Three Introductory Lectures on the Study of Ecclesiastical History/Lecture 3
In my first Lecture, when defining the province of Ecclesiastical History, I was led to describe it in its widest extent; in my second, when stating the method by which life could be given to the study, I was led to dwell upon its narrower limits. And we must endeavour, in our future course, never, whilst studying the parts, to forget the whole; nor ever so to lose ourselves in the whole, as to neglect the study of one or more of the parts. Breadth without accuracy, accuracy without breadth, are almost equal evils. How, and in what precise proportions, this general outline, and this representation of particular persons and events, are to be combined, time only can teach us. A month's experience will, in this respect, be better than a year's preparation. After we have broken ground, as I trust we may in the ensuing term, on the necessary approaches both to the ancient and the modern, the Jewish and the Christian period of Ecclesiastical History, we shall be in a better condition to draw out a plan for the whole campaign.
Meanwhile, there are some general considerations of the chief practical advantages of the study, with which I may for the present leave it in your hands.
I. Importance of facts in theological studyWhatever may be the uncertainties of History, whatever its antiquarian prejudices, whatever its imaginative temptations, there is at least one sobering and enlarging effect always to be expected from it—that it brings us down from speculations and fancies to what at least profess to be facts, and that those facts transport us some little distance from the interests and the illusions of the present. This is especially true of History in connexion with Theology. As it is one of the main characteristics of Christianity itself, that alone of all religions it claims to be founded on historical fact—that its doctrines and precepts, in great measure, have been conveyed to us in the form of history, and that this form has given them a substance, a vitality, a variety, which could, humanly speaking, have been attained in no other way; so we need not fear to confess that the same connexion has existed through all the subsequent stages of the propagation of the religion. "The disciple is not above his Master;" Theology is not above Christianity: the Christian Church is in many respects the best practical exposition of the Christian Religion. Facts are still the most powerful, the most solid, the most stubborn guides in the mazes of speculation and casuistry; they cut through difficulties which arguments cannot overturn; they overturn theories which will surrender to nothing else. Ecclesiastical History is thus, as it were, the backbone of Theology. It keeps the mind of the theological student in an upright state: often as facts are perverted, and twisted, and bent to meet a purpose, yet they offer a sterner resistance than anything else short of the primary instincts of humanity.
They offer, too, not only the most convincing, but the least irritating, modes of persuasion,—an advantage in theological matters of no mean importance. The wrath which is kindled by an anathema, by an opinion, by an argument, is often turned away by a homely fact. It is like suddenly meeting an enemy face to face, of whom we have known only by report: he is different from what we expected; we cannot resist the pressure of his hand and the glance of his eye; he has ceased to be an abstraction, he has become a person. How many elaborate arguments respecting terms of salvation and terms of communion are shivered to pieces, yet without offence, almost without resistance, as they are "walked through" (if I may use the expression) by such heathens as Socrates, such Nonconformists as Howard, such Quakers as Elizabeth Fiy.
This applies more and more strongly as our range of facts is enlarged. The more numerous and the more varied are the objects which we embrace within our range of vision, the less likely are we to place our trust in what Bacon well calls "the idols of the cave," in which our own individual lot is cast; the more likely we are to trust in Him who is the Lord of the whole earth, and of the fulness thereof.
It will be vain to argue, on abstract grounds, for the absolute and indefeasible necessity of some practice or ceremony, of which we have learned from history that there is no instance for one, two, three, or four hundred years, in the most honoured ages of the Church. It will be vain to denounce as subversive of Christianity, doctrines which we have known from biography to have been held by the very saints, martyrs, and reformers whom else we are constantly applauding. Opinions and views which, in a familiar and modified form, waken in us no shock of surprise, or even command our warm admiration, will often for the first time be truly apprehended when we see them in the ritual or the creed of some rival, or remote, or barbarous Church, which is but the caricature and exaggeration of that which we ourselves hold. Practices which we insist on retaining or repudiating, as if they involved the very essence of the Catholic faith or of the Reformation, will appear less precious or less dangerous, as the case may be, in the eyes of the respective disputants, if history shews us clearly that we thereby make ourselves, on the one hand, more papal than the Pope, more Roman than Rome,—on the other hand, more Lutheran than Luther, more Genevan than Calvin.
