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maturity and its fruit ripened in the sixteenth, under the vigorous training of Luther and Melancthon. What was it that first led Wickliffe to question the dogmas of the Romish church? The study of the Bible. What led Huss and Jerome of Prague to cast off the authority of Rome in matters of faith, and press forward in the path which conducted only to martyrdom ? It was the Bible. What gave to Luther his chief power, and enabled him to establish the triumphs of the Reformation on a sure and permanent basis? It was his version of the Bible, which brought divine truth into immediate contact with the mass of mind among the common people. It was no longer a human interpreter, standing between God and the people to tell them what the Lord had said ; but it was God himself speaking to the people themselves, and bringing his own truth directly home to their hearts. It was good seed sown in good ground; it sprung up and bore good fruit; and the spirit of the Reformation, which before had been smouldering for centuries, with only occasional flashes of light, now burst forth and shone with a steady and unquenchable splendor. Where the Scriptures were translated and venerated as the only and sufficient rule of faith and practice, there the Reformation was established; and the limits within which this veneration of the Bible prevailed, are to this day the boundaries of Protestantism.
The maxim which we are considering, has usually been received as a self-evident truth throughout the Protestant world. Fifteen years ago, there probably could hardly have been found an individual bearing the Protestant name, who would have thought of calling it in question. But at the present day, a tendency has arisen in a portion of the Protestant community, directed primarily against certain levelling efforts to break down the external power and dignity of the church—a tendency which ascribes to a portion of that church a supremacy which she herself has never heretofore claimed, and exalts her to the dignity of the church primitive and apostolic, having authority over the faith and consciences not only of her own members, but virtually of all Christendom. It results as a main principle directly from this tendency, and we now hear the doctrine warily advanced, that the Bible must be interpreted by the church; or, in other words, that the authority of the church is above that of the Bible. Thus, so far as these views shall become current, there is danger, that the separating wall may again be built up between the truth of God and the mass of
mankind; that the gigantic efforts of the present time to disseminate the Bible throughout all lands, shall go for nought; and that a portion of the Protestant church, verging in selfdefence to an unhappy extreme, may strive to overthrow the fundamental and essential principle, on which she has hitherto reposed, as on an immovable basis. But why should Protestants thus cast away the very
foundation of their liberty in Christ? Why build up again a separating wall to divide them from the truth and love of God? The Protestant maxim has in all ages been the watchword of Christian liberty; and the abandonment of it, the signal of spiritual thraldom and darkness. The manifestation of this principle in the Reformation, was but a return to it after a long night of oblivion; it had already shone forth with equal power and splendor in the still greater renovation of God's church under the ministry of the Redeemer himself.
When Christ appeared on earth, “ the Scribes and Pharisees sat in Moses' seat,"* and had enveloped and obscured the light of divine truth in the Old Testament by their traditions. Theirs was then the authority of the church; they had made themselves the interpreters of Scripture to the people; and on their dictum hung the significancy of the law and of the prophets. Against this assumption of authority, Jesus set his face at once and for ever. In one of the earliest of his public discourses, the Sermon on the Mount, he declares to the assembled multitude by several examples: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time,” that ye should do so and so; " but I say unto you,” that this authority is nought. On another occasion he exclaims : “ Thus have ye made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition;" and then he proceeds to inveigh against them in the language of Isaiah : “ This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”'| In like manner the great apostle of the Gentiles sets at nought the authority of Jewish tradition : “ Why then," he exclaims to the Colossians," as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, after the commandments and doctrines of
“ vain talkers and deceivers, especially they of the circumcision," he directs Titus to“ rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.”*
