Familiar Conversations on Romanism

Third Conversation

The Word of God and the Church

J. N. Darby.

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22 But having got rid of this delusion, let us turn to the rule of faith. We need not consider the first false rule, private inspiration, for, save a few Quakers, no one alleges such a rule. Only we must, on the other hand, be very careful to guard against Romanist infidelity as to the action of the Holy Ghost. They practically deny the aid and succour of the Holy Ghost given to every humble believer. They ridicule it (as I know by experience) to throw men helplessly on their clergy. Now this is the worst kind of Pelagianism, the denial of the assistance of grace. The faithful Christian is assisted of God to understand the scriptures as he is to walk as a Christian.

The help and teaching of the Holy Ghost, and the written word, are not two rules of faith.* The scriptures are the one sure rule, and the Holy Ghost He who works in the believer to enable him to use that rule, and not merely as a rule but as the food and edification of his soul. And in this the contents of scripture are adapted to the progress the soul makes in divine things and its state in every respect. It is applied by the Holy Ghost to the conscience and heart of the humble Christian who owns his need of the grace of God, and looks for it according to his need. The person who denies this is an heretical denier of the grace and goodness of God. Mark this, because Dr. Milner, who I suppose from his book is an unbeliever as to this, carefully leaves it all out. If men go on presumptuously, without depending on the grace of God, they will err as to scripture, and as to everything else, whether they call themselves Catholic or Protestant. Do you deny, M., the need a Christian has of the grace of God, and the goodness and faithfulness of God in giving it, and the gracious operations of the Spirit of God in the Christian's heart, as it is said, "The meek shall he guide in judgment, and the meek shall he teach his way"; or, as the Lord said, speaking of His people, "They shall be all taught of God"?

{*Dr. Milner's Letters, 6 and 8.}

23 M. No, of course I do not; no good Catholic does; but that can only be in the true church.

N*. In one sense I quite agree with that. It is only in the true church, though we may not yet be agreed what the true church is. But this same gracious operation must take place to bring a person into the true church when he is outside it, and to help him when he is in it.

M. Well, I do not deny that.

N*. I am glad of it. Only this is all overlooked by Dr. Milner. He does not dream of any help from God. But not only does he leave out the gracious actings of the Holy Ghost in believers, but he leaves out all ministry. He will talk of tradition, and of the authority of the church, meaning however the clergy; but the ministry of those called of God in the church to teach and edify he overlooks altogether, or even of parents, who in their place have a ministry, and are called upon to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

People are not called upon to discover a religion. They are not called upon to take up a Bible, printed by the king's printer, as Dr. Milner says (Letter 9). That may happen, and has often, very often been blessed, but it is not the regularly appointed way of learning the truth. If even (as may be the case in the neglected masses of mankind, be they high or low, rich or poor) that is the case, they have not to judge of the book; they may judge right or judge wrong, but, if that is all, nothing is done. If the word of God is to profit them, it must judge them, and have its place in their hearts and consciences. We are superior to the thing we judge. As long as we are in spirit superior to God's word, it is not God's word at all really to us. We must be subject to it, receive it as it is in truth the word of God, to have life and edification by it.

As the truth of God is in the word, or rather as it is the truth, of course the Holy Ghost can use the scriptures to convince of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, and, blessed be God, thousands of souls have thus found life and peace; but that is not our subject, but what is the sure rule of faith when we do profess Christ to be our Lord. There is a ministry of the word and parental responsibility in the church of God. God alone can give efficacy to either by His grace, but men are not left to discover a religion. Christianity is the activity of God to communicate the knowledge of the truth, and grace which saves and gives eternal life, the knowledge of Christ. This is carried out by the ministry of the word and parental care, but that is not a rule of faith, but an appointed means of grace. This the Roman Catholic professes to believe as well as Protestants. None pretends a parent, or even a priest, is infallible. The question is — supposing men who profess Christianity teach differently, what is the rule by which a sincere person may know with certainty what the truth in that matter is? We say the rule of faith is the written word of God. You say the Bible and tradition taken together, or the word of God, written and unwritten, and that, besides the rule itself, Christ has provided in His holy church a living, speaking, judge to watch over it, and explain it in all matters of controversy. That is, that, in fact, the word, written or unwritten, is no rule for him at all; he must submit to what is told him by the living judge. If the judge pronounces and decides the matter, that is the rule for him who has to submit to it; he cannot refer from the judge to the law.

24 I need not take notice of Dr. Milner's objection (Letter 8, 1), that if Christ had meant to make the scriptures the rule, He would have written that book. It is irreverent, pretending to say what Christ ought to have done; but, besides, it contradicts his own theory, because he admits the written word, with unwritten tradition to complete it, to be the rule; and, if this be so, Christ has given for a rule what He did not write. The traditions as to the motives for writing the Gospels are too vague and too late in the history of the church to require any notice; and, as Dr. Milner adds, no doubt the evangelists were moved by the Holy Ghost, which is what we believe: I have no controversy with him on this head. His only attempt is to shew that they are insufficient; what has he to add? This point will come in after, when the same subject is spoken of in treating of the true rule.

I have only to notice the objection of differences of opinion among the reformers who acknowledge scripture. This is merely to catch people's minds. No rule can hinder differences so long as the human mind works. The doctrine of the Greeks differs from the doctrines of Rome, of Nestorians from both, of Jacobites from all, of Protestants from the system they have abandoned. This only proves that the church has failed in hindering divisions and maintaining unity. We have four great bodies, of which the latest formed has been for nearly a thousand years separate from Rome, and older than she, besides Anglicanism and the other Protestants. The divisions existed before Protestants were there. Rome is only one of these divided parts, not the oldest, not so numerous as all the rest taken together. With these divisions, the question is, what is the rule to judge which is the right one? Not the authority of one giving itself as the rule. That is what Rome does. Who can trust that? The scriptures were before all these divisions and questions, are given by inspired writers, are God's revelation of what was from the beginning, as God instituted it.

