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TO MY CHRISTIAN BRETHREN
IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
THE present age may be considered an epoch of transition in the developement of the kingdom of God; and, as such, it is full of signs. Among the most striking of them is a greater zeal for the spread of the Gospel and the Bible through all nations, combining many and various agencies for that work; as well as a closer union among all earnest Christians, seekers of salvation and truth, of all lands, however widely separated—a new Catholic Church, which, amid all the diversity of outward ecclesiastical forms, is preparing that unity of the spirit which has Christ for its foundation. Especially is it matter of rejoicing to see a growing spirit of fraternal union between the Christians of the Old World and those of the New; a land in which Christianity (the destined leaven for all the elements of humanity, how various soever) developes its activities under secular relations so entirely novel.
It was, therefore, very gratifying to me to learn that Professors M’CLINTOCK and BLUMENTHAL had determined to put this volume, the fruit of my earnest inquiries, before the transatlantic Christian public in an English dress. To see a wider sphere of influence opened for views which we ourselves (amid manifold struggles, yet guided, we trust, by the Divine Spirit) have recognized as true, and which, in our opinion, are fitted to make a way right on through the warring contradictions of error, cannot be otherwise than grateful to us. For truth is designed for all men: he who serves the truth works and strives for all men. The Lord has given to each his own charisma, and with it each must work for all. What is true and good, then, is no man’s own; it comes from the Father of Lights, the Giver of every good gift, who lends it to us to be used for all. And what is true, must prove itself such by bearing the test of the general Christian consciousness.
But the pleasure with which I write these words is not unmingled with anxiety. To write a history of the greatest Life that has been manifested upon earth—that Life in which the Divine glory irradiated earthly existence—is indeed the greatest of human tasks. Yet the attempt is not presumptuous (as I have said in the preface to the German edition), if it be made upon the Gospel basis: every age witnesses new attempts of the kind. It is part of the means by which we are to appropriate to ourselves this highest life; to become more and more intimate with it; to bring it nearer and nearer to ourselves. Every peculiar age will feel itself compelled anew to take this Divine Life to itself through its own study of it, by means of science, animated by the Holy Spirit; to gain a closer living intimacy with it, by copying it. To eat His flesh and drink His blood (in the spiritual sense) is indeed the way to this intimacy; but science also has its part to do, and this work is its highest dignity. But yet, in view of the grandeur and importance of this greatest of tasks, in view of the difficulties that environ it, and our own incapacity to execute it adequately, we cannot see our work diffused into wider and more distant circles, without fear and trembling. We are fully conscious of the dimness that surrounds us, growing out of the errors and defects of an age just freeing itself from a distracting infidelity. May we soon receive a new outpouring of the Holy Ghost, again bestowing tongues of fire, so that the Lord’s great works may be more worthily praised!
I have another, and a peculiar source of anxiety. This book has arisen (and it bears the marks of its origin) amid the intellectual struggles which yet agitate Germany, and constitute a preparatory crisis for the future. Those who are unacquainted with those struggles may, perhaps, take offence at finding not only many things in the book hard to understand, but also views at variance with old opinions in other countries yet undisturbed. The English churches (even those of the United States, where every thing moves more freely) have perhaps, on the whole, been but slightly disturbed by conflicting opinions of precisely the kind that find place among us. Had they to deal with the life-questions with which we have to do, they would be otherwise engaged than in vehement controversies about church order and other unessential points. It would be easier, then, for them to forget their minor differences, and rally under the one banner of the Cross against the common foe. Perhaps a nearer acquaintance with the religious condition of other lands may contribute to this end.
I am, notwithstanding, still afraid that some readers unacquainted with the progress of the German mind, which has developed new intellectual necessities even for those who seek the truth believingly, may take offence at some of the sentiments of this book. Especially will this be likely to happen with those who have not been accustomed to distinguish what is Divine from what is human in the Gospel record; to discriminate its immutable essence from the changeful forms in which men have apprehended it; in a word, with those who exchange the Divine reality for the frail support of traditional beliefs and ancient harmonies. I would lead no man into a trial which he could not endure; I would willingly give offence to none, unless, indeed, it were to be a transitory offence, tending afterward to enlarge his Christian knowledge and confirm his faith. How far this may be the case, I am not sufficiently acquainted with the transatlantic Church to be a competent judge. Nor would I, on my own sole responsibility, have introduced this work (which arose, as I have said, among the struggles of our own country) to a foreign public: this I leave to the esteemed translators, hoping that their judgment of the condition of things there may be well founded.
But of this I am certain, that the fall of the old form of the doctrine of Inspiration, and, indeed, of many other doctrinal prejudices, will not only not involve the fall of the essence of the Gospel, but will cause it no detriment whatever. Nay, I believe that it will be more clearly and accurately understood; that men will be better prepared to fight with and to conquer that inrushing infidelity against which the weapons of the old dogmatism must be powerless in any land; and that from such a struggle a new theology, purified and renovated in the spirit of the Gospel, must arise. Everywhere we see the signs of a new creation; the Lord will build himself, in science as well as in life, a new tabernacle in which to dwell; and neither a stubborn adherence to antiquity, nor a profane appetite for novelty, can hinder this work of the Lord which is now preparing. May we never forget the words of the great apostle, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty.” Whatever in this book rests upon that one foundation than which none other can be laid, will bear all the fires of the time; let the wood, hay, and stubble which find place in all works of men, be burned up.
Perhaps the impulse11 Not, it is to be hoped, a one-sided, partisan tendency, as is justly remarked by Professor PORTER, whose article on “Coleridge and his American Disciples,” in the Bibliotheca Sacra for February, 1847, I have read with great interest. which the American mind has received from the profound COLERIDGE, who (like SCHLEIERMACHER among ourselves) has testified that Christianity is not so much a definite system of conceptions as a power of life, may have contributed, and may still further contribute, to prepare the way for a new tendency of scientific theology in your beloved country.
Berlin, November 4 1847.
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