Nor were all these declarations merely negative; serving only to contradict the authority of the Scribes and Pharisees and their traditions. It was not the object of the Saviour and his apostles to overthrow one mass of error in order to set up another in its place. They never claimed themselves to be interpreters of the Word of God to others. That Holy Word was free to all ; it was known and read of all men ; and to it Christ and his apostles ever appealed, against the objections of the Jews, as the supreme authority, before which all human cavils must be dumb. Yea, even the opponents themselves were to be the interpreters and judges. “Search the Scrip; tures,” says our Lord, “ for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me.”+ The apostles, too, in their preaching, appealed always to the Scriptures, entorcing the study of them upon their hearers; and it is recorded as a trait of nobleness in the Bereans, to whom Paul and Silas preached the gospel, “ that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so."I They went not to the Scribes and Pharisees, as the authoritative expounders of the Scriptures ; but searched for themselves, in the light of God's truth and with the aid of his Spirit, which is ever vouchsafed to those who seek aright. The same great principle is inculcated by Paul, when in addressing Timothy, he reminds him, “ that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus ;” and then proceeds to enforce the thought more generally and strongly: “ All Scripture is given by inspiration of God; and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may
perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”'S This, according to the apostle, is the fruit of the Scriptures to those who search them for themselves; and thus become rooted and grounded in the Christian faith. He says not one word of their
Indeed, the only occasion on record, in which the apostolic church, as such, exercised an authority in any way paramount to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, was in the final de cision of the great question relative to the binding power of the Jewish ceremonial law upon Gentile converts. Many of the Jewish Christians still venerated their ritual, and believed that other converts should be subject to its ordinances. This tendency Paul labored long and vehemently to counteract, as contrary to the spirit of the gospel ; and at length the authority of the assembled church and elders at Jerusalem was called in, to determine between the opposing views. This they did; not of themselves, but as the ambassadors and representatives of Christ, expressly acting by inspiration from on high : “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things."* Thus was abrogated in form the Jewish ceremonial law; not by the church acting on its own authority, but from the authority of Christ himself. Their decree was neither an interpretation of Scripture, nor a tradition claiming to be of equal weight with Scripture; but it was a part and parcel of Scripture itself
, resting upon the same divine authority and sanction, and promulgated under the direct influence of the same Holy Spirit.
*The main argument of the church in every age, in favor of its assumed authority, has been the fear lest “ the unlearned and unstable should wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction.” Such was already the complaint of Peter in respect to the epistles of Paul and other Scriptures; yet he suggests no interposition of ecclesiastical authority to prevent such a result. He merely exhorts those whom he was addressing, to greater caution not to fall from their own steadfastness, seeing they were thus forewarned.t And why should more than this be neces sary? Because a few of the “ unlearned and unstable” abuse their liberty, shall that liberty be wholly taken away from the steadfast and the intelligent? Far better were it for the church, for her ministers and her members, to instruct and enlighten these “ unlearned and unstable," and so bring them willingly to the truth; and not at once to shut them up in the prisonhouse of human authority.
Let me not be misunderstood. I am not calling in question the propriety, nor even the necessity of creeds and confessions.
Acts xv. 28. See the whole chapter. t. 2 Pet. iii. 15—17.
I hold that every religious community has a right to prescribe the system of doctrines, conscientiously drawn from the Bible, which shall be the bond of its existence and the condition of membership. It follows as a matter of course, that when a member discards, or acts contrary to, the profession he has made, such a community has the right to call him to an account, and even to exclude him from its pale. But it does not follow, nor can it ever be justified, that where there is merely a conscientious difference of opinion in respect to Scriptural doctrine, denunciation and persecution should be let loose upon their prey, or an individual be injured in his good name, or deprived of civil or social rights and privileges. This can never be otherwise than wrong in itself ; directly opposed to the great and fundamental principle of Protestantism; and contrary to the whole spirit and tenor of the gospel of Christ.
Having thus brought out to view the character and foundations of the great Protestant principle relative to the Bible, let us now trace it as applied to theological education. It follows from it, as I have already had occasion to remark, that the Bible must be the basis of all Christian theology. Our present inquiry, therefore, will have for its object the various subsidiary branches of study, which are essential for every one who would aspire to the character of an able and thoroughly furnished interpreter of the Holy Scriptures. Let it be borne in mind that only of such am I here speaking of interpreters who may understand and explain the Word of God, not merely in things pertaining to our duties and destiny as immortal and accountable beings; for on these points the Bible is so plain, that he who runs may read, and even in the most imperfect translation presents enough of divine truth to make all men wise unto salvation. But I speak of interpreters who may likewise enter into the full spirit of the Bible in all its other parts; in its bearings upon the history and antiquities, not only of the Jews, but of the whole human race; who may be able to clear up difficulties, illustrate what may seem obscure, and