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The Second Reformation.
"Stands Scotland where it did!"
he very Reverend Principal Caird of the Glasgow University and twelve ministers of the Scottish Church have issued a volume of sermons of a very unique character indeed. Macmillan is the publisher of these "Scottish Sermons." They mark a new era in the history of the Church. They are exceedingly iconoclastic in character. They are a strange mixture of German rationalism and Scotch metaphysics. They are, however, written in a reverential style, and they appear to be the productions of conscientious men who really desire to forward the Cause of the Church and to reconcile the Religion of Christ with the Science of the Age. Not by accident, but by set purpose, have these twenty-three sermons been bound up together within the two boards of a bulky volume. They are evidently intended to be feelers of the spiritual pulse of the Scottish nation.
The miraculous and supernatural elements of the Bible are carefully hidden out of sight, if not, indeed, relegated to oblivion. In short, these sermons are simply moral and philosophical essays, with quotations from scripture, as sops to Cerberus. This mode of preaching is a complete change of front towards the materialistic spirit of these times.
If the Scottish Church tolerates these men within her borders, then she ought forthwith to burn the Confession of Faith and turn her pulpits into lecture desks for the periodical inculcation of moral essays for the people.
All the dogmas characteristic of Christianity since the days of the Apostles are most unceremoniously thrown overboard. The Scottish mind is intensely logical, and when it discovers any flaws in the edifice of its faith, it will pull down the fabric with ruthless zeal and ferocious vengeance.
The Reformation of the sixteenth century was a protest against the Church by the conscience and reason of man. Its corruptions and arbitrary commands—not the tenets of the faith—were what offended the true votaries of Christianity. Now, however, the Conscience and Reason of humanity rise up in tumultuous defiance against Catholic and Protestant dogmas alike. The Rev. Mr Macfarlane of Lenzie in his sermons ignores the ultimate authority of the Bible, as well as that of the Church. The court of final appeal lies in the breast. This is Athenian wisdom, but not the Gospel that began to be preached at Jerusalem. Christianity, in the last results, is simply benevolence and beneficence. All who labour to do good, from disinterested motives are, according to the Rev Mr Menzies of Abernyte, Perthshire, the real successors of the Great Physician of soul and body. The christian Priesthood is not a caste, but the whole body of true believers. Every man is a living temple of the Holy Spirit. It is profane to allow any mediator to step in between God and the soul.
Religion, according to Mr Nicoll of Murroes, Forfarshire, is the cement of society, and prevents a highly artificial civilisation from becoming pulverised. The tendency of castes, institutions and associations is to disintegrate society—but the grand organisation of the Church of Christ unites all men in the bond of true fellowship and page 2 love. Hence the supreme value of public worship—where all men meet on a footing of absolute equality before the Divine altar of adoration. "No other bond within the ken of human knowledge can long hold men together. The mere social instinct in man, if it unites men at first, ultimately breaks up society into sections and separates man from man. Take religion out of human affairs, and leave men to the ordinary play of natural forces, and then, however closely men may adhere to each other for a time, their disunion comes sooner or later, and their unsubstantial brotherhood is broken up and dissolved."
The Rev. Mr. Mackintosh of Buchanan gives us sermons on "the law of moral continuity," and on "the renovating power of Christianity." They are purely philosophical emanations of the scientific spirit of the Age. The idea of a vagrant spirit wandering about, like the ghosts on the banks of the Styx, without any settled place of abode, and carrying along with it the vices and virtues contracted on earth, and always advancing, and always expiating its past offences, ever approaching, but never coming into the actual presence of God—carrying along with it its own heaven and its own hell—these notions are simply concessions and compromises to the atheistic spirit of the latter half of this nineteenth century. It is beneath—infinitely beneath—the tone of the schools of Ancient Greek Philosophy.
