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Struggle for a Free Church.
modified in the sense of the Reformed. Schleiermacher's Reformed convictions were deeply wounded; he declared that he never would turn his back to the congregation and his face to the crucifix, and went so far—it required courage in those days (1820-30)—as to write a pseudonymous pamphlet, showing that the right the King claimed in matters of "cultus" had no legal standing in the Protestant Church. Nevertheless, he at last gave way. After enduring some persecution, he accepted an amended liturgy, with the resolve to use it as inuch and as little as he pleased. On condition of indulgence for himself, he gave up the principle for the Church, and even advised others to comply, hinting that they did not need to believe the words they officially employed. It was opinion, a human ideal in his case, and not faith in Christ living and ruling in his church. Such opinions will never overcome the world. It was Erasmus over again. Hundeshagen says: “ Literati and philosophers are the last men in the world to assail the powers that be, unless they see themselves backed by some power of equal authority.” Schleiermacher had sufficient intellectual energy to give the church at once a new constitution, to sweep away mountains of traditionary rubbish, and to make no account of the gulf of prejudices which others think they must leave to time. He even thought in the extremity of setting up a Free Church; a church freed from State control would have delighted his sense of the right and beautiful. We must confess to a certain admiration of this great man, as an unflinching adherent of the persecuted Reformed symbol, and of the Free Church before it existed. What was his defect? Simply this : with him the whole was æsthetical predilection, and not faith in that Lord Jesus Christ who came forth conquering and to conquer. The Church controversy in Scotland, which Chalmers conducted, was not a battle for an ideal, but, from beginning to end, a sad but sternly resolute progress towards an uncertain issue at the instance of truth. It began under the conviction that the Church in which Christ rules by his Word and Spirit has certain inherent privileges which may not be sacrificed to any power under heaven. There was not a breath of the democratic element in Chalmers's complexion, nor did he anticipate great things to be achieved by a church separate from the
State. On the contrary, he believed that an Established Church was right when all was adjusted with regard to the Word of God, and that it was the only instrument adequate to provide ordinances for the whole land. In his testimony and contention for the essential rights of Christ and his people, he was casting to the winds the fondest hopes and a great part of the labours of his life, and the only consolation in breaking with men and parties, with whom he had been honourably associated, was the “we cannot but” of the apostles. Hence the slowness to contemplate the last calamity, the prolonging of negotiations, the catching at every shadow of accommodation, the touching appeals of the Church from one law-instance to another, at last to the Parliament and the Crown: but hence also the firm repudiation of all proposals that went to palliate without removing the aggression on the liberties of Christ's Church, the sad but resolute preparation for the hour of decision, so that, to the amazement of the world and the actors themselves, the tragedy was turned into a victory, and instead of a few baffled protesters claiming sympathy as unfortunates, there stood forth a Church fully equipped, with her face set to the task of missions at home and abroad, a man-child born of the truth, sealed and owned before the world, and caught up to God and his throne.
The Free Church was a striking evidence to a materialistic age that the same faith exists that history tells of, enabling men and ministers to risk and sacrifice all for their convictions; but it soon appeared that marvellous as such phenomenon was, it would not avail to solve the problem of a thorough and universal evangelisation of the land. We know not if anything grander can be produced in the history of the Church than the behaviour of Chalmers in this case, bending to the will of God, owning the defect of the Free Church, which might be called in a way his “own creation " when in the
” prime of her glory, and turning to seek an effective spread of the gospel from a combination of all evangelical denominations. It was thus he threw himself with his whole soul into the formation of the Evangelical Alliance, as he hoped thus by the united efforts of all the wise and good in the land to make more thorough exertions for overtaking the myriads of immortals who were perishing because neglected
in the great towns and other outfields of the country. It is thus that the truth leads on from one height to another. After Schleiermacher was baffled in his hopes for the church of his country, his only resource was to retire within the sphere of his literary pursuits and professional duties. He had the mortification to see the swell of religious ardour, which he would gladly have conducted into another channel, go over into a reaction in favour of rigid Lutheranism, which proceeded to fill the land with the same barren orthodoxy which gave rationalism its first advantage, when professors and teachers dazzled all nations with productions of a high-wrought philosophico-theological sentimentality, which left the people to sink from one depth to another of spiritual indigence, till the classes that make and measure the life of the people are by the most competent testimony utterly fallen from the gospel. For this state of things Schleiermacher knew of no remedy. After Chalmers had brought the struggle for the true constitution of the Church to a successful issue, and effected all possible combinations for carrying the gospel abroad upon society as widely as possible, there was still one thing he found he could do—and he did it with the last of his strength
- he could give in his own neighbourhood such an example as, if generally followed, would certainly convert the moral waste everywhere to a garden of the Lord. When he chose the worst district in the city of his abode, gathered a circle of fellow-labourers around him, divided it into twenty districts of twenty families each, brought individual care to bear upon each family, got teachers and visitors, and had a church and schoolroom reared where men had been living without any to care for their souls, he exhibited more than in the days of his palmiest oratory the pattern of Him who called the demoniac to his feet, clothed and in his right mind.
