« AnteriorContinuar »
endless torment in a way far more dangerous. They make wide the gate which Jesus pronounces to be narrow, so as to admit large classes of mankind from Christian and heathen lands who have not "believed on Him to life everlasting." Their own hearts tell them that most of their unregeuerate friends around them, and numbers of Mahometans and of heathen, are not bad enough to be sent to an endless hell. They hardly ever believe this of their own friends. Hence they find a ground of hope for them in a possible death-bed repentance, in a reputable life, in a charitable disposition, or in a receptive frame of mind which would embrace Christ if He were but fairly known. Is not this broadening of the terms of life, which Jesus declared were fixed and narrow, more harmful and procrastinating than a gospel which adheres strictly to the terms of self-crucifixion and surrender, and yet affirms that these terms remain the same in the world to come, and that these men, to whom our objectors freely open now the door to heaven, may enter into life there? Why should we be deemed a heretic for finding a door of hope through resurrection out of the valley of Achor into which all the unsaved must pass at death, when it is deemed no heresy to swing wide the door before death to make room for all sorts of goody-goody people who yet know not Christ and the power of His resurrection? To avoid the admission of any sort of hope after death, men construct the most baseless sort of theories for the widest hope before death. We ask again, which is the more dangerous? Whatever men may answer to this, we are certain which is the more scriptural. The very object of the gospel is to reveal a Saviour who died and rose again that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living, and bring both within the reach of His great salvation. But in this world, and in all worlds, the terms of it remain the same. The old sinful self must die out in us, in order that Christ may be formed in us. Even Cornelius needed to hear about Him before he was "saved" (Acts xi. 14). And nothing can be more harmful to the souls of men, or to the success of the gospel, than the idea that a goodish sort of life is enough without a new power of life from Him as the one divine source of it. "To as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name."
Several of the newspapers of the Church have made reference to our withdrawal from the Presbyterian Church. The Presbyterian of this city says "we are very sorry to make this announcement," and then proceeds to give a history of the case with the report of the Committee and the final action, upon which it remarks:
The evening meeting, which was taken up almost entirely with the closing discussions upon this report, was a very solemn one. Though aware that the proceedings were not of the nature of a prosecution, but of fraternal advice, asked for by Mr. Baker himself, the impression was one of sadness, owing to the almost certainty that the event, as foreshadowed, would be the withdrawal of a brother who had been favorably identified with the labors and self-denying enterprises of the Presbytery. By the action of the body, Dr. Bannard was asked to lead in prayer, commending to God him with whom they were now to part.
The Presbyterian Journal also gives a lengthy report of the case, as furnished by the Stated Clerk, which closes as follows:
Mr. Baker, on the announcement of this vote, rose and said that the providence of God had now made it clear what the path of duty was. He asked that permission be given him to withdraw from the ministry of the Presbyterian Church. This permission was granted.
Mr. Baker had been so many years a member of this Presbytery, and for a great part of the time, pastor of one of its churches, commending himself to all as a good worker and a spiritual brother, that it was truly painful to come to the decision above recorded. Sadness pervaded the body. Spectators said it was more like a funeral than an ordinary meeting. Kind words were uttered in Mr. Baker's behalf, even by those who most strongly advocated the adoption of the report. After the final vote a member was called on to lead in prayer, invoking the Divine blessing on the retiring brother.
It will be seen that the action was not of the nature of a prosecution, but rather of fraternal advice rendered in answer to a request from Mr. Baker himself, the General Assembly having provided a way for a peaceful withdrawal of such as hold and teach doctrines differing vitally from those contained in the Confession of Faith.
The New York Evangelist publishes a long report of the whole proceedings, giving at length the whole of our address. In its editorial columns it calls attention to the subject in this way:
It is a long report which we publish on our last page in reference to the action of the West Jersey Presbytery in a peculiar case which came before it; but long as it is, whoever begins the reading of it, will be likely to continue to the very last word. It was not a case of discipline, but a case of inquiry for advice, in which a minister, who is greatly beloved by his brethren, and who yet in the course of his studies of the Word of God has been led to views differing from theirs and differing from the Standards, comes to them with true Christian modesty and conscientiousness, to ask their counsel as to whether, holding such views, he ought to remain a member of that body. In the discussion which followed, he had opportunity to make the fullest explanation and defence of his own position, while they replied with equal frankness. That which strikes every reader is the spirit of brotherly kindness which pervaded the discussion from beginning to end. In this respect it was a model. If all discussions were conducted like this, whatever differences might remain, there would at least be no "root of bitterness " left behind.
The most elaborate defence of the action of the Presbytery is that given in a long editorial of the Herald and Presbyter, of Cincinnati. We think we make no mistake in tracing it to the pen of the Rev. John De Witt, D. D., of Lane Seminary.
Mr. Baker, for a long time the pastor of one our churches in Camden, N. J., has become widely known among ministers as the editor of a small magazine called Words of Reconciliation, designed to expound and commend his views in Eschatology, These views are distinctly his own. We are not aware that he has been followed by any large number of his brethren. But no one who has read his magazine will deny that he has presented his opinions with clearness, and defended them with ability. Perhaps the feature in his Eschatology is the doctrine that the Resurrection is to all a redemptive experience; that is, that it is a blessing to all men, mitigating their sufferings, to say the least; though, if we understand him, there will forever be a difference between the saved and the lost.
Mr. Baker, however, has not only engaged in constructive theological work. He has agitated for such an amendment to the Confession of Faith as would enable him conscientiously to accept it as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures. This he can not do at present in his own judgment. At least, he felt bound, as a man of honor, to bring his own case before his presbytery and to ask advice. His course of conduct does him great honor; and we infer from the report of the presbytery that it has been exactly the course that might have been expected from a man of sensitive conscience and of deep and earnest piety. The particular question, which he asked the presbytery to answer, was the question substantially whether he should continue in the Church, defending his views, attacking the declarations of the Confession, and thus agitating for its amendment.
It will be observed that Mr. Baker took the initiative and requested the action of the presbytery. So far as we know, he was not summoned for trial, nor was his conduct made the subject of investigation. At his own request, a committee was appointed for the purpose of answering certain questions which he himself had formulated. This committee presented its report at a meeting of the Presbytery of West Jersey held last week, and the report of the committee was adopted by a vote of fifty-five to five.
In their report the committee answer two questions, and we regret only that our space does not permit us to print both questions and answer. We shall endeavor, however, to state them fairly. The first relates to the duty of a minister who believes that the Confession is wrong, and who wishes to secure its amendment. On this point the committee's answer is admirable. They take the ground that every minister in these circumstances should frankly state his views to the presbytery. They recognize his right to seek in the way appointed the Confession's amendment. They recognize the difficulty of pointing out the period at which the agitation for amendment should cease. They go as far in the direction of liberality as it is possible to go, when they say, that the time is to be decided according to each man's conscience, remembering his ordination vows, and his promise to maintain the truths of the gospel and the peace and purity of the Church.