« PreviousContinue »
churches. Far less is it the pillar and fupport of the truth, by virtue of any infallibility which its bishops poffefs, as Peter's succeflors in the bishoprick of Rome. The honour of supporting the truth, as shall be thewed immediately, belongs to no particular church whatever, but to the Catholic church, consisting of all the churches of God which have existed from the beginning, and which are to exist to the end of the world.-Farther, it appears that the bishops of Rome, have no just title to supreme authority over all the churches of Christ, as fucceffors to the apostle Peter ; because there is no certain evidence that he preceded them in the bishoprick of Rome.-To conclude, the claim of the bishops of Rome to infallibility and supreme authority in the Catholic church, which they have founded on a fact fo deftitute of evidence as Peter's having been the bishop of Rome during 25 years, ought to be strenuously refifted by the whole Christian world, as subversive of the liberty wherewith Christ hath made mankind free in all religious matters.
. II. The futility of the claim of the church of Rome to be the pillar and support of the truth, will appear ftill more clearly, if we consider what the truth is, of which the church of the living God is the pillar and support.
The truth which is supported by the church of the living God, as by a pillar placed on a firm foundation, is not any particular system of doctrine expressed in words of human invention, such as the symbols of faith, which, both in ancient and modern times, have been composed by convocations of the clergy, assembled in councils, whether general or particular, under the patronage of the civil powers. But the truth which is supported by the church of the living God, is that scheme of true religion, consisting of the doctrines, precepts, and promises, which God hath made known to mankind by revelation; and which having been configned to writing by the apostles and prophets, to whom it was revealed by the Spirit, their gospels and epistles contain the truth, expressed in that form of found words, which the apostle Paul commanded Timothy to hold fast, 2 Tim. i. 13.
· Agreeably to this account of the truth, the gospel revelation is called the truth in the following paffages of scripture, Gal. ill. I. 1.7. Ephes. i. 13. 2 Thess. ii. 10. 12. 1 Tim. ii. 4. vi. 5. 2 Tim, ii. 15. 18. Tit. i. I. and elsewhere.---The inspired writers having so often called the gospel revelation, The truth; it can hardly be doubted, that when the apostle Paul, in his first epistle to Timothy, gave to the church of the living God, the honourable appellation of the pillar and support of the truth, he meant to tell him, that the Catholic church, by preserving in their original integrity the inspired writings of the evangelists and apostles, and of Moses and the prophets, which contain the revelations of God from first to last, have supported, or preserved, the truth in the world. For all the revelations of God to mankind, being exhibited in an infallible manner, in these writings preserved by the church, if any errors, either in faith or practice, are attempted to be introduced by false teachers, or by men covetous of power, or of riches, they may be detected and refuted, not by appealing to the decrees of councils, and to the creeds of particular churches, but to the divinely inspired scriptures, fairly interpreted according to the plain unconstrained meaning of the passages which relate to these subjects, taken in connection with the context where they are found. different and distant parts of the world. These added to the former, have considerably increased the number of the ancient copies of the scriptures : So that the learned of this and the preceding ages, have had an opportunity of examining and comparing many very ancient copies, both of the whole New Testa, ment, and of particular parts thereof. Accordingly these learned men have, with incredible labour, faithfully collected all the various readings of the copies which they collated, and have found, that although in number these readings amount to many thousands, the greatest part of them make no material alteration in the sense of the paffages where they are found. And with respect to those which alter the sense of particular passages, the same learned men, by that critical skill for which they were famed, have been able in most instances, with a good degree of certainty, to fix upon the genuine readings of all the doubtful passages.
Thus it appears, that the universal church of the living God, by preserving the scriptures, in their original integrity, in which the whole revelations of God are contained, hath not only secured the truth of revelation itself from being shaken by the attempts of infidels to overthrow it, but hath prevented its doctrines, precepts, and promises, from being corrupted by false teachers and worldly men, who endeavour to make gain of godliness. \ Moreover, by handing down the scriptures from age to age, in their genuine purity, the Catholic church hath prevented the revelations of God from being loft. And by so doing, the church of the living God hath actually become the pillar and support of the truth, because if the scriptures had either been corrupted or loft, the revelations of God, which are the truth, would have been corrupted or lost together with them.
III. It remains to Thew in what way, the divinely inspired scriptures, which contain the gospel revelation which is the truth, have been preserved in their original integrity, by the church of the living God.
Some of the writings of the New Testament were inscribed and sent to particular churches; such as Paul's epistles to the Thessalonians, the Corinthians, the Romans, the Ephefians, and VOL. IV.
Every one, however, must be sensible, that if the scriptures had come down to us, only in the copies preserved in any one church of the living God, and we had been restrained from consulting the copies preserved elsewhere, as we must have been if the scriptures had been entrusted to a particular church, the errors unavoidably occasioned by the carelessness of transcribers, and by other causes, could not in many instances have been corrected, unless by the uncertain conjectures of critics, which, in writings divinely inspired, would have been of no authority. Whereas, by consulting copies of the scriptures found in different and distant parts of the world, the faulty readings of one copy have been happily corrected by the concurring better readings of other copies, confirmed by the readings preserved in the ancient translations of the scriptures still remaining: So that we have the text of the gospels and epistles, as it was originally written by their inspired authors, or nearly so.— The world, therefore, being indebted for the preservation of the scriptures, not to any one church of the living God, but to the whole community of the churches of Christ, each having contributed its share, by the copies which it hath preserved. The universal church, and not any particular church, is the church of the living God, which, by preserving the scriptures, hath beeome in very deed the pillar and Support of the truth. See 1 Tim. vi. 29, note 1.