Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.
This, like the other general rules of the gospel, is familiar enough to us all in its own words; but we are very apt to forbear making the application of it. In fact, he who were to apply it perfectly would be a perfect Christian: for a life of which every word and deed were said and done in the name of the Lord Jesus, would be a life indeed worthy of the children of God, and such as they lead in heaven; it would leave no room for sin to enter. The art of our enemy has been therefore to make us leave this command of the apostle's in its general sense, and avoid exploring, so to speak, all the wisdom contained within it. Certain actions of our lives, our religious services, the more solemn transactions in which we are engaged, we are willing to do in Christ's name; but that multitude of common words and ordinary actions by which more than sixty-nine out of our seventy years are filled, we take away from our Lord's dominion, under the foolish, and hypocritical pretence that they are too trifling and too familiar to be mixed up with the thought of things so solemn.
This is one fault, and by far the most common. We make Christ's service the business only of a very small portion of our lives; we hallow only a very small part of our words and actions by doing them in his name. Unlike our Lord's own parable, where he compares Christianity to leaven hidden in the three measures of meal till the whole was leavened, the practice rather has been to keep the leaven confined to one little corner of the mass of meal; to take care that it should not spread so as to leaven the whole mass; to keep our hearts still in the state of the world when Christ visited it -- "the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not;" that is, it did not take the light into itself so as to be wholly enlightened: the light shone, and there was a bright space immediately around it; but beyond there was a blackness of darkness into which it vainly strove to penetrate.
On the other hand there has been, though, more rarely, a fault of the opposite sort. Men have said that they were in all their actions of ordinary life doing Christ's will, that they endeavoured always to be promoting some good object; and that the peculiar services of religion, as they are called, were useless, inasmuch as in spirit they are worshipping God always. This is a great error; because, as a matter of fact, it is false. We may safely say that no man ever did keep his heart right with God in his ordinary life, that no one ever became one with Christ, and Christ with him, without seeking Christ where he reveals himself, it may not be more really, but to our weakness far more sensibly, than in the common business of daily life. We may be happy if we can find Christ there, after we have long sought him and found him in the way of his own ordinances, in prayer, and in his holy communion. Even Christ himself, when on earth, though his whole day was undeniably spent in doing the will of his heavenly father, -- although to him doubtless God was ever present in the commonest acts no less than in the most solemn, -- yet even he, after a day spent in all good works, desired a yet more direct intercourse with God, and was accustomed to spend a large portion of the night in retirement and prayer.
Without this, indeed, we shall most certainly not say and do all in the name of the Lord Jesus; much more shall we be in danger of forgetting him altogether. But supposing that we are not neglectful of our religious duties, in the common sense of the term, that we do pray and read the Scriptures, and partake of Christ's communion, yet it will often happen that we do not connect our prayers, nor our reading, nor our communion, with many of the common portions of our lives; that there are certain things in which we take great interest, which, notwithstanding, we leave, as it were, wholly without the range of the light of Christ's Spirit. There is a story told that, in times and countries where there prevailed the deepest ignorance, some who came to be baptized into the faith of Christ, converted from their heathen state, not in reality but only in name, were accustomed to leave their right arm unbaptized, with the notion that this arm, not being pledged to Christ's service, might wreak upon their enemies those works of hatred and revenge which in baptism they had promised to renounce. It is too much to say that something like this unbaptized right arm is still to be met with amongst us -- that men too often leave some of their very most important concerns, what they call by way of eminence their business -- their management of their own money affairs, and their conduct in public matters -- wholly out of the control of Christ's law?
Now at this very time public matters are engaging the thoughts of a great many persons all over the kingdom: and are not only engaging their thoughts, but are also become a practical matter, in which they are acting with great earnestness. Is it nothing that there should be so much, interest felt, so much pains taken, and yet that neither should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, nor to the glory of God? It cannot be unsuited to the present season to dwell a little on this subject, which has nothing whatever to do with men's differences of opinion, but relates only to their acting, whatever be their political opinions, on Christian principles, and in a Christian spirit.
First, consider what we pray for in the prayer which we have been using every week for the high court of parliament: we pray to God, that "all things may be so ordered and settled by the endeavours of parliament, upon the best and surest foundations, that peace and happiness, truth, and justice, religion and piety, may be established among us for all generations." These great blessings we beg of God to secure to us and to our children through the endeavours of parliament; if, therefore, we are any ways concerned in fixing who the persons are to be who are to compose this parliament, it is plain that there is put into our bands a high privilege, if you will; but along with it, as with all other privileges, a most solemn responsibility.
But, if it be a solemn responsibility in the sight of God and of Christ, surely the act of voting, which many think so lightly of, and which many more consider a thing wholly political and worldly, becomes, indeed, a very important Christian duty, not to be discharged hastily or selfishly, in blind prejudice or passion, from self-interest, or in mere careless good nature and respect of persons; but deliberately, seriously, calmly, and, so far as we can judge our deceitful hearts, purely; not without prayer to Him who giveth wisdom liberally to those that ask it, that he will be pleased to guide them aright, to his own glory, and to the good of his people.
Do I say that if we were to approach this duty in this spirit, and with such prayers, we should all agree in the same opinion, and all think the same of the same men? No, by no means; we might still greatly differ; but we should, at least, have reason to respect one another, and to be in charity with one another; and if we all earnestly desired and prayed to be directed to God's glory, and the public good, God, I doubt not, would give us all those ends which we so purely desired, although in our estimate of the earthly means and instruments by which they were to be gained, we had honestly differed from one another.
Now, supposing that we had this conviction, that what we were going to do concerned the glory of God and the good of his people, and that we approached it therefore seriously as a Christian duty, yet it may be well that many men might feel themselves deficient in knowledge; they might not understand the great questions at issue; they might honestly doubt how they could best fulfil the trust committed to them. I know that the most ignorant man will feel no such hesitation if he is going to give his vote from fancy, or from prejudice, or from interest; these are motives which determine our conduct quickly and decisively. But if we regard our vote as a talent for which we must answer before God that we may well be embarrassed by a consciousness of ignorance; we may well be anxious to get some guidance from others, if we cannot find it in ourselves. Here, then, is the place for authority, -- for relying, that is, on the judgment of others, when we feel that we cannot judge for ourselves. But is their no room for the exercise of much good sense and fairness in ourselves as to the choice of the person by whose judgment we mean to be guided? Are we so little accustomed to estimate our neighbours' characters rightly, as to be unable to determine whom we may consult with advantage? Surely if their be any one whom we have proved, in the affairs of common life, to be at once honest and sensible, to such an one we should apply when we are at a loss as to public matters. If there is such an one amongst our own relations or personal friends, we should go to him in preference: if not, we can surely find one such amongst our neighbours: and here the authority of such of our neighbours as have a direct connexion with us, if we have had reason to respect their judgment and their principles, may be properly preferred to that of indifferent persons; the authority of a master, or an employer, or of our minister, or of our landlord, may and ought, under such circumstances, to have a great and decisive influence over us.
On the other hand, supposing again that we have this strong sense of the great responsibility in the sight of God of every man who has the privilege of a vote, we shall be exceedingly careful not to tempt him to sin by fulfilling this duty ill. Nothing can be more natural or more proper than that those who have strong impressions themselves as to the line to be followed in public matters, should be desirous of persuading others to think as they do; every man who loves truth and righteousness must wish that what he himself earnestly believes to be true and righteous, should be loved by others also; but the highest truth, if professed by one who believes it not in his heart, is to him a lie, and he sins greatly by professing it. Let us try as much as we will to convince our neighbours; but let us beware of influencing their conduct, when we fail in influencing their convictions: he who bribes or frightens his neighbour into doing an act which no good man would do for reward or from fear, is tempting his neighbour to sin; he is assisting to lower and to harden his conscience, -- to make him act for the favour or from the fear of man, instead of for the favour or from the fear of God; and if this be a sin in him, it is a double sin in us to tempt him to it. Nor let us deceive ourselves by talking of the greatness of the stake at issue; that God's glory and the public good are involved in the result of the contest, and that therefore we must do all in our power to win it. Let us by all means do all that we can do without sin; but let us not dare to do evil that good may come, for that is the part of unbelief; it becomes those who will not trust God with the government of the world, but would fain guide its course themselves. Here, indeed, our Lord's command does apply to us, that we be not anxious; "Which of you by taking thought can add to his stature one cubit?" How little can we see of the course of Providence! how little can we be sure that what we judged for the best in public affairs may not lead to mischief! But these things are in God's hand; our business is to keep ourselves and our neighbours from sin, and not to do or encourage in others any thing that is evil, however great the advantages which we may fancy likely to flow from that evil to the cause even of the highest good.
There is no immediate prospect, indeed, that we in this particular congregation shall be called upon to practise the duty of which I have been now speaking; and, indeed, it is for that very reason that I could dwell on the subject more freely. But what is going on all around us, what we hear of, read of, and talk of so much as we are many of us likely to do in the next week or two about political matters, that we should be accustomed to look upon as Christians: we should by that standard try our common views and language about it, and, if it may be, correct them: that so hereafter, if we be called upon to act, we may act, according to the Apostle's teaching, in the name of our Lord Jesus. And I am quite sure if we do so think and so act, although our differences of opinion might remain just the same, yet the change in ourselves, and I verily believe in the blessings which God would give us, would be more than we can well believe; and a general election, instead of calling forth, as it now does, a host of unchristian passions and practices, would be rather an exercise of Christian judgment, and forbearance, and faith, and charity; promoting, whatever was the mere political result, the glory of God, advancing Christ's kingdom, and the good of this, as it would be then truly called, Christian nation.
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NOTE A. P.5.
"But our path is not backwards but onwards" -- This thought is expressed very beautifully in lines as wise and true as they are poetical:
"Grieve not for these: nor dare lament
Burbridge's Poems, p.309.
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NOTE B. P.102.
"Some may know the story of that German nobleman," &c. -- The Baron von Canitz. He lived in the latter half of the seventeenth century, and was engaged in the service of the electors of Brandenburg, both of the great elector and his successor. He was the author of several hymns, one of which is of remarkable beauty, as may be seen in the following translation, for the greatest part of which I am indebted to the kindness of a friend: but the language of the original, in several places, cannot be adequately translated in English.
Come, my soul, thou must be waking --
From the stars thy course be learning:
Lo! how all of breath partaking,
Thou too hail the light returning, --
Pray that He may prosper ever
Think that He thy ways beholdeth --
Fetter'd to the fleeting hours,
May'st thou then on life's last morrow,
Only God's free gifts abuse not,
If aught of care this morn oppress thee,
Round the gifts His bounty show'rs,
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NOTE C. P.122.
"But, once admit a single exception, and the infallible virtue of the rule ceases." -- Thus the famous Canon of Vincentius Lirinensis is like tradition itself, always either superfluous or insufficient. Taken literally, it is true and worthless; -- because what all have asserted, always, and in all places, supposing of course that the means of judging were in their power, may be assumed to be some indisputable axiom, such as never will be disputed any more than it has been disputed hitherto. But take it with any allowance, and then it is of no use in settling a question: for what most men have asserted, most commonly, and in most places, has a certain a priori probability, it is true, but by no means such as may not be outweighed by probabilities on the other side; for the extreme improbability consists not in the prevalence of error amongst millions, or for centuries, or over whole continents, -- but in its being absolutely universal, so universal, that truth could not find a single witness at any time or in any country. But the single witness is enough to "justify the ways of God," and reduces what otherwise would have been a monstrous triumph of evil to the character of a severe trial of our faith, severe indeed as the trials of an evil world will be, but no more than a trial such as, with God's grace, may be overcome.
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NOTE D. P.189.
"It was an admirable definition of that which excites laughter," &c. -- [Greek: To geloion apurtaepa ti chai aiochos auodnnoy chai on phthartichon oion enthus to geloion prosopon aischron ti chai dieotruppenon anen odunaes] -- Aristotle, Poetic, ii.
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NOTE E. P.245.
"I would endeavour just to touch upon some of the purposes for which the Scripture tells us that Christ died." -- The Collects for Easter Sunday and the Sundays just before it and after it, illustrate the enumeration here given. The Collect for the Sunday next before Easter speaks of Christ's death only as an "example of his great humility." The Collect for Easter-day speaks of the resurrection, and connects it with our spiritual resurrection, as does also the Collect for the first Sunday after Easter. But the collect for the Second Sunday after Easter speaks of Christ as being at once our sacrifice for sin and our example of godly life, -- a sacrifice to be regarded with entire thankfulness, and an example to be daily followed.
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NOTE F. P.282.
"Such also was to be the state of the Christian Church after our Lord's ascension." -- And therefore, as I think, St. Peter applies to the Christians of Asia Minor the very terms applied to the Jews living in Assyria or in Egypt; he addresses them as [Greek: parepidaemois diasporas], (1 Peter i.1,) that is, as strangers and sojourners, scattered up and down in a country that was not properly their own, and living in a sort of banishment from their true home. That the words are not addressed to Jewish Christians, and therefore are not to be understood in their simple historical sense, seems evident from the second chapter of the Epistle, verses 9, 10, and iv.2,3.
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NOTE G. P.315.
"Not only an outward miracle, but the changed circumstances of the times may speak God's will no less clearly than a miracle," &c. -- What I have here said does not at all go beyond what has been said on the same subject by Hooker: "Laws, though both ordained of God himself, and the end for which they were ordained continuing, may, notwithstanding, cease, if by alteration of persons or times they be found insufficient to attain unto that end. In which respect why may we not presume that God doth even call for such change or alteration as the very condition of things themselves doth make necessary?... In this case, therefore, men do not presume to change God's ordinance, but they yield thereunto, requiring itself to be changed." -- Ecclesiastical Polity, b. iii. Sec.10.
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NOTE H. P.320.
"Nor is it less strange that any should ever have been afraid of their understandings, and should have sought goodness through prejudice, and blindness, and folly." -- For some time past the words "Rationalism" and "Rationalistic" have been freely used as terms of reproach by writers on religious subjects; the 73d No. of the "Tracts for the Times" is entitled, "On the introduction of Rationalistic Principles into Religion," and a whole chapter in Mr. Gladstone's late work on Church Principles is headed "Rationalism." Yet we still want a clear definition of the thing signified by this name. The Tract for the Times says, "To rationalize, is to ask for reasons out of place; to ask improperly how we are to account for certain things; to be unwilling to believe them unless they can be accounted for, i.e. referred to something else as a cause, to some existing system, as harmonizing with them, or taking them up into itself.... It is characterised by two peculiarities; -- its love of systematizing, and its basing its system upon personal experience, on the evidence of sense." -- P.2. Mr. Gladstone says more generally, "Rationalism is commonly, at least in this country, taken to be the reduction of Christian doctrine to the standard and measure of the human understanding." -- P.37. But neither of these definitions will include all the arguments and statements which have been called by various writers "rationalistic;" and while the terms used are thus vague, they are often applied very indiscriminately, and the tendency of this use of them is to depreciate the exercise of the intellectual faculties generally. The subject seems to deserve fuller consideration than it has yet received; there is a real evil which the term Rationalism is meant to denounce; but it has not been clearly apprehended, and what is good has sometimes been confounded with it, and denounced under the same name.
I cannot pretend to discuss the subject fully in a mere note, even if I were otherwise competent to do it. But one or two points may be noticed, as likely to assist the inquiry, wherever it is worthily entered on.
1st. It is important to bear in mind the distinction which Coleridge enforces so earnestly between the understanding and the reason. I do not know whether Mr. Gladstone, in the passage quoted above, uses the word "understanding" as synonymous with reason, or in that stricter sense in which Coleridge employs it. But the writer of the Tract seems to allude to the stricter sense, when he calls it a characteristic of rationalism "to base its system upon personal experience, on the evidence of sense." If this be the case, then it would seem that rationalism is the appealing to the decision of the understanding in points where the decision properly belongs not to the understanding, but to the reason. This is a great fault, and one to which all persons who belong to the sensualist school in philosophy, as opposed to the idealist school, would be more or less addicted. But then, this fault consists not in an over-estimating of man's intellectual nature generally, but in the exalting one part of it unduly, to the injury of another part; in deferring to the understanding, rather than to the reason.
2d. Faith and reason are often invidiously contrasted with each other, as if they were commonly described in Scripture as antagonists; whereas faith is more properly opposed to sight, or to lust, being, in fact, a very high exercise of the pure reason; inasmuch as we believe truths which our senses do not teach us, and which our passions would have us, therefore, reject, because those truths are taught by Him in whom reason recognises its own author, and the infallible source of all truth.
