صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني



as it is large; others found, and still find, their solace in "the gradual extinction of the wicked," and the final and universal sway of purity and goodness in and over the remainder; others, again, have fallen back on the plea that nothing can be said because nothing is revealed; and still others are seen clinging to the "old ways," feeling sure, if they cannot demonstrate the truth of their conviction, that they are the ways of truth, and therefore must of necessity be the ways of real beneficence, tenderness, and goodness.

Referring to the chaotic state of British thinking on this subject, Mr. Dale says, "The present condition of thought in this country on the future of the impenitent is very unsatisfactory, and even perilous. The traditional theory of the endlessness of sin and of suffering has lost its authority. It is probably still retained in the creed of an overwhelming majority of the adherents of the English Church, and in the creed of an overwhelming majority of Evangelical Nonconformists. But its hold on the conviction and on the imagination of those who still believe it is not sufficiently firm to compel them, if they are preachers, to preach it with adequate earnestness and energy; or to enable them, if they are private Christians, to tolerate the vigorous and relentless enunciation of it by their ministers. There are also many who, while they cannot see how the rejection of the traditional theory can be justified by the New Testament, consciously recoil from it as too terrible to be true. . . . The result is the general avoidance of the appalling revelations of the New Testament concerning the wrath to come.' .. But the menaces of Christ mean something."* This at least, then, we may say,


"One question more than others all

From thoughtful minds implores reply,

It is, as breathed from star and pall,
What fate awaits us when we die."

Nevertheless let us approach this inquiry in a calm and courageous temper, not yielding to mere feeling, and yet not neglecting feeling's force; not warping a single thread of the evidence, and not leaving out a solitary fibre, though it discolour never so much the web we weave; not distressing ourselves as though our judgment made facts, and by no means ignoring opinion as though it had no influence on life and character; not clinging to the old because of its age, and never casting the old aside for any reason save that it is false as well as old; not going beyond the record either in belief or statement, and never falling short of it, even if its contents offend us exceedingly; by no means despairing of God, however much we may be obliged to despair of ourselves.

(1.) We must remember that opinions do not determine facts. The world did not change its shape because the priests put Galileo in prison, and man's destiny will not be altered one jot by all the oscillations of human opinion. If the consequences of wrong doing, fixing themselves in character, become part of the man, and an operative and causative part of him, and so secure for themselves an indefeasible permanence, neither inflexible logic nor heedless rhetoric will change it. If Christ is Salvator mundi, no opposition to that view on our part will detain for a moment the spirit in the prison-house of sin. If the doctrine of the "gradual extinction of the wicked" be God's plan, calling

* The Struggle for Eternal Life. By E. Petavel. Introduction by R. W. Dale, M.A., pp. vi., vii

it a "miserable doctrine" will not reverse the plan. Let us be calm: though "terribly in earnest." We cannot change the destiny of the race by our poor reasoning. Let us discuss in peace and patience, seeking above all things to be clear and true, and to know the fact as it really is.

Carlyle tells a "story of an old clown who killed his ass because the ass drank up the moon; and the old clown thought the world could not spare the luminary, so he killed his ass. The clown was well-intentioned, but unwise; let us not imitate him. Men who extinguish religion cannot drink the moon-only the reflection of the moon in their own pail of water." We must distinguish between the moon and

its reflections in our little pails of water.

(2.) Nay more, the upsetting of our pail of water may lead us to look up to the moon. The agitations and upheavals of theological opinion-what do they all mean? but to drive us to Him for whom every opinion is but a courier to lead us into His divine presence, so that our restless hearts may find in Him, their true and only rest, the satisfaction of our deepest cravings, and the ennobling of our best desires. We ought to suspect ourselves of some selfishness when we tremble for our doctrine, and lament the upsetting of our pail of water; for may it not be that we have come to care more for the glistening brightness at our feet, than for the Queen of Night herself. Maurice said, with a far-reaching wisdom-"how often I have been tempted to seek a home for my spirit in some particular opinion or system of opinions; and by what gracious influences I have been shown that the fine palace would have become a prison-house." We should not fear the fall of our prison-house if only we and our fellows more surely find our home in God.

