« AnteriorContinuar »
unity can it possess, than that concert of sentiment which flows from a common sympathy with the mind of Christ? Any other notion of unity besides this must be a delusion. Disappointment has been the invariable consequence of an attempt to enforce a unity of doctrine or of discipline. Agreement in doctrine there may be to a certain extent, and where liberty of examination is allowed; but that any two men should think precisely alike upon all the nice points in theology is as vain an expectation, as that they should resemble one another in all the details of personal habit. A unity of belief, if it go beyond the first elements of Christian truth, or even if it enter into a minute explanation of these, will be hollow and unreal. A unity founded upon obedience to the same ecclesiastical discipline is a mere semblance. The only true union has its basis in sentiment. The Church is one, because its members are informed by the same spirit, having drunk of the same spiritual fountain, which is Christ, and been nourished on that bread of life which came down from Heaven. The voluntary consent of free minds, the accordant pulsation of hearts untrammelled by forms or creeds of human device this constitutes the unity of the Christian Church. The believers are one now, as they were in the days of the Apostles, because they are "all of one mind and one heart." The unity is not confined to earth, but embraces the saints who have passed into heaven, since there as well as here the spirit of truth and love reigns in every soul. The circumstance which determines unity is not that men think alike, or worship alike, but that they are alike; not that they have the same creed, or the same outward. service, but that they have a common standard of character, and maintain a common effort to reach that standard. This makes a solid and graceful unity, arising as it does, not from external pressure, but from spontaneous sympathy.
The authority of the Church, what is this? Little more than a fiction; a fiction which has cheated millions, and ruined multitudes, but a fiction still. If the Church be what we have described, how can it have any such authority as its rulers have claimed for it. Mark the contradictory terms of this very sentence, the rulers of the Church have urged its claims. Is it not plain, that if they are its rulers, it is their own claims which they have urged, under the
We deny altogether the
pretence of zeal for the Church? existence of any authority in the Church, and we disown altogether such an authority as they who profess to be its guardians would exercise in its name. If there be any authority deposited in the Church, then must the Church have some mode of expressing and enforcing that authority. But no such mode has ever been discovered, or can in the nature of things belong to it. When the Pope of Rome issues a Bull, it is his Bull, and that is all, entitled to just so much regard as is due to a venerable, or a foolish old man, surrounded by good, or bad advisers; and no more. When any one else, or any body of men, undertakes to proclaim the decision of the Church, all which they can do, is to give their understanding of what has been the prevalent opinion or practice among believers; about which they may be mistaken, and concerning which we may rely upon their judgment only so far as we have reason to believe it is impartial and well-informed.
But there must be authority somewhere, we shall be told. Certainly. Instead of denying this, we would assert it as strenuously as any one. There is an authority to which we should all bow, the authority of Christ. He is the Master, and to him we must go to learn both truth and duty. The Church must not come between Christ and the disciple, to prevent the approach of the humblest believer to the person of his Lord. Let him go directly to Christ, and sit at his feet and take in large draughts of the inspiration which he communicates. There let him be as docile and obedient, as against all human dictation he shows himself to be firm. But who shall interpret Christ for him?' Who? No What a question is this! Let him interpret Christ for himself. He cannot, do you say? We maintain not only that he can, but that he must and should. Christ is an open book, and who will may read, and who will may understand. But men will differ, it is said, in their inter pretations. Very well, let them differ; they cannot differ more widely than the Church, in its authoritative expositions of the truth, has differed from itself. Let each man construe the mind and character of Christ according to his ability, let every one read the New Testament with his own eyes and on the responsibleness of his own conscience, and then if we behold difference, it will be
difference over which shall prevail a harmony of sentiment and a harmony of life, which, as we have seen, alone constitute the unity, and in which alone can reside any authority, of the Church.
