« ZurückWeiter »
For FEBRUARY, 1845.
Art. I. The Sacraments. An Enquiry into the Nature of the Symbolic Institutions of the Christian Religion, usually called the Sacraments. By Robert Halley, D.D. Part I., Baptism. 8vo. pp. 620. London: Jackson and Walford. AMongst the natural tendencies of the human mind by which it has in all ages, and among men of all races, been swayed to the adoption of corrupt and carnal systems of religion, there are two to which we may, without much fear of error, assign the chief place. These are the tendency to prefer what is outward and sensible to what is spiritual, and the tendency to exchange a personal for what has been happily styled a vicarious religion. These two tendencies we find so universally operating, that we may justly call them natural to man; and whilst each of them has sufficient power of itself to do incalculable mischief to the best interests of the race, their impulse is so invariably directed along the same line, that they are seldom if ever found alone, but almost universally in co-operation. That in religious matters there should be in the human mind a tendency towards what is merely formal will not appear surprising, if we reflect that, in our present state, we are altogether more the creatures of sensation than of reflection. The outward senses are the inlets of a very large portion of the knowledge we are daily receiving, so that they are making continual demands upon our attention. External objects, moreover, are so much more readily apprehended by us, than objects of pure thought, that it requires an effort to detach the mind from the former, and engage it with the latter, such as the majority of WOL. XVII. K
DR. HALLEY'S CONGREGATIONAL LECTURE.
men are usually unwilling to make. Hence, from the force of
The habit of pondering abstract relations being thus one of the last which men generally are disposed to acquire, it ceases to be surprising that the religion of the mass should tend universally toward a mere outward form. At first sight, indeed, nothing would seem more irrevocably placed beyond the sphere of the merely sensible than the religious relations of man. Here all is essentially spiritual; or, if anything material be introduced, it can be only in the capacity of an instrument or adjunct. Perhaps, however, this very circumstance only the more directly induces in man a disposition to carnalize his religious system; for when the alternative is proposed between a purely spiritual system and no religion at all, the almost certain result will be that man, following the bent of his native impulses, will adopt neither side of the alternative, but will construct a religion for himself that shall effect a compromise between his conscience and his senses between his inability to do without a religion and his unwillingness to embrace one that constrains him to deal with spiritual things as realities. In point of fact, we find that it is so, for, wherever man has been left to form a religion for himself, whether out of materials supplied by revelation, or from such resources as tradition and nature could supply, it has been invariably the case that the formal has Usurped the place of the spiritual, and that the adjunct has been substituted for the essential. In systems of purely human origin all is material; the object of worship is himself sym. bolised, and the worship offered comes to be a mere outward form, sometimes a superficial farce. Where revelation has shed
ght, the grosser parts of this material system are relinquished, the spirituality of Deity is admitted; the necessity of moral rectitude in his sight is conceded; but after all, where
the natural tendencies of the human mind have been allowed to operate in determining the kind of religion which should really and practically be embraced, the mind has invariably swerved from spirituality of sentiment and worship, to take refuge in rites and ceremonies, penances and mortifications. These, however burdensome, or however painful, it would seem are preferable in the estimation of mankind generally, to a religious system which demands reflection, meditation, self-examination, and the exercise of the higher functions of our intellectual and moral nature. In close and active co-operation with this tendency towards a merely ritual religion, is the second influence to which we have above referred—the tendency to prefer a vicarious to a personal religion. Whether it be that man is not fond of viewing him. self directly in his relation to Deity, or that he finds personal religion too serious and difficult a subject for him to deal with, or that he feels more composure in transferring his anxieties to, and reposing his confidence in another, of whose follies, imperfections, and sins he has not that painful consciousness which he has of his own; the fact itself appears unquestionable, that there is a strong tendency in men generally, to settle their relations with God through the medium of a priest, rather than on grounds involving their own personal responsibility. Now this tendency, coexisting in the mind with a natural tendency towards mere ritual worship, not only accords with the latter, but electively coalesces with it, and a mutual action goes on between the two. For if there be rites and penances, there must be some one to perform the rites and exact the penances; and though, under certain circumstances this might be done by the person himself, yet the tendency to transfer all matters involving responsibility to a priest, naturally leads to the reposing in his hands the duty and the power of settling such points. On the other hand, where people have transferred their religious responsibilities to another, they have, ipso facto, invested the latter with a right to demand of them implicit obedience to his appointments; and, moreover, as a vicarious religion can be carried on only by means of something which the responsible party does to or for those who have placed the care of their souls in his hand, his appointments come of necessity to have respect exclusively to matters of outward performance. Thus a ritual system grows naturally out of a vicarious system, and a vicarious system maturally craves the aid of a ritual system. Between the two, man becomes the votary of a religion, from which all spiritual vitality has been withdrawn; which is of the earth earthy; and which, instead of improving and elevating its followers, seldom fails to make them the slaves of superstition,
the tools of the priesthood, and the prey of all that is sensual and devilish in our fallen nature.
