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Protestant churches.

On the progress of the Protestant faith in general, and in the United States during the nineteenth century in particular, the Rev. Washington Gladden, D. D., Ll.D., writes as follows:

Besides a number of minor sects, such as the Abyssinians, the Copts, the Arminians, the Nestorians, and the Jacobites, numbering in all 4,000,000 or 5,000,000, we have the three grand divisions of Christendom—the Holy Orthodox Greek Church, with 98,000,000 of adherents; the Protestant churches, with an aggregate of 143,000,000, and the Roman Catholic Church, with 230,000,000. No statistics are at hand showing the relative growth of the number of adherents of these three great divisions. But the growth of the populations under their rule is thus set forth by comparison: The Roman Catholics, in the year 1500, were ruling over 80,000,000 of people; in 1700, over 90,000,000, and in 1891, over 242,000,000. The Greek Catholics, in 1500, were governing 20,000,000; in 1700, 33,000,000, and in 1891, 128,000,000. The Protestants, in 1500, had not begun to be; in 1700 they held sway over 32,000,000, and in 1891, over 520,000,000. In the four centuries the political power of the Roman Catholics has more than trebled, that of the Greeks has been multiplied by six, and that of the Protestants has sprung from nothing to a control of one-third of the world's population. It is easy to see which of these grand divisions is expanding most rapidly.

The Protestant principle of the right of private judgment has resulted in the multiplication of sects. Some variety of organization and ritual might well have grown from the sowing of the light; but the variation which would have appeared under normal conditions has undoubtedly been increased by human selfishness and ambition. It may be doubted whether the emphasis which has been placed upon the right of private judgment expresses a sound principle. In no kind of social organization are rights or liberties the primary concern. A family in which it is the first business of every member to assert his own rights, or to magnify his liberty, will not be a united and happy family. In the organic relations [322] of the family, love and duty are fundamental—not rights and liberties.

We may awake, by-and-by, to the fact that the same thing is true of the state. The attempt to base a commonwealth upon a doctrine of rights will probably result in social disintegration. A community in which it is the first business of every citizen to assert his own rights will not continue to be peaceful and prosperous. The social and political disorders which threaten the life of the nation all spring from the fact that the people have been trained to think more of rights than of duties.

By misplacing the emphasis in the same way, Protestantism has introduced into its life a disintegrating element. Neither the right of private judgment nor any other right can be safely asserted as the foundation of the Christian Church. The foundation of the Church is loyalty to Christ and His Kingdom; all rights are to be held and interpreted under that obligation. The failure to do this—the assertion of the individual will as against the common welfare—has rent the Church into fragments and multiplied creeds and organizations far beyond all the needs of varying tastes and intellects. We may admit that this is the opprobrium of Protestantism; its power is lessened and its life is marred by these needless divisions, and by the unlovely competitions that spring from them. But the last years of the century have witnessed some serious attempts to correct these abuses; some of the separated sects have come together in unity; others are approaching each other with friendly overtures; the tendencies seem now to be towards reunion rather than division. In Great Britain the Non-conformist bodies have formed a strong federation by which they are able to act together for many common purposes, and movements are on foot to bring about a similar organization in this country. If the principle of differentiation has been over-accentuated during the nineteenth century, there is now some reason to hope that the twentieth century will reinforce the principle of integration; that loyalties will be emphasized as much as liberties, and the duty of co-operation rather more than the right of private judgment.

The past century has been a period of theological agitation and upheaval in Protestant Christendom. The progress of physical science, the rise of the evolutionary philosophy, and the development of Biblical criticism have kept the theologians busy with the work of reconstruction. Germany has been the theological stormcentre. Kant's tremendous work had been done before the century came in, but Herder and Hegel and Schleiermacher were digging away at the foundations in the early years, and those who have come after them have kept the air full of the noises of hammer and saw and chisel as the walls have been going up. Much of the theology “made in Germany” has appeared to be the product of the head rather than of the heart; formal logic deals rudely with the facts of the spiritual order. But the great theologians of the last half of the century—Dorner and Rothe and Nitzsch and Ritschl—although working on different lines, have abundantly asserted the reality of the spiritual realm; and it is now possible for the educated German to find a philosophy of religion which reconciles modern science with the essential facts of Christianity.

The most important religious movement of the nineteenth century in England is a reversion to sacramentalism, led by Newman and Pusey and William George Ward. Its ruling idea is that the sacraments have power in themselves to convey grace and salvation. This is essentially the doctrine of the old Church, and the movement gradually took on the form of a reaction; the adoration of the consecrated wafer, prayers for the dead, the use of incense—various Roman Catholic practices —were adopted one by one. In due time Newman and Faber and Ward entered the Catholic communion; since their departure, the ideas and practices for which they stood have been rapidly gaining ground in the English Church. How far this doctrinal reaction is likely to go, it would not be safe to predict. But it must be said of the High Church party that it is not wasting all its energies upon vestments and ceremonies; it is taking hold, in the most energetic manner, of the problems of society; in hand to hand work with the needy and degraded classes it is doing more, perhaps, than has ever [323] been done by any other branch of the Christian Church in England.

