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Character-building : sermons and poems online

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churches naturally receive, and deserve to receive, the
sympathy of all liberal thinkers because of their posi-
tion, yet we must remember that there are many who
need our sympathy far more. The lonely radical in
a remote country town, who finds himself arrayed in
opposition to all the "powers that be" in his little
community, suffers an amount of annoyance and per-
secution in behalf of his progressive opinions, which



A CRITICISM OF HERESY. 293

in the case of a popular metropolitan preacher would
be quite impossible. Let us remember, then, that
the troubles of these distinguished men accused of
heresy are not only not worth mentioning in compari-
son with former times, but are very much less than
what thousands of people all over the country are
suffering for the sake of their religious opinions,
when those opinions are against the generally ac-
cepted creed of the communities they live in.

It is my impression, however, that the remarkable
coincidence of so many independent protests against
supposed heresies in the churches, is not due to a
general outburst of bigotry and intolerance. Some
bigoted and narrow-minded people are usually the
instigators. But the general public interest and
excitement, especially in the denominations con-
cerned, has a deeper motive; namely, a wide-spread
curiosity on the part of an intelligent laity, to know
what the creeds and confessions of the churches really
mean.

As to the case of Dr. Briggs, nothing can be
clearer than the language of the Westminster Confes-
sion. It is a masterpiece of unambiguous teaching,
of which the vigorous rhetoric casts no obscurity over
the most irrational and hateful of its affirmations. It
may be irrational, it may be untrue, it may defy both
conscience and Scripture; but, at least, there seems
to be no mistaking what it says. There is, however,
a growing tendency, among Presbyterians, who feel
the modern spirit, to soften the harsher features of
Calvinism. They are, moreover, diligent and intelli-



294 A CRITICISM OF HERESY.

gent students of Scripture; and all intelligent study
of the Scriptures, among people of any cultivation of
mind, cannot fail to promote liberal inquiry as to the
nature and origin of Scripture, and to awaken grave
problems concerning its inspiration and authority.
In Scotland these liberal movements have carried the
Presbyterian clergy much further than in this country.
There is here no Robertson Smith, no Caird; and the
American Presbyterian remains as much more vigor-
ous in orthodoxy as he is inferior in scholarship to
his brother of Scotland. Naturally enough, then,
heterodoxy first appears in the highest circle of Aca-
demic Presbyterianism. It is followed by an earnest
inquiry, from the rank and file both of clergy and
laity, how far this movement is going: they ask in
Dr. Briggs's own word, ''Whither?"

Standing as I do, outside the whole controversy, I
think the curiosity and anxiety of the lay Presbyterian
quite justified. Scholarship and free Biblical criti-
cism undermine inevitably the Westminster Confes-
sion; and, whatever professors say to the contrary,
the layman, with his plain common sense, knows it.
He knows that the doctrines of Calvinism are irra-
tional and horrible; but he thinks he finds them in
his Bible, and he thinks that, if there, he must accept
them. But, if the Bible is not verbally accurate (as
Dr. Briggs learnedly phrases it, 7iot inerrajit as to
minor details)^ why, the plain layman concludes that
his Bible may go just a little wrong sometimes; and,
as he derives his peculiar system of doctrine, not
from the general spirit and tendency of Biblical



A CRITICISM OF HERESY. 295

religion, but from a text here and there (texts of
doubtful or tortured meaning), he goes on to conclude
that Ins system has not that character of dead certainty
ivJiich lie had stLpposed. And, if Calvinism be not
received as a dead certainty, it is so odious, so para-
doxical, that men turn to some other theology.