25 Divisions prove the infirmity of human nature: only that it is much more excusable in Protestants just coming out of the dark obscurity and superstition men were immersed in during the middle ages, than in Greece and Rome whose common starting-point was pure Christianity. And men must not suppose differences do not exist among Romanists. The Dominicans resisted with all their force the doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary (now made by the present pope a matter of faith); so that there was the most important body of Romanists (till the Jesuits arose), the inventors and directors of the Inquisition, judges thus of heretical pravity, unsound on what is now declared to be an article of faith. The Augustinians believe in predestination; the Roman Catholic priests deny it. Nay, so far did these disputes go, that the Dominicans in the seventeenth century charged the Jesuits with maintaining the idolatry of the Chinese in their missions in China. For years the inquiry was pursued before the pope, and the practices sanctioned by the Jesuits at last condemned by Pope Clement XI in 1704.* The decree was mitigated in 1715. Now the allowance of heathen idolatry in Christians was a much graver difference than the details on which Protestants differ, while agreeing in fundamental truth.

{*The decree of 1715 allowed the Chinese to continue the worship of their ancestors, with gifts and burnings before them, and prostrating themselves, the principal worship of the heathen Chinese. Since China has been opened recently to Europeans, they have found a great dragon on the altar of a Jesuit church of that day, so that the Chinese could worship that and the host at the same time.}

26 Again, on the point of authority, which you consider so important, the gravest differences exist. The famous four articles by which the Gallican church defended its liberties were condemned as earnestly as possible by the Papal advocates. In these the synod of French bishops declares that the decrees of the Council of Constance, which maintained the authority of general councils as superior to that of the pope, are approved and ratified by the Gallican church; and that the decisions of the pope are not infallible in points of faith unless they be accompanied by the consent of the church.

Now here is an all-important difference on the subject of authority and infallibility. Our question will bring us back to this. I only notice here that differences are not confined to Protestants. It is a noticeable circumstance that it was the same man Bossuet, that wrote a crafty book on the variations of Protestants, who led the way in this important variation among Romanists, and defended it against the attacks of Ultramontanes as they are called, that is, the extreme defenders of the pope's claims. Ultramontane principles prevail now, but to this day Gallican principles, which deny the pope's infallibility, hold their ground in France and Germany.* Disputes and discussions belong to the infirmity of human nature. Where there is freedom for it, it appears more openly, and so it has amongst Protestants. In Rome, though violent, it is more connected with intrigues, and less exposed to view.

{*Since this was written, as every one knows, the Council at Rome has declared the pope infallible. But what has taken place only proves the truth of what is here said.}

Another point insisted on by Dr. Milner, which has nothing to do with the rule of faith, but which I may do well to take up as it is noticed, is this, that sovereign princes have acted more in the Reformation than theologians. The truth is that sovereign princes, long oppressed in the rights and authority which God confers on the magistrate, profited by the public movement, brought about by the faith of individuals though long prepared by the working of God's Spirit, to throw off the unjust authority of the pope. This was according to God's will, who gives to the sovereign his authority, and brought about by His providence. With this the rule of faith has surely nothing to do. It was the righteous resumption by he Civil magistrate of an authority to which the pope had no title. Whether they abused this is nothing to the purpose. Civil statutes had been passed constantly against the absorption of lands into the hands of monks and others — mortmain as it was called. They evaded them by the introduction of uses (that is, when it was forbidden to a monastery to hold lands, they were given to a layman to hold it to their use, to the peril of their souls if they did not); and then when this was condemned by the Statute of Uses, they evaded that by what are called trusts.

27 All this was roughly swept away in England at the Reformation — the land partly given to courtiers, partly employed for education. But what all this has to do with the rule of faith it would be hard to tell. Superstition had given the lands to monks, and, when fresh light broke up the superstition, they were taken away again; and the monasteries, which had become a plague to every country by luxury and wickedness, were suppressed. As to Henry VIII, he threw off the pope's authority, and he was right. Why should a prelate at Rome govern England? As to his being a Protestant, he was anything but that. He had six articles drawn up, amongst which was the doctrine of transubstantiation, the key-stone of Romanism, and persecuted bitterly those who did not submit, all who held the Protestant faith, as the pope had done before him.

James. I do not see what all this has to do with the authority of the scriptures.

N*. It has none. It is merely advanced by Romanists to excite prejudice against Protestantism.

M. And do you not charge the popes and others with wickedness?

N*. Well, as yet we have not spoken of it. But this has a just place when we speak of popes and the mass of prelates, because Romanists pretend to find the church, and infallibility, and authority over other men's faith and consciences, in these wicked men; whereas no Protestant dreams of taking Henry VIII or the Protector Somerset as an authority. They will be judged in the great day like others, and their acts judged like other men's now.

James. That does make all the difference in the world, M. Save as I may mourn over others' evil, what is it to me what Henry VIII or any such person was? He has nothing to do with my faith. We are talking of scripture, and that is what you must speak of.

28 N*. As to fanaticism, I answer again, that it is one of the infirmities of our poor nature, but it has been in all ages, papal or Protestant. The wicked fanaticism of the Brethren of the Free Spirit, in the palmiest days of popery, was worse than any fanaticism that ever arose out of Protestantism, and lasted longer. But what has this to do with the rule of faith? The Protestant princes put down Munzer by force of arms because he armed himself against them. The popes nearly suppressed the Brethren of the Free Spirit by punishment and burning them. All this proves nothing but the sadness of man's history.

There is another assertion which, by a seeming analogy, is more plausible. That there are judges for the law, and a common or unwritten law in England; and so for the divine law, both of these too (Letter 10). The first point for which this unwritten law is shewn to be needed is that I cannot receive laws till I own the authority of the legislature. This shews the danger of analogies. There is but one lawgiver, and I may add one judge. God Himself is the Legislator and Judge too; but now let us speak of legislature. Is not God Himself the lawgiver, the authority?

