Henry C. (Henry Clay) Sheldon.

History of Christian doctrine (Volume 2) online

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Vol. II.
From A.D. 1517 to 1885






2859 1«

Copyright, 1885, by Henry C. Sheldon.

All rights reserved.


jFourtii ptriotr (a.d. 1517-1720).


Introduction 3



Section 1. Philosophy 13

" 2. Communions, Creeds, and Authors 29

" 3. Scripture and Tradition 61



Section 1. Existence, Essence, and Attributes of God ..... 84
♦' 2. The Trinity 96



Section 1. Creation 104

" 2. Angels 105

" 3. Man 106



Section 1. The Person of Christ 134

" 2. The Eedemptive Work of Christ 138

" 3. Appropriation of the Benefits of Christ's Work . . . 153





Section 1. The Church 182

" 2. The Sacraments 191



1. Chiliasm, or Millenarianism 213

2. Condition between Death and the Resurrection 213

3. The Resurrection and Final Awards 215

jFiiti) 13eriotr (a.d. 1720-1885).

Introduction 221



Section 1. Philosophy 223

" 2. Communions, Creeds, and Authors 261

" 3. Scripture and Tradition 281



Section 1. Existence, Essence, and Attributes of God .... 300
" 2. The Trinity 311



Section 1. Creation of the World 319

" 2. Angels 323

" 3. Man 324





Section 1, The Person of Christ 348

•' 2. The Redemptive Work of Christ .353

" 3. Appropriation of the Benefits of Christ's Work . . . 362



Section 1. The Church 378

" 2. The Sacraments 382



1. Millenarianism 389

2. Condition between Death and the Resurrection 391

3. The Resurrection 392

4. Final Awards 395

Index of Subject Matter 401

Index of Authors 435



"We enter now upon an era in the history of Christian
doctrine inferior in importance to none since the age of the
apostles, — an era from which one might date, without pre-
sumption, the second birth of Christianity.

Remarkably fruitful in immediate results, the Reforma-
tion was still more fruitful in preparing for remote and
permanent acquisitions. It bears comparison with the first
century in the work of breaking down barriers. Primitive
Christianity, by opening a way through the complex legal-
ism and proud assumptions of Pharisaic Judaism, gained
room for a glorious advance in religious thought and life.
So the Reformation, in cleaving the fortifications of legality
and pretentious infallibility by which the Romish hierarchy
sought to perpetuate its spiritual despotism, provided ines-
timable opportunities of progress. Its work was absolutely
indispensable. It bears unmistakably the marks of divine
providence. Let hostile criticism say what it may ; let it
point to foibles in the conduct or to crudities in the dogmas
of the Reformers ; the fact still remains, that the Reforma-
tion purchased for Christianity the noblest opportunities and
prospects which it has in the world to-day. If it gave scope
for some temporary errors, it secured a chance for vigorous,
healthy, and permanent growth. Designedly or undesign-
edly it placed men in the way of fulfilling their divine call-
ing to freedom and intelligence.


The starting-point of the Reformation can be understood
only by recalling the bent of the scholastic system. The
more characteristic features of that system, as we have seen,
tended to the common result of shadowing the direct rela-
tion of the individual to Christ. The views that were enter-
tained of the person of Christ, of the Church, of the sacra-
ments, of the merit of works, and of the saints, all combined
to place the individual at a distance from his Redeemer.
It mattered little that He was allowed to be the primary
fountain of grace. The fountain was made so remote, and
so many objects were interposed, tliat naturally, before the
attention could pass beyond the motley throng, it was dissi-
pated and lost. A crowd of rival agencies invaded the soli-
tary eminence which is accorded to Christ in the New Testa-
ment. In place of dependence upon the personal Redeemer
was put dependence upon the hierarchy and the means which
it saw fit to prescribe. In fact, the standard teaching in the
centuries preceding the Reformation robbed the individual
of his rights as a citizen of the kingdom of Christ, and
degraded him to the condition of a mere subject, — a sub-
ject slavishly dependent upon the priestly hierarchy. That
liicrarchy stood over him as his judge, and the sole dispenser
to him of the grace of salvation. It pronounced opposition
to its decrees among the most damnable of all offences, and
magnified the virtue of blind submission. It reckoned all
outside of its own circle in a state of religious childhood,
incapable of ever reaching their majority in this world, and
hindered their approach to the springs of knowledge in the
Scriptures, or denied that approach altogether. It put
reconciliation with itself in place of reconciliation with
God. It appointed to the individual the conditions of par-
don, and proclaimed his sins remitted or retained. It
emphasized the sacraments as indispensable means of salva-
tion, and yet gave the priest the power, by a perverse exer-
cise of his will, to nullify the sacrament Avhich he assumed
to administer. It left the penitent without assurance of

