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OUTLINES OF CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE

by the Rev. H. C. G. Moule, M.A., Principal of Ridley Hall, and formerly Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

Author of "Veni Creator: Thoughts on the Holy Spirit of Promise," etc.
Revised edition [[third edition, Feb., 1890]]
London: Hodder and Stoughton
27, Paternoster Row.
MDCCCXC

<1> CHAPTER I.

introductory.

I. Natural and Revealed Religion.

II. The Holy Scriptures.

We are about to attempt a statement of the main doctrines of the Christian Faith, taken as the expressions of truths divinely revealed in the Scriptures, and divinely adjusted to the nature and needs of man. We desire to state and comment as always remembering not only the duty of accuracy and fairness, but also the presence of Him who is the eternal Life, Truth, and Love, the ever-blessed God, to whom be glory for ever.

As introductory to our study, we make a few remarks here on the Connexion between Natural and Revealed Religion, and on the Holy Scriptures and their authority.

I. Christian theology, as presented in Revelation, practically assumes, as otherwise given, certain great facts about man, the world, and God. It assumes the truth of inferences from general human consciousness, such as the reality of our personality, self-conscious, intelligent, and free to will; the reality of the material world, and of the immaterial; of their difference, and of our capacity really (not <1/2> fully) to know both; the reality of the law of causation, that every change or becoming has an adequate cause really related to it; the reality of will as a true cause, an ultimate force. It assumes the fact of conscience, the unforced response of man’s nature to evidence for the existence of an absolute law of moral obligation and accountability. It proclaims, but it even more largely assumes, the existence of God, the free Personal Creator, Himself eternally and necessarily being, and the sole ultimate cause and basis of all positive becoming; goal and repose of all that which in man seeks for original and perfect being, truth, and goodness; raised above condition and relation, as being self-existent and self-sufficient, but freely, sovereignly, and lovingly entering into relation with the creation of His will; Infinite, by the absence of all limit to His excellences, each in its kind, and meantime Personal, that is, knowing Himself, and intelligently willing—a view of Him which, far from limiting His nature, is of the essence of its greatness, for the absence of personality would be a vast imperfection. Revelation assumes that man, being what he is, and placed in the world, being what it is, has ground enough to be sure that that world exists because of the existence of One supreme Power of at least his own order; a Power which cannot less than himself know, will, and love (see further below, p. 12).

Christianity assumes and claims the facts of general developed human consciousness, as part of its evidence, and as necessary to a full estimate of its doctrines. And it deals with man, accordingly, not as with an abstraction, but as an actual being under actual conditions. It presents its doctrine of God, not in vacuo, but as to a being made <2/3> in his image (below, p. 157). It presents its doctrine of salvation as to a being actually suffering from moral discord in his actual state of nature. Individual men may repel these claims. But Christianity invites them to reconsider their denial in the light of more general facts, and to listen again.

Meanwhile these assumptions prepare the way for articulate Revelation from God to man. Revelation assumes conscience, for example, but it refuses to be thought of as its natural development. It is for man, and to him, but not of him. It speaks to man, conscious of the existence of supernatural power, as a direct message from the region of that power. It speaks to man, conscious of moral difference, and of internal moral discord, as a message, direct from the region of absolute right and love, about the nature and remedy of his own sin.

Christianity assumes of course the possibility of such direct messages. It assumes that the eternal personal Cause and Possessor of all creatures is supremely free amidst all ranges of His works, and in particular free to communicate, in His spiritual Personality, with the personal spirits whom he has made free to communicate with each other. And the independent study of physical phenomena only harmonizes with this assumption, by leading the observer, true to the deepest principles of thought in his own nature, along the chain of change and cause to the conviction of an ultimate Cause quite inscrutable to physical research. In other words, physical enquiry, often suspected of a tendency to materialistic atheism, really leads towards a region of being on which it can pronounce no positive verdict, and from which therefore may issue effects <3/4> which it can neither predict nor preclude. That region, says Revelation, is God, supremely free to will and act. Physical enquiry, in its proper province, has no quarrel with that assertion. It has no proof to offer that He "who inhabiteth eternity" cannot speak from thence, amidst and through all that He has willed to exist; not treating His handiwork capriciously, or as unreal, but using it as entirely elastic under His wise and loving will.

The word Revelation may be used in a wider or a narrower sense. Man, rightly and fully studied, is to himself a revelation of the being of God. The external world is in some important respects a revelation, deeply connected with that conveyed through manhood. But common consent restricts the word Revelation to communications from and about God given otherwise than through the normal phenomena of man and the world. Such communications, Christianity holds, have been made from the very first to man. God has thus spoken sometimes by physical miracle, sovereign abnormal handling of material things and their successions; sometimes by spiritual miracle, as by disclosures of the future, or of present facts of the unseen world. Above all, Revelation has come through the Incarnation of the Son, the Christ, of God; through His manifested Person, Word, and Work. And if we ask for a sure record of Revelation in this its more definite and precious aspects, the Christian answer is, the Holy Scriptures.

II. The Holy Scriptures, whatever their origin and nature, are as a fact one of the great phenomena of the world. No other collection of writings exists which mysteriously combines, as they do, the widest diversities of date and authorship with the <4/5> deepest pervading harmonies and unities. In one aspect they are a part of the national literature of a much isolated race; in another, they have been and are the spiritual oracle of many generations of precisely the most cultivated and vigorous races. Historical research affirms the accuracy of their pictures of men and manners of the remote past; but meanwhile they themselves refuse to separate from their firm texture of narrative and teaching the presence everywhere of the supernatural. From one side they are a long and solid chain of recorded and predicted events; from another, they are a continuous exposition of supreme spiritual principles, spiritual forces, and fears, and hopes.