M. Of course He is.

N*. Well, that question then is settled. There is indeed another important point which you seem to forget — natural conscience, the knowledge of good and evil. Now I do not deny that this may be sadly darkened and corrupted. Still there is a conscience, and, Christianity having brought in light, natural conscience is enlightened and has a means of judging, though it may not even be aware of how it has acquired it. Thus, if money be given practically to allow sin, or for forgiveness of sin, or to commute for humbling penances and a tax on particular crimes as to how much should be paid; if the clergy was forbidden to marry, and then money was taken by their superiors for allowing them to live with a woman not their wife, the common law of natural conscience overrules the pretended authority of the church, and tears all sophistry to pieces by its just horror.

James. But surely the Romanists have never done or allowed this.

29 N*. Indeed they have; it is just as much a matter of history as that Rome exists.

James. Why, M., what do you say to that?

M. It is only relaxing the temporal punishment due to sin.

N*. It is (Letter 43) an actual remission by God Himself of part of the temporal punishment due; and, further, does it not take out of purgatory or shorten the stay there?

M. Yes, that is, the temporal punishment due to sin.

N*. Is it not by virtue of the surplus of merits of Christ and the saints?

M. Yes.

N*. Does Dr. Milner deny that indulgences were sold?

M. No, he does not.

N*. He does not; he says (Letter 42), "avarice has done everything bad"; but yet a further question: who sold them, and by what authority were they sold? Was it not the church's, or, if you please, the pope's?

M. Well, I suppose it must have been.

N*. To be sure it must and was, and they were farmed out to the Fuggers, who were famous bankers, to whom the sale was given for so much by the Archbishop of Mentz who was charged with it, and committed to the Dominican order. So that the Roman Catholics' accusation against Luther is that it was his jealousy, as an Augustine monk, against the Dominican order about this, which made him break with the pope.

James. Well, M., this is dreadful. This never could be the true church, the church that the Lord Jesus established, nor have His authority. I understand What Mr. —  means by conscience now, for all the reasoning in the world could not persuade me that that comes from God, or that those are from God who do it. And I see you cannot deny that what you call the church did it.

N*. He could not, because it is a notorious piece of history. It was the immediate cause of the Reformation. Luther protested against it because it destroyed all morality, and in point of fact, they did forgive all sins (that is, the punishment of them, which was what people cared about) past and future, so that in one case a person bought the indulgence and then waylaid the priest and took all the money he had collected.

M. But people must be in a state of grace to profit by it.

N*. A queer state of grace a man must be expected to be in when those that expect it are selling him remission of chastisement for sin on the part of God; besides, the sacraments may have settled all the state of grace for him.

30 No, no, that is what I say; natural conscience breaks through all this sophistry. At the time of the Reformation the corruptest thing in the world was the Roman system. Do you deny what is perfectly notorious, that the corruption of clergy, monks, and all, had arisen to such an inconceivable pitch in the fifteenth-century that the natural conscience rose up in clamour against it, and helped to bring on the Reformation?

M. Well, I do not know the details of history, but I know the church is holy and always was. It is one of the marks of the true church.

N*. Well, I will give you some details as far as one can venture. We shall touch on this mark. But I agree with you, it is a mark of the true church, and you shall judge whether the Roman body can be the true church, though the point we are on now is to shew that the common law of even natural conscience, claims its rights against such horrors. The practice of concubinage among priests with those to whom they were not married was so universal that it was forbidden by the Council of Paris in 1429, which says their example had corrupted all the laity. But in vain; in the middle of the same century it was decreed at Breslau that they should pay ten florins if they did, and indeed the people of the parish very often would have it so to prevent more universal corruption. The truth is, it was universal, and so among monks, and even unnatural crimes. The witnesses to these are all of the Roman body, and a layman complains what was a sin for laymen was none for the clergy, and what was a sin for the clergy was none for the laity; for if a clergyman had a wife of his own it was a sin, if a layman had it was not; but if a clergyman had a hundred and sixty or a hundred and seventy, none of which was a wife, it was no sin, but if a layman had it was. And the ablest and most respectable Romanist doctor of his day who sought reformation, Gerson, declares if a monk lives in uncleanness he does not violate his vow provided he does not marry, only he is guilty of sin. One remedy, he says, is to do it as little as possible and do a great many good works, and take care it should be in secret, not on festivals or in holy places, and with unmarried persons. In truth, the shameless lives of the clergy, or, as Adolphus bishop of Merseburg, expresses it, "the licentious unmarried life of the clergy was before the eyes of all."

31 I have only cited these general testimonies; to go farther would be to enter into a sea of enormities horrible to go through. No doubt many a godly man cried out against it, and a reform in head and members was the universal outcry of natural conscience from laymen. And the councils of Constance and Basel tried to do something towards reforming the excessive licentiousness and wickedness of the monasteries. But as soon as Constance had started a pope, having deposed three, who were all reigning together, the chief one as guilty of everything that was horrible, there was an end of reformation; and the council at Basel was broken up by the then pope under pretext of transferring it elsewhere; so that there were two councils at a time, one at Basel without a pope, and another at Florence with a pope; and the Council of Basel passed decrees against priests living with women without being married, and added that the bishops were not to hinder the severity of the decrees being enforced: a pretty plain proof of what took place. The result was that the excessive wickedness of the clergy brought about the Reformation, the immediate occasion being the sale of indulgences for sin. God came in with an ancient truth in His grace, but the occasion of it, and what made men ready to receive it, was the revolt of the common law of conscience against the outrageous wickedness of the so-called church.

James. Well, M., what can you say to this? It is very shocking. Can you deny it?

N*. He cannot deny it. It is a matter of public notoriety, known to all acquainted with history, and proved by the outcry of Christendom, and the public acts of synods to repress it, because it was grown so scandalous. The Reformation has partially moralised the Roman clergy where it has come; but only partially, and where it is not present the fatal obligation of celibacy is a source still of endless corruption. Now conscience revolts against this, the true common law of man if you please to talk of common law, which the church is not, because it is confessedly a positive institution. Our Legislator there is God Himself, and there is a certain common law for man, namely, the knowledge of good and evil.