It is a gratuitous assumption that the men of scepticism, though not working directly for the truth, give a fresh stimulus to thought which could not otherwise have come, and secure for religion a deeper root and more robust growth. Hurricanes, whether natural or moral, are in their nature desolating, spreading death and destruction, and though they may be in certain climates the lesser evil, and may be the delight of painters and poets that contemplate them from a distance, yet
we prefer those countries where the processes of nature go forward without such outbursts. Perpetual or periodical hurricane, as in France since 1789, is the awful issue to which they tend.
The false prophet is never presented in Scripture, not even when clothed with the grandeur of old Balaam, as a benefit, but as a warning. It has appeared in this parallel, that possession of the truth conveys far higher power in life, a result to be expected, as the intellectual multiplied by the moral must infinitely exceed that which is simply intellectual
. We can institute no comparison between the metaphysical systems of Chalmers and Schleiermacher such as is wont to be made between the latter and Fichte or Hegel, for the simple reason that Chalmers, by virtue of his distinction between the “knowable” and “unknowable," eschewed all researches in the regions beyond the limits of the human understanding. He is confessedly the wiser man who perceives a priori that it is a vain as it is a profane thing to seek to comprise the being of the Deity in a definition of the finite understanding, or even to comprehend the metaphysical essence of the world. The popular sense discovers the “ bathos” in which these speculations landed when it represents the Hegelian as found with folded hands turned inward to himself, and, when questioned, answering, “I worship myself;" and caricatures Schleiermacher's definition of Christianity as “the sense of dependence," by the inference that the dog is the best Christian. The example of Chalmers shows that the soul that subjects itself to revealed truth needs not yield to any in the ardour with which true science is prosecuted. Had Chalmers never been converted he would probably have lived and died in the service of science, and would have lent his lucubrations a not inferior charm to that which chains us in Schleiermacher's works. His devotion to religion, instead of quenching this scientific zeal, discovered new provinces for its exercise. In one of his public appeals he administers rebuke to the vulgar prejudice on this head :
“Oh, my brethren, I am afraid that upon this subject there has been a most unmanly surrender of Christianity ... that so much authority has been given to the conceptions of a narrow and ignorant bigotry as to have laid open our religion to the scorn of philosophers, and to have brought down upon her the scorn and disgust of the upper classes of society. . .
What ! are we to be told that in behalf of Christianity nothing can be summoned up either in the way of argument or illustration to compel the homage and to school the superciliousness of these men ? Are we in truckling compliance with the humours of a baseless fanaticism to strip away all learning and cultivation, ... as so many unseemly appendages, from the business of the priesthood ? Are we to let down the defences of our faith and to withdraw from it the labours of the understanding, and to mar any one of its legitimate recommendations, and to proclaim in the hearing of the public that instead of being all things to all men, our men of science and scholarship are altogether beyond the range of its artillery, that they may assemble in their halls and sit in the conscious superiority of reason above all the pretensions of their homely and unlettered superstition ?”
This appeal might have been designed for Schleiermacher himself, who on his part indignantly protests that religion should no longer profess to come before men on the ground of truth, being a matter of feeling, incapable of demonstration, and having its seat in the devout sense of the church! We think of Solomon's two women, and the proof which was the true mother of the child.
It would have been interesting to cast more than a passing glance on the moral side of the picture in both cases, specially in relation to public questions. There are virtues which the Freethinker claims for his own, objecting that Christianity leaves no scope for patriotism or friendship. Schleiermacher was a patriot and took deeply to heart the degradation of his country under the heel of Napoleon, entering into all the negotiations for organising a revolt without regard to personal danger. But there never was a heartier patriot than Chalmers, or one more wedded to his country and its whole noble constitution. Unless we identify patriotism with the indiscriminate eulogising of worthless kings with Hume, or the hatching of anarchy with Voltaire, we will see a patriotism of a far higher kind in him who was ready, Cincinnatus-like, every moment to sacrifice private ease for the welfare of the people, ceaselessly at work to ameliorate the social or the moral condition of every class in the nation. Schleiermacher had many friends, and, genial man as he was, made himself the delight of the literary and scientific circles of Berlin. We will not dwell upon it that many of his friendships were of a questionable character. But let any man read Chalmers's correspondence with James Anderson, Robert Edie, Alexander Paterson, and Thomas Smith, and judge what such a man must have been