The Importance of Dogma
The word which forms the title of this paper requires some explanation and definition. What are we to understand by "dogma"? Before we go a step further, let us see clearly what "dogma" means.
"Dogma," says Garbett, "is to be distinguished from dogmatism. Dogma is a word that simply means a definite ascertained truth, which is no longer the subject of inquiry, simply because inquiry has ended, and the result has been accepted. Wherever there is any fixed ascertained truth whatever, there must be dogma. If there is no dogma — then there is no known truth."
"Dogma," says Dean Hook in his Church Dictionary, "is a word used originally to express any doctrine of religion formally stated. Dogmatic theology is the statement of positive truths in religion."
To these definitions I shall only add one more remark, by way of caution. We must never forget that there is a wide difference between dogma in science — and dogma in religion. In religion, to be dogmatic is often a positive duty; in science, it is often sheer presumption. In the study of natural science, on the one hand, we have no inspired book to guide us. We have no revelation from Heaven to teach us about biology, or chemistry, or astronomy, or geology. We can only attain conclusions in these subjects by careful observation of phenomena, by patient investigation and induction of facts, or by a diligent use of such helps as the microscope and telescope afford. Even then, our conclusions are often very imperfect, and we ought to be modest in our assertions, and to beware of overmuch positiveness.
"The highest wisdom in many matters of science," said Faraday, "is to keep ourselves in a state of judicious suspense." "All human knowledge is but fragmentary. All of us who call ourselves students of nature possess only portions of natural science." To be always dogmatic in natural science, is a mark of a shallow and conceited mind.
In religion, on the contrary, we start with an infallible Bible to guide us. Our only business is to ascertain the meaning of that Bible. When it speaks plainly, clearly, and unmistakably upon any point — then we have a perfect right to form positive and decided conclusions, and to speak positively and decidedly. Dogmatic language in such cases is not only not presumption, but a downright duty — and not to be positive when God has spoken positively, is a symptom of ignorance, timidity, or unbelief!
The subject I am going to take up, my readers will now understand, is the importance of holding distinct and systematic theological views — and of making positive statements of doctrine in teaching and dispensing God's Word. With the Bible in a minister's hands — there ought to be nothing faltering, hesitating, and indefinite in his exhibition of the things necessary to salvation. He must not shrink from making strong assertions, and drawing sharply-cut and well-developed conclusions. He must not hesitate to say, "This is certainly true — and you ought to believe it! This other teaching is certainly false — and you ought to refuse it! This is right — and you ought to do it. That is wrong — and you ought not to do it."
It is the duty of ministers to speak like men who have quite made up their minds, who have grappled with Pilate's question: "What is truth?" and are prepared to give the question an unhesitating answer. In short, if men mean to be faithful ministers of the New Testament, they must hold and teach "dogma." And of all Christian ministers, there are none, I am convinced, who ought to be so distinct and decided in their statement of "dogma" as the ministers of the Church of England.
The subject, I venture to think, is one of vast importance in the present day, and it needs to be pressed on the attention both of clergymen and laymen. But the subject is a very wide and deep one, and can only be touched lightly in a short paper like this. I shall therefore limit myself with laying down two general propositions, and offering a few remarks upon each of them.
The object of my first proposition will be to prove the peculiar importance of "dogma" in these days.
The object of my second will be to show the great encouragements there are to hold and teach dogma.
I. My first proposition is this: A strong dislike to all "dogma" in religion is a most suspicious and growing sign of the times. Hence arises the peculiar importance of holding and teaching it.
This dislike is a fact, I am bold to say, which needs realizing and recognizing. It does not receive the attention it deserves. We have been so much occupied of late years in resisting those who believe too much — that we have somewhat overlooked those who believe too little. Whether we like to hear it or not, there is a sore disease in the land, which is eating like a canker into the vitals of Christianity. It is a pestilence walking in darkness, which threatens to infect a large proportion of the rising generation.
The evidences of this dislike to "dogma" are so abundant that the only difficulty lies in selection. Unless we are men who having eyes see not, and having ears hear not — we may see them on every side.
(a) I might ask any intelligent man, for example, to mark the vague tone of the great majority of newspapers, when they touch religious subjects.He will find that while they are generally willing to praise Christian morality — they too often ignore Christian doctrine. I might ask him to observe the bitterness with which School Boards frequently speak of what they are pleased to call "theology," and how ready they are to shovel it all aside under the vague name of "sectarianism".
