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tributed to the church, as if the canon of Scripture was not ascertained till a council, by its infallible decree, determined the number of the sacred books. To this judgment of the church, however, the greatest weight is to be attached, on account of the manifest fidelity, diligence, erudition, and acumen of its teachers; especially on account of their might in the Scriptures, and the judgment exercised in regard to them; on account of the authority of those who were the disciples, either of the apostles or of apostolical men; and, in a word, on account of, what is most important of all, the valid arguments that should be carefully examined by every Christian, as far as he is qualified to do so, by which this sacred critic establishes its decision.
The church is to us a faithful Annunciator of the Divine Word,* which, by means of its pastors and teachers, promulgates and disseminates it throughout the whole world; causes it to be written, printed, read, inculcated; frequently calls together Christians to hear it, and with this view appoints public assemblies, and takes the direction of them. It is our duty diligently to listen to this preacher, to attend when it summons us, not to neglect its sacred assemblies, and to observe the order which it hath appointed for this end. We nevertheless affirm respecting this preacher, what Paul does not hesitate to say of himself, nay, of an angel from heaven: If even it“ preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let it be accursed." |
The church is a worthy Interpreter of Scripture, which, even from the earliest ages of Christianity, has, by the labour of many learned and pious men, not only translated it into the vernacular language of individuals, but also explained it by various commentaries; so that now, by the help of this interpreter, we may be daily advancing in an acquaintance with it. It is our duty to acknowledge with gratitude what has been done by the church—to consult diligently and to reverence the interpretations of its celebrated teachers to beware of preferring our own views to the harmonious judgment of so many and so great men—and never to depart from the settled interpretations of the church from self-conceit or the desire of innovation. The exposition of the church, however, is not to be received with a blind assent; on the contrary, we may “search the Scriptures" ourselves; but we must labour to have a conscientious conviction respecting their true meaning, for, if we do not possess this, the faith which we give to the church is • Matt. xxviii. 19. † Gal. i. 8. Rom. xii. 6. $ John v. 39.
human, not divine; nor can we, as long as we trust entirely to others for our knowledge of what the Shepherd has said, be regarded as the sheep of Christ, who themselves listen to the voice of their Shepherd. Now, in employing in this matter the judgment of discretion, * as it is called, we perform a duty obligatory on every Christian; and our private judgment is no more preferred to the public judgment of the church, than would his own vision be preferred to that of a thousand others by him who, when an object was pointed out to him by a thousand individuals, should not shut his eyes,
but that he also might see it.
The church is also an active Defender and most courageous Vindicator of Scripture, † which boldly contends for its authority, establishes its divinity by solid arguments, and preserves
from all false interpretation, abuse, and injurious misconstructions; and, by a severe discipline, restrains and chastises, when this is necessary, those who ridicule or despise it. It is our duty constantly to adhere to the church as the vindicator of Scripture, and under its banner vigorously to contend against the enemies of Scripture, whoever they may be; but to contend with the church for the Scriptures, not for the church against the Scriptures.
The church is, finally, an attentive Hearer of Scripture, à careful Reader of it, and an obedient Observer of its precepts. For all these things constitute the church; those who neglect them, though they may be in the church, are not of it. It is our duty cheerfully to follow the church going before us in these things—to be not only hearers of the word, but doers of it. If we do not act in this manner, this mother has a right to cast us away from her bosom, as supposititious children, and will in reality cast us away. But if she, whom we honour as our mother, seeks under this alluring appellation to deceive us, and commands us to do what our heavenly Father forbids in his word to be done, then must we act as God our Father has enjoined, “ Plead with your mother, plead; for she is not my wife, neither am I her husband : let her therefore put away her whoredoms out of her sight.”
• 1 Thess. v. 21; 1 John iv. 1.
+1 Tim. iii. 15.
Of the Testimony of Scripture itself.
We have said enough respecting the church. We come now to the second witness to the Sacred Scriptures—Scripture itself. Let us therefore consider what weight should be attached to its testimony. Now, the testimony of Scripture to its own divinity is twofold. The first direct, which the schoolmen call inartificial, when we find in Scripture passages in which it is affirmed expressly, or in amount, that Scripture, or at least some part of it, derives its origin from God-a testimony whose validity is exactly proportioned to the authority of the speaker in the mind of the reader. The second testimony of Scripture to its own divinity is less direct, seeing it is rather an artificial argument; when we are convinced that Scripture scatters from itself those rays of divinity, exhibits to the attentive reader those marks of a divine origin, from which—if he has only such discernment as he ought to possess in reference to spiritual things—he cannot but perceive that what he reads is the word of God. In this view, indeed, the Seriptures testify that they are the word of God precisely in the same way in which the heavens, as often as we look up to them, bear a similar testimony respecting themselves.* We have treated of this indirect testimony in our preceding dissertations; let us now also consider whether any, and how much, weight is to be attached to the former, which may be called its direct testimony.
