Page images

and using the strength of individuals, and by the steady advancement of all the interests of humanity.

And organization has followed, in the place to which the genius of Protestantism necessarily assigns it, incorporating into society the ideas which the progress of Christianity has put forth, and reducing to the unity of order and law, the energies which it has developed. The organization demanded by the genius of Protestantism is one, not artificial, but the spontaneous growth of the expanding life, comprising only the organs into which the life spontaneously embodies itself, and which are necessary for its functions; not a fetter put on from without, nor even a garment, but a living embodiment of the life itself; and because it is so, easy in its action, instinct with the energy and expression of the beauty of the life, attracting no attention to itself, but carrying the mind through itself to the soul that speaks and acts in it, and like the human face divine, that most perfect embodied expression of the soul, easily taking on itself every varying expression of the spirit within. Such an organization, the polity of the New England churches most nearly realizes ; and therefore it is the organization that most completely embodies the essential idea of Protestantism. Some, beholding its simplicity, its freedom, its incapacity to attract attention to itself, and its necessity of turning attention to the animating spirit, its continual expression of the personality, the responsibility, the dignity and the rights of individuals, have declared that it is not entitled to the name of an organization, and that the religion which it indicates is purely spiritual. We may, perhaps, pardon a mistake analogous to that of a poet describing a face beautiful for its intellectual expression:

“Her pure and eloquent blood
Spoke in her cheek and so distinctly wrought
That one might almost say her body thought.”

It is because the organization is merely the spontaneous outgrowth of the spiritual life, that it may easily be mistaken for a part of the spiritual life itself; and because the spirit VOL. XIII. No. 50.


expresses itself through it so perfectly, it may easily be, that only the spirit attracts the attention of the observer.

Thus our Protestantism giving utterance (the clearest, as yet) to the essential ideas of Christianity, possesses the principles essential to secure the advancement of man, and to give to it order and stability. Thus it is capable of satisfying the demands of infidelity for popular progress.

At the same time the contrast between its attitude and that of infidelity is a perpetual exposure of the inconsistency and incapacity of the latter. Christianity, not lifting up its voice in the streets about the great work which it is doing, busies itself primarily in the renovation, the education, and complete development of individuals, working on the only principle and in the only method of human progress. Infidelity, noisy in its demands for reform and progress, concerns itself primarily with the organization of society, demanding, first, new constitutions of government, and, in the various forms of Fourierism, a new organization of society; thus acting on the very principle, and in the very method, which always tend to despotism in church and state, to stagnation of social progress and the deterioration of humanity. Christianity, recognizing the sacredness of man as an immortal creature of God, busies itself to protect the widow and the fatherless, to gather outcast children into homes and schools, to follow the tide of population with the preaching of repentance and of salvation through Christ, to seek the heathen in his idolatry and the savage in his bestiality, to demand liberty for the slave, and to hold up, over all the oppressed, the ægis of human rights. Infidelity, denying man's immortality and accountability, and sometimes his personality, destroys all ground for the reverence of man, makes human rights and equality a fiction, and is, by virtue of its principles, what it has usually been in fact, a sneering Mephistopheles. Incapable of recognizing anything great in man, it lays the foundation for the cruelty which found its legitimate utterance in the sneer of a celebrated infidel : “ What is taking life, but turning a few ounces of blood from one channel to another?” and its realization in the Reign of Terror. The Christian believes the depravity of man, and yet reveres him. The infidel denies depravity and believes man's natural goodness, and yet despises him. Reverence for man is the element of Christianity; contempt is the element of infidelity. Comté is an example of this inherent inconsistency. He arrogates to himself the title of “ The Founder of the Religion of Humanity;" yet he is incapable of appreciating the first elements of human rights. A traveller, who recently had an interview with him, reports him to have said: “Iam one of the most advanced and illuminated persons of the time; and yet, from my first setting out till the present time, I have done nothing but denounce the sovereignty of the people. The doctrine of equality is an absurd and mischievous falsehood. As for universal suffrage, it is founded on a cerebral deviation. Rights of man! I deny that he has any righis ; he has only duties.” 1

Against the idea which has thus far controlled the life of Protestantism, a reaction has lately developed itself, not only in the Church of England, which never grew out of this idea, nor ever thoroughly incorporated it into its life, but also in the Reformed churches, both in Europe and in this country. The charge is reiterated that Protestantism is a failure, that it has a necessary tendency to rationalism, that it annihilates the distinction between a church and a school or a voluntary association, that it is ictic, atomic, and unhistorical, that it has no proper unity, that its proper results are Jacobinism, disorganization, and Pantheism. And it is charged that these are necessary issues of its essential individualism. And these charges are urged most strenuously against those churches in whose theology and polity Protestantism finds its most consistent expression.

