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Clarke, James Freeman / Orthodoxy: Its Truths And Errors

Its Truths And Errors


James Freeman Clarke

“Soleo enim in allena castra transire, non tanquam transfuga, sed tanquam
explorator.”—SENECA, _Epistolæ_, 2.

“Fiat lux. Cupio refelli, ubi aberrarim; nihil majus, nihil aliud quam
veritatem efflagito.”—THOMAS BURNET, _Arch. Phil._

Fourteenth Edition.


American Unitarian Association.



Chapter I. Introduction.
§ 1. Object and Character of this Book.
§ 2. Progress requires that we should look back as well as forward.
§ 3. Orthodoxy as Right Belief.
§ 4. Orthodoxy as the Doctrine of the Majority. Objections.
§ 5. Orthodoxy as the Oldest Doctrine. Objections.
§ 6. Orthodoxy as the Doctrine held by all.
§ 7. Orthodoxy, as a Formula, not to be found.
§ 8. Orthodoxy as Convictions underlying Opinions.
§ 9. Substantial Truth and Formal Error in all great Doctrinal Systems.
§ 10. Importance of this Distinction.
§ 11. The Orthodox and Liberal Parties in New England.
Chapter II. The Principle And Idea Of Orthodoxy Stated And Examined.
§ 1. The Principle of Orthodoxy defined.
§ 2. Logical Genesis of the Principle of Orthodoxy.
§ 3. Orthodoxy assumed to be the Belief of the Majority.
§ 4. Heterodoxy thus becomes sinful.
§ 5. The Doctrine of Essentials and Non-essentials leads to Rome.
§ 6. Fallacy in this Orthodox Argument.
§ 7. The three Tendencies in the Church.
§ 8. The Party of Works.
§ 9. The Party of Emotion in Christianity.
§ 10. The Faith Party in Religion.
§ 11. Truth in the Orthodox Idea.
§ 12. Error in the Orthodox Principle.
§ 13. Faith, Knowledge, Belief, Opinion.
Chapter III. The Orthodox Idea Of Natural And Revealed Religion; Or,
Naturalism And Supernaturalism.
§ 1. Meaning of Natural and Supernatural.
§ 2. The Creation Supernatural.
§ 3. The Question stated.
§ 4. Argument of the Supernaturalist from successive Geologic
§ 5. Supernatural Argument from Human Freedom.
§ 6. Supernatural Events not necessarily Violations of Law.
§ 7. Life and History contain Supernatural Events.
§ 8. The Error of Orthodox Supernaturalism.
§ 9. No Conflict between Naturalism and Supernaturalism.
§ 10. Further Errors of Orthodox Supernaturalism—Gulf between
Christianity and all other Religions.
§ 11. Christianity considered unnatural, as well as supernatural by
being made hostile to the Nature of Man.
Chapter IV. Truths And Errors As Regards Miracles.
§ 1. The Subject stated. Four Questions concerning Miracles.
§ 2. The Definition of a Miracle.
§ 3. The different Explanations of the Miracles of the Bible.
§ 4. Criticism on these Different Views of Miracles.
§ 5. Miracles no Proof of Christianity.
§ 6. But Orthodoxy is right in maintaining their Reality as Historic
§ 7. Analogy with other Similar Events recorded in History.
§ 8. Miracle of the Resurrection. Sceptical Objections.
§ 9. Final Result of this Examination.
Chapter V. Orthodox Idea Of The Inspiration And Authority Of The Bible.
§ 1. Subject of this Chapter. Three Views concerning the Bible.
§ 2. The Difficulty. Antiquity of the World, and Age of Mankind.
§ 3. Basis of the Orthodox Theory of Inspiration.
§ 4. Inspiration in general, or Natural Inspiration.
§ 5. Christian or Supernatural Inspiration.
§ 6. Inspiration of the Scriptures, especially of the New Testament
§ 7. Authority of the Scriptures.
§ 8. The Christian Prepossession.
§ 9. Conclusion.
Chapter VI. Orthodox Idea Of Sin, As Depravity And As Guilt.
§ 1. The Question stated.
§ 2. The four Moments or Characters of Evil. The Fall, Natural
Depravity, Total Depravity, Inability.
§ 3. Orthodox and Liberal View of Man, as morally diseased or
§ 4. Sin as Disease.
§ 5. Doctrine of the Fall in Adam, and Natural Depravity. Their Truth
and Error.
§ 6. Examination of Romans, 5:12-21.
§ 7. Orthodox View of Total Depravity and Inability.
§ 8. Proof Texts.
§ 9. Truth in the Doctrine of Total Depravity.
§ 10. Ability and Inability.
§ 11. Orthodox Doctrine of Inability.
§ 12. Some further Features of Orthodox Theology concerning Human
Chapter VII. Conversion And Regeneration.
§ 1. Orthodoxy recognizes only two Conditions in which Man can be
§ 2. Crisis and Development.
§ 3. Nature of the Change.
§ 4. Its Reality and Importance.
§ 5. Is it the Work of God, or of the Man himself? Orthodox Difficulty.
§ 6. Solved by the Distinction between Conversion and Regeneration.
§ 7. Men may be divided, religiously, into three Classes, not two.
§ 8. Difference between Conversion and Regeneration.
§ 9. Unsatisfactory Attitude of the Orthodox Church.
§ 10. The Essential Thing for Man is to repent and be converted; that
is, to make it his Purpose to obey God in all Things.
§ 11. Regeneration is God’s Work in the Soul. Examination of the
Classical Passage, or conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus.
§ 12. Evidences of Regeneration.
Chapter VIII. The Orthodox Idea Of The Son Of God.
§ 1. Orthodox Doctrine stated.
§ 2. This Doctrine gradually developed.
§ 3. Unitarian Objections.
§ 4. Substantial Truth in this Doctrine.
§ 5. Formal Error of the Orthodox Statement.
§ 6. Errors of Arianism and Naturalism.
Chapter IX. Justification By Faith.
§ 1. This Doctrine of Paul not obsolete.
