Page images
[ocr errors]

Progress of Religious Life.


coadjutors of the few faithful ministers of the Reformed Church. In one or two districts in the north they reaped the fruits resulting from the labours of some devoted members of their own body from the Channel Islands, who had gone over to Caen at the time of the Revolution. Thus, little by little, the truth advanced.

Some ten years later-that is, in 1828-Samuel Vincent said, in the work already quoted: The obstacles are great; the road 'to be taken still stretches out a long way before us; our insti'tutions are imperfect; the resources of instruction are few and limited; the religious machinery is faulty; by the side of a 'paternal Government there reigns a skilful and jealous rival; 'we still bear the traces of those times of frivolity and irreligion through which we have passed; germs of internal discord have 'been sown here and there by the religious movement to which we are indebted for being at length aroused from our long 'lethargy.'*

But if there were these defects on the one hand, on the other there were the elements of a new state of things, which only required fostering care and judicious organization to make them a power for good in the country. When Louis Philippe came to the throne in 1830, and broader views of religious liberty seemed likely to obtain in high quarters, the Evangelical party, as we may now term them, thought the time had arrived for more united action. Hence the formation, at that period, of most of those societies and institutions which have already done so much to disseminate the truth throughout the country, and also to call forth the energies and liberality of the Protestants themselves. From 1830 to 1848 the number of pastors was greatly increased, and new temples were erected in many localities. The subject of education received much attention. Many useful religious books were published, the greater part of them translations from-English and German works.

The next period was ushered in by the holding of a so-called General Synod in 1848. Ecclesiastical questions had for some years been very warmly discussed; and it was thought that the moment of general disruption and re-organization in the State was favourable for making an attempt to put matters on a more satisfactory footing in the Reformed Church. Unfortunately, several of the Consistories refused to send delegates; and even had the whole Church been properly represented, any decisions at which they might have arrived would have lacked authority without the sanction of the Government. The two principal questions debated were the Confession of Faith and the modifi

Du Protestantisme en France, pp. 1, 2.

cation of the law of 1802. The discussion of the former question gave prominence to the existence of two distinct parties, nearly equal in numbers, and neither willing to yield the ground to the other. The result was that a resolution was passed to leave matters as they were in relation to the Confession of La Rochelle, and to issue an address embodying the points of belief held in common by the orthodox and the latitudinarians. Two or three members, having protested in vain against this singular compromise, withdrew from the Synod, and eventually from the Reformed Church. It was a small secession, but worthy of admiration as an example of fidelity to conscience, and as a testimony in favour of the principle that every Church should have a Confession of Faith. Ecclesiastical difficulties and anomalies were examined, and a loud and unanimous call was made for some change; but the decisions adopted, for some reason or other, were disregarded by the Government of the Republic.

In 1852 some important changes were made by the present Government, especially in the regulations for the election of the lay members of the Presbyteries and Consistories. All the Protestants in any particular parish are now entitled to vote, provided they have attained the age of thirty, have resided two years in the parish, have had their names inscribed on the register, and are able to certify their attendance at worship, their admission to the Lord's Supper, and if married, that their marriage was blessed by a Protestant pastor. One result of this system, which is certainly an improvement on the old one, is that now the Protestants as a body are beginning to interest themselves in Church matters, instead of leaving this to the wealthy men amongst them. The same Decree of March, 1852, ordained the formation of a Central Council* for the Reformed Church, to serve as its representative with (auprès de) the Government and with the head of the State. It is to take up questions of general interest that may be intrusted to it by the Government or by the Church. The first Council-and it is still in power-was to consist of the two oldest ministers in Paris, and of certain chief men in the Reformed Church, all of whom were selected by the Government. It was further decreed that 'when 'a professor's chair in connection with the Reformed Communion comes to be vacant in the theological faculties, the "Central Council is to receive the votes of the Consistories, and 'transmit them with its opinion to the Minister of Worship.' From the regulations made at the same time for the Church of the Confession of Augsburg, it appears that the Directory, of whose * See BRIT. QUART. REVIEW, May 1, 1852, p. 567.

[blocks in formation]

five members three are chosen by the Government, has supreme control over almost everything connected with the Church. It nominates the pastors and their suffragants, and authorizes or regulates the removals of pastors from one post to another. It superintends the chief educational establishments, and nominates their professors, and gives its opinion respecting the candidates for the chairs of theology. Thus the law of 1802, as modified by the Decree of March, 1852, is still the basis on which the organization of the Protestant Churches of France rests. The important questions relating to the General Synods and the Confessions of Faith are still unsettled, nor does there seem much probability of any satisfactory settlement of them as long as the two Churches continue to be so entirely in the hands of the civil power.

Let us now pass to a consideration of the internal relations of the various parties into which French Protestants are divided. The fourteen years that have elapsed since 1848 have witnessed considerable changes among these parties. In 1848 the Orthodox and the Latitudinarians were about equal, the latter being perhaps more numerous. Now the scale has turned in favour of the Orthodox; but the others, though numerically less important, have gone to such lengths in doctrinal negation and destruction, as to make their opponents, who, in 1848, for the sake of peace willingly consented to a compromise, clamorous for their expulsion from the Church. With a view of showing the gravity of the situation and of the crisis which is impending, we propose to give a rapid view of the state of theological opinion among our French brethren.