M. Yes; but you have no judge who is to decide on the matter when there is a difference.

32 N*. Have I not? In the first place conscience, as far as it goes, decides at a man's peril what is right and what is wrong. And note here, though man may get light from God's revelation, yet as to a judge God is and will be the final judge, and the conscience must and is bound so to regard Him. Conscience is answerable to God directly, and no man can come between the conscience and God so as to destroy the right of God. "Who art thou," says the apostle, "that judgest another man's servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth." To come in between God and the conscience is not to touch man's rights, but God's.

James. That is true, M. If my master bids me to do something in his own matters, and you tell me to do something else, you meddle with his right to command me as much and more than with me. Conscience makes us subject to God, and not dare to disobey Him. We do want help and light for it, but it always looks to God as the authority that is over it, and it cannot, dare not, look away from Him to another, because this sets aside God. It would no longer be subject to Him.

M. All very true, no doubt; but if God has set any one to judge, as the king does the judges, you must abide by their decision.

N*. That is all well to decide about property or crimes, and to keep peace among men. But that is absolutely impossible as to conscience, because God has a judgment to come in which He will pronounce originally and finally as to guilt; in which He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the secrets of the heart. Therefore the apostle warns to judge nothing before the time till God does that, God having reserved this to Himself. There can be no judgment which can come between the conscience and God's final judgment. It remains, in spite of men, in all its force and authority, and a man must answer to it, and no other authority can come in between, so as to relieve him from obedience to that judgment. So that in the proper sense of judge I admit no judge but God, who executes it in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Judgment applies to the final state of souls, and not to causes between man and man, or offences against the State. Offences against the State the State judges. Our offences are against God, and God judges.

M. Yes; but the State appoints judges, and God has appointed the church.

33 N*. Hence the Queen cannot judge at all; she may shew mercy, but that is not the question now. But she is not allowed to judge at all. Is that true as regards God?

M. Of course not.

N*. He judges then Himself, and He only; save, as we know, He exercises this judgment by Christ, does He not?

M. Of course, every one owns that.

N*. The whole case then has to be settled by Him who knows it all, He being the judge, and having the whole cause originally and finally before Him?

M. It has.

N*. Priests and pope and all.

M. Yes, priests and pope and all.

N*. Then all your comparison about a judge is simply all false. God Himself judges, and that is the only true judgment; and I am bound to look to that, and not to allow any other to come between me and my conscience. For God judges according to a permanent, abiding, direct authority He has over me every moment, so that I dare not look away from Him. If I do I am sinning. For note that, James, it is not only particular cases to be settled, about which God judges, but every instant of our lives, so that we cannot look at anything but Him without neglecting Him and His claims.

James. I see it plain enough; I feel it too. I know I may fail, and shall, save as kept by His grace, but I know I am bound to take His will every moment. It ought to be my joy to obey Him. It was the blessed Saviour's own joy; but at any rate I am bound to do it, and must give, and ought to give, an account of myself to God. And tell me, M., can the priest, or the pope, if you please, answer for me in that day?

M. No, of course they cannot.

N*. Then I would not give much for their answering for me now.

M. But is it not said, "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven?" And, "Do you not judge them that are within?" and "to whomsoever ye forgive anything, I forgive it."

N*. It is.

M. Then there must be a judge.

N*. But unless you speak of what the apostle's authority established as binding, which no Christian denies, you are now speaking of discipline, not of a rule of faith. Now I own fully scripture speaks of discipline; 1 Cor. 5:13; 2 Cor. 2:10. When a person was put out, his sins were bound upon him, and when he was forgiven and re-admitted, his sins were loosed. And this is the distinct unequivocal force of a passage you are fond of quoting: "If he will not hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican." The subject is a wrong done to a person: he remonstrates; if he recovers his brother, well; if not, he takes two or three more, so that if the person remains obdurate, these are witnesses of all; and then he tells the whole assembly, and if the wrong-doer will not hear the assembly, the injured person may hold him as a person having no claim to be owned as belonging to it; but what has this to do with a rule of faith? And note, just as it was in the Corinthians, the whole assembly was to be listened to, and that to cleanse themselves; 1 Cor. 5.

34 James. Well, M., you used to quote this passage as if it was a direction for everybody to listen to the church's teaching, and it has nothing whatever to say to that. It is when some matter of wrong is told to the assembly as the last means of winning a person back from wronging his neighbour, and he will not hearken to the whole assembly, he may then be treated as a heathen that does not belong to it. And I see it is said that, wherever two or three are gathered together in Christ's name, He is in the midst of them, so that it applies to Christians assembled together.

M. But is it not said, "Go and teach all nations, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world"?

N*. Let me remark to you that you are quoting scripture, and you tell me I cannot receive it without the church, nor understand it either.

M. Yes; but the church has sanctioned it.

N*. What church?

M. Why, the Holy Roman Catholic church.

N*. But I do not own it to be the church, nor do I admit that the church can sanction God's word; it savours to me of blasphemy. You tell me I must have the church first, and we have not got that yet, and therefore you cannot quote it to me. You tell me I must leave it to the church to give authority to the scripture. And now you are quoting scripture to prove the church. That will not do.

James. No, surely, M.; you cannot bring in to prove the church till you have the church to prove it, according to your system. So you ought to prove the church some other way, for according to you the scripture cannot have authority till you have it from the church, and we have not got the church yet for your faith; though I do not contest the Bible.

35 N*. Quite right, James. You have got no ground yet, and we will therefore surely answer as to it seriously. But when we are inquiring into the rule of faith, this is important, because the Roman Catholic has no real ground for his faith. If the scripture is to prove the authority of the church, the church cannot prove the authority of scripture. If the church is to prove the authority of scripture, we cannot use scripture till we have the church first, as the scripture has none without it.

James. That is clear, M. How does your Dr. Milner get out of that?

M. Why, he says he believes the Catholic church, and everything that she teaches, upon the motives of credibility (namely, her unity, sanctity, etc.), which accompany her. And she brings me the book and tells me it is inspired.

N*. On whose judgment then have you believed the church? — who has judged of these motives of credibility?

