( Originally Published 1888 )
The central principle of Christianity, in opposition to some of the older faiths of the East, was the value of the individual. Christ taught that not man alone but men were the objects of the divine love and care. And in all His teaching concerning the human soul, He assumed in men not merely the capacity for knowledge of the divine, but actual possession of the divine nature, by which alone such responsibility in divine things as he attributed to man could be regarded as possible.
The Christian belief in mankind as divinely related, is so spontaneous, so fundamental to the best religious thought, that no theology making a contrary declaration has ever been able to shield itself from the charge of self-contradiction. Theology, to be consistent, must declare frankly, and take as its starting-point the doctrine of Jesus, that the deepest truth about men is that they are the sons of God.
Confusion regarding this fundamental truth inevitably results in confusion as to the meaning and the means of salvation, and the purpose of God in the establishment of His Church. And in this we have the explanation of much of the vagueness and uncertainty in matters of belief, as well as the conflict of opinions, that exists with-in the churches of the modern Christian world.
Most people have received from their teachers a double education in religious things. The Bible and other religious books sometimes speak so strongly of human unbelief and sin as almost to warrant the teaching that there is no natural relationship between the soul and God, but rather a great wall of separation, never to be removed ; no closer bond of sympathy than among men exists between the ruler and his subjects. And such teaching is part of the teaching of popular religion.
But the view of these utterances which finds in them the foundation stones of a theology radically at variance with that in whose reasonable teaching that man is truly God-related we have all likewise been educated, is, of course, superficial and false.
In days when the world knew far less than it does now of the value of charity, "the bond of peace," when instead of mercy and the sense of human brotherhood, despotic cruelty and disregard of private rights prevailed, it is not strange that a system of theology should have grown up which, so far as it was able, ignored the simple relationship of man to God, and on the Gospel of Jesus imposed a grim and unlovely structure of logic, or an artificial ritual method it called "the way of life." Two systems continually waging warfare against each other, the Sacerdotalism of Rome and the Calvinism of many Protestant sects, thus share in the radical error of a false view of man's fundamental relationship to the divine. Calvinism declares that man is not God's child, but merely the creation of His hands, in his nature completely at variance with truth and goodness :
" To all that 's good, averse and blind,
Conceived in sin, (0 wretched state ! )
Whatever we do or think before conversion, is necessarily wrong, since our whole nature is corrupt and wicked. At God's hands we de-serve, not the treatment which children have a right to expect at the hands of their parents, but only wrath and punishment for the sins we have committed, or what is worse, the evil we inherit; and whatever of good He gives us is of His " free grace and bounty."
Romanism is built on the same perverted view of man and his relationship to God.
Teaching that man is estranged from God in every fibre of his soul it compels him to come under a system, like that of many heathen religions, in which a priesthood and sacrificial rites hold a prominent place, before he can properly be regarded as a child of God, an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven. So on the basis of its mistaken belief regarding man Calvinism has shaped its logic of regeneration, and justification by faith, and future reward and punishment ; and on the same basis Romanism has reared its doctrine of salvation by means of the Church and the Sacraments, apart from which man must be left to the " uncovenanted mercies " of God.
The view of man implicity and in his direct teaching recognized by Christ, and afterward for many years common in the Church, was the simplest and most natural that can be held. Jesus had no theories of total depravity, and predestination, of substitutionary atonement, and justification by faith, or deliverance from God's wrath by means of the Church and the Sacraments. He taught that in his deepest nature man is always the child of God, yet always needing light on his half-perceived relationship to his Father, always needing to have the springs of his soul purified, to have the way of duty made plainer to him, his moral obligations pointed out, his conscience touched and quickened ; in short, needing an education no teacher less perfectly at home with truth than Christ himself can give him. His parable of the Prodigal Son is an epitome of His Gospel, and in that the misguided and wandering sons of men are represented as living in a far country in moral filth and degradation, yet never for a moment less truly sons of God than if they were living in the Father's house of truth and purity.
It is true He gave the world the important lesson of the new birth, but that meant the awakening within men of the deepest instincts and emotions, the opening of their eyes to see the beauty of divine truth and life as it was natural for them to see it. He sometimes spoke to people as every moral reformer has felt it necessary to speak, as if the world and sin had taken entire possession of them ; and yet He knew that if righteousness was not deeper in them than sin, sense of God stronger than atheism, it was impossible that they could be moved by His exhortations. He assumed in His hearers a true and proper sense of divine things, a natural power to discriminate between the things that were for the soul's health and those which wrought in it decay and death.
