By James H. Brookes
COUNCILS AND CONFESSIONS.
There is a picture on one of the splendid manuscripts in parchment, preserved in the library of Paris. It represents the council which met at Constantinople in the year 881. The council was called to judge the doctrine of Macedonius about the procession of the Holy Ghost, and of Apollonius about the will of Jesus Christ. The bishops are seated in a semi-circle; the emperor Theodosius is also there; and in the middle of the semi- circle is a throne. But neither emperor nor bishop is on that throne. A roll of the Holy Scripture is laid upon it, silently witnessing to the supremacy of the Bible, and to the faith of the council that nothing was to decide doctrine or duty but God’s Book.
Such has ever been the faith of Christian Councils. Thus the Roman Catholic Council of Trent, 1546, “following the examples of orthodox fathers, receives and venerates with equal affection of piety and reverence, all the books of the Old and New Testament—seeing that one God is the author of both—as also the said traditions, as well as those pertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ's own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession.”
Among the “Dogmatic. Decrees of the Vatican Council,” 1870, it is said, “This supernatural revelation, according to the universal belief of the Church, declared by the sacred Synod of Trent, is contained in the written books and unwritten traditions which have come down to us, having been received from the mouth of Christ Himself; or from the apostles themselves by the dictation of the Holy Spirit, have been transmitted, as it were, from hand to hand. . . . These the Church holds to be sacred and canonical, not because having been carefully composed by mere human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority, nor merely because they contained revelations with no admixture of error, but because having been written by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their authority, and have been delivered as such to the Church herself.”
The present Pope of Borne, Leo XIII., has recently written an able Encyclical, warning his people against the encroachments of Higher Criticism, and exhorting the priests, at least, to a more diligent study and preaching of the Word of God in the very words of God. He urges and commands his people to “loyally hold that God, the Creator and Ruler of all things, is also the Author of the Scriptures; and that therefore nothing can be proved, either by physical science or archaeology, which can really contradict the Scriptures. . . . It would be positively fatal either to limit inspiration to some portions of Scripture, or to assume that the Sacred Author Himself was deceived. . . . In fact, all the books without exception which the Church has received as sacred and canonical, in all their parts have been written under the dictation of the Holy Ghost. So far from, any error attaching itself to the divine inspiration, not only does that of itself exclude an error, but it is still more repugnant to it of necessity, because God, who is necessarily the Sovereign Truth, could not be the author of an error.”
Still more recently a Committee of Bishops, representing the Episcopal Church in the United States, issued a similar and solemn admonition against the dangerous and daring assaults of Higher Criticism upon the very foundation of the Christian’s faith. Whether it will be heeded, or not, remains to be seen; but it is a high privilege to be in the attitude of the prophet Ezekiel when the Lord God said to him, “Thou shalt speak my words unto them, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear,” Ezek. ii. 7.
It would require too much space to notice the various Protestant Confessions, and one must stand as a sample of the others. The Westminster Assembly of Divines, 1647, after years of careful and prayerful study, solemnly state, “It pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary.”
“Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testament, which are these, [then follow the names of all the books precisely as they are in the English Bible.] All which are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life.”
“The authority of Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or Church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself,) the author thereof, and therefore it is to be received, because it is the word of God.”
“Yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in our hearts.” It is surely needless to remind any one that the word infallible, according to Webster, means “not fallible; not capable of erring; entirely exempt from liability to mistake; unerring, inerrable.” The Westminster Confession of Faith, then, plainly and positively teaches the doctrine of the inerrant inspiration of holy Scripture.
“The Old Testament in Hebrew, (which was the native language of the people of God of old,) and the New Testament in Greek, (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations,) being immediately inspired by God, and by His singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical,” genuine, true, trustworthy, infallible.
“The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture., is the Scripture itself. . . . The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.”. . . “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament ARE the word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.”