M. Well, on my own, of course. I must judge if it is the church.

N*. Clearly, but then you avow that your whole faith depends on private judgment, and not on a divine foundation at all. And, remark, Dr. Milner felt the force of this, and refers to the objection made to him, and seeks to clear it up. Now, in doing this, he is forced to rest the church's authority on motives of credibility — motives for whom? Man. That is, it is mere human probability. The house cannot be stronger than its foundation. If I have only probability for the church, what the church teaches can only probably have authority. That is, it is no divine authority or divine faith at all. It would be a blasphemy to say, "Probably God says the truth." The Protestant's faith is founded on God's word as such; and motives of credibility can go no farther than private judgment, nay, may vary with each individual in their force. Thus sanctity is alleged to be a proof of the true church.

I read history, and I find that what a Romanist calls the church and infallible is stamped throughout, after history as contrasted with scripture begins, with the most horrible depravity and unholiness of anything on record. Where is the motive of credibility for me? When it rests on motives of credibility, it must rest on private judgment. There is no divine faith at all. Dr. John H. Newman admits there is only a degree of probability, though an immensely strong one. But that is not divine faith. The Romanist has confessedly none.

36 Dr. Milner says, you receive as a king's messenger one clothed like one, and you assure yourself he is one, and then accept the letter from the king that he brings, which tells you to mind all he (the messenger) says. But if he was a clever rogue, he might deceive you, and then use the letter to prove you ought to mind him, and get authority over you in everything, and you have only your own judgment to trust to in receiving him. Thus you have nothing but your own judgment to trust to, upon your own shewing, for what you believe.

But let us see a little farther what Dr. Milner's argument is worth. He believes the church and all that she teaches because of unity, sanctity, etc. Why all that she teaches? There may be unity and sanctity, and yet not present infallibility. This argument will not hold water. Dr. Milner jumps into infallibility before he has even got the scriptures to tell him the church is infallible, a point we will speak of. Then, suppose I deny the unity (and, remember, all the oldest churches reject the Roman Catholic church as erroneous, and the pope's authority, and of course do not admit their infallibility, and so, we have seen, do the majority rather of Christians), and the sanctity — both of which, in fact, I do entirely deny — all your supposition falls to the ground. If you have to prove them, in the end divine authority rests upon the judgment I form of unity and sanctity, before I have got any revelation at all. How do I know there ought to be but one church? And as there are many, how am I to know which is the right one? — and must I know all history in order to say which has been holy, or which has the right succession, if any, before I can have any right faith? You have no divine foundation for your faith at all, nor the church to give it me. And, supposing I am asked to receive all the church teaches now, why may not I judge of the sanctity and unity at the beginning of her history and believe her to be infallible then, and hear what she says? Ah, you tell me I must not judge by that, but only by what is now. Now this looks suspicious. Why may not I see what the apostles and inspired men taught — what the church, if you please, taught then? Was it not one and holy then?

37 M. Of course it was.

N*. Was it not more united and holy than now?

M. Well, I suppose it was, for here at least there is not much to boast in that way.

N*. Why may I not then hear it at that time? Then I should listen to Paul and John and Peter and the rest. But you do not seem to like that; you will only allow me to hear people who are not inspired. And where am I to find any inspired teaching, or even the church's teaching now?

M. You must listen to her pastors.

N*. Are they inspired?

M. No.

N*. Then I have no divine faith in what they say.

M. But they will not mislead you; the priest is seen after by the bishop, and he by them above him.

N*. How can I tell? Is that divine faith? At any rate I do not hear the church, for aught I can tell, in hearing him. We will return to this, for it is a large subject. But on our main point at present, Dr. Milner on his own shewing, though he has been very astute, has no ground to stand upon. And, after all, I am to listen to this church now in those who confessedly are not inspired, and am not allowed to listen to it when apostles and others were inspired. And what does Dr. Milner therefore do? He puts the word of God first, unwritten as well as written, as the rule; and the church as the judge. When pressed (for it is only in a note) he says the church must come first, and be proved by its unity, sanctity, etc., etc., and then come to the word, but this, in fact, he did not dare to do. He had not the unity; he had not the sanctity. He tries to confirm the church's authority by these marks when he has got the true rule as he says, but, according to his own shewing, he could not get it till he had got the church. But he could not put the church forward, first because he has to prove it had such authority, which could not be proved at all; and next, that the Roman system was that church. It could not be proved that the church had the authority, because, if the church has to be proved first, how am I to know she is infallible? — how can I tell what marks she is to be known by? She cannot adduce scripture to prove it in any way, for what propounds and explains it — that is, the church — we have not got yet. And supposing I admit the church to exist, as I do, for there it is before my eyes; why is it infallible? It tells me so; but is it right in telling me so? I see worldliness, ambition, horrible corruption, disputes, difference of doctrine. Take, for instance, the Dominicans and Franciscans on the immaculate conception. The former, the greatest and most important body for many centuries in their church (and which managed the Inquisition), denied what is now held necessary to be believed as of the faith itself.*

{*Vincencius Lirinensis' rule is a real farce on the face of it. I must know all the church ever held to say, "held always, and by all" before the rule can apply. And when I do know it, as in this instance, I have a doctrine declared to be a dogma of faith which the most important body among the Roman Catholics denied publicly for centuries.}

38 M. But then the pope and the bishops have decided now, and they had not then.

N*. But how do I know the pope and the bishops have the right to decide? Who has made them infallible? I know some pretend the pope is so, and some pretend a general council is, and some say there must be both. But this is a new infallible body. And is it not a strange thing that the church, which you say was to keep people safe in the truth, should have left a vast body, and the most famous doctors, and those who were to decide upon heresy, in error for centuries, and only then settle the truth? How am I to receive all it teaches, or anything, with a divine faith? Hence in fact Dr. Milner puts the word of God first to prove the church before he has proved it to be the word of God, and declaring we cannot tell whether it is. This rule even then rests on no divine faith in his system, because, according to that, I get to the church, and cannot tell if the scriptures, by which its authority is alleged to be taught, are divine. He is cleverly resting on my protestant good faith to hide the weakness of his own cause.