(3.) Nor should we fail to discriminate between "opinion" and "faith;" between the "scientific" and the "saving" departments of Christianity. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" is the first and great commandment with promise. That faith saves, saves gloriously and everlastingly, and therefore whoever will, may freely and at once enter into life, without waiting to form a true theory of the relations of the Father and the Son, of the doctrines of the Trinity, Atonement, and Future Punishment. Stupendously momentous, therefore, as these questions are, and affecting profoundly, as they do, more than one of the fundamental principles of theology, yet amid this conflict of opinion we may still proceed with our evangelising work with undiminished earnestness; reminding men that Christianity is meant for this life first, and then for the next; and its main business is to prepare men to live, to make the best and most of our present existence, and so to fit them for death and the great future. If that Denholme gravestone were our only message about the future, yet the gospel of Jesus Christ would be no less necessary to make this life worth living, and to inspire it with noble purposes and grandly unselfish impulses. Christianity proves its ability to give light about the other side of the dark curtain by its gift of a heaven here, on this side. We who have believed do enter into rest.

(4.) Finally, we may rejoice that the Spirit of God is as really with us to-day, guiding in the study of Scripture, the investigation of



history, and the interpretation of life, as He was with the church of the past; and though we may not have our minds purged of all error, yet is He leading us into truth; and in the "common-sense" of the church,i.e., in the sense of universal Christian men about these common questions, yearnings, hopes and fears concerning man after death, shall we have, ere long, the witness that the promise of Christ is fulfilled, and that His church is led into truth, and nothing but truth.


Ecclesiastical Federalism.

THE Baptists have their Associations-the Presbyterians their General Assembly-the Quakers their Annual Meeting-while more recently established systems of church method have institutions after the pattern of one or the other.

The principle in the Presbyterian form of church government as now worked is that elders from each separate congregation should meet once a month, together with the presbyters, in a synod. This meeting of delegates and ministers arranges work for the county, and decides appeals from the separate congregations. If a member is unfairly expelled he appeals to the synod, which has power to re-instate him. Over and above the synod is the Quarterly Meeting, which consists of an amalgamation of a number of synods representing several counties. The quality of the representation is the same, but the area represented, and consequently the number of delegates, is greater. This quarterly meeting decides appeals from the synod. Once a year the General Assembly is held. It will thus be seen that while the congregations are independent activities, capable of arranging and originating, they are not able to decide for themselves whether their conduct fairly aggrieves any individual or minority, without being amenable to an appeal. Ministers cannot settle into pastorates-" splits" cannot be organized into churches-majorities cannot become tyrannical-without being liable to superior influence.

This difficulty is not so easily avoided by Independent churches. Any persons may band themselves together as a Baptist church, and they may call their minister a Baptist minister. If a majority of the members of any church-however youthful or inexperienced the individuals composing it-wish, they can expel the minority, or decide that the creed of the minister is heretical. The pastor and deacons who have toiled for fifty years may be suddenly turned adrift, and there is no appeal. So long as church work signified the promotion of Christian virtue and holiness this peculiarity did not produce very serious consequences. The early Anabaptists became such in order that they might act up to their consciences: if their brethren abused them, still the minority acted up to their conscience, and they held their meetings elsewhere. The matter of excommunication was the principal one on which a vote of the "church meeting" turned, and Anabaptists very wisely did not make much fuss about the formality of exclusion from fellowship. They did not provide a court of appeal to rescind an

unjust excommunication. They had no trace of priestism, they felt no worse if expelled with "bell, book, and candle;" and if their consciences sustained them, they were in no wise injured by excommunication. Amongst Christians more tainted with priestcraft, excommunication was something terrible-it savoured of perdition-hence the necessity of a court of appeal to rectify unjust expulsions. If three or four persons were expelled from an Anabaptist church their ecclesiastical status was scarcely affected, for they could properly form themselves into a church of their own. Spiritual courts and courts of appeal were thus utterly unnecessary.

But these Anabaptists were outcasts. They could not, as Anabaptist communities, hold any property. Even when Dissent was tolerated in England their canons of architectural taste were such, that a meeting house was a very cheap structure, and to be expelled from the use of one was no great loss, since a room in a cottage would do just as well. The ministers were not dependent on fixed salaries, so that "notice to quit" entailed no unfairness.

