« PreviousContinue »
THE PROTESTANT RULE OF FAITH.
1 THESSALONIANS, v. 21.
** Try all things ; hold fast that which is good.” I own, my brethren, I feel considerably rejoiced and comforted at seeing the good-will wherewith you have commenced the attendance on this course of lectures, and the more so, to see such a full and gratifying attendance here this evening : for I will own, that I had feared lest, from the necessarily abstract nature of the subject on which I treated in my opening discourse; added, perhaps, to the consciousness that, from my previous fatigue, I had not been able to do ample justice to the interesting view which I wished to propose to you—I might, perhaps, have deterred many from continuing to attend to what promised but comparatively slight interest.
Nothing, indeed, my brethren, is easies than to throw considerable interest over any subject, by condensing its facts into a very small space, by bringing together the most striking views which a subject will bear ; but, though I may, on another occasion, have been compelled to follow this less satisfactory course, I feel, that thereby an injustice is done to two important parties ;-to the cause in hand, and to those who are anxious to hear this discussion. To the cause ; for this simple reason, that, although in every important question there must be some great leading and more important points, yet are the connecting links between them of essential importance ; and that, though, by sweeping away the intermediate matter, as it were, we place things in a more striking and more moving point of view, yet do we essentially deprive them of much of that support which necessarily consists in the connection between them, which connection must be supported by these less important, but connecting, substances. And injustice is likewise done to those who come to learn ; for it may be, perhaps, that their difficulties, if they differ from us, do not so much lay in what we are inclined to consider the leading and important features of our case, as, perhaps, in some comparatively insignificant circumstance, in some trifling objection, which, from the peculiar cast of their minds, appear to convey to them much greater force than we can understand; and, hence it is, that they may go away with the impression, that we sought indeed to blind them—that we have endeavoured to act on their feelings, but that we have essentially passed over what they conceive to be the weaker portions of our case: and therefore, it is, that I shall have perhaps more
than once to claim your indulgence; but I am sure, that, in simply asking it, the boon is granted-for entering often into more minute particulars, into the examination of comparatively more secondary matter, than may appear to you always of sufficient interest to occupy your attention.
Even this evening, it will be difficult for me to grapple as closely with the matter in hand as I intend bereafter; and I only beg any who may be inclined to think, that, by throwing in the way so many preliminary observations, and by removing, as it were, to a certain distance, the more immediate and the closer examination of the important points proposed for our discussion-should any one be inclined to think from this circumstance, that it is my wish to avoid them, I only entreat that he will continue his attendance, and I will promise him, that in due time, and when such observations shall have been laid down as I consider absolutely necessary to the full understanding of the question, he will find, I trust, that every thing shall be met in the fairest, in the fullest, and in the most impartial manner, which can possibly be demanded.
Now, therefore, to connect what I have to say this evening with what I have already premised, I will take the liberty, in a few sentences, of giving the substance of wbat passed at our last meeting.
I then endeavoured to establish what I considered a very important distinction between the grounds whereby men justify themselves to their conscience and to their convictions, in the adherence which they give to any particular creed, and the essential foundation whereupon that creed rests—the principle, if I may so say, of its very existence. I endeavoured to show, that men professed their religion, for instance, because they were therein born; because they were in the habit of hearing that religion spoken of as certain and true; and because they had been accustomed to hear every other religion rejected and rebutted as absolutely untenable : and I pointed out the clear distinction between this, and the grounds whereby that religion must justify itself. Thus, I observed, that a person might be a Protestant upon every one of these motives ; and the great majority, I believe, are Protestants upon such motives ; and, yet, not once have embraced the fundamental and essential principles which the Protestant proposes as his only basis—the examination of his doctrines in the wo God; but that, on the contrary, it was impossible for any man to be brought to the Catholic religion, or to adhere to it upon any principle whatsoever, without in the act of entering that religion, of becoming a member of it, embracing and identifying with his conscience and conviction, the only essential fundamental principle of Catholicity; that a man might be led a thousand ways to the city, but there was only one gate whereby be might enter; and I stated, that no man was a Catholic until he had
embraced the principle of the Catholic faith, which is, submission to the teaching and authority of the church constituted by God.
It might appear to some of you, that I took a strong and exaggerated view. You may think, perhaps, that this course is not so common with Protestants as I stated; you may think, perhaps, that the principle which I laid down is not the fundamental principle of Protestantism-that it does not demand of every one the individual satisfaction drawn from his own personal examination of the grounds of his faith. But, to show you that I was correct in what I said, I will take the liberty of reading to you a passage from one of the most learned-one who is considered one of the most orthodox divines of the Established Church. Bishop Beveridge, in his Private Thoughts, has given most exactly the train of reasoning wbich passed through his mind regarding the necessity of individual examination in matters of religion ; and you will see, that he goes much farther than I will venture to advance. In the sixteenth page of his work he thus writes, “ The reason of this my inquiry'that is, of the self-inquiry which he instituted into the grounds and motives of his belief and actions—“ The reason of this my inquiry is not, that I am, in the least, dissatisfied with that religion I have already embraced ; but, because it is natural for all men to have an overbearing opinion and esteem for that particular religion they are born and bred up in. That, therefore, I may not seem biassed by the prejudice of education, I am resolved to prove and examine them all, that I may see and bold fast to that which is best. For, though I do not in the least question, but that I shall, upon inquiry, find the Christian religion to be the only true religion in the world, yet I cannot say it is, unless I find it, upon good grounds, to be so indeed. For, to profess myself a Christian, and believe that Christians are only in the right, because my forefathers were so, is no more than the heathens and Mahometans have to say for themselves. To be a Christian, only upon the grounds of birth or education, is all one, as if I were a Turk or a heathen; for, if I had been born amongst them, I should have had the same reason for their religion as now I have for my own; the premises are the same, though the conclusion be never so different. It is still upon the same grounds that I profess religion, though it be another religion, which I profess upon these grounds." And now, mark the next words, for they go exactly, as it appears to me, to bear me out in the very form of expression that I used the last time I addressed you : “ So that I can see but very little difference betwixt being a Turk by profession, and a Christian only by education; which commonly is the means and occasion, but ought, by no means, to be the ground of any religion.”
