This kingdom should be studied in the light of the Holy Scriptures, and not merely in that of creeds, confessions, formulas of doctrine, etc.
PROPOSITION 10. This kingdom should be studied in the light of the Holy Scriptures, and not merely in that of creeds, confessions, formulas of doctrine, etc.
This legitimately follows from the preceding Proposition, and reminds us, (1) that to learn what the kingdom is, recourse must be had to the original source of information, and (2) that, however much the Scriptural idea of the kingdom may differ from that given, honestly and conscientiously, by men, the former must be received in preference to the latter.[*]
Note. Cornelius Agrippa (On the Vanity of Sciences, ch. 100) quaintly says: “Wherefore it behoveth us to trie by the Worde of God all the disciplines and opinions of sciences, as gold is tried by the touchestone, and in all things to flee thither as to a most stiffe rocke, and out of that alone to seeke for the truth of all thinges, and to judge of all doctrine, of the opinions and expositions of all men, and that we reade not by the doctrines, by the gloses, by the expositions, or by other sayings of men, although they be most holy and beste learned, them I meane which speake either without or against the authoritee of God’s Worde.… So great is the majestie, so great is the power of this Scripture, that it alloweth no strounge exposition, no gloses of men nor Angels: neither suffereth it selfe to be bowed to mens wittes as if it were of waxe, nor after the manier of mens fables suffereth it selfe to be transformed or changed into divers senses as it were some Poetical Proteus, but sufflciente of it selfe, doth expounde and interprete it selfe, and judging all men of none is judged. For the authoritee thereof is greater (as Augustine saith) then all the insight of mans wit: for it hath one constant, plaine, and holy meaninge, in which alone the truth doth consiste, and in which it fighteth and vanquisheth. But other Moral, Mystical, Cosmological, Typical, Anagogical, Tropological, and Allegorical meaninges which are without this, with which many do depainte it with sundrie and straunge coloures, can rightly, and truly teache us some things, and perswade also to the edification of the people, but they cannot prove any thing, or repugne, or reprove to establishe the authoritee of the Worde of God. For let one bringe in controversie of these senses, let him also cite what substancial authour soever he liste thereupon, let him alleage an interpretoure, let him cite a glosse, let him alledge the exposition of all the holy Fathers, all these thinges doth not so binde us, but that we maye saye the contrarie. But of the letter of the Scripture: of the draught and order thereof, bondes are made, which no man can breake, no man can escape: but that dashinge and dissolvinge all the force of argumentes, dothe enforce him to saye and confesse, that it is the finger of God, that man never spake in this manner, that He speaketh not as the Scribes and Pharisees do, but as one that hathe power.”
Harper’s Weekly, Nov. 3, 1877, says that Dr. Bellows at the “Ministerial Institute” held by the Unitarians, Oct. 8 and 9, at Springfield, said: “The weakness of so-called Liberalism is its boast that it will have no dogmatic system, and that faith requires none. Any man who truly formulates the truth and principles which are now floating in a sentimental mist, will be a re-creator of the religious life of the age.”
Creeds must more or less exist. The Luth. Observer, Aug. 31, 1877, after pointing out how the Unitarian Church thirty years ago raised the cry, “Down with the creeds and confessions,” and the experience of the past, points to the utterance of the “Christian Register,” a leading Unitarian paper, as follows: “Let it be said, in all clearness and resoluteness: Those who will not formulate, will not convey religious truth in essential statements—finalities for the time—are the real impeders of progress, are the genuine obstructionists of the onward march of a stalwart and intelligent liberalism. Let it be pointed out that these cries and deliverances as to more liberty, no doctrinal teaching, etc., are from chaotic minds desiring, in their blindness, to spread more chaos, and, blind ones as they are, to lead others into the blind-catching ditches.”
Obs. 1. This Proposition in its definite statement is the more needed, since at the present day multitudes find themselves so fettered by an undue reverence for human authority, as presented in and through the church, that it is scarcely possible to get them to consider any subject in its true scriptural aspect. We have no sympathy with the men who would, if they were able, destroy the memorials of the church’s views and struggles. The creeds, confessions, formulas of doctrine, systems of divinity, theological writings of the past, however some may be one-sided, prolix, etc., are precious heirlooms, giving us in a dogmatical or systematic form the opinions of noble men, in different epochs, entertained respecting the truth. They, too, subserved a great and glorious purpose in holding up Christ and the essentials in Him, in opposing gross error, and in resisting the torrent of unbelief. Admitting that the necessities of our spiritual nature, the thirst after truth, the deep feeling caused by the realities of Revelation, the impressive ideas evolved and suggested by contact with the truth, the earnest desire to extend and defend the same, have caused fallible men to erect these writings as bulwarks and barriers;—while receiving them with gratitude, and acknowledging our indebtedness to them, yet we cannot, for a moment, give them the authority of God’s Word. They, too, the workmanship of man, must bow to the supremacy of Holy Writ, as, in nearly every instance, the framers thereof intended and declared by appeals to the Bible, indicating it to be the sole, paramount rule of faith.[*]
Note. A few examples must suffice. Thus, in the epilogue of the Augsburg Confession it is distinctly announced that no “dogma” “contrary to the Holy Scriptures” can be admitted. The Confession is based upon the Reformation principle: “There is for articles of faith no other foundation than the Word of God.” The Form of Concord, p. 152, says: “But all human writings and symbols are not authorities like the Holy Scriptures; but they are only a testimony and explanation of our faith, showing the manner in which at any time the Holy Scriptures were understood and explained by those who then lived, in respect to articles that had been controverted in the Church of God, and also the grounds on which doctrines, that were opposed to the Holy Scriptures, had been rejected and condemned.” This is characteristic of the leading Protestant Confessions (Comp. Fisher’s His. Ref., p. 462; Schaff’s Principle of Prot., p. 70; Schmucker’s Luth. Symbols, chs. 1 and 2;Standard Ch. Histories) over against the ultra position of the Romish Church that tradition is an equal source of knowledge and the product of the Holy Spirit. Hagenbach (His. of Doc., vol. 2, s. 240) remarks: “That the same importance should afterward be assigned to the symbolical writings of the Protestant churches, which was formerly ascribed to tradition, was not the intention of their original authors;” and he refers (s. 244) e.g. to Luther’s protestation “against any prominence being given to his name and all appeal to his authority,” and that it was against “the spirit of the Confession of Faith to impose it as a yoke upon the conscience.” Melanchthon himself (Niemeyer’s Life of, p. 14) said: “In Articles of Faith, some change must be made, from time to time, and they must be adapted to the occasions.” Hence the idea of making them equal to Scripture, or unalterably authoritative, never entered his mind. Van Oosterzee (Dog., vol. 1, p. 20) pertinently says of the Symbolical books: “They were never intended to confine within bonds the spirit of investigation, still less to fill the hated part of ‘a paper pope.’ ” The austere John Knox (Stanley’s Lec. on His. Ch. of Scotland, p. 113) made the following profession: “We protest, that if any one will note in this our Confession any article or sentence impugning God’s Holy Word, that it would please him of his goodness, and for Christian charity’s sake, to admonish us of the same in writing; and we, upon our honor and fidelity, do promise unto him satisfaction from the mouth of God (that is, from His Holy Scriptures), or else reformation of that which he shall prove to be amiss.” Comp. Wycliffe (Kurtz’s Ch. His., vol. 1, p. 501, and Dr. Vaughen’s “Monograph”), the Fathers, and others, as presented in Goode’s Div. Rule of Faith and Practice (3 vols., London, 1853), the Waldenses according to the Centuriators of Magdeburg (so Jones’s Ch. His., p. 249); Dr. Schaff in Com. Review, 1876, on Creeds; Prof. Blaike on the proper limits of Creeds in “The Brit. and For. Evang. Review, 1873” (an Epitome of same in Evang. Review, 1873); Dr. McIlvaine’s Christ and Paul in Bib. Sacra, 1878; Dr. Hagenbach’s Ency. of Theol.; Zwingle’s views in Hess’s and Christoffel’s Lives of; and numerous others. Lord Bacon (quoted “Lit. of Apologetics,” North Brit. Review, 1851, p. 184) remarks: “that the Church has no power over the Scriptures, to teach or command anything contrary to the written Word, but is as the ark wherein the tables of the first Testament were kept and preserved; that is to say, the Church hath only the custody and delivery over of the Scriptures committed unto the same; together with the interpretation of them, but such only as is conceived from themselves.”Milton (Treatise of Civil Power in Eccl. Cases) says: “It is the general consent of all sound Protestant writers that neither traditions, councils, nor canons of any visible Church, much less edicts of any magistrate or civil session, but the Scriptures only, can be the final judge or rule in matters of religion, and that only in the conscience of every Christian to himself.… With the name of Protestant hath ever been received this doctrine, which prefers the Scriptures before the Church, and acknowledges none but the Scripture sole interpreter of itself to the conscience.” The Westminster Conf., ch. 31, 3, says: “All Synods or Councils since the Apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both.” The “Standards” of the Presbyterian Church make the only infallible rule to be the Word of God (as in Conf., ch. 1:2, 8, 10, Form of Gov. ch. 1:3, 7, etc., Book of Dis. ch. 1:3, 4). Out of numerous citations of a Confessional nature, another illustration of the general spirit manifested, is given as follows: The Dec. of Faith of the Congreg. Churches, A.D. 1658, declares: “The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other than the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit; into which Scripture, so delivered, our faith is finally resolved.” The simple fact is, that only writers and bodies who endeavor either through a hierarchical or a mystical tendency, to elevate the Church beyond its just proportions, take the opposite view. Pre-Millenarians, as a class, adopt the opinion expressed in this work, and the Convention held in Dr. Tyng’s Church (New York, 1878) declared: “We affirm our belief in the supreme and absolute authority of the written Word of God on all questions of doctrine and duty.” It is strange that believers in the Word should occupy any other position, when it is expressly asserted in it, that we are to be judged at the last day, not by any earthly creeds, or decisions of councils, or opinions of men, but by this Word of God. Hence, while not discarding the careful study of human Confessions, it is of vast more importance to ‘search the Scriptures.’ ” Compare Spener’s views as given by Krauth in Pictures from the Life of Philip Jacob Spener (p. 140), Sprecher’s Groundwork of Theol. (e.g. pp. 30, 100, etc.), Art. in Princeton Review (July, 1860) on The Bible its own Witness and Interpreter, the Address to the Reader prefixed to King James’ Version (with quotations from Tertullian, Justin, Basil, etc., on the Sufficiency of Scripture), Wycliffe’s Truth and Meaning of Scripture, Whately’s Errors of Romanism.
