BISHOP EWING'S LATEST TEACHINGS.*
IN 1852 Mr. Maurice thus addressed Mr. Thomas Erskine, in dedicating to him his Prophets and Kings of the Old Testanzent:—"It is more than twenty years since a work of yours brought home to my mind the conviction that no Gospel but this, —a Gospel for men, for all men, a Gospel that God's Will is a Will to all good, a will to deliver them from all evil, a Gospel that He has reconciled the world unto himself, can be of any use to the world, and that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is such an one." The work thus referred to was the Essay on the Unconditional Freeness of the Gospel, first published, if we remember aright, in 1825. The volume then .quietly ushered into the world was as insignificant in size as its contents were reverent and humble in their tone. But it was, in Schleiermacher's phrase, an epoch-making book. Mr. Erskine, it is true, was not as yet conscious of all the conclusions which must needs follow, logically and theologically, from his pre. misses. The traditional dogmas concerning the Fall of Man and the Inspiration of the Bible, and a hopeless future for a vast number of the human family, had not yet become questions in his soul. The potentiality of righteous charity—the Christ in us—the Spirit that judgeth all things, had not yet fully "corns to itself" in him ; but he had already begun to live, and move, and have his being in an element of thought and feeling which, when thoroughly applied to the phenomena of the spiritual sphere, would be found to be in reality no less revolutionary and revealing, as we believe, than was the discovery of Newton in astronomy. When Erskine issued his first publications, Scotland had been aroused by the tempestuous .and fervid declamation of Chalmers into a spasmodic earnestness, at least here and there, regarding what was called the salvation of the soul, and the capital articles of "Evangelical" opinion ; -and it was'climly, but in many cases, with passionate anxiety about the satisfactory " conditions" being duly forthcoming, under- stood that the Great Message from Heaven, brought down by Christ, was a "promise," or " offer" to faith—the Gospel being supposed to be this,—" He that believeth shall be saved." Accordingly, the one question, dwarfing all others in its preponderance, into insignificance was this,—Have I got the right kind of faith which will enable me to cherish the hope of being ultimately saved from the tremendous alternative of everlasting damnation ? Between the curse eternal and the contingent favour of the author of the curse lay the bridge of faith, —narrow, in Mohammedan language, as the edge of a scimetar —and the aim of all preachers, not "moderate," was to indoctrinate their hearers with the feeling of the urgent and imperative necessity of constructing this bridge, which, however, they had no pontifical virtue of their own to throw across the dread chasm, for the very engineering talent itself—faith—was the gift of God. Surprising as it may seem to us in these days—we mean to those of us who still believe that Christianity has a divine .origin —that a communication from God could ever be supposed to mean only, What is your opinion? or, How is your poor soul lit is nevertheless true that fifty years ago, in Scotland, at any rate, this was the interpretation of the good news from Heaven. It struck Mr. Erskine that there was something in this, not ridiculous exactly, though his fine sense of humour could not fail to shadow forth the grotesqueness of this conception of a revelation to the world, but infinitely absurd, and directly obstructive of the primary aim of what claimed to be a manifestation to mankind of the will of God. And so, like the angels in the Gospel narratives of the Resurrec- tion, he strove to bring men away from the empty cave of their own speculation and fancy, to a living Presence, which had a great purpose for them. You may have faith, or you may not, probably not ; but the Gospel is not at all a diagnosec report of your sensations, it is a simple setting forth of eternal principles, which are as independent of your varying moods of experience as is the sun in the outward heavens. Especially it is the proclamation of the fact and principle of the forgiveness of sin. Mankind is constituted under a law which is as sovereign in the spiritual province, as gravitation is in the phenomenal ; and just as the eye makes the sunshine its own by opening itself in the light, so the inward vision fills with light the whole body of our convictions, by the simple recognition of the truth that God in 'Christ has forgiven us." The Kirk militant was roused to fierce wrath by this sublimely simple presentation of the secret of Christianity. It believed in its own faith, and made that the foundation of the comfort of the elect. And here was a mere lay- man, never " licensed " by it "to preach," who was threatening to throw down the time-honoured tradition-walls between the Revelation Cmsideeed as Light: a Series of Discourses. By the Right Rev. Alexander Ewing, D.C.L., Bishop of Argyll and the Isles. London: Straban and CO. 1873.
favoured few and the far-off many, and publishing a doctrine of non-favouritism, which certainly none of their kings or righteous men had ever desired to hear. But some of the " licensed " were soon found to be as dangerous as this lay outsider ; and in 1830 the Kirk perpetrated two autos do fl in deposing from its ministry M'Leod Campbell and Alexander Scott. The light, however, had risen on the world, and the General Assembly could not hinder the gradual oncoming of the day, though it might brand as here- tics the few noble men who caught its first rays on the far heights of their solitary communings. We have seen bow early one of the profoundest of all modern English theologians had found in Erskine's wonderfully inseeing and apprehensive cogitations the clue to his own great assertions respecting the fatherhood of God and the kingdom of Christ. At what precise period of his life Dr. Ewing first gained acquaintance with the secret and method of Erskine's teaching we do not yet know. This much, however, is very patent—for these final and exquisite sermons of this admirable man are, in part, over- heard soliloquies, and most pathetic, because all unintended self- revelations, that he had to forsake all that he had, inward posses- sions and prepossessions—this is ever the law—in order to become the loyal disciple of the later development of spiritual truth. Erskine journeyed on, year by year, without apparent struggle, until he tracked up the beneficent "stream of tendency" which he recognised in Christianity to its far source —far, yet so near —in the inexorable love of a righteous Father of the spirits of all flesh. The good Bishop, less apt at starting for spiritual pedestrianism, had a struggle on the road ; for again and again, as already in- dicated in these columns, the wrestling of Jacob is introduced as the parable which specially enfolds the secret of entrance on the higher life,—and he " halted on his thigh." But out of weakness he was made strong. The day broke for him also, and he rested not until he found himself on the same hill of vision which Erskine had reached, and gazing from which he could exclaim, in the words of one who was, perhaps, the first of all Christ's followers who scaled it, and so led the way, " Oh the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How uusearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out. For of Hinz, and through Him, and to Him are all things."
It will be specially interesting to learn, and some day ere long we hope to learn how one so genial, so generous, so sensitive to the claims of others, with such a fine, yet joyous sense of humour, whose nature and property it ever, apparently, must have been, whatever his theological proclivities, if promoted to the office of bishop, rather to preside by sweetness and light among his brethren, than rule over them by fretting prescriptions and meddlesome interferences, could at all find a home for his spirit amid the somewhat acid traditions of the Scotch Episcopalians. Of course, Leiglaton's saintly memory and devout teaching must not be forgotten. But perhaps Alison on Taste may have represented, for a time, the mental surroundings of a young Scotch gentleman, who did not find Presbyterianism exactly to his liking. Dr. Ewing was con- secrated Bishop of Argyll and the Isles as early as 1847; and it has been rumoured, though we do not know, that at one time he rather affected the Tractarian assumptions. To the last, in any case, certain "Evangelical" strands of thought were still shot across the warp of his theology. No doubt, for instance, the legendary story of a primeval Fall continued to haunt Bishop Ewing's childlike imagination. But all the more remarkable is the exodus which his " wrestling " spirit was enabled to achieve out of this environment. If he misinterpreted some of the condi- tions amid which our human education is conducted, he had at least no misgiving as to the principle and the goal of that education itself. And perhaps in no other writer, since Cromwell's chaplain, Jeremiah White, uttered his prophesying on The Restoration of All Things, do we find a tone of so much jubilant hopeful- ness, touching the destinies of the race, as we meet with in this farewell volume of the Bishop of Argyll. Open where we will, the refrain—and well may we use the term, for the Bishop often is borne up into a region very near to song—in these sermons is still the same :—" Hope on, hope always, for God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all ; progress is the law,—the Christ growing within us, till the perfect- stature and vision be attained." After all, our great teachers have only one word to give us. But that word serves our needs a long while. Luther gave us justi- fication by faith ; Wesley, the urgent love of God; Bishop Ewing has said to us, Revelation is light ; and perhaps for some time to come this great axiom of his will occupy the thought Of all men who yet believe either in the fact or the probability of a revelation from a source beyond the phenomenal surroundings of the life that now is.
But for the remainder of this article we shall mainly let the Bishop speak for himself, allowing to ourselves the preliminary statement that, without any formal method of instruction, but with a wonderful unity and tenacity of aim, Dr. Ewing supplies in this volume what he believed to be self-evidencing, and there- fore satisfactory, answers to these questions: —What is the character of the God of Christ? what relation does Christ sustain to humanity and to God ? what is the meaning of human life, with its "heavy laws," its overpowering sorrows, its anxious fore- bodings, its carking care, its quenchless aspiration, its noble delights, its terrible sins, its moods of spring-tide gladness, its startling contrasts. The Bishop did not find cut-and-dried replies to these queries. He wrestled for the solution, and thus he writes in the first sermon on "The Unknown God"
Jacob demands the Angel's name, and he desires to know his fate, the meaning of the struggle, but he gets no answer. How often has not he same happened to mankind—yea, to ourselves—and this not only at crises of our lives, but at ever recurring and certain epochs, such as a birthday, or the beginning of a new year ! We try to see before us. The future may behold us crowned with laurels or dishonour. Is our beloved then alive ? Is it a wedding-wreath or a widow's cap I see upon my child ? How high has the winding-sheet mounted upon my own bosom ? [a question, as by a sort of second-sight, twice over asked in the pages before us.] Columbus-like 1 climb the mast alone at night, to see if there is any twinkle of light, any sign of shore. But all is dark; the angel is silent, and I wrestle on. I hear indeed the voices of the abyss, deep calling to deep, a relentless deep breaking upon an ever-crumbling shore, the wail of the sea-bird, the cry of the solitary curlew. Come, 0 thou traveller unknown by my side, who least no name, who will neither speak nor let me go, whose name, if known, is written in letters too gigantic for me to read! 0 traveller, or watchman, or whatever thou art, what of the night ? Is there no day ? But the angel answers not, nor letteth go, until the thigh of the wrestler is broken. Then it is that Jacob becomes Israel or a Prince of God, and passes to the heavens. Yes, it is the great question of We- l-That is our life ?—the question which life is given to answer ; until
which be answered, life has no meaning for us It is true that many suppose they have the answer by learning to repeat definite words and names. But this is not the way of the angel in our text.
He gives no name It is the thing which signifies. What I am, what you are, what life is, that is what you have to learn. Go to, let us wrestle."
But what to quote next, as the sequel of the wrestling, is really a perplexity to a reviewer, for, as the Bishop writes in the preface, "the object of the sermons is almost of the same nature, viz., to justify the ways of God to men, and to endeavour to realise the Being of the ever blessed God by that which is best within our- selves ; the only satisfactory proof of His existence, as it is the only sufficient explanation of our own." We must, accordingly, snake a few selections from the thirteen sermons almost at a venture. We may take this passage, first, from the discourse entitled "The Kingdom of the Father," and we would specially commend it to the consideration of Miss Nightingale, after her ":Note" in Fraser :—
"God, seen as our Father, makes all things sweet, all paths straight, reconciles all things. His Fatherhood, once truly accepted, solves all perplexities, and makes the difficulties of life clear and plain. He is our Father, and whatever is meant by that Name that is He, and always so. As He was in the beginning, He is now, and ever shall be. Life, death, make no alteration in this relationship. In life, after death, he is equally the same, and Father. Beyond the shores of death, we do not go into a strange country ; it is still our Father's house, whore He is dealing with His children as they require. No time, no space can destroy this eternal, uniform, and paternal relation. It is life, health, .victory, to believe this ; just as we believe this do we have victory and
life; as we fall out of this belief, we perish' There is no other salvation but by believing this ; but this is sure—God is our Father, and He acts as such No doubt to see the Father " snfficeth us."
The Past, according to the Bishop, is safe in God's keeping. It is thus he writes in the sermon called "The Revealer "
:.- "St. Paul saw Christ, and was lost in the heavenly vision. He de- sired to draw nearer, and to die to all but it. He found Christ's seal upon the world, Yea and Amen he saw upon it. He saw Christ rblling back the clouds of sin and sorrow from it, and keeping them down with His Cross. [one of the many fine sayings scattered profusely through- out the volume, and perhaps only to be bracketed with this other ono, in which he characterises Christ the Lamb, as God enzptied of driving force]. He saw God in Christ; that he was Good Light, and in Him was no darkness at all. He saw in Christ the way ; and took the way. To have the mind which was in Christ was his hope. All was lost if he found not, knew not, had not Christ. In Him he had all. In Him all was secure. Christ kept, nay, was the key of the Kingdom. All the little feet of childhood, all the lost voices of sons and daughters, the touch of a vanished hand, the smile of a dying lip, he found laid up in Christ, treasured in the treasury of eternity, rolled back with Him on the returning leaves of the past."
Finally, he writes in the sermon on the Character of God,— " Let us lift up our hearts, and rejoice in the consciousness that what God. is, and must necessarily be, so must and will be His creature, a fact to be made manifest in due time, for which we wait in the hope, and assurance that as we have such hope, the cause of our hope is as real as the hope, and no doubt greater and better than the hope itself." So we believe, and as the Bishop said of Erskine, we look to Him, and Bay, "Requiem eternal?z done ei, Dontine, et lux perpetua luceat ei."