§ 2. Its Meaning and Importance.
§ 3. Need of Justification for the Conscience.
§ 4. Reaction of Sin on the Soul.
§ 5. Different Methods of obtaining Forgiveness.
§ 6. Method in Christianity.
§ 7. Result.
§ 8. Its History in the Church.
§ 9. Orthodox Errors, at the present Time, in Regard to Justification
by Faith.
§ 10. Errors of Liberal Christians.
Chapter X. Orthodox Idea Of The Atonement.
§ 1. Confusion in the Orthodox Statement.
§ 2. Great Importance attributed to this Doctrine.
§ 3. Stress laid on the Death of Jesus in the Scripture.
§ 4. Difficulty in interpreting these Scripture Passages.
§ 5. Theological Theories based on the Figurative Language of the New
§ 6. The three principal Views of the Atonement—warlike, legal, and
§ 7. Impression made by Christ’s Death on the Minds of his Disciples.
First Theory on the Subject in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
§ 8. Value of Suffering as a Means of Education.
§ 9. The Human Conscience suggests the Need of some Satisfaction in
order to our Forgiveness.
§ 10. How the Death of Jesus brings Men to God.
§ 11. This Law of Vicarious Suffering universal.
§ 12. This Law illustrated from History—in the Death of Socrates, Joan
of Arc, Savonarola, and Abraham Lincoln.
§ 13. Dr. Bushnell’s View of the Atonement.
§ 14. Results of this Discussion.
Chapter XI. Calling, Election, And Reprobation.
§ 1. Orthodox Doctrine.
§ 2. Scripture Basis for this Doctrine.
§ 3. Relation of the Divine Decree to Human Freedom.
§ 4. History of the Doctrine of Election and Predestination.
§ 5. Election is to Work and Opportunity here, not to Heaven hereafter.
How Jacob was elected, and how the Jews were a Chosen People.
§ 6. How other Nations were elected and called.
§ 7. How different Denominations are elected.
§ 8. How Individuals are elected.
§ 9. How Jesus was elected to be the Christ.
§ 10. Other Illustrations of Individual Calling and Election.
Chapter XII. Immortality And The Resurrection.
§ 1. Orthodox Doctrine.
§ 2. The Doctrine of Immortality as taught by Reason, the Instinctive
Consciousness, and Scripture.
§ 3. The Three Principal Views of Death—the Pagan, Jewish, and
§ 4. Eternal Life, as taught in the New Testament, not endless Future
Existence, but present Spiritual Life.
§ 5. Resurrection, and its real Meaning, as a Rising up, and not a
Rising again.
§ 6. Resurrection of the Body, as taught in the New Testament, not a
Rising again of the same Body, but the Ascent into a higher Body.
Chapter XIII. Christ’s Coming, Usually Called The “Second Coming,” And
Christ The Judge Of The World.
§ 1. The Coming of Christ is not wholly future, not wholly outward, not
local, nor material.
§ 2. No Second Coming of Christ is mentioned in Scripture.
§ 3. Were the Apostles mistaken in expecting a speedy Coming of Christ?
§ 4. Examination of the Account of Christ’s Coming given by Jesus in
Matthew (chapters 24-26).
§ 5. Coming of Christ in Human History at different Times.
§ 6. Relation of the Parable of the Virgins, and of the Talents, to
Christ’s Coming.
§ 7. Relation of the Account of the Judgment by the Messiah, in Matt.
ch. 25, to his Coming.
§ 8. How Christ is, and how he is not, to judge the World.
§ 9. When Christ’s Judgment takes Place.
§ 10. Paul’s View of the Judgment by Christ.
§ 11. Final Result.
Chapter XIV. Eternal Punishment, Annihilation, Universal Restoration.
§ 1. Different Views concerning the Condition of the Impenitent
§ 2. The Doctrine of Everlasting Punishment, as held by the Orthodox at
the Present Time.
§ 3. Apparent Contradictions, both in Scripture and Reason, in Regard
to this Doctrine.
§ 4. Everlasting Punishment limits the Sovereignty of God.
§ 5. Everlasting Punishment contradicts the Fatherly Love of God.
§ 6. Attempts to modify and soften the Doctrine of Everlasting
§ 7. The meaning of Eternal Punishment in Scripture.
§ 8. How Judgment by Christ is connected with Punishment.
§ 9. The Doctrine of Annihilation.
§ 10. The Doctrine of Universal Restoration.
Chapter XV. The Christian Church.
§ 1. The Question stated.
§ 2. Orthodox Doctrine of the Church—Roman Catholic and High Church.
§ 3. The Protestant Orthodox Idea of the Church.
§ 4. Christ’s Idea of a Church, or the Kingdom of Heaven.
§ 5. Church of the Leaven, or the Invisible Church.
§ 6. The Church of the Mustard-seed.
§ 7. Primitive and Apostolic Church, or Church as it was.
§ 8. The Actual Church, or the Church as it is.
§ 9. The Church Ideal, or Church as it ought to be.
§ 10. The Church Possible, or Church as it can be.
Chapter XVI. The Trinity.
§ 1. Definition of the Church Doctrine.
§ 2. History of the Doctrine.
§ 3. Errors in the Church Doctrine of the Trinity.
§ 4. The Trinity of Manifestations founded in the Truth of Things.
§ 5. It is in Harmony with Scripture.
§ 6. Practical value of the Trinity, when rightly understood.
Appendix. Critical Notices.
§ 1. On the Defence of Nescience in Theology, by Herbert Spencer and
Henry L. Mansel.
§ 2. On the Defence of Verbal Inspiration by Gaussen.
§ 3. Defence of the Doctrine that Sin is a Nature, by Professor Shedd.
§ 4. Defence of Everlasting Punishment, by Dr. Nehemiah Adams and Dr.
J. P. Thompson.
§ 5. Defence of the Trinity, by Frederick D. Huntington, D. D.


The Protestant Reformation has its Principle and its Method. Its Principle
is Salvation by Faith, not by Sacraments. Its Method is Private Judgment,
not Church Authority. But private judgment generates authority; authority,
first legitimate, that of knowledge, grows into the illegitimate authority
of prescription, calling itself Orthodoxy. Then Private Judgment comes
forth again to criticise and reform. It thus becomes the duty of each
individual to judge the Church; and out of innumerable individual
judgments the insight of the Church is kept living and progressive. We
contribute one such private judgment; not, we trust, in conceit, but in
the hope of provoking other minds to further examinations.


§ 1. Object and Character of this Book.

The peculiarity of the book now offered to the religious public by the
government of the American Unitarian Association, is this—that it is an
honest attempt to find and state the truth contained in the doctrines of
their opponents. It is, perhaps, something new for an association
established to defend certain theological opinions, and baptized with a
special theological name, to publish a work intended to do justice to
hostile theories. The too usual course of each sect has been, through all
its organs, to attack, denounce, undervalue, and vilify the positions
taken by its antagonists. This has been considered as only an honest zeal
for truth. The consequence has been, that no department of literature has
been so unchristian in its tone and temper as that of sectarian
controversy. Political journals heap abuse on their opponents, in the
interest of their party. But though more noisy than the theological
partisans, they are by no means so cold, hard, or unrelenting. Party
spirit, compared with sectarian spirit, seems rather mild.(1)

It is true that theologians do not now use in controversy the epithets
which were formerly universal. We have grown more civil in our language
than were our fathers. It is also true that we often meet with theological
discussions conducted in a spirit of justice towards one’s opponents.(2)
But to say, “Fas est ab hoste _doceri_,” is a step as yet beyond the
ability of most controversialists. To admit that your antagonist may have
seen some truth not visible to yourself, and to read his work in this
sense,—in order to learn, and not merely to confute,—is not yet common.

