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CHURCHMAN'S MONTHLY REVIEW
FRAGMENT ON THE CHURCH. By Tuomas Arnold,
DD., late Head Master of Rugby School, &c. London: Fellowes. 1811.
Tais little volume of Dr. Arnold, on several grounds, has a peculiar interest. Its subject is the true constitution of the visible Church, and the main question which it involves lies at the root of almost every controversy that now occupies the minds of Christians. Its author had earned for himself a high and honourable place among the masters of our Israel. He has now been cut off, in the midst of a course of singular usefulness, and this fragment is one unfinished relic which reminds us of our loss. In reviewing such a work, there is every motive for caution and reverence. Whatever truth it contains is now the joy and portion of his free spirit, and comes to us like a direct message from above. Its errors—and without error it would scarcely be of man-he has doubtless put off with his earthly tabernacle; and he would grieve that the fragrance of his memory should embalm them, and render them sacred to us, when they ought rather to be buried with him in his tomb.
The purpose of the work is to unfold the true nature of the visible Church, and the corruptions which have hindered its vitality and weakened its power.
The character of the times adds a fresh importance to the inquiry. It is almost needless to observe that Dr. Arnold is widely removed from the views of the Tractarian
school. His mistakes lie rather in the opposite direction. He is more eager to uproot and destroy the popular ecclesiastical corruptions, than to retain that nucleus of truth which is obscured be. neath them, and from which they borrow their secret strength. No system of pure error ever did, or could, prevail widely. But a few grains of real truth sometimes will give coherence and currency to a whole pile of falschoods. It is only when this better element has been separated from the mass, that the errors which before clustered around it are soon scattered like chaff and disappear. This needful and difficult task, Dr. Arnold has too much neglected; and hence his extreme views on many points, are in danger of producing a recoil, and of thus increasing the very evil they are designed to remove. We will first give a very brief summary of the work; and then endeavour, with due reverence to the dead, to point out the partial errors it contains, and to unfold the truths which, in our judgment, ought to correct and replace them.
The author first of all lays down the maxim, that the design of the gospel was not partial, but the redemption of the world. The distinction of a visible and invisible Church has arisen, he thinks, entirely from the fact that the gospel has never yet fulfilled its purpose; for that its true aim is to produce a Church which shall be at once spiritual and universal. Such a hope the word of prophecy reveals; but a distinction has been invented, to veil the mournful truth that hitherto Christianity has not fulfilled its own vast idea. “The spread of Christianity has been partial; its moral effects have been still more partial. Christ has laid hands on a few sick folk, and healed them; but he has done no mighty work of spiritual healing on a whole Church." But the language of Scripture points to a fuller hope, and represents the redemption as a full reparation of the fall. Whence, then, is the source of this contrast ? “Sin is not stronger than grace, nor Satan mightier than Christ.” The only answer, our author tells us, is, that we have weakened and corrupted the medicine which was sufficient to heal us. “We have not tried and are not trying Christianity, such as Christ willed it to be."
The next lesson which Dr. Arnold enforces, is the distinction between the Christian religion and the Christian Church. “By Christian religion,” he means “that knowledge of God and of Christ, and that communion of the Holy Spirit, by which an individual is led through life in all holiness, and dies with the confident hope of rising again through Christ at the last day.” “By the Christian Church," again, he intends, “ that provision for communicating, maintaining, and enforcing this knowledge, by which it was to be made influential, not on individuals, but on
masses of men." Thus Christianity was designed to remedy the intensity of evil in the fall, by its religion, and the universality of the evil
, by its Church. It has succeeded in the first, because its religion has been retained as God gave it; but has failed in the second, because its Church has been greatly corrupted." To have a clear and just notion, therefore, of its divine polity, or of the Church of God, is of the utmost importance, and the chief remedy for the actual evils of the world.
The leading idea of the Church, as our author beautifully observes
, was by Christian co-operation, “ to bring Christ into every part of common life; to make human society one living body, closely joined in communion with Christ its head." To fulfil its purpose aright, it must be a sovereign society or commonwealth ; as long as it is municipal and subordinate, it cannot fully realize them. If the sovereign society be not Christian, and the Church not sovereign, we have two clashing and rival authorities. The Church has then wisdom, but without external power; the State has external force, but without wisdom. The State is thus strong for evil; and the Church, comparatively, weak for good. But this power and wisdom ought to be united, or the State and the Church blended closely into one.
Two evils have hindered the development of the Church in this its true idea. First, the spiritual activity of a few has replaced that of the whole body; an error in which all Popery has its germ; and next, by a false distinction of things secular and spiritual, many parts of human life have been exempted from its control. This evil, in the view of Dr. Arnold, is the more open form of Antichrist, which has gone far to reduce countries nominally Christian, to a state of lawlessness worse than the worst heathenism.” Each falsehood, also, by its reaction, has helped fearfully to strengthen the other.
The author dwells chiefly on the former of these two evils, which has indeed prepared the way for the more infidel form of delusion. He ascribes it to two main causes. A true principle which belonged to the Church, that of government, has been exaggerated into a mischievous prominence and undue activity; while another principle, altogether false and deadly, has been introduced. This principle, i Dr. Arnold's view, is the erection of a human priesthood. He defines a priest to be one who is “made necessary to our intercourse with God, without being necessary or beneficial to us morally. His interference makes the worshipper neither wiser nor holier than he would have been without it, and yet it is held to be indispensable. This unreasonable, immoral, unscriptural necessity, is the essence of the idea of priesthood.”
