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SCRIPTURE, NOT TRADITION, THE AUTHO~ |
BY THE REV. CHRISTOPHER BENSON, M.A.
Canon of Worcester.
JOHN V. 39.
"Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of
If we consider these words as containing a true representation of the meaning of the text in the original Greek, there can be no doubt about their being intended to impress upon us the duty and the profitableness of studying the holy scriptures. "Search the scriptures," is, in that case, a commandment of our blessed Lord himself; for he is the speaker of the text; and from bis commandment there is no appeal.
But the ingenuity of criticism has found
rest so to do.
We are reminded, however, that, whether
iii., where that apostle speaks of his brother
What those qualifications are, we may gather from the second passage I have luded to. It is to be found in 2 Tim. iii. 16 17. St. Paul himself there speaks thus "All scripture is given by inspiration of God Could any course of reasoning have more and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for forcibly enjoined upon our Lord's hearers the correction, and for instruction in righteous duty of searching the scriptures, or have ex-ness; that the man of God may be perfect plained to them the ground of that duty more clearly than this? The very statement that their motive for searching the scriptures was to find in them eternal life implies our Lord's approbation both of their conduct and of the end they had in view. His additional declaration that the scriptures bear testimony to himself as the way to that eternal life affords to us, who believe in him as our only Redeemer from sin and death, a far more lively interest in the duty than the Jews could have, and a far more satisfactory assurance that we shall find the object of our search.
thoroughly furnished unto all good works. When St. Peter, therefore, gives the appella tion of scripture to the writings of St. Paul, his meaning is that, like all other scriptures they are given by inspiration of God; and, through that inspiration, are so enriched with what tendeth to godly edifying, as to make the man of God perfect in that knowledge which will thoroughly furnish him unto every good word and work. Now that inspiration which constitutes the spiritual profitableness of the writings of St. Paul, and entitles them to be designated as the word of God, attaches to them because they proceed from an apostle of
Jesus Christ. The same honour and excel- | furnish the second lesson, because Christian-*
Let us now proceed to examine in what anner our own church has endeavoured to omote and provide for the fulfilment of this ligation to search the scriptures, by the arngement of her public services.
The liturgy of our church, then, has been framed by the holy wisdom of our reformthat, in the order for daily morning and ening prayer, two lessons of instruction out the book of the Lord are required to be ad, in every service, before the assembled ngregation. They are read in our own gue wherein we were born; and from that thorized version of the bible, whose united guily and simplicity of language render it once intelligible and solemn to all. Nor The who reads permitted to injure the effect, pervert or obscure the meaning of God's word by any omissions or alterations or explanations of his own. It is the pure, the nadulterated word of God which we hear; nd it is left to its own divine energy to make 3 wise unto salvation, uninterrupted and unrupted by the errors or prejudices of the inister.
We are thus unequivocally informed what the founders of our church considered to be the fountain from which Christians are to take their ideas of faith and duty. Whilst their articles declare that holy scripture contains all things necessary for salvation, their order for reading that scripture in the ears of the people, in every service, and from the beginning to the end, is a practical demonstration not only of their desire to show that their own teaching is drawn from that hea venly source, but also a proof of their wish to enable the members of the church at large to judge whether anything is required, either to be done or believed by them, which is not read therein, or may not be proved thereby. To the law and to the testimony of the Lord we refer you; and, if we speak not as they speak, we confess that the truth is not with us. Such is the language which we may imagine to be uttered by our reformers whenAgain: not only is some considerable por-ever a chapter is read before us in the conon of scripture brought before the people in gregation, from either testament. eir public religious services, but that por- Such is not the language, such is not the on is selected, not by the fancy of the priest, practice of the church of Rome. She seals at by the church herself; and it is so se- up the scriptures, as a whole, from her folcted as to avoid every appearance of par-lowers; and those portions of the bible which ality or deceitful dealing with that sacred she ventures or vouchsafes to bring before her ing. Hence a due degree of attention is congregations are small and disjointed. They aid to both covenants, and one of the are uttered also in a language no longer lessons is taken from each. From the spoken, and which none but the educated Old Testament comes the first lesson; be- understand. Even with these restrictions Cause it was the first in order of time they are chaunted or intoned; so that, even given as a preparatory dispensation until the where the language is understood, it is the seed should come to whom the promise was ear rather than the mind or the heart which made (Gal. iii. 19). The gospels and epistles
is addressed. Thus does she violate the
spirit, whilst she seems in some measure to recognize the letter of that duty which binds us to give a full and free course to the word of eternal life. She must continue to do so, if she hopes to prolong her reign; for she cannot but feel and fear that, were her people instructed and encouraged to search the scriptures as inspired to give wisdom to the simple, her sinful errors and superstitious additions to God's revealed will would be discovered and rejected, and all her antichristian powers and pretensions be overthrown.
