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80 many take to be the very palladium of Protestantism ? Has he not cast himself fully on the Bible and Private Judgment, in opposition to all sorts of authority in every other form? Has he not made himself a martyr to the cause of Bible Christianity in this
way, the rights of conscience, religious freedom, the authority of Christ in his own house over against all authority supposed to be false? And why then should be not be approved and applauded in his course? Why should we not rejoice to see others breaking away from all existing denominations in like style, and setting up every one for himself, in the name of the Bible, a truly independent standard ? The more new sects and new positions after this fashion, it might seem, the better. And if it should come even to a complete disintegration of all religious communions, the full breaking up of the Church visibly considered, and a resolution of the christian faith and life into mere atoms or units, would it not deserve only to be hailed as the greatest possible triumph of the Bible and Private Judgment, the fullest possible allegiance of the christian world to the prin. ciple of freedom!
Such force undoubtedly this Bible Christianity has, over against the common posture of our religious sects. It is but a simple carrying out of their acknowledged principles to the end, towards which these run from the beginning. And yet it is a very easy thing, on the other hand, in the case of such an extreme, to show that it is full of contradiction and overthrows itself. It is indeed surprising, how a sensible man, like Mr. Stockton, should not see and feel this, in the mere exhibition, or at least with the shortest experiment, of his own favorite theory. The Bible has no life of its own, no voice, save as the truth it reveals is brought to live and speak in those who receive it as God's word. To be a creed or rule then, it must be reduced to some common understanding in the minds that embrace it, and agree to follow it, in such way. This may be written or it may be unwritten ; but in the end it amounts to the same thing; it is a standard of belief and practice, in this respect a true church symbol and constitution, supposed of course to be taken from the Bible, but still as such out of the Bible and beside it. There can be absolutely no communion whatever, and no co-operation, on the basis of revealed truth, without some such common understanding and agreeinent, to at least a certain extent, in regard to what this truth teaches and requires. To give up one creed or confession then, so long as Christianity itself be not wholly abjured, is only to come under the authority of another. To pretend to give up all creeds, and to take simply the Bible in
their place, is an absurdity; and if it mean anything at all, must signify the want of faith altogether; since to have faith, is to believe some positive doctrine or fact, and this, though it may differ from all creeds besides, will then be to all intents and purposes itself a creed, as really as any of the systems it affects to reject. Mr. Stockton, of course, only deceives himself, and endeavors also innocently to deceive others, when he pretends to set Bible Christianity in opposition to all Denominationalism, and then claims to be himself the representative of the first to the full negation and exclusion of all that is comprehended in the idea of the second. Has he not also a theory of Christianity, a certain scheme of things in his mind, which he holds it necessary to preach and receive on the authority of the Bible? And what less is this, we ask, than the interposition of something, which is not of itself the written text and yet claims to be of force as authority, between the Bible and the minds of those to whom he preaches, or for whom he writes ?. He may please himself by styling it true authority, as opposed to authority that is false on the part of the different denominations. But by what measure, in this case, are truth and falsehood to be distinguished? Will he be so simple as to say: “I am but the echo of the Bible, and therefore worthy of confidence and faith ; while the several denominations evidently get their creeds from some other quarter.” Does he not know, that each of these denominations claims to be the echo of the Bible as fully as himself, and has also full as much right to make this claim, and to be considered sincere in making it? By what principle or rule is it, that the Methodist scheme of Christianity, the Baptist scheme, the Presbyterian scheme, must be set down as the product of mere human thought and will forsaking the Bible, while the scheme of Thomas H. Stockton, singly and separately taken, is to be regarded as the true sense itself of the sacred volume? What better at best is such downright individualism, we may well inquire, than the mere denominationalism, under any form, from which it so graciously offers to set the world free?
“For years,” says Mr. Stockton, “ I have been trying to secure an honorable and useful position on the broad and lofty platform of Bible Christianily; a position above all parties, civil, ecclesiastical, and social; a position, in which with real love for all persons, though in apparent opposition to many institutions—I might be allowed, by common consent and with common confidence, to speak out, in the hearing of all, and for the benefit of all, with unchecked but prudent liberty, either positively or negatively, for or against, according to my humble mea. sure or ability, in all the relations of True and False authority. That, if there be any, seems to be the mission.” For the accomplishment of this work, he thinks he has now found the right method. “A Teacher of Bible Christianity inquires : What does Humanity, just as we find it, need? He answers the question somewhat as follows: It needs the Bible-the Religion of the Bible, and the Social Institutions of the Bible; that is, it needs precisely what God has supplied. Next, he compares the Religion of the Bible with the Religion of the Age; and the Social Institutions of the Bible with the Social Institutions of the Age : and discovers great differences. Men have sadly perverted what God designed for their advantage.” And so the business of such a teacher, having a mission to set the world right, is to meet the evil with which he finds himself surrounded on all sides, “in the family, in the school, in the store, in the society, in the church, in the state,” with what he finds and sees to be the simple will of God as made known in the Bible.
The amount of all is simply this, that Mr. Stockton proposes to set his own views of what the Bible teaches and requires over against all other systems of belief, and claims in favor of the first the authority of absolute truth, while all besides is charged with at least partial error.