These views are then unfolded more at length, but we must contract our summary of the argument. First, the scriptural evidence is adduced for the real institution of government in the Church of Christ. It is then maintained that the New Testament, with equal clearness, disclaims the notion of a human priesthood. The texts, 1 Cor. iv. 1, and 1 Cor. x. 16, are shewn to be no proof that an exclusive power of administering the Lord's Supper belonged to the apostles or elders, from which their priestly office might be inferred. The power of the keys is then examined, and the same conclusion is drawn. The rest of the work is chiefly filled with an appeal to the early writers of the Church. Its object is to show, that while the idea of government was unduly magnified, the idea of a sacrificing priesthood had not yet come in. The fourth chapter, which is unfinished, would have traced the introduction of this foreign clement, as Dr. Arnold esteems it, in the close of the second century, as well as the causes which led to its rapid growth. Many just and striking observations are let fall by the way, one of which we will extract, as a specimen of the style of thought, and for its own worth and deep spiritual wisdom.
Thirdly, comparing these early Christian writers with the Scriptures on the one hand, and with the later Church system on the other, as developed in the forged apostolical constitutions, we shall be able to trace three stages through which Christianity passed, and which, indeed, exhibit what may be called the law of decay in all institutions, whether administered by men only, or devised by them as well as administered. The first and perfect state exhibits the spirit of the institution not absolutely without all forms, for that is impossible, but regarding them as things wholly subordinate, indifferent in themselves, and therefore deriving their value from particular times and circumstances; and as such particular times are not yet come, the spirit of the institution is as yet wholly independent of them; it uses their ministry, but in no way depends upon their aid. Then comes the second stage, when from particular circumstances the existence of the spirit of the institution depends on the adherence to particular outward regulations. The men of this generation insist, as well they may, on the necessity of these forms, for without them the spirit would be lost. And because others profess to honour the spirit no less than they do, therefore they are obliged to make the forms rather than the spirit their peculiar rallying-word. Around and for these forms is the stress of battle : but their defenders well know that they are but the husk in which the seed of life is sheltered; that they are but precious for the sake of the seed which they contain, and to the future growth of which they, under the inclemencies of the actual season, are an indispensable condition.
“ Then the storm passes away, and the precious seed, safely sheltered within its husk, has escaped destruction. The forms have done their appointed work, and, like the best of mortal instruments their end should be, that after having served their own generation by the will of God, they should fall asleep and see corruption. But in the third stage men cannot under; stand this law. Their fathers clung to certain forms to the death; they said --and said truly—that unless these were preserved, the spirit would perish. The sons repeat their fathers' words, although in their mouths they are become a lie. Their fathers insisted on the forms even more earnestly than on the spirit, because in their day the forms were peculiarly threatened. But now the forins are securely established, and the great enemy who strove to destroy them whilst they protected the seed of life, is now as ready to uphold them, because they may become the means of stifling it. But the sons, unheeding of this change, still insist mainly on the importance of the forms, and seeing these triumphant, they rejoice, and think that the victory is won, just at the moment when a new battle is to be fought, and the forms oppress the seed instead of protecting it. Still they uphold the form, for that is a visible object of worship, and they teach their children to do the same. Age after age the same language is repeated, whilst age after age its falsehood is becoming more flagrant; and still it is said, 'We are treading in the steps of our fathers from the very beginning ; even at the very first these forms were held to be essential.' So when the husk cracks, and would fain fall to pieces by the natural swelling of the seed within, a foolish zeal labours to hold it together: they who would deliver the seed, are taxed with longing to destroy it; they who are smothering it, pretend that they are treading in the good old ways, and that the husk was, is, and ever will be essential. And this happens because men regard the form and not the substance; because they think that to echo the language of their forefathers is to be the faithful imitators of their spirit; because they are blind to the lessons which all nature teaches them, and would for ever keep the egg-shell unbroken, and the sheath of the leaf unburst, not seeing that the wisdom of winter is the folly of spring.” -(pp. 119–121.)
But it is now time to retrace our steps, and examine the truth, or detect the errors, of the volume before us. We believe that its general tone presents a healthy antidote to the disease that threatens our Church at the present hour, and that precious and seasonable truths abound in every part of the volume. There is a clear and quiet sunshine of simple thought, in which we delight to dwell, and which forms a total contrast to that dim and moonlight religion, which, under Catholic names and titles, so many would now palm upon us as the perfection of wisdom. Many of the leading maxims are also true, deeply true. The gospel has assured to it, in days to come, triumphs far nobler and more complete than the world has ever witnessed. The visible Church and the spiritual are hereafter to be made one. The purpose of Christianity is more than to ransom a few scattered souls; its final issue must be to regenerate human society, and to restore a ruined world. The corruption of its discipline, and the abuse of its Divinelyappointed order, has been one chief hindrance to its success, and has thus delayed the hour of its full victory. It is also most true that the gospel claims the whole of life, in all its varied walks and pursuits, to the service of Christ. Its purpose can never be fully attained on earth, till states and governors shall have become truly Christian ; till spiritual truth be made universally practical, and human life universally spiritual ; and thus the Church and the State, as the soul and body in the resurrection, be completely blended into one. The superstitious corruption of the Christian ministry into a carnal and formal priesthood, and the divorce of