II. Importance of a general view of Ecclesiastical History.If this be the effect of the study of even isolated facts of Christian history, much more will it result from the study of the general phenomena which mark its course. There may be a tendency in special subjects of ecclesiastical study to cramp and narrow the mind, but there is none such in the more general view, which embraces its relations to the world at large, and which compels us to view the lay as well as the clerical element of the Church, the broad secular framework in which the whole Church itself is set.
It is always useful to see, as must be seen in any extensive survey, how large a portion of our ecclesiastical diversities is to be traced, not to religious causes, but to the more innocent, and in one sense irresistible, influences of nation, of climate, of race, of the general course of human affairs. The bitterness of English partizanship will be greatly diminished in proportion as we recognise the fact, that the divergence between the Church of England and Nonconformists springs from differences not so much of theological principle or opinion, as of social and hereditary position. The greater divisions of Christendom can be regarded 'calmly and kindly,' in proportion as we are able to take in, as from a summit, the whole view of which they form the intersecting lines. What seemed, near at hand, to be mere deformities, from a more distant point are lost in the sense of the vast prospect to which each feature contributes its peculiar part. The most cursory view of the various sects and churches of the world will make us suspect that we are not all truth and goodness, nor they all error and vice. The very names of the chiefest among them, Greek and Latin, Galilean, Anglican, German, will shew us how much of the distinction between them must be traced simply to national and geographical influences.
Nor let it be supposed that a philosophical or a general view of Ecclesiastical History is of necessity a cold or contemptuous view. There is, it is true, a melancholy feeling suggested by any wide contemplation of Christendom. We think of the contrast between the story as it might have been and the story as it is. We ask what ought to have been "more noble or more beautiful than the gradual progress of the Spirit of light and love, dispelling the darkness of folly, and subduing into one divine harmony all the jarring elements of evil;" and we have in its place, (if I may use words the more touching from the keenness of regret with which they were uttered,) "no steady, unwavering advance of heavenly spirits, but one continually interrupted, checked, diverted from its course, driven backward; as of men possessed by some bewildering spell, wasting their strength upon imaginary obstacles—hindering each other's progress and their own, by stopping to analyze and dispute about the nature of the sun's light till all were blinded by it, instead of thankfully using its aid to shew them the right path onward."
Most true,—yet even in its very sadness containing grounds of hope and consolation.
For, first, though the course of Ecclesiastical History be thus dark, there is always a bright side to be found in Ecclesiastical Biography.
III. Use of the biography of good men.Study the lives, study the thoughts, and hymns, and prayers, study the death-beds, of good men, They are the salt not only of the world, but of the Church. They are the fruit of the Gospel, when it has failed everywhere else. In them we see close at hand, what on the public stage of history we see through every kind of distorted medium, and deceptive refraction. In them we can trace the history, if not of "the Catholic Church," at least of "the Communion of Saints." The Acta Sanctorum were literally, as a great French historian has observed, the only light, moral or intellectual, of what are properly called the dark ages: taken in their best and widest sense, they are the true lights—"the good deeds shining in the naughty world"—of all ages. "Their glories," it has been well said, "shine far beyond the limits of their daily walk in life; their odours are wafted across the boundaries of unfriendly societies; their spiritual seed is borne away, and takes root and bears manyfold in fields far distant from the gardens of the Lord where they were planted."We have to be on our guard against the proverbial exaggerations of biographers; we have to disentangle fable and legend from truth and fact. But the profit is worth the risk; the work will be its own reward. It is well known that, amidst the trials which beset Henry Martyn the missionary, on his voyage to India, the study in which he found his chief pleasure and profit was in the kindly notices of ancient saints which form the redeeming points of Milner's "History of the Church." "I love," (so he writes in his diary,) "to converse, as it were, with those holy bishops and martyrs, with whom I hope, through grace, to spend a happy eternity.… The example of the Christian saints in the early ages has been a source of sweet reflection to me.… The holy love and devout meditations of Augustine and Ambrose I delight to think of.… No uninspired sentence ever affected me so much as that of the historian, that to believe, to suffer, and to love, was the primitive taste." What he so felt and expressed may be, and has been, felt by many others. Such biographies are the common, perhaps the only common, literature alike of rich and poor. Hearts, to whom even the Bible speaks in vain, have by such works been roused to a sense of duty and holiness. However cold the response of mankind has been to other portions of ecclesiastical story, this has always commanded a reverential, even an excessive attention.
Let us also remember, that what there is of instruction here, is exactly of the kind which we ought to expect. Christianity affects the springs of action, rather than the actions themselves; from its very beginning it has been seen in the lowly rather than the lofty places of the world; in the manger of Bethlehem, in the peasants of Galilee, in the caves and dens of the earth: we may therefore fairly look for its chief influences out of the beaten track of history; when we cannot trace it on the great highway of the world, we may fairly conclude that its effects will be found in the corners and pathways of life:—
"Sprinkled along the waste of years,
Full many a soft green isle appears:
Pause where we may along the desert road.
Some shelter is in sight, some sacred, safe abode."
IV. Use of the general authority of the Church.On the other hand, if we turn from the case of individual Christians to the case of the great masses of individuals which form the main bulk of the Church,—they, too, have a lesson to teach, less palpable, but by no means to be despised, though it has been sometimes pushed to exaggeration.
We know the old saying of Vincentius, "Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus," "Believe what has been believed always, everywhere, and by everybody." It is needless to repeat the arguments by which it can be shewn that, in a literal sense, this axiom is always either untrue or inapplicable. The whole Church at Ariminum was amazed to find itself Arian; Athanasius stood against the world, and the world against Athanasius. The solitary protest is always to be honoured—the lonely martyr is avenged at last. Churches and nations, and whole generations, often seem to lose their reason. Baronius himself confesses that in the Church of the tenth century there was no pilot to guide the helm, no captain to command the crew, at the moment of its greatest need.
But still the maxim of Vincentius contains a certain element of truth, which the facts of history entirely confirm. There is a common sense in the Church, as there is a common sense in the world, which cannot be neglected with impunity; and there is an eccentricity in individuals and in sects which always tends to lead us, if not into dangerous, at least into crooked paths. The very error, which is held by great, ancient, and national communities, often loses its mischief, and entirely changes its meaning, when it becomes part of the general established belief. The very truth, which is held by a narrow sect, often becomes error from the mere fact of the isolation and want of proportion in which it is held. The strange folly of Christians persecuting Christians was first introduced, not by the orthodox, but by the heretics, of the fifth century. The fancies of Millenarians, however innocent and natural, and however widely diffused among small circles, have always been resisted by the robust sense of the universal Church. It is not, as a general rule, the larger, but the lesser, congregations of Christendom, that have imposed the most minute and petty restrictions on opinion and practice. Whilst the Imperial, venerable, orthodox Church of the whole East is content to repose on the short Creed of the Nicene Fathers, the little Church and State of Brunswick, under the auspices of Duke Julius, requires, or did require till recently, from its ministers a stringent subscription, not only to the three Creeds, the Augsburg Confession, the Apology for the Confession, and the Smalcaldic Articles, but to all that is contained in all the works of Luther, in all the works of Melancthon, in all the works of Chemnitz.
In fact, the higher and wider is the sweep of vision, the more difficult is it to stumble at trifles, and make mountains out of mole-hills. Power, no doubt, is often frightfully abused, whether in the hands of ecclesiastics or of laymen; but to both, if there be any nobleness of character on which to work, it brings far more moderation and largeness of heart than is attainable by even better men in inferior stations. It was the charity and the wisdom of the Popes which protected the Jews in the middle ages against the fanatical attacks of individual zealots. The royal heart of the young King Edward was softer than the mercies even of a gentle prelate. Oliver Cromwell, when he came to wield the power of Church and State, of universities and of armies alike, was tolerant to a degree which his humbler followers were incapable of imitating or understanding.
