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النشر الإلكتروني

1847.]

Christian Doctrines.

443

of nature, through this spontaneous affection to the parent ! The central, informing spirit, the life of true religion, may begin to glow in the breast of the child, - a loving, obedient, all-trusting affection, — long before its understanding can grasp one of those views which are often called essential doctrines. And when feeling deepens, and a power is gained to comprehend something of its life, then those glorious thoughts of the Father and his love, all worthy conceptions of filial duty, the deep things of Christian experience, even that spirit which spoke in the life of the Redeemer, appear in grand revelations to the soul. The voice of God teaches us, in the divine processes of nature, that the heart is first to be wakened into life.

The same view is enforced anew, when we consider what those great principles in religion are, which are worthy to bear the name of doctrine. The word has been almost entirely perverted from its legitimate use. It has been mainly applied to the multitude of metaphysical speculations connected with religious truths. These can never be learned by the process we are advocating. Let them go. They are tares in the field, so intertwined with living truths, perhaps, that they cannot be plucked out as yet without rooting up the wheat also. But we trust that the day of their burning will speedily come. True Christian doctrines, we suppose, are really the statements of the great processes and results of true religious life. They are the divine conclusions taught by the experience of a divine spirit, such as lived in the breast of Jesus ; the burning thoughts of God and man, of truth and love, of life and immortality, blazing up for ever in the soul when it has been baptized with the holy ghost and with fire. They are the enrapturing, the overwhelming truths unfolded in the vision of God which cometh to the pure in heart. Here we know not how to speak. We can only say they are all those conceptions which come by a divine necessity, as the soul enters into harmony with the life of the Father, and, in some true sense of the word, is moved by the indwelling spirit of God. Such truths are doctrines, — truths of the living heart. The truth is an inference from the life at every step. Reproduce the experience, or you can never impart the thought. Ascend the mountain-heights of a diviner life, or you can never see the heavenly prospects opening around you there. The beloved A postle declares the process whereby all true theology is to be learned, when he says, “God is love ; and he that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” The wisdom of truth is found in the deep things of the spirit of love.

But may there not be some direct instruction in doctrine, in Christian education ?- many may ask. Certainly, there must be. These remarks directly indicate the true method of all such instruction. Let these great conclusions be drawn out from the soul's experience in distinct statements to the understanding, as rapidly as that experience unfolds them. Let the same principle be here applied, which must be obeyed in all intelligent instruction. It is in the nature of the mind, for instance, to deduce the great laws of the natural world from its observation of the facts of nature. And the truths thus learned are its guides in its future inquiries. Let the laws of the spiritual world be thus deduced, as the heart lives. Nothing can more truly quicken or give intensity to the life of the heart, perhaps, ihan such an embodiment of the lise already gained into a burning thought, a divine law, to be held up before the understanding, and thus to pour down its light into every faculty of the soul. There is a beautiful action and reaction here in the development of our being. Thus may man be led into the deeper things in the spirit of Jesus. The first movements of pure lise in the heart lead us to see the truth of some teaching from his lips. Then meditation upon that truth, that doctrine, deepens the feeling ; and the deeper feeling gives new meaning to the doctrine ; and that again has a more commanding power over the heart ; and each new gush of lise, like the deepened love of Jesus in his last hour of communion with the Twelve, makes the old commandment seem a new revelation of almighty truth ; and the soul is borne upward by this twofold influence, with accelerating speed, towards the bosom of its God. Is there to be no instruction in doctrinal truths, do any ask again ? If we mean by doctrinal truths what the world has most frequently understood by that expression, we

can only pray that they may be quickly forgotten. Neither let there be any instruction in really Christian doctrines, which shall outrun the capacity of the soul, through the openings of its experience, to begin to grasp their purport. But let instruction never fail, according to the process we have indicated ; systematic, living teaching, drawn forth from the wells of life in the soul. Through such teaching, whether given to the child or the man, new life shall for ever come.

1847.]

Capacity of the Soul for Religion.

445

An answer to the chief objection to views like these is here suggested, which we cannot forbear to notice. It is the power of great doctrines, we are continually told, which has accomplished the noblest revolutions in the thought and in the action of men. Some quickening truth has come down, like fire from heaven, into the mind of the world, consuming its corruptions, and creating it anew. Let us look more deeply, and we find a confirmation of our theory in these same great facts. By what law are these quickening truths revealed ? When do they come, to kindle a new life in the heart of the world? They come when its previous development has prepared it to begin to see any truth so great. For long centuries men have stood within a single step of the noblest truths of science. Not until a preparation of mind was gained to take that single step, did the discovery appear. So it is with great moral truths. There must be a preparation, a progress in the world's life, before these creative truths will unfold themselves to the single mind or to the community. And instantly, when they appear, are they to be published abroad, to carry onward that great revolution which has already given them birth. These doctrines, which seem to do the work, are only the grand conclusions to which experience has led. The fulness of time must thus for ever come, before the Redeemer shall be born. The life precedes the doctrine ; and we repeat Dr. Bushnell's statement of a principle so vital, in deep joy that it has found another expression, in his Discourses, to the ear of the world.

