The Use and Abuse of Dogma
2 Timothy 1:12
For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed…

A good man at the present day, writing a letter, with death staring him in the face, to an intimate friend, would be likely to write, not, "I know whom I have believed," but, "I know what I have believed." It comes more natural to us to express our religious convictions so — to think more of the "what" than of the "whom" — to cling rather to the creed, or doctrinal system, than to the Living Person, to whom system and creed bear witness. Of course, the doctrinal system implies the Living Person; but the system is nearer to our thoughts than the Person. With St. Paul it was otherwise. To him the Living Person — God our Father, Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour — was everything, was all in all; the system was nothing — nay, we may say, had no existence. Therefore it is, that, in view of death and judgment, and all that is most trying to human faith and courage, he writes, "Nevertheless I am not ashamed" — I feel no fear for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day." Now this is a matter which both requires and deserves the most careful elucidation. It has a very important hearing upon present difficulties and pressing questions of the day. St. Paul was trained up, as a boy and a young man, m an elaborate religious system, of which the Scribes were the expositors, and the Pharisees the devoted adherents. He was at one time, as he tells us, an enthusiastic votary of finis system himself. But the moment came at last when he found himself compelled to renounce this system utterly, to cast himself at the foot of the cross, and to consecrate his whole life to the love and the service of Jesus Christ. From that moment Christ was everything to him. Strictly speaking, he no longer had anything that could be called a religious system. All was Christ. Take one or two of his most expressive phrases, and you will feel how true this is: "To me to live is Christ." "I am crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me." We, too, have been trained up, more or less carefully, in an elaborate religious system. Must we break with this system, as St. Paul broke with the religious system in which he had been educated, in order to find, as he found Christ? Must we learn to say with him, in the sense in which he said it, "What things were gain to me, these I counted loss for Christ"? Or is it given to us to travel by a road which was denied to him — to preserve unbroken the continuity of religious thought. Here we are in fact touching what I have called one of the most pressing questions of the day, the use and abuse of dogma. And here we find ourselves in presence of two conflicting tendencies — two tendencies which run absolutely counter, the one to the other; one, an impatience, a fierce intolerance of dogma; the other, an equally fierce insistance upon dogma, as almost the one thing needful for these latter days, and the sole antidote for their disorders. You know the battle-cries of the two contending parties; one, demanding definite, distinctive, dogmatic, Church teaching; the other, demanding not dogma, but religion. Observe, then, first of all, that it is impossible for us to put ourselves exactly in St. Paul's position, or to get at his result precisely in his way. Eighteen centuries lie between us and him — eighteen centuries of controversy, of division, of development. Dogma is an inevitable growth of time, as every one may learn from his own experience. The opinions of any person who thinks at all, and in proportion as he thinks, pass with lapse of time out of a semi-fluid state into one that is fixed and solid. Such conclusions are to the individual thinker what dogmas are to the Christian Church. St. Paul had never formulated to himself the dogma of the Trinity in Unity: but in the lapse of centuries that dogma became a necessity of Christian thought. But then, this development of dogma — necessary as it is, beneficial as it may be — must never be confounded with the reality of spiritual worship — the worship of the Father in spirit and in truth. It moves along a lower level altogether — the level of the understanding, not of the spirit or of the soul. Herein lies the peril of that vehement insistance upon dogmatic teaching, which is so common in these days. Unless it be most carefully guarded, it leads straight to the conclusion that to hold the right dogmas is to be in the way of life. The light of life, the light which quickens, the light which is life, can be ours only on condition that we follow Christ. Dogmatic developments, then, are one thing; the religious or spiritual life of the soul is another thing. And the former may, certainly, be so handled and used, as to give no help to the latter. Yet there is, undoubtedly, a relation between the two; and the former may be made to minister to the latter, it we will. And the question is, What is this relation? and, How may the dogmatic development be made subservient to the spiritual life? Christ says, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." Life, eternal life, salvation, redemption, righteousness: such words as these express the first and the last thought of the gospel of Christ, the aim of which is ever to touch and quicken and heal the souls of men. First in the historical order, and first in the order of thought, comes the spiritual reality, "the word of life"; afterwards the dogmatic form and framework. The latter is, as it were, the body, of which the former is the soul. The words of Jesus are, as we should expect they would be, the purest conceivable expression of spiritual truth, with the slightest possible admixture of anything extraneous and unessential. For this very reason it is often exceedingly difficult to grasp their import — always quite impossible to exhaust their fulness. When we pass from the words of Jesus to the words of His apostles, we trace the first beginnings of that inevitable action of the human intellect upon spiritual truth, of which the growth of dogma is the result. It could not be other wise. The disciple could not be altogether as the Master. But though we may thus trace in the Epistles of the New Testament the development of the first "organic filaments," out of which in time would be constructed the full-grown body of Christian dogma — the shooting of the little spikes of ice across the waters of life and salvation, which would eventually lead on to the fixity and rigidity of the whole; — yet are they so full of light, from proximity to the Fountain of all light, that the spiritual always predominates over the intellectual, and the spiritual elements of their teaching are visible on the surface, or scarcely below the surface, of the words in which it is couched. But, as time went on, the intellectual form began more and more to predominate over the spiritual substance; until, at last, it has come to be often no slight task to disentangle the one from the other, and so to get at that which is spiritual; and which, being spiritual, can be made food and refreshment and life to the soul. So far we have been dealing with the questions: "What is the relation of dogma to religion?" and "How may the dogmatic development be made to minister to the religious life?" And our answer to these questions may be summed up thus: Christ's own words, first and before all, go straight to the springs of the religious life, that is, the life of faith and hope and love, of aspiration and endeavour; and, after these, the words of His apostles. Christian dogma grows out of the unavoidable action of the human intellect upon these words, and upon the thoughts which they express. In order to minister to the soul's true life, such dogma must be translated back, by the aid of the Holy Scriptures, into the spiritual elements out of which it has sprung. When it becomes the question of the truth or falsehood of any particular dogmatic develop ment, the testing process with reference to it will take two forms. We shall ascertain whether, or no, it can be resolved or translated back into any spiritual elements — into any rays of that light, of which it is said, "I am the light of the world." And, again, we shall ascertain, if possible, what are its direct effects upon human conduct and character. Does it tend, or not, to produce that new life, of which Jesus Christ is the pattern? If it does; then, unquestionably, there are in it rays of the true light, though mixed, it may be, with much error, and crossed by many bands of darkness. It must be our endeavour to disengage the rays of light from the darkness which accompanies them. Each generation of Christendom in turn has seen something of those riches, which was hidden from others. No one generation has yet seen the whole. Now, that this should be so, has many lessons for us; one or two of which we will set down, and so bring our subject to a conclusion. First of all, it devolves upon each generation in turn a grave responsibility; for each in turn may be put to the necessity of revising the work of its predecessors — such revision being rendered necessary by the peculiar circumstances of the generation in and for which the work is done. And whilst saying this, and claiming this our lawful liberty, we can also do full justice to the generations which have preceded us, and recognise the immense debt of gratitude which we owe to them. They have registered, for their own benefit and for ours, that aspect of the "unsearchable riches," which it was given to them to see. Every succeeding generation is bound to take full and reverent account of the labours of its predecessors, on pain of forfeiting something — some aspect of truth — which it would be most perilous and damaging to lose. And this, last of all, teaches us a much-needed lesson of humility, charity, and tolerance.

(D. J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.

WEB: For this cause I also suffer these things. Yet I am not ashamed, for I know him whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to guard that which I have committed to him against that day.

The Soul Entrusted to Christ
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