Upon this head, however, I will say no more. None who really hold the principles, as well as the name of protestants, can fail to perceive the evil designs of a church which deals so deceitfully with the revelations of the Lord. But there is a statement put forth by ministers of our own communion, which may steal into the minds of many who want either the leisure or the learning to examine it, and which, if once admitted as true and taken as a guide, will work like a canker to the soundness of their faith. By weakening their exclusive reliance upon the teaching of scripture, it will make them an easy prey to the vain inventions of man with regard to their religious belief and practice.
"Tradition teaches; and scripture proves.' This is the statement to which I allude; this the very order of the words in which it is expressed. Look, then, at that order, and you will immediately see that scripture is robbed by it of its high dignity. Tradition holds the first place: scripture has only the second. Tradition is the source from which we are directed to draw the doctrines and duties of our holy religion: scripture is merely introduced as a handmaid to tell us whether what tradition teaches is to be received. The authority of teacher is ascribed to tradition: the subordinate business of supplying proofs in favour of tradition is all the use that is made of scripture. Man is pointed out to us as our spiritual guide; and the wonderful Counsellor, the mighty God, is only called in to strengthen the hands of
our human instructor.
of tradition, that they turned to it to show that its authority also was in favour of their views. What was their language and prac tice should be ours. Never should we permit anything to take precedence of the scriptures in the formation of our creed or the regu lation of our lives. They are the only pure wells from which we can draw the waters of salvation; and thither only should we go, if we wish to discern the wisdom of God in its perfection; for, as it is our privilege, so is it our bounden duty to search them for all that we spiritually want. If we do this faithfully, we shall find them to be, what our Lord himself calls the Spirit which indited them, a well of water springing up within us unto everlasting life.
Again: You will observe that what is meant by tradition is not defined. Tradition im plies something handed down to us by those who have gone before. It may be handed down by one, by few, by many, or by all who have lived in times past; and those times may be of greater or less antiquity. To which of these kinds of tradition the statement is intended to apply is not said. In practice, however, we know that the word has been used to give authority to teaching, sup ported, in some cases, only by few in any place or time, in others by many only in the most corrupt ages of the church. But the au thority of tradition can never be of importance upon any subject, except in proportion to the length of time during which it has prevailed among the most numerous, learned, judicious disinterested, and holy part of the followers of our blessed Lord. Wearisome indeed, the and almost hopeless, must be the labour those who upon anything, except the great, plain, and prominent doctrines of Chris tianity, endeavour to estimate the comparative extent and value of the testimnoy afforded by tradition to the truth of those opinions they either receive or reject.
How, then, is it possible for us to go, with satisfaction or safety, to a teacher like this At any rate, if we do rest upon it at all, it must only be as it is embodied in those creeds which the general voice of the church has for ages consented to approve, and which are placed in our own liturgy, in order that the young may be taught by them, and those of riper years acknowledge in them the ar ticles of their belief.