They have been very often criticized in respect of their description, for example, of the origin and processes of the material universe. But among their defenders in these respects are found some of the chief exponents of the latest scientific knowledge. [1] They have been attacked in the region of history. But the past is full of verifications of their historical accuracy in matters once apparently hopeless of explanation; while it is also full of warnings against premature explanation of such difficulties.

But the Christian student sees the most impressive characteristic of the Holy Scriptures in the fact of the attitude towards them taken by Jesus Christ. Antecedent to all questions of its spiritual authority, the New Testament, as a whole, is a mass of valid historical evidence to the opinions of Jesus Christ. And in this character it attests beyond a doubt His profound veneration for the <5/6> Holy Scriptures then existing; that is to say, for the Old Testament, as in substance, and practically in detail, it exists today. For Him it possessed the peculiar and awful characteristic of Divine Authority. He stated no theory of its construction; but looking upon it as it existed, He recognized in it the decisive utterance of God, even in its minor features of expression. For the mind which recognizes in Jesus Christ all that He claimed to be, this verdict on the supernatural character and divine authority of the Old Testament is final.

And the transition of inference to the New Testament is not difficult. As a fact, Jesus Christ entrusted the exposition of His message to a selection of His contemporary followers. As another fact, within a very few generations, at furthest, from His death, the vast majority of His disciples recognized in certain writings, claiming to emanate from that circle, a divine character, identical with that of the older Scriptures.

The claims of some of these writings to authenticity were freely discussed, and in some cases long doubted. But this was never so with more than a small fraction of the whole mass finally recognized. And, what is most significant, doubt never extended, seriously or widely, to the point of refusing divine authority to an apostolic writing once ascertained. And it is certain that the "New Testament Canon," thus recognized from the first in idea, and in the concrete of its present contents within three centuries from the death of Jesus Christ, has shown itself ever since, by the evidence of spiritual and moral power, to be indeed of the same order with those older Scriptures before which the Incarnate Christ Himself bowed. And let it <6/7> be remembered that the thoughtful and reverent study of the internal evidences of the Holy Scriptures will always contribute above all things to the solid belief in their divine character, and their claim to ultimate spiritual authority for the Christian. [2]

For in fact the attitude of Christ to the Old Testament Scriptures is decisive proof that they rightly claim ultimate spiritual authority. And it is well to remember, as a great subsidiary item of natural and historical evidence on this subject, that the early generations of the Christian Church held, with practical universality, this view of the Scriptures. On few subjects, if any, are the Christian writers of the first few centuries more entirely agreed than on the ultimate authority of the Holy Scriptures. [3] (See further, p. 139.)

It is important to observe that authority may be real, yet not ultimate. A Creed has authority; a Council has authority; a Father has authority, and still more, many consenting Fathers, witnessing to facts of belief. But none of these has ultimate authority. The Scriptures have it. (See below, p. 214.)

No thoughtful man will hastily urge his private judgment against the deliberate verdict of his religious community lawfully expressed; or against a great consensus of Christian witnesses or interpreters. That is, he will recognize authority in them. To him "private judgment" will be not so much a right, to be loudly asserted, as a sacred and searching responsibility, to be reverently remembered. But all this is not a concession of ultimate <7/8> authority to anything but the Holy Scriptures. Reverently, but still lawfully and firmly, if the deplorable necessity should arise, the individual may appeal, from even Creed or Council, to the Holy Scriptures, asking to be tested by their sacred verdict alone, as the basis of the authority of all other lawful courts. On the other hand, he will cherish a high reverence priori for the results of doctrine actually attained by those other courts, as against any isolated conclusions of his own.

The Holy Scriptures, then, are divine Revelation for the Christian who takes his place without reserve at the feet of the Jesus Christ of the Gospels. It remains to explain briefly what is the relation between them and systems or expositions of doctrine based upon them.

Scripture, it is obvious, is not in itself a formulated system of doctrines. But it does not therefore discountenance the construction of a system. The truth is that Scripture both contains in abundance the materials for a system, and in many of its parts, particularly in the Epistles, indicates a system. Up to a certain point Scripture is thus analogous to "Nature." The universe is not a system of science. But it contains the materials for the construction of theory and development of system, and by the orderliness of its phenomena it suggests an exposition in forms of mental order.

True, Scripture contains immensely more than the materials for a doctrinal system. It contains a mass of expressions and manifestations of Divine affections. It is a record of personal dealings of God with man, awful and tender, so presented as to caution us, at every step, never to study doctrinal method and order out of relation to the living and <8/9> eternal Love. And Scripture contains, moreover, abundant warnings that its contents are in their nature so related to the inscrutable that in any systematization we soon reach the point of holy silence. With such provisos, however, we rightly approach the Scriptures with the aim first to ascertain their data of facts and truths, and then, knowing that their Author is the Lord of order, and has so constituted us that our minds must seek order through all phenomena, to endeavour to combine the data; in other words, to trace a Theology. <9>

___________________

[1] See Mivart, Lessons from Nature, Dawson, Chain of Life, and Modern Science, etc., Reusch, Bible and Nature (Eng. trans.), and Cave, Inspiration of the Old Testament.

[2] See Lord Hatherley, Continuity of Scripture, especially pp. xli-xliii.

[3] See this fully illustrated by Dean Goode, Divine Rule of Faith and Practice, vol. iii., ch. xi.

 
 

The Anglican Library, This HTML edition copyright 1999.


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