THE Epistle to the Philippians stands upon ground occupied by hardly any of the Apostolic writings. The near and intimate relation in which St. Paul stood to those he addressed--the tie of personal sympathy subsisting between them--the particular interchange of friendly offices which led to its writings--the purity of the faith preserved among them, and the consequent absence almost wholly of allusions to incoming error, such as mark his longer Epistles--the warm tone of love and joy, of hope and confidence, which runs through the whole--give this Epistle a character peculiarly its own. All the more do we note specially the one or two indications of growing evil, in a Church which had so signally prospered since the day when the Apostle himself sowed the first seed. All the more do we mark the earnestness of him, who had been their father in Christ, watching carefully against that root of bitterness, which he saw already getting a hold of the field of his own planting. Erroneous doctrinal teaching was not [3/4] their main danger. That Judaizing teachers or Gnostic heretics had made no way, had acquired no hold, we may gather from the very nature of the caution against them in the beginning of the fourth chapter, where it is only from excess of carefulness that he speaks of such evils at all. The temptations and dangers of the Philippians were on a different side: the faults rather of the practical than of the intellectual life; aberration of individuals rather than of the Church. The one point on which the Apostle's joy needed fulfilling, was as to the unity, the charity, the forbearance of the Christian flock among themselves. Strife and vainglory are touched upon, not at all in the way of overweening caution, as false doctrine is afterwards, but as actual indwelling evils, the existence of which marred the fulness of satisfaction, wherewith the prisoner of the Lord wrote. Self-esteem, self-exaltation, an overvalue of each man's own things, an undervaluing of the things of others, a departure from the pattern of humility set before them in Christ, murmurings and disputings, these are the dangers his watchful eye detects, against which his loving heart warns. The Lord Jesus Christ, the pattern of humility and self-abasing love, this is the model he holds out to be followed.
This seems to be the particular bearing of the words in their first acceptation. Personal strife and emulation among individuals might grow to such a height, as to endanger the well-being of the [4/5] Church itself. By the adversary they had been nothing terrified: but the vantage ground already gained could be occupied long only by unity and mutual forbearance: party spirit and vainglory would bring with them the seeds of destruction. But yet, though it was not in the search after truth, but rather in the practice of truth already apprehended, that the divisions had arisen, still the words themselves, and the spirit of the Apostle breathing through them, is as applicable to the one danger as to the other. The particular application of the caution was local and temporary, the general principles laid down would be wide and lasting. That unity is the strength of the Christian body--that unity is impossible without forbearance, sympathy, and humility--these are truths which are not without their application to our own times and our own temptations. I believe that by taking the words in a somewhat larger acceptation, than in their immediate context seems to belong to them, I shall neither be straining the Apostle's meaning, nor losing sight of the object for which this Lecture was founded.
