EXPLANATION OF THE RULE OF FAITH.
Q. Has Jesus Christ left us a rule by which we may know the truths he has revealed?Return to Table of Contents
A. He has; and it is only by following this rule that we are preserved in that one true faith, of which the scripture says, there is "one Lord, one faith, one baptism," Eph. iv. 5.; and "without which faith it is impossible to please God," Heb. xi. 6. Hence St. Paul, exhorting all to be of the same mind, that is, to believe the same truths, and to have the same faith, commands us to continue in this rule, as the means to be so; "Nevertheless," says he, "Whereunto we are already arrived, that we be of the same mind, let us also continue in the same rule," Philip. iii. 16.
Q. Have we any description of this rule in the scriptures?
A. Yes, we have; the prophet Isaiah, foretelling the glory of Christ's kingdom, describes this rule by which we are to walk under the gospel, as a high way, plain, open, and easy to walk in; as a way of holiness, containing everything necessary for making those holy who walk in it; as a certain and secure way, in which even fools shall walk without danger of error; and, finally as a way that leads to eternal happiness. The prophet's words are these: "And a path and a way shall be there, and it shall be called the holy way - and this shall be to you a straight way, so that fools shall not err therein - they shall walk there that they shall be delivered; and the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and shall come into Sion with praise, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow, and mourning shall flee away, Isa. xxxv. 8.
Q. What may be drawn from these words of the prophet?
A. That the rule which Jesus Christ has left for instructing us in what we are to believe and do, in order to be saved, has these three properties.
First, It is easy and plain, fitted for all capacities.
Second, It is universal, and contains all revealed truths.
Third, It is certain, and may be securely depended upon.
Q. Was it becoming the wisdom and goodness of God to leave us such a rule for our guide in these things?
A. It was not only becoming him to do so, but it was absolutely necessary for the end he proposed. For how could he require of man to believe his truths and obey his law, under pain of damnation, if he had not left us some plain and certain means by which we might know what all these truths are, and what his law requires from us?
WHAT IS THE RULE OF FAITH?
Q. What is the rule of our faith left us by Jesus Christ?Return to Table of Contents
A. The Christian world, as it stands at present, is divided into two great bodies in regard to this point. All, indeed, agree in this, that the holy scriptures, being dictated by the Holy Ghost, are truly the word of God, and therefore are infallibly true in what they teach, both as to what we are to believe, and as to what we are to do in order to be saved. But, as the divine truths contained in them cannot be known without understanding the true sense of these sacred writings; hence the great question arises, How is the true sense of the scripture to be known? One of the two great bodies of Christians, to with, the Protestants, affirm, that the true sense of the scriptures may be sufficiently known in all things necessary to salvation, by every man of sound judgment, who reads them with humility and attention; and, therefore, they hold, that the rule left by Jesus Christ to man for knowing what we are to believe, and what we are to do, in order to be saved is the written word alone, interpreted by every man of sound judgment. The other great body of Christians, namely, the Roman Catholics, affirm, that the true sense of the scriptures cannot be sufficiently known by any private interpretation, but only by the public authority of the church; and, therefore, they hold that the rule left us by Jesus Christ is the written word, as interpreted by the Church.
Q. How shall this great question be decided?
A. This is indeed a very great and important question, on the solution of which the whole difference between the Protestants and the Roman Catholics depends. But the decision of it is far from being difficult; it is shown in a very plain and simple manner, by comparing each of these two rules with the three qualities, which, as we have seen above, both scripture and reason show us the rule left by Jesus Christ must have, and seeing to which of these rules those qualities belong. Now the qualities or the properties of the rule left by Jesus Christ are, that it is plain and easy, comprehensive, containing all truths, and certain, so that we can depend upon it.
Q. Is it written word alone a plain and easy rule, fitted for all capacities?
A. A little attention will show that it is far from it; for
First, It is impossible it should be such to those who cannot read; and yet that vast multitudes of these are there in the world! To them it can be no rule at all; for they cannot make the least use of it. Before printing was invented, which was not far above thirteen hundred years after Christ, there were none but written books in the world; and, of course, very few learned to read at all; not, perhaps, one in some thousands. What must be great bulk of mankind have done during all that time, if the written word alone be the only rule? Did Jesus Christ leave a rule for knowing his truths, which could be used only by the learned, whilst yet he obliges all, without exception, to believe these truths, under pain of damnation?
