Thursday, 11 August 2016

The Catholic Church Alone. The One True Church of Christ. Part 124.

REV. F. LEWIS, of Granada


If the Church can err in points that are not fundamental, we can have no certainty of the truth of any articles, but such, as have their evidence from human reason; and so we shall all be in a fair way of turning deists; because every man will be furnished with a plausible pretence to question the decisions of the Church in any point, that has ever been disputed. For he needs but maintain stiffly, that the matter in question is not fundamental, and this will be a sufficient warrant to believe, or disbelieve it, according as his own private reason shall direct him.

Thus an Arian will say, that the consubstantiality of the Son, is no fundamental point, and that the Church has erred in it. A Socinian will say the same of his divinity, and a Nestorian of the unity of his person; and an anti-trinitarian is so far from yielding, that the

belief of the adorable trinity is necessary to salvation, that he regards it as a mere chimera. Nay, deists maintain, that the belief of a God, is the only fundamental point of religion.

How, then, shall we know what points are fundamental, and what not? Can Protestants fix any sure mark, or rule, to know a fundamental by, and distinguish it from such as are not fundamental ? Have the reformed churches ever agreed about their number of fundamentals? But how is it possible they should? Since when they argue against Papists, they all disown an infalliable judge to determine the matter, and a fallible one may be mistaken, in his calculation, and either obtrude that for a fundamental, which is not so, or reject one, that really is so: and so he may either overshoot his mark, or fall short of it. Besides, there never will be wanting some of those, who will copy after the pattern set before them by the two great patriarchs of the reformation, and appeal from any judge to their own darling private reason.

If they say, that all fundamentals are contained in the three creeds: I answer, first, that then this article, " I believe One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church," is, by consequence, a fundamental; which is like to do Protestants but little service, as I have already showed. I answer, secondly, that there is no mention in the creeds either of the sacrament of the Lord's supper, or of episcopacy being of divine institution, or of the revelation of Scriptures. All which may, therefore, be mere impositions for ought we know. But whether they be in the number of fundamentals, or not, I am sure they are articles of great importance.

If they answer, that these and all fundamentals are clearly expressed in Scripture; I answer, first, that the Scriptures are no less clear in numberless points, which are not fundamental : and by what rule, then, shall we discern the one from the other? For the Scriptures do not tell us whether they are fundamental truths, or not. I answer, secondly, that the Arians, reading Scripture with Arian spectacles, found their own doctrine clearly expressed in Christ's own words. Because the! Scriptures, when interpreted by private judgment, are usually made a mere nose of wax, which may be turned and set what way any man pleases. The rankest heretic that ever was upon the face of the earth, never wanted clear Scripture, as he pretended, to support his cause. Nay, the devil himself, when he tempted Christ, had Scripture ready to color his wicked suggestion. But it was Scripture interpreted by the spirit of lies: as it always is, when private judgment sets up for an interpreter of it against the sense and authority of the Church.

I presume no man will say, that the thirty-nine articles, though they may properly be called the Church of England's creed, contain nothing but fundamentals. For, besides that many of them are mere negatives, or contradictories to the pretended Popish errors, which according to the distinction are no fundamental points; there are some others, which only regard discipline: and the discipline of all churches being changeable, according to the 34th article, can never come up to the nature of a fundamental. And by consequence, the thirty-nine articles determine not their number, but leaves us in an entire uncertainty of it. Now if we have no certain rule to know fundamentals by, it follows, that there is scarce any point of faith the truth whereof may not be questioned; because we may doubt, whether it be fundamental. And if it be not, the Church may err in it, according to the second part of the distinction, which renders all faith and religion precarious.

Hence it is, that rejecting first, and then limiting the Church's authority in deciding controversies of religion, has opened the way to tie most impious and blasphemous heresies. And there is scarce any thing so sacred in religion, but has been, and is to this day questioned by some of those, who have been brought up in the principles of the reformation. For when the Church is made cheap, and her authority precarious, what wonder is it, that (the very best and strongest fence of religion being broken down) men should run loose into the most extravagant opinions ? For what principle can a man have after that, to fix his belief of any mystery, but his own private reason ? And since the very sublimest mysteries of the Christian religion appear the most repugnant to human reason, when a person has once imbibed this principle, and settles it as a rule and maxim to govern his faith by, viz.: That there is no Church on earth, not even the Church established by Christ, but may deceive him, he will never stand to examine, whether the points in question be fundamental, or not, but whether they be consonant to reason and good sense; and if they appear otherwise, he will conclude, that the Church may err in them, as well as any other. Nay, more probably in them, because he cannot persuade himself, that God should ever reveal that for a divine truth, which, perhaps, in his notion is rank nonsense. As, that the eternal and immortal God should become a mortal man ; which is a scandal to Jews, and a folly to Gentiles. Or, that three divine persons really distinct, should be but one God: which seems as impossible to him, as that Peter, Paul, and John, should be but one man. Or that two and one should not make three.

