« EdellinenJatka »
is, or may be drawn out of that fountain and well of truth.'--And a Homily thus exhorts us ; ' Let us diligently search for the well of life, in the books of the New and Old Testament, and not ‘run to the stinking puddles of men's traditions,
devised by men's imagination, for our justifica‘tion and salvation.'1 The concluding words of this quotation refer to the pernicious traditions of the papists : but what was at length called popery began very early to work in the Christian church; and very many traces of it may be discerned in the quotations adduced in a chapter of the Refutation which occupies 224 pages. Our appeal is therefore“ to the law and to the testimony;” “ the “ law of the Lord, which is perfect, converting “ the soul; and the testimony of the Lord, which “ is sure, making wise the simple.”3 The decisions of our Church are authority to the whole body of the clergy, without exception; and the evangelical clergy are more disposed to appeal to it, than from it. But other human authority we peremptorily disclaim. We do not indeed put even the authority of our church on the same footing as that of the sacred scriptures. So long as we voluntarily officiate as ministers of the establishment, we are amenable to its tribunal; yet our responsibility would cease by our receding from it: but the authority of scripture must remain, and our responsibility for our conduct, as men and ministers, continue the same through life, notwithstanding any change in our situation
Homily on the Holy Scriptures.
Holy Scriptures. .? Ref. Chap. v. ; : Ps. xix. 7, 8. Isai. viii. 20.
or sentiments. The authority of the church is vested in its rulers, and enforced only by temporal sanctions : except as, by continuing to act as her ministers, while men disbelieve her doctrine, and disapprove her worship, they become chargeable with gross hypocrisy, in the sight of God: and, if they do it for the sake of emolument or distinction, they are guilty of base venality, and a corrupt ambition ; for which also they are responsible to God. But the authority of the scriptures is the authority of God : to him we are responsible for our refusal to submit to it; and the sanctions are spiritual and eternal.
The ancient fathers of the Christian church may be read with benefit in various ways; their persons ought, in general, to be venerated; even their supposed mistakes are entitled to our candour ; but they have no authority over our creed, any more than we have over the creed of our remote posterity. We are, therefore, in the chapter referred to, cited before a tribunal, the authority of which we altogether disclaim : we are to be tried by a jury, every individual of which we challenge, and against whom we can bring most valid exceptions. So little agreement in sentiment is found among these fathers, that it would be a very easy task to bring together a long catalogue of their mutual discordances : and so inaccurate were they, as to historical facts, that it would be equally easy to make a long list of their most undeniable mistakes. Their comments upon the scripture were often such as would be almost universally rejected, nay despised, in these days. They were uninspired men, and fallible as others are : few of them had
enjoyed the benefit of a religious education, or been trained up in any learning which did not rather disqualify than prepare them for theological studies. Copies of the scriptures were not then multiplied as they now are : few of the fathers were capable of studying the original of the Old Testament; and some were unacquainted with that of the New. What those who perhaps had conversed with the apostles, or who lived soon after, learned from this source, more than we have in the scriptures, (if they indeed learned any thing of this kind,) must have been preserved by recollection, and communicated by tradition; neither of which is greatly to be depended on, in respect of controverted points of theology. Criticism, especially biblical criticism, and the skill and habit of exactly weighing the true import of every expression, and the grammatical meaning of every sentence, and deducing conclusions from it, by logical rules, were comparatively little known among them : so that (except' as they learned any thing from the uncertain source of tradition, or unless they were divinely inspired,) they had fewer helps, by far, for understanding the scriptures than moderns have ; to whom the multiplication of books by printing, and the ease and readiness, with which any man communicates his sentiments to great numbers, and with which they may be examined, confirmed, or refuted, are to the sincere inquirer after truth inestimable advantages, to which the fathers were totally strangers. Most of them had been brought up in heathen notions, or had imbibed the principles of the philosophers; of which they retained a considerable proportion after their conversion ; and
with which some of them exceedingly corrupted Christianity. They did not observe the apostle's caution : “ Let no man spoil you through philoso“phy and vain deceit, after the traditions of men, “ after the rudiments of the world, and not after “ Christ.”] They were in general men of great earnestness and piety : some of them had much learning of various kinds, (for that time,) and brilliant talents : but few of them possessed that stock of theological knowledge, and that quick and accurate judgment on disputable points, by which the least shade of difference is promptly and exactly perceived; and by which men, through exercise and habit, “ discern good and evil,” “ as the “ ear distinguishes sounds, and the mouth tastes “ meats.”
Indeed it seems highly probable, that the Lord, foreknowing how prone men in subsequent times would be unduly to venerate the uninspired writers of the primitive church, and to make them even the rivals of his holy oracles, and a kind of authoritative expositors of them ; was pleased to counteract this tendency, by permitting it so to come to pass, that we no sooner leave the apostolical writings to open the books of these ancient fathers, than we seem, as it were, at once to have got into another climate ; and the inferiority of their productions strikes our minds, in proportion as we enter into the spirit and views of the divine word, and relish and delight in it. Thus, in like manner, while the scripture contains the best writing almost of every kind which can be found in ancient or
'Col. ii. 8.
modern books, and nearly all of it the work of Israelites, it is remarkable, that this same nation cannot be said to have produced one good writer, besides the penmen of the scriptures. Even Josephus is not entitled to this character: but the value of his information, in some parts of his writings, makes us overlook the defects of his composition. There are indeed detached passages, even in the apocryphal books, that are well written ; some of which are evidently borrowed from scripture: but not one book is free from puerilities, tautologies, ambiguities, and obscurities, and other things inconsistent with good writing. So that the transition from the scrip
ture, even to the least exceptionable parts of the · apocrypha, is similar to that before mentioned, from the ardent (yet argumentative,) and persuasive language of St. Paul, or the affectionate simplicity of St. John, both full of Christ, of his love, his salvation and his example, to that of the fathers.
The difficulty also of distinguishing the genuine writings of the fathers from the works falsely ascribed to them, and from the interpolations which have been made in them, is allowed even by the most zealous assertors of their claim to our almost implicit credence. If then we would know what primitive Christianity was, we must go to earlier times than even those of the most ancient fathers of the Christian church; even to the times of the apostles, and the writings contained in the New Testament.--I would, however, in no wise be understood to allow, that the aggregate testimony of the ancient fathers of the Christian church