« ForrigeFortsett »
CHANGES IN THE AUTHOR'S VIEWS.
MY studies led me to make considerable changes both in
my views and way of speaking.
1. With regard to my views. I found that some of the doctrines which I had been taught as Christian doctrines, were not so much as hinted at by Christ and His Apostles, that some doctrines which Christ and His Apostles taught with great plainness, I never had been taught at all; and that some of the doctrines of Christ and His Apostles which I had been taught, I had been taught in very different forms from those in which they were presented in the New Testament.
I found that some doctrines which I had been taught as doctrines of the greatest importance, were never so much as alluded to in the whole Bible, while in numbers of places quite contrary doctrines were taught. While unscriptural doctrines were inculcated as fundamental doctrines of the Gospel, some of the fundamental doctrines themselves were not only neglected, but denounced as grievous heresies.
Many passages of Scripture which were perfectly plain when left to speak out their own meaning, had been used so badly by theologians, that they had become unintelligible to ordinary Christians. While professing to give the passages needful explanations, they had heaped upon them impenetrable obscurations. Words that, as they came from Jesus, were spirit and life, had been so grievously perverted, that they had become meaningless or mischievous.
I met with passages which had been used as proofs of doctrines to which they had not the slightest reference. There were the words of Jeremiah for instance: "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?" The prophet is speaking of the impossibility of men, after long continuance in wilful sin, breaking off their bad habits; as the closing words of the passage show: "Then may ye who are accustomed to do evil, do well." But the theologians took the words and used them in support of the doc
MAKES MANY DISCOVERIES.
trine that no man in his unconverted state can do anything towards his salvation,-a doctrine which is neither Scriptural nor rational. Again; Isaiah, referring to the calamitous condition of the Jewish nation, in consequence of God's judgments, says: "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot to the head, there is no soundness; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores," &c. This, which the prophet said with regard to the state of the Jews, the theologians applied to the character, not of the Jews only, but of all mankind. What Paul said about the law of Moses, and the works or deeds required by that law, the theologians applied to the law of Christ. And so with regard to multitudes of passages. I was constantly coming across passages that the theologians systematically perverted, taking them from their proper use and meaning, and forcing them into the support of notions to which they had not the slightest reference. The liberties taken with the words of Paul went far towards turning the writings of that great advocate and example of holiness into lessons of licentiousness.
It was plain that, on many points, theology was one thing, and Christianity another; and that many and important changes would have to be made in the creeds and confessions of Christendom, before they could be brought into harmony with the truth as taught by Jesus.
Some theological doctrines I found rested on the authority of Milton's Paradise Lost, or of the Church of England Prayer Book, or on the authority of earlier works from which Milton or the authors of the Prayer Book had borrowed.
One day, about forty-two years ago, I was travelling homewards from Shields to Blyth on foot, when a man with a cart overtook me, and asked me to get in and ride. I did so. The man and I were soon busy discussing theology. We talked on saving faith, imputed righteousness, predestination, divine foreknowledge, election, reprobation and redemption. We differed on every point, and the man got very warm. He then spake of a covenant made between God the Father and His Son before the creation of the world, giving me all the particulars of the engagement. I told him I had read something about a covenant of that
kind in Milton's Paradise Lost, but that I had never met with anything on the subject in the sacred writings, and added that I doubted whether any such transaction ever took place. He got more excited than ever, and expressed some uneasiness at having such a blasphemous heretic in his cart. Just then one of the cart wheels came off and down went the vehicle on one side, spilling me and the driver on the road. I was quickly on my feet, but he lay on his back sprawling in the sand. "That's a judgment," said he, "on your blasphemies." "You seem to have got the worst part of the judgment," said I. I asked him if I could help him. He seemed to hint that I ought to pay for the damage done to the cart; but as that was not in the covenant, I did not take the hint; and as he was in a somewhat unamiable temper, I left him to himself, and trudged on homeward. The carter and I had no more discussions on covenants. But many a bit of theology has been built on Milton since then.
Other doctrines I found to be new versions of old pagan imaginations.
Some seemed to have originated in the selfish and sensual principles of human nature, which make men wishful to avoid self-denial and a life of beneficence, and to find some easy way to heaven.
In some cases Protestants had run into extremes through a hatred and horror of Popery, while in others orthodox teachers had run into extremes through hatred and dread of Socinianism.
In other cases doctrines seemed to have been rested on no authority but the facts, or supposed facts, of individual experiences.
Some great doctrines were rendered incomprehensible, repulsive, or incredible, in consequence of not being accompanied with other doctrines, which were necessary to explain their use, and make manifest their reasonableness and worth. There was no lack of attention among theologians to the doctrine that Christ was an incarnation of the Deity; but little or no regard was paid to the kindred doctrine, its necessary accompaniment, that Jesus was the 'image,' the 'likeness,' of God, the revelation or manifestation of His character. Yet this is essential to a right un
derstanding and a due appreciation of the other. The revelation or manifestation of God, and especially of His eternal and infinite love, was the great design and end of the incarnation. Taken apart from this doctrine the incarnation becomes a dry hard fact, without use or meaning. It is when viewed as a means of revealing God,—of making manifest His infinite goodness, and by that means melting and purifying man's heart, and transforming his character, that it is seen to be full of interest and power and glory.
The doctrine that Jesus is God's image, God manifest in the flesh, is the one great doctrine of Christianity, the sum, the substance of the whole Gospel,—the Gospel itself, -the power of God to the salvation of every one that truly believes and contemplates it. It is a world of truth in one, a whole encyclopædia of divine philosophy; the perfection of all wisdom and of all power; the one great revelation needful to the salvation of the world.
Yet I never met with this doctrine for the first thirty years of my life, in any theological work. I have no recollection that I ever heard it mentioned in a sermon. I certainly never heard it explained and applied to the great purposes for which it was designed. I never was told that to know the character of God, I had only to look at the character of Christ,-that what Christ was during His life on earth in the circle in which He moved, that God was throughout all worlds, and towards all the creatures of His hands, that the love which led Jesus to suffer and die for the salvation of the world, lived and moved in the heart of the infinite, invisible God, prompting Him to plan and labor throughout immensity to promote the happiness of the whole creation. In short, the Gospel was never preached to me in its simplicity and beauty, in its glory and power, nor was it ever properly explained to me in catechism, creed, confession, or body of divinity.
And generally, no sufficient stress was ever laid by theologians on the value and necessity of personal virtue,—of religious and moral goodness. It was believed that Christians would have goodness of some kind, in some degree,that they would be, on the whole, in some respects, better than the ungodly world; and there was a feeling that they ought to be so: but it was rare to meet with a preacher or
a book that put the subject in any thing like a Scriptural Christian light. No one contended that goodness was everything, that it was the one great all-glorious object for which the world was made, for which the universe was upheld, for which prophets spake, for which the Scriptures were written, for which God became incarnate, for which Jesus lived and labored, for which He suffered and died, for which He founded His Church and appointed and endowed its ministers, for which Providence planned, and for which all things continued to exist. No one taught that goodness was the only thing for which God cared, the only thing which He esteemed and loved, and the only thing He would reward and bless. Books and preachers did not use to tell us, that faith, and knowledge, and feeling,—that repentance, conversion, and sanctification,-that reading the Scriptures, and hearing sermons, and singing hymns, and offering prayers,—that church fellowship, and religious ordinances, were all nothing except so far as they tended to make people good, and then to make them better, and at last to perfect them in all divine and human excellence. No one taught us that goodness was beauty, that goodness was greatness, that goodness was glory, that goodness was happiness, that goodness was heaven. The truth was never pressed on us that the want of goodness was deformity, dishonor and shame,—that it was pain, and wretchedness, and torment, and death,-that goodness in full measure would make earth heaven-that its decline and disappearance would make earth hell. Yet a careful and long-continued perusal of the Scriptures left the impression on my mind, that this was really the case. When I compared the eternal talk about all our goodness being of no account in the sight of God,-of all our righteousness being but as filthy rags,—with the teachings of Scripture, I felt as if theologians were anti-christ, and their theology the gospel of the wicked one. I have no wish to do injustice to theology, or to theologians either; but the more I knew of them, the less I thought of them. And even when the Christian and theologian got blended, as they did, to some extent, in such men as Baxter and Wesley, I pitied the theologian while I esteemed and loved the Christian. Theological works are poor contemptible things. It would