Christianity, that system of religion of which Christ is the founder. "What was accomplished by his Spirit through the apostles and others is to be referred to him no less than that which was performed by his own direct agency. Viewed in the light of its immediate cause, it was the infinite love of God, embodying itself in Christ and working out redemption for men. Considered as an act making provision for the restoration of men, it was the manifestation of a divine and perfect being in human flesh, a condescension to our condition in order to exhibit a life of sinless perfection and of complete self-sacrifice, as the means of liberating from the power and curse of sin all who should willingly enter into his spirit and adopt his principles of action. In its essential nature, it is neither a system of doctrines, nor a collection of historical facts, nor a code of morals, nor a body of religious observances. It is all this and much more. It is a new-born heavenly life, emanating from Christ, conformed to his example and to all truth, embracing all virtue, intimately blended with nature and history, and manifesting itself in acts of homage to God and of love to men.
The germ of all its positive principles was contained in the person, character, and life of Christ. The complete development of this, and its application to all the relations of life, would constitute practical Christianity as it was designed to be, and as it will be when it shall be conformed to its ideal standard. Christianity in such a sense reveals itself in every phase of humanity, whether individual or social. It reaches further and comprehends more than the church. The latter does not embrace the state, but is rather its counterpart. The church and the state represent two aspects of human life, the religious and the secular. Christianity relates equally to both. The state is to be Christian, but not ecclesiastical. Philosophy, science, literature, art, business, private and social life, are all to be Christian, but surely not ecclesiastical. Indeed, if the individual is to be like Christ, inwardly as well as outwardly; if in him a divine principle is to pervade all that is human; if by the grace of God Divinity and humanity are to be in contact with each other in him, it cannot be otherwise than that Christianity shall extend equally to everything in human life. Every day is, in a certain sense, a holy day, and every act is a Christian act.
Such will be the kingdom of God, such Christianity in its complete triumph. But while the church and the state are to be equally Christian, the promotion of Christianity is to be the direct aim of the one, while it is to be only the indirect aim of the other. The activity of the church therefore, being more directly religious and exerted only under religious forms, is often very naturally supposed to be a complete and adequate representation of Christianity. It is owing to this that many writers have erroneously, we think, considered Christianity and the church as identical. Christianity in a subjective sense is the inward life of the individual, answering to the provisions of the gospel made for him and existing out of him. It is a personal, free act of appropriation made under spiritual influence, by which Christ is received, in his entire character and spirit, in his offices, and in his work, as our redeemer, teacher, and example, and, in short, as our life. This act involves the renunciation and abandonment of whatever is opposed to the spirit of Christ, and a heartfelt sorrow for all previous participation in it, which is the negative side of Christianity; and on the other hand, confidence in God as a loving and merciful Father, and trust in Christ as the medium of God's redeeming love to men, which is the positive side.
Supreme love to God is the radical principle of Christianity, as the religion of the heart; and love to men, not only as a sentiment, but as a practical energy expending itself in self-denying and self-sacrificing efforts for their good, in the spirit and after the example of Christ, is the necessary and invariable product of that principle. Hence, in the matter of personal religion, he who is without love is nothing. This inward spiritual life received from Christ may not be perfectly realized and wholly conformed to his at any given moment of our present existence; but it is received in its seminal principles as soon as Christ is received, and the development will go on till it reaches perfection in the world to come. The progress of the individual in this divine life is in proportion to the will and the effort which he gives to it. While on the one hand his Christianity is a gift and a grace, on the other it is a culture and a work. The believer in Christ is not a passive recipient of his grace, but a voluntary, resolute, strenuous agent, a determined, moral hero, who overcomes difficulties and obstacles because he purposed and endeavored to overcome them.
Christ helps his disciples when they help themselves, and lives in them when they strive to live in him. - As Christianity is founded on Christ, it will be necessary to delineate those peculiar features of his character which are most essential to it. The one fact on which all other things in the redemption of mankind depend is that of " God manifest in the flesh." That God was in Christ, and was represented by him, is a fundamental principle in the Christian system, as explained by Christ himself and by his apostles. The incarnation laid the foundation for human redemption. There was thus a second Adam, a new head of the human race - the true man, having a divine lineage, and the Spirit of God without measure, bearing his image and doing all his will, acting in every moment of life with a perfect spontaneousness and freedom, leading a life at once divine and human, avoiding sin and thus passing sentence against it, taking upon him its outward consequences by putting himself in fellowship with the sufferings of sinful men, and in this state of voluntary humiliation and suffering revealing the infinite condescension and love of God to his erring and unhappy offspring.
In all this act of redeeming mercy is to be seen the true type of practical Christianity: a holiness that is separate from sin and condemnatory of it; a humility that is unambitious and unpretending, seeking merit and not rank; and a love that seeks not its own, but sacrifices all external things for the good of others. The mystery of redemption by Christ we may not be able to explain; but that a whole embryo Christianity lies concealed in the wonderful life and death of the incarnate Son of God is too evident to admit of doubt. It is the taking of human beings up into fellowship with his human nature, as well as his descending to them by entering their nature, and holding communion with their sufferings, that opens the way for God to dwell in men, and for men to dwell in God. The divine and the human were first harmonized and reconciled in the person of Christ, and from him as a nucleus spreads out, by means of his Spirit, a broader harmony and reconciliation between God and all his children. Such love and such a sacrifice on the one part, and such a reception of Christ and of his divine life on the other, render the method of redemption consistent both with the divine government and with the moral constitution of man.
The righteousness of Christ, which is accepted of God, is also accepted on the part of man, as the germ of a new life. In this way every end of a wise government is secured, and man is restored first to the image and then to the peculiar friendship of God. There is one feature of this system that needs to be more fully set forth. It is that view of Christ which presents him as the ideal of humanity. The want of such an ideal of human perfection was deeply felt by the ancient world. To the question, What precisely should men strive to be? no satisfactory reply could be given. Men were far from being agreed in respect to "the chief good;" and in the various theories maintained there was necessarily much vagueness, as nothing but abstract ideas could be presented, a living model of moral perfection being neither actual nor possible. Even if there could have been a perfect agreement about an ideal existing only in thought, it would have had but little power upon the common mind. It could not have been sufficiently definite and clear for practical purposes. What, therefore, was necessary to constitute a perfect man no one could positively affirm. Certainly, there was in all the speculations of the philosophers no approach to the Christian idea of what man should be.
There was in this circumstance a sort of necessity that the idea should be embodied in an individual person of the human species; otherwise it could never be fixed definitely in the general mind as the end of all its practical aims. Had Christianity done nothing more than to exhibit such a human character as that of Christ, still in presenting to the comprehension of all that living image of what human nature should be, it would have accomplished more in the way of teaching virtue than all the other moral systems of the world. All that can be done by the power of an idea has been done by the mere existence of such a person as Christ. The moral character of all Christian nations is precisely what their various attempts to attain to the excellence of this model have made it. No individual has equalled the normal type of humanity; nor has the whole school of his disciples collectively attained to the virtues of its founder. What other example is there in the history of mankind where the single founder of a school has been able to hold such a preeminence over the collective attainments of all his various disciples for successive ages? If human nature was designed, not for a separate and independent existence, but for an existence in most intimate connection with Divinity; if it was to be enlightened, guided, influenced, and moulded by the latter, by having a vital and uninterrupted spiritual union with it, and finding its true destination and well-being only in that state, a life not only from God, but in God, then there is nothing that exemplifies all this in such absolute perfection as the life of Jesus. Here we behold "the Model Man " in his union with God - "I in them, and thou in me." If Christ, besides all his other redeeming acts, has in his life as a man exhibited the just relations between humanity and Divinity by keeping them always in union and harmony, he has made this grand, this most marvellous exhibition for the benefit of human nature at large; and having been accomplished once, it needs not to be repeated.
