Lecture 8. Difficulties of Jewish and of Christian Faith compared

{236} I HAVE been engaged for some time in showing that the Canon of Scripture rests on no other foundation than the Catholic doctrines rest; that those who dispute the latter should, if they were consistent,—will, when they learn to be consistent,—dispute the former; that in both cases we believe, mainly, because the Church of the fourth and fifth centuries unanimously believed, and that we have at this moment to defend our belief in the Catholic doctrines merely because they come first, are the first object of attack; and that if we were not defending our belief in them, we should at this very time be defending our belief in the Canon. Let no one then hope for peace in this day; let no one attempt to purchase it by concession;—vain indeed would be that concession. Give up the Catholic doctrines, and what do you gain? an attack upon the Canon, with (to say the least) the same disadvantages on your part, or rather, in fact, with much greater; for the circumstance that you have already given up the Doctrines as if insufficiently evidenced in primitive times, will be an urgent call on you, in consistency, to give up the Canon too. And besides, the Church doctrines may also be proved from Scripture, but no one can say that the Canon of Scripture itself can be proved from Scripture to be a Canon; no one can say, that Scripture anywhere {237} enumerates all the books of which it is composed, and puts its seal upon them ever so indirectly, even if it might allowably bear witness to itself.

1.

But here, before proceeding to make some reflections on the state of the case, I will make one explanation, and notice one objection.

In the first place, then, I must explain myself, when I say that we depend for the Canon and Creed upon the fourth and fifth centuries. We depend upon them thus: As to Scripture, former centuries certainly do not speak distinctly, frequently, or unanimously, except of some chief books, as the Gospels: but still we see in them, as we believe, an ever-growing tendency and approximation to that full agreement which we find in the fifth. The testimony given at the latter date is the limit to which all that has been before given converges. For instance, it is commonly said, Exceptio probat regulam; when we have reason to think, that a writer or an age would have witnessed so and so, but for this or that, and this or that were mere accidents of his position, then he or it may be said to tend towards such testimony. In this way the first centuries tend towards the fifth. Viewing the matter as one of moral evidence, we seem to see in the testimony of the fifth the very testimony which every preceding century gave, accidents excepted, such as the present loss of documents once extant, or the then existing misconceptions, which want of intercourse between the Churches occasioned. The fifth century acts as a comment on the obscure text of the centuries before it, and brings out a meaning which, with the help of that comment, any candid person sees really to belong to them.

And in the same way as regards the Catholic Creed, {238} though there is not so much to explain and account for. Not so much, for no one, I suppose, will deny that in the Fathers of the fourth century it is as fully developed, and as unanimously adopted, as it is in the fifth century; and, again, there had been no considerable doubts about any of its doctrines previously, as there were about the Epistle to the Hebrews or the Apocalypse: or if any, they were started by individuals, as Origen's about eternal punishment, not by Churches,—or they were at once condemned by the general Church, as in the case of heresies,—or they were not about any primary doctrine, for instance, the Incarnation or Atonement; and all this, in spite of that want of free intercourse which did occasion doubts about portions of the Canon. Yet, in both cases, we have at first an inequality of evidence as regards the constituent parts of what was afterwards universally received as a whole,—the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, for instance, and, on the other hand, the four Gospels being generally witnessed from the first; but certain other doctrines, (as the necessity of infant baptism,) being at first rather practised and assumed, than insisted on, and certain books, (as the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Apocalypse,) doubted, or not admitted, in particular countries. And as the unanimity of the fifth century as regards the Canon, clears up and overcomes all previous differences, so the abundance of the fourth as to the Creed interprets, develops, and combines all that is recondite or partial, in previous centuries, as to doctrine, acting in a parallel way as a comment, not, indeed, as in the case of the Canon, upon a perplexed and disordered, but upon a concise text. In both cases, the after centuries contain but the termination and summing up of the testimony of the foregoing. {239}

2.

