As a fourth success of Protestantism, and as a result of this spirit of freedom working in connection with the tendencies of modern thought, not only the old church but the old religion is gradually breaking up. Christianity itself is dissolving and passing away. Christianity was not half so much hurt in the last century by Paine and Voltaire as it is in the minds of the most serious and thoughtful men to-day by the new indirect influences of science and historical criticism. Men who never hear popular liberal lectures, who have never read Paine or Voltaire, are getting a new view of the world in the very intellectual atmosphere they breathe, and the old ideas of miracle and prayer and Providence drop away so silently that they do not know they have lost them. The new thought is in literature, in poetry, in science, in the daily newspaper. The differences between cultivated men in all churches and in none are really surprisingly small. If we do not ask for particular opinions, much less attack them, but simply note how they are reflected in a man's view of life, society, trade, politics, — and this is the only real test, — educated Presbyterians do not differ essentially from educated Baptists or Methodists or Unitarians. Their particular denominational connections are a matter of birth and tradition; their religion is, under a disguise of pious names and phrases, a reverence for goodness and a confidence that the universe is on that side; their Christianity is much like that of a friend who once said to me he was not anxious for the name Christian, but if any one should say he was not a Christian, he should resent it. The special ideas that were at the foundation of the different denominations have little interest for any man now, unless he be an antiquarian or a zealot. Indeed, no other result could well follow from the Protestant principle of freedom of conscience and private judgment; for it could hardly be expected that private judgment would rest with simply interpreting the Bible, — sooner or later it must essay to judge of the worth of the contents of the Bible. Luther helped to strengthen the mind in the consciousness of its own perceptions over against the authority of the Church ; when the mind reaches perceptions inconsistent with the teachings of Scripture, the same logic inspires to a similar confidence here. Nor can any sacred person more than any sacred book be allowed to remain an unquestioned authority over the mind; yet when Jesus ceases to be an authority, Christianity in any distinctive sense ceases to be. Thus fearlessly and relentlessly is the logic of Protestantism conducting out of the very religion in which it was born. Luther would have stood aghast at those who no longer call themselves Christians, to whom Jesus is no longer a Lord and Master; yet no other result could ultimately follow, and he is finally responsible for it, and to the future this result will be counted as one of the successes of Protestantism. For humanity cannot wear forever its old garments; as it casts off old churches, so it does old religions. The spirit of the future calls upon it to do so; for the future is rich with possibilities, and will yield grander things than ever the past has known.
As I pass now to my fifth point, I am at loss to know whether to rank it among the successes or failures of Protestantism. It is that Protestantism has practically given us the Bible (for it was almost a sealed book before), and particularly that it has brought us face to face with Jesus and the apostles. The common people in the time of Luther knew little or nothing of the Bible; Jesus and the apostles they vaguely thought of as the founders and pillars of the great empire that was everywhere about them, rather than as living figures in history. And if the secular renaissance is to be commended for reviving an interest in the old Greek and Roman literatures, irrespective of ecclesiastical commentary, so is the later religious renaissance worthy to be praised for putting the old Jewish and the early Christian literatures into tongues in which every one could read them for himself. Everywhere as a result of the Reformation the Bible came to be the property of the common man, and Jesus and the apostles were seen somewhat as they actually were. So far Protestantism was a success. For I regard it as no part of a genuine radicalism to condemn the Bible indiscriminately, and to wish that the world should know nothing of it. The Bible has had its uses in history; it testifies to and is the product of some of the creative periods in history. Most of the prophetic writings, for example, of the Old Testament, the narratives about Jesus and the writings of his early followers in the New Testament, came from real men, to whom religion was not a sham, and whose minds were intent on the supreme thing in life ; namely, the accomplishment of righteousness. The very superstitious reverence for the Bible that so many have had is a testimony to its power: Cicero and Plato and Aristotle never touched the heart and conscience deep enough to produce any superstitions about themselves. Nevertheless, while in one way the open Bible of Protestantism was one of its successes, in another it has been and is coming more and more to be seen to be one of its failures. The Bible glows with the idea of righteousness as no other book does that has become the property of our Western world, and to those who have the wit to distinguish substance from form it is still, and may always be, a means of moral inspiration. But the whole intellectual setting of this idea is no longer true to us. Bighteousness gains nothing in authority to us by being regarded as the will of a supernatural being; our confidence in its triumph in the world is nowise heightened by the picture of a judgment which shall some time separate the righteous and wicked as sheep and goats. The open Bible was not even an altogether successful defence against the Roman Church. True, the Bible said nothing of the Roman Church or the Pope, or of councils or purgatory, or of the intercession of the saints ; and this to many narrow-minded Protestants may have been enough. But the Bible does furnish premises from which some Catholic doctrines are by no means illogical conclusions. If one man spoke with infallible authority, is there any reason in the nature of things why others should not speak with the same authority ? If one man could forgive sins, it can hardly be denied that he might have left this power to others who should come after him, — as indeed he is reported to have done. If we may pray for those who are still on the earth and our prayers may avail, why may we not for those who have gone into the mysterious beyond ? If the intercession of righteous men now may avail before God, why not much more truly the intercession of those who have become saints in heaven ? Protestants affect a great horror that Catholic priests should claim, for example, to forgive sins ; the Pharisees manifested a similar horror when Jesus claimed to, yet we read that he gave the same power he had himself to his apostles, saying, "Whosesoever sins ye remit they are remitted, and whosesoever ye retain, they are retained." 1 Was there some peculiar reason why men should be forgiven in the first century of the Christian era that does not hold of the subsequent centuries ? But however lame an instrument the Bible may be against Catholicism, it can still less be a rule of faith and practice for men to-day. Its idea of righteousness is of perennial value, but the whole stage of culture in which it was written is now superseded by a higher stage. We cannot think as the Bible would have us think, we cannot believe or hope as Jesus and the apostles would have us believe and hope, we cannot live and act as they command us to act; we are separated from them not merely by eighteen centuries of time, but by eighteen centuries of experience, of knowledge, and of thought. Passing over minor differences, what man in sympathy with the culture of to-day can believe in the kingdom of heaven as Jesus believed in it; what man can look out on the world and trust in a personal Providence as Jesus trusted ; what man can believe in miracle as Jesus believed, or pray as Jesus prayed, or entertain the thought of Jesus that Jesus had of himself ? Jesus is no longer authority to us, the apostles are no longer authority to us; the whole Bible represents what the Germans call an uberwundener Standpunkt (a point of view that has become outgrown). Men only fancy the Bible is authority to them, as they are not really acquainted with it, as they have never taken the pains to look at it in the light of the circumstances in which it was written. Protestantism hoping to rule the world with its open Bible is a failure.
1 John xx. 23. If this Gospel be regarded as of doubtful authority, a saying of similar tenor is found in Matthew xvi. 19.