Informational Site NetworkInformational Site Network
Privacy
 
Home - Articles - Church History - Catholic Morals - Prayers - Prayers Answered - Saints Children's Bible - History


Tendencies Toward A Manifestatio





The three centuries of history which we have passed under rapid review
comprise a series of political events of the highest importance to
mankind. We have seen, from our side-point of view, the planting, along
the western coast of the Atlantic Ocean, without mutual concert or
common direction, of many independent germs of civilization. So many of
these as survived the perils of infancy we have seen growing to a lusty
youth, and becoming drawn each to each by ties of common interest and
mutual fellowship. Releasing themselves from colonial dependence on a
transatlantic power, we find these several communities, now grown to be
States, becoming conscious, through common perils, victories, and hopes,
of national unity and life, and ordaining institutes of national
government binding upon all. The strong vitality of the new nation is
proved by its assimilating to itself an immense mass of immigrants from
all parts of Europe, and by expanding itself without essential change
over the area of a continent. It triumphs again and again, and at last
in a struggle that shakes the world, over passions and interests that
threaten schism in the body politic, and gives good reason to its
friends to boast the solid unity of the republic as the strongest
existing fact in the political world. The very great aggrandizement of
the nation has been an affair of the last sixty years; but already it
has recorded itself throughout the vast expanse of the continent in
monuments of architecture and engineering worthy of the national
strength.

The ecclesiastical history which has been recounted in this volume,
covering the same territory and the same period of time, runs with equal
pace in many respects parallel with the political history, but in one
important respect with a wide divergence. As with civilization so with
Christianity: the germs of it, derived from different regions of
Christendom, were planted without concert of purpose, and often with
distinct cross-purposes, in different seed-plots along the Atlantic
seaboard. Varying in polity, in forms of dogmatic statement, and even in
language, the diverse growths were made, through wonders of spiritual
influence and through external stress of trial, to feel their unity in
the one faith. The course of a common experience tended to establish a
predominant type of religious life the influence of which has been
everywhere felt, even when it has not been consented to. The vital
strength of the American church, as of the American nation, has been
subjected to the test of the importation of enormous masses of more or
less uncongenial population, and has shown an amazing power of digestion
and assimilation. Its resources have been taxed by the providential
imposition of burdens of duty and responsibility such, in magnitude and
weight, as never since the early preaching of the gospel have pressed
upon any single generation of the church. Within the space of a single
lifetime, at an expenditure of toil and treasure which it is idle to
attempt to compute, the wide and desolate wilderness, as fast as
civilization has invaded it, has been occupied by the church with
churches, schools, colleges, and seminaries of theology, with pastors,
evangelists, and teachers, and, in one way or another, has been
constrained to confess itself Christian. The continent which so short a
time ago had been compassionately looked upon from across the sea as
missionary ground has become a principal base of supplies, and
recruiting-ground for men and women, for missionary operations in
ancient lands of heathenism and of a decayed Christianity.

So much for the parallel. The divergence is not less impressive. In
contrast with the solid political unity into which the various and
incongruous elements have settled themselves, the unity of the Christian
church is manifested by oneness neither of jurisdiction nor of
confederation, nor even by diplomatic recognition and correspondence.
Out of the total population of the United States, amounting, according
to the census of 1890, to 62,622,000 souls, the 57,000,000 accounted as
Christians, including 20,000,000 communicant church-members, are
gathered into 165,297 congregations, assembling in 142,000 church
edifices containing 43,000,000 sittings, and valued (together with other
church property) at $670,000,000; and are served in the ministry of the
gospel by more than 111,000 ministers.[400:1] But this great force is
divided among 143 mutually independent sects, larger and smaller. Among
these sects is recognized no controlling and co÷rdinating authority;
neither is there any common leadership; neither is there any system of
mutual counsel and concert. The mutual relations of the sects are
sometimes those of respect and good will, sometimes of sharp competition
and jealousy, sometimes of eager and conscientious hostility. All have
one and the same unselfish and religious aim--to honor God in serving
their fellow-men; and each one, in honestly seeking this supreme aim, is
affected by its corporate interests, sympathies, and antipathies.

