« ZurückWeiter »
Fathers of that Church. We must not appeal to the writings of modern prelates or divines, however distinguished for station, and piety, and talent–because, if these should be found to differ from each other, we could only decide which of them speak the sentiments of the Church, by comparing them with the language of the Church. If, at any period, therefore, jarring opinions be held, and discordant statements made, by Ministers of the same Church, the only mode of determining which speak most in accordance with the Church, is, by trying their respective statements by the lex scripta, the written and authorized language of the Church; and this process must be conducted, not with the subtilty and sophistry of the schoolmen, who, by perverting simple terms, and denying obvious conclusions, obscure that which is evident, and perplex that which is plain, but in obedience to the Royal Declaration prefixed to the Articles of our Church, “that no man shall hereafter either print or preach to draw the Article aside any way, but shall submit to it in the plain and full meaning thereof, and shall not put his own sense or comment to be the meaning of the Article, but shaLL TAKE IT IN THE LITERAL AND GRAMMATICAL SENSE.” Upon this axiom, then, let us erect the following hypothesis :
We will suppose, that unanimity of sentiment prevailed for a long period, from the origin of a particular church, upon the grand doctrinal points, recognized and enforced by her authorized writings; that at length a change of times and circumstances arose, which led to a diversity of sentiment upon matters clearly laid down in the lex scripta, until, by degrees, the general tone of written and oral statement was lowered from the true and scriptural tone in which the Church herself spoke. Let us further suppose, that, after the doctrines of the Church in question were “ shorn of their strength,” and diluted to meet the vitiated taste of the times, certain individuals were raised up, who, upon comparing the prevailing tone of oral statement with the lex scripta of the Church, and lamenting how much that tone varied from the dignified and scriptural key in which the Church herself spoke, should resolve, by the grace of God, to regulate their own statements by the written and authorized language of the Church. Let us moreover suppose, that the number of these individuals should gradually increase, until they became a considerable body, although still the minority, with prelates and dignitaries at their head; and that in this state of things, an outcry were raised, that “ a division notoriously pre. vails in the Church,” that danger is to be apprehended from the fact; and that it is incumbent upon those who have the welfare of the bierarchy at heart, to devise and apply a remedy. Under the state of things here imagined, I would ask, How are we to detect the offending parties, and what is the test to which the question of orthodoxy must be referred ? Upon the axiom laid down, the reply will be easy_Let the Church herself judge,–let her own voice be heard,- let the jarring sentiments of the parties be brought to the test of her lex scripta, and let this decide the controversy. They who are proved to adhere most closely to the language and sentiments of the Church, are with her; they who adopt another language, and utter other sentiments, are against her.
We will now apply this hypothesis to the inference which Mr. Molesworth has drawn from the position he laid down, and let me in this process be understood to argue entirely upon the defensive, not to inculpate others, but merely to prove the negative, by showing what party in the Church (as he declares there is a party,) does not create division. It will, I believe, be discovered by those who have the inclination to enter upon it, and the means of conducting the investigation, that, from the period of the Reformation to the Restoration of Charles the Second, the statements of doctrine were, gene
rally speaking, in accordance with the homilies and articles of the Church of England. The Puritans mingled much that was enthusiastic with their mode of exhibiting truth ; but, as a body, they adhered in matters of faith to the fundamental doctrines of the Church. From the return of Charles the Second, however, a gradual departure from the doctrines of the Reformers appears to have arisen; and a candid comparison of the bulk of the divinity of that and the following ages, with the homilies and articles, will show, that the true doctrines of the Church of England, upon vital points, were to be sought in the lex scripta, and not in the oral instructions of the Clergy. That this state of things, more or less, existed until the days of Whitfield and Wesley, no one who dispassionately examines the whole of the evidence, can, I should imagine, deny. And, were an existing proof of it sought in a compendious form, it may be found in some of the tracts printed and circulated by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, at the present moment. Those which were written by divines who lived in early periods after the Reformation, speak quaintly perhaps, but freely and fully in the language of the Church; some of those which were written during the last, and in the early part of the present century, utter a different
sound; and although perhaps, to adopt an observation of Mr. Molesworth, “ No other foundation of our acceptance was ever laid down," in so many direct terms, “ than Christ Jesus !” yet so much of “ wood, and hay, and stubble,” to use the apostle's expression, has often been mingled with, and built upon this only true foundation, as to have rendered it extremely difficult to recognize the foundation amidst the baser materials cast upon it.
You will probably recollect having put into my hand, some years ago, a printed protest upon this subject, addressed by the Secretary of a Diocesan Society, in some distant part of England, whose name I forget to the General Board, which document contained specimens of the discrepant doctrines alluded to, and prayed for a revision of the Society's tracts. A revision at length has happily been commenced, and, as an old member of this venerable institution, I cannot but express my earnest hope, in common with a numerous body of subscribers, that the sad and dangerous discrepancies complained of will be removed, and that nothing will be suffered to remain upon the Society's list, but such tracts as honestly and fearlessly breathe the sentiments of the homilies and articles of the Church of England.
That within the last thirty years a considerable improvement has arisen in the tone