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1 Cor. iii. 3.–For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying and strife and divisions; are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
The subject of our last discourse, my brethren, was the Rule of Faith, which, in contradistinction to the modern Church of Rome, was established by the Church of England at the Reformation; and which, as you will probably remember, reduced the whole of the faith required for salvation, to the Bible alone. We explained what we understood by the Holy Scriptures, and then stated some of the various senses in which the term Church was to be received. We asserted the right and the necessity of the exercise of private judgment, as the unalienable privilege and obligation of every individual; since, without it, neither repentance, nor faith, nor obedience, nor any other commanded duty, could be possible to man. We stated, nevertheless, that wherever the judgment of the Church was unanimous on any point of Christian faith or practice, no individual opinion could be allowed to have any weight; but, that, wherever the judgment of the Church was not unanimous, the appeal to Scripture, and the humble and faithful use of our own faculties, with a submissive reliance on the aid of the Holy Spirit, was the only resource of those who were the appointed guides of their brethren. We cited, at large, those Articles of our Church which had a bearing on the subject, and we then left the further discussion of it to the present lecture, where, in examining the Roman rule of faith, the difference between the two systems would be more apparent, and therefore better understood.
e are now, according to our proposed arrangement, to enter upon this subject, and we ask
your attention to a plain examination of it, in the full confidence that you will need no other stimulus to your interest than the recollection, that it is a doctrine on which hangs the whole religious system of more than one hundred millions of the Christian world.
The rule of faith in the Church of Rome, professes, like our own, to be the Word of God, and of course, it includes the Holy Scriptures. But they maintain that, besides the Scriptures, there was an oral delivery of divine truth to the Church, which is equally obligatory on every believer; of which un. written Word, the Church is the sole depository, and in the safe preservation of which, as well as in her power of interpreting the written Word, she cannot err, being absolutely infallible.
It is a source of much satisfaction to find the late distinguished advocate of the Church of Rome, Dr. Wiseman, resting the whole of this doctrine on the Scriptures, since thus the quality of the evidence is brought into a much more intelligible compass. The following is his language, and we beg that you will mark it, my brethren, with especial care. (p. 51, Vol. I. Am. ed.) “We believe,” saith he, “that there is no other ground-work whatever for faith, except the written Word of God; because we allow no power in religion to any living authority, except inasmuch as its right to define is conferred in God's written Word. If, therefore, you hear that the Church claims authority to define articles of faith, and to instruct her children what they must believe, you must not for one moment think that she pretends to any authority or sanction for that power, save what she conceives herself to derive from the clear, express, and explicit words of Scripture. Thus, therefore, it is truly said, that whatever is believed by us, although not positively expressed in the written Word of God, is believed, because the principle adopted by us is there expressly revealed.”
“ By the unwritten Word of God then,” continues Dr. Wiseman, we mean a body of doctrines, which in consequence of express declarations in the written Word, we believe not to have been committed to writing, but delivered by Christ to his apostles, and by the apostles to their successors. We believe that no new doctrine can be introduced into the Church, but that every doctrine which we hold has existed and been taught in it, ever since the time of the apostles, and was handed down by them to their successors, under the only guarantee on which we receive doctrines from the Church, that is, Christ's promise to abide with it for ever, to assist, direct and instruct it, and always teach in and through it. So that, while giving our explicit credit, and trusting our judgment to it, we are believing and trusting to the express teaching of Christ himself.”
Here then we have the plain declaration of this learned and ingenious defender of the Church of Rome, that the Scriptures require us to believe the voice of the Church to be the voice of Christ, the unwritten Word delivered by the Church to be equal to the Scriptures in point of authority, and the infallible truth of the Church to be the same in substance as the infallible truth of the Bible; and therefore the Roman rule of faith includes the Scriptures, together with the decisions of the Church, attributing as much unerring assurance of divine truth to the one, as to the other.
But we are not only indebted to this distinguished writer for the foregoing statement of the Rule of Faith. He gives us also a very candid declaration of the consequences, to any one belonging to his Church, that presumes to doubt it. “For the moment any Roman Catholic doubts,” saith he, (p. 65,) “not alone the principles of his faith, but any one of those doctrines
which are thereon based--the moment he allows himself to call in question any of the dogmas which the Church teaches, as having been handed down within her--that moment the Church conceives him to have virtually abandoned all connexion with her. For she exacts such implicit obedience, that if any member, however valuable, however he may have devoted his early talents to the illustration of her doctrines, fall
away from his belief in any one point, he is cut off without reserve; and we have, in our times, seen striking and awful instances of the fact." We shall have occasion to show
you, brethren, in a future discourse, that the effect of this is to place the authority of the Church above the authority of the Bible.
But before we examine the Scriptural proofs relied on for this vast prerogative on behalf of the Church, which will form the subject of our next lecture, we are bound to notice one general argument, by which Dr. Wiseman, and all other writers of the Church of Rome, endeavour to demonstrate the reasonableness and the necessity of such an infallible authority in the Christian system.
And here, they draw their strongest proof from the deplorable fact, that Protestants, professing to make the Bible their rule of faith, are so divided into jarring and discordant sects, that there is no unity amongst them. And therefore they insist upon the experience of the last three hundred years, as affording the clearest evidence of the superior advantages, credit and safety of their rule of faith, since it excludes all the irregular action of private judgment in the interpretation of Scripture, and brings all minds to the same infallible standard of decision.
The fact here stated, my beloved brethren, is too glaring to be denied. Awful, shameful, and ruinous to the best interests of Scriptural Christianity, have been the dissensions and strises of that portion of Christendom which we call REFORMED. The spiritual despotism of Rome, once broken, has been fol. lowed by total licentiousness of opinion, and the sin of schism has lost its terrors, until Christians have imagined that division was a blessing, which fulfilled the double purpose of keeping a wholesome guard upon the encroachments of error, and of indulging the tastes of mankind with a useful variety of religious entertainment.
Seated in conscious security upon the throne of her dominion, the Church of Rome has looked in derision and in scorn at the discordant hosts of Protestant Christians, who, instead of uniting their arms against her errors, have been struggling to beat down one another. And the unbelieving world, the Jew, and the Mahometan, have learned to mock at the whole; taught by Rome that there could be no truth where there was no unity, and taught by the quarrels of Protestants that there was no certainty of the truth to be obtained at all. Respect for the authorized priesthood—the ministry of Christ-has been trodden to the ground: reverence for antiquity has been denounced, as a weak superstition : the discipline and government of the Churches have been delivered up to the influence of wealth and popularity: the very edifices erected for the worship of God have been held ready for the accommodation of any worldly exhibition: and all the solemn characteristics of the high and holy privilege, by which man-sinful and unworthy--is admitted to hold communion with the Majesty of the invisible Creator, through the atonement and righteousness of the divine Redeemer--all the sanctity—all the awem all the signs of outward humility-all the appendages of outward devotion-have been denounced under the common and undistinguishing cry of Popery and Priestcraft.
The fearful consequences of this sad desecration are beginning to be apparent to the most careless observer, who will but pause to contemplate the present state of the Christian