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.iniiT'l""MTnniitr i i i in i ii ii li.i 'i' i M i i u .** 















jo »■ 


J J 



With an Introduction by 





Pbofisssob Warfield of Princeton is well known on both 
'y> sides of the Atlantic. He has rendered special service in the 

interest of Systematic Theology ; and his defence of the " Bight " 
of that science in a recent number of The Presbyterian cmd 
Reformed Review^ which he edits, has appeared to us well worthy 
of a wider circulation in this country than it can hope to have 
in a journal published in America. 

This explains the issue of the present book, which we com- 
mend to the attention of all who have in any degree realised 
the importance of the subject. 

William Garden Blaikie, D.D., LL.D., Professor in New College, 

A. H. Charteris, D.D., Professor, University of Edinburgh. 
George G. M. Douglas, D.D., Principal, Free Church College, 


Robert Flint, D.D., LL.D., Professor, University of Edinburgh. 

William H. Goold, D.D,, Martyrs* Free Church, Edinburgh. 

John Laidlaw, D.D., Professor, New College, Edinburgh. 

Alexander Mair, D.D., United Presbyterian Church, Momingside. 

Robert Rainy, D.D., Principal, New College, Edinburgh. 

Alexander Stewart, D.D., Principal, St. Mary's College, St. 

James Stalker, D.D., St. Matthew's Free Church, Glasgow. 

Norman L. Walker, D.D., Editor of Free Church of Scotland 


J. Wardrop, D.D., Professor, U.P. College, Edinburgh. 






Systematic Theology has fallen on evil days. To 
her may be applied, with scarcely a change of a word, 
what Kant in the Preface to his famous Critique 
says of metaphysics : " Time was when she was the 
queen of all the sciences, and if we take the will for 
the deed, she certainly deserves, so far as regards the 
high importance of her object-matter, this title of 
honour. Now it is the fashion of the time to heap 
contempt and scorn upon her, and the matron mourns, 
forlorn and forsaken, like Hecuba — 

^ Modo maxima renun, 
Tot generis, natisque potens . . . 
Nunc trahor exul, inops.'"^ 

But a subsequent sentence also of this great 
thinker may be applied to theology : " For it is in 

^ *' So lately the greatest woman in the world, powerfdl in so many 
sons-in-law and children . • . now I am dragged away an exile, 

8 Introduction 

reality vain," he says, " to profess indifference in 
regard to such inquiries, the object of which cannot 
be indifferent to humanity. Besides, these pretended 
indifferents, however much they may try to disguise 
themselves by the assumption of a popular style and 
by changes on the language of the schools, un- 
doubtedly fall into [theological] declarations and 
propositions, which they profess to regard with so 
much contempt." 

The grounds on which a denial of the right of 
Systematic Theology to exist is based are various, but 
they may at bottom all be reduced to one — the denial 
of the existence of an adequate foundation on which 
such a structure can be reared. Whether it be that 
the human faculties are held to be constitutionally 
incompetent to such a true knowledge of God and 
His ways as is presupposed in theology ; or that the 
nature of religion, as lying in sentiment or emotion, 
is thought to preclude the element of knowledge — 
otherwise, indeed, than as the poetic vesture in which 
religious emotions transiently clothe themselves ; or 
that there is lacking in reason or revelation a reliable 
source from which the desiderated knowledge may 
be obtained ; or that the data in Scripture or religious 
facts on which theology has hitherto been supposed 
to rest have been rendered insecure or swept away by 
modern doubt and criticism — the result is the same, 
that theology has not a trustworthy foundation on 
which to build, and that, in consequence, it is an 
illegitimate pretender to the naine of science. For it 

Introduction 9 

will be conceded that this last and highest branch 
of theological discipline proposes nothing less to itself 
than the systematic exhibition and scientific grounding 
of what true knowledge we possess of God and His 
character and His ways of dealing with the world and 
men; and if no such knowledge really exists, — ^if 
what men have is at best vague yearnings, intuitions, 
aspirations, guesses, imaginings, hypotheses, about God, 
assuming this name to be itself anything more than 
a symbol of the dim feeling of the mystery at the root 
of the universe, — if these emotional states and the 
conceptions to which they give rise are ever chang- 
ing with men's changeful fancies and the varying 
stages of culture, — then it is as vain to attempt to 
construct a science of theology out of such materials 
as it would be to weave a solid tissue out of sunbeams, 
or erect a temple out of the changing shapes and hues 
of cloudland. A '' Science of Beligions " might still 
exist to investigate the psychological laws involved 
in religious phenomena and their mocking illusions, 
and " dogmatics " might remain as a study and 
criticism of the Church's historical creeds ; but an 
independent " Science of Theology," as a body of 
natural and revealed truth about God, and His pur- 
poses and dealings, would no more have any place. 

We shall not anticipate Dr. Warfield's able dis- 
cussion of the objections to Systematic Theology in 
the succeeding pages by going at any length into the 
subject here, but would only observe that, divested of 
irrelevancies, the issue resolves itself ultimately in t^ 

lo Introduction 

the one question of the fact, nature, and verifiableiiess 
of the historical Christian revelation. The time is 
past when men's minds were captivated by the idea 
of a '' Natural Seligion " consisting of a few simple 
articles drawn from, and capable of proof by, reason 
apart from supernatural revelation — that favourite 
dream of the Deists and eighteenth-century illuminists ; 
and while the " speculative " theory which would 
render theology independent of history by resolving 
its essential doctrines into metaphysical ideas has 
still its advocates, its sceptre is long broken in the 
domain of really serious theology. There remains as 
a source of theological knowledge the positive re- 
vealing and redeeming acts and words of God which 
constitute the subject-matter of historical revelation, 
though it may be contended that these stand in no 
antagonism to the conclusions of sound reason re- 
flecting on the structure of the universe, or pondering 
the deeper questions of origin and destiny, but rather 
are in truest consonance with the latter, and furnish 
reason with a light to help it on its way. The chief 
danger, accordingly, in which theology at present 
stands arises from the mode in which these historical 
foundations of revelation are being critically and 
sceptic£illy assailed, — a process which has already 
gone to sufficiently extreme lengths with respect to 
the Old Testament, and is now being applied to 
subvert flEuth in such vital facts as the resurrection 
of our Lord, and the miraculous context of the life 
bf Chiist generally, in the New. It is in this part 

Introduction i r 

of the apologetic field, probably, that a new decisive 
battle will have to be fought in the interests of the 
possibility of theology ; and it is satisfactory to observe 
that one result of the critical movement itself has 
been to impress on many minds the impossibility of 
eliminating the supernatural factor from the explana- 
tion of the history either of Israel or of Christ. 

When we read this article of Dr. Warfield's, on its 
first appearance, some months ago, in TAe Presbyterian 
and Reformed Review^ it seemed to us that a special 
service would be rendered by its publication and 
circulation in a separate form, and we heartily rejoice 
that the same thought has independently occurred to 
others, and that the idea has now taken shape in 
this little volume. Apart from its other merits, the 
article will be found exceedingly informatory as to the 
tendency and bearings of certain recent interesting 
movements in Continental theology. 




The question of the right of such a thing as 
Systematic Theology to exist may be regarded as a 
question in general philosophy or as one within the 
limits of the theological disciplines themselves. If 
the former alternative be taken, we are confronted 
at once with such problems as these: Does Grod 
exist ? May God be known ? Have we trust- 
worthy means of learning concerning Him, His 
nature, His works. His purposes? In other words, 
all the great questions with which Apologetics busies 
itself immediately loom before us. Theology is the 
science of God, and the right of a science of God to 
exist will depend on a favourable solution of such 
problems. They are, therefore, in every sense of 
the words, the fundamental problems with which the 
theologian has to deal. If we pass them by at 
present, it is because of no underestimation of their 
supreme importance. We may fairly be allowed, 

however, to assume at this point, the existence and 


14 The Right of Systematic Theology 

the knowableness of God and the accessibility of 
credible sources of knowledge of Him — in a word, 
the possibility and right of a theology, generically so 
called. This is after all not a very large assumption 
to make. It amounts only to asking to be permitted 
to raise a question to be discussed between men pro- 
fessing to be Christians, instead of one in debate 
between the Christian and non-Christian worlds. 

The question, then, that we propose to consider lies 
within the limits of the theological disciplines. It 
assumes the right of theology at large, and inquires 
concerning the right of Systematic Theology in 
particular. He who says "Systematic Theology" 
says theological discipline, and calls to mind its 
correlates in the other theological disciplines. We 
may not find that the distinction is kept carefully in 
mind by all who raise objection to the right of 
Systematic Theology. We shall certainly find, on 
the contrary, that many of the objections urged 
against it would, if valid, cut deeper still and destroy 
Christianity itself. But this is a common incident in 
debate. And the clear recognition at the outset of 
the limits of the discussion will conduce to a proper 
estimate of those forms of objection to Systematic 
Theol(^y in the mouths of Christian men, which, if 
really insisted upon, would render Christianity itself 
nugatory. Such arguments prove so much that for 
Cbiistian men they prove nothing at all. They are 
disproved, in other words, by the whole mass of 
evidence which gives us Christianity. 

The Right of Systematic Theology 1 5 

We are accustomed to regard theology as thfe 
queen of the sciences, and Systematic Theology as 
queen among the theological disciplines. But these 
are not days ill which lofty claims are readily allowed ; 
and we need not be surprised to discover that those 
which Systematic Theology advances are not per- 
mitted to pass unchallenged. It is little that her 
sister theological disciplines are sometimes found re- 
sisting her high pretensions and declaring that they 
will no longer have her to rule over them : although 
no more here than elsewhere is the spectacle of con- 
flict between sisters edifying, nor more here than 
elsewhere is it likely that a family will add much 
to its strength by becoming divided against itself. 
Systematic Theology may look on with an amused 
tolerance and a certain older-sister's pleased recognition 
of powers just now perhaps a little too conscious of 
themselves, when the new discipline of Bible Theology, 
for example, tosses her fine young head and announces 
of her more settled sister that her day is over. But 
these words have a more ominous ring in them when 
the lips that frame them speak no longer as a sister s 
but as an enemy's, and the meaning injected into them 
threatens not merely dethronement but destruction* 
The right of Systematic Theology to reign is not the 
only thing that is brought into question in these 
days: its very right to exist is widely challenged. 
There are few phenomena in the theological world 
which are more striking indeed than the impatience 
which is exhibited on every hand with the effort to 

1 6 The Right of Systematic Theology 

define truth and to state with precision the doctrinal 
presuppositions and contents of Christianity. 

The basis of this impatience is often a mere 
latitudinarian indifferentism, which finds its expres> 
sion in neglect of formulated truth, and is never 
weary of girding at what it represents as the hair- 
splitting ingenuity of theologians and the unprofitable- 
ness of theological discussion. But this indifference 
is at root dislike; and the easy affirmation that 
doctrines are useless passes very readily into the 
heated assertion that they are noxious. Now, the 
contemptuous smile gives way to the flush of anger, 
and instead of an unconcerned expression of the 
opinion that theology is a more or less amiable weak- 
ness, we have the passionate assertion that theology is 
killing religion. 

A certain relief often comes with the outbreak of 
open war. Dead indifiference is frequently more 
difficult to deal with than the most lively assault. 
This is doubtless true in the present case also. It is 
not hard to show the folly of theological indifferent- 
ism : but just because it is indifferent, indifferentism 
is apt to pay little attention to our exhibition of its 
folly. If we only could get it to care ! But let us 
reduce it to ever so much absurdity — it calmly goes 
on in indifference. This indifference to its own refuta- 
tion by no means extends, however, to its own propa- 
gation. It has developed, on the contrary, a most 
widespread, persistent, and earnest propagandism. We 
cannot escape its wooing. Turn where we may, we 

The Right of Systematic Theology 1 7 

are met with appeals, suggestions, assaults. The air 
is full of it. It presides over great religious enter* 
prises ; it colours the daily life and thought of social 
intercourse ; it entrenches itself behind philosophical 
barriers ; it finds a voice for itself in the lightest of 
current literature. It may not be surprising that it 
is the dominant note among the purveyors to the 
mere amusement of an idle hour, though the serious- 
ness is worthy of note with which it is commended 
to us alike in even such novels of contemplation as 
Lanoe Falconer's Cecilia de Noel, and such novels of 
adventure as Dr. Conan Doyle's Mieah Clark. It 
certainly is not surprising that a bright Jewish writer 
like Mr. Zangwill ^ should include among the sparkling 
stories which he has gathered into his Xing of the 
Schnorrers a pathetic appeal to us to recognise that 
all the differences which divide Jew and Gentile, 
Bomanist and Protestant, fade into, nothingness before 
the spectacle of human suffering and in presence of 
" the eternal mystery " of death.* But we cannot 

^ Mr. Claude G. Montefiori, for example, tells us that modem 
''Judaism teaches that God looks to character and conduct, and to 
these only, in His capacity as Judge. The religious dogmas which a 
man happens to be taught and to believe are of no account or import- 
ance in this regard : the good life is all. ' The righteous of all 
nations shall have a share in the world to come ; * that, according to 
the Jewish divine, is the doctrine of the Talmud and of modem 
Judaism" (2%e Jewish Quarterly BevieWy January 1896, p. 202 ; cf. 
pp. 210, 211). 

3 The story referred to is that entitled "A Tragi-Comedy of 
Creeds," p. 176 sq. of the volume. It is only another form of the 
celebrated apologue of the "Three Eings " which Lessing made the core 
of his Noithan the Wise, concerning which it is worth while to consult 
Cairns' Unbelief in the Mghteenth Century, Lecture v. ii. cut Jinem, 

1 8 The Right of Systematic Theology 

miss its significance when, in the midst of the stirrings 
of soul with which we read of the doings in dear 
Drumtochty of those men of sturdy hearts whom 
" Ian Maclaren " has taught us to love, we find it 
slowly borne in upon us that the main purpose of this 
evangelical minister is to wring from us the confession 
that the Christianity approved of Eousseau is good 
enough for the world.^ Much of even the professed 

^ Let it not be thought that we do ii^ustice to this delightful and 
profoundly religious writer. An editorial in The British Weekly for 
October 31, 1895, puts most strikingly just what we conceive the 
attitude of his stories towards Christianity to be : ''A parallel of pro- 
found interest is to be found in the place assigned to religion by the 
older sentimentalists and the new. The position of Ian Maclaren and 
Mr. Barrie seems to us exactly to coincide with Rousseau's. Rousseau 
always professed to be religious. He thought there was a certain 
want of moral depth and grandeur wherever religion was left out, 
and he would probably have said that this was necessary, for without 
religion the loftiest reaches of conduct were a form of insanity. At 
the close of his life Rousseau rejoiced that he had remained faithful to 
the prejudices of his childhood, and that he had continued a Christian 
"up to the point of membership in the Universal Church. Tlie words in 
italics precisely describe the religion that is glorified in Ian Maclaren's 
books. He is not ui\just to Evangelicalism, and one of his noblest 
characters is Bumbrae, a Free Church elder. But he lingers with 
most love and understanding on the Moderates — Drumsheugh, Dr. 
Davidson, Dr. Maclure, and James Soutar. Maclure, who has the 
best means of knowing, declares that if there be a judgment, and 
books be opened, there will be one for Drumtochty, and the bravest 
page in it will be Drumsheugh's. There is very little sympathy here 
for modernity ; the ministers who talk about two Isaiahs are laughed 
at. But there is just as little sympathy for extreme Evangelicalism. 
Plymouthism is treated as if it were hypocrisy of the grossest kind, 
and high Calvimsm as almost too monstrous to be mentioned. The 
particular forms in which the religion of revivals expresses itself are 
described with evident dislike. All this is, of course, Ian Maclaren's 
limitation. We should not care to lend him our cherished volumes of 
.the Earthen Vessel, Still the heart of tbings is here. 'Say the 
Name,' that is enough — ^the name of Jesus, in which every knee shall 

The Right of Systematic Theology 1 9 

literature of religion and its reflection on platform 
and in too many pulpits enforces the same lesson. 
When we read good Georgie Hesperton's description 
of the " conference at Honchester," we find ourselves 
recalling many another conference which it would fit 
without the need of her finessing. " Of course " — so 
runs her picture — ^** there was a tremendous crowd on 
the day when the Imperial High Commissioner gave 
his address, and everybody was so delighted with it. 
I am afraid I do not exactly remember what his 
subject was, but I know he said it seemed probable 
that nothing in particular was true, but that people 
could go on believing whatever they liked, which did 
just as well. And all the bishops said it was perfectly 
satisfactory. I hear his address is to be printed as a 
sort of tract, and no doubt you will read it; it was 
very earnest and convincing." ^ The whole mass 
of popular religious literature seems surcharged with 
attacks on " Intellectualism " and " Dogmatism," and 
glowing with highly-coloured portraitures of " good 
Christians" of every name and no name, of every 
faith and no faith, under each of which stands the 

bow. Beyond that nothing is needed to create the noblest character. 
Mr. Barrie does not glorify Moderatism, but, like Ian Maclaren, he 
declines a dogmatic religion, and is gently apologetic or humorous 
when speaking of what goes beyond the essence. Therein he differs 
from George Macdonald, whose books are full of tkeologoumena^ and 
have suffered in consequence. But they side with Rousseau, who was 
wont to insist that the Christianity which appeals only to the moral 
conscience is alone comformable to the Spirit of Christ. Conduct, 
character — these were with him and are with them the great results 
and tests of true religion." 

