The conclusion arrived at in my previous Lecture, was first, that, scientifically speaking, Calvinism means the completed evolution of Protestantism, resulting in a both higher and richer stage of human development. Further, that the world-view of Modernism, with its starting-point in the French Revolution, can claim no higher privilege than that of presenting an atheistic imitation of the brilliant ideal proclaimed by Calvinism, therefore being unqualified for the honour of leading us higher on. And, lastly, that whosoever rejects atheism as his fundamental thought, is bound to go back to Calvinism, not to restore its worn-out form, but once more to catch hold of the Calvinistic principles, in order to embody them in such a form as, suiting the requirements of our own century, may restore the needed unity to Protestant thought and the lacking energy to Protestant practical life.
In my present Lecture, therefore, treating of Calvinism and Religion, first of all I will try to illustrate the dominant position occupied by Calvinism in the central domain of our worship of the Most High. The fact that, in the religious domain, Calvinism has occupied from the first a peculiar and impressive position, nobody will deny. As if by one magical stroke, it created its own Confession, its own Theology, its own Church Organisation, its own Church Discipline, its own Cultus, and its own Moral Praxis. And continued historical investigation proves with increasing certainty that all these new Calvinistic forms for our religious life were the logical product of its own fundamental thought and the embodiment of one and the same principle. Measure the energy which Calvinism here displayed by the utter incapability Modernism evinced in the same domain by the absolute fruitlessness of its endeavours. Ever since it entered its “mystical” period, Modernism also, both in Europe and in America, has acknowledged the necessity of carving out a new form for the religious life of our time. Hardly a century after the once glittering tinsel of Rationalism, now that Materialism is sounding its retreat in the ranks of science, a kind of hollow piety is again exercising its enticing charms, and every day it is becoming more fashionable to take a plunge into the warm stream of mysticism. With an almost sensual delight this modern mysticism quaffs its intoxicating draught from the nectar-cup of some intangible infinite. It was even purposed that, on the ruins of the once so stately Puritanic building, a new religion, with a new ritual should be inaugurated, as a higher evolution of religious life. Already, for more than a quarter of a century, the dedication and solemn opening of this new sanctuary has been promised us. And yet it has all led to nothing. No tangible effect has been produced. No formative principle has emerged from the imbroglio of hypotheses. Not even the beginning of an associative movement is as yet perceptible, and the long looked for plant has not even lifted its head above the barren soil.—Now, in contraposition to this, look at the giant spirit of Calvin, who, in the sixteenth century, with one master-stroke, placed before the gaze of the astonished world an entire religious edifice, erected in the purest Scriptural style. So rapidly was the whole building completed that most of the spectators forgot to pay attention to the wonderful structure of the foundations. In all that the religious modern thought has, I will not say created, as with a master hand, but heaped together, like an unsuccessful amateur,—not one nation, not one family, hardly one solitary soul has (to use Augustine’s words), ever found the requiescat for his “broken heart,” while the Reformer of Geneva, by his mighty spiritual energy, unto five nations at once, both then, and after the lapse of three centuries, has afforded guidance in life, the uplifting of the heart unto the Father of Spirits, and holy peace, for ever. This naturally leads to the question—what was the secret of this wonderful energy? Allow me to present the answer to this question,—first in Religion as such, next in religion as manifested in the Life of the Church, and lastly in the fruit of Religion for Practical Life.
First, then, we must consider Religion as such. Here four mutually dependent fundamental questions arise;—1. Does Religion exist for the sake of God, or for Man? 2. Must it operate directly or mediately? 3. Can it remain partial in its operations or has it to embrace the whole of our personal being and existence? and, 4. Can it bear a normal, or must it reveal an abnormal, i.e., a soteriological character? To these four questions Calvinism answers: 1. Man’s religion ought to be not egotistical, and for man, but ideal, for the sake of God. 2. It has to operate not mediately, by human interposition, but directly, from the heart. 3. It may not remain partial, as running alongside of life, but must lay hold upon our whole existence. And 4. Its character should be soteriological, i.e., it should spring, not from our fallen nature, but from the new man, restored by palingenesis to his original standard.
Allow me then successively to elucidate each of these four points.
Modern religious philosophy ascribes the origin of religion to a potency, from which it could not originate, but which acted merely, as its supporter and preserver. It has mistaken the dead prop of the living shoot for the living shoot itself. Attention is called, and very properly, to the contrast between man, and the overwhelming power of the cosmos which surrounds him; and now religion is introduced as a mystical energy, trying to strengthen him against this immense power of the cosmos which inspires him with such deadly fear. Being conscious of the dominion which his unseen soul exercises over his own tangible body, he infers quite naturally, that Nature, also, must be moved by the impulse of some hidden spiritual power. Animistically, therefore, he first explains the movements of nature as the result of an indwelling army of spirits, and tries to catch them, to conjure them, to bend them to his advantage. Then, rising from this atomistic idea to a more comprehensive conception, he begins to believe in the existence of personal gods, expecting from these divine beings, who stand above nature, effectual assistance against the fiendish power of Nature. And finally, grasping the contrast between the spiritual and the material, he pays homage to the Supreme Spirit, as standing over against all that is visible, till, in the end, having abandoned his faith in such an extramundane Spirit as a personal being, and charmed by the loftiness of his own human spirit, he prostrates himself before some impersonal ideal, of which in self-adoration he deems himself to be the worshipful incarnation. But whatever may be the various stages in the progress of this egoistic religion, it never overcomes its subjective character, remaining always a religion for the sake of man. Men are religious in order to conjure the spirits hovering behind the veil of Nature, to free themselves from the oppressive sway of the cosmos. It matters not whether the Llama priest confines the evil spirits in his jugs, whether the nature-gods of the Orient are invoked to afford shelter against the forces of nature, whether the loftier gods of Greece are worshipped in their ascendency above nature, or whether, finally, idealistic philosophy presents the spirit of man himself as the real object of adoration;—in all these different forms it is and remains a religion fostered for man’s sake, aiming at his safety, his liberty, his elevation, and partly also at his triumph over death. And even when a religion of this kind has developed itself into monotheism, the god whom it worships, remains invariably a god who exists in order to help man, in order to secure good order and tranquillity for the State, to furnish assistance and deliverance in time of need, or to strengthen the nobler and higher impulse of the human heart in its ceaseless struggle with the degrading influences of sin. The consequence of this is that all such religion thrives in time of famine and pestilence, it flourishes among the poor and oppressed, and it expands among the humble and the feeble; but it pines away in the days of prosperity, it fails to attract the well-to-do, it is abandoned by those who are more highly cultured. As soon as the more civilized classes enjoy tranquillity and comfort, and by the progress of science feel more and more delivered from the pressure of the cosmos, they throw away the crutches of religion, and with a sneer at everything holy, go stumbling forward on their own poor legs. This is the fatal end of egoistic religion;—it becomes superfluous and disappears as soon as the egoistic interests are satisfied. This was the course of religion among all non-Christian nations, in earlier times, and the same phenomenon is repeating itself in our own century, among nominal Christians of the higher, more properous and more cultured classes of society.
Now the position of Calvinism is diametrically opposed to all this. It does not deny that religion has also its human and subjective side; it does not dispute the fact that religion is promoted, encouraged and strengthened by our disposition to seek help in time of need and spiritual elevation in the face of sensual passions; but it maintains that it reverses the proper order of things to seek, in these accidental motives, the essence and the very purpose of religion. The Calvinist values all of these as fruits which are produced by religion, or as props which give it support, but he refuses to honour them as the reason of its existence. Of course, religion, as such, produces also a blessing for man, but it does not exist for the sake of man. It is not God who exists for the sake of His creation;—the creation exists for the sake of God. For, as the Scripture says. He has created all things for Himself.
For this reason God even impressed a religious expression on the whole of unconscious nature,—on plants, on animals and also on children. “The whole earth is full of His glory.” “How excellent is Thy Name, God, in all the earth.” “The Heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth His handiwork.” “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings Thou hast ordained praise.” Frost and hail, snow and vapour, the abyss and the hurricane,—everything does praise God. But just as the entire creation reaches its culminating point in man, so also religion finds its clear expression only in man who is made in the image of God, and this not because man seeks it, but because God Himself implanted in man’s nature the real essential religious expression, by means of the “seed of religion” (semen religionis), as Calvin defines it, sown in our human heart.