Not so spake or thought our reformers in their humble piety. Often do they join the two words together in the same sentence; but not in the manner which is here adopted are the words arranged. With them it is scripture and tradition, not tradition and scripture. They went to the word of God to Mark, now, the consequences that would learn what they were to believe and, do; and follow from taking the tradition of these creeds where it was clear to themselves and not for our Christian teacher. The office of gainsaid by others, they troubled themselves scripture is pronounced to be that only of no further. It was when they found a diffi-proving what tradition has already taught culty, or had to contend against adversaries Beyond that, therefore, we are not, by this maintaining their opinions upon the ground rule, required to examine what the scriptures
to be true. But are these creeds so full and complete a transcript of the doctrines of the religion of Jesus as to leave nothing emitted, nothing imperfectly laid down, which is essential to our soul's acceptance, or our heart's assurance before the Lord? They speak to us of the forgiveness of sins; but do they clearly inform us by what means we are to attain, or to what quality the free grace of God has given it? Yet is this one of the most important of all the things upon which we sinners should seek for instruction from our spiritual teacher. It is one also which is written as with a sunbeam upon the pages of the New Testament. Our Lord openly declared it, when he said that " God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that all who believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." St. Paul has plainly repeated it in his saying that by faith a man is justified, and that the faith which justifies is like that of Abraham, which by works was made perfect; a faith of the heart, working by love, to the keeping of God's commandments. So clearly is this most netessary, most comfortable doctrine laid down, that, though we look for it in vain to the teaching of tradition in our creeds, the wayfaring man, that goes to the bible as his teacher, cannot, if honest, either fail to see or to understand it. Take another instance of the incomplete teaching of tradition in the reeds. They require us to believe the rerrection of the dead. But with what body they rise? With that diseased and sufering body, which we now dwell in, and with hat unchanged? Upon this tradition in the reeds is silent; though the knowledge of it sinseparably connected with the perfect happiness of an everlasting life. But turn to the scriptures as your teacher, and not a doubt or a fear will remain. "Sown in corruption," says St. Paul, "it will be raised in inCorruption; sown in dishonour, it will be raised in glory; sown in weakness, it will be raised in power; sown a natural, it will be raised a spiritual body-like unto the body of the Lord Jesus himself." This is the comfort of scripture teaching; a truth which gives its full blessedness to the hope of life Behold, then, brethren, how defective will be your faith, if you use the scriptures only to prove what tradition has set down for your guidance in the generallyreceived formularies of the church; for, if you rest on the authority of tradition as your teacher, it is not likely that you will search the scriptures very diligently to find anything beyond it, or to receive as readily, and prize as highly as you ought, what you may have happened to find.
But it is not in this restricted sense that tradition is usually appealed to. It is rather to uphold opinions and practices which have been founded upon a corrupt following of the apostles, or gradually introduced by superstition, and which continue to be maintained by many, because subservient to the passions or interests, either of the people or their priests. Of this kind are the views now so frequently put forth as to the benefit of ministerial absolution, and the absolute necessity of our episcopal form of government to the very exis tence of a Christian church. He who takes the scripture for his teacher will discover in them neither of these things. But, when he comes to them only to find out proofs of what he has already embraced on the authority of tradition, he will be led to see intimations of them where none really exist, and will content himself with the fewest and faintest which he can force from them by his own ingenuity, or which others before him have asserted that they contain. It is thus that multitudes have been induced to give to the bishop of Rome the impious title and universal power of the vicar of God, because Christ said to Peter, "Upon this rock I will build my church." It is thus, too, that they have presumed to draw out the whole scheme of a purgatory and indulgences, because St. Paul declares that he, who builds hay, straw, or stubble upon the foundation of Christ, will have his work burned, and be himself, if saved, saved only as by fire. Nor, indeed, can he, who opens the book of life with a creed already built upon tradition or philosophy, or any other authority independent of the bible, ever be expected to study it as a just and impartial judge. He has within him those thoughts and feelings which will either close his eyes or pervert his views in the exa mination of scripture. But there is a far worse evil awaiting him than this. The dishonour he does to the Holy Spirit of the Lord, which inspired the sacred writers, by making their writings subordinate to tradition in the formation of his faith, must grieve that blessed Spirit, and much abate his reliance upon the divine aid to enlighten his mind and correct his errors. Those only, who make God's revealed word the teacher as well as the test of Christian doctrine, can have a well-grounded assurance that he, from whom that word proceeds, will lead them, when scarching it, into the truth.
