Imatges de pàgina
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and to submit to no discipline which might restrain their unruly imaginations. Nor

even the Protestant Reformation, though in itself largely indebted to the revival of pure and genuine learning for its success, wholly unsullied by fanaticism of this kind : against which however its most distinguished leaders, Luther, Melancthon, and others, did not fail most strenuously to caution their disciples. And can we say, that our own times (boasting, nevertheless, of progressive improvement in every branch of knowledge) are entirely free from the same reproach ? Are there not yet among us those who foster delusions of the grossest kind, by encouraging the pernicious notion, that human acquirements are altogether superseded by the Divine Word, and that unlettered ignorance is no disqualification for the office of the Sacred Interpreter ?

To guard then against such mistaken views of the subject, and against any misconstruction of what has already been advanced in the foregoing Discourse, I proceed now to consider what deference is justly due to Church-authority, to human Reason, and to the ordinary assistance of the Holy Spirit; and what advantages may be derived from these, in subordination to the authority of Scripture itself.

I. On the first of these points, Papists and Protestants (with the exception of those among the latter who entirely separate from the Church as a visible community) are thus far agreed, that they mutually acknowledge the Divine ordinance of a Ministry, by whom the Sacred Word is to be promulgated and expounded. But with respect to the nature and extent of its authority, there exists between them this manifest difference. The Papist looks to one visible Head of the whole Christian Church, the universal Arbiter of religious controversies, infallible in his decisions, and from whom there is no appeal. The Protestant acknowledges no such universal Head, nor deems the Church itself, acting even by its legitimate rulers, to be either gifted with infallibility, or vested with such authority as may annul the right of its individual members to appeal to Scripture

itself,

itself. The Church, he contends, has no lawful power to enjoin any doctrine or observance militating against the written Word. And the reason is this :--that the authority of the Church being derived from Scripture, as the charter by virtue of which it

governs, it cannot with impunity violate the charter itself. Subject however to this restriction, the Church may be said to have a certain judicial power in matters of Faith. It is the constituted Guardian of the truth; and may do whatever the Scripture enjoins or permits, for the government and edification of the body at large ; though it cannot originate, as of its own right, doctrines or duties really necessary to salvation.

The difference then between the parties (it has been well observed) is simply this :

one demands absolute assent and un“ limited obedience; the other, only con“ ditional assent and cautionary obedi“ ence.” The Protestant steers a middle course between superstitious veneration and lawless contempt of authority. Of the injury done to truth by departing from this

golden

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golden mean, the history of the Church supplies abundant proof. Heresies at first sprang up, from want of due respect and subordination to ecclesiastical powers. After a while, on the depression of the turbulent spirits who introduced them, the Romish Church began to arrogate to herself an authority above the Sacred Word. And when this assumption of power received a sudden check from the counteracting force of the Protestant Reformation, then again there arose, among them who renounced her communion, some who were disposed to exercise unwarrantable liberties, and whose disorganizing principles gave occasion to the revival of many an exploded error, not without the addition of novelties equally detrimental to the purity of the Faith. The people were taught to spurn at every attempt to secure the sound exposition of Scripture by Liturgies, and Creeds, and Articles ; as derogating from its sacred character. Hence new lights were continually sought for, and many an ignis fatuus was pursued by the inconsiderate and admiring multitude.

Such

Such evils are only to be avoided by duly considering, that, though the Word of God is in itself a perfect rule of Faith, yet to the far greater portion of mankind it can only become so through some me. dium of human instruction. That medium the Scripture itself has pointed out to be the Christian ministry. Though the private Christian therefore, however uneducated, is not bound to rely upon any man, or upon any body of men, as infallible; yet is he bound, in prudence and in conscience, to look to such authorized teachers for necessary information. If he wantonly or perversely disregard their authority, it is at his peril that he does so; and should the result be that he fall into error, the fault can hardly be altogether venial. Nay, even from persons whose talents and acquirements give them much higher pretensions, some deference may reasonably be expected, to those who claim, upon the ground of institutions, not only long-established and long-venerated, but even of Divine appointment, the character of spiritual Guides ;claims, which ought at least to be thoroughly

and

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