3d. It were better to oppose reason to passion than to faith; for it may be safely said, that he who neglects his reason, so far as he does neglect it, does not lead a life of faith afterwards, but a life of passion. He does not draw nearer to God, but to the brutes, or rather to the devils; for his passions cannot be the mere instinctive appetites of the brute, but derive from the wreck of his intellectual powers, which he cannot utterly destroy, just so much of a higher nature that they are sins, and not instincts, belonging to the malignity of diabolic nature, rather than to the mere negative evil of the nature of brutes.
4th. Faith may be described as reason leaning upon God. Without God, reason is either overpowered by sense and understanding, and, in a manner, overgrown, so that it cannot comprehend its proper truths; or, being infinite, it cannot discover all the truths which concern it, and therefore needs a farther revelation to enlighten it. But with God's grace strengthening it to assert its supremacy over sense and understanding, and communicating to it what of itself it could not have discovered, it then having gained strength and light not its own, and doing and seeing consciously by God's help, becomes properly faith.
5th. Faith without reason, is not properly faith, but mere power worship; and power worship may be devil worship; for it is reason which entertains the idea of God -- an idea essentially made up of truth and goodness, no less than of power. A sign of power exhibited to the senses might, through them, dispose the whole man to acknowledge it as divine; yet power in itself is not divine, it may be devilish. But when reason recognises that, along with this power, there exist also wisdom and goodness, then it perceives that here is God; and the worship which, without reason, might have been idolatry, being now according to reason is faith.
6th. If this were considered, men would be more careful of speaking disparagingly of reason, seeing that it is the necessary condition of the existence of faith. It is quite true, that when we have attained to faith, it supersedes reason; we walk by sunlight, rather than by moonlight; following the guidance of infinite reason, instead of finite. But how are we to attain to faith? in other words, how can we distinguish God's voice from the voice of evil? for we must distinguish it to be God's voice before we can have faith in it. We distinguish it, and can distinguish it no otherwise, by comparing it with that idea of God which reason intuitively enjoins, the gift of reason being God's original revelation of himself to man. Now, if the voice which comes to us from the unseen world agree not with this idea, we have no choice but to pronounce it not to be God's voice; for no signs of power, in confirmation of it, can alone prove it to be God. God is not power only, but power, and truth, and holiness; and the existence of even infinite power, does not necessarily involve in it truth and holiness also; else the notion of the world being governed by an evil being would be no more than a contradiction in terms; and the horrible strife of the two principles of Manicheism would be a mere matter of indifference; for if power alone constitutes God, whichever principle triumphed over the other, would become God by the very fact of its victory; and thus triumphant evil would be good.
7th. Reason, then, is the mean whereby we attain to faith, and escape the devil worship of idolatry; but the understanding is not a necessary condition of faith, and very often impedes it; for the understanding having for its basis the reports of sense and experience, has no direct way of arriving at things invisible, and rather shrinks back from that world with which it is in no way familiar. It has a work to do in regard to revelation, and an important work; but divine things not being its proper matter, its work concerning them must be subordinate, and its tendency is always to fall back from the invisible to the visible, -- from matters of faith to matters of experience. Its work, with respect to revelation, is this -- that it should inquire into the truth of the outward signs of it; which outward signs being necessarily things visible and sensible, fall within its province of judgment. Thus understanding judges the external witnesses of a revelation: if miracles be alleged, it is the business of understanding to ascertain the fact of their occurrence; if a book claim to be the record of a revelation, it belongs to the understanding to make out the origin of this book, the time when it was written, who were its authors, and what is the first and grammatical meaning of its language. Or, again, if any men profess to be the depositaries of divine truth, by an extraordinary commission from God, the understanding, being familiar with man's nature and motives, can judge of their credibility -- can see whether there are any marks of folly in them, or of dishonesty, or whether they are at once sensible and honest. And in all such matters, the prerogative of the understanding to judge is not to be questioned; for all such points are strictly within its dominion; and our Lord's words are of universal application, that we should render to Caesar the things which are Caesar's, no less than we should render to God the things that are God's.
Faith may exist, as I said, without the action of the understanding, but never without that of the reason. It may exist independent of the understanding, because faith in God is the natural result of the idea of God: and that idea belongs to the reason, and the understanding is not concerned with it. But when a special revelation has been given us, through human instruments; when the understanding is called in to certify the particular fact, that in such and such particular persons, writings, or events, God has made himself manifest in an extraordinary manner; it is the human instrumentality which requires the judgment of the understanding; the bringing in of human characters, and sensible facts, which are matters of sense and experience; and, therefore, it is mere ignorance when Christians speak slightingly of the outward and historical evidences of Christianity, and indulge in very misplaced contempt for Paley and others who have worked out the historical proof of it. Such persons may observe, if they will, that where the historical evidence has not been listened to, there a belief in Christianity, properly so called, is wanting. Living examples might, I think, be named of men whose reason entirely acknowledges the internal proofs of a divine origin which are contained in the Christian doctrines, but whose understandings are not satisfied as to the facts of the Christian history, and particularly as to the fact of our Lord's resurrection. Such men are a remarkable contrast to those whose understandings are fully satisfied of the historical truth of our Lord's resurrection, but who are indifferent to, or actually deny, those doctrinal truths of which another power than the understanding must be the warrant. It is important to observe, therefore, that in a revelation involving, as an essential part of it, certain historical facts, there is necessarily a call for the judgment of the understanding, although in religious faith simply the understanding may have no place.
8th. Now, then, the clearest notion which can be given of rationalism would, I think, be this: that it is the abuse of the understanding in subjects where the divine and the human, so to speak, are intermingled. Of human things the understanding can judge, of divine things it cannot; -- and thus, where the two are mixed together, its inability to judge of the one part makes it derange the proportions of both, and the judgment of the whole is vitiated. For example, the understanding examines a miraculous history; it judges truly of what I may call the human part of the case; that is to say, of the rarity of miracles, -- of the fallibility of human testimony, -- of the proneness of most minds to exaggeration, -- and of the critical arguments affecting the genuineness or the date of the narrative itself. But it forgets the divine part, namely, the power and providence of God, that He is really ever present amongst us, and that the spiritual world, which exists invisibly all around us, may conceivably, and by no means impossibly, exist, at some times and to some persons, even visibly. These considerations, which the understanding is ignorant of, would often modify our judgment as to the human parts of the case. Things not impossible in themselves are believed upon sufficient testimony; and with all the carelessness and exaggeration of historians, the mass of history is notwithstanding generally credible. Again, with regard to the history of the Old Testament, our judgment of the human part in it requires to be constantly modified by our consciousness of the divine part, or otherwise it cannot fail to be rationalistic; that is, it will be the judgment of the understanding only, unchecked by the reason. Gesenius' Commentary on Isaiah is rationalistic, for it regards Isaiah merely as a Jewish writer, zealously attached to the religion of his country, and lamenting the decay of his nation, and anxiously looking for its future restoration. No doubt Isaiah was all this, and therefore Gesenius' Commentary is critically and historically very valuable; the human part of Isaiah is nowhere better illustrated; but the divine part of the prophecy of Isaiah is no less real, and the consciousness of its existence should actually qualify our feelings and language even with reference to the human part.
9th. The fault, then, of rationalism appears to me to consist not so much in what it has as in what it has not. The understanding has its proper work to do with respect to the Bible, because the Bible consists of human writings and contains a human history. Critical and historical inquiries respecting it are, therefore, perfectly legitimate; it contains matter which is within the province of the understanding, and the understanding has God's warrant for doing that work which he appointed it to do; only, let us remember, that the understanding cannot ascend to things divine; that for these another faculty is necessary, -- reason or faith. If this faculty be living in us, then there can be no rationalism; and what is called so is then no other than the voice of Christian truth. Where a man's writings show that he is keenly alive to the divine part of Scripture, that he sees God ever in it, and regards it truly as his word, his judgments of the human part in it are not likely to be rationalistic; and if his understanding decides according to its own laws, upon points within its own province, while his faith duly tempers it, and restrains it from venturing upon another's dominion, the result will, in all probability, be such as commonly attends the use of God's manifold gifts in their just proportions, -- it will image, after our imperfect measure, the holiness of God and the truth of God.
