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Lord, how long ? all was exultation and triumph without. Nor could he appear, in the face of open day, as a follower of the great Reformer, without having the finger of scorn pointed at him, or the laugh of contempt directed toward him.
But during the time of the greatest apparent triumph of Naturalism in Germany, there never was a season, in which there were not some, in every province, and in almost every town, who mourned over the fall of the Reformation doctrines. Here and there a solitary Professor in a university; here and there a pastor in the humble villages and parishes; was to be found, who wanted nothing but sympathy and a few rays of hope for encouragement, to draw him out, and make him bold, in the same cause which Luther pleaded. A Reinhard, a Knapp, worthy of apostolic days, a Noesselt, a Morus, a Storr, a Flatt, a Titmann, still lived, and studied, and prayed, and lectured, and acted, and wrote; but their voice was drowned amid the din of the exulting multitudes, goaded on by powerful and energetic and learned leaders, and encouraged by princes and potentates.
Such was the state of things for some twenty years or more; when the pastor Harms, at Kiel, raised the note of alarm so as to be heard over all parts of Europe, which professed to be following in the steps of Luther. In the year 1817, the third grand centennial jubilee from the time when the Reformation began, (a most opportune season for his purpose, he published to the world a new edition of the celebrated Theses of Luther, which embrace all the fundamental principles of the reformation proposed by him, and added some of his own, with appropriate remarks on the whole. The book spread far and wide, in spite of every effort to check the diffusion of it. Harms was laughed at, ridiculed, called enthusiast, treated with contumely, argued against, but all to little purpose. Lutherans were appealed to by him, and their obligations to know in what Lutheranism consisted were so powerfully urged upon them, that many admitted the claim. Others scorned, because Harms was neither a Professor in a university, nor a man of distinguished learning. But of those who did examine seriously the Theses of the great Reformer, some became convinced, in earnest, that they had indeed abandoned the ground of the Reformation. From that day to the present hour, a counter-revolution, in favor of the principles of the real evangelical church, has been going on in Germany; and, as we shall see by and by, it is now beginning more openly to break out, and to shew a formidable array against the adversaries who have been triumphing at their success, in banishing from the country of Luther, the sentiments which he avowed, and which he defended at the hazard of his life.
But we must stop a moment here, for the sake of some remarks, which we cannot refrain from making, upon the deeply interesting facts that are now before us.
Nothing can be more evident to an intelligent and thorough reader of such books, as give a true and circumstantial account of the great revolution which has taken place in Germany, than that the defects in the manner of teaching and presenting the science of theology, which were connected with the reigning modes of study and instruction in that country, contributed exceedingly to the triumphs of the Neologists. Semler had been educated in all the formal, logical, metaphysical, Aristotelian hair-splitting of his predecessor Baumgarten, and others before him. He even published the system of Baumgarten, with a most learned preface, in which he gives a very instructive history of the most important Christian doctrines. Semler had imbibed, in the course of study necessary to write such a preface, a strong conviction of the ever varying and often contradictory nature of human opinions. He saw, (what every man of any age or country must see, who examines for himself, and does not believe on the credit of another, that nothing important, in respect to distinguishing doctrines, can be proved from the ancient Fathers, inasmuch as real unanimity in the manner of explaining hardly any important points, can be found among them. He transferred this principle to the modern systems of theology. He began to examine how Aristotle had contributed to their form. He betook himself to the critical study of the Scriptures. Here he found still greater deficiencies. Whole masses of texts had been brought forward as witnesses, which, on examination, he found not to have testified as they had been understood to do. He was disgusted at this. Revolt succeeded disgust. From warm and enthusiastic attachment to the theology of Baumgarten, such as he felt when he published his system, he went over to the opposite extreme, and broke down all restraint, and overleaped all bounds. From attacking the school theology of modern days, he advanced to the Biblical authors themselves; and applying to them the doctrine of Accommodation, that is, a principle of interpretation, which represents a writer as merely speaking in accordance with the prejudices of those whom he addresses,) he explained away every vestige of orthodoxy, which could apparently be found in any part of the Scriptures.
