Rector of Trinity Church, Wilmington, Del.
PORTER & NAFF, PRINTERS, 97 MARKET STREET.
IT sometimes happens that one publication gives occasion, or creates a necessity for another, either to carry out the design of the author, or to correct misapprehensions, or misrepresentations, with regard to what has already been published. Both these causes conspire to induce the writer to give to the public the following discourse.
The sermon lately published entitled "The Faith of the Saints," has been assailed from various quarters, and in various ways,--honestly, and dishonestly; openly, and covertly; respectably, and in the lowest and most abusive style of the religious demagogue. About this last kind of assault--the kind employed against Christ and his Apostles, and against truth, righteousness, and Divine institutions in all ages--the author feels but little concern. Such assaults carry with them their own antidote in the vulgarity, dishonesty, and malice which they bear on their face, They are invariably, and sooner or later, rebuked by the good sense, sound principle, and love of honesty, decency, and truth, to be found in all Christian communities. It would be disreputable in any respectable man to condescend to defend himself against such attacks: and the authors of them being incapable of ingenuousness and improvement, may safely be left to that fate which, without repentance, awaits eventually all those who fight with carnal weapons against the truth; and endeavor to bring down its advocates to a level with themselves. W e may be sorry for them; but there seems to be no prospect of our doing them much good. Their case is the more hopeless when they are enabled, like the enemies of the Founder of Christianity, to persuade themselves that they are doing God service.
But when either through the misapprehensions of the ill-informed or prejudiced, or the misrepresentations and stratagems of the wicked or designing, the truth itself becomes endangered, or the unwary are in danger of being deceived, misled, and injured, it may be expedient to defend that truth, or present it in a clearer and more convincing light. In accordance with this view, the chief design of the following Discourse is to vindicate the sufficiency of the holy Scriptures for all [iii/iv] the purposes for which they were designed; and to point out some of the chief reasons why, notwithstanding the possession of this means of information, and all other advantages enjoyed, many continue in ignorance and error. The author may be deemed unskilful and impolitic, or unfortunate, in not resorting to that Jesuitry and prudent "reserve," which enable a man to hold obnoxious opinions, or an unpopular creed, and yet enjoy the countenance and the good wishes of those who would be his deadly enemies if he had the candor, the courage, or the fidelity to come out boldly with his notions, or his belief. Be this as it may, it is neither in his nature, nor in accordance with his religious principles, nor his understanding of the obligation of the vows which he made at his ordination, to keep back anything which he deems necessary to the full promulgation, or the defence of Divine Truth, or Divine Institutions. Happily for his peace of mind, the constitution which his Creator has given him, his consciousness of honor and integrity, and the grace which he humbly trusts he has received, he is but little disturbed by the ravings of malice, or the venom of the tongue, or the pen, of falsehood and slander. He is willing to intrust all such things, and his eventual vindication and defence, to Him who can make even the wrath of man to praise him. In this humble confidence, he does not fear what man can do unto him; and is in some measure enabled to say, "With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment [literally, of man's day]; yea, I judge not mine own self: for I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord." W e ought to esteem it a privilege and an honor to "suffer persecution with Christ," "for the word of, God and for the testimony of Jesus," and "for his Body's sake, which is the Church." When reviled and slandered, our chief concern, while trusting in "the Lord the righteous Judge," should be to cultivate the spirit, and imitate the example of Him who "when reviled reviled not again;" and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, "Wo unto you when all men shall speak well of you; for so did their fathers of the false prophets."
Whatever may be the principle, the feeling, or the motive which is at the foundation, the conduct of the better members of the excellent "Society of Friends," in not resisting the open and violent hostility of their enemies and persecutors with similar weapons, is worthy of all commendation. In whatever else they maybe wrong, or their system defective, they are certainly right in this; and here they carry out in its true meaning the law of Christ in relation to private injuries.
[v] The author retracts nothing of what he has published in the sermon on the "Faith of the Saints." He considers all the positions there laid down and illustrated as immovable. They may be assailed, as the Bible itself is assailed, by "carnal weapons"--by ridicule, scoffs, and maledictions; but they will be found impregnable. All he asks is that the sermon be read with candor and care. This will be sufficient to correct all misapprehensions, and refute all slanders and misrepresentations. Some positions are there laid down and maintained which he was perfectly aware would not meet the views, or the approbation of many persons just as honest as himself. But he is not aware of ever having in any way forfeited his right of "private judgment," or the privilege of publishing what he believes to be the truth. Besides, while he has published obnoxious truths, and endeavored to refute and expose dangerous errors, and to vindicate Divine institutions; he has done so, not with the desire of giving offence; but for the furtherance of the Gospel, the edification of the Church, and the promotion of a pure, humble, meek and spiritual religion. The Church, of which he is a minister, it is well known, has, of late years, been violently and uncharitably, unjustly and maliciously, assaulted from every quarter; and he does not wish to be one of those who basely shrink from the conflict, or join with her foes in assaults upon her bulwarks or defenders, for the sake of present comfort, or of popularity with those who, as they themselves have publicly announced, will never be satisfied until every truth which she alone maintains is surrendered; every institution which she venerates is abandoned; and every fortress "set for the defence of the Gospel," is utterly demolished; and the very "Pillar and ground of the Truth" leveled with the earth. Such a course he would esteem dastardly even with regard to worldly institutions and political creeds; but incomparably worse with regard to the Church and her creeds. With her he is willing to stand or fall, while her Lord is in the midst of her and maintains her cause. And how would the members of the various Christian denominations wish their ministers to act under similar circumstances? Let them answer this question.
The author has not thought it necessary either in this or in his sermon on "The Faith of the Saints," to adopt the popular and approved method of "railing" at the Church of Rome. He thinks her system of doctrine as well as her practice bad enough without any exaggeration; and dangerous enough, without rendering it more so by the [v/vi] employment of falsehood, and the manifestation of an unholy temper, on the part of her adversaries. Nor has he thought it necessary to "unchurch" her, as do those who complain most bitterly of being themselves unchurched. Indeed, he would not feel warranted in doing so while his own church acknowledges the validity of her ordinations. Nor, on the other hand, while in the sermon referred to he has embraced in the "thirty millions" of non-episcopal and pseudo-episcopal sects, Rationalists, Unitarians, Universalists, Restorationists, Shaking Quakers, Antinomians, Nothingarians, Mormons, Campbellites, and a hundred other sects, making three to one of the whole, has he intended to place them on a level with the more orthodox and evangelical sects. Yet they are not genuine Episcopalians; and he was willing to swell the number of the enemies of Episcopacy as much as possible, and thus magnify them to a respectable minority. Ile would deem it as unjust to make the sounder sects responsible for their errors merely because of their rejection of Episcopacy and Apostolic Succession, as it would be to make the Churches of England and America responsible for the errors and corruptions of Rome and the Oriental Churches, merely because they hold these things in common. He hopes ever to be delivered from such dishonesty and want of charity.
As regards the common and popular slang and declamation about our rejecting, or adding to, the Scriptures, this begins to lie so well understood on all hands as a dishonest and unmanly expedient resorted to for the purpose of exciting prejudice and suspicion, that with the more intelligent and candid, it makes only against those who, in default of truth and arguments, deem it expedient to become religious demagogues. Happy is it for all that such persons are unable to resort to the rack, the gibbet, and the stake; for the same lack of principle, and the sane evil tempers which prompt such persons to the employment of such weapons, would, if they were not restrained, prompt them to rekindle the fires of martyrdom.
But "coming events cast their shadows before:"--we have frequently of late been threatened with a certain species of excommunication. We are forewarned that if we do not speedily abandon those institututions which we believe to be of Divine origin and authority, or acknowledge them to be human; and cease to contend for what we believe to be the truth as it is in Jesus, or admit that it is unimportant; and acknowledge as Churches communities which we believe to lack Divine organization, an apostolically ordained ministry, and valid sacraments, or admit that our own are no better, we shall be cut off from [vi/vii] all friendly intercourse with the members of those communities; and regarded and treated as "Ishmaelites" and Roman Catholics. That is, we are publicly called upon to repudiate our Catholic Faith; to treat as unessential what we believe to be necessary to the very existence of a Church; and valid ordination and sacraments; and to regard heresy and schism as no sins; and to surrender our right of private judgment, and the free expression of our opinions and belief! And this is required on pain of the only excommunication which it is in the power of these bodies to inflict! And that, too, "in this enlightened age," and in "the nineteenth century!" I think too favorably of the more intelligent and magnanimous members of those religious communities to suppose that they approve such threats, or are prepared for this new species of Protestant crusade. Nor am I much alarmed by these awful threats. The thunders of excommunication are heard upon the horizon, and the cloud of wrath begins to darken; Mt some further indulgence may yet be vouchsafed. But would not such a procedure--does not the very threat of such a procedure--indicate a secret consciousness of the weakness of the cause in which it is enlisted, and the abandonment of all hopes of success from argument, and that, all expectation from reason and fair means being abandoned, the determination has been formed, in certain quarters, to coerce us into the desired repudiation of all we hold dear; and the acknowledgment of that in which we cannot believe?