It is difficult to express the deference due to these considerations, without placing them below or above their just estimate. But they form too obvious, too important,—I may add, too consoling an inference from the course of ecclesiastical events, to be omitted altogether. Let us receive the fact both as an encouragement and as a caution. Whatever other charges may be brought against the history of Christendom, and however much it may have embraced within or alongside of itself sallies of wild sectarianism, yet it cannot fairly be called the history of Fanaticism, or even of Enthusiasm. Grey hairs, and high station, and long experience, whether of individuals or of communities, have their own peculiar claims to respect. The movement of the Church to perfection has in it an element of solidity, of permanence, and of prudence, as well as of fluctuation, and progress, and zeal.
V. Better understanding of differences and of unity.But yet, further, even when we consider more deeply the darker points in our general view, a sense of unity emerges from the midst of disunion, a sense of success from the midst of failure. Errors and truths which we are apt to ascribe to special sects, churches, individuals, will often be seen to belong really to characters and principles which underlie and countersect the artificial distinctions on the surface of controversy. The ingenious essays in which Archbishop Whately traces "the errors of Romanism" to the general fallacies latent in every creed and every church, might be extended to all kinds of theological division. The celebrated treatise of Bossuet on "the Variations of Protestantism" might be overlaid by an instructive work on a larger basis, in a more generous spirit, and with a nobler object,—"the Variations of the Catholic Church," shewing how wide a range of diversities even the most ancient and exclusive communities have embraced; how many opposing principles, practices, and feelings, like the creeks or valleys of some narrow territory, overlap, traverse, enfold, and run parallel with each other into the very heart of the intervening country, where we should least expect to find them. Reformers, before the Reformation; Popes, in chairs not of St. Peter; "new presbyter but old priest writ large;" "old foes with new faces;" heresy under the garb of orthodoxy, orthodoxy under the garb of heresy; they who hold, according to the ancient saying, τὰ αἱρετικὰ καθολικῶς, and they also who hold τὰ καθολικὰ αἱρετικῶς,—strange companions will be thus brought together from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. Pelagius lurks under the mitre of Chrysostom or the cowl of Jerome; Loyola will find himself by the side of Wesley; John Knox will recognise a fellow-worker in Hildebrand; the austerities of Benedict, the intolerance of Dominic, will find their counterpart at Geneva and in Massachusetts; the missionary zeal of the Arian Ulfilas, of the Jesuit Xavier, and of the Protestant Schwarz will be seen to flow from the same source.—The judgment of history will thus far be able to anticipate the judgment of Heaven, and to supersede with no doubtful hand the superficial concords and the superficial discords which belong to things temporal, by the true separation and the true union which belong to things eternal.
VI. Evidence rendered to the truth of Christianity.But it is not only as a matter of wisdom and charity, but as a ground of Christian evidence, that a large view of ecclesiastical differences is specially useful. In the diversity of the Church will be found a more powerful argument for the divine origin of Christianity itself, than in the most perfect unity. It is not, humanly speaking, surprising that a religion should sustain itself from age to age in the same race and country. We argue truly that such a restriction was needed as a support, not for the strength, but for the infirmities of Judaism; we argue truly against the universal truth of Mahometanism, that it has never been able permanently to establish itself in any but an Eastern climate. But the distinguishing characteristic of the Christian Church has been, that it has assumed different forms, and yet not perished in the process; that the gulf, however wide, which separates Greek from Latin, and both from Protestant, has yet not been wide enough to swallow up the common Christianity which has been transmitted from one to the other. And, in like manner, to recognise the influence of races, institutions, and political convulsions on the history of the Church, is assuredly not to diminish, but to exalt, its importance to men and to nations; not to underrate its mission, but to represent it in its full grandeur. Nothing less than one of the moving springs of the world could be so interwoven with the progress of great events, or in its different manifestations fall in so readily with the broad lines of demarcation which Nature herself has drawn between the various branches of the human family.
VII. Lessons from the failings of the Church.And, yet further, the very imperfections and failings of the Church may tend to give us both the failings a more sober and a more hopeful view of its ultimate prospects. The alarms, the dangers, the persecutions, the corruptions through which it has safely passed, are so many guarantees that it is itself indestructible. The fact that these obstructions to Christian truth and goodness are found not in one church only, but in all, instead of causing restlessness and impatience, ought to dispose us to make the best of our lot, whatever it be. We learn that every church partakes of the faults, as well as of the excellencies, of its own age and country,—that each is fallible as human nature itself,—that each is useful as a means, none perfect as an end. To find Christ or Antichrist exclusively in any one community is against charity and against humillty, but above all, against the plain facts of history. Let us hold this firmly, and we shall have then secured ourselves against two of the worst evils which infest the well-being of religious communities—the love of controversy and the love of proselytizing.