It is very true, and should be acknowledged in the fullest manner, that for the study of the highest moral and spiritual questions another faculty than the understanding is wanting; and that without this faculty the understanding alone cannot arrive at truth. But it is no less true, that while there is, on the one side, a faculty higher than the understanding, which is entitled to pronounce upon its defects; "for he that is spiritual judgeth all things," ([Greek: auachriuei];) so there is a clamour often raised against it, not from above, but from below, -- the clamour of mere shallowness and ignorance, and passion. Of this sort is some of the outcry which is raised against rationalism. Men do not leap, per saltum mortalem, from ordinary folly to divine wisdom: and the foolish have no right to think that they are angels, because they are not humanly wise. There is a deep and universal truth in St. Paul's words, where he says, that Christians wish "not to be unclothed but clothed upon, that mortality may be swallowed up of life." Wisdom is gained, not by renouncing or despising the understanding, but by adding to its perfect work the perfect work of reason, and of reason's perfection, faith.
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NOTE I. P.331.
"A famous example of this may be seen in the sixth chapter of St. John," &c. -- The interpretation of this chapter, and particularly of the part alluded to in the text, is of no small importance; for it is remarkable, that the highest notions with respect to the presence of our Lord in the Holy Communion are often grounded upon this passage in St. John's Gospel, which yet, in the judgment of others, most decisively repels them.
The whole question resolves itself into this -- Are our Lord's words in this place co-ordinate with the Holy Communion, or subordinate to it? That is, do they and the communion alike point to some great truth superior to them both: or do our Lord's words, in St. John, point to the communion itself as their highest meaning?
The communion itself expresses a truth above itself by a symbolical action; the words of our Lord, in St. John, are exactly the same with that symbolic action; it is natural, therefore, to understand them not as referring to it, but to the same higher truth to which it refers also: and the more so as the communion is not once mentioned by St. John either in his Gospel or in his Epistles; but the idea which the communion expresses appears to have been familiar to his mind; at least, if we suppose that his mention of the blood and water flowing from our Lord's side in his Gospel, and his allusion again to the same fact in his Epistle, have reference in any degree to it, which seems to me most probable.
[Footnote 14: The common tendency to make the Christian sacraments an ultimate end rather than a mean, is exhibited in the heading of the tenth chapter of the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians, in our authorized version, where we find the first verses described as stating, that "the Jews' sacraments were types of ours." Whereas, so far is it from the apostle's argument to represent our sacraments as the reality of which the Jews' sacraments were the type, that he is describing theirs and ours as co-ordinate with each other, and both alike subordinate to the same truth; and he argues, that if the Jews, with their sacraments, did notwithstanding lose the reality which those sacraments typified, so we should take heed lest we, with our sacraments, should lose it also. The erroneous heading is not given in the Geneva Bible, where we have, on the contrary, the true observation; "the sacraments of the old fathers were all one with ours, for they respected Christ only." It is true that if no more were meant than that "the Jews' sacraments were like ours," there would be no reason to object to the expression; but apparently more is meant, as the word type seems to imply that what it is compared with is the reality, of which it is itself only the image; and one thing cannot properly be called the type of another, when both are but types of the same third thing. But the divines of James the First's reign and of his son's, were to the reformers exactly what the so-called fathers were to the apostles: the very same tendencies, growing up even in Elizabeth's reign, becoming strengthened under the Stuart kings, and fully developed in the nonjurors, which distinguish the divines of the seventeenth century from those of the sixteenth, distinguish also the church system from the gospel. There are many who readily acknowledge this difference in the English church, while they would deny it in the case of the ancient church. Indeed, it is not yet deemed prudent to avow openly that they prefer the so-called fathers to the apostles, and therefore they try to persuade themselves that both speak the same language. And doubtless, if the Scriptures are to be interpreted according to the rule of the writers of the third, and fourth, and fifth centuries, the thing can easily be effected; as, by a similar process, the Articles of the Church of England, if interpreted according to the rule of the nonjurors and their successors, might be made to speak the very sentiments which their authors designed to condemn.]
Our Lord repels the notion of a literal acceptation of his words, where he says, -- "It is the Spirit which profiteth, the flesh profiteth nothing; the words which I speak unto you, they are Spirit and they are life." It seems impossible, therefore, to refer these words, which he tells us expressly are Spirit and life, to any outward act of eating and drinking as their highest truth and object.
But the words in the sixth chapter of St. John do highly illustrate the institution and purpose of the communion, and especially the remarkable words which our Lord used in instituting it. They show what infinite importance he attached to that truth which he expressed both in symbolical words and action under the same figure, of eating His body and drinking His blood. But to suppose that that truth can only be realized by one particular ritual action, so that the one great work of a Christian is to receive the Lord's supper, -- which it must be, if our Lord's words in the sixth chapter of St. John refer to the communion, -- is so contrary to the whole character of our Lord's teaching, and not least so in the very words so misinterpreted, that to maintain such a doctrine, leading, as it does, to such manifold superstitions, is actually to preach another Gospel than Christ's -- to bring in a mystical religion instead of a spiritual one, -- to do worse than to Judaize.
* * * * *
NOTE K. P.345.
"A set of persons, who wish to magnify the uncertainties of the Scripture in order to recommend more plausibly the guidance of some supposed authoritative interpreter of it." -- "The high church party," we have been lately told, "take Holy Scripture for their guide, and, in the interpretation of it, defer to the authority of primitive antiquity: the low church party contend for the sufficiency of private judgment." It is become of the greatest importance to see clearly, not what one party, or another, may contend for, but what is the real truth, and what, accordingly, is the duty of every Christian man to do in this matter. The sermon to which this note refers, is an attempt to show that Scripture is not hopelessly obscure or ambiguous; but it may not be inexpedient here to consider a little, what are the objections to the principle of the high church party; to clear away certain difficulties which are supposed to beset the opposite principle; and to state, if possible, what the truth of the whole question is.
I. The objections to the principle of the high church party are these: 1st. Its extreme vagueness. What is primitive antiquity? and where is its authority to be found? Does "primitive antiquity" mean the first three centuries? or the first two? or the first five? or the first seven? Does it include any of the general councils? or one of them? or four? or six? Are Irenaeus and Tertullian the latest writers of "primitive antiquity?" or does it end with Augustine? or does it comprehend the venerable Bede? One writer has lately told us, that our Reformers wished the people to be taught, "that, for almost seven hundred years, the church was most pure." Are we, then, to hold that "primitive antiquity" embraces a period of nearly seven centuries? Seven centuries are considerably more than a third part of the whole duration of the church, from its foundation to this hour: can the third part of a nation's history be called its primitive antiquity? Is a tenet, or a practice taught when Christianity had been more than six hundred years in the world, to be called primitive? We know not, then, in the first place, what length of time is signified by "primitive antiquity."
But let it signify any length of time we choose, I ask, next, where is its authority to be found? In the decisions of the general councils? But if we call the first four centuries "primitive antiquity," we find in this period only two general councils; if we include the fifth century, we get four; if we take in the sixth and seventh centuries, we have then, in all, six general councils. Will the decisions of any, or all, of these six councils furnish us with an authoritative interpretation of Scripture? They give us the Nicene and the Constantinopolitan creeds; they condemn various notions with respect to the person of our Lord, and to some other points of belief; and they contain a variety of regulations for the discipline and order of the church; but, with the exception of some particular passages, there is no authority in the creeds, or canons, or anathemas of those councils, for the interpretation of Scripture; they leave its difficulties just where they were before. It is but little then, which the first six general councils will do towards providing the student of Scripture with an infallible standard of interpretation.
Where, however, except in the councils, can we find any thing claiming to be the voice of the church? Neither individual writers, nor yet all the writers of the first seven centuries together, can properly be called the church. They form, even altogether, but a limited number of individuals, who, in different countries, and at different periods, expressed, in writing, their own sentiments, but without any public authority. Origen, one of the ablest and most learned of them all, was anathematized by the second council of Constantinople; Tertullian was heretical during a part of his life; Lactantius was taxed with heterodoxy. How are we to know who were sound? And if sound generally, that is to say, if they stand charged with no heretical error, yet it does not follow that a man is infallible because he is not heretical; and none of these writers have been distinguished like the five great Roman lawyers whom the edict of Theodosius selected from the mass, and gave to their decisions a legal authority. Or again, if it be said that the agreement of the great majority of them is to be regarded as decisive, we answer, that as no individual amongst them is in himself an authority legally, so neither can any number of them be so; and if a moral authority only be meant, such as we naturally ascribe to the concurring judgment of many eminent men, then this is a totally different question, and is open to inquiry in every separate case; for as, on the one hand, no one denies that such a concurring judgment is an authority, yet, on the other hand, it may be outweighed, either by the worth of the few who differ from the judgment, or by the reason of the case itself; and the concurring judgment of the majority may show no more than the force of a general prejudice, which only a very few individuals were sensible enough to resist.