So much as to the explanation which I proposed to give; the objection I have to notice is this. It is said, that the Fathers might indeed bear witness to a document such as the books of Scripture are, and yet not be good witnesses to a doctrine, which is, after all, but an opinion. A document or book is something external to the mind; it is an object that any one can point at, and if a person about two or three hundred years after Christ, said, "This book of the New Testament has been accounted sacred ever since it was written," we could be as sure of what he said, as we are at the present day, that the particular church we now use was built at a certain date, or that the date in the title-page of a certain printed book is trustworthy. On the other hand, it is urged, a doctrine does not exist, except in the mind of this or that person, it is not a thing you can point at, it is not a something which two persons see at once,—it is an opinion; and every one has his own opinion. I have an opinion, you have an opinion;—if on comparing notes we think we agree, we call it the same opinion, but it is not the same really, only called the same, because similar; and, in fact, probably no two such opinions really do coincide in all points. Every one describes and colours from his own mind. No one then can bear witness to a doctrine being ancient. Strictly speaking, that which he contemplates, witnesses, speaks about, began with himself; it is a birth of his own mind. He may, indeed, have caught it from another, but it is not the same as another man's doctrine, unless one flame is the same as a second kindled from it; and as flame communicated from spirit to sulphur, from sulphur to wood, from wood to coal, from coal to charcoal, burns variously, so, true as it may be that certain doctrines {240} originated in the Apostles, it does not follow that the particular form in which we possess them, originated with the Apostles also. Such is the objection; that the Fathers, if honest men, may be credible witnesses of facts, but not, however honest, witnesses to doctrines.

It admits of many answers:—I will mention two.

1. It does not rescue the Canon from the difficulties of its own evidence, which is its professed object; for it is undeniable that there are books of Scripture, which in the first centuries particular Fathers, nay, particular Churches did not receive. What is the good of contrasting testimony to facts with testimony to opinions, when we have not in the case of the Canon that clear testimony to the facts in dispute, which the objection supposes? Lower, as you will, the evidence for the Creed; you do nothing thereby towards raising the evidence for the Canon. The first Fathers, in the midst of the persecutions, had not, as I have said, time and opportunity to ascertain always what was inspired and what was not; and, since nothing but an agreement of many, of different countries, will prove to us what the Canon is, we must betake ourselves of necessity to the fourth and fifth centuries, to those centuries which did hold those very doctrines, which, it seems, are to be rejected as superstitions and corruptions. But if the Church then was in that miserable state of superstition, which belief in those doctrines is supposed to imply, then I must contend, that blind bigotry and ignorance were not fit judges of what was inspired and what was not. I will not trust the judgment of a worldly-minded partizan, or a crafty hypocrite, or a credulous fanatic in this matter. Unless then you allow those centuries to be tolerably free from doctrinal corruptions, I conceive, you cannot use them as witnesses of the canonicity of the Old and {241} New Testament, as we now have them; but, if you do consider the fourth and fifth centuries enlightened enough to decide on the Canon, then I want to know why you call them not enlightened in point of doctrine. The only reason commonly given is, that their Christianity contains many notions and many usages and rites not in Scripture, and which, because not in Scripture, are to be considered, it seems, as if against Scripture. But this surely is no sound argument, unless it is true also that the canonicity itself of the Old and New Testament, not being declared in Scripture, is therefore unscriptural. I consider then that the man, whether we call him cautious or sceptical, who quarrels with the testimony for Catholic doctrine, because a doctrine is a mere opinion, and not an objective fact, ought also in consistency to quarrel with the testimony for the Canon, as being that of an age which is superstitious as a teacher and uncritical as a judge.

2. But again: the doctrines of the Church are after all not mere matters of opinion; they were not in early times mere ideas in the mind to which no one could appeal, each individual having his own, but they were external facts, quite as much as the books of Scripture;—how so? Because they were embodied in rites and ceremonies. A usage, custom, or monument, has the same kind of identity, is in the same sense common property, and admits of a common appeal, as a book. When a writer appeals to the custom of the Sign of the Cross, or the Baptism of infants, or the Sacrifice or the Consecration of the Eucharist, or Episcopal Ordination, he is not speaking of an opinion in his mind, but of something external to it, and is as trustworthy as when he says that the Acts of the Apostles is written by St. Luke. Now such usages are symbols of common, {242} not individual opinions, and more or less involve the doctrines they symbolize. Is it not implied, for instance, in the fact of priests only consecrating the Eucharist, that it is a gift which others have not? in the Eucharist being offered to God, that it is an offering? in penance being exacted of offenders, that it is right to impose it? in children being exorcised, that they are by nature children of wrath, and inhabited by Satan? On the other hand, when the Fathers witness to the inspiration of Scripture, they are surely as much witnessing to a mere doctrine,—not to the book itself, but to an opinion,—as when they bear witness to the grace of Baptism.

Again, the Creed is a document the same in kind as Scripture, though its wording be not fixed and invariable, or its language. It admits of being appealed to, and is appealed to by the early Fathers, as Scripture is. If Scripture was written by the Apostles, (as it is,) because the Fathers say so, why was not the Creed taught by the Apostles, because the Fathers say so? The Creed is no opinion in the mind, but a form of words pronounced many times a day, at every baptism, at every communion, by every member of the Church:—is it not common property as much as Scripture?

Once more; if Church doctrine is but a hazy opinion, how is it there can be such a thing at all as Catholic consent about it? If, in spite of its being subjective to the mind, Europe, Asia, and Africa could agree together in doctrine in the fourth and fifth centuries (to say nothing of earlier times), why should its subjective character be an antecedent objection to a similar agreement in it between the fourth century and the first? And does not this agreement show that we are able to tell when we agree together, and when we do not? Is it a mere accident, and perhaps a mistake, that Christians {243} then felt sure that they agreed together in creed, and we now feel sure that we do not agree together?

Granting, then, that external facts can be discriminated in a way in which opinions cannot be, yet the Church doctrines are not mere opinions, but ordinances also: and though the books of Scripture themselves are an external fact, yet they are not all of them witnessed by all writers till a late age, and their canonicity and inspiration are but doctrines, not facts, and open to the objections, whatever they are, to which doctrines lie open.

3.

And now, having said as much as is necessary on these subjects, I will make some remarks on the state of the case as I have represented it, and thus shall bring to an end the train of thought upon which I have been engaged. Let us suppose it proved, then, as I consider it has been proved, that many difficulties are connected with the evidence for the Canon, that we might have clearer evidence for it than we have; and again, let us grant that there are many difficulties connected with the evidence for the Church doctrines, that they might be more clearly contained in Scripture, nay, in the extant writings of the first three centuries, than they are. This being assumed, I observe as follows:—

1. There is something very arresting and impressive in the fact, that there should be these difficulties attending those two great instruments of religious truth which we possess. We are all of us taught from the Bible, and from the Creed or the Prayer Book: it is from these that we get our knowledge of God. We are sure they contain a doctrine which is from Him. We are sure of it; but how do we know it? We are sure the doctrine is from Him, and {244} (I hesitate not to say) by a supernatural divinely inspired assurance; but how do we know the doctrine is from Him? When we go to inquire into the reasons in argument, we find that the Creed or the Prayer Book with its various doctrines rests for its authority upon the Bible, and that these might be more clearly stated in the Bible than they are; and that the Bible, with its various books, rests for its authority on ancient testimony, and that its books might have been more largely and strongly attested than they are. I say, there is something very subduing to a Christian in this remarkable coincidence, which cannot be accidental. We have reason to believe that God, our Maker and Governor, has spoken to us by Revelation; yet why has He not spoken more distinctly? He has given us doctrines which are but obscurely gathered from Scripture, and a Scripture which is but obscurely gathered from history. It is not a single fact, but a double fact; it is a coincidence. We have two informants, and both leave room, if we choose, for doubt. God's ways surely are not as our ways.

2. This is the first reflection which rises in the mind on the state of the case. The second is this: that, most remarkable it is, the Jews were left in the same uncertainty about Christ, in which we are about His doctrine. The precept, "Search the Scriptures," and the commendation of the Berœans, who "searched the Scriptures daily," surely implies that divine truth was not on the surface of the Old Testament. We do not search for things which are before us, but for what we have lost or have to find. The whole system of the prophecies left the Jews (even after Christ came) where we are—in uncertainty. The Sun of Righteousness did not at once clear up the mists from the Prophetic Word. It was a dark saying to the many, after He came, as well as {245} before. It is not to be denied that there were and are many real difficulties in the way of the Jews admitting that Jesus Christ is their Messiah. The Old Testament certainly does speak of the Messiah as a temporal monarch, and a conqueror of this world. We are accustomed to say that the prophecies must be taken spiritually; and rightly do we say so. True: yet does not this look like an evasion, to a Jew? Is it not much more like an evasion, though it be not, than to say (what the Church does say and rightly) that rites remain, though Jewish rites are done away, because our rites are not Jewish, but spiritual, gifted with the Spirit, channels of grace? The Old Testament certainly spoke as if, when the Church expanded into all nations, still those nations were to be inferior to the Jews, even if admitted into the Church; and so St. Peter understood it till he had the vision. Yet when the Jews complained, instead of being soothed and consoled, they were met with language such as this: "Friend, I do thee no wrong ... Is it not lawful for Me to do what I will with Mine own? Is thine eye evil because I am good?" And, "Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why hast Thou made me thus?" [Matt. xx. 13-15. Rom. ix. 20.]

Again; why were the Jews discarded from God's election? for keeping to their Law. Why, this was the very thing they were told to do, the very thing which, if not done, was to be their ruin. Consider Moses' words: "If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful Name, The Lord thy God; then the Lord will make thy plagues wonderful, and the plagues of thy seed, even great plagues, and of {246} long continuance, and sore sicknesses, and of long continuance." [Deut. xxviii. 58, 59.] Might they not, or rather did they not, bring passages like this as an irrefragable argument against Christianity, that they were told to give up their Law, that Law which was the charter of their religious prosperity? Might not their case seem a hard one, judging by the surface of things, and without reference to "the hidden man of the heart"? We know how to answer this objection; we say, Christianity lay beneath the letter; that the letter slew those who for whatever cause went by it; that when Christ came, He shed a light on the sacred text and brought out its secret meaning. Now, is not this just the case I have been stating, as regards Catholic doctrines, or rather a more difficult case? The doctrines of the Church are not hidden so deep in the New Testament, as the Gospel doctrines are hidden in the Old; but they are hidden; and I am persuaded that were men but consistent, who oppose the Church doctrines as being unscriptural, they would vindicate the Jews for rejecting the Gospel.

Much might be said on this subject: I will but add, by way of specimen, how such interpretations as our Lord's of "I am the God of Abraham," etc., would, were we not accustomed to them, startle and offend reasoning men. Is it not much further from the literal force of the words, than the doctrine of the Apostolical Succession is from the words, "I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world"? In the one case we argue, "Therefore, the Apostles are in one sense now on earth, because Christ says 'with you alway;'" in the other, Christ Himself argues, "therefore in one sense the bodies of the patriarchs are still alive; for God calls Himself 'their God.'" We say, "therefore the Apostles {247} live in their successors." Christ implies, "therefore the body never died, and therefore it will rise again." His own divine mouth hereby shows us that doctrines may be in Scripture, though they require a multitude of links to draw them thence. It must be added that the Sadducees did profess (what they would call) a plain and simple creed; they recurred to Moses and went by Moses, and rejected all additions to what was on the surface of the Mosaic writings, and thus they rejected what really was in the mind of Moses, though not on his lips. They denied the Resurrection; they had no idea that it was contained in the books of Moses.