This situation is too characteristic of America, and too distinctly
connected with the whole course of the antecedent history, not to be
brought out with emphasis in this concluding chapter. In other lands the
church is maintained, through the power of the civil government, under
the exclusive control of a single organization, in which the element of
popular influence may be wholly wanting, or may be present (as in many
of the Reformed polities) in no small measure. In others yet, through
government influence and favor, a strong predominance is given to one
organized communion, under the shadow of which dissentient minorities
are tolerated and protected. Under the absolute freedom and equality of
the American system there is not so much as a predominance of any one of
the sects. No one of them is so strong and numerous but that it is
outnumbered and outweighed by the aggregate of the two next to it. At
present, in consequence of the rush of immigration, the Roman Catholic
Church is largely in advance of any single denomination besides, but is
inferior in numerical strength and popular influence to the Methodists
and Baptists combined--if they were combined.

And there is no doubt that this comminution of the church is frankly
accepted, for reasons assigned, not only as an inevitable drawback to
the blessings of religious freedom, but as a good thing in itself. A
weighty sentence of James Madison undoubtedly expresses the prevailing
sentiment among Americans who contemplate the subject merely from the
political side: In a free government the security for civil rights must
be the same as that for religious rights. It consists, in the one case,
in the multiplicity of interests, and, in the other, in the multiplicity
of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number
of interests and sects.[402:1] And no student of history can deny that
there is much to justify the jealousy with which the lovers of civil
liberty watch the climbing of any sect, no matter how purely spiritual
its constitution, toward a position of command in popular influence. The
influence of the leaders of such a sect may be nothing more than the
legitimate and well-deserved influence of men of superior wisdom and
virtue; but when reinforced by the weight of official religious
character, and backed by a majority, or even a formidable minority, of
voters organized in a religious communion, the feeling is sure to gain
ground that such power is too great to be trusted to the hands even of
the best of men. Whatever sectarian advantage such a body may achieve in
the state by preponderance of number will be more than offset by the
public suspicion and the watchful jealousy of rival sects; and the
weakening of it by division, or the subordination of it by the
overgrowth of a rival, is sure to be regarded with general complacency.

It is not altogether a pleasing object of contemplation--the citizen and
the statesman looking with contentment on the schism of the church as
averting a danger to the state. It is hardly more gratifying when we
find ministers of the church themselves accepting the condition of
schism as being, on the whole, a very good condition for the church of
Christ, if not, indeed, the best possible. It is quite unreservedly
argued that the principle, Competition is the life of business, is
applicable to spiritual as well as secular concerns; and the
emulations reprobated by the Apostle Paul as works of the flesh are
frankly appealed to for promoting the works of the spirit. This debasing
of the motive of church work is naturally attended by a debasement of
the means employed. The competitive church resorts to strange business
devices to secure its needed revenue. He that giveth is induced to
give, not with simplicity, but with a view to incidental advantages,
and a distinct understanding is maintained between the right hand and
the left. The extent and variety of this influence on church life in
America afford no occasion for pride, but the mention of them could not
rightly be omitted. It remains for the future to decide whether they
must needs continue as an inevitable attendant on the voluntary system.

Sectarian divisions tend strongly to perpetuate themselves. The starting
of schism is easy and quick; the healing of it is a matter of long
diplomatic negotiations. In a very short time the division of the
church, with its necessary relations to property and to the employment
of officials, becomes a vested interest. Provision for large expenditure
unnecessary, or even detrimental, to the general interests of the
kingdom of Christ, which had been instituted in the first place at heavy
cost to the many, is not to be discontinued without more serious loss to
influential individuals. Those who would set themselves about the
healing of a schism must reckon upon personal and property interests to
be conciliated.