[Footnote 15: Cod. Theodos. lib. i. tit. iv. The edict is issued in the name of the emperors Theodosius (the younger) and Valentinian (the younger), in the year A.D.426.]
In fact, it would greatly help to clear this question if we understand what we mean by allowing, or denying, the authority of the so-called fathers. The term authority is ambiguous, and according to the sense in which I use it, I should either acknowledge it or deny it. -- The writers of the first four, or of the first seven centuries, have an authority, just as the scholiasts and ancient commentators have: some of them, and in some points, are of weight singly; the agreement of many of thorn has much weight; the agreement of almost all of them would have great weight. In this sense, I acknowledge their authority; and it would be against all sound principles of criticism to deny it. But if, by authority, is meant a decisive authority, a judgment which may not be questioned, then the claim of authority in such a case, for any man, or set of men, is either a folly or a revelation. Such an authority is not human, but divine: if any man pretends to possess it, let him show God's clear warrant for his pretension, or he must be regarded as a deceiver or a madman.
But it may be said, that an authority not to be questioned was conferred, by the Roman law, on the opinions of a certain number of great lawyers: if a judge believed that their interpretation of the law was erroneous, he yet was not at liberty to follow his own private judgment in departing from it. Why may not the same thing be allowed in the church? and why may not the interpretations of Cyprian, or Athanasius, or Augustine, or Chrysostom, be as decisive, with respect to the true sense of the Scripture, as those of Gaius, Paulus, Modestinus, Ulpian, and Papinian, were acknowledged to be with respect to the sense of the Roman law?
The answer is, that the emperor's edict could absolve the judge from following his own convictions about the sense of the law, because it gave to the authorized interpretation the force of law. The text, as the judge interpreted it, was a law repealed; the comment of the great lawyers was now the law in its room. As a mere literary composition, he might interpret it rightly, and Gaius, or Papinian, might be wrong; but if his interpretation was ever so right grammatically or critically, yet, legally it was nothing to the purpose; -- Gaius's interpretation had superseded it, and was not the law which he was bound to obey. But, in the church, the only point to be aimed at is the discovery of the true meaning of the text of the divine law: no human power can invest the comment with equal authority. The emperor said, and might say to his judges, "You need not consider what was the meaning of the decemvirs, when they wrote the twelve tables, or, of Aquillius, when he drew up the Aquillian law. The law for you is not what the decemvirs may have meant, but what their interpreters may have meant: the decemvirs' meaning, if it was their meaning, is no longer the law of Rome." But who can dare to say to a Christian, "You need not consider what was the meaning of our Lord and his apostles; the law for you now is the meaning of Cyprian, or Ambrose, or Chrysostom; -- that meaning has superseded the meaning of Christ." A Christian must find out Christ's meaning, and believe that he has found it, or else he must still seek for it. It is a matter, not of outward submission, but of inward faith; and if in our inward mind we are persuaded that the interpreter has mistaken our Lord's meaning, how can we by possibility adopt that interpretation in faith?
Here we come to a grave consideration -- that this doctrine of an infallible rule of interpretation may suit ignorance or scepticism: it is death to a sincere and reasonable and earnest faith. It is not hard for a sceptical mind to deceive itself by saying, that it receives whatever the church declares to be true: it may receive any number of doctrines, but it will not really believe them. We may restrain our tongues from disputing them, we may watch every restless thought that would question them, and instantly, by main force, as it were, put it down; but all this time our minds do not assimilate to them; they do not take them up into their own nature, so as to make them a part of themselves, freshening and supplying the life-blood of their very being. Truth must be believed by the mind's own act; our souls must be drawn towards it with a reasonable love; some affinity there must be between it and them, or else they can never really comprehend it. The sceptic may desperately become a fanatic also, but he is not become, therefore, a believer.
Authority cannot compel belief; the sceptic who knows not what it is to grasp anything with the firm grasp of faith, may mistake his acquiescence in a doctrine for belief in it; the ignorant and careless, who believe only what their senses tell them, may lay up the words of divine truth in their memory, may repeat them loudly, and be vehement against all who question them. But minds to which faith is a necessity, which cannot be contented to stand by the side of truth, but must become altogether one with it, -- minds which know full well the difference between opinion and conviction, between not questioning and believing, -- they, when their own action is superseded by an authority foreign to themselves, are in a condition which they find intolerable. Told to believe what they cannot believe; told that they ought not to believe what they feel most disposed to believe; they retire altogether from the region of divine truth, as from a spot tainted with moral death, and devote themselves to other subjects: to physical science, it may be, or to political; where the inherent craving of their nature may yet be gratified, where, however insignificant the truth may be, they may yet find some truth to believe. This has been the condition of too many great men in the church of Rome; and it accounts for that bitterness of feeling with which Machiavelli, and others like him, appear to have regarded the whole subject of Christianity.
The system, then, of deferring to the authority of what is called the ancient church in the interpretation of Scripture, is impracticable, inasmuch as, with regard to the greatest part of the Scripture, the church, properly speaking, has said nothing at all; and if it were practicable, it would be untenable, because neither the old councils, nor individual writers, could give any sign that they had a divine gift of interpretation; and if such a gift had been given to them, it would have been equivalent to a new revelation, the sense of the comment being thus preferred to what we could not but believe to be the sense of the text. Above all, the system is destructive of faith, having a tendency to substitute passive acquiescence for real conviction; and therefore I should not say that the excess of it was popery, but that it had once and actually those characters of evil which we sometimes express by the term popery, but which may be better signified by the term idolatry; a reverence for that which ought not to be reverenced, leading to a want of faith in that which is really deserving of all adoration and love.
II. But it is said that the system of relying on private judgment is beset by no less evils: that it is itself inconsistent, and leads to Socinianism and Rationalism, and, in the end, to utter unbelief; so that, the choice being only between two evils, men may choose the system of church authority as being the less evil of the two. If this were so, I see not how faith could be attained at all, or what place would be left for Christian truth. But the system of the Church of England is, I am persuaded, fully consistent, and has no tendency either to Socinianism or Rationalism. Let us see first what that system is.
[Footnote 16: Much has been lately written to show that the Church of England allows the authority of the ancient councils and writers, and does not allow the right of private judgment. But it is perfectly clear, from the 21st Article, that it does not allow the authority of councils; that is to say, it holds that a council's exposition of doctrine may be false, and that such an exposition is of no force "unless it may be declared that it be taken out of Holy Scripture." Who, then, is to declare this? for to suppose that the declaration of the council itself is meant is absurd: the answer, I imagine, would be, according to the mind of the Reformers, "Every particular or national church," and especially the King as the head of the church. They would not have allowed private judgment, because they conceived that a private person had nothing to do but to obey the government; and it was for the government to determine what the truth of Scripture was. The Church of England, then, expressly disclaims the authority of councils, and, in its official instruments, it neither allows nor condemns private judgment; but the opinions of the Reformers, and the constitution of the church in the 16th century, were certainly against private judgment: their authority for the interpretation of Scripture was undoubtedly the supreme government of the church, i.e. not the bishops, but the King and parliament. But then this had respect not to the power of discerning truth, but to the right of publishing it, which is an wholly different question. That an individual was not bound in foro conscientiae to admit the truth of any interpretation of Scripture which did not approve itself to his own mind, was no less the judgment of the Church of England than that if he publicly disputed the interpretation of the church, he might be punished as unruly and a despiser of government. But then it should ever be remembered that the church, with the Reformers, was not the clergy. And now that the right of publication is conceded by the church, it is quite just to say that the Church of England allows private judgment; and if that judgment differ from her own, she condemns not the act of judging at all, but the having come to a false conclusion.
It is urged that the act of I Elizabeth, c.1, allows that to be heresy which the first four councils determined to be so. This is true; but it also adjudges to be heresy whatever shall be hereafter declared to be so by "the high court of parliament, with the assent of the clergy in their convocation." The Church of England undoubtedly allowed the decisions of the first four councils, in matters of doctrine, to be valid, as it allowed the three creeds, because it decided that they were agreeable to Scripture; but the binding authority was that of the English Parliament, not of the councils of Nicaea or Constantinople.