Second, With regard to those who can read, and who pretend to follow the written word alone, as they interpret it for themselves, we see from experience that they can never agree among themselves about the sense of it; but run into the most opposite and contradictory interpretations of it, which is the most convincing proof that it is far from being plain and easy; nay, on the contrary, that it is in many things hard to be understood, and obscure.
Third, The scripture itself affirms, in express terms, that, in the Epistles of St. Paul, there are "some things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction," 2 Pet. iii. 16. in which text it is plainly declared that the scriptures are "hard to be understood;" and that not only the unlearned, but also the unstable,, who presume to interpret them according to their own judgment, instead of finding their true sense, pervert and wrest them to false meanings; and by so doing, bring destruction on themselves. Consequently, th is rule of the written word alone, is by no means a plain and easy rule fitted for all capacities; but, on the contrary, it is a most dangerous thing for any one to pretend to follow it as his rule; for the number of the unlearned is immense, and among those who are learned, who can answer for his own stability? Would ever Jesus Christ have left such a hard and dangerous rule to poor mortals?
Q. Is The written word alone a comprehensive rule?
A. It is far from it; there are several things believed and practised by all Christians, for which no authority is found in scripture; nay, which are contrary to the express words of scripture; we shall only mention these three.
First, The law of God laid down in scripture, commands the seventh day of the week, which is Saturday, to be kept holy, and no manner of work to be done in it. There is not, in the whole Bible, one single text annulling that law, or dispensing with it; and yet all Christians think it lawful to break that law, by working upon the seventh day, and think it a duty to keep holy the first day of the weeks, or Sunday in its place.
Second, The scripture expressly forbids to eat blood, or things strangled, as a command of the Holy Ghost, Acts xv. 28. And yet this law is broken every day by Christians, without any scruple, though they have not the smallest authority from scripture to do so.
Third, All Christians believe the scriptures to be the word of God, written by the inspiration the Holy Ghost; and this belief is the very ground-work of religion to those who follow scriptures alone as their rule; yet there is not the smallest proof from scriptures themselves of their being so.
It is simply impossible to prove, from the scriptures, that the books therein contained were written by those whose names they bear; that these writers were inspired by God; that the books, as we have them, are such as were wrote by them, without addition, diminution, or corruption; or that the translation made of them are faithful, and agree with the originals. The scriptures then are far from being a comprehensive rule, and far from containing all revealed truths, since the above particulars, and many others, are not to be found in them.
Q. Is the written word alone a certain rule?
A. It fails here no less than in the two former properties. The true sense of scripture is, indeed, a most certain and infallible rule; but it is evident, that those who interpret it by their own private judgments, can have no certainty that the sense they put upon it is the true one; for
First, The scripture itself declares, "that the unlearned and the unstable wrest it to their own destruction," 2 Pet. iii. 16. Now, ow can any man be certain that he is not of this number? He may say he thinks he is right, but he can have no certainty. Nay, he cannot reasonably even think he is right; for
Second, Those who follow their own interpretation as their rule, are perpetually disagreeing among themselves, and giving the most contrary and often contradictory interpretation to the same text. How then can any man among them reasonably think, that the sense he puts upon it is right, when he sees it contradicted by numbers of others, every way as well qualified to understand it as himself?
Third, Very often the same persons alter their opinion about the sense they put on scripture; and what they believe to be the true sense today, the reject as false to-morrow, being continually carried about with every wind of doctrine. Now, what certainty can they have for their opinion at one time more than another? Their very change is an evident acknowledgment that they were wrong before, though they then were persuaded that they were right. What certainty can they have for being right now?
Fourth, All those who follow this rule, have the whole weight of the Roman Catholic church against them, which condemns all their peculiar interpretations of scripture as false and erroneous. What security then can they have of being right, when such a numerous and respectable body of Christians condemns them?
Q. What is the consequence of these reasonings?
A. That seeing the written word along, as interpreted by every man's private judgment, has not one of those qualities which the rule of our faith ought to have; therefore, this cannot be the rule left us by Jesus Christ, for teaching us the truths revealed by him.
THE RULE OF FAITH AS A GUIDE.