I might ask him to analyze the most popular fictions and novels of the last forty years, which profess to paint Christians, and to notice how the portrait almost invariably avoids everything like doctrine, and exhibits the model Christian like a cut flower at a flower show, a mere bloom without root.
I might ask him to look at the concern which liberal speakers are constantly showing, in addressing popular audiences, to sweep away all "denominational Christianity," and to throw aside Creeds and Confessions as old worn-out clothes, which only fetter the limbs of modern Englishmen.
In each of these cases let him note one common symptom: that is, a morbid, unreasoning desire to have the fruits of Christianity — without the roots; to have Christian morality — without Christian dogma. And then let him deny, if he can, that a dislike to "dogma" is a widespread evil of our times.
(b) I will then ask any intelligent man to examine the opinions commonly expressed in the talk of private life.You have only got to bring up the subject of religion in society, and you will get further proofs still. In five houses out of six, where people have anything like real religion — you will find that they make a regular idol of "earnestness." They do not pretend to know anything about controversies and disputed questions, or to have any opinion as to who is right and who is wrong. They only know that they admire "earnestness;" and they cannot think that earnest, hard-working men can be unsound in the faith.
Tell them that any "earnest" clergyman whom they name does not preach the Gospel — and they are downright offended. Impossible! Whatever doctrines an "earnest" man holds and teaches — they think it narrow and uncharitable and illiberal in you to distrust him. In vain you remind them that zeal and laboriousness are useless — if a minister does not teach God's truth; and that Pharisees and Jesuits had zeal enough to "compass sea and land." They know nothing about that; they do not profess to argue. All they know is that work is work; and that an earnest man must be a good man, and cannot be in the wrong whatever he teaches. And what does it all come to? They dislike "dogma," and will not make up their minds as to what is truth.
Hitherto we have seen the evil I am considering in its most common and diluted forms.
(c) If we want to see it in its more solid and crystallized state, we have only to turn to the preaching and writings of the extreme Broad Churchmen of our days.I will not weary my readers with a catalogue of the strange and loose utterances which come incessantly from that quarter . . .
about the atonement,
about the sacrifice and death of Christ,
about the incarnation,
about the Holy Spirit, and
about future punishment.
I will not pain them by recounting the astounding theories sometimes propounded about "the blood of Christ."
Time would fail me if I tried to sketch the leading features of a misty system which appears to regard all religions as more or less true, and in which "tabernacles" seem to be wanted for Socrates, and Plato, and Pythagoras, and Seneca, and Confucius, and Mahomet — as well as for Christ, and Moses, and Elijah — all, forsooth, being true prophets, great masters, great teachers, great leaders of thought!
I shall content myself with the remark, that dislike to "dogma" is one prominent characteristic of the leaders and champions of the extreme Broad Church party. Search their sermons and books, and you find plenty of sad examples — plenty of great swelling words about "the universal fatherhood of God, and charity, and light, and courage, and manliness, and large-heartedness, and wide views, and free thought," — plenty of mere wind-bags, high-sounding abstract terms, such as "the true, and the just, and the beautiful, and the high-souled, and the congenial, and the liberal," and so forth.
But, alas! there is an utter absence of distinct, solid, positive doctrine! And if you look for a clear, systematic account of the way of pardon and peace with God — of the right medicine for a burdened conscience, and the true cure for a broken heart — of faith and assurance, and of justification, and regeneration, and sanctification — you look in vain. The words indeed you may sometimes find, but not the realities — the words in new and strange senses, fair and good-looking outside, like rotten fruits; but, like them, empty and worthless within.
But one thing, I repeat, is abundantly clear — "dogma" and positive doctrinal statements are the abomination of extreme Broad Churchmen. Their cry is continually, "Down with dogma, down with it, even to the ground!"
(d)I am afraid that time and space would fail me if I traveled outside our own communion, in order to find additional proof of the widespread dislike to "dogma" which we need to realize in this age.
We hear of it among Nonconformists — the oldest and soundest of them complain bitterly that the plague has begun among the descendants of the Puritans, and that old orthodox views are becoming scarce.
We hear of it from Scotland — not a few Presbyterians are beginning to speak contemptuously of the Assembly's Catechism as a yoke which ought to be thrown off.
