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ORIGINAL SECESSION MAGAZINE.
THE RELIGIOUS TENDENCIES OF THE AGE. “Hold fast the form of sound words which thou hast heard of me in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus," was the earnest exhortation of the great Apostle of the Gentiles to Timothy, his son in the Gospel, and an ambassador for Christ. It was an exhortation peculiarly seasonable at the time when it was addressed. The Church seemed to be in a transition state, and what was more alarming, apparently in the downward direction. Rationalism on the one hand, and the doctrine which is according to godliness on the other, presented and urged rival claims. The exponents of the former, with subtle and persevering energy, put forth every effort in their power to make proselytes of the adherents of the latter. Substituting philosophy, falsely so-called, for Scripture teaching, and the would-be enlightened and advanced opinions of men wise in their own eyes, for the authority of God speaking in His Word, these self-constituted teachers succeeded in overthrowing the faith of some, and in shaking that of others. Even the teachers of the Christian faith did not escape scathless from their inimical assaults. What a striking resemblance the state of the Church then bears to the state of the Church in our own day! It requires no microscopic eye to see this, but is apparent to the most cursory observer of the signs of the times. There was a time in the history of the Church when it would have been regarded almost as superfluous, to have announced with the design of proving, that sound doctrine lies at the basis of all right practice. And even in our own day, with many whose regard for the Word of God, as the supreme and only infallible rule of faith and manners, is not yet diminished, it requires only to be stated to command assent. Were the several branches of what is called the Evangelical Church
NO. I. VOL. XIII.
composed of men of this stamp, it would be unnecessary to call special attention to this truth; but sad to relate, this is very far from being the case, as appears abundantly manifest from the current religious literature of our time. A dangerous leaven is permeating the Church, which unless checked by power Divine, will ultimately dash her against the cliffs of infidelity.
One of the most common tendencies of the present age, and that to which we purpose confining our attention in the present paper is, that which would dissociate Christian life from Religious Doctrine—which would put asunder what God has joined togetherwhich would represent as standing in perpetual conflict, what God has linked together in perpetual harmony.
Who that with any degree of care notes the spirit of the age, is not familiar with such expressions as these, “Why insist so much on mere dogma, barren doctrine?" “Let there only be a consistent life.” “Let a man be sober, chaste, benevolent and upright in all his dealings, and it matters little what principles he holds." “We are tired of theory." “Give us practice.” With all their declamation, however, against dogma and doctrine, they are in themselves, and in their conduct, the most complete specimens of the dogmatism they condemn. The only difference between them and those who both practically and theoretically base right action upon right principle is, that while the one insist upon their line of thought and conduct without a fixed law to guide them, the other do so in accordance with a clearly defined standard of truth and duty. The one may be represented by the ship traversing the trackless ocean, without a chart to guide, or rudder to steer, having no definite port in prospect, but allowed to drift hither and thither at the mercy of wind and tide; the other by the ship whose whole nautical arrangements are complete and in good condition, and sailing steadily and surely to the destined haven.
Among the many exponents of this dangerous species of empiricism, the names of the late F. W. Robertson of Brighton, Brooke, and, what is more fitted to create alarm, several ministers in connection with the Church of Scotland, may be mentioned. Quotations might be given from the writings of all of them, but we select specimens from the writings of two, which have exercised an extensive but baneful influence upon religious thought, especially among the youth of our land. F. W. Robertson says, “ Christianity is a spirit and a life. To make it anything but the worship of a spirit, God in spirit and in truth, is to go back to Judaism. Truth is felt, not reasoned out; and if there be any truths which are only appreciable by the acute understanding, we may be sure at once, that these do not constitute the soul's life, nor error in these the soul's death. For instance, the metaphysics of God's being, the plan,' as they call it, of salvation,' the exact distinction between the divine and human of Christ's person. On all these subjects you may read and read, till the brain is dizzy, and the heart's action is stopped ; so that, of course, the mind is bewildered.” (Life, vol. i., p. 162, and vol. ii., p. 42.)
Dr. Caird says in his sermon on “What is religion ?”—“A kind, tolerant, compassionate man, or a man of unsullied and blameless life, is not necessarily one of whom we conclude, that he is a man of deep religious convictions. If religion be a thing of doctrinal belief, then notoriously charity and purity may exist independently of correct religious notions or ideas, under a thousand diversities of creed and dogmas. The gentle virtues are not plants that bloom only on the soil of orthodoxy. They flourish with a wonderful disdain of ecclesiastical restrictions, on the unhallowed domain of heresy; nay, sometimes are found blossoming into a strange luxuriance on the outlying wastes of heathendom. There is an apprehension of God and of divine things that is independent of that which comes to us in the form of propositions and doctrines, and which may be possessed in fullest measure by the man who could not define or prove a single article of a theological creed. The investigation of the evidences, the analysis and systematic development of the doctrines of religion, may indeed furnish fit occupation for the highest intellects; but it is by no such process that the essence of religion wins its way into the soul. It comes upon the spirit, not as a proposition which it has proved, but as a living reality which it immediately and intuitively perceives—as a heavenly melody falling on the ear, as the splendour of an infinite loveliness breaking on the eye of faith."