There are some who attribute little or nothing to it, for they think that the argument deduced from it is a petitio principii, and that the assertions of Scripture have no validity to establish its divine authority, unless we previously admit the authority which, by these very assertions, we seek to establish. But if we investigate the matter a little more particularly, it will appear that even this testimony is by no means to be overlooked; for, as the Scriptures consist of many books which were written by different individuals, at different times and places, it may happen that we may be persuaded of the divine authority of one before we ascribe it to another. Now, when the book, whose divinity is acknowledged by us, bears testimony respecting the divine origin of the others, it secures the same authority to them. If any one—to explain what I
* Ps. xix.
mean by one or two examples—having read the history of the Evangelists, and duly considered all its circumstances, finds there such marks of truth that he cannot doubt that Christ is the Son of God, he will not, when he hears Christ so frequently bearing testimony to the inspiration of Moses and the Prophets, refuse to receive their books as divine. In like manner, if any one admits those things to be true which the sacred history records respecting the effusion of the Holy Spirit on the apostles, or the miraculous conversion of Paul, he will readily, when he reads the apostolical epistles, believe the assertion of Peter, that “ the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but
holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost;" and the assertion of Paul, that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God;" especially if he perceives in these very epistles not obscure indications of divinity. If any one is moved to regard the book of Psalms as divinely inspired, the repeated encomiums of the Law which he discovers in it will convince him that it also is divine. In like manner, the History of the Israelites establishes the divinity of the Prophets, and the Prophets that of the History; the Evangelical and Apostolic history confirms the divinity of the Apostolic Epistles, and the Epistles that of the History. Many such examples might be produced.
This testimony of the sacred books to each other is of great utility; for by this means, when a Christian has been convinced of the divinity of Scripture, he does not feel it necessary to discover proofs of divinity in every book. Provided that he observes such proofs in one or two books, these by their testimony will secure the same authority to others also, and these again to others, and so on. For if it is easier, as many suppose, to convince an individual of the divine authority of Christ and the truth of the history of the evangelists, than of the truth of the history of Moses, which is so remote from the present age, let him begin with that which is easiest of proof, and by means of it the other also will be rendered very easy. These mutual testimonies of the sacred writers render it more difficult for the profane to reject the Holy Scriptures, for they are thus not at liberty to receive a part of them and reject the rest; the whole must be received, or almost the whole condemned: that is, I know not how many writers, of the most distant times and places, must be proved to have been to a man most shameless and skilful deceivers; which no man of sound mind will admit.
But surely the testimony of the sacred writers, it may be said, cannot, at least, be reckoned valid when they bear witness of themselves; when, for example, the prophets say, “ Thus saith the Lord, the word of the Lord came to me; or when Paul affirms that his preaching is the word of Godthat he received from the Lord that which he delivered to others—that his words are the words of the Holy Ghostthat he also has the Spirit of God, and other things of a like nature. For if these testimonies should be admitted to have any weight, it would be allowable thus to argue: “ Paul was divinely inspired, therefore we must believe the assertion of Paul, when he declares that he is divinely inspired.” This, I admit, is a silly petitio principii. But these testimonies furnish to us another argument; to explain which, it is to be observed, that the sacred writers may possess a twofold authority in the minds of readers; the one human, according to which they are reckoned men of a sound mind, honest and sincere; the other divine, according to which they are reckoned writers inspired of God. Now, since the former may be considered as preceding the latter, there is nothing to prevent us from evincing the truth of the latter by the former, if we perceive such a connection between both, that we cannot acknowledge the one without acknowledging the other. To make this plain also by example: Suppose that an individual with whom you were previously unacquainted, has, by a long intimacy, shown to you that he is a good man, full of candour and free from vanity—should he afterwards inform you that he was of noble extraction, you would give credit to him as a person whom
knew to be not given to ostentation. The reputation of candour which he had obtained with you would secure to him the reputation of nobility also: for there is such a connection between these, that the one cannot stand without the other. He who shows himself to you to be a man of candour, if he affirms that he is of noble extraction, must be neither or both. Clearly, on the same ground, if you discover every where in the writings of Paul that he is a man of probity and of sound mind, he must, when he affirms that he is divinely inspired, either lose the reputation he has acquired with you, or with the latter receive also the former; for such an individual would never, unless he were so in reality, affirm that he was divinely inspired.
We thus perceive how much weight should be attached to the statements of these men, when they assert that they are divinely inspired. In making use of this testimony, we do not presuppose that very authority, which it is our design to prove