This least amiable characteristic of the growth of the Christian church
in America is not without its compensations. The very fact of the
existence, in presence of one another, of these multitudinous rival
sects, all equal before the law, tends in the long run, under the
influence of the Holy Spirit of peace, to a large and comprehensive
fellowship.[404:1] The widely prevalent acceptance of existing
conditions as probably permanent, even if not quite normal, softens the
mutual reproaches of rival parties. The presumption is of course
implied, if not asserted, in the existence of any Christian sect, that
it is holding the absolute right and truth, or at least more nearly that
than other sects; and the inference, to a religious mind, is that the
right and true must, in the long run, prevail. But it is only with a
high act of faith, and not as a matter of reasonable probability, that
any sect in America can venture to indulge itself in the expectation of
a supremacy, or even a predominance, in American Christendom. The
strongest in numbers, in influence, in prestige, however tempted to
assert for itself exclusive or superior rights, is compelled to look
about itself and find itself overwhelmingly outnumbered and outdone by a
divided communion--and yet a communion--of those whom Christ is not
ashamed to call his brethren; and just in proportion as it has the
spirit of Christ, it is constrained in its heart to treat them as
brethren and to feel toward them as brethren. Its protest against what
it regards as their errors and defects is nowise weakened by the most
unreserved manifestations of respect and good will as toward
fellow-Christians. Thus it comes to pass that the observant traveler
from other countries, seeking the distinctive traits of American social
life, notes a kindlier feeling between all denominations, Roman
Catholics included, a greater readiness to work together for common
charitable aims, than between Catholics and Protestants in France or
Germany, or between Anglicans and nonconformists in England.[405:1]

* * * * *

There are many indications, in the recent history of the American
church, pointing forward toward some higher manifestation of the true
unity of the church than is to be found in occasional, or even habitual,
expressions of mutual good will passing to and fro among sharply
competing and often antagonist sects. Instead of easy-going and playful
felicitations on the multitude of sects as contributing to the total
effectiveness of the church, such as used to be common enough on
anniversary platforms, we hear, in one form and another, the
acknowledgment that the divided and subdivided state of American
Christendom is not right, but wrong. Whose is the wrong need not be
decided; certainly it does not wholly belong to the men of this
generation or of this country; we are heirs of the schisms of other
lands and ages, and have added to them schisms of our own making. The
matter begins to be taken soberly and seriously. The tender entreaty of
the Apostle Paul not to suffer ourselves to be split up into
sects[405:2] begins to get a hearing in the conscience. The nisus
toward a more manifest union among Christian believers has long been
growing more and more distinctly visible, and is at the present day one
of the most conspicuous signs of the times.

Already in the early history we have observed a tendency toward the
healing, in America, of differences imported from over sea. Such was the
commingling of Separatist and Puritan in New England; the temporary
alliance of Congregationalist and Presbyterian to avert the imposition
of a state hierarchy; the combination of Quaker and Roman Catholic to
defeat a project of religious oppression in Maryland; the drawing
together of Lutheran and Reformed Germans for common worship, under the
saintly influence of the Moravian Zinzendorf; and the Plan of Union by
which New Englander and Scotch-Irishman were to labor in common for the
evangelization of the new settlements.[406:1] These were sporadic
instances of a tendency that was by and by to become happily epidemic. A
more important instance of the same tendency was the organization of
societies for charitable work which should unite the gifts and personal
labors of the Christians of the whole continent. The chief period of
these organizations extended from 1810, the date of the beginning of the
American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, to 1826, when the
American Home Missionary Society was founded.[406:2] The catholic
basis on which they were established was dictated partly by the
conscious weakness of the several sects as they drew near to
undertakings formidable even to their united forces, and partly by the
glow of fraternal affection, and the sense of a common spiritual life
pervading the nation, with which the church had come forth from the
fervors of the second awakening.[406:3] The societies, representing
the common faith and charity of the whole church as distinguished from
the peculiarities of the several sects, drew to themselves the affection
and devotion of Christian hearts to a degree which, to those who highly
valued these distinctions, seemed to endanger important interests. And,
indeed, the situation was anomalous, in which the sectarian divisions of
the Christian people were represented in the churches, and their
catholic unity in charitable societies. It would have seemed more
Pauline, not to say more Christian, to have had voluntary societies for
the sectarian work, and kept the churches for Christian communion. It is
no wonder that High-church champions, on one side and another, soon
began to shout to their adherents, To your tents, O Israel! Bishop
Hobart played not in vain upon his pastoral pipe to whistle back his
sheep from straying outside of his pinfold, exhorting them, in their
endeavors for the general advancement of religion, to use only the
instrumentality of their own church.[407:1] And a jealousy of the
growing influence of a wide fellowship, in charitable labors, with
Christians of other names, led to the enunciation of a like doctrine by
High-church Presbyterians,[407:2] and contributed to the convulsive and
passionate rending of the Presbyterian Church, in 1837, into nearly
equal fragments. So effective has been the centrifugal force that of
the extensive system of societies which from the year 1810 onward first
organized works of national beneficence by enlisting the co÷peration of
all evangelical Christians, the American Bible Society alone continues
to represent any general and important combination from among the
different denominations.