Obs. 2. Creeds, etc., valuable as they are in many respects, can only, at best, give their testimony as witnesses to the truth; and they can only testify to as much of it as the framers themselves have seen and experienced. Professing to give evidence in favor of the Bible, or to state what the Bible teaches, that evidence or statement is only proper, consistent, and available in so far as it coincides with the Holy Scriptures. Knowledge, therefore, of the satisfactory character of the confessional statements, is only attainable by bringing them to the crucial test, the Word of God. It is a bad indication when, in any period, men will so exalt their confessions that they force the Scriptures to a secondary importance, illustrated in one era, when, as Tulloch (Leaders of the Refor., p. 87) remarks: “Scripture as a witness, disappeared behind the Augsburg Confession.”[*]
Note. The reader will be reminded of Luther’s reply to Henry VIII: “As to myself, to the words of the Fathers, of men, of angels, of devils, I oppose, not old customs, nor the multitude of men, but the Word of Eternal Majesty, that Gospel which my adversaries themselves are compelled to recognize. There I take my stand,” etc. “I heed very little the words of men, whatever their sanctity may have been, and as little do I heed tradition or custom, fallacious custom. The Word of God is superior to all else. If I have the Divine Majesty on my side, what care I even though a thousand Augustines, a thousand Cyprians, a thousand churchfuls of Henrys, rise up against me. God cannot err or deceive; Augustine and Cyprian, in common with the rest of the elect, may err, and have erred,” etc. So also against “the Celestial Prophets”: “The spirit of the new prophet flies very high indeed; it is an audacious spirit that would have eaten up the Holy Ghost, feathers and all. Bible! sneer these fellows, Bibel! Bubal! Babel! And not only do they reject the Bible thus contemptuously, but they say that they would reject God too, if He were not to visit them as He did the prophets,” etc. (D’Aubigne’s His. Ref., Michelet’s Life of Luther, etc.) Luther thus manifested against all sides the supremacy of the Bible (comp., Introd. to West’s “Analysis of Bible”), and opposed (Michelet, p. 337) “the papists’ cry, ‘The Church, the Church, against and above the Bible.’ ” In his letter to Jerome Dungersheim on the importance and authority of the fathers of the church (Michelet’s Ap., p. 419), alluding to several of the fathers, the Council of Nice, he asserts that “whilst I respect the various authorities, I ascend the stream till I reach the great fountain whence they all take their rise.” Zwingle repeatedly uttered similar sentiments expressive of the authority of Scripture, and when in the Conference with Melanchthon at Marburg, he referred to the Council of Nice and the Athanasian creed, he stated (D’Aubigne’s His. Ref., vol. 4, p. 85): “We have never rejected the councils, when they are based on the authority of the Word of God.” All the Reformers, without exception, entertained similar views, and received the statements of previous creeds, councils, fathers, etc., only as they thought them correspondent with the Word. How this was afterward perverted and the Reformer’s writings elevated to the authority of Scripture, or creeds exalted, as if inspired, to an infallibility, is illustrated in the fierce controversies (Dorner’s His. Prot. Theol., vol. 2, p. 211, etc.) waged during the history of “Pietism.” How soon was the spirit of Luther lost, as evidenced in his reply (drawn from Augustine to Jerome) to Prierias (D’Aubigne’s His., vol. 1, p. 282): “I have learned to render to the inspired Scriptures alone the homage of a firm belief, that they have never erred; as to others, I do not believe in the things they teach simply because it is they who teach them,” or his more decided utterance in the “Smalcald Articles” (afterward used and perverted to bind men’s consciences!): “We ought not to form articles of faith out of the words or works of the Fathers; otherwise their diet, their kinds of dress, their houses, etc., would have to be made articles of faith, as men have sported with the relics of saints. But we have another rule, namely, that the Word of God forms articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel (Gal. 1:8).” Such a complete subordination of Creeds to Scripture is self-evident—(1) from the authors of such declaring that they derived them from Scripture as then understood by them; (2) from distinguishing between the infallibility of Scripture and the fallibility of human productions; (3) from their speaking of Confessions as only witnessing for, or testifying from, the Scriptures; (4) from their subjecting the testimony of creeds to the test of the Bible; (5) from their urging others who should subscribe the formulated faith to the study of the Bible as the best teacher; (6) from the revisions, changes, enlargements, etc., made; (7) from many of them depreciating a confessional standard in order that they might exalt Scripture. Let us conclude with the apt appeal (illustrating both this subject and Prop. 4) of Melanchthon in his “Apology” to the Parisian University: “Here is, as I think, the sum of the controversy. And now I ask you, my masters, has the Scripture been given in such a form that its undoubted meaning may be gathered without exposition of Councils, Fathers, and Schools, or not? If you deny that the meaning of Scripture is certain by itself, without glosses, I see not why the Scripture was given at all, if the Holy Spirit was unwilling to define with certainty what he would have us to believe. Why do the apostles invite us at all to the study of the Scripture, if its meaning is uncertain? Wherefore do the fathers desire us to believe them no farther than they fortify their statements by the testimonies of Scripture? Why, too, did the ancient councils decree nothing without Scripture, and in this way we distinguish between true and false councils, that the former agree with plain Scripture, the latter are contrary to Scripture?… Since the Word of God must be the rock on which the soul reposes, what, I pray, shall the soul apprehend from it, if it be not certain what is the mind of the Spirit of God?”
Obs. 3. The Bible, then, is our only infallible rule of faith and practice, as many of the Confessions of Faith distinctly declare. This is also recognized in Catechisms, or elementary books of instruction, all of which profess to be based directly on the Word. Every man feels that a doctrinal position is only strongly fortified by Scripture testimony; that the injunction, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God,” 1 Pet. 4:11, is to be observed in teaching divine things; that it is proper and necessary to appeal “to the law and the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20). This feeling is aroused by the conviction that we (Eph. 2:20) “are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone.”* Upon these, what they have declared and done, must our doctrines be erected, and to them appeal must be made in their support. It is desirable to know how others understood the doctrines of the Bible, how they derived them, what proof sustains them, etc., and it is proper to acknowledge our indebtedness to all such for information and knowledge imparted, but when these human compositions are to become the leading medium through which to view and interpret Scripture, and that Holy Writ must only be accepted as understood and explained by fallible man, without any appeal therefrom on the ground that they are given in the consciousness of the church as a legitimate spiritual outgrowth through pious and enlightened believers, we must decline such a darkening of authority, such a substitution for the Popish system.[*]
Note. It is amazing how the contrary is asserted in various quarters, overlooking how the best of men, with the purest of intentions, may, under the influence of prior education, ecclesiastical bias, an adopted principle of interpretation, etc., misinterpret Scripture. It is gratifying, therefore, to see that men of the greatest ability and eminence, without desiring to destroy the landmarks of the past or to dishonor the noble legacies left by the church, insist upon it as honorable to the expressions and expositions of faith that they should not be subscribed to without a declaration attached to them of the superior authority of the Word itself. Thus e.g. Dr. Schmucker (Luth. Symbols, p. 59) quotes Kœllner as saying that the body of able theologians, “champions for the doctrines of the church,” have “departed from the rigid doctrinal system of the symbols,” instancing “such as Doederlein, Morus, Michaelis, Reinhard, Knapp, Storr, Schott, Schwartz, Augusti, Marheinecke, Hahn, Olshausen, Tholuck, and Hengstenberg.” Kœllner then adds: “In like manner has the public pledge to the symbols been greatly relaxed, and is nowhere unconditional; but infidelity to the principles of Protestantism, and guarding it, the obligation is always expressed with the explicit reservation of the supreme authority of the Scriptures, as is evident from an inspection of the pledges prescribed in the different Protestant countries.” A mass of evidence and a host of names might be appended, as seen, e.g. in Schmucker’s “The Lutheran Church in America” (especially noticing Dr. Endress’ testimony and quotations from Melanchthon and Luther, p. 205, etc.), Stuckenberg’s His. Augsb. Confession, Müller’s Pref. to Symbol Books, Walch’s Introd. to Symb. Books, Buddeus in Isagoge, recent utterances of Löhe, the Theol. Faculty of Dorpat, Guericke, Dietrich, etc. Compare also Dorner’s His. of Prot., 1, 12; Leibnitz’s Theodicy Pref.; Neander’s Church His., 1, 420; Newman’s Arians, 1, 2, and ch. 2, 1; Waterland’s Works, 3, 254; Burnet’s His. Ref., vol. 2, p. 268, as well as the writings of Fuller, Sherlock, Hodge, Kurtz, Auberlen, etc.
