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NO. I. - JANUARY, 1834.
BY THE EDITOR.
It is remarked by Frederick Schlegel, in his delineation of Mohammedanism,* that the sects existing within its pale, did not originate in any mysteries of faith, or points of doctrine, but in the claims of rival aspirants after the throne of Mohammed. The war by which Mohammed himself was first driven from Mecca, and the controversy after his death between Ali and Abubecker, which led to a schism among his followers not as yet healed, were personal, and not doctrinal, in their origin. The same is true in general, though perhaps in a less degree, of the sects into which the believers in other false religions are divided. “Quarrels and divisions about religion,” says Lord Bacon, “were evils unknown to the heathen. The reason was, because the religion of the heathen, consisted rather in rites and ceremonies, than in any constant belief.” But in Christendom the case is far otherwise ; and though it has been divided into different communions on questions of discipline and polity, yet the greater number and most important of its parties may be traced to at least a professed interest for the doctrines of the Christian faith.
This fact furnishes an honourable characteristic of Christianity; and while the number and the violence of its sects are made a ground of reproach against our religion, it ought still to be remembered, by way of alleviation, that these sects do not spring from the grovelling and merely worldly interests by which feuds and divisions are elsewhere produced, but rather from an interest in itself so noble and refined, as concern for the articles of one's creed,--for matters of faith and doctrine. These are so remote from the lower necessi
Philosophie der Geschichte. Vol. ii. pp. 87, 88.
ties of our nature, and so closely related to the wants of the mind and spirit, that being deeply concerned about them, betokens a high degree both
of intellectual and moral advancement.
This interest in behalf of the doctrines of the Christian faith has, indeed, been often mixed with the base alloy of earthly passion, and then has manifested itself in the sterner forms of intolerance, bigotry and dogmatism. Still it cannot be denied, that a pure and disinterested zeal for the grand articles of its doctrinal system has pervaded the church in every age. In looking through the history of the church, we find this interest to be one of the deepest springs of all its varied action and effort. How deeply have the holy doctrines and mysteries of revelation been loved and revered; with what intenseness of thought have they been studied; with what precision and accuracy determined; how watchfully have they been guarded; with how long and unbroken a tradition have they been transmitted from age to age; how widely have they been propagated, and with what an uncompromising firmness have they been defended, amidst the terrors of persecution and death! See, too, in what honour the defenders of the faith have been held, and how their memory is embalmed in the affections of the church; and on the other hand, with what indignant abhorrence the corrupters of its doctrines have been regarded, and how they have fallen overwhelmed with infamy! In the depth of this abhorrence of heresy, often expressed in a manner too severe and unmitigated, we may discern something of the strength of affection which has ever animated the church for its system of faith.
It is very far from our wish to apologize for any of the excesses to which the interest for the doctrines of the Christian system has been carried, for any of the bad passions which have been associated with it, or for any of the
wrongs which have been perpetrated under the specious pretext of zeal for orthodoxy. On the contrary, we would join with the most aggrieved latudinarian in condemning the suspicion, jealousy, severity, blindness and injustice which have so often hand in hand with earnestness for sound doctrine. But if we mistake not, the spirit of the times goes farther than this, and has in it something of antagonism against this interest itself. A sentiment like the following is often expressed : while there is so much to be done, while multi
tudes around us remain unconverted, and the whole world lieth in wickedness, how can Christians justify themselves in wasting their time and strength in discussing points in theology, and in determining the articles of their creed ! Now it is from this very sentiment, commended by its professed regard to the cause of practical godliness, that more danger is to be apprehended to this very cause, than from almost any other sentiment which could be entertained. It is founded on a superficial view of the nature of true virtue or godliness, and of the way in which it is to be promoted. It proceeds on a misconception of the indissoluble relation between the doctrines of theology and true piety. It assumes · that the interest for the doctrines of theology is at variance with the interest for practical godliness, though in fact they perfectly agree. It thus brings the interest for the doctrines of religion into disrepute; leads to an increasing neglect . of doctrinal instruction in our famițies, schools and churches; allows even public teachers of religion to remain willingly in ignorance or indecision respecting fundamental articles of belief, or to yield them up without reluctance; and then puts them, thus voluntarily stripped of means divinely appointed, upon self-devised, and therefore fruitless expedients in behalf of the conversion of men. From this sentiment, then, as far as it prevails, we can expect nothing but the decline of true piety, and an abundant harvest of error and false religion.