For all the waning of interest in the catholic basis societies, the
sacred discontent of the Christian people with sectarian division
continued to demand expression. How early the aspiration for an
ecumenical council of evangelical Christendom became articulate, it may
not be easy to discover[408:1] In the year 1846 the aspiration was in
some measure realized in the first meeting of the Evangelical Alliance
at London. No more mistakes were made in this meeting than perhaps were
necessarily incident to a first experiment in untried work. Almost of
course the good people began with the question, What good men shall we
keep out? for it is a curious fact, in the long and interesting history
of efforts after Christian union, that they commonly take the form of
efforts so to combine many Christians as to exclude certain others. In
this instance, beginning with the plan of including none but Protestant
Christians, they proceeded at once to frame a platform that should bar
out that great number of the best and holiest men in England who are
found among the Quakers, thus making up, designedly and with their
eyes open, a schismatic unity--a unity composed of one part of God's
elect, to the exclusion of another; and this in a grand effort after the
very unity of the body of Christ.[409:1] But in spite of this and other
like mistakes, or rather because of them (for it is through its mistakes
that the church is to learn the right way), the early and unsuccessful
beginnings of the Evangelical Alliance marked a stage in the slow
progress toward a manifestation of the sons of God by their love
toward each other and toward the common Lord.

It is in large part the eager appetency for some manifestation of
interconfessional fellowship that has hastened the acceptance of such
organizations as the Young Men's Christian Association and the Young
People's Society of Christian Endeavor; just as, on the other hand, it
is the conscientious fear, on the part of watchful guardians of
sectarian interests, that habitual fellowship across the boundary lines
of denominations may weaken the allegiance to the sect, which has
induced the many attempts at substituting associations constituted on a
narrower basis. But the form of organization which most comprehensively
illustrates the unity of the church is that Charity Organization which
has grown to be a necessity to the social life of cities and
considerable towns, furnishing a central office of mutual correspondence
and co÷rdination to all churches and societies and persons engaged in
the Christian work of relieving poverty and distress. This central
bureau of charitable co÷peration is not the less a center of catholic
fellowship for the fact that it does not shut its door against societies
not distinctively Christian, like Masonic fraternities, nor even against
societies distinctively non-Christian, like Hebrew synagogues and
societies of ethical culture. We are coming to discover that the
essence of Christian fellowship does not consist in keeping people out.
Neither, so long as the apostolic rubric of Christian worship[410:1]
remains unaltered, is it to be denied that the fellowship thus provided
for is a fellowship in one of the sacraments of Christian service.

A notable advance in true catholicity of communion is reported from
among the churches and scattered missions in Maine. Hitherto, in the
various movements of Christian union, it was common to attempt to disarm
the suspicions of zealous sectarians by urgent disclaimers of any intent
or tendency to infringe on the rights or interests of the several sects,
or impair their claim to a paramount allegiance from their adherents.
The Christians of Maine, facing tasks of evangelization more than
sufficient to occupy all their resources even when well economized and
squandering nothing on needless divisions and competitions, have
attained to the high grace of saying that sectarian interests must and
shall be sacrificed when the paramount interests of the kingdom of
Christ require it.[410:2] When this attainment is reached by other
souls, and many other, the conspicuous shame and scandal of American
Christianity will begin to be abated.

Meanwhile the signs of a craving for larger fellowship continue to be
multiplied. Quite independently of practical results achieved, the mere
fact of efforts and experiments is a hopeful fact, even when these are
made in directions in which the past experience of the church has
written up No Thoroughfare.

