Reader's Guide to Schleiermacher's Christian Faith

Summary and Commentary from Frank Cross

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George Cross, The Theology of Schleiermacher



Section I. The State of the Christian so Far as He Is Conscious of Divine Grace (91-112)


The personal self-consciousness, properly under stood, is a race-consciousness, from which the consciousness of sin is inseparable. The individual identifies himself with a collective life which is sinful, and that collective sinful life is expressed in the soul of the individual as personal guilt and ill-desert. The experience of a repression of the God-consciousness is connected with external events in such a way. that they become evils, i.e., punishment of our sins, which is the experience of unblessedness. In this state of the individual previous to his entering into a life-communion with Christ the God-consciousness is not constant and dominant, but appears only in intermittent flashes.

But by the working of Christ, through the word and the activities of the communion which has its life-source in him, this relation of the individual states and activities to the God-consciousness is changed, for these are now continuously controlled by it as the governing force of the personal life. Or, as otherwise stated, the self-consciousness of the individual is fundamentally altered because it is identified with a new collective life which originates in the God-consciousness of Christ. But the man, though a new personality, is still, as regards the unity of his psychical life, the same. The new state is grafted on the old, as it were. The change forms a turning-point from which onward the new life is in a condition of becoming. This turning-point is regeneration, and the progressive development of the life there from is sanctification.

These terms have a reference to the race. The entrance of Christ into the sphere of human existence was potentially a new creation of the entire race. The beginning; of that new creation of the race is its regeneration; the gradual extension of that creative act throughout all the members of the race is its sanctification. The relation of the person of Christ to the rest of humanity is in analogy to the relation between the divine in him and his human nature; only that in the latter case at the very first a pure personality arose and the extension of the God-consciousness in his human nature was uninterrupted, whereas in the former case, on account of the identity of the subject in the old and the new states, elements from the old state of sinfulness interfere with the regularity of the development. Now, the regeneration of the race actually appears only in the regeneration of the individuals; and since the communion of believers consists of the totality of the sanctified energies of all who have been received into a fellowship of life with Christ, so also the sanctification of the individual involves in itself the operation of all those forces by which the communion is formed, held together, and extended.

1. Regeneration

Regeneration may be regarded in two ways: (1) Reception into communion with Christ may be regarded as a settled permanent relation of man to God; formerly his relation to the divine holiness and righteousness appeared in the consciousness of guilt and desert of punishment, but with entrance into communion with Christ that disappears. (2) Reception into this communion may be regarded as a change in the form of life: in all the energies of life the will was formerly controlled by sensuousness and those impulses which sprang from the God-consciousness only coursed through the life without determining it, but now the relation is reversed. That is, in the first of these aspects regeneration is justification; in the second it is conversion. These are inseparably held together in the experience of fellowship, a fellowship which involves both a participation in Christ's perfection and a participation in his blessedness.

1) Conversion.--In the beginning of the new life of communion with Christ there are for the individual experience two elements--repentance and faith. Both are the outcome in the individual of Christ's self-presenting (prophetic), self-communicating (kingly) activity as exercised in that communion with which he comes into contact, by word and deed. Repentance is related to the past life in its totality (and not to separate acts merely, as it would be if produced through the law), and manifests itself in the form of regret for the sinfulness of the past and a change of mind as to the aim and purpose of life. It is a transition from activity in the old life to a subjection to the energy of the new; accordingly it implies faith. Faith is an act receptive of the Redeemer as presented in the Christian communion. It is no mere static condition, for human life is essentially active, and Christian piety is teleological. Even in its receptivity of the divine grace human nature is active. And if we go back from effectual divine grace which actually brings a man into communion with Christ, to that prevenient grace which shows itself, according to the laws of our nature, in the indistinct, often fitful, longing for redemption, we shall find that this is that original divine impartation which was bestowed at the creation of the race and which constitutes human nature, and that this impartation itself was bestowed in relation to the full redemptive activity of Christ which was yet to appear, so that a man's co-operation in his own conversion is not independent of grace. Here appears the parallel between the divine redemption of the race as it is actualized in the individuals comprising the race, and that divine creative act which consisted in the formation of Christ's person and the permeating of his being with the God-consciousness.

The contention of many teachers both in the English and in the German church that children born in the bosom of the Christian church are to be received as children into its fellowship because they are already members of the body of Christ and have already been regenerated in their baptism, is to be rejected. For in all, whether born in the church or out of it, those forces which cause the rise of sin are at work and in all there is the tendency to degrade the divine to the sensuous. Infant baptism does not affect this power of sin in them, so that all are equally in need of conversion. The only actual distinction is that those who are born in the church stand in a natural and ordered connection with the operations of divine grace and are therefore already subjects of the gospel call, while the others stand in a contingent relation to that call. Indeed, our creeds connect only the original baptism of adults and those who ask for it with the new birth and extend it to infant baptism only, as it were, by permission. They mean to say no more than Calvin when he said that "the seeds of repentance and faith" were in these children. To bind together the sacrament of baptism and the new birth is to fall into a view of them as magical. Faith and conversion must ever and everywhere arise in the same way as with the first disciples, namely, through the whole prophetic activity of Christ; only that now the self-presentation of Christ is mediated through those who preach him, who are the organs of his activity.

But to say, that to some Christ is immediately and inwardly revealed without the word, is to make the redemption flow from the bare idea of the Redeemer and renders the actual appearing of Christ unnecessary. And to leave the operations of divine grace in conversion without actual historical connection with the personal efficacious work of Christ is to abandon all certainty of the identity of this inner Christ with the historical. If now, on the contrary, the true view is that all that operation upon the mind from the first impression of the preaching of Christ up to its establishment in converting faith is to be ascribed to the activity of Christ, then all these operations of divine grace are supernatural; but since they are in |a natural historical connection with the personal life of Jesus and continue it historically they are also natural.

2) Justification.--Justification implies forgiveness of sins and acknowledgment of sonship with God, and it depends upon faith in the Redeemer, as has just been shown. The divine act of justification is not to be sundered from the working of Christ in conversion. Justification for the self-consciousness which rests in contemplation is the same as is conversion for the consciousness which passes over into stimulus of the will. Corresponding with the two sides of conversion, repentance finds its issue in the forgiveness of sins, just as faith becomes for thought the consciousness of sonship with God as that which is the same as the consciousness of fellowship with Christ. Not that forgiveness precedes faith, but that it declares the end of the old state just as does repentance, and sonship with God expresses the character of the new state just as does faith. Both depend on the whole activity of Christ just as in the case of conversion, but immediately and in themselves they denote only that relation of man to God which supervenes upon the consciousness of guilt and desert of punishment.

Justification and conversion are synchronous. The converted man is a new man. For in this new life-fellowship with Christ sin is no longer active, but it is an afterworking or reaction of the old man. He no longer appropriates it to himself but reacts against it as an alien force, and accordingly the consciousness of guilt is removed. In him the consciousness of sin always becomes, on account of faith, the consciousness of forgiveness of sins.

But justification is not an isolated act or pronouncement dependent upon some empirical activity or event, for this is to make the divine activity temporal and dependent in its nature, which would destroy the feeling of absolute dependence on God. Rather, there is one eternal and universal decree to justify men for Christ's sake. This decree, again, is one with the decree to send Christ; were it not so the sending of Christ might be without effect. And the decree to send Christ is one with that for the creation of the human race so far as human nature is first perfected in Christ. And since in God thought and will, will and deed are inseparable, therefore all these constitute one divine act for the alteration of our relation to God. The manifestation in time of the divine act takes its beginning in the incarnation of Christ, from which the total new creation of mankind proceeds, and it continues in the union of individual men with Christ. We have therefore to assume only one divine act of justification gradually realizing itself in time (106-9).