1517-1720.] INTRODUCTION. 5

having received the sacramental grace, as he could be cer-
tain neither of the valid ordination nor of the honest inten-
tion of the priest. In a word, the hierarchy, as judge over
the individual, made him come to its tribunal for every
grace, and sent him away without proper guaranty of any.
This prerogative it could and did exercise quite differently
under different circumstances. It could be very stringent
or very lax. Just before the Reformation it assumed, to a
conspicuous degree, the r(>?e of laxity, — acted the part of
a frivolous, unscrupulous judge. Indulgence peddlers, like
Tetzel and Samson, represented that the Church is no hard
and grudging mistress, but ready to deal out pardon with a
lavish hand. An artificial legalism was joined with a shal-
low estimate of the demerit of sin. But through all this
laxity the principle of absolute dependence upon the hie-
rarchy remained the same, and the anathema was ready for
any one who should dare to impeach its prerogatives.

As the essence of the Romish perversion consisted in de-
pressing the individual and obscuring his direct relation to
Christ, the starting-point of a true counteracting movement
must needs be the exaltation of the individual to his proper
independence and rights, and the emphasizing of his direct
relation to Christ. Such was the starting-point of the Refor-
mation. It began with an assertion of the rights of the indi-
vidual, his release from arbitrary and unscriptural authority,
his relative independence of ecclesiastical machinery, his
privilege to come into direct relation to Christ, and to find
therein assurance of salvation. Whether Luther fully ap-
prehended it at first or not, his doctrine of justification by
faith was a decided step toward the emancipation of the
individual from the absolute authority of the hierarchy.

The proper ground for receiving a principle like this had
been prepared in numerous minds and hearts by the opening
of the sixteenth century. Ever since the closing era of the
Crusades there had been a growing pressure against eccle-
siastical restraints. The national spirit gathered strength,


and became more and more impatient and bold against
the claims of the papacy. The new impulse given to com?
mercial enterprise, the more energetic tone of secular in-
dustries, left a narrower sphere to that romantic zeal
which responded readily to the calls of the Church. The
efforts of the more earnest minds to reform the Church
through such attempts as culminated in the councils of
Pisa, Constance, and Basle, though abortive in their imme-
diate aim, left still their impress. The voices of such her-
alds of evangelical truth as Wycliffe, Huss, and Savonarola
ceased not , to reverberate in many hearts. The revival of
classic studies and the many discoveries of the age gave a
new impulse to freedom of thought, while the spread of
mysticism enlarged the number of those who sought satis-
faction to their souls rather in personal communion with
God by prayer and meditation, than in the round of cere-
monial observances.

All these developments served naturally as forerunners
of religious freedom. There were many minds who only
needed to hear a voice speaking with prophetical energy
and confidence the word of religious emancipation, in order
to their receiving it with deep conviction and joy. In the
profound experiences of the monk of Erfurt, Providence
prepared the prophet's voice that was required. The pre-
eminently Pauline experience of Luther brought into' his
soul with midday clearness the idea of justification by faith.
As he had proved to the full the death-working power of
all attempts to justify one's self by means of works, the
thought of justification by simple faith upon Christ came to
him like a new gospel, like a message of glad tidings from
heaven. The truth thus grasped penetrated to the utmost
his deep and enthusiastic nature, and kindled a fire that
must needs communicate itself to other hearts.

