« AnteriorContinuar »
—partly, too, it must be owned, swayed by their own preconceived notions, and' expecting to display the accuracy of their own apprehension,—some Christians began very early to conceive the articles of their faith according to the theories of the Greek philosophy, chiefly the Platonic—to define them with scientifical precision, and in the phraseology of the schools—and to adopt similitudes for illustrating them, and hypotheses for accounting for them, not only arbitrary, but generally improper. They were accused of error. Their accusers were not wise enough to satisfy themselves with proving, that the Scripture did not imply or admit the sense to which they determined it, but, infected with the spirit of the same philosophy, ran into opposite definitions, comparisons, hypotheses, and terms of science, often equally improper, and equally involving error. These were justly retorted upon them by their adversaries. Controversies were agitated concerning these contradictory definitions ;—multitudes ranged themselves on each side;—they broke out into contention, animosities, unjust suspicions, and insinuations, mutual reproaches, and invectives. Falsehood was eagerly sought for, and, for the most part, easily found, in the abstract, subtile definitions of each party. In the progress of disputation, new -terms, new distinctions, new comparisons were invented on each side, for marking with precision the peculiarity of its own opinion, and new hypotheses were contrived for reconciling it to Scripture, or to itself, and for evading the objections urged against it. Every such attempt produced new questions, and every new question became more frivolous, more notional, more abstruse than the former. In discussing it, new refinements of distinction, and new intricacies of argumentation were introduced: every disputant added something, according to his own manner of apprehension.
The church was distracted, bewildered and inflamed. Councils were assembled to determine the points in question, and to extinguish the heats which they had raised. But instead of "holding fast the form of sound words" —instead of recalling all parties to the simple doctrine of the gospel, and rejecting the unscriptural, precarious explications by which both sides went beyond it, they entered into all the mi
nutiae of the controversy—they debated them with prejudice and passion—they indulged cavil and chicane—they broke forth into clamour and outrage, into mutual accusations and threatenings, and sometimes they proceeded to tumult and violence. The stronger party overpowered the weaker, by their superior vehemence—by the terror of their menaces—by mere force—or by a plurality, it may be a very small plurality, of voices. They approved all the subtleties, refinements, and inventions of one party—adopted whatever hard words, and technical terms they thought fittest for discriminating them from those of the other party—and, by a decree of usurped, but formidable authority, they determined all these to be articles of faith, and their chosen terms of art to be the test of the truth. All who refused submission to their impositions they condemned as adherents to the contrary party, and stigmatized as heretics; and they reviled—anathematized— excommunicated—and, whenever they could get the civil power to enter into their resentments, persecuted — banished — or put them to death. Other councils were assembled, and often gave opposite decisions — established the contrary tenets—and fenced them by contrary terms of art, but still decided in the same spirit of party contention and violence. None of their decrees ever ended a single controversy. On the contrary, they perpetuated the controversies then subsisting—increased the bitterness of contention, and diffused it wider. They never failed, likewise, to produce new controversies. The persons who opposed them contrived new terms, distinctions, and cavils, in contradiction to the subtleties implied in their decrees: they differed about these, and split into lesser parties. Those who adhered to the decrees disagreed about their meaning—broke out into fierce contentions—charged each other with error, or with blasphemy— and disdained communion with one another. By the rage of controversy, and the spirit of faction in all, the Christian church was divided, and subdivided, and again and again subdivided into sects innumerable, hating and execrating one another, but distinguished only by verbal differences, or by notions, of none of which the Scripture affirms any thing, or of which the human faculties can form no clear'conception, and of which any conception or thought at all is both unnecessary and unprofitable.