Now the former of these two propositions, that the strength of the Church at large, or of any section of it, lies in her united action, needs not enforcing, nor unhappily does it need illustration. If disunion is weakness--and we need not go far to seek for illustrations of that member of the antithesis--union is strength. I do not think it is [5/6] a truth which any thoughtful man is likely to lose sight of, or one likely to be forgotten in the teaching of this place. But the second proposition is for several reasons not at all unlikely to be set aside. I believe there is great danger for us in a day of much doctrinal difference and religious excitement, specially for those of us who are just on the threshold of theological controversy--danger lest we lose sight of that forbearance and humility of spirit, which are needful conditions not only of profiting by truth apprehended, but even of apprehending truth at all. The opposite habit of mind, against which the Apostolic warning is directed, takes a twofold developement, according to the circumstances of the Church's life, or the tendencies of individual character. I suppose most of us have observed bow minds are cast in two different moulds: and in no branch of investigation will the dominant tendency of the individual indicate itself more plainly than in the study of divine truth. The watchwords of Authority, and Private Judgment, however they have been used as the symbol of party, do indicate a radical and deepseated diversity, not of opinion or education only, but of natural tendency and character of mind. The one inclined to deal rather with the form, the other with the matter: the one taking its stand on precedent and dogma, the other impatient of technicality and formula altogether: the one jealous for the authority of the body, the other vindicating the [6/7] rights of the individual. Of course, it is not in theology only that these opposite tendencies manifest themselves. Science, Law, and Polity would afford illustrations as apt, and examples as numerous. They form the conflicting elements into which most party-contests resolve themselves. In the religious life of the Church of Christ, both these inherent tendencies of the human mind have been actively at work, for good or for evil, according as either has been duly subordinated to the guidance of the blessed Spirit of truth, or been allowed to run its own unbridled and unsanctified course. For either element is essential to the building up and cementing the whole Church. To either class of mind we owe a debt of gratitude, which it would be difficult to overestimate. To the one we owe the formation of Creeds, the establishment of dogma, the systematizing of divine truth; to the other the liberation of the individual conscience from the trammels of unjust authority--the distinguishing between the reality which is eternal, from the outside garb which is accidental and temporary--the breaking and clearing away those incrustations wherewith a usurped power had overwhelmed God's truth. To either class in its perversion it were equally easy to trace up many of the evils and divisions of our own and other periods; to the unrestrained developement of the one we owe the decrees of Trent, to the licence of the other the irreverence and heresies of modern sectaries. [7/8] I am not saying which class of mind has been most valuable, or which most prejudicial to the Church's life. I believe either to have done the noblest service; I believe either to have made the wildest havoc. The Church could as ill have spared St. Jerome, St. Cyril, or Aquinas, as Origen, St. Augustine, or St. Gregory. But I believe the one as much as the other to need the Apostolic warning: that to look upon our own things and not upon the things of others, is our temptation now as then. That we are in as great danger of forgetting forbearance on the one side, as reverence and submission on the other.
And we have to do with our own dangers, our own temptations, our own snares. Truths, which from our special circumstances are household words to us, are not those upon which we need most to dwell; dangers of which our every day teaching warns us, are not those against which we need to be specially guarded. That the authority of the Church is a reality and not a name, a blessing and not a bondage; that the truest freedom lies in submission, the truest exaltation in humility, are truths so indissolubly knit up with our every day teaching in this place, that in theory at least we are in no danger of forgetting them. St. Paul's words point to a danger in an opposite direction--the danger of assuming our own view of truth to be so comprehensive as to include truth in all its bearings: of ignoring the existence of any [8/9] truth within those communities, or schools of divinity, which as wholes we must needs condemn: the danger of substituting the narrowness of a theological system for the fulness of the Catholic Faith.
"Look not every man to his own things, but every man also to the things of others." Let me point out one or two ways in which, as it seems to me, we are tempted to lose sight of the Apostolic precept. One fruitful source of bitterness and lack of Christian charity in theological controversy has been the assumption, that correctness of theological expression is always essential to the holding of religious truth. I am not, you will observe, undervaluing exactness of theological phraseology. I believe we can hardly be too careful in our own teaching and speaking, of guiding our dogmatic statements by these formulae, which authority has sanctioned, and experience approved. But it is one thing to set a high value on a blessing which we ourselves possess, and altogether another to deal hardly with those whose privileges are lower. It is easy to talk of the value which the Church has ever set upon exactitude of dogmatic formula: to quote the single iota which made the whole difference between heresy and orthodoxy at the Council of Nice: the few letters which distinguish truth from falsehood, according to the view of the Council of Ephesus. I do not one whit undervalue those symbols. But conscious opposition to [9/10] the Church's voice, knowing it to be such, is of the essence of heresy. The fathers of those Councils felt that they were not contending for words, but for realities; not for an outside garb of truth, but for the inner truth itself; and strove to clothe in words, as apt