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did not, like all High-churchmen, ascribe to the rite of baptism any regenerating or transforming power; but he asserted that the Christian family is an organic unity, with a spiritual life of its own, and that children born into the fellowship of that life may, and in all ordinary cases will, grow up into the conscious service and love of God, before they become in any way conscious of any enmity to God. He was taken to task for his statements by some members of the Hartford Ministerial Association; and to obviate all misconceptions of his view, he prepared a paper which was read before the Association, and after some unessential modification, proved satisfactory to his brethren. Would he not publish it? Yes, but where ? The Massachusetts Sabbath-school Association would probably print it. He thought not, but had no objection to trying them. His manuscript lay for six months before their Executive Committee, being read in turn by every one of its large membership, until the paper all but came to pieces. It was twice returned to him for qualifications or modifications, which he felt free to make; and at last was unanimously approved and published as Discourses on Christian Nurture, 1847. So much censorship might have seemed warrant enough for the work, but the ultra-orthodox Professors of East Windsor Theological Seminary scented “ dangerous tendencies,” and sounded the alarm in a studiously meek and mild but mischiefmaking letter. The Orthodox churches of Massachusetts took fright; the panic of the Unitarian controversy and its consequent secession had never left them. Bushnell was openly insulted at their State Convention, which he attended; and the Sabbathschool Association were constrained to withdraw from publication the work to which they had given their deliberate and careful approval. Of course it was at once re-published by the author, together with other articles and sermons, one of which was “An Argument for Discourses on Christian Nurture.” Those who read the book as Dr. Bushnell has re-written it in later years, will get more thought and instruction, but they miss the racy sarcasm and fun of this first edition. There are passages in it that Warburton would have envied, while even in the midst of indignation a higher spirit than Warburton ever showed is never absent. Take for instance this sketch of the East Windsor Seminary :
“We have a little institution, sworn every six months to suffer no progress, also to maintain the new-light doctrine [of Whitfield and Edwards] as equivalent to all antiquity, and probably fulfilling its oaths with religious fidelity—therefore certain, as we suppose you will see, to condemn others with as little reason as it is permitted to exercise for itself. It has three professors and twelve or fifteen students, and calls off one or two ministers from their charges, a considerable part of the time, to gather up the requisite funds. To maintain its hold of public favor it is obliged, of course, to do something more positive than to evince its repugnance to progress by a regular diminution of its own numbers; and since the turning out of four or five young preachers a year is no such rate of propagation as justifies the heavy expense of three salaries, it must make up the deficit and keep the public apprised of its existence in some other way. That such an institution suffers many severe alarms for the truth, busies itself in a general censorship, becomes first an annoyance and finally a subject of mirth, is well understood in Connecticut, and without any reports from us you can easily show yourselves, out of the facts, that so it will be. You will even anticipate, without any notes of history from me, acts of private meddling that disturb good neigh borhoods and discourage the most conciliatory purposes......... But it ought not in the least to surprise you. For no matter how much you may rely on the character of the men; a band of angels subjected to such terms of existence would have need to pray, ' Lead us not into temptation.'"
Probably nothing that Dr. Bushnell ever wrote has exerted so great an influence upon the American churches as this first work. It has not, indeed, set aside the practical theology of Whitfield and the Methodizers; for as we have seen duringthe winter just past, that theology and the revival system which grows out of it keep a firth and fast hold on the religious world. But it has sown, deep and widely, a profound discontent with the system and its methods in the more thoughtful minds of the churches; it has added to the strength of those of the churches in which other ideas of the nature of the Christian life are fostered; it has strengthened and confirmed the traditions older than the age of Methodism, which seemed ready to perish out of many of the churches. And when a new age comes, and the whole spasmodic system of Sabbath-schools, prayer meetings and revivals is swept away from our midst, men will thank God for the good service rendered now thirty years ago by this Connecticut pastor.
Two years later than this appeared his God in Christ, which excited a still greater theological interest. It showed that he had been striking out new paths for himself in the higher and more abstract regions of theology, as well as in the more practical, but not now in the line of the older traditions of the fathers. In revulsion from the tritheism which generally passes for trinitarianism in our religious world, he avowed a theory of the Trinity which is substantially that of Sabellius, i. e. resolving the distinction between the three into little more than an appearance. Here we think he was less happy than before, as all reaction is no better than a criticism. If we must have a theory upon the subject, that of Sabellius is as good as any; but the old Athanasian decisions, which are in the main the denial of any possibility of a theory, are the only interpretation of the statements of the New Testament on the subject that has authenticated itself historically. They have outlived all the rival statements and contradictions of the age in which they were promulgated, and they seem likely to outlive all that have originated in later times. There is a “conflict for existence" and a "survival of the fittest" in theological history, as well as in natural history.