We hear of it from Switzerland — the Churches of Zwingly and Calvin are said to be so deeply tainted with Socinianism, since they threw creeds overboard, that it might almost, to speak figuratively, make their founders turn in their graves!
We hear of it from America — when Mr. and Mrs. Hannah Whitall Smith addressed the crowds at the famous Brighton Conference, their simple-minded and well-meaning hearers must have been puzzled to hear the often reiterated expression, "We do not want theology!"
But I trust I have said enough to convince my readers, that when I speak of dislike to "dogma" as one of the largest and most formidable perils of the day — I do not use any exaggerated language, or speak without good reason.
The causes of this dislike to "dogma" we need not go far to seek. There is nothing new about it, and nothing therefore which ought to surprise us. And the older the world gets, and the nearer to the second advent of Christ — the more clearly shall we see that prophecy fulfilled. We only see a full development of an old disease. There never have been lacking thousands of lazy, worldly Christians, who say with the poet —
"For modes of faith, let graceless zealots fight;
He can't be wrong, whose life is in the right."
Eighteen centuries ago the apostle Paul forewarned us, "The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear!" 2 Timothy 4:3
The natural man hates the Gospel and all its distinctive doctrines — and delights in any vain excuse for refusing it.
The plain truth is, that the root of the whole evil lies in the fallen nature of man, and his deeply-seated unbelief in God's infallible Word. I suspect we have no idea how little saving faith there is on earth, and how few people entirely believe Bible truths.
One man is proud — he dislikes the distinctive doctrines of Christianity, because they leave him no room to boast.
Another is lazy and indolent — he dislikes distinctive doctrine, because it summons him to troublesome thought, and self-inquiry, and mental self-exertion.
Another is grossly ignorant — he imagines that all distinctive doctrine is a mere matter of words and names, and that it does not matter a jot what we believe.
Another is thoroughly worldly — he shrinks from distinctive doctrine, because it condemns his darling world.
But in one form or another, I am satisfied that "original sin" is the cause of all the mischief. And the whole result is, that vast numbers of men greedily swallow down the seemingly new idea that doctrine is of no great importance. It supplies a convenient excuse for their sins.
The consequences of this widespread dislike to doctrine are very serious in the present day. Whether we like to allow it or not, it is an epidemic which is doing great harm. It creates, fosters, and keeps up an immense amount of instability in religion. It produces what I must venture to call, if I may coin the phrase, a jellyfish Christianity in the churches — that is, a Christianity without bone, or muscle, or power.
A jellyfish, as everyone knows who has been much by the sea-side, is a pretty and graceful object when it floats in the sea, contracting and expanding like a little, delicate, transparent umbrella. Yet the same jellyfish, when cast on the shore — is a mere helpless lump, without capacity for movement, self-defense, or self-preservation.
Alas! It is a vivid type of much of the religion of this day, of which the leading principle is, "No dogma, no distinct tenets, no positive doctrine."
We have hundreds of jellyfish clergymen, who seem not to have a single bone in their body of divinity. They have no definite opinions — they belong to no school or party. They are so afraid of "extreme views" — that they have no views at all.
We have thousands of jellyfish sermons preached every year — sermons without an edge or a point. They are as smooth as billiard balls — awakening no sinner, and edifying no saint.
We have legions of jellyfish young men annually turned out from our seminaries, armed with a few scraps of second-hand philosophy, who think it a mark of cleverness and intellect to have no decided opinions about anything in religion, and to be utterly unable to make up their minds as to what Christian truth is. Their proud hearts are not satisfied with truths which satisfied the godly of former years. Their only creed is a kind of "Anythingism." They believe everything — and are sure and positive about nothing!
And last, and worst of all, we have myriads of jellyfish worshipers — respectable church-going people, who have no distinct and definite views about any point in theology. They cannot discern things that differ, any more than color-blind people can distinguish colors! They think that . . .
everybody is right — and nobody is wrong,
everything is true — and nothing is false,
all sermons are good — and none are bad,
every minister is sound — and none are unsound.
They are "tossed to and fro, like children, by every wind of doctrine!" They are often carried away by any new excitement and sensational movement. They are ever ready for new things, because they have no firm grasp on the old Scripture truths.
All this, and much more, of which I cannot now speak particularly, is the result of the unhappy dread of "dogma" which has been so strongly developed, and has laid such hold on many Churchmen, in these latter days.