Mackay (Prog. of Intellect., 1, 17) says: “Forms (i.e. creeds, etc.) are in their nature transitory; for being destitute of flexibility and power of self-accommodation to altered circumstances, they become in time unconformable to realities, and stand only as idle landmarks of the past, or like deserted channels requiring to be filled up.” This is altogether too disparaging, for, truth being eternal, true doctrine being ever the same, those creeds and confessions that most purely embrace it, as e.g. Apostles’ Creed, are far from being transitory. This will only apply to lengthy Confessions, embracing numerous details, etc. Dr. Wiliams (Rational Godliness, p. 69), although liberal in thinking, expresses himself more reasonably and justly when he says: “No greater subject can in our own day employ any man’s noblest energies, than preservation or renewal of the truth of God, not fettered overmuch by the human accidents of our ancestors in the faith, yet with reverential tenderness even for these.” The truth is, that an extreme position is to be avoided on this point. The history of the church indicates that Confessions have subserved high purposes; it is the abuse and perversion of them that has done mischief. To oppose creeds and denounce them as “schismatical” is plainly contradicted by fact. Those who so persistently decry formulas of faith on this ground, are as much divided and in as great disagreement as the bodies who receive and adhere to Confessions. Thus e.g. Unitarians embrace Arians, Humanitarians, Rationalists, Liberalists, etc.; or the Universalists, Quakers, Christians, Campbellites, Christadelphians, and others, who mutually reject each other, are divided among themselves in view, and only agree in the denunciation of creeds. Yet all these, without exception, have a written, dogmatical form of faith—not called a creed, but still virtually such—penned by some prominent leader or leaders, which is followed, slavishly, by the mass. It is proper for the church in certain stages, for the sake of uniformity, of restraining error, of bringing forth truth, etc., to define its position in brief formulas, couched as much as possible in Scripture language, but to leave all such open to improvement or change if truth demands it. There is something anti-scriptural in the position of Romanism, Symbolic Lutheranism, Anglican High Churchism, Ultra Calvinism, Reformed Confessionalism—in brief, in all attempts to bring in the work of man as an authoritative interpreter of Scripture. However well intentioned the design, it is a virtual lowering of Scripture to a human level, and an abridgment of true Christian liberty. Thus e.g. the spirit of inquiry would be completely fettered if the direction of Dr. Goulbourn (The Holy Cath. Church, 1874) were followed: “The Prayer-Book is for us the authorized guide into the teaching of the Bible,” assuring us that “there would be an end of controversy, and a good prospect of quiet growth in grace if we could acquiesce in the Bible as interpreted by the Prayer-Book.” Alas! a multitude of Symbolical books desire and claim this position, and their respective adherents invite us with similar hopes. Bigotry and unchristian zeal are found in both extremes—viz., in an overdue reverence for, and exaltation of, Confessions, and in the total rejection of creeds as if unworthy, in so far as based on Scripture, of our acceptance. Van Oosterzee (Ch. Dog. vol. 1, p. 223) justly says: “One may esteem it a personal happiness if one can with an honest theological conscience stand on the ground of the Confession; but the honor of sound Orthodoxy, as measured by the standard of the Church is—regarded from a Christian standpoint—by no means the highest. It may well be that one feels himself, on the ground of Scripture itself, and by virtue of the Protestant principle, bound in conscience to differ on a certain point from the doctrine of the Church. Heterodoxy, in such a case, is not to be regarded at once as heresy. The rectification of the traditional creed, which is in this way tested by the Word, may even lead to its further development, provided that it is tested only by means of Holy Scripture. Precisely he truly holds to his Confession of Faith, in the Evang. Protestant sense of the term, who recognizes in the Confession not the absolutely perfect form of his religious conviction, but that which may be constituted an ever more perfect form of it; and who seeks to attain to this higher perfection by an ever closer attachment, and an ever deeper subjection of himself, to God’s Word in Holy Scripture. There yet lie treasures in the gold mine, which await only the well-directed spade of the digger,” etc. Thus also Martensen (Ch. Dog. s. 242) remarks in the same strain, after stating that tradition is an important ally in the interpretation of Scripture: “But though she (church) thus makes use of the guidance of tradition in order to the understanding of Scripture, this by no means violates her principle, that tradition must in turn be tested, purified, and more perfectly developed by Holy Scripture. It is true even of the Apostles’ Creed, that being a work in its present form clearly apostolic, it cannot possess the same critical authority as Holy Scripture,” etc.
Obs. 4. Having thus determined to occupy the only position consistent with that of a biblical student, viz.: that while duly reverencing the symbolical books and theological efforts of the past, yet they should not become the infallible directories of the conscience and the restrainers of a true Christian freedom to search into and receive what God has revealed, even if opposed to them; it is time to notice what bearing this has upon the subject of the kingdom. The doctrine of the kingdom, although prominently in the Bible, is not specially treated in the earlier Confessions, as e.g. the Apostles’, Niceno-Constantinopolitan, and Athanasian. General expressions, without entering into details, are employed, which both Millenarians and Anti-Millenarians could subscribe. The doctrine as upheld by us is contained in very few Confessions, is ignored by others, and is misapprehended and opposed in others. The result is, that many persons are prejudiced or biassed by a confessional standard, and are thus poorly prepared for a dispassionate investigation. Preparatively it may be said, that when a doctrine like ours has been almost universally held by the Christian Church for several centuries, and that church points out that it is contained in the grammatical sense of the Word; that it is a doctrine plainly revealed, often repeated, incorporated with covenant and promise, and the subject of enlarged remark and prediction, it should certainly commend itself as eminently worthy of calm consideration and careful comparison with Scripture testimony. It is strange that but few Confessions make the kingdom a distinctive article of faith, and from this, no doubt, results in a measure the great variety and latitude of meanings given to it. The reasons why our doctrine has not received a confessional prominency, will be presented under following propositions.[*]
Note. While all our Introductory Treatises to the Bible caution us to avoid approaching the Scriptures, in order to ascertain its sense, under the bias of a previously constructed system of doctrine, yet it is a rule almost constantly violated, as is too painfully evident in commentaries, expositions, and theological treatises. So much is this the case, that very few indeed escape entirely from its influence, manifested in anticipating the meaning, inferring it, etc., in accord with a belief conscientiously and sincerely entertained. Man, with the purest of motives, is still addicted to infirmity, and his weakness is presented in more than one confessional utterance. Taylor (Ep. Ded. Liberty of Prophesying) has observed: “Such is the iniquity” (we would soften this by substituting misguided zeal) “of men, that they suck in opinions as wild apes do the wind, without distinguishing the wholesome from the corrupted air, and then live upon it at a venture; and when all their confidence is built upon zeal and mistake, yet therefore because they are zealous and mistaken, they are impatient of contradiction.” Confessional exclusiveness is the most intolerant, and at the same time the most destructive to true progress. It virtually closes the Bible to advancement in knowledge, being the self-constituted measurer of it. We, therefore, appropriate Martensen’s (Ch. Dog., p. 44) language: “We maintain, further, that no reformation can ever be effected in spirit and in truth, unless the principle is accepted, that nothing shall pass for truth which cannot stand the final test of the Word of God and the mind of man, freely investigating, in the liberty wherewith Christ makes us free.” The inroads of infidelity and the respondent defence, the destructive criticism of both Scripture and Ecclesiastical matters and the corresponding vindication, have made it requisite that the largest liberty, compatible with the supremacy of Holy Writ, should be allowed in investigation, in order that truth, and truth alone, may be upheld and consistently defended.
