« PreviousContinue »
the existence of another and supreme authority that can control and correct it. If the law of England should say, that the judges of the land, or any tribunal, shall have authority in matters of law, but they shall not be allowed to decree any thing contrary to law, I ask, if it is not necessarily implied, and if it is not involved in the very enunciation of the proposition, that there is an authority capable of judging whether this tribunal, whether these magistrates, have acted contrary to law, and to put an end to their continuing to do so. This, therefore, necessarily implies, besides the Church, an authority with power to prevent the church from acting contrary to the code put into its hands. What authority is this? Is it each individual? Is it thạt each one has to judge, therefore, whether the Church has contravened the doctrines of Scripture, and, therefore, is himself constituted the Judge, whether he should obey or resist its ordinance. If so, then I say, it is the most anomalous form of society which ever was devised; for, if each individual, singly and in himself, has greater authority than the whole collectively; if the church, according to my definition of it, and as is stated in these very Articles, “is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments are duly administered ;” if each individual has power over the decrees of the whole, the authority which is vested in the whole is void and nugatory. It is even absurd, to suppose an authority competent to command an aggregation of individuals, where each individual is to judge how far he is to obey, or not. It is constituting a society, in which each portion commands the other the aggregate the individual, and each individual the aggregate, and where, consequently, there are none to obey. I mention this circumstance, not that I am going to explain it; it is not my duty, and I am not called to do so. · I purpose, merely to show a few of the many difficulties which I can propose to this apparently very simple, and assuredly very ordinary, way of presenting the Protestant rule of faith.
But, my brethren, be it so: we will take the rule with all its difficulties; we will take it in the terms in which it is commonly understood ; namely, that it is the right, the prerogative, the inalienable privilege of every individual, to study for himself the truths of Christianity, in that book which God has revealed to man ; and that each one, according to wbat Bishop Beveridge lays down, which I could confirm by other and later authority, is that each one is bound to look into the grounds of what he believes, and is obliged to be a Christian, or member of each individual Christian church, upon grounds by which he himself can justify it. We will take the principle in the general and popular form; and we will see how far it is applicable, from its own nature, as a ground-work of faith,
I would say, that, to simplify the examination, we may look at it
under three different aspects. First, the grounds and authority of this rule ; secondly, its application ; and, thirdly, its end.
I must suppose, that the moment the principle of authority is rejected in the examination of the doctrines of Christianity, that there will be the greatest jealousy and concern about allowing the authority of man, in any way, to interfere in the scale or range of argument whereby the principle of exclusive authority has to be established. I must suppose, that every Protestant, in examining the grounds of his religion, is most careful not to allow a single ingredient to mingle which seems to give the authority of man any weight in the grounds on which he believes. I am willing to suppose, that he must have a motive whereby he can satisfy himself, individually, of the divine authority of that book upon which he rests his belief ; that he must have some train of reasoning whereby he can satisfy himself that the book in which he professes to put his only trust, and which he holds as the exclusive rule of faith, is really a volume of divine revelation. If it be the duty of every one to take the word of God as his only and his sufficient rule, this rule becomes thereby universal in its application ; it is the rule to every individual, to every member of the Christian faith. The grounds, therefore, upon wbich the rule rests, must be equally universal, equally general, and eqnally simple ; and, if all men, the most illiterate, have a right to study the word of God: and, not only so, but if it be the duty of the most illiterate, as far as it is in their power, to study the word, to draw from it their belief, it is likewise their duty, necessarily, to be satisfied first that it is the word of God; and the process by which
they must arrive at the reasoning, must naturally be something so simple, • that all who are bliged to use that rule may not be debarred from the conviction.
The process to arrive, therefore, at this conviction, that the sacred volume which is put into your hands is really the word of God, is of a twofold character; in the first place, each one must have satisfied himself, before he can have begun even to examine the rule which his church proposes to him, each one must first have satisfied himself, that all those books which are there collected together, are really the genuine works of those who are supposed to have written them; that, not only every one of those is a genuine work, but that there is not one excluded which has a right to enter. And he must, in the second place, satisfy himself, by his own individual examination, that that book is inspired by God.
Now, my brethren, allow me to ask you, how many of those who profess the Protestant religion, bave made this examination ? how many can say, that they have satisfied themselves, in the first place, that the canon of Scripture put into their hands, or the collection of sacred truths which we call the Bible, the Old and New Testaments, really consists of genuine authentic works; that it is completed, and excludes none which have a claim to an equal position,
I do not intend to show you the difficulties of this process on my own authority ; I do not intend to attempt to prove to you, that it is not practised by Protestants upon my own assertion; I do not intend to prove to you, that it is the duty of each Protestant, although the passage that I have quoted from Bishop Beveridge must be sufficient; it is not my intention to prove, that it is the duty of each individual Protestant to satisfy himself upon this point by my own words ; but I wish to quote the authority of two of the most learned, nay, eminent men in this department of literature which the Protestant Church has ever produced. The first that I quote is that of the Rev. Jeremiah Jones, one of the most celebrated divines at the commencement of the last century; he died in the year 1724; and he published a very learned, a very profound, and a very difficult treatise, entitled “ A New and Full Method of settling the Canonical Authority of the New Testament." He died in 1724, as I have said ; the Reformation had lasted a great many years ; and it is only then, that he proposes a new and full way of settling that the books called the New Testament are canonical. But, to the first volume be prefixes a long dissertation upon the subject in hand, upon the importance and difficulty of this subject; and I will simply read to you the heads of it; this dissertation is summed up, first of all, by him at the commencement of it. I quote the edition printed by the Clarendon Press, 1827. In the very first page, we have the following words. These are the heads to his sections in the dissertation. First, “ that the right settling the canonical authority of the books of the New Testament is attended with very many and great difficulties. Secondly, that it is a matter of the greatest consequence and importance. Thirdly, that a great number of Chri ans are destitute of any good arguments for their belief of the canonical authority of the books of the New Testament. And, fourthly, that very little bas yet been done on this subject.”