Truly these expressions of modern thought are crude, obscure, and vague in the extreme. What are such men's ideas of what really constitutes Christian doctrine, or of its relation, if any relation it has, to a religious life we are at a loss to comprehend. They do not even attempt a positive and clear definition. It thus remains a matter of uncertain conjecture. If they regard Christian doctrine in no other light than as a cold, naked, barren abstraction, having no connection whatever with the outward life (and verily their language seems to point in this direction), then these inflated exhibitions of modern thought are nothing more than meaningless declamation-nay more, they give expression to what is positively untrue ; for there does not exist in connection with the whole creed and practice of evangelical Christendom, such an abstraction passing current for religious doctrine. It may be, however, that by doctrine is intended the principles of Christian truth which form the foundation of Christian living, embracing the teachings of the Bible, the objects of belief, as distinguished from the discoveries of the Bible, which point out the high aim of true life. This is the more charitable construction to put upon the reasonings under present consideration, and to which we shall give special prominence in further dealing with the question, although the two forms in which dogma and doctrine are set forth in the writings specified, are scarcely separable. One thing is obvious, that the scope of such sentiments is to exalt the Christian life at the expense of Christian doctrine, and that by making a complete and lasting severance of the one from the other. Such a divorce, however, is nowhere to be found save in the imagination of these so-called men of progress, and as we shall now proceed to show, is opposed to the dictates of sound reason, and of divine revelation, and utterly subversive of man's highest interests.
First, It is inconsistent with the dictates of sound reason, and the ordinary practice of men in all other departments. Christian doctrine separated from, and in no way necessarily associated with, Christian living ! Such a sentiment carries with it its own refutation, and were the principle which it involves even mooted in any other domain than that of theology it would be put down as the result of mental aberration. Could any other idea be formed of the man who would labour assiduously to prove that light and heat are distinct from, and independent of, the sun from which they emanate-or that water has no necessary connection with the fountain from which it flows—the fruit with the root from which it springs—the working of machinery with the laws of mechanism—a building with the foundation on which it rests? Equally consistent with reason and common sense would that man be who might say, Let us only have light and heat, and their source and theory need not concern us--Give us only water to drink, and for cleansing purposes, and we need not trouble ourselves about the spring down in the earth out of sight-If we only get the ripe and delicious fruit, the root embedded in the soil is of no consequence to us—Let us only have the useful products of machinery, or of trade, and the laws of mechanism or of commerce may be discarded ; with the man who expects to reap the fruits of the Christian life, apart from the root of Christian doctrine. For just as in the one case, we could not possibly enjoy the blessings of light and heat, were the sun blotted out of the firmament, feast. upon the ripe fruit, or be regaled with the fragrance, and under the cooling shade which the orchard supplies, were the trunk or the stem severed from the root; so in the other, equally impossible would it be, to engage in the duties, or realize the privileges and enjoyments of a religious life, without the belief in Christian doctrine. The two are as inseparable as are cause and effect. If sound doctrine be
understood and sincerely believed, the outward life will be in exact accordance with it. The latter is the progressive counterpart of the former. For example, no one could seriously believe that his house was on fire, and yet remain motionless and indifferent as if all were right. The belief of this would irresistibly impel him to vigorous action, with the view of extinguishing the flames, and saving life and property. Is the intelligence conveyed that some dreadful explosion has occurred in the bowels of the earth, by which the lives of hundreds of our fellow-men are jeoparded? Does not the very knowledge of this incite to active effort; to rescue the living, or to recover the bodies of the dead? Besides, the very belief that is thereby engendered, that such a calamity may again occur, leads to the devising and adoption of precautionary measures to prevent it.
man seriously believe that a suitable remedy has been discovered for some hitherto supposed incurable malady, under which he may have been suffering, without at once acting in accordance with his belief in the way of resorting without delay to its adoption? The prescriptions formerly used are discarded, and the new one resorted to. In like manner, if any one sincerely believes in the doctrine of man’s ruin by the Fall, is deeply sensible of its consequences, and in the doctrine of redemption through the atonement of Christ, he cannot but be filled with anxiety and alarm, and so be stirred up to the diligent and prayerful use of the means which God hath appointed, that he may escape the one and enjoy the blessings of the other. May we not then well ask, what truth can be more evident, reasoning from no higher ground than common sense, than the impossibility of separating belief in religious doctrine from the actions of a religious life? “Whatever man may do besides," says the eloquent Vinet, “and whatever he may pretend, he cannot so act, but that his life shall demonstrate his knowledge, or his ignorance of eternal things. Visibly or invisibly, either in a positive or negative manner, all conduct has reference to it.
Of necessity, he has some principles. His character will be influenced by his belief or disbelief in the existence of God, and his ideas of the divine nature. The creed will determine the man. Every one will readily acknowledge that the most serious consequences are involved in the different solutions of these great leading questions ; that every thing without exception depends on this one point; that the whole being is modified and determined by it; and that in a general, but profound sense, to know what we believe, is to know what we are.” (Essay on Personal Religious Conviction. By Prof. A. Vinet, p. 67).
But we have further to note here, that such a sentiment is inconsistent with, and opposed to, the ordinary practice of men, in all other