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This is unmistakably the account which the Bible gives of itself, the account which some of its contents give of other of its contents. Of no other book may we say the same. By no other book may we do the same. What is the conclusion, but that the Bible requires and opens to only strictly peculiar rules of interpretation, - rules adapted to its own peculiar and unique method of composition, quality, and character? The canon of criticism thus reached directly reverses that offered by Professor Jowett. The Bible must be interpreted in a way wholly different from those applied to other books, because it is wholly unlike them in the peculiarity of its composition and authorship.
Scattered over the pages of both the volumes we have noticed, especially in those written by the feebler and less manly of the contributors, as in many other works emanating from the Episcopal communion on both sides of the water, we find tokens of a weak and deceptive plea, to which we feel bound to make a closing reference. It is undeniable that the spirit of Protestantism has fairly and naturally brought that portion of Christendom through which it prevails to its present unsettled and agitated condition in matters of faith. Influences which could not have been healthfully or safely withstood have wrought to results some of which sober men of all parties will admit are to be deplored. Those convictions which we call “ tenets of faith ” are doubly entitled to that significant name; for they are convictions which we hold, and which also hold us, sustaining and cheering our hearts and controlling our lives for good. It is lamentable to feel and know that what we and others have believed, seemingly to our edification and comfort, may have to surrender its hold upon us as we face the light, and accept new truth ratified to our understandings. If the alternative lay between clinging to a discredited belief and parting with all faith in things divine, holy, and spiritual, it might seem practically wiser to commit ourselves to the former. But it does not yet appear, it certainly has not yet been proved, that we are shut up to such hard conditions. Whoever, then, in the interest or the defence of the old creed, so represents the case, to oppose free inquiry and to intimidate honest seekers after truth, commits a griev
ous wrong, and provides for many a worse calamity than they would encounter in any ordinary experiences of scepticism. We have quoted what the Bishop of Cork has so fairly and boldly written on this point. We hope it will be heeded by preachers in his communion, as we have said, on both sides of the ocean. We know of but few clerical artifices more offensive to those who see through them, than the deceiving plea which many Episcopal ministers are so ready to address to the more confiding of their disciples, that something which they vaguely call “ the Church” has provided for them assurances and guaranties, as well as creeds and canons, to which they may safely commit their confidence amid all the discussions which reach down to the fundamentals of faith. This plea is used as a covert by some weak men to relieve themselves of their own duties, professional and personal, in examining questions with which they dread to engage; and it is used by the same persons as a blind to such of their disciples as are willing to be put off by so shallow a pretence. Such hearers are told by such ministers that “the Church has taken care for them in matters about which those not in the Church are all adrift"; "the Church has preserved in her creeds the essential Christian faith"; "the Church offers a concurrent witness for Christian truth such as no logical exhibition of the evidences can present”; “the Church has put an authoritative interpretation upon Scripture, and given us an authoritative digest of doctrines, superseding the necessity of all attempts by individuals to do the same things,” etc., etc. Now, few of those who are willing to listen to such facile and pretentious assertions will yield to, even if they feel, a prompting to search them that they may understand exactly what is meant by them, and how they would be explained or supported if they were challenged. Compliant and credulous hearers undoubtedly infer that their minister means to say that what is understood as the Church of Christ — the true, living institution, the actual fellowship of his real disciples beginning with his Apostles — has in some satisfactory way wrought out, assured, and transmitted to them, the tenets, the usages, the forms, the ecclesiastical arrangements, thus commended to their confidence. If they thus understand their
minister, they are egregiously misled by him. The Church, in this sense of it, is a pure fiction. The real thing, answering not to the true Church of Christ, but to the simple sectarian institution on which the minister really relies, is one thing in America, another thing in England, and still another in Rome. In America, in the United States, “the Church” thus pretentiously and often so arrogantly referred to is the entirely human institution organized by a convention of worthy Episcopalian gentlemen in Philadelphia, after the Revolutionary war, and periodically administered by triennial conventions, which revised for use here the English Prayer-Book, and from time to time establishes canons for its own government. A very excellent institution in the main, — providing for its disciples prayers, articles of religion, etc., - but not to be confounded or identified with “the Church of the living God.” When English Episcopal clergymen, in the same pretentious way, tell their disciples that the Church has provided so and so for them, the Church which they refer to is the CranmerianElizabethan-Parliamentary creation, whose history from its origin to