I imagine, however, that this will be found a difficult task. Men do not readily sacrifice their honest convictions to threats and compulsion. The great peculiarities of their Church are dear to Episcopalians. Their Faith is regarded by them as identical with that which "was once delivered unto the saints." We trust that good and faithful Christians still exist on earth; and that most of us will submit to the threatened penalty rather than make shipwreck of a good conscience; and offend our God.
We shall say nothing of the bad taste and the bad grace with which compulsory measures are threatened by those who are the greatest sticklers for the rights of conscience and the exercise of "private judgment"-except only this.--It is one thing to approve and advocate a principle, or an opinion, in those cases in which it makes in our favor; and quite another thing when it works against us; and many persons are very liberal and indulgent to those who are on their own side, who think it a sin even to tolerate those who do not favor their cause. If this disposition and effort to coerce Episcopalians into [vii/viii] Latitudinarianism be the legitimate fruit of that modern product which some are pleased to dignify with the title of "Catholic spirit," I should be in favor of inserting a petition into the Litany for deliverance from it; for it seems to be identical with that old misnamed "Catholic Spirit" which shed the blood and burnt the bodies of innumerable saints.
But, after all, I am happy to believe that this is not the spirit of the more rational, enlightened, and pious of those very bodies from some of whose members we hear these fulminations and threats; nor should I be at all surprised to find the only effect of them to be to drive off the better informed and more liberal to that very Church which is so much hated, maligned, and dreaded. THE REACTION MUST COME.
There is a great outcry raised against us for "unchurching," as it is called, the different non-episcopal and spurious episcopal sects; and the odium and hostility excited by this expedient are the chief things relied upon by most of the advocates of those systems. To these weapons are superadded hard names, and much pathetic declamation about the supposed superior piety of those who feel themselves aggrieved. Now it is marvellous that it should not have occurred to these noisy polemics, that this is not the best means of discovering the truth; and that in the search for truth, an upright and candid mind disdains to appeal to unholy passions, prejudice, and party or sectarian interest. To all right-minded and honest persons, the simple question to be discussed and decided is this--"What is the truth?" And every thing which interferes with a calm, dispassionate, and conscientious search after the truth, is unmanly, uncandid and unworthy of a sincere Christian. Resort to any such low and dishonest expedient, betrays a depraved and ill-conditioned heart, a disingenuous mind, and a secret consciousness that the cause in support of which it is enlisted will not bear the light, and is incapable of being supported by argument.
But why should there be such sensitiveness on this point, and such efforts to excite odium, evil passions, and popular prejudice against the Church? Does she alone hold the "unchurching dogma?" Why, the Baptists go much further,--they do not even admit that their brethren of "the Allied Sects" (as they call themselves) are baptized.--They class them with the "uncircumcised Philistines;" and will not admit them to their communion-table! This is going further than most Episcopalians. And yet this sect is caressed, and allowed to go hand in hand with the "unbaptized" in the crusade against the Church!--Here is a great mystery. How is it explained? I should like to hear or read a solution of this problem.
EVER LEARNING, AND NEVER ABLE TO COME TO THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH. II TIMOTHY, iii. 7.
THE meaning of the Apostle is, that the class of persons alluded to are always endeavouring to learn--always reading, hearing, thinking, and seeking Divine knowledge; and yet for some reason or other never making any proficiency. They are like a person walking on a horizontal wheel which revolves at each step just as far as he would have advanced upon solid ground, thus leaving him, after a journey of many years, precisely where he started. He is always travelling, and yet never making any progress; while, nevertheless, if blind, he would seem to himself to advance. If conscious of their doom; the labors of Sisyphus would not be more discouraging; nor the disappointments of Tantalus more distressing. But fortunately for their present complacency, and unfortunately for their present and eternal well-being, such learners are not generally aware that they are not advancing in knowledge. They live in a world of hallucinations, of phantasms, and fictions, which to their deluded minds have all the substance of realities, and occupy all the space of truths. The labyrinths of error are to them the mysteries of religion; the counterfeits of truth, eternal verities; and the vagaries of imagination, the essence of their theology. Hence it comes that they are ever at the work of learning, and ever imagining that they are accumulating divine information, and yet are never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Now, this is a lamentable and painful case. That one who makes no efforts to learn, should remain in perpetual ignorance of the truth, is not a matter of surprise; and we at once lay the blame of his continued ignorance upon himself. But when we find a person ever endeavoring to learn, and yet continuing in ignorance, we feel inclined to pity him; and to inquire into the cause of his failure. The result of such an inquiry will either increase our pity, or lead us to blame [9/10] the learner, according as we find the impediments to be voluntary, reprehensible, and in himself; or involuntary, and chargeable upon others, or upon his unfortunate situation. But in either case it becomes our duty to point out the cause of the evil; and show, if possible, how it may be obviated or remedied.
It is a remarkable fact that the evil in question existed in the days and under the immediate instruction of inspired Apostles, and that of those who learned the truth at their feet, and received ordination by their prayers and the imposition of their hands. From this it appears that the gospel may be preached in all its simplicity, purity, fulness, and power, and yet not be learned. And this may furnish an apology for the servants of Christ, when their hearers are slow in learning the truth; or even when they fall into dangerous errors. The fault may be in the teacher; but it does not necessarily lie with him, unless we admit that both the Apostles and their Master were unfaithful; for some of their hearers not only never came to the knowledge of the truth, but fell into fatal errors and perished in their sins. It is equally evident from indisputable facts, that learners may hold the Bible in their hands, and read it, too, either in the original, or vernacular tongues, and in addition to this enjoy the advantage of having faithful and competent teachers, even inspired Apostles, and yet not only fail to come to the knowledge of the truth; but even wrest the written word, and the instructions of living and inspired Apostles to their own destruction. Such was the case in the days of the first witnesses and preachers of Christianity.
How shall we account for this distressing and fatal evil? "Is there not a cause?" For every effect there must be a cause; and an adequate cause. In all ages of the Christian dispensation there have been persons of whom it may truly be said that they were ever learning, and yet never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. This leads us to look for some general and permanent causes which have always affected certain classes of persons in such a degree as to exclude the light from their minds; and which have either not affected others at all, or at least to the same degree, for there have always been some successful learners.
In the elucidation of this subject, I shall first mention some things which must not be assigned as the necessary causes of the evil in question. This will prepare the way for the statement of the real causes of the evil. Upon this would naturally follow some notice of [10/11] the proper remedies and preventives; but these being implied, may be left as matters of inference.
I. In endeavoring to answer the question propounded above, we must lay out of view as irrelevant those adverse causes which affect all learners of Divine truth in common, such as the native depravity of the human heart; the present imperfection of the human mind; and the necessity of receiving many things upon evidence and authority, instead of the demonstrations of reason, or perception through the medium of our senses.
1. W e must not, then, ascribe the evil in question to the obscurity or incomprehensibility of the truth itself; for this, making but a slight allowance for different degrees of capacity and intelligence, which will not account for the difference in the results of efforts to learn, is the same to all. There is nothing incomprehensible to the most ordinary capacity, which it is absolutely necessary for us to understand; and whatever is incomprehensible is presented, not for speculation, but as a matter of faith. There is much truth of this nature taught in the Holy Scriptures; and it is because we are obliged to receive so much on the strength of testimony and authority, which is beyond our actual observation, and entirely incomprehensible, that Christians are so often called "Believers:" that is, persons the foundation of whose religion is belief. It is chiefly in relation to matters of simple faith that the difficulty exists.
