The Church and the Bible.

[04 1863 217] As regards the Church and the Bible three questions present themselves for consideration, which, however they may be mutually connected, are perfectly different and distinct from each other. They are:
1. The settlement of the Canon of Scripture.
2. The preservation of the Holy Scriptures to the present day.
3. Whether, when God's Word is in one's possession, it can be efficacious to the souls of believers, apart from, and even in opposition to, the voice of the Church,* as it is called.

[*Our brother, I think, means chiefly that portion of Christendom which is called Romanism, as appears from the latter part of his paper. — Ed.]

1. As to the Canon. We need for the present consider only that of the New Testament, which, being established, fixes that of the Old Testament also, in its main divisions, and very nearly its several books.

The Canon then, ultimately and really, depends upon particular and specific human testimony and not on tradition. These two things are totally different from each other. Human testimony to be effective must be original; that is to say, must report the words or acts of the original speaker or actor, and must be proved to be so, by the evidence of witnesses who may be living or dead. If living, their evidence may be oral, as in the earliest days of Christianity; if dead their evidence will be historical; but in both cases it must be circumstantial and adequately supported. Historical evidence, when relating to an event long past, must be documental or inscribed, so as to give contemporaneous testimony (or as nearly so as possible) in a comparatively immutable and permanent form, written or printed statements not being liable to fluctuation and distortion, whereas verbal statements are extremely so, especially as the channel of communication gets longer or more diffuse. Tradition and effective human testimony then are totally different things. The former is generally entirely unsupported, and always incapable of proof; the latter is specific, particular and personal (not the less so that we do not know who the persons were: many persons are, however, specified by name in the Scriptures). The former is vague, general, and opposed to other evidence; the latter, definite, circumstantial, and confirmatory. The one is a responsible and solemn asseveration before God and the world of personal and actual experience; the other a general and irresponsible negation of actual experience and the substitution for it of fable. The one, therefore, is imposition, the other truth. Tradition is indispensable, it seems, to the Church, evidence in a court of law. The Church would suspend divine truth upon the former; the world would determine what is true in human matters by means of the latter. In this the world's procedure is a moral one, the Church's an immoral one. Even popular faith differs from tradition, in exact proportion as there is evidence of its being grounded on fact. All certainty depends upon evidence, and evidence must be a personal thing. As regards the settlement of the Canon of Scripture, the Church is indebted to individuals (if indebted to man at all), and not individuals to the Church.

Now there were in existence certain writings, known upon particular and specific evidence to have been written by men used of God to do so. By far the greater proportion of these writings are addressed to persons (often to assemblies of persons) with whom the writer was acquainted. No great number of books were ever promiscuously, and as having equal claims, submitted to the judgment of men, but certain particular writings possessed peculiar and notorious claims, from the time they were received — claims which were never detached from them. The evidence for their genuineness (I allude here to the outward evidence, which itself is logically decisive; but there is likewise an inward evidence of the divine origin of Holy Scripture, which is no less, nay, even more, decisive to those who, through the grace of God, are acquainted with it) was unofficial, but reliable human — i.e. personal — testimony, originated and maintained by divine Providence; and so clear and conclusive, that, with extremely few exceptions, to know that such writings existed was almost to know which they were, since the sacred writings created their own fame, as do all the works of God. (Psalm 145:10). As to the few exceptions, the same principle was involved of letting God's Word speak for itself, i.e., letting the claims of what really was God's Word be heard alone; whereas whatever difficulties there were, were produced by the folly and wickedness of men in regard to their own writings (the Apocrypha for instance — the apostolical constitutions, besides a swarm of evidently spurious gospels), which the Church encouraged and availed herself of, but which was permitted by God to a limited extent only, though quite far enough to manifest the unfaithfulness of the Church. The settling the Canon of Scripture was, on the part of the Church, simply an official and formal recognition of already established evidence, not the discovery, still less the creation, of evidence. The Holy Scriptures were written by inspiration, they were identified (so far as man had to do with it) by ordinary but adequate human testimony.