Mark another thing. He puts the proof of the credibility of Christianity in a protestant mouth — in Dr. Carey's. How comes that? He makes him quote the scriptures as a warrant for the doctrines and miracles of the Lord Jesus. Now he is quite right in doing that, because faith in Christianity cannot be founded on the church; because he who has to learn to believe in Christianity of course does not yet own the church. But here, however cunning, he has given all his position up. I can believe without the church. I have discovered the true religion. And if I have believed in Christianity and the word, I have what I want substantially, and, above all, I recognize the divine authority of the scriptures. You plead, or make the Protestant plead — for as a Roman Catholic you can have no such faith — the words and works of the blessed Jesus. You do well; but where did you get them in order to prove what Christianity is? Have you any account but the scriptures of the words and works of Jesus? Not the smallest iota. Anything that ever pretended to be so is too bad for anyone to allege it as of any authority. You must come to the scriptures to know what Christ said or did. A priest may repeat it from them, or I may, but nothing (with all the boastings of the clergy) has the smallest authority but what is found there.

39 But then the word has divine authority over my soul; the moment I have Jesus' words, and the apostles' words, I have the certainty of divine truth. You have nothing at all but this to prove what Christianity is, and its credibility; and, if I take this and so believe in Christianity, I have already the words of Christ and His apostles, and neither would nor dare but hear them. Do not tell me I cannot understand or believe them. That is the Christianity I have to understand and believe. Now, I do not wish to offend you, M., God forbid, but if I were to take what you call the Catholic church, as it is, or as it was at the time the Reformation took place, or long before, I see, without at all pretending that Protestants are what they ought to be, the greatest scene of wickedness that ever was known on the face of God's earth. And I should say, if that is what I am to believe as Christianity, God keep me from it. It is a wickedness that revolts an honest moral man, and that in priests, bishops, and popes more than in others. That there is no disputing about before the Reformation.

M. Well, all admit there have been wicked popes and clergy, but that is not the church.

N*. But is it not what you want me to hear? Are they not the people who you say are to secure my having the truth? And as you plead sanctity as a proof of infallible authority, I must at once say, Well it is certainly not to be had here.

M. Well, but that does not change the faith of the church.

N*. Aye, but we are talking about the infallibility of the church, on which my faith is to be divinely founded. And if sanctity, or even unity, is to be a proof of it, it was lost altogether, for the popes were the wickedest of men, and there were two, and even three, at a time denouncing one another as the falsest and wickedest of men; and at last it was so scandalous, that the three who then pretended to be pope were all deposed. Where was sanctity and unity then? Where infallibility? And note, to have it, it must never cease.

40 M. Well, but it was in the known doctrines of the church.

N*. But I thought we must have a speaking tribunal. And if you found yourself on documents, where are they?

M. Well, there is the Council of Trent and the Catechism of Pope Pius IV.

N*. That was a century later, and if I go to these documents, why may not I go to what Paul and Peter and John wrote? I get it first hand, and I suppose the apostles were as sure as the Council of Trent.

M. Yes, of course; but you may interpret them wrong; and then, if you go to that, they are in Greek; you must come to the pastors of the church.

N*. Well, but I may interpret the decrees of Trent and the Catechism wrong. They are much more obscure than the most of the New Testament. And as to this being in Greek, the decrees and the Catechism are in Latin, and you are not going to tell me that the poor Romanists read them to know their faith; and if I go to the pastor, I am with a fallible man, and can have no divine faith. No, with the word of God I have a divine foundation for my faith, whereas you have none at all. Hence, M., though you have no right to quote the scriptures to me, because you say we cannot tell they are the word of God, and you have not yet proved what and where the true church is; yet, as I do believe they are the word of God, I shall make no objection to your quoting them, so that we will return to the point we left, only it was very important to shew that you Romanists have no divine ground for your faith at all. Your principle is that we cannot tell if the scriptures be the word of God. Hence I cannot have a divine faith in the revelation given. I cannot tell if it is a revelation. If it is, it has divine authority, and I must listen to it. As to the church, you have not proved anything about it yet. But I shall listen to all you say from the word, because, though you have no right to use it, I do not want to cavil, and I own it to be God's word. We were speaking of "Go and teach all nations, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always to the end of the world."

M. Well, is not that a plain proof that the church is secure from error, and that, as the apostles could not live for ever, we must obey their successors?

41 N*. Who are their successors?

M. Why, all the bishops, and especially the pope, as the successor of St. Peter, the prince of the apostles.

N*. I see nothing about successors. But must I know the succession of bishops of a see before I know what saves my soul? This is a serious question, because there have been three popes at a time. But let us see now if you think God was always with them. For instance, when Pope Julius was the most ardent warrior of his day, or when his predecessor, Pope Alexander VI, carried on a life of dissoluteness without example, seeking to establish his illegitimate children in dukedoms and principalities, to say nothing worse of him (for worse is said, and counted true), and at last was poisoned by what he had prepared to poison a rich cardinal to get his money — was the Lord (may He forgive one for naming such a thing!) with these as with the apostles?

M. Yes, but there are wicked men everywhere.

N*. No doubt. That is not our question; but is the Lord with them as He was with the apostles? That is the question.

James. Why, M., you cannot say that. It would be awful.

42 N*. Well, when there were two popes for thirty years, and then three for some years more, the two holding their ground against the third, named to put them down, and then this third, probably poisoned by the person who was his successor, and after various fighting in open war, the Emperor succeeded in having a general council, and putting down all three (the last as too infamous to be tolerated) — was the Lord with all these? or with which of them?

M. No, of course not; but He was with the church.

N*. That I believe. But then, in that case, these were not the church. And, remember, your doctrine is that the promise to the apostles was with their successors. And this schism is of the more importance, because it is alleged that the Lord may be with an office when not with the person. But here there were two successors condemning each other, and part of Europe siding with one, and part with the other, and a third condemning both, so that the Lord could not be with them, and neither could secure the truth for us. The truth is, the papacy and all connected with it was such a horrible scene of wickedness, that men got tired of it and put down these popes — and we may well say God, in His mercy, too — and brought about the Reformation. For the Reformation, long cried for by all Christendom, took place about a century after this in another way than was expected; the popes, to whom reformation was left by the council, taking good care not to reform themselves, though not so scandalous as those I have referred to.