2. Nor must we assign as the cause, in our days, of this failure of proficiency in learners, either the obscurity, or the insufficiency of the Holy Scriptures. For the Scriptures, so far as all essential doe trines and precepts are concerned, are plain alike, and obscure alike to all. Experience proves that it is not always the wisest, greatest, and most learned men, who most easily and certainly come to the true knowledge of the Scriptures. Other qualities and means appear to be more indispensable to the true understanding of the Bible than human wisdom, talent, and learning. And as regards the sufficiency of the Scriptures, they are sufficient for all the objects of Scripture. The object of Divine Revelation is two-fold. First, to communicate and record for the benefit of all mankind certain truths, precepts, and facts essential to our present well-being and our eternal salvation. And no truth, precept, or fact, essential to individual salvation, is left out of this sacred Record. Yet Divine Revelation has a second object: it is given as a means of probation. Hence, it was intentionally made and [11/12] recorded in such a way as to encourage and reward certain dispositions and efforts on the part of the learner; and at the same time to admit the adverse influence, and punish the sin, of certain other dispositions and efforts--both of which shall be noticed hereafter. The former of these objects of supernatural revelation is admitted by all; but by many the latter seems to be entirely overlooked; and this may account for many of their notions and assertions which would otherwise be inexplicable. Let us look for a moment at this point:--no one can rationally doubt but that every doctrine, precept, historical fact, and record of Divine institution, so far as in its nature comprehensible to the human mind, could have been presented with the clearness of a sunbeam, so as to leave no possibility of mistake or doubt with regard to the intended meaning. Thus the doctrine of the Trinity might have been laid down more clearly than in the Athanasian Creed; the doctrines of the Atonement, of Justification, and of the Ministry and the Sacraments, might have been made so clear as to preclude the possibility of a doubt, or even the least room for diversity of opinion, and controversy. To deny this, would be to deny the perfection of the Divine wisdom. But, in point of fact, every thing is not made so clear as to preclude doubts and disputes. The world is full of errors professedly derived from the Bible; and which they who hold them profess to prove by the Bible; and, doubtless, many of these errorists are sincere in their belief, or their unbelief. And some persons who are diligent learners, hold and propagate some of the most fundamental and fatal errors; errors utterly subversive both of the Truth, and of "The Pillar and Ground of the Truth." Nor without great lack of charity can we doubt the honesty of all such persons.
Why have not the inspired writings been made so clear and intelligible as utterly to preclude the possibility of such errors?--Because we are intelligent and moral agents, and on probation with regard to truth as well as all things else of which this use can be made, and it was necessary that there should he some degree of obscurity, and some susceptibility of misapprehension and perversion in the sacred oracles. In virtue of this quality, the Scriptures fall in with and aid the system of probation which has been adopted by the Supreme Ruler. If it had been otherwise, that system which is now in operation, would have been in a great measure frustrated. As the sacred Scriptures are, they furnish one of the best means of probation. If as they might have been, there could have been no probation with [12/13] respect to the love of the truth, as opposed to error; or diligence, honesty, and wisdom in searching for it "as for hid treasure." The Bible is sufficient and perfectly fitted for all the purposes for which it was given; and fully adequate to the effectuation of its gracious design. If it had been otherwise, it must have failed of one of its great ends, It might have given us clearer light, and been so arranged and written as to preclude the possibility of its being misinterpreted, misapprehended, or wrested to purposes of error and rebellion; but then it must have failed of affording the means of that probation with regard to the truth, to which it is now so admirably adapted. This completely solves the problem of the otherwise mysterious and unaccountable obscurity and pervertibility of much that is contained in the Bible, as well as of the composition itself; and completely vindicates that Holy Book against many of the cavils of infidelity; and the wisdom of God from all suspicion of imperfection. But without this explanation, it is hard to vindicate either the one or the other. The Bible is precisely what it was intended to be; and fully sufficient for all the purposes for which it was written. And one of the most important of these purposes is that peculiar kind of probation upon which it puts us with regard to Divine Truth. This characteristic of Divine Revelation is often spoken of by our Lord in the Evangelists, and alluded to by the Apostles in other parts of the New Testament. The Bible is sufficiently clear in its statements where simple faith is required; and sufficiently explicit in its explanation of all things necessary to be understood, where there is an open mind, and a well-disposed heart. It is sufficiently intelligible for all practical purposes, to the honest, the diligent, the docile, and the obedient--to those who "receive the truth in the love of it;" but mysterious, obscure, repulsive, and pervertible, to persons of an opposite character. "Unto you," said our Saviour to his disciples, "it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand." "Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away that which he seemeth to have." "All the words of my mouth," says the Heavenly Wisdom, "are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in them. They are all plain to him that understandeth; and right to them that find knowledge."
Attention to this characteristic and design of Scripture may enable [13/14] us to see the perfect absurdity and sophistry of much that is said in our days--often from dishonest, selfish, partizan, and sectarian motives--respecting the perfect intelligibility and the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures. We do not deny, nay, we assert, the perfect sufficiency of the Scriptures for all the purposes for which they were given; and we affirm that one of these purposes is the probation of men with regard to the truth itself. In nothing is the internal evidence of their divine origin more manifest than in their admirable and perfect adaptation to test our love for the truth, and willingness to render it all due obedience; and to bring out and punish latent hostility to it, and the disposition to "rebel against the light," and the God of the light. This probation is frequently spoken of in Scripture as one of the severest and most searching ordeals by which our sincerity, integrity, and obedience can be tested.
But while we do not doubt the sufficiency of the Bible for all the ends for which it was written, we do doubt, and more than doubt, the sufficiency of unguided and unaided private interpretation to get at its meaning as regards its great doctrines and mysteries, especially when the interpreter rejects that aid, and closes his eyes against that light which God in his providence proffers him, and reads its pages under the blinding and distorting influence of prejudice, passion, and erroneous theories and dogmas. These are two very different and quite distinct things; and he who from the fact that the Bible is sufficient infers that he himself is sufficient to interpret it without the aid which God affords him, and with a mind darkened by ignorance and error, and a heart charged and biased with unholy affections, draws a conclusion the correctness of which may reasonably be doubted. But let us look at this subject by the light of an obvious and instructive analogy often alluded to in the Inspired Volume.
The material earth which we inhabit, is amply sufficient for all the ends for which it was created. Under the genial light and heat of the sun, and annually revolving around that mighty orb producing the vicissitudes of season, and daily on its own axis producing the regular alternations of day and night;--stocked with innumerable tribes belonging to the animal and vegetable kingdoms;--with abundant supplies of minerals and earths;--with the elements of fire, water, air, and land, and all the infallible laws of nature, the earth, if skilfully cultivated and properly used, is, with the blessing of God, sufficient, and more than sufficient for the subsistence and comfort of every [14/15] individual of its eight hundred millions of inhabitants. Poverty, starvation, cold, and wretchedness are not attributable to any deficiency in the stores and capabilities of Nature. And the proper use of past experience, and of the accumulated knowledge and perfected skill of all past ages, would enable us to extract from her bountiful resources a sufficiency for three times the present number of the human family. Why then is the world so full of want and misery? Why do so many perish from cold, heat, hunger and thirst? Not from any deficiency or want of adaptation in material nature or her laws. The Almighty and All-wise Creator could, if it had seemed good to him, have made wholesome food and nutritious beverages as abundant and as easily procured as stones, water, and the atmosphere; and the means of clothing as abundant as the leaves of the trees, or the grass of the field. But he has not seen fit to do so. He has adopted a different system; a system which requires industry, frugality, forethought, and the exercise of ingenuity and skill. And why? Evidently because he knows it to be, upon the whole, the best for us in our present fallen condition and probationary state. We are rendered happier and better by means of this necessity to seek our subsistence and the comforts and the innocent luxuries of life by the healthful and moderate exercise of our bodily and mental powers. Even in the primeval state, man was required to cultivate the soil. When he fell from this state, more toil became necessary, and the earth was less spontaneous in her wholesome fruits, and more prolific of thorns, thistles, and briars. The curse, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread all the days of thy life," is thus converted into a blessing. The debasing and deteriorating influence of such a supply of the bounties of Nature as to render industry, forethought, and frugality unnecessary, is witnessed in tropical climes. This may be very agreeable to fallen man, but experience proves it to be injurious. It is far better for us to be obliged to dig our minerals from the bowels of the earth, and fabricate our garments from the raw materials which she supplies, and educe from her bosom by ingenuity and toil our necessary food; than to obtain all these things without effort. That is a wise and benevolent arrangement of the Creator which obliges us to avail ourselves of past experience and accumulated knowledge in deriving from the earth the means of subsistence and comfort. He has given us mental faculties, forethought, and muscular powers, a fruitful soil, and infallible laws, by the proper use of which we may acquire all that we need. In this respect we [15/16] are on probation; and according as we use the means within our reach, or not, we shall have enough, and to spare; or be in want, and beg. It is idleness, dishonesty, improvidence, intemperance, selfishness, profligacy and vice; and the perversion and abuse of the gifts and resources of nature; and the criminal disregard of past experience and accumulated knowledge; and the failure to employ aright the improvements of our predecessors, which give occasion to the deficiencies from which we suffer. "The hand of the diligent maketh rich," and "he that sows sparingly, reaps also sparingly;" and he who should reason from the facts that God is infinitely wise and good, and has given us such resources, that we have no need of the means and the experience and knowledge and skill which he has given us, and that we have nothing to do but to pluck and eat, or put on garments, or repose on beds of down, would be accounted insane. And the same is true with regard to spiritual things, and especially with respect to the Bible. The God of providence is the God of grace; and his system in the former is analogous to his system in the latter.