Briefly, it may be proper to consider the main reasons assigned for exalting Confessions or traditions to an equality with Scripture. Those under the plea of the continued inspiration, the special enlightenment of the Spirit, the constant impartation of Revelations, have been previously noticed. Those of the Romish Church are (1) that the church is older than the Scriptures, and that they proceed from her. The Divine Record, however, teaches us that the Church itself sprang from God’s Word, and that she is only the custodian of that Word, bound to disseminate it without additions, etc. (2) That it is only through tradition that we receive the Scriptures themselves. But this is no reason why tradition as a medium should be exalted to an equality with Scripture, for the former does not make the latter, and the latter only recognizes and forwards that which is bestowed. (3) Rejecting tradition, the door is opened to endless and conflicting interpretations. To this it can be said that tradition, as attested by the facts of history, only increases the evil. The abuse of liberty, the violation of Scripture, the principle of interpretation adopted, etc., are not so controlled by tradition but, as seen in the Romish Church itself, the most divergent opinions obtain. (4) The most plausible objection is, that Scripture itself is reproduced by the authority, and under the Christian consciousness of, the Church. To this it is sufficient to reply: that in so far as there is an actual reproduction of Scripture the church’s utterances ought to be received, but a comparison must first be instituted with Holy Writ in order to decide that it is really and truly such. In the controversy between the Papists and the Reformers, the grand characteristic was noticed that the former appealed to the Church and the latter to the Scriptures. Illustrative of this are the anecdotes given by Michelet and D’Aubigne (Life of Luther Ap., p. 395 and 421, Hazlett’s ed., and His. of Ref., vol. 4, p. 198): “At the Diet of Augsburg, Duke William of Bavaria, who was strongly opposed to the Evang. doctrine, asked Dr. Eck, ‘Cannot we overthrow these opinions by the Holy Scriptures?’ ‘No,’ said Eck, ‘only by the Fathers.’ Whereupon the Bishop of Mayence observed, ‘Truly, our divines are making a pretty defence for us. The Lutherans show us their opinions in the Scripture, chapter and verse; we are fain to go elsewhere.’ ” The advice of the Pope’s court fool to the Cardinals—who were consulting how the Protestants could be suppressed notwithstanding their appeal to Scripture, especially to the writings of Paul—that the Pope, by virtue of his authority, should take Paul out of the number of the apostles, etc., so that his dicta “shall be no more held for apostolical.” It is well, in this day, to recall and impress the true Protestant principle of authority, for the time is coming when, amidst the bitter and overwhelming persecution of the church, sole reliance upon the Word will be sorely needed.
It is a sad fact, that cannot be denied, that millions of professed Christians are bound in the cast-iron fetters of creeds; not merely the Greek Church (see e.g. Dr. Thompson’s statements in the Chris. Union of Jan. 17, 1877, of Russian “intolerance and persecution, against which religious deputations protested in vain”), or the Romish Church (see e.g. recent Encyclicals, etc.), but a large portion of Protestant bodies. The old proverb of some Jews, “the Bible is water; the Mishna is wine,” is not dead; for we have plenty of men with the same spirit, who practically, when a Biblical question comes up for decision, evidence that “The Bible is water, the Mishna is wine”—seeing that the question is decided by human writings and not by the Bible. While some entertain proper views, feelings, and practice, yet of others it may be said, that they retain the mind which made Cromwell exclaim despairingly: “Every sect saith, Give me liberty; but give it to him, and to his power he will not yield it to anybody else.” Some are so confessional that they will reject a doctrine if not found in their creed, and virtually the instructions of the Bible are changed, so that they seem to read “Search the Confessions” (not the Scriptures)—“Earnestly desiring the sincere milk of the Confession (not Word) that ye may grow thereby,” etc. It is true in theory as the Ch. Intelligencer (Aug. 4, 1877, in reply to an attack upon Creeds in Scribner’s Monthly, Aug. 1877) declares, that “all Protestant bodies proclaim and hold their creeds as entirely subordinate to the Word of God,” but practically many do more than this—viz., constituting the creed the standard or rule of faith. This has been noticed by numerous writers in the Church; this called forth the noble protest of Macleod against the same in his speech made to the Assembly of 1872 (comp. remarks of representatives on Confession in the Presbyterian Alliance in Edinburgh, 1877). Outside of the church many also notice it, as e.g. Spencer in his Study of Sociology on the Theological Bias, Froude in his Plea for the Free Discussion of Theological Difficulties (where the sentence occurs: “It may be that the true teaching of our Lord was overlaid with doctrines; and theology, when insisting on the reception of its huge catena of formulas, may be binding a yoke upon our necks, which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear”), and others. The student in this direction will be pleased to notice the ultra position assumed by a Dr. Stahl, and the deserved strictures received in The North Brit. Review, Feb. 1856, in Art. “Bunsen’s Signs of the Times.” A proper medium is thus enforced by Dr. Sprecher (Groundwork of Theol., ch. 2, “Proper Estimate of Creeds”): “Creeds should not, therefore, be neglected or despised, on the one hand, nor should they, on the other, be allowed to have undue weight, or be unconditionally enforced. Only the substance of the faith, the great system of doctrine, and not the individual clauses and details of the creed, should be made unconditionally binding. When they are enforced beyond this, they drive out many of the best men, and hinder many of the most conscientious from coming in, and thus fill the Church, at last, with bigots on the one hand, who will repress all spiritual life and freedom, and on the other hand, with careless men who are as really indifferent to truth as they are to godliness—men who can subscribe to any creed, caring only for the form of religion, while they deny its power.” Hence, from our position, we have admired the farewell Address of Pastor Robison to the Pilgrims at Delft Haven, advising them to receive any and every truth that the Bible holds as it may be preached to them by his successors, complaining that others will only receive what the Reformers have taught and nothing more, and thus expresses his faith: “For I am verily persuaded the Lord has more truth yet to break forth out of the Holy Word;” and concludes with “an article of Church covenant,” as follows: “That you shall be ready to receive whatever truth shall be made known to you from the written Word.”
Obs. 5. In this age of destructive criticism, it is proper to additionally define our position. The exceeding multitude of interpretations, with their variegated hues, has led persons to fix some limit, thus attempting to perform what God has not prescribed outside of the Scriptures, for God holds us only responsible for the plain, naked, grammatical sense of the Word, and not for recondite, hidden senses that the ingenuity or imagination of man may concoct. One party will take refuge in the infallibility of the Pope, another in the decisions of Councils, and a third in the agreement of these two. One class cleaves to the oft-repeated maxim of Vicentius, and will allow no interpretation saving that given by the Church in “a unanimous consent of the Fathers,” which consent (retained in Romish profession of faith, see e.g. “The Path to Paradise,” authorized by Archb. Hughes, New York, 1856, p. 34), on inspection, is found to be a foregone conclusion. Another declares that the only security is found in private judgment, by which they mean the casting aside as a hindrance the interpretation of the past, and a studying of the Word for ourselves utterly independent of outside help. The fruits of this last attitude have been manifested in those who have professed it, either by a many-sided or a one-sided interpretation, just as it happened to be suggested by the temperament, education, bias, intentions, etc., of the interpreter. Experience seems to teach us that safety lies in our avoiding all these extremes. While the Bible is the chief object of study, and its truths authoritative; while private judgment is inalienable and should be exercised; while it is reasonable to anticipate that others beside ourselves should see and believe in the truth, it is folly, on the one hand, to look, owing to human imperfection, for a general consent to the truth (especially after the intimations of the Word itself that it will not exist), and, on the other hand, to give ourselves such license and self-importance as not to avail ourselves of the labors, faith, experience, etc., of our fellow-believers. This we can do, without yielding the supremacy of the Word, or sacrificing our freedom in Christ. In our argument for the kingdom, tradition shall also be brought to view, enforcing the same.[*]
Note. We may be accused of laying too great stress on the Apostolic Fathers and Primitive Church in our argument. Tradition is indeed of secondary importance, but still it is valuable as confirmatory evidence. For if a doctrine—important and directly appertaining to the Plan of Redemption—is produced which has never been entertained in any other age of the church, it would be, to say the very least, a very suspicious one. The Fathers are not to be received as “arbiters of our faith,” but yet the testimony of the earliest, before so many errors arose, is valuable simply because of their having been in immediate contact with the apostles, elders, and their disciples, and thus would be likely to know something, even if imperfectly expressed, of the doctrines received and the belief entertained. A recent writer (Killen, The Old Cath. Church, p. 98) says: “It has often been asserted that those Fathers who lived nearest the times of the apostles must, therefore, be the best expositors of Scripture. It might with equal propriety be affirmed, that the most ancient philosophers are the most enlightened interpreters of the works of creation.” While the latter clause utterly fails as an argument—being irrelevant for the simple reason that those philosophers did not immediately follow an inspired and harmonious teaching of philosophy, and hence the cases are not analogous—it would be unwise and imprudent to assert the former, as presented by Dr. Killen, viz.: that they are “the best expositors.” They too are to be measured by Scripture; they were fallible, and human weakness exhibits itself in their writings; but notwithstanding this we hold that following so closely after perfectly reliable teachers, to whom they constantly appeal, it is reasonable to expect that the truth concerning so significant and prominent doctrine as that of the kingdom would also appear. Admitting fully their infirmities, and liability to error, that their words are to be carefully weighed in the Scripture balance, it is right to suppose, in virtue of their nearness to the Christ and apostles, that so important a subject as that of the Messianic Kingdom should enter largely into their doctrinal expositions. It could not be otherwise. The tradition, therefore, which really possesses most weight in deciding questions pertaining to the Kingdom, is that of the first and second centuries. The reason is apparent: if Holy Writ is the real authority in matters of doctrine, then it follows, in view of the standing of the apostles, that it is important for us to direct our attention to the first churches who were favored with their instruction, conversed with them, enjoyed their supervision, to ascertain how they understood the apostles, how they explained the Kingdom, and what views they entertained—and if there is a correspondence between the Bible and themselves, we justly claim that their utterances thus far are worthy of credence. This matter is not to be discarded because it happens, as we shall show hereafter, that the Primitive teaching corresponded with and is confirmatory of our doctrinal position. The reader must, if acquainted with early history, know that at the introduction of Christianity the great, leading subject with the Jews was that of the Messianic Kingdom. This could not be ignored or set aside. Hence, before we proceed to their examination it is just to anticipate, from their proximity to inspired men, that they heard and embraced the doctrine of the Kingdom as given by the witnesses appointed by Jesus. The desire to have our views confirmed by the faith of the Primitive Church is so common with theologians that every one seems solicitous to confirm, if possible, his doctrine by theirs, thus indicating the desirableness of such subsidiary proof. After the third century tradition, owing to the varied and contradictory opinions introduced, is not so reliable or significant. Knapp (Theol., Introd. s. 7) remarks: “Augustine established the maxim, that tradition could not be relied upon in the ever-increasing distance from the age of the apostles, except when it was universal and perfectly consistent with itself. And long before him, Irenæus (Ag. Her. 4:36) had remarked, that no tradition should be received as apostolical unless founded in the Holy Scriptures and conformable to them.” With the evidences of the fallibility of the Fathers, something to be expected, we are not concerned, but notwithstanding their sudden emergence from heathenism, former habits of thought, etc., it is the most reasonable to look for some truth mingled with it, and that which is the most worthy of our acceptance is that truth in which there was a general union of belief, and which strictly conforms to Bible teaching. It is but a low device to decry any Father, unless palpably in error, as weak-minded, etc., because he happens to disagree from us; and it is equally absurd to elevate any one as so superior in attainments that his statements are to be received without the direct endorsement of Scripture. We use the Fathers, as e.g. Œcolampadius (D’Aubigne’s His. Refor., vol. 4, p. 98): “If we quote the Fathers, it is only to free our doctrine from the reproach of novelty, and not to support our cause by their authority.” (Comp. an Art. on Patristic Theology and its Apologists in the North Brit. Review, May, 1858.)
