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PREREQUISITES TO AN UNDERSTANDING OF
THE SYSTEM OF THEOLOGY OF AUGUSTUS
HOPKINS STRONG. **'

BY PBOFESSOB JOHN W. JOHNSON, PROFESSOB OF
SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY.

There are, we think, three prerequisites to an appre-
ciative understanding of Dr. Strong's "Systematic
Theology " without which the modern student will al-
most inevitably find in it certain intractable problems.

The first of these prerequisites is a historical per-
spective of the world, in which Dr. Strong's mind came
to maturity and which created for him his task as an
interpreter of Protestant Evangelical Theology.

The second prerequisite lies in an effort to under-
stand the philosophical attitude of Dr. Strong's thought
to his intellectual environment.

The third prerequisite is the recognition of the religi-
ous attitude of Dr. Strong as articulated in his progres-
sive evangelical theology.

FIBST PREREQUISITE.

The first prerequisite necessitates a true historical
perspective. Such a perspective of the world of Dr.
Strong's developing manhood reveals a period of rapid-
ly changing conditions in the industrial world, new
franchises and fresh enslavements in the political
world, a quickened religious life in Protestantism,
largely due to the influence of Wesleyan Methodism,
but itself breaking up into many branches ; the abolition
of slavery in all the British Dominions at the cash price
of 20,000,000 pounds Sterling and largely the result of
the life-labors of William Wilberforce; the rise of the
Movement for the Abolition of Slavery in America in-

500824



3*34 ' 'Prerequisites to an Understanding of the

spired by such men as William Lloyd Garrison, Love joy,
Wendell Philips and Whittier.

Born during the Presidency of Andrew Jackson and
one year before the Coronation of Queen Victoria, he
grew up in the days of great men and world-transform-
ing changes. The Atlantic Cable was laid in the year
1857, the same year in which Dr. Strong graduated from
Yale College. While he was a student in the Eochester
Theological Seminary, the Lincoln-Douglas debates
were: the weather-vanes indicating the accruing nation-
al crisis in conflicting ideals of Freedom and Central-
ized versus Decentralized Government. While Dr.
Strong was travelling in Europe in 1859, Charles Dar-
win published his " Origin of Species " and in that same
year John Brown made his raid at Harper's Ferry.

The nineteenth century has been called "The Cen-
tury of Hope", and not without reason. Scientific
achievement, industrial development, international com-
merce, political enfranchisements, multiplication and ex-
pansion of religious institutions and missionary activities
united to justify the cognomen of "Hope" for the nine-
teenth century. But her portrait was painted in Watts'
famous picture where "Hope as civilization sits truly
enough a- top o' the world, but, alas! is blind-folded with
only one chord left to cheer her heart. Canon Lacey has
rightly exclaimed that the "Century of Hope" "closed
with a catastrophe". The Eecessional of Kipling in 1897
on the occasion of Queen Victoria's Jubilee was pertinent
to the reflection of sober minds the world over when he
wrote:

"If drunk with sight of power, we lose
Wild tongues that have not thee in awe,
Such boasting as the Gentiles use
Or lesser breeds without the law :
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget, lest we forget."



System of Theology of Augustus Hopkins Strong. 335

' l For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard;
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding calls not Thee to guard;
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy mercy on thy people, Lord !

How profoundly the heart of the English people re-
sponded with gratitude to Kipling for this ringing expres-
sion, at once of their unutterable fear and their unex-
pressed prayer. The nineteenth century like Rossini's
" Proserpina " has tasted the alluring pomegranate of ma-
terial satisfactions only to meet with disillusionment. For
beneath all the hope and promise, all the progress and
achievement of the nineteenth century, the spirit of Ne-
science was rampant throughout Europe and everywhere
the Christian religion was challenged with obstinate nega-
tions.

