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[Translated from the "Kirchenfreund."] It belongs to the peculiar character of our times, that in different lands, on the field of the Protestant Church, a certain retrograde tendency is coming to prevail, materially and plainly different from the views and aims which were entertained even among the pious themselves not a great while since. In Germany, for instance, it had gone so far, thåt not only was the Church fallen into absolute contempt with open unbelief, affecting at the same time the proud tone of science and superior cultivation; but for those also who professed 'to adhere to the old faith it was regarded as of force and authority, so far only as it fell in with the current conception of a merely invisible communion. It was frequently said in so many words indeed, that a Christian and a Pietist were two as much like terms, as a Protes:ant and a Christian or a Pietist and a Protestant. The case was supposable thus, that a man might have no regard for the Church, visibly taken, nay might absolutely hate it, and still be counted, possibly too for this very reason itself, a good christian. The Church as an outward organism, thrown around man's life, seemed to lose almost all significance over against subjective christian experience. Infidelity sought to abstract Christ from the heart; the great interest then, on the other side, was selt to lie in maintaining for the heart the possession of Christ.—'The course of things in England and America was much the same. There however it was not so much the inroads of unbelief, as the prevalence of a stiff, dry, moralising orthodoxy, rationalistic too in its own way, which served to call forth a reaction on the part of those who were concerned truly for their salvation The visible Church, not directly in its forms and ordinances, but in the manner rather in which these were administered, being shorn of their proper life and spirit, could not fail to excite an opposirion, to which every established form as such came to appear dangerous, and which also gave itself up to the object of bring. ing individuals to Christ, in the way of experimental apprehen: sion, as the one great end of religion. The maxim had full acknowledgment, that every one who is in Christ is thereby also in the Church, but not the reverse. That to.“ be in Christ” however includes more in it than a mere personal experience of salvation, that one who is in Christ is a member of his body, while this body must be not at all something purely inward, but something outward at the same time, an organism enubracing
humanity—this seemed to be left entirely out of sight. If danger was escaped thus in one direction, it was only by running into new danger in another. For will inward experience now really become infallible? Shall there be no need more for any forms whatever? May not new ones rise, much worse perhaps than before? May not spiritual coldness again return ? Must not the divisions of Protestantism tend to impair its inward strength and truth? Can the old church forms be abandoned, without giving up at the same time doctrines and principles indispensable to sound church life?
History itself has long since answered these questions. And with it many of the friends of christianity, both in the old world and in the new, have come to look upon a piety as of very questionable character, which makes a merit of ils own unchurchliness. Hence no idea belonging to the whole range of theology is so much in view latterly as that of the Church. And this is altogether right. The Church may be placed not improperly at the head of the entire christian doctrine. By her we know that there is a kingdom of God; by her the Bible is first offered to us as God's word; by her our faith stands in union with the faith of all the saints in the earliest and most remote times. The undervaluation of the visible Church has been carried quite too far. Christianity demands a sound body no less than a healthy soul. The two condition each other. The efforts then which are made to secure closer contact again with the old order, the original spirit, the forms this created for itself in the Reformation, are full of meaning for our time. Their object is to restore ihe good, which has been thrown away along with the bad in rash attempts at improvement.
The circumstances of the present time are in truth such, that any man who puts forth his strength for the sake of the good, against the reigning spirit of the age, and so not out of selfishness but from a true spirit of love, is at nce entitled to thanks, even though his activity should be without plan in a universal view. And with how few can it be otherwise! All should be welcome, that honestly proposes to help the malady of the times. How much too has taken place recently, in the old world as well as in the new, for the invigoration of Protestantism! From the Prussian scheme of Union to the great London Alliancethe cause of Missions, Foreign and Domestic, Bible Societies, the system of Tracts and Colportage, and many other agencies that might be named, are all enterprises of true benevolence, that have already wrought more good than can well be told in single respects. But these enterprises themselves serre in truth
to show us to what point we have come, and the obligation which rests on every friend of the kingdom of God, to build on the broken down walls of Zion, in his own place, according to the best of his knowledge and ability. No one is called at pres. ent to the office of a Reformer. But to assist, to improve, to resist the enemy in single places, and to be true to particular trusts; that is what we must limit ourselves to at this day, and a blessing may be expected to go along with it.
We ought not now to be surprised however, if in this business of patching and improving much may come into view that is not in full harmony with itself. It fares with the spiritual habitation of God here, as it has fared with many houses of God that are made with hands. We have ourselves seen such, which were begun in the old Roman round arch style. Afterwards these simple and noble lines failed any longer to give satisfaction, and were crowded out by fanciful complicated Gothic additions. There come however still another spirit, and the rich pomp of the Gothic architecture was covered over with lime and chalk, to make the worship more spiritual. Even this sober improvement has been forced also to give way to new change, which inay be repeated again no one can say how often. Has it not fared in the same way with our Protestant Church? It is the arena, we know, at any rate, for all private opinions, where every one may make trial of his strength. .