^ Jane Barlow's Maureen's Fairmgf p. 148. 

20 The Right of Systematic Theology 

legend written that since good Christians arise under 
every form of faith or no faith alike, it cannot be of 
much importance what men believe. " Let others 
wrangle over this or that,** is the common cry — ^*' it is 
all of no consequence: let us leave them to their 
disputes and for ourselves be Christians,'* The late 
Professor John Stuart Blackie's lines quite embody 
the sentiment of the hour — 

*' Creeds and confessions? High Church or the Low? 

I cannot say ; but you would vastly please us 
If with some pointed Scripture you could show 

To which of these belonged the Saviour, Jesus. 
I think to all or none. Not curious creeds 

Or ordered forms of churchly rule He taught, 
But soul of love that blossomed into deeds, 

With human good and human blessing fraught. 
On me nor priest nor presbyter nor pope. 

Bishop nor dean, may stamp a party name ; 
But Jesus with His largely human scope 

The service of my human life may claim. 
Let prideful priests do battle about creeds, 
The church is mine that does most Christ-like deeds." 

The inconsequence of this reasoning is, of course, 
colossal, and the line of thought that is thus lightly 
adopted, when pushed to its legitimate conclu- 
sion, would obviously banish Christianity from the 
earth. For if doctrine be of no value, because some, 
who theoretically deny or neglect it, nevertheless 
exhibit the traits of a good life, what truth will 
remain to which we can attach importance ? It 
would not be difficult to discover good men who deny 
severally every doctrine of even the most attenuated 
Christianity ; and we should soon find ourselves forced 

The Right of Systematic Theology 2 1 

to allow that not only those doctrines which divide 
Christian sects, but those also which constitute the 
very elements of Christianity, are of no real moment. 
But let us ask a brilliant young French theologian to 
make this clear to us. Says M. Henri Bois : ^ — 

'' Doctrine is of little importance, what is of importance is life, we 
are told. But, it being admitted that life is the essential thing — a 
matter which is as incontestable as it is uncontested, and which, 
when it is admitted, saves us from Intellectnalism in the only cen- 
surable sense of the word — the question is precisely whether certain 
doctrines are not necessary for the production and maintenance of a 
certain life. Doctrines are not life ! Assuredly not. No one ever said 
they were. But does it follow from that that they are not indispensable 
to life ? Doctrines are not the cause of life ! On that we are agreed. 
Does it follow from that that they are not one of the conditions of life ? 

''Here recourse is had to a notable argument. Such and such a 
great Christian is adduced who does not profess some doctrines which 
we profess. And at once the consequence is drawn to the uselessness 
of these doctrines. You see this scholar, as pious as he is learned : 
he rejects these doctrines, and that does not prevent him from being 
pious. Therefore these doctrines serve no purpose — or else, you must 
refuse to see a Christian in your brother, you must anathematise him, 
condemn him. 

** It will be wise to observe whither this argument leads. Apply it 
well, and it will not be easy to discover what it will leave subsisting : 
for, after all, who of us does not know rationalists who lead a life as 
moral and spiritual as some evangelicals — sometimes more so ? There- 
fore, since it is conduct, life, sentiment, which is of supreme import- 
ance, there is no need to be evangelical. More than that, who of us 
does not know free-thinkers, unbelievers, superior in morality at 
least, if we hesitate to say in spirituality, to such and such 
Christians ? Therefore, there is no need to be a Christian. 

" *Well, yes,' our honourable opponents will reply, 'there is no 
need to be a Christian, in the sense you mean ; there is no need to be 
evangelical in the sense you mean — that is, in the doctrinal sense. 

^ Le Dogme Grec (Paris, 1893), pp. 40-42. We shall have occasion 
during the course of this paper to draw very largely from two 
admirable books by Prof, Henri Bois — his Le Dogme Orec and his 
De la ConnaisaaTice BeligieiLse. Let us express here our appreciation 
of the value of these works as well as our indebtedness to them. 

2 2 The Right of Systematic Theology 

True religion is life.' — And then, if you press them, they will tell 
you with a fine air that they know perfectly what they mean by 
Mife,' however little you may believe it. Well, tell us, then, what it 
is, if you know it, we reply ; communicate your happy knowledge to 
us ! — But take good care ! If you open your mouth you will become 
at once Intellectualists — Intellcctualists on your own account ! 

''This exaggerated aversion to Intellectualism leads logically to 
rendering incapable of transmission and to isolating in the silence 
of the individual consciousness, a life which doctrines alone have 
rendered possible, and which without them would not exist." 

In one word, the whole latitudinarian position is built 
up upon the fancy that the product of the religious 
sentiment is Christianity ; and it is destined to a rude 
awakening whenever it discovers that religious senti- 
ment is the natural possession of man, and performs 
its appropriate work in every atmosphere, and under 
the tutelage of every faith. The fetish-worshipper, 
no less than the vested priest serving at some gor- 
geous altar at Some or Moscow, possesses his religious 
nature, and may through it attain a high degree of 
religious development. If, then, we take the ground 
that nothing is needed but a deep religious sentiment 
and its fruits, we have cut up Christianity, in any 
intelligible sense, by the roots. So poor Francis W. 
Newman found when in his half-taught zeal he stood 
before the Moslem carpenter at Aleppo,^ and his heart 

^ The striking scene is described in Phases of Faith (London, 1870), 
p. 82. The reader of Mr. James Macdonald's Jteligion and Myth 
(London, 1 893) will feel that Mr. Macdonald has gone through some 
such experience, in a less acute form, as Mr. Newman's. He, too, 
has discovered that even the lowest savages have a religious conscious- 
ness, and exercise religious faith and enjoy religious certitude, and is 
led by it to a theory of the origin of Christianity which amounts to 
pure naturalism. Gf. J. Macbride Sterrett's Beason and Authority in 
Religion for some good remarks on this point. 

The Right of Systematic Theology 23 

was forced to recognise in him a man of deeper reli- 
gious nature and of higher religious attainments than 
he himself possessed — he who had come to teach to 
him and such as him the " true religion." With the 
premises which had taken possession of his mind, 
what could he do but what he did — give distinctive 
Christianity up ? What, after all, is peculiar to 
Christianity is not the religious sentiment and its 
working, but its message of salvation — in a word, its 
doctrine. To be indifferent to doctrine is thus but 
another way of saying we are indiflferent to Chris- 

It is, of course, easy to say that in reasoning thus 
we have pressed the latitudinarian idea to an un- 
warrantable extreme. It is quite possible to look 
with indifference upon doctrinal dififerences within 
the limits of essential Christianity, without thinking 
of no consequence those great fundamental truths 
which constitute essential Christianity. But the 
answer is equally easy. To refuse to follow the 
latitudinarian idea to this extreme is to abandon 
altogether the principle of the uselessness, the indif- 
ference of doctrines. If there be some doctrines to 
which, as Christian men, we cannot be indifferent, 
then it is no longer true that doctrines as such are 
matters of indifference. There may be some doctrines 
which we esteem as less important than others, or 
«ven as of no importance in the framing of a specific- 
Ally Christian life ; but so long as there remain 
others, the maintenance of which we esteem essential 

24 The Right of Systematic Theology 

to the very existence of Christianity, our attitude 
towards doctrine as such cannot be that of amused 
contempt. The very centre of the debate is now 
shifted. And so little can doctrine be neglected on 
this new ground, that a serious attempt becomes at 
once imperative to distinguish between essential and 
unessential doctrines. Men may conceivably diflfer as 
to the exact point at which the line of discrimination 
between these classes should be drawn. But the very 
attempt to draw it implies that there are doctrines 
which are useful, important, necessary. And the 
admission of this yields the whole point in debate. 
If there be any doctrines, however few, which justly 
deserve the name of essential doctrines, and stand at 
the root of the Christian life as its conditions, founda- 
tions, or presuppositions, it surely becomes the duty 
as well as the right of the Christian man to study 
them, to seek to understand them in themselves and 
in their relations, to attempt to state them with 
accuracy and to adjust their, statement to the whole 
body of known truth — in a word, the right and 
function of Systematic Theology is vindicated. 

The extent of this Systematic Theology may remain 
an open question ; but a content is already vindicated 
for it, and a place and function among the necessary 
theological disciplines, so soon as the conception of 
" essential doctrines," however limited, once emerges 
into thought. He who goes only so far, in a word, 
becomes at once an " Intellectualist " in the only 
sense in which the Systematic Theologian is an Intel- 

The Right of Systematic Theology 2 5 

lectualist — that is, he recognises that Christianity is 
truth as well as life, and as such addresses itself to 
the intelligence of men, and has claims upon their 
belief as well as upon their obedience. He becomes 
at once a " Dogmatist " in the only sense in which the 
Systematic Theologian is a Dogmatist — that is, he 
recognises the objective validity of a body of religious 
truth and its imperative claims upon all for accept- 
ance, and is therefore prepared to press this truth 
upon the attention of all alike as the condition of 
their religious life. In fine, he who only goes so far 
becomes in spite of himself, himself a Systematic 
Theologian : and once having come to look upon any 
doctrines as " essential," and to attempt to set them 
forth in an orderly manner, he will hardly fail 
gradually to enlarge the circle of truths which he 
will admit to his systematic treatment. Let us say 
that only the " essential " doctrines are to be included : 
biit surely, in a systematic treatment of these, we 
cannot exclude the statement and development of 
those other truths which, while not " essential " in and 
of themselves, are yet necessary to the integrity and 
stability of these " essential " doctrines, and so are, in 
a secondary and derived sense, themselves " essential." 
And so on in the tertiary and quaternary rank 
Thus the body of doctrine will grow until it will be 
hard if we do not find ourselves at last in possession 
of a pretty complete Systematic Theology. 

It would seem, then, that a mere doctrinal indif- 
ierentism cannot sustain itself as over against the 

26 The Right of Systematic Theology 

clainis of Systematic Theology. If the right of 
theology to exist is to be denied, it must be on some 
more positive ground than that which merely affirms 
that doctrines lack all significance. It is only when 
the widely diffused dislike of doctrines takes the more 
directly polemic form of declaring them not merely 
useless but actively noxious, that the real contro- 
versy begins. And of late this stronger assertion has 
become exceedingly common. Christ, we are told, 
did not come to teach a doctrine or to institute a 
hierarchy; He came to found a religion. To His 
simple followers, to whose pious hearts His holy 
living communicated a deep religious impulse, the 
elaborate ecclesiastical machinery of Rome was no 
more foreign than the equally elaborate theological 
constructions of the dogmatists. In their toils faith 
is imprisoned, straitened, petrified : if it is ever to 
regain its freedom and flexibility, its primitive 
fecundity and power of reproduction, it must be 
stripped of all the artificial envelopes in which it 
has been swathed by the perverse ingenuity of men, 
and permitted once more to work on men in its naked 
simplicity, as faith and not dogma. Theology is 
killing religion, we are told ; and the hope of the 
future rests on our killing theology first that religion 
may live. 

There are naturally many forms tetken by this 
somewhat violent hostility to doctrine — or to 
" dogma," as its opponents like to call it — and 
many grounds on which it seeks to support itself. 

The Right of Systematic Theology 2 7 

No doubt it is often only the expression of an innate 
antipathy to clear thinking and of a not very rare 
incapacity for truth — a sort of colour-blindness to 
truth. The late Mr. James Anthony Froude, for 
example, suffering from what Mr. Andrew Lang 
speaks of as his "lamented and constitutional in- 
accuracy/'^ exhibited a similar antipathy to formu- 
lated truth in the spheres in which he dealt. " Truth 
itself," he wrote, " becomes distasteful to me when it 
comes in the shape of a proposition. Half the life is 
struck out of it in the process." * How much more 
trustworthy he would have been as a historian if he 
could only have had more taste for exact fact ! There 
are many theologians to whom truth in prepositional 
form is in like manner distasteful, and half, or all, 
its life seems dissipated, for the same reason — because 
they too are afflicted with a lamentable and consti- 
tutional inaccuracy. No wonder that upon such 
minds exact statement seems to act like an irritant, 
and theology appears to be an enemy of religion. 
Men like these must be classified as deficients ; and 

^ '* In Mr. Fronde's wine there were no dregs. To the last he had 
the same captivating power, despite his lamented and constitutional 
inaccuracy " (Andrew Lang, The CowwpclUan (magazine), September 
1895, p. 676). 

2 **The Fortnightly lUvieWf about which you ask, is an advanced 
radical publication. Many good men write in it. But it is too 
doctrinaire for my taste. The formulas of advanced English 
politicians are as stiff and arrogant as the formulas of theology. 
Truth itself becomes distasteful to me when it comes in the shape 
of a proposition. Half the life is struck out of it in the process " 
(J. A. Froude, letter to Gen. Gluseret, in The Independent, August 8, 

28 The Right of Systematic Theology 

we can no more yield the right of theology in 
obedience to their outcries than the physicist can 
consent to refuse all discussion of colour to please 
the colour-blind, or the musician all study of harmony 
lest he should bore those who have no ear for music. 
Men who have no faculty for truth will always con- 
sider an appeal to truth an evil. But the assault 
upon doctrinal Christianity is far from being confined 
to those whom we must believe to possess reason, 
indeed, for they too are men, but who seem very chary 
of using it. On the contrary, it is being carried on 
to-day by the very leaders of Christian thought — by 
men whose shining intellectual gifts are equalled only 
by their trained dialectical skill and the profundity 
of their theological learning. " Theology is killing 
religion" is not merely the wail of those who are 
incapable of theology and would nevertheless fain 
preserve then- religion. It is the reasoned assertion 
of masters of theological science whose professed 
object is to preserve Christianity in its purity and 
save it from the dangers which encompass it in this 
weak and erring world. It is a position, therefore, 
which deserves our most respectful consideration, and 
if we still feel bound to refuse it, we owe it to our- 
selves to give a reason for the faith that is in us. 

There are two chief points of view from which the 
right of doctrinal Christianity is denied by leading 
theologians of our day. The watchword of one of 
these schools of thought is that Christianity consists of 
facts, not dogmas: that of the other is that Chris- 

The Right of Systematic Theology 29 

tianity consists of life, not doctrine. Let us see in 
turn what is meant by these phrases and what is to 
be said with reference to the modes of conceiving 
Christianity which they represent. 

Christianity, then, we are told, consists of facts, not 
of dogmas. What we rest upon for our salvation is 
not a body of theories, intellectual constructions, 
speculative ideas, but a series of mighty acts of God, 
by which He has entered into the course of human 
history and wrought powerfully for the salvation of 
our lost race. Thus, He chose for Himself a people in 
Abraham and gradually moulded them into a matrix 
in which salvation might be prepared for all the 
world; and when the fulness of time had come. He 
descended into their midst in the person of His Son, 
was born of a woman, lived and suffered and died for 
our salvation, and having died for our sins, rose again 
for our justification, and now ever lives to make inter- 
cession for us. This — this mighty series of divine 
acts — this is Christianity: by the side of these facts 
all human theories are only so many impertinences. 
It is not by any theory of the person of Christ that 
we are saved — it is by the great fact of the in- 
carnation : it is not by any theory of the atonement 
that we are saved— it is by the great fact of Christ's 
death for us ; it is not by any theory of His heavenly 
high-priesthood that we are saved, but by the great 
fact that He sits at the right hand of the Majesty on 
High and reigns over all things for His Church. Let 
us, then, renounce all our wire-drawn theories and 

30 The Right of Systematic Theology 

take our stand once for all upon these great facts 
which really constitute Christianity. Christianity 
consists of these facts, not of dogmas : and it is the 
sole business of the theologian to establish these facts, 
not to invent dogmas.^ In this, moreover, he will be 
imitating the writers of Scripture: for "the Bible 
simply recounts the facts without pretending to the 
least shadow of authority." ^ 

The truth that underlies these representations is 
very obvious ; and we cannot wonder that they have 
exercised an influence far beyond the limits of the 
class of thinkers whose watchword they are intended 
to justify. Accordingly nothing has become more 
common of late than an appeal from the doctrines of 
Christianity to its facts. All revelation is reduced 
to the patefaction of God in the series of His great 
redemptive acts, to the exclusion — entire or partial — 
of revelation by word, which is sometimes represented, 
indeed, as in the nature of the case impossible. 
Churches are exhorted to lay aside their " theological " 
creeds and adopt "religious" ones — that is, creeds 
which consist in the mere enumeration of the great 
facts which lie at the basis of Christianity, the 
advocates of this procedure usually having something 
like the Apostles' Creed in mind. In still broader 

^ '' La th^ologie doit peutltre se bomer k constater des faits '* 
(Stapfer, Ji8fkia de Nazareth et le ddveloppement de sa pensie sur lui- 
mSmef p. 156 ; quoted by H. Bois, Le Dogme Chec, p. 225). 

^''I^ Bible raconte simplement lea faits, sans pr^tendre k la 
moindre ombre d'autorit^" (Asti^, in ivangile et Libert^, Dec. 26, 
1890 ; quoted by H. Bois, De la Gonnaissance Beligieuaet p. 342). 