I turn from the sad picture I have exhibited with a sorrowful heart. I grant that it is a gloomy one; but I am afraid it is only too accurate and true. Let us not deceive ourselves — "Dogma" and positive doctrine are at a discount just now. Instability and unsettled notions are the natural result, and meet us in every direction. Never was it so important for laymen to hold systematic views of truth, and for ordained ministers to "enunciate dogma" very clearly and distinctly in their teaching.
The second proposition I wish to lay before my readers is this:
II. In spite of all that is said against dogma, its advocates have no cause to be ashamed.
I launch that statement without the slightest hesitation. The assailants of "dogma" make such boasting, and blow their trumpets so loudly, that I suspect some Christians lately have been rather frightened. They have thought that the ark was in danger, and that we must moderate our tone, and retire from our old paths! Let no man's heart fail at this crisis. There is no cause for alarm. It is the mark of ill-disciplined and half-savage armies to blow horns and beat drums, and cover their real weakness by noise. The true soldier holds his tongue, and reserves his breath for the actual struggle. "In quietness and confidence is our strength." In spite of all the hard words poured on "dogma" — as effete, worn out, injurious to free thought, unsuited to the nineteenth century, and so forth — there remains a chain of facts in support of "dogma," which I believe it is impossible to explain away. In short, there is a mass of evidence which cannot be refuted.
It is not enough to say, "We believe the Bible." We must distinctly understand what the leading facts and doctrines of the Bible are; and this is exactly the point where Creeds and Confessions are useful.
I shall confine myself to a simple statement of certain broad facts, which ought to encourage every loyal Christian to hold distinct doctrinal views, and not to be ashamed of "dogma."
(a)In the first place, let us turn boldly to our Bibles. Is "dogma" there, or not? Of course I do not forget that this witness goes for little with many. They regard the Bible as nothing more than a respectable collection of old Jewish writings, of uncertain antiquity, containing many good things — but not as an infallible book, to whose teachings they must bow. Whenever it contradicts their so-called "verifying faculty, and inward consciousness, and intuitive convictions," they refuse to accept its teaching! I shall have a word for these gentlemen by and by.
But I thank God that many clergymen and laymen in the Church of England are of a very different mind. There are yet left some thousands among us who have not forgotten their Ordination Vows, in which clergymen profess their determination to "instruct people out of Scripture," and to "teach nothing necessary to salvation, but that which may be concluded and proved by Scripture." To them and thousands like them, I can confidently appeal.
Do we not, then, all know and feel, as we read our New Testaments, that "dogma" meets us in every book from Matthew down to Revelation? Is not the fashionable claptrap assertion, that the chief object of the Gospels and Epistles was to teach us high moral precepts and charity rather than "dogma," so utterly contrary to the real facts of the case which meet our eyes when we read our Bibles — that it is absurdly untrue? Are not "dogma" and doctrine so intimately woven up and intermingled with moral precepts in the New Testament, that you cannot separate them?
We all know that there is only one answer to such questions. As for those unhappy men who can stand in a reading-desk, and there read such books as John's Gospel, and the Epistles to the Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and Hebrews to a Church of England congregation, and then denounce "dogma," and cry down dogmatic theology, and sneer at Bibliolatry in the pulpit — I can only say that I do not understand them. He who gives up teaching "dogma," in my opinion, may just as well say that he gives up teaching the Bible. You cannot neglect "dogma" without ignoring Scripture.
(b)In the second place, we can turn boldly to our Thirty-nine Articles. Is "dogma" in them or not? Once more, I do not forget that many think very little of that admirable Confession of Faith. They coolly tell us in that offhand, conceited style which is so painfully common in this day — that "nobody really believes all the Articles!" Some tell us plainly that they regard the Thirty-nine Articles as a burdensome stone, and a hobgoblin on men's consciences — and that we would do far better to abolish them, throw them overboard, and be content with no creed at all! But all this time every minister on taking possession of a church, is obliged to declare publicly that he will teach and preach "nothing contrary to the Thirty-nine Articles."
Yet what are these Articles but a wise compendium of dogmatic statements? With few exceptions, they are a series of doctrinal assertions, carefully drawn out of Scripture, which the Church regards as of special and primary importance. Where, I would like to know, is our honesty — if we shrink from teaching dogma, after pledging ourselves to teach the Articles? Where is plain faithfulness to our ministerial promises — if we do not teach and preach distinct, systematic doctrine?