It is well to notice a mistake into which some excellent writers have fallen. Overlooking the fact that the opinions of even great and good men are only doctrinally valuable in so far as they are based on Scripture, they pick out the weaknesses and failings and errors of eminent Christians and parade them as if the Scriptures were responsible for such views. Thus, e.g., even Leckey in his His. of Rationalism refers to Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, Baxter, etc., and thus indirectly attempts to weaken Christianity by contrasts. The weakness of believers is only too apparent, and is frankly acknowledged by themselves; their strength, Scripturally derived, is, however, not to be overlooked. Again, a large and respectable class, not only in the Romish Church, but in the Puseyite, Ritualistic movement, and in others, have much to affirm of the reproduction of Scripture in the church, and that we are bound to receive, as “the life blood,” the faith of the church. But not one of these advocates of tradition that we have read, is prepared to receive the general tradition of the early church respecting the Kingdom. Tradition is all well enough so long as it does not run counter to their own views; and as the latter agree with a later period in the history of the church, they are utterly unwilling to ascend the stream of tradition and receive it as it comes from the Primitive church. How they reconcile this with their own avowed reverence for tradition, it is impossible to see. Even that early portion received, is itself often interpreted differently from the understanding of it by the early church. Thus, e.g., take the Apostles’ Creed as given to us by Irenæus, held by Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and others, and the coming of Jesus to judge and the resurrection were explained (as will hereafter be shown) very differently from the opinions now fastened by many to the creed. If tradition is receivable at all, if it possesses any weight in argument, the stream should be ascended to its fountain head. Again, some writers defend the doctrines of Christianity too much from an outside position, that is, in a philosophical manner. Cheerfully admitting that philosophically many things can be alleged in favor of Christianity, and that its truths can be enforced, yet distinctive Christian doctrine must always find its chief and true support in the Word which is the foundation of Christianity. Philosophy being the love of wisdom, and manifesting itself in the search after wisdom, cannot be discarded (hence in using the term in this work the historical sense implying the various systems that have successively arisen, is alone meant) without positive injury, yet it should ever be borne in mind that philosophy is not itself wisdom or its judge, but only its useful servant, its attractive handmaiden. The highest philosophy takes this position, and therefore it is that our greatest philosophers have been most humble men, feeling and acknowledging that wisdom has been imperfectly apprehended by them. In Scripture doctrine we need something more conclusive than the mere deductions, however valuable or suggestive, of reason. We require facts announced by Revelation, related to man, and interwoven, recognizable, with past and present history. Taking up the works, theological, of many eminent writers in this country and Europe, it will be found that, although representing different tendencies, there is an endeavor to place the Christian system of faith upon a philosophical basis. The result of this treatment is a great diversity, arising from the philosophical system adopted. A grave mistake is made just so soon as the Bible method of presenting doctrine is lost sight of; for, instead of philosophy being the introductory to, and the interpreter of, the Scriptures, there should be, first of all, a historical statement of doctrine as presented in the Word, and then, after God has spoken, philosophy, if so minded, may explain and confirm. A clear perception of the Divine Purpose, historically presented, must precede all our own efforts.
Obs. 6. One of the fruits of the Reformation is the recovery and firm re-establishment of the principle that all have the privilege of judging for themselves in matters of religion. Roscoe (Life of Leo X., p. 235, vol. 2) declares: “The most important point which he (Luther) incessantly labored to establish was the right of private judgment in matters of faith. To the defence of this proposition he was at all times ready to devote his learning, his talents, his repose, his character, and his life; and the great and imperishable merit of this Reformer consists in his having demonstrated it by such arguments as neither the efforts of his adversaries, nor his own subsequent conduct, have been able either to refute or invalidate.” Count Bossi (whom Roscoe answers), and others, have endeavored to deny this privilege as opposed to their views of tradition, church authority, etc., but only in reliance upon the declarations of hierarchical teaching outside of the Bible. The Scriptures, while enjoining obedience to the church teaching, does this only in so far as such instruction is in correspondence with itself. God’s Word is supreme. A comparison of passages clearly indicates this, as e.g. obedience to the Scriptures is the test of fellowship, 2 Thess. 3:14; 2 John 10, etc.; ministers are only to proclaim the truth as given to them, Matt. 18:19, 2 Cor. 5:19, 20, 1 Tim. 1:3, 4, and 6:3, 4, etc.; believers themselves are strengthened, etc., by the Word in faith, John 20:31; in growth, 2 Tim. 3:16, 17, etc.; believers are to exercise and obtain wisdom, etc., Phil. 1:9–11, Col. 1:9–11, etc.; wicked ministers, etc., shall exist and teach, Matt. 7:22, 23, 2 Tim. 3:5, etc.; men shall proclaim as binding the commandments of men, Matt. 15:9, Acts 20:32, Gal. 2:4, 5, Col. 2:8, etc.; men shall reject the words of Christ and substitute their own, 1 Tim. 4:1–3 and 6:3, 2 Pet. 2:1, 2, etc.; hence, the appeal is made to us individually to test or try the doctrine proclaimed, 1 John 4:1; 1 Thess. 5:21, etc., and that we can know the truth by receiving the things of God, 1 Cor. 2:12, 13, being urged to it by the fact that some professors, forsaking the Word, have not the knowledge of God, 1 Cor. 15:34, and that we shall finally be judged by the Word, John 8:48. The entire framework of the Scriptures is erected on the idea of personal responsibility enhanced by the ability to discern the truth for ourselves.[*]
Note. A vast array of Scripture might be presented bearing on this point, but it is needless, since the whole question really depends upon that of the supremacy of Scripture or the supremacy of the church. Let this be decided in favor of Holy Writ, and the right of private judgment follows. It is for this reason that Confessions of Faith ought to be simple, and couched as much as possible in Scripture language. It is a matter of congratulation that this principle is a leading one among Protestants, and is fully recognized and stated in various confessions. But to make these Confessions in turn the interpreters of Scripture, and absolutely binding upon the conscience so as to allow no progress excepting in their direction and under their control, is a palpable violation of the principle itself; it is inconsistent both with Scripture and the Confessional spirit. Protestantism, which is a Protest to such a fettering of the believer, never could have arisen if the shackles upon freedom of investigation forged by centuries of traditional belief had not been broken.
A caution is requisite: in advocating, like Luther and a host of others, the right of private judgment, we do not mean unrestricted license, for private judgment is itself controlled by the contents of Scripture plainly, grammatically expressed. It gives us the liberty of going ourselves to the Bible, but it does not allow us the freedom of rejecting anything that is clearly taught in it. It is used only to ascertain by reading, searching, comparison, etc., what is revealed, and when this is known it acquiesces in the same. It has not the liberty, being merely a servant of God’s and held accountable to Him, of inferring and deducing from the Word what it pleases; it must itself be led by a consistent interpretation of Scripture, based on sound rules. Such a caution is the more necessary, since the principle is seized by many and grossly perverted from its true meaning and intent. It is made the medium through which a flood of destructive criticism and misleading doctrine is conveyed to cover the plain truth. Some even abuse it to mean “that a man has a right to be in the wrong,” just as if man’s accountability to the great Lawgiver was abrogated, and as if the Scriptures could not be properly apprehended. Many, arraying themselves in its silken folds, place themselves on the Judge’s bench and undertake to decide what the Supreme Being ought, and what He ought not, to have revealed. The principle is pushed from its legitimate position to a half-way accommodation, and to an unbelieving extreme. Whilst the right is a necessary, inalienable one, making us personally responsible for the reception or rejection of the truth, we must render an account for its proper use or abuse. The same is true of those who deny it to others, so that Luther once remarked: “The Papists must bear with us, and we with them. If they will not follow us, we have no right to force them. Wherever they can, they will hang, burn, behead, and strangle us. I shall be persecuted as long as I live, and most likely be killed. But it must come to this at last: every man must be allowed to believe according to his conscience, and answer for his belief to his Maker.” The spirit of Tetzel, Wimpina, or Prierius (D’Aubigne’s His. Ref., vol. 1, pp. 269, 279). that would take such a judgment away and give it to a Pope only, or that of those who make it synonymous with liberty to judge of the propriety of God’s commands, etc. (and not whether they are to be found in Holy Scripture in order to be received), are alike opposed to the simple attitude represented by the child Samuel: “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.” The Evang. Alliance adopted as one of its important and fundamental principles: “The right and duty of private judgment in the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures.” Indeed, so widespread and essential is this that even such an exclusive Church as the Greek (so Pinkerton’s Russia, p. 41, taken from Philaret’s statement—the Metropolitan of Moscow) affirms the Bible as sufficient for a rule of faith, and the right of private judgment, in interpreting the same.
Obs. 7. It is also a perversion to make (as in Essays and Reviews) conscience the supreme Judge to decide upon the meaning, merits, authority, etc., of Scripture, and that the latter must bend to the decisions of the former. The person who exercises private judgment ought to come to Revelation, realizing (as conscience itself teaches) that his moral obligations are not dependent upon his conscience, but upon the relation that he sustains to God and man; and that, after ascertaining by the use of his judgment what the truths of God really are, conscience may aid in showing their adaptation in the response given to them, help in impressing them and in urging obedience to them. Moral law exists independently of the conscience, and is made for conscience to respond to; the former is unchangeable and binding alike upon all; the latter may refuse to perform its function in impressing that law, as is evidenced in the power of choice influencing the action of conscience. Hence the right of private judgment does not, as some fancy, release a man from moral obligation, or lessen the authority of the Bible, or place him as a judge over the things of the Spirit, or give him power to substitute his own thoughts and vagaries in place of what is written. It increases, instead of diminishing, our responsibility, by placing us under greater obligations to pursue the truth in the way God Himself has indicated. Those who are to “try the spirits whether they be of God,” who “need not that any man teach you,” are those who have “searched the Scriptures,” acknowledging its claims and bowing their judgments to its divine superiority. God appeals to every man to come personally to His Revelation, to read, study, and meditate upon it, and this appeal is based on its sacred origin, its adaptedness to the condition of all, the possibility of its superhuman element being appreciated by all, and that its truth can be found by all, and will commend itself to every one.[*]
Note. It is important to notice this, since efforts are made in various directions to exalt conscience above Scripture. Two illustrations, out of a multitude, are here presented. The Spiritualists in Convention (Boston, May, 1864) adopted the following: “Resolved, That individual conscience, under the quickening and illumining influences of angel intelligence, is the only reliable guide of faith and life.” It is significant that this resolution followed another commending “the works of Colenso, Renan, and other theological agitators.” This specimen only proves the correctness of Scripture, that the conscience of men is not so all-powerful but that it can be made subservient to passion, self-interest, and abuse; that its corrective and restraining power can be materially lessened by turning away from the truth, refusing to allow its moral influence to be exerted, and desiring the substitution of things not demanding so high a standard of self-denial, morality, and piety. The Bible assures us what experience corroborates, that conscience cannot only be overridden but become so seared that it will no longer respond to the truth as originally designed (1 Tim. 4:1, 2; Tit. 1:5). The conscience, even of a believer, if not properly exercised may prove to be a “weak” one, 1 Cor. 8:12, and 10:28, 29. Leckey (His. Rationalism, p. 181), speaking of “Protestant Rationalism,” says: “Its central conception is the elevation of conscience into a position of supreme authority as the religious organ, a verifying faculty discriminating between truth and error.” We are not told, however, how this holds good in the conscience of a Hindoo, Mohammedan, Roman Catholic, Protestant, etc., which receives error instead of truth; or how it happens that a Rationalistic conscience diverges so widely in ideality, materialism, spiritualism, nihilism, etc.; or how even any unbelieving conscience is not united in the view what constitutes the “supreme authority,” etc. If there were some semblance of unity, and an array of facts, to substantiate such an opinion, then it might deserve consideration, but finding the guidance of conscience leading to the utmost diversity in the Rationalistic ranks, it may be dismissed with the single remark: that whilst conscience has, as the Bible teaches, a discriminating power, yet this may be perverted and abused until man possesses “an evil conscience.” Conscience is appealed to (Rom. 1 and 2) in the Scriptures as something needing aid (Rom. 9:1 and 14:15), as developed by the truth (John 18:37; Heb. 9:14), and, therefore, is only presented to us as that faculty, or arrangement of our mental and moral constitution, which intuitively responds to revelation when brought into contact with it, but which can be repressed or overcome by the will, passion, self-interest, etc. In the nature of the case, it only becomes a witness of the truth and not its judge, thus corroborating the fact that both Creation and Revelation proceed from the same God. We reproduce two admirable statements: Dr. Schenkel (quoted by Frothingham in The Soul of Protestantism) says: “The contents of religion are in God Himself; and since man is conscious of God only as God reveals Himself, for man the contents of religion are in the written revelation. Most gloriously and completely has God manifested Himself in the person of Christ; and the Holy Scriptures give the history of that manifestation. The Holy Scripture, as the word or revelation of God, contains the divine substance. Conscience is free; but true freedom consists in obedience to the truth. Caprice is no freedom. That only is genuinely free which is bound to God. Hence the Protestant position, while appealing to conscience, at the same time insists that conscience is bound to God’s Word, and can attain outside of that to nothing. It is therefore the special characteristic of Protestantism to be the religion of the Bible.” Thus this liberal theologian endorses what Chillingworth (The Relig. of Protestantism) said long ago: “The Bible, I say, the Bible only is the religion of Protestants. Whatsoever else they believe beside it and the plain, irrefragable, indubitable consequences of it, well may they hold it as matter of opinion. I, for my part, after a long and, as I readily believe and hope, impartial search of the true way to eternal happiness, do profess plainly that I cannot find any true test for the sole of my foot but upon this rock only. Propose me anything out of this book, and require whether I believe it or no, and seem it never so incomprehensible to human reason, I will subscribe to it with hand and heart, as knowing that no demonstration can be stronger than this: God hath said so, and therefore it must be true. In other things I will take no man’s liberty of judgment from him, neither shall any man take mine from me. I will think no man the worse man, nor the worse Christian. I will love no man the less for differing in opinion from me. I am fully assured that God does not, and that, therefore, men ought not to require any more of any man than this: to believe that the Scriptures are God’s Word, to endeavor to find the true sense of it, and to live according to it.”