VIII. Advantages of a comparison of Ecclesiastical History with the ScripturesEvery such reflection forces us back on a consideration which is both a chief safeguard and a chief advantage of Ecclesiastical History—the comparison which it suggests between what the Church is, and what in the Scriptures it was intended to be; between what it has been, and what from the same source we trust that it may be.
It is hard to say whether, by such a comparison, the study of the Bible or the study of Ecclesiastical History is most the gainer.
What is the history of the Church but a long commentary on the sacred records of its first beginnings? It is a fulfilment of Prophecy in the truest and widest sense of that word; a fulfilment, not merely of predictions of future events, but of that higher and deeper spirit of Prophecy which "makes manifest the secrets of the heart." The thoughts and deeds of good Christians are still, as in the Apostolic times, a living Bible; "an Epistle," a Gospel, "written on the hearts of men, known and read of all men." The various fortunes of the Church are the best explanation, as they are the best illustration, of the parables which unfold the course of the kingdom of heaven. The failures of the Church are but the reflex of the mournful, almost pensive shade, cast before on the first anticipations of its history—(how unlike the triumphant exultations of so many human founders of human sects),—"not peace, but a sword;" "a fire kindled on the earth;" "a savour of death unto death."
The actual effects, the manifold applications, in history, of the words of Scripture, give them a new instruction, and afford a new proof of their endless vigour and vitality. Look through any famous passage of the Old, or yet more of the New Testament—There is hardly one that has not borne fruit in the conversion of some great saint, or in the turn it has given to some great event. At a single precept of the Gospels, Antony went his way and sold all that he had; at a single warning of the Epistles, Augustine's hard heart was melted beneath the fig-tree at Milan; a single chapter of Isaiah made a penitent believer of the profligate Rochester. A word to St. Peter has become the stronghold of the Papacy; a word from St. Paul has become the stronghold of Luther. The whole Christian Church is paved with Scripture texts, rightly or wrongly applied, deeply worn by the footsteps of thousands of worshippers. The Psalter alone, by its manifold applications and uses in after times, is a vast palimpsest, written over and over again, illuminated, illustrated by every conceivable incident and emotion of men and of nations; battles, wanderings, dangers, escapes, death-beds, obsequies, of every age and country, rise, or may rise to our view, as we read it.
Nor is it only in special passages that the history of the Church sets before us the greatness of its origin. It is on looking back upon a mountain range which we have left, that we often for the first time understand its true character. The peaks which in a nearer view were all confused, now stand out distinct; the line of heights is drawn out in its full length; the openings and passes disentangle themselves from the surrounding valleys; the nearer and lesser objects now sink to their proper level, as they are seen backed and overtopped by the lofty range behind and above them. Even so do we, at the distance of eighteen hundred years, see in many respects the truths of Scripture with a clearer vision than they who lived even amidst their recesses or at their very foot. We who have traversed the long levels of Ecclesiastical History can see what they of old time could not see, the elevation of those divine words and acts, as compared with any that followed. We can see, as they could not see, the wide circumference of objects which those words and acts overlooked, embraced, comprehended. We can distinguish, as they could not distinguish, the relative importance, the due proportions, the general outline, of the various heights, and can sketch our picture and direct our steps accordingly.