According to this theology, Heaven and Hell, and a Day of Judgment have passed away, and left behind them a universal blank in creation. The paraphrases of the Scottish Church, in many instances, have no point or meaning here. The assembled world shall not all stand before the Son as judge. The judgment goes on eternally in the spirit's own experience, and the poetry of a Final Assizes must be abandoned as a dream of the morning. So, also, must a personal God and a personal devil. "By the operation of this law of recompense, or of continuous development, God rewards men impartially, and a righteous judgment is passed upon all men. It is by this all-embracing order that God trains and judges the rational creation."
Other rewards and punishments there are none. "The judgment of God upon human action is immanent in the action itself." This is an attempt to carry the natural law of continuity into the moral and religious sphere. The preacher fails to see the hollowness of such a false analogy.
Divine grace has no meaning here: for, "the renovating power of Christianity" is simply an inherent power in the soul of man "to cease to do evil and learn to do well." The power of conversion from sin to holiness, from vice to virtue, lies within the compass of man's own ability. The Apostolic doctrine of grace is a figment of a false theology. The Atonement of Christ is only a figure of speech. There is really no forgiveness for sins, till we shall have expiated the full amount of our sins, by our penal sufferings. Vicarious suffering finds no place in this Neology. God is graciously pleased to see us casting off our evil ways and habits, and becoming new and pure creatures. "There is a curative and reparative power by which evil is transmuted, defects remedied, and new openings made to good. The Reformation was a protest against the degradation of Christianity. Luther broke with Rome solely because it had lost its power to lift the life of man; because it trafficked with souls, and sanctioned all enormities. He made no attempt to create a new theology. But the second Reformation will start with a more sweeping principle, and proceed more thoroughly to work, for it will not only discard whatever of the popular creed is hostile to the higher life, but it will be a protest against making any faith or dogma, which is not necessary for the page 3 lifting of human life, a condition of salvation. Popular Christianity is a figure or an allegory of the absolute truth which is enshrined in it." This may be a species of philosophy, or a jargon of science, but it is not the religion of the Gospels.
The purport of Professor Knight's sermons is that religion is a permanent element of humanity—but Theology is simply the evanescent vesture of that element. The religious element continually endures—the exposition of it is ever changing. Theologies shall perish—but religion shall continually endure—They shall wax old as a garment—as a vesture they shall be changed—but Religion is the same and its years shall have no end.
According to the Rev. Mr Ferguson of Strath blane, the vision of God is simply the manifestation of Christ. He is the Divine Ideal—the transcript of the character of God. "Our common human nature is the most perfect revelation of God."
The vision of God must always be spiritual—never material or corporeal. God incarnate is simply virtue or religion examplified in human nature. Deity—as such—transcends the grasp of finite intelligence. "Justice, mercy and righteousness are counterparts of justice, mercy and righteousness as they are in God. The Divine goodness differs from what approves itself to us as goodness, not in kind but in degree : 'His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts than our thoughts.' To the limit of its power, the soul of man is a faithful witness for God. The life which is governed by loyalty to truth and righteousness is in reality one with him, the dwelling place of his spirit, his continual revelation." The Rev. Mr Ferguson here re-echoes the doctrine of Professor Ferrier, of the Ger-man Neologians, and, above all, of the great master of Athenian wisdom, even Plato, who flourished four centuries before Christ. "God's chosen dwelling is the humble contrite spirit: the pure in heart, and they alone, can see him." Christ pre-eminently, and the sages of every nation in general give us reflections of the Divine nature. "The purity of Christ appeals to us," and our hearts respond to it. This is the test of its truth, beauty, and divinity.
Miracle is not the test of truth—but "the best witness to revelation and its truth is to be found in our own consciousness, in its acknowledged power to satisfy the wants and to develop the capacities of the soul."