Q. What is the rule of faith?Return to Table of Contents
A. It is that Jesus Christ, well knowing that the dead letter of the scriptures could never answer the purpose of a rule, by which men could come to the knowledge of the truth revealed by him, if left to every private person to interpret them according to his own fancy; and that, on the contrary, such private interpretation must prove an unavoidable source of contentions and divisions among them, was therefore pleased to authorize the pastors of his church to be the interpreters of his word, and the depositors of all the sacred truths he had revealed to the world: That he gave them power and commission to teach the people the truths of salvation, and requires all to receive their faith from them; and, in consequence of this, they hold that the rule of faith ordained by Jesus Christ, is the word of God as interpreted by the church; that is, by the great body of the pastors of his church, spread throughout the world.
Q. Is this rule plain and easy, and fitted for all capacities?
A. Nothing can be more plain, or more adapted to the infirmity of human nature. For, let a person be ever so illiterate, and of ever so mean a capacity, if he has but he smallest degree of common sense, he can always be instructed in what is necessary for him to know, by the living voice of his pastors, who can vary the manner of their instructions in every different shape, to adapt them to his capacity, and make him comprehend them. It was by this means alone that thousands and thousands, in all ages, have been instructed in the true faith, and in the practice of all Christian duties, though they had never learned to read a single letter. It is by this means alone that thousands are daily instructed in the truths of religion, who, though they have learned to read, have neither judgment nor capacity to understand what they do read; and it is by this mean alone that all, even the most learned, have been instructed in the first rudiments of religion in their infancy. So that this is evidently a plain easy rule fitted for all capacities, and for persons of all ages, conditions, and sexes.
Q. Is this rule comprehensive, so that all revealed truths can be learned by it?
A. It is, as Jesus Christ taught all revealed truths to his Apostles by word of mouth, so it was perfectly easy for them to teach their disciples every thing they had learned from him in the same manner. Thus, from generation to generation, the pastors of the Church, being thoroughly instructed in all revealed truths themselves by those before them, can communicate the whole, without exception, to their people. And, in fact, it is by this means alone, we know for certain that the scriptures are the word of God; that the books we have for scripture are genuine; that it is lawful to keep the first day of the week holy instead of the seventh, though there be no authority for doing so in the scripture; and that it is lawful to eat blood and things strangled, though contrary to express command of the scripture; and, in general, it is by this means alone we come to know the true sense of scripture, and every other point of religion which the written word either des not, or could not contain.
Q. Is this rule certain, so that we may safely depend upon it?
A. It is in this that the beauty and excellency of this rule chiefly, shine forth, and show it to be the rule left us by Jesus Christ, and truly worthy of his divine wisdom and goodness. The certainty of this rule appears chiefly from three considerations.
First, From the nature of the rule itself; for this does not consist in the private opinion of a few particular persons, but in the unanimous doctrine of the great body of the pastors of the Church spread throughout the whole world. Now, these Pastors are exceedingly numerous; they are spread throughout all nations, and they differ from one another in their country, language, manners, government, and worldly interests, and even in their opinions, about other matters of knowledge and learning.
When, therefore, they all agree in giving us the same interpretation of scripture, or in declaring to us any truth of religion, is it not infinitely more certain to follow their decision, than to trust to our own private judgments in opposition to them? Would not a man be a fool to prefer his own interpretation of the civil law of the land, in opposition to the unanimous decision of the whole body of judges and lawyers? Besides, does not such unanimity, in so delicate a matter as religion, in which experience shows how jealous men commonly are of their own opinions, evidently show the finger of God to be there?
What but an overruling Providence could keep such multitudes united in religion, who so widely differ in every thing else? - Among those who do not follow this rule, we can scarce find two of the same opinion in every article, though of the same nation and language, yea though of the same family; which evidently shows the uncertainty of their rule. How is it possible, then, that such vast multitudes, so every way differing in all things else, should agree in every article of revealed truths, if the rule they follow were not perfectly secure? This will still further appear, if we consider,
Second, The method they observe in declaring these truths; for, when the pastors of the church declare any article of religion, they never give it a s their own private opinion, or as what they believe on their own private judgment, but they all protest and declare, that what they teach their people is precisely the same, without addition or diminution, which they received by tradition from their forefathers. Their predecessors, from whom they learned these truths, declared the same: and pledged their salvation for the truth of their declaration; every preceding generation did the same, till we arrive at the apostles themselves; assuring us, in all ages, that they hold it as a damnable sin to add or diminish one single iota from the faith once delivered to the saints.