As might be expected, all orthodoxy was up in arms, and Dr. Bushnell was tried for heresy before the Association, but acquitted ; and for a time the party feeling ran very high. In 1851 he published Christ in Theology as a sort of explanation of his position, and took ground that it is not possible_because of the inadequacy of human language-to give fitting, i.e. rigedly scientific expression to the mysteries of the Christian faith; which we take to be an approximation to a sounder position.
For seven years he published nothing of importance, but in 1858 appeared his Sermons for the New Life and also his Nature and the Supernatural, as Constituting the One System of God. The former at once gave him a foremost place among the great preachers of the age. They are sermons of no ordinary cast, but at once weighted with thought and sped on the pinions of a masterly eloquence. Their peculiarities can be read in their titles: “Every Man's Life a Plan of God,” “ The Capacity of Religion Extirpated by Disuse," "Obligation a Privilege," "Respectable Sin," "The Efficiency of the Passive Virtues," “ The Hunger of the Soul," " The Reason of Faith." They attracted attention beyond the ocean. Robertson of Brighton borrowed the text and the theme of that
on “ Unconscious Influence,” and Frederick Maurice pronounced them a great and valuable addition to Christian literature. But Nature and the Supernatural furnishes still greater evidence of its author's intellectual power. It is a body of Christian pholosophy, not of the timid, half-hearted sort, but audacious and consistent in the sweep of its reasoning. The current notions that refer the supernatural to the past ages of the world, he sets aside as contrary to all true experience, all deeper insight. Did we not know as much from other sources, we might readily infer from some of his positions, (and also from his abundant quotations from H. W. J. Thiersch's Christliches Familienleben in the new edition of Christian Nurture,) that Bushnell had studied with some interest the curious phenomena of the Irvingite movement, which are alleged as supernatural by the members of that “Catholic and Apostolic Church.” One of his Hartford friends, Rev. S. J. Andrews, is avowedly in its membership and its ministry, and others in the city are spoken of.
In 1864 he collected a number of his scattered pieces in Work and Play, and published a second volume of sermons with the title Christ and His Salvation. In 1865 he did his best to shatter all his new-found favor with the religious world by his treatise, The Vicarious Sacrifice, Grounded in Principles of Universal Obligation. In this he sets himself against the current view of the atonement, as an expiation for sin, maintaining that that conception has no sanction in the Scriptures. As is well known, there was no theory of the nature and the method of redemption current in the church until Anselm, of Canterbury, in his Cur Deus Homo, enunciated that of Christ's payment of the sinner's debt to God by His obedience to the divine law—this debt being that submission to the divine will which is set aside by sin. Anselm said nothing of any punitive element in Christ's sufferings, and, indeed, laid no special stress on the death of Christ ; but the doctrine that Christ died to " endure the punishment due to us for sin," and to “pacify the wrath of God," began to be taught before the Middle Ages were over, and was substantially accepted by the Reformers, who chiefly differed from the Catholic theologians in emphasizing the position that the satisfaction is due to God, not as one personally offended and dishonored, but as a “public person,” the representative of the law and the justice of the universe. In the orthodox churches of Scotland and America this theory has held its own for the most part, but in those of Germany it has generally given way to another view, which was enunciated by an equally great theologian of the same age as Anselm, but one less understood and appreciated, the acute Abaelard. In this view also the purpose of atonement and reconciliation is recognized as the motive of Christ's incarnation and death, but it regards man and not God as the one thus to be reconciled. It looks on redemption as the quickening of love in the heart of the sinner, and the bringing him into such an assurance of God's love as transports him from the despair of the lost to the faith and trust of the saved and reconciled. This view was stoutly contended for in various forms by the mystical theologians; its adoption by Bengel and others gave it a general currency among orthodox German Christians, and it is now the prevalent one in the German churches, even with theologians who in other points cling to the orthodoxy of the sixteenth century. It is in the main that maintained by the few distinguished theologians_McLeod Campbell, Thomas Erskine, David Scott, etc.—who left the Scottish Kirk nearly half a century ago. It is, therefore, also the view of the remarkable group of English churchmen_Frederick Maurice, F. W. Myers, Frederick Rubertson, Charles Kingsley and others who were influenced by these Scotchmen. And it is this view in the main that Dr. Bushnell defends, though with characteristic differences due partly to his personal idiosyncrasies, and partly to his theological descent as a New England theologian. Regarding Christ's death as a sacrifice, he seeks to show that it is not one that differs in kind from the sacrifice which every good man makes for his fellow man—which the mother makes for her child, and the patriot for his country. Rejecting all theories of a legal imputation of our sins to Christ or of Christ's satisfaction to us, he asserts that He is one with us in His sacrifice by the bonds of love and sympathy, and that we are one with Him in sharing the salvation He brings when He has thus awakened love and sympathy in us, and reconciled us to God by slaying our enmity. In his last years Dr. Bushnell was led to a modification of this view in the direction of the orthodox theory, by the feeling that the representation of the divine mind as passive and inert in the presence of human sinfulness, was not in conformity with the feeling and experience of the most godly men; but even this modification leaves him in a general attitude of hos!ility toward the received doctrine.