God Himself makes man religious by means of the sensus divinitatis, i.e., the sense of the Divine, which He causes to strike the chords on the harp of his soul. A sound of need interrupts the pure harmony of this divine melody, but only in consequence of sin. In its original form, in its natural condition, religion is exclusively a sentiment of admiration and adoration, which elevates and unites, not a feeling of dependence which severs and depresses. Just as the anthem of the Seraphim around the throne is one uninterrupted cry of “Holy,—Holy,—Holy”!, so also the religion of man upon this earth should consist in one echoing of God’s glory, as our Creator and Inspirer. The starting-point of every motive in religion is God and not Man. Man is the instrument and means, God alone is here the goal, the point of departure and the point of arrival, the fountain, from which the waters flow, and at the same time, the ocean into which they finally return. To be irreligious is to forsake the highest aim of our existence, and on the other hand to covet no other existence than for the sake of God, to long for nothing but for the will of God, and to be wholly absorbed in the glory of the name of the Lord, such is the pith and kernel of all true religion. “Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy Will be done,” is the threefold petition, which gives utterance to all true religion. Our watchword must be,—“Seek first the kingdom of God,” and after that, think of your own need. First stands the confession of the absolute sovereignty of the Triune God; for of Him, through Him, and unto Him are all things. And therefore our prayer remains the deepest expression of all religious life. This is the fundamental conception of religion as maintained by Calvinism, and hitherto, no one has ever found a higher conception. For no higher conception can be found. The fundamental thought of Calvinism, at the same time the fundamental thought of the Bible, and of Christianity itself, leads, in the domain of religion to the realization of the highest ideal. Nor has the philosophy of religion in our own century, in its most daring flights, ever attained a higher point of view nor a more ideal conception.
The second principal question in all religion is whether it must be direct, or mediate. Must there stand a church, a priest, or, as of old, a sorcerer, a dispenser of sacred mysteries, between God and the soul, or shall all intervening links be cast away, so that the bond of religion shall bind the soul directly to God. Now we find that in all non-Christian religions, without any exception, human intercessors are deemed necessary, and in the domain of Christianity itself the intercessor intruded again upon the scene, in the Blessed Virgin, in the host of angels, in the saints and martyrs, and in the priestly hierarchy of the clergy; and although Luther took the field against all priestly mediation, yet the church which is called by his name, renewed by its title of “ecclesia docens” the office of mediator and steward of mysteries. On this point also it was Calvin, and he alone, who attained to the full realization of the ideal of pure spiritual religion. Religion, as he conceived it, must “nullis mediis interpositis”, i.e., without any creaturely intercession, realize the direct communion between God and the human heart. Not because of any hatred against priests, as such, not because of any undervaluing of the martyrs, nor underestimating the significance of angels, but solely because Calvin felt bound to vindicate the essence of religion and the glory of God in that essence, and absolutely devoid of all yielding or wavering, he waged war, with holy indignation, against everything that interposed itself between the soul and God. Of course he clearly perceived that in order to be fitted for the true religion, fallen man needs a Mediator, but such a mediator could not be found in any fellow-man. Only the God-man,—only God Himself could be such a mediator. And this mediatorship could be confirmed not by us, but only from the side of God, by the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit in the heart of the regenerated.
In all religion God Himself must be the active power. He must make us religious, He must give us the religious disposition, nothing being left to us but the power to give form and expression to the deep religious sentiment which He, Himself, stirred in the depth of our heart. There we see the mistake of those who regarded Calvin as only an Augustinus redivivus. Notwithstanding his sublime confession of God’s holy grace, Augustine remained the Bishop. He kept his intermediate position between the Triune God and the layman. And although prominent among the most pious men of his time, he had so little insight into the real claims of thorough-going religion on behalf of laymen that in his dogmatics he lauds the church as the mystical Purveyor, into whose bosom God caused all grace to flow and from whose treasure all men had to accept it. Only he, therefore, who superficially confines his attention to predestination can confuse Augustinianism and Calvinism. Religion for the sake of man carries with it the position that man has to act as a mediator for his fellow-man. Religion for the sake of God inexorably excludes every human mediatorship. As long as it remains the chief purpose of religion to help man, and as long as man is understood to deserve grace by his devotion, it is perfectly natural that the man of inferior piety should invoke the mediation of the holier man. Another must procure for him what he cannot procure for himself. The fruit on the branches hangs too high, and, therefore, the higher-reaching man has to pluck it, and hand it down to his helpless comrade. If, on the contrary, the demand of religion is that every human heart must give glory to God, no man can appear before God on behalf of another. Then every single human being must appear personally, for himself, and religion achieves its aim only in the general priesthood of believers. Even the new-born babe must have received the seed of religion from God Himself; and in case it dies without being baptized, it must not be sent off to a limbus innocentium, but, if elected, enter, even as the long-lived, into personal communion with God, for all eternity.
The importance of this second point, in the question of religion, culminating, as it does, in the confession of personal election, is incalculable. On the one hand, all religion must tend to make man free, that by a clear utterance he may express that general religious impression stamped, by God Himself, upon unconscious nature. On the other hand, every appearance of an interposing priest or enchanter in the domain of religion fetters the human spirit, in a chain which presses the more woefully the more the piety increases in fervour. In the Church of Rome, even at the present day, the bons catholiques are most closely confined in the fetters of the clerus. Only the Roman-Catholic whose piety has decreased, is able to secure for himself a partial liberty by loosening more than half-way the tie which connects him with his church. In the Lutheran churches the clerical fetters are less confining, yet far from being loosened, entirely. And only in churches which take their stand in Calvinism, do we find that spiritual independence which enables the believer to oppose, if need be, and for God’s sake, even the most powerful office-bearer in his church. Only he who personally stands before God on his own account, and enjoys an uninterrupted communion with God, can properly display the glorious wings of liberty. And both in Holland and in France, in England as well as in America, the historic result affords most undeniable evidence of the fact that despotism has found no more invincible antagonists, and liberty of conscience on braver, no more resolute champions than the followers of Calvin. In the last analysis, the cause of this phenomenon lies in the fact that the effect of every clerical interposition invariably was, and must be, to make religion external and to smother it with sacerdotal forms. Only where all priestly intervention disappears, where God’s sovereign election from all eternity binds the inward soul directly to God Himself, and where the ray of divine light enters straightway into the depth of our heart,—only there does religion, in its most absolute sense, gain its ideal realization.
This leads me, naturally, to the third religious question: Is religion partial, or is it all-subduing, and comprehensive,—universal in the strict sense of the word? Now, if the aim of religion be found in man himself and if its realization be made dependent on clerical mediators, religion cannot be but partial. In that case it follows logically that every man confines his religion to those occurrences of his life by which his religious needs are stirred, and to those cases in which he finds human intervention at his disposal. The partial character of this sort of religion shows itself in three particulars: in the religious organ through which, in the sphere in which, and in the group of persons among which, religion has to thrive and flourish.
Recent controversy affords a pertinent illustration of the first limitation. The wise men of our generation maintain that religion has to retire from the precinct of the human intellect. It must seek to express itself either by means of the mystical feelings, or else by means of the practical will. Mystical and ethical inclinations are hailed with enthusiasm, in the domain of religion, but in that same domain the intellect, as leading to metaphysical hallucinations, must be muzzled. Metaphysics and Dogmatics are increasingly tabooed, and Agnosticism is ever more loudly acclaimed as the solution of the great enigma. On the rivers of sentiment and of feeling, navigation is made duty-free, and ethical activity is becoming the only touch-stone for testing the religious gold; but Metaphysics is avoided as drowning us in a swamp. Whatsoever announces itself with the pretension of an axiomatic dogma, is rejected as irreligious contraband. And although that same Christ whom these very scholars honour as a religious genius has taught us most emphatically: “Thou shalt love God, not only with all thy heart and with all thy strength, but also with all thy mind”, yet they, on the contrary, venture to dismiss our mind, or intellect, as unfit for use, in this holy domain, and as not fulfilling the requirements of a religious organ.