Hence it is, that the nation swarms with Socinians, Anti-trinitarians, and those, who style themselves Free-thinkers; which is now become a modish sect. And what wonder is it ? For the sect of Free-thinkers, though of a later date as to its name, than the other sects, that have spawned from the reformation, is but the natural fruit of it. Nay, no man can pretend to set up for a reformer of religion, unless he be first an adept in the liberal science of free-thinking. That is, unless he sets up his own private judgment against the Church, which he intends to reform.

It was thus the first great reformation of Arius began. In the same manner, Nestorius, Eutyches, Pelagius, Donatus, Luther, Calvin, Zuinglius, and the whole college of reforming apostles, commenced free-thinkers, by refusing to submit their private judgment to their mother-Church, in order to become reformers of it. In a word, the only difference between the modern free-thinkers, as they make a separate sect, and the other aforementioned reformers, is, that freethinkers are for a thorough reformation all at once, without giving quarter even to fundamentals ; and so reform by wholesale, what others have only reformed by retail. So that I really see not, how a member of any of the reformed Churches can fairly undertake to confute a free-thinker, upon reformation principles, or without exposing his own weak side.

Suppose a member of the Church of England should tell a free-thinker, that he is bound to submit his private judgment to that Church. He would certainly answer him, that by the same rule, Luther and Calvin ought to have submitted to the Church of Rome : and then the great work of the reformation would never have been heartily carried on.

If he should tell him again, that there is a great difference between the virgin-Church of England, and the corrupt Church of Rome: the free-thinker would be apt to put this puzzling question to him, viz.: Whether in the beginning of the reformation there was any thing to make good this charge against the Church of Rome, but the private judgment of the free-thinking Martin Luther? For Luther for a long time stood alone, as Bishop Tillotson assures, and we shall see more at large hereafter.

Lastly, If the Protestant should tell him, that a man by himself is more likely to err, and go astray, then a whole Church; because thousands can see more than one: and that therefore he ought in reason to submit to the Church established by law. The free-thinker would readily answer him, that this is establishing a very dangerous Popish principle, and building the authority of a particular reformed Church upon the ruins of the whole reformation. For according to this principle, Luther, Calvin, and the other reformers, were wholly in the wrong in trusting to their own private judgment, preferably to that of the whole Church then in being.

If the Protestant replies that their private judgment was grounded on the word of God; the free-thinker will readily answer, that he desires no more; provided he be but allowed to be himself (as Luther and Calvin were) the interpreter of God's word. For, in reality, whoever appeals from the Church to the written word of God, appeals effectually to his own private judgment; because he makes that the sole interpreter of it.

He will also answer him, that numbers in religion, unless there be something else to support it, is no conclusive argument for the truth. For if it were, he ought to turn Papist, rather than 'Protestant. Since if the matter were to be decided by polling, the Papists would carry it against all the Protestants in Europe much more against the Church of England taken singly.

Thus will the free-thinker stand his ground against any reformed Church; and upon reformation principles, maintain the doctrine of free-thinking. But surely none of the reformed Churches can have the confidence to write seriously against free-thinking, or be hearty enemies to it; since they all owe to it their very birth and being.

Was not free-thinking the very mother and nurse of the reformation ? For if Luther, and Calvin, and others, who reformed their reformation, had not been staunch free-thinkers, they would certainly have submitted to the Church, whereof they were all members for many years. And then, reforming would never have come into fashion. But they thought their mother-Church was grown old and blind; and, therefore, would not trust her any further than they could see with their own eyes. So they all set themselves to think freely. One thought one way, another thought another way. For they all differed in their way of thinking: and each one thought himself as able a free-thinker, and as capable of modeling a Church, as any of the rest: which at length produced the different reformed Churches of Lutherans, Calvinists, Independents, Brownists, Arminians, Anabaptists, Quakers, and the like. And is it then a wonder that Churches, which have received their beginning from, and owe their whole creation and existence to free-thinking, should at all times produce some members, who being men of wit and learning, should claim the first privilege to themselves, and think as freely as their forefathers? The thing cannot naturally be otherwise. For since the founders of their churches have set them the example, why should not they follow it? Why should not Toland, Clark, and Whiston, and the author of the discourse of free-thinking turn reformers, as well as Luther, Calvin, Zuinglius, etc. Papists alone can claim no right to free-thinking in matters of religion. Because believing their Church to be infallible in her decisions according to the promises of Christ, they are bound to submit to her without limitation, or reserve, in everything she teaches. Which, indeed, is the only thing upon earth that can maintain unity of faith, take away all uncertainty in matters of religion, and keep men from " being like children tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine."