God, not the Church,

The teacher by his word; being a letter on Dr. Manning's sermon.*

By a stranger passing through Hereford

J. N. Darby.

<20015E> 223

{*The appearance of the following paper has been delayed by circumstances not under the control of the writer. He trusts it is not too late to be useful.}

Dear Sir,

Dr. Manning's sermon, and the account of the consecration at Belmont, have been published in the Hereford Times. On the latter I make no remark. I should call it a very poor thing morally, but I dare say attractive to a curious public. But the sermon contains some principles and assertions to which I will venture to draw the attention of those who will condescend to read these lines. We must make allowance for a report, and possible mistakes. In one sentence God is put for body evidently, and doubtless there are others; but there is plenty sufficiently clear and accurate to enable us to measure the doctrines and statements of the sermon. It is hardly to be expected that the public should be well acquainted with ecclesiastical history, nor, by their knowledge of facts, be able to meet the assertions or omissions of the preacher. I cannot, where I am, have recourse to learned books, to give always precise dates or the like; but my memory suffices to deal with many of the preacher's statements, as the word of God will with others, and of his arguments we all can judge.

Let me begin with his text, and the groundwork of his discourse. Christ stood up to read, and after reading, declared, "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears." That is, He did not interpret it at all, but presented Himself as the fulfilment of it. It required no interpretation: Messiah was already the expectation of the Jews according to it. But He was the Messiah; He declared the object of faith actually come. Either Dr. Manning's whole argument is utterly without foundation, or he puts the church in the place of Christ as the object of faith. Now the latter, which is next door to blasphemy and apostasy, is pretty much what he does. He declared, at the close of the discourse, that the Catholic church is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Now this is a statement found in the Hebrews, and spoken of the blessed Lord: "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever." He is the immutable object of faith, and they were not to be carried about with divers and strange doctrines. But it is the one unchangeable glory of the Lord Jesus Christ which is in question; not the church, in any sense, to which the preacher, in a way akin to blasphemy, refers it.

224 A sober Christian will weigh this. It is the more striking in its evil character because the groundwork of the whole sermon is turning the presenting of the person of the Lord Jesus as the fulfilment of a passage into its interpretation; as to which there was no question. The beginning and end of the sermon (indeed its whole theme is that) substitute the church for Christ. The truth is, Dr. Manning's discourse puts him on both horns of the dilemma at once. There is no ground at all in the text for his argument. The Lord does not interpret but presents Himself as the fulfilment of the passage; and this discourse is akin to blasphemy by the substitution of the church for the blessed and divine Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, "the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever." Still I will just look into some of his facts and assertions.

The two facts on which his argument is founded I admit entirely. The apostles preached before the New Testament scriptures were written; though the church was founded before they began to preach by the descent of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, and the same Holy Ghost made the believers one and endued them with power. As regards the Gentiles, Peter expressly gave up his office to Paul (Gal. 2:9) and Barnabas; and Paul became the apostle of the Gentiles, and the one who alone insists on the unity of the body, the church. The other fact is that baptism and the Lord's supper embody some precious truths. The latter point does not affect our present inquiry. The Lord Himself instituted them, so that though recorded in the scriptures they were before the church or New Testament scriptures, or ministry of the apostles subsequent to Pentecost. The former point tells entirely against Dr. Manning's argument. The apostles, as did Stephen and Philip and probably others, preached the gospel-Peter to the Jews, Paul to the Gentiles, and Jews settled amongst them, joining Silas, Timotheus, Titus, and others with him in his service. Of others we have little or no authentic account outside Jerusalem. Doubtless late in the history they travelled in other countries, but we have no early or sure account of it.

225 In general we know that He who was mighty in Peter to the circumcision wrought in Paul towards the Gentiles, and the apostles agreed that that work should be Paul's. I shall be told-Yes, but afterwards they taught and watched over the church. Doubtless they did, they taught the church. But whom did the church teach? Nobody. Gifted individuals amongst them, teachers and pastors whom God had raised up, aided in their place according to the measure of the gift of Christ; but the church never taught: gifted members taught it. The church's teaching is a mere delusion; it denies ministry and falsifies the whole idea of the church, which is the whole body of faithful people. They taught viva voce, and they taught by writings, and their writings we have. But to wham were they addressed? We have twenty-one epistles in all; three are addressed to fellow-labourers of Paul, the rest to the faithful, in one the bishops and deacons being added. The apostles taught the church, or people of God in these epistles by their inspired gifts; but the church taught no one.