The Right of Systematic Theology 3 1 

circles, it has become very customary to distinguish 
between what is called the fact and the theory when 
dealing with special doctrines, and to profess belief in 
the fact of sin, of the incarnation, of the atonement, 
and the like, while despairing of discovering any 
tenable explanation of them. A recent example of 
this now fashionable mode of dealing with funda- 
mental elements of Christianity may be found in the 
essay on the Atonement which was contributed to the 
volume called Faith and Criticism, by Dr. E. F. 
Horton, of London — a brilliant preacher, who, how- 
ever, must not be taken too seriously as a theologian.^ 
Such a mental attitude, as Dr. James Denney points 
out,2 in a striking passage in the lectures which he 

^ Faith emd Criticism, Essays by Congregationalists. New York : 
E. P. Dutton, 1893. V. The Atonement, pp. 188, 222, 237: "It is 
the object of the present essay to advocate this sobriety of assertion in 
dealing with the question of the atonement. It may be a duty on 
the one hand to maintain that the death of Christ is the means by 
which sin is pardoned and reconciliation between God and man 
effected ; and yet, on the other, to own that no real explanation of it 
can be found." " The New Testament has no theory db<mt the alone- 
inent . . . nor is the case fully stated when we deny that the New 
Testament contains a theory ; there is a strong reason for suspecting 
that the several New Testament writers . . . differed," etc. 

^ Stvdies in Theology , p. 106 : "In spite, too, of confident assertions 
to the contrary," he adds, " this distinction of fact and theory — this 
pleading for the fact as opposed to the theory— is very far from finding 
support in the New Testament. For my own part, I have no doubt 
the New Testament does contain a theory, or, as I should prefer to 
say, a doctrine of the atonement," etc. One may suspect that Dr. 
Denney had precisely Mr. Horton's essay in mind in penning this por- 
tion of his discussion ; certainly he traverses with very great con- 
vincingness the contentions and illustrations alike put forward by Dr. 
Horton. The statement in the late Dr. Henry B. Smith's System of 
Christian Theology ^ p. 460, may well be compared. " When we say 

32 The Right of Systematic Theology 

recently delivered before the students of the Chicago 
Theological Seminary, is certainly not easy to under- 
stand, and cannot possibly be final: but it is an 
attitude in which not only do many acquiesce to-day, 
but some even seem to glory. Dr. John Watson, for 
example, in a delightful " little book on religion," in 
which, like Mr. Horton, he emphasises the importance 
of Christ's death for salvation, yet seems to take 
considerable pride and to find great comfort in the 
idea that it is entirely inexplicable how His death 
could make for salvation. " Had one questioned the 
little band that evening," — the evening of the last 
supper, — he says in his customarily striking way, 
" how Christ's death would be of any good unto them 
or the world, then it is probable that St. John himself 
had been silent. Much has been w;ritten since by 
devout scholars, and some of their words have helped 
and some have hindered, and the reason of the great 
mystery of sacrifice has not yet been declared. . . . 
There is one modem crucifixion which is perfectly 
satisfying because it leaves everything beyond Jesus 
and the soul to the imagination. It is a space of 
black darkness, with some dim strokes of light, and as 
you try to pierce the gloom they suggest the form of 
a crucified Man. The face is faintly visible and a ray 
from the forehead striking downwards reveals a kneel- 
that the death of Christ was instead of onr punishment, and that it 
made expiation for our sins, we are not stating theories but revealed 
facts. . . . We do not suppose that anything which can properly 
be called a theory is involvfid in any one of the points that we have 
presented in respect to the doctrine of sacrifices." 

The Right of Systematic Theology 2^2> 

ing figure at the foot of the cross. Within the secret 
place of this mystery the human soul and Jesus meet 
and become one." ^ Is it, then, indeed true that 
Christianity loves darkness more than light, and 
thrives best "where it is least understood ? 

If, indeed, it were necessary to distinguish, as 
sharply as this theory bids us, between the doctrines 
and facts of Christianity, there is none who would not 
find the essence of Christianity in the facts. The 
fact of the incarnation, the atonement, the heavenly 
high-priesthood — here undoubtedly is the centre of 
Christianity, about which its doctrines revolve. And 
if it were possible not merely to distinguish between 
them, but to separate the doctrines from the facts> 
then of course it would be to the facts alone that we 
could flee. We may cherish doubts as to the value of 
facts without their interpreting doctrines, but we 
cannot but be sure that doctrines to which no facts 
correspond can be nothing other than myths — let 
us say it frankly, lies. It is to the force of this, 
suggestion that the representations under discussion 
owe their influence. But the antithesis thus drawn 
is a wholly false one. No one would contend that 
Christianity consists in doctrines as distinguished from 

^ Ths Upper Room. London, 1895, p. 75. ** A mystic," says Dr, 
Watson, admiringly (p. 60), "gathers truth as a plant absorbs the 
light, in silence and without effort. " It is certainly easy enough to 
refuse to make the requisite effort to obtain the truth : and were it 
only indubitable that thus the truth would be absorbed, the pathway 
to knowledge would be royal indeed. It seems to be the characteristic 
of our modern mystics, however, to stop short of obtaining the truth and 
to proclaim it to be unnecessary, if indeed not positively undesirable. 

34 The Right of Systematic Theology 

facts, far less that it consists in doctrines wholly 
unrelated to facts. But neither ought anyone con- 
tend that it consists in facts as distinguished from 
doctrines, and far less that it consists in facts as 
separated from doctrines. What Christianity consists 
in is facts that are doctrines, and doctrines that are 
facts. Just because it is a true religion, which oflfers 
to man a real redemption that was really wrought out 
in history, its facts and doctrines entirely coalesce. 
All its facts are doctrines and all its doctrines are 
facts. The incarnation is a doctrine: no eye saw 
the Son of God descend from heaven and enter the 
virgin's womb : but if it be not a true fact as well, 
our faith is vain, we are yet in our sins. The 
resurrection of Christ is a fact : an occurrence in time 
level to the apprehension of men and witnessed by 
their adequate testimony : but it is at the same time 
the cardinal doctrine of Christianity. Dr. James Orr, 
in his noble Kerr Lectures, brings out the truth here 
in a most satisfactory manner.^ He says : — 

''Christianity, it will be here said, is d^ fact-revelalion — it has its 
centre in a living Christ and not in a dogmatic creed. And this in a 
sense is true. . . . The gospel is no mere proclamation of 'eternal 
truths,' but the discovery of a saving purpose of God for mankind, 
executed in time. But the doctrines are the interpretation of the 
facts. The facts do not stand blank and dumb before us, but have a 
voice given to them and a meaning put into them. They are accom- 
panied by living speech, which makes their meaning clear. When 
John declares that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh and is the Son of 
God, he is stating a fact, but he is none the less enunciating a doctrine. 

^ Cf. Dr. James Orr's The Christian View of Qod and the World, 
p. 25. 

The Right of Systematic Theology 35 

When Paul affirms, * Christ died for our sins according to the Scrip- 
tures/ he is proclaiming a fact, but he is at the same time giving an 
interpretation of it." 

It will be of use to us to consider for a moment the 
efifect of the sharp antithesis which is drawn in the 
declaration that Christianity does not consist in 
dogmas, but in facts. What is a fact that is wholly 
separated from what is here called " dogma " ? If 
doctrines which stand entirely out of relation to facts 
are myths, lies, facts which have no connection with what 
we call doctrine could have no meaning to us whatsoever. 
It is what we call doctrine which gives all their signifi- 
cance to facts. A fact without doctrine is simply a fact 
not understood. That intellectual element brought by 
the mind to the contemplation of facts, which we call 
"doctrine," "theory," is the condition of any proper 
comprehension of facts. It constitutes the elements 
of what the Herbartians call " apperception," and by 
means of it alone is a fact capable of passing into our 
minds as a force and in any measure influencing our 
thought and Ufe. And therefore Dr. James Denney, 
in the passage to which we have already had occasion 
to allude, — where he is expressing his surprise that 
anyone should seem to glory and triumph in inability 
to discover the theory of a fact fundamental to Chris- 
tianity — adds with the most complete justice : ^ — 

" A fact of which there is absolutely no theory is a fact which stands 
out of relation to everything in the universe, a fact which has no con- 

^ Sttuiies in Theology, p. 106. Cf. the remark of Coleridge, in 
Anima Poetce, p. 125: *** Facts — stubborn facts! None of your 
theory ! ' A most entertaining and instinictive essay might be written 
on this text, and the sooner the better. Trace it from the most 

36 The Right of Systematic Theology 

nection with any part of our experience ; it is a blank anintelligibility, 
a rock in the sky, a mere irrelevance in the mind of man. There is no 
such thing conceivable as a fact of which there is no theory, or even a 
fact of which wt have no theory ; such a thing could not enter <mr 
world at all ; if there could be such a thing, it would be so far from 
having the virtue in it to redeem us from sin that it would have no 
interest for us and no effect upon us at all. " 

So closely welded are those intellectual elements — 
those elements of previous knowledge, or of knowledge 
derived from other sources — to facts as taken up into 
our minds in the complex act of apperception, that 
possibly we have ordinarily failed to separate them, 
and consequently, in our worship of what we call so 
fluently " the naked facts," have very little considered 
what a bare fact is, and what little meaning it could 
have for us. M. Naville has sought to illustrate the 
matter by an incident from his own experience. 
Even, he says ^ — 

absurd credulity — e,g, in Fracastorius* Be Sympathid, cap. i., and 
the Alchemy Book— even to that of your modem agriculturists, re- 
lating their own facts and swearing against each other like ships' 
crews. Oh ! it is the relations of the facts — not the facts, friend ! " 
From the point of view of the historian, Professor Woodrow Wilson 
{The Century Magcuziney September 1895, pp. 787, 788) speaks to 
somewhat the same effect : *' ' Give us the facts, and nothing but the 
facts,' is the sharp injunction of our age to its historians. Upon the 
face of it, an eminently reasonable requirement. To tell the truth, 
simply, openly, without reservation, is the unimpeachable first prin- 
ciple of all right living ; and historians have no licence to be quit of it. 
Unquestionably they must tell us the truth." . . . But '* an interest- 
ing circumstance thus comes to light. It is nothing less than this, 
that the facts do not of themselves constitute the truth. The truth is 
abstract, not concrete. It is the just idea, the right revelation of what 
things mean. It is evoked only by such arrangements and orderings 
of facts as suggest meanings." 

^ Le Umoignage du. Christ et VtmiUdu monde Chritien^ pp. 293, 294 : 
quoted by H. Bois, De la Connaisscmce Religievsef p. 343. 

The Right of Systematic Theology 3 7 

''The things which we ourselves see have their meaning and their 
import only through the adjunction of ideas taken upon testimony. 
One day, at Paris, I saw on the quay which runs alongside the> 
Tuileries, the Emperor Napoleon iii. pass by in a cabriolet which he 
himself was driving. Here is a fact which I verified for myself. But 
let us reduce this fact to the elements of personal perception, separated 
from the id^as which came from another source. I saw a large build* 
ing : how did I know that this building bore the name of the 
Tuileries, and that it was the residence of the sovereign of France ? 
By the testimony of others. I saw a man pass : how did I know that 
this man was called Napoloon iii. and that he was the Emperor of the 
French. By testimony. If I reduce the fact to the data of my 
personal perceptions, here is what is left : I saw, near a large building, 
a man who drove a cabriolet — nothing more. The facts that pass 
under our eyes have their meaning and value only by the intervention 
of ideas which we owe to the affirmations of our fellows." 

If, then, we are to affirm that Christianity consists 
of facts, wholly separated from those ideas by which 
these facts obtain their significance and meaning and 
which it pleases us to call " dogmas " — what shall we 
do but destroy all that we know as Christianity alto- 
gether ? The great facts that constitute Christianity 
are just as '' naked " as any other facts, and are just as 
meaningless to us as any other facts, until they are 
not only perceived but understood, Le, until not only 
they themselves but their doctrinal significance is 
made known to us. The whole Christianity of these 
facts resides in their meaning, in the ideas which are 
involved in them, but which are not independently 
gathered from them by each observer, but are attri- 
buted to them by those who interpret them to us — in 
a word, in the doctrines accompanying them. For 
what are the great facts that constitute Christianity ? 
Strip them free from " dogma," from that interpreta- 


38 The Right of Systematic Theology 

tion which has transformed them into doctrine, and 
what have we left at the most but this : that once 
upon a time a man was born, who lived in poverty 
and charity, died on the cross and rose again. An 
interesting series of facts, no doubt, with elements of 
mystery in them, of the marvellous, of the touching ; 
but hardly in their naked form constituting what we 
call Christianity. For that they require to receive 
their interpretation. This man was the Son of God, 
we are told ; He came in the flesh to save sinners ; 
He gave Himself to death as a propitiation for their 
sins; and He rose again for their justification. Now, 
indeed, we have Christianity. But it is not consti- 
tuted by the " bare facts," but by the facts as inter- 
preted, and indeed by the facts as thus interpreted, and 
not otherwise. Give the facts no interpretation, and 
we cannot find in them what we can call Christianity; 
give them a different interpretation, and we shall have 
something other than Christianity. Christianity is 
constituted, therefore, not by the facts, but by the 
"dogmas" — i.e. by the facts as understood in one 
specific manner. Surely it is of importance, therefore, 
to the Christian man to investigate this one Christian 
interpretation of the great facts that constitute 
Christianity: and this is the task of Systematic 

We must not fail to emphasise that the conclusion 
at which we have thus arrived implies that there lies 
at the basis of Christianity not only a series of great 
redemptive facts, but also an authoritative interpreta- 

The Right of Systematic Theology 39 

tion of those facts. Amid the perhaps many inter- 
pretations possible to this series of facts, who will help 
us to that one through which alone they can constitute 
Christianity ? In the ordinary affairs of life we are 
enabled to arrive at the true interpretation of the 
facts that meet us, by the explanations of those who 
have knowledge of their meaning and who have a 
claim upon our belief when they explain them to us. 
For example, in the instance cited from M. Naville, he 
could be assured that the man he saw driving the 
cabriolet was Napoleon iii. by anyone whose know- 
ledge of the Emperor he could trust. These great 
facts of Christianity — is there anyone who has 
knowledge of their meaning and who has a right to 
our belief when he explains them to us ? who, in a 
word, has authority to declare to the world what this 
series of great facts means, or in other words, what 
Christianity is? It is evident that we are face to 
face here with an anxious question. And it means 
nothing less than this, that the existence of a doctrinal 
authority is fundamental to the very existence of 
Christianity. We find that doctrinal authority ulti- 
mately, of course, in Christ. In Him we discern one 
in whose knowledge of the meaning of the great series 
of Christian facts in which He was chief actor, we can 
have supreme confidence; and to whom, with the 
apostles whom He appointed to teach all nations, we 
may safely go for the interpretation of the Christian 
facts. In the teachings of Christ and His apostles, 
therefore, we find authoritative Christian doctrine — 

40 The Right of Systematic Theology 

"dogma" in the strictest sense of the word: and 
this "dogma" enters into the very essence of 

But we are told, as may perhaps be remembered, 
that the Bible does not contain " dogmas." M. Asti^, 
for example, has allowed himself to affirm, in a 
passage already quoted, that "the Bible simply 
recounts the facts without pretending to the least 
shadow of authority." It is a question of fact ; and 
every Bible reader miay be trusted to resolve it for 
himself.* Obviously the Bible does not give us a 

^ Cf. M. Henri Bois, Le Dogme Qrec, pp. 110-117 : " Christianity is, 
therefore, without being this exclusively, a combination of facts and 
ideas. . . • The fact does not suffice. The fact by itself is nothing, 
serves no purpose. That it should avail anything, there is needed the 
interpretation of the fact, the idea. . . . Who will tell us in what the 
true interpretation of the Christian fact consists ? . . . Jesus Christ 
Himself and those whom He Himself chose, prepared and inspired to 
make Him known to the world. . . . The mission of the apostles was 
to recount and interpret the Christian facts to the world. ... If God 
wrought certain definite acts for the whole of humanity together, it 
seems to us altogether natural that He should have given also, in a 
definite fashion, by His Son, Jesus Christ, Author of these acts, and by 
the apostles, witnesses of these acts, formed in the school of Christ 
and penetrated by His Spirit, an interpretation of these acts, valid for 
all humanity. God acted once for all, in a definite fashion : but the 
first essential sense of this act does not change, since the act itself, 
the past act, remains accomplished, immutable. There are therefore 
definitive ideas by the side of definitive facts. . . . We affirm, there- 
fore, that the writings of the witnesses of the Christian facts, their 
aocounts and their interpretations, have authority." 