Here, then, is another singular instance of the same procedure on the part of Divine Providence. That Gospel which was to be "the glory of His people Israel," [Luke ii. 32.] was a stumblingblock to them, as for other reasons, so especially because it was not on the surface of the Old Testament. And all the compassion (if I may use the word) that they received from the Apostles in their perplexity was, "because they knew Him not, nor yet the voice of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning Him." [Acts xiii. 27.] Or again: "Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing, ye shall hear, and shall not understand," [Acts xxviii. 25, 26.] etc. Or when the Apostles are mildest: "I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsman according to the flesh;" or "I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge." [Rom. ix. 2, 3; x. 2.] Moreover, it is observable that the record of their anxiety is preserved {248} to us; an anxiety which many of us would call just and rational, many would pity, but which the inspired writers treat with a sort of indignation and severity. "Then came the Jews round about Him, and said unto Him, How long dost Thou make us to doubt?" [John x. 24.] or more literally, "How long dost Thou keep our soul in suspense? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly." Christ answers by referring to His works, and by declaring that His sheep do hear and know Him, and follow Him. If any one will seriously consider the intercourse between our Lord and the Pharisees, he will see that, not denying their immorality and miserable pride, still they had reason for complaining (as men now speak) that "the Gospel was not preached to them,"—that the Truth was not placed before them clearly, and fully, and uncompromisingly, and intelligibly, and logically,—that they were bid to believe on weak arguments and fanciful deductions [Note 1].

This then, I say, is certainly a most striking coincidence in addition. Whatever perplexity any of us may feel about the evidence of Scripture or the evidence of Church doctrine, we see that such perplexity is represented in Scripture as the lot of the Jews too; and this circumstance, while it shows that it is a sort of law of God's providence, and thereby affords an additional evidence of the truth of the Revealed System by showing its harmony, also serves to quiet and console, and moreover to awe and warn us. Doubt and difficulty, as regards evidence, seems our lot; the simple question is, What is our duty under it? Difficulty is our lot, as far as we take on ourselves to inquire; the multitude are not able to inquire, and so escape the trial; but when men inquire, this trial at once comes upon them. And surely we may use the {249} parable of the Talents to discover what our duty is under the trial. Do not those who refuse to go by the hints and probable meaning of Scripture hide their talent in a napkin? and will they be excused?

3. Now in connexion with what has been said, observe the singular coincidence, or rather appositeness, of what Scripture enjoins, as to the duty of going by faith in religious matters. The difficulties which exist in the evidence give a deep meaning to that characteristic enunciation. Scripture is quite aware of those difficulties. Objections can be brought against its own inspiration, its canonicity, its doctrines in our case, as in the case of the Jews against the Messiahship of Jesus Christ. It knows them all: it has provided against them, by recognizing them. It says, "Believe," because it knows that, unless we believe, there is no means of our arriving at a knowledge of divine things. If we will doubt, that is, if we will not allow evidence to be sufficient for us which mainly results, considered in its details, in a balance preponderating on the side of Revelation; if we will determine that no evidence is enough to prove revealed doctrine but what is simply overpowering; if we will not go by evidence in which there are (so to say) a score of reasons for Revelation, yet one or two against it, we cannot be Christians; we shall miss Christ either in His inspired Scriptures, or in His doctrines, or in His ordinances.

4.

To conclude: our difficulty and its religious solution are contained in the sixth chapter of St. John. After our Lord had declared what all who heard seemed to feel to be a hard doctrine, some in surprise and offence left Him. Our Lord said to the Twelve most tenderly, "Will ye also go away?" St. Peter promptly answered, {250} No: but observe on what ground he put it: "Lord, to whom shall we go?" He did not bring forward evidences of our Lord's mission, though he knew of such. He knew of such in abundance, in the miracles which our Lord wrought: but, still, questions might be raised about the so-called miracles of others, such as of Simon the sorcerer, or of vagabond Jews, or about the force of the evidence from miracles itself. This was not the evidence on which he rested personally, but this,—that if Christ were not to be trusted, there was nothing in the world to be trusted; and this was a conclusion repugnant both to his reason and to his heart. He had within him ideas of greatness and goodness, holiness and eternity,—he had a love of them—he had an instinctive hope and longing after their possession. Nothing could convince him that this unknown good was a dream. Divine life, eternal life was the object which his soul, as far as it had learned to realize and express its wishes, supremely longed for. In Christ he found what he wanted. He says, "Lord, to whom shall we go?" implying he must go somewhere. Christ had asked, "Will ye also go away?" He only asked about Peter's leaving Himself; but in Peter's thought to leave Him was to go somewhere else. He only thought of leaving Him by taking another god. That negative state of neither believing nor disbelieving, neither acting this way nor that, which is so much in esteem now, did not occur to his mind as possible. The fervent Apostle ignored the existence of scepticism. With him, his course was at best but a choice of difficulties—of difficulties perhaps, but still a choice. He knew of no course without a choice,—choice he must make. Somewhither he must go: whither else? If Christ could deceive him, to whom should he go? Christ's ways might be dark, His words {251} often perplexing, but still he found in Him what he found nowhere else,—amid difficulties, a realization of his inward longings. "Thou hast the words of eternal life."