In opposition to this prevalent sentiment, we think it may be shown, that a deep interest for the doctrines of the Christian religion is just and well-founded; that it results from a clear insight into the genius of the Christian economy, and an enlarged view of the method of man's restoration to holiness; and that it ought to be cherished by all Christians, especially by those who hold the office of Christian teachers.
The Christian revelation would deserve the most intense regard were it only for the importance, richness and variety of its disclosures, considered merely as addressed to the mind of man, or as ministering to our knowledge of divine things. As a system of purely speculative truths relating to God and spiritual existence, Christianity is transcendently interesting, and furnishes most rich and copious materials for the abstract science of divinity. Even in this respect, how superior is it to the frivolous mythologies of the West, or even to the boasted systems of Oriental theosophy! Let the rich
ness of the Christian creed be compared with the meagerness of the Mahommedan, which is contained in seven Arabic words, affirming the absolute unity of God in opposition to the Christian Trinity, and the divine mission of Mohammed.
It is not, however, chiefly for the sake of the speculative information which they contain, that the doctrines of Christianity deserve regard, but rather for the practical influence which they exert in promoting true virtue, and their being the appointed means, in the economy of grace, of man's recovery to holiness.
That all true and acceptable goodness in man results from that system of truths appropriately denominated evangelical, as conveyed to the mind through the reading or preaching of the Word, or through the symbols and sacraments of religion, and as attended with the blessing of the Holy Spirit, is a truth so familiar in theological treatises, as hardly to need a formal proof. But as this is often regarded by ethical and philosophical writers as one of the arrogant assumptions of theology, we shall endeavour briefly to explain the connexion between the doctrines of the gospel and virtue, and so between theology and ethics.
That were certainly a superficial notion of virtue which should apprehend it merely in those outward actions which constitute its form-its ceremonial, rather than its essence. Indeed the progress of ethical science is marked by a more constant reference, in estimating the morality of actions, to the disposition from whence they spring. Now, if we would penetrate beyond the body of virtue, and reach its very soul, what more ultimate and central principle of virtue can even reason find, than that disinterested and comprehensive love, which revelation declares to be the fulfilling of the law ?
But this love, without which virtue is an empty name, is not an affection belonging naturally to the human heart. In his natural state, the controlling principle of man is selfishness. By this principle alone, can we account for the inordinateness of the constitutional appetites, the alienation of the heart from God, and all those other dispositions, which are sometimes regarded as constituting the whole of human depravity. But where selfishness prevails, and the other dispositions which are its proper fruits, however specious and seemingly excellent may be the actions to which they prompt, there can be nothing truly acceptable in the sight of God. The recovery of man to holiness and the divine favour must consist, then, in eradicating this root of sin, and in winning back the alienated heart to the love of God. How to accomplish this, was the great problem.
Although it might justly have been required, yet, from all that is known of the established laws of human feeling, it could not have been reasonably expected, that sinning man would of himself return to the love of a being, apprehended by him, through a disquieted conscience, as angry, inexorably just, and pledged to punish. In any scheme for man's recovery to holiness, it would seem then to be requisite, in order to its success, that there should be an antecedent revelation of the pardoning mercy and reconcileableness of God.
Such a revelation is Christianity. Based upon the fact that God, from love to the world, gave his Son to die for it, it exhibits him to our expiated race, as gracious and ready to forgive. It is in presenting this reconciled and benignant aspect of God, that the great moral efficacy of Christianity, as a scheme of spiritual redemption, consists. The atoning death of Christ does not more fully answer the conditions existing on the part of God, in order to our forgiveness, than it does the conditions existing in the human heart, in order to its self-surrender. Its bearing upon the principles of divine government is not more mighty, than its bearing upon the principles of human feeling and action. And Jesus Christ, who, in the relation of his vicarious death to the law, is our righteousness, is also, in the exhibition of his unexampled and self-sacrificing love, our sanctification.
The doctrine of the Atonement, expressive of the fact of Christ's expiatory death, and its associated doctrines, constitute what we mean by the Truth, or the evangelical system of faith. Through the belief of this, and the sanctification of the Spirit, the enmity of the heart is slain,-its enslaving fears are allayed,--the . conscience is quieted,--hope inspired, -peace diffused, and conquest made of all the affections of the soul for God. In these affections, springing up in the soul under the sanctified exhibition of the Truth, man possesses a new principle, able to compete with his earthly passions,--a divine life, prompting all his works, carrying into them vitality and consecration, and destined progressively to renovate his entire being. The actions proceeding from a heart thus made right with God, and warm with love and gratitude to him, are good works, in the scriptural