The Reformation as embodied in Luther began, not with
a negative, but with a positive principle, and a positive
principle concerning the acts and experiences of the in-

1517-1720.] INTRODUCTION. 7

dividual soul. The primary question with Luther was
not, How may I reform the Church ? but, How may I be
saved, and have assurance of my salvation ? The work of
tearing down was not at all in his thought at first. His
starting-point was simply the principle of faith, ascending
directly to Christ and grasping His word of promise, as the
only and the sufficient way to assurance of salvation. But
as this principle was contradicted by the Romish tenets,
and still more by the Eomish spirit and practice, its vigor-
ous maintenance could not fail to bring about a collision.

Let us observe now the developments which followed.
Among the results most immediately flowing from Luther's
standpoint was an emphatic qualifying of the mediatorial
power of the hierarchy. If the individual can come di-
rectly to Christ, and in the exercise of living faith in Him
can find assurance of salvation, then he is evidently re-
leased from any absolute dependence upon the priest. The
priest may or may not intend the sacrament ; if only the
believer apprehends Christ in the sacrament, he cannot fail
of the proper grace. Not so much the act of the priest as
his own faith is the vehicle of divine gifts. Romish author-
ity was not slow to perceive this bearing of the Lutheran
principle, and so was stirred up to hostile measures.

By the opposition which assailed him, Luther was driven
to 'the still further result of asserting the sole authority of
the Scriptures in matters of faith. This was not in his
mind at the outset. At the time that he posted his theses
(1517), he declared expressly that he was conscious of
holding nothing which might not be proved by the Scrip-
tures, the Fathers, and the papal decrees. He gave a
deciding voice to the last, as well as to the first. He spoke
of the Pope only in terms of respect, and of the abuse of
indulgences as something unauthorized by him. But he
soon found that papal patronage was by no means clear
of the abuse, — that the Pope was jealous of any attempt
to mend the affairs of the Church, and was determined


to proscribe the princii^le which his experience had taught
him was the truth of God. Unable to surrender that
principle, it only remained for liim to deny the infallibility
of the Pope. From questioning the authority of the Pope,
it was an easy step to questioning the authority of the
hierarchy which culminates in the Pope. So Luther came
to the conclusion that neither pope nor council can lay
claim to infallibility. Submission to them is not, therefore,
an essential of membership in the Church of Christ. The
only adequate authority of tlie Church is the Word of God.
The Scriptures having been made the final authority in
matters of faith, the next question concerned the proper
contents of the Scriptures and their interpretation. In the
absence of an infallible pope or conclave, what shall deter-
mine the canonical character of doubtful books? What
shall give assurance that the right interpretation is made ?
Here it only remained to make the Bible its own witness.
Its testimony, it was said, comes with convincing power to
the sincere heart. The Spirit of Christ within responds to
His Spirit in the Scriptures. Better than anything else a
Christ-consciousness is qualified to discern the divine im-
press upon a canonical book. The Scripture is also its own
best interpreter. If one passage is obscure, another upon
the same subject will be found to be clear. Every Chris-
tian must look into this treasury for himself, and judge
for himself concerning its teaching, not indeed according
to unregulated and capricious impulses, but with that chas-
tened and spiritual temper which responds w^ith ready
appreciation to the evidences of divine truth. "To know
and to judge of doctrine," says Luther, " so pertains to
each and every Christian, that he is worthy of anathema
who would detract a hair's breadth from this right."
(Quoted by Kostlin.) So, in place of the fiat of the
ecclesiastical power, was asserted the authority of Scrip-
ture as addressed to the individual and interpreted by
him. The Reformation as a whole, to be sure, may not

1517-1720.] INTRODUCTION. 9

have been consistent upon this point, — may have had its
reaction against the full right of private interpretation ;
but the right was logically involved in the principles of
the Reformation, and was more or less distinctly recog-
nized by Luther and others.