Further, as some of the best gifts of our mother earth are perverted into ruinous evils and deadly poisons; so are some of the most precious and important passages and doctrines of the Bible perverted by ingenuity and sophistry into poisons, which, when taken into the soul, produce eternal death, and unutterable miseries. From what does the ingenuity of man extract that alcohol which has ruined so many millions, and filled the world with weeping, wretchedness, and sin?--From some of the most wholesome, necessary, and nutricious bounties of nature. And from what does the ingenuity of men extract the doctrines of fatalism, antinomianism and resistless grace, of Unitarianism, Rationalism and Universalism,--of Purgatory, transubstantiation, indulgences, and adoration of Saints,--of Millerism, Mormonism, and fanaticism, and all those dogmas of heresy and schism which rend the Body of Christ, and fill the world with discord, parties, sectarianism and bigotry; and will fill the dark abodes of despair with weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth? From the Bible, misunderstood, tortured, wrested and abused. But this is not the fault of the Scriptures; nor any evidence of their insufficiency for the ends for which they were designed. It would be just as absurd and wicked to charge these evils upon the written word of God, as to charge the poverty, want, and wretchedness which so much abound,--or the poisons which the ingenuity of man extracts from her bounties, upon Nature. [16/17] The fault is attributable entirely to man himself, and not to the material world.
But there is one point in which the analogy does not hold good;--while the material earth with all its laws and garniture is precisely the same which it was six thousand years ago, and at this moment as direct a revelation of God as when originally created, and speaks precisely the same language as at first, the progress of science, art, and experience, makes us more and more perfectly acquainted with its nature and laws from year to year. On the other hand, the progress of time, and the changes of language, manners, and customs, continue to render the Scriptures more and more obscure and hard to be understood. So that to ascertain the true meaning of the holy Scriptures, and derive from them in the greatest purity and with the greatest certainty the doctrines of eternal life, and what they teach respecting the Church; we must go up as near as possible to the original source, and ascertain as far as practicable how they were interpreted by the inspired writers and their immediate pupils, and by the whole Church in her earliest, purest, and best days. This is so evidently a dictate of common sense, that it requires no special proof or illustration. It is what wise and honest men do in all similar cases; and to despise or ridicule this means of ascertaining, the true meaning of Scripture, is to despise and ridicule the very authorities upon which we are compelled to rely for evidence that the present canonical Books of Scripture are authentic and inspired, and were written by the men to whom they are ascribed; and he who profanely scoffs at the evidence of Christian Antiquity, perfectly, in this respect, accords with the infidel who scoffs at the evidence of the Divine origin of Christianity itself.
3. Nor, again, is the evil in question to be ascribed to any deficiency in the necessary means of ascertaining how the inspired writers of the New Testament interpreted their own writings or those of the Old Testament; or how either of these classes of writings were understood in the earliest and purest days of the Church--by those who sat at the feet of the Apostles, and were ordained by them to preach the gospel, and administer the sacrements, and govern the Church; or by their successors for the first three centuries. God in his mercy and good providence, has taken care that we should have ample and varied records of the faith, the opinions, and the lives of those holy men into whose hands the inspired writings were delivered, accompanied with all due explanations, by the very men who wrote them; and such historical, incidental, and monumental testimony as to the original [17/18] organization, officers, and discipline of the Church, that no one who has time and ability to read the Scriptures by this light can reasonably doubt on these points. And as for those who cannot search into these matters for themselves, the Church herself, in her solicitude for the well-being of her children, has accomplished this work in such a manner, and given us the result in such a form, that even they need not be perplexed, or "led away by the error of the wicked;" or the "cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive." And we are as really indebted to God for these facilities for ascertaining the true meaning of Holy Scripture, and the original structure of the Church, as we are either for the Bible or the Church. The manner of the gift does not take away the obligation of obedience or gratitude.
But this means of ascertaining the meaning of the Bible, and the t Divine Constitution of the Church has, in some measure, the same characteristic as a probationary test, with the Scriptures themselves. The extant records of Christian Antiquity, although more explicit on some obscure points, may be, and often are, misapprehended, perverted, garbled, and wrested, by the ignorant, the deluded, or the dishonest; or they maybe altogether neglected and despised. The modern ultra-Protestant, not liking their testimony, treats these ancient writings as the Deist treats the Bible. The Deist thinks he can derive a purer theology from the Book of Nature without the Bible; and the Rationalist, of every degree, thinks he can understand the Bible and deduce from it a purer faith, without the aid of the clear and sure light of the Primitive Church. Pride, unbelief, and self-sufficiency, in both cases lie at the foundation. Thus we may account for a large accession, in our days, to the number of those who are "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." But of this, more fully hereafter. The means of ascertaining the doctrines and precepts of the Bible, however, and the Apostolic organization and appointments of the Church, are thus provided whether we avail ourselves of them or not.
II. Having thus endeavoured to vindicate the Bible, and the God of the Bible, from all responsibility and blame connected with the evil under consideration, I now proceed to point out some of the real causes to which it is attributable, and show that the fault is in the sufferers themselves, and in certain dangerous principles.