Christianity is spiritually discerned. Christ" excludes the appeal to outward tests of revelation, and refers us to a spiritual standard. The life of Christ and the power of his spirit over man are the great and the enduring miracles of divine revelation." Miracles, therefore, must be thrown overboard. If retained at all, they must be regarded as figurative, or metaphorical emblems of spiritual operations—e.g. casting out devils may mean the casting down of proud looks, and ejecting evil passions. Christianity is a religion of love—pure and unselfish. Jesus is the incarnation of goodness. We, therefore, love him for his own sake. The mysticism of the pure love of God as an abstraction is too metaphysical for man. He requires to see love in a concrete form for his solid apprehension. Christ is the corner stone of a Divine society—and the love of the Chief descends to every member of the family. Christ has made known the moral character of God—not his essence and infinitude; for "our nature is incapable of such a manifestation." He reveals to us, relatively, the character of God—but "the absolute—the unconditioned—the Great Being who inhabits eternity and fills all space with his presence, our feeble intellect cannot grasp." We cannot by searching find out God. Eternity here will not avail us to attain to this knowledge. Jesus, in short, page 4 according to Rev. Mr Cunningham of Crief is the Divine Ideal model of Humanity. Will society accept him as such? Can Divinity itself reconcile men to a life of pure mendicancy? In any city of Christendom, such a model would be scouted with scorn, and consigned over to a dungeon. Divested of the halo with which popular Christianity has surrounded him, he would, after his day's toil, like Socrates after his labours in the streets of Athens, be treated by his friends as Xantippe served her husband, by having a vessel of dishonour poured out about his shoulders. As a mere man, divested of godhead, Jesus presents a unique spectacle in history. He stood on his real manhood. He despised the pomp and vanities, the aims and ends of the world. He despised wealth, power, and authority; vulgar ambition had no attractions for him. He stood forth in the fields, and in the cities of Palestine, and proclaimed himself a king of a moral and spiritual kingdom which should, eventually, embrace all ranks and conditions of men in one common brotherhood, under the paternal government of God Almighty. Principal Caird's sermons partake largely of the spirit of the scientific jargon of the age. His "corporate immortality" practically absorbs individualism. He is misled by the false analogy drawn between the place of a stone in an edifice, and man's position in society. Between an animate and in-animate organism there can be no rational similitude. The stone, however polished, does not fulfil its end, but is valueless until it has attained its place in the structure. The building is more glorious than it. But institutions are only the shadows of really great men. Conversely, man is above all institutions. He is of more value than they. Individual life of the right type and heroic mould is more glorious than the national life.
Dr. Caird's "Union with God" is a philosophical rhapsody. We may say of it, what Cicero said of Plato's immortality of the soul. It is enchanting while we read it, but when we close the book and go out into the fields, a breath of reality soon dissipates these aerial cobwebs of the imagination. It is, also, heretical and pantheistic withal. Moreover, it is only an exemplification of the old axiom "vivere convenienter naturae."
The Rev. Thomas Bain, Hutton, Dumfries-shire, contributes towards this volume two very remarkable sermons—that on "Individualism and the Church," dissipates into atoms the theories of ecclesiatical pharisees. The principle laid down by Christ and expounded in this treatise is—"that the individual soul possesses rights superior to ecclesiastical organisations, and by implication to all other organisations that may be set up. The living soul is the Lord of all earthly powers, and particularly of all institutions and mechanisms which as vehicles of its thought it may choose to frame. It is the creator of these"—and not their servant or slave. This principle is so revolutionary that it exalts the man above the Church and the Sabbath-sacerdotalism and mere external guides. "Like the ancient slave, relatively to his master, they are to be wholly in his hands for life or death. The world in which he lives is a place of ceaseless transformation, and as other conditions of his life change, Christianity gives him the power of changing also the Institutions in which his faith is enshrined. Creeds and ordinances conformable to one ago may not be conformable to the next, and man is to judge how far and in what direction they need modification. The right of adding or taking from them is given by God into his hand." What remains permanent is "the living spirit of the thinker," not the garment in which it is clothed, Religious truth rests on an internal—not an external basis. Christ said the kingdom of God is within. But its advent and opera- page 5 tion are mysterious, as the wind. "Religious truth is its own evidence, and the ultimate court of appeal, is the spiritual consciousness." "We must appeal, like our Lord and his apostles and the prophets before them—for proof to the hearts and consciences of men. Nothing in itself is clean or unclean, sacred or profane, secular or spiritual; "but everything becomes one or the other according as we conceive it. It is the way in which we think of things, and the uses to which we put them, that determines whether or not their character is religious; and all places, times, and ideas, are holy to the holy-minded man."