M. Well, but there were good popes too.

N*. In the beginning of the history of Christianity there were blessed men in the See of Rome, martyrs among them: only they were not popes of Christendom. Far from it. Yet already in the fifth century the city of Rome was filled with blood and massacres through the conflicts between two contending popes, Symmachus and Laurentius, and at last they had to go to an heretical Arian king to decide the matter. This is the Roman Catholic account (Baronius, vol. 8, p. 619). The dispute too lasted a long time. But, further, when the so-called bishops went to war, as princes at the head of their troops, as happened constantly in the middle ages, particularly in Germany, was the Lord with them as the successors of the apostles? And when they allowed sin for ten florins, as we have seen, was the Lord with them?

James. Well, M., what can you say to this? But is this all certain, sir?

N*. I have stated nothing but what is matter of well-known and authentic history, for which authentic proofs remain, and mainly in councils of the Roman Catholic church. Nor indeed is it possible to go into all the wickedness and horrors that went on.

M. Well, I suppose it cannot be denied that they were dark and evil times; even Catholics admit that. But they were the habits of the age, and the clergy were not wholly exempt.

N*. They do admit it. St. Bernard, as you call him, said Antichrist was at Rome in the eleventh century. But were the successors of the apostles, with whom you allege the Lord was, to follow the habits of the age? Besides, forbidding to marry and then living in sin was the case of the clergy only, and not otherwise the habits of the age, save as the corruption of the clergy corrupted everything around them.

James. But I thought, M., you called the church holy; and what is all this? It is dreadful: how could you think I could take such persons for successors of the apostles?

43 N*. But again, are all the Greek patriarchs, prelates and clergy who reject the authority of the pope — are they successors of the apostles too?

M. But they are in schism.

N*. Well, but then successors of the apostles are in schism. Is not that a queer thing, and how is the Lord with them so that they can secure my faith? And then there are some sixty millions of professing Christians in schism with them, well nigh half the number of those subject to the pope. And then, note, they are the successors of the apostles, most of them in older churches than that of Rome. How can I be secure in thinking they can guide me according to the promise we are speaking of, "Lo, I am with you always," when they condemn utterly the pretensions of the one you think, I suppose, infallible?

M. But they hold the same doctrines.

N*. So your Dr. Milner states; but it is not true, and, begging his pardon, he must have known it was not true. They do not hold the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Son, nor purgatory — the last exercising more influence in the papal body than any other doctrine. I might add the priests marry; only that is practice, not doctrine. Again, when pope Liberius turned Arian to please the Emperor Constantius, and denied the divinity of the Lord Jesus, was the Lord with him as a successor of the apostles? Athanasius, who stood up for the truth of the blessed Lord's divinity was banished, and died in banishment excommunicated. And even before, in Constantine's time, when all the prelates, fathers, as they are called, of the Council of Tyre joined in accepting this denial of the truth, and the Arians were recalled, could they pretend the Lord was with them? — or the 800 bishops who at Ariminium denied the divinity of the Lord? There were but 318 in the Council of Nice which affirmed it, only the Emperor's authority maintained it. Had I trusted the clergy for the truth in Constantius' days, I must have turned Arian. If I lived in Russia or Turkey now, I must, if I listen to the clergy, hold the pretensions of Rome to be all wrong. If I live at Rome, I must hold the successors of the apostles in the East to be all wrong. Is that all the security you can give me? When I take the scriptures, I have the certainty of having the truth, because I get what you own to be the apostles' own teaching. But to our point. Is God with all those of whom we have been speaking in their errors, when the pope for example was an Arian, or when there were two?

44 M. No, of course He was not with them in that. But you see God has preserved the church through it all in spite of all this, and you must hear the church.

N*. We have not got the true church yet. However, you hold, then, that God has preserved the true church not by, but in spite of, these successors of the apostles. That I fully believe, and bless His abundant grace for. He has not permitted the gates of hell to prevail against it. But if anything could have frustrated God's promise and have destroyed the church, the conduct of the hierarchy would have done so.

M. But He was very often with them too. There were holy godly men, who sacrificed their lives for the truth.

N*. Undoubtedly there were, at any rate in the earlier part of the history, though we might not always agree in judging of the particular cases. But there were some more enlightened, others less. And I am well assured that God was with them in the measure in which they followed the apostles and their doctrine, and so He will now with those who do, and that to the end of the age. He was fully with the apostles, and will be with all those who serve Him like them according to the measure given unto them. But this does not make the popes and prelates who are not all like them any security for the truth.

I believe then fully in the promise given, and that the Lord was with the apostles and will be with all those who so serve Him. And you are forced to admit that with the mass of your successors of the apostles the Lord is not. And your Dr. Milner looks at it, when it suits him, in the same way, for he couples with the passage we are speaking of, another from Mark, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." I add, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned." Now, in this work I do not doubt that the Lord is with those who serve Him; but then your successors of the apostles are not that in their office. They rule over the flock where people are all professing Christians. Christ is speaking in Matthew of making disciples of the heathen. In Mark too He is speaking of the conversion to Christianity of those who were strangers to it. He is not speaking of the care of the church, nor of successors in that at all.

And mark here the importance of a distinction I was making with James before you came. Dr. Milner says the unwritten word was the means of propagating the doctrines. Now I admit that fully, and it may be, and is still; but that does not make the preacher a rule of faith. A means of propagating is not a rule of faith. This fallacy runs all through the book.

45 M. But Christ promised the Comforter should abide for ever, and that He would teach the apostles all things and bring all things to their remembrance, whatsoever He had said to them.