We have already attempted to portray the condition of the Protestant Church in France at the beginning of the present century. All it craved was permission to exist in peace. All it attempted was to keep up some of the old forms of worship and discipline. Its faith was more closely allied to Deism than to the Gospel. It could neither grapple with Rome on the one hand, nor with the prevailing scepticism on the other. The whole affair bore but the faintest resemblance to the noble Huguenot Church of the 16th and 17th centuries. The Revival put an end to this state of torpor. The standard of the Cross was again uplifted. Many of those pastors who rejected the new Methodist notions, as they were called, were aroused to defend their position, and to engage in works of usefulness to which previously they had given no attention. Thus the Protestants were divided into two distinct camps. In the Heterodox camp various shades of opinion were discoverable, but up to 1848 the term Arian-Socinian may be taken as characterizing the body as a whole. Among the

Orthodox, the theology of our Puritan divines was accepted as the most truthful exposition of the Gospel. In certain quarters the doctrine of God's free grace was exaggerated, and, as a natural consequence, division sprang up in the ranks of the Orthodox party. It was at this time that the name of Alexander Vinet first came into notice. He was not a Frenchman, nor did he ever labour in France, but his influence on French Protestantism has been such as to make a passing notice of him essentially necessary to a right understanding of the subject now under consideration.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

His student-life was passed at Lausanne, amidst the excitement and controversy caused by the Revival. His religious life was, in fact, greatly influenced by this movement. The direction, however, pursued by some of its promoters did not commend itself to his judgment. This led him to enter upon a thorough examination of the fundamental principles of the Gospel. Some considerable time appears to have been spent in this inquiry, but at length he came forth an eloquent defender and expositor of Evangelical truth, taking as the basis of his apology its internal rather than its external proofs. He had found that it corresponded to the wants of his corrupt nature. The first principles [données] of Christianity,' he says, 'lie deep down in every soul of man. In this respect, Christianity, supernatural though it is in its history, is an eminently natural 'thing. We have only fairly to examine ourselves in presence of the infinite, in order to our being compelled, as the result of our reasonings, to accept the Christian religion as a necessity; and every sincere thinker will in this way reach a point of view whence all the details of Christianity will appear in such per'fect coincidence with all the wants of his soul, with all the principles of his nature, that like Thomas at the sight of the 'Divine stigmates, he will bow down exclaiming, "My Lord and "my God!"* This was the ground which Vinet took. Christianity is a great moral power. It is not merely a system of morality, but it embodies the highest morality, based on certain doctrines, which in their turn are based on certain bistorical facts. To bring out these essential characteristics of the Gospel, and present them in their most attractive form, was Vinet's aim. A volume of discourses, published in 1831, proved him to be an original and eloquent writer.† Of his apologetic method, as set forth in these discourses, it was said at the time by an able critic, 'Far from seeking to render religion more acceptable to reason by stripping it of its characteristic * Esprit de Vinet, vol. i. p. 73.

[ocr errors]

+ It has been translated and published under the title of Vital Christianity.

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

features, he accepts it with all its mysteries and difficulties. He does not defend it against the reproaches that poor human 'wisdom has cast upon it; but he shows us, in its most unwelcome asperities, in its strangest peculiarities, the means of the supernatural change which it produces in those who receive it in sincerity of heart; and hence the proofs of its Divine origin. 'According to him a religion which regenerates man cannot but 'be true. It is only bound to prove that it has this power, and its claim to the humblest and most entire faith is thereby ' removed beyond all possibility of dispute.'* No theological system is to be found in any of Vinet's writings. He had intended, had his life been spared, to have given a course of lectures on dogmatics, but it is doubtful whether he would have been as successful in this as he was in other departments. But if he was not a theologian in the strict sense of the word, but rather a Christian philosopher, who sought to hold up the Gospel as the only satisfactory solution of the mysteries and sorrows of life, yet he rendered eminent service to theological science by proclaiming the enduring and immutable character of revelation against those who speak of it as left behind by the present development of philosophic research, and also the perfectibility of theology against those who cling to the stereotyped formula of a past century as the only adequate expression of Christian doctrine. The critic quoted above remarked, 'That M. Vinet 'must expect for a long time to come to supply subjects for our ' religious conversations, and perhaps also for our public preaching. The prediction was fulfilled. The name of Vinet at once became the watchword of a certain party, and a new school of theology has thus sprung up in the Orthodox portion of French Protestantism. They remain faithful to the traditions of their master. Their aim is to show the harmony of conscience and revelation, and to elaborate a theology that shall rest mainly on this basis. Inde ira.

Dr. De Pressensé is the best known representative of this school. In the amount of his literary labours he seems likely to surpass his master; and the qualities that distinguish him as a thinker and writer are such as to give him a wider influence over his countrymen. His manner is always that of the apologist. Speaking of fallen man, he says:

If his fall was great, it was not absolute: not that man was not ruined by it, but he was not left destitute of all higher life. He retained some vestige of his primal nature. A sense of the Divine, a religious aptitude, the longing to return to God-these subsist in his heart. It is these that render his redemption possible; for the

* Nouvelliste Vaudois, quoted by Chavannes in his notice of Vinet.

« PreviousContinue »