THE BISHOP OF ARGYLL ON THE PRESENT STATE OF RELIGION.*
WE do not know a single bishop in the English Episcopate who could have produced so bold, catholic, and thoroughly Apostolic an address as this of, we imagine, the only liberal bishop in the Scotch branch of our Church, the Bishop of Argyll and the Isles. Those to whom we look with the sincerest admiration and respect on the bench of English Bishops,—the Bishop of St. David's and the Bishop of London,—are as wise and liberal, but scarcely as full of simple faith and that white light of Christian feeling of which St. John's Gospel gives us the greatest and first example, and which has ever since formed a distinct school in the Church,—the school which has always had most fascination for those outside it. Our best bishops in England are chiefly either scholars or statesmen, in whom the spiritual is half subordinate to the intellectual or administrative faculty. Our worst are ecclesi- astics in whom the spiritual faculty is quite subordinate to propa- gandist dogmatism, and a passion for ' edification' which is far the most dangerous of all the enemies of Truth. This address of the Bishop of Argyll's strikes us as combining all the broad catholic intellect which the Bishop of St. David's charges have so frequently displayed, and all the wise practical forbearance and calm steadfastness of the Bishop of London, with something of deeper and intenser spiritual conviction and even beauty of thought, than either has as yet given sign of. It is a misfortune that th e Scotch Episcopalians are so few, and the influence therefore of th e • An Address to the Younger Clergy and Laity on the Present ,State of Religion, being some Contributions towards a Defence of the Church of England. By the Bishop of Argyll. London: Longmuns.
episcopalian leaders with their English brethren naturally so limited, that very few English Churchmen are likely to look up to an authority at once so sober and so full of the spirit of Christ.
Dr. Ewing shows, first of all, in this address that he has fully discerned the falsehood of the notion that an Erastian Church is likely to be purer or holier than a so-called ' Free' Church (free, from denying freedom to its members). He quotes the happy saying of Ventura, that "if the Church keeps not pace with the world, the world will go beyond and turn round and teach her," and shows that as a matter of fact, on all questions of intellectual charity, sobriety, and justness of judgment, the State, in this point representing the world, does go before the Church, and turns round to teach her, and that as a matter of fact it has been a misfor- tune for the Church whenever the State has not had the firmness ir,& bridle her feverish dogmatic moods :— a "From the very magnitude of the interests at stake, the priesthood is apt to disregard all considerations other than the accomplishment of their special object. It is well for them when the coarser element is able and willing to moderate their aims in this behalf. It is clear that, in the highest example of all, the Roman Governor, had he acted up to what he felt to be his duty, should have controlled the violence of the priesthood—that Gallic did well for the Church and himself in saving the life of Paul—that the civil power did badly for itself and for the Church when yielding to the influence of an excited religion in Pied- mont, in France, in Holland, in Scotland, and elsewhere, the civil arm was made the instrument of religious executions. It is better for re- ligion to feel the force of the secular arm herself (as in Apostolic and other times), than that the world should feel oppression at the instance of religion."
That is good sound Erastianism, without in any way conceding anything to proper worldliness of spirit. It rests on the ground, not that it is needful to alloy faith with earthly elements in order to adapt it to the conditions of this world, but that on some questions, --questions involving fairness, justice, wisdom, in the treatment of apparently erroneous belief,—the State is usually better, saner, juster than the Church, more disposed to try all moral offences with the same rule and measure, less disposed to punish a wrong thought that is heretical with unquenchable fire, while it passes over a wrong thought that is merely immoral with a placid reproof and absolution.
But while Dr. Ewing recognizes clearly those sides of the highest life which States embody better than Churches, he is not one of those easy latitudinarian divines who prefer State Churches because they mix a little theoretic Christianity with a great deal of practical comfort, quiet, and self-love. No higher or truer doctrine as to the essence of revelation has ever been taught than this little book contains. Revelation appeals, says the Bishop, and can appeal, to nothing higher than our own spiritual discern- ment. All authority' is lower than this, and is at best mere scaffolding, only waiting to be taken down till the truth can stand of itself in our minds by its own evidence. He observes that our Lord himself assumes this when He says, " Why, of your own selves, judge not ye that which is right?" and St. Paul when he urges that the law is " written in men's hearts." " Revelation does not come from the Church, but to the Church," says the Bishop. " She is a witness, not a source :"— " It is a Divine life produced in a certain way; a simple following of its Great Head and Author. Christianity is to be that which Christ was when on earth. This is its end. Revelation is the means for accomplishing this end—Revelation received in the Spirit of Christ— the Divine Spirit. It cannot be but this, or other than this, for it cannot have anything it does not get from Him. It is the communica- tion of a Divine life, through the manifestation of a Divine life. It is the Spirit, the power, the nature of Christ living and manifesting itself inns as it did in Him. It is the raising up of a Divine life in our souls, through the knowledge of the Divine life in the Son, the Spirit of the Son entering into our spirits, and we becoming eons also in our time and measure. Without Christ we can do nothing; all that we attain to is by the process of knowing Christ, and putting on Christ. ' I am the way, the truth, and the life,' He saith. That is the summary of it; we must know Christ and have Him in us, our hope and glory; we must know the power of His resurrection, and have fellowship in His suffer- ings, and conformity to His death."
From this teaching the Bishop deduces the folly of the cry for a dogmatic authority in the Church able to decide what is true and what is false. " Had we been living in the consciousness of God's light, we should not have demanded light from earthly sources, or have been confounded if we did not receive it. Such a cry for external guidance as we have lately heard, is it not the cry of Israel for a King when the Lord was King?" " What standard of doctrine," Dr. Ewing asks pertinently enough, " can we substitute which may not lead into error? and what right have we to add anything to the word of God?" And the Bishop does not speak, we think, more hopefully than accurately when he says, " He greatly misreads, as I conceive, the signs of the times, who supposes it is infidelity which is at work. It may become so, but it is not so as yet. Never was there a stronger desire upon
the part of man to find the footsteps of God. How to supply the want is another question. That dogma or mere assertion will do so is more than doubtful." Truthful, too, and most just is the Bishop's reference to the Colenso struggle between authority and science :—
" An English missionary lately sent to convert the heathen, and who returned (as they allege) converted by them, is blamed because he did not 'settle the question by authority.' Had that been done (it is said), no such result as has taken place could have resulted from it. But could this have been done, could it so have been settled ? On the con- trary, had this been attempted, not only would no better result have followed, but an infinitely worse, for faith and honesty themselves would have been put to hazard. Unsatisfactory and mistaken as was the course, we think, which the missionary adopted, it was incomparably preferable to that which was suggested, or that to which the Roman Theology must have had recourse. The method adopted did not answer the objections of the adversaries ; nay, it left them under the impression that less could be said for the boasted religion of civilization than had been expected. Still something was gained; it left at least an impression that truth and honesty were of value. But had the other course been adopted, not only no satisfaction on the points in contro- versy would have resulted, but truth and religion would have been overthrown together."
Dr. Ewing admits frankly that the whole history of revelation is the history of an adaptation of human frailty of all sorts to the supernatural purposes of God's divine teaching, and that hence human frailty of all sorts is and must be deeply imbedded in the record of revelation, and only so far overruled as to exhibit clearly, and in greater and greater measure as we reach its con- summation in our Lord, the divine life of God shining through the semi-transparent medium of Jewish wilfulness and error. Of course therefore he is grateful to the Privy Council for refusing to lay down any definition as to the extent of the inspiration of Scripture,—as to the point where the human frailty ends and the divine truth begins. The only position, he says, that is quite impregnable with regard to the inspiration of Scripture is that taken up by the blind man in St. John's Gospel as to the nature of Him who had restored him to sight :—" Whether it be inspired, I know not ; one thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see. An empirical perhaps, but a sure position." And we need not add that on the subjects of Atonement and Eternal Punishment he concurs as heartily as on Inspiration in the refusal of the Privy Council to narrow the dogmatic limits of the Church of England. Nothing can be more manly and decisive than what he says of the forensic doctrine of the Atonement, the doctrine that the Atone- ment was " a transaction of merit capable of negotiable transfer- ence,"—i. e., that it was not a perfect sacrifice of the filial will of the Son to that of the Father, saving because purifying us and sending a current of new life through all humanity, but a condition precedent to our salvation, satisfying the terms of some imaginary contract between God and humanity, the literal force of which God himself could not otherwise remit. " Strangely, those who held this doctrine," says the Bishop, " as a right in ecclesiastical, would not admit it in civil transactions. It is a doctrine which those who hold are no doubt unaware that virtually it severs the unity of the Deity. In taking a transaction between two persons which infers their diversity, and setting the attributes of God in antagonism to one another, it is a doctrine contrary to the nature of things and to the analogy of faith." The Bishop himself presenting revelation as the process by which God manifests Himself through His Son in human nature so as to penetrate it thoroughly with Himself, and bring it to its perfect growth, disposes at once of a theory which treats the incarnation and death of Christ as an ingenious solution of a difficulty caused by the inelastic nature of the divine legality, rather than by the weakness and sinfulness of man.
The only passage throughout the whole treatise on which we differ, or suppose that we differ, from Dr. Ewing, is that in which, while refuting the doctrine that baptism itself regenerates (ex opere operato), instead of being the sign of God's regenerating influence, he asserts that " the analogy of faith ever couples spiritual benefit with spiritual knowledge; indeed there is no entrance to the Spirit save through an avenue of its own nature, that is, such as know- ledge or belief." Now, of course in the special application of this doctrine to the sacramental principle of pouring in spiritual benefit through mere material symbols, we heartily agree. But the doctrine itself in the generalized form in which the Bishop puts it we should hold false and dangerous. We take it that it would mean that all the spiritual influence of God over man is propor- tionate to our knowledge and consciousness of it, whereas nothing seems to us truer than that, at a certain stage at least of our moral development, a strong self-consciousness may be itself rather a hin- drance than an aid to a higher life. The child receives the fullest streams of spiritual benefit, as the plant receives the sunshine and ;.he rain, without spiritual knowledge or belief ; and our Lord was continually insisting on the fact that the Samaritans and the heathens, who had the least of "spiritual knowledge," often had, without knowing it, the most of the spirit of God in them. We take it that the deepest root of the doctrine of charity, miscalled tolerance," is the belief that, while spiritual knowledge is of course, like all knowledge, in itself a blessing, yet it is only one among many spiritual blessings, and may exist most in those who have fewest of other spiritual gifts, and least in those who have most of other spiritual gifts. Even some of those who are said " to live without God in the world,"—meaning that they cannot penetrate the mist which veils Him from their eyes,—may have more of God in them, than some of those who truly and sincerely, and with the most perfect intellectual simplicity, realize His presence day by day. Ignorance, spiritual or intellectual, is of course a misfortune and a defect ; but it is surely a mistake to limit the access of God to the heart of man by the power of man to recog- nize Him when there. The blind man may be surrounded by proofs of love which he never traces home to their true source, yet not the less do they brighten his life ; and the dreariest sceptic may have a mind, and heart, and will, full of the divine spirit, and yet never recognize the source of the light which shines within him. Beauty of all kind, moral as well as physical, is absorbed into us by an almost unconscious process.
However, we are not sure that Dr. Ewing really meant to assert so generally the Protestant doctrine of salvation by conscious faith. And there is not another passage in this catholic and truly wise essay for which we do not heartily thank the Bishop of Argyll. Had we only half-a-dozen such prelates in England, what a different Church ours would soon become !