' Prof. Henry Wace, in his Bampton Lectures on 7%e Foundations 
of Faith (p. 121), neatly exhibits the nature of the frequent assertion 
that the Bible contains no '^ dogmas" in a characteristic incident or 
two.. '' It is the favourite contention of those who impugn the faith 
of the Church," he says, ''that the teaching of the Sermon on the 
Mount is purely moral and independent of theology. * It is undeniable, *' 

The Right of Systematic Theology 4 1 

bare list of *' naked facts " ; but a rich account and 
development of significant facts held in a special 
meaning — of facts understood and interpreted. With 
the interpretation of these facts, rather than with 
their mere record, a large part of the Bible is solely 
employed, as, for example, the epistles of Paul : and 

says the author of SupemcUurcU JReligion, iwith characteristic strength 
of assertion, ' that the earliest teaching of Jesus recorded in the gospel 
which can be regarded as in any degree historical is pure morality, 
almost, if not quite, free from theological dogmas. Morality was the 
essence of His system ; theology was an afterthought.' Two l>ages 
later this writer states with perfect correctness, but with complete 
unconsciousness of inconsistency, that Christ's system 'confined itself 
to two fundamental principles, love to God and love to man.' But is 
there no theology involved in teaching love to God t No theology in 
the belief that God is, and that He is the rewarder of them that dili- 
gently seek Him, and that in spite of all the difficulties, perplexities, 
and cruelties of the world. He is worthy of the whole love and trust of 
our hearts ! Why, this is the very theological problem which has 
racked the heart and brain of man from the dawn of religious thought 
to the present moment. On these two commandments — to which, in the 
curious phrase just quoted, Christ's system is said to have * confined 
itself,' as though they were slight or simple — on these two command- 
m(>nts hang all the law and the prophets. They are the germ from 
which has sprung the whole theolop;ical thought of the Christian 
Church, and to which it returns ; and no theologian can wish to do 
more than to deepen his own apprehension of them and to strengthen 
their hold upon others. With similar inconsistency, M. R^nau 
declares that ' we should seek in vain for a theological proposition in 
the gospel,' and yet states elsewhere that 'a lofty notion of the 
Divinity was in some sort the germ of our Lord's whole being. ' ' God,' 
he adds, 'is in Him ; He feels Himself in communion with God ; and 
He draws from His heart that which he speaks of His Father.' These 
are strange inconsistencies. But there is nothing, perhaps, moi'e 
fitted to warn a thoughtfiil mind, at the threshold of sceptical specu- 
lations, of their essential shallowness, than the manner in which the 
vastest conceptions and the profonndest problems are thus passed over, 
as it were, dryshod by such writers as have just been quoted." The 
fine passage on pp. 194-198 on the influence of doctrine on life should 
also be read. 

4^ The Right of Systematic Theology 

even when the immediate object is the record of the 
facts themselves, they are not set down nakedly, but 
in a distinct doctrinal context. Dr. James Denney is 
thoroughly justified in his rebuke to expositors who 
would neglect this context : ^ — 

**Amere exegete is sometimes tempted," he says, "to read New 
Testament sentences as if they had no context but that which stands 
before him in black and white ; they had from the very beginning, 
and have still, another context in the minds of Christian readers 
which it is impossible to disregard. They are not addressed to minds 
in the condition of a tcibvZa rasa ; if they were, they could hardly be 
understood at all ; they were addressed to minds that had been 
delivered — as Paul says to the Romans : a church, remember, to which 
he was personally a stranger — to a type or mould of teaching ; such 
minds have in this a criterion and a clew to the intention of a Chris- 
tian writer ; they can take a hint, and read into brief words Idie ful- 
ness of Christian truth. I have no doubt that it was in this way such 
expressions were interpreted as we find all through the New Testa- 
ment : ' Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many ' ; ' He loosed 
us from our sins by His blood ' ; * Behold the Lamb of God that taketh 
away the sin of the world ' ; ' He is the propitiation for our sins.' To 
«ay that words like these express a fact but not a theory — a fact as 
opposed to a theory — is to say they mean nothing whatever. A 
member of the apostolic Church would be conscious of their meaning 
without any conscious effort ; what they suggested to him would be 
precisely that truth which is so distasteful to many of those who plead 
for the fact as against ' theory,' that in Christ's death our condemna- 
tion was endured by Him. This theory is the fact ; there is nothing 
else in these expressions either to accept or to contest." 

If there be any justice in these remarks at all — 6«id 
surely their justice lies on their face — it would be 
truer to say of the Bible that it contains nothing but 
" dogmas," than to say that it contains only " facts " 

'^Studies in Theology, pp. 119, 120. Cf. the wise remarks of Dr. 
Cairns, dpropos of Semler, in his Unbelief in tfie Mghteenth Century, 
Lecture v. ii., near the beginning. 

The Right of Systematic Theology 43 

and no " dogmas " : all the facts given to us by Scrip- 
ture are given as " dogmas," that is, as facts that have 
a specific meaning for our souls. Doubtless part. of 
the extremity of such deliverances as M. Asti^'s is 
due to a failure on the part of their authors to strip 
the Christian facts bare enough. It is the fact as 
interpreted and not the naked fact itself that they 
call the fact. But it will scarcely do to prove that 
Christianity consists in facts to the exclusion of 
" dogmas," by calling all the dogmas which enter into 
the essence of Christianity facts. No doubt they are 
facts, but not in the sense intended by these writers ; 
and thus the whole centre of the debate would be 
shifted. The contention would no longer be that 
no " dogmas " enter into the essence of Christianity, 
but merely that only such " dogmas " enter into 
the essence of Christianity as are rooted in fact, to 
the exclusion of such as have no basis in fact — in 
other words, of myths and lies. This no one 
will dispute. But it does not avail to show that 
Christianity consists of facts and not dogmas, but only 
that the dogmas which enter into Christianity are 

The antipathy to external authority in religion is 
much too deeply rooted, however, to die with • the 
mere exhibition of the necessity of 'interpretation to 
render facts of any import or value to man. There 
are some to whom it will still seem that the necessity 
of interpretation may be allowed, and yet the exist- 
ence of an external doctrinal authority be denied. 

44 The Right of Systematic Theology 

M. Bivier may be taken as an example of this type of 
thought. " Certainly," he says ^ — 

" Certainly to verify a historical fact is far from comprehending its 
religious and supernatural sense. An event whose significance remains 
foreign to us cannot have the least direct importance for our salvation, 
even though it may be ineffably rich in divine lessons and in religious 
motives. In order that we may know God, it evidently is not suffi- 
cient that he should act, it is necessary further that He should 


So far, everything runs along satisfactorily : it is just 
the contention we have been making. But M. Bivier 
proceeds at once to take the significance out of his 
admission. "Only," he continues, and the word 
" only " is ominous — 

"Only it is necessary that he should speak to m. For we could 
never recognise His activity in a historical fact unless its explication 
made us pei'sonally verify a divine element in it. Now this interpre- 
tation God commonly gave, according to the biblical narratives, to 
the witnesses of the events. Whilst we, in order to understand these 
facts, are to be reduced to the more or less exact report of their 
authentic interpretation ! " 

" Therefore," comments M. Henry Bois, with his in- 
imitable point 2 — 

''Therefore, in what the Bible and history transmit to us, there is 
nothing but the raw facts for us to take into consideration. The rest 
is of no value : it is of little consequence to us what Grod has said to 
others ; that alone is of consequence to us which has been said to us, 
. . • Nevertheless, it is allowed that the facts without ideas are of no 
value for salvation. . « « Consequently what history and the Bible 
transmit to us has no value for salvation : value resides principally, 
fundamentally, in what God says to us, at present, in our revelations, 

^ Ai^dt swr la rMhUion chritUnne, p. 44 ; quoted in H. Bois' Lt 
Dogme Oree^ p. 114. 
* Le Dogme Oree, p. 114 aq. 

The Right of Systematic Theology 45 

in our illuminations, in our fantasies, in our dreams. For having 
wished to discard the apostolic explications of the historic fact, we 
find ourselves quite naturally brought to discarding the historical fact 

" And, indeed, we shall ask M. Rivier : W}iy this different mode of 
treating the fact and the idea ? ' In order that we may know God, it 
evidently is not sufficient that He should act : it is necessary further 
that He should speak. Only it is necessary that He should speak to 
Mi* So far so good. But why not say also : 'Only it is necessary 
that He should act for vAy by lu^ and in im ' ? It is of no use to make 
God speak historically ? ^ it so. But why make Him act histor- 
ically ? Are we to be reduced to the more or less exact and more or 
less authentic reports of the facts of which certain men were witnesses 
many centuries ago ? No, it is necessary that God should act for va 
and in u$. The apostolic interpretation of the Christian facts is given 
us by tradition, that fatal tradition, that nightmare of so-called 
independent minds ? It is true. But by what, then, if you please, 
are you furnished with the facts, if not by this same tradition ? You 
declare that tradition reporting ideas needs later commentaries, and 
you exclaim, 'Is the latest commentary too clothed with a divine 
authority ? ' We should like you to tell us if tradition reporting facts 
has no need of criticism : will criticism, perchance, then be clothed 
with a divine authority ? 

" In short, he who says fact, history, says at the same time witness, 
tradition, authority. The more authority, the more tradition — the 
more fact." 

We could scarcely have a neater or completer 
refutation by the method of reduction to absurdity. 
The pity is that everybody does not see that the 
reduction is to absurdity. For the absurd position 
to which M. Bois would thus drive M. Eivier, 
that very position is voluntarily assumed by others. 
Would M. Bois show that by parity of reasoning 
with that by which M. Eivier would refuse to 
be bound by the doctrines of the Bible, the facts, 
too, may be refused? Undoubtedly, replies, for 
example, Mr. G. Frommel : religion cannot consist of. 

46 The Right of Systematic Theology 

or rest upon, external facts any more than upon 
external doctrines : ^ — 

'* By their very nature historical facts lack the special evidence 
which is indispensable for faith. The most certain of them are only 
probable. Their probability, by the accumulation of evidences and 
the weight of the testimony, may increase until it grazes certitude, 
but it never attains it. The best evidenced historical facts rest on 
intermediary witnesses, with regard to whom doubt remains permis- 
sible. "Were they even absolutely proved, they would remain in 
essence incapable of forming authority for faith, the object of which 
cannot in any case be a historical fact — and, above all, not a past fact 
— and which demands for its establishment the discernment in history 
of a divine activity, the initiative and permanent charaqter of which 
forms upon one a directly accessible impression." 

That is to say, past facts can enter into the. essence of 
Christianity just as little as past dogmas : the essence 
of Christianity must be found wholly in what is present 
to the soul here and now. In reducing to absurdity 
the position of those who cry that Christianity consists 
of facts, not dogmas, M. Bois has only driven them to 
the position of another class who equally refuse to 
allow the validity of Christian doctrine, — those whose 
cry is that Christianity consists in life, not doctrine. 
This position comes before us thus as the logical 
outcome of the demands of those who will have 
Christianity consist only of facts, and not at all of 

Before we turn to the consideration of this new 
position, however, there is an extreme form of the 
contention that Christianity consists of facts, not 
doctrines, which claims our attention. This is that 

^ La Crise du proteslarUismef in ivangile et LiberU, 27th May, 
1892 ; quoted by Henri Bois, Le Dogme OreCf p. 72. 

The Right of Systematic Theology 47 

curious religious positivism which has gained such 
vogue of late through the vigour of the followers of 
Albrecht Eitschl, and which occupies a sort of transi- 
tional position between the type of thought which 
declares that Christianity consists in facts, not dogmas, 
and that which represents it as consisting in life, not 
doctrine. The extremity of this position resides in 
the circumstance that, while it agrees in general that 
Christianity consists not in dogmas but facts, it reduces 
these facts to a single fact ; Christianity consists, it 
says in effect, in one sole fact. 

That no dogmas lie at the root or enter into the 
essence of Christianity, the proper Eitschlite is per- 
fectly assured. Eeligion is one thing, he tells us, and 
metaphysics is another ; and Christianity is in essence 
reUgion, whQe dogma; are metaphysical products. 
The service which Jesus did the world was not that 
He presented it with a revealed metaphysic, but that 
He gave it a religion. The metaphysical element 
came into historical Christianity when, in its advance 
from its primitive centre and from its primitive 
simplicity, it came into contact with and bondage to 
the Greek mind, which at once seized upon it and, 
according to the inherent Greek tendency, philosophised 
it, and thus wrought but what we call the fundamental 
Christian dogmas. These, therefore, so far from being 
essential to Christianity, are corruptions of Christianity. 
And if we would have Christianity in its purity, we 
must strip off from it every remnant of "Greek 
dogma," or, to speak more broadly, every "meta- 

48 The Right of Systematic Theology 

physical " element which has in the course of the 
ages attached itself to it. More, if we would save 
Christianity from entire destruction in the searching 
criticism of these modern times, we must separate 
from it those metaphysical accretions by its connection 
and consequent confusion with which it is brought 
into conflict with modern knowledge. If it is to be 
entangled with an outworn metaphysics, it cannot live 
in the light of modem thought. But let it be freed 
from all such entangling alliances, we are told, and 
stand forth in its purity as a simple religion, and 
philosophy and science will find that, as Satan found 
with Christ, they "have nothing in it." The efifect 
desired to be obtained by this sharp distinction 
between the religious and the metaphysical, it will be 
seen, is the security of Christianity in the forum of 
the world's thought. The whole realm of the meta- 
physical is at once abandoned to the world, while that 
of the purely religious alone is retained for Christianity ; 
and the two spheres are represented practically as 
mutually exclusive. Eeligion cannot properly intrude 
into the region of metaphysics, and metaphysics cannot 
invade the region of pure religion. Thus Christianity 
will be safe from attack on this side. But it is not 
only on the side of metaphysics that Christianity is 
attacked in these days. It is attacked also on the side 
of history. It is not only her "dogmas" that are 
assaulted, but also her " facts." When we yield up 
her " dogmas " to the mercy of the metaphysician, are 
we to defend at all hazards her " facts "? Is Christianity 

The Right of Systematic Theology 49 

to be represented as standing or falling with them ? 
No, says the Eitschlite. Christianity has no more 
need of its so-called " facts " than of its so-called 
" dogmas " ; one fact alone will sufi&ce for it, the one 
great fact of Christ. Let historical criticism do its 
worst, let it evaporate into the mist of myth every 
fact on which men have been accustomed to found 
Christianity, Christianity will remain untouched : it is 
constituted by this one fact only — Jesus Christ. 

Such, then, is the Bitschlite position, in, at least, its 
most characteristic form. That there are elements of 
truth and power in it is obvious on the face of the 
statement. It is much to protest against the identifi- 
cation of Christianity with the changing metaphysics 
of the schools ; and it is undeniable that Christianity 
has often been confounded by the Hegelian with his 
Hegelianism, by the Aristotelian with his Aristo- 
telianism, by the Platonist with his Platonism, and 
has thus been subjected to unwarranted suspicion and 
distrust. It is something also to realise that 
Christianity may survive the loss of many of her 
" facts " ; that though her history is true and is worthy 
of her, and being worthy of her, is part of her being 
and one of her supports and stays, yet she does not 
draw all her sap from this one root. Above all, it is a 
great thing to have our eyes focused on Jesus Christ 
as the great, the constitutive fact of Christianity, 
about whom all else gathers, from whom all else 
receives its significance, whom to have is indeed to 
have all. Through its insistence on such points as 

50 The Right of Systematic Theology 

these, Eitschlism has often wrought a good work in the 
theological circles of Germany, and earned for itself a 
good degree. But, unfortunately, the theory it has 
put forward goes in its logical implications fatally 
beyond insistence on such points as these. 

It is hard to take seriously the sharp discrimination 
that is proposed between religious and metaphysical 
knowledge ; and it is hard to take patiently the com- 
placent abandonment of the whole body of Christian 
doctrine which is proposed on the basis of this 
distinction. One is tempted to look upon it all as 
" playing to the galleries," as merely a clumsy flattery 
oJBfered to the tendencies of an age essentially positivist. 
In an era when even our psychologists seek to steer 
clear of metaphysics, it is possibly not to be wondered 
at that a theology also should be attempted which shall 
be free from « metaphysical " conceptions. And cer- 
tainly it can not be wondered at that the failure is 
even more complete. M. Fouill^e warns us that if we 
question those who reject " metaphysics " we shall very 
quickly discover that they reject it in the name of a 
metaphysical system, which naturally is their own.^ 
It is so in the present case also. The whole Bitschlite. 
system is the outgrowth of metaphysical theories drawn 
from Kant through the mediation of Lotze. On the 
basis of these metaphysical theories, we are asked to 

^ ^'Interrogez ceax qui rejettent la m^taphysique ; vous recon> 
naitrez bien vite qu'ils la rejettent an nom d'un syst^me m^taphysique, 
qui est natorellement le leur" (Alf. Fouill^e, UAvenir de la mita- 
physique faneUe sur Ves^rience^ p. 275 ; quoted by H. Bois, Lt Dogme 
OreCj p. 61, note). 

The Right of Systematic Theology 5 1 

eviscerate Christianity of its whole doctrinal content 
as being mixed with metaphysical elements ! Nor do 
we, in sajdng the " whole doctrinal content " of 
Christianity, overstate the matter. For what truth 
concerning God and the soul can come to expression 
without involving metaphysical conceptions ? Every 
religious truth, however primary, contains a meta- 
physical element. M. Bois is therefore within the 
limits of fact when he says^ that — 

"Those who thus repel metaphysics do not understand themselves. 
For if it is certain that all that is metaphysical is not on that account 
religious, it is no less certain that all that is religious is on that accouilt 
metaphysical. If you wish to be rid of metaphysics at any cost, 
abstain from speaking of God. Whoever says, 'I believe in God,' 
deals with metaphysics." 

It must be admitted, however, that the Eitschlites, 
having placed their brand upon metaphysics in religion, 
do make the boldest possible effort to cleanse their 
skirts of it altogether. And herein, for us, lies their 
severest reproach. For at the bidding of this theory, 
some have not hesitated to discard the most elementary 
truths of religion. M. Bois says that we cannot even 
say, " I believe in God," without a tinge of metaphysics. 
We fully believe it. And the Eitschlite perceives it 
also, and actually raises the question whether we may 
validly even say so much as this, " I believe in God ! " 
What do we, after all, as Christian men, know of God, 
it is asked. That he is infinite ? Certainly not. 
That He is a person? No. That he exists? Not 
even this. We only know that he is, as Eitschl 

• ^ Le Dogme Oree, pp. 51, 52. 


5 2 The Right of Systematic Theology 

himself once put it, a " Hlilf svorstellimg " — a useful 
postulate for the validating of our practical ends.^ 
" God, in other words " — as Dr. Denney ^ brings out 
Eitschl's idea— 


God, in other words, is a necessary assumption of the Christian's 
view of man's chief end ; but, scientifically, — ^in its bearing on the 
interpretation of nature and history, for example, — ^it may be left an 
open question whether there be a God or not." 

^ Prof. Otto Ritschl thinks that his father's former employment of 
the term Hul/svorstelluTig in this connection ought not to be remem- 
bered against him. But with the excision of the term we do not see 
that the conception has been changed. God still remains for Bitschl 
and Bitschlism a heuristic postulate. The case is the same, of course, 
with the Deity of Christ and its implications, as, for example. His 
pre-existence, which Bitschl similarly spoke of as a ffulfslinie for the 
traditional conception, — comparing it thus with the imaginary lines 
assumed in geometrical reasonings, which have no reality, and are 
intended to have none. We note Prof. Otto Bitschl's welcome declara- 
tion that it might as well be asserted of his father that he denied the 
existence of God and taught atheism, as that he did not intend to teach 
the Deity of Christ as a reality ; and we rejoice in this testimony to 
Bitschl's personal faith in two matters which do indeed stand for him 
in similar relations. We rejoice, too, in the concessions which 
Bitschlites have been led to make in the matter of the proper Deity 
of Christ (see them exhibited in Orr, as cited, p. 448 sq,). But we are 
not here concerned with Bitschl's personal convictions, nor with the 
indications in his followers of a not unnatural recoil from the full 
rigour of his teaching, but with the logical implications of that teach- 
ing itself. And there is after all a considerable difference between 
God as a working hypothesis and the d\rj$ivbs debs of the New Testa- 
ment. For one thing, those to whom God is a working hypothesis are 
apt to conceive of Him as their creature who cannot be permitted to 
wander from the place and function He was called into being to fill 
and serve. The extremity of this feeling was startlingly exhibited by 
Heine, who, when asked in his anguish whether he had hope of forgive- 
ness, replied, ** Oh, certainly : that is what God is for." The distance 
between this attitude and the Christian conception of God is measured 
by the contrast between looking upon God as existing for us and 
realising that we exist only for Him. 

' Stvdies in Theology ^ p. 8 ; cf. Orr, Christian Fiew^ etc., p. 46. 

The Right of Systematic Theology 5 3 

In similar spirit, Herrmann teaches that for "the 
maintaining of the impulse of religious faith," " it does 
not matter whether our conception of the world is 
theistic, pantheistic, or materialistic." ^ This is what 
we may come to when we refuse every metaphysical 
element in religion, and insist that all we need know 
of God is what is involved in the residuum of 
religious knowledge. It is the old idea of regulative 
truth brought back, in the extreme form which 
includes the implication that what is postulated as 
true for the needs of our practical life may in the 
sphere of theoretical knowledge be at the same time 
recognised as false.* 

And this mode of dealing with the foundations of 
Christianity is carried by this school, also, as we have 
said, into the domain of " facts." Dr. Denney quotes ^ 
a characteristic example from Hamack when deaUng 
with the miracles of Jesus. "The historian," says 

'* is not in a position to reckon with a miracle as a certainly given 
historical event ; for in doing so he destroys that very method of 
looking at things on which all historical investigation rests. Every 

^ See Orr, Christian View qf God mid tJie Worlds pp. 46 sq, 

^ Cf. Orr, as above, p. 29 : "Under the plea of expelling meta- 
physics from theology, the tendency is at present to revive thid 
distinction in a form which practically amounts to the resuscitation of 
the old doctrine of a 'double truth' — the one religious, the other 
philosophical ; and it is not held necessary that even where the two 
overlap they should always be found in agreement." 

' Studies in Theology , p. 12. 

< Dogmengeschichtef Ed. 1, i. 50, note 4 ; cf. E. T. i., p. 65, note S, 
where, however, the concluding words are quite different: "This 
conclusion itself belongs to the province of religious faith : though 

54 The Right of Systematic Theology 

single miracle remains, historically, entirely dubious : and no summa- 
tion of the dubious can ever amount to a certainty. If, in spite of this, 
the historian convinces himself that Jesus Christ has done what is 
extraordinary, and even in the strict sense miraculous, he argues from 
an ethico-religious impression which he has received of this person, to 
a supernatural power belonging to Him. This inference belongs itself 
to the domain of religious faith. We may conceive, however, a strong 
religious faith in the teleological reign of the divine and the good in 
the world, which does not need such an inference." 

That is to say, as Dr. Denney points out, " since it 
belongs to the domain of religious faith, it cannot 
belong to the domain of assured fact," and it is only 
to those of little faith that the supernatural power 
and miracles of Jesus are not matters of indifference. 
From passages like this we may begin to learn the 
real import of the constant Eitschlite appeal to the 
historical Jesus — that fervent and devout appeal to 
the very central fact of Christianity which gives their 
writings such attractiveness to us alL 

By the emphasis which they place upon the 
" historical Christ," who, according to them, is the one 
great constitutive fact of Christianity, the Bitschlites 
intend first of all to exclude from consideration the 
exalted Christ — the Christ who, according to His 
promise, is with His followers always, even to the end 
of the world, the living source of all their strength 
and the fountain of all their life. For this school of 

there has seldom been a strong faith that would not have drawn it." 
The German of £d. 1 (which alone is accessible to us as we write) runs : 
'* Dieser Schluss gehort selbst dem Gebiet des religiosen Glaubens an. 
Es lasst sich aber ein starker religioser Glaube an die Herrschaft und 
Zwecksetzung des Gottlichen und Guten in der Welt denken, welcher 
eines solchen Schlusses nicht bedaif." 

The Right of Systematic Theology 5 5 

thought, which piques itself on its positivism, has no 
greater antipathy to what it calls "metaphysics" in 
religion than to what it calls " mysticism." It would 
indeed be introducing . " metaphysical " elements to 
conceive of Jesus, dead for two thousand years, yet 
ruling the world from the throne of God and instilling 
life by some magical process into the hearts of men. 
No ! we can know nothing but the " historical Christ," 
the Christ who lived and died in Galilee, and by His 
life of pure faith has left an ipdelible impression upon 
the world. He, at least, is a fact ; and a fact of such 
magnitude that face to face with Him we cannot 
escape the conviction which was the spring of His life 
and which, from the spectacle of His life, is communi- 
cated to us, that there is a God who loves us, and that 
we are not merely the " step-children of time." 

Yet we must guard ourselves from supposing that 
this historical Christ to which we have thus been 
pointed is the Christ of the historical documents 
which have preserved the memory of His life and 
deeds to us. For, by the emphasis which they place 
on the " historical Christ," the Eitschlites intend, in 
the next place, to exclude all " unhistorical " elements 
from the picture they would bring before us. It is 
not the Christ of legend to which they would direct 
our eyes, but the Christ of sober history : and they are 
willing to relegate to the domain of legend all that 
the most exigent criticism would ask of them. It is 
not the Christ who was bom of a virgin, who was 
welcomed by angels, who wrought wonders, who, 

56 The Right of Systematic Theology 

having died for our sins, rose again from the dead and 
ascended in bodily form into heaven — it is not this 
Chiist who, according to them, is the one great con- 
stitutive fact of Christianity. It is the Christ of 
critical history : of whom we can say but this — that 
He lived and died and left behind Him the aroma of 
a life of faith. This is the one fact of which Chris- 
tianity consists. We cannot rid ourselves of the 
impression which this historical figure makes upon us, 
of the lesson of faith which His life teaches us : in its 
light we can walk our allotted pathway in life and see 
the hand of Jesus' God in the events that befall us» 
and so live, like Jesus, in communion with the God 
of providence : the religion of Jesus is thus ours, and 
we are Christians. Who Jesus was, what He was, 
what He did — all this is indifferent to us : His life of 
love in the world has begotten religion in our souls ; 
and this is enough. It is to this that the Bitschlite 
point of view would reduce the " historical Christ " — 
the one fact that constitutes Christianity. And if 
we find it hard to take patiently their complacent 
abandonment of the whole sum of Christian doctrine 
on the plea that it is metaphysical, shall we not find it 
impossible to take patiently their equally complacent 
abandonment of the whole series of Christian facts, on 
the ground that it is unhistorical ? 

The inconsistency of the Eitschlite procedure here 
has often been commented on. First, in their anti- 
metaphysical bias, they insist on the historical 
character of Christianity: Christianity is not meta* 

The Right of Systematic Theology 5 7 

physics but fact : it is to the historical Christ, and not 
to the Christ of theological construction, that we aire 
to go — the Christ that actually lived and died in 
Galilee, not the Christ of the Nicene Greeks or of the 
scholastics. And then this historical Christ Himself 
is calmly handed over to the tender mercies of unr 
believing critics, with permission to do with Him 
what they list. It is more to our present purpose, 
however, to note the effect of this double dealing, in 
the evaporation of the whole essence of Christianity. 
We all desire a Christianity which is secure from the 
assaults of the unbelieving world, whether those 
assaults are made in the name of {Philosophy £Uid 
science, or in the name of history and criticism. But 
this security is to be sought and can be found only 
in a Christianity whose facts and doctrines are so 
intrenched against the inevitable assault that, whatever 
else falls, they shall stand. What fatuity it is to seek 
it rather by yielding to the assault all it chooses to 
demand, and contracting Christianity into dimensions 
too narrow to call out the world's antipathy and too 
weak to invite its attack. Such an eviscerated Chris- 
tianity may no longer be worth the world's notice, and 
by that same token is no longer worth the Christian's 
preservation. It has been reduced to a vanishing 
point, and is ready to pass away. It is entirely 
fatuous to suppose that the spheres of religion and 
thought, of religion and history, can be kept apart : 
what is true in metaphysics is true in religion, .and 
what is true in religion is true in history, or, in one 

58 The Right of Systematic Theology 

word, we shall profess ourselves willing to confess a 
false religion. We may acquiesce in the implications of 
the persistent activity of our religious sentiment. Let 
metaphysics decide the problems of being as it may, let 
criticism decide the problems of history as it may, man 
is a religious animal. But to say that the special 
form and direction which have been given to the 
action of this religious sentiment by a specific body of 
convictions and a specific body of facts are independent 
of philosophical and historical determinations, passes 
beyond the apparent absurdity of paradox into the 
actually absurd. It sounds very well to ask, as M. 
Lobstein asks ^ — 

" To declare that the fdll.and complete satisfaction of the needs oif 
the Qonscience and the aspirations of the heart is involved in the 
solution of a problem of historical criticism of whatever impoHcmce — is 
this not to cast souls into trouble and to expose them to the loss of 
that crown which they are exhorted to hold fast ? " 

But, it is surely one thing for the soul to be sure with 
an immovable surety that the conceptions — that is, 
the "dogmas" — and the facts that underlie its faith 
and are implicated in it cannot be shaken by any 
criticism whatever : and quite another thing for one to 
imagine that he can lightly surrender them at the 
demand of any criticism you will and yet retain his 
faith undiminished. Accordingly, M. Bois justly fixes 
his eye on the e;xtremity of M. Lobstein's language : 
that faith cannot depend on the solution of a problem 
of his:torical criticism, no matter lohat its importance 
may he — 

^ Quoted by H. Bois, Le Dogme Gree, p. 54, 

The Right of Systematic Theology 59 

''Will it be indifferent, then, to the Christian faith," he demands,^ 
'* for it to be demonstrated that we do not possess a single authentic 
writing of Paul's that the Fourth Gospel is the work of a forger, and 
that the Synoptics arc only a tissue of legends and traditions without 
the least historical value ? Will it, then, be indifferent to the Chris- 
tian faith for it to be proved to us, for example, that Jesus Christ did 
not rise from the dead or even that He never existed ? We should 
very much like to know what will remain to Christianity when there 
have been excluded from it the id.ea9 (since metaphysics must be 
excluded) and the foxU (since we must be independent of historical 
criticism). Note that thus the person of Christ is completely 
eliminated from Christianity, and it is reduced to vague, obscure, 
doubtful sentiment — to sentiment in its pure estate. On the other 
side, do we not know that the school of Bitschl does not wish to hear 
the mysticaZ union spoken of, that is to say, internal, personal, and 
living relations between the soul and its Saviour ? What then is left 
of Christianity? Nothing at all — except, perhaps, the maxim of 
certain mediseval monks : Bene dicere de priore, facere officium suum 
taliter qualiter, sinere mundum ire quomodo vadit. In all ways, the 
reaction against intellectualism, pushed to the complete proscription 
of doctrine, of metaphysics, brings us to nihilism in the matter of 

Thus we see that the Bitschlian tendency also 
reduces itself to absurdity in the extremes to which 
it must go in order to save its principle. For to these 
extremes it must go or else admit a metaphysical, a 
truly dogmatic element at the very heart of Christianity. 
Becoil from them ever so slightly, and the centre of 
the debate is at once shifted : we no longer are dis- 
cussing whether "dogma" enters into the essence of 
Christianity, but what " dogmas " may be rightly recog- 
nised as holding that position. Jesus Christ alone 
constitutes Christianity ; in Him is included all that 
can be asked for, for the perfect religion. So be it. 
What Jesus Christ ? The Jesus of the Gospels ? Or 

^ Le Dogme Gh'ec, p. 54. 

6o The Right of Systematic Theology 

the Jesus of Strauss? The Logos Jesus of John's 
Gospel ? The heavenly Jesus of the Apocalypse ? Or 
the purely earthly Jesus of Pfleiderer and E4nan ? 
Or even perchance the entirely imaginary Jesus of 
Fierson and Naber and Loman ? It is an insult to 
our intelligence to tell us that it makes no difference to 
Christianity how these queries be answered. But the 
first beginnings of an answer to them introduce the 
dogmatic element. From which it follows at once 
that Christianity cannot exist without the dogma 
which it is the business of Systematic Theology to 
investigate and state. As M. Henri Bois ^ eloquently 
puts it — 


Christianity is the person of Jesus Christ. Still we must enter 
into relations with this person. In order that two moral subjects 
should communicate with one another there must needs be manifesta- 
tions between them. A person manifests himself clearly to us only by 
his acts and his words ; and he has value for ' us only as we form for 
ourselves a certain idea of him. Christianity is therefore essentially^ 
fibove all, a person ; but on pain of reducing it to a magic, which 
would no longer possess any ethical and, consequently, no longer pos- 
sess any religious quality, we must needs grant that Christianity, 
precisely because it is essentially a person, is also a body of facts and 
of ideas, 

**For the contenij)oraries of Jesus Christ, who could see and hear 
Him, the teaching that fell from His lips, and the deeds performed by 
Him, constituted this necessary middle term between Jesus Christ and 
them. For us, with no wish certainly to deny the personal, present, 
and living relations of Jesus Christ with the soul of the redeemed, ^^^e 
cannot, without opening the door to the most dangerous mysticism, 
reduce Christianity to these relations, in derogation of the acts and 
revelations of the historical Christ, which we have neither seen nor 
heard, but which have been transmitted to us by tradition^ by the 
Bible ; this would be equivalent to cutting down the tree at its roots, 
under pretext of being thus better able to gather its fruit" 

^ Le Dogme Orec^ p. 107. 

The Right of Systematic Theology 6 1 

On pain, then, of cutting down Christianity at its 
roots, under the pretext that we shall thus be better 
able to gather its fruits, we must admit a doctrinal 
element at its very basis. Christianity consists not 
merely of " Jesus Christ," but of that Jesus Christ 
which the apostles give us — in a word, of the Jesus 
of the apostolical " dogma," and not of any Jesus we 
may choose to fancy in this nineteenth century of 
ours.^ Are there "metaphysical" elements in this 
apostolical dogma ? Then metaphysical elements enter 
into the very essence of Christianity. Are there traces 
of Greek thought perhaps in these apostolicalinterpre- 
tations of the Christian facts ? Of what importance is 
that to us? M. Bois says truly — 

** Whether there be in these interpretations Greek elements or not, 
is a very secondary question, and one wholly without the importance 
that it is sought to give it. There is no good reason known to us for 
rejecting a teaching of St. Paul's or of St. John's, under the pretext 
that it has a Hellenic colour." 