The course of the Reformation as it appears in Luther's
personal development may be regarded as largely repre-
sentative of the Reformation in general. Advancement
from one step to another may not have been made in pre-
cisely the same order in all instances. With Zwingli, for
example, the emphatic starting-point "was not so much a
single doctrine enforced by an intense personal experience
as the general principle of the supreme authority of the
Scriptures. But whatever the order followed, the Ref-
ormation everywhere advanced toward the same list of
principles as we have noticed in connection with Luther.
Everywhere it assailed the main pillar of spiritual despotism
by denying the infallibility of the hierarchy ; everywhere
it pointed the individual to the Scriptures for instruction,
and to direct dependence upon Christ for the reality and
the assurance of salvation.

In advancing on to Biblical ground, the Reformation, no
doubt, approximated to the standpoint of the early Church.
Yet it would not be giving an accurate definition of it to
call it simply a restoration of primitive Christianity ; at
least, if under the name of primitive Christianity we in-
clude any considerable interval after the apostolic age.
For the theology of the Reformation grasped the idea of
justification by faith, distinguished between the visible and
the invisible Church, and in general affirmed the purely
subjective conditions of salvation with a clearness and
emphasis which we seek in vain in much of the Christian
literature of the first centuries. This was but a natural
result of the different conditions of the two eras. A sys-
tem wrought out in conscious antagonism to a contrasted
system naturally has sharper outlines than one developed


apart from such antagonism. No wonder, then, that the
Keformcrs, confronted as they were by the most elaborate
structure of legalism and hierarchical pretension known
to history, were enabled to lay hold with clear apprehen-
sion upon truths which the early fathers left ill-defined or
in part compromised.

What is the natural goal of the Reformation principles ?
From what has already been said, it is plain that one answer
must be. Universal rellijious liberty. Logically carried out,
they prohibit all coercion in matters of simple faith. If
there is no infallible interpreter of Scripture upon earth,
then no one is authorized to set up his interpretation as a
standard and to punish dissent therefrom. Each has the
right to be his own interpreter, only subject to the limita-
tion that, in publishing or acting upon his interpretations,
he is not to violate the common decencies of civilized soci-
ety. The Reformers, it is true, were not all faithful to this
principle. To a lamentable degree they violated religious
tolerance both in theory and in practice. The stern de-
mands of self-preservation, fears of religious anarchy,
and an intemperate ambition for the victory of their own
scheme, obscured to many minds the proper 'inferences
from their own general standpoint. But this is simply
saying that individual narrowness, combined with adverse
circumstances and influences, prevented the Reformation
from speedily realizing its essential ideal. As the centu-
ries have proved, and as the reason of the case dictates, its
principles are the natural basis of religious liberty.

As all liberty has its liabilities to abuse, we could not ex-
pect an unmixed good from the religious liberty born with
the Reformation. And in fact evils have appeared. Prot-
estantism has, without doubt, run into a certain excess of
individualism. It has not in general been possessed with
an adequate sense of the guilt of a needless schism. Very
slight grounds have given rise to new subdivisions, and to-
day Protestantism numbers vastly more communions than

1517-1720.] INTRODUCTION. 11

there is any rational occasion for. It must be allowed also
that the intellectual freedom of Protestantism has often de-
generated into license and issued in infidelity. Such facts
are naturally so much capital in the hands of opponents.
From the days of Bossuet down to the present, they have
been industriously paraded. " We have seen," says a recent
Ritualistic essay, " and do see, what the so-called emancipa-
tion of the intellect has done for Protestants. It has pro-
duced all the heresy, and schism, and infidelity of the last
three hundred years, from Martin Luther to Joe Smith."
But such critics are too headlong in their polemics, — are
blind to a whole catalogue of truths. They forget that a
valid and worthy faith grows only in connection with the
privilege of free investigation ; that, to whatever aberra-
tions Protestantism may have given scope, it has vastly in-
creased the aggregate of positive and intelligent faith in
Christendom. They forget that a constrained belief is very
apt to become a covert unbelief, a temptation to hypoc-
risy, and so far more disastrous in effect than an open ex-
pression of unbelief; that the more cultured portion of
the Romish Church was honeycombed with scepticism just
before the Reformation, and that the same fact is in no
small degree repeated to-day. They forget that a discred-
ited claim to infallible authority is among the most potent
instruments to infect with infidelity and to drive into dis-
gust with religion, and in the age of mental alertness upon
which we are entering is likely to convert men into sceptics
by the thousand and the ten thousand. They forget that a
unity which is purchased at the expense of mental enslave-
ment is a calamity, and that no more unity is desirable
than can be realized on the basis of freedom and intelli-
gence. The fault of Protestantism is not in its principles.
It cannot detract aught from these without trespassing
upon the birthright, yea, upon the divine vocation of the
individual. The fault is in the imperfect application of its


