« AnteriorContinuar »
the effect of it has been the keeping most of their people in that ignorance, which, it has become proverbial among them to say, is the mother of de· votion.' This, it is well known, (and Romanists themselves have been forced to acknowledge as much), is a restriction neither authorised by divine institution, nor by apostolical usage; nay, it is a restriction confessedly contrary to the universal practice of the first, and of many succeeding ages of the christian church, during which the people had the free use of the scriptures, and the exercise of public worship, in the vernacular current language of every nation, to which the gospel was preached. When we enquire into the reasons of this strange and cruel innovation, we are gravely told, that there is a danger of abusing the scriptures, and no necessity for people's understanding their prayers. If we reply, that reasons so silly and frivolous as these, are, if possible, worse than the restriction in behalf of which they are pleaded; no other argument is brought forward than the great palladium of error,' the absolute power of the church' to determine and to enact whatever it pleases, without assigning any reason at all. How far this absolute power will be admitted by the great Head of the Church, as a sufficient apology for preventing the • edification of his body,' I shall leave to be decided by the good sense of any sincere christian, who will bestow an attentive perusal on a portion of St Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians; where, among other convincing arguments against such pre
cepts and practices as the church of Rome has adopted, the apostle declares, that he had rather in the
church speak five words, with his understanding, • that by his voice' (being understood certainly) • he
might teach others also, than ten thousand words in kan UNKNOWN TONGUE'' It is also worthy of the consideration of those who are so strenuous in the rejection and condemnation of liturgical forms of prayer, whether there be not a striking similarity between the prayers which the Romish priest utters in an unknown tongue, and those extemporary effusions in which the others so much delight. In both, the part performed by the people is the same. In both, they are hearers of the sound; but in no respect, can they be discerners of the sense, much less humble petitioners themselves; though all the while the language of address runs in their names, but often runs so rapidly, that it is almost impossible to overtake its meaning. Such as adopt this mode of prayer and supplication may rail against priestcraft and prelacy as they please ; but the reflecting mind is at no loss to see, that there is a craft, call it of presbytery, or what you will, in assuming powers which priest or prelate never possessed-the powers of making the people, in their addresses to the King of Heaven, speak any language which they shall choose ; thus making their • faith to stand, not • in the power of God, but IN THE WISDOM OF MEN.' 2 H 2
I See the whole admirable matter contained in the 14th chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians.
It will no doubt be contended, that by thus applying the apostle's language, I would have it inferred, that they, who are restricted to the use of a written liturgical form of prayer, do not assume such powers ; but do make the people's ' faith to stand, not in the wisdom of men, but IN THE POWER OF GOD': In as far as the united churches of England, Ireland, and Scotland, are concerned, I certainly do, without hesitation, admit the fact.
« The gospel of • Christ,' asserts St Paul, “is THE POWER OF GOD un
to salvation. The liturgy of these churches is formed, verbatim, out of the gospel of Christ, without the least ‘slight of men, or cunning craftiness, * whereby they lie in wait to deceive;' therefore does the faith' of those, who pray to their God and Saviour in this · form of sound words, confessedly stand, as I have insinuated, not in the • wisdom of men, but’ literally in the power of • God.'
But to return to the Scriptures, as being the more immediate subject of our present discussion. A charge of imperfection and obscurity is artfully preferred against them by the Romanist, in order that he may have an opportunity of inferring the necessity of an infallible guide and interpreter; and it is easy to see to whom he would assign this office, by his telling us, that, as it is from the church that we have the scriptures, so does the authority of
i i Cor. ii. 5.
2 Rom. i. 16.
the scriptures depend upon the authority of the church. It will immediately occur to the well-informed reader, that there is, in this argument, a designed ambiguity of expression, arising from the terms being left undefined. Thus, if the word church be understood, in the most extensive sense, as embracing Christ, its glorious Head, and together with him, the several inspired writers, from Moses to the apostle St John, as office-bearers in his church, delegated by him to reveal, or make known the will of God to man, then am I ready to acknowledge, that from the church it is, that we receive the scriptures. But, if by the church is meant, as commonly is the case, a succession of one church, or of many churches, from the apostles down to the present period, I must withstand the Romish position, and simply say, that in this restricted sense, it is only through the church, (as a channel of conveyance), that we have the scriptures, not from the church, as the original source of such an invaluable donation.
In this view the Bible is, to all intents and purposes, like a charter of inheritance, granted, by a party competent, to such a man and his family, and preserved by succeeding generations of kindred, through whose hands it is carefully transmitted for the benefit of posterity, so long as the charter is valid. Hence it follows, that the strength of the writ lies in the writ itself. It flows, assuredly, from the inherent authority of the original granter; and
all that the family, to whom the succesion is open, has to do, is to bear continued testimony to the genuineness and authenticity of the deed, on which their rights are founded; but to which they cannot pretend to add, nor from which attempt to diminish. It is thus that we receive our scriptures of the Old Testament, through the channel of the church of Israel, to which they were originally committed'. And it is on this footing, joined to some other partial objections, that we exclude from the list of inspired writings the apocryphal books, because they were never acknowledged as canonical scripture by the Jewish church. The case is the same with respect to the scriptures of the New Testament; about which happily there is now no difference of sentiment among christians of any denomination. . We look upon the several churches which were at the first entrusted with the custody of these inspired writings, or to which any of these writings were addressed in the form of epistles, as so many guardians and trustees both for the public and their own private interest, not of course as authorised to determine and fix the doctrines and extent of obligation, which these scriptures contain, but simply as attesters of their genuineness and authenticity •
Indeed the connection between the scriptures and the church (in the common acceptation of the term)
Acts vii. 38. Rom. ix. 4.