But more than this. Paul assures us that after his decease the flock would not be spared, and commends them to God, and the word of His grace which was able to build them up; that already all sought their own, not the things of Jesus Christ; that in the last days perilous times would come, there would be a form of piety denying its power. He also commends the saints to the scriptures, as able to make them wise unto salvation, and to the knowing of whom we have learned things as we do when we read the writings of the apostles, and as we do not when we are told the church teaches. Dr. Manning tells us of the collected reason of Christendom. Where am I to find that? Did Paul do right when he addressed his teaching to all the saints for their own use and direction? or did he do it badly? or could someone else come and interpret it to them? They received it themselves as he wrote it to themselves. Besides, the mystery of iniquity was already at work and would go on, the apostle tells us, and there would be a falling away. But further the church did not maintain the faith. To use Jerome's expression, the world awoke and was surprised to find itself Arian. It was merely a few hunted individuals who kept the faith; and the Pope himself, Liberius, signed a semi-Arian creed; and another, Honorius, was condemned by a council held to be a general one by Rome itself as a heretic, and the decree confirmed by the Pope.

226 And where am I to find this teaching church? I must go to the priest. Is he infallibly right? No. But the bishop will watch over that. Is he infallibly right? No. But the Pope will watch over that. Is he infallibly right? It has been held so for three years; but the fact was so grossly opposed to the known history and teaching of former ages, that hundreds of thousands of Roman Catholics have left him and have established a separate body-got a bishop and a settled constitution.

Half the respectable authorities of the Roman Catholic world resisted to the utmost, protested against the way in which the council was conducted and deprived of all true liberty and now forces others to hold it. But big words take wonderful effect on people's minds. Dr. Manning talks to us of the universal or Catholic church spread over the world. But let us get at the facts? We have, say, 140 millions of Roman Catholics in the world, but some 60 or 70 millions of Greeks, the oldest churches in existence, denounce them as false in doctrine and the papal authority to be wholly unfounded; and the chief doctrinal point of difference is a dogma repelled by the Greeks, which one of the greatest popes that ever lived declared ought not to be introduced into the creed, as indeed a general council had forbidden anything to be added; and this Pope put up silver tablets in the principal church at Rome that it might not be added. Rome has added it since. Dr. Manning knows this as well as I do. But further, nearly 100 millions of Protestants are outside. So that we have more than half professing Christendom outside (what I must say impudently calls itself) the Catholic church, a body denounced by the oldest churches, and so horribly corrupt that a very large part indeed of what was under its authority broke loose from it; and now, on the very point of infallible authority in interpretation, it is completely divided, and hundreds of thousands have left it because the vote was carried by oppression. We can understand this. Large numbers of respectable Roman Catholic prelates resisted the decree, from America, Ireland, France, Germany, etc., who presided over flocks numbering by millions; but there were crowds of prelates in Italy, some 130 in the Papal and Neapolitan states with some few millions of inhabitants, and a number of what are called bishops in partibus removable by the Pope, who made all resistance vain on the part of those who represented ten times their number. But it has cost the papacy another split off, which appeals to the ancient records and historical facts of the church such as none can deny. And note, all the professors of divinity of these seceders always taught what they hold and have acted on now. Where then was the church's teaching? And what am I to hold to be the church which teaches?-the Pope all alone, decreed to be infallible three years ago, who is certainly not the church? or is the Greek church, older than he? or the Protestants who appeal to Paul's teaching and Peter's, etc.? Where is this church?

227 And mark this; the question is not whether Peter and Paul and the rest did not teach the truth before the scriptures, but what is it that has preserved to us what Peter and Paul taught? The answer is, not the varying traditions of the church, but the writings of Peter and Paul themselves. They were addressed to the people, and, save three short epistles, entirely to the Christian people. It is not that the apostle's teaching was derived from the New Testament, but it is found embodied there-recorded there. They did interpret the Old indeed, and their teaching is found in the epistles of the New, addressed to Christian men-their epistles, where else should I find them?

Dr. Manning tells us that the apostles delivered the baptismal creed in the very same syllables, the same articles, not changed in one jot or tittle from the faith once delivered to us by Jesus Christ. Where are these articles? Dr. Manning knows perfectly well that there is not one tittle of foundation for this assertion. People who believed in Jesus Christ were baptised no doubt, but there is no statement anywhere of any baptismal creed at all. Different churches had different creeds as to the form of them. The so-called apostles' creed is first found in Ruffinus, in the beginning of the fifth century. Some articles have been added. The Roman creed was pretty nearly the same. But the statement of the preacher has, as every student of ecclesiastical history knows, no foundation whatever. This faith, given in the same syllables and letters, was, says Dr. M., delivered to the apostles by Jesus Christ. Afterwards he tells us that the two (I suppose it should be three, and that it is a mistake of the reporter; if not, it is a gross blunder of Dr. Manning's) first Gospels are records of the life of our Lord, and therefore contain no principle of faith revealed on and after the day of Pentecost: itself a monstrous proposition.