2. Sanctification

The idea of holiness in men has been brought over into the New Testament from the Old, where it is apprehended as an attribute of God. But for Christians, not holiness, but sanctification, i.e., movement toward holiness, is the appropriate term because of their increasing separation from the pre-regenerate state and their gradual approach to that of Christ. The state of sanctification is, accordingly, not to be compared with the state in which the man was governed by sin but with that state in which he came under the power of prevenient grace. That grace affected him from without by stimulating thoughts and feelings which tend toward repentance and faith and also by prompting to actions which by repetition become habits. Such actions while they do not spring from individual regeneration are to be viewed as specifically the actions of the Christian collective life which exercises a power over the individuals who come within the sphere of its operations, like that of native citizens over the foreigners resident among them. The state of regeneration is to be distinguished from the new birth, not by the number of individual actions or a whole series of them, but by this, that the will to be no longer in that former sin-producing collective life has become a power of repulsion of sin, which power is itself an outflow from the submission to Christ's operation and becomes established as a steady willingness to be controlled by Christ. In the new collective life within which the regenerate man has fellowship with Christ, his natural powers are taken up and appropriated by Christ's activity, whereas formerly they were exercised entirely within the sinful collective life. The regenerate man's life possesses therefore an affinity to Christ's in respect to both sides of it, his sinless perfection and his blessedness. Since the activities of the regenerate are now exercised within this new collective life, their energies are exerted reciprocally, producing in each member of this new body a gradual religious development.

The development must be gradual. For since the God-consciousness has come into a relation of control over the energies of human life only through a direct communication, after being regularly repressed by the sin-consciousness, it must be regarded as sustaining continually the opposition of this lower principle now gradually disappearing. Though this development is gradual, it is not perfectly regular for experience, because it occurs in the midst of a conflict, and there are times when the power of sin is exhibited in actions which obscure for the time the presence of the new spiritual power, just as in the former condition of life there occurred at times actions proceeding from the prevenient grace of God which obscured for a little while the presence of sin. In this respect Christ's development onward from his birth and the development of the regenerate are not strictly parallel. Yet the occasional recurrence of the consciousness of sin does not annul the connection with Christ so as to negative regeneration as a divine act of union with human nature, or sanctification as the state of that union.

To express the same in another manner: In the activities of the regenerate there are two elements, the permanent and the variable. The permanent element is that ever self-renewing will (power) of the kingdom of God which wrought in Christ, and this is that participation in the sinless perfection and blessedness of Christ already spoken of; for all the power of good is within the kingdom of God and all the power of sin lies without it. The variable element appears in the isolated acts of sin which burst out in the life of the regenerate producing pain and unhappiness.

The sins of the regenerate are not destructive of the state of grace because such never occur without the forth-putting on their part of effort (though in sufficient) against sin; likewise the good deeds of the regenerate are never unopposed by sinful tendencies or untainted with sin. The conflict with sin exists always; the difference in the character of the acts in the two cases is one of degree. The sinful deed proceeds from the old sinful collective life from which he has been personally separated and consequently no new form of sin arises in the regenerate man, and, so soon as he acknowledges the act as his own (i.e., repents), with the return of his consciousness of identification with the new collective life the consciousness of forgiveness arises. Hence we may say the sins of the regenerate are always accompanied by forgiveness.

The good deeds of the regenerate are objects of the divine good pleasure, not as isolated empirical deeds of the individual concerned, for no single act is unmixed with sin, but in so far as they are the product of the new collective life with which he now identifies himself. That is to say, the good deeds of the regenerate are the product of their union with Christ, and the merit they possess is Christ's, so that, strictly speaking, it is only the person and that too only as God sees him in Christ--that is the object of the divine good pleasure, and his works only for the sake of the person. Consequently the regenerate claim no personal reward (110-12).

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