Different systems of philosophy were successively in vogue. With each of these, in its turn, the doctrine of the gospel was unnaturally incorporated. By this means it assumed a variety of forms, but all of them very unlike to its original simplicity. When the philosophy of Aristotle obtained unrivalled possession of the schools, (a philosophy from the beginning subtile, disputatious, and contentious, and rendered more so by the perversion of the scholastics,) the Christian doctrine, by being adapted lo it—ranged according to its forced mode of distribution—conceived according to its rules of definition and distinction—expressed in its hard words —and reasoned about in the artificial manner of its analytics, was totally distorted from its genuine form. A false ingenuity was laboriously employed, in devising questions concerning every article of Christian doctrine—in pushing them to the utmost length of subtlety— and wrangling about them with all the nicety of affected precision. Questions sprung from questions in an endless series;—all of them unnecessary—most of them of no importance—many of them mere plays upon words—many of them ridiculous—many of them interminable, and even unintelligible—nay, some of them impious and blasphemous. They were almost all dogmatically determined: the determinations of many of them were erected into articles of faith, and the technical words employed in the determinations were the only allowed criterion of men's holding these articles.
By such "oppositions" and contentions "of science, falsely so called," continued and increasing through many ages of intellectual darkness, the doctrine of the papal church became a huge body of tenets, unscripturally conceived and expressed, and many of them not only destitute of all foundation in the gospel, but directly repugnant to it. The Reformers, raised up in a blessed hour for that very purpose, unveiled this mass of corruption—exposed the perversions of the gospel, which composed it, and the fables which it had superadded to the gospel. They pronounced the Scripture to be the only rule of faith, and disclaimed all human definitions of us simple principles. Happy had it been if they had persisted steadily in
this. But their adversaries demanded, '' what it was precisely that they believed; they declared an appeal to Scripture insufficient for fixing this, because the authority of its words was pleaded by all sides; they cried out that the doctrine of Protestants was altogether indefinite and uncertain; they misrepresented it grossly; they called upon them to publish it in determinate language. Overcome by these importunities, clamours, and accusations, and not perfectly cured of the subtilizing spirit from which they sprung, Protestants were led unwarily, though at first reluctantly, to accept the challenge. The earliest explications of their doctrine were tolerably simple; the scholastic mode of arrangement, argument, and expression, was in general rather avoided than affected: but the spirit of abstraction gradually acquired strength and violence; the explications of doctrine given by some displeased others; opposite explications were proposed; questions about them were agitated; they were pushed to greater and greater degrees of subtlety; all the hardest words of the schools were borrowed for expressing the differences of opinion; and all the most frivolous or unintelligible distinctions of the schools were employed in debating them. Protestants were crumbled down into numberless sects, distinguished by peculiarities of belief upon points unnecessary or impossible to be determined. Creeds were opposed to creeds ; systems were multiplied against systems; some on all sides, not so much systems of Christian theology, as metaphysical systems of verbal, speculative, abstruse, unimportant controversies, for which a handle was taken from that theology. Each party was tenacious of its own mode of conceiving, and even of expressing the truth; and by this means they have all continued divided and at variance.
Such is the general portrait of the departure of the Christians from the Simplicity of sound doctrine: every part of it might easily be confirmed by numberless facts in the history of the church. Not content with thus departing from it, they have substituted the very deviation in its place, and given it its name. Every party appropriates the name of sound doctrine to those peculiar explications, speculations and definitions which characterize
tself, and discriminate it, and set it at the greatest distance from all other parties: but these the Apostle expressly, and in terms of abhorrence, excludes from the ideaof sound doctrine, and urges Christians to avoid as repugnant to it. What the several sects have extolled as the soundest doctrine is, therefore, in the Apostle's sense, most unsound. According to his sense of it, the only sense which merits the regard of Christians, the bigot of every denomination, the tenacious partizan of any sect, necessarily deviates in some degree, and generally deviates the farthest.
