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I. Christianity according to Christ. By the Rev. J. MONRO
Rev. Francis P. MULLALY, D.D., Walhalla, S.C.,
IX. Current Literature,
BRITISH AND FOREIGN
Art. I.—Evangelical Theology living and progressive."
It is the impression that he must “abandon hope who enters here,”—the hope of any interesting, living, and progressive study; the idea that he must move mainly among the shadows of the past, or, so far as he deals with present and powerful factors of human thought, must simply accept and bow down before them as reigning dogmas within the circle of Church life in which his lot has fallen. I shall not inquire how this bugbear has been created, -how far any shade of reality it has is traceable to the professional bias of theologians to the vis inertiæ of human nature, to periodic stagnations in the Church's spiritual life, above all to the prejudices of those who dislike Christian truth itself, but find it easiest and safest to express that dislike by disparaging its systematic form. Of these things let us not now speak; it will be better to grapple directly with the impression itself, to rouse ourselves manfully to overpass this “ lion in the way.” And as some contribution to this, let us endeavour to show that when confronted with the principles of living Protestant Christianity, it is a
1 Delivered at the opening of the class of Systematic Theology, New College, Edinburgh, 3d Nov. 1881.
VOL. XXXI. —NO. CXIX.
phantom, and must vanish ; that, on the contrary, there is no science in which the provision for life, movement, progress is so ample and the result so sure as the science of Evangelical Theology. For what do we evangelical Protestants mean by dogmatic or systematic divinity? We mean “ the exact and orderly declaration of our understanding of God's revelation,” “the sorting out and collecting by the believing man or Church of what is judged by them to be the truth as Scripture teaches it."1 A Christian doctrine" is a truth of faith derived from the authority of the word and revelation of God.” “Dogmatic is the science which presents and proves the Christian doctrines regarded as forming a connected system.”? The point in these definitions on which we are to fix attention at present is, that our theology is one mode—the scientific mode-of expressing what the believing mind finds in Holy Scripture. I wish to show how secure and ample is the provision made for a living and progressive theology, when regard is had to both these factors—these great postulates of Protestantism, its formal and its material principles, viz., to the Scriptures—the rule of faith on the one hand, and on the other to faith itself in the sense of believing grace) as that which receives and holds what Scripture teaches.
A word or two in explanation of this definition of theology. Some may demur to its being called the system of our understanding of Divine truth, rather than the systematising of Divine truth itself. We are ready to admit with Principal Rainys that this distinction between a doctrine as delivered to us in Scripture and the same doctrine as sought out and expressed in our theology, is often merely formal, and for practical purposes frequently disappears. We are ready to remind you, with Dr. Chalmers, that a system though designated by the name of its human founder may be directly Divine. The Newtonian system of the heavenly bodies is the system of God though it is the discovery of Newton, “and so a theological system may be the work of God though the discovery of man." Yet Protestants cannot overlook the distinction, for their allegiance is due to Scripture alone, and not to any system
1 Principal Rainy, Delivery and Development of Doctrine, p. 107.
Protestantism implies progress.
of truth that may be drawn from it. The Protestant theologian is bound by his own principle to view his system as something which must, after all his endeavours, fall short of the entire truth contained in the Scriptures themselves. Again, men are sometimes chary of assigning any prominence to faith in the construction of Christian theology. There is so much dread of what is loosely called “ the Christian consciousness” that men would fain speak as if they thought Scripture would yield a theological system of itself; that such system might be little more than the logical arrangement of what the Scripture already contains ; that we are somehow honouring Scripture more to speak of it, as if it must suggest to the human mind, under any condition of that mind, the true system of theology.
But when we say what we think and know, we cannot so speak. We know that the assumption just alluded to was the immediate precursor of Rationalism—that Rationalism of the eighteenth century, which was the spawn of a defunct orthodoxy at the close of the seventeenth. We know that it is only the believing mind which will draw out of Scripture a theology at once true and living :
“In contemplating the power of human activity which concerns itself about doctrine, we are ever to remember that the grace of the Spirit is a real condition of success; that the kind of success which we are encouraged to expect is promised to the spiritual man, and to no other." I
Now, let us consider how these conditions of Evangelical Theology, viz., that it is the product of faith drawing truth from Scripture as its supreme and only authoritative standard, become conditions of freedom, freshness, and progress. Let us look first at the duty towards Christian theology which faith imposes, and then look at the nature of the source from which that theology is drawn.
I. It is well known that the very essence of Protestant Christianity is to lay upon every believing soul the duty and responsibility of grounding and maintaining its spiritual life by direct dependence upon Christ and upon the knowledge of His mind as communicated in the Scriptures. While making full allowance for the function of the Church -the whole Church past and present—in educating and guiding such faith, this great principle demands that faith draw direct from the Church's Head, and that it ground its beliefs on the sole and immediate testimony of His Word. This means far more than the mere right or liberty of what is called “private judgment.” It expresses the irresistible demand of the enlightened soul that it shall have its creed at first hand from Divine Revelation, and shall be free to obey that heavenly voice. It declares the imperative duty of believing theologians in every age to ground their theology on nothing short of a direct appeal to the Word of God.
1 Dr. Rainy, ut supra, p. 106.
Now this is evidently fitted to secure such continual recourse to Scripture, such concourse of the believing mind with Scripture, as to be a constant safeguard against stagnation, a constant guarantee of freshness. It is so fitted, I say ; not that this has been the invariable result. That it has not been so is the fault of human nature, not of Protestant Christianity. It is when Protestants forget their own most essential principles that they become traditionalists. And traditionalism is but one form of an evil which affects not doctrine only but every other department of Christian life and work. We cannot at present turn aside to adjust the true relation of the individual believer's faith to that of the collective Church, or the relation of every age and cycle of the believing Church to the theological attainments of the past, most important as these relations
I do not think we are in much danger of overlooking or undervaluing them; and as for the influences that flow from them, they pour in upon us whether we will or no. point I am interested in emphasising at present is, that the function of faith, as we Protestants recognise it, contains in itself the rejection of traditionalism and the postulate of progress. For as we understand the duty of Christians and of Christian Churches towards doctrine, there is no believing man, no school of divinity, no circle, age, or generation of believing divines, but must feel bound to be original in theology in the sense of seeking to draw it by direct spiritual application from its Divine source.
It may be said, however, that this method is not likely to be productive of much freshness in theology. For these inquirers, going to the Scriptures, age after age, with much