In respect to the fitting time or place for such an exhibition, it may not be becoming for mortals to attempt to judge. But, as we have the divine method before us, it is neither irreverent nor presumptuous to search for the evidences of its wisdom. If it is an event to occur but once, it would seem natural that it should take place in some focal point of the world's history. That it should succeed a period of the highest pagan culture, so as to show what mere human culture could not do, and should make its appearance in a nation the most favored in respect to religious knowledge, so that the heavenly plant might be put into a prepared soil, the most perfect revelation of God be made to those who already knew most of God, would seem to be both reasonable and appropriate. In this way, it would take up the great problem of the destination of human nature and of human society in that stage of its solution where the world under the most favorable circumstances, as it respects both pagans and Jews, had left it.
No doubt, as the western borders of Asia, where the three tides of Asiatic, African, and European civilization met, presented a suitable theatre for the introduction of Christianity, so the period that closed ancient history, and opened the way for a new and very different history in ages to come, may be supposed to enter largely into that assemblage of circumstances which marked the " fulness of time." The greatness of the Christian religion consists in the energy with which it actually impresses that type of character found in Christ upon a great mass of human beings of different countries, and in different ages of the world. This is its greatest peculiarity, viewed as a practical system. Here it stands confessedly alone. Such a power it could not exert unless there was a reality both in Christ's character and in its causal relation to ours. He must have had a divine life in himself, and have been the source of a similar life in his followers. Other founders of religious systems are teachers, authors of institutions, of organizations; or, under mythical forms, they present symbols of what is supposed to be divine. Not one of them, as a historical personage, holds the relation of a vital source, or even of a prototype of all that he expects or desires to see produced in others.
Even what Moses was in himself was not a matter of vital importance; little comparatively depended on that. He was not in his own person the standard of what he taught; much less was his spirit the source of religion. Like other good men, he pointed to something higher and better than himself. But Christ was himself all that he wished his disciples to be; and the reproduction of himself in them individually by a spiritual energy was the chief aim of his religion, and his success in this undertaking is its chief glory. - From this conception of Christianity, and of its founder, which may be regarded as a theoret-ieal view, let us advance to a historical estimate of the exalted character of Christ. In what light did he view himself, and in what attitude; did he present himself to the world? As the exalted personage in whom were fulfilled all the predictions of the ancient prophets in respect i to the Messiah, and in whom was realized in a substantial and perfect form all that was shadowed forth in the types of the Jewish ritual and law. He regarded himself as the great deliverer of his nation, toward whom all previous history had pointed. For the whole generation of men to whom he appeared he professed to be more important than any or all others.
Their moral character was to be tested, and their final state decided, by the reception or rejection of himself as their spiritual guide and Saviour. Nay, more, for all men, and to the end of the world, this preeminence both in a historical and moral point of view was to remain the same. He claimed, in short, to be the one individual on whom the well-being of all men depended. This is certainly a unique position to be assumed by any individual of the human race. If true, there is nothing in history that approaches it in sublimity and importance. How many correspondences does this suppose between himself and a broad sweep of historical events stretching from age to age! If such is his real character, it must be the key to the whole moral and religious history of mankind. Every new century must, with its train of coincidences, confirm the marvellous view. That he actually enter-tained such a view of himself does not admit of a doubt. The whole history of the apostolic age would be an enigma on any other supposition. The Jews often accused him of it during his public ministry. The general idea, under a great variety of forms, is exhibited by Christ in his public discourses, as reported by the evangelists. The whole structure and argument of most of the epistles presuppose it.
The primitive church itself was organized on this as a fundamental principle. What, now, was the effect produced upon society by the appearance of Christ as such a historical character? The first thing which arrests our attention is the stupendous power which he exerted upon the minds of all classes of people with whom he came in contact. With whatever feelings his enemies approached him, they always stood in awe and often in fear of him, after having encountered him. After many attempts by means of argument to strip him of his influence with the people, they clearly saw that nothing but physical force could overcome him. They crucified him because it was not safe for them that he should live. What mortal ever addressed the people with such convincing power as he? We admire the teachings of Socrates as represented by Plato; but what are they compared to the conversations and discourses of Christ as reported by John? We may think that Socrates owes somewhat of his celebrity to the splendor of Plato's genius. We will not deny that it was well that there was such a disciple as John, one so happily fitted to receive and record the peculiar spirit of Christ's teachings.
But to suppose that Christ is indebted to John for the loftiness, purity, and simple majesty of his instructions, is only to transfer the marvellous power to another person. It would only make John superior to Christ, which would be not only more unhistorical, but more enigmatical in all respects than the contrary view. Still more striking was the moral influence of Jesus upon the men whose distinctive character as Christians was formed by him. What were Peter, John, and Paul, as he found them? And what were they as he left them? Think of the rough and dashing Peter as first seen on the sea of Galilee. How subdued and chastened, when the risen Lord said to him, "Feed my sheep." With what power and wisdom does he stand up before the multitude on the day of Pentecost! With what moral elevation, dignity, and completeness of character does he appear at the healing of the lame man at the entrance of the temple! With what respect, veneration, and awe must he have been regarded at the scene of the death of Ananias and Sapphi-ra! Who can read his first epistle, addressed to the dispersed of Israel, without feeling that the touching power of his eloquence came from a soul that had received something beyond what the ordinary experience of life had given it? The transformation of his character is certainly surprisingly great.
In tracing the change wrought in the character of John, we have similar evidence of the operation of a superhuman power. At the beginning ho is a fiery, ambitious youth, calling for vengeance upon those who teach differently from his Master, and seeking for a position of rank and honor in Christ's future kingdom. After his long and peculiar intimacy with Jesus, how strangely does he appear to be changed into the same image. Was it not the Spirit of his Lord and Master that changed him? Would his natural genius, without any extraordinary influence, have enabled him to write such an angelic gospel as that which bears his name? Who but Jesus of Nazareth made of the misguided, frantic, persecuting Saul the most splendid human character, perhaps, that adorns the history of mankind? Before his conversion it cannot be said that he had such amoral preeminence above other men. Without such a conversion, without the influence of Christianity, though he might have been a man of great natural power, there is no reason to suppose that he would have approached that character which the new religion gave him, and which made him the moral hero of his age.
We may safely challenge all the heathen world to present two such men as John and Paul, or a single book of such moral sublimity and beauty as the gospel of the former, or any writings of such religious depth, compass, and power as the epistles of the latter. We have selected these single individuals for the sake of giving a microscopic view, as it were, of the spiritual power of Jesus over the minds and characters of men. If our space allowed us to extend the examination to hundreds and thousands of other individuals, we should find in them as genuine, if not as brilliant, specimens of high moral excellence produced by the power of Christ. What communities ever presented such a spectacle of sublime moral action and endurance as the primitive apostolic churches? All the Christian heroes that have lighted up the darker history of many centuries have only renewed the martyr spirit which was exhibited first by Christ on the cross, and then by countless other bleeding victims nobly offered up to God in the golden age of the church.
These are only a few of many facts which have a veritable and incontestable place in history, and there is no other satisfactory explanation of them than that of referring them to the mysterious power which Christ exerts upon the minds of men. - If it be objected that the facts on which we rely in construing Christianity are themselves dependent on the authority of the New Testament as an inspired volume, and that this is an undue assumption in a historical argument, we say in reply that we make no such assumption. We take the New Testament writings in this case for just what they are found to be worth as historical documents. Waiving all discussion in respect to their inspiration, we have good reason to say that the epistles of Paul, the writings of Luke, and the Gospel of John have passed the ordeal of the severest historical criticism, and that Strauss himself, the most destructive of all the Biblical critics, while he fluctuates in regard to the last, admits substantially the historical authority of the two former. Let the writings of these three authors be tried by the same rules as those applied to other historical documents, and we think the credibility of their main facts will be called in question by no well informed and sober-minded critic.