The remainder of the Protestants of Great Britain—the Broad Churchmen, the Non-conformists, the Scotch Presbyterians of the Established Church, and of the United Free Church—with the entire Protestant body of the United States, have been subject to similar influences, and have been passing through similar theological transitions. Some branches of the Protestant Church have been greatly affected by the prevailing scientific and critical inquiries, and some have been less disturbed by them, but the intellectual ferment has reached most of them; and modifications, more or less radical, have been made in all their creeds.

These theological changes are not wholly due to the new conceptions of the world and of man which modern science has introduced. Some of them—and these not the least important—are the fruit of a purified ethical judgment. The dogmas of the Church, as Sabatier has shown, spring from the life of the Church. If the spirit of Christ is abiding in the hearts of his disciples, their views of truth will be constantly purified and enlarged. Many of the changes in theological theory which have taken place within the past century are to be thus explained. The practical disappearance of the hard Calvinistic interpretations which were prevalent in most of the Reformed churches 100 years ago has resulted from the cultivation of humaner feelings and from a better conception of the nature of justice. Philosophically, the change consists in the substitution of righteousness for power in our definitions of the justice of God. The old theology emphasized the sovereignty of God in such a way as to make it appear that what was central in Him was will —His determination to have His own way. “His mere good pleasure” was the decisive element in His action. This theology was the apotheosis of will. The hard fact was disguised and softened in many ways; but it was always there; that was the nerve of the doctrine. The later conceptions emphasize the righteousness of God more than His power. His justice is not chiefly His determination to have His own way; it is His determination to do right, to recognize the moral constitution which He has given to His children, and to conform to that in His dealings with them. The assumption, nowadays, always is that of Abraham —that the Judge of all the earth will do right, that which will commend itself as right to the unperverted moral sense of His children. Theology has been ethicized; that is the sum of it. To-day it is a moral science; 100 years ago it was not. This is a tremendous change; none more radical or revolutionary has taken place in any of the sciences. To be rid of theories which required the damnation of non-elect infants and of all the heathen; which imputed the guilt of our progenitors to their offspring; and which proclaimed an eternal kingdom of darkness, ruled by an evil potentate, whose ubiquity was but little short of omnipresence, whose resources pressed hard upon omnipotence, and whose access to human souls implied omniscience—is a great deliverance. The entire aspect of religion has changed within the memory of many who will read these words. We are living under a different sky, and breathing a different atmosphere. That these horrible doctrines are obsolete is manifest from the fact that the great Scotch Presbyterian churches have explained them away, and that their American brethren are slowly making haste to be free of them. It is long since they have been preached to intelligent congregations.

The progress of Biblical criticism during the last quarter of the century has been rapid and sometimes disquieting. Much work of a somewhat fanciful character has been done, but a large number of important conclusions are accepted by most scholars. The prevailing teaching in the theological seminaries of the evangelical churches is that the Bible contains a revelation from God, in historical and prophetic documents of priceless value, holding truth found nowhere else, and making known to us the Way and the Truth and the Life; but that this revelation comes through human mediation, and is not free from human imperfection; that, while its spiritual elements may be spiritually discerned, its parts are not of equal value, and that [324] it is dangerous to impute to the whole book an infallibility which it nowhere claims. The new conception of the Bible has undoubtedly given a shock to many devout minds, who have been accustomed to regard it with superstitious veneration; and those who have been convinced by the arguments of the critics have not all learned to use it as it was meant to be used—to draw inspiration from it, instead of reading inspiration into it. Those who will seek to be inspired by it will find that it is inspired, because it is inspiring; and there is reason to hope that the Bible may yet prove, under the new theories of its origin, a better witness for God than ever before. It is well that He should not any longer be held responsible for the human crudities and errors which it contains.

The great development of the natural sciences and the rise of the evolutionary theories have also had their effect upon Christian theology. That there are vast numbers of Protestant Christians who have been scarcely touched by these influences is true; but these influences are shaping the thought of the world, and it is impossible that the theology of a living Church should not be profoundly affected by them. For natural science is simply telling us what God is doing in His world, and evolution is simply explaining the way in which His work is done. At bottom, all this is religious truth, of the most fundamental character; and, if Christian theology is true theology, it must include the truths of science and of evolution.

