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OUR Lord, in his last prayer for his disciples, recorded in the 17th chapter of John, uses these words: "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word." This clearly indicates, that not only the immediate followers of the Redeemer should be included in the blessings implored for them by the great Intercessor, in that remarkable petition, but also all those who, through the reception of their testimony, should be led to rest for salvation on the same Rock of ages.
We have here two important principles embodied. In the first place, we see that men become members of the real church of Christ, not by immediate revelation, but on the belief of testimony delivered through human instrumentality. Secondly, we find who are the authorised deposit of this sacred "word," viz., the apostles chosen immediately by our Lord.
One most important part of the duty devolving on these chosen witnesses was, that of recording, under the immediate inspiration and guidance of the Holy Ghost, all things essential to the salvation of the soul. Thus we find declared, towards the close of the Gospel of John, "These things are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that, believing, ye might have life through his name." Again, the same apostle says, in his first epistle, "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God." God hath, therefore, set some in the church," first apostles, secondarily prophets;" and on the foundation of prophets and apostles is the church built. Every person who believes their testimony becomes (through the power of the Holy Spirit) a living stone in that spiritual building.
If, then, we admit the call of the sacred penmen to this office, and their qualification by the Holy Ghost, we must pronounce their work Divine; and, like every thing else of Divine workmanship, perfect, and completely adapted to produce the intended effect. What this effect is may be learnt, among other passages, from 2 Tim. iii. 16, from which we understand that every inspired writing, or all Scripture given by inspiration of God, "is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."
We have, then, an abundant answer to an objection which is raised
by those who urge that, though the New Testament be inspired, yet some things essential to the church are not included in its pages, but left to be preserved by oral tradition in the church. We might have attempted to demonstrate the utter improbability, that any important truths should be left to so uncertain a channel of transmission: we might have drawn an analogy, from the exactness and completeness of the inferior Mosaic ritual, in which nothing was left to chance, but all most exactly ordered, through him who was faithful in all his house : we might have urged the improbability that, whilst the apostle Paul did not shun to declare, in his preaching, " the whole counsel of God," he should be less faithful, in writing the whole; or that the apostle Peter, who told the disciples he would endeavour that, after his decease, they should have all things in remembrance, should leave this precious legacy to be impaired by the negligence, or corrupted by the fraud of his successors. Other considerations might have been added; but all are superseded by this one,—that the volume of inspiration is the perfect word of God.
The Christian may, therefore, not only safely, but beneficially, dispense with all tradition, as a mere incumbrance, adding nothing to the armour of righteousness; and take his stand on the ground chosen by the Reformers, when they affirmed that "holy Scripture is clear and simple, and that neither gloss nor commentary is absolutely essential to its right understanding; the only requisite consisting in having the spirit of a sheep of Christ."
But we deduce, also, from the words of our Lord, another consequence; and assert, that he alone who believes on Christ, through the testimony given by apostles and prophets, is a true Christian,that he alone whose faith is founded on the record which God hath given of his Son, is on the rock. If a man receive the truth in the love of it, it is because the Holy Spirit is operating on his heart, and enabling him to receive it, not as the word of man, but, as it is in truth, the word of God; which, also, " effectually worketh on those that believe." On the other hand, a man may have received into his mind certain correct and very orthodox notions, he may traditionally hold even "the faith delivered to the saints;" he may assert much truth, because those to whom he looks up hold it, or because it is received by the body to which he prefers to adhere; or because he finds it to have been believed every where, always, and of all men" in the Catholic church; and yet he may never have believed, in a scriptural sense, at all. "The just shall live by his faith,"—that is, by believing those things which God calls on him to believe through his word,
because God has declared them. The just man believes God; the nominal Christian believes the professedly Christian world. If that which is to him " the world" hold orthodox views, so does he; if the world change its notions, and renounce its borrowed phrases, so does he. He has not been begotten of the will of God, by the word of truth; but his faith is of that kind which is described by the apostle James as dead; his wisdom is earthly and natural: his building is founded on the sand, and will not endure the day when every man's work shall be proved by fire.
An observation, of collateral importance, may be made, in reference to the sentiments of really pious persons; for, in so far as their belief on any subject rests on mere tradition, to the like extent (as to them) must it necessarily be upon the sandy foundation; and they may often be sensible of suffering loss, though they do not trace their failures to what may be the real cause—a want of that "single eye" to which is attached the promise, that "the whole body shall be full of light."
As the written word is the grand depository and storehouse of Christian truth, it is essential to the success of antichristian error, that the authority of this word in men's minds should, in some way, be shaken. Open assaults on the truth have generally recoiled on the heads of the assailants; and the more successful stratagems of Satan have been those of a more refined and subtle character. If he can but cause men to believe in what they call immediate revelation, or in the traditions of any church, he has secured to himself a ground whereon to place the lever by which he would subvert a true faith in Christ.