As to the canon of 1571, which allows preachers to teach nothing as religious truth but what is agreeable to the Scriptures, "and which the catholic fathers and ancient bishops have collected from that very doctrine of Scripture," it will be observed that it is merely negative, and does not sanction the teaching of the "catholic fathers and ancient bishops," generally, or say that men shall teach what they taught; but that they shall not teach as matter of religious faith, a new deduction from Scripture of their own making, but such truths as had been actually deduced from Scripture before, namely, the great articles of the Christian faith. Farther, the canons of 1571 are of no authority, not having received the royal assent. -- See Strype's Life of Parker, p.322, ed.1711.]
It is invidiously described as maintaining "the sufficiency of private judgment." Now we maintain the sufficiency of private judgment in interpreting the Scriptures in no other sense than that in which every sane man maintains its sufficiency, in interpreting Thucydides or Aristotle; we mean, that, instead of deferring always to some one interpreter, as an idle boy follows implicitly the Latin version of his Greek lesson, the true method is to consult all accessible authorities, and to avail ourselves of the assistance of all. And we contend, that, by this process, as we discover, for the most part, the true meaning of Thucydides and Aristotle with undoubted certainty, so we may also discover, not, indeed, in every particular part or passage, but generally, the true meaning of the Holy Scriptures with no less certainty.
[Footnote 17: Of course no reasonable man can doubt the importance of studying the early Christian writers, as illustrating not only the history of their own times, but the New Testament also. For the Old Testament, indeed, they do little or nothing, and for the New they are of much less assistance than might have been expected; but still there is no doubt that they are often useful.]
But if another man maintains that a different meaning is the true one, how are we to silence him, and how are we justified in calling him a heretic? If by the term heretic we are to imply moral guilt, I am not justified in applying it to any Christian, unless his doctrines are positively sinful, or there is something wicked, either in the way of dishonesty or bitterness, in his manner of maintaining them. The guilt of any given religious error, in any particular case, belongs only to the judgment of Him who reads the heart. But if we mean by heresy "a grave error in matters of the Christian faith, overthrowing or corrupting some fundamental article of it," then we are as fully justified in calling a gross misinterpretation of Scripture "heresy," as we should be justified in calling a gross misinterpretation of a profane Greek or Latin author, ignorance, or want of scholarship. There is no infallible authority in points of grammar and criticism, yet men do speak confidently, notwithstanding, as to learning and ignorance; Porson and Herman are known to have understood their business, and a writer who were to set their decisions at defiance, and to indulge in mere extravagances of interpretation, would be set down as one who knew nothing about the matter. So we judge daily in all points of literature and science; nay, we in the same manner venture to call some persons mad, and on the strength of our conviction we deprive them of their property, and shut them up in a madhouse: yet if madmen wore to insist that they were sane, and that we were mad, I know not to what infallible authority we could appeal; and, after all, what are we to do with those who deny that authority to be infallible? we must then go to another infallible authority to guarantee the infallibility of the first, and this process will run on for ever.
But, in truth, there is more in the matter than the being justified or not justified in calling our neighbour a heretic. The real point of anxiety, I imagine, with many good and thinking men is this: whether a reasonable belief can be fairly carried through; whether the notion of the all-sufficiency of Scripture is not liable to objections no less than the system of church-authority; whether, in short, our Christian faith can be consistently maintained without a mortal leap at some part or other of the process; nay, whether, in fact, if it were otherwise, our faith would not seem to stand rather on the wisdom of man than on the power of God.
I use these words, because these and other such passages of the Scripture are often quoted as I have now quoted them, and produce a great effect on those who do not observe that they are quoted inapplicably; for the question is not between man's wisdom and God's power, but simply whether we have reason to believe that God's power has been here manifested; or, rather, to see whether we cannot give a reason for the faith which is in us, such faith resting upon God's power and wisdom as manifested in Christ Jesus; for if no reason can be rendered for our faith, then our minds, so far as they are concerned, are believing a lie; they are believing in spite of those laws by which God has determined their nature and condition.
Yet, however we believe, blindly or reasonably, (for some men, by God's mercy, are accidentally, as it were, in possession of the truth, the falsehood of their own minds in holding it not being, it is to be hoped, imputed to them as a sin;) however we believe, I never mean to say that our faith is not God's gift, to be sought for and retained by constant prayer and watchfulness, and to be forfeited by carelessness or sin. That is no true faith in which reason does not accord; yet neither can reason alone and without God ever become perfected into faith. For although intellectually, the grounds of belief may be made out satisfactorily, yet we are not able to follow our pure reason by ourselves; and no work on the evidences of Christianity can by itself give us faith; and much less can amid the manifold conflicts of life maintain it. That faith is thus the gift of God, and not our own work, I would desire to feel as keenly and continually, as with the fullest conviction I acknowledge it.
Now, to resume the consideration of that which, as I said, is the real point of anxiety with many. They doubt whether the course of a reasonable belief can be held to the end without interruptions: they say that the received notions of the inspiration, and consequently of the complete truth of the Scriptures cannot reasonably be maintained; that he who does maintain them does so by a happy inconsistency; -- he is to be congratulated for not following up his own principles; but why should he then find fault with others who do that avowedly and consistently to which he is driven against his professions by the clear necessity of the case?
This argument was pressed by Mr. Newman, some time since, in one of the Tracts for the Times; and it was conducted, as may be supposed, with great ingenuity, but with a recklessness of consequences, or an ignorance of mankind, truly astonishing; for he brought forward all the difficulties and differences which can be found in the Scripture narratives, displayed them in their most glaring form, and merely observed, that as those with whom he was arguing could not solve these difficulties, but yet believed the Scriptures no less in spite of them, so the apparent unreasonableness of his doctrine about the priesthood was no ground why it should be rejected -- a method of argument most blameable in any Christian to adopt towards his brethren; for what if their faith, being thus vehemently strained, were to give way under the experiment? and if, being convinced that the Scriptures were not more reasonable than Mr. Newman's system, they were to end with believing, not both, but neither?
Therefore the question is one of no small anxiety and interest; and it is not idly nor wantonly that we must speak the truth upon it, even if that truth may to some seem startling; for by God's blessing, if we do go boldly forward wherever truth shall lead us, our course needs not be interrupted, neither shall a single hair of our faith perish.
The same laws of criticism which teach us to distinguish between various degrees of testimony, authorize us to assign the very highest rank to the evidences of the writings of St. John and St. Paul. If belief is to be given to any human compositions, it is due to these; yet if we believe these merely as human compositions, and without assuming anything as to their divine inspiration, our Christian faith, as it seems to me, is reasonable; -- not merely the facts of our Lord's miracles and resurrection; but Christian faith, in all its fulness -- the whole dispensation of the Spirit, the revelation of the redemption of man and of the Divine Persons who are its authors -- of all that Christian faith, and hope, and love can need. And this is so true, that even without reckoning the Epistle to the Hebrews amongst St. Paul's writings, -- nay, even if we choose to reject the three pastoral epistles -- yet taking only what neither has been nor can be doubted -- the epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, we have in these, together with St. John's Gospel and First Epistle, -- giving up, if we choose, the other two, -- a ground on which our faith may stand for ever, according to the strictest rules of the understanding, according to the clearest intuitions of reason.
[Footnote 18: I say this, not as having the slightest doubt myself of the genuineness of any one of the three, but merely to show how much is left that has not been questioned at all, even unreasonably.]
I take the works of St. John and St. Paul as our foundation, because, in the first place, we find in them the historical basis of Christianity; that is to say, we find the facts of our Lord's miracles, and especially of his resurrection, and the miraculous powers afterwards continued to the church, established by the highest possible evidence. However pure and truly divine the principles taught in the gospel may be, yet we crave to know not only that we were in need of redemption, but that a Redeemer has actually appeared; not only that a resurrection to eternal life is probable, but that such a resurrection has actually taken place. This basis of historical fact, which is one of the great peculiarities of Christianity, is strictly within the cognizance of the understanding; and in the writings of St. John and St. Paul we have that full and perfect evidence of it which the strictest laws of the understanding require.
But the historical truth being once warranted by the understanding, other faculties of our nature now come in to enjoy it, and develop it; the highest reason and the moral and spiritual affections find respectively their proper field and objects, which, whenever presented to them in vision or in theory, they must instinctively cling to, but to which they now abandon themselves without fear of disappointment, because the understanding has assured them of their reality. We must suppose, on any system, the existence of reason and spiritual affections as indispensable to the understanding of the Scriptures; external authority can do nothing for us without these, any more than the mere faculties of the common understanding. But with these we apprehend the view which St. John and St. Paul afford to us: it opens before us one truth after another, one glory after another. St. John evidently supposes that his readers were familiar with another account of our Lord's life and teaching; and we find accordingly, another account existing in the writings of the three other evangelists. One and the same account is manifestly the substance of their three narratives, to which they thus bear a triple testimony, because none of the three has merely transcribed the others, and none of them apparently was the original author of it. Thus having now the full record of our Lord's teaching, we find that he everywhere refers to the Old Testament as to the word of God, and the record of God's earlier manifestations of himself to man. He has cleared up those especial points in it which might have most perplexed us, as I shall notice more fully hereafter, and he represents himself as the perpetual subject of its prophecies. We thus receive the Old Testament, as it were, from his hand, and learn while sitting at his feet to understand the lessons of the law and the prophets.
Thus we make Christ the centre of both Testaments, and by so doing, we cannot be blind to the divinity pervading both. For the amazing fact that God should come into the world and be in the world cannot by possibility stand alone; it hallows, as it were, the whole period of the world's existence, from the beginning to the end, placing all time and every place in relation to God; it disposes us at once to receive the fact of the special call of the people of Israel; -- it gives, I had almost said, an a priori reason why there must have been in earlier times some shadows, at least, or images, to represent dimly to former generations that great thing which they were not actually to witness; it leads us to believe that there must have been some prophetic voices to announce the future coming of the Lord, or else "The very stones must have cried out."
But those writings of St. John and St. Paul which were our first lessons in Christianity, and those other accounts of our Lord's life and teaching to which they introduced us, -- can we conceive it possible, that the real meaning of all these shall be hopelessly obscure and uncertain; that if we seek it ever so diligently, we shall not find it? With an humble mind ready to learn, with a heart fully impressed with the sense of God's presence, so as to be morally and spiritually in a condition to receive God's truth, can we believe, then, that the use of those intellectual means, which open to us certainly the sense of human writers, shall be applied in vain to those writers who were commissioned to be the very heralds of a divine message, whose especial business it was to make known what they had themselves heard? Surely if a sufficient certainty of interpretation be attainable in common literature, the revelation of God cannot be the solitary exception.
But we may be mistaken: we may believe that we interpret truly, but we cannot be infallibly sure of it; we want an authority which shall give us this assurance. This is no doubt the natural craving of our weakness; but it is no wiser a craving than if we were to long for the heaven to be opened, and for a daily sight of our Lord standing at the right hand of God. To live by faith is our appointed condition, and faith excludes an infallible assurance. We must earnestly believe that we have the truth, and die for our belief, if necessary, but we cannot know it. No device which the human mind can practise, can exclude the possibility of doubt. If we would find an armour which should cover us at every point from this subtle enemy, it would be an armour that would close up the pores of the skin, and stop our breath; our fancied security would kill us. Is it really possible that, with our knowledge of man's nature, our belief in any human authority can really be more free from doubt than our belief in the conclusions of our own reason? There must ever be the liability to uncertainty; we can put no moral truth so surely as that our minds shall always feel it to be absolutely certain. Where is the infallible authority that can assure us even of the existence of God? And will the scepticism that can believe its own conclusions in nothing else rest satisfied with one conclusion only -- that the writers of the first four centuries cannot err? Surely to regard this as the most certain proposition that can be submitted to the human mind, is no better than insanity.
But we will consent to trust, it may be said, with God's help, to our own deliberate convictions that we have interpreted Scripture truly; but you tell us that the Scripture itself is not inspired in every part; you tell us that there are in it chronological and historical difficulties, if not errors; that there are possibly some interpolations; that even the apostles may have been in some things mistaken, as in their belief that the end of the world was at hand. Where shall we find a rest for our feet, if you first take away from us our infallible interpreter, and now tell us, that even if we can ourselves interpret it aright, yet that we cannot be sure that the very Scripture itself is infallibly true?
It is very true that our position with respect to the Scriptures is not in all points the same as our fathers'. For sixteen hundred years nearly, while physical science, and history, and chronology, and criticism, were all in a state of torpor, the questions which now present themselves to our minds could not from the nature of the case arise. When they did arise, they came forward into notice gradually: first the discoveries in astronomy excited uneasiness: then as men began to read more critically, differences in the several Scripture narratives of the same thing awakened attention; more lately, the greater knowledge which has been gained of history, and of language, and in all respects the more careful inquiry to which all ancient records have been submitted, have brought other difficulties to light, and some sort of answer must be given to them. Mr. Newman, as we have seen, has made use of those difficulties much as the Romanists have used the doctrine of the Trinity when arguing with Trinitarians in defence of transubstantiation. The Romanists said, -- "Here are all these inexplicable difficulties in the doctrine of the Trinity, and yet you believe it." So Mr. Newman argues with those who hold the plenary inspiration of Scripture, that if they believe that, in spite of all the difficulties which beset it, they may as well believe his doctrine of the priesthood; and many, if I mistake not, alarmed by this representation, have actually embraced his opinions.
[Footnote 19: On this proceeding of the Romanists, Stillingfleet observes, "Methinks for the sake of our common Christianity you should no more venture upon such bold and unreasonable comparisons. Do you in earnest think it is all one whether men do believe a God, or providence, or heaven, or hell, or the Trinity, and incarnation of Christ, if they do not believe transubstantiation? We have heard much of late about old and new popery: but if this be the way of representing new popery, by exposing the common articles of faith, it will set the minds of all good Christians farther from it than ever. For upon the very same grounds we may expect another parallel between the belief of a God and transubstantiation, the effect of which will be the exposing of all religion. This is a very destructive and mischievous method of proceeding; but our comfort is that it is very unreasonable, as I hope hath fully appeared by this discourse." -- Doctrine of the Trinity and Transubstantiation compared, at the end.]
It has unfortunately happened that the difficulties of the Scripture have been generally treated as objections to the truth of Christianity; as such they have been pressed by adversaries, and as such Christian writers have replied to them. But then they become of such tremendous interest, that it is scarcely possible to examine them fairly. If my faith in God and my hope of eternal life is to depend on the accuracy of a date or of some minute historical particular, who can wonder that I should listen to any sophistry that may be used in defence of them, or that I should force my mind to do any sort of violence to itself, when life and death seem to hang on the issue of its decision?
Yet what conceivable connexion is there between the date of Cyrenius's government, or the question whether our Lord healed a blind man as he was going into Jericho or as he was leaving it; or whether Judas bought himself the field of blood, or it was bought by the high priests: what connexion can there be between such questions, and the truth of God's love to man in the redemption, and of the resurrection of our Lord? Do we give to any narrative in the world, to any statement, verbal or written, no other alternative than that it must be either infallible or unworthy of belief? Is not such an alternative so extravagant as to be a complete reductio ad absurdum? And yet such is the alternative which men seem generally to have admitted in considering the Scripture narratives: if a single error can be discovered, it is supposed to be fatal to the credibility of the whole.
This has arisen from an unwarranted interpretation of the word "inspiration," and by a still more unwarranted inference. An inspired work is supposed to mean a work to which God has communicated his own perfections; so that the slightest error or defect of any kind in it is inconceivable, and that which is other than perfect in all points cannot be inspired. This is the unwarranted interpretation of the word "inspiration." But then follows the still more unwarranted inference, -- "If all the Scripture is not inspired, Christianity cannot be true," an inference which is absolutely entitled to no other consideration than what it may seem to derive from the number of those who have either openly or tacitly maintained it.
Most truly do I believe the Scriptures to be inspired; the proofs of their inspiration rise continually with the study of them. The scriptural narratives are not only about divine things, but are themselves divinely framed and superintended. I cannot conceive my conviction of this truth being otherwise than sure. Yet I must acknowledge that the scriptural narratives do not claim this inspiration for themselves; so that if I should be obliged to resign my belief in it, which seems to me impossible, I yet should have no right to tax the Scriptures with having advanced a pretension proved to be unfounded; their whole credibility as a most authentic history of the most important facts would remain untouched; the gospel of St. John would still be a narrative as unimpeachable as that of Thucydides, which no sane man has ever disbelieved.
So much for the unwarranted inference, that if the Scripture histories are not inspired, the great facts of the Christian revelation cannot be maintained. But it is no less an unwarranted interpretation of the term "inspiration," to suppose that it is equivalent to a communication of the Divine perfections. Surely, many of our words and many of our actions are spoken and done by the inspiration of God's Spirit, without whom we can do nothing acceptable to God. Yet does the Holy Spirit so inspire us as to communicate to us His own perfections? Are our best words or works utterly free from error or from sin? All inspiration does not then destroy the human and fallible part in the nature which it inspires; it does not change man into God.