Merz, in his "History of European Thought" in the
nineteenth century has summarized the deposit of the
philosophies of Europe in that period. Allow me the liber-
ty to summarize his summary. Germany had developed the
tree of absolute idealism and it bore the fruit of pessim-
ism. France cultivated the tree of positivism and it bore
the fruit of scepticism. England watered the tree of na-
turalistic evolution and watched it with an almost super-
stitious trust in progress and it bore the fruit of agnostic-
ism. Four years before he became president at Rochester,
while yet only 31 years of age, the intellectual, moral and
religious issues involved in the prevailing philosophies of
his time had become evident to him. This fact is apparent
in his two essays "Science and Religion" delivered as the
commencement address of the Medical College in Cleve-
land, February 18, 1867, and his essay on "Philosophy
and Religion", given before the alumni of the Rochester
Theological Seminary, May 28, 1868. A reading of these
essays and the following four essays in his "Philosophy



336 Prerequisites to an Understanding of the

and Religion" shows how clear was Dr. Strong 's perspec-
tive of his own time and the crucial philosophical and
theological issues involved in it.

SECOND PREREQUISITE.

An understanding of Dr. Strong's intellectual atti-
tude towards his scientific, philosophical and religious en-
vironment is essential to an appreciative understanding
of his "Systematic Theology ".

It is not only pertinent, it is necessary to notice and to
emphasize the, fact that religion in such a world, in such
moods and morals, must resort to the examination and
use of its philosophical instruments. But it will not use
what it has not tested, and what it does not trust. Dr.
Strong, throughout his life as a teacher, regarded theo-
logy as a vital as well as a formal necessity of religion and
theology as science, i. e., a systematic statement of re-
ligion could rest only on a basis of philosophy. "Philos-
ophy is the Science of Foundation " said he. "It busies
itself with the examination of the grounds of faith. It
seeks to determine whether religion has a safe basis and
support in the facts of consciousness. " Its service is
1 ' that of defining and correlating the great primary con-
ceptions of Revelation ". (Philosophy and Eeligion, p. 3.)
He held that religion "both as a system and a life" is in-
debted to philosophy (idem, p. 5), and with Sir William
Hamilton ' l that there is no difficulty emerging in theology
which has not first emerged in philosophy. " Dr. Strong
used to say : ' i Give me a student in metaphysics and I care
not who has him in theology". "Let us have done once
for all" he said, "with the notion that metaphysical stud-
ies are beside the proper work of the preacher, and by
necessity mystify his brain and destroy his practical pow-
er. The history of the Church has shown that philosophy,
instead of weakening the grasp and corrupting the prin-
ciples of her preachers has been their great discipline and
strength. No man can clearly present or successfully de-



System of Theology of Augustus Hopkins Strong. 337

fend the truths of religion without knowing them in their
principles. A teacher of Eeligion who sneers at meta-
physics as if it were a fog-bank in which only fools would
risk their lives, is simply playing into the hands of in-
fidelity and virtually declaring all true philosophy is on
the side of the enemies of religion." (idem pp. 14-15.)
It is safe to assert that few, if any, modern theologians
have more constantly and consistently tested their theo-
logical dogmas by philosophical principles and both again
by the criterion of religious experience than has Dr.
Strong, and it is not impossible for the student of Dr.
Strong's theology to find its real philosophical inward-
ness.

I have outlined the philosophical issues that confronted
Dr. Strong from the beginning to the end of his career
as a student, pastor and teacher. I consider it safe to say
that though Dr. Strong fully recognized the differing
shades of philosophical thought he reduced them to a three
fold classification. On the one hand, there was a tendency,
not only in Germany but in England and America, to carry
a Berkelean idealistic philosophy to a degree which denied
the objective reality of the world of matter; on the other
hand, there was the tendency to carry the sensational
theory of Locke to the materialistic philosophy of which,
for Dr. Strong, both the positivism of Comte and the ag-
nosticism of Spencer were the legitimate offspring. Dr.
Strong early in his career perceived the crucial issue for
religion which held to a conception of God having objectiv-
ity and personality, a conception of mind not mergable in
matter and of matter not merged in mind. If the rational
beliefs in the existence of God and the soul as individual
were not for him to be destroyed, either in an impersonal
idealism or an absolute materialism, he must make his
account with philosophy. He saw clearly the elements
of truth in both idealism and materialism and also how
destructive were both when pushed to their absolute ex-
treme for the philosophical and religious conceptions of



' ' Prerequisites to an Understanding of the

God, the soul and the redemption of a world of sin-con-
scious, guilt-weighted men. Locke had made sensations to
be the true and only source of ideas. Berkeley to save the
spiritual source and nature of ideas went to the extreme
of denying the reality of matter. Hume went to the op-
posite extreme and denied the existence of the self. Dr.
Strong quoting Sydney Smith says: "Bishop Berkeley
destroyed the world in one volume octavo and nothing re-
mained after his time but mind which experienced a simi-
lar fate from the hand of Hume in 1737.