1. The first great cause of this calamity, then, is the absence of an humble, obedient, and docile spirit in the learner. "God resisteth [18/19] the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble." "Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? There is more hope of a fool than of him." "Men of corrupt minds resist the truth." "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God." These texts go far to explain the evil of which we speak. Whatever may be said of the natural, or mathematical sciences, or of mere human philosophy or learning, it is certain that a proud, self-sufficient, unteachable, and disobedient spirit is highly unfavorable to the acquisition of Divine knowledge. A person who either reads, hears, or attempts to expound the Holy Scriptures with such a spirit, is in no state to desire, perceive, understand, or appreciate the truth of God. "He is proud, knowing nothing" "as he ought to know it," and in no condition to learn. Although, therefore, he may be ever learning, he will never be able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Yet this is the spirit which is sedulously cultivated in our days; and perpetually flattered and lauded by the modern religious demagogue. It is congenial to the carnal heart; and its aliment is devoured with avidity. It is inconsistent with holy reverence, subversive of all order, and utterly at variance with all wholesome deference and authority. It puffs up the soul with high notions of its own wisdom and greatness; bars the mind against all light which is in conflict with its preconceived notions, its prejudices, and its darling theories. It blinds the intellectual eye to the truth, which it distorts and blurs; dims the spiritual vision; and silences the consenting and witnessing responses of the moral sensibilities. It prompts him in whom it dwells to reject as useless all aid in seeking the meaning and intent of the inspired writers. Such a man, in the plenitude of his self-sufficiency, takes up the Bible, confident of his ability to interpret it for himself, and determined to receive no assistance, except perhaps from a few moderns of his own sect or party. He imagines that his Maker has spoken directly to himself--that he is the man, and that wisdom will die with him. He will receive no light, no instruction, no testimony with regard to its meaning and intent as understood by the Apostles, and in the earliest and purest days of the Church. The judgment of those who sat at the feet of inspired men who sat at the feet of Christ, and the testimony of those holy martyrs and saints, who drank of the pure river of God near its source, and sealed their testimony with their blood, are nothing to him; he is wiser and more faithful than they. The creeds of the Primitive ages; the Liturgies, Epistles, Homilies, and commentaries of the early [19/20] Church; the Decrees of General Councils; the historical remains of Christian Antiquity; the monumental and organic memorials of Apostolic Institutions; and the belief of the whole Church for the first four centuries, are all worthless and worse than useless to him. He scoffs at such things as puerile, ridiculous, and fabulous; and derides those who pay them the least deference, or acknowledge them to be of the slightest authority. The uncertainties of dead languages; the changes of manners, customs, and philosophy; the obscurity induced by innumerable heresies; the inaccuracies of translations; the errors of transcribers; the dimness occasioned by the lapse of time,--do not affect his vision, or oppose the slightest obstacle in his way. Regarding himself as wiser than the whole Church, and in no danger of falling into any of the mistakes and errors of the innumerable heretics, who, acting upon the same principle and following the guidance of their own fancies, have become bewildered and lost; and unadmonished by hundreds of existing false systems which are the legitimate fruits of unrestrained private interpretation, he will understand the Bible for himself. [Unrestrained. This is an important qualification. Private interpretation to a certain extent, regulated by great and established principles and landmarks, is not only admissable, but necessary. Hence, in the Sermon on the "Faith of the Saints," p. 20, the author ascribes the innumerable and pestilent errors and heresies which infest Protestant Christendom to "The false and dangerous principle of UNRESTRAINED private interpretation." A dishonest and Jesuitical private-interpretation-man, if he were quoting this sentence, would (of course) leave out the word unrestrained. It would not suit him to give a correct quotation. Besides, the habit of dealing unfairly with the Scriptures themselves would so sear his conscience, and inure him to fraudulent citation, that he would feel no scruples on the subject. "Let us do evil that good may come," is a maxim not confined to the Jesuits. This is the way in which theorists and errorists extract from the Bible what suits them. In the Sermon alluded to, after describing this process the author says,--The Bible is THUS USED LIKE a musical instrument of great compass and power upon which every man plays his favorite tune. And if the result be bad, the Bible is no more responsible than such a musical instrument for the discords produced by the performers." Now, a man accustomed to garble, torture, and "wrest "the Scriptures would think it perfectly allowable, and even laudable, to quote just so much of this passage as would make the author say that "the Bible is like a musical instrument upon which every man plays his favorite tune." This would be "doing God service," and suit him exactly.] He blots out the Sun, and retiring into the dark cavern of private fancy, he lights up the sickly taper of his own individual judgment, and proceeds to the interpretation of St. Paul's Epistles, in [20/21] which," says an Apostle, "are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, to their own destruction." Is it any wonder that such -a man should be "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth?" And if he be a teacher, is it any wonder that his hearers should make as little progress as himself? Tell such a man that he "errs in vision, and stumbles in judgment;" that he is fallible; and that he ought to avail himself of all that light of Christian Antiquity which God has furnished us as a help to the proper understanding of the Scriptures; that he ought to inquire how the Bible was interpreted and understood by the inspired writers themselves, and by those holy and faithful men who were their immediate disciples; and by the whole Church in her purest and best days; and that he is bound to respect the testimony of those who saw and ministered in the Church as she was organized, "set in order," and left by the Apostles of our Lord. And what is the effect? He will at once, and with the air of holy indignation, tell you that the Bible is sufficient of itself; and that he needs no such assistance in ascertaining its meaning. Nay, he will turn upon you, and charge you with adding to the Sacred Volume "human Traditions?" [Whoever gives attention to the religious phenomena of the day, will at first be greatly astonished, not merely at the uncharitableness and evil and vindictive tempers, but at the evidence of dishonesty and disregard of truth, which he will find in some of those who make the highest pretensions to Evangelical doctrine, and spiritual piety. But his surprise will cease when he has examined the subject more closely. He will find that, except in persons of strong principles of rectitude, and humble piety, this is but a legitimate development of false and deteriorating principles. He who under the sway of pride and self-sufficiency, and guided by his own fancy, interest, or prejudice, has first learned to rebel against the light, and deal dishonestly with the Book of God, and of course with God himself, cannot reasonably be expected to deal more truly, honestly, or honorably with his fellow men. Such persons, although at first to blame, become the miserable victims of theories, principles, and practices whose legitimate development brings forth these pernicious fruits. The real evil lies back of these specific developments; and cannot be corrected by pruning off the branches. The root must be reached. For this reason a man who understands the case, instead of wasting his time and energies in vain attempts to correct the evil in its fruits, will aim at the source. Such efforts if not curatives to the diseased, may prove preventives to the uninfected. When one is far gone, there is but little hope of his recovery; but for this very reason the more care should be taken to save those who arc not yet victims to the malady.] Tell him that all that you mean is that he ought to avail himself of all possible light in his endeavors to ascertain the meaning of the Bible; and that he is bound to defer to the judgment of those who were probably better informed, wiser, and more holy than himself, and to the Faith of the "Holy Church throughout all the world," and especially in her earliest and purest days; and he will probably call you a Romanist; and charge you with wishing to restrain the liberty of conscience, and lord it over the freeborn mind! He will remind you that you "live in this enlightened age," and "in the nineteenth century;" and that "American citizens" are not to be influenced or restrained in the exercise of their "private judgment" by obsolete testimony; by antiquated notions; by the childish faith of ancient times; or by the creeds of the Holy Church!--How is it possible for such a person, actuated by such a proud, self-sufficient, irreverent, and unteachable spirit, to make any considerable proficiency in learning the meaning of the Bible? With all his ignorance, passion, and sectarian spirit; with all his prejudices, private interests, and pre-conceived notions; with all his pride and self-sufficiency, he goes to his Bible, and employs all his ingenuity of private interpretation, to make it speak what he desires, and is determined beforehand to have it speak. Is there the slightest probability that such a person will be convinced of his errors, or abandon them if he were convinced; or that he will make any considerable progress in the acquisition of Divine knowledge? On the contrary, will he not be confirmed in his errors, and become more proud in his ignorance, and immovably fortified against the truth? Intrenched in his own perversions of the Word of God, he will defy all attempts to dislodge him from his fortress.
The very existence of such a spirit prevents him from asking in an humble and docile spirit for Divine assistance; or from asking in faith. And not only is such a spirit exceedingly offensive to God and certain to prevent Him in His just displeasure from granting assistance; but it totally disqualifies the person in whom it dwells and reigns, for the love and diligent and candid pursuit of Divine knowledge. He is likely to live and die in his ignorance, error, presumption and unbelief. He rejects the aid which God in his mercy proffers him, and in just retribution he is left to his own ways. This part of his probation leaves him hardened, deluded, and wrapped up in the winding-sheet of death. God sheds a pure and certain light upon the sacred page, and tells him to study it with humility, reverence, docility, and obedience, by aid of that light, and guided by the faith of his holy Church, and with prayer; [22/23] but he turns away the volume from that light, and virtually says," God, I thank thee that I am not as other men: I do not need this light. My own sagacity and judgment are sufficient. This light of pure and venerable antiquity only blinds my intellectual and spiritual perception. The Creeds, Liturgies, Decrees, Epistles, histories, and commentaries of Christian Antiquity, are too antiquated and obsolete for a man who lives 'in this enlightened age of the world.' I behold, despite my modern illumination, my wishes, and my prejudices, the sublime and venerable monuments of Churches built and ordered by Apostolic hands; and I discover upon them certain strange and mysterious inscriptions; but I like them not; they do not accord with my notions or my system; I can understand the Bible, which is my rule of faith, better without them. They only confuse my mind; dim my spiritual vision; and disturb my peace. Such aids may have been necessary to many wise, learned, and holy men of former days; and some weak-minded and credulous persons even in our days may be aided by them; but I see the truth and understand the Scriptures better without them. My perspicacity is so great, my understanding so enlightened, my judgment so sound, and my spiritual perception so clear, that all such things only retard my progress. No! 'the Bible and the Bible alone' for me. The Bible is sufficient for me; and I am sufficient for the Bible. I disapprove all additions to the word of God. 'If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.' If I receive any light and aid, it shall be those which are afforded by the great Doctors of my own sect, who belong to these modem and enlightened times. You seem to forget that I live in 'the nineteenth century:' that I am a Republican; and that freeborn citizens scorn to be dictated to in matters either political or religious. I pray thee have me excused. Away with your traditions!"