The old-fashioned Presbyterian believes that his
creed stands or falls with the inerra^icy of the Script-
ure. I believe he is quite right. His instinct, or
his logic, warns him truly; and, if he be a scholar, he
knows that the study of the Bible in the historical
and critical spirit, in Germany, in England, in
America, invariably leads to the unsettling of dog-
matic theology, and drives men either into Unitarian-
ism, which he fears, or High Churchism, which he
detests. Popular Protestantism is grounded npon the
uncritical use of the Scriptures ': once driven from this
position, it has no alternative between Reasofz^ with
all its danger and struggle, and Rome^ with its priest-
craft and superstition. The heresy-hunting, there-
fore, in the Presbyterian Church, springs from no
personal or local causes, but is one of the signs of the
times, and is the result, generally speaking, of the
scientific and critical study of the Scriptures.

In the Episcopal Church, however, this Scriptural
question is complicated with another; namely, the
nature and authority of the Church. By its history
and antecedents, the Episcopal Church is essentially
a Church of Compromise, being in this respect like
the English government, in which the principles of
monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy exist side by



296 A CRITICISM OF HERESY.

side. Being a Protestant Church, it has been obliged
to afford shelter for movements of theological and
ecclesiastical change. The extremes of thought which
are included under the flowing folds of the Anglican
establishment are a source of great bewilderment to
the more logical American mind. In England, how-
ever, the bond which holds these contradictory ele-
ments together is not spiritual, but material. The
establishment is a social institution. It possesses
not only a common tradition of Christian history, but
also a goodly heritage of benefices, and the present
enjoyment of very tangible privilege and authority.
In America this cohesive effect of the secular estab-
lishment being absent, the straining asunder of the
opposite tendencies has little restraint. In England
the average Churchman, whether High, Broad, or
Low, looks upon all things outside the establishment,
as an officer in the regular army looks upon the
militia, or more violently, as educated physicians
regard empirics and quacks. In American Episco-
pacy, however, such a feeling has less to feed upon.
The Broad Churchman, therefore, goes as far as he
can toward breaking down the exclusiveness which
the canons and traditions of his Church enforce or
encourage. The High Churchman, however, plants
himself on the old theory of an exclusive Church:
that only in the Episcopal Church are the true apos-
tolic succession, the true sacraments and body of
Christ, the perfect doctrine and the promised salva-
tion, the acceptable worship and sacrifice; and, while
it is not denied that by the "uncovenanted mercies"



A CRITICISM OF HERESY. 297

of God individuals are saved outside of the Episcopal
communion, yet, as a Church., none other is accept-
able to God, or authorized as the mediator of Divine
Grace to men. In brief, the Church, according to
this view, is a miracle, вАФ miraculous in its origin, in
its history, and in its present endowments. It is the
ark of the Divine Indwelling that floats secure above
a stormy world.

Now, while I believe that the only logical result
of the High Church theory is where Cardinal New-
man found it, in the Church of Rome, and that
Anglicanism is the frailest structure possible, either
logically or historically, yet it does seem to me,
an outsider, that not only the Prayer Book, but still
more the canons and practices of the Episcopalians,
give the High Churchman the advantage. So long
as no Episcopal clergymen can recognize even an
orthodox minister of another denomination, the ex-
clusive and sacramental theory is thereby affirmed.
The Broad Churchman may affirm as clearly as has
Mr. Rainsford in a recent sermon, that "wherever
two or three are gathered together in the name of
Christ, there is Christ in the midst of them"; or as
earnestly as Phillips Brooks and Heber Newton, that
"as many as are led by the spirit of God, they are the
children of God" : yet such a scriptural and truly
Catholic doctrine is directly negatived by the Episco-
pal tradition and practice.

But is it not quite reasonable, one may ask, that
the Broad Church party should labor to break down
these exclusive traditions? It is, indeed; and let us
give them all honor for doing so.



