Page images
PDF
EPUB

The sixth Article has for its title, "The sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for salvation," and is in the following words:

"Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation, so that whatever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church."

Here, you perceive, is a direct reference to the Church, and that in a comprehensive sense, including the whole Church under the Christian dispensation. But there are other Articles which expressly treat of the Church and its authority; and these it will be necessary to cite, in order that the whole standard of our faith may be placed before you.

The 19th Article defines the Church in the following words: "The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same."

In this definition it does not appear that the Universal or Catholic Church was in view at all, but rather that which should constitute a Church in any particular part of Christ's kingdom, as for example, the Church of a single city, or province, or nation.

[ocr errors]

The 20th Article sets forth the authority of the Church in these words:

"The Church hath power to decree rites or ceremonies, and authority in controversies of faith, and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church

be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so, besides the same, ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of salvation."

If we suppose th a provincial or national Church were intended in the 10th Article, then nothing hinders us from applying the same sense to the word Church in the 20th; although it would as well justify the more comprehensive signification of the Church Universal. There are yet two other Articles, however, which bear upon the point in question.

The 21st, treating of the authority of General Councils, saith, that "when they be gathered together, forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed by the Spirit and Word of God, they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture."

Here we have a strong denial of any authority in General Councils, independent of the written Word of God. The respect due to them as expounders of the Scriptures, is a totally different question, which we shall have occasion to consider more at large by and by. It is proper to observe, however, that the whole of this Article was omitted in the American Church, although not for any reason which would affect its general doctrine.

Lastly, the 34th Article, speaking of the traditions of the Church, uses these words:

"It is not necessary that traditions and ceremonies be in all places one, and utterly like, for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversities of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's Word. Whosoever, through his private judgment, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the tra

ditions and ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to God's Word, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, (that others may fear to do the like,) as he that offendeth against the common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the magistrate, and woundeth the consciences of the weak brethren. Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change and abolish, ceremonies or rites of the Church ordained only by man's authority, so that all things be done unto edifying."

In this Article there is an express limitation upon the exercise of private judgment, coupled with as express a declaration of the power of a particular or national Church over rites and ceremonies; yet here, as every where else, there is the utmost deference inculcated towards the Bible.

There is a part of the English law, however, although it is not expressed in the Articles, and has no formal recognition in the system of the American Church, which I consider important to a perfect understanding of our doctrine concerning the rule of faith. And this is the provision, that Scripture shall be expounded according to the sense of the ancient fathers. The same principle indeed appears throughout the Homilies, and is plainly set forth in the Preface to the English Book of Common Prayer. And although our Church in the United States, whe ther considered politically, or ecclesiastically, is a distinct and independent body, yet the religious principles of the Church of England are for the most part so identified with ours, that the defence of one is the defence of both. This unity is well expressed in the Preface to our American Book of Common Prayer, where it is said, that our Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship, or further than local circumstances require.

The limits of this discourse will only allow of a very brief discussion of some of the more important questions arising out of those Articles, and essential to a proper understanding of the

Roman controversy. But that we may proceed as far as prac ticable without trespassing too long, I shall ask your attention while I state the objectious made to our rule of faith by Dr. Wiseman, and his brother advocates of the Church of Rome.

They strongly object that the right of private judgment, by which every man is at liberty to gather his own faith out of the Scriptures, is productive of endless diversity, confusion, and error in religion; and they point triumphantly to the nurnber of sects which distract the Protestant part of Christendom, as proof positive of the assertion.

They say that we are indebted to them for the very Bible on which we rest our faith, and that it is unreasonable to trust them for this, and yet trust them no farther.

And they insist that there is no other practicable mode of attaining Christian unity, than that laid down in their own system.

Now, in order to appreciate the force of these objections, we shall have to ask your attention to several lectures, in the course of which they shall be fully discussed. For the present, however, we shall only briefly examine the following topics, all of which, as you will readily perceive, bear upon the line of the Roman argument.

First then, let us consider the right and absolute necessity of the exercise of private judgment, or in other words, the exercise by every individual of his own faculties in the question of religion, upon the truth propounded to him from the Word of God.

Secondly, the degree of credit due to the Church in faithfully handing down to us the volume of inspiration.

Thirdly, the authority to be conceded to the primitive Church, in the character of judges or interpreters of the sense of Scripture.

And fourthly, the restriction of the right of private judgment to the duty of selecting, each man for himself, that Church

which appears to have retained most faithfully the distinguishing marks of Scriptural or Apostolic Christianity.

I doubt not, my brethren, that you will find this course of argument somewhat trying to your patience, and yet I forewarn you, that throughout our whole contemplated series as well as here, the establishment of truth can only be fully attained by close and thorough reflection. vague and superficial notion of religion may indeed be acquired without the trouble of thought, but clear and distinct views absolutely demand, as they most richly repay, persevering and laborious investigation.

99

First then, as to the right and necessity of private judgment, I aver that the Lord himself addresses his sacred truth to no other principle. "Come now, and let us reason together," is his language. "Turn ye, for why will ye die," is his expostulation. "Unto you, O men, I call," saith the wisdom of heaven, "and my voice is to the sons of men.' "Come unto me," saith the compassionate Redeemer, "all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." To what are all these and thousands of similar passages directed? Is it not to the private judgment, the individual powers of sensation and thought which the hand of God has bestowed upon us? True, these faculties are not sufficient to bring men to repentance and faith without the operation of the Holy Spirit, but with that influence to open the eyes which are blind, and the ears which are deaf by nature, is it any thing else which prepares the sinner for the service of God, but the reception of the Word of God, by his own individual assent to its truth and power?

I do not deny that the imposing spectacle of the Church, visibly and prosperously established before men, with her ministry, her order, and her mighty sway, is calculated to attract attention and excite respect, and thus become a motive for the examination of the divine proclamation of mercy, propounded to mankind upon the authority of God's own Word.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »