, independently of each other's authority, of the truth of a certain conclusion, and these were men of no more than ordinary ability, their declaration would have incalculably more weight than that of a hundred millions, even though they were the most sagacious and learned men that ever existed, maintaining the opposite conclusion, but having previously resolved to forego all exercise of their own judgment, and to receive implicitly what is dictated to them. For, the testimony (to use a simple and obvious illustration) of even a small number of eye-witnesses of any transaction, even though possessing no extraordinary powers of vision, would outweigh that of countless millions who should have resolved to close their eyes, and to receive and retail the report they heard from a single individual.

So important in giving weight to testimony, is the absence of all concert, or suspicion of concert, that probably one of the causes which induced the Apostles, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to found several distinct and independent Churches, instead of a single community under one government on earth, was, the increased assurance thus afforded of the doctrines and of the Canon of Scripture received by all. For, it was not—as some have imagined—any general Council or Synod of the Universal Church, that determined what books and what doctrines should be received. No one of the early General Councils did more than declare what had been already received by the spontaneous decision of each of many distinct Churches,— which had thus borne, long before, their independent testimony to the lxioks and the doctrines of Christ's inspired servants.

So well is all this understood by crafty controversialists, that they usually endeavour to represent all who chance to agree in maintaining what they would oppose, as belonging to some School, Party, or Association of some kind, and in some way combined, and acting in concert; and this when there is no proof, or shadow of proof, of any such combination, except coincidence of opinion. They are represented (to serve a purpose) as disciples of such and such a leader. But 'there are three senses in which men are sometimes called 'disciples' of any other person; (1) incorrectly from their simply maintaining something that be maintains, without any profession or proof of its being derived from him. Thus, Augustine was a predestinarian, and so was Mahomet; yet no one supposes that the one derived his belief from the other. It is very common, however, to say of another, that he is an Arian, Athanasian, Socinian, &c., which tends to mislead, unless it is admitted, or can be proved, that he learnt his opinions from this or that master. (2.) When certain persons avow that they have adopted the views of another, not however on his authority, but from holding them to be agreeable to reason or to Scripture; as the Platonic, and most other philosophical sects: the Lutherans, Zuinglians, &c . (3.) When, like the disciples of Jesus, and, as it is said, of the Pythagoreans, and the adherents of certain Churches, they profess to receive their system on the authority of their master or Church; to acquiesce in an 'ipse-dixit;' or, to receive all that the Church receives. These three senses should be carefully kept distinct.'1

One of the earliest of the assailants of Bishop Hampden's Bampton Lectures (a writer who afterwards seceded openly to Rome) distinctly asserted that Dr. H., Dr. Arnold, Dr. Hinds, Mr. Blanco White, and Archbisdop Whately were 'united in the closest bonds of private friendship, as well as of agreement in doctrine.' Whether this was a known falsehood, or a mere random assertion, thrown out without any knowledge at all about the matter, one cannot decide. But the fact is, that Dr. Arnold never had any close intimacy with Dr. Hampden; and with Dr. Hinds and Mr. B. White,—he had not so much as a visiting acquaintance !2

Now though the alleged 'private friendship'—had it existed —would have been nothing in itself blameable, one may easily see the purpose of the fabrication. That purpose evidently was, to impair in some degree the independent testimony of the persons mentioned, as to the points wherein they coincided, by insinuating that they had conspired together to found some kind of school or party; and that, in furtherance of such a plan, they might possibly have been biassed in their several judgments, or have made something of a compromise.

1 Eden's Thed. Diet.. Art. ' Disciples.' 'See Letter on the Church and Oie UnsrsrsUies.

How very probable such a result is, was strikingly shown, shortly after, by the formation of the 'Tract-party. Of the persons who (deliberately and avowedly) combined for the purpose of advocating certain principles, some—as they themselves subsequently declared—disapproved of much that was put forth in several of the Tracts for the Times, yet thought it best to suppress their disapprobation, and so continue to favour the publication, till the advocacy of unsound views had reached an alarming height.

The ingenuity displayed in many of those Tracts has given currency to doctrines in themselves open to easy refutation; and the high character for learning of some of the writers doubtless contributed to their success; but their being known to have combined together (' conspired,' is the term used by one of themselves) for the propagation of certain doctrines agreed upon, took off just so much of the weight of their authority.

And when ministers of the Church of England, and Moravians, and Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Congretionalists, &c., are, all and each, without any concert, teaching to their respective congregations certain fundamental christian doctrines, this their concurrence furnishes a strong presumption in favour of those doctrines. Of these religious communities, some coincide on all fundamental points, while others, unhappily, are, on many important points, opposed to each other: but as long as they are independent of each other, their spontaneous coincidence, where they do coincide, gives great weight to their testimony. But if they formally combine together (in an Association, Alliance, Party, or whatever else it may be called), and pledge themselves to each other to propagate these doctrines, the presumption is proportionably weakened.1

1 See ThouglUe on tlie proposed Evangelical Alliance. E

It is very strange, that some persons, not deficient, generallyi in good sense, should fail to perceive the consequences of thus setting up what is in reality, though not in name, a new Church. Besides that, under a specious appearance of promoting union among Christians, it tends to foster d&-union and dissension in each Church, between those who do, and who do not, enrol themselves as members—besides this, the force of the spontaneous and independent testimony of members of distinct Churches, is, in great measure, destroyed, by the unwise means used for strengthening it.

It is important that we should be fully aware, not only of the advantages which undoubtedly are obtained by this kind of union, but also of its disadvantages; for neither belong exclusively to any particular Church, or other community, but to every kind of Party, Association, Alliance, or by whatever other name it may be called, in which there is an express or understood obligation on the members to give up, or to suppress, their own convictions, and submit to the decisions of the leader or leaders under whom they are to act .

This principle of sacrificing truth to unity, creeps in gradually. The sacrifice first demanded, in such cases, is, in general, not a great one. Men are led on, step by step, from silence as to some mistake, to connivance at fallacies, and thence to suppression, and then to misrepresentation, of truth; and ultimately to the support of known falsehood.

It is scarcely necessary to say that I do not advocate the opposite extreme,—the too common practice of exaggerating differences, or setting down all who do not completely concur in all our views as ' infidels,' as 'altogether heterodox,' &c. The right maxim is one that we may borrow from Shakespere: 'Nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice.' But it is worth remarking, that what may be called the two opposite extremes, in this matter, are generally found together. For it is the tendency of party spirit to pardon anything in those who heartily support the party, and nothing in those who do not.

'Men ought to take heed of rending God's Church by two kinds of controversies' Controversy, though always an evil in itself, is sometimes a necessary evil. To give up anything worth contending about,

« PreviousContinue »