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“is irreproachable; secondly, that the same “church, in consequence of the command of God, “ teaches us the articles that constitute the object “ of our belief and worship. Every thing else
appears a matter of supererogation in divinity."* Now before a Roman Catholic can rationally establish these propositions, he must be prepared to prove, first, what is meant by the Christian church; secondly, he must shew that the church of Rome, is exclusively the Christian church; thirdly, he must ascertain and develope the proofs of the testimony of this church being “ irreproachable,” or infallible, or in other words, that there is no reason at any time for calling its testimony in question ; fourthly, he must establish the identity of the church at the present day, with what it was in the beginning, and shew that there has been no deviation from its primitive character; and lastly, he must prove that the only true account of the Christian Religion is to be found in the actual and successive belief of this church from age to age.
But inquires the Protestant, how can the terms even of the first proposition be understood without appealing to some antecedent authority? How can we know what is meant by a church, and by a Christian church, unless we appeal to some testimony which is independent of the conceived authority of the church? Before we believe that
Buffer's First Truths. App. p. 372.
the testimony of a church is “ irreproachable," we must have a criterion by which to ascertain what is a church? That criterion, whatever it be, by which we judge of the authority of a church, cannot be uninterrupted tradition. Should this be assumed, it must be shewn how the fact of a successive and uninterrupted belief, obtaining in a certain community, is itself sufficient to establish the claim of that community to be considered the church of Christ. Now in contravention of such a claim, it may be asserted, that the utmost that tradition proves
is the mere successiveness of belief; but this can never prove the belief to be well founded. That which proves a belief to be well founded must be the evidence in which, at the beginning it originated, and not the fact of its continuing to be possessed afterwards. But the fact of its continuing to be possessed from age to age is nothing more or less than tradition, and therefore tradition cannot prove the church of Rome, or any other church, to be the sole and exclusive and infallible depository of the faith. Tradition, may prove that the members of that church have believed these doctrines, but as there must have been some reason for this belief, when first it was entertained, the ultimate proof of its being so at this time, must be that which led the first members of this church to entertain it. Admitting their faith to be right-it must have been founded on something distinct from tradition. Now that,
whatever it be, which constituted the ultimate reason of faith when it first began to be possessed, and when of course no tradition existed to support it, is the only ultimate ground of rational belief in every successive age. If the Roman Catholic resort to Scripture as that ultimate ground, as furnishing the reason which in the first instance, supported the belief; then he is brought at once to a principle which enables the Protestant to meet him on tangible ground. Then the object of controversy is to ascertain how far the infallibility of the church of Rome is supported by scriptural testimony: and by this testimony alone, can the question be determined on rational and on Christian principles.
But the Roman Catholic replies-- You must depend on the Church for the very testimony to ' which you appeal. The Church has preserved • it—the Church presents it to you—the Church is
“ the pillar and ground of the truth.” To this the Protestant answers- Is the testimony true because the Church has preserved it pure and uncorrupted from age to age ? Admitting the fact of this transmission and guardianship, does it prove its truth and authority? If for a moment this can be supposed—then on what ground was the testimony believed before the Church was formed? It is obvious that the first Churches were formed in consequence of believing the testimony, which by means of written and authentic
documents has been perpetuated from that period to the present time. The evidence of the truth of that testimony was the original ground of their belief, and therefore the belief itself could never constitute a proof of the truth of the testimony. But the Roman Catholic makes the truth of the testimony depend upon the fact of its being believed ; and this illogical principle is the actual basis of that authority which he claims on behalf of the Church. Suppose all the primitive Churches either personally or by representatives, had met together, and issued such a dogma as this“ What we believe to be a divine testimony, is a “ divine testimony because we believe it.” What impression would such a canon have produced on the world! And yet on the principles of the Roman Church, they might have announced and published it; and on the ground of such a declaration alone, have claimed universal and unhesitating submission. But we meet with nothing like this principle in the apostolic or ecclesiastical records of primitive Christianity. The first Christians rested their faith on the evidence of divine authority attached to the oral testimony of their first instructors. The visible and indisputable proofs of their inspiration rendered their written testimony of equal authority: and when this written testimony was all that remained, we find the Churches and Pastors of the first century exclusively and invariably appealing to it, as the rule and the reason of their faith.
The moment we admit the truth of the written testimony, on the ground of the identical evidence which proved the oral testimony to be divinely accredited, we are in possession of a standard of doctrine that is intelligible and decisive. If this testimony asserts, or can be proved to assert, that any particular Church is constituted the sole and authoritative judge of its sense--the infallible expositor of its meaning, then it is right to submit to the decisions of that Church. Still, even in this case, the reason of submission is the testimony itself, which by the assumed proof, has vested exclusive and unalienable prerogatives in that particular Church. Admitting this position, we must have the evidence adduced from the Scriptures alone, to support these prerogatives. Here, as in reference to other doctrines, tradition is of no use, as to any authoritative determination of the question, and therefore the inquiry must be altogether restricted to the fair and rational interpretation of the record itself.
The author conceives that the following propositions are involved in these reasonings, and may be deduced from them.
1st. That the evidence of the divine authority of scriptural testimony is altogether independent of human declarations concerning that authority.
2nd. That the fact of being employed in the preservation and transmission of this testimony, affords no security for the right understanding of