as they could find, verities, the fulness of which no words can comprehend. But surely he is not always the furthest from divine truth, who from faulty training, early habit, or lack of theological acumen, uses the most confused and inexact language about the highest things. Specially in such days as these, we shall do well to remember how recent a return to exact theological phraseology has been amongst ourselves, how little careful thoughtful men were but a few years back about what we now hold important and needful distinctions. It would, I believe, be easy, were it not invidious, to point out expressions, and more than expressions, in writings bearing a high stamp of authority a few years back, quite inconsistent, if pressed, with exact orthodox teaching, even on such points as the Sacraments, or the higher doctrines of the Athanasian Creed. We do not condemn such writers, however we judge of their teaching: we take into account the times and the seasons, the very general indifference to truth itself, still more to the careful statement of truth: we no more think of judging one who used heterodox language in the latter half of the eighteenth century by our own standard, than we [10/11] do St. Basil's phraseology by the decrees of the Council of Constantinople, or that of the Synod of Antioch by the decrees of Nice. I do not mean that the cases are altogether parallel: only so far, that as St. Basil held the doctrine of the ever-blessed Trinity, though he shrunk purposely from the use of expressions, which were afterwards held to be of the essence of orthodoxy--as the Antiochene Synod expressed a dislike to the symbol omoousioV, which at Nice was the one test of truth--so amid the entire disregard to orthodoxy of expression, which prevailed a few years ago, we should shrink from judging this or that individual, because his language partakes of the general looseness of his age. Even so it is still: carefulness about theological accuracy implies education, training, reading, and thought: a great body of real religious truth may underlie extreme inaccuracy of expression: hastily to condemn such expressions, without at the same time separating at the expense of much trouble the chaff from the wheat, the shell from the kernel, is a forgetfulness of Christian love; it is to look only on our own things, and not also on the things of others.
Once more: few things have done more to embitter theological strife, than the habit of attributing to our opponents more than they consciously held of erroneous teaching. Of course, I do not mean in the way of wilful misrepresentation, but by extending and amplifying their [11/12] teaching, and drawing it out to what seems to us its legitimate conclusions. In this case, as in the former one, I draw a plain distinction between the method of dealing with our own teaching, and that of others: between judging of the truth of a position, and of the soundness of those who hold the position. In the abstract investigation of a theological dogma, it is plainly safe to test it as severely as possible, to examine what are the consequences that legitimately follow out of it, whether it will bear drawing to its natural conclusions. But in dealing with the same dogma in the concrete, in dealing controversially not with the truth or falsehood of a specific proposition, but in judging of the soundness or unsoundness of those maintaining the proposition, I am persuaded that there is no course so prejudicial to ourselves, so embittering to our opponents, as to attribute to them more of error than they consciously hold, because such error seems to us the logical issue of what they do profess. The life of the Christian Church in all times ought to be a warning against thus dealing with controversy. I suppose few things are more difficult, more hard to unravel from the tangle of misrepresentation and misstatement in which it has been wound up, than the history of heresies. I suppose few of us have ever attempted to ascertain for themselves what the real tenets of any given body of heretics were, without finding it a most wearisome task, in great measure because [12/13] to their real erroneous teaching has been superadded by their opponents so much which, in the view of those opponents, was implicitly involved in their error. The Nestorian or the Pelagian controversies in early times, many of the disputes which tore the Church in the sixteenth century, would illustrate my meaning. There are few forms of misrepresentation more attractive than this, few which have done so much to separate and divide men, who had much more in common than they were willing themselves to recognise. And it is a danger from which modern controversy is very far from free. Take one instance: we believe that true teaching on Sacramental questions is closely knit up with the doctrine of the Incarnation of our blessed Lord: that out of the one does needfully follow the other. And yet no reasonable man doubts, that there are multitudes whose belief on the one point is imperfect, confused, even unsound, whose faith meanwhile on the truth of the Incarnation is undoubted and unshaken. We may say indeed that the latter dogma has in such a case never been realised in its fulness, never carried out to its logical conclusions. It may be so. But the reduction into system and exact form of the fragments of their different convictions, is a work which few men attempt. We cannot but feel that there is over many of us a special Providence, "a miracle of mercy," to use the expression of Bp. Jeremy Taylor, [13/14] which prevents us following out our opinions to their due issues. Far better that a man should be inconsistently right, than consistently wrong, upon matters touching the foundations of the Faith. And when one who differs from us on the question of Sacramental grace hears himself taunted with implicitly denying the Incarnation of our blessed Lord, the only feeling produced is one of irritation and resentful anger. If the end of controversy be to lead men to the truth, not further and further from it, we are directly inverting the due order of argument by such a course. Surely the line of Christian argument should be, not, This truth which follows out of a deeper and higher truth you deny, you are logically bound to deny that deeper and higher truth likewise; but rather assuming the truth held by both in common, to draw towards harmony on the points confessedly at issue.