It is manifest, that a body of people, faithfully observing this rule of tradition, can never vary, alter, or change, any article of their religion; and, therefore, that the faith they hold at present is the self same that was held in all preceding ages, and first taught by Christ and his apostles. But what renders the certainty of this rule beyond all dispute is,
Third, The sacred charter of infallibility promised by Christ to his church, and laid down in the plainest terms in the holy scriptures themselves.
THE INFALLIBILITY OF THE CHURCH.
Q. How does this infallibility of the church appear from scripture?Return to Table of Contents
A. Among the numberless passages that show this, we shall here consider only these following:
First, Almighty God, by the prophet Isaiah, lays down the covenant he makes with Jesus Christ and his church in these beautiful terms; "There shall come a Redeemer to Sion, and to them that return from iniquity in Jacob, saith the Lord. This is my covenant with them, saith the Lord, My spirit that is in thee, and my words that I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor our of the mouth of thy seeds seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and forever," Is. lix. 20.
Here two things are promised, as a covenant made by God with the Redeemer, in the most absolute and unconditional manner:
First, that the spirit of the Lord should never depart from the Redeemer nor from his posterity; and secondly, that the words put into his mouth, and by him revealed to his seed should never depart from his mouth, nor from the mouth of his seed, from henceforth and for ever. The seed or, posterity of the Redeemer are his followers, or his church; consequently, Almighty God here engages his most sacred promise that the Holy Ghost shall ever remain with the church of Christ, and that the true doctrine of revealed truth shall never cease to be held and taught by her; for they never shall "depart out of her mouth."
Second, This divine promise is renewed and confirmed by Jesus Christ himself in the gospel, in both its parts; for, speaking to the pastors of his church, in the persons of the apostles, he says, "I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another comforter, that he may abide with you for ever, the Spirit of truth," Jo. xiv. 16. And a little after he adds, "but when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall teach you all truth," Jo. xvi. 13. Here we see a positive promise that the "Spirit of truth," should be sent upon his church, and, "abide with her for ever," and that the office of this spirit should be "to teach her all truth."
The first part of his promise was visibly accomplished on Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost came down upon the apostles and first Christians; it was frequently after repeated in the same visible manner upon the first converted Gentiles, Acts x., and other converts. There can be no doubt, then, of the perfect accomplishment of the other parts of it also, that he will continue with the church, "for ever," and "teach her all truth."
Third, Jesus Christ declares, "that he builds his church upon a rock," and positively assures us, that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against her," Matth. xvi. 18. now, what he means by saying he builds his church upon a rock, he himself explains when he says, "Whosoever heareth these my words, and doeth them, shall be likened to a wise man that built his house upon a rock, and the rains fell, and floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock," Matth. vii. 24. Christ, then is the wise builder, and by building his church upon a rock gives her an absolute security against all storms, tempests, or assaults whatever, that may be made to destroy her; consequently, he assures us, that she shall never fail, never cease to be his church, and consequently, never be corrupted, never fall into error. In the other part of this text, he confirms this conclusion, positively declaring, that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against her."
Q. What is the consequences of these reasonings?
A. That seeing that the church of Christ, teaching her children by the mouth of her pastors, is a plain easy way of instructing them in all the truths of religion, and that with the most perfect certainty; so that even fools can walk without danger of error under her direction; therefore, she is the rule left us by Jesus Christ, by which we are to know what we are to believe, and what we are to do, in order to secure our salvation, by which also we know the scriptures themselves, and the true sense of them.
Q. Are there any other direct proofs to show that the church is this rule?
A. Yes, we have also these following, among many others:
First, Because Jesus Christ did not give his apostles any commission to write the gospel; but only to teach and preach it; which plainly shows that his intention was, that preaching and teaching by the living voice of his pastors should be our rule, and not the dead letter of scripture.
Second, It is a certain truth, that it was by preaching and teaching, and not by writing, that the world was converted unto Christianity; that several of the apostles wrote nothing at all; and that those of them who did write, never converted any person or nation by their writings; but first converted them, and established the faith among them by their preachings, and then wrote to those whom they had before converted, for their instruction, on some particular occasion, and for their consolation.