The idealistic solutions which Kant, Fichte and Hegel
gave to the dilemnas created by Berkeley, Locke and
Hume, were as unsatisfactory to Dr. Strong as were the
essentially materialistic solutions (so Dr. Strong regard-
ed them) in the positivism of Auguste Comte, the human-
ism of John Stuart Mill and the agnosticism of Herbert
Spencer.

Speaking of this same period we have under considera-
tion, Dr. Jacob Gould Schurman said: "The truth that
mind is rational as well as sentient is fatal to the main
support of agnosticism the easy argument drawn from
the dogma that knowledge is of sensations only." "And
with the disappearance of sensationalism, the agnostic
wise-acres who have terrified the faint-hearted amongst
us by pretentiously delimiting and circumscribing human
knowledge will find themselves without a vocation. No
other generation, it is safe to predict, will see the farce of
nescience playing at omniscience in setting the bounds of
science. ' '

Dr. Strong early discovered the contradictions in the
pessimism of an absolute idealism and the agnosticism of
positivistic materialism. He refused to accept either ex-
tremes and held to a realism which sustained the concep-
tion of an objectively known deity, soul and universe. Un-
less God, the soul and the universe could be regarded as
distinctive and objective, yet known and experienced ex-
istences, there could be no satisfying philosophy for him



System of Theology of Augustus Hopkins Strong. 339

and the essentials of the Christian faith were destroyed
at the very roots of knowledge and experience.

How Dr. Strong escaped from such a dire alternative
can best be given in his own words, and the following
statement gives what I regard as the logical key to Dr.
Strong's dialectic and the philosophical inwardness of
Dr. Strong's Systematic Theology throughout its entire
sweep.

"While any monistic theory is false, whether its
leanings be toward idealism or materialism, and while
it is true that both departments of human research
must be included in any complete system of science,
it becomes a most serious question which of these two
co-ordinate realms shall furnish the interpretation for
the other. After what I have said, Dr. Strong con-
tinues, (you will not be surprised to hear my second
and last proposition, viz. that nature must be inter-
preted by our knowledge mind and not mind and its
phenomena by knowledge of nature; in other words
the governing conception in man must be also the
governing conception in nature. Man has been well
called a microcosm a little world in himself an
image of the great world of matter and mind outside
of him. It is this embracing in himself of the two that
qualifies him to sit as judge of both ; and his own be-
ing must be the measured segment of the arc, by
which he triangulates the vast universe of being that
stretches away on every side around him. The senses
tell him of a physical organism subject to natural
laws, but is this the whole of his nature? Ah, no ! an-
other inward sense tells him of the possession of en-
dowments totally different in kind from those of mat-
ter. He has mind, there are in him life, knowledge,
will, conscience, and nature has none of these. "
(idem "Science and Religion" p. 24.)
To see that philosophical position of Dr. Strong is the
second prerequisite to an appreciative study of Dr.
Strong's System of Theology.



340 Prerequisites to an Understanding of the

THE THIBD PBEEEQUISITE.

The third prerequisite to the study of Dr. Strong's
System of theology needs but the briefest reference. It
is the recognition of the religious attitude of Dr. Strong's
mind as articulated in his progressive evangelical theolo-
gy. In other words the theology of Dr. Strong is the reli-
gious life of Dr. Strong in its mental regalia. It is the
mental furniture of the house in which his soul dwelt.
Philosopher as he was, the dictum of Augustine is no less
applicable to Dr. Strong: "The heart makes the theolo-
gian. ' ' Philosophy was an indespensable necessity of his
theology. Theology was an inescapable necessity of his
religion. Eeligion was his life. He believed in a personal
God, objective alike to the universe and his own soul. Re-
ligion was for him conformity to an infinite living, holy,
loving will, in the language of Fouille "neither deter-
mined, nor indetermined, but determining".