Their inspiration is not their only title to being received as historical authority. Even occasional errors and discrepancies would not necessarily destroy their authority, any more than those found in Plato and Xenophon destroy the credibility of these writers in their accounts of Socrates. If it be conceded, as it generally is, that the New Testament writings above named, whether inspired or not, are in the main genuine sources of historical information, then the view which we present of Christianity is a strictly historical view, and has a place in the history of the world as much as the expeditions of Hannibal or Alexander. - With this explanation, we proceed. In respect to the method which Christ pursued in beginning the work of the conversion of mankind, we observe something like the following. On entering upon his public ministry, his first aim was to impart his own temper and spirit to a few others, scattering at the same time the seeds of truth among the people. He began by effecting what others before him had failed to do, improving the human heart, and allying it to himself in the bonds of holy affection. His instructions and his acts were means to this end.
Among John's disciples, plain and simple-hearted fishermen, he found those who were most susceptible of pure spiritual ideas and spiritual impressions. By gradually forming their hearts to true piety and virtue, by unfolding to them the nature of his spiritual kingdom, by removing their ignorance, by correcting their misapprehensions, by overcoming their prejudices, by elevating them into his own region of moral purity, simplicity, and truth, by training them to meekness and humility, and at the same time to the most exalted moral heroism, to a supreme regard to the will of their heavenly Father, and to an unlimited confidence in him and contempt of the world, the Divine Teacher moulded the character of his disciples till it resembled his own, and prepared them to propagate the same spirit and principles in all the world. The apostolic office was not arbitrarily conferred, but was given to those who had been sedulously trained for it. His public ministry was as remarkable in its character as was his private training of the twelve.
While he was chiefly concerned with the profoundest truths, and the most comprehensive and far-reaching principles, his manner of teaching was inimitably natural and simple, growing out of the incidents and occurrences of life, or called forth by questions arising from them. Whether the matter was more sublime and weighty, or the manner more easy and simple, it were difficult to say. And yet most of his teaching was preparatory to something more complete which was to follow. Prejudices and errors which hung like a cloud upon the mind were broken in upon by degrees, as the darkness of night is by the approaching morning. Important moral truths were stated in their most elementary principles in a living, natural, concrete form. Unwelcome truths, relative to his own future authority and greatness, were more or less veiled in temporary obscurity, till events should set them in a clear light. Facts not yet known, or events near at hand, if they would too much startle the mind and prematurely excite the murderous hostility of men, were hinted at enigmatically in public and then more fully explained to the disciples privately, to be made public only when the proper time should arrive. The crucifixion and the resurrection would make all these things plain.
Till then, no small part of Christ's teaching was necessarily obscure. His particular aim evidently was not merely to convert individual men, but more especially to prepare the public mind for the days of Pentecost and for what followed. Never was a plan more evident than that observable in Christ's ministry as introductory to the ministry of the apostles. His teachings were morally the leaven of the succeeding age, pervading the whole mass of society. - Let us now take our stand among the disciples on the day of Pentecost. The image of him whose glory they saw as that of the only begotten Son of God, full of grace and truth, was still fresh in their minds. His miracles, such signal manifestations of divine power and love, had not faded from their vision. His remarkable discourses, as repeated by John, which made the multitude exclaim, "Never man spake like this man," were treasured up as a precious legacy in their hearts. The scene of the transfiguration, with its obscure symbolical import, had not passed from their memories. His dark sayings, enigmatically expressed before the multitude, but confidentially explained to the disciples, respecting his decease and the glory that should follow his resurrection, were receiving a complete elucidation by a series of the most astonishing facts.
Why were the dejected and dispersed disciples now assembled together, buoyant with hope, and burning with fresh zeal? Had not something occurred to produce this change? Could the scene of the Pentecost have opened if the resurrection had not intervened between that and the crucifixion? Could the men, whose worldly fortunes and lives were hazarded by the assertion, have believed and have persuaded even the Jews of Jerusalem to believe that Christ was risen, if nothing, absolutely nothing had been seen or known of him after his public execution? Christ had foretold his death and resurrection. The disciples had seen him repeatedly after his resurrection. He had promised the effusion of the Holy Spirit. They had assembled and waited and prayed for it. The promise was fulfilled. The fulfilment was of the most remarkable kind. Its effects were of the most public nature. The train of circumstances was such, the evidences were so overwhelming, that even those who crucified him were convinced, and added to the disciples.
Such events, so remarkable, so undeniable, so public, in the very place where opposition must have had a perfect triumph, and the credit of the disciples must have been completely ruined, by the demonstration of the untruthfulness of their testimony, if Christ had not risen, were a fit preparation for the grand inauguration of Christianity as the religion of all mankind. We do not know exactly what that baptism of the Holy Ghost was, those peculiar operations of the Spirit, those diversities of gifts. But we do know that the expectations of the disciples to whom the promise had been made were more than realized; that their faith was so confirmed as to give them great boldness and to put all their previous doubts to flight; that during the lifetime of their Master they had never had such confidence in their cause, or such courage in maintaining it; and that this enthusiastic ardor did not pass away as a transient day dream, but became the effective and enduring cause of the rapid spread of the new doctrines and of the manifestation of the rarest and most exalted virtues which for three centuries irradiated the world in the midst of the most appalling scenes of persecution.
There is no other satisfactory explanation than the one above intimated of the spread of Christianity under the ministry of the apostles, dating from such a time as the period immediately following the crucifixion, and beginning at such a place as the very scene of the crucifixion, among those who were witnesses to it. The vigor of Christianity, as shown then and in all succeeding ages, its power as the great civilizer of the world, its vitality, which throws off the corruptions of centuries, and perpetually renews itself, its exalted character as the precursor of the mightiest achievements of . the human intellect, its unrivalled potency in producing a sterling and substantial morality, its power to solace human griefs, all demand an origin more substantial than myths and sagas, more vital than the dreams of an enthusiast, or the superstitions of an ignorant, credulous populace. The early propagation of Christianity rested preeminently upon an extended group of the most astonishing, and yet the most incontrovertible facts. If the essential facts are not true, the doctrines founded upon them are not true; and both these being abandoned, the splendid fabric of a historical Christianity, the most potent moral agency in the world, remains without an explanation.
It would seem that, in an age so imbedded in false views of morals and religion, with a literature, philosophy, art, and government so alienated from the truth, and a life so given over to sensuality and gross immorality, there was need that a nascent Christianity should have a fresh, vital beginning; that, wanting a history and the demonstration of its moral tendencies from the trial of centuries, and all that accumulation of evidence which time has now given, it should be ushered in with a special divine energy, and be advanced by means of extraordinary gifts and aids. Gushing thus as from an overflowing fountain, the stream, which is now spread out into an expanded even volume, might, in its narrower compass, form a deep boiling current, as if rushing from a mighty cataract. As with the individual the first stage of a religious life may be accompanied with feelings intensely fervid, and with an enthusiasm and zeal which are then necessary to surmount great discouragements and obstacles, so Christianity as a whole might properly have a concentration and intensity of power at the outset, for which the far wider though gentler influences of later ages are a sufficient compensation.
If the primitive Christians had some aids and evidences which we have not, we have very many which they had not. It was not, however, merely the extraordinary gifts of the apostles and the extraordinary events connected with their ministry that caused the dissemination of the Christian faith. What arrested equal attention and produced equal effect was the character of the professors of the new religion. The purity of their lives, their strict integrity, their firm adherence to the loftiest principles of morality, their disregard of consequences when urged to violate their consciences or their religious vows, their patience under injuries, their forgiving spirit, their magnanimity, their love to each other and even to their enemies, and their benevolent, self-renouncing, and self-denying spirit, made it impossible for the ingenuous among the heathen to withhold their admiration. The Christian life, in contrast with heathenism, was one standing miracle. Christianity itself contained nothing more wonderful or more convincing to its adversaries than the Christ-like spirit of its adherents.