So far he saw. He might have misgivings at times; he might have permanent and in themselves insuperable objections; still, in spite of such objections, in spite of the assaults of unbelief, on the whole, he saw that in Christ which was positive, real, and satisfying. He saw it nowhere else. "Thou," he says, "hast the words of eternal life; and we have believed and have known that thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God." As if he said, "We will stand by what we believed and knew yesterday,—what we believed and knew the day before. A sudden gust of new doctrines, a sudden inroad of new perplexities, shall not unsettle us. We have believed, we have known: we cannot collect together all the evidence, but this is the abiding deep conviction of our minds. We feel that it is better, safer, truer, pleasanter, more blessed to cling to Thy feet, O merciful Saviour, than to leave Thee. Thou canst not deceive us: it is impossible. We will hope in Thee against hope, and believe in Thee against doubt, and obey Thee in spite of gloom."

Now what are the feelings I have described but the love of Christ? Thus love is the parent of faith [Note 2]. We {252} believe in things we see not from love of them: if we did not love, we should not believe. Faith is reliance on the word of another; the word of another is in itself a faint evidence compared with that of sight or reason. It is influential only when we cannot do without it. We cannot do without it when it is our informant about things which we cannot do without. Things we cannot do without, are things which we desire. They who feel they cannot do without the next world, go by faith (not that sight would not be better), but because they have no other means of knowledge to go by. "To whom shall they go?" If they will not believe the word preached to them, what other access have they to the next world? Love of God led St. Peter to follow Christ, and love of Christ leads men now to love and follow the Church, as His representative and voice.

Let us then say, If we give up the Gospel, as we have received it in the Church, to whom shall we go? It has the words of eternal life in it: where else are they to be found? Is there any other Religion to choose but that of the Church? Shall we go to Mahometanism or Paganism? But we may seek some heresy or sect: true, we may; but why are they more sure? are they not a part, while the Church is the whole? Why is the part true, if the whole is not? Why is not that evidence trustworthy for the whole, which is trustworthy for a part? Sectaries commonly give up the Church doctrines, and go by the Church's Bible; but if the doctrines cannot be proved true, neither can the Bible; they stand or fall together. If we begin, we must soon make an end. On what consistent principle can I give up part and keep the rest? No: I see a work before me, which professes to be the work of that God whose being and attributes I feel within me to be real. Why should not this great sight be,— {253} what it professes to be—His presence? Why should not the Church be divine? The burden of proof surely is on the other side. I will accept her doctrines, and her rites, and her Bible,—not one, and not the other, but all,—till I have clear proof, which is an impossibility, that she is mistaken. It is, I feel, God's will that I should do so; and besides, I love all that belong to her,—I love her Bible, her doctrines, her rites, and therefore I believe.

September, 1838.

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Notes

1. [This is too strongly worded.]
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2. [To say that "love is the parent of faith" is true, if by "love" is meant, not evangelical charity, the theological virtue, but that desire for the knowledge and drawing towards the service of our Maker, which precedes religious conversion. Such is the main outline, personally and historically, of the inward acceptance of Revelation on the part of individuals, and does not at all exclude, but actually requires, the exercise of Reason, and the presence of grounds for believing, as an incidental and necessary part of the process. The preliminary, called in the text "love," but more exactly, a "pia affectio," or "bona voluntas," does not stand in antagonism or in contrast to Reason, but is a sovereign condition without which Reason cannot be brought to bear upon the great work in hand.—Vid. Univ. Serm. xii., 20.]
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