The apostolic interpretation is an inseparable element 
in the fundamental fact-basis of Christianity ; and it 
cannot be rejected because a part of the providentially 
formed peculiarity of the apostolic mode of thought is 
distasteful to us.^ Call it metaphysical, call it Greek, 

^ " I determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ, and 
Sim as crttdfied," said the apostle, defining a special doctrine of Jesus 
as the essence of Christianity. 

^ Dr. E. L. Hicks' sugges^ve paper on ''St. Paul and Hellenism/' 
which opens the fourth volume of the Oxford Stvdia Biblica et Ecde- 
Mosiiea, will well repay consulting on this matter. * * Greek thought, " 
he says, "had provided for St. Paul a vocabulary, and a set of ideas 
as well as phrases, wherein to express his doctrine — a doctrine in nowise 
borrowed from Hellenic thought, but which could hardly be made in- 

62 The Right of Systematic Theology 

if you will. But remember that it is of the essence 
of Christianity. 

By no means, the answer comes back to us at once : 
Christianity is a life, not a doctrine ; he is a Christian 
man in whom this life is implanted ; and the Bible 
itself is in the first instance a means of grace, not a 
text-book of theology. Thus we are brought back 
once more to that extremest of all anti-doctrinal posi- 
tions which proposes a Christianity which shall be 
independent of both facts and doctrines. We have 
already had a glimpse of it now and again ; and it is 
probably clear by this time that, if the onset on doc- 
trinal Christianity is to succeed at all, it must be 
under this banner. It is towards it indeed that every 
other tendency of thought inevitably drifts, as it seeks 
to defend an anti-doctrinal position. According to its 
mode of thmking, the sole immediate purpose of the 
Bible is to quicken life, not to satisfy curiosity, and 
we divert it from its proper use when we go to it 
as anything else than the living and abiding word 
through which we are begotten again — than the im- 
planted word which is able to save our souls. When 
it has performed this function its immediate employ- 
ment is at an end ; its dogmas and its facts may alike 

telligible to the minds of his time, or to our own minds to-day, unless 
Greek thought had prepared the human mind for such grand and far* 
reaching ideas: 6 7dp ^(XoVo^os <n)vwrri.Kb% ris," *'The influence of 
Hellenism began, in fact, with the first preaching of the gospel ; and 
St. Paul is the foremost representative of the process. That influ- 
ence was of course indirect and unconscious, and did not involve any 
deliberate adoption of Hellenic practices, but it had been a leaven 
working in the Church from the first." 

The Right of Systematic Theology 63 

be passed by in indiflference when we possess the life 
— that Christ-life which, being once formed in us, 
surely renders us superior to all extraneous aid. And 
for the inception of this life we (cannot be dependent 
on any book or on any dogmas or facts whatever, laid 
hold of by the intellect and embraced in knowledge. 
Its source can only be the Fountain of Life — our living 
and loving God Himself ; and He cannot be supposed 
to grant it only to shining intellectual gifts, or to 
exceptional intellectual opportunities, or to the know- 
ledge which is the fruit of these things. The poorest 
is as the richest before Him, and poverty of under- 
standing is no bar to His grace ; while that poverty of 
spirit which is seldom, conjoined with great knowledge 
— for knowledge rather pufifeth up — ^is precious in His 
sight. Christianity is ill-conceived if it is thought to 
consist in or to rest upon either facts or dogmas ; it 
is a life, and for this life we depend solely on God, 
the ever -living Source of all life.^ 

It will go without saying that a manner of thinking 
like this, which has commended itself to a multitude 
of the leading minds of our time, and which has 
extended its influence so far beyond the circle of its 
own proper adherents that it may be truly said to 
have coloured all modern religious thought, has much 
to say for itself. We need only turn over in our 
minds its characteristic modes of expression to find 
enshrined in them the deepest truths of Christianity. 

^ Cf. Dr. Orr's discussion of this mode of statement in his Christian 
View, etc., pp. 18 sq. 

64 The Right of Systematic Theology 

It is true that Christianity is a life, the life that is 
lived in communion with the Son of God, the life that 
is hid with Christ in God, the life of which it must 
be said that it is not we that live it, but Christ that 
lives it in us. The whole series of Christian facts, the 
whole body of Christian doctrines, do exist only in 
order to this life. Christ did not come into the 
world, die, and rise again, merely that He might insert 
so many marvellous facts into the dull course of 
natural history: the constitution of the facts, the 
beautifying of the historical sequence, was not the 
end pf His action ; it was to save the souls of men, 
that they might have life, and that they might have 
it more abundantly. And no single Christian doctrine 
has been revealed to men merely as a tenet in philo- 
sophy, to make them wise ; each and every one is sent 
to them as a piece of glad tidings, that they may be 
made wise unto salvation. Yet though all Christian 
knowledge is thus only in order to life, and terminates 
on life, it is not in the power of all knowledge to give 
lifa We live by the power of the Son of God, by 
vir;tue of a vital relation of our souls to Him ; and it 
is only because of the indwelling of the Spirit of God 
in our hearts that our ears are open to the truth, or 
that our souls are amenable to its discipline. This 
Christian life that we live is not the creation of the 
doctrines or of the facts of Christianity; it is the 
working of the Spirit of God, who, abiding within us, 
becomes to us a second and higher self. These are 
the fundamental elements of the gospel of Christ ; and 

The Right of Systematic Theology 65 

we count it a most happy thing that they are em- 
phasised as the school of thought which we have now 
under view emphasises them. Above all, we rejoice 
that in the face of a positivist and materialistic age 
there have arisen men who so boldly proclaim the 
reality of the divine life, the actual presence of God 
in men, and the prevalent work of the Spirit in the 
heart. To the Ritschlite, of the extremer sort, at leasts 
it is as if there were no Holy Spirit ; the spirit of the 
Christian community — Le., the general influence that 
exhales from Christians as a body — takes its place ; 
it is as if there were no divine power within us work- 
ing for righteousness ; all that is allowed is a simplj^ 
human ethicism, supported by a bare belief in a loving 
Providence — a bare belief which cannot reach the 
height of theoretical knowledge. But the very core 
of the teaching now engaging our attention is the 
great conception of the indwelling God ; and we are 
profoujidly grateful to it for making Christian mys- 
ticism once more a power in the world. 

With the heartiest recognition, however, of the 
precious elements of truth which are embraced in this 
mode of thought, and of the service it has rendered in 
emphasising them, we may still be unable to allow 
that it is able to do justice to Christianity, or even 
to those special elements of Christianity which it 
thus has taken up, when, in its preoccupation with 
the sharp separation which it institutes between life 
and doctrine, it declares that Christianity consists 
wholly in life, and not at all in doctrine. It may 

66 The Right of Systematic Theology 

possibly conduce to a clearer understanding of what 
the real implications of this contention are, if we will 
select some fair representative of the school of thought 
whose watchword it forms, and seek through him to 
learn its fundamental ideas. Fortunately this has 
been rendered especially easy by the recent publica- 
tion, on the part of the learned Professor of Reformed 
Theology at Paris, Professor Auguste Sabatier, of cer- 
tain documents apparently designed precisely to serve 
as a manifesto of his school.^ In the discussion which 
necessarily arose among French Protestants around 
such utterances, the chief burden in behalf of the 
essential doctrines of Christianity was borne at first 
by the venerable Professor Frederic Godet,* from 
whose expositions of Scripture we have all profited, 
and more latterly by the brilliant young professor of 
Montauban, from whom we have already quite largely 
quoted in this paper. Professor Henri Bois.^ During the 
course of the controversy the postulates and implica- 
tions of the mode of conceiving Christianity advocated 
by Professor Sabatier have naturally been brought 
under a very searching light, with the result of ex- 
hibiting in the clearest way their utter inability 

^ Especially his La Fie Intime dea Dogmea et leur Puissance cPjSvolu- 
Hon, and his Sssai cTune TJUorie Critique de la Connaissanee Beligieuae. 

3 Papers in the Chrdtien jSvanffelique for 1891 and 1892. 

' Especially in his Ze Dogme Orec and his De la Connaissanee JUli- 
gieuse. In the latter work, pp. ^ sq,, M. Bois gives an exact account 
of the primary literature in the controversy. An interesting narra- 
tive of the early stages of the controversy was given by the late Pro- 
fessor Gretillat in the Presbyterian and Reformed Review for July 1892 
and July 1893. 

The Right of Systematic Theology 67 

to do justice to, or even to preserve the essence of, 

At the bottom of all M. Sabatier's religious think- 
ing there proves to lie a crass philosophical empiricism, 
or, to be more precise, the empiricism of Mr. Herbert 
Spencer. Out of this empiricism there springs im- 
mediately the fundamental principle of his theory of 
knowledge, which is none other than the ordinary 
postulate of the sensational school — now being anew 
pressed upon our acceptance by certain of oui* physio- 
logical psychologists ^ — that sensation lies behind, and 
is the source of all knowledge. In its strictness, 
M. Sabatier's contention is that " feeling comes first 
in time as well as in value : ideas come only after- 
wards, and ideas cannot produce feeling, or, if they 
can produce it, this happens so imperfectly and so 
rarely that we need not take account of this in the 
role of ideas "^ On the other hand, sensation does 
produce ideas, and all our ideas rest ultimately on 
and are the product of sensation : " our ideas are only 
the algebraic notation of our impressions and of our 
movements."* When carried over into the sphere 
of religion, this philosophical theory of knowledge 
becomes M. Sabatier's fundamental theological postu- 

^ ''The tendency of physiological psychology is to make feeling the 
origin of inteUect on the one hand, and of will on the other. . . • 
Sensation is the feeling that points towards the intellect. Desire is 
the feeling that points towards the wiU." — W. T, HarrU, 

^ H. Bois, Be la Cannaisacmce Beligieuse, p. 34. 

^ E. Gounelle, in the Montauban Jtevue de Thiologie, May 1895, 
p. 299. 

68 The Right of Systematic Theology 

late. As sensation is the mother of ideas, so the 
Christian life is the mother of Christian doctrine. 
Life, then, is before doctrine, not merely in importance, 
but in time: and doctrine is only a product of the 
Christian life. It follows, of course, at once that God 
does not reveal Himself except through and by means 
of the Christian life : there is and cannot be any such 
thing as an " objective revelation." " God reveals 
Himself only in and by piety," and it " is faith that 
produces dogmas." A Christian life is first quickened 
in man : that Christian life effloresces into Christian 
action ; and one form of action being intellectual 
action. Christian action ultimates among other things 
in Christian thought, knowledge, doctrine. As M. 
Dandiran puts it clearly ^ — 

" We need a dogmatic ; there is a Christian verity in Christianity ; 
there is a Christian philosophy ; it is the most extensive of all philo- 
sophies. Only, instead of plcunng it at the heginningy I place it at 
the end ; instead of making it precede the Christian life, we make it 
proceed from the Christian life. This is the difference ])etween us 
and our opponents, but it is great enough to make us say, Here are 
two opposed theologies." 

All Christian doctrine being thus but the mani- 
festation of precedent Christian life, doctrine will, of 
course, vary as the Christian life varies. And here 
M. Sabatier brings in and operates with the concep- 
tion of evolution — the evolution of religion, and with 
it the evolution of religious thought, and finally of 
Christian dogmas. In the course of human develop- 

^ In ihangUe et Libertiy Sept. 4, 1891 ; quoted by H. Bois in Le 
Dogme Orec, p. 28. 

The Right of Systematic Theology 69 

ment, which has proceeded always naturally and 
normally, man has disengaged himself little by little 
from animalism and gradually created himself man. 
In the course of this upward growth he has slowly 
attained the free life of the spirit : his first religious 
stage was that of egoism, corresponding to the religions 
of nature; then came the stage of moralism; and 
lastly, the stage of "the consciousness of Christ, in 
which a new relation springs up between God and 
man, the relation of love." Thus as the religion of 
law succeeded the nature religions, the religion of love 
has succeeded the religion of law. But the stream 
still flows on ; and as the stream of spiritual life still 
flows on, inevitably the stream of religious ideas 
dependent on the spiritual life also flows on, and our 
doctrines vary, age by age, in spite of ourselves. The 
children may speak the words of the fathers, but they 
cannot mean them in the same sense. The river of 
the underlying spiritual life, and the river of intel- ' 
lectual concepts and doctrinal ideas dependent on the 
fluctuations of the spiritual life, inevitably flow on for 

This is, then, what M. Sabatier means when he 
says that Christianity is a life, not a doctrine. And 
it is quite clear that, when taken in its entirety, the 
theory amounts to the formal renunciation of Christi- 
anity as anything else than one stage in the religious 
development of humanity, having, like all other stages 
of religious development, in its life its relative fitness 
and value, and in its teachings its relative truth — 

^o The Right of Systematic Theology 

relative to the times and the men to which it belongs 
and which have given it birth ; but possessing as little 
absoluteness of value or truth as any stage of religious 
development which has preceded it. Eeligion, too, 
he tells us, is '^ subject to the law of transformation 
which dominates the manifestations of human life and 
that life itself " ; and it is therefore folly for orthodoxy 
to wish to " elevate to the absolute what was boi^n in 
time and must necessarily be subject to modification 
if it is to live in time " : ^ we cannot bar the course 
of a river by building a dam across it. Thus, in M. 
Sabatier's conception everything is in a flux; and the 
doctrines which Christianity proclaims, and even the 
form of life which underlies them and of which they 
are the expression, are only one evanescent moment 
in the ceaseless advance of mankind. As M» Godet 
has eloquently put it, from this point of view ^ — 

''This religion is, like all those that have preceded it, only a tem- 
porary form of human development — * one of the day's works of 
humanity,' as Lerminier said — a simple product of consciousness and 
reason on the road of indefinite progress, a form of the religious life 
of which it cannot be affirmed any more confidently than it may of all 
its predecessors, that it is the last. One who was in some sort the 
representative of this point of view— M. Scherer — expressed it thus : 
* Christianity, the fruit of a long elaboration of the human conscious- 
ness, destined to prepare for other elaborations, represents only one 
of the phases of the universal transformation.' This is to proclaim* as 
sharply as possible, the perpetual banishment of authority in matters 
of faith. An authority intervening in this continuous work would 
mark in it a point of arrest, and would become a fetter upon the spon- 
taneous progress which is looked upon as the supreme law of history. 

^ Citations in H. Bois' De la Connaissarice lUligieuset pp. . 204, 205. 
* ChrUien £vangelique, AprU 20, 1891, pp. 148, 149 ; quoted by 
S^ Bois, De la Connaisaance Heliffietcsej pp. 848, 349. 

The Right of Systematic Theology 7 1 

From this point of view the sacred books of the Christians have no 
other kind of value for religious thought than that which may be 
possessed for philosophical thought by the treatises of Aristotle or 
the dialogues of Plato: interesting documents, no doubt, they could 
have no authority." 

That M. Sabatier has admitted to his mind such 
implications of his theory of evolution as applied to 
religion, inclusive of Christianity, as are here sug- 
gested, such sentences as the following assure us : — 

"The transformation of religious ideas does not always take place 
in a violent fashion. It is mora frequently insensible, but it never 
pauses, whatever precautions may be taken or whatever barriers may 
be thrown up against it. The river of the spiritual life flows on con- 
tinuously." , 

"The sons pronounce the same words with the fathers, but they no 
longer understand them in the same way." 

"We continually speak of the inspiration of the prophets and 
apostles, of expiation, of the Trinity, of the divinity of Christ, of 
miracles, but we understand them, j^ei^ ou |7rou, otherwise than our 
fathers. The river flows on for ever." 

It is this last remark which gave occasion to the 
following eloquent comment of M. Godet's : ^— 

"You drop this phrase as in passing ; but it rouses much thought. 
. . . What river flows thus continually on? No doubt that of 
doctrinal ideas, of intellectual concepts ; that is [according to your 
conception] the ' essentially variable element. ' It flows on continually, 
this doctrinal river, transforming itself, purifying itself, spiritualising 
itself, from its source on the shores of the Lake of Gennesaret td its 
present mouth on the Boulevarde Arago. And who are these fathers 
of whom you speak, and with whom we are no longer in accord, we 
their children of the nineteenth century? Luther and Calvin? I 
comfort myself. Augustine and Athanasius, Polycarp and Ignatius ? 
I still comfort myself. St. John, St. Paul ? Now I do not so easily 
comfort myself. Jesus Christ ? This time I do not comfort myself 

^ Bjivvi^ Chr^tienne, April 1892, p. 262 ; quoted by H. Bois, De la 
Connaissanee Religieuse, p. 208, where the above clauses from M. 
Sabatier will be found also. 