228 Dr. Manning tells us the church alone can tell us which are the genuine scriptures. Not the church of Rome: till the fourth century she would not receive the Epistle to the Hebrews, which she now, as other churches then did, receives as scripture. But this is an unfortunate subject for Rome. Pope Damasus employed Jerome to translate the scriptures, because the translation used in the churches was incorrect. He did so, and added a preface to his translation, commonly called the Vulgate, and that preface, called prologus galeatus, is habitually printed with the Roman Catholic editions of the Vulgate. This preface declares the books we call Apocrypha were not to be read as any foundation for faith, and they are not in the Hebrew; the Council of Trent declared them authentic inspired scripture like all the rest.

Nor is this all. Dr. Manning is bold enough to say that the church is the guardian and keeper of Holy Writ, which has been translated with a jealous and sacred care, and with every particle written with inspired hands. This too is an unfortunate statement. The Vulgate was so very incorrect through multiplied copying, that the Council of Trent, which declared the Vulgate to be the authentic scriptures, ordered a correct edition to be made. This being committed to the Pope, some learned men were employed. But the Pope Sixtus V changed their work so arbitrarily that the whole edition had to be suppressed, and five copies only of it remain, and what passes under the name of Sixtus V is not his, the title page being a fraud, but a revised edition published under a succeeding Pope with some 2,000 places changed. Now all this Dr. Manning knows perfectly well.

He tells us the faith was preached, and filled the world, before the New Testament was written. The whole revelation of Christ was known to the church, and preached by the church, for generations before the New Testament was written. Indeed! My good readers, shall I tell you why I do not believe this? It was those who preached it thus who wrote the books. I suppose they were of the same generation as themselves.

Dr. M. tells us pretty correctly the date of the last of them all, John the Apostle. It was full ninety years, he says, before the last was written. The last of them (the Gospels) was written, he tells us, near the end of the first century. So it is generally held, if the Apocalypse was after it, which I neither affirm nor deny here, as Rome admits its being the apostle John's, the last book of scripture which was written while an apostle was alive. That is, the list of the preachers and the list of the books closed together. And now comes the question, Are their authentic writings, or traditions of their teaching from mouth to mouth for 1800 years nearly, the surest way of having what they taught? I will suppose for a moment that what he tells us is true; that the church is the keeper and guardian of Holy Writ, and that it has been faithful. (Rome, we have seen, cannot be trusted.)

229 It cannot be denied that the New Testament, with slight exceptions, was addressed to private Christians, and Dr. Manning tells us we have it with every syllable and letter as inspired. Is not that an excellent way of knowing what these infallible inspired teachers taught, namely, to read what they say? Let not Dr. Manning tell us that what the apostles wrote to the body of Christians he can explain better than they could. I do not the least deny the use of ministry and teaching, but I suppose an inspired apostle knew how to teach what God gave to him. "He that is of God," says John, "heareth us, and he that is not of God heareth not us." "If ye continue in that which ye have heard from the beginning, ye also shall continue in the Son and in the Father." They tell us, though Dr. Manning wisely says little about it, that those who lived nearer their time must know better what they taught than we at a distance. Forgive me for thinking that a better way is to read what they wrote themselves. To scripture the apostle Paul refers the faithful when the evil days should come in, not to the church. This he declares should be as corrupt as the heathen had been, but that the word of God would then be an assured guide.

Then mark here, too, how "the church taught" is slipped in for the apostles and early inspired ministers of the faith. The church did not teach. It received the truth from inspired individuals. It is only, forgive me the word, clap-trap.

Dr. Manning is proving that the word (preached I fully admit) was before the church. If people had not believed when these inspired teachers preached and there was no interpreter at all, there would have been no church at all save the 120 who met the day of Pentecost, gathered by the same means-the inspired words of Christ and His apostles. That is, unless the word of God had been received with divine faith on the ground of inspired teaching by the operation of the Holy Ghost, without any interpreter at all, the church would never have existed. And so it is now. Preachers now, whoever they are, are not a rule of faith as an apostle's teaching was; but God may use their word, and we have inspired teaching in one way only now, the writings of the scriptures, and (speaking of the New Testament) of these inspired teachers themselves. Dr. Manning speaks of the church authenticating the scriptures. I challenge him to shew me a full list of the scriptures, or uniform lists of individuals, for 1,300 years that it existed in history. The one we get at Trent is denied by the early fathers as to the Old Testament, to say nothing of uncertainty as to the New in their opinions. I believe God has fully secured this against infidelity, but not as Dr. Manning pretends.

