Three Lectures on the
Church of Scotland
An Answer to Dean Stanley?
Presbyterianism, indeed, is so constructed that it never
formulates ecclesiastical judgments about the existence or non-existence of
this great element (the concept of what constitutes Conversion) in individual
cases. Its working is regulated so as to recognise the possibility of the
Divine life arising only by degrees to conscious certainty and establishment.
Presbyterianism acknowledges that seeds may be sown in the heart of childhood,
which manifest their unquestionable peculiarity only after years.
Presbyterianism is prepared to work not only for immediate and manifest fruits,
but also for gradual developments and long results. Nevertheless, the concept
to which I refer is an ever-present and regulating consciousness. If there are
those among us, as there are, of course, who have no regard to it or faith in
it, they do not sway the Churchs movements; generally they feel
consciously disqualified from attempting to do so.
Nor let it be thought that this conception is a rigid iron thing, that sits like a fetter on the heart of the Church. It may be apprehended on various sides, with various degrees of fulness, with various estimates of the elements it contains. Of all who share in it, there are no two, probably, who represent it to themselves exactly in the same way. And yet morally it is one - one great type through all; capable of being approached on a thousand sides, but felt by each to be a unity; the ground of a common consciousness, whence proceed various forms of action, in which also the same unity is recognised.
Now, I will take an illustration of what I mean on this last point, from a quotation made by Dean Stanley, but not on his part, as I am disposed to think, thoroughly understood.(** Church of Scotland, pp. 153, 155.) It is in his notice of Dr. Chalmers. The notice, I may say, is singularly fresh and hearty, worthy of the great old man it depicts, and most honourable to the Dean himself; but it closes with a sudden significant turn, which almost makes one smile, so adroitly does the Dean, if I understand him, seduce Dr. Chalmers to serve for a moment in the ranks of the Deans own army. A sentence from Chalmers private writings is made to suggest an inference; and then a conversation, which occurred at Oxford between Dr. Chalmers and the Dean, is represented as supporting the inference; the truth being that the inference is unfounded, and the conversation at Oxford has nothing to do with it whatever. Oh that He possessed me with a sense of His holiness and love, as once He possessed me with a sense of His power and His all-pervading agency" that is the sentence; the inference is that Dr. Chalmers looked back to those earlier days, and spoke of them with a regretful feeling - those being "days in which he lived in the great ideas which are the foundation of all religion." And the conversation at Oxford, being so catholic in its tone, is held further to justify the impression that a certain regress from his last days to his first ought to be recognised; a relenting of middle-life intensities which brought the end, not to the same note perhaps, but to the same key with the beginning
This is a sheer delusion. There was not a in Dr. Chalmers life, from one end to the other nor a principle ever held by him, that would have hindered his expressing his interest in Oxford, and his admiration of it, and of whatever is great in the Church or literature of England, in the very same terms. It was a habitual feeling with him, and pervaded his life. As to the sentence quoted, I marvel that one, who has read the literature of so many Christian schools as the Dean, could so mistake it. The days referred to were referred to, just because, in Dr. Chalmers belief, they were the days before the awaking of the true religious life. In those days, in Dr. Chalmers case, as in many another, a glow of earnest sentiment and high enthusiasm gathered around the great ideas of the Divine power and omnipresence. They were true thoughts, and worthy to be realised with such a glow of feeling; and this perception of truth he ascribed to the Author of all good gifts.
But it was his deliberate and most assured judgment that this kind of religion, in his own case, was the religion of one who had not returned to God, who had not bowed to Gods will, who had never realised his own relation to God, who was not at peace with God. It was his deliberate judgment that this religion had not made him a man of God, and that by-and-by it proved every way a failure. And that completeness of delighted sentiment, that thorough entrancement in the great thought he spoke of, was possible, just because the feeling never touched the real question between God and him, never revealed to him his true self nor the true God. A change came.
The great question of sin arose in its simple reality, the question of salvation. The revelation came of a Saviour, of an atonement of grace, of the Divine omnipotent love that saves the lost, of holiness that thrilled his heart with sorrow and a longing he had never known before. Thenceforth he lived in a new world - a greater world, a far intenser. As the narrow material heavens of the old astronomers have broken up and widened, to our eyes, to infinite depths that our souls ache to fathom, so his moral and spiritual horizons fell back every way. But while it opened for him a far truer, deeper peace, that new world was in one sense less peaceful than the former; for him, as for each man who experiences such a history, it became a scene of conflict - hopeful, trustful, joyful confident, yet stern, and often weary. Ah, to have the whole soul brought to final harmony with hopes and longings that this new world inspired with the new apprehension of what God is, Christ is ! -that was so great a thing, and a thing so withstood by the strange rebellious principle within, that the heart strove and yearned with sorrowful and contrite longings. To be attuned to the meaning, and possessed by the power of holiness and of love, the pitying love that bends over sinners, as once he had been filled with impressions of magnificent and unwearied power! But the latter, how possible, how unresisted; how easily, in those early days, it could touch a mind like his; the former, how hard and high, how all but impossible, the continued experience of life through death!
"Oh that He possessed me with a sense of His holiness and His love, as once He possessed me with a sense of His power and all-pervading agency. I was alive without the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." "Nevertheless, I live, and the life I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and give Himself for me. The words reveal a thought which Chalmers did much to restore among us to its old power; a conception the failure of which falls always like a blight on our Churches.
Home | Biography | Literature | Letters | Interests | Links | Quotes | Photo-Wallet