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The reconciliation of the non-Christian elements in Society to Christianity, and of the Christian elements into a new unity would naturally, therefore, take form in national Churches, with a common faith and rites of worship, and in communion with each other.
One of the most striking features in the history of Christianity has been the existence of national establishments, constituted hy a union of Church and State. The tendency in our own time is strongly in the direction of disestablishment and the independence of all relations of the State on the one hand, and the Church on the other. Whether this is to be a permanent tendency, or whether it is altogether a salutary one, may be a question. There are many indications that the tendency may be indefinitely resisted by the Church of England. And when we remember the grand history of that institution and see how it has its roots everywhere in the social and domestic life of the people, and now beneficently it is now gathering all the best interests of the nation under its protecting shade, we cannot regard its preservation as a national establishinent otherwise than with gratitude and joy. But where established Churches do not exist, there is no present prospect that they ever will exist. Relations which were formerly compulsory are more and more becoming voluntary, and Churches in the future, if they are to become in any sense National, must become so because they are the best expression of the religious life of the nation and are accepted by the people as such.
I am proceeding on the supposition that the mission of reconciliation cannot be satisfactorily accomplished, that is, that modern thought and progress cannot be reconciled with Christianity, and different forms of Christianity cannot be reconciled with each other, unless our Protestant Christendom is unified upon the basis of the historic faith, and organized into institutions which in the sense already laid down shall be National Churches.
It is vain to say that the same power can be secured and the same desirable results accomplished by the co-existence of various societies, independent of each other, and each claiming to present some special aspect of Christianity. When we consider what the religion of Christ is, the attitude of these various Christian bodies towards each other presents a deplorable spectacle. The work of the Church of Christ in the world is carried on at the most tremendous disadvantage and with the most needless sacrifice of influence and means. It is probably no exaggeration to say that as much of the energy of Christian men is absorbed in attacking other forms of Christianity and defending their own, as in efforts for the conversion of the world. It is time that this condition of things should come to an end, and that men should labor for some form of Christianity which shall win to itself the allegiance of Christian people and become, not by civil compulsion, but by voluntary acceptance, the Church of the nation.
The highest ideal of the Church of the future is, of course, the manifestation to the world of the organic unity of all Christian people. When we speak of "organic unity"we mean, of course, the unity which belongs to and is manifested by a body animated by one vitalizing principle. This is true, to some extent, of the Church regarded as the "blessed company of all faithful people.” But this unity is comparatively powerless because there is little consciousness of it in the body itself, and because there is almost an entire absence of any external manifestation. This divided and segregated state in which there is so little consciousness or manifestation of unity is the result of wrong opinions, wrong feelings and lack of spiritual directness and power. It has been profoundly said that “vice separates men, while virtue unites them," and it is the “vice” of the Christian community, that is, the defective moral and spiritual sense, which keeps the faithful in Christ Jesus from the aspiration after and realization of unity.
I have said that this organic unity of all Christian people is the highest ideal of the Church of the future. The full realization of this in the sense of any manifestation of unity, including all the great branches into which Christendom is divided is so remote from any present indications as hardly to encourage any practical effort. But the opportunity certainly lies open to us to labor for reconciliation and unity, with confident hopes of success within certain limits, and in certain relations which we are abundantly able to reach and affect. It may be well at the same time to remember that the larger realization of an all-embracing unity, has been regarded by some of the profoundest thinkers of this century, as something to be directly labored for, and the Anglican Church as the great agency by which it is to be accomplished. Most remarkable in this respect is the testimony of Count Joseph De Maistre, one of the most celebrated writers of the ultramontane school in the Church of Rome. Notwithstanding the natural prejudices of his ecclesiastical position, he says in his “ Considerations sur la France," that if Christians are to be drawn together, it would seem that the impulse must proceed from the Church of England.' With such a testimony, from such a source, it may not be unsuitable for us to feel that there is confided to the Protestant Episcopal Church, which has the same faith and order as the Church of England, a special mission of reconciliation in our own land and a special agency in the building up of the future Church of the nation.
