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of the various shades of opinion that are held within the pale of the liberal school, nor have we made all that we might to show that these views are not the exceptions, the strange monstrosities in the museum of their interpreters. Too many there are among them, whose “faith in these particulars,” according to one of their own number, “if closely tested, would be found, perchance, to hang around them about as loosely as a tunic of muslin.” We rejoice in the belief that there are many among them, who reject the assumptions of the writers we have quoted, as heartily as they do the more consistent but bolder theories of Mr. Parker. But we can not see how in any proper sense of the terms, the Bible or the reception of the Christian Scriptures is the basis of their fellowship. The facts and opinions adduced show that the Bible is not the creed which liberal Christians would now set up. They do not dream of such a thing. It is something far different from this. As we understand it, their creed is the belief in a divine revelation accompanied" by miracles. This is a fair statement of the creed which by its self-acting operation is to keep them on “the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” and to shut out infidels from this Christian body. We pause here a moment to add, that these facts show how essentially illusory or illiberal it is to set up the Bible as a bond of fellowship, in distinction from consent to certain principles, as the truths which the Bible reveals. In the obvious meaning of the words, the Bible our creed, it means the reception, as a revelation from God, of all that is within the covers of what is commonly called the Bible.
* Not authenticated, for that, though it would please Mr. Norton, would let out upon the domains of infidelity, too large a number easily to be spared.
How illiberal this would be, we can easily see. The rejection of a book, or a chapter, or a verse, on critical grounds, as no part of the Bible given of God, would of course exclude a man from the Christian sellowship. Rev. J. Pye Smith, for instance, could not preach in one of the pulpits at Boston because he doubts whether the Song of Solomon properly belongs to the Bible; and Prof. Tholuck must find the door of every liberal church closed against him for his views of a part of Isaiah or John ; or if the test mean less than this, if it mean what our liberal friends make it to mean, it is a door that opens so wide as to admit Mr. Parker, or only just as wide as it may suit the convenience of those who hold it that it should be. From the very indeterminateness of the phrase, it may become the instrument of caprice and injustice. The only reasonable bond of fellowship, is the believing that God in revealing himself to man has revealed some truths, and the consent to these truths as in fact revealed;— at the same time avowing that the Bible is the primal and only authority for our faith in them, and that by the Bible this faith is perpetually to be tested, and either rejected or confirmed. In this sense is it that “the Bible and the Bible only is the religion of Protestants.” Now, the misfortune of our liberal friends is, that this test they can not apply, for in order to accommodate the greatest number of believers, they have in fact received those who held that the Bible reveals nothing, but sim: ply asserts anew the doctrines of the absolute religion “of love to God and love to man.” When then a man comes forward and says, I hold the same principles which the Bible teaches, though I have a pe. culiar way of viewing the Bible, it is hard to reject him. Hence, they turn and say, “the Bible is our creed;” which we have shown sig’ nifies too much, or it means nothing:
But we return to Mr. Parker and his brethren.
4. The actual creed of the liberal Christians being defined, Mr. P. may ask whether it justifies itself? whether it has sufficient reasons to offer for its own vindication ? whether, in short, the difference between himself and Mr. Norton or Mr. Furness is great enough to authorize his exclusion ?
The creed is this: “I believe that Jesus is a messenger sent from God, who taught religious truth and wrought a miracle.” The believer may hold that Jesus was a man, and only a man; that his coming was not predicted by the Jewish prophets, and that in claiming that it was, he but accommodated himself to Jewish tropes and interpretations; that he never promised to aid his apostles by spiritual influences after his death; and their record of his life and deeds, and explanations of his teachings, are not always to be relied upon, but that the gospels are largely mingled with matter that is mythical and legendary: in short, he may believe that the New Testament is as little to be trusted as Mr. Norton considers the Old to be in its account of Moses, and yet if he holds that Christ was a special messenger and wrought a miracle, he is received as a believer.” This is the minimum of faith which distinguishes the liberal Christian from the infidel; this the lowest mark in the sliding scale of their present creed.
* We are tempted to ask whether a Mormon or a Mohamedan would not pass the demand of such a test. Mr. Parker came very near being a believer, for he says, “The Resurrection has more evidence than any other, (miracle) for it is attested by the epistles as well as the gospels, and was one corner stone of the Christian church.” “Still there must have been a foundation of fact for such a superstructure; (i. e. the gospel narrative,) a great spirit to have commenced such a movement as the Christian; a great doctrine to have accomplished this, the most profound and wondrous revolution in human affairs.”
Mr. Parker may ask, and may ask with reason, whether the difference between himself and such a believer is sufficient to justify his exclusion from Christian fellowship. The substance of religion is the same with him and the man accepted as a Christian. They both receive the absolute religion as the true and binding faith. They both receive the immortality of the soul, the moral government and paternal character of God. If there be any difference between them in respect to the thoroughness of their views and the earnestness with which they hold them, the difference is in Mr. Parker's favor.
