III. Holy Scripture in its relation to the Catholic Creed

Lecture 1. Difficulties in the Scripture Proof of the Catholic Creed

{109} I PROPOSE in the following Lectures to suggest some thoughts by way of answering an objection, which often presses on the mind of those who are inquiring into the claims of the Church, and the truth of that system of doctrine which she especially represents, and which is at once her trust and her charter. They hear much stress laid upon that Church system of doctrine; they see much that is beautiful in it, much that is plausible in the proof advanced for it, much which is agreeable to the analogy of nature—which bespeaks the hand of the Creator, and is suitable to the needs and expectations of the creature,—much that is deep, much that is large and free, fearless in its course, sure in its stepping, and singularly true, consistent, entire, harmonious, in its adjustments; but they seem to ask for more rigid proof in behalf of the simple elementary propositions on which it rests; or, in other words, by way of speaking more clearly, and as a chief illustration of what is meant (though it is {110} not quite the same thing), let me say, they desire more adequate and explicit Scripture proof of its truth. They find that the proof is rested by us on Scripture, and therefore they require more explicit Scripture proof. They say, "All this that you say about the Church is very specious, and very attractive; but where is it to be found in the inspired Volume?" And that it is not found there (that is, I mean not found as fully as it might be), seems to them proved at once by the simple fact, that all persons (I may say all, for the exceptions are very few),—all those who try to form their Creed by Scripture only, fall away from the Church and her doctrines, and join one or other sect or party, as if showing that, whatever is or is not scriptural, at least the Church, by consent of all men, is not so.

I am stating no rare or novel objection: it is one which, I suppose, all of us have felt, or perhaps still feel: it is one which, before now (I do not scruple to say), I have much felt myself, and that without being able satisfactorily to answer: and which I believe to be one of the main difficulties, and (as I think) one of the intended difficulties, which God's providence puts at this day in the path of those who seek Him, for purposes known or unknown, ascertainable or not. Nor am I at all sanguine that I shall be able, in what I have to say, to present anything like a full view of the difficulty itself, even as a phenomenon; which different minds feel differently, and do not quite recognize as their own when stated by another, and which it is difficult to bring out even according to one's own idea of it. Much less shall I be able to assign it its due place in that great Catholic system which nevertheless I hold to be true, and in which it is but a difficulty. I do not profess to be able to account for it, to reconcile the mind to it, and to dismiss {111} it as a thing which was in a man's way, but henceforth behind him;—yet, subdued as my hopes may be, I have too great confidence in that glorious Creed, which I believe to have been once delivered to the Saints, to wish in any degree to deny the difficulty, or to be unfair to it, to smooth it over, misrepresent it, or defraud it of its due weight and extent. Though I were to grant that the champions of Israel have not yet rescued this portion of the sacred territory from the Philistine, its usurping occupant, yet was not Jerusalem in the hands of the Jebusites till David's time?—and shall I, seeing with my eyes and enjoying the land of promise, be over-troubled with one objection, which stands unvanquished (supposing it); and, like haughty Haman, count the King's favour as nothing till I have all my own way, and nothing to try me? In plain terms, I conceive I have otherwise most abundant evidence given me of the divine origin of the Church system of doctrine: how then is that evidence which is given, not given because, though given in Scripture, it might be there given more explicitly and fully, and (if I may so say) more consistently?