When He called His first disciples from their fishing-boats or places of business, he did not tell them, in the Calvinistic way, that they must be regenerated and consciously converted before they could become His disciples, nor did He ever teach them that Baptism created men children of God. He treated them simply as any true elder brother would treat his needy and dependent younger brothers, bade them go with Him, and let Him teach them about His Father, who was also just as truly theirs.
For a good while after Christ's death, the Church, in a simple, undogmatic way, held that simplest view of man's relation to God. Its teachers believed in the ideal nature of man, as well as the dark and sinful nature, the divine element as well as the human within him. They often quoted that passage in the first chapter of Genesis, which declares that man was created " in the image of God," and they understood by that, and by that other passage, in which God is said to " have breathed into man's nostrils the breath of life," that the soul has God's own life in it. It was only very slowly that the notion, that man by nature is utterly separated from God and lost to righteousness, came to prevail, and we can trace the steps by which, under the influence of the great Augustine, it finally came to overshadow the fresher and simpler teaching of Christ and the early Apostles and the Greek fathers of the Church.
Its origin is to be sought in an exaggerated feeling of human sinfulness, and in a growing belief in the importance of the visible Catholic Church in mediating between God and humanity. The earlier theology said : There is no doubt that we are sinful, but the very fact that we know and feel our sinfulness, shows that there is a deeper and better self in us which allies us to Him who is the Source of all good. We are not utterly gone from righteousness any more than we are perfectly true to God. We inherit propensities to sin, and weaknesses of will that keep us from always doing right, but all our lives we never lose the conviction that our actual welfare is not furthered by doing wrong, nor that we are untrue to ourselves when we disobey the least of God's commands. And these commands of God embrace whatsoever conscience, instructed by reason, whispers within us that we should or should not do.
For confirmation of the Augustinian doctrine of total depravity, theologians of the Latin Church repeatedly turned to the allegorical story in Genesis of the temptation and fall, and taking it for literal history, traced all human sin to Adam, and made many strange assertions of the implication of all men in their great forefather's guilt. Thus was shaped the dogma that still haunts the Church, and produces confusion in many thoughtful minds who see it lurking like a dark shadow behind the devotional words of certain parts of the Prayer Book, the dogma of original sin. " It was unknown," says Dr. Allen, " to Greek theology, as well as an innovation also in Latin thought, though it had been vaguely broached by Tertullian and Cyprian, and intimations looking toward it are to be found in the writings of Ambrose." And it led, both in its formation and after its irony had fully entered into west-ern thought, to many bitter discussions and strifes that seem all the sadder when we re-member Christ's simple teaching concerning man. With it is connected the view, once so common, but now generally discarded, that by the fall of Adam, death and all the sicknesses and minor ills that necessarily belong to man's lot were brought about. In it are involved many dark and dreary thoughts of God and the future, and by it the problem of evil, always insoluble, yet not so strange, if we regard the human race as slowly but steadily developing, intellectually and morally, from the beginning, is unnecessarily complicated. To this doctrine, and the men whose minds it most strongly influenced, rather than to any, however oriental figurative language of the New testament, is chiefly to be traced the mediaeval, Miltonic doctrine of everlasting punishment, a doctrine that once at least in the Prayer Book seems to find expression, where in the Litany we pray to be delivered from everlasting damnation; the words, however, having for us a deep spiritual truth and meaning.
How, then, in these modern days, when men are trying to look at all questions as the Christian thinkers of Alexandria did—fairly and in the light of reason,—shall we define for ourselves the doctrine of man's spiritual nature?
An old seventeenth century divine of our Church, Benjamin Whichcote, used to quote, very often, as expressing what he regarded as the true view of Biblical teaching and the view of reason, concerning man, those words from the Proverbs, " The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord," thus affirming all that the best thinkers of the Church before Augustine had believed and taught concerning the divine relation-ship between the human soul and God. St. Paul speaks feelingly in the seventh chapter of Romans about the conflict between good and evil desires that went on in him, and confesses, as we all have to confess, that he had not al-ways strength to do right. But you will notice that he lays just as much stress on the good nature that dwelt in him as the bad, that he recognizes himself and all men as endowed with the two natures that he elsewhere calls the Adam and the Christ, the old man and the new. That struggle of St. Paul's is the common struggle of the race. The old man with his deeds, that is the lower, less perfect nature is daily in revolt against the new man, the higher and holier in us, of which Christ is the type and head. And so we, like him, are often made conscious by our own experience of the great double fact of our natures.
