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is to recommend the Tracts to our readers, and induce them, if possible, to promote the circulation of them. We do not recommend them as perfect productions, but as able productions of able men, calculated to promote the best interest of the human race. On a future occasion we may take some notice of the remaining ones, and in the mean time would parti. cularly recommend the eleventh, the only modern one, as peculiarly suited to the present time.
Vol. III. No.11.-New Series.
ART. VII.-ON THE CHRISTIAN RULE OF FAITH.*
BETWEEN all human speculations on the evils of our moral condition, and the doctrines of revelation on the same subject, there is a most essential and remarkable difference. Philosophy has at all times taken two opposite courses. As if it were possible to deceive individual consciousness, attempts have been made to establish the abstract perfection of man. On the other hand, it has been tried to reconcile him to his present state by forcing upon the mind the folly and hopelessness of contending with the irresistible power of fatality. The course pursued by Revelation avoids these extremes. It acknowledges the evils of our nature without disguise or reserve: it describes them in their appalling magnitude; and while it offers effectual means for a complete triumph over those evils, it teaches us that the efficacy of the remedy may at all times be defeated by the freedom of the human will.
This fact, however, has been frequently seized as the ground of an insidious objection against revealed religion. “ Revelation," it is said, “ boasts of disclosures relating to the invisible world, and our eternal concerns in it;" we are told that our salvation greatly depends upon our acquaintance with the Scriptures; yet no department of knowledge is so full of doubt and obscurity as that whose exclusive object is the study of Revelation itself. Christians, from the beginning of their preaching, became as divided as the philosophical sects of antiquity; and after the lapse of eighteen centuries continue equally hostile to each other. This objection was directed with particular keenness against the Reformers, in the sixteenth century, and is still urged in disparagement of the churches which sprung from their preaching. Now, it were vain to deny the fact that the wildness of speculation, and consequent divisions which appeared as the immediate results of the separation from Rome, not only shocked the feelings of many eminent and highly religious men who were inclined to a reform, but staggered the faith of even those whom Providence had raised to achieve its noblest work in these latter ages.
Yet a cool and dispassionate study of the Bible must produce the conviction that, though the reasons of the Divine mind for allowing these unquestionable evils, remain nearly as much a mystery as if there had never existed any communication between heaven and man, the fact of their existence forms a conspicuous part of the view which the Bible gives of the future state of things between the period of the establishment and that of the final triumph of the Gospel. If, therefore, the direct and positive proofs of Revelation cannot be invalidated, it is as unphilosophical as it is unfair to assail it with the charge of not accomplishing that which it never engaged to do; and the more 80, because, as if to anticipate the objection, it has with superhuman knowledge given us a distinct and positive warning against indulging our expectations of immediate benefits from religion, beyond the express promises of God.
* A Sermon preached before the University of Oxford on Palm-Sunday, April 4th, 1830, by Rev. J. Blanco White, A.M. of Oriel College. “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you."-1 Cor. xi. 19.
Far from raising these expectations to an enthusiastic height, as the founders of all false religions have done, the Son of God has declared in the most emphatic words, that the extinction of doubt and contention was not intended as one of the immediate benefits of his ministry. Such, indeed, were the vain hopes of the superficial, or yet uninformed persons who attended him on earth. But observe the boldness of the declaration by which he exposes the futility of those hopes. “ Think not (he says) that I am come to send peace on earth: I come not to send peace but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's foes shall be they of his own household."*
And here I cannot help remarking the extraordinary lesson which experience affords us on this very point, that we may learn to distrust our theoretical ideas of perfection when we are tempted to apply them to the plans of Divine Providence. It is a fact that the greatest corruption of Christianity had for its foundation a human attempt to remove and prevent all divisions among Christians, and that in proportion as that scheme succeeded, so did the moral efficiency of Christianity decline. The assumption of infallible authority by the Church of Rome, it must be confessed, was a most plausible theory to fill up a seeming deficiency in the Gospel. Here, indeed, was a Divine Oracle for the guidance of Christians; but as it was couched in human language, it could not but be affected with respect to us, by the inseparable imperfection of all verbal signs. The sense of Revelation could not be plainer than that of the words in which it was conveyed. Here the blind pride of man was ready to suggest that this could not be consistent with the wisdom of God, because it did not satisfy our own wisdom. Arguing therefore
* Matt. x. 34–36.
