21 DECEMBER 1867, Page 11


Ar findouraIvesinaptonnotsupficially easy to define, arisen in th columns and elsewhere with respect to the proposal to found a Free Christian Union, the basis of which shall not be dogmatic agree- ment, but common sympathy with the spirit of the Christian faith. It is, no doubt, true that no real union of any sort can be founded ,on mere dogmatic agreement. Dogmas, as we understand, mean the opinions which men form of spiritual realities,—the images or reflections, more or less blurred and false, sometimes even wholly misleading, of the Divine Persons and acts whereon our faith rests. Now, the true source of spiritual life cannot evidently be the .opinion, must be the reality which the opinion more or leas tries to mirror. If that reality does not exist at all, the opinion is a mere phantom, a sort of fata morgana—and like all phan- toms, misleading. If it does exist, but otherwise than we see it, the falsehood of our view, so far as it goes, must be so much deduction from the value of the spiritual life which we draw from the reality. We do not mean that even those who are utterly blind to the divine life lose all, or nearly all, the blessing it gives. The atheist is no more without God than the theist,—but he does lose all the conscious help which knowledge gives. It is like the differ- ence between the blind man's profit by the sun, and the seeing man's. The former could no more live without the sun's heat than the man who sees could so live ; but he does lose all the additional advantage which light alone, apart from the heat, gives. So the loss caused by false opinion is a loss of conscious power alone. Unconsciously, the mistaken man, the man who feeds his soul on false dogmas, or falser denials, may derive much life and warmth from sources the existence of which he wholly ignores. We are all saved, so far as we are saved, not by our opinion of God, but by God ; not by -our opinion of Christ, but by Christ. But in addition to this life, which springs directly from the perfect Father and the perfect Son, there is a vast addition of power which comes from trust, i.e., from our clear recognition of the arm on which to lean, on the Love to which to pray.

So much as to the distinction between the power of acts of 'trust and right human conceptions, as compared with the far greater power which comes to us independently of our concep- tions, and independently even of acts of conscious trust. But when we come to be told that a free Christian Union should be founded entirely apart from theology, for the sake of those who do not believe that man is saved by correct theology, we cannot help asking why, if it is to be completely independent of mere %conscious agreements, it does not include atheists, Jews, all who can accept a certain moral ideal of life which the founders of this Union describe as the Christian ideal,—Christian, that is, not in its theology, but in its humanity, its compassion for misery, its hatred of hypocrisy, its belief in absolute right and wrong, its willingness to suffer anything, even martyr- dom, for right. Those who have founded this Union will reply that an essential part of the true Christian life, is that filial relation of the soul to God which Christ presents to us, and which He intended to make the absolute spring of all these moral virtues. We quite agree with them, that this is an essential part of the Christian morale. But then it assumes a theology, and by far the greatest and most difficult step of all theology, the true existence and revelation of a Father who is at the fountains of the spirit, and with whom it it is possible to live the "life that is hidden with Christ in God." This, then, is a theological basis which the founder' s of the Free Christian Union assume,—and a theo- logical basis of that supreme and vast importance that it really represents the great fundamental issue between the men to whom physical science is the only true science, and the spiritualists of all schools. If, then, they take so great a step in the theological direction, why do they turn round on those who say that the faith in the Incarnation of our Lord is to them a vital element of all hearty community of worship, and say, " Oh now you have got out of the region of spiritual trusts into that of mere dogmatic distinctions?" If we were right in discriminat- ing as we did between dogma,—the human opinion,—and the spiritual reality which it reflects, there is neither more nor lees of dogma in insisting on the spiritual life with the Son as a living and constant companion, than in insisting on the spiritual life with the Father as the true spring of the Christian morality. No doubt, in both cases alike, there could be no such conscious spiritual life without a clear recognition of the existence of the Being who was its spring and object. But in neither case is it to the mind of the Christian the dogma, the private opinion, which is the basis of such life, but the Eternal Persons themselves whom those opinions merely recognize. Of course the Atheist in one case, the Unitarian in the other, would consider that these opinions are mistaken ones,—the one, that men who pray to the Father are like persons who apostrophise a fairy or an imaginary conception which never had any existence ;—the other, that per- sons who pray to Christ are like those who address a friend, believing him to be within earshot, when he is really absent, and who either fancy, or misconceive the source of, the answer they believe themselves to receive. But where is the distinction between the two cases as regards the amount of pure dogma they involve? Both, alike, believe that they are resting on a living relation, not on a mere opinion of their own ; both find the basis of a tree spiritual strength in that living relation. In neither case is the correctness of the opinion suppostd to be the root of blessing, but simply the mere necessary condition of realizing to the full the amount of that blessing. The Rev. J. J. Tayler, in a very beautiful and thoughtful pamphlet, in defence of the Free Christian Union,* says that " the doctrine of the Incarna- tion seems to me to rest on the same partial and incomplete evidence as every other dogmatic conception of Christianity." Well, then, of course, to Mr. Tayler it is a doubtful, if not mis- taken doctrine, and his spiritual life can have no connection with it. But why is it a dogmatic conception in any other sense than 'the existence of God is one also ? Men of science in considerable numbers will tell you that God himself is a dogmatic conception, as well of Christianity as of other religions. Indeed, to us the great, the vast step seems made when once a man can honestly say, " I believe in God," and the further belief, that the Father has an eternal life in the Son, and the Son a living manifestation in the flesh, seems instead of adding a great weight of diffi- culty, greatly to lighten the difficulty of the first great step involved in Theism. But however this may be, it is perfectly clear that no coherent distinction can be drawn between the spiritual and the dogmatic which does not put these two great faiths in the same category. Either they are both, to those who earnestly hold them, vital spiritual trusts, or they are both mere dogmas. In both cases alike the stress is laid on the living character of the relation, and not on the correctness of the opinion formed. The latter is the mere condition of the former, and never for a moment supposed to be the source of the spiritual life re- ceived, except so far as it clears the eyes of the receiver. We do not see how any one, who genuinely holds either, could consent to forfeit its guidance in those interior acts of spiritual life which we call worship.

Hence, if the Free Christian Union is to be the basis of any new association for common worship, it would appear to us too wide :- if only of a new association for cordial interchange of views and common moral action on society, we hold it too narrow for its purpose :—though in either case it may perhaps, though less com- pletely than it ought, fulfil a partly mutilated purpose, and fulfil it well.