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THE RULE OF CHRISTIAN FAITH.
The Bible of the papists includes in it the Apocrypha, in addition to the books which the protestants receive as canonical. Besides these apocryphal writings, the “unwritten traditions belonging both to faith and manners,' are raised to an equal authority with the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, as proceeding from the mouth of Christ, or dictated by the Holy Spirit; so that the popish rule of faith is almost infinitely more extensive and complicated than that of their opponents : "And if any person doth not receive them all as sacred and canonical,- let him be accursed.” Such is the definition and imprecation of the wise and merciful council of Trent. (Session 4.)
In disputing with papists, therefore, the main point of controversy must be the test of truth. If they cannot be brought to the protestant standard, it is in vain that the Bible is appealed to; for they feel no difficulty in finding something in the voluminous writings of the fathers and the decrees of councils, to favour any nonsense or wickedness which fools or knaves may wish to impose upon their followers.
The question respecting the Apocrypha is soon and easily settled. These writings were never received into the sacred canon by the Jews, either before or since the Christian era. In the New Testament not one of the apocryphal books is mentioned, or so much as clearly alluded to, though it contains nearly three hundred citations from the Old Testament. The Greek and other eastern churches read them in their religious assemblies, as the church of England does, for edification; but they have not admitted them into their Dr. Cosin, in his Scholastical History of the
canon of scripture, has shown that they were never admitted by any church as of equal authority with the Bible, until a few ignorant bishops at the council of Trent raised them to that dignity. “Was it ever heard of in the world before, that forty bishops of Italy, assisted peradventure by half a score others, should make up a general council for all christendom? Wherein, as there was not any one greatly remarkable for learning, that voted this canonical authority to those books, which by the consent of the oriental and occidental churches were ever held to be uncertain and apocryphal, so some of them were lawyers, perhaps learned in that profession, but of little understanding in religion; and though some others were divines, yet many of them were of less than ordinary sufficiency. But the greater number were courtiers, and bishops of such small places, or dignities only titular, that supposing every one to represent the clergy and people from whom it came, it could not be said that one of a thousand in christendom was represented in this pretended council.” (Cosin on the Canon, pages 216, 217.) But it was then too late. His work has never been answered; and till the mass of evidence he has accumulated shall be neutralised by some rational process, which the abettors of transubstantiation, I suspect, will never be able to effect, the divinity of the apocrypha cannot be supported.
The subject of oral tradition will require a more lengthened discussion; but the conclusion, I trust, will be quite satisfactory in favour of the protestant cause.
Divine truth was conveyed orally till the time of Moses. Up to that period, revelation embraced but few topics, and those easy to be understood; and men lived so long, that tradition had to pass through but few hands in its transmission from the creation to the giving of the law. Methuselah was two hundred and forty-three years old when Adam died; and Shem was ninety-eight years old when Methuselah died, which happened at the deluge. Shem was contemporary with Abraham and Isaac. Two persons, therefore, would convey the traditions from Adam to Isaac. From the death of Isaac to the birth of Moses was only one hundred and forty-five years; and two or three persons would be quite sufficient to convey divine truth from the patriarch to the Jewish lawgiver, by whom the traditions were put into writing. From this period, as human life was then reduced to nearly its present term, and as the revelations multiplied, it would have been impossible to transfer them in their original integrity, through such rapid successions of generations, by reason of the great diversity of divine communications.
From the time of Moses, all divine revelations, intended for posterity, have been delivered in writing. It is true the Jews had their traditions, which they esteemed as of the same authority with their sacred writings, and which were, they said, intended as expositions of them. They affirmed that God delivered these traditions to Moses, Moses to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, etc. The papists give much the same account of their traditions. They insist that Christ taught them to the apostles, and the apostles to their successors; and that by these, the New Testament is to be explained. But our Saviour denied the authority of the Jewish traditions, and charged the teachers of them with making void the law by pressing them; and we have precisely the same objection against the traditions of the papists.
Let us attend for a little to this point. The scribes and pharisees complained to our Saviour, " Why do thy disciples transgress the traditions of the ancients ?? For they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answering, said to them, why do you also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition ?” And after giving an example of this, he adds, “ You have made void the commandment of God for your tradition. Hypocrites, well hath Isaias prophesied of you, saying : This people honoureth me with their lips : but their heart is far from me. And in vain do they worship me, teaching doctrines and commandments of men.” (Matt. xv. 2-9; see also Mark vii. 5-13.)
Here it is plain, that by the ancients is intended what were called the fathers of the Jewish church, by their traditions; and the commandments of men mean the traditions of the church. Now these traditions our Lord denounced on two accounts: First. Because they taught men to violate the commands of God: Second. Because those who observed them, worshipped God in vain.
The popish traditions produce the same effects. First. They encourage men to break the law of God by impressing them with a persuasion that priestly dispensations, indulgences, absolutions, extreme unction, and masses for the dead, will avail for their salvation, if they persevere in wickedness; though the Bible does not contain a word respecting such helps to heaven. Second. Their traditions about worship, render it worse than vain. The Jews neutralised their worship by their washings, and many other superstitious ceremonies. And the papists have their holy water for purification, and adore numerous lords and ladies, besides the great Supreme. For all these superstitions they have their traditions—the commandments of men, but not the written word of God. When the devil tempted our Lord to worship him, he did not claim supreme worship; for he did not pretend to be God, but admitted a superior when he confessed of the kingdonis and glory of the world, “To me they are delivered.” An inferior kind of homage therefore would have satisfied him. Our Savour's reply ought to startle the papists :” Jesus answering said to him, it is written, thou shalt adore the Lord thy God; and him only, shalt thou serve." (Luke iv. 5-8.) The refusal of our Saviour was not grounded upon the wickedness of Satan, as unfitting him to receive adoration, but on the exclusive claims of Jehovah “ Him only shalt thou serve.” The question was not whether supreme adoration should be given to Satan, under pretence that he was the Most High ; for in that case, the text quoted by our Saviour would not have been at all to the purpose. The devil might, and no doubt would have replied to it, “ I am the Lord thy God, therefore worship thou me.” But he did not, we have seen, affect to be God; he only demanded worship in return, for temporal benefits; he made no promise of the kingdom of heaven. Nor did he stipulate that our Lord should adore him only, to the exclusion of Jehovah. And the refusal to give him any religious homage, because God is entitled to the whole of it, and demands it, holds as strongly against all adoration of images, saints and angels, as of devils. It is the adoration of forbidden objects, which makes the adoration of the Almighty vain.
The chief design of the Jewish traditions was, to enrich the church ; and the principal inducement to do so was, that this liberality would serve as a substitute for moral virtue. So in the case mentioned above, of our Saviour's charging the scribes and pharisees with making void the commandment of God, that they might keep their own traditions, the instance he gives shows what was aimed at by this supplement to the law. Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by one, he shall be free. And ye suffer him no more to do aught for his father or his mother; making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered : and many such like things ye do." (Mark. vii. 10-13.) “Corban, which is a gift," is a sacred gift -- something devoted to God; and what was devoted to God went into the holy treasury. This treasury was under the care of the chief men among the scribes and pharisees. Here our Saviour represents these sanctimonious hypocrites as instilling into the minds of youth the great value of these sacred gifts, and the awful sacrilege of applying what has been devoted to God, to any other purpose, however great the necessity. Thus in a domestic quarrel a youth, heated by passion, is represented as saying to his