This we are about to undertake in the present treatise. We stand in the
Unitarian position, but shall endeavor to see if there be not some truths
in Orthodoxy which Unitarians have not yet adequately recognized. To use
the language of our motto—we come “not as deserters, but as explorers”
into the camp of Orthodoxy. We are satisfied with our Unitarian position,
as a stand-point from which to survey that of others. And especially are
we grateful to it, since it encourages us by all its traditions, by all
its ideas and principles, to look _after_ as well as before—to see if
there be no truth behind us which we have dropped in our hasty advance, as
well as truth beyond us to which we have not yet attained.

§ 2. Progress requires that we should look back as well as forward.

Such a study as this may be undertaken in the interest of true progress,
as well as that of honest inquiry. For what so frequently checks progress,
causes its advocates to falter, and produces what we call a reaction
towards the old doctrines, as something shallow in the reform itself?
Christians have relapsed into Judaism, Protestants into Romanism,
Unitarians into Orthodoxy—because something true and good in the old
system had dropped out of the new, and attracted the converts back to
their old home. All true progress is expressed in the saying of Jesus, “I
have not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” The old system cannot pass away
until all its truths are _fulfilled_, by being taken up into the new
system in a higher form. Judaism will not pass away till it is fulfilled
in Christianity—the Roman Catholic Church will not pass away till it is
fulfilled in Protestantism—Orthodoxy will not pass away till it is
fulfilled by Rational Christianity. Judaism continues as a standing
protest, on behalf of the unity of God, against Trinitarianism.

And yet we believe that, in the religious progress of the race,
Christianity is an advance on Judaism, Protestant Christianity an advance
on Roman Catholic Christianity, and Liberal and Rational Christianity an
advance on Church Orthodoxy. But all such advances are subject to reaction
and relapse. Reaction differs from relapse in this, that it is an
oscillation, not a fall. Reaction is the backward swing of the wave, which
will presently return, going farther forward than before. Relapse is the
fall of the tide, which leaves the ships aground, and the beach uncovered.
Reaction is going back to recover some substantial truth, left behind in a
too hasty advance. Relapse is falling back into the old forms, an entire
apostasy from the higher stand-point to the lower, from want of strength
to maintain one’s self in the advance.

The Epistle to the Hebrews deserves especial study by those who desire to
understand the philosophy of intellectual and spiritual progress. It was
written to counteract a tendency among the Jewish Christians to relapse
into Judaism. These Christians missed the antiquity, the ceremony, the
authority of the old ritual. Their state of mind resembled that of the
extreme High Church party in the Church of England, who are usually called
Puseyites. They were not apostates or renegades, but backsliders. They
were always lamenting the inferiority of Christianity to Judaism, in the
absence of a priesthood, festival, sacrifices. It hardly seemed to them a
church at all. The Galatians, to whom Paul wrote, had actually gone over
and accepted Jewish Christianity in the place of Christianity in its
simplicity and purity. The Hebrews had not gone over, but were looking
that way. Therefore the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews endeavors to
show them that all which was really good in the Jewish priesthood, temple,
ritual, was represented in Christianity in a higher form. It had been
fulfilled in the New Covenant. Nothing real and good can pass away till it
is fulfilled in something better. Thus the Roman Catholic Church stands,
as a constant proof that Protestant Christianity yet lacks some important
Christian element which Romanism possesses. Orthodoxy, confuted, as we
suppose, over and over again, by the most logical arguments, stands firm,
and goes forward.

Let us, then, reëxamine the positions of our antagonists—not now merely in
order to find the weak places in their line of battle, but to discover the
strong ones. Let us see if there be any essential, substantial truth in
this venerable system, to which we have as yet not done justice. If there
be, justice and progress will both be served by finding and declaring it.

We ask, What are the substantial truths, and what the formal errors, of
Orthodoxy? But what do we mean by these terms?

§ 3. Orthodoxy as Right Belief.