At all times and amid all outward changes and conflicts, let us remember "that the spirit of true religion is eternal. The visible body of it may wax old as a garment, and as a vesture God—or man may change it. But this shall only be that religion may weave for herself a simpler and more fitting covering; and when the churches of the present break up and go their way, they will make room for something that is higher."
Christ, according to Rev. Mr Hutton in his sermon on the pharisee and the publican "set himself in deadly antagonism to the official religion of the age in which he lived." His attitude was startling and original, like all men of genius. Not with the church-goers—but with the lapsed masses did he sympathize. Not with the traditional and respectable classes—but with "the party in rebellion against tradition" did he ally himself. He denounced official play actors and hypocrites, and espoused the cause of the irreligious masses. Between him and the priesthood there was a deadly antagonism. He craved for God and nature's truth, and hated the artificial, and conventional life of the so-called religious people of his day. The Pharisee's prayer was mechanical, formal, and pedantic—a valueless, spiritless ceremony—that of the publican was "a living sense of the infinite nature of religious duty, and of finite man's inability ever to realise it." His prayer was the outcome of fresh and living piety, welling up in the soul.
This parable gives us two opposite views of life and duty—"one of them is a principle of incessant aspiration, what we call life eternal—the other is a stationary principle, producing self-satisfaction and moral death." The one is formal, mechanical, logical and secular—"the adhering to a dogma, the keeping of a Sabbath, the paying of a tithe, the mumbling over the altar of a set style of ritual"—the other is vital, religious, fresh, and inspiring. "It is a conception which presents truth and goodness as an ideal that is the same in no two stages of our spiritual development or growth in grace. As we change and ascend it changes and ascends too, and we can as little overtake it as the steed racing westward at morning can overtake his shadow. But it charms us after it with a power that is irresistible. We cannot choose but follow it on its radiant tract, the sight of its splendour sickens us with ourselves and prompts us to the bitter cry, "Lord, be merciful to me a sinner." True piety is the eternal soul looking upward and not "some theologically trained understanding." Not finite doctrines and ordinances "but an unspeakable image of the ideally true and fair lifted far above it, as the heavens are above the earth." This is Christian piety, and Platonic Philosophy blended into one homogeneous whole.
The Rev. Mr Semple of Huntly, contributes a sermon on Eternal Life. His disquisition on that phrase is more ingenious than sound. "The phrase can have reference only to a state or condition of the soul. Mere duration is by no means the main element—nor in any sense a characteristic element of eternal life." The question is not page 6 one of desirability, but of fact. Did Christ represent "an eternity of pain and woe as equally enduring with that of perfect happiness? "We think he did. True, indeed, the sinner would prefer annihilation to such an eternal life. But that is not the question. "Eternal life is a state of the soul and not any outward glory. It is, also, a present as well as a future state. Eternal life means the knowledge of the only true God and of Jesus Christ." This knowledge must be assimilated to the soul and blossom into purity and righteousness, love and self-sacrifice—in short, "to know Christ is to be Christ."
According to the Rev. Patrick Stevenson of Inverarity, Eternal Life "involves more than the idea of Eternal existence. It consists in knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ." This knowledge is as practical and experimental as any fact of science; for, it is apprehended by a spiritual faculty.
Seers and prophets of humanity feel that there is a kingdom of God within the soul—Materialists they cannot sympathize with.