But he will be told, ‘You take the authority from these truths; you deprive them of their sanction as revealed from God and confirmed by miracles.” To this he replies, * Not so, indeed—not at all ; I do but add to their authority. 1 find their highest sanction in the conscience of every living man.’ You tell one who asks, why he should believe that God revealed these truths by Jesus and to the race some eighteen hundred years ago. I tell him that he reveals them now, and reveals them to him. You tell him that he confirmed them by miracles that are now centuries old. I tell him that he confirms them by what to me is a miracle this very moment—by a living and present wonder. You tell a man who doubts whether the story of the teacher and the miracle be true, that he must read Mr. Norton or some other writer on the genuineness of the record; and if he is not satisfied with his references, he must walk over to Cambridge and look through the musty folios that connect the present with the past, and perhaps to read these folios must study Latin, Greek, Syriac and Hebrew; and perhaps after that must cross the Atlantic and visit the Bodleian Library, the British Museum, the collections at Paris, Berlin and the Vatican: whereas I tell him it is of little moment whether the story be true or not, that he is bound to receive the truth because he knows it is true. Now I may be mistaken, but surely if I preach as good a Christianity, and perhaps a better, and as I think with an authority more real, though I may be mistaken, my mistake is not important enough to anthorize my exclusion from your fellowship. Not only so, but there are those among you now, who, though they receive the miracles as facts, deny that they authenticate or give authority to the doctrine. As respects the authority of revelation, they are as unchristian as myself and yet are they retained while I am shut out. “But you treat the book with irreverence and dishonor.” Not I, indeed, is his answer; but rather do I treat it with greater respect than some of you. You profess to receive it, and by your forced interpretations you mangle and distort it, and when you pass it off as such a mixture of truth and error, of inspiration and mistake, you make it incredible and contemptible too. To secure its testimony as a witness for the truth you hold, and to yourselves the name of Christian, you give to parts of it the authority which you require, and refer its mistakes and difficulties to the credulity of pious but weak men; while I save and uphold its consistency by making the whole a delightful relic of the past, legendary and mythical indeed, but still in the highest of all senses true and binding. 5. The strongest ground on which Mr. Parker may urge upon his brethren his claims to be acknowledged as a liberal Christian, is, that his opinions are the legitimate and logical consequence of the liberal theology. Mr. Parker is a liberal Christian par eminence. He is the logical resultant of the liberal philosophy. He is so far from meriting the cold shoulder, which is the liberal way of excommunicating a man,
that he may lawfully claim the highest consideration. To many this seems a very hard saying, a saying more daring than true, and ingenious rather than well grounded. To liberal Christians it is especially ungrateful, while to some of the stricter sort, who can receive any thing provided it be called orthodox, but who are too polite either to have reasons for their faith or to assert them, it is very rude and uncourteous. Both these tell us that there is no established liberal philsosophy; that the liberal theology is not a fixed but a variable quantity, which may assume every shade of opinion from the highest style of protest, after the manner of Arius or Arminius, down to the lowest grade of affirmation adopted by Norton or Furness. Its motto is variety of doctrine in unity of spirit. You can not reason to any conclusion from liberal principles, for the best of all reasons, that there are no acknowledged liberal principles from which to conclude. Of this fact we are altogether aware. We ourselves assert that there is a great variety of theological opinion in the liberal ranks, and yet is it characterized by a prevailing philosophy. Its principles are held by many with saving clauses and happy inconsistencies. The conscience of man is too true to itself and to God not to suggest these in spite of any system, and hence the liberal preaching and writing may, on many points, approach if it does not come up to the truth. The liberal philosophy too is negative rather than positive. It denies rather than affirms. It protests against this and that view of God; of the administration of God; of man in his guilt and wants, and of the Gospel that meets this guilt and these wants; rather than utters its own decided and strong convić: tions, and supports them by well placed reasoning. When it is asked its own opinion, and required to give an opinion philosophically, it gives
a well turned figure, or sounding declamation, or practical homily, and you can not often find it precise, consistent and thorough-going in its deductions. But in arguing, it has principles which it dare not state, and applies a system which it will not affirm ; whether consciously or unconsciously we assert not, but of the fact we are sure. In a previous essay we have described this philosophy at some length, under the several heads of the Nature of Religion, the Government of God, and the Guilt and Wants of Man ; expressly and abundantly declaring, that this philosophy was applied in arguments rather than avowed in a naked and systematic form. We shall not re-state these principles at length; but we remain certain that they constitute the prima philosophia of the liberal school, and give to it its beauty and its fascination in the eyes of a majority of its adherents. An appeal to those principles, if logical, will carry the field in argument. We assert then that Mr. Parker is not only justified in retaining his position, as a liberal Christian, by whatever is peculiar in the terms of liberal fellowship; but that his conclusions are the logical result of whatever is peculiar in the liberal philosophy. Mr. Parker's conclusions are two. A supernatural revelation is not required by man. There is not evidence sufficient to warrant the belief that the supernatural recorded in the New Testament is historically true. The principles of the liberal school are these ;-Concerning God, that his government is not one of love in its highest form, as animating and enforcing a law of holiness, but of love, as distinguished from law; —concerning religion, that it is a sentiment like the sense of the beautiful and of the true, and not that sentiment of the divine which becomes religious only when it is based