Though they were all imperfect, and though some of them fell into errors and into sins, yet we learn not only from the apostolic writings, hut from the testimony of pagans, that their attachment to truth, and to the purest principles of morality, and to all the virtues of a truly Christian walk, was such as to present the most striking contrast to what was observed among other people. Connected with this devotion of spirit was the earnestness with which every disciple espoused the Christian cause. Every one was a propagandist. That religion which was all things to them, they wished to communicate to others. They saw men living without God in the world. The same compassion which moved Christ to devote his life to the salvation of men, prompted his followers to render that salvation as availing to all their fellow men as possible. Wherever a Christian went, Christ was preached, and the faith was propagated. A Christian captive was sometimes the means of converting whole communities and nations. The spirit of its founder animated the church, and conversions from idolatry were rapidly multiplied. The age of Christ and of his apostles is the turning point in the world's history. There is no other epoch of equal importance in itself or of equal influence upon mankind.
If we ask what has made the moral history of the world gradually improve from that date, no cause so powerful can be named as Christianity. As the industry of man has given a new face to nature, so the spirit of Jesus Christ has given a new aspect to human society. Its influence is so all-pervading that it is difficult to specify particulars. It new-models the individual morally, and elevates him intellectually. It acts upon the family in modifying and ennobling all its relations. The wife and mother is exalted to a nobler sphere, and her position of newly acquired honor enables her to shed a most benign influence upon the family and upon society. The husband and father is a priest in his household, and has more sacred feelings of humanity and tenderness to those whose happiness and fortunes are placed at his disposal. The child, first secured against infanticide, then elevated as a moral being, and educated to Christian virtue, makes the love and respect of parents a part of his religion. And so the whole domestic relation is improved and sanctified by the example and teachings of Jesus. The exaltation of nature which blesses the individual and the family reaches also the state, and teaches it to respect the rights and to seek the well-being of the individual.
It no longer makes itself the end and men the means, as in ancient pagan times, but is itself a minister to man as a social being. It recognizes the rights of other nations, regards itself as an instrument for promoting the interests of mankind, and acknowledges a higher aim than its own selfish purposes. Though the state is the last to feel the direct power of Christianity, it is beginning to consider itself commissioned by the genius of Christianity to do something noble as well as just for the whole brotherhood of man. - It remains for us to sketch the working of Christianity from the time of its establishment to the present. This is not the place to give the details of ecclesiastical history; and yet the influence of Christianity upon the world cannot be portrayed without involving what is most spiritual and vital in the historyof the church. It will be convenient to divide the Christian age into three periods: the early period, when the church was oppressed and persecuted, reaching to the time of Constantine; the mediaeval period, when the church was recognized as catholic, and was for the most part dominant; and the Protestant period, during which Christendom has been divided into two great parties, and the authority of the church over the state has been greatly diminished.
Though the second period has a duration about four times as great as either of the others, in their relative historical importance they stand nearly on a level with each other. - First period, extending to the year 311. At the time the apostles were zealously propagating the faith, the age of classic antiquity was nearly gone by. Neither Greece with its individuality, liberty, and intelligence, nor Rome with its stern rule and power of conquest, had furnished anything which could perpetuate social progress and preserve nations from decay. Unless a more potent conservative element could be thrown into society, the prospect was that all nations would share the fate of the great monarchies of the East, every period of great civilization being followed by a relapse into barbarism. Judaism, which was never designed to be universal or perpetual, had done its work, and was already effete. It was easy to see, within a very short time, that if there were any regenerative power which could arrest the tendency to decay, it must be found in the inspiring youthful enthusiasm of the new religion. Instead of the prevailing skepticism, the Christian had a positive faith.
Instead of limiting his views to a mere earthly existence, and living after none but selfish principles, he lived for another world, and after another's will. His character and life were hereby ennobled. He knew the worth of the human soul, and would not violate its obligations nor jeopard its interests to please men. He had the loftiest style of character, and was capable of the highest and most difficult virtues. Herein lay the vigor of the Christian cause; and the want of all these things made the whole fabric of the Roman empire but a hollow shell. Hence, in the protracted struggle of three centuries between paganism and Christianity, the one was continually sinking while the other was steadily rising. The class of men of whose existence in any political relations Trajan needed to be informed, gave character to the whole empire under Constantine. Within a third of a century after the death of all the apostles except John, that is, at the close of the 1st century, Christians were found in nearly all the countries bordering on the Mediterranean sea, especially in Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, and the north of Africa. In the next two centuries not only did churches become numerous in all these countries, hut they sprang up, here and there, in nearly all the other provinces of the empire.
During this whole period Christianity was opposed, sometimes by unrestrained popular violence, sometimes by the government, and sometimes by men of learning. After the destruction of Jerusalem, Christians being no longer confounded with the Jews by the emperors, and their numbers being now mainly increased by converts from paganism, persecutions were directed against them as Christians. Under Domitian, Christians were punished as traitors. Trajan moderated persecution; Hadrian and Antoninus Pius required that it should be conducted under forms of law; Marcus Aurelius gave a loose rein to the popular fury. Then ensued a period of 70 or 80 years, during which the emperors manifested little interest in the subject, and individual magistrates were left to follow their own inclinations. So much the more severe was the persecution of Decius, the first that extended throughout the empire, to the Christians who had become accustomed to a comparatively easy and tranquil life. After 50 years of interrupted or mitigated persecution followed the second general persecution under Diocletian, which ended with the change of the empire from a pagan to a Christian state.
While many men of literary eminence appear to have used their influence against Christianity, Celsus and Porphyry, the former near the middle of the 2d, and the latter toward the end of the 3d century, are the chief antagonists who appeared as authors. The Christian apologists, Justin Martyr, Tatian, Athenagoras, Tertullian, and Origen, put an end to the false and puerile accusations brought against the Christians, and led to this result, that the great question between the two parties now struggling for existence henceforth turned on its real merits. In this period, a distinction appears between the clergy and the laity, as also between presbyter, bishop, and metropolitan; the sees of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch hold a preeminence above others, and provincial synods are held. The writers of the church directed their attention chiefly to what were denominated heresies. Among these, the various forms of Gnosticism were prominent. Other questions which began to agitate the church were amply discussed in the next succeeding period. The authorities relied on were Scripture and tradition.
A lower tone of morality, both in the clergy and in the laity, had in too many instances begun to prevail. - Second period, from the time of Constantine to that of Luther. There are three things of most extensive influence that mark this period: the new world of thought opened to the speculations of an undisciplined age, the new attitude of Christianity as the religion of the court and of the state, and the new character of the population of the empire, introduced by the invading armies of the barbarians. These three circumstances enter largely into the causes which gave to the middle ages their peculiar character and condition. The first had operated before. But as the former period was chiefly of a practical character, with but here and there a speculative mind in the first two centuries, and with undeveloped tendencies rather than completed results in the 3d century, there will be more unity in the treatment of the subject by viewing the whole movement together. Nothing ever so extended the field of human thought, or so aroused the capacities of the mind, as the revelation of Christian truth.
It came at a time when almost all systems of philosophy were broken down, when men despaired of ever arriving at certain truth, when the age of profound thought had gone by, and everything tended to intellectual weakness, to decay, and finally to gross barbarism. Still, in such untoward circumstances, it gave an astonishing impulse to the human mind. What are all the stupendous systems of Gnosticism but attempts of minds still pagan in a greater or less degree to strike out theories of the universe that should comprehend the mediation between the finite and the infinite, after the idea contained in the incarnation of the Son of God? The new Platonic philosophy itself might never have been developed in Alexandria had not Christianity rendered a new philosophy absolutely necessary. On minds essentially sound and Christian, we see the new scope which Christianity gave to thought in Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Clement, Origen, and Augustine. If it be the province of Christianity, not only to overcome all absolute evil, whether as opposed to truth or to the right, but to bring out and cure all partial evil where error has with it some admixture of truth, and wrong associates with itself some things that are right, we shall not be surprised that in the beginning, when Christian philosophy was as much in its infancy as Grecian philosophy was in the days of Thales and Pythagoras, there were ten heresies for every truth, and that the church was like a shrub from which shoot out bristling thorns at almost every point.