There was no extraordinary virtue then in publicly admitting the Holy Scriptures; but, a providential necessity for doing so existing, common honesty alone was required on the part of all concerned — such honesty as is daily required and witnessed in courts of law.

2. As to the preservation of these writings, the Canon being a settled thing. I say preservation in preference to transmission, for the writings remain — generations change. We owe the Church then nothing for that, for, in the first place, divine Providence again comes in to watch over the Holy Scriptures, and rendering their destruction as a whole, or inutility, simply impossible. Witness the case of the Codex Sinaiticus, and the contrary action with respect to the Bible of different sections of the Church, such as Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. Which of these contrary actions are we to regard as the act of the Church? Again, as it was God who first gave the Church the Bible, so it was God who caused His Word to be owned as such, and who also restored it to His people, when the Church deprived them of it. Did the Church tell Wyckliffe or Tyndal to give the people the Word of God, or did they do so in spite of her opposition? Did the Pope commission Luther to preach the gospel, or was the Church against him? The fact is, individual faithfulness and energy, whether in parents or more public teachers, must never be confounded with Church action. So far, however, as the Church was concerned, she was undoubtedly responsible to God, not to destroy, corrupt, or withhold His Word, a responsibility she has not acquitted herself of over-well. The Bible, however, is the Church's charter, by which her title may he read by the world. She knows this too well not to take care of it, though, having it, she would make use of it to domineer. The Church would make her dictum more potent than facts, which happily are independent of her (such as the presence and power of the Holy Ghost, who will set the light upon a candlestick, and reliable history); whereas so potent are these facts that we can not only dispense with the Church's dictum, but, whenever necessary, act in defiance of it with great and manifest blessing.

3. As to the question whether, when God's Word is in one's possession, the sanction or authority of the Church, as to its being God's, is requisite ere it can be efficacious to one's soul. This question can be best answered by asking another. Has not God a right to speak directly, by means of His written Word, to every human soul? Is not Christ the "Word" of God, and that for every man? Did He not say, "the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day?" Yet how could it be a witness against a man, if it had never presented itself to his conscience in its true character? Is the immediate Lordship of Christ over my soul to be thrown back (i.e., denied) to make room for the intervention of aught else? True, the magistracy, for instance, is an institution of divine appointment, and in the things of Caesar we have to submit to it; but the Word of God comes to people equally with magistrates, enjoining the former to obey, whilst warning the latter that they are His servants. But blind or unlimited obedience is never enjoined; nor is unlimited power ever given to man. The things that are Caesar's form the limit of Caesar's jurisdiction, whilst spiritual guides are to be followed only as they follow and obey the Lord. "Not," says the Apostle Paul, "that we have dominion over your faith." "Endeavouring to commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." The authority of the written Word and of Christ are identical, the authority of each being absolutely that of God, and does not that word say, "So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God?" (Rom. 14:12.) Is it possible that the Word and authority of God will be more direct and personal then than now? No! it will indeed be impossible then to avoid it, but more direct or personal then than now it will not be, or judgment would be more plain and personal than grace; God's righteous hatred of sin than His love to the sinner. Judgment will exactly correspond and be commensurate with previous responsibility. The Holy Ghost is here and presses that Word, whether in result it be for life, or for judgment and eternal death, upon the individual conscience. Woe to those who would substitute the authority of the Church for that of Christ by the Word! Such is a terrible act of usurpation — the final form in which the woman will rule (Rev. 17) according to her own will. That she is ruling is true, and has been for ages; and ever have there been witnesses to the truth that her rule and that of Christ are irreconcilable with each other. Not till her authority is repudiated therefore can believers say (more emphatically than the Samaritans, for the Samaritan woman told the truth), "Now we believe, not because of thy saying, for we have heard Him ourselves and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world." Not only then is the voice, or assumed authority, of the Church out of the question, when God and His Word are before us; but the attempt to add her authority to that of God is virtually to deny what God has already done by His Word, in giving and sustaining eternal life by it, and that even in cases where the Church is opposing and opposed. "If any man desires to do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God." (John 7:17.) P.