To expect this fault to be entirely corrected ^yould5 no
doubt, be Utopian ; yet it is reasonable to hope for a great
amendment. It is possible that the centrifugal forces of
Protestantism may in due time be held in check by factors
that make for unity. It is possible that from free discus-
sion, from the interaction of different systems, and from a
practical testing of diiferent views by their fruits, there
may result a growing clearness and unanimity as to what
are the essential elements of an evangelical faith, and what
are only subordinate and non-essential elements. Thus an
ever-strengthening bond of moral unity may be established,
which may prepare for an organic unity of denominations
so nearly kindred as to have no real cause of separation.
In fact, there are positive and increasing tokens that such
a movement is already in progress. Without presumption,
we may predict, as the ultimate goal of Protestantism, a
far deeper and truer unity than any which the artificial
constraints of hierarchical sovereignty can preserve to





Section I. — Philosophy.

The same movement which emancipated theology from
the bonds of scholasticism prepared also for the emancipa-
tion of philosophy. Modern philosophy proper, however,
was not born till about a century after the dawn of the
Eeformation. The transition era, which began in the fif-
teenth century, extended to the early part of the seven-
teenth. This was a time of ferment and endeavor, but not
of any thorough reconstruction of philosophy. The old
scholastic Aristotelianism was not dethroned altogether,
at least in the Romish Church; but rivals made their
appearance here and there. There were champions of
Platonism or Neo-Platonism, like Rcuchlin, Agrippa of
Nettesheim, and others who were influenced by the teach-
ings of Ficinus and Pico. There were advocates of a puri-
fied Aristotelianism, or of the philosophy of Aristotle freed
from its scholastic coloring. Some of the Reformers might
be placed in this category. There were Anti-Aristotelians,
like Peter Ramus and Nicolaus Taurellus. There were
some who philosophized in a sceptical tone, like Montaigne,
Charron, and Sanchez ; others, like Paracelsus, Cardanus,


Telesius, Patritius, Bruno, and Campanella, who followed
more or less in the wake of Nicolas of Cusa, and whose
philosophy was pre-eminently a philosophy of nature. In
some instances this natural philosophy was marked by a
theosophic vein.

As the main currents of philosophy in the preceding ages
might be traced back to Plato and Aristotle, so a review
of modern philosophy carries us back to two eminent rep-
resentatives, Francis Bacon and Rcn^ Descartes. The same
relative rank, to be sure, cannot be assigned to the later as
to the earlier philosophers. Bacon and Descartes appear
as less towering figures in the modern group, than do Plato
and Aristotle in the ancient. Still they are to be accredited
with an analogous position, and arc of prime importance
as representing diverse philosophical tendencies destined
to long-continued and powerful influence in the realm of
thought. Bacon and Descartes were alike opposed to the
over-valuation of the syllogism characteristic of scholas-
ticism. Both saw that it was rather a means of arranging
the known, than of discovering the unknown. Both in-
sisted upon analysis, or a sifting process, as the necessary
antecedent of trustworthy conclusions. Both made greater
thoroughness of method a prime demand. But from this
point they diverged. Bacon directed the attention out-
ward. His maxim was : Observe, experiment, carefully
examine and arrange the results, and turn them to practi-
cal account in life. Observation and induction, according
to him, are the pathway to certain knowledge, and knowl-
edge is to be made subservient chiefly to utilitarian ends.

Online LibraryHenry C. (Henry Clay) SheldonHistory of Christian doctrine (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 38)