Such are the unhappy consequences of loading the simple and plain principles of religion, with a drapery which is foreign to their nature, which always sits uneasy, and which, whenever it is thoroughly examined, will be cast off with more or less violence. Such is our corrupt nature. We go from one extreme, far, very far, into the opposite. So did the revolutionists in France. They had reason, good reason, for complaint. They were oppressed. But when they burst the chains of oppression, they exulted not only in their liberty; they triumphed in their licentiousness. In another department of action, Semler did the same thing. The same laws of the human mind, the same imperfection of our
nature, led him into such an error. The ardor of contest, the the keenness with which he felt the reproaches that fell upon him, when he first set out in his new career, and the pride of victory, urged him on, until there was no retreat, and to conquer or die seemed to him the only alternative.
Educated as he had been, we have seen that he was intimately acquainted with all the weak places in the citadel, into which his opponents had thrown themselves. The keen sighted coadjutors, which his powerful writings had raised up, soon learned from him where to deal their blows; and thus, by degrees, the doctrines of Luther became a general object of rejection and even scorn, because the costume imposed upon them had been repulsive and cumbersome.
We do trust, that the great Head of the church has taught, by these events, all who love his simple truth, as he has revealed it to men, to guard well against exposing it to rejection and scorn, by superadding too much costume of their own invention. There can be no rational objection to systems of theology. They are altogether desirable, and in a certain sense necessary, for a correct and extensive view of theology as a science. They are of real importance to theologians by profession. But let these systems be BIBLICAL. Let them be founded on an interpretation of the Scriptures, which will withstand all the assaults of critical investigation, not on a priori reasoning, deduced from the reigning philosophy or metaphysics of the day. Otherwise, some Semler will, sooner or later, make his appearance, and, not content with blowing away the chaff, will, along with it, throw away the wheat.
The few able and undaunted adherents in Germany to the real doctrines of the Reformation, have been, step by step, retreating from all the old ground of metaphysical school theology, and coming, for these twenty years, gradually, and at last, fully, upon the simple ground, that THE SCRIPTURES ARE THE SUFFICIENT AND THE ONLY RULE OF FAITH AND PRACTICE. And why should not God's word deserve more credit, than that of sallible men ?
In the mean time, the system of their opponents has greatly changed. At first, much regard for the Scriptures was professed by them; and the Bible was set in opposition to all the human systems then in vogue in the church. But the sense of the Bible was every where to be made what they wished it to be, by virtue of philosophy and the doctrine of accommodation. But when the old school systems were given up by the defenders of true evangelical principles, because of their repulsive form, and their defective exegesis, and the Scripture was solely appealed to in support of these principles, and that on acknowledged maxims of exegesis, then the ground of opponents began to be shifted, as one might easily suppose. The next ground was Naturalism, under the gentle and alluring appellation of Rationalism. This is now
the altogether prevailing system of the Neologists. The reigning heresiarch in this new kingdom, (new in name, not in reality,) is Dr. Wegscheider, present professor of theology at Halle-Wittenberg; whose Institutiones exhibit not only all the arguments employed by Hume against the possibility of miracles, but many more superadded. It is enough to say, that the book has had unbounded popularity, and gone through seven or eight large editions in the course of a few years, to shew what the reigning passion of the day is, in the interesting country, which gave birth to the most important Reformer of modern times.
Since the publication by Harms, mentioned above, the friends of the evangelical cause, who before were, for the most part, lying on their faces in the dust, have begun to gather up themselves, and to strive for the attainment of an erect position. . Several periodical works have been engaged in by them, and unexpectedly found more support than was anticipated. Schwartz, Professor at Heidelburg, has, for some time, published a thoroughly evangelical work, with much success. Occasional volumes, pamphlets, and even systems of divinity, have appeared, which are decidedly of the evangelical cast. The king of Prussia, who is generally understood to be in favor of the genuine principles of the Reforination, has gathered around him, and placed in his celebrated university at Berlin, and in the pulpits in that city, some of the most learned and powerful men in Germany, who are altogether on the evangelical side. He has recently sent one of these to Halle, very much against the wishes of the Naturalists there, to fill the place vacated by the death of the truly apostolic and excellent Dr. Knapp. Since the death of this last mentioned veteran in theology, his Lectures, (read for some forty years or more, and corrected and enlarged more or less at every reading,) have recently been published, and exhibit a body of Scriptural Divinity, which we hope and trust will ere long come before our public. The work is not, like that of Storr, broken up by notes, illustrating bare propositions; but is continuous, judicious, deep, warm hearted, and well worthy of perusal and study. The exegesis is of the most fundamental kind, and will stand the test of trial.