By Orthodoxy in general is meant the right system of belief. This is the
dictionary definition. But as the world and the Church differ as to
_which_ is the right system of belief—as there are a vast multitude of
systems—and as all sects and parties, and all men, believe the system they
themselves hold to be the right belief—Orthodoxy, in this sense of right
belief, means nothing. In this sense there are as many orthodoxies as
there are believers, for no two men, even in the same Church, think
exactly alike. Unless, therefore, we have some _further_ test, by which to
find out _which_ orthodoxy, among all these orthodoxies, is the true
orthodoxy—we accomplish little by giving to any one system that name.

Here, for instance, in New England, we have a system of belief which goes
by the name of Orthodoxy; which, however, is considered very heterodox
_out_ of New England. The man who is thought sound by Andover is
considered very unsound by Princeton. The General Assembly of the
Presbyterian Church, in 1837, cut off four synods, containing some forty
thousand members, because they were supposed not to be sound in doctrinal
belief. But these excommunicated synods formed a New School Presbyterian
Church, having its own orthodoxy. Andover considers itself more orthodox
than Cambridge; but the New School Presbyterians think themselves more
orthodox than Andover—the Old School Presbyterians think themselves more
orthodox than the New School. But the most orthodox Protestant is called a
heretic by the Roman Catholics. The Roman Catholics, again, are called
heretics by the Greek Church. So that orthodoxy, in this sense, seems an
impossible thing—something which, if it exists, can never be certainly

Whenever a body of believers assumes the name of Orthodox, intending
thereby that they are right, and their opponents wrong, they evidently
assume the very point in dispute. They commit the fallacy called in logic
a _petitio principii_. They beg the question, instead of discussing it.
They put will in the place of reason. They say, in the very title page of
their book, in the first step of their argument, that their book is
satisfactory and their argument conclusive. It would be more modest to
wait till the discussion is concluded before they proceed thus to state
what the conclusion is. This is an arrogance like that which the Church of
Rome commits, in calling itself Catholic or Universal, while excluding
more than half of Christendom from its communion.(3)

A political party does not offer such an affront to its opponents. It may
name itself Democratic, Republican, Federal; it may call itself the
Conservative party, or that of Reform. By these titles it indicates its
leading idea—it signifies that it bears the standard of reform, or that it
stands by the old institutions of the country. But no political party ever
takes a name signifying that it is all right and its opponents all wrong.
This assumption was left to religious sects, and to those who consider
humility the foundation of all the virtues.

The term “Evangelical” is, perhaps, not as objectionable as Orthodox,
though it carries with it a similar slur on those of other beliefs. It
says, “We are they who believe the gospel of Christ; those who differ from
us do not believe it.” It is like the assumption by some of the
Corinthians of the exclusive name of Christians. “We are of Christ,” said
they—meaning that the followers of Paul and Apollos were not so.

Probably the better part of those who take the name of Orthodox, or
Evangelical, intend no such arrogance. All they want is some word by which
to distinguish themselves from Unitarians, Universalists, &c. They might
say, “We have as good a right to complain of your calling yourselves
‘Rational Christians’ or ‘Liberal Christians’—assuming thereby that others
are not rational or liberal. You mean no such assumption, perhaps; neither
do we when we call ourselves ‘Orthodox’ or ‘Evangelical.’ When we can find
another term, better than these, by which to express the difference
between us, we will use it. We do not intend by using these words to
foreclose argument or to beg the question. We do not mean by Orthodoxy,
right belief; but only a certain well-known form of doctrine.”

This is all well. Yet not quite well—since we have had occasion to notice
the surprise and disgust felt by those who had called themselves “The
Orthodox,” in finding themselves in a community where others had assumed
that title, and refused to them any share in it. Therefore it is well to
emphasize the declaration that Orthodoxy in the sense of “right belief” is
an unmeaning expression, signifying nothing.

§ 4. Orthodoxy as the Doctrine of the Majority. Objections.

The majority, in any particular place, is apt to call itself orthodox, and
to call its opponents heretics. But the majority in one place may be the
minority in another. The majority in Massachusetts is the minority in
Virginia. The majority in England is the minority in Rome or
Constantinople. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primate of all England,
gave Mr. Carzon a letter of introduction to the Patriarch of
Constantinople, the head of the Greek Church. But the Patriarch had never
heard of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and inquired, “Who is he?”

