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history of the church and the world. Scarcely a month passes, which does not bring to light some new scheme for the more rapid diffusion of the gospel, and the improvement of the human race. New views, new means, and new measures are continually urged upon our attention. The clerical profession was instituted for the sole purpose of reclaiming men from sin and misery, and elevating them to enjoyments which are pure, and to hopes which shall not make ashamed. When means of this kind are discovered, they are, of course, proposed immediately and directly to the clergy for their adoption. Some brethren see fit to adopt them, as of vast importance; while others, thinking differently, prefer to labor on, in the way to which they have been accustomed.
Now unless we understand the relation in which we stand to each other, unless we most scrupulously and conscientiously respect the rights and regard the feelings of each other, we may inflict deep and incurable wounds upon each others' hearts. We may impair the influence, and destroy the happiness of men who love Zion, and whose lives have been, or may be spent in sincere, self-denying endeavors to promote her welfare. The ministry is the right arm of Zion's strength. Weaken this, and the whole work moves feebly and inefficiently. Strengthen this, and the change is seen and felt in every department of Christian influence. It has been well said, that no influence can bring the ministry into reproach, but such as comes from themselves. When they are seen, ranged side by side, and shoulder to shoulder, in defence of the truth; when they both suffer and rejoice together; when they most freely and faithfully impart, and most kindly and thankfully receive advice; when they ever manifest a most tender regard for each others' reputation and feelings, and when especially they live together, as members of the same church, on terms of the greatest intimacy and confidence, no weapon formed against them can prosper.
Not only is the influence of such a oneness of spirit most salutary upon the minds of those whom we would win to the Saviour, but it is most grateful to our own feelings. Who, that has enjoyed this among his brethren, has not felt imparted to him a cheerfulness and an energy in the prosecution of his work, more precious to him and to the church than much fine gold?
VOL. VII.-NO. XXVIII.
SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY DURING THE FIRST EIGHT CENTURIES OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH.
SYSTEMATIC theology is the science of religion. It is divine in its constituent elements, but human in its external form. The teachings of God constitute the materials, and the human intellect, enlightened and sanctified by grace, and disciplined by study, is the instrument by which they are examined, and their relations to each other ascertained and fixed. That God was not pleased to reveal divine truth in the form of a system of doctrines, is a fact which none have failed to observe; and there are few reflecting minds, which do not recognize and admire the wisdom of God as much in this method of his grace, as in the works of nature and the arrangements of providence. The greater part of mankind are destitute of philosophical tastes and habits; they must receive truth, if they receive it at all, in its practical connections. Every age, too, has its peculiar intellectual cast, to which, in form, at least, if not in substance, all its prevailing doctrines correspond. To say nothing of the ever-varying systems of speculative philosophy in particular, there is, in the practical philosophy of every age and country, a spirit common to all parties, and descending through all the departments of social life, till it reaches the very lowest of the common people, but which undergoes great changes in the course of centuries. With these common principles, which constitute the intellectual character of any particular age, theology, in its external characteristics, must be made to agree. They constitute the only medium of communication with the public mind. There is no other way of bringing abstract principles into contact with all the living men of a generation, than by translating the philosophical language of one age into that of another, and thus bringing the strongest intellects of successive generations afresh to the fountain-heads of original truth. Luther and Melancthon, and Zuingle and Calvin brought out
no new truths; they only went deeply into the study of the great principles which had been taught in other ages, and revealed them in the light which the revival of learning had cast upon their day. Fuller presented the fundamental doctrines of the Reformation to the English mind, by first subjecting them to the influence of that sound practical philosophy which prevailed in the English nation, and then giving them forth in the spirit, and language, and tone of his age. Hence, it is not difficult to perceive, that any system of theology, which should be adapted particularly to the intellectual habits of any one people, would, by that very circumstance, place an obstacle in the way of its perpetuity. A few such revolutions as the public sentiment is always undergoing, would render it, obsolete and unattractive in form, however true in principle, or excellent in spirit. The younger men in the ministry are now calling for productions on systematic theology that, in point of merit, shall be on a level with those in other departments of sacred literature. The Anakims of other days no longer satisfy present wants. They speak the language of schools now forgotten, and address themselves to hearts that have now ceased to beat. It is a melancholy thought, that the great and the good men, who wore out their lives in writing their thousand quarto pages, for the benefit of those who should come afterwards, have their works set aside on shelves as dusty as their own sepulchres. Yet it is but the voice of providence, whose sound goes through all ages, calling upon each successive generation to do its own work; to re-examine truth, and to cast it into such forms as will give it a fresh hold on the minds of the people. Thus the great truths in theology, instead of being transmitted as a dead letter, are a living stream, kept from stagnation by its motion.