Third, Because the scripture nowhere sends us to the scripture itself, as to our rule; but on the contrary, it expressly declares, that "no prophecy of the scriptures, comes by private interpretation," 2 Pet. i. 20.
Fourth, Because the scripture, as we shall see by and by, sends us only tot he church and to her pastors for our instructions; and obliges all, under the severest penalties, to submit to her doctrine in all things relating to religion.
Fifth, Because the same scripture expressly assures us that the different pastors of the church were instituted and ordained by Jesus Christ, on purpose to bring us all to "the unity of the faith," and prevent us from "being carried about by strange doctrines," Eph. iv. All which will more fully appear, by considering what the scripture itself teaches concerning the Church, after we have explained more at large the nature of tradition.
THE TRADITIONS OF THE CHURCH.
Q. What is meant by traditions?Return to Table of Contents
A. The handling down from one generation to another, whether by word or mouth, or by writings, those truths revealed by Jesus Christ to his apostles, which either are not at all contained in the holy scriptures, or at least are not clearly contained in them; of which we have seen above several instances.
Q. What is the principle upon which tradition proceeds?
A. It is the laying down, as an invariable rule, to be observed in every generation, firmly to adhere to the doctrine received from the preceding generation, and carefully to commit the same to the succeeding generation, without addition or diminution.
Q. Was this principle of tradition established by the apostles?
A. It was most firmly established by them, and they used the most efficacious means to preserve it.
Q. What were these means?
A. We find these following laid down in their sacred writings:
First, They warmly exhorted the faithful, and strictly commanded them to stick close to the doctrine which they had delivered to them, and to teach the same inviolate to those after them. Thus, "O Timothy, says Paul, "keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding the profane novelties of words, and appositions of knowledge, falsely so called, which some promising, have erred concerning the faith," 1 Tim. vi. 20. "hold the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith, and in the love which is in Christ Jesus. Keep the good things committed to thy trust by the Holy Ghost, who dwelleth in us," 2 Tim. i. 13. "And the things which thou hast heard of me before many witnesses, the same commend to faithful men, who shall be fit to teach others also," 2 Tim. ii. 2. "Continue thou in those things which thou hast learned, and which have been committed to thee, knowing of whom thou hast learned them," 2 Tim. iii. 14.
Such are the injunctions which he laid upon the pastors of the church in the person of his disciple Timothy. And to show the bishops, or chief pastors, are particularly charged with the obligation of adhering to the doctrine delivered to them from the apostles, when relating to Titus the qualities of these chief pastors among others, he says, that a bishop ought to "embrace that faithful word which is according to doctrine, that he may be able to exhort in sound doctrine, and convince the gainsayers, - who must be reproved, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not for filthy lucre's sake," Tit. i. 9.; where we see the strict charge laid upon the pastors, both to adhere to the true doctrine themselves, and to defend it against seducers.
The same injunction of adhering to the doctrine they had received, by tradition, from the apostles, he lays upon all the faithful in these words: "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle," 2 Thess. ii. 14. St. Jude also writes his on purpose to enforce this duty on the faithful, and says, "I was under a necessity to write to you, to beseech you to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints," Jude, ver. 3.
Such strong and repeated injunctions laid upon all, and especially upon the pastors of the church, who are appointed by Jesus Christ to be the guardians and teachers of the Faith, could not fail to make the deepest impression upon their minds, and have in all ages been considered as the great rule of their conduct in preserving the true doctrine inviolated.
Second, Not content with laying such strict commands upon the faithful to adhere firmly to the old doctrine handed down from the beginning, they also warn them against all broachers of new doctrine, describe their manners, foretell their reprobation and damnation, and command the faithful to avoid them. St. Paul writes to Timothy: "now the spirit manifestly saith, that, in the last times, some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to spirits of error, and doctrines of devils, speaking lies in hypocrisy, and having their consciences scared;" 1 Tim. iv. 1.
