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I do not consider that I have run my head into such a snare as
Ruddy” has described. The revision that is desiderated by my opponents is a revision to suit new and modern ideas, not a return to the old standard. Now I maintain that a return to the old standard by any of those churches which, as I have said, have obscured and almost nullified the truth, would not be a revision at all, and would only prove more forcibly still the irrevisability of standards, or rather of the standard. The Reformation was not a revision of the standards, but simply a clearing away of the errors which had accumulated during many ages, a repudiating of them on the part of those branches of the Church Catholic established in England and other countries, and a determination on their part to return as far as was then possible to the pure doctrines and practices of the primitive Christians. The church hath authority in controversies of faith to decide what is or is not in accordance with the standard, but it has no power to impose new articles of belief on its members. When, in early times, the Nicene and Athanasian creeds were promulgated, they were not promulgations of new doctrines, but a reiteration of what was and had been the belief of the Catholic Church, and as such a condemnation of those who differed from them. So that I do not concede to the church the right to settle a question of faith one way or the other, as “Ruddy” implies; its province in this respect is like that of a court of equity, and sentence must be given in accordance with ancient decrees and longestablished usage. The consequences predicted do not thus inevitably follow, and though we are bidden to prove all things, we are enjoined to hold fast the good. The article of “R. D. Robjent” next claims my careful consideration. Strange to say, my pen does not tremble as I write ; I do not feel mortally wounded and at my last gasp; my armour is, I believe, unshattered, my lance unbroken, and I really feel sufficiently strong to enter the lists again to meet “R. D. Robjent” or any other knightly comer in fair and open tourney. I hope often to meet my present friendly opponent in the pages of the Controversialist; and while I esteem him for the work in which I believe him to be engaged, and respect him for the manner in which he has expressed his opinion, I at the outset express my total dissent from that opinion. To much of the matter of his article I have already replied by anticipation in meeting the views of others of my opponents, and little therefore remains to be noticed.
Standards of faith must refer to doctrines, persons, or things, or qualities—as the existence of the Deity, His attributes, the origin, present and future condition of man,--and these qualities and existences remain the same whatever may be the doctrine or teaching delivered concerning them. If the teaching of the church on these points has once been right; if, in short, the church ever has held the truth, there can be no doubt that any departure therefrom is manifest heresy, and is to be censured accordingly. I believe that the Christian church in its early days—when presided
over by the apostles, who were undoubtedly, whatever “R. D. Robjent” may say or think, the immediate messengers of that Lord who had promised to be with them continually (and consequently with their successors) until the end of time, and who were under the immediate influence of that Spirit which was promised for the express purpose of guiding them into every truth—held the truth, and that she delivered this truth unsullied to the saints, embodied in creeds and formularies. This, I think, is manifest from the consideration of the passages cited in my first paper, the object of which was not, as R. D. R. seems to think, to show what was sound doctrine, but simply to prove that there was then one and only one standard of faith recognized by the church. That the decrees of the church at the time were inspired, and so infallible, we gather from the report of the first great council, Acts xv. 28. It is not, then, probable that man, however much he may be advanced in knowledge now, will have a clearer insight into the truth than those who received divine aid for this very purpose. Any alteration, except it be a return to the primitive state of the church, is a change for the worse, and that branch of the Church Catholic which at the present day approaches nearest in doctrine and practice to that form which existed in apostolic times, and during the first century of the Christian era, is the nearest to the truth, and holds the faith once delivered in the greatest integrity, if I may be allowed the expression. It is not needed, in order to belief in them, that creeds be taken word for word from the Bible, but that they be in accordance with it; but, as the Church of England Articleex presses it, " the three creeds, the Nicene Creed, St. Athanasius's Creed, and that commonly called the Apostles' Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed, (not because they are taken verbatim from the Bible, but) because they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.”. I will endeavour to put myself on the right side of the hedge with R. D. R., though I do not think I have been on the wrong side, by stating that the bishops intended on p. 38 are the overseers of the various churches, wherever and however constituted. It is not connection with this or that church or government which constitutes a man a bishop, but consecration at the hands of a bishop and presbyters, who have themselves been consecrated and ordained by others, deriving their ordination from others similarly set apart, and so back and back to the earliest times of the Christian church. In concluding my reply to the article of “R. D. Robjent” I cannot help expressing my doubt that the day will ever come when creeds will be things of the past, and the Bible be the only recognized standard, because then there would be no church at all; every man would believe that which was right in his own eyes, and not a few wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction. But as the Church is to exist till the coming of her Bridegroom and Lord, such a thing cannot take place.
The warning note of the editor is ringing in my ears, and therefore I can only partially notice the article of W. I will do so in a matter which concerns myself personally. W. will see, on reperusing my article (p. 35), that I have not reasoned in a circle. Though I asked the question, “Ought there to be a standard?” I of course, from the title of the debate, assumed tbat those who took part in it would allow that there was or ought to be a standard ; and then, from the considerations given in the same page, I endeavoured to show how, on a mere prima facieview of the subject, it appeared that standards should be irrevisable ; but, as W. must be well aware, this was not the whole of my proof, or anything like it. As Bacon observes (“Advancement of Learning,” book ix.), “In religion the first propositions are self-existent, and subsist of themselves, uncontrolled by that reason which deduces the subsequent propositions."
In conclusion, I have to thank my coadjutors for the able papers which they have contributed to what I believe the rational and logical view of the question. With the readers of this Magazine the question now rests, and I only exhort each and all to “prove all things;” to “hold fast the faith once delivered to the saints ;” and say “let each be fully persuaded in his own mind."
“I would only ask why the Civil State should be purged and restored by good and wholesome laws made every third or fourth year in Parliament assenibled, devising remedies as fast as time breedeth mischief, while, contrari wise, the Ecclesiastical State should still continue upon the dregs of time and receive no alteration ?"-Lord Bacon.
This subject has now been fully as well as ably discussed, and we shall endeavour to reply to some of the arguments adduced in support of the affirmative side of the question in as brief a space as we possibly can. Of course all standards of religious faith are based on Holy Writ; and we understood that this debate was limited to the standard compiled from the Scriptures by men, not whether the Scriptures should be revised. But since it has been brought forward, it matters very little to us.
We admit that faith is unchangeable--that it is the same through all ages, but then the present generation will not accept the religious beliefs and teachings of the twelfth century. A great deal of superstition is liable to gather about faith. In the interval a great many changes have taken place; so that civilization has been greatly extended, and knowledge has greatly increased. People are therefore more qualified to judge for themselves, even on matters of faith, as to what may or may not be consistent with their own minds. But it is contended that, as faith is unchangeable, all the standards of faith which might have been framed ten centuries ago by the narrowminded bigots that then lived are binding on those who live at the present day. This is the ground taken up, and we shall consider what has been advanced in its support. R. S. gives certainly no evidence, except a number of scriptural quotations, which prove nothing except the infallibility of the Bible. He has not, however,
brought forward one reason in support of the standards of religious faith composed by fallible men; and he supposes that there must have been some sort of Christian doctrine in the early church, as there were
so many councils and synods called to suppress_first one and then another heresy.” If there were such standards, R. S. should have referred to them, as we are not inclined to hazard the debate on his supposition. It is all very well for us to be told that there was a
settled standard or code of faith" in apostolic times, when no evidence is brought forward to prove that statement. “R. D. Robjent" has so ably replied to R. S.'s arguments, that we need not say anything more about them.
