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The second question relates to Mr. Baker's views. When it is remembered that these include the belief, or at least the probable opinion, that those who do not profit by the redemptive opportunities of the resurrection will suffer "extinction" ultimately; but one course was open to the committee, namely, to say that these views are not reconcilable with our system of doctrine.
In conclusion, the committee point out the important difference between the continuous and public emphasis and defence of peculiar views not in harmony with the Confession, and the private entertainment of them. Had Mr. Baker only felt that he had difficulties with the eschatology of the Confession, that he could not assent to all its statements, and had he asked liberty, after his failure to secure their amendment, still to hold them privately, the committee (and the Presbytery adopted their report) say: "We would be content to retain the same relation as heretofore to one whom we sincerely love and honor for his piety and ability." But his conscience would not permit him to assent to this modus vivendi. He felt that he must continue to agitate the subject in published volumes, as well as in his magazine; and the Presbytery having in mind this inexorable demand of his own conscience, felt constrained to say; if he cannot hold his views privately—if he must continue a course of agitation—" we believe that it would be more manly, more honorable, more consistent with his ordination vows, first to withdraw from the ministry of the Presbyterian Church." In deference to this opinion of his brethren, Mr. Baker offered his resignation as a member of the Presbytery, and a committee was appointed to prepare a suitable letter of dismissal.
We believe that the Presbytery's action will be sustained by the sentiment of the whole Church. It is wise, temperate and charitable. Nor can we omit to commend the action of Mr. Baker in bringing before his brethren his case of conscience, and in being guided in his action by their opinion. His final action in resigning is all the more to be commended, because he holds a view of the relation of a minister to his subscription different from the view of the Presbytery.
We can not take leave of the case, however, without referring to this view. Mr. Baker's view is, that the Church is above the Confession; that it is not organized by the Confession; for that would make it a mere voluntary society; but that it is a Divine institution, realizing in history the scriptural idea of the body of Christ, and hence growing in knowledge. To this Church, one's loyalty may be perfect, though he may not be in agreement with the statements of the Confession; and this loyalty to the Church ought (his gifts, attainments and piety being unquestioned) to secure to him a permanent place among the Church's teachers, even though he may feel bound to antagonize its standards. We are not quoting his words; are not even sure that he would assent to this statement of his views. But this is the only ground on which he attempts to show, that the Presbytery would be justified in asking him to remain a minister of the Presbyterian Church.
Is Mr. Baker's theory of the Church correct? We have only to say, that if it is, every historic church of Christendom is in error. No church that we know is organized by it, or admits it. The only body, which has adopted a theory at all like it, is the "Free Religious Association;" and it does so, not because it is a church, but precisely because it is a voluntary association. Every church of Christendom has a creed; and in theory, at least, the Church's teaching assents to and is bound by it. Indeed, a spiritual body like the Church is unthinkable without a creed, and without one which binds its authorized instructors.
Moreover, Mr. Baker's theory, if good for his departure, is good for any departure from the Confession. And hence, pushed to its logical conclusion, if a presbytery were to recognize it, it could not consistently ask a man to retire from its ministry, though he denied the Scriptures as the rule of faith or the Trinity in Unity. And a believer in the Bible's inspiration, as devout and earnest as Mr. Baker is, would not, we are confident, be willing to permit it to be pushed this far. But how logically he is to escape from permitting just this, we are wholly unable to see. No; the Presbytery did the right thing, and did the right thing in a wise, kind and Christian manner.
We give this defence at length because it is the best possible that can be made from the ecclesiastical side of this question. We have not space to reply to it at length. We ask our readers to observe:
1. It offers no Scriptural answer to the fundamental principle of our discussion, namely, that there is a redemptive quality in resurrection. If that principle be correct, then the eschatology of the Confession is wrong at a vital point.
