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AUGUST 1, 1835.
A RESTORATION OF THE ANCIENT ORDER
OF THINGS.-No. II.*
Had the founder of the Christian Faith been defective in wisdom or benevolence, then his authority, his testimony, and his commandments, might be canvassed with as little ceremony as the discoveries and maxims of our compeers and contemporaries ; then his religion might be improved, or reformed, or better adapted to existing circumstances. But as all Christians admit that he foresaw and anticipated all the events and revolutions in human history, and that the existing state of things was as present to his mind as the circumstances that encompassed him in Judea, or in the judgment hall of Caiaphas; that he had wisdom and understanding perfectly adequate to institute, arrange, and adapt a system of things, suitable to all exigencies and emergencies of men and things, and that his philanthropy was not only unparalleled in the annals of the world, but absolutely perfect, and necessarily leading to, and resulting in, that institution of religion which was most beneficial to man in the present and future world: I say, all these things being generally, if not universally agreed upon by all Christians, then it follows, by the plainest and most certain consequence, that the institution of which he is the author and founder, can never be either improved or reformed. The lives or conduct of his disciples may be reformed, but his religion cannot. The religion of Rome,
* For No. I. see page 46–51 of the M. H.
or of England, or of Scotland may be reformed, but the religion of Jesus Christ never can. When we have found ourselves out of the way, we may seek for the ancient paths, but we are not at liberty to invent paths for our own feet. We should return unto the Lord.
But, a restoration of the ancient order of things, it appears, is all that is contemplated by the wise disciples of the Lord; as it is agreed that this is all that is wanting to the perfection, happiness, and glory of the Christian community. To contribute to this is our most ardent desireour daily and diligent inquiry and pursuit. Now, in attempting to accomplish this, it must be observed, that it belongs to every individual and to every congregation of individuals to discard from their faith and their practice everything that is not found written in the New Testament of the Lord and Saviour, and to believe and practise whatever is there enjoined. This done, and everything is done which ought to be done.
But, to come to the things to be discarded, we observe that, in the ancient order of things, there were no creeds or compilations of doctrine in abstract terms, nor in any terms other than the terms adopted by the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. Therefore, all such are to be discarded. It is enough to prove that they ought to be discarded, from the fact that none of those now in use, nor ever at any time in use, existed in the apostolic age. But as many considerations are urged why they should be used, we shall briefly advert to these, and attempt to show that they are perfectly irrational, and consequently foolish and vain.
I. It is argued that confessions of faith are or may be much plainer and of much more easy apprehension and comprehension than the oracles of God. Men, then, are either wiser or more benevolent than God. If the truths in the Bible can be expressed more plainly by modern divines than they are by the Holy Spirit, then it follows that either God would not or could not express them in words so plainly as man. If he could and would not express them in words so suitable as men employ, then he is less benevolent than they. Again, if he would but could not express them in words so suitable as men employ, then he is not so wise as they. These conclusions, we think, are plain and unavoidable. We shall thank any advocate of human creeds to attempt to show any way of escaping this dilemma.
But the abstract and metaphysical dogmas of the best creeds now extant, are the most difficult of apprehension and comprehension. They are further from the comprehension of nine-tenths of mankind than the words employed by the Holy Spirit. We shall give a few samples from the Westminster creed, one of the best in the world :
Sample 1. “The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father ; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son."
Sample 2. “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass ; yet so as neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”
Sample 3. “ Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions; yet hath he not decreed any thing because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.”
Sample 4. “ These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number is so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.”
Sample 5. “ Although in relation to the knowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently."
These samples are taken out of the 2d, 3d, and 5th chapters, and may serve as a fair specimen of the whole. Now, the question is, Whether are these words more plainly, definitely, and intelligibly expressive of divine truths than the terms used by the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures ? We do not ask the question, Whether these things are taught in the Bible? but merely Whether these terms are more plain, definite, and intelligible than the terms used in the Bible ? This we refer to the reader's own decision.
II. But, in the second place, it is argued that human confessions of faith are necessary to the unity of the church. If they are necessary to the unity of the church, then the church cannot be united and one without them. But the church of Christ was united and one in all Judea, in the first age, without them; therefore, they are not necessary to the unity of the church. But again, if they are necessary to the unity of the church, then the New Testament is defective; for if the New Testament was sufficient to the unity of the church, then human creeds would not be necessary. If any man, therefore, contend that human creeds are necessary to the unity of the church, he at the same time, and by all the same arguments, contends that the Scriptures of the Holy Spirit are insufficient—that is, imperfect or defective. Every human creed is predicated upon the inadequacy, that is, the imperfection of the Holy Scriptures.
But the records of all religious sects, and the experience of all men of observation, concur in attesting the fact that human creeds have contributed always, since their first introduction, to divide and disunite the professors of the Christian religion.
Every attempt to found the unity of the church upon the adoption of any creed of human device, is not only incompatible with the nature and circumstances of mankind, but is an effort to frustrate or to defeat the prayer of the Lord Messiah, and to subvert his throne and government. This sentence demands some attention. We shall illustrate and establish the truth which it asserts.
Human creeds are composed of the inferences of the human understanding speculating upon the revelation of God. Such are all those now extant. The inferences drawn by the human understanding partake of all the defects of that understanding. Thus we often observe two men sincerely exercising their mental powers upon the same words of inspiration, drawing inferences or conclusions, not only diverse, but flatly contradictory. This is the result of a variety of circumstances. The prejudices of education, habits of thinking, modes of reasoning, the different degrees of information, the influence of a variety of passions and interests, and, above all, the different degrees of strength of human intellect, all concur in producing this result. The persons themselves are very often unconscious of the operation of all these circumstances, and are, therefore, honestly and sincerely zealous in believing and in maintaining the truth of their respective conclusions. These conclusions, then, are always private property, and can never be placed upon a level with the inspired word. Subscription to them, or an acknowledgment of them, can never be rationally required as a bond of union. If, indeed, all Christians were alike in all those circumstantial differences already mentioned, then an accordance in all the conclusions which one or more of them might draw from the divine volume, might rationally be expected from them all. But as Christians have never yet all possessed the same prejudices, degrees of information, passions, interests, modes of thinking and reasoning, and the same strength of understanding, an attempt to associate them under the banners of a human creed composed of human inferences, and requiring unanimity in the adoption of it, is every way as irrational as to make a uniformity of features, of colours, of height, and weight, a bond of union. A society of this kind never yet existed, and we may, I think, safely affirm, never will. Those societies which unite
upon the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, and the Thirty-three Chapters of the Kirk of Scotland, do not heartily concur in those creeds. Most of them never read them, few of them examine them, and still fewer heartily concur in yielding the same credence, or in reposing the same confidence in them.
Their being held as a nominal bond of union gives rise. to hypocrisy, prevarication, lying, and, in many instances, to the basest injustice. Many men are retained in those. communities who are known not to approve them fully, to have exceptions and objections ; but their wealth or some extrinsic circumstance palliates their non-conformities in opinion; whereas, others are reproached, persecuted, and expelled, who differ no more than they, but there is some