« PreviousContinue »
immediate, objective revelation, is the only sure, certain, and immoveable foundation of all Christian faith, and also that the principal rule of Chris. tians under the gospel is not an outward letter, but an inward, spiritual law; therefore the letter of Scripture is not, nor can be, the chief or principal rule of Christians.'"-(Defence, pp. 9, 10.)
“ and consequently does not believe in the doctrine of the Society, which I believe to be the pure doctrine deducible from the Scriptures themselves, that, “Because they are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself; therefore they (the Scriptures) are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners.' -(Defence, p. 10.)
Those who are conversant with the frightful heresies which arose, even in the Apostolic and early age of the Christian church, from an overstrained interpretation of this great doctrine, and a consequent claim to " inspiration," will be prepared to view with Christian jealousy any approach to those extravagant claims to it, which not only harassed the church in that primitive age, but from which have arisen the most fatal heresies of the Greek and Romish churches. If such claims to " inspiration” are allowed in this age of the church, how can we deny them to the Apostolical and early Fathers ? and if we concede their right to them, on what ground of fair dealing can we reject those heretical doctrines originating in and clearly deducible from their writings ?
“ The Epistles of Clement and Barnabas were probably written before the canon of the New Testament
was completed, and consequently their views of Chris. tianity were derived, in a measure, from the oral instructions of the Apostles. Yet, it is remarkable, that they never claim any authority for these instructions : their authoritative appeals are invariably to the Scriptures, generally of the Old Testament : they plead no other justification either of their doc, trinal or ethical opinions * ;
while a « bold avowal of Inspiration is made in favour of a tissue of obscenity and absurdity which would disgrace the Hindoo Mythology; though, in the same Epistle the writer entirely disclaims it for the very pious and scriptural train of reasoning with which he commences t.”
How instructive is it to remark, that " when they write scripturally they declare that they are not inspired, while they claim inspiration for that which is so utterly at variance with all conceivable rules of Scriptural interpretation, and with the whole tenor of the sacred volume, that it condemns itself !I"
“ Ignatius,” who suffered martyrdom at the commencement of the second century, " makes a similar general disclaimer of inspiration. He experienced no necessity for it so long as his sentiments were in accordance with the teaching of the Apostles; but when he inculcates his wild, extravagant notions of subjection to the Christian hierarchy, he becomes inspired 8."
.“ Doctrinal Errors of the Apostolical and Early Fathers. By W. Osburn, jun.” London: Hamilton, Adams, and Co. 1835. p. 20.
+ Ibid. p. 25. Ibid. p. 26. § Ibid. p. 25.
These facts are indeed beacons to us. Who shall say that the Christian church in the nineteenth century does not need a caution so evidently required in the first ? No claim to the teachings of the Holy Spirit can be allowed, by any Christian community, to that which is not “ in accordance with the teaching of Christ and his Apostles.” Without this unerring test to which to refer all ministrations, where has the Christian church a safe barrier against any degree of error or fanaticism? Have we not some of us, even recently, heard the highest claims to inspiration made for communications in direct opposition to the doctrines and precepts of Christ and his Apostles ? While, on the other hand, it is observ. able, that from our truly anointed evangelical ministers we hear nothing of such unscriptural claims.
“ The history of the professing church of Christ, now continued through more than eighteen centuries, affords many humbling proofs, that the moment we add any thing to the religion of the New Testament, or take any thing away from it, that moment we injure its structure and weaken its effect. The doctrines of revealed religion came forth from the hands of their Author and his immediate followers, in a state of perfection, and the concentrated wisdom of ten thousand philosophers and theologians can change them, only for the worse *.”
We have seen that these unscriptural claims to inspiration are not new in the Christian church; and we know also, that before the coming of our
* “ Hints on the portable Evidence of Christianity, by Joseph John Gurney," p. 158.
Lord, the Jewish doctors had, as he Himself declared, “made the word of God of none effect by their tradition :" indeed, to so awful an extent was it carried, that they even affirmed their traditions to be superior to the written word *. The Roman Catholic church, by admitting the authority of tradition t, opened the flood-gates through which error and heresy deluged for centuries Catholic Europe. Very similar also, in some of its leading features, is that heresy which has of late years spread so widely among Evangelical Christians, chiefly within the pale of the Established Church. The followers of Irving place the impressions of the Spirit on the minds of believers above the authority of Scripture. This has drawn aside into great extravagance men eminent for piety and holy walking.
The gist of the whole question seems to lie in a narrow compass, and may be thus stated :--Those who contend for the supreme authority of spiritual influence in the minds of Christians, say, “that which gave forth the Scriptures must be superior to the Scriptures.” Now, in strictness, no one can deny this position ; but do these persons forget, that it is not the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures which are placed in competition, but the miraculously attested revelation of truth contained in the Scriptures, and individual impressions on the minds of fallible men ? If the paramount authority of Scripture (“given,” as all Christians acknowledge it to be," by inspiration of God”) be denied, where is the test by which any church can safely try its ministers ?
+ See the Articles of the Romish Church.
Let us never forget that Inspired Apostles refer to the " lively oracles” as the voice of the Holy Ghost. Thus in Heb. iii. 9 : Wherefore, as the Holy Ghost saith, To-day if ye will hear his voice," &c.; and, ix. 8,“ The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest.”
The Sacred Writings contain all things necessary to salvation n; and they no where authorize the Christian church to expect a new revelation. Our Blessed Lord himself has put abundant honour upon the written word, by his continual reference to its authority. To pass over the multitude of instances in which he answers inquiries, enforces precepts, sets forth doctrine, and repels the tempter, in the words of Scripture,—how striking is that ever memorable interview between Him and his two disconsolate disciples going to Emmaus! Instead of making any new revelation to them *, he “ opened unto them the Scriptures.” Luke xxiv. 27 : “Beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” And, as the awful and ultimate sanction of their Divine authority, at the consummation of all things—when the universe shall be rolled together as a scroll; when the trumpet shall sound,
* In the most recently printed document of our Society, we declare that “our forefathers professed to be instructed in no new truths ;" that “they had nothing to add to the faith once delivered to the saints." We, as Friends, are therefore fully authorized in rejecting, as spurious and unsound, all ministrations which do not accord with the spirit and teaching of Christ and his Apostles : and as the prayerful and diligent study of Holy Scripture increases amongst us, the body at large will be better prepared to distinguish between the legitimate and the spurious.