230 There are some things so absurd in the sermon, I must suppose error in the reporter. Thus the date of John's Gospel was somewhere about ninety: therefore there could be no scriptures for the first ninety years. Probably the preacher said or meant, that there could not be a collection of the four Gospels before. That is certain, and the argument amounts to this-the four Gospels could not be collected before the four were written. No doubt all the books, having each perfect authority in itself, the piety of Christians moved them to collect them all to profit by them all; but this added nothing to their authority. Their authority rested on the inspiration of the writers who wrote each book. I believe in the perfect wisdom of God in it as a whole; but the authority of each book rests on the inspiration of its author. If it has that, the church can add none. The authority and inspiration of the writer came from Christ and the Holy Spirit, not from the church. The reception of the testimony of their blessed witnesses came from grace, and the Holy Ghost; and so it does now, and so only. The church had its existence from this only. Church, till faith was there, there was none; and if there were such in the neighbourhood, they had no power or influence over the heathen mind to make them receive the testimony; it was always, and is, the grace of God, and the operation of His blessed Spirit.

A few more evidences of the groundless assertions of Dr. Manning I will add. Baptism contains within itself the incorporation and the records of the doctrine that sin after baptism needs to be cancelled and forgiven by the power of absolution. How so? Where is it incorporated in baptism? The Roman doctrine as to baptism is rather strange. They get forgiveness of sins when there are none, and, when there are, then it is by man's absolution and penance, if at all.

231 As regards confession, Dr. Manning says, "Whose sins ye forgive, they are forgiven. Where is the church which practises confession as inculcated by these words? Confession is not inculcated, that I see, in the words at all. The Catholic church, he assures us, never relaxed this practice, because it never lost its faith. Now confession to a priest was never made obligatory till 1215 years after Christ, in the Third Council of Lateran, under the Pope under whose auspices the Inquisition was established. History shews it was not in any way usually practised. There was public confession before the whole church, and sometimes voluntary confession to a presbyter, where a person was so disposed. At Constantinople a presbyter was appointed to receive it, if any one was disposed to make one. But a great scandal arising from a confession thus made, Chrysostom abolished it, and told people to confess to God. At first there was only confession before the whole church, obligatory when they were excommunicated and they stood as penitents. Voluntary confessions began soon to be made in private. At Rome it was only under Leo the Great, in the latter part of the fifth century, that offenders were relieved from public confession and allowed to confess to a priest. Could Dr. Manning be ignorant of all this?

Transubstantiation was decreed in the same Lateran Council, and never before, that is, in 1215. The word betrays itself. It is the expression of the adoption by the schoolmen of the heathen Aristotle's doctrine of substance and accidents, a kind of substratum of each being with qualities of colour, form, etc., attached. It was denied however by most famous doctors in the church, also of those days, as John Scotus Erigena, the great doctor of Charles the Bald's Court, by Ratramn or Bertram, and others, but established as an article of faith in the Third Council of Lateran. This is quite true, that the most magniloquent terms were used as to the Eucharist, and as to baptism too, when the idea of sacramental grace supplanted spiritual life in the church, as the apostles had predicted. A change was spoken of in the water, as well as in the elements of the Eucharist, the visible water was changed (metastoicheiountai) into a certain divine and ineffable power.

232 But transubstantiation was not the earliest doctrine even after these high views came in, but expressly that after invocation two things were there, Christ and the bread, so much so that the fact of this double state was triumphantly used by the early fathers against the Eutychians, who denied two natures in Christ. The opposite to the Romish doctrine is positively taught on this point by the earlier fathers, and I might even say Augustine, though the strongest rhetorical expressions are used as to it. And it is difficult to think Dr. Manning could be ignorant of all this.

I close my review. I should have many points to notice, were I formally discussing the whole sermon at large. I cannot be expected in a brief paper reviewing this sermon to discuss the whole circle of Romish doctrine. I have merely taken up prominent points and assertions in Dr. Manning's discourse, to shew how he must have counted on unacquaintedness with ecclesiastical history naturally found in a large mixed congregation, with what good faith my reader must determine.

I have not sought to deceive or mislead him. I believe in the very early corruption of Christianity, a corruption existing in the apostles' days, when the mystery of iniquity did already work, and all sought their own and not the things of Jesus Christ, as the apostle tells us. I do not doubt that Christ will have His body complete in spite of Satan's efforts; but the apostle has led us to expect that, when he laid the only true foundation, others would build wood and hay and stubble; and history has shewn that this took place.

That the church ever taught is a fable; apostles, prophets, teachers, did. What was taught "in the beginning" we have in their writings through the gracious care of our God.

Dr. Manning utters what seems praise to the English for their zeal as to the scriptures. I will therefore state the Romish rule as to them. The Index of prohibited books had been referred to a committee by the Council of Trent. In the last Session this was referred to the Pope, and the Pope sanctioned the rules they had laid down. The fourth rule declares that, if a person shall have presumed to read or to have a copy without the express permission of the parish priest or confessor, he cannot receive absolution till the Bible be given up; and a bookseller who sells or otherwise lets a person have one is to forfeit the value to pious uses and to undergo other penalties. The permission was to be in writing.