What an impression must this description make upon the minds of all serious Christians! what a horror must it raise in them against all innovations! "Know this also," says the same apostle, "that in the last days, shall come on dangerous times, for men shall be lovers of themselves, covetous, haughty, proud, blasphemers, - lovers of pleasure more than of God; having an appearance indeed of godliness but denying the power thereof; now these avoid, for of this sort are they - who resist the truth, men corrupted in mind, reprobate concerning the faith," 2 Tim. iii. 1. St. Peter also is very strong upon this head, when he says, "There shall be among you lying teachers, who shall bring in sects of perdition, (damnable heresies, as the Protestant translation has it) bringing upon themselves swift destruction - whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their destruction slumbereth not," 2 Pet. ii. 1. St. Paul also to the Romans saith, "Now I beseech you, brethren, to mark them who cause dissensions and offences, contrary to the doctrine which you have learned, and to avoid them; for they that are such serve not Christ our Lord, but their own belly," Rom. xvi. 17; and in his epistle to Titus, he says, "A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, avoid; knowing that he that is such an one is subverted, and sinneth, being commanded by his own judgment," Tit. iii. 10.
Again, to Timothy he saith, "If any man teacheth otherwise, and consent not to the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to that doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but sick about questions and strifes of words - corrupted in mind, and destitute of the truth," 1 Tim. vi. 3. St. John also speaks to the same purpose, saying, "Whosoever revolteth, and continueth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God - If any man come to you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into the house, and say not to him, God speed you; for he that saith to him, God speed you, communicateth with his wicked works," 2 Jo. 9. Could any thing more efficacious have been said, that these oracles of the holy Ghost, to excite in the hearts of the faithful the strongest aversion against even the smallest deviation from the doctrine they had received? Could any thing more firmly establish the sacred principle of tradition?
Third, But to settle this principle upon the most solid footing, besides, what is above, these sacred writers pronounce a dreadful curse upon, and deliver over to Satan, all those who shall dare to alter or corrupt the faith once delivered to the saints, though but in one single article.
Thus when some false brethren, in St. Paul's absence, had persuaded the Galatians, that it was necessary to join circumcision with the gospel, he wrote his epistle to them on purpose to correct this delusion; and though it was but an error in one point, and that in every thing else they adhered to his doctrine; yet he calls it a "removing from the grace of Christ - and a perverting the gospel of Christ," Gal. i. 6, 7, And then he adds, "but though we, or an angel from heaven preach a gospel to you, besides that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed; as we said before, so I say now again, I f any one preach to you a gospel, besides that which you have received, let him be accused," Gal. i. 8.
So also he mentions two heretics of his own time, who erred only in one point, and says, "Their speech spreadeth like a canker, of whom are Hymeneus and Philetus, who have erred from the truth, saying that the resurrection is past already, and have subverted the faith of some," 2 Tim. ii. 17. But he had told his disciples before in what manner he had dealt with Hymeneus and Alexander, who "had made shipwreck of their faith;" "whom I have delivered to Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme," 1 Tim. i. 20. Nothing surely could more effectually imprint in the minds of the faithful, the firmest attachment to the truths of the gospel, than this judgment of the apostle, or more excite their attention and solicitude, to preserve these sacred truths whole and undefiled, and to deliver them entire and uncorrupted to their posterity.
Q. All this is exceedingly strong indeed; but, how is it applied to show the preservation of the truths revealed by Jesus Christ throughout all ages?
A. It is manifest, from these scripture oracles, that the great principle or rule of tradition, was laid down and established by God himself at the beginning, and that it was delivered by the apostles to their disciples, along with the other truths of the gospel, as the fence and barrier, ordained by God for the preservation of the faith throughout all generations; and it is no less manifest, that, by the faithful observation of this rule, it is impossible the faith should even be corrupted as long as the world endureth. For, if the Christians of the second age believed nothing as revealed truths, but what they had received from their predecessors of the first age, then it is manifest that the faith of the first and second age was perfectly the same. And if those of the second age delivered the same entire and uncorrupted to those of the third age, then the faith of the third age must infallibly be the same with that of the two preceding ages; and the same must be the case with every succeeding age to the present, and will be to the end of the world.
THE DOCTRINES OF THE CHURCH UNCHANGEABLE.