2. It points out no satisfactory way in which a minister of the Presbyterian Church who has been led to see that the standards are in error can discharge his duty in the matter to the church and before God. The writer implies that under these circumstances a man is bound either to keep silent or to resign. If this be so, then there is no posble remedy within the church for the gravest wrong.
3. It assumes that there is no logical middle-ground between the license of a "free religious association" and a fixed church system fenced in by the lines of an inexorable creed. Our first article in this number shows how little ground there is for this assumption.
Our critic fails to distinguish between such a catholic creed as answered the purposes of the church through all the early centuries, and one which, like the Westminster Confession, contains a whole system of theology.
4. He fails to appreciate that it was against this vicious system of constituting a church that we were protesting,— a system which so enthrones a " Confession " as to forestall and preclude the free action of the Holy Spirit, whose office it is to lead on the church to the perfect knowledge of the truth, and to show her things to come. It is absurd to say that an " historic church " is not possible on this principle, in face of the fact that this was the formative principle of the church through all its early history, and while she was one. A long inflexible creed is a denominational device, and not a church necessity. And it was largely because we desired to do something in preparing the Presbyterian Church for the coming unity for which Jesus prayed, that we raised a testimony against her narrow terms of fellowship, and sought to make an honest opening for that larger and more catholic view of Christ's redeeming work which must pervade that body before it will consent to abandon its sectarian position, and sacrifice its selfish and denominational interests upon the common altar of the one church of the one Lord.
NOTES ON CURRENT TOPICS.
The most unsatisfactory feature in the proceedings, which led to our withdrawal, was that, while the Presbytery in their report express the opinion that our views are unscriptural, they were never fairly canvassed in the body, nor was there any effort made to show us where we were wrong in our interpretation. This was in violation of both the spirit and the letter of the Book of Discipline.
A member of the Presbytery, who voted for the report, confesses to this mistake as follows:
"I have been dissatisfied with the course taken and with myself in not making some effort to change it. I wish that I had asked to be excused from voting, and given my reasons. We have never met you in committee or in Presbytery on the Scriptural ground. I would have been pleased to have had a day's conference upon, What do the Scriptures teach respecting the future world? And while I do not accept your views, and it might have been equally difficult to convince you that your views are not Scriptural, we might all have gained clearer and more definite understanding upon what we do believe respecting most interesting and momentous questions."
Testimony Op A Missionary.—The Rev. W. W. Patton, D. D., in the April number of the New Englander, quotes as followa from a letter of an English Episcopal Missionary in Japan:
"One of the things which, most of all, pains and torments these Japanese is, that we teach them the prison of hell is irrevocably shut, so that there is no egress. They grieve over the fate of their departed children, parents and relatives, and often show their grief by tears. They ask us if there is any hope; any way to free them by prayer from their eternal misery, and I am obliged to answer: there is absolutely none. Their grief at this affects and torments them wonderfully; they almost pine away with sorrow. They often ask if God cannot take their father out of hell? And why their punishment must never have an end? They do not cease to grieve, and I can hardly restrain my tears at seeing men so dear to my heart suffer such intense pain. Such thoughts have, I imagine, risen in the hearts of the missionary teachers of all churches. Again and again, I and my brother missionaries were questioned by people about their dead parents and forefathers who had not heard the gospel. These distressed hearts asked if they could pray for their ancestors. I have had most painful scenes, as I think many American Church Missionaries have had."
What a crime and a shame that the Church should hav.e been so long blind to the gospel of the resurrection of the dead!
Mr. Gladstone's Reply.—It is almost a matter of regret that Mr. Ingersoll's attack upon Christianity should be dignified with a reply from such a source as Mr. Gladstone. The paper he gives us in the May number of the North American Review will command universal attention as the testimony of one of the foremost minds and most illustrious men of the world. And yet we do not find ourselves entirely satisfied with it; and this, because the writer does not take that comprehensive grasp of the Christian scheme which is due to it, and without which such assaults as Mr. Ingersoll's cannot be successfully repelled.