We look upon the school of theology which is upheld in the Oxford "Tracts for the Times," as an illustration of these remarks. The most conspicuous advocates of these views, are Messrs. Pusey, Newman, and Keeble; but it is understood that an increasing number of the clergy coincide in their sentiments. The authority of tradition is the ignis fatuus which is leading these sincere devotees in a course the reverse of that pursued by Luther and his associates. They consider, that if men are left to gather their religious sentiments from Scripture, the consequence will be a state of disunity similar to that which they so vividly and faithfully describe as at present existing in the Establishment,—a state which certainly proves, in a most convincing manner, the erroneous nature of the prevalent sentiment, that a greater degree of doctrinal stability and of union is found in religious systems which have been long established. Mr. Newman says, in his "Lectures on the Church," &c., pp. 310, 311,—
In the primitive church there was no difficulty, and no mistaking. Then all
Christians, every where, spoke one and the same doctrine; and if any novelty arose, it was at once denounced and stifled. The case is the same, indeed, with the Roman church now. * In the English church, by itself, may be found differences as great as those which separate it from Greece and Rome. Calvinism and Arminianism, latitudinarianism and orthodoxy-all these, sometimes simply such, and sometimes compounded together into numberless varieties of doctrine and school; and these not merely each upholding itself as true, but, with few exceptions, denouncing all the rest as perilous, if not fatal errors. Such is its state, even among its appointed ministers and teachers."
The remedy for all this evil is to be found, not exactly in a return to popery, but in a system "neither Protestant nor Roman, which proceeds according to that via media which is the appropriate path for sons of the English church to walk in." To uphold this system, it is necessary to discover what is "the nearest approximation to that primitive truth which Ignatius and Polycarp enjoyed, and which the nineteenth century has lost." They would effect this by searching out and recovering all genuine fragments of apostolical tradition; and appear to be hopefully engaged in restoring, brick by brick, those portions of the proud walls of the papal Babylon which were overthrown in this land at the era which we have been (incorrectly it seems) accustomed to call "the Reformation."
In order to prosper in this work, it is essential to clear the ground, and establish the authority of tradition,—an attempt which calls forth all the skill of these talented and amiable theologians. One of the best treatises we have seen on the subject is entitled, " Primitive Tradition recognised in Holy Scripture, a Sermon preached in the Cathedral Church of Winchester, by the Rev. John Keeble, M.A., Professor of Poetry in the University of Oxford." This learned divine states, p. 332,
"It may be proved, to the satisfaction of any reasonable mind, that not a few fragments yet remain, very precious and sacred fragments, of the unwritten teaching of the first age of the church. The paramount authority, for example, of the successors of the apostles in church government; the threefold order established from the beginning; the virtue of the blessed eucharist as a commemorative sacrifice; infant baptism; and, above all, the catholic doctrine of the most Holy Trinity, as contained in the Nicene Creed. All these, however surely confirmed from Scripture, are yet ascertainable parts of the primitive unwritten system, of which we yet enjoy the benefit. If any one ask, how we ascertain them to be such, we answer by application of the well-known rule, Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus'—antiquity, universality, catholicity; tests similar to those which jurists are used to apply to the common or unwritten laws of any realm."
We trust that our readers, with ourselves, are quite prepared to renounce every doctrine which cannot be clearly proved from Scripture;
and therefore we will not follow the learned professor into what the Homilies of the English Church justly call "the stinking puddles of men's traditions," to ascertain what may or may not thence be raked up; knowing that we have "the catholic doctrine of the most Holy Trinity" declared with so much fulness in Scripture, that we need not tradition to add to its certainty. We will rather examine some of those considerations by which the professor attempts, from Scripture, to demonstrate the authority of tradition. The main strength of the argument by which he endeavours to do this is in that exhortation to Timothy, "Keep that committed to thy charge," &c. "That good thing committed unto thee" (literally, the good and noble deposit,) "keep, by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us," p. 12. Mr. Keeble bestows much labour to prove that, "upon the whole we may assume, with some confidence, that the good thing left in Timothy's charge, thus absolutely to be kept at all events, was the treasure of apostolical doctrines and church rules; the rules and doctrines which make up the charter of Christ's kingdom."
"We are naturally, if not reasonably jealous of the word 'tradition,' associated as it is in our minds with the undue claims and pernicious errors of Rome.* Yet, must it not be owned, on fair consideration, that Timothy's
* The manner in which the subject of tradition was treated in the Council of Trent is very interesting, and clearly defines the views of the Church of Rome on this subject. The theologians there present, (as Father Paul informs us,) extracted from the Lutheran writings the following (among other) propositions :
I. That the doctrine necessary to the faith of the Christian is contained, whole and entire, in the holy Scriptures; and that it is a fiction of man to add unwritten traditions. IV. That holy Scripture is very easy and very clear, and that neither gloss nor commentary is necessary to understand it, but solely to have the spirit of the sheep of Christ.
In the discussion on the first point, Lunello, a Franciscan, contended that the first thing was, to establish the position that every Christian man is bound to believe the church ;— that if this were granted, the rest would easily follow ;-that all who had written against the Lutherans had availed themselves more of this argument than of any other, and that no other could convince them.
Others opposed him, stating that the synagogues of heretics (the Protestants) would arrogate to themselves the title of "the true church," and then the argument would not touch them.
Marinaro, a Carmelite, afterwards suggested, that "the oral teaching, and that which was written by the apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, must be acknowledged to be of equal authority. And if any part were written, it would not be consistent with the reverence due to the providence of God, to believe that all was not written which was needful to the church; and how could the successors of the apostles write any thing which the apostles themselves might not?"
Cardinal Polo asserted that this argument would undermine the very foundations of tradition, and it was consequently suppressed!