298 A CRITICISM OF HERESY.

But, from my Unitarian point of view, I cannot but
think there is in the High Churchman's position a
deeper meaning and better logic than appears on the
surface. Why does he maintain the divine authority
of the Church? It is because the Church alone is
aittJwrity for all the doctrines which the Church teaches.
The truth is that every Episcopal clergyman makes
at his ordination two promises, which are, though he
may be ignorant of the fact, inconsistent with each
other. First, he promises "to teach nothing as nec-
essary to eternal salvation but that which he shall be
persuaded may be co7ichLded and proved by the Script-
ttre^ This is the consoling word for his Protestant
or liberal tendencies. But in the next breath his
liberty is taken away, and he promises his bishop
"always so to minister the doctrine, sacraments, and
discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded,
a7id as this CJiurcJi hath received the sante.''^ Thus,
in the very terms of his ordination vow, every Epis-
copal minister declares his belief, and promises
always to believe, that "the teaching of the Script-
ure," the "commandment of the Lord," and the
received doctrines of the Episcopal Church, are iden-
tical. The Protestant principle, "nothing that is not
Scripture," and the Catholic principle, "everything
that is Church," are here violently jumbled together,
with the heroic illogicality which characterizes the
British mind, when bent upon practical compromise.

Observe now what this situation leads to. Plant-
ing himself on the second half of his ordination
pledge, the High Churchman takes the phrases of the



A CRITICISM OF HERESY. 299

Prayer Book in their historic sense, and maintains the
doctrines of the Real Presence, apostolic succession,
priestly absolution, and baptismal regeneration. But
the Low Churchman, planting himself upon Script-
ural Protestantism, explains away the obvious mean-
ing of the Prayer Book in the phrases directly in-
herited from the Church of Rome, and denies all these
doctrines by declaring them unscriptural, and there-
fore unessential.

But the trouble is that the Scriptural canon is
manifestly insufficient to prove all the doctrines
which are essential even to the orthodoxy of a Broad
Churchman. For example, the "Nicene Creed," as
recited in the English and American Church, affirms
that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the
Son, The words "and the Son" were, as is well
known, introduced into the creed by the Latin
Church two hundred and fifty years after it was made.
The Greek Church refused the clause filioqtce^ and
teaches that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father
only. Now, I do not suppose any Latin Churchman,
still less any Protestant Episcopalian, would really
maintain that either doctrine as to the procession of
the Holy Spirit can be "concluded and proved" by
Scripture. American Episcopacy accepts the filioqtie
clause, simply because it is the child of the Latin
Church.

The same creed, also, in the words "being of one
substance with the Father " condemns, you remember,
the Arian heresy. If the dispute between the Arians
and the Athanasians could have been settled by a



300 A CRITICISM OF HERESY.

mere appeal to Scripture, it would have been so
settled. But, in point of fact, it could only be
settled by the authority of a Church Council, that of
Nicaea. The doctrine of the Trinity, then, as it is
taught in the Book of Common Prayer, is not and
never can be "concluded and proved" by Scripture.
It can only be so maintained by Scripture as inter-
preted by the first five oecumenical councils. In
brief, the doctrine of the Trinity rests on the same
a.uthority as the doctrine of the Real Presence and
expiatory sacrifice in the Eucharist, or the doctrine
of priestly absolution, or of the papal supremacy;
namely, upon the authority of Scripture as interpreted
by Church Councils,

If the bishops were inspired when they decided that
the New Testament teaches the consubstantiality and
coequality of three persons in the Godhead, why
were they not equally safe guides when they inter-
preted the Tic es Petrus as establishing the primacy
of the Bishop of Rome? As a Unitarian, I am at
liberty to believe that the bishops were wrong in both
instances, and that neither doctrine is in the New
Testament, as critically and rationally interpreted.
So general is the consent of modern scholars that the
Trinity is not taught in the New Testament, that
great Churchmen, like Cardinal Newman, have resorted
to most ingenious theories to show why the apostles
were permitted to be silent on so important a point.