The case of a person in this state is rendered the more hopeless when he has succeeded, as many do, in persuading himself that he is one of the peculiar friends of the Bible, and, in consequence, one of the special favorites of God. One who holds sounder views, and pursues a wiser course, cannot approach him, or insinuate a single ray of light into his mind. He is "a mere formalist," a believer in "sacramental religion," knows nothing of "a change of heart," or "spiritual religion," and being in the darkness of nature and unregeneracy, is not fit to instruct an "Evangelical Christian." He believes in [23/24] Tradition, and exalts it above the Bible. He is almost, or altogether, a Romanist--an object of pity, instead of a competent instructor. Not content with this, our spiritual Christian proceeds to denounce the miserable formalist as an enemy of all truth and righteousness, who wishes to reduce men to spiritual slavery, and take from them the Bible. HE HAS NO IDEA WHATEVER THAT A SINCERE CHRISTIAN MAY, IN THE LEGITIMATE EXERCISE OF HIS "PRIVATE JUDGMENT," CHOOSE TO AVAIL HIMSELF OF ALL POSSIBLE LIGHT, AND THE SANCTION OF CATHOLIC ANTIQUITY, AND THE JUDGMENT OF MEN WISER AND BETTER THAN HIMSELF. He thinks that to go out of himself for aid, would be to surrender his rights and his conscience, and make himself a slave. He has no conception of the exercise of one's liberty in being guided by the best light he can obtain; or influenced by the highest and most trustworthy authority; or doing the best he can to secure his salvation. Such a course would, in his estimation, be pusillanimous, and indicate debasing bondage to the teachings of the Church. But I forbear. So absurd, and ridiculous is the position of such a person that I had, for the moment, almost forgotten his wickedness, and the imminent danger in which he is of losing his immortal soul.
What would be thought of a man who should treat the Book of Nature, as this class of interpreters treat the Book of Revelation? Let us suppose that he wishes to ascertain the elements, qualities, facts, and laws of Nature--which is as much a revelation of God, and bears his signature as evidently, as the Bible--and that he wishes if possible to come at the truth. How does he proceed? What does he do? Does he despise and reject the labors and discoveries of those great naturalists, chemists, astronomers and philosophers, who have studied this book for many centuries? Does he close his eyes against the discoveries and the light of those who in their profound, patient, and persevering researches have penetrated most deeply into the arcana--the secrets--of Nature, and ascertained most of her teachings and properties? Does he refuse to be guided by such men as Aristotle, Copernicus, Newton, Kepler, Laplace, and other great "Priests of Nature," and martyrs to her devotion? Does he scoff at those who humbly and wisely avail themselves of the light and the aids thus supplied?--If he did, what would be thought of him? What proficiency would he be likely to make? Who would take him as an instructor and guide? No sane man. Suppose, however, that this same man should ridicule and denounce as enemies of Nature, and of God who gave us [24/25] this book, all persons who should avail themselves of this aid in reading its pages,--suppose him to charge them with denying the sufficiency of this book, and imputing to it imperfection, thus casting reflections upon God, merely because they did not choose to rely upon their own private researches and judgment,--what would be thought of him? Let the advocates of unrestrained private interpretation, and the rejecters of the light, the testimony, and the authority of those who have penetrated most deeply into the secrets of the invisible world, answer this question. Such an interpreter of the Book of Nature closes his eyes against the light of the Sun; and goes out amid the darkness of night with a sickly and feeble taper, to read this mighty and mysterious volume. The application is easily made;--"Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks; walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have at mine hand--ye shall lie down in sorrows." This was the reward of self-sufficient interpreters of old. Have we not reason to fear that the same fearful retribution will be visited upon those who abuse and pervert the Bible by their own fires and sparks in modern times?
2. Another reason why many in our days are ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth, is to be found in the practice of listening to the instructions of false and seducing teachers of religion;--of men who have studied the Scriptures in the manner just described. Many such teachers there are in our days; and nothing can surpass their boldness, obtrusiveness, and assurance. And unhappily such has been the effect of the pernicious principle of unregulated private interpretation, and the evils to which it has given rise, that in the public mind the idea of a Divine commission and authority is almost entirely lost; and teachers of religion are regarded as holding their office by the same kind of tenure with that of the teacher of medicine, law, mathematics, or languages. I do not wish, however, to be understood as comprehending in the class of grossly heretical teachers, all those who in the judgment of our Church teach and administer the sacraments without valid ordination. Many of these men are sincere, pious, useful, and verily believe themselves to be authorized ambassadors of Christ; and, so far as they go, preach the truth as it is in Jesus. And God often blesses their labors, as indeed he blesses the simple reading of the Scriptures and pious books; and the conversations and exhortations of men who make no claim to be [25/26] ministers of Christ. At the feet of many of these sincere and excellent men I should be willing, recognizing them in their proper capacity, to sit and learn so far as they themselves have learned and believe. I do not question their honesty or piety: and what is chiefly to be lamented is that their errors in certain matters render them the more dangerous examples from these very excellencies of personal character. The nearer being right they are, the more, for this reason, we wish they were altogether right. The more exemplary they are, the more earnestly we desire to see them in such a position that their examples may be safe and salutary, instead of being pleaded in favor of error. As regards those great doctrines which they reject, that Divinely constituted Church which they oppose, and that Apostolic ministry which they refuse to seek, the more talented, pious, and exemplary they are, the greater is their power of doing harm, both by precept and example. But when I speak of false and seducing teachers, I refer especially to those gross errorists who carry out to their legitimate consequences those dangerous principles which the more orthodox promulgate, sanction with their authority and example, and follow only to the verge of the yawning vortex of infidelity, or fatal heresy. The more orthodox are heretical only, or chiefly, as regards Divine Institutions. But the persons referred to are heretical in doctrine. But it must not be forgotten that the former error has led millions into the latter. The Church being forsaken, the road to heresy and infidelity--as all history proves--is broad and clear, and trodden by millions. In the ultimate effect, and on succeeding generations, the issue is the same. Once started on the inclined plane, their progress is perpetually downward even to infidelity and atheism. [Mr. Stockton, a minister of the Methodist Protestant sect, has advanced so far as to pronounce the different "benevolent societies" "the purest and best Churches in the world;" and says, "it might be a question whether it were not a greater distinction to belong to one of these benevolent institutions than to any of the so-called Churches of the day." See his speech before the "American Sunday School Union." And see also another speech before one of these societies, published some time within the last year, in "The Christian World," of which he is Editor. How many of these "Benevolent Societies" he considers Churches may be a question not easily answered except by himself'.]
They who are prevented from coming to the knowledge of the truth by erroneous teaching, are partly to be pitied, and partly to be blamed. If they have always been brought up under such teachers, and in [26/27] connection with human societies, and are sincere in their unbelief, and honest in their practice, there is much to palliate and excuse; and it does not become us harshly to judge. But still the causes of error continue to operate; and the impediments in the way of learning remain. When the unsuccessful learner has been born and baptized in the Church, and learned from her the elements of saving knowledge, and then voluntarily and presumptuously forsaken her, and gone after seducing teachers, there is less room for pity, and more for blame.
The sin and the evil consequences of listening to false teachers are depicted in the highest colours in the Sacred Writings; and the most solemn warnings are given to those who to gratify "itching ears "surrender themselves to the leadings of such guides. It is chiefly to this cause that the evil under consideration is ascribed in the context. And it is evident that this cause alone would often be sufficient to account for the painful fact. How do the deluded victims of such errors become Unitarians, Universalists, Antinomians, Fatalists, Mormons, &c.? Generally by listening to the preaching of the advocates of the errors of these sects. This is the great reason why our Lord said, "take heed what ye hear." "Now," says St. Paul, "the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron." Here the evil is ascribed directly to listening to false and seducing teachers. How can a person who does so come to the knowledge of the truth?
