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Man is of dust ; ethereal hopes are his,
Which, when they would sustain themselves aloft,
Want the consistence; like a pillar of smoke
That with majestic energy from earth
Rises, but having reached the thinner air

Melts and dissolves, and is no longer seen." Let us not tamper with the precious beliefs of men. Science may change, laws may be altered, politics may be revolutionized, customs may be abrogated or fall into desuetude, but faith is the life-blood of the soul. It has a preciousness far excelling these “ things of a day.” We dare not risk the dissolving of all the honest associations of men with the faith which has made holy lives, happy homes, joyful deathbeds; which have been to many souls the pledges of the promises of God and the sure mercies of David, so that even in the hour of death they can say exultantly

“With faith I plunge me in this sea,

Here is my bope, my joy, my rest,
Hither, when death assails, I flee,

I seek my safety in Christ's breast;
Away sad doubt and anxious fear,
Mercy is all that is written there."

AUSTINE.

NEGATIVE ARTICLE.-II.

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“God alone is Lord of the conscience, and bath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship.' · The requiring of an implicit faith and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.”—“Westminster Confession of Faith," chap. xx. § 2.

TAKEN in one sense this question would admit of an affirmative reply only. Assume the perfectibility of human nature, and that the immediate and infallibly correct conception of everything in the Scriptures possesses men's minds without a possibility of error, and under such conditions standards of religious faith, being unsullied by even unconscious mistake, would rightly claim exemption from future revision or alteration. But, unhappily, “to err is human; and therefore no implicit, unshaken reliance can be placed in any purely human composition on matters of faith. The Holy Scriptures must inevitably be the final court of appeal; but from the fact that passages of the sacred writings have the appearance of being contradictory, a necessity is created for creeds or standards, in which these seeming inconsistencies may be reconciled, and the teachings of Scripture methodized for ready reference and comparison.

The Church of Rome claims to be the sole guardian interpreter and expositor of Christian doctrine, contending that certainty is impossible beyond her pale, infallibility alone sure in her keeping. Notwithstanding this superhuman profession, glaring inconsisten. cies obstinately obtrude beneath the smile of holy mother Church, affording proofs of man's deplorable liability to miss or misrepre

sent the truth. Other communions have too frequently manifested the same pretension to actual infallibility, though unavowed as such, elevating creeds, confessions, or articles, to at least a level with the Bible itself. Now, seeing that this has notoriously been the case, and considering the tenacity with which people cling to old opinions as such, stopping their ears to the persuasive exposition of truths, newly discovered or applied to the pulling down of some superfluous sand-founded outpost of their religious belief, is it not a likely conclusion that, to obviate this evil in a quiet way, a periodical, or at least fixed revision of standards of faith would be advisable? The march of truth, the growth of intelligence, the cautious painstaking years of research employing great minds in investigating the foundations, and re-testing the doctrines of religion, are surely productive of stancher adherence to the grand old truths that,

"Moored in tbe rifted rock,

Proof to the tempest's shock,

The firmer are rooted the ruder the blow," as well as in detecting the omissions, and rectifying as they are recognized, the blunders of a former age. Truth is thus freed from some of its encumbering error, and the consciences of standard subscribers are, to a certain extent, relieved from the galling yoke of error. Examples could be multiplied ad infinitum in support of the foregoing considerations. To show that this is no empty makebelieve, no vague boast of what cannot be produced, the following is submitted. In 1647, when the Confession of Faith was framed at Westminster, it was the common belief that the creation simply occupied six ordinary days, and so it appears in this Confession ; while the rigorously tested results of geological science have since plainly demonstrated that the term day in Genesis i., as rendered in the English version, denotes thousands of years. Similarly, the opinions of the magistrate's functions, &c., expounded by the venerable Confession, are being incessantly combated, with telling success, by those who have subscribed to this standard. The Thirtynine Articles of the Church of England have likewise lost their former firm hold of the Church in some points, though scruples have been judiciously repressed by the Act lately passed

to regulate the footing on which the Articles are now accepted. Sufficient reason is thus given to justify the revision of documents that labour under the drawback of being composed when the study of the original languages of Scripture, and the investigation of science in relation to scriptural subjects, were not so advanced as at the present day; and therefore so much greater chance, and proved actual existence of error in dogmatizing on points on which we have now fuller light, because several later centuries have elapsed of surpassing mental activity. Is the revision of these standards, then, reasonably forbidden? And yet, both with the Articles and the Westminster Confession, there are persons who gravely signify

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their full concurrence in every jot and tittle, lustily, though too often blindly, erecting tradition into the proper seat of personally tested truth, taking it as once and for all settled that the creed of the church is "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” they proceed indiscriminately to anathematize any one who protests against their view on any point held by their formulary. No matter the reasoning that is marshalled against the old opinion, it is amply sufficient for the guardian of the intact creed that an attack is being made upon it, and instantly instruments suited to every such occasion, reiterated general assertions of the creed's veracity in toto, are held to confound and shame the gainsayer.

R. S. asks, " What good end will be served by having standards revisable?” (p. 39). Briefly, to take judicious advantage of the lahours of pious and learned men of ages following the first issue of the creed. Is to be asserted that once a creed is written every word is irrevocable, that the good men its authors have left a fair and faultless monument of absolute truth behind them which coming ages may admire, but shall in vain try to improve, purify, or remodel: Did wisdom die with our fathers, that later generations are incapacitated from framing a standard for themselves; or at least conscientiously examining, pruning, and supplementing the existing creed, as the fathers, in their day, took the liberty of doing by former abstracts of faith The Reformation would never have thrown off the trammels from conscience but for this manly principle of individual responsibility in matters of faith ; and if, in conscience, a man cannot acquiesce in a certain standard, whether in respect to doctrine, ceremony, discipline, or government, let him be true to himself, and profess his belief in what bis conscience, interpreting the word of God, lays down as truth. The right of private judgment goes thus far. Suppose many Christians in this state of discontent with their formularies (as undoubtedly there 1. are at this day), does R. S. really think it would be ruinous to appoint in the proper way an official inquiry into the teaching of these standards, adjusting them in conformity to the ascertained findings of theology and its kindred sciences since the appearance of the original formularies. If done with prayerful deliberation, surely such a course would be quite innocent, instead of producing the dreadful calamity of utter confusion, with no real belief existing anywhere" (p. 39).