Q. Is it certain that the church always adhered to this rule of tradition, and never deviated from it?Return to Table of Contents
A. Nothing can be more certain, for several reasons.
First, The church, in the apostolic age, most certainly adhered to it, as all the above testimonies of scripture show. In every succeeding age, she always professed her constant adherence to it, as the acts of all her councils, and the writings of all the holy fathers in every age declare; and in the present age, she openly avows the same thing, and protests that she received this rule, along with the other truths of Christianity, from those before her, as handed down to them from the preceding generations; therefore she never, in any age, deviated from it.
Second, This rule, as we have seen, is so strongly, so frequently, and under such dreadful penalties, inculcated in the holy scriptures, that it is morally impossible the whole Christian world should, in any age, renounce it, unless we suppose that the whole world should at once renounce all concern for their salvation.
Thirdly, It is evidently impossible that a deviation from this rule should creep in by degrees; for the first that should begin to teach such a deviation, would undoubtedly be forthwith condemned by those who adhered to it.
Fourth, In fact, the church, in every age, condemned all broachers of new doctrine by this rule alone, as is manifest from the history of all her councils, and the writing of Christians in all ages; some of whom, as St. Vincent of Lerins, and Tertullian, have written whole books upon this very subject, as the easiest and most expeditious means to confute all novelties in doctrine.
Fifth, Because it is manifest, from the writings of the Christians in every age since the apostles, that the doctrine of a faith has been uniformly the same in the Catholic Church, throughout all ages; and that those revealed truths which the apostles delivered by word of mouth, and did not commit to writing, as well as the true sense of their sacred writings themselves, have been handed down throughout every age, not only by the constant teaching of the pastors but also by the writings of great numbers of her members, many of whom were renowned for their great sanctity, as well as for their great learning. Which evidently shows that she has never deviated from this rule; and that by adhering to it, the sacred "words of God, once put into her mouth, have never departed from her," as God in his covenant with her had expressly promised by the prophet Isaiah, Chap. lix.
Q. Can it be evidently proved that the church never altered or corrupted any of the truths revealed to her at the beginning?
A. This is manifest from the writings of Christians, in all preceding ages, and in all the different Christian nations of the world. In which writings we uniformly find the same sacred truths taught, explained, and inculcated, which the church teaches at this day. It also follows as a necessary consequence, from the principle of tradition, which she follows, of never changing, adding to, nor taking from, the sacred body of divine truths, received from her predecessors; but delivering the same inviolated and uncorrupted to her children in every generation; for it is self-evident, that a church which constantly adheres to this principles, can never alter her faith. Besides, as her attachment to the principle and practice of tradition, it itself one of the points delivered by tradition, it is evident, that a church which at present processes to believe and follow that principle, must always have exactly observed it, and made profession of observing it; and consequently must always have maintained the same faith.
Add to all this the great number of those who were concerned in the preservation and observance of this rule, spread from the very beginning, throughout vast numbers of different countries and nations, and differing from one another almost in every thing else but religion. Add also, how tenacious men commonly are of their religion; especially those who believe it an article of their religion itself, never to alter any one iota of it.
Join to this how attentive the church has always been, in every age, to oppose and reject every attempt made to alter or corrupt her doctrine; and it will easily appear how impossible it is that she should ever make any change in any one point of revealed truths. And if we also consider the promised assistance of the Holy Ghost, to teach her all truth, and abide with her for ever, this puts the matter beyond the possibility of any doubt.
Q. In what does this promised assistance of the Holy Ghost properly consist? to what does it extend?
A. To understand this, we must observe that Jesus Christ revealed to his apostles, by word of mouth, all those divine truths, both regarding faith and manners, which God was pleased to communicated to mankind. This he himself declares, when he said to them, "But I have called you friends; because all things whatsoever I have heard of my Father, I have made known to you," John xv. 15.
These truths the apostles taught to the world, partly in their writings, and partly by word of mouth; but, as both the one and the other are equally the word of God, and revealed by him; therefore, both the one and the other are equally to be received and believed. "Therefore, brethren," says St. Paul, "stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word or by epistles," 2 Thes. ii. 14. in these sacred traditions, both written and unwritten, there are many things not so clearly and explicitly expressed as others.