It would be easy, we think, to illustrate these remarks very fully by an appeal to the history of corrupted Judaism and corrupted Christianity. Without entering, however, on so wide a field at present, we need only to point to those ordinances of the Christian church which form the subject of Dr. Halley's work, now on our table. No person can reasonably pretend that the place assigned in the New Testament to these ordinances is other than secondary and auxiliary. They form no part of the essence of saving truth, or of the religion, strictly so called, recommended to us by God. Whatever disadvantages the neglect or the wrong observance of either of them may inflict (and on this point we are far from holding latitudinarian sentiments), neither by the express words of scripture, nor by the general spirit of christianity, are we justified in maintaining that these amount in any case necessarily to a forfeiture of the essential privileges of the christian church. With all the wise and gracious adaptation of these ordinances to our spiritual well-being, they are nevertheless mere adjuncts of the far more important and essential part of christianity-viz., the adaptation of divine truth to enlighten the understanding, relieve the conscience, and purify the heart of man.
How different from this the place which many assign to the sacraments, it is unnecessary that we should at any length describe. Every one knows that under the sacerdotal system of the Roman Catholic church they have been elevated into the place of divine mysteries, and made primary and essential parts of christianity. It is by them that the thaumaturgic deeds of the priesthood are chiefly wrought. By the waters of baptism the priest regenerates the sinful child of Adam; by the elements of the eucharist he offers sacrifice for him, and confirms, strengthens, and fructifies the grace implanted in the regenerated soul. By the one he washes away the birth-stain which man brings with him into the world ; by the other he atones for the guilt which man has actually committed in the world, and sends him out of it with a comfortable viaticum for his journey to the next. Wielding the sole power of the former, the priest holds the keys of the church below; wielding the sole power of the latter, he holds the keys of the church above. The christianity of Catholicism thus becomes a religion of external observance and of vicarious responsibility. It is not by a great change wrought in him through his own apprehension and appreciation of divine truth, under the influence of the divine Spirit, that the Catholic is taught to expect salvation, but by a change effected upon him in consequence of something done to him by his priest. The sacraments are thus made the means of gratifying, at the expence of genuine christianity, the two propensities to which we have already referred as naturally operating in man to the deterioration of his religious views and habits. As sensible rites they are adapted to his love of an external religion; and as the implements of priestly therapeutics, they render unnecessary a personal, and gratify the love of a vicarious religion. They offer man an easy and sensuous road to heaven. He can be religious without the labour of thinking, or the trouble of reasoning, or the mortification of self-examination. He can dispense with the burden of anxiety altogether as respects his religious state and prospects, by transferring the care of his soul to his priest. It is by what the priest does to him in baptism that he is regenerated; it is by what the priest does for him in the sacrifice of the eucharist that he is justified. The whole affair is a matter of vicarious operation, in which personal obligations and responsibilities are, for the most part, left out of sight, and that which is spiritual in christianity becomes entirely superseded by the inordinate and misplaced importance attached to what is ritual.
Against this gross and ruinous error of sacramental salvation, Dr. Halley has directed the battery of his clear and cogent argumentation in several parts of the volume now before us.
As in this volume he deals only with the ordinance of baptism, his remarks on sacramental efficacy are almost exclusively devoted to the exposure and refutation of the Roman Catholic doctrine of baptismal regeneration; but he promises a subsequent volume, in which the ordinance of the Lord's Supper shall form the leading topic of discussion. The question of sacramental efficacy, however, forms only a small part of what Dr. Halley has undertaken to examine. His plan includes the consideration of all the questions which have divided professed christians regarding the sacraments. Their nature, their permanency, their origin, and the mode in which they are to be administered, no less than the uses they are designed to serve, fall within the field which Dr. Halley has marked out for himself. To traverse so wide a space with anything like intelligent and satisfactory scrutiny, he has found impossible in one course of eight lectures, the number which custom seems to have prescribed for the congregational lecture; and accordingly he has divided his course into two, expanded his allotted eight lectures into fourteen, and taken his place by the side of his single-volumed colleagues, with the enviable distinction of having secured, what most of them have deplored the want of.-a sufficient space to say all he has thought necessary for the adequate discussion of his subject. *