While, therefore, I sympathize with the Broad
Churchman in his liberal theology, I also believe that
the High Churchman is correct in saying that only by



A CRITICISM OF HERESY. 3OI

a strict view of the divine authority of the Church, as
having in her councils and traditions the inspiration
of the Holy Ghost, is it possible to maintain the
integrity of orthodox standards of doctrine. It is
true that Broad Churchmen both here and in England
sincerely believe that they can defend the doctrine of
the Trinity on philosophic grounds, as the truest and
most reasonable statement of the Divine Nature. In
the same way they can defend the discipline of Lent,
or the threefold order of the ministry, as being proved
by human experience most useful and desirable. The
High Churchman, however, understands that the gen-
eral acceptance of this doctrine, and these institu-
tions, is not a matter of philosophy at all, but of
an unreasoning obedience to ecclesiastical authority.
Wherever this authority is weakened, the door is left
open for rationalism; and rationalism may abandon
Trinitarianism and the forms of the Church alto-
gether. I believe the High Churchman is right in
prophesying that, if the views of these Broad Church-
men should generally prevail, the people would de-
part much further from the traditions and doctrines
of the past than we can now foresee.

All these controversies and heresies, then, as a
Unitarian sees them, are signs of a slow dissolving
of the foundations of orthodoxy. The Calvinist
feels his proof-texts sliding from under him. The
liberal churchman, while his hold upon the great
realities of Christian faith and life grows ever firmer
and more enthusiastic, feels the standards of a tradi-
tional Church growing ever more vague and unreal.



302 A CRITICISM OF HERESY.

All these movements point one way: toward a simpli-
fication of Christian doctrine and a change of empha-
sis in Christian teaching.

What, then, is the duty, in the present time of
transition, of the Unitarian Church? These views
of Scripture, of church authority, of church doc-
trine, which are now making their way among all the
orthodox churches, are to us no novelties. As we
read the controversies, our prevailing feeling is one
of surprise that what has long been commonplace in
our own thought should seem so revolutionary. It
would be unnatural not to feel gratification at this
wide-spread gain of liberal thought. And yet our
deeper thought should not be one of complacency, but
rather of serious responsibility. Our earlier work of
negation and criticism is now being done by others
on the largest scale. The creeds and confessions
from which we long since departed are crumbling
away under influences more powerful and destructive
than any which are in our control. It is for us rever-
ently to listen to the voice of the time which cries,
as to that prophet in Patmos, "Behold, I make all
things new! " Surrounded by dissolving opinions, it
is not for us to cling with passionate feebleness to
things outworn, but to devote our whole energy as a
Church to all that is positive and constructive in
religious thought, all that is deepening and helpful
in the spiritual life.

If it be true that the whole Protestant world is
mbving toward something like Unitarianism, remem-
ber, friends, that it lies with us to show that such



A CRITICISM OF HERESY. 3O3

a consummation is devoutly to be wished. It is for
us to show that we have not lost our faith in God or
our love of the Master; that all which is consoling
and invigorating in Christianity is ours as richly as
before.

We have not lost what is essential in Christianity.
We have rejected Calvin, but not Jesus or Paul. We
abide by the enlightened reason and conscience of
this our own age, whenever it comes in irreconcilable
conflict with the creeds of the past; for we believe
that the knowledge of God must change as well as
grow, with the unfolding human mind, and we would
put away childish things. But we trust our hearts
are still receptive of truly apostolic faith and charity.
Our creed is brief and simple, as are the words of
Christ; but we know that our beliefs concerning God
and man are such as humble us in adoration before
the mystery of the Divine, and quicken us with love
and light and power, to strive for a diviner human
life.

Although the controversies of which the air is now
full concern matters which we have laid by long ago,
yet this agitation cannot but be beneficial even to us
who watch it from without, if thereby we are made to
realize that our Unitarian faith is not only for our
own peace, but imposes upon us a duty, a steward-
ship, of which we must finally render an account.



BENEDICTION.



GOD be with thee! Gently o'er thee
May His wings of mercy spread ;
Be His way made plain before thee,
And His glory round thee shed!

Safely onward
May thy pilgrim feet be led !

God be wdth thee ! With thy spirit

His abiding presence be,
Till thy heart that peace inherit

God alone can give to thee !
His indwelling

Help, and heal, and set thee free.



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Online LibraryTheodore Chickering WilliamsCharacter-building : sermons and poems → online text (page 18 of 18)