By the teachings, arts, and influence of false and unauthorized men who "transformed themselves into the Apostles of Christ," great havoc was made upon the Church even in the days of the Apostles. Such was their success in seducing and leading astray the ignorant, simplehearted, and unwary, that St. Paul had occasion to say, "All they that be in Asia are turned away from me." At Corinth and elsewjiere he was opposed, and the truth and divine institutions resisted, by such teachers. And so late as the time of the writing of the book of Revelation, there were persons who claimed to be Apostles, or duly ordained Bishops, who had no ordination; and the Angel, that is, the Bishop, of the Church of Ephesus, was commended for having "tried them who said they were Apostles, and were not, and found them liars." These teachers are spoken of as being like Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, who intruded themselves into the Priests' office, and [27/28] undertook to perform the sacerdotal functions; and like t, Janina and Jambres who withstood Moses." Nor if the Israelites, and the early Christians, under the instruction and guidance of Moses and the Apostles, and in the midst of miracles, could be led astray by such impostors, need we be surprised that men of similar character and pretensions are equally successful in our days? These impostors and false teachers were cunning, insinuating, and sometimes talented and eloquent; and pretended to be far more pious than the Apostles; and that they were the special and only friends of spiritual and evangelical religion. Many of them had studied the passions, weaknesses, and tendencies of human nature, in those situations where it is most fully developed, and knew well how to appeal to them with success. They flattered the pride, vanity, and self-sufficiency of their hearers; and accommodated themselves to their prejudices. They used every art to make themselves conspicuous and popular; and pretended to be great friends of the people, and opposed to dictation and government. They misrepresented, slandered, and maligned the Apostles, and "spoke evil of dignities;" and led the people to believe them wonderfully pious, and zealous for the truth. They accomplished much, as in the case referred to in our text, by "creeping into houses and leading captive silly women." If these men had lived in our days, they would have been great friends of unlimited license of private interpretation of "the Bible, and the Bible alone." They would have made their appeals to the people as Republicans and Democrats, opposed to kings and bishops; and resorted to all the devices of the political demagogue. Have we no such men now? Have they not their legitimate "successors?"
3. There are several other causes, tending to produce the evil of fruitless learning, which I can barely enumerate. They are the following.--Want of prayer for Divine illumination and aid; the absence of a sense of dependence upon God, and of hungerings and thirstings after righteousness. Listlessness, and inattention to religious instruction. The counteraction of prejudice and passion. The habit of reading and hearing for the purpose of supporting some humah system of theology and Church polity, to be enabled to sustain an argument. Sectarian and party feeling and interest. The hostility of the corrupt heart to the truth and divine institutions. And last, but not least, I must mention a cause which of itself may account for the failure in many cases to come to the knowledge of the truth;--I mean unbelief. This [28/29] is the legitimate fruit, the sin, the punishment, and will be one of the chief causes of the eventual destruction and abandonment of the ultra-Protestant principles. These principles themselves originated partly under the influence of peculiar circumstances; partly in reaction from the credulity, superstition, and domination of Rome; and partly in unbelief. And although many causes may sometimes retard the event, the legitimate and certain effect of these principles, has already extensively been, both in Europe and America, and must ever be, Unitarianism, Universalism, Rationalism, fanaticism, schism, division, and subdivision without end; and, eventually, Deism. Break down the barriers, destroy the hedges and remove the landmarks;--destroy the reverence due to authority, lay aside the creeds and writings of Primitive Christianity, and invest the spirit of unbelief and speculation with the license to interpret the Holy Scriptures according to private judgment, fancy, interest, and will, and in a short time there will remain scarcely a fragment of Evangelical Truth, or a trace of Christian Faith; and the Bible, "Thus used like a musical instrument upon which every man plays his favorite tune," will be treated with irreverence and disrespect, and will sink into utter contempt. Concede also the parity of the clergy, and Presbyterial and lay ordination, and the right to form new Churches at pleasure, by division, or novel organization according to human fancy or convenience; and what would be the legitimate and natural result? This is not a problem remaining to be solved at this day--it has been worked out to demonstration. We see the result in France, in Switzerland, in Germany, in England, in Scotland, in the United States--Error, Heresy, Fanaticism, Scepticism, and Infidelity, in a thousand forms; and hundreds of new sects, all claiming to be Churches purer, better, and more orthodox and pious than the "One Catholic and Apostolic Church" even in its purest branches! The necessity of Apostolic succession and ordination is scoffed at. All mystery in the sacraments is explained away; and all peculiar efficacy and grace connected with the administration and reception of them are denied. One-third of Protestant Christendom has already been swallowed up in the vortex of Christian infidelity; and another fourth is careering onward with the velocity, and self-complacency, and exultation of "modern improvement."
The subtle spirit of scepticism and infidelity has done an incalculable amount of harm. It is deeply lodged in the human heart; and when encouraged in the slightest degree, it becomes vigorous and bold, [29/30] and commences its assaults upon whatever is miraculous, mysterious, or incomprehensible, or requires the proud spirit to how to its authority. Hence, wholesome reverence being destroyed, legitimate authority despised, and Divine institutions forsaken, this insidious spirit soon commenced its attacks upon whatever could not be proved by reason, accounted for on natural principles, explained by philosophy, or comprehended by the human mind. At this moment nearly one half of all Protestant Christians deny the proper inspiration of the Scriptures, reject the most vital doctrines of the Christian Faith, and are little better than Deists. All that is peculiar to the Gospel and the Church, has been explained away, little by little, by the process of Private Interpretation. To ridicule and scoff at all reverence for Divine Institutions, for the faith of the primitive Church, and the great landmarks of orthodoxy, is by many regarded as the surest evidence of Evangelical Doctrine, and spiritual piety. To contend earnestly for "the faith once delivered unto the saints," is regarded as evidence of formalism, bigotry, and pusillanimity. And the progress is gradually onward, and still onward, by imperceptible degrees, into the cold, barren, and cheerless regions of sheer infidelity. From deep to lower deep, from refinement to still more subtle refinement, the spirit of speculation, interpretation, and unbelief goes on, until neither body nor soul, neither form nor power remains.
These pernicious results are seen and lamented by the more orthodox and conservative ministers and members of the various Christian denominations; and they are perpetually suffering from them in different ways. Yet such is the effect of party spirit and prejudice, that they are completely blinded to the real causes of their origin and progress; and, even when they suspect their influence, their own existence as "denominations" is so completely dependent upon these very principles, that they neither will nor can expose and resist them. To do so, would be to undermine and eventually destroy their own communities. They cannot believe that the very principles upon which they are founded, and by which they are defended and propagated, can be the cause of the enormous evils of which we speak; and to expect them to do so at once, is to look for better fruits than human nature generally yields. There is great room here for the exercise of charity and forbearance; and a loud call for faithful and persevering efforts to open their eyes to the true sources of the mischief. Nor ought we to be disappointed or impatient if the expected result should not appear [30/31] immediately to come. Nor ought we to be irritated when our most faithful and well-meant efforts are repelled, denounced, and charged to the account of bigotry and exclusiveness; or to render reviling for reviling, or persecution for persecution. There is nothing in regard to which even well-meaning and conscientious persons are more sensitive than their religious peculiarities and prejudices: and this sensitiveness is usually increased by a feeling of insecurity, and a misgiving with regard to the stability and tenableness of the ground upon which the person who manifests it stands. Hence to the sagacious and those who have studied human nature, this always appears to be a favorable sign. The present irritability of some of our non-episcopal brethren, therefore, may be regarded as an auspicious symptom. It indicates that they begin seriously to doubt the firmness of the ground upon which they stand; that they feel their foundation beginning to give way; that the light of truth is penetrating the scales of error and prejudice; and that the Church is about to receive large accessions from their ranks. This ought to encourage us to endure with meekness and patience all the misrepresentations, abuse, and maledictions which may be heaped upon us by the more fierce, uncharitable, and indiscreet of the advocates of their principles and systems. If Satan, a fallen angel, be represented in Scripture as being in "great wrath because he knoweth that he bath a short time," is it to be wondered at that a fallen and imperfectly sanctified man should under similar circumstances be somewhat similarly affected? "Let patience have its perfect work;" and in due time there will be, we trust, a great diminution of the number of those unhappy persons who are "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." We may often have occasion to inquire of them, "Am I therefore your enemy because I tell you the truth?" But when they become irritated, and treat us as if we were their enemies, let us remember that although they may requite us evil for intended good, charity requires us to believe, or at least hope. that they "know not what they do;" and instead of revenging ourselves upon them, we are bound to imitate the example of Him who, in behalf of his murderers earnestly prayed, "Father, forgive them." The truth is, there has been so much said against our Church from its very origin, and the Church of England ever since the Reformation, that many honest and excellent persons, who would not knowingly violate the laws of charity even in thought, really think it to be as bad as it is represented; and in opposing it "verily think they are doing [31/32] God service." But it is a favourable indication that many of the ministers of the different orthodox denominations have, in spite of their education and prejudices, became convinced of their errors, and sought that very ordination which they once ridiculed and despised. That they who are the most deeply interested, whose consciences are most likely to be touched, and whose means of information are best, in the greatest proportion become convinced of their mistakes, and embrace the truth, and conform to the divinely appointed and authorized institutions and laws, is a fact which promises better days; and one which has not been without its influence upon the public mind. And if they have been most traduced and maligned, this is not a matter of surprise, any more than that the defection of the officers of an army should be regarded as a more serious and infectious evil than the desertion of private soldiers; or that when within gun-shot of the deserted party, the artillery should be most carefully levelled at their persons. [Perhaps no class of men have been so violently and uncharitably assailed as those who have renounced the ministry of the different denominations, and received ordination in the Church. It is often charged upon them as a crime, or a matter of disgrace that they have made such changes. They may with impunity exercise their liberty, private judgment, and freedom of conscience, in all directions except this. They may be fallible in all things except in their rejection of Episcopacy; and here they most be infallible, and never change. Perhaps the reason may be this--the fact of such a change implies an acknowledgment that the person was wrong before he made it, and consequently that those whom he has left behind are not infallibly right. Hence, the motives of all such persons must be impugned, their honesty called in question, and their piety represented as not "Evangelical." But they ought not to be surprised or irritated at this. It is perfectly natural, and just the same kind of thing which occurs when a man makes a political change. But surely every man ought to have the liberty of righting himself when he finds that he has been wrong. There is something within us which leads us to suspect that they who cannot believe that others have been influenced by conviction and conscience, know but little about such things themselves. He who believes all others to be selfish, dishonest, and actuated by unworthy motives, must have studied the human heart by the experience of a very unfavorable specimen. About two-thirds of our clergy are from different denominations; and within the last thirty years more than three hundred ministers of these denominations have been ordained as ministers of the Church in the United States.]