He taught the philosophy of Ethical Monism ; the the-
ology of an immanent transcendent Christ; a Christo-
Centric doctrine for the life of the Church and of the
union of the believer with Christ and he focalized it all in
a Stauro- Centric gospel of the redemption of humanity.
He held with Schleiermacher that religion is dependence
upon God and a Christo-Centric theology of the life of the
Church and the Christian as clearly as Schleiermacher
without sacrificing the objective historic Christ or subor-
dinating the religion of Jesus Christ to a subjective
Church and individual subjectivism and without making
Church consciousness the beginning and end the criter-
ion of Christian truth and experience.

No less than Eitschl he held to all the merits of the
"Value-Theory" in theology without committing himself
to a doctrine which gave us in Jesus merely the value of
God for our religious consciousness at the expense of a
doctrine of an Eternal, Risen, Regnant Lord and Christ.

All the positivism of Forsyth's doctrine of the "Cen-



System of Theology of Augustus Hopkins Strong. 341

trality of the Cross of Christ" Dr. Strong held as cen-
trally and as positively, but founded in a metaphysic
never fathomed by Forsyth as far as we have discovered.
Here let his own words express the quintessence of his
philosophy, theology and personal faith. "In the Cross of
Christ " said he, "we see God's whole revelation to men
summed up, and thrust upon us for our reception or rejec-
tion. In that Cross are condensed and expressed his
character of holiness and of love, His judgment upon sin
and His provision for the salvation of the sinner, His suf-
fering in and with His creatures and His sacrificial offer-
ing in their behalf. Christ's Cross reveals not only the
greatness of our sin and the greatness of God's love, but it
opens to us the whole meaning of human history, the
whole secret of the universe, the whole purpose of God
when He laid the floor of the firmament without its mosaic
of constellations, and bade the curtain of night and chaos
to rise at the Creation. ' ' Concluding he says : ' l Well may
the Apostle Paul say "God forbid that I should glory
save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."

To such a conclusion as this I believe the present day
student of theology will inevitably arrive, secure in his
philosophy, rational in his theology and consistent in ex-
perience with the evangelical faith of our Fathers.



BOOK REV; EWS




I. CHURCH HISTORY.

The Fundamentals of Christianity: A Study of the Teaching of
Jesus and Paul. By Henry C. Vedder, D. D. The Macmillan Company,
New York. 250 pp. $2.00 net.

The name of Professor Vedder has long been deservedly held
in honor among American Baptists, notably for his work in
bringing out long hidden facts about Hubmaier and other Con-
tinental Baptist pioneers, and also for his helpful presentations
of later Baptist history. In this volume he enters a new field,
and while his name will doubtless bring much attention to his
book, it should yet be carefully weighed, all the more because
while he is an authority in Church History, in Biblical and Sys-
tematic Theology, he is not an authority.

The thoughtful reader will find much in the book for which
he may thank the author. In particular, a contribution which
few are so qualified to make as is Professor Vedder, we have
admirable discussions of the style (using the word in its broadest
sense) of both Jesus and Paul and its relation to their early
lives. So also there is much to protest against evils in the thought
and life of the church today, protest which ministers and churches
need to hear and ought to be glad to heed, from whatever source
it may come. Yet it may be expected that dissent from the main
propositions of the book will so alienate the majority that the
protest will fall on deaf ears. It must also be recognized that
the tone of the protest is too often that religiously all is
"out of joint, cursed spite
That ever I was born to set it right. "

In general, however, the style has the clarity and force which
we expect from the author. Yet in a few cases words are used
which are so rare or are used in senses so rare as to constitute
a real blemish. The book is also marred by too many typo-



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Online LibraryJohn William JohnsonPrerequisites to an understanding of the system of theology of Augustus Hopkins Strong → online text (page 1 of 1)