Thus the religious organ being found, not in the whole of our being, but in part of it, being confined to our feelings and our will, consequently also the sphere of religious life also must assume in consequence the same partial character. Religion is excluded from science, and its authority from the domain of public life; henceforth the inner chamber, the cell for prayer, and the secrecy of the heart should be its exclusive dwelling place. By his du sollst, Kant limited the sphere of religion to the ethical life. The mystics of our own times banish religion to the retreats of sentiment. And the result is that, in many different ways, religion, once the central force of human life, is now placed alongside of it; and, far from the thriving of the world, is understood to hide itself in a distant and almost private retreat.
This brings us naturally to the third characteristic note of this partial view of religion;—religion as pertaining not to all, but only to the group of pious people among our generation. Thus the limitation of the organ of religion brings about the limitation of its sphere, and the limitation of its sphere consequently brings about the limitation of its group or circle among men. Just as art is understood to have an organ of its own, a sphere of its own, and therefore, also, its own circle of devotees, so also, according to this view, must it be with religion. It so happens that the great bulk of the people are almost devoid of mystical feeling, and energetic strength of will. For this reason they have either no perception of the glow of mysticism, or are incapable of really pious deeds. But there are also those whose inner life is overflowing with a sense of the Infinite, or who are full of holy energy, and among such it is that piety and religion flourish most brilliantly both in their imaginative power, and in their realizing capability.
From a quite different standpoint, Rome gradually and increasingly came to favour the same partial views. She knew religion only as it existed in her own church, and considered the influence of religion to be confined to that portion of life which she had consecrated. I fully acknowledge that she tried to draw all human life as far as possible into the holy sphere, but everything outside this sphere, everything not touched by baptism, nor aspersed by her holy water, was devoid of all genuine religious efficiency. And just as Rome drew a boundary line between the consecrated and the profane sides of life, she also subdivided her own sacred precincts according to different degrees of religious intensity;—the clergy and the cloister constituting the Holy of Holies, the pious laity forming the Holy Place, thus leaving the Outer Court to those who, although baptized, continued to prefer to church-devotion the often sinful pleasures of the world;—a system of limitation and division, which for those in the Outer Court, ended in setting nine tenths of practical life outside of all religion. So religion was made partial, by carrying it from ordinary days to days of festival, from days of prosperity to times of danger and sickness, and from the fulness of life to the time of approaching death. A dualistic system which has found its most emphatic expression in the praxis of the Carnival, giving Religion a full sway over the soul during the weeks of Lent, but leaving to the flesh a fair chance, before descending into this vale of gloom, to empty to the dregs the full cup of pleasure, if not of mirth and folly.
Now this whole view of the matter is squarely antagonized by Calvinism, which vindicates for religion its full universal character, and its complete universal application. If everything that is, exists for the sake of God, then it follows that the whole creation must give glory to God. The sun, moon, and stars in the firmament, the birds of the air, the whole of Nature around us, but, above all, man himself, who, priestlike, must consecrate to God the whole of creation, and all life thriving in it. And although sin has deadened a large part of creation to the glory of God, the demand,—the ideal, remains unchangeable, that every creature must be immersed in the stream of religion, and end by lying as a religious offering on the altar of the Almighty. A religion confined to feeling or will is therefore unthinkable to the Calvinist. The sacred anointing of the priest of creation must reach down to his beard and to the hem of his garment. His whole being, including all his abilities and powers, must be pervaded by the sensus divinitatis, and how then could he exclude his rational consciousness,—the λόγος which is in him,—the light of thought which comes from God Himself to irradiate him? To possess his God for the underground world of his feelings, and in the outworks of the exertion of his will, but not in his inner self, in the very centre of his consciousness, and his thought; to have fixed starting-points for the study of nature and axiomatic strongholds for practical life, but to have no fixed support in his thoughts about the Creator Himself,—all of this was, for the Calvinist, the very denying of the Eternal Logos.
The same character of universality was claimed by the Calvinist for the sphere of religion and its circle of influence among men. Everything that has been created was, in its creation, furnished by God with an unchangeable law of its existence. And because God has fully ordained such laws and ordinances for all life, therefore the Calvinist demands that all life be consecrated to His service, in strict obedience. A religion confined to the closet, the cell, or the church, therefore, Calvin abhors. With the Psalmist, he calls upon heaven and earth, he calls upon all peoples and nations to give glory to God. God is present in all life, with the influence of His omnipresent and almighty power, and no sphere of human life is conceivable in which religion does not maintain its demands that God shall be praised, that God’s ordinances shall be observed, and that every labora shall be permeated with its ora in fervent and ceaseless prayer. Wherever man may stand, whatever he may do, to whatever he may apply his hand, in agriculture, in commerce, and in industry, or his mind, in the world of art, and science, he is, in whatsoever it may be, constantly standing before the face of his God, he is employed in the service of his God, he has strictly to obey his God, and above all, he has to aim at the glory of his God.—Consequently, it is impossible for a Calvinist to confine religion to a single group, or to some circles among men. Religion concerns the whole of our human race. This race is the product of God’s creation. It is His wonderful workmanship, His absolute possession. Therefore the whole of mankind must be imbued with the fear of God,—old as well as young,—low as well as high,—not only those who have become initiated into His mysteries, but also those who still stand afar off. For not only did God create all men, not only is He all for all men, but His grace also extends itself, not only as a special grace, to the elect, but also as a common grace (gratia communis), to all mankind. To be sure there is a concentration of religious light and life in the Church, but then in the walls of this church, there are wide open windows, and through these spacious windows the light of the Eternal has to radiate over the whole world. Here is a city, set upon a hill, which every man can see afar of. Here is a holy salt that penetrates in every direction, checking all corruption. And even he who does not yet imbibe the higher light, or maybe shuts his eyes to it, is nevertheless admonished, with equal emphasis, and in all things, to give glory to the name of the Lord. All partial religion drives the wedge of dualism into life, but the true Calvinist never forsakes the standard of religious monism. One supreme calling must impress the stamp of one-ness upon all human life, because one God upholds and preserves it, just as He created it all.