But I must close. I trust that, by the grace of God, it has been made sufficiently evident that while the existence of the evil alluded to in the text cannot be doubted, it is not attributable to any insufficiency or fault in the Holy Scriptures:--that while they contain all things [32/33] necessary to individual salvation, and as respects all practical matters are sufficiently intelligible to the sincere and the dilligent, they reveal profound doctrines and incomprehensible facts, to be received by faith, and not with speculation; and that they have been designedly written in such a manner as to afford an important means of probation. It appears that the deplorable and often fatal evil which we have had under consideration, is not justly attributable to the obscurity of the truth itself--which being in many points incomprehensible in its nature must be believed on evidence and authority; nor to any deficiency or unnecessary obscurity in the Sacred Writings--which were intended to contain some things "hard to be understood," which the "unlearned and unstable" might "wrest to their own destruction;" nor to any deficiency in the means of ascertaining the purport of the Inspired Volume, and the Apostolical Constitution of the Church; for these means have been amply furnished to our hands in the providence of God, and by the agency and maternal care of his Church. The real causes of the evil are unfolded in the progiress of the discourse, and need not here be recapitulated. From all that has been said, the dangers to which we are exposed, and the means of avoiding them, are manifest. May He who, when his aid is invoked in faith, "giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not," grant his blessing upon this humble effort
"To vindicate eternal Providence
And justify the ways of God to man."
As regards the inspired and infallible document of revealed truth, we hold to "The Bible and the Bible alone." As regards interpretation, and the way of ascertaining the meaning and intent of the Bible, we rely not upon the private judgment of individuals, or the creeds of modern sects; but upon that which, although subordinate, less certain, and of inferior authority, comes nearest to the light of written revelation--the light of Catholic Antiquity and Catholic consent--the Faith of the "one Catholic and Apostolic Church." That which, (excluding all Romish additions, and retaining all that has been explained away by private interpretation, or rejected by unbelief,) has existed from the beginning, and will continue to the end--is OUR FAITH. And whenever doubts or disputes arise as regards any particular of this Faith relating to doctrine, precepts, institutions, or discipline, while we listen to the suggestions and arguments of individuals, [33/34] we bow to the decisions of the Church, which "bath authority in controversies of faith." Thus we make the nearest approximation possible to obedience to the Apostolic injunction,--"Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle." "Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances [margin, the traditions] as I delivered them unto you." These passages prove the correctness of the affirmation of the celebrated Lutheran, Knapp, that "The writings of the Apostles always presuppose the oral instructions which they had given to the Christians whom they addressed, and do not therefore exhibit any regular and formal system of doctrines." Let us, therefore, my brethren, cherish feelings of humility and self-distrust; and instead of relying upon our own imagined sufficiency, and individual ability to interpret writings so "hard to be understood," let us avail ourselves of the light of that "oral instruction" which was collected and preserved by the Primitive Ages; and rest more upon the information of those holy men who lived while the pure rays of Revelation lingered in the East, than upon our own wisdom and sagacity; and defer more to the Creeds and other authoritative 'teachings of the "One Catholic and Apostolic Church," than to the opinions of modern Sects or individuals. So shall we not be "ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."
1. On making particular inquiry of Bishop Southgate, whose means of judging render his estimate valuable, I find that the statistical table, given on page v. of the Preface of the sermon on The Faith of the Saints," although correct in the aggregate, is not altogether accurate in the details. His estimate of the number of the Oriental Churches is as follows:
The Greek Church within the Russian Empire, 60,000,000
The Greek Church within the Turkish Empire, 7,000,000
The Armenian Church, 5,000,000
The Nestorian Church 150,000
The Syrian Church, 100,000
The Coptic Church in Egypt, the Churches in Abyssinia, Persia, and Hindostan, 2,750,000
The Church of Rome, according to her own estimate, 200,000,000
The Swedish and Moravian Churches, at least 3,000,000
To these we must add the Churches in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and the United States, and the British Colonies, not less than 22,000,000
Making an aggregate of 300,000,000
I was misled by the estimate of Malte Brun of the Greek Church within the Turkish Dominions at 30,000,000, and not adverting to the fact that he inaccurately includes the other Oriental Churches in that Empire in this number. But this does not alter the general result, or the proportions between the genuine Episcopal Churches, and the Non-Episcopal and spurious Episcopal denominations.
In the number of the Non-Episcopal and spurious Episcopal communities, estimated at thirty millions, I included all the various Sects of these classes--said to be a hundred or more--embracing even those which are most heretical, and scarcely deserve the name of Christian, such as Unitarians, Rationalists, Universalists, Shakers, Mormons, &c. But those denominations--or the members of those denominations--that may be considered more or less orthodox, would not exceed fifteen, probably not ten millions.
 We are not responsible for the additions, or the perversions, or the deadness of the Romish and Oriental Churches. It is enough for our argument that they are all genuine Episcopalians--that they all have the Ministry in Three Orders, and hold to, and undoubtedly have, the Apostolic Succession; and, besides, worship God by prescribed forms, and according to a Ritual extending through the year. The numbers then stand thus,
Genuine Episcopalians, 300,000,000
Non-Episcopalians and Pseudo-Episcopalians, 30,000,000
The latter are one-eleventh of the whole at this time; and estimating from the death of Christ, about one-sixtieth.
2. Lest the statement in the Preface respecting threats of excommunication" should be considered unfounded, I here give an extract front a sermon lately preached "before the Synod of Pennsylvania, (New-School Presbyterian) by B. J. Wallace," of York, Pa.:
"There is a limit to courtesy, though it is most painful to be obliged to fix it; and this portion of the Episcopal Church in America, may expect, if matters go on as they have been going, the whole Protestant Church will leave them to stand alone, or only in companionship with Rome--a warning not meaningless, nor without force, in free, republican, and Protestant America."
Alas! what will become of us?
In a published sermon lately delivered in the "Fifth Presbyterian Church," Philadelphia, a threat is expressed that if we do not take care, we shall he treated as "Ishmaelites." These are only specimens. What is this but' a certain species of excommunication?