Things are different now. A decent chapel has become a necessity. If forty people have worked for many years in erecting a chapel and gathering a congregation, it is a hardship for these forty to be outvoted by some fifty recent adherents who have given nothing towards erecting the chapel. Thus the minority are ousted not only from church fellowship-which is not much, for they can of themselves form a church-but they are also expelled from the chapel. Cases of such definite excommunication are rare-very rare-but still they are possible. It thus appears that the possession of valuable church property is a factor in the government of congregational Baptist churches which did not exist in the days of the earlier Anabaptists.

Ought not the organization to be altered so as to take cognizance of this factor? Then the independency of churches would be infringed upon, is the ready response. This is an assumption. If the Presbyterian plan were adopted, doubtless the delegates and presbyters forming the monthly synod would have a power over and above that of the church or congregation from which an appeal could be raised. The members of the monthly synod, whether lay or clerical, would really be a separate "order," having valuable and powerful rights of voting. This superior order, whether called an "order of priests" or "an order of delegates," is objectionable to members of congregational churches.

Still the Associations of Baptist churches are formed after this idea. They consist of ministers and a certain proportion of delegates from each congregation. Theoretically ministers and representatives form a kleros with certain privileges; but, to prevent them doing any harm, the excellent idea was hit upon of transforming their resolutions bearing upon the separated churches into "suggestions." No resolution of the Association is binding on the churches. It is just as if the harness had been provided in splendid style, with beautiful reins, but care was taken that the reins should not be connected with the bit in the mouth of either of the four horses! The Associations are sometimes Mutual Admiration Societies, with the motto "Advice gratis." Churches may be torn, a few hot-headed zealots may kindle a flame which reduces to ashes the patient working of a quarter of a century, and the Associa



tion administers "advice gratis." Pastors who have been faithful for years may find the pulpit intolerable owing to the ignorant conceit of a brace of warehousemen accustomed to the admiration of pattern girls, fine and commodious chapels may be emptied and made useless, but the Association cannot interfere. And all this is because we do not like a separate body to be reckoned as above any ecclesia or congregation.

Why not, then, adopt the Quaker plan and recognize no "above" and "below" in the matter. Why not have a monthly meeting of the members of all the churches in any given district or town, and a quarterly meeting of the members of every district in the county? Every member of a General Baptist church would thus be entitled to speak and vote at the monthly meeting, and also at every quarterly conference. Of course every member would not attend-practically no more would attend conference than at present,-for no limit is put to the right of attendance and speech. Then, as with the Quakers, the Annual Association would be a gathering to which every General Baptist in the country would be invited. The Annual Association. would, in fact, be the great mass meeting of the church of General Baptists, which would have as many branch churches as there were separate congregations. After this manner the annual entire church. meeting could pass rules and regulations binding upon all its branches, and could interfere in the case of tyrannical majorities or bad-tempered deacons and parsons, with a stern voice, nevertheless without a trace of priestism, or marring the independency of the churches; for there would be only one church, and that would be independent. An objection might be raised that if the Association were to meet in Nottingham, the members of the Nottingham churches, being at home, would attend in crowds and swamp all other voters. To this it might be answered that the idea of the various churches of Nottingham agreeing together to vote one way, is far too rich to be practicable; such a union would be proof that the millenium had come. It should also be remembered that at present no limit is put to the right of members of the churches in the town where the Association meets being present and speaking; they often do speak when they are not technically delegates, and no inconvenience is caused. This scheme works very well among the Quakers, who hold their annual meeting in the same place-London. If the annual meeting place were changed every year, and the vote of one session were subject to revision at the next, there can be no just ground for fearing surprise votes. No matter should be brought before the annual meeting which had not come through all the stages by way of appeal; district meeting and quarterly conference votes would thus guide the Association.

This paper will, perhaps, be sufficient to show that the subject needs "wisening," as the Cestrians say. The next General Baptist Association will be asked by Mr. Cox to take a step slightly bearing towards Presbyterianism. The "question preliminary" is-Whether additional power ought to be given to the Association so long as every member of a connected church is not entitled to vote therein, when absolute power could be given if the universal membership were adopted? R. FOULKES GRIFFITHS.


« السابقةمتابعة »