Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER V.

ON THE OFFICE OF THE CHURCH IN RELATION TO FAITH.

The instruction of the existing church is, in its own age, an ordinary and divinely-appointed external means for the production of faith. This is the position which I am about to maintain, avoiding on one side the error of those who would found faith solely on the examination of each individual, and on the other, that which would represent the infallibility of the existing church as the only ground of our faith.

In speaking of the church, I refer not only to the ministers of Jesus Christ but to all the brethren. That the former were commissioned to instruct the people of God, we know from scripture; “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations.... teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." “He gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, till we all come, in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man,” &c. “ The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also.” “ Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God, whose faith follow d.” "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account." Many similar proofs might be adduced: and the apostle Paul expressly connects faith with christian instruction ; “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard ? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent? .... So, then, faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God'.” Thus the instructions of the ministers of God are designed to produce faith.

* Matt. xxviii. 19, 20.

Eph. iv. 11, 12

Besides this, christian parents are to teach their children the gospel, to “ bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord :" all christians are to love their neighbours as themselves; and on this principle, “Let no man seek bis own, but every man another's wealth 5,” they are to “comfort themselves together and edify one another '.In fine, the gospel is equally the privilege of all the faithful; and all in common, according to their degree, are exhorted to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered to the saints."

The church, then, is a society, in which by the divine institution, a great and complicated system of instruction is always to continue. The admonitions of preachers, the words of parents and friends, the conversation and acts of all the brethren, all combine to impress the

• 2 Tim. ii. 2.
& Heb. xiii. 7.
• Ibid. 17.
f Rom. x. 15–17.

& Eph. vi. 4.
bi Cor. x. 24.
i 1 Thess. v. 11.
Jude 3.

Christian's mind (even before his reason is yet able to exert itself,) with the truths of revelation.

This has always been the doctrine of the church. Irenæus says: “It is necessary to hear the presbyters of the church who have succession from the apostles, as we have shown; who with the succession of the episcopate have received the certain gift of truth according to the Father's will k.” Tertullian: “To know what the apostles taught, that is what Christ revealed to them, recourse must be had to the churches wbich they founded, and which they instructed by word of mouth, and their epistles,'” &c. Origen: “ If the law of God be received according to the meaning which the church teaches, then truly it transcends all human laws, and will be believed to be truly the law of God".” Cyprian: “Christ says to his apostles, and through them to all ministers who by a regular ordination succeeded to them, He that heareth you heareth me, and he that despiseth you despiseth me"." Augustine: “The authority of the scriptures themselves commends the church; therefore since the holy scripture cannot de

Irenæus, Adv. Hæreses, lib. Præscript. c. xxi. iv. c. 26. “Quapropter eis qui m“Si vero secundum hanc inin ecclesia sunt, presbyteris obau- telligentiam, quam docet ecclesia, dire oportet, his qui successioriem accipiatur Dei lex, tunc plane omhabent ab apostolis, sicut osten- nes humanas supereminet leges, dimus; qui cum episcopatus suc- et vere Dei lex esse credetur.". cessione charisma veritatis certum Origen, Hom. vii. in Levit. t. ii. secundum placitum Patris acce- p. 226. ed. Benedict. perunt."

n“ Qui dicit ad apostolos ac | “Quid autem prædicaverint, per hoc ad omnes præpositos, id est quid illis Christus revela- qui apostolis vicaria ordinatione rerit, et hic præscribam non aliter succedunt: qui audit vos, me probari debere, nisi per easdem audit; et qui me audit, audit eum ecclesias quas ipsi apostoli condi- qui me misit. Et qui rejicit vos, derunt, ipsi eis prædicando, tam me rejicit, et eum qui me misit." viva, quod aiunt voce, quam per – Cyprianus, Epist. ad Florent. epistolas postea.”—Tertull. De Pupian. Ixix. ed. Pamel.

ceive, let him who fears to be misled by the obscurity of the present question (concerning baptism) consult concerning it the same church, which without any ambiguity the holy scripture demonstrates o.

By preaching, the apostles converted heathen nations before the scriptures were written, and Irenæus testifies that in his time, some nations believed the gospel witliout being able to read the scriptures P. So it has been even to the present day, for the majority of christians have at all times been unable to institute an exact examination into scripture, or the doctrine of the church universal. Their faith is, and must necessarily be founded to a great extent on the testimony of their pastors, of the learned, and of their brethren generally. For they have ordinarily no other external evidence of the history of christianity, of the authenticity, inspiration, and uncorrupted preservation of scripture, of the accuracy of translations, of the universality and antiquity of the church, of the nature of its belief in all ages. It is true that those who have more information are able to search the scripture, and the tradition of the universal church; but perhaps no man can have leisure to trace out all the evidence on each doctrine of religion : so that in fine the faith of every christian rests more or less on the testimony or instruction of the church. This instruction is the first external means of faith in the mind of a christian: it accompanies and influences his opinions imperceptibly: and he is never finally disengaged from it but by scepticism. Nor may this be affirmed only of the church: the very same thing occurs in every sect which exists as a society.

o“In hac re a nobis tenetur contr. Cresconium, lib. i. c. 33. veritas, cum hoc facimus quod t. ix. p. 407. universæ jam placuit ecclesiæ, p Irenæus, Adv. Hæres. lib. quam ipsarum scripturarum com- iii. c. iv. “ Cui ordinationi asmendat auctoritas ; ut quoniam sentiunt multæ gentes barbarosancta scriptura fallere non po- rum eorum qui in Christum cretest, quisquis falli metuit hujus dunt, sine charta et atramento obscuritate quæstionis, eamdem scriptam habentes per spiritum in ecclesiam de illa consulat, quam cordibus salutem, et veterem trasine ulla ambiguitate sancta scrip- ditionem diligenter custodientes, tura demonstrat." August. in unum Deum credentes," &c.

1

Such is the mode in which God has willed that faith should generally take its rise. He founds it universally on sufficiently credible testimony, and in proportion as the intellect is expanded and cultivated, it is enabled to perceive a wider range of evidence: but the certainty of faith does not vary with the amount of the understanding: the evidence which an unlettered man has of christian truth is sufficient to produce the firmest faith.

We are here met by two opposite parties, who unite in asserting that faith supported only by the testimony of fallible men cannot be firm or divine faith; and that such faith must either be founded solely on the infallible authority of the existing church, or else solely on the infallible authority of scripture".

I reply first, that divine faith is determined by the object on which it rests, that is to say, the authority of God himself. Human faith rests on the veracity of

If therefore christian truth is believed because God hath spoken it, that belief is divine, by whatsoever means it may have been produced. The patriarchs and apostles had this faith by means of immediate inspiration, the early christians by means of the apostles' instructions, others by means of the church's testimony, some perhaps, in remote regions, only by means of their parents' instruction, some by means of the scriptures only; but in all these cases, divine faith exists

men.

4 This argument was common their opponents in the 16th and to Roman controversialists and 17th centuries.

« PreviousContinue »