Here, then, in the first place, he enumerates the difficulties we have. It is exceedingly difficult to decide that the books which you all receive as the New Testament are the New Testament; and he gives the reasons: in the first place, on account of the immense number of works professing to be written by apostles and evangelists, which are rejected from the canon; for Toland, in his celebrated Amyntor, enumerates eighty books which by some people or other have been considered portions of Scripture, but which are not in the canon of Scripture as now received. The Rev. Jeremiah Jones remarks, that the link is very far from being complete: hence, he says, it is necessary, in order to settle the canonicity of the books, to exclude each of those, one by one, examining the grounds for and against it; but, if that appears extravagant, there are a number of other books which are written, or merely acknowledged to be written, by disciples of the apostles, by persons in the same situation as St. Luke and St. Mark, by Barnabas, for
instance, by Hermas, and by others; works which some divines, even of the English Church in the last century, proposed ought to be received as portions of canonical Scriptures, which some of the most learned men-as Drs. Grabe, Pearson, Young, and others, considered to be the genuine productions of these disciples. You must show, for instance, why the epistle of Barnabas should not stand in the canon as well as that of Luke, who was only a disciple, or that of Hermas. This, then, he observes, is an enormous difficulty, and one that requires immense erudition and time, to clear it satisfactorily up; and he makes three closely printed volumes to examine this point; and, yet, these are only difficulties before being able to arrive at a conviction that the Scriptures are the word of God.
His second point is, that it is a matter of the greatest consequence and importance; and upon this head, also, he remarks what I have done, that it is the duty of every member of the Reformed Church to satisfy himself individually upon the grounds upon which he receives these books: and I will quote you some passages very much to the purpose just now.
He then goes on, in the third section, to remark, that a great number of Christians are destitute of any good arguments for their belief of the canonical authority of the books of the New Testament.
It is acknowledged by the last section, that very little, or—as he shows in the development of it-nothing at all has been done by the English or the Reformed Church, towards proving these facts.
But now I may quote few passages from the dissertation itself, which will put bis sentiments completely above all doubt, and will justify all I have said to you. At page 12 he says this : “ He, who has but the least occasion to acquaint himself with the religious state of mankind, cannot but with surprising concern have observed, how slender and uncertain the principles are upon which men receive the Scriptures as the word of God. The truth is—though a very melancholy one
—that many persons commence religious at first, they don't know why; and so, with a blind zeal, persist in a religion which is, they don't know what; and yet, by the chance of education, the force of custom [the chance of education, the force of custom !] they receive these Scriptures as the word of God, without making any serious inquiries, and consequently, without being able to give any solid reasons why they believe them to be sueh.” The greater portion of Protestants, then, according to him, believe in the Scriptures, without having any foundation for doing so! They are receiving them gratuitously as the word of God, not only without being able to prove them such, but without having turned over the only reasons by which it ever can be proved!
This is not so strong as the passages from another and still more celebrated divine of the same period; I mean (or, at least, rather earlier
in the church), the celebrated Richard Baxter, who, in his well-known and popular work, “ The Saint's Everlasting Rest,” speaks very feelingly upon the subject, and puts a very strong argument into our mouths. Listen, I pray you, to his words. This is page 197. the more exercised understanding sort of Christians able, by sound arguments, to make good the verity of Scripture ? Nay, are the meaner sort of ministers in England able to do this ? Let them that have tried, judge.” Not only, then, according to him, the better exercised understanding sort of Christians, but even the lower orders of ministers, are unable to prove the truth of Scripture. In page 201, we have the following still more remarkable passage : “ It is strange to consider how we all abhor that piece of popery as most injurious to God of all the rest which resolves our faith into the authority of the church. And yet that we do; for the generality of professors content themselves with the same kind of faith. Only with this difference : The Papists believe Scripture to be the word of God, because their church saith so; and we, because our church or our leaders say so. Yea, and many ministers never yet gave their people better grounds, but tell them, that it is damnable to deny it, but help thein not to the necessary antecedents of faith.” Again, at the following page :
" It is to be understood, that many a thousand do profess Christianity, and zealously hate the enemies thereof upon the same grounds, to the same ends, and from the same inward corrupt principles, as the Jews did hate and kill Christ; it is the religion of the country where every man is reproached that believes otherwise; they were born and brought up in this belief, and it hath increased in them upon the like occasions ; had they been born and bred in the religion of Mahomet, they would have been as zealous for him. The difference betwixt him and a Mahometan is more, that he lives where better laws and religion dwell, than that he hath more knowledge or soundness of apprehension.”
I need not, perhaps, remind you, that the last of these divines whom I have mentioned, was one of the most zealous upholders of the Established Church; that he was, subsequent to the Restoration, chaplain to the king, and consequently, must be supposed to know, not merely the doctrines of the church, but the state of those who were members thereof; and I am sure, that the extracts of these two authors, will abundantly demonstrate and justify all that I have said. They bear, in a remarkable manner, upon what I observed at the outset, and what I confirmed, or rather proved, to you, from the book of Bishop Beveridge; that is to say, that it is the duty of each individual, to satisfy himself of the grounds on which he believes. And observe how much Baxter approaches to the same expression, for he uses exactly the same figures: that a man might as well have been a Mahometan, and would have been a Mahometan on the same principle, and must have