We have not space even to name every shade of heresy recorded in the annals of the early church. To say nothing of the Cerinthians, Carpocratians, Va-lentinians, Ophites, Patripassians, Artemoni-ans, Montanists, Manichaeans, Noetians, etc, of the former period, we have a host of parties more or less connected with the Arian controversy, not only the Arians and semi-Arians, but the Eunomians, Aetians, Apollinarists, Adoptians, Nestorians, Eutychians, Monophy-sites, Monothelites, and many others. In the midst of these controversies broke out the Pelagian and semi-Pelagian heresies, as they are called. Constituted as the human mind is, it would be impossible that two such points as that of the Son of God dwelling in human flesh, and that of the Spirit or grace of God dwelling in the human mind, should not lead to much speculation and discussion in respect to the mode of the union. The scholastic theologians added little on these points to the doctrines taught by Athanasius and Augustine. Indeed, it was their office not so much to discover truth as to confirm the decisions of the church. What most characterized the scholastic age in respect to doctrines was the standing controversy with speculative mystics on the one hand, and numerous sects of separatists on the other.
There was scarcely a time when both of these tendencies were not ably represented. "When Christianity became the acknowledged religion of the state, the whole outward condition of the church was changed. Politics and religion were henceforth combined. Sometimes the state ruled the church, and sometimes the church ruled the state; but never were both kept strictly within their own bounds. We have only to look into the laws of the Christian emperors and the acts of the bishops to find abundant evidence on this point. At the beginning of this period the imperial court at Constantinople exercised a most decisive influence over the church. Not only were high ecclesiastics often dependent on the emperor, and subject to his will, but even councils were awed by his presence. At a later period, and in the West, the head of the church exercised authority over all Christian states. From the nature of the case, where there is such a union of the civil and ecclesiastical power, the one or the other must rule. There must be a last resort in all cases of collision. Thus, under Con-stantine, the church obtained protection and support, but in many cases at the expense of its independence. It rose politically and sunk morally at the same time.
Piety and learning and missionary zeal retired more and more to the desert. Ambition both in church and state was renounced by the more devout, that in a life of meditation and prayer, and of poverty, after the example of Christ, they might live only for the world to come, and for the spiritual interests of mankind. Many of the greatest and best men of the early church chose this mode of life. In after times mo-nasticism wore a very different aspect. The population of Christendom underwent great changes during the period introduced by Con-stantine and closed by Charlemagne. "While paganism was completely extinguished, and Christianity was carried into Persia and even to India and Abyssinia, the Mohammedan power, taking its rise in Arabia, blotted out Christianity from the map of Asia and Africa, of the eastern church left but feeble remains in Greece and Constantinople, seized upon a part of Spain, and threatened France, and indeed all the borders of the empire except the northern.
Still more were the fortunes of Christendom affected from another quarter. The German races, a more vigorous stock, subdued the degenerate and feeble inhabitants of the empire. The ancient Christianity was almost obliterated, and the loose nominal Christianity of Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Vandals, and Burgundians swept murderously over the south and west of Europe. Afterward the Franks and Saxons, and other German tribes, came nominally into the pale of Christendom, regenerating and invigorating it politically, but pouring into the church a semi-barbarous population, which it required centuries to subdue and civilize. The church had enough to do to manage the half-heathen population which was thus poured into its own bosom. Its missionary work was almost necessarily limited to its own borders. In the conversion of these tribes, the monks of Ireland, England, and the east of France had shown great zeal, and in prosecuting their work a large number nobly sacrificed their lives. But too many among these German tribes were converted either as soldiers at the command of their royal leaders, or as subdued enemies by authority of their conquerors.
The banks of the Elbe were for two centuries wet with human gore by such contests between the German and Slavic races. "With a population so introduced into the church, it is not strange that the wild, tumultuous character of the middle ages should show itself as much in the church as in the state. Herein lies the cause, if not the justification, of the Roman hierarchy. The concentrated authority of all Christendom, backed by the awful sanctions of religion, was, by the ecclesiastics of the age, deemed necessary in order to hold these fierce spirits in check. Certainly in the first half of this long period the nations of western Europe were indebted in no small degree to the church for the order that prevailed in society. Many other causes, indeed, cooperated to elevate the hierarchy, and to complete its organization. The church, which in the time of the earliest heresies and of the persecutions strove after unity through the bishops and through synods, became in a higher degree a united catholic church under the influence of Constantino and of the general councils. Its organization more and more resembled that of the empire.
Single churches governed by their pastors, the churches of the various dioceses governed by their respective bishops, the churches of a province governed by synods and metropolitans, and whole countries governed as patriarchates, all seemed to imply the highest unity in a single head similar to that of the empire. But all these parts of a general organization were not equally complete. The hierarchical system was somewhat variable. In after times some things were retained, some went into disuse, and some received further development. The unity of the church was weakened by the jealousy between the eastern and western churches, and between the Greek patriarch and the Roman pontiff. The bishop of Rome was in the old capital of the empire, and the bishop of Constantinople in the new. The one capital had antiquity on its side, the other the presence of the Christian emperor and his court. When the division of the empire took place, and especially when the Western empire fell and a new Christian empire was established in the West by the Carlovingians, the way was prepared for the complete separation of the Greek and Latin churches, which in the course of time ensued.
The new Christian or German empire, called also the holy Roman empire, increased the power of the bishop of Rome in many important respects, but was a check in other respects. The temporal power and authority of the pope were in general increased, but his influence over the clergy in Germany was thereby in point of fact restricted. Both the German church and the Gallican in the course of time had a more or less national character, supported by the emperor of Germany and the king of France, who often arrayed themselves in opposition to Rome. This was the great contest which lasted for centuries. From the 8th century to the 11th the foundations of the papal system were strengthened. From that time to the end of the 13th century the Roman power steadily ascended till it reached its height. Its most elevated point morally was under the pontificate of Gregory VII. (1073-'85), but physically and outwardly under that of Innocent HI. (1198-121G). The higher ecclesiastics were more and more secular; they were chosen from the families of princes for the sake of bringing them under the influence of the state.
The right of investiture became an important question between the emperor or king and the bishop of Rome. What the former sought to obtain by the appointment of their favorites, the latter sought to nullify by oaths of allegiance. The emperor relied much on his archbishops, often his own dependants; the pope diminished their power by making bishops depend more on himself than on their immediate superiors. Thus, while the higher clergy were more intent on the government than on the instruction of the church, the people became ignorant, and a general deterioration in morals was the consequence. For more than a century before the time of Luther there was a wide-spread sense of the need of church reform. The great writers of the age urged its necessity; the pope admitted it; the emperors authoritatively demanded it; the councils undertook to accomplish it, but all without effect. The motive was one of policy no less than of religious duty; and when the parties came to act together, it was found that their interests clashed, and that they were rather opposed to each other than united in policy.
These things, confessed on all hands to be hopelessly bad, were growing worse and worse till the sudden breaking out of the German reformation. - Third period, from the time of the reformation to the 'present. The seeds of the reformation were sown far back in the darkness of the middle ages. New historical investigations are continually bringing to light reformers before the reformation. Besides the opposition already referred to, partly of a political and national, and partly of an ascetic character, there were in England, France, Germany, and Bohemia many discontented individuals who were not satisfied with the character of the church and of its ministers, were weary of the venality of the higher officers and of the general corruption which had crept into sacred places, and longed for a return to what they deemed the Christianity of primitive times. Among these men Wycliffe was the most eminent. His doctrines were conveyed from Oxford to Prague by travelling students. The way for a movement in favor of reformation in the latter place was furthermore prepared by two or three distinguished Bohemian preachers, and then Huss appeared upon the stage, followed by Jerome of Prague, and kindled a fire which has never since been extinguished.
In Germany sprang up those "reformers before the reformation " described by Ullmann, who in their retirement exerted a more silent but hardly less effective influence. When Luther, with Herculean strength, and with means not always the most delicately chosen, took up the work of reform, it was in no small degree the state of the public mind which made his words fly like lightning from one end of Europe to the other. The broadest distinction, perhaps, between Protestantism and Catholicism, is that the one is Biblical and the other traditionary; the one maintaining the right of private judgment, the other the paramount authority of the church. The foundation of the former is the Bible alone; that of the latter tradition, as comprehending the Bible and its canonical authority. According to the one theory, the Holy Spirit attends the written word and its ministry; according to the other, it descends through the church, its ministers and ordinances. With the one, the preaching of the gospel is the principal means of edifying the people; with the other, the sacraments of the church, various forms of adoration, sacerdotal offices, and ritual observances, are the means employed.
With the one, there is no mediator between the soul and Christ, every believer being himself regarded as a priest, and enjoying direct and unrestricted access to God, through Christ alone; with the other, the Holy Mother and a multitude of departed saints are intercessors for man. Luther and the other reformers put aside all these mediators, in order that Christ might be the only mediator; rejected the authority of tradition, and all institutions and observances depending on it, except those which were tolerated as indifferent; substituted preaching for the ceremonies of the church; and were especially zealous against indulgences, against the mass, and against the authority of the Roman see. They asserted that the Roman church was but a modified Judaism, a system of law and observances; that personal merit by works took the place of justification by faith. In addition to these and other theoretical differences, and the objections growing out of them, there was a long list of alleged abuses, which the reformers freely used to give point to their invectives.
Among these they referred to the profligacy of the Roman court, the simony almost universally practised, the neglect of the Scriptures, the ignorance, idleness, and vices of the monks, the sale of indulgences, the draining of the coffers both of the rich and the poor on various pretences, the saying of masses for the souls of the departed, and the practice of holding religious services in a dead language, and leaving the people in a general state of ignorance, and then taking advantage of that ignorance for purposes of ambition. In the writings of the reformers, and especially in those of Luther, we find a perpetual recurrence to these and similar topics. The reformation commenced on similar principles, and nearly at the same time, in Germany and in Switzerland. Both Luther in "Wittenberg and Zwingli in Zurich set themselves openly and resolutely against the sale of indulgences. The clergy, on the other hand, defended indulgences as a part of the established ecclesiastical system, and this controversy led by degrees to a questioning, and finally to a denial of the system itself.
Both the reformers insisted on removing from the church whatever doctrines and principles were without foundation in the Bible. They came independently to the same conclusion in this respect, and were thus accidentally united in their opposition to the papacy. But in their positive construction of Christianity they represented different tendencies. Luther was more mystical, and allowed of more historical development in the church. Zwingli and his followers had less feeling, less imagination, less love of mystery, and represented rather the philosophic and rationalistic tendency in religion. The terms mystical and rationalistic are here used in a good sense. Nothing was better adapted to bring out the peculiarities of both orders of mind and types of theology than the question of the eu-charist. While both rejected the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation as unscriptural and unreasonable, Luther adopted a theory, somewhat inaccurately termed eonsubstantiation, as mysterious and inexplicable as that which he rejected; while Zwingli stripped the whole subject of its mystery, and exhibited it as a plain and simple emblematical rite, just as it is now viewed bymostProtestant denominations in this country.
The appearance of Calvin at Geneva, and his powerful metaphysical genius, gave a decidedly metaphysical and logical cast to the theology of the Reformed (Calvinistic) church, distinguishing it from that of the Lutheran church. The Loci Communes of Melanchthon and the "Institutes" of Calvin, the most celebrated Protestant theological productions of the age, favorably represent the ground type, as the Germans would say, of the theology of the two confessions. Perhaps, in the more logical character of the Reformed churches, as distinguished from the Lutheran, the reason predominating over the feelings, is to be found the causeof their greater individuality in matters of opinion, and greater diversity of creeds in different cities of Switzerland, and in different countries of Europe. The fact is unquestionable that the Lutheran church was much more homogeneous and united than the Reformed. In general the south of Europe remained Catholic, while the north became Protestant; and of Protestant countries, Switzerland and the west were Reformed, while the east, that is, the most of Germany and Denmark, Sweden and Norway, were Lutheran. The Genevan church was the model for France, Holland, Scotland, and in part for England, and consequently for North America. In the opinion of many Lutheran writers, the prominence given to the understanding over the religious sentiment in the Reformed church is the reason why Socinianism flourishes so much more in that church than in their own.
The Reformed theologians, in turn, find in the mysticism of the Lutheran theology the cause of that revulsion of which rationalism is the result. We leave these points for others to decide. United as the church and state were in the 16th century, a reformation in religion could not take place without political convulsions. Not only were the Swiss cantons and the German states, especially the northern and western, immediately affected by the religious change, but the political rights of Protestants in general were long and fiercely contested, and were conceded only after the desolations of a thirty years1 religious war. By the peace of Westphalia, Protestants were, in respect to political rights, put on an equal footing with Catholics. Up to the time of the reformation there had always been Protestant elements in the Catholic church. Now these were drained off. The last appearance of anything kindred to Protestantism was in the Jansenists, and that was suppressed. The council of Trent established by its decrees an authoritative rule of the Catholic faith, confirming, though in very general terms, the mediaeval theology, condemning Protestantism, and correcting some abuses no longer tolerable.
It was the province of Jesuitism to make up for the loss sustained by the separation of the Protestants from the church by new conquests to the faith in heathen lands. By the missions of the Jesuits many converts were won in China, Japan, India, and America. At home, in Catholic countries, they have been a kind of standing army of the church. As they were very active and influential in the council of Trent through Laynez, the general of their order, and as their principles, with some slight exceptions, were the principles by which the church was maintained against Protestantism at home, and chiefly extended by means of missions abroad, it is hardly too much to say that up to the time of the suppression of the order in 1773 they were the true exponents of the spirit that ruled in the Catholic church of that age. They were sacrificed to expediency, and were restored on a change of circumstances. But owing to the continued operation of those causes, in a greater or less degree, which led to their suppression, the nominal restoration of the order does not place it where it was before. - The Lutheran church has felt the influence of time still more than the Catholic. In the controversy between Luther and Erasmus on the liberty of the will, the former carried his church with him; but on the mind of Melanchthon and some others the arguments of Erasmus made a deep impression.
Before his death Melanchthon, no longer restrained by Luther, who was now deceased, put forth views on this subject quite at variance with those held by Luther, and the Lutheran church followed Melanchthon rather than Luther. Since the days of the reformers, the principal controversies of the Lutheran church have turned on the question whether the reformation should be further developed and completed, or whether it shall be considered as having received its completion and fixed character from Luther. This question has never been settled for the whole Lutheran church, but the two parties, taking opposite sides, have each contended, and are still contending, for victory. Crypto-Calvinism, the doctrine of Calvin in respect to the eucharist, was introduced into Saxony by the progressive party, which sprang from the school of Melanchthon. It was afterward suppressed by the strict Lutherans, and condemned in the "Formula of Concord." The theologians of this school were more rigid in maintaining the authority of human creeds, after the manner of the scholastic dialecticians, than zealous in propagating a spiritual Christianity. As opposite extremes usually produce each other, so this called forth the pietistic school of Spener and Franke, who placed the Bible far above the creeds of their church.
In opposition to both these parties sprang up, about the middle of the last century, the school of rationalists, who set aside the authority of all creeds, and acknowledge the authority of the Bible only in a modified sense. After a century of triumph it seems to be approaching its dissolution, and the Lutheran theologians are returning either to their old orthodoxy, or to an evangelical faith founded upon a deeper study and truer interpretation of the Scriptures than was possible before the rise of rationalism. So the parties now stand divided more than ever on the question whether the normal Christianity of the church is that which has been handed down from the reformers, or that broad historical Christianity brought to light by a more extended and more critical study both of the Scriptures and of history. - In the Reformed church, Geneva was as much the centre of influence as Wittenberg was in the Lutheran. The preeminence of Zurich was limited to the lifetime of Zwingli. After his death Calvin rallied the forces of the Swiss churches, and guided them with unsurpassed ability and energy.