The divine nature of man is a frequent theme of great writers. In spite of this
" Muddy vesture of decay
St. Paul, as has been said, recognized in man the movement of righteousness and freedom. And it was that that made it possible for him to appeal earnestly, as he did, to the disunited and sensual people who composed the Corinthian Church, to regard their bodies as the temples of the Holy Spirit. It was that he meant when he said : "But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him."
Emerson says : " We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime, within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related ; the eternal One." In all conversation between two persons," he says, " tacit reference is made, as to a third party, to a common nature. That third party or common nature is not social; it is impersonal ; it is God." Again he says : "I feel the same truth how often in my trivial conversation with my neighbors, that somewhat higher in each overlooks this by-play, and Jove nods to Jove from behind each of us." And in Tennyson's fragment, " Flower from the crannied wall," where he says:
" If I could know what you are, little flower,
the same truth appears.
Caird says, most significantly : " The very consciousness of our finitude indicates that we have already transcended it. If we were wholly finite, we should never be conscious of our finitude. We could have no sense of imperfection, but for the presence in us of a standard of perfection."
The evil in man is testified to by every one, and so near at hand, so dark and dreadful is its presence, that it is not strange that it should so often have obscured the lovelier truth concerning man ; that sin rather than redemption should have been the starting-point of the mediaeval theology, and the Devil the destroyer, rather than Christ the redeemer, the hero of Calvinistic thought.
The problem of evil is one that has never been solved to the intellect, as evil itself can never be reconciled with the better self of man ; but the more truly we know ourselves, the more sensible must we become of the imperfection in even our best thoughts and works. On the other hand, if we forget or refuse to reverence the divine light of human reason, the eternal rectitude, the infinite truth in man, we shall inevitably fall into false and querulous ways of thought concerning him.
The figurative account in Genesis of the fall of man, as of the creation of the world, used to be regarded as literal history. By that account people judged that man was created at first not only innocent, but complete in all his nature, and that in one moment he fell from a state of moral grandeur to one of moral degradation and blindness. This fallen nature he then entailed on his descendants, and so the evolution of the race has been downward, not upward.
That was the doctrine of the mediaeval Church ; but in the light of many truths that history and science have revealed, it is no longer generally believed. Whether man has been evolved from lower forms of life or not, there is every reason to think that he has risen from a very low state of intelligence and moral consciousness to his present condition; that in his whole history, as in the universe at large, the law has been, " first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear." We do not now take the account in Genesis as literal history ; we regard it as an allegory of the in-ward experience of every man. Men come into the world innocent, as to actual guilt, but with latent capacities for good and evil within them.
As life goes on, they eat of many a forbidden tree, and so fall into sin and sorrow, but, as in the story of Genesis, such experiences make them wise to discern good from evil, and perhaps help them to a noble final self-conquest.
To sum up the doctrine of man : In the light of the New Testament and the best subsequent Christian thought, we believe that the soul of man contains divine and human, infinite and finite elements. We do not hold sin to be a light thing, but we believe that righteousness lies deeper in us than sin ; that it is inwrought with the fibre of our being, while sin, as some one has said, is the dye, a very dark and dreadful dye, that stains the fabric of our life. And consequently, that, as Epictetus declares, " If a man could be persuaded of this principle as he ought, he never would think of himself meanly or ignobly."
Some may question whether this teaching is in harmony with that of the Prayer Book, but the teaching of the Prayer Book, like that of the Bible, is to be discovered rather in its general spirit than from isolated words or phrases. We must remember how simply and confidently the Prayer Book puts the Church's prayers into the mouths of all men and women who will use them, assured that they express the deepest de-sires, the purest emotions of all human souls.
The system of the historic Church is one of rational religious education. She takes people in childhood, because they are children of God, baptizes them, teaches them to pray, confirms them, and makes them, if they will be, participants in all her life and worship, the very fundamental principle of her system being the double nature of man. The whole aim and end of her education is not to save men from the wrath of an offended Deity remote from them, but to bring into complete harmony within them the two natures now so often in fierce and bitter conflict. Looking beyond this world, she prophesies of worlds where we may grow more freely in light and knowledge, where seeing truth no longer darkly, but with clear vision, we shall love and follow it, and where, no longer torn by conflicting desires,
"Mind and soul according well,