One consideration alone must create an anxiety in entering on the subject I propose. It is this:—Those who commonly urge the objection which is now to be considered, viz., the want of adequate Scripture evidence for the Church creed, have, I feel sure, no right to make it; that is, they are inconsistent in making it; inasmuch as they cannot consistently find fault with a person who believes more than they do, unless they cease to believe just so much as they do believe. They ought, on their own principles, to doubt or disown much which happily they do not doubt or disown. This then is the direct, appropriate, polemical answer to them, or (as it is called) an argumentum ad hominem. "Look at home, and say, {112} if you can, why you believe this or that, which you do believe: whatever reasons you give for your own belief in one point, this or that article, of your Creed, those parallel reasons we can give for our belief in the articles of our Creed. If you are reasonable in believing the one, we are reasonable in believing the other. Either we are reasonable, or you are not so. You ought not to stand where you are; you ought to go further one way or the other." Now it is plain that if this be a sound argument against our assailants, it is a most convincing one; and it is obviously very hard and very unfair if we are to be deprived of the use of it. And yet a cautious mind will ever use it with anxiety; not that it is not most effective, but because it may be (as it were) too effective: it may drive the parties in question the wrong way, and make things worse instead of better. It only undertakes to show that they are inconsistent in their present opinions; and from this inconsistency it is plain they can escape, by going further either one way or the other—by adding to their creed, or by giving it up altogether. It is then what is familiarly called a kill-or-cure remedy. Certainly it is better to be inconsistent, than to be consistently wrong—to hold some truth amid error, than to hold nothing but error—to believe than to doubt. Yet when I show a man that he is inconsistent, I make him decide whether of the two he loves better, the portion of truth or the portion of error, which he already holds. If he loves the truth better, he will abandon the error; if the error, he will abandon the truth. And this is a fearful and anxious trial to put him under, and one cannot but feel loth to have recourse to it. One feels that perhaps it may be better to keep silence, and to let him, in shallowness and presumption, assail one's own position with impunity, than to retort, however justly, {113} his weapons on himself;—better for oneself to seem a bigot, than to make him a scoffer.

Thus, for instance, a person who denies the Apostolical Succession of the Ministry, because it is not clearly taught in Scripture, ought, I conceive, if consistent, to deny the divinity of the Holy Ghost, which is nowhere literally stated in Scripture. Yet there is something so dreadful in his denying the latter, that one may often feel afraid to show him his inconsistency; lest, rather than admit the Apostolical Succession, he should consent to deny that the Holy Ghost is God. This is one of the great delicacies of disputing on the subject before us: yet, all things considered, I think, it only avails for the cautious use, not the abandonment, of the argument in question. For it is our plain duty to preach and defend the truth in a straightforward way. Those who are to stumble must stumble, rather than the heirs of grace should not hear. While we offend and alienate one man, we secure another; if we drive one man further the wrong way, we drive another further the right way. The cause of truth, the heavenly company of saints, gains on the whole more in one way than in the other. A wavering or shallow mind does perhaps as much harm to others as a mind that is consistent in error, nay, is in no very much better state itself; for if it has not developed into systematic scepticism, merely because it has not had the temptation, its present conscientiousness is not worth much. Whereas he who is at present obeying God under imperfect knowledge has a claim on His Ministers for their doing all in their power towards his obtaining further knowledge. He who admits the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, in spite of feeling its difficulties, whether in itself or in its proof,—who submits to the indirectness of the Scripture evidence as regards that particular {114} doctrine,—has a right to be told those other doctrines, such as the Apostolical Succession, which are as certainly declared in Scripture, yet not more directly and prominently, and which will be as welcome to him, when known, because they are in Scripture, as those which he already knows. It is therefore our duty to do our part, and leave the event to God, begging Him to bless, yet aware that, whenever He visits, He divides.

In saying this, I by no means would imply that the only argument in behalf of our believing more than the generality of men believe at present, is, that else we ought in consistency to believe less—far from it indeed; but this argument is the one that comes first, and is the most obvious and the most striking. Nor do I mean to say—far from it also—that all on whom it is urged, will in fact go one way or the other; the many will remain pretty much where education and habit have placed them, and at least they will not confess that they are affected by any new argument at all. But of course when one speaks of anxiety about the effect of a certain argument, one speaks of cases in which it will have effect, not of those in which it will not. Where it has effect, I say, that effect may be for good or for evil, and that is an anxious thing.