Bishop Butler speaks very decidedly on this point, scattering to the winds the groundless fears of those who regard independent investigation and decision in religion as synonymous with watering doubt, and as certain harbingers of desolation to the peculiar temple of truth in which the fearful ones: ensconce themselves. Butler thus testifies his full reliance in a leading principle of Protestantism:

"As it is owned, the whole scheme of Scripture is not yet understood; so if it ever comes to be understood before the restitution of all things, and without miraculous interpositions, it must be in the same way as natural knowledge is come at. ",. For this is the way in which all improvements are made; by thoughtful men's tracing on obscure hints as it were dropped by nature acci. dentally, or which seem to come into our minds by chance. Nor is it at all incredible that a book which has been so long in the possession of mankind should contain many truths as yet undiscovered. For all the same phenomena and the same faculties of investigation from which such great discoveries in natural knowledge have been made in the present and last age were equally in possession of mankind several thousand years before” (“ Analogy,' Part II., chap. iii., par. 10).

Thus the book of Revelation, as well as that of Nature, is but gradually comprehended, and age after age men may discover something in each of them hitherto unthought of, and correct mistakes previously held as infallible principles. The intellect of man peruses both volumes; and the more the mind is enlightened and under beneficial educative influences, the more likelihood of its interpretation harmonizing with the absolute truth.

In his address before the Edinburgh University last year, Mr. Gladstone observed “ that a system of

religion, however absolutely, perfect for its purpose, however divine in its conception and expression, yet of necessity becomes human too from the first moment of its contact with humanity," a corroboration of Butler's reasoning, inasmuch as the clouded intellect of man is unable by its limited constitution to grasp at once the whole truth, to the complete exclusion of erroneous and preconceived notions on the subject. Thus, a standard that in one century may embody the results of Biblical study up to that time, gradually becomes, in perhaps a half-century afterwards, the known publisher of some fallacies fully exploded in the interval. Is it not then necessary, for the honour and weal of religion, that confessions should be revisable ? In no other way can the old standards keep in line with the advance of new trutbs.

The language of a nation is ever changing, unconsciously perhaps, but quite surely. Numerous idioms and expressions, for instance,

used in 1611, when our Authorized Version of the Bible was first · published, are now obsolete, and are apt to convey to modern minds

a meaning they did not then bear. An objection of this kind holds good against the everlasting untouched preservation of systematic creeds, regardless of the spirit and circumstances of the after ages they seek to dogmatize for.

R. S. apparently felt somewhat uncomfortable when a reflection of this kind crossed his mind, for-important concession--he admits (p. 38) " that error has, in the course of centuries, been engrafted on this body of Christian doctrine, so as to obscure, and in some cases almost to nullify it;" and can he, notwithstanding this passage, still maintain that "standards ought to be irrevisable”? No loophole can facilitate a return to that affirmation ; and accordingly, though, as quoted, R. S. bas unwittingly adduced a powerful argument for revisable standards, he evidently grew timid after his un. guarded admission, and winds up the sentence by saying that "it is no reason for revising and altering those articles of faith which are the basis of Christianity,"-a conclusion such premises plainly contradict, and quite unwarrantable on any syllogistic method whatever known to Aristotle, Whately, or Hamilton. Observe it is granted that revision is necessary on some points, and then we are quietly told that certain other points should not be revised, as a reason why, after all, revision, as a whole, should be frowned upon ;-a course as reasonable as if one should argue that, because a man possesses certain good principles or habits, it would be unwise to raise any agitation by endeavouring to reform some bad principles or habits he may have acquired. It is a beautifully expressed and appropriate saying that“ truth, like a torch, the more it is shook it shines," and it is very applicable here.

Again, R. S. believes (p. 39), " that every particular or national church has power to decree rites and ceremonies, and has authority in controversies of faith, so that nothing be ordained contrary to God's written word.” The statement seems to lean considerably towards the negative side of this question. Does his expression of this principle not involve the legitimacy of the church's interference in matters of faith when necessary ? For, granted that it has

authority in controversies of faith,” this authority, to be free, must not be slavishly confined to the mere accumulation of precedent; but, in virtue of its position as a church, it is empowered to decide on points submitted to it, led to the truth by God's written word, which, as has frequently been shown, fallible standards occasionally contradict. If R. S. concedes to the church liberty to settle a question of faith either one way or other, as may seem reasonable to an authority, the consequences inevitably follow, standards being framed by the authority of a certain church, that same church, at a later day, by the same authority, has a right to revise the creed previously adopted. It is thus absurd to try to bind an existing church hand and foot, to the deliberations and decisions of a similar body,centuries before, who themselves boldly revised and criticized what their predecessors had believed, and chose the several articles of their faith independently of any preexisting human authority. We, their descendants, assert no more than our right, to act as they did. This is really obeying the apostolic injunction, “ Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. v. 21).

If we bear in mind the fallible nature of all human theological compends or standards, the greater enlightenment of the present over preceding centuries, the improved methods of exegesis and transIation now applied, and our individuali responsibility for our most holy faith, the conclusions can scarcely be evaded that standards of faith demand revision, if their healthiest influences and enlarged usefulness are at all worth caring for.

RUDDY.

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