Obs. 8. The exaltation of reason to the supreme authority is characteristic of numerous works. Eulogies on the excellence of reason as the sole and final arbiter abound; and such might be deserving, and reason be elevated above Revelation, provided it had, apart from the Scriptures, given to us that which alone can satisfy the moral and religious sense of man, viz.: a religion equal in merit to that contained in the Bible, or one better adapted to the wants and necessities of humanity. If such persons as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, and a host of others, could have produced a more noble portrayal of the nature and attributes of God, a more perfect character than Christ, and a more glorious salvation than that presented in the Word, then there might be some force and propriety in urging the claims of reason to its arrogated position. Until this is done, it is the wisest course to receive the manifest superiority of the Bible over all mere human productions; a superiority attested not only by a multiplicity of fact and experience (Comp. Prop. 182), but by comparative ignorant and unlettered men giving us a complete Plan of Redemption, which, while constantly dealing with the loftiest subjects that can be entertained by mind, preserves an unbroken unity amid detail. In the study of Scripture and in its reception it is well to keep in mind what Oosterzee (Ch. Dog., vol. p. 159), after Pascal, says: “Two extremes must be avoided; the exclusion of reason, and the admission of nothing but reason.”[*]
Note. Some additional remarks are proper, seeing that so much is said respecting the superiority of Reason. The Bible constantly appeals to man’s reason; Revelation is made to Reason, and is designed to be apprehended by it. Not a step can be taken without its aid, and therefore it is folly to ignore its importance and value. But whilst acknowledging the same, it is foolishness to elevate it into an infallible guide and director, yea into a Judge of Scripture itself. (1) Reason is imperfect, needing culture, training, discipline, constant exercise, etc.; it is subject to growth, retrogression, variations, etc.; it is limited in its ability to fathom things, much being utterly unknown to it. Hence the impropriety of making it a supreme tribunal. Let any one take a glance at the different and successive forms of Philosophy that Reason has constructed, and these features of imperfection, variation, inability, are painfully exhibited. The boasted rule of Reason is manifested in a bewildering diversity, scarcely two of them agreeing in the fundamentals. The ruins of the past, and the numerous claimants for the present afford us the best answer to such a claim. (2) The Bible represents Reason as swayed and controlled by wicked impulses, as yielding to the influence of passion, self-interest, and evil, and as needing correction and wholesome restraint. Experience, sad and boundless, corroborates this statement. Men of the highest intellect, whose works are the admiration of the world, have been the slaves of degrading vice, and have prostituted their minds to represent it in attractive forms. Reason subject to the degrading authority of passion; which even has undertaken in an alluring manner to prove that there is no distinction between vice and virtue, which has overriden conscience and the nobler feelings of man in its efforts to secure the ascendency of unbelief—is no infallible standard. (3) The Bible again represents Reason as needing Revelation. Holy Writ is based upon this necessity. Many facts indicate this truth. Thus, e.g., outside of the Scriptures what light has Reason thrown into the dark grave, the nature and attributes of God, the deliverance of man and creation from an all-pervading and constantly experienced evil, etc. How these problems are met—problems pertaining to God, man, and the world—let the discordant and antagonistic theories, from materialism through Pantheism, Idealism, etc., down to the baldest Nihilism, testify. When the greatest philosophers are contradictory and cannot agree, when one system after another follows, surely there is need of help. When the most gifted minds are utterly unable to fathom the things of Nature, how a grain of sand is held together, why crystallizing is invariable, how instinct is perpetuated, how mind and body mutually affect each other, with a multitude of questions unanswered, or if answered only under some glittering generality, surely in the higher region of morals and religion, it is most reasonable to anticipate, just as we find it, less ability to explain, less power to penetrate the deep things relating to God and man. (4) The Bible represents Reason as often unreliable, even in believers, unless controlled by the higher Reason pervading Revelation. That is, when left to itself, it may lead us to error and folly. Unbelievers themselves point out this peculiarity, so unhappily displayed in too many instances in the church, forgetting that the Bible expressly warns us that such exhibitions of weakness in reason are to be expected. But, if this is so with believers, how does it stand with unbelievers? Let the multitude of philosophers reply; let the multiplicity of systems of error testify. The truthfulness of God’s Word is abundantly confirmed both in the church and outside of it. (5) The Bible cautions us against the pride of Reason, its self-exaltation, and urges us to humility. How this has been exemplified, both in the church and out of it, forms one of the most humiliating features of imperfect humanity. Overbearance, intolerance, abuse of opponents, lack of charity, and even persecution, have been some of its fruits. It has never lacked in bold presumption. (6) The Bible assures us that if Revelation is received as God has designed, Reason itself will most fully acquiesce in its superiority. The declaration of the Saviour, “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine,” has been tested by such a host of gifted minds, that it is unnecessary to press the matter. In the case of apostates, etc., 1 John 2:4, is verified, whilst all others have not even entertained the essential preliminaries to a proper apprehension of Scripture. (7) Reason, with its loftiest efforts, can only give us the Possible, the Probable; and this is unsatisfactory to man because it presents no Plan of Deliverance adapted to the common and universal wants of humanity, it develops no practical relief; Revelation bestows the Real, and this is manifested both in its perfect adaptability to man’s necessities and in the blessed earnests of experience. The former only finds its corroboration—if truth—in the latter. (8) God warns us that as we shall approach the ending of this dispensation, Reason shall so pervert a due veneration and knowledge of God, shall so array itself against the Revealed Will, that it shall succeed in mustering the nations and kings of the earth against the Truth. Hence the efforts to exalt reason, the advance that such a theory has made in practically alienating a multitude from the Scriptures, is only in the line of previously given prediction. It is something to be expected, and therefore its extensive existence should give us the stronger faith in Scripture, which so accurately foretells it. (9) Reason ought not to complain if there are things beyond its comprehension, things impossible for it to explain, in the Word, for this is precisely what ought to be anticipated in a Supernatural Revelation. Besides this, it does not reject Nature because of its inability to apprehend it fully. Its proper attitude, therefore, is that of a learner, receiving truth from all sources, even if unable to understand “how and wherefore” such and such things exist, take place, etc. (10) The acknowledgments of men of Reason indicate its utter unfitness to be the final and supreme arbiter. Passing by the desponding, hopeless, despairing admissions by those sunken to Nihilism, it is sufficient to select a single example, illustrative of many others. Thus e.g. Hume (quoted by Christlieb, Mod. Doubt., p. 127) pointedly and significantly says: “The ultimate fruit of all philosophy is the observation of human ignorance and weakness.* On the other hand, men of undoubted mental power, distinguished for the use of reason subservient to religion (as Bacon, etc.), have informed us that the portions of philosophy really valuable are those which recognize and enforce truths already given to us in Revelation. (11) Finally, Reason has never succeeded in improving the lessons inculcated by Scripture. It can suggest no virtue, no duty, no obligations, nothing promotive of individual, social, and national happiness, nothing essential to the welfare of man, that is not already presented and enforced by the most powerful of motives in God’s Word.
Dr. Crosby (On Preaching, before the Pan-Presbyterian Council, 1877) correctly affirms that “men’s affections, not their intellects, are the hindrances to God’s truth, and accordingly if the contest can be brought into the intellectual field, and so relieve the heart from the pressure of spiritual truth, men are satisfied.” The Bible, as he forcibly urges, appeals to the heart, to our moral nature, more than it does to reason, without, however, discarding the latter. It has often been noticed that men in error, both in doctrine and practice, love controversy—something that may engage reason and stifle the demands of the heart. Such are inclined to eulogize “Practical Reason,” “Moral Reason,” and “The Transcendent Sphere of Reason.” An insidious and half-true method—eloquently expressed (as e.g. by Coleridge in “Confessions of an Enquiring Spirit”)—is to allow a partial inspiration to the Scriptures and a high degree of ordinary grace to the rest, so that they rather present themselves as the supply of the deepest wants of man than as an authoritative and infallible standard. But how the soul can rest upon a supply, lacking those essentials, we are not informed. Comp. the necessity of reason, etc., as given by Row in the Bampton Lects. 1877, “Ch. Evidences,” p. 19, etc.; Butler’s Analogy, P. II., ch. 3, etc.
Obs. 9. In this study of Scripture, reason and faith must be joined together in order to make it effective. The two cannot be separated without serious injury; this is God’s own arrangement, and, to insure success, it must be followed. They are inseparable, for there can be no faith without reason first perceiving the truth and its adaptability to man, so that faith may then appropriate it. Reason may refuse faith, can exist without it, but faith cannot live without reason. Christlieb, in view of this intimate and mutual relationship, well says that faith is “the highest form of reason,” seeing that it establishes and confirms reason by giving us a more certain knowledge of the supernatural in its appropriating effects of the truth upon ourselves. One part of faith sees the truth, the other, the crowning part which constitutes it faith, accepts and applies it, thus giving a practical, and not a mere theoretical knowledge of the same. The head and the heart are combined in this work, thus affording a realizing, abiding acquaintance with the truth. Faith must have knowledge, for we must first know the things that we are to believe, and hence it is also represented as “seeing” (John 6:40, Heb. 11:27). Cremer (Bremen Lectures, Lec. 2) remarks: “All faith rests upon knowledge, and when it is not produced by deduction or logical demonstration, it must ground itself upon spiritual perception and contact. Knowledge and faith are distinguished from each other like cognition and recognition; so faith is an exercise of obedience, of recognition, and hence of trust, of surrender,” etc. Evangelical faith includes more than mere knowledge, viz.: the hearty self-appropriation of such knowledge, leading necessarily, as the truth received demands it, to an obedience of the same. Such faith is sustained by three things: (1) by the sense of truth, i.e. by reason, the ability to discern and know it; (2) by the sense of right, i.e. by conscience, the power of testifying to the truth and enjoining responsibility of its acceptance; (3) and by the practical experience wrought by faith, i.e. in the agreement of faith with our mental and moral constitution and the results that it produces.[*]
Note. Faith is indeed “the gift of God,” Christ is “the author of faith,” the Spirit produces faith, etc., but only in the higher Evangelical, Biblical sense in those who voluntarily receive the truth as given by the Father, Son, and Spirit. No man is forced into faith, as appears from the Scriptures being designed for faith (John 20:31), the ministry being a means of faith (Rom. 10:14–17), the Gospel itself being called faith (Gal. 1:23), the promises given to faith (John 5:24), and the want of faith is reproved (Mark 16:14), warned against (Heb. 3:12), threatened (John 3:18, 36), and described as voluntary (John 5:44, 46, 47). Enlightened by the truth as given by the Father in His Son and through the Spirit, that faith, which God commends and that rejoices the heart, is possible; without accepting the aid thus tendered, it cannot be produced. Hence no man, unless he has experienced the power of this faith, is able to judge correctly of its merits and its true relationship to knowledge. To make man passive in the reception of faith, is to ignore the Scriptures to the contrary and also experience; to make man himself the chief and sole instrumentality in believing, is to overlook the truth given to excite and sustain it; to make faith the barrier to knowledge, is to forget that faith’s foundation is the knowledge of the truth; and to make faith fatal to progress, is to trample under foot the declarations of Holy Writ and the realization of believers that faith only opens the way to increased knowledge. Indeed, it is a matter of doubt whether in any of the spheres and pursuits of life there can be knowledge without the addition of some faith, and whether any great achievement can be accomplished without suitable faith. Zöckler (Bremen Lectures, Sec. 1, p. 16) refers in such a connection to the faith of Columbus, Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, etc., and remarks: “True faith and actual knowledge, so far from being contradictory, always demand and supplement each other. For faith, as the immediate apprehension of the truth by the divinely illuminated reason, is related to knowledge, regarded as the acquired apprehension of the same truth by the reason struggling toward such knowledge, as the necessary condition, the starting point and support of all its operations. All faith is undeveloped knowledge, and all knowledge is faith unfolded and applied to the different realms of reason and experience.” All Evangelical writers, however they may differ in details, unite in the common opinion that faith is not to be separated from knowledge, seeing that the Bible, in unison with experience, includes in believing a previous knowledge of certain facts, as e.g. the Coming of Christ, His work of grace in man’s behalf, etc. They also unite in the view that the certainty of this knowledge, derived from reason, is made evident by faith in its vital force of acceptance, because through the latter we experience its actuality in the effects—as promised—produced upon us personally. Thus, to illustrate: a medicine is presented to us in whose nature and efficacy we may believe on the testimony of others; here is knowledge and faith in its lowest form. But let this medicine be taken, and its efficacy be established by personal use, then previous knowledge and faith of a theoretical cast gives place to a practical knowledge and faith, derived from personal acceptance and experience, that elevates the former into real facts connected with our own personality, which, like existence, thinking, feeling, etc., it is impossible any longer to doubt. This is the secret of the believer’s strength, so that all the arguments of unbelief can never shake the simple faith of the unlearned but sincere Christian. He knows, and he believes, the attestation of self-consciousness.