The character of God—as revealed by Christ—is life for the soul of man. Knowledge is life and ignorance of God is death for man—love is life—hatred is death. So, also, of holiness and sin, &c. Heaven and hell are conditions of the soul—Christ taught as none ever before him did—the nature of the Fatherhood of God—of spiritual Sonship—of Brotherhood and of Sacrifice. He purified and elevated our thoughts regarding them, as no teacher had done before him. In his hands, they shone forth with a refulgence of fresh glory and new significance.
The Rev. John Stevenson, Glamis, Forfarshire, descants on Religion, Theology, and Ecclesiasticism—"Religion is in no sense dependent upon any special phases of doctrinal belief, or upon any peculiar forms of ecclesiastical institutions. The sphere of religion is spiritual; the sphere of theology is intellectual; the sphere of ecclesiasticism is political. The capacity for this spiritual life, which consists in Divine righteousness, purity, and love, is indestructable. It operates through self-sacrifice. True Christianity lies in self-sacrifice. Theology is a science—ever varying according to men's opinions—but "whatever intellectual antagonisms in the sphere of theology may arise to darken our path, and whatever intellectual conclusions we may reach in regard to questions of dogma, the fruits of the spirit are these,—love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." This is Religion—this is the Kernel—all else is husks. "The church is an external institution, made up of a multiplicity of imperfect organisations; and no ecclesiastical form, or multiplicity of forms, can embody the Kingdom of God, any more than a creed, or combination of creeds, can embody Divine truth, The outer form is nothing if it breathes the spirit and the life.
In proportion, and only in proportion, as the Churches realise the religion of Christianity, in self-sacrifice, will intolerance, division, persecution, and strife, give place to large-heartedness, unity, concord, and peace."
Church unity—according to the Rev. Patrick Stevenson of Inverarity, is the spiritual indwelling of the spirit of God—with spiritual fellowship with Jesus Christ. Spiritual truth must ultimately rest upon its own intrinsic light, as an authority. This unity must comprehend within itself almost endless doctrinal and aesthetical variety, according to ever-varying opinions of men and nations. Unity is a comprehensive idea—"We have got spiritually choked by a thick and murky atmosphere of creeds and catechisms, and of ecclesiastical laws and forms." We must return to the simplicity of the Gospel. Christ did not formulate dogma or ritual. True worship, according page 7 to him, must be in spirit and in truth. Like the body—composed of different members, working in different ways, for the maintenance of the common life and the doing of the common work, the different churches may be one if they possess the spirit of Christ as their central life. The enemies of this Christian unity are—theology, sacerdotalism, ritual, materialism, and agnosticism. Mere uniformity is not unity. It is both shallow and impossible. "Unity may be best promoted by endeavouring to bring the principles of the life of Christ to bear upon the education everywhere of the Christian conscience." Let science, philosophy and criticism have free play; so long as they are animated with the spirit of Christ, self-sacrifice, and love.
Christ's authority—according to the Rev. Dr Story of Roseneath—over us is not an external bondage—"The external authority is but the stamp upon the coin. The stamp may be a forgery. The internal evidence is the fine gold of which the true coin is made, and which, stamped or unstamped, is of the same intrinsic and unalterable value." In reference to any sort of teaching, the question is what character has it? not what authority has it? We must learn "that authority has no power over us, except in so far as our conscience, after earnest trial, acknowledges it as just and right and true; that every thing, every truth, every teacher, is to be judged, not by what is external, authority, name, or position; but by what is internal—by character—'By their fruit ye shall know them.'" We must never allow any authority to "over-ride our own judgment and conscience, or lead us to evade the responsibility of proving all things, to the end that we may hold fast that only which is good. Authority should be treated with deference—but not be regarded as a master over a slave.
We are "to test all truth by the standard of the clearest light which God has given us and to hold fast that to which his Spirit seems to witness." Christian righteousness is not merely the fulfilment of external obligations. It is internal. "Action is not enough; thought, intention, desire, and will, must be ruled too. The law must not rest in being a written commandment, but must become a living spirit, a fountain of moral life and strength within." Not a legal obedience but a new creature. What we want is "a righteousness of character, which is deeper and greater than any righteousness of conduct. The true root of this righteousness of faith is Christ. Faith takes us out of ourselves and joins us to Christ, as living branches springing from the vine, bearing much fruit. The deeper righteousness is the Christian life. The righteousness of Christ is not a great fund, out of which sums may be taken and imputed to his people. It is the pure and perfect character and life which we by knowledge of him see, which we by faith in him set before us as our only aim, as our only example, as our only stimulus and help to overcome self—the devil and the world; and that righteousness, imperfect in its measure, yet in kind like his, inspired by his Spirit, upheld by his example, which we are able to show forth, is, in the sight of God who sent him forth, that believing we might have life through his name, of great, even of inestimable price; for it is not our own but the righteousness of Christ living in us, not a righteousness outside of us and put upon us as a cloak to hide our sins from God, not imputed to us as ours when it is really another's, but the fresh and healthy outcome of our own heart and conscience and energy, quickened, transfigured, sanctified, by the indwelling spirit of the Lord our righteousness." In short, the imitation of Christ, not the dogmatical imputation of his righteousness, can avail us in the sight of God. "That which is righteous, right, true, honest, is acceptable in the sight of God; only those who are righteous can stand before him." We page 8 must be able to do so "in virtue of that which is in ourselves, not of something which is not in ourselves, but is imputed to us; in virtue of Christ's righteousness shared by us and glowing in us, not reckoned as belonging to us, by a mere exercise of God's will and pleasure." This explodes the popular dogma of imputed righteousness. We must have "no fiction, no assumption of fact; no imputation of character where there is no character. God will deal with us as we are in ourselves. He will try to bring out in us the character and image of the Son of his love." The phrase to be clothed with Christ's righteousness has a pernicious meaning, according to Dr. Story. Our righteousness is, indeed, "the result of Christ's spirit living and working in us, the righteousness of faith, of the now creature, "walking not after the flesh but after the spirit. Love is the root of obedience. "The law is observed, because the child recognises in it the voice of the Father." Religion is thus vital and divine—not mechanical, legal, or ceremonial. Dr. Story's sermons contain a mixture of philosophy and Christianity in a new form.
According to the teaching of these radical sermons, the old beliefs of scholastic theology must be altogether modified, yea even abandoned. Man's descent from Adam—the fall from original righteousness—the imputation of Adam's guilt to his children—the death of all men in sin—the redemption of Christ and an election according to grace—the quickening in the elect of a new life—at their baptism according to Catholic theology—or at the moment of their conversion, according to Protestant teaching—the eternal punishment and perdition of the finally unregenerate. The Second Reformation of this nineteenth century rejects unceremoniously the theological dogmas of the sixteenth century. The citadel of scholastic theology is tottering to its fall under the constant attack of criticism. Does Dr. Caird—aided by his twelve clerical coadjutors—mean to usher in a new era of religious teaching—a Second Reformation in Scotland? This movement cannot stop where it is. It must go on widening and deepening till the theology of the land shall be completely submerged under its powerful and irresistable torrent.
These sermons, we venture to predict, must result, either in rending into twain the venerable Scottish Church—as by law established—or she must cast forth those Achans and lepers—those vipers and adders from her walls. Matters cannot remain in statu quo: If sessions, presbyteries, synods, general Assembly, and Supreme Court tolerate this heretical wave of free thought—then, the days of the old Church—the child of Knox and the noblest daughter of the Reformation—are numbered. She will, then, be abandoned by the State, and cast adrift upon the troublous and tempestuous sea of anarchy, infidelity, and Atheism. The glorious Church of Scotland has a clear course of conduct set before her—to wit—the forcible ejection of Dr. Caird and his twelve apostles from her walls and out of her stately Ecclesiastical Palaces.
J. G. S. Grant,The first Rector of the High School of Otago, and the Founder of the Eight Hours' System of Labour. Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand,
7th August, 1880.
Coulls and Culling, Printers, Etc., Rattray Street, Dunedin.