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On the other hand, where from ignorance, from indolence, from want of personal religion, the task of the Preacher has been unfaithfully executed, evil consequences have, in the same proportion, been produced: false doctrine, heresy, and schism, like rank and noxious weeds, have overgrown the soil, which the good fruit should have occupied; practical piety has languished and decayed; and thus the displeasure of the Almighty has been visibly attendant on a work not performed according to His will.
The commission, therefore, to “preach the Gospel,” solemnly entrusted to every Minister of our Church at his Ordination, is one which involves considerations of overwhelming interest and importance: and when the words are pronounced, “ Take thou authority to preach the Word of God," the anxious reflection cannot fail to arise—How awful a responsibility is here incurred by him who gives and by him who receives the charge! How will this authority be exercised ? to the glory of God, or to His dishonour? to the profit, or to the hurt of immortal souls? • To enter at large into the vast field of inquiry, which such reflections open to us, would, in the compass of a single discourse, be manifestly impossible: but a few general suggestions on the subject
of evangelical preaching cannot be considered as unsuited to the occasion; and may, if it shall so please God, be not without profit to some, at least, among my present hearers.
And first, in using the term “evangelical,” let us carefully guard against all perversions of its strict and proper meaning, and separate it from all considerations, with which it has no real or necessary connection. Let us use the word as the symbol of our union, not of our divisions; as concerned with Divine doctrines, not with human deductions from them; as denoting the essential character of our Reformed Church in general, not the particular views of any section within it. In a word, let us define an Evangelical Preacher simply as one who preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to the exclusion of every other system of teaching opposed to or unsanctioned by it.
Now, before entering on the question of what are or are not Evangelical doctrines, I would first observe that the fundamental principle of Evangelical preaching is implicitly contained in the simple words themselves, “ preach the Gospel.” The word “Gospel,” I need scarcely remind you, signifies a message of good; and the words, which we translate “to preach," signify to make proclamation as a herald, to announce tidings as a messenger. The essential character, therefore, of the Preacher is that of a herald and a messenger ; titles which sufficiently
define his office, and explain its proper functions. His task is not that of the Philosopher in his lecture, to propound and vindicate theories; nor that of the Orator in the assembly, to invent popular and persuasive arguments : he is simply commissioned to deliver a message, and his commission and his message are from God. It is indeed his duty to expound the truth to his hearers, to instruct, to advise, to persuade them: but he must first proclaim the message with which he is charged; and all his instructions, his advice, his persuasions, must be founded on that message, must be derived immediately from it, must be limited and directed by it. If, on his own authority, he add any thing to it; if he withhold or reserve any portion of it; if he so restrict and qualify its terms, as to exclude even one individual from the scope of that which he is commanded to “preach to every creature ?,” then he betrays the trust committed to him; he ceases to be a faithful messenger; he declares his own counsel, not “ the counsel of God.”
In this first and fundamental principle of Evangelical Preaching all true Churchmen are entirely agreed. It is, in fact, the very principle on which the Reformed Church of England is avowedly built; for, if one truth be more strongly and unequivocally affirmed than another by that Church, it is, that the
Mark xvi. 15.
written Word of God, His recorded message to mankind, is the one and only rule of a Christian's Faith, and “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!”
But now a second question arises, wholly independent of this principle, and in no way interfering with it: and that is, not whether Scripture be the standard of Truth, but what is the standard of Scripture interpretation. The same Holy Book has been appealed to in support of contradictory doctrines ; and where there is real contradiction, there must be error. Still, therefore, we need something to enable us to distinguish the truth from the error, the right from the wrong interpretation.
That the Holy Spirit of God,“ the Spirit of Truth ?,” as he is emphatically called by Christ Himself, is alone sufficient, and is all-sufficient, to “guide” mankind “into all truth,” is a Scriptural verity, which no believer in Scripture can dispute. But the admission of this principle does not determine the question before us; for it is a principle maintained in common by those amongst whom the most serious and important differences in Religious doctrine are found to prevail. The plea of the
2 John xvi. 13.
great Apostle, “I think that I have the Spirit of God," has ever been advanced, with more or less confidence, by Popes and Councils, by rival parties within and without the Church, and by individuals, the one against the other. The Apostle vindicated his claim by manifesting “the signs of an Apostle ?,” the miraculous proofs of his divine commission : but, since we have no sufficient evidence that God has, since the Apostolic age, vouchsafed to any individuals, or bodies of men, such supernatural and infallible criteria of the real guidance of the Spirit in the interpretation of Scripture, as may serve to determine all controversies between them, the rivalry of opposing opinions must remain without arbitration, unless God shall have provided, in the ordinary dispensations of his providence, some common standard of interpretation to which all may equally appeal ; some test, which, not superseding the undisputed duty of every man to search the Scriptures for himself, and to pray that the Spirit of Truth may give him “a right judgment in all things,” may still serve as a common rule to prompt and assist that judgment, to guide, to correct, to confirm it.
And such a test we find in that which is commonly known under the name of Catholic Tradition: a term which I would be distinctly understood as confining strictly to the meaning and within the 1 1 Cor. vii. 40.
2 2 Cor. xii. 12. 3 Collect for Whitsunday.