This brings us, without any further transition, to our fourth main question, viz., Must religion be normal, or abnormal, i e., soteriological? The distinction which I have in mind here is concerned with the question, whether in the matter of religion we must reckon de facto with man in his present condition as normal, or as having fallen into sin, and having therefore become abnormal. In the latter case religion must necessarily assume a soteriological character. Now the prevailing idea, at present, favours the view that religion has to start from man as being normal. Not of course as though our race as a whole should conform already to the highest religious norm. This nobody affirms. Everyone knows better than to make such an absurd statement. As a matter of fact, we meet with much irreligiousness, and imperfect religious development continues to be the rule. But precisely in this slow and gradual progress from the lowest forms to the highest ideals, the development demanded by this normal view of religion contends that it has found confirmation. According to this view, the first traces of religion are found in animals. They are seen in the dog who adores his master, and as the homo sapiens developes out of the chimpanzee, so religion only enters upon a higher stage. Since that time religion has passed through all the notes of the gamut. At present it is engaged in loosening itself from the bands of Church and dogma, to pass on to what is again considered a higher stage, namely, the unconscious feeling for the Unknown Infinite.—Now, this whole theory is opposed by that other and entirely different theory, which, without denying the preformation of so much that is human, in the animal, or the fact that (if you will allow me to say so) animals were created after the image of man, just as man was created after the image of God, nevertheless maintains that the first man was created in perfect relations to his God, i.e., as imbued by a pure and genuine religion, and consequently explains the many low, imperfect and absurd forms of religion found in Paganism, not as the result of his creation but as the outcome of his Fall. These low and imperfect forms of religion are not to be understood as a process that leads from a lower to a higher, but as a lamentable degeneration,—a degeneration, which, in the nature of the case, makes the restoration of the true religion possible only in the soteriological way. Now in the choice between these two theories Calvinism allows no hesitation. Standing himself, with this question, too, before the face of God, the Calvinist was so impressed with the holiness of God that the consciousness of guilt immediately lacerated his soul, and the terrible nature of sin pressed on his heart as with an intolerable weight Every attempt to explain sin, as an incomplete stage on the way to perfection, aroused his wrath, as an insult to the majesty of God. He confessed, from the beginning, the same truth which Buckle has demonstrated empirically in his “History of Civilization in England”, viz., that the forms in which sin makes its appearance may show us a gradual refinement, but that the moral condition of the human heart, as such, has remained the same throughout all the centuries. To the de profundis with which, thirty centuries ago, the soul of David cried unto God, the troubled soul of every child of God in the sixteenth century still sounded a response with undiminished power. The conception of the corruption of sin as the source of all human misery was nowhere more profound than in Calvin’s environment. Even in the assertions which the Calvinist made, in accordance with Holy Scripture, concerning hell and damnation, there is no coarseness, no rudeness, but only that clearness which is the result of the utmost seriousness of life, and the undaunted courage of a deep-rooted conviction of the holiness of the most High. Did not He, from whose lips flowed the most tender, and the most winning words,—did not He, Himself also speak most decidedly and repeatedly of an “outer darkness”, of a “fire that cannot be quenched”, and of a “worm that dieth not”? And in this, also, Calvin was right, for to refuse to assent to these words is nothing but a lack of thoroughgoing consistency. It shews a want of sincerity in our confession of the holiness of God, and of the destructive power of sin. And on the contrary, in this spiritual experience of sin, in this empirical consideration of the misery of life, in this lofty impression of the holiness of God, and in this staunchness of his convictions, which led him to follow his conclusions to the bitter end, the Calvinist found the roots of the necessity first of Regeneration, for real existence, and secondly, the necessity of Revelation, for clear consciousness.
Now my subject does not induce me to speak in detail of regeneration, as that immediate act by which God, as it were, sets right again the crooked wheel of life. But it is necessary that I say a few words concerning Revelation, and the authority of the Holy Scriptures. Very improperly, the Scriptures have been represented, by Schweizer and others, as only the formal principle of the Reformed confession. The conception of genuine Calvinism lies much deeper. The meaning of Calvin was expressed in what he called the necessitas S. Scripturae; i.e. the need of Scriptural revelation. This necessitas S. S. was for Calvin the unavoidable expression for the all-dominating authority of the Holy Scriptures, and even now it is this very dogma which enables us to understand, why it is that the Calvinist of to-day considers the critical analysis and the application of the critical solvent to the Scriptures as tantamount to an abandoning of Christianity itself. In Paradise, before the Fall, there was no Bible, and there will be no Bible in the future Paradise of glory. When the transparent light, kindled by Nature, addresses us directly, and the inner word of God sounds in our heart in its original clearness, and all human words are sincere, and the function of our inner ear is perfectly performed, why should we need a Bible? What mother loses herself in a treatise upon the “love of our children” the very moment that her own dear ones are playing about her knee, and God allows her to drink in their love with full draughts? But, in our present condition, this immediate communion with God by means of nature, and of our own heart is lost. Sin brought separation instead, and the opposition which is manifest nowadays, against the authority of the Holy Scriptures is based on nothing else than the false supposition that, our condition being still normal, our religion need not be soteriological. For of course, in that case, the Bible is not wanted, it becomes, indeed, a hindrance, and grates upon your feelings, since it interposes a book between God and your heart. Oral communication excludes writing. When the sun shines in your house, bright and clear, you turn off the electric light, but when the sun disappears, below the horizon, you feel the necessitas luminis artificiosi, i.e., the need of artificial light, and the artificial light is kindled in every dwelling. Now this is the case in matters of religion. When there are no mists to hide the majesty of the divine light from our eyes, what need is there then for a lamp unto the feet, or a light upon the path? But when history, experience and consciousness all unite in stating the fact that the pure and full light of Heaven has disappeared, and that we are groping about in the dark, then, a different, or if you will, an artificial light must be kindled for us;—and such a light God has kindled for us in His Holy Word.
For the Calvinist, therefore, the necessity of the Holy Scriptures does not rest in ratiocination, but on the immediate testimony of the Holy Spirit,—on the testimonium spiritus Sancti. Our theory of inspiration is the product of historical deduction, and so is also every canonical declaration of the Scriptures. But the magnetic power with which the Scripture influences the soul, and draws it to itself, just as the magnet draws the steel, is not derived, but immediate. All of this takes place in a manner, which is not magical, nor unfathomably mystical, but clear, and easy to be understood. God regenerates us,—that is to say he rekindles in our heart the lamp sin had blown out. The necessary consequence of this regeneration is an irreconcilable conflict between the inner world of our heart and the world outside, and this conflict is ever the more intensified the more the regenerative principle pervades our consiousness. Now, in the Bible, God reveals, to the regenerate, a world of thought, a world of energies, a world of full and beautiful life, which stands in direct opposition to his ordinary world, but which proves to agree in a wonderful way with the new life that has sprung up in his heart. So the regenerate begins to guess the identity of what is stirring in the depth of his own soul, and of what is revealed to him in Scripture, thereby learning both the inanity of the world around him, and the divine reality of the world of the Scriptures, and as soon as this has become a certainty to him, he has personally received the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Everything that is in him thirsted for the Father of all Lights and Spirits. Outside the Scripture, he discovered only vague shadows. But now as he looks upward, through the prism of the Scriptures, he rediscovers his Father and his God.—For this reason he puts no shackles on science. If a man wants to criticise, let him criticise. Such criticism even holds the promise that it will deepen our own insight into the structure of the scriptural edifice. Only no Calvinist ever allows the critic to dash out of his hand, for a moment, the prism itself which breaks up the divine ray of light into its brilliant tints and colours. No appeal to the grace bestowed inwardly, no pointing to the fruits of the Holy Ghost, can enable him to dispense with the necessitas which the soteriological standpoint of religion among sinners carries with it. As mere entities we share our life with plants and animals. Unconscious life we share with the children, and with the sleeping man, and even with the man who has lost his reason. That which distinguishes us, as higher beings, and as wide awake men, is our full self-consciousness, and therefore, if religion, as the highest vital function, is to operate also in that highest sphere of self-consciousness, it must follow that soteriological religion, next to the necessitas of inward palingenesis, demands also the necessitas of an assistant light, of revelation to be kindled in our twilight. And this assistant light coming from God Himself, but handed to us by human agency, beams upon us in His holy Word.
Summing up the results of our investigations thus far, I may express my conclusion as follows. In each one of the four great problems of religion, Calvinism has expressed its conviction in an appropriate dogma, and each time has made that choice which even now, after three centuries, satisfies the most ideal wants, and leaves the way open for an ever richer development. First, it regards religion, not in an utilitarian, or eudæmonistic sense, as existing for the sake of man, but for God, and for God alone. This is its dogma of God’s souvereignty. Secondly, in religion there must be no intermediation of any creature between God and the soul;—all religion is the immediate work of God Himself, in the inner heart. This is the doctrine of Election. Thirdly, religion is not partial but universal;—this is the dogma of common or universal grace. And, finally, in our sinful condition, religion cannot be normal, but has to be soteriological;—this is its position in the twofold dogma of the necessity of Regeneration, and of the necessitas S. Scripturae.
Having considered Religion as such, and coming now to the Church, as its organized form, or its phenomenal appearance, I shall present, in three successive stages, the Calvinistic conception of the essence, the manifestation and the purpose of the Church of Christ upon earth.
In its essence, for the Calvinist, the Church is a spiritual organism, including heaven and earth, but having at present, its centre, and the starting-point for its action, not upon earth, but in heaven. This is to be understood thus: God created the Cosmos geocentrically, i.e., He placed the spiritual centre of this Cosmos on our planet, and caused all the divisions of the kingdoms of nature, on this earth, to culminate in man, upon whom, as the bearer of His image He called to consecrate the Cosmos to His glory. In God’s creation, therefore, man stands as the prophet, priest and king, and although sin has disturbed these high designs, yet God pushes them onward. He so loves His world that He has given Himself to it, in the person of His Son, and thus He has again brought our race, and through our race, His whole Cosmos, into a renewed contact with eternal life. To be sure, many branches and leaves fell off the tree of the human race, yet the tree itself shall be saved; on its new root in Christ, it shall once more blossom gloriously. For regeneration does not save a few isolated individuals, finally to be joined together mechanically as an aggregate heap. Regeneration saves the organism, itself, of our race. And therefore all regenerate human life, forms one organic body, of which Christ is the Head, and whose members are bound together by their mystical union with Him. But not before the second Advent, shall this new all-embracing organism manifest itself as the centre of the cosmos. At present it is hidden. Here, on earth it is only as it were its silhouette that can be dimly discerned. In the Future, this new Jerusalem shall descend from God, out of heaven, but at present it withdraws its beams from our sight in the mysteries of the invisible. And therefore the true sanctuary is now above. On high are both the Altar of Atonement, and the incense-Altar of Prayer; and on high is Christ, as the only priest who, according to Melchizedek’s ordinance, ministers at the Altar, in the sanctuary, before God.
Now, in the middle ages, the Church had more and more lost sight of this celestial character;—she had become worldly in her nature. The Sanctuary was again brought back to earth, the altar was rebuilt of stone, and a priestly hierarchy had reconstituted itself for the ministrations of the altar. Next of course it was necessary also to renew the tangible sacrifice on earth, and this at last brought the church to create the unbloody offering of the Mass. Now against all this, Calvinism opposed itself, not to contend against priesthood on principle, or against altars as such, or against sacrifice in itself, because the office of priest cannot perish, and everyone knowing the fact of sin realizes in his own heart, the absolute need of a propitiatory sacrifice; but in order to do away with all this worldly paraphernalia, and to call believers to lift up their eyes again, on high, to the real sanctuary, where Christ, our only priest, ministers at the only real altar. The battle was waged, not against sacerdotium, but against sacerdotalism, and Calvin alone fought this battle through to the end, with thorough consistency. Lutherans and Episcopalians rebuilt a kind of altar, on earth; Calvinism alone dared to put it away, entirely. Consequently, among the Episcopalians, the earthly priesthood was retained, even in the form of a hierarchy; in Lutheran lands the sovereign became summus episcopus and the divisions of ecclesiastical ranks were imitated; but Calvinism proclaimed the absolute equality of all who engaged in the service of the church, and refused to ascribe to its leaders and officebearers any other character than that of Ministers, (i.e., servants.) That which, under the shadows of the Old Testament dispensation, furnished intuitive instruction by types and symbols, now that the types were fulfilled, had become to Calvin, a detriment to the glory of Christ, and lowered the heavenly nature of the Church. Therefore, Calvinism could not rest until this worldly tinsel had ceased to charm and attract the eye. Only when the last grain of the sacerdotal leaven had been eliminated, could the Church on earth again become the outer court, from which believers could look up and onward to the real sanctuary of the living God in heaven.
The Westminster Confession beautifully sets forth this heavenly all-embracing nature of the Church, when it says:—“The Catholic or Universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect that have been, are or shall be, gathered into one, under Christ the Head, thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.” Only thus was the dogma of the invisible church religiously consecrated and apprehended in its cosmological, and enduring significance. For, of course, the reality and fulness of the Church of Christ cannot exist on earth. Here is found, at most, one generation of believers at a time, in the portal of the Temple;—all previous generations, from the beginning and foundation of the world, had left this earth, and had gone up on high. Therefore, those who remained here, were, eo ipso, pilgrims, meaning thereby that they were marching from the portal unto the Sanctuary itself, no possibility of salvation after death remaining for those who had not been united to Christ, during this present life. No room could be left for masses for the dead, nor for a call to repentance on the other side of the grave, as German Theologians are now advocating. For all such processional, and gradual transitions, were regarded by Calvin as destroying the absolute contrast between the essence of the Church in Heaven, and its imperfect form, here on earth. The church on earth does not send up its light to heaven, but the Church in heaven must send its light down to the Church on earth. There is now, as it were, a curtain stretched, before the eye, which hinders it from penetrating while on earth, into the real essence of the Church. Therefore, all that remains possible to us on earth is first, a mystical communion with that real Church, by means of the Spirit, and in the second place the enjoyment of the shadows which are displaying themselves on the transparent curtain before us. Accordingly, no child of God should imagine that the real Church is here on earth, and that behind the curtain there is only an ideal product of our imagination; but, on the contrary, he has to confess that Christ in human form, in our flesh, has entered into the invisible, behind the curtain; and that, with Him, around Him, and in Him, our Head, is the real church, the real and essential sanctuary of our salvation.
After having thus clearly grasped the nature of the Church, in its bearing upon the re-creation both of our human race and of the Cosmos as a whole, let us now turn our attention to its form of manifestation, here on earth. As such it displays, unto us, different local congregations of believers, groups of confessors, living in some ecclesiastical union, in obedience to the ordinances of Christ Himself. The Church on earth is not an institution for the dispensation of grace, as if it were a dispensary of spiritual medicines. There is no mystical, spiritual order, gifted with mystical, powers to operate with a magical influence upon laymen. There are only regenerated and confessing individuals, who, in accordance with the Scriptural command, and under the influence of the sociological element of all religion, have formed a society, and are endeavouring to live together in subordination to Christ as their king. This, alone, is the church on earth,—not the building,—not the institution,—not a spiritual order. For Calvin, the Church is found in the confessing individuals themselves,—not in each individual separately, but in all of them taken together, and united, not as they themselves see fit, but according to the ordinances of Christ. In the church on earth, the universal priesthood of believers must be realized. Do not misunderstand me. I do not say: The Church consists of pious persons united in groups for religious purposes. That, in itself, would have nothing in common with the church. The real, heavenly, invisible church must manifest itself in the earthly church. If not, you will have a society, but no church. Now the real, essential church is and remains the body of Christ, of which regenerate persons are members. Therefore the Church on earth consists only of those who have been incorporated into Christ, who bow before Him, live in His Word, and adhere to His ordinances; and for this reason the church on earth has to preach the Word, to administer the sacraments, and to exercise discipline, and in everything to stand before the face of God.
This at the same time determines the form of government of this church on earth. This government, like the church itself, originates in Heaven, in Christ. He most effectually rules, governs His church by means of the Holy Spirit, by whom He works in His members. Therefore, all being equal under Him, there can be no distinctions of rank among believers; there are only ministers, who serve, lead and regulate; a thoroughly Presbyterian form of government; the Church power descending directly from Christ Himself, into the congregation, concentrated from the congregation in the ministers, and by them being administered unto the brethren. So the sovereignty of Christ remains absolutely monarchical, but the government of the Church on earth becomes democratic to its bones and marrow; a system leading logically to this other sequence, that all believers and all congregations being of an equal standing, no Church may exercise any dominion over another, but that all local churches are of equal rank, and as manifestations of one and the same body, can only be united synodically, i.e., by way of confederation.
Now let me draw your attention to another most important consequence of this same principle, viz., to the multiformity of denominations as the necessary result of the differentiation of the churches, according to the different degrees of their purity. If the church is considered to be an institute of grace, independent of the believers, or an institute in which a hierarchical priesthood distributes the treasury of grace entrusted to it, the result must be that this hierarchy itself extends through all nations, and imparts the same stamp to all forms of ecclesiastical life. But if the church consists in the congregation of believers, if the churches are formed by the union of confessors, and are united only in the way of confederation, then the differences of climate and of nation, of historical past, and of disposition of mind come in to exercise a widely variegating influence, and multiformity in ecclesiastical matters must be the result. A result, therefore, of very far-reaching importance, because it annihilates the absolute character of every visible Church, and places them all side by side, as differing in degrees of purity, but always remaining in some way or other a manifestation of one holy and catholic church of Christ in Heaven.
I do not say that Calvinistic theologians have proclaimed this full consequence from the beginning. The desire for ruling power lurked also at the door of their heart, and even apart from this dangerous disposition it was right and natural for them theoretically to judge each church according to the standard of their own ideals. But this does not in the least detract from the great significance of the fact that by regarding their church, not as a hierarchy or institution, but as the gathering of individual confessors, they started for the life of the church, as well as for the life of the state, and civil society, from the principle not of compulsion, but of liberty. For, of course by virtue of this starting-point there was no other church-power superior to the local churches, save only what the churches themselves constituted, by means of their confederation. Hence it followed of necessity that the natural and historic differences between men should also, wedge-like, force their way into the phenomenal life of the church upon earth. National differences of morals, differences of disposition and of emotions, different degrees in depth of life and insight, necessarily resulted in emphasizing first one, and then another side of the same truth. Hence the numerous sects and denominations into which the external church-life has fallen by virtue of this principle. So on our side there are denominations which may have departed from the rich deep and full Calvinistic Confession, in no small degree, even such as bitterly oppose more than one capital article of our confession; yet they all owe their origin to a deep-rooted opposition to sacerdotalism, and to the acknowledgment of the church as the “congregation of believers”, the truth in which Calvinism expressed its fundamental conception. And although this fact unavoidably led to much unholy rivalry, and even to sinful errors of conduct; yet, after an experience of three centuries it must be confessed that this multiformity, which is inseparably connected with the fundamental thought of Calvinism, has been much more favourable to the growth and prosperity of religious life than the compulsory uniformity in which others sought the very basis of its strength. And fruit is to be expected more abundantly still in the future, provided only that the principle of ecclesiastical liberty does not degenerate into indifference, and that no church, which, in its name and confession still upholds the Calvinistic banner, omits to fulfil its holy mission of recommending to others the superiority of its principles.
Still another point must be brought forward in this connection. The conception of the Church as the “congregation of believers” might lead to the conception that it included the believers only, without their children. This, however, is by no means the teaching of Calvinism; its teaching on the subject of infant baptism showing quite the contrary. Believers who meet together do not thereby sever the natural bond that binds them to their offspring. On the contrary, they consecrate this bond, and by baptism incorporate their children in the communion of their church, and these minors are kept in this Church communion until, when of age, they become themselves confessors, or sever themselves from the church by their unbelief. This is the all-important Calvinistic dogma of the Covenant; a prominent article of our confession, showing that the waters of the Church do not flow outside the natural stream of human life, but cause the life of the church to proceed hand in hand with the natural organic reproduction of mankind in its succeeding generations. Covenant and Church are inseparable,—the covenant binding the church to the race, and God Himself sealing in it the connection between the life of grace, and the life of nature. Of course Church discipline must come in here, in order to preserve the purity of this Covenant as soon as the intenpermeation of grace by nature tends to lower the purity of the Church. From the Calvinistic point of view, therefore, it is impossible to speak of a national Church, as being destined to embrace all the inhabitants of a whole country. A national Church, i.e., a church comprising only one nation, and that nation entirely, is a Heathen, or at most, a Jewish conception. The Church of Christ is not national but ecumenical. Not one single state, but the whole world is its domain. And when the Lutheran Reformers at the instigation of their sovereigns, nationalized their churches, and Calvinistic churches allowed themselves to deviate into the same track, they did not ascend to a higher conception than that of Rome’s world-church, but descended to distinctly lower ground. Happily I may conclude by bearing witness that both our Synod of Dordt, and your not less venerable Westminster Assembly, have honoured again the ecumenical character of our Reformed Churches, thereby censuring as unpardonable, every deviation from the only right principle.
Having thus far given an outline of the nature of the Church, and the form of its manifestation, let me now draw your attention in the last place to the purpose of its appearance on earth. I shall not say anything for the present on the separation of Church and State. This will naturally find place in the next Lecture. At present, I confine myself to the purpose that has been assigned to the Church in its pilgrimage through the world. That purpose cannot be human or egoistic, to prepare the believer for Heaven. A regenerate child, dying in the cradle, goes straight to Heaven, without any further preparation and wheresoever the Holy Ghost has kindled the spark of Eternal life in the soul, the perseverance of the saints assures the certainty of eternal salvation. Nay, upon earth also, the Church exists merely for the sake of God. Regeneration is sufficient for the elect man, to make him sure of his eternal destiny, but it is not enough to satisfy the glory of God in His work among men. For the glory of our God it is necessary to have regeneration followed by conversion, and to this conversion the Church must contribute, by means of the preaching of the Word. In the regenerate man glows the spark, but only in the converted man does the spark burst into a blaze, and that blaze radiates the light from the church into the world, that, according to our Lord’s commandment, our Father, which is in Heaven, may be glorified. And both our conversion and our sanctification in good works are only then marked by the lofty character which Jesus demands, when we make them serve, in the first place, not as the guarantee of our own salvation, but rather the glorifying of God. In the second place, the Church must fan this blaze, and make it brighten, by the communion of the saints and by the Sacraments. Only when hundreds of candles are burning from one candelabrum, can the full brightness of the soft candlelight strike us, and in the same way it is the communion of saints which has to unite the many small lights of the single believers so that they may mutually increase their brightness, and Christ, walking in the midst of the seven candlesticks, may sacramentally purify the glow of their brightness to a still more brilliant fervour. Thus the purpose of the Church does not lie in us, but in God, and in the glory of His name.
From this solemn purpose originates, in the same way, the severely spiritual cultus which Calvinism tried to restore in the services of the Church. Even Von Hartman, the far-from-Christian philosopher, perceived that cultus becomes more religious just in proportion as it has the courage to despise all external show, and the energy to evolve itself from symbolism, in order to clothe itself in beauty of a much higher order,—the inward, spiritual beauty of the worshipping soul. Sensual church services tend to soothe and flatter man religiously, and only the purely spiritual service of Calvinism aims at the pure worship of God, and at adoration of Him in spirit and in truth.—The same tendency leads our church discipline, that indispensable element of every genuine Calvinistic church activity. Church discipline was also instituted in the first place, not to prevent scandals, nor even primilarily to prune the wild branches, but rather to preserve the sanctity of the Covenant of God, and ever to impress upon the outside world the solemn fact that God is too pure to look upon evil.—Finally we have the service of Church philanthropy, in the Diaconate which Calvin alone understood, and restored to its primordial honour. Neither Rome nor the Greek Church, neither the Lutheran nor the Episcopal Church, caught the real meaning of the Diaconate. Calvinism alone has restored the Diaconate to its place of honour, as an indispensable and constitutive element of ecclesiastical life. But, in this Diaconate, also, the lofty principle must prevail that it may not glorify those who give alms, but only the name of Him who moves the hearts of the people to liberality. The Deacons are not our servants, but servants of Christ. That which we commit to them we simply give back to Christ, as stewards of what is His property; and in His name it must be distributed to His poor,—our brothers and sisters. The poor church member, who thanks the Deacon and the giver, but not Christ, actually denies Him Who is the real and divine Giver, and Who through his deacons, purposes to make it manifest that for the whole man, and for the whole of life He is the Christus Consolator, the Heavenly Redeemer, anointed and appointed by God Himself, for our fallen race, from all eternity. And so, as you see, the result proves incontestably that in Calvinism, the fundamental conception of the Church fits perfectly to the fundamental idea of Religion All egoism and eudæmonism are excluded from both, even unto the end. Always and ever we have a Religion, and a Church, for the sake of God, and not for the sake of man. The origin of the Church is in God, its form of manifestation is from God, and from beginning to end, its purpose is and remains to magnify God’s glory.
Now finally, I come to the fruit of religion in our practical life, or the position taken by Calvinism in the question of morals;—the third and last division, with which this lecture on Calvinism and Religion will naturally conclude.