And yet once more: there is a further truth to which the Apostolic warning points. "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others." That the strength of any theological system or any religious party is in the truth mixed up in whatever proportion with the error: that it is not the mass of falsehood, but the few grains of truth interfused, which give any such system its hold on the human mind: this I doubt not to be a most sure and certain law. Recognise this law, and I believe we hold the key to unity; ignore it, and all discussions and [14/15] arguments will tend more and more to division: because the recognition of it leads to sympathy, the ignoring of it denunciation and condemnation. I am not speaking of what leads to the gratification of sense, to Antinomianism and license: but when we find, as we may find abundantly, as we all shall find, who are called upon to maintain truth and combat error, amid the riven and discordant elements of an English parish--when we find religious systems laying hold largely of minds, not carnal and sensual, but ofttimes earnest and devout, even while they lack that reverence which it seems as though Church teaching alone can give--when we find men living and dying in a spirit, which I think we can call by no other name than a spirit of faith in such system, as we shall find;--then I think we are quite justified in saying, that it is the truth underlying the falsehood, not the falsehood incrusting the truth, which gives such a system its power and its life. It was a law recognised by early Christian teachers, who loved to trace the footsteps of God walking amid the darkness of the old heathen world: it was a law recognised by Christian antiquity, it was a law recognised by St. Paul himself. It is a law, which we may see working in religious systems, wholly alien to Christianity; much more among those who amid whatever aberrations, rebellions, or unfaithfulness, are still by virtue of their baptism engrafted members of Christ's body. Among them surely, whatsoever [15/16] is earnest, loving, humble-minded, holy, flows not out of their separation, but out of their yet undestroyed union with the Church; flows not out of their perversions of sacred truth, but out of that portion of truth which they still hold pure and undefiled. Act in recognition of the law, and you may bring back many a wanderer into the fold of Christ: act in opposition to it, and you will drive many an one further away. Tell a man that a religious party, among whom he has found sympathy, help, and spiritual blessing, or a sect in which it may be he has first been awakened to the value of heavenly things at all; tell such a man simply, that his religious party is in heresy and his sect in schism, and his moral sense will reject your teaching; because, argue as you will, the experience of blessings actually enjoyed is stronger than the testimony of ten thousand words. His feeling will be akin to that of the blind man in the Gospel: "Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not; one thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see." But shew such an one, that whatever of truth his system rests upon, that truth is to be found more real, pure, and unmixed in the Church's teaching and the Church's life: that whatsoever of earnestness, faith, and love, he has realized in spite of the obstructions of an imperfect communion or a faulty teaching, he may realise in far higher measure, those hindrances and obstacles done away: that if indeed the channels of grace have not [16/17] been hitherto totally stopped to him, that here you lead him to the fountain of living waters: then you reach the man's heart, you run counter to no experience, you draw him with cords of a man, and with bands of love. It is much the more laborious process: to denounce is much easier than to sympathize: but positive teaching is ever more valuable than negative; to persuade a higher gift than to refute. Surely this is not to narrow the Church's claim, but to widen it: not to derogate from, but tenfold to magnify the blessing of Church membership. To claim for her the right and the power of developing whatever of special gift lies dormant or half unfolded in each one of her children; to believe, that whatsoever is pure and noble flows directly or indirectly from her; that if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, it is part of her heritage unjustly usurped from her; surely this is a magnifying of the Church's gifts. Wide enough to embrace all, we ofttimes narrow her fulness, because our partial and narrow view has failed to realize for ourselves the length and breadth of her sympathy and her love.