Now then, first, let me state the objection itself, which is to be considered. It may be thrown into one or other of the following forms: that "if Scripture laid such stress, as we do, upon the ordinances of Baptism, Holy Eucharist, Church Union, Ministerial Power, Apostolical Succession, Absolution, and other rites and ceremonies,—upon external, or what is sometimes called formal religion,—it would not in its general tenor make such {115} merely indirect mention of them;—that it would speak of them as plainly and frequently as we always speak of them now; whereas every one must allow that there is next to nothing on the surface of Scripture about them, and very little even under the surface of a satisfactory character." Descending into particulars, we shall have it granted us, perhaps, that Baptism is often mentioned in the Epistles, and its spiritual benefits; but "its peculiarity as the one plenary remission of sin," it will be urged, "is not insisted on with such frequency and earnestness as might be expected—chiefly in one or two passages of one Epistle, and there obscurely" (in Heb. vi. and x.) Again, "the doctrine of Absolution is made to rest on but one or two texts (in Matt. xvi. and John xx.), with little or no practical exemplification of it in the Epistles, where it was to be expected. Why," it may be asked, "are not the Apostles continually urging their converts to rid themselves of sin after Baptism, as best they can, by penance, confession, absolution, satisfaction? Again, why are Christ's ministers nowhere called Priests? or, at most, in one or two obscure passages (as in Rom. xv. 16)? Why is not the Lord's Supper expressly said to be a Sacrifice? why is the Lord's Table called an Altar but once or twice (Matt. v. and Heb. xiii.), even granting these passages refer to it? why is consecration of the elements expressly mentioned only in one passage (1 Cor. x.) in addition to our Lord's original institution of them? why is there but once or twice express mention made at all of the Holy Eucharist, all through the Apostolic Epistles, and what there is said, said chiefly in one Epistle? why is there so little said about Ordination? about the appointment of a Succession of Ministers? about the visible Church (as in 1 Tim. iii. 15)? why but one or two passages on the duty of fasting?" {116}

"In short, is not (it may be asked) the state of the evidence for all these doctrines just this—a few striking texts at most, scattered up and down the inspired Volume, or one or two particular passages of one particular Epistle, or a number of texts which may mean, but need not mean, what they are said by Churchmen to mean, which say something looking like what is needed, but with little strength and point, inadequately and unsatisfactorily? Why then are we thus to be put off? why is our earnest desire of getting at the truth to be trifled with? is it conceivable that, if these doctrines were from God, He would not tell us plainly? why does He make us to doubt? why does 'He keep us in suspense?' [John x. 24.]—it is impossible He should do so. Let us, then, have none of these expedients, these makeshift arguments, this patchwork system, these surmises and conjectures, and here a little and there a little, but give us some broad, trustworthy, masterly view of doctrine, give us some plain intelligible interpretation of the sacred Volume, such as will approve itself to all educated minds, as being really gained from the text, and not from previous notions which are merely brought to Scripture, and which seek to find a sanction in it. Such a broad comprehensive view of Holy Scripture is most assuredly fatal to the Church doctrines." "But this (it will be urged) is not all; there are texts in the New Testament actually inconsistent with the Church system of teaching. For example, what can be stronger against the sanctity of particular places, nay of any institutions, persons, or rites at all, than our Lord's declaration, that 'God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him, must worship Him in spirit and in truth'? or against the Eucharistic Sacrifice, than St. Paul's contrast in Heb. x. between the Jewish sacrifices {117} and the one Christian Atonement? or can Baptism really have the gifts which are attributed to it in the Catholic or Church system, considering how St. Paul says, that all rites are done away, and that faith is all in all?"

Such is the sort of objection which it is proposed now to consider.


My first answer to it is grounded on the argumentum ad hominem of which I have already spoken. That is, I shall show that, if the objection proves anything, it proves too much for the purposes of those who use it; that it leads to conclusions beyond those to which they would confine it; and if it tells for them, it tells for those whom they would not hesitate to consider heretical or unbelieving.