The efforts of our time to infuse new life into the kingdom of God, and to secure for it a more full and effective entrance into public life, as well as the family sphere, all reduce themselves perhaps 10 two tendencies. The one aims to reach the general froin the single, the other reversely to reach the single from the general. The one lays hold of the individual life, to incorporate it with the organism of the whole; the other seeks the organization of the whole, in order to subdue the individual life the more easily by means of it to a neral end. The first asserts in favor af the individual an independence of christian thought, that owns no necessary allegiance to the past of the Protestani Church; the second insists on laying down a certain basis of faith and worship, as already established, by which to restrain and hold in check the undue exercise of freedom. The first is historically the older tendency, the second the later and more recent. The old form of Protestantism retained its authority down into the last century, carrying it to petrifaction; it had historical right on its side, but its rigid conformation was at last only a sort of paper papacy, and its existence was almost wholly polemical, its very strength lying in controversy not in love.
The last century shows here the most violent revolution. This had many aspects, but its distinctive character is just the assertion of the subjective and individual over against the claims of tradition and law. Thus private judgment slood forward in the Rationalism of Germany, and of other lands, carrying its appeal to the fundamental right of Protestantism itself; but it showed clearly also the entire want of a right understanding between the Protestant confession and individual knowledge. The same assertion of the subjective lies at the ground of German Pietism, English Methodism, and all kindred manifestations. Here indeed no departure from the church faith has been designed; but there was no right understanding again with the reigning form of the church; it failed to serve as a medium beiween the word of faith and the believing heart. The effect of all this was, and still continues to be, very great.
Unbelief on the one side, affecting to believe as it may please and what it may please, bas grown into frightful power. This carries in itself no organizing principle, but is decomposing, eats like rust, wherever it is found, spreading itself as a cancer; it sees in the faith of the Church only an overwhelming power, it seeks new principles on which to build the social systein, but draws off men from the influence of Christ's word and spirit. Over against it, and yet one with it as regards the over-valuation of the subjective, stands the modern Separatism, with its so plausible pretence of superior piety; which with vast want of all general knowledge invests the feel. ing of a moment with the value of eternity, and labors under all the defects that atiach to such one sided account of feeling, namely lack of genuine moral force in the will, and confusion in the understanding. This sovereignty of the individual will not allow us Protestants, with all our talking, to come to right genuine action; in this country Protestantism has lost a large part of its moral force, its infuence over public relations. To this state of things it is owing, that our youth for the most part grows up in the thickest moral and religious darkness; thai an insensibility to divine things folows, which no later inward convulsions can ever compensate or cure ; that the leading political men lend their favor to the religious body, which promises them the best service; that family love is found to fail, in proportion as that which should be the strongest bond of union is turned into an occasion of difference and separation ; that all the enterprises of Protestantism, as a propaganda fidei, are made weak by the misery of division; that persons who have no call whatever, without any preparation, devote themselves to the service of the Church, geuling leonor thus to themselves while the
Church is made to fall to the same extent, with the higher class, in relative dignity and weight; that along with all, and just because it is thus, the Roman Catholic Church extends her power, and skilfully turns to account the advantage of our weakness as well as of her own compact organization.
Certainly subjectivism has had full time and opportunity among us, to show its strength and bring deliverance. But what has it thus far accomplished ? In the form of rationalism, it has sought to overthrow all the foundations of human society. Un. der the name of liberalism and light it promotes indifference towards sin, the perrennial poisonous fountain of all sorrow, lawlessness, selfishness, the breaking up of all relations by the dissolution of the most sacred ties that bind man to man. In the form of a purely experimental piety, on the other hand, affecting to follow only its own feelings, the same spirit has produced a thousand illusions; dividing the Church; and at last flinging itself again, (often in the most odious way,) into the arms of the very evil it rose from at first, namely 'stiff formality and its accompaniment spiritual death.
And now the question is, whether the tendency which is making itself felt in our day, from different sides, in opposition to this overbearing individualism, is not also reasonable and right? Those who tell us, from a contrary mind, no regard is had here to personal piety, are either ignorant or malicious. It is just one of the worst signs of our time, a true mark of the curse upon it, that the expression “churchly minded” has passed into a term of reproach. Equally unjust is it, where one shows himself dissatisfied with the existing sect system, its divisions and fanatical disorders, at once to class him with one sided tendencies and views in the opposite direction, or it may be to charge him even with a leaning towards Rome. No, we hesitate not a moment to speak freely what we think. We see that the state of Christianity in our day rests on no other foundation so much as on that of merely natural moral conceptions, which differ heaven-wide from the truths of the kingdom of heaven. Our wish now would be to behold in the Church noi simply a sort of cobbling system brought in to mend existing damage, and so to help men forward to beaven; we would have rather man's life made to rest throughout, without distinction or exception, on the truths of revelation, on God's word and will; we would have it consecrated and sanctified by religion in all its relations ; so that the Church should lead him from the cradle to the grave; educate him, and hold him under her discipline through his whole life; have in her charge the care of the sick, the poor, VOL. II.-NO. IV.