I. No one need question the sincerity or the fraternal spirit with which
some important denominations have each proposed the reuniting of
Christians on the simple condition that all others should accept the
distinctive tenet for which each of these denominations has contended
against others. The present pope, holding the personal respect and
confidence of the Christian world to a higher degree than any one of his
predecessors since the Reformation (to name no earlier date), has
earnestly besought the return of all believers to a common fellowship by
their acceptance of the authority and supremacy of the Roman see. With
equal cordiality the bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church have
signified their longing for restored fellowship with their brethren on
the acceptance by these of prelatical episcopacy. And the Baptists,
whose constant readiness at fraternization in everything else is
emphasized by their conscientious refraining from the sacramental sign
of communion, are not less earnest in their desire for the unification
of Christendom by the general acceptance of that tenet concerning
baptism, the widespread rejection of which debars them, reluctant, from
unrestricted fellowship with the general company of faithful men. But
while we welcome every such manifestation of a longing for union among
Christians, and honor the aspiration that it might be brought about in
one or another of these ways, in forecasting the probabilities of the
case, we recognize the extreme unlikeliness that the very formulas which
for ages have been the occasions of mutual contention and separation
shall become the basis of general agreement and lasting concord.

II. Another indication of the craving for a larger fellowship is found
in the efforts made for large sectarian councils, representing closely
kindred denominations in more than one country. The imposing ubiquity of
the Roman Church, so impressively sustaining its claim to the title
Catholic, may have had some influence to provoke other denominations
to show what could be done in emulation of this sort of greatness. It
were wiser not to invite comparison at this point. No other Christian
organization, or close fellowship of organizations, can approach that
which has its seat at Rome, in the world-wideness of its presence, or
demand with so bold a challenge,

QuŠ regio in terris non nostri plena laboris?

The representative assembly of any other body of Christians, however
widely ramified, must seem insignificant when contrasted with the real
ecumenicity of the Vatican Council. But it has not been useless for the
larger sects of Protestantism to arrange their international assemblies,
if it were for nothing more than this, that such widening of the circle
of practical fellowship may have the effect to disclose to each sect a
larger Christendom outside to which their fellowship must sooner or
later be made to reach.

The first of these international sectarian councils was that commonly
spoken of as the Pan-Anglican Synod, of Protestant Episcopal bishops
gathered at Lambeth by invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury in
1867 and thrice since. The example was bettered by the Presbyterians,
who in 1876 organized for permanence their Pam-Presbyterian Alliance,
or Alliance of the Reformed Churches throughout the world holding
the Presbyterian System. The first of the triennial general councils
of this Alliance was held at Edinburgh in 1877, representing more
than forty-nine separate churches scattered through twenty-five
different countries, and consisting of more than twenty thousand
congregations.[413:1] The second council was held at Philadelphia, and
the third at Belfast. The idea was promptly seized by the Methodists. At
the instance of the General Conference of the United States, a
Pam-Methodist Council was held in London in 1881,--the first Ecumenical
Methodist Conference,--consisting of four hundred delegates,
representing twenty-eight branches of Methodism, ten in the eastern
hemisphere and eighteen in the western, including six millions of
communicants and about twenty millions of people.[413:2] Ten years
later, in 1891, a second Methodist Ecumenical Conference was held at
Washington.

Interesting and useful as this international organization of sects is
capable of being made, it would be a mistake to look upon it as marking
a stage in the progress toward a manifest general unity of the church.
The tendency of it is, on the whole, in the opposite direction.

III. If the organization of ecumenical sects has little tendency
toward the visible communion of saints in the American church, not much
more is to be hoped from measures for the partial consolidation of
sects, such as are often projected and sometimes realized. The healing
of the great thirty years' schism of the Presbyterian Church, in 1869,
was so vast a gain in ecclesiastical economy, and in the abatement of a
long-reeking public scandal and of a multitude of local frictions and
irritations, that none need wonder at the awakening of ardent desires
that the ten Presbyterian bodies still surviving might find room for
all within one fold[413:3] in a national or continental Presbyterian
Church. The seventeen Methodist bodies, separated by no differences of
polity or of doctrine that seem important to anybody but themselves, if
consolidated into one, would constitute a truly imposing body, numbering
nearly five millions of communicants and more than fifteen millions of
people; and if this should absorb the Protestant Episcopal Church (an
event the possibility of which has often been contemplated with
complacency), with its half-million of communicants and its elements of
influence far beyond the proportion of its numbers, the result would be
an approximation to some good men's ideal of a national church, with its
army of ministers co÷rdinated by a college of bishops, and its plebs
adunata sacerdoti. Consultations are even now in progress looking
toward the closer fellowship of the Congregationalists and the
Disciples. The easy and elastic terms of internal association in each of
these denominations make it the less difficult to adjust terms of mutual
co÷peration and union. Suppose that the various Baptist organizations
were to discover that under their like congregational government there
were ways in which, without compromising or weakening in the slightest
their protest against practices which they reprobate in the matter of
baptism, they could, for certain defined purposes, enter into the same
combination, the result would be a body of nearly five millions of
communicants, not the less strong for being lightly harnessed and for
comprehending wide diversities of opinion and temperament. In all this
we have supposed to be realized nothing more than friends of Christian
union have at one time or another urged as practicable and desirable. By
these few and, it would seem, not incongruous combinations there would
be four powerful ecclesiastical corporations,--one Catholic and three
Protestant,--which, out of the twenty millions of church communicants in
the United States, would include more than seventeen and one half
millions.[415:1]