As for those clergymen who retain positions in our Church, while they openly contradict the Articles, or deliberately sneer at their statements of doctrine, as "narrow, and illiberal, and unsuited to the nineteenth century" — I can only say once more that I do not understand them. I can admire their zeal and cleverness — but I cannot see that they are in their right place in the pulpit of the Church of England. He who is for no "dogma," no Articles, and no Creeds — in my judgment is no true and loyal Churchman.
(c)In the third place, we can turn boldly to the Prayer-book. Is "dogma" there or not? That famous book, with all its unquestionable imperfections, finds favor in the eyes of all schools of thought within our pale, and of myriads outside. You rarely meet with anyone, however broad and liberal, however opposed to Creeds and Articles, who quarrels with our time-honored Prayer-book, or would like to see it much altered. Week after week its old familiar words are read all over the globe, wherever the English flag flies and the English language is spoken. The older the world grows, the more men seem disposed to say, with George Herbert on his death-bed, "The prayers of my mother the Church of England — there are none like them!"
Yet all this time it is a curious fact that an immense amount of dogmatic theology runs through the Prayer-book, and underlies its simple petitions! He who sits down and makes a list will be surprised to find what a large amount of doctrinal statements the old book contains about the Trinity, about the deity of Christ, about the personality of the Holy Spirit, about the sacrifice and mediation of Christ, about the work of the Spirit, and many other points. They occur again and again in sentences with which we are so familiar, that we overlook their contents.
Take, for a single instance, the dogma of eternal punishment. Tim question has been raised of late whether the Church of England says anything about it in her formularies. Yet all this time the Prayer-book contains three singularly strong expressions on the subject. Almost the first petition is, "From everlasting damnation, good Lord, deliver us." In the Burial Service we say, by the side of the open grave, "Deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death." Even in the Church Catechism we teach children that in the Lord's Prayer they ask to be "kept from our ghastly enemy and everlasting death."
Once more I say, he who thinks little of "dogma," and yet uses the Prayer-book of the Church of England — is very inconsistent, and is occupying, whether he knows it or not, a most untenable and unreasonable position. I assert confidently that the Prayer-book is full of dogmatic theology.
(d)And now, in the fourth place, I have a word for those numerous opponents of "dogma" who care little for the Bible, Articles, or Prayer-book. I say that the advocates of dogma can turn boldly to the whole history of the progress and propagation of Christianity, from the time of the apostles down to the present day — and fearlessly appeal to its testimony. I challenge anyone to deny what I am going to say, and disprove it if he can.
I affirm, unhesitatingly, that there never has been any spread of the Gospel, any conversion of nations or countries, any successful evangelistic work — excepting by the proclamation of "dogma." I invite any opponent of dogmatic theology to name a single instance of a country, or town, or people, which has ever been Christianized, moralized, or civilized — by merely telling men that Christ was a great moral Teacher; that they must love one another; that they must be true, and just, and unselfish, and generous, and brotherly, and high-souled, and the like!
No! no! no! Not one single victory can such teaching show us — not one trophy can such teaching exhibit. It has wrought no deliverance on the earth.
The victories of Christianity, wherever they have been won, have been won by distinct doctrinal theology — by telling men of Christ's vicarious death and sacrifice — by showing them Christ's substitution on the cross, and His precious blood — by teaching them justification by faith, and bidding them believe in a crucified Savior — by preaching ruin by sin, redemption by Christ, regeneration by the Spirit; by lifting up the Brazen Serpent — by telling men to look and live — to believe, repent, and be converted. This — this is the only teaching which for eighteen centuries God has honored with success, and is honoring at the present day both at home and abroad.
Let the clever advocates of a broad and undogmatic theology — the preachers of the gospel of earnestness, and sincerity, and cold morality — show us at this day any English village, or parish, or city, or district, which has been evangelized without "dogma" by their principles. They cannot do it — and they never will!
Christianity without "dogma" is a powerless thing. It may be beautiful to some minds — but it is childless and barren — it is as cold and sterile as the moon. There is no getting over facts. The good that is done in the earth may be comparatively small. Evil may abound, and ignorant impatience may murmur and cry out that Christianity has failed. But, depend on it, if we want to do good and shake the world — we must fight with the old apostolic weapons, and stick to "dogma."