3. Sound doctrine means practical doctrine. The Apostle studiously and constantly connects this idea with the former; and they are in their nature intimately connected. All abstract definitions of doctrine, all abstruse questions about it, are in their very essence wholly speculative; they are at best fit only for informing the understanding, too often only for perplexing it: their natural effects are thorny disputes, contentions, divisions, not the active exertions of Christian virtue and holiness : " Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" Mat. vii. 16. The utmost they can claim is, that they may be harmlessly amusing: they never can be profitable. If it were possible to determine them with the greatest clearness and certainty, yet they could not influence practice. Abstract ideas are too frigid to warm the heart; too weak to draw out good affections; too dim to be kept in view in the moment of action. They are always in danger of becoming hurtful: the discussion of them excites passions destructive of mutual love; attachment to them diverts men's attention from applying faith to practice; it leads them to lay too little stress on practice, and too much upon opinion. Many questions have even issued in decisions, on one side at least, sometimes on both sides, directly favourable to immorality. Some of the real doctrines of the holy gospel have been so grossly misrepresented in some pretended explications of them, as to be twisted into unholy principles of impurity and vice: and to the real doctrines of the gospel, spurious doctrines have been superadded in some systems professing to be Christian, which by their necessary consequences make void all moral ob
ligation; and this so plainly, that their partizans find it necessary to disclaim' consequences which they cannot refute, and to throw in cautions, caveats, and distinctions, for rendering them, not conducive to, but barely consistent with, good practice, and which will always be forgotten or disregarded in the hour of temptation. Yet, by the most astonishing and the profanest abuse of words, tenets and explications, in their tendency immoral, are, by those who hold them, pronounced the most essential to sound doctrine, the most evangelical, the most honourable to the grace of the gospel: but so far are they from being sound, that they are in the very worst sense Contrary to sound doctrine; so far from being wholesome, that however fairly they be gilded over, however speciously they be disguised, they are a poison.
No opinion can be a Christian doctrine, whose direct and primary tendency is not to holiness. God gave a Revelation of the truth for this very purpose, by it to purify and improve the hearts, and to direct and influence the practice of men. Every part of it is immediately and powerfully conducive to this purpose: all the precepts of the gospel, and all its principles conspire in promoting it. The former prescribe the purest and the sublimest virtue:.the latter are even more directly subservient to it, they excite to that virtue. They delineate those qualities, characters, and relations of persons and objects, which are fit for producing right affections, and prompting to right practice towards them: but of those which, though they were known, could contribute nothing to this effect, the Scripture takes no notice. For temper and action, it is not an apprehension of an object scientifically accurate, that is necessary, but a conception lively, striking, and interesting: and such a conception the Scripture is careful to give of all the objects belonging to religion. It sets them not only in those points of view in which they can enforce piety and goodness; it is intent on setting them in every attitude in which they can most strongly enforce these; and it constantly and earnestly applies them to this end.
[Though the Review of Mr. Cox's late publication in the Congregational Magazine, in our opinion, betrayed such profaneness of mind in the writer of it as to render it unworthy of notice, we nevertheless gave place, last month, to some remarks upon it. The insertion of that article has, it seems, stimulated the writer of the following lines to second the remarks, in which he attempts to pay the Reviewer back in his own coin. We beg leave, however, to say, that we are not fond of seeing the subject treated in this way, and would caution our Baptist brethren against; it. We are far from thinking that ridicule is the test of truth, or that banter and raillery are legitimate substitutes for scriptural proof and sound argument. When we meet with a writer who can treat the words of God with the same freedom and familiarity which he would do those of his fellowcreature, plainly shewing that his conscience is not bound by their authority, we always think it the wisest way to take the admonition: "Go from the presence of a foolish man, when thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge." We are told, that "the fear of the Lord is the chief part of wisdom: and a good understanding have all they that do his commandments. It is not easy to reconcile Mr. Ewing's conduct with this maxim, much less that of the Congregational Reviewer. Our correspondent must excuse us for omitting a few lines of his piece.—Editor.]
THE CONGREGATIONAL AGAMKMNON.
Qffffav <pepTtpo; ttut fff$Ev% eruyeij 8* xai <xKKo(
Horn. II. Lib. I. ver. 1R5.
us."~ Vide Congregational Mag. for Oct. 1834.
Mysteiiiouh age! that honest men should dare In printed sheets their sentiments declare! Adopt what's right, nnd what is wrong refuse, In spile of Congregational reviews!
And didst thou C—x, thou weak unwarlike thing!
How scant thy thought! how clouded was thy
Could'st thou, whose partizans were never taught,
Oh! what a rebel thou, how deep in sin!