It may be thought by some of our readers, that we have robbed the Church of its meaning and its value; but this is as far from being the result as it was from our intention. The Church under the view in which we have contemplated it retains all the significance and worth which Christ ordained for it. Its significance consists in its being the expression of all the effects as yet wrought by the mission and ministry of the Son of God. The Church exhibits the fruits of that love which sent Jesus into our world, and of that sacrifice which he made for the good of the world. It shows how far the purposes of the Saviour's death have been attained, and how nearly his prophecy, that if he was "lifted up," he would "draw all men unto him, has approached its fulfilment. As the Church is in every age the manifestation of the Christianity of that age, so the history of the Church is the history of what Christianity has accomplished in past time. It includes all the souls that have been saved, and all the graces that have been matured or quickened into life, by the Gospel. It comprehends the multitudes who have been redeemed to God by the blood of the Lamb, "out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation; "the Apostles and martyrs and confessors of early days; the disciples, in palace and in hovel, of later times; the followers of Jesus who are now scattered through all the countries of the earth. A noble, as well as an innumerable company! It embraces within its wide circuit all the worship which has gone up to Heaven from Christian hearts, and all the virtue which Christianity has introduced among men purity, disinterestedness, philanthropy, piety -"whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, or of good report," that owe their existence to the religion of Christ. All these, with the faith from which they sprang, and the souls in which they were found, all these belong to the Church of Christ, and they make it worthy to bear the names which have been given it. It is Holy, for it is composed of such as labor to "perfect holiness in the fear of God" and the love of Christ. It is Catholic, for it recognises no distinction between races or conditions, but extends VOL. XXXVII.—4TH S. VOL. III. NO. I.
its arms to enfold all mankind. It is Apostolic, for it obtained its first development under them who were sent forth by "the Author and Finisher of faith" to preach the Gospel, and it rests upon the integrity of their instruction. The Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church - this is the Church which the Lord "purchased with his own blood" the Church, which having "sanctified and cleansed with the washing of water by the word," he will finally "present to himself, a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish."
The value of the Church results partly from its significance, but more from the relation which it sustains to the believer as a means of personal improvement. Following the principle which we have seen to be alone correct, that the Church exists for the individual, we arrive at the uses for which it is appointed. It is one of the helps of the spiritual life, one of the means by which the soul works out its own salvation and secures its final glory. Deprive us of the Church, were this possible, separate us from the Church, as men have often attempted with their fellowChristians, and you inflict a serious injury, for you take away needed assistance. The believer needs the support and encouragement which the Church gives him. He is benefitted by its sympathy, he is strengthened through its protection. He feels himself to be one of the "Church of the first-born which are written in heaven," and he presses forward in his heavenly course with a firmer step. Who does not know the courage that comes from companionship? Who cannot accomplish more with others engaged in the same toil, than if left to the prosecution of a solitary labor? The Church, with its ordinances and influences, is a great aid to the Christian in his progress towards perfection. So it is at least on earth, and we doubt not it will be so in heaven. Cleave then to the Church, we say to every one whom our counsel may reach. Honor and cherish it. Do not cast it off, as if you were above or beyond it; and do not speak ungratefully of it, as if it had rendered you no service. It is a great instrument in the Saviour's hand, as well as the evidence of his saving virtue. It cannot be destroyed either by neglect or by hostility. He has declared that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Rejoice then in its honor, and while you realize its benefits, study its prosperity.
E. S. G.
ART. VII. - WRITINGS OF R. W. EMERSON.*
ANOTHER Volume of Essays from R. W. Emerson is a literary benefaction which we acknowledge with unfeigned gratitude. We congratulate the lovers of sprightly and profound discourse on this fresh extract from the mental life of a most loving and sincere spirit; for such, in spite of his heresies, and sins against custom and tradition, all who know him well must acknowledge him to be. Were it only for the rarity of such spirits and such books, we could hardly desire a more valuable accession to the national literature, or the world's literature, than these pages.
It takes a good deal in these days to justify a book, and but very little to provoke one. Time was when a new book was the arrival of a new spirit, a birth out of the deeps. But, now, writers of books have given place to book-wrights. What was once a mission has become a craft. Modern books are mostly manufactures originating in a paltry speculation, or that mental pruriency and general determination to the surface, which characterize the times. When shall we see applied to literature, the golden maxim of Pythagoras in reference to oral communication,
- either to be silent or to say something better than silence? The authors of scientific works, naturalists, voyagers, realists of every description, are always welcome. We accept without questioning-so they prove themselves reliable witnesses all who bring us tidings of the actual; it matters not, whether from the arctic regions or the antarctic, or the interior of the earth, or the interior of any living thing upon its surface; from the lichen on the wall, or the nearest pebble, or the farthest nebula ; —all who present new facts or new classify old ones. These are the actual producers of the intellectual world, they deal in positive values. But he who brings us only his speculations and his fancies, is justly held to a more strict account. It behoves him to consider well his statement; that it be not only plausible, but new, and not only new, but sufficiently weighty to claim a hearing amid the general pressure of such demands.
Essays: Second Series. By R. W. EMERSON. Boston: J. Munroe & Co. 1844. 16mo. pp. 313.