The New Zealand Evangelist
Errors in Religion.—Their Causes
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to arrogate such a claim for the founders of a sect, established since the Apostolic Age; because inspiration was withdrawn from mankind, after that period.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.
* Douglass.—“Errors on Religion.”
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.
** 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.
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.
* John XIX, 23, 24
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.”
* See also Douglass.
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.