the present day is quite a sublunary affair. Something, then, in fact, quite unlike the true thing which we may in good faith call “the Church,” is thus pretentiously and deceivingly offered as a refuge from the exacting tasks of thorough inquiry, and from the limited satisfaction to be derived from testing controverted points by texts of Scripture. “ The Church" comes in as a co-ordinate and complementary authority. If she can justly claim as much as this, why not demand for her a paramount authority ? Many ministers who use this plea, if they do not intend that their hearers should infer, do at least leave them to infer, that such documents as the Nicene Creed, and such doctrinal digests as the Thirtynine Articles, have an organic sanction in the exposition of the Christian faith derived from a divinely directed ecclesiastical constitution and tradition. The fiction which underlies all these pretensions is a most shallow one. Not a single distinguishing test-mark can Episcopalians define for any such sanction claimed by them for any peculiarity of their own Church, or even for anything which it has in common with other prelatical churches, which may not be claimed specifi
cally for the Church of Rome through the Council of Trent, or by a party of the English Dissenters through the Westminster Assembly of Divines. There is no reason for believing that any synod or council subsequent to that described in Acts xv. ever had divine authority or commission for deciding any matter of faith, or digesting any scheme of doctrine, or establishing any form of church institution. There is a legend preserved in the Alexandrian Church, which, if it could be verified as positive history, would go some ways towards verifying the fictitious plea with which we are dealing. The legend is to the effect, that, though only 318 bishops, occupying just as many thrones when they were seated, were convened at the Council of Nice, yet, when they rose to be called over to confirm the decrees of the Council, they counted 319. Though the trial was repeatedly made, this additional figure always mysteriously appeared in the count. The last of the grave men standing up to be enumerated turned into the likeness of his neighbor. The legend was explained satisfactorily to generations before our own, by regarding that mysterious but welcome intruder as the Holy Ghost, present to sanction the results of the Council. This element of fact, as fact, is just what “the Church” supplies from imagination.
The appeal to an available Church authority, co-ordinate with, and complementary to, the materials furnished in the Scriptures, involves a very abstruse and puzzling argument, even as advanced by the Church of Rome. But the argument is managed with comparative ease by that Church, because it may be rounded and made complete and thorough in its application, instead of being fragmentary, and because it is consistent with other parts of the theory and history of that Church. But the argument for such an appeal made by the English Church, and by any affiliated daughter of hers, is tortuous and embarrassing in the extreme, requiring the most forced special pleading; it is deceptive, and of course disappointing to any one who sharply tests it, as has been proved by hundreds of its own divines, who have within our generation gone over to the Church of Rome. For an origin independent of a Roman derivation, the English Church leans upon legends. Midway in its history it was revolutionary, schismatic, and VOL. LXXIII. — 5TH S. VOL. XI. NO. I.
put under the ban of excommunication as regards an authority which it had previously recognized. Its present tenure is Parliamentary. For such an institution to lay claim to any special divine prerogative, is to demand what we cannot admit without better proof than is offered us. Of course, we allow, and in other connections should earnestly insist and rely upon, a sense in which very moderately for dogmatical purposes, but largely and richly for ends and uses of edification and Christian guidance, an appeal is to be made to “the Church of Christ” as a traditional, a perpetual institution. But our definition would not cover the prelatical meaning or use of the word Church. Professed Christians have really no common ground or material beyond and outside of the New Testament. Our arguments, pleas, controversies, must lie within its covers. Our faith in Christianity, our doctrinal beliefs, our authoritative ordinances and institutions, must derive their original, if not their sole, sanction from those sacred pages. If we extend our ground or material beyond that volume, into patristic, or traditional, or ecclesiastical confines, we involve ourselves in perplexities which greatly outbalance any helps which we receive.
Accepting, as we must, the conditions under which we receive as an inheritance the faith of a past age, subject to all the questionings and tests which are to ratify it for the present age, we need above all other things a thorough loyalty to truth, and a hearty confidence that no harm can come to us from anything which it has yet to disclose. There is undoubtedly an additional sanction and charm in a creed, or in any portion of a creed which has for us the power of household attachments and of ancestral ties. To believe as our fathers believed, and as the good and faithful of all Christian ages have believed, will make our belief stronger and holier for our hearts. But when, by the healthful and progressive reachings of the mind toward high truth, any of the old grounds or tenets of faith come under question, there is but one course open to us consistent with Christian discipleship. One of the experimental evidences of new truth is that it adds to the testimony for old truth. If our fathers had good grounds for the tenets which they introduced into their creeds, the subject