Now the argument in question proves too much, first, in this way, that it shows that external religion is not only not important or necessary, but not allowable. If, for instance, when our Saviour said, "Woman, believe Me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father ... The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth," [John iv. 21-24.]—if He means that the external local worship of the Jews was so to be abolished, that no external local worship should again be enjoined, that the Gospel worship was but mental, stripped of everything material or sensible, and offered in that simple spirit and truth which exists in heaven, if so, it is plain that all external religion is not only not imperative under the {118} Gospel, but forbidden. This text, if it avails for any thing against Sacraments and Ordinances, avails entirely; it cuts them away root and branch. It says, not that they are unimportant, but that they are not to be. It does not leave them at our option. Any interpretation which gives an opening to their existing, gives so far an opening to their being important. If the command to worship in spirit and truth is consistent with the permission to worship through certain rites, it is consistent with the duty to worship through them. Why are we to have a greater freedom, if I may so speak, than God Himself? why are we to choose what rites we please to worship in, and not He choose them?—as if spirituality consisted, not in doing without rites altogether, (a notion which at least is intelligible,) but in our forestalling our Lord and Master in the choice of them. Let us take the text to mean that there shall be no external worship at all, if we will (we shall be wrong, but we shall speak fairly and intelligibly); but, if there may be times, places, ministers, ordinances of worship, although the text speaks of worshipping in spirit and in truth, then, what is there in it to negative the notion of God's having chosen those times, places, ministers, and ordinances, so that if we attempt to choose, we shall be committing the very fault of the Jews, who were ever setting up golden calves, planting groves, or consecrating ministers, without authority from God?

And what has been observed of this text, holds good of all arguments drawn, whether from the silence of Scripture about, or its supposed positive statements against, the rites and ordinances of the Church. If obscurity of texts, for instance, about the grace of the Eucharist, be taken as a proof that no great benefit is therein given, it is an argument against there being {119} any benefit. On the other hand, when certain passages are once interpreted to refer to it, the emphatic language used in those passages shows that the benefit is not small. We cannot say that the subject is unimportant, without saying that it is not mentioned at all. Either no gift is given in the Eucharist, or a great gift. If only the sixth chapter of St. John, for instance, does allude to it, it shows it is not merely an edifying rite, but an awful communication beyond words. Again, if the phrase, "the communication of the Body of Christ," used by St. Paul, means any gift, it means a great one. You may say, if you will, that it does not mean any gift at all, but means only a representation or figure of the communication; this I call explaining away, but still it is intelligible; but I do not see how, if it is to be taken literally as a real communication of something, it can be other than a communication of His Body. Again, though the Lord's Table be but twice called an Altar in Scripture, yet, granting that it is meant in those passages, it is there spoken of so solemnly, that it matters not though it be nowhere else spoken of. "We have an Altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle." We do not know of the existence of the Ordinance except in the knowledge of its importance; and in corroboration and explanation of this matter of fact, let it be well observed that St. Paul expressly declares that the Jewish rites are not to be practised because they are not important.

This is one way in which this argument proves too much; so that they who for the sake of decency or edification, or from an imaginative turn of mind, delight in Ordinances, yet think they may make them for themselves, in that those ordinances bring no special blessing with them, such men contradict the Gospel as plainly as {120} those who attribute a mystical virtue to them,—nay more so; for if any truth is clear, it is, that such ordinances as are without virtue are abolished by the Gospel, this being St. Paul's very argument against the use of the Jewish rites.


Now as to the other point of view in which the argument in question proves too much for the purpose of those who use it:—If it be a good argument against the truth of the Apostolical Succession and similar doctrines, that so little is said about them in Scripture, this is quite as good an argument against nearly all the doctrines which are held by any one who is called a Christian in any sense of the word; as a few instances will show.

(1.) First, as to Ordinances and Precepts. There is not a single text in the Bible enjoining infant baptism: the Scripture warrant on which we baptize infants consists of inferences carefully made from various texts. How is it that St. Paul does not in his Epistles remind parents of so great a duty, if it is a duty?