Besides, he wrote for all who used the French language, as Luther did for those who used the German. Luther was a practical leader, and controlled alike the thoughts, feelings, and actions of his followers. Calvin, more learned and more philosophic, aimed chiefly to master the intellects of men, and in this lay his great power out of his own city. Luther never wrote so complete a work as the "Institutes" of Calvin, nor are his commentaries so well adapted to all countries and all ages as are Calvin's. The Genevan reformer, though educated for the bar, was much more rigid in his views of Christian morality than was the monk of Wittenberg. Luther, while he aimed to put men right on the main points of morality, was content with the spirit of Christianity, and was quite easy about the particular acts of the individual. He was the advocate of great freedom in the individual, and allowed him to choose his own pleasures and amusements. He was even jovial in his own character. Calvin was just the opposite of all this. The churches founded by these great men differ as much, in respect to freedom or strictness of Christian conduct, as they themselves did.
What was called a Christian life in Wittenberg would have been pronounced unchristian in Geneva. While Luther lamented the easy and lax morality of Wittenberg toward the end of life, without any attempt to control it by church discipline, Calvin was in a state of constant warfare with the "libertines" of Geneva in the matter of discipline. These two different types of Christian character are observable in the whole history of the two confessions. The Genevan church maintained its character through the 16th and 17th centuries, but during the 18th it gradually relaxed its theology, and in the beginning of the 19th was decidedly Socinian. - From Geneva proceeded, chiefly through Calvin and Beza, those influences which introduced the doctrines of the reformation into France. During the life of Beza, the Huguenots, as the French Protestants were called, became a numerous and powerful party; but for the greater part of three centuries they were persecuted by the French government. Twenty thousand or more perished in one month. Twenty-six years later, Henry IV., who had been educated in their faith, secured to them a political existence by the edict of Nantes, after which they flourished again in France for nearly a century.
They had distinguished schools of theology at Saumur and Sedan, and numbered among their theologians such men as Blondel, Daille, Bo-chart, Basnage, Beausobre, and Saurin. By the revocation of that edict by Louis XIV., hundreds of thousands of Huguenots were driven into exile. The refugees filled large cities and districts in several Protestant countries, particularly in the Netherlands and in Brandenburg. Now followed the period of "the church in the desert," during which, in the Cevennes mountains and other secret retreats, the Huguenots held their stealthy communions. The French revolution again brought them liberty, since which they have experienced the various fortunes to which the people of France have been subject. - The reformation made its appearance at an early period in the Netherlands. But the emperor Charles V., and after him Philip II., resorted to the severest measures in order to crush it out. The people endured this rigor for a long time, and then they resisted, and finally established their independence. The church, henceforth connected with Geneva rather than with Wittenberg, held its first synod at Dort in 1574, and the next year founded the university of Leyden. The most remarkable feature of the church of the United Provinces was the celebrated Arminian controversy.
Arminius and others resisted Calvin's doctrine of predestination. The matter was brought before the synod of Dort, and, as most of the clergy had been educated at Geneva, the doctrines of the Remonstrants, as the followers of Arminius were called, were condemned. Though the Arminian church never acquired a position of great influence in Holland, its leading men, among whom were Grotius, Episco-pius, Curcelheus, Limborch, Le Clerc, and Wet-stein, formed a school of wide-spread and lasting influence in the literary world. The Remonstrants became more and more latitudi-narian in their views, and verged toward So-cinianism far more than toward Calvinism. The Reformed church in Holland, though softened in the tone of its theology, has undergone much less change in its faith than the Swiss or the German church. - In England the doctrines of the Swiss reformers have had a peculiar fortune, owing partly to political and partly to other causes. The attitude of Henry VIII. toward Luther was unfavorable to the introduction of Lutheranism into England. Distinguished theologians from Strasburg sympathizing with the Swiss reformers, of whom Bucer and Peter Martyr are most known, were employed to aid Cranmer in carrying forward the work of reformation under Edward VI. Mary's troubled reign followed.
English Protestants fled to the continent, where they became acquainted with Calvin and the spirit of the reformation introduced by him. On Elizabeth's accession to the throne, the reformation, begun by Edward, was carried through mainly on the principles of the Reformed church in respect to doctrines, but modified by Lutheran principles in respect to ecclesiastical organization and the ritual. Not that the Lutheran church government and liturgy were copied, but that Luther's theory in respect to the extent to which the ancient usages of the church might be retained was adopted. The church of England merely retained a little more both of the liturgy and of the government of the Catholic church than the Lutheran church did. It may be said in general terms that the Anglican church is eclectic, combining Calvinistic, Lutheran, and Catholic elements, while the Puritans of England adhered more strictly to the Reformed church. In England the history of Christianity and the history of the government are so connected that the one cannot be understood apart from the other. High-churchism and toryism go hand in hand, while the moderate party and the dissenters favor the progress of liberty. England, too, has had its crisis of unbelief.
The English deists exerted great influence both in their own country and in other countries of Europe. But in no country has the church been truer to herself in the defence of Christianity than in England. More eminent, perhaps, in antiquarian than in Biblical learning, she presents a body of Christian literature which, as a whole, will bear comparison with that of any other country. The bishops of England have in this respect been outdone by the prelates of no other church. - Nowhere have the principles of the Genevan church been carried out more fully than in Scotland. Knox not only knew Calvin and his followers intimately, but deeply sympathized with them. He was a Presbyterian by nature and by temperament as well as by conviction; and the Scottish character in general, with its metaphysical tendencies, seems to be adapted to that type of theology and that form of religion. The Scottish church has maintained much of its original character through all the changing scenes of its history. It could neither be terrified by the Stuarts, nor bribed by pecuniary rewards or honors. The present Free church of Scotland is but a single specimen of the spirit and courage with which it has always been accustomed to face difficulties and dangers.
The tendency to unbelief manifested in Edinburgh a generation ago was happily arrested by Chalmers, who was an ornament and a bulwark of his church. - Though scarcely any church of western Europe is without its representatives in the United States, the great bulk of the early emigrants to this country belonged to some one of the numerous branches of the Reformed church. Nearly all these churches have undergone some modifications in this country, more perceptible, perhaps, to Europeans than to ourselves. It is a common remark of intelligent foreigners, that with all the diversities of Christian sects among us, there is a general resemblance, apparently growing out of the entire freedom of religious development in our country. An ardent love of religious liberty, shared by all Christian denominations in common, a freedom from all entanglements with the state, and a strong aversion to the union of church and state, distinguish American Christians, and separate them widely from those of any other country.
Hence, with all the diversities of creeds and forms of worship, there is not only a very catholic spirit, but a marked sentiment of Christian union, showing itself in harmonious action in cities and towns where different communions are thrown together, and in formal cooperation in societies of Christian benevolence. The relative position of the various Christian denominations in this country has greatly changed during the past century. The orthodox Congregational-ists, less predominant in New England than formerly, have spread by emigration into the western and middle states. They now constitute but one branch of the old church, the Unitarians constituting the other and more rationalistic branch. Indeed, the theology of the Congregationalists of New England is never so perfectly settled as that of some other denominations. Every half century and every important locality has had its school of theology. This is not said in reproach. It is the natural and necessary result of giving to the intellect so great prominence in religion. The same cause not only prevents a "dead orthodoxy," a stagnation in theology, but makes them a highly intellectual and enlightened body of Christians, the best friends of learning and of education in general.
The Presbyterians, having settled at first in the middle and southern states, consisting mostly of emigrants from Scotland and the north of Ireland, seem also to have in some degree a local habitation. The bulk of their population and their strength is still in those states. They expand, not in the direction of New England, but of the western states. Like the Congregationalists, most of the different branches of Presbyterians have maintained an educated ministry, who have exerted a very great influence. The reunion of the Old School and New School Presbyterians in 1870, after a separation of more than 30 years, is one of the most noteworthy events of our time. The Episcopal church, which was somewhat checked by the revolutionary war, and was somewhat local in the beginning, is constantly manifesting fresh vigor and showing its power to go wherever wealth and refinement invite it. As in England it originally took an intermediate position between the Calvinists, Lutherans, and Catholics, so in this country at the present day it avoids all extremes in theology, and holds a sort of middle ground between the pietistic sects and their extreme opposites.
