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Mr. Faber says here, that because Calvinists and Arminians differ on the sense of Scripture, we must leave the text, and decide by the fathers, is really to revive the error he had just exploded, that the Scriptures are helplessly ambiguous, and the Fathers, in comparison, free from all ambiguity.
5. This brings us to a fifth topic. For Mr. M ́Neile had entered on this very ground of antiquity, as our correspondent might infer from our short paragraph, and claims from him at one stroke his three earliest witnesses, Clemens, Ignatius, and Hermas. Clemens ascribes the non-imputation of sin to those, and by natural implication, to those only, who are “ elected of God through Jesus Christ.” Ignatius describes the Church, as “ always predestinated before the world,” not simply to ecclesiastical privileges, but “ to glory.” Hermas says that “the elect of God shall be pure and immaculate unto eternal life.” For brevity, we refer to Mr. M.'s work, and to his letter in our last number.
Here also we think Mr. M'Neile clearly in the right. He does not " gratuitously ascribe his own sense” to the word election in these passages; but urges the plain fact, that they assert an election, not to ecclesiastical privileges, but to eternal life itself, and to glory. He admits fully, with Mr. Faber, an ecclesiastical election to privileges. He also receives, what Mr. Faber denies, a personal election to glory. To which of these, he asks, do these passages expressly refer? The answer is plain. They speak of an election to eternal life and glory, the very doctrine which Mr. Faber would disprove by the silence of the fathers.
Again, Augustine has quoted passages from Cyprian, Gregory, and Ambrose, in testimony of the same doctrine. Mr. Faber says that they are quoted unfairly, and that their real sentiments are the reverse, as appears from other passages, which Augustine and Calvin have not quoted. But Y, Z. inquires very naturally Where is Mr. F.'s evidence that these texts do not mean what Augustine says they do? Who can tell what Augustine might have thought on the other texts, and whether he might not suppose the texts he does quote enough to prove that the others have a sense the exact reverse of what Mr. Faber assigns to them ? Why, in short, if reasoning on Scripture is worthless, because Calvinists and Arminians differ, is Mr. Faber's ipse dixit, or even his reasoning, on the fathers, to be heard, when Augustine and Calvin take just an opposite view of their meaning ? We have not the passages before us, and therefore will not pretend to say that Mr. Faber, on this point, may not have formed a juster opinion. But when we have toiled through the inquiry whether Mr. Faber or Augustine is the best interpreter of Cyprian and Ambrose, we are
still nearly as far as ever from a strictly evidential conclusion, whether Mr. Faber, Cyprian and Ambrose, or Mr. M‘Neile, Augustine, Ignatius and Hermas, are the better expositors of the doctrine of St. Paul.
6. And now we hasten to the last subject, the negative argument from authors whom Augustine, when challenged, did not allege. We said before that Mr. Faber had almost practised a reductio ad absurdum on his own evidential principle; and replaced the direct teaching of Scripture on a grand, solemn, and mysterious truth, by his own private opinion, on the private opinion of Augustine, concerning the private opinion of Ignatius and Hermas. Since, however, our honoured friend does not understand the remark, we will explain our meaning more fully, and thus terminate the whole discussion.
Where a doctrine of Scripture is to be determined, our first duty is to consult Scripture itself, and to submit to what is expressly “ contained therein,” or, in the absence of an explicit statement, what “may be proved thereby." Whatever does not come under this description, is neither essential to salvation, nor even to revealed truth. This direct evidence of Scripture, in most fundamental doctrines, and sometimes in those of lesser moment, may be further strengthened by the fact of their general reception in the first and purest days of the Church. We may lawfully and profitably, therefore, reason on the conclusions to be drawn from Scripture, where its sense has been disputed ; and lawfully, though less profitably, on the meaning of the Fathers, where their sentiments have also been made subjects of dispute. The latter evidence, however, is always quite subsidiary, and unless their general consent be nearly self-apparent, since after all it is only the opinion of so many pious, but fallible men, it will be nearly worthless in helping us to a true decision.
Mr. Faber's main fault is, that he would supersede direct reasoning on Scripture, where honest minds differ, because each party can only prove what is his own opinion of Scripture, and not what is its true meaning. He does not see that this admission would really tend to what he most abhors, universal scepticism ; for the same principle will set aside all appeal to antiquity also. His first step, in applying his maxim, was to declare Mr. M'Neile's scriptural arguments, before he had seen them, and therefore, because they were scriptural arguments only, to be gratuitous assumptions and mere paralogism. His next step was to transfer the issue on the sense of Scripture, from Scripture itself to the evidence of antiquity. Here again, Mr. M'Neile claims his three earliest, and we may infer from his own principles, his three best witnesses. Augustine, also, claims certain passages in Cyprian, Ambrose, and Gregory. Mr. Faber opposes to Augustine his own private opinion, that other texts in those fathers disprove the construction Augustine has put on their words. But how does he meet Mr. M'Neile's and Milner's claim to Ignatius, Clement, and Hermas ? Does he reason directly on the passages themselves, that glory and eternal life, can really mean only ecclesiastical privileges ? No, again he leaves the direct evidence for the most circuitous and indirect. Augustine, he says, was challenged to produce earlier authorities in favour of his own doctrine. He quoted Cyprian, Ambrose, and Gregory, but did not cite these earlier writers. He must have read them, and as the earliest, they would be his best authorities. Since he did not quote them, he must have thought them nothing to the purpose. Therefore they are nothing to the purpose, and M'Neile and Milner have alleged them in vain.
