Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Christian Life by Thomas Arnold

Part 6 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.7 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

indeed; that their portion is not with God's people; that Christ is not
their Saviour, nor the Holy Spirit their Comforter and Guide: but what
blasphemy is it to call themselves friends of the church! as if Christ's
church could have any friends except God and his holy angels: the church
has its living and redeemed members; it may have those who are craving
to be admitted within its shelter, being convinced that God is in it of
a truth; but beyond these he who is not with it is against it; he who is
not Christ's servant, serves his enemy.

Farther, it is this same deadly error which is the root and substance of
popery. There is no one abuse of the Romish system which may not be
traced to the original and very early error of drawing a wide
distinction between the clergy and the laity; of investing the former in
such a peculiar degree with the attributes of the church that at last
they retained them almost exclusively. In other words, the great evil of
popery is, that it has destroyed the Christian church, and has
substituted a priesthood in its room. This is the fault of the Greek
church, almost as much as of the Roman; and the peculiar tenet of the
Romish church, that the supreme government is vested in one single
member of this priesthood, the Bishop of Rome, is in some respects
rather an improvement of the system, than an aggravation of it. For
even an absolute monarchy is a less evil than an absolute aristocracy;
and an infallible Pope is no greater corruption of Christ's truth, than
an infallible general council. The real evils of the system are of a far
older date than the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome, and exist in places
where that supremacy is resolutely denied. And if we attend to them
carefully, we shall see that these evils have especially affected the
Christian church as distinguished from the Christian religion. It is
worth our while to attend to this distinction; for the Christian
religion and the Christian church together, and neither without the
other, form the perfect idea of Christianity. NOW, by the Christian
religion, I mean the revelation of what God has done or will do for us
in Christ; the great doctrines of the Trinity, the incarnation, the
atonement, the resurrection, the presence of the Holy Spirit amongst us,
and our own resurrection hereafter, to an existence of eternal happiness
or misery. And these truths, if revealed to any single person living in
an uninhabited island, might be abundantly sufficient for his salvation;
if God disposed his heart to receive them, and to believe them
earnestly, they would be the means of his overcoming his corrupt nature,
and of passing from death unto life. But because men do not generally
live alone, but with one another; and because they cannot but greatly
hinder, or help each other by their mutual influence, therefore the
Christian church was instituted for the purpose of spreading and
furthering the growth of the Christian religion in men's hearts; and its
various ministeries, its sacraments, its services and festivals, and its
discipline were all designed with that object. And it is all these which
popery has perverted; popery, whether in the Roman church or in the
Greek church, or even in the Protestant church, for it has existed more
or less in all. But even in the Roman church, where the perversion has
been most complete, it has comparatively affected but little the truths
of the Christian religion; all the great doctrines, which I mentioned,
are held as by ourselves; the three creeds, the Apostles' creed, the
Nicene, and the Athanasian, are used by the Roman church no less than by
our own. Thus it often happens that we can read with great edification
the devotional works of Roman Catholic writers, because in such works
the individual stands apart from the Christian church, and is concerned
only with the Christian religion: they show how one single soul, having
learnt the tidings of redemption with faith, and thankfulness, improves
them to its own salvation. But the moment that he goes out of his
closet, and begins to speak and act amongst other men, then the
corruption of popery shows itself. The Christian church was designed to
help each individual towards a more perfect knowledge and love of God,
by the counsel and example of his brethren, and by the practices which,
he was to observe in their society. But the corrupt church exercises its
influence for evil; it omits all the benefits to be derived from a
living society, and puts forward, in their place, the observance of
rites and ceremonies; knowledge and love are no longer looked to as the
perfections of a Christian, but ignorance and blind obedience; not the
mortifying all our evil passions universally, but the keeping them
chained up, as it were under priestly control, to be let loose at the
priest's bidding, against those whom he calls the church's enemies; that
glorious church which he has destroyed and converted it into an idol
temple, in that he, as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself
that he is God.

To resist this great and monstrous evil, we must not exclaim against it
under one of its forms only, even although that form exhibit it,
indeed, in its most complete deformity; but we must strive against it
under all its forms, remembering that its essence consists in putting
the clergy in the place of the church; and taking from the great mass of
the church their proper share in its government, in its offices, and
therefore in its benefits, and in the sense of its solemn
responsibilities. We speak often of church extension, meaning by this
term the building new places of public worship, and the appointing
additional ministers to preach the word and administer the sacraments.
And no doubt such church extension is a good and blessed work, for it
brings the knowledge of the truths of Christ's religion, and the benefit
of his ordinances, the sacraments, within the reach of many who might
otherwise have been without them. But it were a yet truer and more
blessed church extension which should add to the building and the single
minister, the real living church itself, with all its manifold offices
and ministries, with its pure discipline, with its holy and loving sense
of brotherhood. Without this, Christ will still, indeed, as heretofore,
lay his hands on some few sick folk and heal them; his grace will convey
the truths of his gospel to individual souls, and they will believe and
be saved. But the fulfilment of prophecy; the triumph of Christ's
kingdom; the changing an evil world into a world redeemed; this can only
be done by a revival of the Christian church in its power, the living
temple of the Holy Ghost, which, visibly to all mankind, in the wisdom
and holiness of its members, showed that God was in the midst of it. It
may be that this is a fond hope, which we may not expect to see
realized; but looking on the one hand to the strong and triumphant
language of prophecy, I know not how any hope of the advancement of
Christ's kingdom can be more bold than God's word will warrant: and on
the other, tracing the past history of the church, its gradual
corruption may be deduced distinctly from one early and deadly mischief,
which has destroyed its efficacy; so that, if this mischief can be
removed, and the church become such as Christ designed it to be, it does
not seem presumptuous to hope that his appointed instrument, working
according to his will, should be enabled to obtain the full blessings of
his promise.

