Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

INTRODUCTION.

BY THE DEAN OF WESTMINSTER.

THE ecclesiastical historian Socrates, in a well-known passage, compares the theological controversies of the fifth century to a battle in the night, where each party, from the ignorance of the exact meaning of the terms employed, numbered amongst its adherents foes and friends fighting on the same side. This characteristic of theological struggles, though never perhaps exemplified on the same scale, has prevailed, more or less, ever since; and it is one of the first duties of any one who seeks the truth to disentangle these confusions, both as a means of arriving at a right conclusion, and also as the best exposition of the futility of many of the party contests that have rent the peace of the Church. A large portion of what is commonly called in popular English parlance 'dogmatic theology' is merely the process of heaping together without definition or discrimination the ambiguous watchwords of those nocturnal struggles-watchwords which, if traced back to their original meaning, may convey some useful information, but which, apart from such historical investigation, are but the signs of unknown things in an unknown language.

There is, however, another evil, incident to ecclesiastical warfare, which may be illustrated by a familiar speech of the Duke of Wellington in regard to actual battles. A battle,' he used to say, “is like a ball: nobody knows what is going on in any other part of the field, except that on which he is himself engaged.' This has been especially the case in most of the works which have been written, and in many of the arguments maintained, on the relations of the Church of England towards the Nonconformists. Each of the contending parties, as a general rule, has fixed its attention only on the particular point on which it was immediately at issue with the opponents of the moment; and has altogether neglected to observe or to take account of the point of view on which its opponents themselves would have laid stress, and of the general relation of both to the religious welfare of the whole nation.

It is this point of view which these sermons, contributed by various preachers, under the genial guidance of the Rector of Bishopsgate, are intended to furnish. It is not the first attempt of the kind. Canon Curteis's . Bampton Lectures' furnished a bright example of an English Churchman deliberately endeavouring to place himself in direct contact with all the different forms of belief that have divided the English ecclesiastical world. A similar endeavour was made by the late lamented Professor Maurice, in his · Letters on the Kingdom of Christ,' in which he endeavoured to bring the various religious ideas of his time within the scope of his theological survey. In each of these cases there was perhaps too much of a tendency to represent the Church at its ideal

Literature of the

best, and the Nonconformists at their real worst. Too much was made of the actual framework of the Church, and too little of its pervading spirit. There have also appeared several other works in the same direction. One is the most complete conspectus which has yet been given of English theological literature in all its branches—the History of Religious Thought in England, by the Rev. John Hunt. It is a book which, without any pretensions to grace of style or fervour of eloquence, yet, by sheer determination to present the exact truth, and by genuine study of the works themselves, produces a picture of all the various streams of theological opinion from the sixteenth century to the end of the eighteenth, which every English ecclesiastic, whether conforming or nonconforming, ought to read, if only as a counterpoise and check to the narrow and imperfect statements which he is in the habit of hearing within his own immediate circle. To include in one survey the whole of this literature—to show how Bacon, Hobbes, Selden, and Locke, no less than the more professed divines, contributed to the sum total of English religious belief-how even Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Tindal, and Toland had their effect in modifying and stimulating devout thought and inquiry on the momentous questions at stake, no less than their more orthodox or Christian opponents—was a task which no one had yet attempted, and which Mr. Hunt has carefully endeavoured to perform. Another work which fills up the outline of this survey in one particular branch, and that branch the most important of all, is the elaborate treatise of Principal Tulloch on the History of Rational Theology in England. This is the first systematic account of the long series of divines who, whether under the name of Rational, Platonist, Latitudinarian, or Liberal, have never ceased out of the Church of England from the days of Colet to the days of Milman. The reproduction of these men in bold relief against the background of the ordinary representatives of the Church of England is of an importance transcending any mere historical interest. That this work should have been written, not by an Englishman, but by a distinguished divine of the sister Church of Scotland, adds to its interest. The pleasure with which Principal Tulloch explores this comparatively unknown field communicates itself to his readers, and the academic groves of Oxford and Cambridge are invested with the freshness of a new glory, reflected upon them from the far-off rocky shore of St. Andrews. A like work is the excellent history of Dr. Stoughton, who from a Nonconformist point of view, but with a largeness of charity and a width of knowledge which transcend the bounds of Nonconformity or Churchmanship, has presented a complete account of the Church of England and all its outlying branches from the sixteenth to the end of the eighteenth century. A fourth work is the excellent history of the eighteenth century written by Mr. Abbey and Mr. Ovington, who have given, with some exceptions, a complete description of the English Church in that

period. Theory of

In all these works—and in the volume which is here a National

presented to the reader—there is a common idea at the Church.

bottom. According to the original theory of the Church

« ПредишнаНапред »