Avoiding theological discussion, both in books and in the pulpit, giving less prominence to preaching than most other Protestant communions, the Episcopalians aim less at profound erudition than the Congregationalists and Presbyterians in preparing their candidates for the ministry, and consequently place less dependence on theological seminaries. In this respect they follow the example of their English brethren. But it must not hence be inferred that they have not an educated clergy. On the contrary, their clergy are generally accomplished scholars, but their study is more in the line of English literature, and in the rich literature of their own church, than in exegetical and doctrinal theology. An educated man rarely hears anything offensive to his taste in the discourses or other religious services of an Episcopal clergyman. The Baptists and Methodists, though small in numbers at the first, have had a large increase from the common people in all parts of the country. Though differing in their creed, in their organization, and in their forms of religious service, they both lay great stress upon the experimental element in religion. The religion of the heart, drawn out distinctly in individual experience, they have always placed far above the religion of the intellect.
Hence they have never made learning a requisite for the ministry. Though they have made great progress in education, and are no longer limited to the lower or even middling classes in the community, still their great strength lies in these classes. The Baptists are more nearly allied to the Congregationalists, both in doctrine and in practice, and the Methodists to the Episcopalians in church government, and to the Moravians in their religious spirit. In point of numbers they are the largest of the Protestant denominations. The Universalists, whose distinctive tenet is the final salvation of the whole human family, have made their appearance in American ecclesiastical history since the middle of the last century, and have received numerous accessions from most of the above named Christian sects. - The Roman Catholic church, as represented by the highest authorities in that communion, maintains her prominent position in Christian history. During the last three centuries she has been forced by the Protestant movement to pass through a severe ordeal, in which all her constituent elements were put to the test; but, as they believe, she has emerged from the trial with undiminished vigor and brightness.
Soon after the reformation had proclaimed that free private judgment was the right of man and the rule of faith, she was called, even more perhaps than Protestant communions, to defend the system of revealed religion against the assaults of infidelity and atheism. Subsequent to the breaking out of the French revolution, she was subjected in France to indignity and oppression from the civil power; her priests were scattered or put to death, bishops were exiled, popes were abducted and thrown into prison; but she came to see her adversaries baffled, her claims recognized, and her hierarchy restored. She has since endured the sorrow and waste of social and civil warfare in every one of her ancient possessions, and the loss of the pope's temporal power in Rome; but, as her disciples contend, modern innovation has been able only to retard her life march for brief intervals. They still further ! allege that her growth and expansion in most Protestant countries cannot be denied, while in Catholic nations a daily increasing 1111mber of the faithful are devoting themselves to the strict practice of her law and the upholding of her authority.
Though, in her collision with modern political and social systems, she, unlike other organizations, has been forced to no change of principles, she has nevertheless been able to throw off many old abuses and alliances that served more to encumber than to adorn her. This self-reforming and self-renovating power is claimed by Catholic writers as a proof of the constitutional strength of that church, and, combined with unity of faith, sanctity in moral teaching, universality in time and place, and unbroken apostolic succession, as a mark of the Divine presence. The present condition of the Catholic church, as they hold, is inferior to no period of her past history, in the learning and efficiency of her clergy, in her many educational establishments, her missionary enterprises extending over almost every portion of the known world, her active associations for the exercise of every form of Christian benevolence. America, according to views recently propounded in this country, offers a new field to the ancient faith for the display of its diversified energies. Here, for the first time in the world's history, the Catholic church finds herself free from all entangling alliances with the civil government, and thus avoids a great source of distrust and dislike on the part of her opponents.
Here, persecution, if it should occur at all, either for or against her interests, would be the result of transitory passions, not of the system of government by which the country is ruled. Here, the very conservatism which in the old world has made her so many enemies is claimed as a title to respect, in view of the necessity of vigorous principles to counteract the impetuous rush of unrestrained political freedom, and the often erratic intellectuality of a transitional and protesting age. In the United States the progress of the Roman Catholic church is evinced by the large army of ecclesiastics who have gradually spread from the solitary cathedral in Baltimore, where Carroll exercised episcopal functions, to the most distant parts of the land; by the numerous churches, schools, convents, asylums, and hospitals that she has everywhere erected; by her incessant labors among the great mass of emigrants who are sent to her door by the policy of European governments; by the frequent accessions to her ranks from the strictest anti-Catholic communions; and by the first fruits of a Catholic literature which is believed to promise largely for the future. - What conclusion in respect to the future can be drawn from the history of the past? Has Christianity a prospect of perpetuity and increase, or is it threatened with decay? It must be remembered that Christianity is not wholly limited to the church.
Many elements of its power are felt elsewhere. The philosophy of government at the present day is preeminently Christian. The theory of human rights and of social progress differs from ancient theories in having a Christian basis. The literature of the civilized world is more and more a Christian literature. A Christian philanthropy is breathed into poetry and romance, as well as into social and political life, more than in any former age. The public sentiment is deeply imbued with the principles of a Christian civilization. Christian nations and races of men are the dominant nations and races of the earth. Christian civilization at this moment, more than ever before, seems destined to spread over all Asia, Africa, and the islands of the great oceans. The paganism of the world is evidently to share the fate of the paganism of the old Roman empire, to fade away before Christianity, and become a mere matter of history. Is it probable that in Christendom itself Christianity will be compelled to yield to philosophical skepticism? Never did Christianity stand stronger in England than after its contest with deism. Never did the philosophic mind of France grasp it with more power than after atheism had spent all its force.
There probably was never a time nor a country in which a historical Christianity could be maintained against the fiercest assaults of a skeptical philosophy with such a convincing power as in Germany at this time. That false rationalism which is essentially at variance with Christianity, deistically denying whatever is supernatural, has been already overcome. Nowhere, during the whole history of the church, has the defence of Christianity been conducted with such critical learning and philosophic power as in Germany, by the great theologians of the present century. Such a historical groundwork of Christianity as Neander has presented to the world in his history of the church, it is vain to look for in any former age. Indeed, history now, civil as well as ecclesiastical, is the impregnable fortress within which Christianity is securely intrenched. All the lines of philosophic history now converge in Christianity. Will the influence of sects and parties destroy the efficacy of Christianity? In respect to these, there is not only change but progress.
It has become a pretty generally received opinion among the leading men of all sects, that the whole truth is to be found in none of them; that each is working out some problem, more or less important, to be adopted ultimately by all; that a more comprehensive view of Christianity will be possible after the good and evil in every system have distinctly made themselves apparent to the whole world. The greatest men of the age are already striving more philosophically and more satisfactorily to answer the fundamental question, "How is Christianity to be conceived of as a whole?" The old theological conceptions of it are found to be inadequate in many particulars, chiefly by defect. The theologians were at fault sometimes in their metaphysics, sometimes in their criticism and interpretation of the Bible. Christianity is many-sided. The old theological systems were all more or less one-sided. One aspect of this great subject, it would seem, was supposed to comprehend the whole. A broader and more comprehensive study of the subject was demanded. The accumulations of learning made during many generations needed to be more exactly analyzed and more carefully tested, and then classified on a much broader scale.
All the approximations that have been made toward a clear and comprehensive view of the whole subject were to be studied with reference to a still greater enlargement. It is the manifest tendency of the public mind in this direction that distinguishes the present age. There is a reaching after a universal and complete Christianity - that is, the true historical Christianity, not the limited, partial Christianity of a particular school. Almost every party shows a disposition to appropriate whatever of truth or of excellence may be found in any other party. All seem to aim at a wider grasp of Christianity as a whole.