No dogma — no fruits!
No positive evangelical doctrine — no evangelization!
(e)In the fifth place, we may turn, boldly to the lives of all the most eminent saints who have adorned the Church of Christ, since its great Head left the world — and summon them as witnesses. I will not weary my readers with long lists of names, for happily they are legion. Let us examine the holiest Fathers, and Reformers, and Puritans, and Anglicans, and Dissenters, and Churchmen of every school, and Christians generally of every name, and nation, and people, and tongue. Let us search their diaries, and analyze their biographies, and study their letters. Let us just see what manner of men they have been in every age, who, by the consent of all their contemporaries, have been really holy, and saintly, and godly.
Where will you find one of them who did not cling to "dogma" — who did not hold certain great distinct doctrinal views, and live by the faith of them? I am satisfied that you will not find one! In their clearness of perception and degree of spiritual light, in the proportion they have assigned to particular articles of faith — they may have differed widely. In their mode of expressing their theological opinions they may not have agreed. But they have always had one common stamp and mark. They have not been content with vague ideas of "earnestness, and goodness, and sincerity, and charity." They have had certain systematic, sharply cut, and positive views of truth. They have known whom they believed, and what they believed, and why they believed. And so it always will be. You will never have Christian fruits without Christian roots — whatever novel-writers may say. You will never have eminent holiness — without dogmatic theology!
(f)In the last place, let us turn to the death-beds of all who die with solid comfort and good hope — and appeal to them. There are few of us who are not called on occasionally, as we travel through life, to see people passing through the valley of the shadow of death, and drawing near to their latter end, and to those "things unseen which are eternal."
We all know what a vast difference there is in the manner in which such people leave the world — and the amount of comfort and hope which they seem to feel. Can any of us say that he ever saw a person die in peace, who did not know distinctly what he was resting on for acceptance with God, and could only say, in reply to inquiries, that he was "earnest and sincere"? I can only give my own experience — I never saw one. Oh, no! The story of Christ's moral teaching, and self-sacrifice, and example, and the need of being earnest and sincere and like Him, will never smooth down a dying pillow. Christ the teacher, Christ the great pattern, Christ the prophet — will not suffice. We need something more than this!
We need the story of Christ dying for our sins, and rising again for our justification. We need Christ the mediator, Christ the substitute, Christ the intercessor, Christ the redeemer — in order to meet the King of terrors with confidence, and to say, "O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?"
Not a few, I believe, who have gloried all their lives in rejecting dogmatic religion, have discovered at last that their "broad theology" is a miserable comforter, and the gospel of mere "earnestness" is no good news at all.
Not a few, I firmly believe, could be named, who at the eleventh hour have cast aside their favorite, new-fashioned views, and have fled for refuge to "the precious blood of Christ," and left the world with no other hope than the old-fashioned Evangelical doctrine of faith in a crucified Jesus. Nothing in their life's religion has given them such peace as the simple truth grasped at the eleventh hour —
"Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Your blood was shed for me,
And that You bidd'st me come to Thee —
O Lamb of God, I come."
Surely, when this is the case, we have no need to be ashamed of dogmatic theology.
And now, as I leave the subject — let me wind up all I have said with an expression of my earnest hope that all honest, true-hearted Churchmen will walk in the steps of their forefathers, and stick to the old weapons which they wielded so well and successfully.
Let no scorn of the world,
let no ridicule of witty writers,
let no sneers of liberal critics,
let no secret desire to please and conciliate the public
— tempt us for one moment to leave the old paths, and drop the old practice of enunciating dogma — clear, distinct, well-defined, and sharply-cut "dogma" — in all our teachings. Let us beware of being vague, and foggy, and hazy in our teachings. Let us be specially particular about such points as . . .
the inspiration and authority of Scripture,
the finished work of Christ,
the complete atonement made by His death,
the priestly office which He exercises at the right hand of God,
the inward work of the Holy Spirit on hearts, and
the reality and eternity of future punishment.
On all these points let our testimony be not Yes and No — but Yes and Amen. Let the tone of our witness be plain, ringing, and unmistakable.