from this assumption, it was soon settled, that since it seemed necessary to the completeness of Revelation that there should be an infallible interpreter of the Bible, such an interpreter must somewhere be found ; and since it was desirable that Christians should live in perfect unity, they must be forced into that unity by some authority of human appointment. But what were the results of this impious attempt to improve the plans of God in respect to mankind ? We have only to cast a glance over Ecclesiastical history, in order to answer the question. We have only to compare the times of Romanist supremacy with those of Protestant freedom. In vain was the wisdom of man employed to remove the evil which Christ had predicted. The existence and extent of religious dissension under the fullest authority of the Popes, is attested by the blood of their victims; whilst the ignorance, the gross corruptions, the profligacy of the Christian world, at that period, bear witness that the most extensive conformity may originate in the most unchristian spirit.
Let this, however, be observed by the way, for I do not aim at controversy but edification. My purpose is to elicit some light from the Scriptures in regard to the fact asserted in my
text, “ that there must be also heresies in the church ;” and to · apply that light to the regulation of our own conduct.
Whatever clouds conceal the final cause of the permission of moral evil, there cannot exist a doubt that, in its nearest approach to us, it proceeds from the power of the human will to determine our conduct, and the right of our reason to the final settlement of our opinions. Revealed religion does not undertake to remove that power, fatal as it often is to the cause of truth, virtue, and happiness. All that Revelation offers is light sufficient to assist the honest heart in making his choice, and strength to perform what a right choice shall dictate. How then could the Gospel, without contradicting itself, engage so to control the wills of men, and to overrule their understanding, as to prevent their differing in views and conduct? All that we have a reason to expect is that honesty and sincerity will extenuate error; and this expectation we find encouraged by the spirit of the Gospel, as well as by individual passages in the Scriptures. Now, if Revelation will not deprive men of their freedom, must it not multiply the occasions of mistake and discord, by the very nature of the moral trial in which it places us ?
The analogy, in this respect, between every kind of progressive knowledge, and that knowledge from above which enables us to see spiritual things only “as through a glass darkly," deserves particular attention. The enlargement of our faculties, in both cases, by adding fresh scope, adds fresh power to our
will. Progressive knowledge, unless it be systematic (a character which we cannot find in revelation, according to our notions of system), by multiplying partial lights, multiplies also partial shadows-by adding calls on calls to the exercise of judgment, makes the chances of error more numerous. It is true that as these chances increase in number, the danger may be less in each of them ; but this entirely depends on the use we make of the fresh accessions of light. In a word, our responsibility increases as our intellectual condition is exalted. From the instinctive perception of this truth it is, that low and degraded natures prefer total darkness to partial light, both in spiritual and temporal subjects. Hence the melancholy attachment of whole nations to the dead silence of a midnight ignorance, and their support of a despotic power, which equally prevents discussion on things relating to the temporal and to the eternal concerns of mankind.
A true Christian should not thus degrade himself by shutting his eyes to the real circumstances of his mortal condition : he should not deceive himself as to its dangers, or vainly endeavour by artificial means to evade them. Men may dream of a more perfect universe, and tax their ingenuity in forming plans to root out the moral evils which beset them. But this is like wasting the seed-time of the year in endeavouring to discover some powerful specific for the extirpation of every weed and noxious plant from the face of the earth. Let us not mistake our position in the intellectual creation of God. It is as impious as it is absurd to attempt a change in the laws of that creation. The small field alone committed to our care—the field of our mind and heart—is the proper object of our moral industry. In vain should we try to clear even this, the best portion of our inheritance, from the effects of that sin which brings a curse upon the earth. “In sorrow must we eat of its fruit all the days of our life;" and whatever be the pains we take in its cultivation, « thorns and thistles shall it bring forth,” which if not checked in their growth by daily labour, will inevitably choke the good seed of the Gospel. Nor can we stop this evil by keeping from our souls the light of knowledge. This desperate experiment has often been tried by deluded Christians; but the night of ignorance is the appropriate season of growth for the most noxious weeds of the heart and intellect. What then remains for man but to court light, to remove every thing that can intercept its rays, and gird himself to his daily task, whatever that may be, under his individual circumstances ?
But how shall we ensure such success as the infirmity of our nature, assisted by the spirit of God, can attain ?-What are