It still remains that we should consider the searched, in order to make us wise unto salmanner in which the scripture ought to be
There can be no doubt that there is danger
lest we should abuse this, as we are apt to do every other privilege. St. Peter tells us, that even in his own days there were some who wrested the scriptures to their own destruction; and he tells us what manner of men they were. They were the "unlearned and unstable;" but, except the unlearned be also unstable, or have some other root of evil in their hearts, there is no more fear of their perverting the divine oracles through ignorance than there is of the learned doing it from presumption. Nay, it may be truly said that far more heresies and corruptions have sprung up in the church from the passions and pride of those professing themselves to be wise, and employing their learning to uphold their pre-eminence in theological warfare, than from the mistakes into which mere ignorance has ever fallen. But, be this as it may, there are certain conditions to be observed by both, in the study of God's word; and, if those conditions be attended to, both will be preserved, through divine grace, from any serious error either of belief or practice.
The first of these conditions is, that we read God's word with an earnest desire to be made partakers of its profitableness. It was given that it might be profitable for doctrine; we should, therefore, read it with a view to know the doctrine it contains, and graft that doctrine in our hearts as the foundation of our present faith and future prospects. It is profitable for reproof; when, therefore, we read its reproofs, we should bring our own conduct into remembrance, and acknowledge and lament the sins we have committed and it condemns. It is profitable for correction; therefore we should look well to the means it prescribes for the correction of the evil that is in us, and then carry them into practice for our own advancement in holiness. It was written for our instruction in righteousness; and we should mark and inwardly digest its various precepts of piety, purity, and charity, until they become as familiar to us as the works of our daily calling; so that, in whatever condition of life we are placed, or into whatever circumstances we may fall, we may know the duties required of us, and be thoroughly furnished unto every form of obedience to the Lord's will."
The spirit in which we should thus search the scriptures for their profitableness is equally plain. We must come to the study of them with an honest and good heart; not from curiosity, but for improvement; not for controversy, but for our confirmation in the truth; not that we may appear learned in the Lord's law, but that we may be made spiritually wise with the wisdom from above that is in them; not that we may preach ho
liness to others, but that we may become holy ourselves, which is the best mode of preaching.
We must study them with diligence. "Line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little", from time to time, as men needed them, and could bear them, so came the scriptures from the Lord. As they were written, so should they be read. Day by day continually we should repeat some former lesson or learn a new one, until the whole body of God's judgments, tes timonies, and commands is treasured up for use in the store-house of memory, and so wrought into the soul that it may be a light within us to guide and to guard our feet amidst the dangers and darkness that surround us.
We must study them with humility. Great is the mystery of godliness, great the mystery of prophecy unfulfilled. How unsearchable too are many of God's judg. ments! how many of his ways past find ing out! If the learned will meddle wit unfathomable depths like these, if the un learned will exercise themselves in matter too high for them, can we wonder if, for th neglect of what is plain and useful, they ar permitted to stumble upon the dark mour tains, and fall? There is enough to emplo and fill the noblest faculties of man in the it vestigation of those saving truths, which it necessary that all should know, and whic Christians of the weakest faculties, if onl meekly they use them in dependence upo the Lord for light, will never fail, so far it is needful for them, to comprehend.
Finally, the scriptures must be studie with prayer. We are not able, in our falle state, to think aright in what relates to $ vation, or to do really a good action of ou selves. The Holy Spirit is needed for o helper and director in all things. To the su plications offered up in faith he is ever real to give a gracious answer, and to supply t wants of them that pray. Now the Spir searcheth all things, yea, the deep things God. Whatsoever, therefore, we diligent and humbly seek for in the scriptures to mak us wise unto salvation, that with his blesse aid we may attain, and that, if it be fit th we should know it, he can and will reves He will open our minds to understand th teaching of God's word in the first place, an then strengthen us to walk according to in the second.
As our warrant for believing and feeling sure of the accomplishment of all this, " may take the words of Christ Jesus himsel and apply them to our present purpose Ask; and ye shall receive the Holy Spirit, to