72 The Right of Systematic Theology 

at all, and I even tremble, although fear is forbidden ns. What ! we 
understand the inspiration of the prophets and apostles otherwise than 
He did ? Ah, well, pass on 1 But expiation, the meaning of His own 
death? He made a very close connection between His outpoured 
blood and the remission of our sins. That is to be corrected ! The 
Trinity ? The conception of God, whom He called His Father and 
of whom He said : ' No one knows the Son except the Father ; neither 
the Father except the Son and him to whom the Son willeth to reveal 
Him ! * The divinity of the Son ? The conception which, according 
to the narrative of His disciples, He has given us of His own person ! 
Miracles ? Those facts which He considered the tcitnesses of the Father 
in His behalf, but which we know to-day to have been only the bene- 
ficent and natural effects of His personality ! Yes, peu ou prmiy we 
understand all this — ^and much else besides, of which I do not here 
speak — otherwise than He did. And when all this ' Hebrew sediment ' 
has been cast away so as to save only the 'vital germ,' what we have 
left is * the consciousness of the Son of God, which has been placed 
in the midst of history and in the bosom of humanity, as a power 
of life capable of engendering life after itself.' For me, what strikes 
me in all this, is that in place of possessing, as I believe I do, a ful- 
ness in the Christ of the Gospels, I see form itself before me a void 
in which there disappears the Jesus of the Church, the Jesus of Jesus 

It wiU, of course, go without saying, that M. Sabatier 
makes a vigorous effort to escape from this empty 
void to which his theory inevitably conducts him. 
Despite the necessary implications of his conception 
that Christianity is but one of the passing phases of 
the religious life of the race, and its doctrines but the 
evanescent expression of this passing phase, and Christ 
Himself but the earliest typical form of this new 
phase of religious life, M. Sabatier cannot refrain from 
speaking of the religion of love, with which he identi- 
fies Christianity, as the perfect and definitive religion, 
and of Christ as having perfectly realised this perfect 
religion in His own life. But if ever an illogical 

The Right of Systematic Theology 73 

thinker was fairly scourged out of his inconsistencies, 
we may believe that M. Sabatier's incoherences of this 
kind have been cured by M. Bois' lash. M. Bois 
refuses to believe that, on the theory of religious 
evolution put forth by M. Sabatier, there can be any 
necessity or place for such a one as Christians recog* 
nising Christ at alL " Is it," he asks,^ 

''that evolution was not sufficient to guarantee the transformation 
of the religion of law into the religion of love ? Why did the Spirit 
of Ood, enveloping, penetrating humanity, need anything else than 
His own universal and continuous action to reveal to us the true way ? 
What necessity could there have heen for Jesus Christ to come into 
the world ! You teU me that Jesus Christ was simply the first man 
in whom evolution introduced the transformation of the religion of 
law into the religion of love. I reply, In that case it is evident that 
Jesus Christ represents the lowest degree of the religion of love : 
evolution has long ago passed Him ; we are superior to Him by 
nineteen centuries of evolation. You wish to say that Jesus Christ 
perfectly realised the principle of love ? That is inconceivable. How 
can we admit that the highest degree of the religion of love appeared 
suddenly in a people still entirely immersed in the religion of law t 
Natura non facU aaltus. If Jesus Christ actually realised love per- 
fectly, He must have been the end-term of an anterior evolution. It 
would be necessary to trace this evolution — not an easy task; and 
then it would be necessary to explain by evolution the spectacle which 
the nineteen centuries of Christianity present to us : evolution would 
demand that you should ^how us a new principle of subjective religion 
taking the place of the principle of love. But M. Sabatier does not 
desire this, since he declares that the religion of love is the perfect 
and definitive religion. 

"The perfect and definitive religion! . . . a definitive, unchangeable 
religion ! Have we read aright ? Then religion is not after all 
' subject to the law of transformation which dominates the manifesta- 
tions of the human life and that life itself.' . . . The contradiction 
is flagrant. In order to justify the incomprehensible arrest which 
evolution underwent when it attained Christ, the ingenious critic 
declai^»: ' It is very evident that we are morally able to conceive of 

^ De la Connaissance Jteligieuset p. 203. 

74 The Right of Systematic Theology 

liothing above the religion of love.' A good reason, indeed ! We, 
religious men of the nineteenth century, we cannot conceive anything 
better — that is veiy possible ; but what of our descendants of the 
twentieth and' twenty-first centuries ? And then, methinks, this is 
strange language from the pen of our author, and shows a singular 
forgetfulness of his own theories. We are morally able to conceive 
of nothing above the religious experiences- that we are having or hare 
had ? Ah, it is too plain. Or, does M. Sabatier renounce his theory, 
according to which the idea, the conception, follows on the experi- 
ence? We cannot conceive anything above the experience we have 
had — because we have had only this experience. But when our 
posterity have had another experience (it is not my affair how ; we 
know from other passages that religious experience is a kind of inex- 
plicable, spontaneous generation), they will without trouble conceive 
something superior to the religion of the men of the nineteenth cen- 
tury. By what right do you erect into a universal law your personal 
faculty of conceiving or not conceiving that empirical product of the 
exercise and habitudes of your own thought ? By what right do you 
affirm that our successors will not have experiences superior to ours ? 
Ko experience permits you such an affirmation. 

*^. . . It does not seem to me that our subtle theoriser can escape 
from the objection drawn from his own premises to his own point of 
view. If continuous transformation is the universal law, if religion 
itself has evolved during so many centuries, we cannot see why 
religion should suddenly become immutable and definitive — we da 
not «ee why Jesus Christ should occupy the preponderant place which 
Christians attribute to Him. M. Sabatier affirms that it is because 
in Christ and by Christ religion attained a certain point of moral 
perfection; but how do we know that we have not advanced far 
beyond what was for him morality and religion? And otherwise, 
this does not remove the contradiction. ... If we place ourselves 
at the point of view of M. Sabatier*s theory of evolution, that theory 
absolutely interdicts that any symbol whatsoever, any religious word 
whatsoever, even Jesus Christ, should preserve an eternal value. The 
river flows on continuously*— ^;he river of life, the river of doctrine, the 
river of the word. What remains permanent ? Logically, nothing ! *' 

But if M. Sabatier occasionally thus involves him- 
self in contradiction — whenever, namely, he speaks of 
Christ and Christianity in the traditional manner, 
^'nstead of according to the demands of his theory ; in 

The Right of Systematic Theology 75 

the manner, that is, we may be permitted to believe, 
in which he learned to speak of them before he had 
worked his theory out, and which still occasionally 
tends to usurp its wonted place upon his lips — at 
other times, as we have seen, he frankly follows the 
implications of his theory to the legitimate result of 
really conceiving distinctive Christianity as of no 
importance to the Christian life. This comes out 
curiously even in utterances, the fervour and breadth 
of whose piety are apt to veil their extremity from 
the hasty reader. Take, for example^ the following 
beautiful passage from his Discourse on the Evolution 
of Dogmas, where he is pleased to imagine ^ 

"in one of our churches a great crowd come together for worship. 
There are, perhaps, in this auditory," he continues, *' poor old women, 
very ignorant and possibly superstitious, men of the middle class 
with a tincture of literature, scholars and philosophers "who have 
conned Kant and Hegel, possibly even professor^ of theology, 
penetrated to the marrow with the critical spirit. All bow them- 
selves in spirit and adore ; all speak the same language learned in 
infancy ; all repeat with heart and lips, ' I believe in God the Father 
Almighty ! ' I do not know if there is on earth a more touching 
spectacle, anything more like heaven. All these spirits, so different 
from one another and perhaps incapable of understanding each other 
in the region of the intellect, really commune with one another ; one 
identical religious sentiment penetrates them and animates them. 
The moral unity of which Jesus spoke when He said, 'That they may 
be one as we are one,' is for the moment realised on earth. But do 
you suppose that the same image is awakened in all these spirits by 
this one word 'God,' pronounced by all these lips! The poor -old 
woman, who still remembers the pictures in the big Bible, has a 
glimpse of the figure of the eternal Father with a great white beard 
and bright and burning eyes like coals of fire. Her next neighbour 
would smile at this simple anthropomorphism. He has the Deistic 
idea, rationally established in his philosophical course at college. 

^ Quoted in M. Henri Bois' De la Connaissatice BeligUuae, p. 85. 

76 The Right of Systematic Theology 

This notion in turn would appear rude- to the disciple of Kant, who 
knows that all positive ideas of God are contradictory, and who, to 
escape from contradiction, takes refuge in that of the Unknowable. 
For all, however, the doctrine of God subsists, and it is because it is 
still living that it lends itself to so many different interpretations ; 
but it is living — let it be well remarked— -only because it serves to 
express a piety felt in common by all these believers." 

A true and affecting picture, we will all say, of the 
condition of Christianity in the world to-day, gather- 
ing in of every kind in order to elevate and purify 
their partial or wrong impressions of God, and teach 
to all who and what really is the God and Father of 
our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Only this is not 
M. Sabatier's conception of the import of the scene he 
has brought so vividly before us. To him it is not a 
picture of Christian imperfections, passing away and 
to pass away for each of the worshippers as he better 
learns to know Christ. It is a picture of what is 
normal in the Christian life, and what most nearly 
approaches the heavenly state. It is the fulfilment 
of Jesus' prayer for Christian unity : a unity which 
exists and flourishes in the presence of the most 
extreme differences in even the most fundamental 
conceptions of religion. In a word, M. Sabatier 
places before us here only another picturesque plea 
for the extremest religious indifferentism. And there- 
fore the rebuke which was administered to it by the 
late Professor Charles Bois ^ was fully deserved : — 

"I avow myself," says M. Bois, "not to have thoroughly under- 
stood how M. Sabatier can go into ecstasies over the communion of 

^ IkfinUwn. et BAle de Dogmt in the Bewa Tkdologiquef 1890, 
p. 166, quoted by H. Bois, J)e la Con. Belig, p. 36. 

The Right of Systematic Theology yj 

the souls which compose his assembly of superstitious devotees, deists, 
Hegelians,, worshippers of the Unknowable — all repeating the 'I 
believe in God, the Father Almighty,' all prostrating themselves 
before Him, all united in a moral and religious communion which 
can be compared to the communion of the Father and the Son, and 
in which we can see realised Jesus' prayer, ' That they may be one 
as we are one.' What idea does M. Sabatier have of the union of the 
Father and the Son ? What ! they are one as the Father and Son are 
one — they are morally and religiously one, these men, one of whom 
believes in a God who concerns Himself about him, enters into the 
details of his life, knows his prayers and answers them ; another of 
whom holds such belief to be superstitious, and believes only in a 
God who directs the universe by general laws promulgated once for 
all, without special care for individuals ; a third of whom thinks he 
can affirm nothing of God without contradiction, unless we limit our- 
selves to calling Him the Unknowable ; a fourth of whom, a pupil of 
Hegel, does not even believe that God knows Himself, and confesses 
only that He exists ! All these worshippers are religiously one ! 
But if they should discover to one another, I do not say the bottom 
of their thoughts, but the bottom of their hearts, they would perceive 
as great a contradiction between their sentiments as between their 
convictions. Their communion is only apparent— it is only in ritual, 
in formula. And this is just the least touching and the least admir- 
able thing in the world." 

In fine, the goal to which M. Sabatier's theories have 
conducted him, is just the proper latitudinarianism of 
the day. The outcome of his theorising is only to 
supply a reasoned basis to the unreasoning indifferent- 
ism that vexes our time : and we may best look upon 
his work as an attempt to justify this indifferentism 
by placing beneath it a philosophical foundation, in a 
theory of religious knowledge and a theory of religious 
evolution. Its meaning to us will be, therefore, simply 
that if doctrinal indifferentism is to stand, this is the 
basis on which it must build itself ; but, on the other 
hand, if, as we have seen, indifferentism cannot remain 
Christian except at the cost of admitting the claims 

7 3 The Right of Systematic Theology 

of Christian doctrine and providing for the essential 
work of that doctrine in forming a distinctively 
Christian life, then, for the Christian man, this* 
rational basis for indifferentism must fall with it. 
The arguments against M. Sabatier's theories, in other 
words, are the arguments against indifferentism in 
religion; these arguments, indeed, impinge more 
sharply against his theories than against unreasoned 
indifferentism, in so far as the points on which they 
especially impinge were latent in it and are the- 
explicit postulates of his theories. 

IndiflferentiBm, we wUl remember, does not preciseljr 
condemn Christian doctrine ; it only neglects it And,, 
true to his indifferentist results, M. Sabatier does not 
deny the possibility or the right or even the necessity 
of Christian doctrines, or even of Christian dogmatics* 
He confesses that a living religion must needs express 
itself in appropriate religious thinking, and in those 
doctrines which embody this thinking. For him this, 
is only a special case under the general rule that 
faith without works is dead. No faith is a living 
faith which does not produce doctrine. It is not then 
exactly against the possibility or right of Christian 
doctrine that he protests: it is only its usefulness 
that he denies.^ He conceives it not as the former 

^ It must 1)6 confessed that the writers of this school are not always 
entirely consistent with themselves on this point. When M. Sabatier 
{JH la Fie IrUiine des Dogmes, pp. 25,. 26) says: ''In/suppressing 
Christian dogma, we suppress Christianity ; in casting off absolutely 
all religious doctrine, we kill religion itself. ... A religious life: 
which does not express itself would not be aware of itself, would not 

The Right of Systematic Tkeatogy 79 

and director of faith, the occasion of its rise and 
determiner of its form, but as the product of faith, 
and therefore as only the manifestation and index of 
the underlying life. Life does not, therefore, fluctuate, 
and the nature of faith change, according to doctrine ; 
but doctrine fluctuates according to the life-move- 
ments of which it is only a reflection. And since 
life is movement, and vitality may be measured by 
richness of vital motion, it follows that changeable* 
ness in doctrine is not an evil, but a sign of 
abounding life. The more unstable a doctrine is, the 
more living it is : a really living Christianity, we are 
toldi renders its doctrinal product peculiarly supple 
and malleable.^ In this, as it seems, we reach the 
very apotheosis of religious indiflFerentism. We are 
prepared in its light not only to look upon variations 
in doctrine with indifference ; we shall anxiously seek 
for them as the mark of a deep and rich religious life. 
Periods of doctrinal unrest and uncertainty will be- 

communicate itself" — he is still speaking on the lines of his theory. 
But M, Asti^ {La, Fin des DogmeSy in Bevue de th^ologie et de 
ph4lo8ophie, July 1891, pp. 372, 874) seems to pass beyond its bounds 
when he writes: *^ A development of dogma is indispensable, of the 
very first necessity. Practical piety by itself is insufficient. ... 
Christian feeling, which is, of course, the first factor, on pain of lapsing 
into fanaticism, into subjective fantasy, needs a Christian reason to 
give it tone, to lend it steadiness." Here is a iise to which dogmas 
can be put. Cf. H. Bois, Le Dogme Oree, p. 34, and his criticism in 
De la CouTiaiamnce Bdigieuset p. 23 sq,: ** M. Sabatier*s affirmation 
comes to this obvious assertion : religion, if it is not known, will not 
be known. But of what advantage is it to this life itself to be 
known ? " etc. 

^ Cf. above, p. 445, and cf. H. Bois, De la Connaisaance lUligieuse^ 
p. 215 and note. 

8o The Right of Systematic Theology 

come to us eras of faith, and periods of doctrinal 
stability — which we have hitherto called ages of 
faith — will seem to us to be times of deadness in 

It is of the greatest importance for us, however, to 
observe that these results are not dependent on 
M. Sabatier's theory of evolution in religion. That 
theory serves only to introduce order into the varia- 
tions of doctrine consequent on the multiform activities 
of religious life : to postulate for them a goal, and to 
lay down for them a course through history* The 
results in question are the direct outgrowth of the 
fundamental postulate of the whole school of thought 
of which M. Sabatier is so brilliant a representative, 
and must follow from its principle that life proceeds 
and determines doctrine, when proclaimed in the 
exclusive sense in which this school of thought 
proclaims it, independently of all further hypotheses 
which individuals may call in to complete their worlds 
view. For if we are to define religion in this exclu- 
sive sense as a feeling, and to define Christianity as a 
religion in terms of the religious feeling alone, we 
have certainly identified Christianity with the religious 
sentiment, and have failed to institute any essential 
distinction between it and other religions, the products 
like it of the religious sentiment. The most that 
could be said on this ground, would be that in what 
we call Christianity the religious feeling first comes to 
its rights, and for the first time expresses itself fully 
and freely in accordance with its truth. But even so. 

The Right of Systematic Theology 8 1 

Christdanity is represented as essentially one with all 
other religions, differing from them only as the perfect 
differs from the imperfect. All religions at once take 
their places as relatively true: they stand no longer 
in opposition to Christianity, as the false to the true, 
but in a hierarchy of relatively partial or complete. 
And above all, we lack all ground from this standpoint 
for declaring that in Christianity the religious feeling 
has at length succeeded in producing her perfect 
work : it may be as yet her masterpiece ; but what is 
to assure us that in the coming ages there may not 
spring out of her depths some consummate flower of 
religion as much surpassing Christianity as Christianity 
surpasses Fetishism? On this postulate, we cannot 
get beyond the judgment that Christianity is the purest 
and truest product of the religious feeling as yet known 
to us. Now, no one doubts, of course, that religion is^ 
among other things, a feeling : nor need we doubt that 
the implications of this feeling if fully drawn out and 
stated would give us a theology, — and a theology, let 
us say it frankly at once, which would be true, and 
would enter into Christianity as the fundamental 
element of its doctrinal system. And no one doubts 
that Christianity, as a religion, is also, among other 
things, a feeling — a specific form which the religious 
feeling common to all men takes : or that, if the 
implication of this specific form of religious feeling 
which Christianity is were all brought out and stated, 
we should have a specifically Christian theology. But 
the very enunciation of these facts involves recognising 

82 The Right of Systematic Thealogy 

that behind the specific form of religious feeling' which 
Christianity is, there are implications which are not 
common to it and other forms of religious feeUng, 
and which have determined the religious feeling into 
this specific form. It might be conceivable that these 
implications should come to our knowledge only 
subsequently to Christianity, and as a result of an 
analysis of the Christian phenomena ; but in the 
order of thought and of nature they are in any 
case precedent ta Christianity and the producing 
causes of the specific form which the religious feeling 
takes in it. 

