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of lesser, or less essential, truths, and doctrines, and ordinances, both because the passage from "less essential,” to “unessential," is unhappily but too easy, and because although these truths may appear to relate to subjects further removed from what we think the centre of Christianity, the mode in which we hold them, or our neglect of them, may very vitally affect those which we consider more primary truths. We can readily see this in cases in which we are not immediately involved. Thus we can see how a person's whole views of Sanctification by the Holy Ghost will be affected by Hoadly's low notions of the Lord's Supper ; or how the error of Transubstantiation has modified other true doctrines so as to cast into the shade the one Oblation once offered upon the Cross; or how the addition of the single practice of “soliciting the Saints to pray for men,” has in the Romish Church obscured the primary articles of Justification and of the Intercession of our Blessed LORD; and yet Transubstantiation was at first connected with high reverential feeling for our LORD, and no one could have anticipated beforehand, that this one error would have had effects so tremendous.
If then wrong notions about the one Sacrament, among both Romanists and Pseudo-Protestanis, have had an influence so extensive, why should we think error, with regard to the other, of slight moment? Rather, should we not more safely argue, that since Baptism is a Sacrament ordained by Christ Himself, a low, or inadequate, or unworthy conception of His institution, must, of necessity almost, be very injurious to the whole of our belief and practice? Does not our very reverence to our Saviour require that we should think any thing, which He deigned to institute, of very primary moment,--not (as some seem now to think) simply to be obeyed or complied with, but to be embraced with a glad and thankful recognition of its importance, because He instituted it ?
The other point, which was mentioned as important to be borne in mind, in the inquiry whether any doctrine be a Scriptural truth, was, that we should not allow ourselves to be influenced by the supposed religious character of those whom we happen to know of, as holding it, or the contrary. This we should again see
OF RELIGIOUS TRUTH.
to be a very delusive criterion, in a case where we have no temptation to apply it: we should at once admit that Pascal and Nicole were holy men, nay, that whole bodies of men in the Church of Rome had arrived at a height of holiness, and devotion, and self-denial, and love of God, which in this our day is rarely to be seen in our Apostolic Church ; yet we should not for a moment doubt that our Church is the pure Church, although her sons seem of late but rarely to have grown up to that degree of Christian maturity, which might have been hoped from the nurture of such a mother: we should not think the comparative holiness of these men of God any test as to the truth of any one characteristic doctrine of the Church of Rome. We should rightly see that the holiness of these men was not owing to the distinctive doctrines of their Church ; but that God had ripened the seed of life which He had sown in their hearts, notwithstanding the corrupt mixture with which our Enemy bad hoped to choke it: we should rightly attribute the apparent comparative failure among ourselves in these times, not to our not possessing the truth, but to our slothful use of the abundant treasures which God has bestowed upon us. They hold the great Catholic truths of our Creeds, and much of the self-discipline (as fasting), or means of grace (as more frequent prayer), which modern habits have relinquished; and these have brought their fruit : yet we should not infer that all which they held was true, because they were holy. Holiness (whether produced in the teacher or the taught) proves the presence of some truth, not of the whole truth, nor the purity of that truth. And so also, with regard to any doctrine in which persons either within or without our Church may depart from her; no one can say with confidence, that the superior holiness of any who do not accept it, is attributable to their not accepting it, since it may be only that by their rejection of this one truth, they have not forfeited the blessing of God upon the other truths, which they yet hold: while others who do hold it, may be holding it in name only, and may never have examined the treasure committed to them, or stirred up the gift that is in them. It may be (to speak plainly) that many who deny or doubt about Baptismal Regeneration, have been made holy and good men, and yet have sustained a
loss in not holding this truth : and again, that others may nominally have held it, and yet never have thought of the greatness or significance of what they professed to hold. If, again, right practice were a test of doctrine, then could there be no such thing as “holding 'the truth in unrighteousness," for which however the Apostle pronounces the condemnation of the Heathen. Further, if the comparison were any test at all, it must manifestly be made not at one period only, but throughout the time that such doctrine has been held by the Church ; one must compare, not the men of our own day only, but those of all former times, Confessors, Saints, and Martyrs, which were impossible! This is not said, as if we were competent judges even as to our own times, or as if any could be, but God alone, who searcheth the hearts ; for if the number of those, who being earnest-minded and zealous men, do not hold Baptismal Regeneration, were increased an hundred fold, or if those who imagining that they hold Baptismal Regeneration, do in fact use it as a screen to hide from themselves the necessity of the complete actual change of mind and disposition necessary to them, were many more than they are, -still, who can tell to how many thousands, or tens of thousands, this same doctrine has been the blessed means of a continued child-like growth in grace, who have been silently growing up,
Or "hold down the truth," Rom. i. 18, but karéxw is used without empbasis, Luke xiv. 9. for “take,” “hold ;” and 2 Thess. ii. 6. it signifies "hinder;" Luke iv. 42." detain," not " keep down." The doubt was not alluded to (Ed. i.), because it does not in the least affect the argument. In either case, the truth is in the persons, whether they keep it for a time, and then at last lose it, or forcibly keep it down, and repress it from rising up, and being present to their minds, and influencing them. And so St. Paul, verse 19, directly asserts that “ that which might be known of God was manifest in them, for God hath “showed it unto them ;" and this is explained, verse 20, to be “ His invisible “power and Godhead;" and verse 21, he says, " they knew God." Their condemnation was not that they knew not God, for then, in comparison, “they had "had no sin," (John ix. 41.) but that they knew Him, and yet acted against their knowledge, by "changing the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made "like unto corruptible man,” and so at last God gave them up unto an undistinguishing (ádókiuos) mind; so that, at last, they lost the knowledge also. And so it is with individuals ; men act at first against the light and truth in them, and afterwards, and at length only, is the light withdrawn. See St. August. Tract. 2. in Joann. § 4.