The very extent of our departure from the original truth; the very violence which in successive ages has been put upon the sacred words; the attempts to warp them by false interpretation or by false teaching, or to overlay them by theories or forgeries of a later date, only bring before us in a more lively and instructive form what was the point from which we started, what is the difference of the point to which we have now arrived. In that coarse but instructive fable in which Dean Swift has described the development of Ecclesiastical History, when the father's will is at last brought out by the three brothers of the tale, nothing could more clearly impress upon them the sense of its true meaning than the recollection of the artifices by which they had been induced to discover in it the sanction of their own deviations from it. "If not totidem sententiis, then totidem verbis; if not totidem verbis, then totidem literis." So, with hardly an exaggeration, has Scripture been often handled. The next best clue to reading an oracle straightforwardly and honestly, is to be aware that we have been reading it backwards. The allegories of the early Fathers may be beautiful for their own special purpose, but they hardly profess to be expositions of the meaning of the sacred authors. The variations of reading, which copyists of later times have introduced into the text of the New Testament, are positive proofs that they found the actual words insufficient to express the altered views of their own age. The attention paid to passages manifestly of secondary importance, and the neglect of passages manifestly of the very highest importance, may serve as both of what we have hitherto lost and of what we may still hope to gain, in the application of the Holy Scriptures to the wants of Ecclesiastical History.
IX. Future prospects of Ecclesiastical HistoryThis peculiar relation of the Bible to the history of the Church invites one concluding train of History, thought. When, sixteen years ago, a revered teacher stood in this place, and, after a survey of the field of Modern History, asked whether there were in the existing resources of the nations of mankind any materials for a new epoch, distinct from those which have gone before, you may remember how he answered that there were none. What if the same question be asked with regard to the prospects of Ecclesiastical History? We have seen that four great phases have passed over the fortunes of the Church—Is there likely to be another? We are told that the resources of nation and race are exhausted for the outer world in which our history moves—Are there any stores of spiritual strength yet unexplored in the forces of the Christian Church? With all reverence and with all caution, may not the reflections which we have just made encourage us to hope that such a mine does exist—a virgin mine, in the original records of Christianity? We need not speculate on the probable destinies of any Christian system or community now existing in the world; we need not determine whether, as our own Protestant historian has declared, the Papacy may still be standing ages hence after England shall have passed away; or whether, with distinguished foreigners amongst ourselves, we are to believe that it is steadily advancing year by year to the grave already dug to receive it. Still less need we compose volumes of future Ecclesiastical History out of fancied interpretations of the Apocalypse, in defiance alike of all human experience, all divine warnings. But a serious comparison of the actual contents of the Scriptures with the actual course of ecclesiastical events almost inevitably brings us to the conclusion that the existing materials, principles, and doctrines of the Christian Religion are far greater than have ever yet been employed; that the Christian Church, if it ever be permitted or enabled to use them, has a long lease of new life, and new hope before it, such as has never yet been enjoyed. When we look at the Bible on the one hand and History on the other; when we see what are the points on which the Scriptures lay most emphatic stress; when we think how much of the best blood and life of Christendom has run to leaf, and not to fruit; when we remember how constant is the protest of Scripture, and, we may add, of the best spirits of Christendom also, against preferring any cause of opinion or ceremony to justice, holiness, truth and love; how constantly and steadily all these same intimations point to One Divine Object, and One only, as the life and essence of Christianity,—can we hesitate to say, that, if the Christian Church be drawing to its end, or if it continue to its end with no other objects than those which it has hitherto sought, it will end with its acknowledged resources confessedly undeveloped, its finest hopes of usefulness almost untried and unattempted. It will have been like an ungenial spring cut short in full view of the summer, a stately vessel wrecked within the very sight of the shore.
It may be that the age for creating new forms of the Christian faith is past and gone—that no new ecclesiastical boundaries will henceforth be laid down amongst men. Indications in History.It is certain that in the use of the old forms is our best chance for the present. Use them to the utmost—use them threadbare, if you will: long experience, the course of their history, their age and dignity, have made them far more elastic, far more available, than any that we can invent for ourselves. But do not give up the study of the history of the Church, either in disgust at what has been, or in despair at what may be. The history of the Christian Church, no less than of the Jewish, bears witness to its own incompleteness. The words which describe its thoughts constantly betray their deflection from the original ideas which they were meant to express,—"Church," "Gospel," "Catholic," "Evangelical,"—the very word "Ecclesiastical," as I noticed in first speaking of it, are now too often the mere shadows, sometimes even the exact opposites, of their ancient, orthodox, scriptural meaning. We need only trace the steps of their gradual descent to their present signification, in order to see how far they, and we with them, have to ascend again before we can reach the point from which they started, the point to which we have still to attain. Read, too, the expressions of the best and wisest Christians in their best and wisest moments. Take them, not in the passion of youth, not in the heat of controversy, not in the idleness of speculation, but in the presence of some great calamity, or in the calmness of age, or in the approach of death. Take that admirable summary of mature Christian experience, which ought to be in the hands of every student of Ecclesiastical History,—one might well add, of every student of theology, of every English minister of religion,—which is contained in Baxter's review of his own narrative of his life and times See how he there corrects the narrowness, the sectarianism, the dogmatism of his youth, by the comprehensive wisdom acquired in long years of persecution, of labour, and devotion. Let us hope that what he has expressed as the result of his individual experience, we may find and appropriate in the collective experience of the old age of the Church.