N*. Both these statements I believe with all my heart, as Christ's own words. But, allow me to say, if He taught the apostles all things and brought all things to their remembrance, two things are clear: first, that all was taught them then, and all brought to remembrance then, and that of Christ's teaching nothing more is to be learnt than what they thus received. On this point Tertullian largely insists; and, better still, the apostle John. He tells us that, if we abide in what was from the beginning, we shall abide in the Father and in the Son; next, that it was to them only He then spoke, for He says, "to bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said to you." This can apply only to the apostles, and we have to inquire, How do we get what was thus taught them, whether directly by the Holy Ghost or by His bringing to remembrance Christ's words?

M. That is true; but the Comforter was to abide for ever.

N*. So I am fully persuaded He does, but not to teach new truths, for all were taught to the apostles. He may, morally speaking, lead us to think of what Christ says, but cannot properly do what He did to the apostles. And the passage is an unfortunate one, for Judas (not Iscariot) asks the Lord how He would manifest Himself to them and not to the world, and the Lord tells him, "If a man love me, he will keep my words, and my Father will love him, and we will make our abode with him." So that the way the Comforter abides with the apostles and their successors, if you please, is with those who love Him and keep His word. Thus it is the Lord Himself carries on the succession, not by offices. Now, I admit, in the fullest way, that there are gifts, "pastors and teachers," by which the Lord edifies His people individually and collectively. But these, all admit, are not rules of faith. They are a means of blessing, not a rule of faith.

So that, if we examine the passage, we find that all was taught to the apostles, and that the true presence of the Spirit is with those who love Christ and keep His word. There is no promise whatever to official successors. There is one to the apostles, the end of the age being unrevealed; but there is not one word of official successors as objects of the promise. To allege it is only a supposition that it must be: a pretension often loudest in the wickedest now, to be the successors of the apostles. And when Judas asks how the Lord could be present, it is explained in another way by the Lord. Christ, who had been their Comforter or Paraclete, was going away from the disciples. This was a deep sorrow, an affecting loss. He promises another, who should not thus leave them, but ever abide with them. And surely as long as the church remains the Holy Ghost will remain. Who has Him dwelling in him is another question. The Lord says He is with those who love Him and keep His word.

46 Now as all truth was taught to the apostles, one question is, How can we have this securely and surely as they had it? But that there were any successors to the apostles in the true sense of the word I entirely deny. First, in a mass of places churches were found in which they never were, so that there was no proper successor to an apostle, for there was no apostle to succeed to. There may have been godly administrative care and teaching by those called and sent of God, and a great blessing too; but no proper successors of the apostles where there were no apostles to succeed.

But I go farther into the root and heart of the thing than this. There was no successor to an apostle at all as to what he was as an apostle. No one was chosen, sent directly by the Lord Himself, and this is what an apostle means. It is a name given by Christ. No pretended successor could say as Paul (and the rest too) "not of man, nor by man." The pretension to be a successor denies the person being in an apostle's place; for it denies that immediate relationship to Christ, which alone constitutes apostleship. The Timothys and Silvanuses and the rest, precious as they were to the church, were by man; or simply gifts without any local office, as the prophets. An apostle, in the nature of things, cannot have a successor in any official place in the church. For such successor is as such not the founder of the church as an eye-witness, and sent directly by Christ as such. Nobody pretends that those called successors of the apostles are inspired to make revelations. Individually they have no pretension to be considered in any respect as successors of an apostle. Nor was it (unless possibly at Jerusalem, and this is quite uncertain) the office of an apostle to govern any particular see, nor did any, unless the case I have just alluded to, and then that was not the apostolic office.

47 But I go farther. There is distinct proof that the apostles themselves recognized no successors. Paul insists on the diligent care of the elders, because he had no successor. This is very distinct. He knew (Acts 20) that after his decease grievous wolves would enter in, and perverse men would arise. Who, after his decease, if he was to have a successor? Evil would spring up because there was not an apostle to check or control it by his spiritual energy and consequent authority. He urges the elders, those whom the Holy Ghost had made overseers, to watch — a thing wholly out of place if another was to succeed him and take his place. Some say Timothy was afterwards bishop of Ephesus. There is no evidence of it, but the contrary; but if he were, it upsets the theory altogether, for the same authorities tell us John was at Ephesus, so that we have an apostle there governing and guiding, and yet a successor at the same time to do it as if the apostle were gone.

So Peter says, seeing his departure was near, that he would take care they should have these things always in remembrance, and writes his Epistle; but if he had a successor who was to secure the truth, and it be not the scriptures which are to do it through grace, he made a great mistake in the whole matter. Paul therefore, and Peter and John practically too, all deny the whole theory on which the Romish system is founded. They know no successor, deny by their words that there will be such, and give other means of security as regards the truth; for Paul is still clearer than Peter as to the scriptures. Not only does he commend the elders of Ephesus to God and the word of His grace, but he tells us positively that in the last days perilous times should come; that the professing church would be in a horrible state, having a form of godliness but denying the power of it; and that we should turn away from such; and that the security of the faithful Christian would be the scriptures, which are able to make us wise unto salvation. Not a word of tradition, but the contrary; for Timothy is made to rely on knowing of whom he had learned the things he knew. This was Paul himself

James. Where is that, sir?

48 N*. In 2 Timothy 3. He says evil men and seducers would wax worse and worse, but Timothy was to continue in what Paul himself had taught, and hold fast to the scriptures as able to make him wise unto salvation, and make the man of God perfect. Thus the apostle had-no thought of anything else than apostolic teaching, and the scriptures as the security of the faithful in the perilous times of the last days. And you see too, plainly, that instead of such security and right conduct and good state of the church continuing through the care of the successors of the apostles perilous times were to come; and indeed at the end, as he tells us in 2 Thessalonians 2, an apostasy; and that when the state of the professing church made it perilous for the saint, the scriptures and the certain teaching of the apostle himself would be the means of securing us by faith in Christ Jesus. The Christian would have to be secured in perils arising from the state of the church. Paul does not refer to the hierarchy as the safeguard, but to the scriptures and Timothy's knowing who had taught him.

James. That is very clear, M.; because, if the state of the church was so evil as to make it perilous, it could not be a security for him who desired to walk right; and if I read what Paul says I do know of whom I have learned it, and that and the other scriptures will keep us through faith in Christ.