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Theological Changes of View in England
By the Rev. F. W. Farrar, D.D., F.R.S.
Dean of Canterbury, England.
great changes have come over the transcendently holier and purer than their
views of thinking men in England own. In a milder form we may see the with regard to theological questions during same pernicious results of incompetent this century. There is nothing to regret religious arrogance in the fact that some of in the fact that advancing knowledge alters the best, wisest, most earnest and most brilthe complexion and shifts the perspective liantly gifted divines of our own day--men of long-current beliefs. It is inevitable such as Professor Maurice, and Charles that it should be so; for we know that Kingsley, and F. W. Robertson, and Dean
through the ages one increasing Stanley, and others—were all through purpose runs,
their lives the favorite victims of the venAnd the thoughts of men are widened by the omous attacks with which the so-called process of the suns.
“ religious " press of party church newsNor is it only inevitable, it is also most papers is rife. Like Wesley and Whitedesirable, that the general advance in field, like Luther and Melancthon, like knowledge and in insight should shed Savonarola and many more, these menfresh light, not, indeed, on the eternal owing to the refusal of “priests ” to acand essential elements of religion, which cept the new truths—which shake their have remained the same in all ages, but usurped authority, and expose the ignoon the point of view under which we rant baselessness of their “infallible". regard and the manner in which we form- judgments—have stood up, “ The very ulate and explain the statements of butt of slander, and the blot of every dart theology. The light of all real knowledge that malice ever shot.” An unprogressis light from Heaven, and it cannot lead ive religion is a decadent and dying reany faithful soul astray. Nothing can be ligion ; a religion which refuses new light more fatal, even to moral growth and is a dead religion. Such forms of belief spiritual progress, than a stereotyped im- will inevitably sink into abject and priestmobility—that blind and narrow stagna- ridden superstitions, or into the cumbertion in the infallibility of opinionated some paraphernalia of externalism, which ignorance, which delivers brawling judg- thinks that God cares for the murmuring ments all day long on all things, un- of rites and ceremonies, whereas he has ashamed, and which has always been as again and again taught us that he requires characteristic of imperfect and narrow our hearts, and that without heart-sincerreligionists as it was of the “priests and ity all else is but as the small dust of the Pharisees and hypocrites" in the days of balance. our Lord. The example of those days, Let me point out one or two respects even if they stood alone, would be suffi- in which the thoughts of men respecting cient to show us that men, in the name of the truths of religion have been enlarged religion—and even while they claim to and changed. be the sole faithful supporters of true . It is so as regards our conceptions religion—are capable of committing, in of God. the name of the religion which they pro- One of the most competent of living fess, the deadliest of crimes. If any men of science--Mr. Alfred Wallace-in other instances were wanting, we may see his very interesting book “ The Wonderthem in the deadly guilt of Inquisitors, ful Century,” estimates that this century who, in the name of the Lord of Love, has made greater advances in science, blackened the blue of heaven with the both theoretical and applied, than all the Tophet-smoke of their bale-fires of hell, by centuries of the past put together. Now, burning many a dear saint of God who science has revealed to us immeasurably held the truth which, to their own perdi- more of the laws of nature and of the
infinitude of the universe than was ever enlightened man can repeat without the remotely dreamed of in past ages. The subauditur of large exceptions and exnature of the relation of God to man can planations, and which the multitude usunot be quite the same as it was when men ally understand in a false sense, and in regarded the earth as the center of the that sense rightly repudiate as unscripwhole universe, and thought that the sun tural and false. The narrow and anathand the moon and the starry heavens ematizing pseudo-orthodoxy which veheexisted only to give it light. A Greek mently insists on the retention of this philosopher defined the stars as “golden creed in public worship is extremely nails fixed in a crystalline sky." We now harmful to the Church of England, and know something of the immeasurable, alienates multitudes from her worship. inconceivable vastness of God's universe, Late, very ill constructed, harsh, and and we know that the earth is but as a speck superfluously verbose, the creed is not in the intense inane, a mote of dust in the in the slightest degree necessary, since streaming of infinite light. We can no the whole Catholic faith is amply and far longer rest in schemes and systems which better stated in the “ Nicene" and the professed to speak of God “as though he “ Apostles' ” Creeds. It was once my were a man in the next room;" or which curious fortune to stand in church facing proceeded on the conviction that “man's a seat on which were seven or eight men nothing-perfect"could comprehend“God's of universal fame in art, in literature, in all-complete." We have learnt more science, in public life. The expression modesty and humility, more awful rever- of weariness and dislike upon the face of ence for Him “whose ways are past find every one of them while the creed was ing out." We are no longer content to being repeated was a lesson to me; for employ our days in the elaboration of each one of them was not in any sense a * schemes” and “ systems” and “philos- skeptic, but a Christian and a communiophies" of the plan of salvation, and in cant. All of them felt how utterly unlike thus dropping buckets into empty wells, was the form assumed by this creed to and growing old in drawing nothing out the general teaching and method of Holy We are content with holier modesty ; to Scripture. Not one of them doubted, so lay our hands upon our lips and to say: far as I knew, the doctrine of the Trinity; So runs my dream: but what am I?
but they all felt that the harsh, formal, An infant crying in the night,
and technical dogmatism of the creed An infant crying for the light,
added nothing to true faith; while-since And with no language but a cry.
so few are capable of grasping its real Changed modes of expression, changed significance—it tends to minister directly points of view, which—though they do to popular error. It is, however, doubtnot affect any radical and essential view ful whether at this moment there is enough of religion—seem to require changed of progressive open-mindedness in the methods of expression, may partly account English Church to follow, in this particufor the deep and growing dislike to the lar, the wiser example of all the other use of the so-called “ Athanasian” Creed Churches of Christendom in not demandin our public services. The Church of ing the constant public recital of this late England is the only Church in all Chris- and technical creed. tendom which recites this creed in com- 2. Another subject on which there have mon worship. The American Church has been great changes of view is the Atonewisely discarded the practice, so also has ment. I believe that not only in the the Irish Church. The dislike to it does upper classes, but in all classes, men benot in the least spring from any lack of lieve as firmly as ever they did in the orthodoxy respecting the doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the Trinity, but from the scholastic form of world, by whose blood—that is, by whose the creed, with its repetition of technical essential life divinely imparted to us—we words—like “incomprehensible," "subare cleansed and saved. But they do not stance," " person ”—of which not one believe—and they rightly do not believeperson in a hundred knows the true and in the hideous travesties of the doctrine technical meaning. It also rises from the which have been intruded upon mankind damnatory clauses, which no honest or by an ignorant and systematizing theology, based on the distortion and the misinter- flames, of which the black smoke is pretation of isolated metaphors, or the smeared with hideous blood-gouts, while extravagant forcing of emotional language loathly serpents are twining round and to impossible logical conclusions. They round him, burying their fangs in his conrepudiate, and rightly repudiate, the blas- vulsive face, and their forked tails into phemy of representing God the Father as the flesh of his arms; while underneath all-wrathful and inexorable justice, and is written in old French, “. Pour n'y avoir God the Son as all-loving mercy. They ac- pont pancé.” Strange that Christians could cept no violent disintegration of the persons really believe-on the strength of a of the blessed Trinity in the work of man's grossly misrepresented metaphor which salvation. They toss aside the age-long there is no more excuse for taking absurdity which represented God as pay- literally than there would be for taking ing to the Devil (1) the ransom of Christ's literally the metaphor of " Abraham's death. They no less reject the forensic bosom ”—that a God of Love could be theory by which St. Anselm replaced the happy while the creatures of his hands old error-a theory which dwelt on the were writhing hopelessly and forever in “ exact equivalent ” of “ vicarious substi- unutterable material torments! Yet that tutions,” and which foisted into Scripture they could maintain such conceptions is a mass of colossal or self-contradictory sufficiently proved by Dante's “ Inferno," inferences, elaborated into a “philosophy as much as by endless hymns and religof the plan of salvation,” which relied ious manuals. There has been a decided exclusively on passing illustrations, and and a blessed change of view as to these resembled a pyramid built upon its apex. cruel imaginings. When my “Eternal Men have become impatient—and rightly Hope” was published, I lived for weeks impatient-of “the ever-widening spiral and months amid a hail-storm of anathe. ergv drawn from the narrow aperture of mas. Now the majority of thinking and single texts.” They are more than con- educated Christians hold the view which tent to know and be sure that “God is I there maintained that sin indeed is Love," and that “God in Christ”—not, as always punishment, but that there is no it is erroneously translated in our Author- proof that repentance and pardon will ized Version, “God for Christ's sake”— not be always possible, and that we may forgives us our sins, when, by the aid of trust in the mercy of God " for ever and his Holy Spirit, they are repented of. ever "-or, as it is, literally, in the origiThe clearing away from the doctrine of nal, “ for ever and beyond.” We have the Atonement of the gross anthropomor- learned—or, at any rate, all thinking and phism introduced into it by the language of educated men have learned—that “everself-satisfied theologians, ignorant preach- lasting ” (åídios), which occurs but twice ers, and impassioned hymns, so far from in the New Testament, is not a synonym tending to unbelief, has left men more of “eternal ” (aióvios), but the direct anhumbly and deeply convinced that God, tithesis of it; the former being the unrealby his infinite love and mercy, has granted izable conception of endless time, and us pardon in Christ, a newness of life, the latter referring to a state from which even though we cannot understand his our imperfect human conception of time mysteries and cannot measure the arm of is absolutely excluded. God by the finger of man.
4. Once more, there has been a radical 3. Again, there has been a decided and most imperatively called for change change in the thoughts of Christians about in the old superstition of what is called Eschatology. They now see that nothing “verbal inspiration.” We know that in Scripture necessitates the crude and God speaks to us out of his holy book ; glaring horrors, the ghastly and revolting we know that it contains his revelation of misrepresentations of one or two Scrip- himself; we know that it is, as a whole, ture metaphors, which have been con- the most supreme of collected literatures; solidated into the doctrine of “ Hell-fire.” we know that all the rest of the literatures I have in my possession a revolting little of the world put together could not supply picture which used to be given by Romish its place; but we know also that it is a priests to children and women, represent plain, positive duty to consider it in the ing a human being standing naked in red Heaven-sent light of advancing knowledge:
we know that all its incidental utterances for party and for other purposes, may are not final or infallible; we know that choose to distort out of its isolated and some of its books are composite in struc- incidental phrases. Our Reverence for ture, and that some were written in times Holy Scripture has not been diminished, much later than the authors whose names but has been indefinitely increased, by the they bear; we know that the Old Testa- study and the criticism and the progressive ment—as in the books of Daniel and enlightenment which have led us to a truer Jonah, and in the sublime story of the estimate of its place and meaning in the Fall—admits (as our Lord's parables also dealings of God with men. consecrated) the use of Haggadah, or O n the whole, then, I am hopeful as to “moral allegory;" we know that the divine the stability of our Christian convictions enlightenment, which we call “inspira- in the minds of men of all classes. The tion," did not exclude the human element leaders of intellectual research may not in the imperfect medium by which it was be “ orthodox” in the old, narrow, arrocommunicated, and that in unimportant gant, stereotyped sense of the word, which and minor matters it left the possibility of imposed a yoke of bondage on the free error; we know, above all, that Scripture necks of Christians, who are all God's is the true sense of scripture, as St. Augus- priests; but they believe in God, the tine says; that Scripture is, and only is, Father, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, what scripture means; that it must be in- our Lord ; and in that Holy Spirit which terpreted as a whole; and that the totality he made to dwell in us, and who yearneth of its teaching must not be perverted by jealously and tenderly over all whom God insistence on the interpretation which we, hath redeemed.