Here then brethren, you have precisely the distinction which I drew, and precisely the same consequences—that the means or occasions whereby persons are Christians, or belong to any denomination of
Christians, are the same as those whereby the Turk or the Jew is retained in the profession of his creed; but that, therefore, cannot be the grounds of a religion; so that, either the being educated therein, or having been accustomed to hear its divine origin spoken of, or any other such popular motive, may be the occasion, but cannot be the grounds of your faith. And the consequences which I drew from these reflections were of the most important character; that, therefore, in all discussions upon this subject, we have nothing to do with the motives which bind men, which make them attached to, which make them love their religion; but only with the motives whereupon they believe, whereupon they justify their peculiar convictions; and this, therefore, leads us to the examination of what is the vital, what is the fundamental principle of the Protestant and of the Catholic religions; and the discussion of these two points will form the subject of the course upon which I have entered.
This evening, I shall confine myself, exclusively, to speaking of the principle which is held up by Protestants as the essential fundamental principle of faith. I shall, perhaps-having occasion to speak so largely as I shall have of the word of God, to complete, as it were, that section of the subject-explain to you what is the doctrine of Catholics, also, upon that subject; but I will proceed no farther with their belief, reserving myself to open that subject more completely at our next meeting.
There is nothing easier than to give a popular and ordinary statement of the difference between Catholics and those who differ from them on the subject of what is called THE RULE OF FAITH. It is very easy to say, that the Catbolic admits the authority of the Church, and the Protestant will allow of no rule but the written word of God. It is easy, I say, to make such a statement; but, I believe, that if any one will take the pains of analyzing it, he will find it fraught with considerable difficulties. In the first place, What is the meaning of the word of God, or the Scriptures, being the rule, or the only rule of faith? Does it mean, that it is the rule to churches, or the rule to individuals ? Does it mean, that the confession, or the public instrument of each one's faith-that is, the formulary of the church to which he adheres, must be based on the word of God? Or, does it mean, that each individual—as by an ancient philosopher each man was called a microcosm, or a little world—that, so, each man is, in himself, a little church, possessing within it the power of individual right to examine and decide upon matters of religion? Does it mean that, in order to apply this rule, there is an individual light promised or granted by God, so that each person is under the guidance of the infallible authority of the Holy Ghost in doing so; or, if not, is he left entirely to his own light, to the degree of learning he may possess? If so, is it not plain,
that his own light, or his own understanding, is the rule, and not the word upon which it is employed ? For this is an important difference between the rule and the guide, upon which I shall have to dilate more at length upon another occasion.
But, to show that these difficulties are not arbitrary, let us examine them upon an authentic document. In the Articles of the Church of England, we find, doubtless, this rule of faith laid down in such terms as all its clergy are obliged to subscribe to, and, consequently, to teach their flocks. Here we read, in the sixth article, that “ Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation ; so that, whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” In this passage, there is not a word about the individual right that each man has to judge for himself upon this matter ; it is only that no man is to be charged with the belief of any doctrine, that no one is to be desired to give bis adhesion to any doctrine which is not clearly contained in the church [WORD?] of God. But, it is evident here, that the right is placed in other hands ; that it is some one who is prohibited, some one who is checked in the power of demanding belief; and not the individual who is regarded, or to whom the rule is given. It is evident, that, in this Article, the person instructed is passive; and there is some one who has authority to teach, because the authority of the individual or body is limited.
But, let us go on to another Article, upon an important point, of which I shall have to say more, perhaps, hereafter. In the twentieth Article it is said, “ The Church hath power to decree rites and ceremonies, and authority in controversies of faith: and, yet, it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's word written;
it so expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of holy writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so, besides the same, ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of salvation.” This corroborates the argument which I drew from the other passage, showing the complexity and obscurity of this Rule of Faith as laid down by the Established Church. It says, in the first place, that the Church hath authority in matters of faith. It says, that the Church cannot prescribe any thing contrary to the faith : not that it cannot prescribe any thing contrary to the faith, as we would say (that is, from our belief of a divine and supernatural assistance existing amongst us), but that it is not lawful for it to do so. Now, if an authority is tied down to a rule ; and it is declared, in any solemn document, that it shall not have the power of enforcing decrees, or of defining princi. ples, contrary to that rule, the very proposition necessarily supposes