As the works of nature stand before us, immutable in their character, while our knowledge of them is ever varying, so the Word of God abides, as the unvarying source of our religious instruction; while the mind, both of the individual and of the church at large, is constantly engaged in new struggles to comprehend its principles. Nor can any man or body of men act as the representatives of others in this work. In both cases here presented, the materials of thought are furnished by the hand of the Creator, while the work of analysis, comparison, and combination is left to the industry of man. It was the aim of Christianity to introduce a new
life into human society; and to this end, all its revelations of doctrine are subservient. The completeness and exactness of doctrinal truth was but one of its objects; it had other ends of no less importance to accomplish. But shall we thence infer, that a systematic view of religious doctrines is at variance with the designs of him, who gave the inspired volume in its present form? As well might we suppose that the science of astronomy contravenes the will of Heaven, because the collection and scientific arrangement of its principles were not made at the creation. There is the most conclusive evidence that a philosophic investigation, both of nature and of revelation, was designed of God. The same provision has been made for it in regard to both. All the works of God are connected by mutual dependencies, and correspond to each other, as parts of a great system. What he had amply provided for in one place, might, without detriment, be omitted in another. In the intellectual and rational nature of man, he had made provision for collecting and systematizing knowledge, which it was neither necessary nor fitting that he should repeat in another form, in connection with the outward creation, or with his inspired word. The mind is so constituted, that it only needs to have the elements of truth at hand, in order to call its powers of generalization into action. Had all this work been accomplished for us, and our higher faculties been left unemployed, it would have been a curse rather than a blessing. God might easily have diminished the labor of the mind or of the body, had it been his pleasure. But for every power which he has given us, he has mercifully designed a corresponding exercise. The power of analysis and generalization in man is like an animal instinct, which requires nothing to awaken it, but the occasion that demands its exercise. He who has a comprehensive and well-disciplined mind, cannot disregard system in his search after truth. It were as easy to enforce the injunction of a physical as of an intellectual stagnation in such a being. Both would be unnatural, and equally contrary to the design of the Creator. While there were such strong impulses in human nature, such an internal necessity, urging men everywhere to seek out the elements and connections of truth, there was no occasion for inspired men, even if it had been otherwise expedient, to put the truths of theology into a scientific form. It would have been anticipating, to no conceivable purpose, the ordinary
operations of human reason. It is a Romish doctrine, that the Christian intellect should be schooled, without necessity, to bow, uninstructed and unconvinced, to mere authority. The all-wise Creator has reserved such an exercise of his authority, for those cases where the human intellect would falter in the attempt to work out its own conclusions. Christianity is the quickener of the intellect, as well as of the heart. Wherever it goes, it inspires an unexampled spirit of investigation and though this activity, like any other, may be perverted, the same principles of religion which furnish the stimulus, are themselves, to an upright and conscientious mind, a sufficient safeguard.
Constituted, therefore, as the human mind is, and placed in such circumstances as it was in the age succeeding that of the apostles, it was impossible but that various attempts should be made to exhibit a summary of Christian doctrines, and that these attempts should, at length, terminate in a system of divinity. It was necessary for the Christian Apologists to present to their opponents an outline of the doctrines, as well as of the practices, of the church. Religious teachers found it necessary to maintain disputed doctrines. Private Christians, especially after heresies began to be multiplied, and to perplex the minds of the simple, needed practical guides or manuals of cardinal truths and duties. Speculative minds must needs philosophize. Hence, such statements and defences of doctrines as are found in the Institutes of Lactantius, written against the Pagans; such doctrinal discussions as we meet with in the writings of Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzum, and Augustine; such manuals as the Enchiridion ad Laurentium, by the last-mentioned writer; and such treatises as that of Origen De Principiis, not to mention the creeds, the decisions of councils, and the catechetical lectures of that age.
But it was long before any production appeared, which deserves the name of systematic theology. The earliest author of anything like a complete system of doctrines, was Johannes Damascenus, or John of Damascus, of the eighth century. The Shepherd of Hermas, the Letters of Ignatius to the Magnesians, the Institutes of Lactantius, the Catechetical Lectures of Cyril of Jerusalem, and the Hypotyposes of Clement of Alexandria, of which only a few fragments remain, have no claim whatever to such a title. Yet each of these has in turn