Here, the first thing that attracts our attention is the apparent contradiction between a confession, which, it is alleged, blunts the edge of moral incentives, and a practice, which, in moral earnestness exceeds the practice of all other religions. The Antinomian and the Puritan seemed to be mingled in this field like tares and wheat, so that at first sight it seemed as though the Antinomian were the logical result of the Calvinistic confession, and as though it were only by a fortunate inconsistency that the Puritan could infuse the warmth of his moral earnestness, into the all-congealing chill emanating from the dogma of predestination. Romanists, Lutherans, Arminians and Libertines have ever charged against Calvinism that its absolute doctrine of predestination, culminating in the perseverance of saints, must necessarily result in a too easy conscience and a dangerous laxity of morals. But Calvinism answers this charge, not by opposing reasoning against reasoning, but by putting a fact of world-wide reputation over against this false deduction of fictitious consequences. It simply asks:—“What rival moral fruits have other religions to oppose if we point to the high moral earnestness of the Puritans?” “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound” is the old diabolical whisper which the evil spirit hurled against the Holy Apostle himself in the childhood of the Christian Church. And when, in the sixteenth century the Heidelburg Catechism had to defend Calvinism against the shameful charge:—“Does not this doctrine lead to careless and ungodly lives?”. Ursinus and Olevianus had to deal with nothing less than the echoing and monotonous repetition of the same old slander. Certainly the ungodly lust to persist in, and even to foster, indwelling sin, yea even Antinomianism itself, again and again abused the Calvinistic confession, seizing it like a shield, to hide the carnal appetites of the unconverted heart. But as little as the mechanical repetition of a written confession had ever anything in common with genuine religion, just so little may the Calvinistic Confession be made responsible for those reverberating stone pillars, echoing Calvin’s formulæ, but without a grain of Calvinistic earnestness in their heart. He only is the real Calvinist, and may raise the Calvinistic banner, who in his own soul, personally, has been struck by the Majesty of the Almighty, and yielding to the overpowering might of his eternal Love, has dared to proclaim this majestic love, over against Satan, and the world, and the worldliness of his own heart, in the personal conviction of being chosen by God Himself, and therefore of having to thank Him and Him alone, for every grace everlasting. Such an one could not but tremble before the might and the majesty of God, as a matter of course accepting His Word as the ruling principle of His conduct in life;—a principle which has led so far that for its strong attachment to the Scriptures, Calvinism has been censured, as being a nomistic religion, but without any warrant. Nomistic is the appropriate name for a religion which proclaims salvation to be attained by the fulfilment of the law, while Calvinism, on the other hand, in a thoroughly soteriological sense, never derived salvation but from Christ and the atoning fruit of His merits.
But it remained the special trait of Calvinism that it placed the believer before the face of God, not only in His church, but also in his personal, family, social, and political life. The majesty of God, and the authority of God press upon the Calvinist in the whole of his human existence. He is a pilgrim, not in the sense that he is marching through a world with which he has no concern, but in the sense that at every step of the long way he must remember his responsibility to that God so full of majesty, Who awaits him at his journey’s end. In front of the Portal which opens for him, on the entrance into Eternity, stands the Last Judgment; and that judgment shall be one broad and comprehensive test, to ascertain whether the long pilgrimage has been accomplished with a heart that aimed at God’s glory, and in accordance with the ordinances of the Most High.
What now does the Calvinist mean by his faith in the ordinances of God? Nothing less than the firmly rooted conviction that all life has first been in the thoughts of God, before it came to be realized in Creation. Hence all created life necessarily bears in itself a law for its existence, instituted by God Himself. There is no life outside us in Nature, without such divine ordinances,—ordinances which are called the laws of Nature;—a term which we are willing to accept, provided we understand thereby, not laws orginating from Nature, but laws imposed upon Nature. So, there are ordinances of God for the firmament above, and ordinances for the earth below, by means of which this world is maintained, and, as the Psalmist says, These ordinances are the servants of God. Consequently there are ordinances of God for our bodies, for the blood that courses through our arteries, and veins, and for our lungs as the organs of respiration. And even so are there ordinances of God, in Logic, to regulate our thoughts; ordinances of God for our imagination, in the domain of aesthetics; and so, also, strict ordinances of God for the whole of human life in the domain of morals. Not moral ordinances in the sense of summary general laws, which leave the decision in concrete and detailed instances to ourselves, but just as the ordinance of God determines the course of the smallest asteroid, as well as the orbit of the mightiest star, so also these moral ordinances of God descend to the smallest and most particular details, stating to us what in every case is to be considered as the will of God. And those ordinances of God, ruling both the mightiest problems and the smallest trifles, are urged upon us, not like the statutes of a law-book, not like rules which may be read from paper, not like a codification of life, which could even for a single moment, exercise any authority of itself,—but they are urged upon us as the constant will of the Omnipresent and Almighty God, Who at every instant is determining the course of life, ordaining its laws, and continually binding us by His divine authority. The Calvinist does not, like Kant, ascend in his reasoning from the “Du Sollst” (Thou shalt) to the idea of a lawgiver, but, because he stands before the face of God, because he sees God, and walks with God, and feels God in the whole of his being and existence, therefore he cannot withdraw his ear from that never silenced “Thou shalt”, which proceeds continually from his God, in nature, in his body, in his reason, and in his action.
Thence it follows that the true Calvinist adjusts himself to these ordinances not by force, as though they were a yoke of which he would like to rid himself, but with the same readiness with which we follow a guide through the desert, recognizing that we are ignorant of the path, which the guide knows, and therefore acknowledging that there is no safety but in closely following in his footsteps. When our respiration is disturbed, we try irresistibly and immediately to remove the disturbance, and to make it normal again, i.e., to restore it, by bringing it again into accordance with the ordinances which God has given for man’s respiration. To suceed in this gives us a feeling of unspeakable relief. Just so, in every disturbance of the moral life the believer has to strive as speedily as possible to restore his spiritual respiration, according to the moral commands of his God, because only after this restoration can the inward life again thrive freely in his soul, and renewed energetic action become possible. Therefore every distinction between general moral ordinances, and more special christian commandments is unknown to him. Can we imagine that at one time God willed to rule things in a certain moral order, but that now, in Christ, He wills to rule it otherwise? As though He were not the Eternal, the Unchangeable, Who, from the very hour of creation even unto all eternity had willed, wills, and shall will and maintain one and the same firm moral world-order! Verily Christ has swept away the dust with which man’s sinful limitations had covered up this world-order, and has made it glitter again in its original brilliancy. Verily Christ and He alone has disclosed to us the eternal love of God, which was, from the beginning, the moving principle of this world-order. Above all, Christ has strengthened in us the ability to walk in this world-order with a firm, unfaltering step. But the world-order itself remains just what it was from the beginning. It lays full claim, not only to the believer (as though less were required from the unbeliever), but to every human being and to all human relationships. Hence Calvinism does not lead us to philosophize on a so-called moral life, as though we had to create, to discover, or to regulate this life. Calvinism simply places us under the impress of the majesty of God, and subjects us to His eternal ordinances and unchangeable commandments. Hence it is that, for the Calvinist, all ethical study is based on the Law of Sinai, not as though at that time the moral world-order began to be fixed, but to honour the Law of Sinai, as the divinely authentic summary of that original moral law which God wrote in the heart of man, at his creation, and which God is re-writing on the tables of every heart at its conversion. The Calvinist is led to submit himself to the conscience, not as to an individual lawgiver, which every person carries about in himself, but as to a direct sensus divinitatis, through which God Himself stirs up the inner man, and subjects him to His judgment. He does not hold to religion, with its dogmatics, as a separate entity, and then place his moral life with its ethics as a second entity alongside of religion, but he holds to religion, as placing him in the presence of God Himself, Who thereby embues him with His divine will. Love and adoration are, to Calvin, themselves the motives of every spiritual activity, and thus the fear of God is imparted to the whole of life as a reality,—into the family, and into society, into science and art, into personal life, and into the political career. A redeemed man who in all things and in all the choices of life is controlled solely by the most searching, and heart-stirring reverence for a God Who is ever present to his consciousness, and Who ever holds him in His eye;—thus does the Calvinistic type present itself in history. Always and in all things the deepest, the most sacred reverence for the ever-present God as the rule of life,—this is the only true picture of the original Puritan.