To be consistent, and true to his own principle, he is bound of course to extend the same right to all others. This, it would seem however, is more than he feels himself constrained to allow; as he evidently has a certain scheme of doctrine in his mind, which he takes to be the necessary proper sense of the Bible, and which he is ready to apply on all sides as a standard of evangelical orthodoxy. Here Mr. Craig shows bimself more strictly in agreement with the general theory which both profess to hold. In his hands, we find the theory pushed out, without shrinking, to its most extreme consequences.
The Bible must be allowed to rule the faith and practice of every man, in a perfect free way; that is, without regulation or control of any sort whatever from the previous thinking of others, in the form either of confession or creed. He will allow no test or standard of orthodoxy. Enough simply, that men profess to receive and follow the Bible as God's word. We have no right to ask a sin. gle question in regard to what they find in it, or the use they make of it. The professor may be in sentiment a Trinitarian, Unitarian, or Arian, a Calvinist or Arminian, an Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, or Baptist; still it matters not; let him only waive all reference to these distinctions, planting himself before us on the broad platform of Bible Christianity, and it
becomes the duty of all christians, according to Mr. Craig, to extend to him the right hand of fellowship, and to encircle him with the arms of love.
This looks catholic and liberal. But it comes just to this in the end, that Christianity is emptied of all positive contents as a distinctive revelation, and reduced to the character of religion in its merely natural forin. It is a catholicity which stands wholly in negations; by which all that is affirmed as a distinguishing interest by the different denominations is either denied, or at least treated as something of no worth, while all material truth is made to lie thus in a few abstractions, that are of so general and vague a character as to carry with them no living force whatev. er. Christianity in this form is of no definite shape. It is a mere name to represent all religious truth; some portion of which is taken to belong to almost every sect; while for this very reason, as representing all, the one faith of Christ must be held to be something different and distinct from every such particular manifestation. “Simple Christianity is the one faith' of Christ's Church. Luberanism is not the faith of Christ's Church; because Lutheranism is something distinct from Christianity. So is Episcopalianism ; so is Presbyterianism ; so is Methodism. To embrace simple Christianity does not bring a man into the Methodist church; nor into the Ca lic church; nor into the Reformed Dutch church : but it does bring him into the Christian church — the One Body of Christ.” This is plainly to turn Christianity into nothing, to rob it of all positive character, to make it just what it may suit the private judgment and fancy of this man, that man, and every man, to raise to suck distinction and clothe with such name. The absurdity stands forth clearly to view in the representation of Mr. Craig; it is in truth however fairly involved, to the same extent, in the more guarded and qualified views also of Mr. Stockton, and in the whole theory of Bible Christianity to which he is so much attached, and which he holds it his special mission to advocate and recommend. All such Christianity has a tendency to lose itself more and more in general abstractions, to substitute what is negative only for what is concretely real and posilive, to become wide by becoming at the same time flat, and to shut out nothing finally just because there is nothing which it can be said effectually to comprehend and shut in.
With all our opposition to the sect system, then, we make no common cause whatever with the anti-sect spirit in this style. The cure for Denominational Christianity is not just what is here called Bible Christianity, the religion of Christ emptied of all positive contents and made to be what to every man may seem best, taking the measure of it simply and wholly from himself.
This may strike some as a contradiction. The truth is, however, that the things which are thus opposed, carry in them after all no such real opposition as is frequently imagined. The antagonism between them is at best but relative and partial. At bottom, they are found to agree more than they differ. Both affect to make the Bible exclusively the foundation and source of Christianity. Both in this way deny the proper power of the living fact of Christianity itself objectively considered. Both show themselves thus completely unhistorical, and in spite of all their pretended reverence for revelation fall over to the rationalistic posture, by which this is brought into subordination always more or less to the mind and will of those who receive it, inasmuch as they are allowed to make themselves separately the measure of its universal sense. This Bible Christianity is only the Sect Christianity itself carried out to its last legitimate result, in which it is brought fairly to overthrow and destroy its own life.
As compared with such extreme of individualism and subjectivity, the sect system has on its side a certain amount of right; and this right will be found to lie moreover in the direction precisely, where we are required to seek and acknowledge what is needed in order to master properly the difficult koot presented to us by the whole case. It looks to the idea of the Church, and in this way recognizes the necessity of history and tradition, the real authority of what Christianity has been and still is out of the Bible and beyond it; even while the system itself, in another view, stands at open war with all such objective christianity, and to a certain point asserts in opposition to it only the claims of private judgment and private will. No sect as such has hardihood enough to follow out its own principle to the end; for in that case it inust give up its own denominational character, and lose along with it all positive substance. The true christian feeling comes in to withstand this; and sects are impelled accordingly, while they resist the true idea of the Church and fly from it, to turn round again, with vast practical inconsistency, and assert the attributes and prerogatives of this idea in their own favor. Each sect allows itself to be only a part of Christianity, a narrow insular interest and not the true wholeness of Christ's kingdom upon the earth ; and yet in the next breath goes on to affirm rights and wield powers which can have no possible sense whatever, except as they are taken to be of truly universal force, and not merely of force for any one section or division only of the christian commonwealth. Every