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JUDICIAL OFFICE OF THE CHURCH
Letters addressed to the Rev. Hugh Smith, A.M.
[From the United States Catholic Miscellany for 1826.]
CHARLESTON, S. C., July 25, 1826. To the Rev. Hugh Smith, A.M., Rector of St. Paul's Church, Augusta.
Rev. Sir:-I am not, I trust, disposed to turn from my path to assail persons who permit me to pass unmolested; but neither am I very willing to allow myself to be assailed by an unprovoked aggressor. You, Sir, preached at the opening of the late Convention of your Church, (the Protestant Episcopal,) at Macon, in Georgia; and the Editors of the Gospel Messenger in this city, considered your Sermon worthy of the first place in their publication for this month.
Had you not unnecessarily waged war upon my religion, I should have laid down the pamphlet without an observation; but your language has urged me to the remarks which I shall take the liberty of making through the columns of the Miscellany.
If I am correctly informed, Reverend Sir, you are no novice in polemics, and you have frequently ere now, given to the religion of my choice the full benefit of your opposition; though, if report speaks truly, you have not always been successful. I have heard it said of you, that not very many years since you asserted that the General Councils of Popery, (as your politeness has designated the religion of the vast majority of Christendom,) could not be infallible in their decisions upon articles of faith, because they were contradictory; and that when invited to point out the contradictions, you were not prepared to do so, because you had forgotten them, and could not then lay your hand upon the books which exhibited what they were. This, perhaps, is but a mere unfounded report, and I am the more inclined to believe so, from the circumstance that your present assault is upon the same doctrine of infallibility in the attempt to destroy which you are said to have been formerly so notoriously unsuccessful; because it would appear to be a singular fatality which would lead you into the same field, with only the same weapons, against the same doctrine.
However, Sir, I may be in error:—you are probably now much better armed; and you shew at least more caution. Still, your caution has not, I believe, saved you from exposing how you might be advantageously assailed; but this was probably more a misfortune arising from your position, than a fault arising from your want of skill. I must avow that I should not know how to defend the ground you occupied : but as our acquaintance must be of some duration, I had better proceed at once to my business. As I love open dealing, I shall give the portion of your sermon of which I complain, and also those parts which will be necessary to place you fairly before my readers.
Your text was—“With one mind, striving together for the faith of the Gospel.” Philippians i, 29.
You alluded to the occasion of your holding a Convention in a place which, not long since, was a wilderness. You enforced the necessity of having the Gospel defended by some when attacked by others. You enforced the obligation as considered in its reference to Christianity generally, in concluding which topic you said:
“Thus, then, it appears, that there has been but one sentiment in the Christian world as to the duty of 'contending earnestly for the faith once delivered to the Saints,' when that faith was assailed; and, that in reference to this general defence, those who differ from each other on minor points, may and ought to 'strive together;' not, however, by attempting that union or coalition, which, from the infirmity of our nature, and from a warm attachment to different views, never can exist; that union which forced, and almost unnatural, instead of tending to harmony, too frequently ministers to strife; not by being 'unequally yoked together,' by a yoke that will prove galling to both. No, not thus, brethren, are they who believe in Christianity, but differ as to its peculiarities; not thus, are they to strive together; but by marching in separate columns to the defense of the truth, by separately directing their efforts to one and the same point, and causing them to meet in the same centre; thus, securing the benefits of combined exertion, while they avoid the dangers of collision.
“There is a general coincidence, then, brethren, as to what is the faith of the Gospel, viz: the Revelation of God, contained in the Bible, and, for this faith, it is admitted that all should, in a certain sense, strive together. But when we leave this general ground; when we ask what the 'faith of the Gospel' is, in all its parts, coincidence of sentiment is at an end, and many contradictory replies meet our ear. How, then, are we to choose amidst all these conflicting opinions of men? 'How is this faith of the Gospel to be more minutely ascertained ?' This is our second inquiry. What is to be our standard of appeal? We point you, in reply, to the Book of God. We ask you, ‘What is there written? how readest thou ?? Yes, to the Bible we make our first apeal; for, in the language of the great Chillingworth, The Bible is the Religion of Protestants.' In exact accordance with which, we find the Church declaring in her 6th Article, 'Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.'
“You may ask, however, are there not many who appeal to this standard, equally honest in purpose, and equally earnest in seeking, and who return from its perusal with widely different impressions? Does not every Christian sect profess to hold the pure 'faith of the Gospel,' and to have derived its doctrinal compend or digest from the Bible.
"It is indeed so, brethren; nor should this fact excite our surprise, or drive us from that most safe position, that to the Bible must be our first apeal. But, be it remembered, that it must be the Bible interpreted by enlightened reason; by the comparison of its several parts with each other; and in entire subserviency to the unquestionable axiom, that a revelation from God cannot contain anything that will impugn his known attributes, or detract from his infinite perfections.
“Had it always been thus interpreted, notwithstanding the varieties in the structure of the human mind, the Christian world would not have been called to witness so many divisions and sub-divisions, modifications and remodifications of doctrinal incorrectness. Nor would the Bible itself have been insulted, by being given as the authority for so much that is absurd in theory, or demoralizing in practical tendency. Perfect uniformity of sentiment, even were all the circumstances of spiritual preparation, and of biblical investigation equal, could scarcely be expected. Nor is this more surprising than that God has permitted men to receive different impressions from the same sounds, the same views, the same subject; and the want of this uniformity in the inferences honestly drawn from Scripture must never drive us back to that main pillar, and main error of Popery, that the Church is the authorized interpreter of Scripture. Against this, the Church of which we are members has entered her own protest; declaring in her 20th Article, 'It is not lawful for the Church to decree anything contrary to God's word written; neither may