Again, there is not a single text telling us to keep holy the first day of the week, and that instead of the seventh. God hallowed the seventh day, yet we now observe the first. Why do we do this? Our Scripture warrant for doing so is such as this: "since the Apostles met on the first day of the week, therefore the first day is to be hallowed; and since St. Paul says the Sabbath is abolished, therefore the seventh day (which is the Sabbath) is not to be hallowed:"—these are true inferences, but very indirect surely. The duty is not on the surface of Scripture. We might infer,—though incorrectly, still we might infer,—that St. Paul meant that the command in the second chapter of Genesis was repealed, {121} and that now there is no sacred day at all in the seven, though meetings for prayer on Sunday are right and proper. There is nothing on the surface of Scripture to prove that the sacredness conferred in the beginning on the seventh day now by transference attaches to the first.

Again, there is scarcely a text enjoining our going to Church for joint worship. St. Paul happens in one place of his Epistle to the Hebrews, to warn us against forgetting to assemble together for prayer. Our Saviour says that where two or three are gathered together, He is in the midst of them; yet this alludes in the first instance not to public worship, but to Church Councils and censures, quite a distinct subject. And in the Acts and Epistles we meet with instances or precepts in favour of joint worship; yet there is nothing express to show that it is necessary for all times,—nothing more express than there is to show that in 1 Cor. vii. St. Paul meant that an unmarried state is better at all times,—nothing which does not need collecting and inferring with minute carefulness from Scripture. The first disciples did pray together, and so in like manner the first disciples did not marry. St. Paul tells those who were in a state of distress to pray together so much the more as they see the day approaching—and he says that celibacy is "good for the present distress." The same remarks might be applied to the question of community of goods. On the other hand, our Lord did not use social prayer: even when with His disciples He prayed by Himself; and His directions in Matt. vi. about private prayer, with the silence which He observes about public, might be as plausibly adduced as an argument against public, as the same kind of silence in Scripture concerning turning to the east, or making the sign of the Cross, or concerning commemorations for the dead in Christ, {122} accompanied with its warnings against formality and ceremonial abuses, is now commonly urged as an argument against these latter usages.

Again:—there is no text in the New Testament which enjoins us to "establish" Religion (as the phrase is), or to make it national, and to give the Church certain honour and power; whereas our Lord's words, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John xviii. 36), may be interpreted to discountenance such a proceeding. We consider that it is right to establish the Church on the ground of mere deductions, though of course true ones, from the sacred text; such as St. Paul's using his rights as a Roman citizen.

There is no text which allows us to take oaths. The words of our Lord and St. James look plainly the other way. Why then do we take them? We infer that it is allowable to do so, from finding that St. Paul uses such expressions as "I call God for a record upon my soul"—"The things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not" (2 Cor. i. 23; Gal. i. 20); these we argue, and rightly, are equivalent to an oath, and a precedent for us.

Again, considering God has said, "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed," it seems a very singular power which we give to the Civil Magistrate to take away life. It ought to rest, one might suppose, on some very clear permission given in Scripture. Now, on what does it rest? on one or two words of an Apostle casually introduced into Scripture, as far as anything is casual,—on St. Paul's saying in a parenthesis, "he (the magistrate) beareth not the sword in vain;" and he is speaking of a heathen magistrate, not of Christian.

Once more:—On how many texts does the prohibition of polygamy depend, if we set about counting them? {123}

(2.) So much for ordinances and practices: next, consider how Doctrine will stand, if the said rule of interpretation is to hold.

If the Eucharist is never distinctly called a Sacrifice, or Christian Ministers never called Priests, still, let me ask (as I have already done), is the Holy Ghost ever expressly called God in Scripture? Nowhere; we infer it from what is said then; we compare parallel passages.