BLESSING OF BEING PLACED IN Christ's CHURCH.
supported by the inestimable privilege of having been made God's children, before they themselves knew good or evil ; who have on the whole been uniformly kept within Christ's fold, and are now "heartily thanking their heavenly Father for having called them" thus early to this state of salvation, into which, had it been left to their frail choice, they had never entered ; who “rejoice with "joy unspeakable and full of glory,” that they were placed in the Ark of Christ's Church, and not first called, of themselves, to take refuge in it out of the ruins of a lost world '.
Most of this, people will in the abstract readily acknowledge ; even if they are not conscious of the full value of the Church, as an Interpreter of Holy Scripture, still they will confess that Scripture is the only ultimate authority in matters of Faith, and that in searching it they ought not to be biassed by any questions of expediency, or grounds distinct from the obvious meaning of the Inspired word: and yet they will probably find on examination that come of these irrelevant grounds have occasioned them to hold Baptismal Regeneration to be an unscriptural doctrine. examined Scripture at all, yet still the supposed effects of this, and of a contrary doctrine, the supposed character of those who hold it, or the reverse, were in fact their rule for interpreting Scripture ; or perhaps wearied with the controversy (which is and must be in itself an evil) they caine to the conclusion that, if we but hold the necessity of Regeneration, it matters not when we suppose it to take place, thus assuming, in fact, the unscripturalness of the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration, since if God has connected Regeneration with Baptism, it must be of importance.
If they This is very natural; for men must lean upon something. Our Reformers, in their interpretation of Scripture, besides the divine means of prayer, leant on the consent and agreement of the “old holy Catholic Doctors," who had received their doctrine immediately, or but at a little interval, from the Apostles, when every link almost in the chain was a Saint and Martyr. The agreement of the Church was to them the evidence of God's speaking in the Church. But now that men have forgotten these maxims, and the blessed dead who resisted unto blood Heathen malice, and established and fixed for us the Creeds wherein we find rest, and look upon deference to the Church almost as a relic of Papal errors, man, since he is not made to be independent, leans upon his fellows; and the supposed spiritual character of individuals is made the test of truth. Man cannot escape from authority : the question only, in religious truth as in civil society or in private life, is, whose authority he will follow.
1 “ They with whom we contend are no enemies to the Baptism of infants ; “it is not their desire that the Church should hazard so many souls by letting “them run on till they come to ripeness of understanding, that so they may be “converted and then baptized, as Infidels heretofore have been: they bear not “towards God so unthankful minds as not to acknowledge it even among the
greatest of His endless mercies, that by making us His own possession so soon, many advantages which Satan otherwise might take are prevented, and
(which should be esteemed a part of no small happiness) the first thing “ whereof we have occasion to take notice is, how much hath been done already
to our good, though altogether without our knowledge."--Hooker, b. v. 8 64,
This mode of judging is indeed a tacit recognition of external authority ; those who adopt it have virtually renounced the narrow and cold notion of individual judgment, and taken refuge from it in that of a body of Christians ; they adopt and imitate the principles of our Church, which refers us to the agreement of Catholic antiquity, only that unbappily they take as a test moderns instead of ancients; those who arose after the waters had been polluted, instead of those who lived near the source ; a section of the Church, instead of the Church itself. They are thereby necessarily much narrowed in their choice, substituting a sort of Ultra-Protestant Popery of one or more individuals, for the Catholic unity of all times and Churches.
The several controversies with infidels, again, have led to some false maxims as to the tests of truth : for, instead of setting forth against these despisers the power of the Gospel of Christ as a whole, that it is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth," that “the truth," i. e. the whole Gospel, “ will set free" those who receive it, men have dwelt too much upon
its natural tendency, as they deem it, to produce such or such effects, upon the efficacy of particular doctrines, or its contrast in such or such points with other religions; thereby fostering the conviction that we are much more judges in these matters than we