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Church, for several years before a single line was penned of all that volume of the sacred Scriptures which is more immediately concerned with the Christian faith. And when the whole volume of the new covenant had been written for our learning, the Church was still “ the witness and the keeper of holy writ.” The lessons of inspiration are not like the manna distilled from heaven, and to be gathered for himself by every individual of the congregation ; they are like the bread which we obtain through the labours of the husbandman, though not a single ear of corn derived its principle of life from him.
Men, in a word, were designed to convey and dispense to their fellow men the word of God. They were designed to introduce men to the knowledge of the Gospel in the first instance, and afterwards, to explain, recommend, and enforce, its doctrines, and duties, and principles, and motives,
2. And yet the Church claims no undue authority on this account. The Romish Church, indeed, has fatally erred in this respect; but we have abjured her errors. We acknowledge the Scriptures as the only rule of faith, and appeal to no uncertain traditions in proof of Christian doctrines. Nor yet do we claim for the Church any infallible authority in the interpretation of Scripture. She claims no authority above the Scriptures, but only above individuals. That is to say, the judgment of the whole society is of course preferred to that of individuals. The society must determine who are heretics and who are schismatics, and treat them accordingly. The society itself may err indeed. National Churches have erred; the Church Catholic has erred; yet in this case as in every other where a society must act as a society, she must pronounce her judgments with authority, when she has formed them with the best care she may, though she confesses that her judgments are fallible.
3. And is there any thing in this which trenches upon that right of private judgment, which many Christians would guard with so much jealous care ? It is, on the contrary, impossible to dispute the abstract right of private judgment. For what in fact does this vaunted right imply but simply this—that every human being is responsible for his own conduct ? As we must act, so also must we believe, upon our own individual responsibility. But then let it never be forgotten, that we are responsible also for the use of every advantage vouchsafed to us, whether for acting or for thinking rightly. We are not to insist upon the right
of doing wrong. We are to make use with diligence and gratitude of every privilege and advantage within our power, by which we may be enabled to believe and to act aright.
And herein is the sum of the whole matter; that Christianity is not the religion either of the Bible, or of the Church, but of both—because both the Bible and the Church are among our inestimable privileges, by whose aid, under the blessing of God, we may attain to a pure and lively faith, and to conduct and affections such as may in some slight measure prepare us for the happiness of heaven.
CHRISTIANITY THEN IS THE RELIGION NEITHER OF THE BIBLE EXCLUSIVELY, NOR OF THE CHURCH EXCLUSIVELY, BUT OF BOTH. Both are among the means, the advantages, the high privileges, by the use of which God designs that we should win our way through the atonement of Christ and the sanctification of his Spirit to everlasting life. And, beyond question, not one of the appointed means towards the attainment of heaven may be neglected with safety to our souls.
These obvious but important truths we should endeavour to impress upon the minds of our hearers. There will not then be any unprofitable
wrangling about the relative authority of the Bible and of the Church. The inspired teacher no doubt is superior to the uninspired; and, now that the Christian Church is no longer under the living guidance of inspired teachers, the Bible is superior to the Church. The Church may err; the Scriptures cannot be in error. But the Scriptures may be misunderstood—and the character of the error is not altered, because it is perversely derived from the fountain of truth.
The salutary question then relates not to the authority of the Bible and the Church, but to their respective uses. To speak generally, by the Church we are introduced to the knowledge of the Gospel ; by the Scriptures alone must its doctrines be ultimately proved; but they must be explained and illustrated, recommended, and impressed, brought home to our affections, rendered fruitful in our lives, by the Scriptures and by the Church together—nay rather not even by these exclusively, but by the devout and diligent use not of these alone, but of every other Christian privilege under the gracious aid of Him who inspired the Scriptures, who assists our prayers, who blesses the Sacraments, who condescends to dwell in the Church and in every one of its faithful members. But the spirit of independence is the spirit of pride. And the independent study even
of the holy Scriptures themselves will not be blessed by Him without whose aid the most sedulous labours will be unprofitable, and the brightest talents unavailing.
1. These obvious but important truths then, my Reverend brethren, we must endeavour to impress upon the minds of our hearers; for they are intimately connected with the interests of Christianity and the salvation of souls. They are truths also which particularly require to be inculcated in the present day. The usurpations of the Romish Church have long created an unhappy reaction, discrediting the legitimate uses and functions of the Christian society and its ministers. And the prevailing ignorance on these subjects has been not a little fostered perhaps in this country by the circumstance that the Church of England has omitted to notice the institution and uses of “the Church” in the popular compendium of her principles.
A multitude of our Christian brethren, accordingly, who never heard of such a phrase as “the religion of the Bible,” are unconsciously influenced by its spirit. Hence some have been involved in painful perplexity and distress, because the Scriptures do not teach them the Christian doctrines so distinctly or so systematically as