In this state of things, the noble corps of defenders of evangelical sentiment at Berlin, felt that it was time to make an open demonstration, once more, in behalf of the cause of the Reformation, in the face of all Germany, and of the world. Communication with others of like sentiment confirmed this opinion ; and the Magazine, whose title stands at the head of this article, is the first fruits of their labors.
The work is designed for the learned and the unlearned. It is to contain pieces of a high wrought character, and much that is popular and adapted to all classes of readers. But we shall give more satisfaction to our readers, if we lay before them the
Prospectus of the work itself, prefixed to the first number which now lies before us. We shall give it in a free translation.
The influence of Journals, in the formation and direction of opinions at the present time, is universally admitted. The more certain this is, the more is it to be lamented, that the Evangelical Church* has hitherto had no organ of this kind, which was devoted to establishing and maintaining with strenuous uniformity, Gospel truth, as it is taught in the Holy Scriptures, and received from them into our Creeds. Neither has any publication of this nature exhibited clearly the distinction between evangelical doctrines and those of an opposite cast; nor is there any one, which, by communicating information respecting the state of the church in all countries, and of missionary operations, with their effect upon the heathen, has labored to awaken a lively sympathy in the affairs of the church, and a conviction that there is a real unity of purpose in all who love the truth. The undersigned, therefore, yielding to often repeated solicitations, and relying upon divine aid, has undertaken, with the cooperation of no inconsiderable number of theologians who are entitled to respect, the publication of an evangelical journal, under the title of THE EVANGELICAL Church JOURNAL
It will commence with the first of July. It will not be devoted to any party, as such; but solely to the interests of the Evangelical Church. To those. who have attained to a lively and established belief in the truth of Gospel doctrine, it will afford the means of improvement and of edification. It will lift up a warning voice against the various errors, which, at all seasons of great religious excitement, are apt to arise, even among those who in the most important respects have embraced divine truth. It will strive to promote in individuals the feeling of unity both with the Evangelical Church, and with the Christian church in general. It will endeavour to promote a general union among all the true members of the Evangelical Church.
In particular, it will be an object with the Evangelical Church Journal, to have respect to the wants of those, who, being in readiness to embrace the truth, know not where they must soek for it, nor where they can find it. A sense of such religious wants is now begining to be powerfully awakened ; the more powerfully, in proportion as the necessity of a belief in Revelation is felt.
Many, however, of those who are honestly seeking after truth, remain in a constant state of fluctuation, because they are afraid of going from one extreme to another. The Evangelical Church Journal will strive to remove the prejudices, which have led them hitherto to make opposition to the truth; to clear up their perplexed views; to make a plain distinction between evangelical Christianity, and the manifold departures from it; and to direct their views to the signs of the times, and make them better acquainted with the memorable events in respect to the church, which are taking place in the neighboring, and in foreign countries.
The Editor hopes to attain these ends in the best way by distributing the contents of this Journal in the following manner; viz.
1. Essays. These are divided into four classes. (1.) Essays on important passages of Scripture, exhibiting an interpretation of particular places that are dificult, and also of larger portions, which, at the present time, are entitled to peculiar consideration. (2.) Representations of true evangelical doctrine, in opposition to the widely spread errors of our times, in regard to faith and practice; instruction respecting the true nature of the Christian church, and its developement in the world, &c. (3.) Communications pertaining to the department of ecclesiastical history, in regard to the most ancient times, so far as these may have a bearing upon the present times. Sometimes copious extracts will be admitted, which are taken from books that are inaccessible to the great mass of readers. Communications of this nature, however, will not be mere lifeless extracts, but will be introduced and accompanied with appropriate remarks, which will adapt them to the present time. (4.) Theological Essays of a practical nature, made by such as have the care of souls committed to them, and the experience derived from the discharge of their official duties.
* This is the appropriate name of the Lutheran Church in Germany.