Page images

by the sympathy of moral character, not by those forced resemblances which the imagination singles out at pleasure even in the most promiscuous collection of materials. However plausible may be the veil thus thrown over heterogeneous doctrines, the flimsy artifice is discomposed so soon as the principles beneath it are called upon to move and act. Nor are these attempted comprehensions innocent; for, it being the interest of our enemies to weaken the Church, they have always gained a point, when they have put upon us words for things, and persuaded us to fraternize with those who, differing from us in essentials, nevertheless happen, in the excursive range of opinion, somewhere to intersect that path of faith, which centres in supreme and zealous devotion to the service of God.

Let it be granted, then, as indisputable, that there are no two opinions so contrary to each other, but some form of words may be found vague enough to comprehend them both. The Pantheist will admit that there is a God, and the Humanitarian that Christ is God, if they are suffered to say so without explanation. But if this be so, it becomes the duty, as well as the evident policy of the Church, to interrogate them, before admitting them to her fellowship. If the Church be the pillar and ground of the truth, and bound to contend for the preservation of the faith once delivered to it; if we are answerable as ministers of Christ for the formation of one, and one only, character in the heart of man; and if the Scriptures are given us, as a means indeed towards that end, but inadequate to the office of interpreting themselves, except to such as live under the same Divine Influence which inspired them, and which is expressly sent down upon us that we may interpret them,—then, it is evidently our duty piously and cautiously to collect the sense of Scripture, and solemnly to promulgate it in such a form as is best suited, as far as it goes, to exclude the pride and unbelief of the world. It will be admitted that, to deny to individual Christians the use of terms not found in Scripture, as such, would be a superstition and an encroachment on their religious liberty; and in like manner, doubtless, to forbid the authorities of the Church to require an acceptance of such terms, when necessary, from its members, is to interfere with the discharge of their peculiar duties, as appointed of the Holy Ghost to be overseers of the Lord's flock. And, though the discharge of this office is the most momentous and fearful that can come upon mortal

man, and never to be undertaken except by the collective illumination of the Heads of the Church, yet, when innovations arise, they must discharge it to the best of their ability; and whether they succeed or fail, whether they have judged rightly or hastily of the necessity of their interposition, whether they devise their safeguard well or ill, draw the line of Church fellowship broadly or narrowly, countenance the profane reasoner, or cause the scrupulous to stumble,-to their Master they stand or fall, as in all other acts of duty, the obligation itself to protect the Faith remaining unquestionable.

This is an account of the abstract principle on which ecclesiastical confessions rest. In its practical adoption it has been softened in two important respects. First, the Creeds imposed have been compiled either from Apostolical traditions, or from primitive writings; so that in fact the Church has never been obliged literally to collect the sense of Scripture. Secondly, the test has been used, not as a condition of communion, but of authority. As learning is not necessary for a private Christian, so neither is the full knowledge of the theological system. The clergy, and others in station, must be questioned as to their doctrinal views : but for the mass of the laity, it is enough if they do not set up such counter-statements of their own, as imply that they have systematized, and that erroneously. In the Nicene Council, the test was but imposed on the Rulers of the Church. Lay communion was not denied to such as refused to take it, provided they introduced no novelties of their own; the anathemas or excommunications being directed solely against the Arian innovators.



I BEGIN by laying out the matter of evidence for the Catholic Doctrine, as it is found in Scripture; that is, assuming it to be there contained, let us trace out the form in which it has been communicated to us,-the disposition of the phenomena, which imply it, on the face of the Revelation. And here be it observed, in reference to what has already been admitted concerning the obscurity of the inspired documents, that it is nothing to the purpose whether or not we should have been able to draw the following view of the doctrine from them, had it never been suggested to us in the Creeds. For it has been (providentially) so suggested to all of us; and the question is not, what we should have done, had we never had external assistance, but, taking things as we find them, whether, the clue to the meaning of Scripture being given, (as it ever has been given,) we may not deduce the doctrine thence, by as argumentative a process as that which enables us to verify the received theory of gravitation, which perhaps we could never have discovered for ourselves, though possessed of the data from which the inventor drew his conclusions. Indeed, such a state of the case is analogous to that in


which the evidence for Natural Religion is presented to

It is very doubtful, whether the phenomena of the visible world would in themselves have brought us to a knowledge of the Creator ; but the universal tradition of His existence has been from the beginning His own comment upon them, graciously preceding the study of the evidence. With this remark I address myself to an arduous undertaking.

First, let it be assumed as agreeable both to reason and revelation, that there are Attributes and Operations, or by whatever more suitable term we designate them, peculiar to the Deity; for instance, creative and preserving power, absolute prescience, moral sovereignty, and the like. These are ever included in our notion of the incommunicable nature of God; and, by a figure of speech, were there occasion for using it, might be called one with God, present, actively co-operating, and exerting their own distinguishing influence, in all His laws, providences, and acts. Thus, if He be eternal, or omnipresent, we consider His knowledge, goodness, and holiness, to be co-eternal and co-extensive with Him. Moreover, it would be an absurdity to form a comparison between these and God Himself; to regard them as numerically distinct from Him; to investigate the particular mode of their existence in the Divine Mind; or to treat them as parts of God, inasmuch as they are all included in the idea of the one Indivisible Godhead. And, lastly, subtle and unmeaning questions might be raised about some of these ; for instance, God's power : whether, that is, it did or did not exist from eternity, on the ground, that bearing a relation to things created, it

« PreviousContinue »