There are many things in them, as the scripture itself expresses it, "hard to be understood;" and there are also numberless other things, essentially connected with what is there expressed, which are not mentioned there at all; but which, nevertheless, are implicitly revealed by God, in those others with which they are necessarily connected. When, therefore, any difficulty arises about any point of doctrine, the church immediately has recourse to revelation, contained in the written and unwritten word, in scripture and tradition, and examines the point in question by this sacred rule; in doing which, she is so effectually assisted, by the spirit of God, as infallibly to discover whether or not the point in question be contained in, connected with, or conformable to revelation. If it be, she adopts it as a sound doctrine; and if not, she condemns it as false and erroneous.
So that the Church never proposes to her children any new article of faith; but only brings to light, and unfolds the truths originally revealed by Jesus Christ; but which, till her declarations, had been only obscurely or ambiguously contained in scripture and tradition; and this is the principal thing in which the Holy Ghost gives her his infallible assistance. All this is manifest, from our Savior's own declaration, "He had made known to his apostles all things whatsoever he had heard of his Father;" but many of those things were little understood by them, and many of them so delivered, that they could not understand them; at least as to the full extend of what his words imported.
To remedy this, he promises to send them the Holy Ghost, and shows what his office should be, in these words: "But the Paraclete, The Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you," John xiv. 26. And again, "I have yet many things to say to you; but you cannot hear them now; - but when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth," John xvi. 12. This then is the office of the Holy Ghost; and, as Christ declared that he would abide with his church for ever," this office he continually performs, teaching the pastors of the church all truth, and bringing to their mind, as occasion may require, all those things which are contained in the revelation Christ made at the beginning to his apostles.
Q. What conclusion follows from all this?
A. From this we still more fully see the perfect security we have in relying upon the authority of the church, as the guide and rule which Jesus Christ has ordained to conduct us in the way of salvation, and by which alone we can come to the certain knowledge of all those divine truths which he has revealed, whether with regard to faith of manners.
WE SHOULD BE WELL INSTRUCTED IN WHAT OUR HOLY FAITH TEACHES.
Q. Is it therefore necessary for the Christian people to be well instructed in what our holy faith teaches concerning the church?
A. The knowledge of the church is certainly one of the most necessary points of the Christian religion, because the church is the very foundation of all the rest, being the sacred rule appointed by Jesus Christ, by which we come to the knowledge of all the truths of revelation, even of the scriptures themselves, and of the true sense and interpretation of them; the church is the organ of god, by which he speaks to his people, and discovers to them the great truths of eternity; and the true doctrine concerning the church being once properly established, an end is immediately put to all uncertainties, doubts and controversies about religion. Hence we find, that, in the Apostles' Creed, after professing our belief in the ever blessed Trinity, and the incarnation, and other mysteries of our Redeemer, the very next article is that of the Holy Catholic Church; it is immediately subjoined to them, and next in importance to those sacred truths; and, therefore, to be firmly believed as a truth revealed by God, as firmly as those other sacred truths of the Trinity and incarnation; it stands upon the same ground with them, the divine revelation; and is the sacred channel by which the revelation of these divine truths is conveyed to us.
Q. Is this article of the creed, "The Holy Catholic Church, a proof of the continual existence of the church upon earth?
A. It is certainly, a most convincing proof both of the continuance of the church of Christ, and of all those sacred prerogatives with which her Divine Spouse has adorned her. For the Apostles' Creed is universally admitted by Christians of all denominations to contain the fundamental articles of the Christian religion, as revealed by Jesus Christ to his apostles, consequently all the articles of the creed are divine truths; and, as the church of England teaches in her thirty-nine articles, ought thoroughly to be received and believed, for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy scripture, Art, viii.; therefore they must be true at all times and in all places. Consequently as it was a divine revealed truth, when the creed was made by the apostles, that Christ had then a Holy Catholic Church upon earth; so it is not less a divine truth that he has a Holy Catholic Church upon earth at present, that he had such a church ever since the creed was made, and will have to the end of the world. And as this church never could cease to be the true church of Christ, so never could she cease to be what Christ at first made her, nor fail in any of those sacred prerogatives with which Christ at first adorned her; consequently, she is always holy, always catholic, always a visible body, consisting of pastors teaching, and people taught by them; always one, always apostolical, always infallible in what she teaches; for these, as we have seen in part, and shall see more by and by, are the sacred prerogatives which he bestowed upon her. For, if ever she lost any of these, she could no longer be the church of Christ, and then that article of the creed would be false, which it is a blasphemy to suppose.
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