These charges are grossly exaggerated. In recognizing the connection of all men with Adam, Protestantism, as I have already intimated, recognizes man as a member of the race, whose organic force is all exerted to perpetuate his ruin. In rescuing men from this ruin, it aims to make the church

[ocr errors]

1 Notes of H. B. Wallace.

an organic power, and also to avail itself of all the particular organic forces of society. In its doctrines and its practice it clearly recognizes man's organic relations. Its history also refutes these charges. I need only point, in proof, to the polity, in church and state, which it has established in New England, where it has given the fullest development to its individualism; to the beauty and order of society in connection with the largest individual liberty, and to the degree to which, without any restraint on freedom, it causes all the or

, ganic forces of society to uphold Christianity. And, though we hear but little, in these churches, of the sentimentalities about our holy mother, the church; yet, in them, a true churchly spirit is powerful and pervasive. That sentiment has found no more beautiful uninspired utterance than in Dwight's version of the 137th Psalm ;? and nowhere are those lines oftener or more enthusiastically sung than in the churches of New England.

Still I will not deny that there may be some foundation for these charges. That doctrines and practice derived from the exclusive recognition of man as an individual, become monstrous errors, I have already admitted ; that Protestantism is, as yet, in any of its aspects, as comprehensive as Christianity, may properly be questioned; that dangers may threaten us, justifying a revision of our position, we may well believe; in re-asserting the doctrines belonging to man's individuality, which Romanism had annihilated, Protestantism may have failed adequately to recognize the truths clustering around the other great centre of human thought, the principle of organic unity.

But if so, what is to be the remedy? Shall we recognize the organic as primary and preëminent, and sink the individual to a secondary and subordinate position? Shall we set our faces towards the unity and catholicity of Rome, by reviving, in a new form, the very principle of her life and growth? Shall we make the unity and development of the race, participating as it does in the natural, the measure of the unity and development of the spiritual seed, born of the divine Spirit ? Shall we confound the spiritual with the natural, and, in our theories, subject the spiritual itself to the necessity of a natural law? In our new-born zeal for organic unity, shall we thus adopt a principle which obscures the limits of responsibility, confounds sin with calamity, blurs the distinctness of personality, and prepares the way to discard a proper creation, and to resolve the history of both men and nature, as well as the creation itself, into a mere development by law ? No. It is not in this direction that deliverance is to be found. It is too late in the life of the world to make it possible to find it here. The essential erroneousness of this principle, it was the work of a thousand years of corruption and despotism to demonstrate. When Protestantism broke away from Rome, it broke away from this principle forever. It put its very life into its protest against it. It committed itself to the work, sublime in its conception, divine in its achievement, of making the world blessed by making its inhabitants individually wise and good. Henceforth all subterfuges became impossible for compelling belief by suppressing inquiry, for hiding evil in the organization instead of eradicating it from the individual, and for securing unity by organic uniformity. Henceforth there could be no belief but what was founded on conviction, no goodness but in the actual renovation of men, no unity but the unity of the Spirit. This work Protestantism undertook ; and it has no alternative but to prosecute it to success, or give the world up either to unbelief or to spiritual despotism.

1 “I love thy kingdom, Lord,” etc.

It is well that Christian scholars are attending to this subject. And, after the experience of three hundred years, it may be possible to bring into a more satisfactory union the systems of thought evolved from these two centres, and to produce a theology more comprehensive and harmonious. But it must not be merely one of those blind reactions to which the human mind is prone : the abandoning of one extreme to rush into another. The inquiry can be safely prosecuted only by holding fast the essential element of Protestantism, and carrying it out to its full development; only

« PreviousContinue »