« PreviousContinue »
unwritten (that is, transmitted by oral tradition), fixed for the whole Body, or variable, according to the discretion of particular governors, are, and must be, used in every christian Church. This is doing no more than is evidently allowable and expedient . But it is quite otherwise when any Church, by an unwarrantable assumption, requires all who would claim the christian name to assent to her doctrines and conform to her worship, whether they approve of them or not,—to renounce all exercise of their own judgment, and to profess belief in whatever the Church has received or may hereafter receive.
'The religion of the heathen consisted rather in rites and ceremonies than in any constant religious belief. . . . But the true God hath this attribute,' &c.
Bacon here notices the characteristic that distinguishes the christian religion from the religion of the heathen. The religion of the heathen not only was not true, but was not even supported as true; it not only deserved no belief, but it demanded none. The very pretension to truth—the very demand of faith—were characteristic distinctions of Christianity. It is truth resting on evidence, and requiring belief in it, on the ground of its truth. The first object, therefore, of the adherents of such a religion must be that Truth which its divine Author pointed out as defining the very nature of his kingdom, of his objects, and of his claims. 'For this cause came I into the world, that I might bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.'' And if Truth could be universally attained, Unity would be attained also, since Truth is one. On the other hand, Unity may conceivably be attained by agreement in error; so that while by the universal adoption of a right faith, unity would be secured, incidentally, the attainment of unity would be no security for truth.
It is in relation to the paramount claim of truth that the view we have given of the real meaning of Church Uuity in Scripture is of so much importance; for, the mistake of representing it as consisting in having one community on earth, to which all Christians belong, or ought to belong, and to whose
John sviii. 37.
government all are bound to submit, has led to truth being made the secondary, and not the paramount, object.1
What the Pomanist means by renouncing 'private judgment' and adhering to the decisions of the Church, is, substantially, what many Protestants express by saying, 'We make truth the first and paramount object, and the others, unity.' The two expressions, when rightly understood, denote the same; but they each require some explanation to prevent their being understood incorrectly, and even unfairly.
A Roman Catholic does exercise private judgment, once for all, if (not through carelessness, but on earnest and solemn deliberation) he resolves to place himself completely under the guidance of the Church (as represented by his priest) which he judges to have been divinely appointed for that purpose. And in so doing he considers himself, not as manifesting indifference about truth, but as taking the way by which he will attain either complete and universal religious truth, or at least a greater amount of it than could have been attained otherwise. To speak of such a person as indifferent about truth, would be not only uncharitable, but also as unreasonable as to suppose a man indifferent about his health, or about his property, because, distrusting his own judgment on points of medicine or of law, he places himself under the direction of those whom he has judged to be the most trustworthy physician and lawyer.
On the other hand a Protestant, in advocating private judgment, does not, as some have represented, necessarily maintain that every man should set himself to study and interpret for himself the Scriptures (which, we should recollect, are written in the Hebrew and Greek languages), without seeking or accepting aid from any instructors, whether under the title of translators (for a translator, who claims no inspiration, is, manifestly, a human instructor of the people as to the sense of Scripture), or whether called commentators, preachers, or by whatever other name. Indeed, considering the multitude of tracts, commentaries, expositions, and discourses of various forms, that have been put forth and assiduously circulated by Protestants of all denominations, for the avowed purpose (be it well or ill executed) of giving religious instruction, it is really strange that such an interpretation as I have alluded to should ever have been put on the phrase of 'private judgment.' For, to advert to a parallel case of daily occurrence, all would recommend a student of mathematics, for instance, or of any branch of natural philosophy, to seek the aid of a well-qualified professor or tutor. And yet he would be thought to have studied in vain, if he should ever think of taking on trust any mathematical or physical truth on the word of his instructors. It is, on the contrary, their part to teach him how—by demonstration or by experiment—to verify each point for himself.
1 Sec Charge on the Claims of Truth and of Unity.
On the other hand, the adherents of a Church claiming to be infallible on all essential points, and who, consequently, profess to renounce private judgment, these (besides that, as has been just said, they cannot but judge for themselves as to one point—that very claim itself) have also room for the exercise of judgment, and often do exercise it, on questions as to what points are essential, and for which, consequently, infallible rectitude is insured. Thus the Jansenists, when certain doctrines were pronounced heretical by the Court of Rome, which condemned Jansenius for maintaining them, admitted, as in duty bound, the decision that they were heretical, but deuied that they were implied in Jansenius's writings; and of this latter point, the Pope, they said, was no more qualified or authorized to decide than any other man. And we should be greatly mistaken if we were to assume that all who have opposed what we are accustomed to call 'the Reformation' were satisfied that there was nothing in their Church that needed reform, or were necessarily indifferent about the removal of abuses. We know that, on the contrary, many of them pointed out and complained of, and studied to have remedied, sundry corruptions that had crept into their Church, and which were, in many instances, sanctioned by its highest authorities.
Sincere, one must suppose, and strong, must have been the conviction of several who both did and suffered much in labouring after such remedy. And it would be absurd, as well as uncharitable, to take for granted that Erasmus, for instance, and, still more, Pascal and all the Jansenists, were withheld merely by personal fear, or other personal motives, from revolting against the Church of Rome. But they conceived, no doubt, that what they considered Church-Unity was to bo piv
served at any cost; that a separation from what they regarded as the Catholic (or Universal) Church, was a greater evil than all others combined. If, without loss of unity, they could succeed in removing any of those other evils, for such a reform they would gladly labour. But, if not, to Unity anything and everything was to be sacrificed.
Such seems to have been the sentiment of a Roman-catholic priest, apparently a man of great simplicity of character, who, about three or four years ago, had interviews, at his own desire, with several of our bishops. He spoke very strongly of the unseemly and lamentable spectacle (and who could not but agree with him in thinking it ?) of disunion and contention among Christ's professed followers; and he dwelt much upon the duty of earnestly praying and striving for unity.
In reference to this point, it was thought needful to remind him, that two parties, while apparently agreeing in their prayers and endeavours for unity, might possibly mean by it different things; the one understanding by it the submission of all Christians to the government of one single ecclesiastical community on earth; the other, merely mutual kindness, and agreement in faith. Several passages of Scripture were pointed out to him, tending to prove that the Churches founded by the Apostles were all quite independent of each other, or of any one central Body. To one among the many passages which go to prove this, I directed his especial attention; that in which Paul's final interview (as he believed it) with the elders of Miletus and Ephesus is recorded (Acts xx.). Foreseeing the dangers to which they would be exposed, even from false teachers amongst themselves, and of which he had been earnestly warning them for three years, it is inconceivable that he should not have directed them to Peter or his successors at Rome or elsewhere, if he had known of any central supreme Church, provided as an infallible guide, to whose decisions they might safely refer when doubts or disputes should arise. It follows therefore inevitably that he knew of none. But all Christians were exhorted to 'keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.' Such unity, the applicant was reminded (for he was formerly a minister of our Church), is the subject of a special petition in our Prayer for all Conditions of Men, and in several others.
It was remarked to him, that Truth has a paramount claim to be the first object; and that since Truth is one, all who reach Truth will reach Unity; but that men may, and often do, gain Unity without Truth.
He was reminded, moreover, that agreement among Christians, though an object we should wish for, and endeavour by all allowable means to promote, must, after all, depend on others as much as on ourselves; and our endeavour may be completely defeated through their fault: whereas truth is a benefit —and a benefit of the first importance—to those who receive it themselves, even though they should have to lament its rejection by many others.
And it was pointed out to him, that to pray and strive for truth, and to be ever open to conviction, does not (as he seemed to imagine) imply a wavering faith, and an anticipation of change. When any one prints from moveable types, this does not imply that he has committed, or that he suspects, typographical errors, any more than if he had employed an engraved plat*. The types are not moveable in the sense of being loose and liable to casual change. He may be challenging all the world to point out an error, showing that any can be corrected if they do detect one; though, perhaps, he is fully convinced that there are none.
He was, in conclusion, reminded that 'no man can serve two masters;' not because they are necessarily opposed,, but because they are not necessarily combined, and cases may arise in which the one must give way to the other. There is no necessary opposition even between 'God and Mammon,' if by 'Mammon' we understand worldly prosperity. For it will commonly happen that a man will thrive the better in the world from the honesty, frugality, and temperance which he may be practising from higher motives. And there is not even anything necessarily wrong in aiming at temporal advantages. But whoever is resolved on obtaining wealth in one way or another (' si possis, recte; si non, quocunque modo, rem') will occasionally be led to violate duty; and he, again, who is fully bent on 'seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,' will sometimes find himself called on to incur temporal losses. And so it is with the occasionally rival claims of Truth, and of Unity, or of any two objects which may possibly be, in some instance, opposed. We must-make up our minds which