The avoidance of the world has never been the Calvinistic mark, but the shibboleth of the Anabaptist. The specific, anabaptistical dogma of “avoidance” proves this. According to this dogma, the Anabaptists, announcing themselves as “saints”, were severed from the world. They stood in opposition to it. They refused to take the oath; they abhorred all military service; they condemned the holding of public offices. Here already, they shaped a new world, in the midst of this world of sin, which however had nothing to do with this our present existence. They rejected all obligation and responsibility towards the old world, and they avoided it systematically, for fear of contamination, and contagion. But this is just what the Calvinist always disputed and denied. It is not true that there are two worlds, a bad one and a good, which are fitted into each other. It is one and the same person whom God created perfect and who afterwards fell, and became a sinner;—and it is this same “ego” of the old sinner who is born again, and who enters into eternal life. So, also, it is one and the same world which once exhibited all the glory of Paradise, which was afterwards smitten with the curse, and which, since the Fall, is upheld by common grace; which has now been redeemed and saved by Christ, in its centre, and which shall pass through the horror of the judgment into the state of glory. For this very reason the Calvinist cannot shut himself up in his church and abandon the world to its fate. He feels, rather, his high calling to push the development of this world to an even higher stage, and to do this in constant accordance with God’s ordinance, for the sake of God, upholding, in the midst of so much painful corruption, everything that is honourable, lovely, and of good report among men. Therefore it is that we see in History (if I may be permitted to speak of my own ancestors), that scarcely had Calvinism been firmly established in the Netherlands for a quarter of a century, when there was a rustling of life in all directions, and an indomitable energy was fermenting in every department of human activity, and their commerce and trade, their handicrafts and industry, their agriculture and horticulture, their art and science, flourished with a brilliancy previously unknown, and imparted a new impulse for an entirely new development of life, to the whole of Western Europe.
This admits of only one exception, and this exception I wish both to maintain and to place in its proper light. What I mean is this. Not every intimate intercourse with the unconverted world is deemed lawful, by Calvinism, for it placed a barrier against the too unhallowed influence of this world by putting a distinct “veto” upon three things, card playing, theatres, and dancing;—three forms of amusement which I shall first treat separately, and then set forth in their combined significance.
Card-playing has been placed under a ban by Calvinism, not as though games of all kinds were forbidden, nor as though something demoniacal lurked in the cards themselves, but because it fosters in our heart the dangerous tendency to look away from God, and to put our trust in Fortune or Luck. A game which is decided by keenness of vision, quickness of action, and range of experience, is ennobling in its character, but a game like cards, which is chiefly decided by the way in which the cards are arranged in the pack, and blindly distributed, induces us to attach a certain significance to that fatal imaginative power, outside of God, called Chance or Fortune. To this kind of unbelief, every one of us is inclined. The fever of stock-gambling shews daily how much more strongly people are attracted and influenced by the nod of Fortune, than by solid application to their work. Therefore the Calvinist judged that the rising generation ought to be guarded against this dangerous tendency, because, by means of card-playing it would be fostered. And since the sensation of God’s ever-enduring presence was felt by Calvin and his adherents as the never-failing source from which they drew their stern seriousness of life, they could not help loathing a game which poisoned this source by placing Fortune above the disposition of God, and the hankering after chance above the firm confidence in His will. To fear God, and to bid for the favours of Fortune, seemed to him as irreconcilable as fire and water.
Entirely different objections were entertained against Theatre-going. In itself there is nothing sinful in fiction;—the power of the imagination is a precious gift of God Himself. Neither is there any special evil in dramatic imagination. How highly did Milton appreciate Shakespeare’s Drama, and did not he himself write in dramatic form? Nor did the evil lie in public theatrical representations, as such. Public performances were given for all the people at Geneva, in the Market Place, in Calvin’s time, and with his approval. No, that which offended our ancestors was not the comedy or tragedy, nor should have been the opera, in itself, but the moral sacrifice which as a rule was demanded of actors and actresses, for the amusement of the public. A theatrical troop, in those days especially, stood, morally, rather low. This low moral standard resulted partly from the fact that the constant and ever-changing presentation of the character of another person, finally hampers the moulding of your personal character; and partly because our modern Theatres, unlike the Greek, have introduced the presence of women on the stage, the prosperity of the Theatre being too often gauged by the measure in which a woman jeopardizes the most sacred treasures God entrusts to her, her stainless name, and irreproachable conduct. Certainly, a strictly moral Theatre is very well conceivable; but with the exception of a few large cities, such Theatres would neither be sufficiently patronized nor could exist financially; and the actual fact remains that, taking all the world over, the prosperity of a Theatre often increases in proportion to the moral degradation of the actors. Too often therefore—Hall Caine in his “Christian” corroborated once more the sad truth—the prosperity of Theatres is purchased at the cost of manly character, and of female purity. And the purchase of delight for the ear and the eye at the price of such a moral hecatomb, the Calvinist, who honoured whatever was human in man for the sake of God, could not but condemn.
Finally, so far as the dance is concerned, even worldly papers, like the Parisian “Figaro”, at present justify the position of the Calvinist. Only recently an article in this paper called attention to the moral pain with which a father takes his daughter into the Ball-room for the first time. This moral pain, it declared, is evident, in Paris at least, to all who are familiar with the whisperings, indecent looks and actions prevalent in those pleasure-loving circles. Here, also, the Calvinist does not protest against the Dance itself, but exclusively, against the impurity to which it is often in danger of leading.
With this I return to the barrier of which I spoke. Our fathers perceived excellently well that it was just these three: Dancing, Card-playing, and Theatre-going, with which the world was madly in love. In worldly circles these pleasures were not regarded as secondary trifles, but honoured as all-important matters: and whoever dared to attack them, exposed himself to the bitterest scorn and enmity. For this very reason, they recognized, in these three, the Rubicon which no true Calvinist could cross without sacrificing his earnestness to dangerous mirth, and the fear of the Lord to often far from spotless pleasures. And now may I ask, has not the result justified their strong and brave protest? Even yet, after a lapse of three centuries, you will find, in my Calvinistic country, in Scotland, and in your own States, entire social circles into which this worldliness is never allowed to enter, but in which the richness of human life has turned, from without, inward, and in which, as the result of a sound spiritual concentration, there has been developed such a deep sense of everything high, and such an energy for everything holy, as to excite the envy even of our antagonists. Not only has the wing of the butterfly in those circles been preserved intact, but even the golddust upon this wing shines as brilliantly as ever.
This now is the proof to which I invite your respectful attention. Our age is far ahead of the Calvinistic age in its overflowing mass of ethical essays and treatises and learned expositions. Philosophers and Theologians really vie with one another in discovering for us (or in hiding from us, just as you may be pleased to put it) the straight road in the domain of morals. But there is something that all this host of learned scholars have not been able to do. They have not been able to restore moral firmness to the enfeebled public conscience.
Rather must we complain that ever more and more the foundations of our moral building are gradually being loosened and unsettled, until finally there remains not one stronghold left of which the people in their wider ranks can feel that it guarantees moral certainty for the Future. Statesmen and Jurists are openly proclaiming the right of the strongest; the ownership of property is called stealing; free love has been advocated; and honesty is ridiculed. A pantheist has dared to put Jesus and Nero on the same footing; and Nietzsche, going further still, deemed Christ’s blessing of the meek to be the curse of humanity.
Now compare with all this the marvellous results of three centuries of Calvinism. Calvinism understood that the world was not to be saved by ethical philosophizing, but only by the restoration of tenderness of conscience. Therefore it did not indulge in reasoning, but appealed directly to the soul, and placed it face to face with the Living God, so that the heart trembled, at His holy majesty, and in that majesty, discovered the glory of His love. And when, going back in this historical review, you observe how thoroughly corrupt and rotten Calvinism found the world, to what depth moral life at that time had sunk, in the courts, and among the people, in the clergy, and among the leaders of science, among men and women, among the higher and the lower classes of society:—then what censor among you will dare to deny the palm of moral victory to Calvinism, which in one generation, though hunted from the battlefield to the scaffold, created, throughout five nations at once, wide serious groups of noble men, and still nobler women, hitherto unsurpassed in the loftiness of their ideal conceptions and unequalled in the power of their moral self-control.
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