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 2. The Nature of the World in Relation to Redemption. Doctrine of the Church (113-63)


The character common to all the regenerate is the governing will of the kingdom of God. That will is exerted in two forms, (1) in gaining other individuals and receiving them into the kingdom, (2) in the process of perfecting the work of the kingdom in ourselves and the other members by mutual and complementary activity. But this spatial extension of the kingdom and this co-operative and mutual influence are subject to those circumstances of time and place in which the members of the kingdom find themselves placed. Accordingly, on the one hand, the origin of the church must be viewed in its relation to the divine world-government, because the individuals composing the church are called out of the world; and on the other hand, in relation to the moving, unifying principle which constitutes all the members of the church one moral person. These will be treated under the titles Election, and Communication of the Holy Spirit.

1. Election

The consciousness of redemption in Christ is so related to the consciousness of unity with the race, that the incarnation of Christ is viewed as potentially the regeneration of the human race. Hence the desire to communicate the gospel to the world. The actual spread of the gospel is gradual--from the individual to the mass, from nation to nation, and from generation to generation--being subject to these conditions which determine all human activity. That is to say, participation in redemption is subjected to the laws of the divine world-government. This must be true in reference even to the mysterious fact of the rejection of the gospel by some and its acceptance by others. Just as in Christ the supernatural becomes natural, so the church as the possessor of that super natural which was in Christ appears in its course in the world as a natural historical phenomenon.

The final ground of the divine government of the world is the divine good-pleasure, and in the last analysis it is to this we must refer the facts of the gospel's earlier and later reception in different places, its acceptance and rejection by different individuals while living, and its failure to reach the ears of others before they die. We have, therefore, to face the problem of defining this divine will with clearness and without inner contradiction. Now, it is not an offense to Christian sympathy that some are received earlier than others into the communion of redemption, nor is it ever supposed that the sum of final blessedness is thereby lessened. It is as vain to hold the opposite view, that it would have been better if the regeneration of the individual had occurred earlier, as to contend that it would have been better for the totality of mankind if Christ had come before he did, or to lament the fact that the world was not created earlier. But when it is supposed that those who die without participation in the redemption are forever excluded from it, there is created, on the contrary, a discord in Christian sympathy with the race. Not only is it a violation of the unity of the race, but it imparts arbitrariness and particularism into the divine will. To reply by saying that these opposite destinies are ordained for the sake of manifesting in the one case the divine mercy and in the other case the divine righteousness is to overlook the truth that the divine righteousness is adequately exhibited in the reward given to Christ and the punishment of men as long as they adhere to the old life of sin, And further, to separate in this manner the divine attributes is to describe God as an unlimited being with limited attributes and to overlook the mutual inclusiveness of all his attributes. The antithesis between the church and the world must be regarded, therefore, not as final, but as temporary; not as absolute, but as relative, and as destined to disappear by the ultimate absorption of all into the church. The gradual progress of sanctification in the individual and the gradual transition of those who are in the outer circle of the workings of grace into the inner circle are analogous. This is simply the natural form which the divine activity necessarily assumes in its historical manifestation, the inevitable condition of all temporal effectiveness of the word that "became flesh."

1. The doctrine of fore-ordination is a consequence. The self-consciousness of the regenerate and the feeling of absolute dependence are one, since our activity in the kingdom of God is referred by consciousness to the sending of Christ and is recognized as dependent on our place in human relations; so that the order in which the redemption is actualized in each man is one with the carrying out of the divine world-order in relation to him. Thus the time and manner of the individual's entrance into the communion of Christ are only a result of the determination of the manifestation of the justifying divine activity by the universal order of the world, and they are a part of the same. Hence the kingdom of grace, or the kingdom of the Son, is absolutely one with the kingdom of the Omniscient Omnipotent One, or of the Father; and to say that the state of those to whom grace has been given is a work of that divine grace which was in Christ is one and the same thing as to say that it is a result of the divine foreordination.

And further, since the Christian consciousness recognizes only one foreordination--namely, that to participation in the blessedness of Christ--the unity of the race-consciousness and the universality of the world-order can be in harmony with the Christian consciousness of redemption only by the acknowledgment of the foreordination of all mankind to an ultimate reception into the kingdom of grace.

2. From the above doctrine of election may be deduced also the doctrine of the determining grounds of election.

Of free existences, why are some chosen and others not? The peculiar condition of each individual in the human race is due to his place in the development of the divine world-government. If, then, we seek the determining grounds of the election of an individual absolutely in the beginning of all things, we shall find these in the divine good-pleasure; but if we seek the grounds of election in the final results attained in the end, we posit the divine foreknowledge. Divine good-pleasure and divine foreknowledge are one and the same principle viewed from opposite standpoints.

If, therefore, regeneration be viewed as the actualization of the union of the divine and human nature, and the justifying divine grace as the temporal and individual continuation of that universal act of union which began in the incarnation of Christ, then the rule of the divine procedure must be the same in both cases. That is, the time and place which was chosen must have been absolutely the best and the results must have reached the maximum of efficiency. That moment in the life of the individual must have been the time when he would exercise faith. From this point of view therefore the election of the individual is grounded in his foreseen faith. But this again is itself determined by the divine causality operating in the world's course, which causality rests in the divine good-pleasure, which is concerned with no individual in and for himself, but with the world-whole.

NOTE.--But if while we trace the origin of the Christian church to the divine good-pleasure, we admit that a part of the human race is forever lost, the contemplation of that good-pleasure affects our race-consciousness and our personal consciousness in opposite ways, one painfully and the other pleasurably, and hence admits of no pure impartation of the blessedness of Christ to us. It becomes necessary therefore that we conceive the divine foreordination to salvation as embracing ultimately the whole human race (117-20).

