« AnteriorContinuar »
reason or the Bible can bring to bear upon it. This is no time to shrink from the collision of mind with mind -- of christian mind with pagan mind or infidel mind. The contest is already begun; the conflict is even now desperate; neither the friend' nor the enemy of the Bible can draw back from the shock of conflicting opinions and purposes. One or the other must fall vanquished on the field, and yield the kingdom to the conqueror. Let the Bible and reason have full scope let truth unshackled grapple with error — and it is not doubtful which shall be victorious. Depraved and rebellious as man is, there is that iu Divine truth, applied by God's Spirit, which reaches his conscience and subdues his stubborn will.
Theological seminaries are designed to raise up a ministry adequate to the exigencies of such a crisis ; they must therefore be permitted to survey the whole field and every thing pertaining to it. They should possess such a love to truth, and such an honest mind in seeking it, that they can have no rest in taking things upon trust, or covering ignorance by sophistry, To such a mind all truth is free, and all but truth is worthless. The attempt to chain it by authority, or frighten it by pretensions of sacred awe and mystery, from looking or thinking upon any truth of God, is high treason against the Bible under the name of loyalty. You may as well say that there are some substances too sacred for the chemist to analyze, or some portions of the heavens too holy for the astronomer to bring under the range of his telescope, as that there are some portions of the Bible too solemn and mysterious for the christian minister to examine. There are many things both in nature and revelation which man will not comprehend in this life, but in this fact there is found no prohibition to push his researches to the utmost limits, nor by devout efforts to move that limit, if he can, much further onward into the unexplored darkness, and reclaim the region to the clear possession of human science. God has set them both before us, and when we will, we may examine them. Those especially, who are set to prepare the Lord's ambassadors, must examine, humbly, reverently, seriously, but freely and unhesitatingly, everything that is connected with the sacred office. They must emphatically — “ prove all things and hold fast that which is good.'
2. They must not foster a sectarian spirit.
Different views of important doctrines, ceremonies, or modes of government may give rise to separate organizations, with their different names, and thus perpetuate in the church different denominations. No attempt in the present day to merge them all in one is likely to prove either successful or salutary. Even theological seminaries must be more or less denominational in their sympathies and patronage.
But denominational peculiarities may become too prominent. Notwithstanding an agreement in all that is involved in substantial Christianity, they may be magnified to matters of such moment as to bar the way to christian communion and cooperation. It then goes beyond a separate organization, having a common purpose though a different name, and becomes a sect a party cut off by its own exclusiveness, from the common sympathies and fellowship of the general family of Christ. Denominational distinctions are therefore expedients, and will be perpetual, so long as there is a disagreement in important principles. But sectarianism can never be justified by any differences, while there is a union on the substantial doctrines which are essential to salvation.
The ministry, from the very nature of their relation to the church, must exert a controlling influence on this subject. If they are divided into parties the whole church will in like manner be broken up into fragments. Oh! how does infidelity strengthen itself, and vice and irreligion abound, and all the woes and cruelties of heathenism press upon the millions of its victims, while the church and the ministry are frivolously contending about mere sectarian distinctions. Those "schools of the prophets,” where the minds of the future pastors of the church are to be moulded, stand under fearful responsibilities to the great Head of the church on this particular point. They may explain and defend their denominational distinctions, but if the spirit of sectarianism be there, it will diffuse the poison through all the body. Their young men will go forth, with no zeal but for their distinctive peculiarities, to distract the church and disquiet the world with their bigoted notions, arrogant claims and conflicting measures.
There may be differences of philosophical speculation, and peculiarities in benevolent operations, and varieties of method and form, which shall give to different seminaries their distinctive characteristics. In this there is no ground of anxiety nor complaint. But when any of these peculiarities are thrust forward as matters of paramount importance, and made the strong points of appeal to either popular favor or popular odium, it becomes no longer honorable nor innocent. It is sectarianism in its degraded form, doing its hateful work and exposing its selfish spirit. The next downward step is to the use of all the catch-words and cant-phrases which are meant to mark the party and delude the multitude.
That high and holy effort, which seeks to furnish the most efficient ministry for the world, can have no fellowship with such unworthy expedients. Neither does the church nor the world need any more new theological seminaries, whose foundations are laid in popular prejudices, amid sectarian collisions, clamoring for their share of the charities of the church on the sole ground of their party organization. And that policy, which seeks to build itself upon such local and factitious excitements, is not only worldly and wicked, but miserably short sighted. The flowing tide will soon ebb, and leave them standing high and dry upon the beach.
3. They must not interfere in ecclesiastical government.
The professors in theological seminaries have as men all the civil and social, and as ministers all the ecclesiastical rights and privileges which others have. In proportion to their wisdom and piety, their counsel and influence are valuable, in all these relations. But as professors of theology their sole business is the instruction and discipline of the precious sons of the church under their care, to make them ministers such as the world needs. Their connection with a theological seminary adds no prerogatives to any other relation which they may sustain. As such, neither singly nor combined have they any thing to do with the legislative or judicial affairs of the church. They are not set as judges in Israel, nor as watchmen upon the walls of Zion. The keys are not in their hands,—they have no power to bind or loose. It is not for them to hunt out heresy, nor arraign or expel it from the church of God. She has her own organizations for that purpose, and they are bound both to the church and to Jesus Christ to be prompt and faithful. But in these matters, theological seminaries have no right to interfere. It is a direct violation of the apostolic injunction—“Let none of you suffer as a thief, or as an evil doer, or as a busy body in other men's matters.”
The danger may not be very great, that theological seminaries shall publicly seize the sceptre and rod of discipline and wield them directly over the ministry and membership of the churches. But there are many ways of stepping quite beyond their sphere in these matters. They have facilities for a wide spread influence upon other minds. By correspondence, and personal interviews, and occasional meetings, rumors may be spread and prejudices excited and combinations formed against an obnoxious man or measure or party, which may as effectually shape results and secure a desired issue as if they were upon the judgment seat.
Yea, when regular ecclesiastical trials have issued contrary to their wishes, they may put all these means in requisition to gain their sinister purposes in spite of constitutional rules and christian order.
This is a direct usurpation of the authority of God's house, and involves the very essence of spiritual tyranny. No member of a theological seminary can use in this way the facilities of his station for purposes of ecclesiastical discipline, with righteousness or decency. He was not put in that station for that purpose. He is meddling with what belongs to others. He is perverting that which was given to him for another object, and committing an offence against the order and peace of the church, for which there can be no other justification, than that 6 the end sanctifies the means.
4. They must stand responsible to the enlightened sentiment of the christian church.
There are various sources of supervision to which theological seminaries may be made responsible. It may be directly to the civil power—to a church judicatory—to a self-constituted association or to enlightened christian sentiment. Instances, in this country and in Europe, may be found in all these varieties ; and it is an open question—which is the best adapted to their great design?
Few probably in this country will be found in favor of direct responsibility to the State. This may be tolerated in Germany and the different monarchical governments of Europe, but can hardly consist with the genius of a free republic. Changing politics and shifting majorities must cause such a perpetual interference in its plans and operations, as effectually to break down its stability and power of doing good to the world.
Where the responsibility is to ecclesiastical authority, the danger is much the same both in kind and degree. If sectarianism did not control, and there were few liabilities to the Auctuations of party majorities, the evils would in proportion be few and small. But when contentions and divisions occur, scarcely less violent than in political parties, the institution itself must be
agitated by the storms and tempests which are about it. Every movement of the elements on which it rests is felt, and the unity of its design, and the efficiency of its efforts must be disturbed. This cannot be the best position for any institution, which is to regard the general good and labor for the whole world.
To be amenable to a self-constituted body, itself a sect-selecting its members on avowedly sectarian principles, and sencing itself round with sectarian regulations, can eventuate in nothing else but a sectarian theological seminary.
But where as ministers, all are responsible to their own ecclesiastical organizations, and as professors, are held amenable to a board of trust, which has its civil charter, giving plenary powers of administration and perpetuation of their own body, and then both its boards of trust and instruction amenable to the enlightened public sentiment of the christian community, we have all the security and effectual guardianship that can be attai ned, without the dangers of sectarian influences and party collisions. But it is the intelligent christian public to which it must be held responsible. The christian public are alone interested, and the enlightened portion of it alone competent, to decide in regard to its merits. In this way we have the same security that we have for any free institution in the land. It can prosper no further than they approve, nor become heretical, any further than they shall become the abettors of heresy. If the wise and the good are satisfied with it, they give it their patronage and their prayers; if they are dissatisfied, they withdraw their influence and their support, and the institution dies.
That institution has the surest guarantee for its permanent usefulness, which is entrenched in the judgment and affections of the most intelligent, stable, and pious in the land.
5. Ecclesiastical bodies must not grant licenses but at the completion of a full course of study.
The proper judicatories of the church are alone competent to regulate this matter. Theological seminaries can do no more than give their opinion and counsel. This however is plain, that, without a mutual understanding and coöperatian on this subject, it were far better to dispense with theological seminaries altogether. They must be comparatively useless, and the expense of their endowments thrown away, if the youth under their training be hurried into the ministry after a few months' attention to the preparatory studies. If this is all that is requisite to fit a young man for the most responsible of all stations, then let not the