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The New Zealand Evangelist

Errors in Religion.—Their Causes

page 109

Errors in Religion.—Their Causes.

To maintain that there is any one section of Christ's Church, exempt from error, of some kind or other, argues but little acquaintance with human nature, or with the subject itself. Such a belief implies that all those founders (be they one or many), of the different Churches which own Christ their Saviour, were inspired—and therefore could not err. Now no one will presume to arrogate such a claim for the founders of a sect, established since the Apostolic Age; because inspiration was withdrawn from mankind, after that period. The heavenly commission of those companions of the Lord having been delivered, they cast not their inspired mantle upon their disciples; but resigned it, as it were, into the hands of their Heavenly Master, from whom it was received. All that was necessary to the salvation of a fallen world, they have fully and plainly declared: not in that tropical or figurative style in which they illustrated their canons, but in language so simple, so unambiguous, so concise, so sublime, page 110 and yet so marvellously adapted to the comprehension of all ranks, that nothing more, need, or could be said. The power of simply reading this message of mercy, is the only power which the most abject of the human family need possess, to know the path to eternal life. To find, and to know this path, requires neither Councils, nor Conclaves,nor Synods, nor Assemblies. It was the Divine Founder himself, who declared especially that He came to preach the Gospel to the poor. And it was therefore preached in such language, in such terms, and with such illustrations, as would render the whole perfectly suited to the comprehension of the whole world.

Thus far error was unknown in the church; it was then immaculate, and infallible. But no sooner were its inspired founders withdrawn; and the work left to their successors, than that spirit of Error began to mix in their Councils, which has ever since spread its baneful effects throughout the Christian world. Human wisdom, in all things, is fallible; more especially if left to exercise its powers on spiritual things, not plainly and directly declared by God. “All Errors on Religion,” says an able writer on this subject, * “proceed from trusting in our understanding. And all the Truths we possess are drawn only from the fountain of Sacred Truth—the perfect Oracles of God. Hence the continual necessity of having recourse to the law, and to the testimony; and of studying the Scriptures—as we would any other book,—as a whole,—not taking little detached portions out of them, and putting our own constuction upon the separated fragments. The general scope of Scripture and the consecutiveness of inspired argument, will preserve us from many errors into which we might otherwise slide. If we mistake the meaning of one passage, we shall be set right by the one that follows it (or to which it relates)—and although human weakness may mistake one or two passages, nothing but wilful and sys-

* Douglass.—“Errors on Religion.”

page 111tematic
perversion can misinterpret them all; for in the Scriptures we have truths placed in every variety of light, and examples under every diversity of circumstance.”

We have said, that all things necessary to salvation are so fully and plainly declared in the in-spired writings, that all may understand them; and hence it is, that few, if any, of the numerous sections of Christ's Church differ on these essential points.** But beyond those, there are a host of other doctrines, more or less indistinctly stated; and which, (as if they were never intended to be made primary articles of faith,) the inspired writers have left open for the exercise, not merely of human wisdom, but of that first of all duties—Christian Love and Charity: a duty, perhaps, more fully, repeatedly, and explicitly, insisted upon, than any other of the divine Canons of him who is Love itself.

Now a very slight knowledge of Ecclesiastical history, is sufficient to show us that nearly all of the modern sects of Christianity, owe their origin to this one great error—that of advancing secondary Doctrines, to the rank of such as are primary. Things in most cases indifferent, (what was never designed they should be,) are placed on the same level with things essential to salvation. Hence the innumerable sects, and divisions of sects, which have sprung up in the Christian Church, and which it is now, to human apprehension, hopeless to unite.

It is hardly necessary to show the reasons why this state of things was never intended by our Lord and Master. Setting aside the numerous texts from Scripture, plainly intimating the reverse: there is one circumstance in the history of our Saviour, which has always struck me, as a most beautiful type of that unity which should exist among all his followers. This, but slightly alluded to by St. Luke, but fully re-

** I of course exclude all those, and they are but few, who deny Original Sin; or who look upon the Savour as any other than what he (John xiv, 0–11.) has declared himself to be.

page 112lated
by the beloved Apostle, * His loose outer garments were divided, but the under coat, or vesture, which covered the whole person was preserved entire, without rent or seam. Thus was it shewn, that although his followers might be divided in smaller external matters, yet that His universal Church should never be rent, or divided; but that the spirit of Love and Charity was to pervade, and cover all, as a close tunic in which no seam or rent could be found.

Now to separate Truth from Error, I cannot subscribe to the doctrine that human reason is not to be exercised in this, as well as in all other matters of vital importance. Reason is the noblest gift to man. That which distinguishes him from all other terrestial beings, is the power of cogitation; and this power, rightly used, cannot find a more ennobling theme for its exercise than that of “Searching the Scriptures.” The use of Reason, in fact, is the same, whether in religion or philosophy. As without facts, we can gain no knowledge of nature, so without inspired truths, (which are God's statement of facts either future or invisible) we can make no progress in religious knowledge. The use of reason, therefore, is to enable us to become intelligent listeners to the Divine Voice; and to open out to us the scope and purport of the inspired Oracles. Without this power we cannot “Search the Scriptures to know whether those things be true,” nor can we hope to detect those errors, upon which so many have heedlessly staked their salvation.

Moreover, the use of reason in religion is to enlarge our minds to the amplitude of Truth: but the abuse of reason is more common, which would contract truth to the narrowness of our understanding. Men, upon all other subjects save religion, confess their natural ignorance; they come to the first elements of doctrine as learners, and not as judges. If they find out any thing incomprehensible, or are startled at any conclusion, they attribute the difficulty not to the matter, but to the scholar, and never deny

* John XIX, 23, 24

page 113 any proposition on the mere ground of their not comprehending it. But far different is the case with most of those who are called rational divines. Though confessedly ignorant of the true nature of every atom that surrounds them, they can pronounce a priori, with the utmost confidence, concerning some of the most difficult theological questions. They dogmatize with as much boldness regarding what is possible to be believed, and what is impossible, as if reason entered not into the qualifications of a Christian. And in this way reason and revelation have been absurdly set at variance with each other. *

Our belief, therefore, in secondary matters, not clearly and expressly laid down by the apostles, is not to rest upon the opinions of any one sect or church. Yet in thus casting off human authority, a great and absurd mistake is too often made. An independent seeker after truth, judges rightly that all men are fallible. Unfortunately, however, without perceiving it, he makes an exception in favour of himself. He thinks that his opinions must be right, because he took them wholly from the Scriptures; and because he despises all human authority, he forgets that there is the same cause for his seeing these truths through a discoloured medium, as for other men. He forgets that his judgment is as fallible, on some points, as that of the divines and commentators whose interpretation he rejects. The truth is, that although all minds are liable to error, they are not equally liable to the same errors; hence arises the great use of consulting commentators. As has been beautifully remarked, “The rays of truth are thus refracted, as they enter through the dusky medium of the mind of man: but different minds having different refractive powers, we can so adjust them, as to countervail the defects of our own peculiar vision.”

The Church of Rome is that only which arrogates to itself the Divine attribute of infallibility, and yet the Pontiffs of this mitred heresy, in every age of

* See also Douglass.

page 114 its existence, have virtually denied, by their own acts, this enormous Error. We read of Council against Council,—Synod against Synod,—one Pope annulling the acts of his predecessor in the chair of St. Peter, or proclaiming that to be wrong which was once pronounced as infallibly right.

What then is to be done? Are we to dissent from all sects and churches, because all, in some degree, partake of imperfection and error. Or are we to resign the right of private judgment, and “pin our faith” upon the sleeve of the priesthood? This will form the subject of a separate chapter.