Undoubtedly, taking Scripture as a guide, unbelief itself will finally accept of this union of reason or knowledge and faith. The controversy thus far has clearly established this fact. Delitzsch, Fabri, Christlieb, and many others have shown that (as Fabri states it, quoted by Christlieb in Mod. Doubt), “As its ultimate basis, even the most radical unbelief has one and the same principle of knowledge with Christianity and every other positive religion—the principle of belief in given matter of fact, on the ground of the original and direct testimony of the human mind.” Unbelief, however much it may decry faith, lives largely upon it, calls loudly for others to exercise it, and denounces those who refuse to entertain it. Unbelief has sufficient intelligence to perceive that, while demanding faith, it is utterly inconsistent to run a crusade against faith on the grounds heretofore alleged. The result will be a change. Knowing that faith influences the masses, that it is the most potent of powers, it will, as the Bible predicts, so shape its future course that a connection will be allowed to exist between Revelation and Reason, between Faith and Reason, as evidenced in the coming worship of Antichrist—the worship of Deified Man. For this worship of the last times, we are assured, is to rely largely upon pretended revelations and lying wonders to aid Reason and inspire Faith. Denying the faith and reason that God requires, their punishment will come through their own deluded, self-exalted reason and faith.
Finally, all Christians, too, are agreed that faith in its appropriating form, is such a trust in God, that it receives His Word and relies upon it, bringing under subjection free will, so that it chooses the moral, the religious, the obedience required in preference to pleasure, sin, and selfishness. To attain such faith demands self-abnegation, and this is the stone of stumbling to multitudes. Hence faith is not the power of choice, though it leads to it; faith is not conscience, though it quickens it; faith is not reason, though it is led by it; faith is not the mere knowledge of the truth, though it receives; faith is not goodness, though provocative of it;—it is that act which brings reason, the will, conscience, knowledge, goodness, all into humble submission to the Infinite, and relies upon the provision made by God for man. It is appropriating trust. Such faith brings forth its own evidences of the Divine Truth, in its sustaining reason (where it only finds mysteries), in satisfying the moral nature of man (e.g. the dictates of conscience), in bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit (i.e. in experiencing the sanctifying nature of the truth received), in its adaptability to all his circumstances (in strengthening, comforting, etc.), in transmuting evil into good (making it disciplinary, provocative of good to others, etc.), and in quickening the whole man into newness of life (implanting supreme love to God and love to man). It is a powerful instrumentality; it is transforming, corrective, and elevating. It is the purest and strongest where it is joined to the least error; but even with error it is all powerful when based on the essentials of Christianity. The Bible takes it for granted that strong faith—faith testifying in the most satisfactory manner to self-consciousness—may be allied with a lack of knowledge respecting things not absolutely necessary to salvation. A few simple truths respecting God, the Redeemer, the relation that man sustains to God and his fellow-men, the moral obligation and responsibility of man—truths to which the moral nature of man is respondent—are all sufficient to create this faith. It is a faith that all the learning in the world cannot alone produce, seeing that its vital power lies not in the head, but in the heart. It is a faith common to the intelligent and the illiterate, and cannot be circumscribed or produced through mere knowledge. Therefore it is that unbelief and bigotry so gravely misjudge the weakness, error, etc., of believers—just as if faith was dependent upon uniformity in all things, thus totally mistaking its foundation and intent. Faith indeed increases by knowledge, knowledge derived from the Word and experience, but only as truth is appropriated and obeyed. This feature of obedience to the truth known, the evidence of appropriating faith, often, often gives the unlearned man a power and charm that the greatest philosopher, neglecting it, cannot attain. Alas! that men so persistently overlook this plain fact.
Attention has already been called (Prop. 9) to the misapprehension that faith is not connected with doctrine, that as M. Colani (in the Prot. Synod of France, 1872) said: “You place Christianity in certain beliefs; we place it in the heart.” The Bible, the experience of Christians, unite the two; the denial of one or the other leads to an extreme, for the simplest act of Christianity, as, e.g., prayer, cannot be performed without some distinctive belief in doctrine—the doctrine respecting God and the power of Christ. It is true that faith itself may be hampered by the excesses of Confessional zeal and dogma, curtailing access to God’s truth or veiling it by tradition, but this is not the fault of doctrine per se, but of doctrine imperfectly or erroneously presented. Hence the importance of presenting doctrine, in a Confessional standard, as much as possible in Scripture language, and of making even such subordinate to Scripture. One reason for the persistent attack against doctrine, is owing to its vital connection with Christianity, with enlightened faith; for as Kurtz (Ch. His., vol. 2, p. 130) has well remarked: “The Doctrine of the Gospel is the life blood of the Church, the pulsations of which throb through her entire organization.” How faith is wrought by the Spirit through the truth given by Him, has been sufficiently noticed under Prop. 9. Faith being largely a heart work, it is impossible for the sensual, haughty, self-confident, worldly man to exercise it, because it demands as its concomitant, in order to receive the things revealed by the Spirit, obedience, which pride, love for sin, etc., rejects. Even an Aristotle appreciated the relation existing between the indulgence of evil and the rejection of truth, when he says (quoted by Bloomfield, see Barnes, 1 Cor. 2:14): “For wickedness perverts the judgment, and makes men err with respect to practical principles; so that no one can be wise and judicious who is not good.”
A few words may be added respecting the charge that faith—Evang. faith—is destructive to Science. We are unjustly charged by Scientists and others with disparaging learning and philosophy under the Scriptural phrases “the wisdom of this world,” “oppositions of Science falsely so called,” “to the Greeks foolishness,” etc., just as if reason was not to be employed (when constantly appealed to in Scripture), as if true science (implied by “falsely so called”) could not exist, and as if true philosophy (by which we understand the love for, and search after, wisdom) was not commended by God. This charge is so sweeping that it defeats itself; for, however individual men or organizations may have acted in this matter under bigotry and mistaken zeal, neither Revelation, nor a believer who receives all that God enjoins, is responsible for the same. The learning, worldly wisdom, and Science that the Bible condemns, is only that perverted form that caters to depravity, making men despisers of virtue and holiness, and leading them to deny their obligations and responsibility to God. Simple consistency requires of us that, the moment we accept of the Word of God as a divine Revelation Holy Writ be allowed a precedency (accorded by reason and faith) without interfering with or destroying the existence and relationship of truth wherever elsewhere found. This precedency, indeed, leads to caution, to comparison, and to the rejection of positive error, but it does not depreciate learning, scientific knowledge, etc., as evidenced in believers having been among the most learned, wise, and scientific. It is not too much to say, that the foundation of this objection lies in the estimate formed of the relative value of Revealed Truth and Scientific Truth. Believers, of course, finding the former dealing with the higher interests of man (his moral, religious, and eternal), place it highest in the scale of truth; the unbeliever, rejecting the former, elevates nature or the facts of humanity in that scale. Some Scientists, having no such preponderating plea as the believers, despise learning and philosophy (e.g., Art. “Nat. Religion,” Macmillan’s Mag., 1875, repub. Pop. Science Monthly May, 1875) outside of their peculiar sphere of study. Scientists have too often been as bigoted and one-sided as overzealous believers. The truth is, that both parties, belief and unbelief, are opposed to that form and manifestation of learning and philosophy which is hostile and antagonistic to their respective views; and the correctness of such opposition is to be determined by the nature of the things believed. Hence the relative value of Revelation and of mere Science must first be determined before the question is decided one way or the other. The fact also that some truth is essential and other truth non-essential to personal happiness and salvation, ought to be considered in such a discussion. This does not discourage investigations in all domains of truth, but welcomes them with the hope and faith, inspired by Revelation, that all truth, higher or lower, essential or non-essential, will in the end be found in fraternal relationship—supplementing each other.
[Note. The student who desires to read on this subject is referred to Christlieb’s “Modern Doubt,” Birk’s “Bible and Mod. Thought,” Ulrici’s “God and Nature,” Rogers’ “Reason and Faith,” Candlish’s “Reason and Revelation,” etc.Dr. McCosh, Delitzsch, Fabri, and many other writers present the most valuable thoughts on these points, extending and ably defending what nearly every work on the Evidences of Christianity also notices. The reader will pardon such digression in view of their practical, fundamental importance. The fine statement of faith and reason, p. 463, etc., Debt and Grace, by Hudson, ought not to be overlooked.]