on a character that is true to the holy in God, and then flowers into rich luxuriance, and ripens into precious fruit;-and concerning man, that he is unfortunate and badly developed, rather than guilty and condemned, that he needs to be educated under happier circumstances, rather than to be renewed by the Spirit of God. The logical road from these principles to Mr. Parker's conclusions, is short and direct. Take his first position. A supernatural revelation is not required. It is as clear as the sunlight, that the liberal philosophy being true, it is not demanded. All the necessities contemplated by such a natural theism, may be met and satisfied without a supernatural revelation. There is no natural necessity for it. Who shall say that it is not in the power of God, and the resources already furnished by nature, to bring out such a style of men, of moral heroes or providential men, as Carlyle calls them, who shall furnish all that is needed for instruction and impulse;—who shall reflect a clear image of the divine in the steadied mirror of their own pure hearts, and then make the truth beam from their eye, and speak from their lips, and shine from their beautiful lives? Who shall say that such men could not make their mark deep and enduring enough to meet the demand of their age 2 Who shall say, that a succession of such men would not, by successive impulses, lift the race upward to any point of religious truth or culture which is demanded ? On the liberal theosophy, and for the purpose for which it admits a supernatural intervention, there is no demand for it in the nature of things. Nor is there a moral necessity for such an intervention. The fault with man is not so much guilt, as an imperfect and ill-developed humanity. There is no strong and prevailing tendency to sin “by nature,” but a divine aspiration after truth and holiness which gropes for the light; there is no “not liking to retain God in the knowledge” which requires that Jehovah should step out from the onward course of nature, that he may be heard; but there is a longing after the divine, which needs but to see what it longs for, and it rushes to embrace the glorious vision. There is in man, no perverse and hardened impenitence, upon which, God, when revealed to man with miracles of healing, a wondrous life and a most moving death, tries his utmost power as it were in vain; but man is a poor victim of ill-developed humanity that looks for the light, as “they that watch for the morning.” Here is no moral demand, which may not be met and satisfied, without a supernatural messenger. There is no necessity for such intervention, on the liberal theory, attested by the history of man. The history of man unrolls its dark chapters of error, ignorance and imperfection, it is true, and it may be said that the facts of man's condition require a revelation by miracle to fix the doubtful, make clear the obscure, and to declare, by an authorized messenger, the paternal character of God, and the soul’s immortal life. But history has also her brighter chapters, and her immortal record of such teachers as Socrates and Plato; and of races too, that seem to be inspired of nature, with superior notions of honor and duty. Who shall say that nature who by her unaided energies could produce such men as Socrates and Cicero, might not also without a miracle, produce a Moses and a Jesus, if all for which Moses and Jesus were wanted, and all which they did, was to teach the liberal theism, which Mr. Norton ascribes to them 2 or if we admit a miraculous revelation to be desirable, surely it were a useless expenditure of force, to do all that the Bible records of miracle to establish truths so simple and
so few. We know that Mr. Norton endeavors to relieve this difficulty by cutting down the Scriptures to very small dimensions, but even his Bible has rather more of the supernatural than seems to us to be called for. To remedy this difficulty he creates another, by lowering the dignity of human nature, even below our view of it; a difficulty which we leave him to adjust with his own friends of the liberal school, and with the plain testimony of history, of literature, of the human conscience, and of Paul the apostle. But it may be said by those who stand upon the history of man, that miracles were needed in a ruder age, to amaze the senses and to wake up the torpor of badly educated men, and thus to force an entrance for truths, which having entered would stand upon their own merits and make good their own defense. Nay rather, says Mr. Parker, history teaches that it is more probable that Moses and Jesus did, by their grandeur of character and force of utterance make an impression so deep and strong, that their wondering disciples denied them an earthly origin, and from the gorgeous hues of their own imagination wove for them a halo of divine splendor. History testifies this of other great men confessedly not supernatural, and why when closely questioned may she not affirm it of these ? The only possible answer to this question, the liberal philosophy can not furnish. She can not say there is a demand for the supernatural, which makes its occcurrence not merely credible, but even necessary, and hence she can not save herself from the logical result to which Mr. Parker would conduct her.” Mr. Parker's second proposition concerns the credibility of the mir
* It is the maxim of Horace, “Nec Deus in tersit nisi dignus vindice nodus incide: rit,” and the misfortune of the liberal theism that it does not furnish the “nodus.”