The pondering of these possibilities is pertinent to this closing
chapter on account of the fact that, as we near the end of the
nineteenth century, one of the most distinctly visible tendencies is the
tendency toward the abatement of sectarian division in the church. It is
not for us simply to note the converging lines of tendency, without some
attempt to compute the point toward which they converge. There is grave
reason to doubt whether this line of the consolidation or confederation
of sects, followed never so far, would reach the desired result.

If the one hundred and forty-three sects enumerated in the eleventh
census of the United States[415:2] should by successful negotiation be
reduced to four, distinguished each from the others by strongly marked
diversities of organization and of theological statement, and united to
each other only by community of the one faith in Jesus Christ, doubtless
it would involve some important gains. It would make it possible to be
rid of the friction and sometimes the clash of much useless and
expensive machinery, and to extinguish many local schisms that had been
engendered by the zeal of some central sectarian propaganda. Would it
tend to mitigate the intensity of sectarian competition, or would it
tend rather to aggravate it? Is one's pride in his sect, his zeal for
the propagation of it, his jealousy of any influence that tends to
impair its greatness or hinder its progress, likely to be reduced, or is
it rather likely to be exalted, by the consciousness that the sect is a
very great sect, standing alone for important principles? Whatever
there is at present of asperity in the emulous labors of the competing
denominations, would it not be manifold exasperated if the competition
were restricted to four great corporations or confederations? If the
intestine conflict of the church of Christ in America should even be
narrowed down (as many have devoutly wished) to two contestants,--the
Catholic Church with its diversity of orders and rites, on the one hand,
and Protestantism with its various denominations solidly confederated,
on the other,--should we be nearer to the longed-for achievement of
Christian union? or should we find sectarian animosities thereby raised
to the highest power, and the church, discovering that it was on the
wrong track for the desired terminus, compelled to reverse and back in
order to be switched upon the right one?

Questions like these, put to be considered, not to be answered, raise in
the mind the misgiving that we have been seeking in diplomatic
negotiations between high contracting parties that which diplomacy can
do only a little toward accomplishing. The great aim is to be sought in
humbler ways. It is more hopeful to begin at the lower end. Not in great
towns and centers of ecclesiastical influence, but in villages and
country districts, the deadly effects of comminuted fracture in the
church are most deeply felt. It is directly to the people of such
communities, not through the medium of persons or committees that
represent national sectarian interests, that the new commandment is to
be preached, which yet is no new commandment, but the old commandment
which they have had from the beginning. It cannot always be that sincere
Christian believers, living together in a neighborhood in which the
ruinous effects of division are plain to every eye, shall continue to
misapprehend or disregard some of the tenderest and most unmistakable
counsels of their Lord and his apostles, or imagine the authority of
them to be canceled by the authority of any sect or party of Christians.
The double fallacy, first, that it is a Christian's prime duty to look
out for his own soul, and, secondly, that the soul's best health is to
be secured by sequestering it from contact with dissentient opinions,
and indulging its tastes and preferences wherein they differ from those
of its neighbor, must sometime be found out and exposed. The discovery
will be made that there is nothing in the most cherished sermons and
sacraments and prayers that is comparable in value, as a means of grace,
with the giving up of all these for God's reign and righteousness--that
he who will save his soul shall lose it, and he who will lose his soul
for Christ and his gospel shall save it to life eternal. These centuries
of church history, beginning with convulsive disruptions of the church
in Europe, with persecutions and religious wars, present before us the
importation into the New World of the religious divisions and
subdivisions of the Old, and the further division of these beyond any
precedent in history. It begins to look as if in this strange work God
had been grinding up material for a nobler manifestation of the unity of
his people. The sky of the declining century is red with promise.
Hitherto, not the decay of religious earnestness only, but the revival
of it, has brought into the church, not peace, but division. When next
some divine breathing of spiritual influence shall be wafted over the
land, can any man forbid the hope that from village to village the
members of the disintegrated and enfeebled church of Christ may be
gathered together with one accord in one place not for the transient
fervors of the revival only, but for permanent fellowship in work and
worship? A few examples of this would spread their influence through the
American church until the whole was leavened.