What splendid gift, what costly recompense,
And if thou can'st not make this business scan,
If follow'd hard—turn round and charge again
Til tell thee with what arms to keep the plain:
If beaten still—let beating make thee bold,
But if some stings of conscience should remain,
But after all I've said, shnuld'st thou refuse
Rise! reason, rise! no more unmov'd remain.
* Vide Congregational Mag. p. 540. t Ibid, p. 580, col. i. $ Ibid, p. 531. col. ii.
S Ibid, p. 533, col. ii. 0 U>id, p. 531, col. I. 5 Ibid. p. 533, col. ii. ** Ibid, p. 531. col. ii.
FURTHER REMARKS ON THE CONGREGATIONAL REVIEWERS. 373
FURTHER REMARKS ON THE CONGREGATIONAL REVIEWERS.
Beta's remarks on the Review of Mr. Cox's treatise on baptism, in the Congregational Magazine, need only be read, to be admired, and approved. I have been led to consider a few passages in the same article, and if you think my reasoning upon them worthy of a perusal, you will much oblige me by inserting them in your excellent journal. Should your readers attach equal importance to this subject with myself, and feel a proportionate degree of warmth in the eause, they will not, it is presumed, be displeased at having their attention called to it a second time, at so early a period.
The Review in question, is, I am aware, replete with mistakes, unfairness, and sophistry; in consequence of which, some may be disposed to think, it ought to be consigned to oblivion, which never, fails sooner or later, to conceal such inglorious performances from view. But it is written in a very imposing air, and is likely, on that account, to produce considerable impression.
That these writers are imbued with the Polemic Spirit, (as they are pleased to term it,) more than is meet with decency, or the gospel, cannot admit of a question; all the guilt of which, however, they intend shall fall on the head of their antagonist. With equal propriety may Mr. Cox, if he has been betrayed into "glaring violations of candour, and decorum," than which nothing is more false, lay the sin at the door of their party. For it may be confidently affirmed, that in by far the greater number of instances, the Baptists have taken the defensive side of the question. The immense and truly successful labours of the venerable Booth were occasioned by the unhallowed declamations of Mr. Henry. When, at the distance of a few years since, this disastrous controversy was revived, the Paedobaptists were the aggressors. The pen of Mr. Birt would have continued to be in silence, had not he been provoked. Nor would the author of the life of Melancthon have gone out of his usual course, had not the Essay on Poptism imperiously demanded it. The same remarks will apply to other able writers in our denomination. It must then, we think,
be obvious to every impartial mind, that the work of mitigating the heats and mischiefs involved in this contention, belongs principally to the instigators. They would have us be attacked on all sides, without a single effort, to repel their fiery darts. But it is vain for them to expect, we shall yield to the least degree of torpor in opposing the simplicity of the New Testament, to the papal rite for which they contend. It may also not be improper to inform them, that in maintaining this most righteous cause, we have sworn an eternal abjuration to all the quiescent feelings.
The distinction which these Reviewers make between concessions and final convictions deserves especial regard, as it seems intended to perplex. That there is a distinction, it would be idle to disown. But when men as eminent for veracity as for learning, concede to us, that immersion was practised by the Apostles, and by other teachers in the purest ages of Christianity, and that there is no evidence whatever in the New Testament, of infants having been baptized, what distinction, we would ask, are we to preserve between these concessions, and final convictions, except such as subsists between cause and effect? If the question were proposed, why these holy men made such concessions, the simple and honest reply would be, because they were the result of their final convictions. No one can be so ignorant as not to be sensible that they are on this ground, chiefly valuable and important in the estimation of every intelligent baptist. There may, it is evident, be final convictions, both as to what we confess, and what we practise. The assailants of Mr. Cox, for example infer, that because the men whom we esteem their best writers, practised infant baptism, this was the result of ther final convictions; and we have yet to learn, what Rule of Logic is violated, when from the remarks which they make in favour of us, we conclude they proceed from the same cause. That they appear inconsistent in this light, both as authors and as christians .cannot be denied; but since we, in our conclusions, stand on terrafirma equally with our brethren, we leave with them the onus of removing this exception to their character. It is perhaps not to be wondered at, that our brethren should 3 c