If the words Altar, Absolution, or Succession, are not in Scripture (supposing it), neither is the word Trinity.

Again: how do we know that the New Testament is inspired? does it anywhere declare this of itself? nowhere; how, then, do we know it? we infer it from the circumstance that the very office of the Apostles who wrote it was to publish the Christian Revelation, and from the Old Testament being said by St. Paul to be inspired.

Again: whence do Protestants derive their common notion, that every one may gain his knowledge of revealed truth from Scripture for himself?

Again: consider whether the doctrine of the Atonement may not be explained away by those who explain away the doctrine of the Eucharist: if the expressions used concerning the latter are merely figurative, so may be those used of the former.

Again: on how many texts does the doctrine of Original Sin rest, that is, the doctrine that we are individually born under God's displeasure, in consequence of the sin of Adam? on one or two.

Again: how do we prove the doctrine of justification by faith only? it is nowhere declared in Scripture. St. Paul does but speak of justification by faith, not by faith only, and St. James actually denies that it is by faith only. Yet we think right to infer, that there is a correct {124} sense in which it is by faith only; though an Apostle has in so many words said just the contrary. Is any of the special Church doctrines about the power of Absolution, the Christian Priesthood, or the danger of sin after Baptism, so disadvantageously circumstanced in point of evidence as this, "articulus," as Luther called it, "stantis ut cadentis ecclesiĉ"?

On the whole, then, I ask, on how many special or palmary texts do any of the doctrines or rites which we hold depend? what doctrines or rites would be left to us, if we demanded the clearest and fullest evidence, before we believed anything? what would the Gospel consist of? would there be any Revelation at all left? Some all-important doctrines indeed at first sight certainly would remain in the New Testament, such as the divinity of Christ, the unity of God, the supremacy of divine grace, our election in Christ, the resurrection of the body, and eternal life or death to the righteous or sinners; but little besides. Shall we give up the divinity of the Holy Ghost, original sin, the Atonement, the inspiration of the New Testament, united worship, the Sacraments, and Infant Baptism? Let us do so. Well:—I will venture to say, that then we shall go on to find difficulties as regards those other doctrines, as the divinity of Christ, which at first sight seem to be in Scripture certainly; they are only more clearly there than the others, not so clearly stated as to be secured from specious objections. We shall have difficulties about the meaning of the word "everlasting," as applied to punishment, about the compatibility of divine grace with free-will, about the possibility of the resurrection of the body, and about the sense in which Christ is God. The inquirer who rejects a doctrine which has but one text in its favour, on the ground that if it were important it would have more, may, even {125} in a case when a doctrine is mentioned often, always find occasion to wonder that still it is not mentioned in this or that particular place, where it might be expected. When he is pressed with such a text as St. Thomas's confession, "My Lord and my God," he will ask, But why did our Lord say but seven days before to St. Mary Magdalen, "I ascend to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God"? When he is pressed with St. Peter's confession, "Lord, Thou knowest all things,—Thou knowest that I love Thee," he will ask, "But why does Christ say of Himself, that He does not know the last day, but only the Father?" Indeed, I may truly say, the more arguments there are for a certain doctrine found in Scripture, the more objections will be found against it; so that, on the whole, after all, the Scripture evidence, even for the divinity of Christ, will be found in fact as little able to satisfy the cautious reasoner, when he is fairly engaged to discuss it, as that for Infant Baptism, great as is the difference of strength in the evidence for the one and for the other. And the history of these last centuries bears out this remark.

I conclude, then, that there must be some fault somewhere in this specious argument; that it does not follow that a doctrine or rite is not divine, because it is not directly stated in Scripture; that there are some wise and unknown reasons for doctrines being, as we find them, not clearly stated there. To be sure, I might take the other alternative, and run the full length of scepticism, and openly deny that any doctrine or duty, whatever it is, is divine, which is not stated in Scripture beyond all contradiction and objection. But for many reasons I cannot get myself to do this, as I shall proceed to show.

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