It is not uncommon to hear this method of pursuing truth and meeting its opposite, condemned under a general sweeping charge of Eclecticism. Now Eclecticism is a hard name, oftenest in the mouths of those who have weighed least its real value, and applied indiscriminately to two methods [17/18] of investigation, which have really nothing in common. To attempt, by a judicious culling of the choicest fragments of many systems, to build up a perfect temple for ourselves, must needs result in an unstable patchwork, tottering to its own downfall: this is Eclectic in philosophy, and in theology has its natural issue in Pantheism. But to believe that mistaken and corrupt systems derive all their power from the element of truth held in suspension in the midst of falsehood: to believe they retain their hold on men's minds, because they minister an element of nutriment after which the spiritual appetite craves: to believe that that element is supplied pure and unadulterated in the Church, which, without her pale, is polluted by poisonous admixture: this is so far from being Eclecticism, that it seems to me its direct opposite. Whether we are dealing with Heathendom or with divided Christendom, the principle is alike the same--sympathy, not denunciation--recognising the truth which error has overlaid, not condemning as a whole what its followers feel and know, amidst whatsoever confusions, to contain a truth. The results of the opposite method of dealing either with unbelievers or schismatics, are illustrated, I think, by the history of Wesleyanism at home, or of modern missions among the heathen abroad. In the latter case, St. Paul preaching at Athens seems to have been mostly overlooked: in the former, energies which some sympathy and [18/19] forbearance at the right moment might have laid hold of for the building up of the Church's fabric, have been through neglect, contempt, or denunciation, diverted to pulling down and destroying. It is no undervaluing of the Church's office, when we claim as her children all whom the laver of baptism has joined to Christ: when we claim for her to be inclusive, not exclusive; not sectarian, but Catholic: and vindicate as her portion whatever of lovely and of good report we find beyond the limits of her fold.
And if there be any time, when the Church's own voice calls to strive after the things that make for peace, it is when she bids us prepare for the season of self-abasement, which this week ushers in. Not in vain surely does she teach us to pray for that charity, without which all our doings, all our strivings, all our earnestness, nay, all our faith, is nothing worth; not in vain does she set before us the Apostolic delineation of that love which thinketh no evil, which believeth and hopeth and endureth all things. And if in the days on which our lot has fallen, each returning Lent seems to tell more and more of strife and division within, of assault and enmity without, all the more for us in this our solemn fast, to ask ourselves, each for himself, what share of the sin of such division attaches to us:--whether there be not in us somewhat of the spirit opposed to the spirit of love: a spirit which vaunteth itself, which is easily [19/20] provoked, which is ready to think evil. For we may be seeking our own glory, when we think we are seeking that of the Church; we may be exalting ourselves, when we seem to be exalting the cause of truth; we may be most fostering division, when we speak most loudly for unity. This is a fast which God hath chosen: to loose the bands of strife and division, of self-sufficient vainglory, of harsh and unbrotherly judgment. Surely we have fallen upon no time for scattering, but for gathering in: for gathering up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost: nothing which the Church yet holds of good and holy, nothing which may yet be brought back to strengthen and stablish her. May He pour into the hearts of her children of that Spirit, whereby alone she can stand in the day of trial to come: may He "turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, ere He come and smite the earth with a curse!"