And now, in conclusion, if we ask, what should follow from all that has
been said? what it should lead us all, if it be true, to feel or to
do?--the answer is, that considerations of this sort are not such as
lead at once to some distinct change in our conduct; to the laying aside
some favourite sin, or the practising some long neglected duty. And yet
the thoughts which I have endeavoured to suggest to your minds may, if
dwelt upon, lead, in the end, to a very considerable alteration, both in
our feelings and in our practice. First of all, it is not a little
matter to be convinced practically, that it is baptism, and not
ordination, which makes us members of the church; that it is by sharing
in the communion of Christ's body and blood, not by being admitted into
the ministry, that the privileges and graces of Christ's church are
conferred upon us. And most wisely, and most truly, does our Church
separate ordination from the two Christian sacraments, as an institution
far less solemn, and conferring graces far less important: for the
difference between a Christian and a Christian minister is but one of
office, not of moral or spiritual advancement, not of greater or less
nearness to God. One is our master, even Christ; and all we are
brethren. Words which certainly do not imply that all members of the
church are to have the same office, or that all offices are of equal
importance and dignity; but which do imply, most certainly, that any
attempt to convert the ministry into a priesthoood, that is, to
represent them as standing, in any matter, as mediators between Christ
and his people, or as being essentially the channel through which his
grace must pass to his church, is directly in opposition to him; and is
no better than idolatry. It was by baptism that we have all been
engrafted into Christ's body; it is by the communion of his body and
blood that we continue to abide in him; it is in his whole body, in his
church, and not in its ministers, as distinct from his church, that his
Holy Spirit abides.

Thus feeling that we each are members of the church, that it is our
highest country, to which we are bound with a far deeper love than to
our earthly country, is not its welfare our welfare; its triumph our
triumph; its failures our shame? We shall see, then, that church
questions are not such merely, or principally, as concern the payment of
the clergy, or their discipline, but all questions in which God's glory
and man's sins or duties are concerned; all questions in the decision of
which, there is a moral good and evil; a grieving of Christ's Spirit, or
a conformity to him. And in such questions as concern the church, in the
more narrow and common sense of the word, seeing that we are all members
of the church, we should not neglect them, as the concern of others, but
take an interest in them, and act in them, so far as we have
opportunity, as in a matter which most nearly concerns ourselves. We
feel that we have an interest in our country's affairs, although we are
not members of the government or of the legislature; we have our part to
perform, without at all overstepping the modesty of private life: and it
is the constant influence of public opinion, and the active interest
taken by the country at large in its own concerns, which, in spite of
occasional delusion or violence, is mainly instrumental in preserving to
us the combined vigour and order of our political constitution. And so,
if we took an equal interest in the affairs of our divine commonwealth,
our Christian church, and endeavoured as eagerly to promote every thing
which tended to its welfare, and to put down and prevent every thing
which might work it mischief, then the efforts of the clergy to advance
Christ's kingdom would be incalculably aided, while there would then be
no danger of our investing them with the duties and responsibilities
which belong properly to the whole church; they could not then have
dominion over our faith, nor by possibility become lords over God's
heritage, but would be truly ensamples to the flock, the helpers of our
joy, the glory of Christ.


* * * * *


_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.


* * * * *

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
That thus from childhood's thoughts we roam:
Not backward are our glances bent,
But forward to our Father's home.
Eternal growth has no such fears,
But freshening still with seasons past,
The old man clogs its earlier years,
And simple childhood comes the last."

_Burbridge's Poems_, p. 309.

* * * * *

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--
Now is breaking
O'er the earth another day.
Come to Him who made this splendour
See thou render
All thy feeble powers can pay.

From the stars thy course be learning:
Dimly burning
'Neath the sun their light grows pale:
So let all that sense delighted
While benighted
From God's presence fade and fail.

Lo! how all of breath partaking,
Gladly waking,
Hail the sun's enlivening light!
Plants, whose life mere sap doth nourish,
Rise and flourish,
When he breaks the shades of night.

Thou too hail the light returning,--
Ready burning
Be the incense of thy powers;--
For the night is safely ended:
God hath tended
With His care thy helpless hours.

Pray that He may prosper ever
Each endeavour
When thine aim is good and true;
But that He may ever thwart thee,
And convert thee,
When thou evil wouldst pursue.

Think that He thy ways beholdeth--
He unfoldeth
Every fault that lurks within;
Every stain of shame gloss'd over
Can discover,
And discern each deed of sin.

Fetter'd to the fleeting hours,
All our powers,
Vain and brief, are borne away;
Time, my soul, thy ship is steering,
Onward veering,
To the gulph of death a prey.

May'st thou then on life's last morrow,
Free from sorrow,
Pass away in slumber sweet;
And released from death's dark sadness,
Rise in gladness,
That far brighter Sun to greet.

Only God's free gifts abuse not,
His light refuse not,
But still His Spirit's voice obey;
Soon shall joy thy brow be wreathing,
Splendour breathing
Fairer than the fairest day.

If aught of care this morn oppress thee,
To Him address thee,
Who, like the sun, is good to all:
He gilds the mountain tops, the while
His gracious smile
Will on the humblest valley fall.

Round the gifts His bounty show'rs,
Walls and tow'rs
Girt with flames thy God shall rear:
Angel legions to defend thee
Shall attend thee,
Hosts whom Satan's self shall fear.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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[14] 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[15] 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[16]
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

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[17] 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

[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[18]--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

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[19] 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."


Book of the day: