CANDID MIND INQUIRING AFTER
RT. REV. HORATIO POTTER, D. D.
POTT, YOUNG & CO.
Candid Mind inquiring after Divine Truth
The writer of these few lines is not fond of laboring to make proselytes. But when a really serious and candid mind is seeking truth in order to obey it, he is, and ought to be, interested in the effort. What is the truth of God, and how are we to find it?
1. The truth of God is one--ever the same, whether we receive it, or not. Two contrary propositions cannot both be true. It cannot be true that our Lord is God as well as man, and that He is mere man. It cannot be true that He died for all men, and that He died for only a part of mankind--the elect.
It is incorrect, then, to say that it is no matter [3/4] what we believe, provided we be sincere. We are bound to receive precisely the truth which God has revealed for us. Unavoidable errors will no doubt be excused. But that does not relieve us from the obligation of trying to find out the exact truth, that we may embrace it and live by it.
2. We say that Holy Scripture is the rule of faith. It contains all needful truth. But who is to decide what Holy Scripture means? A hundred different bodies profess to go by Scripture, and yet hold the most contradictory principles. Is there no one consistent view of the meaning of Scripture, which can be shown to be its plain and literal import, and which rests upon better evidence than the private judgment of any individual, or set of individuals?
I think there is. It is a historical fact that for three hundred years after the Ascension of our Saviour, the Church, in all the different countries in which it was planted, was agreed in holding the same view of Scriptural truth, (so far as the great fundamental articles of the Faith are concerned) and of the ministry and sacraments, which they had received from the Apostles. The Apostles [4/5] must have left the Church in the possession of the truth. And in the General Council of Nice, in the year 325, consisting of three hundred and twenty Bishops, from different parts of the Church wherever planted, they all affirmed that the truth contained in the creed they framed, was not merely their opinion, but the faith of the Churches which they represented, and which those Churches alleged had been handed down to them from the Apostles. We have very many writings belonging to that period.
We say, then, that Holy Scripture, as interpreted by the whole Church for three hundred years after Christ, is our rule of faith; interpreted, I mean, so far as great leading truths are concerned. This interpretation, being agreeable also to the plain letter of Scripture, is supported by all the evidence we can expect in this world.
To that early interpretation we appeal against both the later corruptions of Romanism on the one side, and the heresies and the innovations of modern sects on the other. The heads of the English Church reformed that body on this principle. They restored the Church to as near a [5/6] conformity to the primitive Church as difference of circumstances would permit--retaining what was first and true, and cutting off what was later and corrupt. They went not merely by their own fancies, but took the Church of the first three centuries for their guide. They did this both as to doctrine and as to the ministry and sacraments.
And the Protestant Episcopal Church of America is derived from and modelled after the English. We plead the united Church of the first three hundred years against Romanists, and against Unitarians, etc.
3. For fifteen hundred years after Christ, no person was ever esteemed a valid minister unless ordained by a Bishop regularly descended from the Apostles. Sacraments are means of grace; and to have valid sacraments, we must have a valid ministry. I can be sure of ours; I can not be sure of others. A man may be a good lawyer, but he is not a lawful judge, unless regularly appointed to that office. And a man may be worthy and sincere, but he is not a lawful minister, unless appointed and empowered according to the method ordained of God. I may think [6/7] that they who live to the best of their knowledge, in connection with an irregular ministry, will be graciously accepted by the mercy of God; but that does not warrant me in neglecting to seek for God's true way. We may meet worthy persons associated with error, and unworthy persons associated with the truth; still, error is error, and truth is truth. They are independent of local circumstances--rest on independent evidence. In Holy Scripture, it is plain that Timothy and Titus were Bishops of Ephesus and Crete. And a regular succession of Bishops can be traced down from the Apostles to the Bishops of this country.
4. In our articles, the "Church" is called "the witness and keeper of Holy Writ." It was the united judgment of the early Church which fixed the canon of Scripture as we have it now--separating the inspired books from those which were spurious. No ordinary individual would be competent now to investigate the claims of one of these books. We rely upon the authority of the Church. So the observance of the first day of the week rests upon intimations contained in a few texts of Scripture, which would hardly be [7/8] deemed sufficient, did we not know that from the very time of the Apostles, that day was universally observed by the Christian Church, instead of the seventh.
Here, again, the authority of the early Church is of the greatest importance in assisting our judgment of the meaning of Holy Scripture--that is, of the will of God. The Trinitarian and the Unitarian may dispute about the meaning of Scripture without coming to any certain conclusion. We say that Holy Scripture clearly proves the divinity of our Lord, but the Unitarian will not admit this, and if we confine ourselves to Scripture alone, it is all mere matter of private opinion. We desire something better than a mere balance of probabilities to rest our faith upon.
When we appeal to the first three centuries of the Christian Church, and show that the Nicene faith was the universal faith of the early Church, I think we decide the matter.
And I repeat that this appeal to the early Church is as fatal to the Romanist as it is to the Unitarian, because we show that all Romish error came in after the first three centuries.
 We must not overrate the powers of the private judgment. In all matters that relate to mere private edification, Scripture is plain enough. In regard to great and difficult questions, the tradition and judgment of the Church, or the witness of the whole early Church as to what was the precise truth received from Christ and His Apostles at the first, are of more account than any man's private opinion.
The Prayer Book embodies Christianity according to the judgment and practice of the primitive Church, as fixed by the English Church and by ours. The more we use it, in a candid, devout, teachable spirit, the more we shall see its value and love it.
5. God, then, has instituted a Church with a ministry and means of grace. In and through it, by His blessing, we may be guided and saved. We must have His grace to work with, and that He imparts ordinarily by His sacraments. Naaman was cleansed by using water appointed of God. The eyes of the blind were opened by our Saviour with the use of clay. Also in other cases, as if He would teach us that in our salvation, His grace is to be obtained in conjunction [9/10] with visible means appointed by Him, which we can use in faith and humility. The visible means are nothing in themselves, but with His blessing they are much.
6. What then shall a serious person do? "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost [Acts of the Apostles, chap. ii. v. 38.]. By baptism you are received into Christ's Church, accepted and adopted as a child of God, and favored with His Spirit, to enable you to serve and please Him in newness of life.
Come in faith and humility, renouncing all sin, and devoting yourself wholly to the will of God; and then go on cheerfully and devoutly in all duty and service, in prayer and in reading of Holy Scripture, under the guidance of the Church, and you shall quickly find a rich blessing.
Do not stop to pry too much into your feelings except to put away clear and palpable evil. Be assured that you are a child of God, (if you are sincere,) and that He smiles upon you. Go on your way rejoicing, watchful, but yet confiding. Study 10/11] the Catechism; prepare for Confirmation and for the Holy Communion, to commemorate your Saviour's death, and to be fed and nourished with the "spiritual food of His most blessed body and blood."
Where things seem obscure at first, believe that the Church is right, and every thing will clear up soon. In Church worship confess your sins humbly, and then give yourself up gratefully and gladly to praise and adoration, in the sublime spirit of the Te Deum. You will soon discover that you have found a blessed spiritual home, and that God is with you and blessing you of a truth.