The Centre of Christian Theology

By this I mean the centre of the New, which I hold to be the only true, Christian Theology.

To every system there must be a centre. And this is as the soul to the body. It pervades, shapes and governs the system throughout. It qualifies, determines, arranges and controls all the subordinate parts and this to such a degree that the whole system receives its character from the centre. It is just what the centre makes it. If this is right, all is right. If health, order and beauty prevail here, you may expect health, order and beauty throughout the entire system and vice versa.

Take, for illustration, the human body, which is the perfection of all systems. If its central organs are sound, the body is generally sound throughout but if these are diseased or out of order, you need not expect order and health in the subordinate parts. As you find heart, lungs and brain the arterial and nervous systems—so, generally, will you find the whole body.

Take, again, our planetary system, or man’s conception of it. Place the sun at the centre and set the earths revolving around him, and straightway each orb swings into place, and moves in harmony with all the rest. The centre being right, the subordinate parts adjust themselves with ease and precision, and move along in an order demonstrably perfect; and there is music in their rhythmic dance. But make the earth the centre, and your system is chaotic. Your misconception in regard to the central orb and force, throws everything into confusion and produces disorder everywhere. Mistaking the centre, you derange the whole system; and the parts can never adjust themselves to your erroneous conception.

And as with the physical, precisely so is it with all other systems—political, social, moral and religious. In each of these there will ever be found some comprehensive principle or leading thought which constitutes the central idea. This central idea pervades the whole system and gives it its character, or imparts to it whatever is peculiar and distinctive. All the subordinate parts adjust themselves to this, and are shaped and colored by it. If this is wrong, all is wrong; but if right, a corresponding rectitude pervades the whole.

The same is true of Theology. In every theological system the central doctrine must needs be that concerning the Object of religious worship. This doctrine whatever its nature, will determine the character of the whole system. All subordinate doctrines are the offspring of or outbirths from this, and are modified, shaped and colored by it, as surely as the earths in our solar system are warmed, enlightened, electrified and held in their orbits by the central luminary which gave them birth and around which they all revolve.

When, therefore, we have learned what any system of theology teaches concerning the supreme Object of worship, we have mastered the central idea or doctrine of that system; and from this we may draw a pretty just conclusion in regard to all the rest. For when the central doctrine is wrong, the others growing out of it, adjusted to it, modified and colored by it, cannot be right; and when this is right, the others cannot be very far wrong.

Then the doctrine concerning the Object of our worship is intensely practical. It exerts a mightier influence on the character of the believer than any other doctrine. We cannot escape its plastic power. We cannot help becoming conformed, in some measure at least, to the character of Him whom we worship, or rather to our conception and cherished idea of his character. Our souls are gradually and unconsciously moulded into his likeness. If partiality, self-seeking, arbitrariness or vindictiveness enters into our conception of the Divine character, our own character will inevitably be affected by such conception. If we think of God as stern, haughty, selfish and tyrannical, we cannot fail to make these characteristics our own. If we think of Him as acting from a selfish love of glory, we shall feel that we most closely resemble Him when we are acting from a similar love; and so the love of glory will become the ruling principle in us. But if, on the contrary, we conceive the Object of our supreme adoration to be noble, generous and unselfish in his nature, then shall we, through the plastic power of such conception, grow to be noble, generous and unselfish in ours. If we conceive Him to be supremely tender, compassionate, wise and good—supremely patient, loving and forgiving—then will these same graces become more and more our own.

The Heavenly Doctrine of the Lord: from the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg

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