The record of important events in the annals of American Christianity
may well end with that wholly unprecedented gathering at Chicago in
connection with the magnificent celebration of the four hundredth
anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus--I mean, of course,
the Parliament of Religions. In a land which bears among the nations the
reproach of being wholly absorbed in devotion to material interests, and
in which the church, unsupported and barely recognized by the state, and
unregulated by any secular authority, scatters itself into what seem to
be hopelessly discordant fragments, a bold enterprise was undertaken in
the name of American Christianity, such as the church in no other land
of Christendom would have had the power or the courage to venture on.
With large hospitality, representatives of all the religions of the
world were invited to visit Chicago, free of cost, as guests of the
Parliament. For seventeen days the Christianity of America, and of
Christendom, and of Christian missions in heathen lands, sat
confronted--no, not confronted, but side by side on the same
platform--with the non-Christian religions represented by their priests,
prelates, and teachers. Of all the diversities of Christian opinion and
organization in America nothing important was unrepresented, from the
authoritative dogmatic system and the solid organization of the Catholic
Church (present in the person of its highest official dignitaries) to
the broadest liberalism and the most unrestrained individualism. There
were those who stood aloof and prophesied that nothing could come of
such an assemblage but a hopeless jangle of discordant opinions. The
forebodings were disappointed. The diverse opinions were there, and were
uttered with entire unreserve. But the jangle of discord was not there.
It was seen and felt that the American church, in the presence of the
unchristian and antichristian powers, and in presence of those solemn
questions of the needs of humanity that overtask the ingenuity and the
resources of us all combined, was builded as a city that is at unity
with itself. That body which, by its strength of organization, and by
the binding force of its antecedents, might have seemed to some most
hopelessly isolated from the common sympathies of the assembly, like all
the rest was faithful in the assertion of its claims, and, on the other
hand, was surpassed by none in the manifestation of fraternal respect
toward fellow-Christians of other folds. Since those seventeen wonderful
September days of 1893, the idea that has so long prevailed with
multitudes of minds, that the only Christian union to be hoped for in
America must be a union to the exclusion of the Roman Catholic Church
and in antagonism to it, ought to be reckoned an idea obsolete and
antiquated.

* * * * *

The theme prescribed for this volume gives no opportunity for such a
conclusion as the literary artist delights in--a climax of achievement
and consummation, or the catastrophe of a decline and fall. We have
marked the sudden divulging to the world of the long-kept secret of
divine Providence; the unveiling of the hidden continent; the progress
of discovery, of conquest, of colonization; the planting of the church;
the rush of immigration; the occupation of the continent with Christian
institutions by a strange diversity of sects; the great providential
preparations as for some divine event still hidden behind the curtain
that is about to rise on the new century,--and here the story breaks off
half told.

* * * * *

To so many of his readers as shall have followed him to this last page
of the volume, the author would speak a parting word. He does not
deprecate the criticisms that will certainly be pronounced upon his
work by those competent to judge both of the subject and of the style of
it. He would rather acknowledge them in advance. No one of his critics
can possibly have so keen a sense as the author himself of his
incompetency, and of the inadequacy of his work, to the greatness of the
subject. To one reproach, however, he cannot acknowledge himself justly
liable: he is not self-appointed to a task beyond his powers and
attainments, but has undertaken it at the instance of eminent men to
whose judgment he was bound to defer. But he cannot believe that even
his shortcomings and failures will be wholly fruitless. If they shall
provoke some really competent scholar to make a book worthy of so great
and inspiring a theme, the present author will be well content.






Previous: The Church In Theology And Liter



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK