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The Church In Theology And Liter





The rapid review of three crowded centuries, which is all that the
narrowly prescribed limits of this volume have permitted, has
necessarily been mainly restricted to external facts. But looking back
over the course of visible events, it is not impossible for acute minds
devoted to such study to trace the stream of thought and sentiment that
is sometimes hidden from direct view by the overgrowth which itself has
nourished.

We have seen a profound spiritual change, renewing the face of the land
and leaving its indelible impress on successive generations, springing
from the profoundest contemplations of God and his work of salvation
through Jesus Christ, and then bringing back into thoughtful and
teachable minds new questions to be solved and new discoveries of truth
to be pondered. The one school of theological opinion and inquiry that
can be described as characteristically American is the theology of the
Great Awakening. The disciples of this school, in all its divergent
branches, agree in looking back to the first Jonathan Edwards as the
founder of it. Through its generations it has shown a striking sequence
and continuity of intellectual and spiritual life, each generation
answering questions put to it by its predecessor, while propounding new
questions to the generation following. After the classical writings of
its first founders, the most widely influential production of this
school is the Theology Explained and Defended in a Series of Sermons
of President Dwight. This had the advantage over some other systems of
having been preached, and thus proved to be preachable. The series of
sermons was that delivered to successive generations of college
students at Yale at a time of prevailing skepticism, when every
statement of the college pulpit was liable to sharp and not too friendly
scrutiny; and it was preached with the fixed purpose of convincing and
converting the young men who heard it. The audience, the occasion, and
the man--a fervid Christian, and a born poet and orator--combined to
produce a work of wide and enduring influence. The dynasty of the
Edwardeans is continued down to the middle of the nineteenth century,
and later, through different lines, ending in Emmons of Franklin, Taylor
of New Haven, and Finney of Oberlin, and is represented among the living
by the venerable Edwards A. Park, of Andover, who adds to that power of
sustained speculative thinking in a straight line which is
characteristic of the whole school, a wide learning in the whole field
of theological literature, which had not been usual among his
predecessors. It is a prevailing trait of this theology, born of the
great revival, that it has constantly held before itself not only the
question, What is truth? but also the question, How shall it be
preached? It has never ceased to be a revival theology.

A bold and open breach of traditionary assumptions and habits of
reasoning was made by Horace Bushnell. This was a theologian of a
different type from his New England predecessors. He was of a temper
little disposed to accept either methods or results as a local
tradition, and inclined rather to prefer that which had been hammered
out on his own anvil. And yet, while very free in manifesting his small
respect for the logicking by syllogistic processes which had been the
pride of the theological chair and even the pulpit in America, and while
declining the use of current phraseologies even for the expression of
current ideas, he held himself loyally subject to the canon of the
Scriptures as his rule of faith, and deferential to the voice of the
church catholic as uttered in the concord of testimony of holy men in
all ages. Endowed with a poet's power of intuition, uplifted by a fervid
piety, uttering himself in a literary style singularly rich and
melodious, it is not strange that such a man should have made large
contributions to the theological thought of his own and later times. In
natural theology, his discourses on The Moral Uses of Dark Things
(1869), and his longest continuous work, on Nature and the
Supernatural (1858), even though read rather as prose-poems than as
arguments, sound distinctly new notes in the treatment of their theme.
In God in Christ (1849), Christ in Theology (1851), The Vicarious
Sacrifice (1866), and Forgiveness and Law (1874), and in a notable
article in the New Englander for November, 1854, entitled The
Christian Trinity a Practical Truth, the great topics of the Christian
system were dealt with all the more effectively, in the minds of
thoughtful readers in this and other lands, for cries of alarm and
newspaper and pulpit impeachments of heresy that were sent forth. But
that work of his which most nearly made as well as marked an epoch in
American church history was the treatise of Christian Nurture (1847).
This, with the protracted controversy that followed upon the publication
of it, was a powerful influence in lifting the American church out of
the rut of mere individualism that had been wearing deeper and deeper
from the days of the Great Awakening.

Another wholesome and edifying debate was occasioned by the publications
that went forth from the college and theological seminary of the German
Reformed Church, situated at Mercersburg in Pennsylvania. At this
institution was effected a fruitful union of American and German
theology; the result was to commend to the general attention aspects of
truth, philosophical, theological, and historical, not previously
current among American Protestants. The book of Dr. John Williamson
Nevin, entitled The Mystical Presence: A Vindication of the Reformed or
Calvinistic Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist, revealed to the vast
multitude of churches and ministers that gloried in the name of
Calvinist the fact that on the most distinctive article of Calvinism
they were not Calvinists at all, but Zwinglians. The enunciation of the
standard doctrine of the various Presbyterian churches excited among
themselves a clamor of Heresy! and the doctrine of Calvin was put upon
trial before the Calvinists. The outcome of a discussion that extended
itself far beyond the boundaries of the comparatively small and
uninfluential German Reformed Church was to elevate the point of view
and broaden the horizon of American students of the constitution and
history of the church. Later generations of such students owe no light
obligation to the fidelity and courage of Dr. Nevin, as well as to the
erudition and immense productive diligence of his associate, Dr. Philip
Schaff.[377:1]

It is incidental to the prevailing method of instruction in theology by
a course of prelections in which the teacher reads to his class in
detail his own original summa theologiŠ, that the American press has
been prolific of ponderous volumes of systematic divinity. Among the
more notable of these systems are those of Leonard Woods (in five
volumes) and of Enoch Pond; of the two Drs. Hodge, father and son; of
Robert J. Breckinridge and James H. Thornwell and Robert L. Dabney; and
the Systematic Theology of a much younger man, Dr. Augustus H. Strong,
of Rochester Seminary, which has won for itself very unusual and wide
respect. Exceptional for ability, as well as for its originality of
conception, is The Republic of God: An Institute of Theology, by
Elisha Mulford, a disciple of Maurice and of the realist philosophy, the
thought of whose whole life is contained in this and his kindred work on
The Nation.

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How great is the debt which the church owes to its heretics