Such an inclusion makes needful some important reconstructions of theological theory. It substitutes for our mechanical theories of creation the thought of the immanent God, who, in the words of Paul, is above all, and through all, and in us all; nay, it gives us also that doctrine of the immanent Christ——the Logos, the infinite Reason and Love, of whom the same apostle speaks in words of such wonderful significance; “in whom we have our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins; who is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in Him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through Him, and unto Him; and He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” 1 If the Christ-element, the element of self-sacrificing love, is the very matrix of the creation, then it ought not to surprise us if we find in nature itself the elements of sacrifice; and we do find them there, when we look for them. Over against the struggle for life is the struggle for the life of others; vicariousness is at the heart of nature. We begin to discern some deep meaning in the mystical saying that Christ represents “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” and we are able to see that He came to fulfil not merely the Levitical law, but the very law of life. All this has been, as yet, but imperfectly worked out in our theological theories; but it begins to be evident that the doctrine of the Incarnation will find, in the doctrine of evolution, an interpretation far more sublime than any which was possible under the mechanical theories of creation.

In the development of Protestantism on its intellectual side there have been losses as well as gains. Where such liberty of thinking is allowed, there will be wild and foolish thinking; it is often forgotten that the principle of reason is the principle of unity, and not of division or denial. There is a reasonless conservatism, which clings to beliefs long after they have ceased to be credible; and there is a rash radicalism, which throws away truth untested. Protestant theology has suffered from both these causes. There has always been, and there still is, much shallow thinking; and, in the transitions which have been taking place, some have lost their faith. But there is good reason for believing that the Christians of today have a hold as firm as those of any former day upon essential Christian truth.

On the side of life and practice there have also been gains and losses. In some of the elements of the religious life we may be poorer than our forefathers were. There is not so much reverence now as once there was; but there is less of slavish fear. There is less intense devotional [325] feeling; but there are also fewer cases of hopeless religious melancholy. We do not make so much of the Lord's day as men once did in some sections; that is an undoubted loss. Yet there was a gloom and restraint in that old observance which we should be slow to recall. We do not, perhaps, quite adequately estimate the amount of irreligion which prevailed in this country in the early days of the nineteenth century. A careful historical comparison would reassure those who suppose that we are in danger of losing all our religion.

The development of the Protestant churches has been intensive, as well as extensive; the work of the local Church has greatly broadened. The Church of today is a far more efficient instrument for promoting the Kingdom of God in the world than was the Church of 100 years ago. At that date the Sunday-school work was just beginning; the Church did nothing for its own members but to hold two services on a Sunday, and sometimes a week-night service. In fact, it may be said that the Church did nothing at all; all the religious work was done by the minister. The conception that the Church is a working body, organized for the service of the community, had hardly entered into the thought of the minister or of the members. It was rather an ark of safety, in which men found temporary shelter on their way to heaven.

The larger work, outside of its immediate fold, was not contemplated. In 1800 there was no Foreign Missionary Society in existence on this continent, and no Bible Society; a few feeble Home Missionary Societies had just been formed. There was no religious newspaper in the world. The vast outreaching work of Christian education and Christian publication had not entered into the thought of the churches. Such efficient arms of the Christian service as the Young Men's and the Young Women's Christian Associations, the Societies of Christian Endeavor and the Salvation Army are of recent origin.

The two truths of the divine Fatherhood and the human Brotherhood are the central truths of Christian theology to-(lay. This has never before been true. Men have always been calling God Father, but in their theories they have been making Him Monarch. He was as much of a Father as He could be consistently with his functions as an absolute Sovereign. The Sovereignty was the dominant fact; the Fatherhood was subordinate. All this is changed. It is believed to-day that there can be no sovereignty higher than fatherhood, and no law stronger than love.

The doctrine must have vast social consequences. When it is once fully accepted, and all that it implies is recognized and enforced, society will be regenerated and redeemed. If all men are, indeed, brothers, and owe to one another, in every relation, brotherly kindness; if there is but one law of human association-“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” ; if every man's business in the world is to give as much as he can, rather than to get as much as he can, then the drift of human society must now be in wrong directions, and there is need of a reformation which shall start from the centres of life and thought. We need not so much new machinery, as new ideals of personal obligation.

This idea that Christ has come to save the world; that His mission is not to gather His elect out of the world and then burn it up, but to establish the Kingdom of Heaven here, and that it is established by making the law of love the regulative principle of all the business of life, is practically a new idea. Many, here and there, have tentatively held it, and their faltering attempts to live by it have produced what we have had of the precious fruits of peace and good — will among men. Charity and philanthropy have not been unknown; the spirit of Christ has found in them a beautiful expression; within that realm the Kingdom of Heaven has been set up. What we need to learn is the truth that the law of love governs the factory, as well as the hospital; that the statesman and the economist must reckon with it, no less than the preacher and philanthropist.

1 Col. i., 14-17.

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