2. The Communication of the Spirit

All those who are in the state of sanctification are conscious of participation in the perfection and blessedness of Christ, which is dependent on the indwelling of God in him. This possession of the perfection and blessedness that were in Christ belongs to the believer in the form of that absolutely constant will of the kingdom of God as the inner impulse of life. It is not as isolated individuals standing in independent personal relation to Christ that Christians are conscious of this possession, but only in their relation to the Christian communion as members of it. This spirit, which constitutes the will of the kingdom of God, is the common spirit of the Christian communion. It is this spirit that furnishes the life-unity of the communion, and makes the members of the communion a moral person. The impulse felt by all the members of the communion to assemble together, to combine in an effort for the extension of the kingdom among those who are not yet consciously within it, and to effect that mutual working which produces the harmonious development of all their various, but now unified, energies, is just the expression of the life of that one spirit dwelling in them all. This is the indwelling of the divine in the church, conditioned by the indwelling of the divine in Christ.

This common spirit of all the sanctified is thus the Spirit of Christ, which is the Spirit of God, and the bestowal of that Spirit by Christ is what is meant by the Communication of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is therefore just the common spirit of all those who are sanctified, who together form one moral person, having the one aim, common to all, of furthering the whole, and possessing peculiar love to one another. If it be objected that our use of the term does not coincide with common usage, we may reply that it is in harmony with the New Testament where the Holy Spirit is not regarded as our individual enduement apart from his connection with the totality of believers, or as a peculiar quality of separate personalities, but as the unitary possession of them all (cf. John 16:7 ff.; Acts 1:4, 5; John 20:22, 23; Acts 2:4; I Cor. 12:4; Rom. 8:9; Acts 10:47; 19:2; 2:38). On this point the expression of the Christian consciousness may be treated as twofold. First, in analogy with that unity which constitutes a nation, where the common and self-same national character inheres in each citizen but is modified by his original disposition, the Christian church is one through this common spirit, but its activity in each individual is conditioned by the state in which the new birth found him. Second, this common spirit is one because in all it is from one and the same source, namely, Christ, since the communication of it coincides with the rise of faith in him and the recognition of that faith in others.

It may be said further in objection: If, as has been stated, all peoples are destined to pass over into the Christian communion by virtue of the unity of the race, then, since there cannot be two life-unities for one and the same whole, the common spirit of the Christian church is simply the common spirit of the human race. The answer is: It is just in the possession and communication of the Holy Spirit that the unity of the members of the human family--now, alas! torn asunder by mutual jealousies and animosities--becomes an accomplished fact. Through Christ as Founder there is realized a union which by faith and in love embraces all men, so that the race-consciousness and the God-consciousness become one and inseparable. But on this very account we can say that the Holy. Spirit is no natural principle developing itself in man outside of Christ.

The believer is conscious of possessing this spirit with the act of faith in Christ, which arises through that representation of Christ which is given in the preaching of him. But this gift is no longer received direct from Christ personally, as was the case with his first disciples. Up to the time of Christ's separation from them they were only in the state of a developing receptivity in relation to his spirit. The transition from receptivity to self-activity took place for them in the days of the resurrection. Up to the time of Christ's separation from them, their relation to him was that of a household to its head or of a school to its teacher--upon the death of the leader dissolution was the result. But with the separation of Christ from his disciples they became conscious of their possession of his Spirit as their common spirit; they ceased to be a school and became a church; they ceased to be merely receptive of his teachings and nature, and became spontaneous and communicative in relation thereto. The Holy Spirit was thus communicated to them as their common possession, and was thenceforth communicated by them to those who were in the stage of preparatory grace in which they themselves had once been. Whenever these also, apprehending Christ by faith, are transformed from a merely receptive to an active condition in their place within this new collective life founded by Christ, it may he said that they have received the Holy Spirit.

Consequently, the life and activity of the church proceeds historically--not in some secret, magical, or mysterious way--from Christ. His incarnation was the naturalization of the supernatural, the union of the divine with human nature. So the communication of the Holy Spirit constitutes the union of the Divine Being with human nature in the form of a common spirit animating the collective life of believers which Christ founded. The operations of the Holy Spirit are not to be found in something outside the Christian church or in some superhuman nature or in some divine power affecting human nature from without; but the Holy Spirit is an actual spiritual force in the souls of believers and must be conceived of as united with the human nature in them, so as to become one with it. Each believer participates in this common spirit, not in his personal self-consciousness regarded by itself alone, but only in so far as he is conscious of his existence in this whole, personal peculiarities being no element in this common consciousness. If then we regard the union of the divine with Christ's human personality as an endowment of human nature in its collective capacity, participation in the Holy Spirit and fellowship of life with Christ are one and the same, reversely contemplated. The Christian church animated by the Holy Spirit is in its purity and perfection the perfect image of the Redeemer, and every regenerated individual is a complementary constituent part of this communion, That is to say that in the Christian church as a collective life, as a moral person, the modes of apprehension and of action are the same as those of the Redeemer because the same human powers are united with the same divine principle. This image, however, appears in its perfection only when we view the human race (with which the church is destined to be identical) apart from sin, and is to be progressively realized. Accordingly, if we contemplate the church's gradual realization of its ideal according to the divine order of its extension and development in the world, we shall see that in its entirety it is at every instant at v the highest stage of perfection possible to it and carries in itself the ground of a highest perfection yet to be attained. This, however, is apprehensible only to faith and is not demonstrable by experience (121-25).

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