Show me your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.
All right-minded men will agree with Matthew Arnold's famous saying, that "Conduct is three-fourths of human life." It will be also admitted that the professed aim of all Churches and religious societies is to regulate and improve conduct. Sometimes, alas! orthodoxy, or right opinion, has been put not merely first, but by itself alone as the one chief aim to be enforced by the clergy, and to be accepted by the laity. But it seems only fair to say that these were examples of departure from the original ideal of a Church and its purpose. The claim of Divine authority to control the minds, hearts, and lives of the people, and to interfere even forcibly with individual freedom of thought and action, was designed, in the first instance, for the welfare of society and the moral elevation of its various members, and in that light must not be ruthlessly condemned. But the principle was liable to abuse, and the mischiefs wrought by its abuse have been terrible. They have been the cause of conflict which will continue as long as the claim of Divine authority is made on the one hand, and the sense of a God-given right to individual freedom remains on the other. What is the mischief that we want to remedy? It is the belief in the "Divine" authority of that which is but "human"; and as a consequence, the separation of the human soul from personal and direct intercourse with God — the substitution, in short, of the human for the Divine. We have these objections to it which are fatal.
I. THAT IT IS FALSE. It is sufficient to expose the fallacy of the argument by which the claim of Divine authority is defended. And nothing is easier than this. The Church of Rome asserts, without proof, that God Himself lived on earth in the Person of Jesus, who transmitted, or delegated, His Divine power and authority first to the apostles, and subsequently to the Church founded by them, and to every succeeding head or pope of that Church; and that this Divine authority extends to matters of faith, i.e. doctrines to be believed, to rites and ceremonies, and to discipline and morals. Over all these, at least, the authority of the Church is claimed to be identical with the authority of God. But when we reverently ask on what ground we must accept the alleged Divine authority of Jesus, in the first instance, we are distinctly told that we must take all that on the authority of the Church. This is arguing in a circle.
II. THE CLAIM IS NEEDLESS. That is to say, men would get on in all things good, in the attainment of truth, in the adoption of religious ceremonies, and in the practice of virtue, quite as well without a divinely instituted Church as with it. It is not hard to show that the absence of belief in the claim to Divine authority has not been generally followed by any detrimental results either to religion or virtue. What is true and good and useful is entirely discoverable without the aid of miraculous revelation. It may be argued, this claim is needful, because the mass of men will not, or cannot, think for themselves; and the vast majority crave for certainty in things Divine, which certainly they cannot attain without the intervention of a divinely appointed authority upon earth. Because men crave for an external authority in matters of faith and duty, does not involve that they really need the authority they desire.
(Charles Voysey, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.