Auberlen says, “The substance of the Old Protestant doctrine of inspiration may be expressed in these words: the Holy Spirit dictated the Bible verbally, and the human composers are not authors, but only the writers—indeed, only the hands or the pens.” If to this it had been added that, so far as holy men of God were concerned, the Holy Spirit used the hearts and minds as well as the hands and pens, the definition would have been entirely correct. The Conclusion, therefore, to which Augustine came, imprecisely right: “If in the sacred books I meet anything which seems contrary to the truth, I shall not hesitate to conclude that either the text is faulty, or that the translator has not expressed the meaning of the passage, or that I myself do not understand.”
Hence the Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches agree precisely about the authority, infallibility and inerrant inspiration of Holy Scripture, while they differ as to the authority of traditions. But why is it that none of the men who composed these great Councils, and wrote the great Confessions, ever found out, what Higher Criticism asserts, that the Bible is a poor piece of patch- work, loosely and improperly put together? They had precisely the same book to study. They were just as good scholars as any now existing. They passed months and years in the devout and patient perusal of the sacred writings, and never saw the “errors,” “mistakes,” “contradictions,” “legends” and “myths,” which are now flung into the face of the Church every day.
The wonderful discovery was made by one Astruc, an avaricious and licentious scoundrel, a physician, who died in Paris in 1766. Then it was taken up by Eichhorn, whom Prof. Briggs calls “the father of Higher Criticism,” an avowed unbeliever So it has gone on from bad to worse, until many of this school spend their time in trying to find some defect in the Bible, borrowing without a sense of shame from Voltaire and Tom Paine. One might have some respect for their courage, if they would openly enlist under the black banner of infidelity, but while they remain in the Church, and seek to destroy faith in the Word of God, the only way to restrain a feeling of stern indignation is to maintain the charity of profound pity.
The most remarkable thing about the movement is the strange indifference of men, who perhaps have no sympathy with the views of Higher Critics. They do not seem to regard it of sufficient importance to raise a warning cry, although they see the enemy within the citadel, hurling their dynamite bombs in every direction, and applying the torch to every part of the fortress. If any Pastor will carefully inquire into the condition of his flock, he will find a grievous murrain spreading among them, and, unless arrested by God’s grace, these poor sheep will be lost forever. Alas! the disease has seized the lambs, for it is quite the fashion these days for the young to embrace infidelity, and, saddest of all for young girls. They have heard in some way of Professors casting discredit on the Word of God, and in their ignorance they regard these Professors as experts, and as the mind of the flesh in themselves is enmity with God, it is easy to lead them astray.
Rawlinson quotes from Niebuhr, the Higher Critic of secular history, but who could not be a Higher Critic in sacred history: “In my opinion he is not a Protestant Christian who does not receive the historical facts of Christ’s early life, in their literal acceptation, with all their miracles, as equally authentic with any event recorded in history, and whose belief in them is not as firm and tranquil as his belief in the latter;. . . who does not consider every doctrine and every precept of the New Testament as undoubted divine revelation. . . . Moreover, a Christianity after the fashion of the modern philosophers and pantheists, without a personal God, without immortality, without human individuality, without historical faith, is no Christianity at all to me; though it may be a very intellectual, very ingenious philosophy. I have often said that I do not know what to do with a metaphysical God, and that I will have none but the God of the Bible, who is heart to heart with us. . . . My son shall believe in the letter of the Old and New Testaments.”
Would that every Christian could say the same thing for himself and for his children, for there is no neutral ground, which can be logically and consistently held, between inerrant inspiration and infidelity. The question here presented, therefore, is vital to the continued existence of Christianity, whatever may be the weakness of the arguments with which it is urged upon the attention of the reader. Wisdom is the Word unuttered; the Word is Wisdom uttered; and the voice of Him who is both the Wisdom and the Word of God is still tenderly saying, “Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors,” Prov. viii. 84. May we hear, and watch, and wait, trusting in the Lord JEHOVAH, the Hock of Ages, as revealed in the Scriptures; for “if the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Ps. xi. 8.