Nevertheless, it is a very common argument that such and such a doctrine,
being held by the great majority of Christians, must necessarily be true.
Thus it is said that since the great majority of Christians believe the
doctrine of the Trinity, that doctrine must be true. “Is it possible,” it
is said, “that the great majority of Christian believers should be now,
and have been so long, left in error on such a fundamental doctrine as
this?” Even so intelligent a man as Dr. Huntington seems to have been
greatly influenced by this argument in becoming a Trinitarian. The same
argument has carried many Protestants into the Roman Catholic Church. And,
no doubt, there is a truth in the argument—a truth, indeed, which is
implied all through the present work—that doctrines thus held by great
multitudes during long periods cannot be wholly false. But it by no means
proves them to be wholly true. Otherwise, truth would change as the
majorities change. In one century the Arians had the majority; and
Arianism, therefore, in that century would have been true. Moreover, most
of those who adhere to a doctrine have not examined it, and do not have
any defined opinion concerning it. They accept it, as it is taught them,
without reflection. And again, most truths are, at first, in a minority of
one. Christianity, in the first century, was in a very small minority.
Protestantism, in the time of Luther, was all in the brain and heart of
one man. To assume, therefore, that Orthodoxy, or the true belief, is that
of the majority, is to forbid all progress, to denounce all new truth, and
to resist the revelation and inspiration of God, until it has conquered
for itself the support of the majority of mankind. According to this
principle, as Christianity is still in a minority as compared with
paganism, we ought all to become followers of Boodh. Such a view cannot
bear a moment’s serious examination. Every prophet, sage, martyr, and
heroic champion of truth has spent his life and won the admiration and
grateful love of the world by opposing the majority in behalf of some
neglected or unpopular truth.

§ 5. Orthodoxy as the Oldest Doctrine. Objections.

Some people think that Orthodoxy means the _oldest_ doctrine, and that if
they can only find out what doctrine was believed by the Church in the
first century, they shall have the true orthodox doctrine. But the early
Church held some opinions which all now believe to be false. They
believed, for instance, that Jesus was to return visibly, in that age, and
set up his church in person, and reign in the world in outward form—a
thing which did not take place. They therefore believed in the early
church something which was not true—consequently what _they_ believed
cannot be a certain test of Orthodoxy.

The High Church party in the Church of England, in defending themselves
against the Roman Catholic argument from antiquity, have appealed to a
higher antiquity, and established themselves on the supposed faith of the
first three centuries. But Isaac Taylor, in his “Ancient Christianity,”
has sufficiently shown that during no period in those early centuries was
anything like modern orthodoxy satisfactorily established.(4) The Church
doctrine was developed gradually during a long period of debate and
controversy. The Christology of the Church was elaborated amid the fierce
conflicts of Arians and Athanasians, Monothelites and Monophysites,
Nestorians and Eutychians. The anthropology of the Church was hammered and
beaten into shape by the powerful arm of Augustine and his successors, on
the anvils of the fifth century, amid the fiery disputes of Pelagians,
Semi-Pelagians, and their opponents.

Many doctrines generally believed in the early church are universally
rejected now. The doctrine of chiliasm, or the millennial reign of Christ
on earth; the doctrine of the under world, or Hades, where all souls went
after death; the doctrine of the atonement made by Christ to the
devil,—such were some of the prevailing views held in the early ages of
the Church. The oldest doctrine is not certainly the truest; or, as
Theodore Parker once said to a priest in Rome, who told him that the
primacy of Peter was asserted in the second century, “A lie is no better
because it is an old one.”

§ 6. Orthodoxy as the Doctrine held by all.

But, it may be said, if Orthodoxy does not mean the absolutely right
system of belief, nor the system held by the majority, nor the oldest
doctrine of the Church, it may, nevertheless, mean the _essential_ truths
held in all Christian Churches, in all ages and times; in short, according
to the ancient formula—that which has been believed always, by all
persons, and everywhere—“_quod semper, quod ab omnibus, quod ubique_.”

In this sense no one would object to Orthodoxy. Only make your Catholicity
large enough to include every one, and who would not be a Catholic? But
this famous definition, if it be strictly taken, seems as much too large
as the others are too narrow. If you only admit to be orthodox what all
Christian persons have believed, then the Trinity ceases to be orthodox;
for many, in all ages, have disbelieved it. Eternal punishment is not
orthodox, for that, too, has often been denied in the Church. Sacraments
are not orthodox, for the Quakers have rejected them. The resurrection is
not orthodox, for there were some Christians in the Church at Corinth who
said there was no resurrection of the dead.

§ 7. Orthodoxy, as a Formula, not to be found.

Any attempt, therefore, rigidly to define Orthodoxy, destroys it. Regarded
as a precise statement, in a fixed or definite form, it is an
impossibility. There is no such thing, and never has been. No creed ever
made satisfied even the majority. How, indeed, can any statement
proceeding from the human brain be an adequate and permanent expression of
eternal truth? Even the apostle says, “I know in part, and I prophesy in
part, but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part
shall be done away.” The apostle declares that his sight of truth is only
partial, and that everything partial is imperfect, and that everything
imperfect must pass away; so that our present knowledge of truth is
transient. “Whether there be knowledge, it shall pass away.” If the
apostle Paul declared that he had not the power of making a perfect and
permanent statement of truth, how can we believe that any one else can
ever do it?

§ 8. Orthodoxy as Convictions underlying Opinions.

If, therefore, every doctrinal statement is changeable and changing; if
the history of opinions shows the rise and fall of creeds,—one after the
other becoming dominant, and then passing away; if no formula has ever
gained the universal assent of Christendom; if the oldest creeds contained
errors now universally rejected,—what then remains as Orthodoxy? We
answer, no one statement, but something underlying all statements—no one
system of theology, but certain convictions, perhaps, pervading all the
ruling systems. Man’s mind, capable of insight, sees with the inward eye
the same great spiritual realities, just as with his outward eye he sees
the same landscape, sky, ocean. According to the purity and force of his
insight, and the depth of his experience, he sees the same truth. There is
one truth, but many ways of stating it—one spirit, but many forms.

“The one remains, the many change and pass;
Heaven’s light forever shines, earth’s shadows fly.”

Are there any such great convictions underlying and informing all the
creeds? I think there are. I think, for example, it has always been
believed in the Church that in some sense man is a sinner, and in some
sense Christ is a Saviour from sin; that Christianity is in some way a
supernatural revelation of the divine will and love; that Scripture is
somehow an inspired book, and has authority over our belief and life; that
there is a Church, composed of disciples of Jesus, whose work in the world
is to aid him in saving the lost and helping the fallen and wretched; that
somehow man needs to be changed from his natural state into a higher
state, and to begin a new life, in order to see God; that there is such a
thing as heaven, and such a thing as hell; that those who love God and man
belong to heaven, and that the selfish and sensual belong to hell. These
ideas have been the essential ideas of the Church, and constitute the
essence of its Orthodoxy.

Orthodoxy, then, is not any definite creed, or statement of truth. It is
not of the letter, but of the spirit. The letter kills. Consequently those
who cling to the letter of Orthodoxy kill its spirit. The greatest enemy
of Orthodoxy is dead Orthodoxy. The old statements retained after their
life is gone,—the old phrases made Shibboleths by which truth is to be
forever tested,—these gradually make the whole system seem false to the
advancing intellect of the human race. Then heresies come up, just as
providential, and just as necessary, as Orthodoxy, to compel the Church to
make restatements of the eternal truth. Heresies, in this sense, are as
true as Orthodoxy, and make part, indeed, of a higher Orthodoxy.

By Orthodoxy, therefore, we do not mean the opinions held by any
particular denomination in New England or elsewhere. We do not mean the
opinions of New England Calvinists or of Southern Presbyterians; not the
creed of Andover, of New Haven, or of Princeton: but we mean that great
system of belief which gradually took form in the Christian Church, in the
course of centuries, as its standard theology. The pivotal points of this
system are sin and salvation. In it man appears as a sinner, and Christ as
a Saviour. Man is saved by an inward change of heart, resulting in an
outward change of life, and produced by the sight of the two facts of sin
and salvation. The sight of his sin and its consequences leads him to
repentance; the sight of salvation leads him to faith, hope, and love; and
the sight of both results in regeneration, or a new life. This system also
asserts the divinity of Christ, the triune nature of God, the divine
decrees, the plenary inspiration of Scripture, eternal punishment, and
eternal life.

§ 9. Substantial Truth and Formal Error in all great Doctrinal Systems.

Within the last twenty-five years, a new department of theological
literature has arisen in Germany, which treats of the history of
doctrines. The object of this is to trace the doctrinal opinions held in
the Church in all ages. By this course of study, two facts are
apparent—first, that the same great views have been substantially held by
the majority of Christians in all ages; and, secondly, that the forms of
doctrine have been very different. The truths themselves have been
received by Christians, as their strength, their hope, and their joy, in
all time; but the formal statement of these truths has been wrought out
differently by individual intellects. The universal body of Christians has
taken care of Christian truth; while the Church Fathers, or doctors, have
held in their hands the task of defining it doctrinally for the intellect.

By substantial truth we mean this—that in all the great systems of opinion
which have had a deep hold on the human mind, over broad spaces and
through long periods, there is something suited to man’s nature, and
corresponding with the facts of the case. The mind of man was made for
truth, and not for error. Error is transient: truth only is permanent. Men
do not love error for its own sake, but for the sake of something with
which it is connected. After a while, errors are eliminated, and the
substance retained. The great, universal, abiding convictions of men must,
therefore, contain truth. If it were not so, we might well despair; for,
if the mind of the race could fall into unmixed error, the only remedy by
which the heart can be cured, and the life redeemed from evil, would be
taken away. But it is not so. God has made the mind for truth, as he has
adapted the taste to its appropriate food. In the main, and in the long
run, what men believe _is the truth_; and all catholic beliefs are valid
beliefs. Opinions held by all men, everywhere and at all times, must be
substantially true.

But error certainly exists, and always has existed. If the human mind is
made for truth, how does it fall into error? There never has been any
important question upon which men have not taken two sides; and, where
they take two sides, one side must be in error. Sometimes these two
parties are equally balanced, and that for long periods. With which has
the truth been? Is God always with the majority? If so, we must at once
renounce our Unitarian belief for the Trinity, as an immense majority of
votes are given in its favor. But, then, we must also renounce
Protestantism; for Protestantism has only eighty or ninety millions
against a hundred and forty millions who are Catholics. And, still
further, we must renounce Christianity in favor of Heathenism; since all
the different Christian sects and churches united make up but three
hundred millions, while the Buddhists alone probably exceed that number.
Moreover, truth is always in a minority at first,—usually in a minority of
one; and, if men ought to wait until it has a majority on its side before
they accept it, it never will have a majority on its side.

These objections lead us to the only possible answer, which consists in
distinguishing between the substance and the form. When we assert that all
creeds, widely held and long retained, have truth, we mean substantial
truth. We do not mean that they are true in their formal statement, which
may be an erroneous statement, but that they are true as to their
contents. The substance of the belief is the fact inwardly beheld by the
mind; the form is the verbal statement which the mind makes of what it has
seen. It has seen something real; but, when it attempts to describe what
it has seen, it may easily commit errors. Thus there may be, in the same
creed, substantial truth and formal error; and all great and
widely-extended beliefs, as we assert, must contain substantial truth and
formal error. Without substantial truth, there would be nothing in them to
feed the mind, and they would not be retained; and, if they were not more
or less erroneous in form, it would imply infallibility on the part of
those who give them their form.

§ 10. Importance of this Distinction.

This distinction is one of immense importance; because, being properly
apprehended, it would, by destroying dogmatism, destroy bigotry also.
Dogmatism consists in assuming that the essence of truth lies in its
formal statement. Correctly assuming that the life of the soul comes from
the sight of truth, it falsely infers that the essence of truth is in the
verbal formula. Consequently, this formula must necessarily seem of
supreme importance, and the very salvation of the soul to depend on
holding the correct opinion. With this conviction, one _must and ought_ to
be bigoted; he ought to cling to the minutest syllable of his creed as the
drowning man clings to the floating plank. Holding this view, we cannot
blame men for being bigoted: it is their duty to be bigoted. But, when the
distinction is recognized, they will cling to the substance, knowing that
the vital truth lies there. It is the sight of the fact which is the
source of our life, and not the statement which we make, in words, as to
what we have seen. Then the sight becomes the thing of immense importance;
the creed in which it is expressed, of comparative unimportance.

This distinction would tend to bring the Church to a true unity—the unity
of the spirit. All would strive for the same insight, all tolerate variety
of expression. Instead of assenting outwardly to the same creed, every man
ought, in fact, to make his own creed; and there should be as many
different creeds as there are different men. Nor should my creed of to-day
be the same as that of yesterday; for, instead of resting on a past
experience, I should continually endeavor to obtain new sights of the one
unchangeable truth. Seeing more of it to-day than I did yesterday, my
yesterday’s creed would seem inadequate, and I should wish to make a new

Substantial truth means the truth which we see—the inward sight, the
radical experience.

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