Then turn and observe how with this best witness of Christendom, the best witness of Christianity, Indications in Scripture.as set forth in the Scriptures, entirely agrees. Take any of the chapters of the Old or New Testament, to which Prophets and Apostles appeal as containing, in their judgment, the sum and substance of their message—take, above all, the summary of all Evangelical and Apostolical truth in the Four Gospels. Read them parallel with the so-called religious wars and controversies of former ages. Read them parallel with the so-called enlightenment and the so-called religious sects and parties and journals of our own age. Read, and fear, and hope, and profit by the extent of the contrast.
Doubtless there is much in the study of the Scriptures that is uncertain and difficult. But this is nothing in comparison with the light they have still to give, both in checking our judgment of the past, in guiding our judgment of the present and future. We may in former times have gone too much by their letter and too little by their spirit; but it has been far oftener our fault that we have gone neither by letter nor by spirit; it has far oftener happened that, however much the spirit may be above the letter, yet the letter is far beyond the spirit in which we have often been accustomed to deal with it. Each age of the Church has, as it were, turned over a new leaf in the Bible, and found a response to its own wants. We have a leaf still to turn, a leaf not the less new because it is so old, not the less pregnant with consequences because it is so simple.
Conclusion.Of all the advantages which Ecclesiastical History can yield, this stimulus to a study of the Scriptures is the most important. That study, except to a limited extent, does not fall within our sphere; the province of History, as such, will be sufficient to employ us; and it will indeed be an ample reward, if I can be enabled, in any way, to give a new charm or a firmer basis to this great subject. But it would be a reward and an object far higher, if I could, in however slight a measure, make it point to the grandeur and the truth of that which is beyond itself—if the study of the history of the Church should, by way of contrast, or illustration, or comparison, rouse any one to a deeper faith in the power and the design of the Bible, a stronger belief in what it has already done, a higher hope and clearer understanding of what its words may yet effect for us, in the chapters of living history in which we or the coming generations may bear a part.
I ventured to commence these Lectures with the description of the treasures which were shewn to the Pilgrim in the palace by the highway-side: may I close them with the prospect which he beheld from thence on the far distant horizon—described in words too sacred, in part, perhaps, for us to use, but not too sacred for the truth and the hope which I have humbly, but in all seriousness, endeavoured to set before you as the conclusion of the whole matter.—
"Then I saw in my dream, that on the morrow he got up to go forwards, but they desired him to stay till the next day also; and then, said they, we will, … if the day be clear, … shew you the Delectable Mountains; which, said they, would further add to his comfort, … because they were nearer to the desired haven than where at present he was … So he consented and staid. When the morning was up, they had him to the top of the house, and bid him look south. So he did, and behold, … at a great distance, … he saw a most pleasant mountainous country—beautified with woods, vineyards, fruits of all sorts, flowers also, with springs and fountains, very delectable to behold. Then he asked the name of the country. They said it was … 'Immanuel's Land;' … and it is as common, said they, as this hill is to and for all the pilgrims. And when thou comest there, … from thence thou mayest see to the gate of the Celestial City, … as the shepherds that live there will make appear."
- Arnold's Miscellaneous Works, p. 286.
- Guizot's Lectures on the Civilization of France; c. xvii.
- Wilson's Bampton Lectures, p, 275
- Memoir of Henry Martyn, pp. 127, 130, 136
- Macaulay's Essay's, vol. iii. p. 209.
- The whole passage may be conveniently read in Wordsworth's Ecclesiastical Biography, vol. v. p.559—597