Now, the pressing question is, What produces the 
specific form of the religious feeling which is distinctive 
of Christianity ? Why is it that the Christian man 
feels, religiously speaking, specifically differently from 
the Buddhist, the Shamanist, the Fetish-worshipper ? 
The old answer was that the difference in the form 
which the religious sentiment takes in the diverse 
religions arises from the difference in the religious 
conceptions characteristic of these religions ; and we 
do not see that any better answer has been or can be 
ofiTered. There is something that is common to all 
religions, and this common element arises from the 
action of the religious nature of man : it suffices to 
prompt to a religion, and it will secure that man, so 
long as he remains man, will remain a religious being, 
accessible to religious ideas and to religious training. 
What, however, is distinctive of the several religions 
arises from differences between them in religious 

The Right of Systematic Theology 83 

iconoeptibns, which mould and direct the action of the 
religions feeling into this channel or that. If this be 
€0, a religion independent of conceptions, "dogmas," 
would be confined to a religion of nature, and could 
possess nothing, not common to all religions ; and to 
proclaim Christianity independent of doctrine would 
be simply to cast off distinctive Christianity and 
revert to the fundamental natural religion. The 
only way in which Christianity is distinguished from 
other religions is through the different religious 
conceptions which animate it and which form for 
-it a specific type of religious experience and re* 
ligibus life. But if this is so, then it is not: true 
that life precedes doctrine in the sense intended by 
this school of thought : doctrine precedes life, and is 
the cause of the specific form which the religious 
life takes in Christianity, that is, of distinctive Chris-' 
tianity itself. To be indifferent to this doctrine, 
as if it. were only an index of the life flowing on 
steadily beneath it and independently of it, is 
therefore to be indifferent to distinctive Christianity 

Of course, there is a sense less exclusive than that 
in which the school of thought at present under 
discussion uses the phrase, in which it is true that life 
precedes doctrine. We not only have no desire to 
deny, we rather wish to proclaim, the great truth 
involved in the watchword of the greatest of the 

^ Cr. Prof. Orr*s remarks on the relation of ideas to religion,. 
Christian VieWf etc., pp. IS sq. 

84 The Right of Systematic Theology 

fathers^ and schoolmen, Credo tU inklligam, and adopted 
by the Eeformers in the maxim of Fides prcecedit 
rationem, and before the Beformers or schoolmen or 
fathers, pBoolaimed by Paul in the immortal words 
that " the natural man receiveth not the things of the 
Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him ; and 
he cannot know them because they are spiritually 
judged" (1 Cor. il 14). None but the Christian man 
can understand Christian truth ; none but the Christian 
man is competent to state Christian doctrine. There 
is a low ground on which this obvious proposition may 
be defended, which even Aristotle was able to formu-* 
late : Skcutto^ Kpi'vei Kokck a yivtaatcei, kol tovtodv 
iarlv dyaOo^ Kpt/rr^ ' Koff exaarop dpa 6 wenaL* 
BevfJbivo^, d7r\&^ 8*6 Trepl irav ireiraiBevfiePO^. But 
Paul has taught the Christian a much higher 
doctrine. It is only through the guidance of the 
Holy Ghost, dwelling within us, that we can reach to 
the apprehension of the deep things of God. Were 
this all that were meant by the assertion that life 
must precede doctrine, we would give it our heartiest 
assent. And so far as this assertion may be thought 
to mean that doctrine alone cannot produce life, we 
would welcome it, as has already been said, with 
acclamations. There is no creative power in doctrines, 
however true; and they will pass over dead souls, 

^ Animns humanus, nisi per fidem donum spiritus hauserit, habebit 
qnidem natu^am Deum intelligendi sed lumen scientise non habebit " 
(Hilary of Poic tiers. De Trinitate^ ii. 34). ** Sic accepite, sic credite, 
ut mereamini intelligere : lides enim debet prsecedere intellectum, ut 
sit intellectus fidei prsemiam " (Augustine, Sermonei de verb Doto,). 

The Right of Systematic Theology 85 

leaving them as inert as they found them : it is the 
Greoutor Spiritus alone who is competent to quicken 
dead souls into life ; and without Him there has never 
been, and never will be, one spark of life produced by 
all the doctrines in the world. But this is not 
what is intended by the watchword that life precedes 
doctrine. What is meant by it is that the Christian 
life blooms and flourishes wholly independently of 
Christian conceptions, and that it is indififerent to the 
Christian life whether these conceptions — however 
fundamental — are known or not. Against this we 
protest with all the energy possible, and pronounce its 
proclamation a blow at distinctive Christianity itself. 
We fully accord, therefore, with M. Bois' strong 
words : ^ — 

** We conclude, then, that in religion the idea precedes life, know- 
ledge precedes feeUng (which does not at all prevent a certain 
knowledge following life). Even if we admit that it is feeling which 
constitutes the essence of religion — a feeling of dependence, of love or 
of fear — it is stiU necessary for the feeling, no matter what it is, to 
have an object, known and thought. We are not able to love or fear 
what we have no knowledge of. We are not able to love what we do 
not think worthy of love, nor to fear what we do not think an occasion 
of fear. We are not able to feel dependent on something of whose 
existence we are ignorant. If religion is a feeling, this feeling supposes 
a certain knowledge which explains and justifies it ; it is illusory and 
is condemned as such by conscience and reason, which command us to 
repel it and to eliminate it, if it has no object or if its object is not 
known. To make religion a feeling without precedent knowledge is 
to make it an illusion or a disease : its history is no more than the 
history of an illusion or of a disease, and the science which can be made 
of it is only a section of mental pathology. 

** But this is not all. We refuse to make religion consist solely and 
essentiaUy in a feeling. . . . Thought is not an epiphenomenon 

^ Henri Bois, De la Coniuxissance Beligieu^e, p. 31. 

86 The Right of Systematic Theology 

superadded to piety ; it forms an integral part of it. Doctrines are 
not something external and posterior to religion : they are an essential 
element of it. . . . Intellect and will have part in religion as well' as 
feeling^ — all the human faculties concur in it. . . . Without conscious 
ideas there might be obscure feeling, blind passion, fatalism, magic, 
all you wish : there would not be either morality or religion. Should 
there be emotions and feelings without ideas, those feelings and 
emotions would be neither moral nor religious." 

But in proportion as we allow that feeling without a 
known object is blind and meaningless to us — and 
would be suggestive of disease rather than of the divine 
— ^in that proportion we give a place to doctrine at the 
root of religion, and to Christian doctrine at the root 
of the Christian religion. As is the underlying con- 
ception, so, then, is the feeling : and it becomes of the 
first importance for the Christian man rightly to 
conceive these fundamental ideas which give form and 
direction to the life. The right conception of these 
ideas it is the task of Systematic Theology to investi- 
gate and secure : and thus the right and function of 
Systematic Theology is already vindicated. 

It will add greatly to the confidence with which we 
recognise this fundamental place of Christian truth 
with reference to Christian life, to remind ourselves 

^ Cf. Dr. Ladd's definition of religion: "Religion, subjectively 
considered, may be defined as an attitude of mind — intellect, feeling, 
and will — towards Other Being, on which I recognise my dependence 
for my being and my well-being, and to which I feel myself somehow 
responsible in the way of control" (2%€ Ntw Worlds Sept. 1896, 
p. 415). So also Prof. Laidlaw {Tht Bible Doctrine of Man, ed. 2, 
p. 130) : " It is evident, on a general review of the facts, that we 
oannot assign religion to any single faculty or power in man as its 
exclusive function. The intellect, the affections, and the will are seen 
to be all concerned in it." He refers to AUiott's Psychology and 
Theology, pp. 54-59, for good remarks on the subject. 

The Right of Systematic Theology 87 

that such was evidently the conception of the founders 
of the Christian religion concerning the relations of 
doctrine and life. This fact is written large over the 
Epistles of Paul, for example, by the very distribution 
he makes of his matter : it is ever first the doctrine 
and then the life with him. The transition at the 
opening of the twelfth chapter of the Epistle to the 
Eomans is a typical example of his practice in this 
regard. Eleven chapters of doctrinal exposition had 
preceded; five chapters of precepts are to succeed: 
and he passes from the one to the other with what 
has been called his " tremendous therefore " : "I 
beseech you therefore, brethren " — " therefore," because 
all this is so. In these " tremendous therefores " is 
revealed Paul's conception of the relation between 
truth and life. The same conception, it need scarcely 
be said, was that of his Master before him. How 
much Jesus makes of the Father's Word which had 
been given to Him and which He had given to His 
followers, that they might know the truth and have 
eternal life, and that His joy might be fulfilled in 
them ! His prayer for them was that they might be 
sanctified by the truth which God's Word was. There 
is, of course, clear recognition that faith rests upon a 
moral basis and is not to be compelled by the mere 
exhibition of truth. Gregory of Nazianzen did not 
go beyond the teaching of the founders of Christianity 
in his prescription how to become a theologian: 
*' Keep the commandments ; conduct is the ladder to 
theory — irpa^i^ eTri^aat^ Oewpia^;" Our Lord Himself 

88 The Right of Systematic Theology 

declared, " If any one willeth to do the will of Him 
that sent Me, he shall know of the teaching whether 
it be of God, or whether I speak from Myself," — that 
is, it is only in the good ground of a good heart that 
even the good seed of the gospel can produce fruit. 
But nowhere did He or any of His apostles ever teach 
that the good seed is unnecessary for the harvest — 
that the unsowed soil, however good, is competent of 
itself to produce the golden return. Knowledge of 
God's will with them was ever the condition of doing 
God's will, and lay at the root of all good conduct and 
true religion in the world. 

And from that day to this, this has been the funda- 
mental conception of the Christian religion among its 
adherents. The meaning of this is delightfully set 
forth at the opening of that eloquent book. Dr. James 
Macgregor's The Apology of the Christian Religion. 
Other religions have sought to propagate themselves 
in various ways, but this is what is characteristic and 
peculiar to Christianity : it made its appeal from the 
first to men's reasons.^ 

**No other religion," says Dr. Macgregor, "has ever seriously set. 
itself ... to reason the sinful world out of worldliness into godli- 

^ Compare also Dr. James Orr's remarks, The Christian View, etc. , 
p. 23 : ** If there is a religion in the world which exalts the office of 
teaching, it is safe to say it is the religion of Jesus Christ. It has 
been frequently remarked that in pagan religions the doctrinal element 
is at a minimum, the chief thing there is the performance of a ritual. 
-< But this is precisely where Christianity distinguishes itself from other 

"^ religions — it does contain doctrine. It comes to men with definite, 
positive teaching ; it claims to be the truth ; it bases religion on 
knowledge, though a knowledge which is only attainable under moral 

The Right of Systematic Theology 89 

ness. The aspect of the new religion thus appearing towai'ds the 
freedom of the human soul, in addressing itself to the reason in order 
to reach the man in his conscience and his heart, struck the intelligent 
heathens as a presumptive evidence of truth and divinity, since 
reason is *the door' (John x. 1 sg.)— the lawfvZ way — of seeking to 
win and to control the manhood. And that aspect was given to the 
religion from the beginning by the author of it." 

Christianity has thus from the beginning ever come to 
mexi as the rational religion, making its appeal 
primarily to the intellect. It has thus ever evinced 
itself not merely, as Dr. Macgregor puts it, pre- 
eminently as the apologetical religion, but also pre- 
eminently as the doctrinal religion. Above all other 
religions, it consists in doctrines ; it has truth to oflFer 
to men's accceptance, and by their acceptance of this 
truth it seeks to rule their lives and save their 

How else, indeed, would it propagate itself in the 
world ? We may speak of " spiritual contagion " and 
of the hidden work of the Spirit of God in the heart ; 
and each phrase enshrines a precious fact without 
which Christianity could not live in the world. Chris- 
tianity does propagate itself from soul to soul, as the 
prairie fire leaps from spear to spear of the tall 

^ It is probably, then, not mere accident that in Rom. vii. 28 it is 
from the voOs — the "mind" — that the conquest of Christianity over 
the life proceeds outwardly to the members. Christianity makes its 
appeal to the ''mind " and secures the affection of the ' * inward man " 
first, and thence advances to victory over the "flesh'* and "members." 
Accordingly it is by the "renewing of their mind {rod vorff)" that 
sinners are to be so metamorphosed as to be no longer fashioned 
according to the world, but to prove the will of God (Rom. xii. 2). 
Compare the rich expressions of Eph. iv. 18-24. The noetic root of 
salvation is continually insisted on in the Scriptures. 

00 The Right of Systematic Theology 

grass : our Lord Himself tells us that the seed are the 
children of the kingdom. And all the religious life in 
the world is the creation of the Spirit of God : the 
kingdom of God is like leaven hidden in the meal, and 
works silently and unobservedly from within till the 
whole mass is leavened. But the commission that 
the Master has given us was not to depend on 
** spiritual contagion," but to sow the seed which is the 
Word of God : nor has He promised that the Spirit 
should work His wonders of grace apart from that 
Word. The commission is, (?o, preach : and the 
promise is to him that heareth and obeyeth. Are we, 
after all, to suppose that this great duty laid on His 
followers is a mere "spiritual exercise" of no value 
beyond themselves — a kind of spiritual gymnastics for 
the manifestation and strengthening of their own 
faith? Is the foolishness of preaching after all a 
useless evil, inflicted on men ? Was Paul mistaken 
when he declared that Christ had sent him forth 
above all to preach the gospel? We may think as 
we will ; but it is very evident that the founders of 
Christianity earnestly believed, not that the so-called 
Word of God is the product of faith and its only use 
is to witness to the faith that lies behind it and gives 
it birth, but that the veritable Word of God is the 
seed of faith, that faith cometh by hearing and hear- 
ing by the Word of God, or, in other words, that 
behind the Christian life stands the doctrine of Christ, 
intelligently believed. When, for example, the apostle 
asks the Galatians, " This only would I learn of you, 

The Right of Systematic Theology 91 

Eeceived ye the Spirit by the works of the law or by 
the hearing of faith ? " he intimates with entire 
distinctness that it is in connection with the truth 
of God offered to faith that the Holy Spirit is given ; 
and therefore elsewhere, although the gospel is naught 
save as it is attended with the demonstration of the 
Spirit and with power — and Paul may plant and* 
Apollos may water in vain if God do not Himself give 
the increase — yet this very gospel itself and its 
preaching is called the " power of God unto salvation " 
(Rom. i. 16; 1 Cor. i. 24). 

In insisting, therefore, on the primacy of Christian 
doctrine, and on the consequent right and duty to 
ascertain and accurately to state this doctrine — 
which is the task of Systematic Theology — we have 
the consciousness of being imitators of Paul even as 
he was of Christ. How much the apostle made, not 
merely of the value of doctrine as the condition of life, 
but of the importance of sound doctrine ! His boast, 
we will remember, is that he is not of the many who 
corrupt the truth, but that he, at least, has preached 
the whole counsel of God. He is not content that 
Jesus Christ should be preached, but insists on a 
special doctrine of Christ — Jesus Christ and Him as 
crucified. He even pronounces those that preach any 
other gospel than that he preached accursed : and we 
should carefully note that this curse falls not on 
teachers of other religions, but on preachers of what 
we might speak of to-day as different forms of Chris- 
tianity. In a word, in all his teaching and in all his 

9 2 The Right of Systematic Theology 

practice alike, Paul impresses upon us the duty and 
the supreme importance of preserving that purity of 
doctrine which it is the aim of Systematic Theology in 
its investigation into Christian truth to secure. 



JUST PUBLISHED. In Grown 8yo. Price 8s. 6d. 




F, H. WOODS, B,D. 


Vicar of Chalfont St, Peter 

St. John viii. 82 


Chapter I. — Introductory, Chapter II. — ^The Spiritual and Moral 
Tone of the Prophets. Chapter III. — The Predictive Element of 
Prophecy: its Nature and its Limitations. Chapter IV. — Methods of 
Interpreting Prophecy. Chapter V. — The Material Elements of the 
Messianic Hope. Chapter YI. — The Beli^ous Aspect of the Messianic 
Hope. Chapter VII. — The Messianic King. Chapter VIII. — ^The 
Prophetic and Priestly Aspects of the Messiah, Chapter IX. — The 
Atoning Victim, Chapter X. — The Fulfilment of Prophecy in Christi- 
anity, Chapter XI. —Progressive Christianity the most Perfect Fulfil- 
ment of Jewish Prophecy. Chapter XII, — -The Practical Value of 
Prophecy as an Aid to Christian Faith. 

*A frank, courageous, and able attempt to restate the argument from 
biblical prophecy in the light of recent biblical exegesis. . . . This candid 
and valuable work will win gratitude from all enlightened students of 
Hebrew prophecy,' — British Weekly.