The argument, then, is this. Mr. Faber thinks that Augustine must have read these passages, and supposes that they were present to his memory. He presumes that Augustine would not omit such early writers, since he remembered them, if they were really to the purpose. He infers that they do not support Augustine's view, and hence that Clement, Ignatius and Hermas, reject the doctrine for which Mr. M'Neile alleges them. Therefore the chain of consent is now complete, by the insertion of their names, and the doctrine of personal election must be an unscriptural novelty of Augustine himself.
Now what is this argument, when briefly defined ? Mr. Faber has formed a private opinion, first on the reading, and then on the memory, and finally on the judgment of Augustine. Augustine himself has formed a private opinion on the true meaning of Ignatius and Hermas. These again, have formed their private opinion on the doctrine of election, contrary to the seeming tenor of their own words. Through these steps we climb to our final conclusion. Reasonings, however close and exact, on the words of inspiration, are to be worthless in fixing our decision. But then Mr. Faber has a private opinion, on what grounds we do not know, that Augustine must have remembered these passages in Clement, Ignatius and Hermas ; and that his opinion must have been that their opinions were opposite to his own, and unscriptural. This proves that their opinions were opposite to Augustine's. When we combine these opinions, thus determined, with the opinions of Cyprian, Ambrose, and Gregory, as determined by the opinion of Mr. Faber himself, in direct opposition to Augustine's, we have gained a Catholic consent, which proves that the doctrine of personal election is unscriptural and untrue. Such is
know but the Finally, in whether they
the true account, in plain terms, of the palmary argument of Mr. Faber, whereby he would supersede Mr. M'Neile's direct reasoning on the words of Scripture, and on those of Clement, Ignatius and Hermas themselves, his own earliest witnesses. This seems very like a reductio ad absurdum of his favourite principle " a strictly evidential ” appeal to the Fathers. We leave it
Quenched in a boggy Syrtis, neither sea
Nor good dry land, and should be glad if our valued correspondent would withdraw his feet from it, and place them on surer and firmer ground. What a pile of uncertainties compose the argument! We do not know that Augustine had read all these passages. If he had read them, we do not know that he remembered them at the time of the appeal. If he remembered them, we do not know but he might put them by, because Cyprian, Ambrose and Gregory were more suited to his purpose. If he thought them neutral, we do not know but he might be mistaken, as Mr. Faber believes him to be in the three others. If these passages were neutral, we do not know but the writers might hold the doctrine, since they nowhere contradict it. Finally, if these writers had rejected the doctrine, we should still be uncertain whether they might not be in error.
But “ the assertion of Augustine's contemporaries remains, that no such view of Scriptural election had, to the best of their knowledge, been ever heard of in the church before. That this assertion was correct, is distinctly shewn by historical testimony. Augustine had not been taught it by his catechist, as the universally-received doctrine of the Church from the beginning, but had discovered it by his insulated private judgment.” We reply, that the assertion on which Mr. Faber builds, is the insulated private judgment of Augustine's contemporaries; that his own re-assertion of it is also his “insulated private judgment,” and in our opinion, flatly against the existing evidence; that an universal negative, in its very nature, can never be proved; and that it is strange fallacy to infer that a doctrine has been universally rejected, because it is not found in the catechism, and universally received. Mr. F. indeed supposes that the denial of the doctrine “had been delivered to Augustine, as the universal and unbroken interpretation of the Church.” But this is another private judgment of Mr. Faber against all reason; for if a contradictory doctrine had been taught Augustine, as part of the universal faith of the Church, wbo that knows his sentiments on Church authority will believe for one moment that he could have cast it aside ? The fact that he adopted his actual views, and reasoned long and powerfully in their favour, proves that, in his decided judgment, it was an open question, so far as mere authority and tradition were concerned.
To sum up the whole, there is an ecclesiastical election to privi. leges, which, as Mr. Faber, and Mr. M`Neile and ourselves agree, is taught in Scripture, and generally received by early Christian writers. There is, in our judgment and that of Mr. M'Neile, a further doctrine of personal election to eternal life, which is also taught in Scripture, and recognized also by plain statements in Clement, Ignatius and Hermas. Other writers, before Augustine, were mostly silent upon it; some of them clearly disowned it; but Augustine himself revived it with great force of Scriptural reasoning. Now if any maintain that the doctrine is a fundamental article of the faith, universally received from the beginning, Mr. Faber's negative evidence, from all the writers in the second, third and fourth centuries who do not affirm it, and one or two who reject it, will be apposite and conclusive. For any other purpose it is quite useless. It cannot decide what were the opinions of all the millions of the church in those ages, by the mere silence of ten or twenty writers. It cannot even decide what were, on this point, the complete views of these writers themselves. They might hold both an ecclesiastical and personal election, and think the former only to be suited for their public teaching. Still less can it justify us in expounding Ignatius or Hermas contrary to their plain words, or supersede a direct and closely-reasoned appeal to the sacred writings themselves. This would be assuredly to reject what may prove to be a revealed truth, on “very defective and worse than defective evidence.”
We may close with the words of Luther, in his vigorous reply to the Bull of Leo; fearing that our friend, in his first letter, and even in his last, has exposed himself, in some measure, to their stirring and powerful rebuke.
“Wonderful, then, is our perverseness, who seek to prove our sayings by other testimonies than Scripture, while Christ and all the Apostles sought in the Scriptures testimonies to their own sayings. Nay, to make our madness more intolerable, those Scriptures from which we ought to seek testimonies for ourselves, we endeavour to prove and defend by the testimonies of men. Is not this to defend by the flesh of our own arm that sword of the Spirit by which we need to be defended ? I do not wish that authority should be taken away from the Holy Fathers, but that the majesty of the Word of God should be preferred to them. Let them be holy men, and Fathers of the churches, but still men, unequal to the apostles and prophets, and not preferred or made equal to their authority. So far let them be an example to us, that as they in