Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

tion of 1626, absolving the realm and the Church from the assumption of complicity in the findings of the Synod of Dort. For the time being the Thirty-Nine Articles prevailed. Twenty years later, however, they

. suffered a total eclipse by the Westminster Confession; but within another twenty years outrode it in their native heavens, and saw it, in the Toleration Act of 1689, shrink to the disk of a star of lesser magnitude.

The historical digression in which we have indulged is a perfectly pertinent one. The earlier triumphs of the Confession are a part of our inheritance. If in its unexpurgated form it was invincible amongst its competitors, what may not be predicted of it stripped and conformed to the new spirit which it symbolizes? The age which challenges these Articles must explain their concomitant phenomena in Methodist history. They have had with us a spiritual use greater than their temporal use in the century of England's revolutions. This must come of their close conformity to the spirit of Scripture. To secure proof of this we have only to put under rule the generations of scripturally developed experience, testimony, and holy living which have characterized the Methodism of the Western world. A confession which does not help the spiritual life of the people who hold it is a body of death.

In some Churches the catechism has been accepted as of equal authority with the dogmatic statement, and has been placed beyond the ordinary means of change or alteration. This has been especially true of the catechisms of the Calvinistic Churches. The Lutheran catechisms have also maintained a high authority; Anglicanism likewise has its canonical catechism. But it is not so with Methodism; the catechism has been the medium of a progressive interpretation of its doctrines, and has chiefly helped to secure a healthy progress in the study of Scripture. It must be admitted, however, that the catechism, except in a primary way, has served no conspicuous or institutional use in Methodism. But there have been other means of enlightenment. From the beginning there has existed in all Methodist bodies a current official literature which has constantly served in what otherwise had been the office of the catechism. This has been, and must continue to be, the channel through which Methodism is to receive and give out the inspiration of its developing ideals. This is the natural path of its intellectual activities. Methodism is wonderfully balanced and conserved in having its historic Articles on the one hand and its expanding current and technical literature on the other. The age is hers, and she need indulge no doubt as to her call to work out the problems created in a time when as yet she had no being.

Here is use indeed. The coming century-it may be the coming millennium-will bring upon the field of contest the feet of the great issues prophesied in these Articles. It would be too feeble a designation of that contest to call it by the old name which the perfidy of Rome suggested. It is, nevertheless, the old contest. But old though it be, new weapons must be devised for it-more keenly, trenchantly intellectual, but not less spiritual. The old watchword is to stand, the watchword fashioned by the confessors to whose

[ocr errors]

we have succeeded. There is something not only romantic, but malignly prophetic, in that word "Eternal," which Rome has written lengthwise the fillet of her miter. The still youthful spirit of Protestantism has answered that challenge by writing the same word across the page on which stand the lightning-wreathen Articles of her protest.

Dr. Schaff, anticipating objections not current even in his day, says: “Another reason the reformers had for descending to so many particulars, and for all these negatives (anti-Romish Articles) that are in their confessions, was this: they had smarted long under the tyranny of popery, so they had reason to secure themselves from it and from all those who were leavened with it.” That use of the Articles holds today with increasing emphasis, more especially as Rome is being forced by State disestablishment into an open intellectual contest. She will now everywhere, as she has done in this country, strip herself of her more apparent abuses, thus making her doctrinal subtleties more dangerous than ever. France has not only expatriated her Jesuits but has given the world a new problem in the neo-Romanism which her recent cultural policy has produced. History is a series of sequences. Rome not only drove the Reformers into a distinct Church, but by her Tridentine dogmas made herself the issue of Protestantism for a thousand years to come.

The Articles and doctrinal standards of Methodism are so nearly quadrated with the New Testament that the way is always open to its adherents to use, without doctrinal compromise, any new light which may

[ocr errors]

be thrown upon the text or teachings of the written Word. The success of Methodism has nearly always been attributed to either its aggressive methods of evangelism, or else to a certain appeal which it has been able to make to experience. The word emotion has invariably been mentioned in connection with the latter. It is a profound error to refer the growth of Methodism to either or both of these as chief causes. Beyond any doubt, the experimental preaching of Methodism has been one of its large assets; but the sum of its doctrines has been its first and highest challenge. It offers definite truth with the largest freedom of individual thought. That freedom is secured by the wonderful conformity of its standards of doctrine to the confessional ideal. There is no serious excess on the one hand, nor serious lack on the other. This result is not of the wisdom of man, but of the providence of God. It is not the prerogative of any man to disturb this balance.

Many thousands of converts have come into Methodism by the sheer path of emotion, to learn its larger lessons later; but Methodism won its empire in the great and restless West, as in the staid and exacting Old World, by offering the truth of salvation in living formulæ, as variant in terms as the gifts and experiences of those who bore it, and yet perfectly answering to the Word. Especially was the early preaching of Methodism doctrinal. It was of repentance; a Saviour seen by faith; conscious forgiveness, and the abiding witness, followed by scriptural holiness. Methodism in its early years troubled itself about little else. It has no need to do so now.

Its

doctrines are a well-knit harness covering the vital parts of its body; and as for the rest, the written Word is its source of sufficiency. It is free from credal impedimenta. Its spirit is thus fitted to take the initiative of providence and opportunity.

Perhaps a sufficient historical reason why the Confession of Methodism is no more comprehensive than it is, is found in the observation of Bishop Burnet "that a very high degree of certainty is required to affirm a negative." Our Articles, because of a historical necessity which we have fully traced, deal largely with negatives, and yet their distinguishing tone is certainty. This is a prime and important test, for every new statement is a new limitation imposed upon individual freedom of interpretation. In making such a test there is no room for empiricism or academic temporizing. Conclusions both definite and pertinent must be exhibited, and there must be behind them the necessity of life and death. Otherwise let them plead their message as a private revelation.

St. Paul no doubt referred to some very early symbol of faith when he exhorted the Church's teachers to preserve "the form of sound words." These forms were almost certainly unwritten; but they carried certainty in their brevity and directness. They stimulated the memory which bore them, as they stimulated the faith which received them. But for the necessity of protesting against popery, the Churches of Protestantism might have no such written statements as they have, holding only the symbols of early Christianity. But history has made its record. Who

. shall contest it?

« ПредишнаНапред »