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Prophet of the Church, and His teaching is as truly her law, as His death and intercession are her life. In that teaching the whole canon centres, as for its proof, so for its harmonious adjustment. Christ recognizes the Law and the Prophets, and commissions the Apostles.
These then are some presumptions in favour of attributing a special sacredness to the New Testament over and above other sources of divine truth, however venerable. It is in very name Christ's Testament; it is an inspired text; and it contains the Canons of the New Law, dictated by Christ, commented on by His Apostles and by the Prophets beforehand. Though then, as the Romanists object, it be incomplete in form, it is not in matter; it has a hidden and beautiful design in it. Why we limit it to the particular books of which it is composed, will be seen in the next Lecture, in which, passing from antecedent presumptions, such as have here been discussed, I shall draw out the direct proof of the Article on which we are engaged.
ON SCRIPTURE AS THE DOCUMENT OF PROOF IN
THE EARLY CHURCH.
SHOULD any one feel uncertain about the argument against Romanism contained in the last Lecture, he may put it aside without interfering with what goes before and after. It is intended to show, how far there is a presumption that Scripture, is what is commonly called, “ the Rule of Faith,” independently of the testimony of the Fathers, which is the direct and sufficient proof of it. And perhaps it may suggest profitable thoughts to those who will receive it, over and above the immediate service which it has been brought to supply.
Before proceeding to the Fathers, which I shall now do, let me, for the sake of distinctness, repeat what is the point to be proved. It is this; that Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation; that is, either as being read therein or deducible therefrom; not that Scripture is the only ground of the faith, or ordinarily the guide into it
and teacher of it, or the source of all religious truth whatever, or the systematizer of it, or the instrument of unfolding, illustrating, enforcing, and applying it; but that it is the document of ultimate appeal in controversy, and the touchstone of all doctrine.
We differ, then, from the Romanist in this, not in denying that Tradition is valuable, but in maintaining that by itself, and without Scripture warrant, it does not convey to us any article necessary to salvation; in other words, that it is not a rule distinct and co-ordinate, but subordinate and ministrative. And this we hold, neither from any abstract fitness that it should be so, nor from the accident that it is so,-neither as a first principle, nor as a mere fact,—but as a doctrine taught us and acted on by the Fathers, as proved to us historically, as resting neither on argument nor on experience, but on testimony. Thus the same course is to be pursued, as in determining the Fundamentals; we must take what we have received, whether we know the reason of it or not.
The most simple and satisfactory mode of determining the question would be to find some judgment of Scripture upon it; but Scripture, as I have said, does not contemplate itself. The mention which it makes of inspiration, is rather a promise to persons, than a decision upon a document. It is a promise to the Apostles and to the Church built on them; and the Romanists ask why it need be confined to that first age any more than other
promises,—than the promise of Christ's presence where two or three are gathered together, or of the power
of His ministers to remit and retain sins; or than those precepts which we still observe, as the command to celebrate the Lord's Supper. Scripture does not interpret itself, or answer objections to misinterpretations. We must betake ourselves to the early Church, and see how they understood it. We consider the Eucharist is of perpetual obligation, because the ages immediately succeeding the Apostles thought so, we consider the inspired Canon was cut short in the Apostles whose works are contained in the New Testament, and that their successors had no gift of expounding the Law of Christ such as they had, because the same ages so accounted it. They witness to their own inferiority, like John the Baptist in speaking of Christ, and we accept what they say. One passage, indeed, there is, that with which the New Testament closes, which is remarkable certainly, as seeming to anticipate the testimony of the primitive Church; I mean, the last words of the Apocalypse : and, considering their correspondence with the closing verses of the Prophet Malachi, and those of St. John's own Gospel, which is known to be supplementary, they would favour the notion that he was sealing up the revelation within the limits of the inspired volume, supposing any evidence could be brought that before his death such a volume existed. Any how, they demand the attention of the Romanists, especially
considering the testimony of Antiquity agrees with them, when thus interpreted. To that testimony I now proceed.
The mode pursued by the early Church in deciding points of faith seems to have been as follows. When a novel doctrine was published in any quarter, the first question which the neighbouring Bishops asked each other was, “Is this part of the Rule of Faith? has this come down to us?” The answer being in the negative, they at once silenced it on the just weight of this presumption. The prevailing opinion of the Church was a sufficient, an overpowering objection against it; nor could truth suffer from a proceeding which only subjected it, if on the protesting side, to a trial of - its intrinsic life and energy.
When, however, the matter came before a Council, when it was discussed, when the Fathers reasoned, proved, and decided, they never went in matters of saving faith by Tradition only, but they guided themselves by the notices of the written word, as by landmarks in their course.
Tradition was no longer more than a subordinate guide, as explaining, illustrating, reconciling, applying the Scriptures. Then, as under the Old Covenant, the appeal was made “ to the Law and to the Testimony,” to the testament of the Saviour, to the depository of His teaching, to the inspired document of Apostles and Prophets. The following passages from the Fathers are given in proof or explanation of this statement.