In one man, indeed, it was otherwise; but He was both God and man. To Him the Spirit was given without measure; and as his life was without sin, so his words were without error. But to all others the Spirit has been given by measure; in almost infinitely different measure it is true: the difference between the inspiration of the common and perhaps unworthy Christian who merely said that "Jesus was the Lord," and that of Moses, or St. Paul, and St. John, is almost to our eyes beyond measuring. Still the position remains, that the highest degree of inspiration given to man has still suffered to exist along with it a portion of human fallibility and corruption.
Now, then, consider the epistles of the blessed Apostle St. Paul, who had the Spirit of God so abundantly, that never we may suppose did any merely human being enjoy a larger share of it. Endowed with the Spirit as a Christian, and daily receiving grace more largely, as he became more and more ripe for glory; endowed with the Spirit's extraordinary gifts most eminently; favoured also with an abundance of revelations, disclosing to him things ineffable and inconceivable, -- are not his writings to be most truly called inspired? Can we doubt that, in what he has told us of things not seen, or not seen as yet, -- of Him who pre-existed in the form of God before he was manifested in the form of man, -- of that great day, when we shall arise incorruptible, and meet our Lord in the air, and be joined to him for ever, -- can any reasonable mind doubt, that in speaking of these things he spoke what he had heard from God; that to refuse to believe his testimony is really to disbelieve God?
Yet this great Apostle expected that the world would come to an end in the generation then existing. When he wrote to the Thessalonians some years before his first imprisonment at Rome, he warned them, no doubt, against expecting the end immediately: but he appears still to have supposed that it would come in the lifetime of men then living. At a later period, when writing to the Corinthians, his dissuasion of marriage seems to rest mainly upon this impression; it is good not to marry, "on account of the distress which is close at hand;" ([Greek: dia taen enestosan anankaen]; compare 2 Thess. ii.2, [Greek: hos hoti enestaeken hae haemera tou Kyriou].) "The time is short," he adds; "the fashion of this world is passing away." And again, when speaking of the resurrection, he says emphatically, "the dead shall rise incorruptible, and we shall be changed;" where the pronoun being expressed in the original, [Greek: chai haemeis allagaesometha], shows that by the term "we," he does not mean the dead, but those who were to be alive at Christ's coming. So again, still later, when writing from Rome to the Philippians, he tells them "the Lord is at hand;" and later still, even in his first epistle to Timothy, he charges Timothy "to keep his commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ." These and other passages cannot without violence be interpreted even singly in any other sense; but taking them together, their meaning seems absolutely certain. Shall we say, then, that St. Paul entertained and expressed a belief which the event did not verify? We may say so, safely and reverently, in this instance; for here he was most certainly speaking as a man, and not by revelation; as it has been providentially ordered that our Lord's express words on this point have been recorded -- "Of that day and hour knoweth no man; no, not the angels in heaven." Or again, shall we say, that St. Paul advised the Corinthians not to marry, chiefly on this ground; and that this throws a suspicion over his directions in other points? But again it has been ordered, that in this very place, and no where else in all his writing, St. Paul has expressly said that he was only giving his judgment as a Christian, and not speaking with divine authority; -- the concluding words of the chapter, [Greek: doko de kago pneuma theou echein] do not signify, as our Version renders them, "And I think also that I have the Spirit of God," as if he were confirming his own judgment by an assertion of his inspiration in a sense beyond that of common Christians; but the words say, "And I think that I too have the Spirit of God," "I too as well as others whom you might consult, so that my judgment is no less worthy of attention than theirs." But it is his Christian judgment only that he is giving, as he expressly declares, and not his apostolical command or revelation; a distinction which he never makes elsewhere, and which is in itself so striking, that we seem to recognise in it God's especial mercy to us, that our faith in St. Paul's general declarations of divine truth might not be shaken, because in one particular point he was permitted to speak as a man, giving express notice at the same time that he was doing so.
Now it is at least remarkable, that in the only two instances in which the existence of any absence of divine authority is to be discerned in St. Paul's epistles, provision is actually made by God's fondness to prevent them from prejudicing our faith in St. Paul's divine authority generally. And so in whatever points any error may be discoverable in Scripture, we shall find either that the errors are of a kind wholly unconnected with the revelation of what God has done to us, and of what we are to do towards Him; and therefore are perfectly consistent with the inspiration of the writer, unless we take that unwarranted notion of inspiration which considers it as equivalent to a communication of God's attributes perfectly; (and of this kind are any errors that may exist either in points of physical science, or of chronology, or of history;) or if there be any thing else which appears inconsistent with inspiration, in the sense in which we really may and do apply it to the Scriptures, namely, that they are a perfect guide and rule in all matters concerning our relations with God, then we shall find that God has made some special provision for the case, to remove what it otherwise might have had of real difficulty.
This merciful care is above all to be recognised with regard to one point, which otherwise would, I think, have been a difficulty actually insuperable: I mean the manifestly imperfect moral standard, which in some cases is displayed in the characters of good men in the Old Testament. Put the gospel by the side of the law and history of the Israelites; observe what the law permitted, and public opinion under the law did not condemn; observe the actions recorded of persons who are declared to have been eminently good, and to have received God's especial blessing; and it is manifest that had not our Lord himself vouchsafed his help, one of two things must have happened -- either that we must have followed the old heresy of rejecting the Old Testament altogether, or else that our respect for the Old Testament must have impeded the growth of the more perfect law of Christ. The true solution I do not think that we could have discovered, or ventured to admit on less authority than our Lord's. But his express declaration, that some things in the law itself were permitted, because nothing higher could then have been borne, and his stating in detail that in several points what was accounted good or allowable in the former dispensation was not so really, while at the same time he constantly refers to the Old Testament as divine, and confirms its language of blessing with respect to its most eminent characters, has completely cleared to us the whole question, and enables us to recognize the divinity of the Old Testament and the holiness of its characters, without lying against our consciences and our more perfect revelation, by justifying the actions of those characters as right, essentially and abstractedly, although they were excusable, or in some cases actually virtuous, according to the standard of right and wrong which prevailed under the law.
After observing God's gracious care for us in this instance, as well as in those which I have noticed before, I cannot but feel that we may safely trust Him for every other similar case, if any such there be, and that he will not permit our faith either in him or in his holy word to be shaken, because we do not attempt to close our eyes against truth, nor seek to support our faith by sophistry and falsehood. Feeling what the Scriptures are, I would not give unnecessary pain to any one by an enumeration of those points in which the literal historical statement of an inspired writer has been vainly defended. Some instances will probably occur to most readers; others are perhaps not known, and never will be known to many, nor is it at all needful or desirable that they should know them. But if ever they are brought before them, let them not try to put them aside unfairly, from a fear that they will injure our faith. Let us not do evil that evil may be escaped from; and it is an evil, and the fruitful parent of evils innumerable, to do violence to our understanding or to our reason in their own appointed fields; to maintain falsehood in their despite, and reject the truth which they sanction. If writers of Mr. Newman's school will persist in displaying the difficulties of the Scripture before the eyes of those who had not been before aware of them, let those who are so cruelly tempted be conjured not to be dismayed; to refuse utterly to surrender up their sense of truth, -- to persist in rejecting the unchristian falsehoods which they are called upon to worship; sure that after all that can be said, that system will remain false to the end; and their Christian faith, if they do not faithlessly attempt to strengthen it by unlawful means, will stand no less unshaken.
In conclusion, Christian faith rests upon Scripture; and as it is in itself agreeable to the highest reason, so the authenticity of the Scriptures on which it rests is assured to us by the deliberate conclusions of the understanding; nor is any "mortal leap" necessary at any part of the process: nor any rejection of one truth, in order to retain our hold on another. And if it should happen, as in all probability it will, that we shall be called upon to correct in some respects our notions as to the Scriptures, and so far to hold views different from those of our fathers, we should consider that our fathers did not, and could not stand in our circumstances; that the knowledge which may call upon us to relinquish some of their opinions, was a knowledge which they had not. Till this knowledge comes to us, let us hold our fathers' opinions as they held them; but when it does come, it will come by God's will, and to do his work: and that work will, assuredly, not be our separation from our father's faith; but if we follow God's guidance humbly and cheerfully, clinging to God the while in personal devotion and obedience, we may be made aware of what to them would have been an inexplicable difficulty, and which was, therefore, hidden from their knowledge; and yet, "through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we believe that we shall be saved even as they."