Another writer, “Austine,” makes some very singular statements, upon which comment is nearly useless. One runs thus :—" It is impossible to revise articles of faith unless you can also revise all the influences of history.” To this we reply that faiths, along with the nations which accepted them, have been swept away in the course of time, while their history and its influences still remain without the aid of any revision. But fancy this statement supported by such an illustration as “Can you revise the flower of which the seed has been planted, which has taken root and grown?” Who ever heard of flowers being revised, and what analogy can this bave with the revision of standards of religious faith: Such is one of the reasons which he assigns why creeds should not be revised. And the conclusion which he gives very emphatically on this evidence is, “No, neither can creeds be revised; they are portions of the souls of men.” Because a flower cannot be revised, a standard of religious faith cannot be revised either! The flower can no more carry this analogy out than can a mere stone. “ they are portions of the souls of men,” surely a revision is impossible, and useless though possible and attempted. But then our creeds are the banners of our battles.” Where did “ Austine" learn this ? “Our creeds are part and parcel of our being." If he had the fortune or misfortune to be an Esquimaux or a Bushman, we suppose that in such a state his creed would be a “part and portion of his being,” and therefore that a revision would be highly dangerous. But again, “ Nolumus fides Angliæ mutari” might have held the same force in the days of the Druids
He then compares confessions of faith to "lighthouses, but he ought to have remembered that a lighthouse can be altered and remodelled. His charity is very standard-like indeed, as he says, in allusion to those who maintain that creeds should be revised, “If we are to listen to the suggestions of men of this sort, and afflict our souls on account of their objections to the creeds, &c. He should have thought that the souls of those who recommend the revision of creeds are just as much entitled to have that effected as he is determined enough that they should pot. On this ground the suggestions and knowledge of the most learned of this generation are to be altogether ignored. He supposes that himself and others who believe in creeds are
quite safe, and that nothing should be done to ease the minds of those who do not believe with him and them. Further reference is superfluous to this mode of argument, as it is altogether at variance with the laws of evidence, and directly opposed to the teachings of history.
No one can deny that standards of religious faith are the productions of men; and different creeds were formed at various times to suit the views of different denominations. Now the fact is that every sect claims infallibility to its own views; and we are at a loss to ascertain the ultimate authority to which we can appeal for an infallible decision upon a disputed point. We have certainly no idea of the exact number of faiths that exist, yet we are at a loss to know how their standards should suffer no revision when there are so many disputes about them. Surely when there is such a great conflict of opinion about the principles of the gospel, there must be something wrong when there is not the much-crayed unity. The affirmative side would have us to believe that if creeds were never revised, there would be nothing but unity of faith, whereas the fact is evident that if creeds cannot be revised so as to be made more uniform, there never will be unity. On the other hand, if the creeds be revised, there is a probability that they may undergo a more proximate degree of uniformity with one another. But the cause that produces so many divisions in religious faith must be that upon which these standards are based. They all pretend to be compiled from the Scriptures, yet the most celebrated divines, of every age, creed, and country, disagree on various portions of Scripture, attaching different meanings to nearly all doctrinal passages. Some differ on the translation, others doubt the authenticity of certain passages. Many are tempted to ask for the original MSŠ., — where are they, or what has become of them ? How came they down in the early ages, and who were their custodians ? Others say that one portion of Scripture contradicts another; and a third party will come forward with an opinion that does not agree with either. The Jews do not receive all the scriptures that we do. We reject the Apocrypha, which the Roman Catholics accept as inspired. The Trinity is affirmed by some to be contrary to about 2,000 texts in the Old Testament, and 1,000 in the New. There are, it is said, several hundred texts pro and con. on the extent of the atonement. The Roman Catholics have their mass; Protestants, the Lord's Supper; and the Quakers say that both are against the inspired doctrines of God. One religious sect practises infant baptism ; another, adult; and a third, argues there is no such ceremony at all in the Christian economy. Well, so far as we have been able to learn, and if like produces like, there cannot be much consistency in creeds formed upon such a contradictory foundation. We question nothing. All we say is that such discrepancies exist, and we have certainly invented none to suit our own purpose. Moreover, we think from the few contradictions we have adduced, that the Scriptures would be nothing the worse of under