The second principle to which we wished to refer is rather implied than distinctly expressed in the Discourses. It is the principle, that there is no necessary, inherent opposition between religious truth and the mind of the child; that we may unfold this truth with an absolute faith in the capacity of the soul to receive its influence. All this is inevitably implied, indeed, in the general proposition, “ that the child is to grow up a Christian, not remembering the time when he went through any technical experience, but seeming rather to have loved what is good from its earliest years." There may be depravity, according to Dr. Bushnell's statement of that doctrine. These tendencies to perverse desires may become “a fixed prejudice” against the truth in many hearts. One

may

also say, as our author affirms, that there must be a direct influence of the spirit of God to breathe the

divine life into every human soul, if it be said, at the same time, that the first unfolding of truth to the soul is this breathing of the spirit. After all, the proposition amounts to this, that religious truth is the natural food of the unperverted mind; for if the child may be trained from the first in the love of God, never conscious of any warfare, according to Dr. Bushnell's statement, all this impression of any inherent opposition to the truth must be altogether baseless.

We deduce the principle, however, from the views which we have already advanced. The doctrines of religion are the truths unfolded in the development of the soul. They are the laws of its life. Instead of being against its nature, they alone give us a revelation of its deeper nature. They bring its life to light. No view of religion, indeed, is more beautiful, or more awful, than this. Here is unfolded the profound significance of that doctrine of Jesus, where he calls his word “the bread of life.” These great religious affections, this pure love of God, this divine love of man, are all as natural" as the gushing sympathies of home.

Instead of being a forced product of the life, they are its fairest flower.

In reality, they are the pure results for which all deep earthly sympathies are designed as a preparation. These streams are made to flow, that they may bear us on to this boundless ocean of the love of God. Here, too, is the dread view of religion to alarm those whom nothing besides may move.

These laws of the soul never change, nor cease their action when we violate their commandment. Like the outraged laws of physical nature, they visit the transgression with a retribution that is fatally sure. The word which Jesus speaks must judge unbelievers at the last day. The most appalling and the most enrapturing views of religion are here. And here is the immovable foundation of a true confidence in all endeavours to unfold the principles of true religious life to the world. How sure that confidence, even when they are presented to the sinning heart! You speak the deepest laws of its being, which no prodigal perversity can for ever obscure. Let no man fear to unfold them to the depravity which seems the darkest. Deep calleth unto deep.' The deepest spirit in the apparently ruined soul believes, and trembles, although its hour of repentance is not yet. And when the appeal is to the heart of the child, every door of access is left open for the spirit of God to enter there. The world often sadly for

1847.]

Religious Truth.

447

gels its sinning children. And yet, did men always strive to preserve the uncorrupted, with the same fidelity in which they sometimes plead with the grossly fallen, what imagination can picture the possible result ? If those who are sunk into the hell of sin can be borne across the almost impassable gulf to their Father's house, what could we fail to do, were we faithful, for those who have just come down out of heaven into our arms ?

No man can state the possible effect of such a principle in Christian education. It not only inspires an invincible confidence ; it removes the cloud which has so long concealed religion's especial charm. Dr. Bushnell describes, with deep feeling in his words, the unlovely aspect which has been so often given it by the idea that it frowns upon all the noble impulses, the generous affections, of human nature, until some technical experience has been gained. Men have made religion repulsive, almost hateful, by this mistake. Let such a doctrine be fully developed, and it will drive the heart into moral self-abandonment, or into madness. It has had unnumbered victims, whom Dr. Bushnell's statement might have saved. Indeed, religion must have been overthrown many times by the false teachings of its sincere, but inistaken, advocates, had it not been a declaration of those eternal laws of the soul which neither the mistakes of friends nor the opposition of foes can set aside. Piety will never wear its true aspect, winning the soul by its loveliness, until we entirely outgrow this sad misapprehension. Let us believe in an absolute harmony between the soul of the child, and the love, the life, to which Jesus calls it. Let us think of religion as bending over the young heart, as the mother, in her love, looks into the infant's face, assured that a capacity is there to begin at once to answer to its infinite affection ; to be unfolded in a filial tenderness as natural as any that ever blessed a home upon earth, and as enduring as the relation between the spirit and its God. Only then shall we see the noblest victories of Christian truth in the heart of transgressing men or unperverted youth.

There are confirmations of the hope that such victories will yet be witnessed. Notwithstanding the fact that the world is filled with instances of failure, experience, in one view, verifies our principle. What makes the child's heart leap up so quickly at a history of goodness ? How he muses, in his dreams of the future, on pure and noble deeds

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