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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 distin