"If the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?" (1 Corinthians 14.8). If we handle such subjects in a timid, faltering, half-hearted way, as if we were handling hot iron, and we had not made up our minds what is truth — then it is vain to expect people who hear us to believe anything at all. It is the bold, decided, outspoken doctrinal man, who makes a deep mark, and sets people thinking, and "turns the world upside down."
It was "dogma" in the apostolic ages which emptied the heathen temples, and shook Greece and Rome. It was "dogma" which awoke Christendom from its slumbers at the time of the Reformation, and spoiled the Pope of one-third of his subjects. It was "dogma" which, a hundred years ago, revived the Church of England in the days of Whitfield, Wesley, Venn, and Romaine, and blew up our dying Christianity into a burning flame. It is "dogma" at this moment which gives power to every successful mission, whether at home or abroad. It is doctrine — doctrine, clear ringing doctrine — which, like the rams' horns at Jericho, casts down the opposition of the devil and sin. Let us go on clinging to "dogma" and doctrine, whatever some may please to say; and we shall do well for ourselves, well for others, well for the Church of England, and well for Christ's cause in the world.
And now let me conclude this paper with two special words of warning. They are warnings so closely connected with my subject that I dare not keep them back. I offer them with some diffidence, for I lay no claim to infallibility. I ask my readers to take them for what they are worth. They are cautions for the times in which we live.
(a)On the one hand I desire to raise a warning voice against the growing disposition to sacrifice dogma on the altar of so-called unity, and to give up sound doctrine for the sake of peace and cooperation. The tide is running strongly in that direction — so we must mind what we are about. Peace is an excellent thing — but it may be bought too dear. And it is bought too dear if we keep back any portion of gospel truth — in order to exhibit to men a hollow semblance of unity. The divisions of the Church of England are unhappy and dangerous. They are the strength of Liberalism, and the laughing-stock of the world. They are an evil omen. God sees them, and is displeased. When children fight about the candle — they are often left in the dark.
But for Christ's sake let us beware of trying to heal our breaches by lowering our standard of doctrine, and watering our statements of truth in order to avoid giving offence. To skin over a wound externally, while mischief is going on inside, is poor surgery, and not a cure. Some men cut the knot — by refusing to show their faces or open their mouths except in the presence of sympathizing and congenial audiences. Be it so, if they please. I shall throw no stone at them. Others think they are more in the line of duty (if not of pleasure) when we stand up boldly in any place where we can get a fair hearing, whether on Congress platforms or in cathedral pulpits, and try to confess Christ, and to confront error by truth.
But, whatever line of conduct we adopt, whether we sit at home at ease, or do battle and jeopardize our lives on high places, and face contradiction — let us never compromise sound doctrine for the sake of pleasing anyone, whether he be Bishop or Presbyter, Romanist or Infidel, Ritualist or Neologian, Churchman or Dissenter, or Plymouth brother.
Let us be civil and courteous to every one, however much we may disagree with him. Let us never, never compromise and give up one jot or tittle of Evangelical dogma.
Well says Martin Luther: "Accursed is that charity which is preserved by the shipwreck of faith or truth, to which all things must give place; both charity, or an apostle, or an angel from Heaven."
Well says Dr. Gauden: "If either peace or truth must be dispensed with, it is peace and not truth. Better to have truth without public peace — than peace without saving truth."
(b)On the other hand, I desire to raise a warning voice against the growing tendency to be dogmatic about things which are not necessary to salvation. To be positive where the Bible is silent, to condemn and anathematize those whom God has not condemned, and to exalt things indifferent and secondary to a level with the primary verities and weightier matters of the gospel. By all means let us be bold, firm, and unbending as steel, about every jot and tittle of Evangelical dogma and Christ's truth; but let us not cultivate the detestable habit of excommunicating every man who does not see everything exactly with our eyes, and pronounce Shibboleth precisely as we do. For Christ's sake let us make allowances for slight varieties of opinion in non-essential matters. Let us not out-ritualize ritualists in over-scrupulousness and particularity. Let us not squabble about straws — when the Canaanite and Perizzite are in the land; or bite and devour one another, like the wretched Jewish factions in the siege of Jerusalem, when the Romans were thundering at the gates! Never, never, I am persuaded, was the old saying of Rupertus Meldenius so worthy of daily remembrance:
"In essentials — unity.
In non-essentials — diversity.
In all things — charity."
"But even if we or an angel from Heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!" Galatians 1:8-9