Perhaps the first aspect of this work of reconciliation is suggested by the alienation of many intellectual and educated men fronı Christianity. Very much that might be said on this point would apply to the whole Christian body as well as to any one particular Church, but there are certain respects in which I think our own Church will be seen to possess special advantages for the discharge of this mission.
Si jamais les Chrétiens se rapprochent, comme tout les y invite, il semble que la motion doit partir de l'église d'Angleterre. Le presbytérienisme fut une cuvre française, et par conséquent une cuvre exagerée. Nous sommes trop éloignés des sectateurs d'un culte trop peu substantiel; il n'y a pas moyen de vous entendre. Mais l'église anglicane, qui nous touche d'une main, touche de l'autre ceux que nous ne pouvons toucher; et quoique, sous un certain point de vue, elle soit en butte aux coups des deux partis, et qu'elle presente le spectacle un peu ridicule d'un révolté qui prêche l'obéissance, cependent elle est très precieuse sous d'autres aspects, et peut être considérée comme un de ces intermèdes chimiques, capables de rapprocher des élémens inassociables de leur nature."
Considérations sur La France, Par M. Le Cte. Jph. De Maistre.
It is undoubtedly true that there are many minds, at the present day, alienated from Christianity, not from aversion to its moral or spiritual principles, but on account of certain intellectual difficulties with which it is enbarassed. One of these difficulties which is most widely felt and most injurious in its results is that which arises from the supposed impossibility of verifying those facts which lie at the foundation of Christianity, such as the being of a personal God, the supernatural character of redemption in Christ, and the personal immortality of man. Modern habits in the investigation of truth, the employment of the inductive method ; the invariable use of verification in scientific inquiry, have led to the denial of the character of knowledge to any conclusions except those to which these methods have led. As a natural consequence men will say: "All this that you claim in regard to religion may be true. It is impossible, perhaps, to disprove it, but on the other hand it is impossible to prove it, and we cannot be asked to assert our belief in regard to a subject of which we have no knowledge, and are incompetent, therefore, either to affirm or deny." This agnosticisin, this denial of the possibility of any knowledge of the infinite and the absolute stands, therefore, an apparently insuperable barrier to the simplest and most fundamental conceptions in religion.
The removal of this difficulty and the reconciliation of such men to Christianity inust be accomplished by different methods from those too often employed. To meet this agnosticism by fierce denunciation and a denial to it of any rational or legitimate character; to treat those who avow it as if they were morally bad as well as intellectually astray, is a mistake of the most dangerous character. There is a certain truth in this position, which if we are bold and honest we shall not fail to recognize. To recognize it boldly and honestly is the first step towards the removal of the difficulty by which it is attended.
Suppose then that we have recognized the value of the scientific method, and admitted that the purely intellectual processes by which it is sought to establish the fundamental principles of religion are not followed by the same kind of assurance that attends a result in the physical sciences reached by the inductive method. Suppose further that we have admitted that until some satisfactory method for the removal of the difficulty is pointed out, the agnostic position does not seem to be altogether irrational. We are then prepared to take a ground where we can secure for religion all the certitude to be desired, and from which it is impossible that we can be dislodged.
For when we have adınitted all this, which we are honestly bound to admit, we can assert without fear of reasonable denial, that certitude is possible in regard to certain matters where verification is impossible; that in certain respects where we cannot verify we are bound to believe, and that the fundamental principles of religion are of this character. Take, for instance, our certitude in regard to the actual existence of a past, such as we remember it, or as it has been certified to us by the memory of others. This is a conclusion which has not been reached by the inductive method. It is not susceptible of verification, and yet we are compelled to believe it by the very structure of our minds. The same is true of the fact of our personal identity and of the continuity of nature. A certainty which excludes the possibility of doubt is not attainable even by the scientific method. It is simply a conviction engendered by a very high degree of probability. Just such a sort of probability attaches itself to the fundamental principles of religion. The universal tendency of the mind to believe in these invests them with a very high degree of probability. But then further than this, the testimony of certain faculties of our nature, which are most valuable in the search after this class of truths, contributes to the certitude we seek. The moral