There is this obvious, undeniable difficulty in the attempt to form a theory of Private Judgment, in the choice of a religion, that Private Judgment leads different minds in such different directions. If, indeed, there be no religious truth, or at least no sufficient means of arriving at it, then the difficulty vanishes: for where there is nothing to find, there can be no rules for seeking, and contradiction in the result is but a reductio ad absurdum of the attempt. But such a conclusion is intolerable to those who search, else they would not search; and therefore on them the obligation lies to explain, if they can, how it comes to pass, that Private Judgment is a duty, and an advantage, and a success, considering it leads the way not only to their own faith, whatever that may be, but to opinions which are diametrically opposite to it; considering it not only leads them right, but leads others wrong, landing them as it may be in the Church of Rome, or in the Wesleyan Connection, or in the Society of Friends.
Are exercises of mind, which end so diversely, one and all pleasing to the Divine Author of faith; or rather must they not contain some inherent or some incidental defect, since they manifest such divergence? Must private judgment in all cases be a good per se; or is it a good under circumstances, and with limitations? Or is it a good, only when it is not an evil? Or is it a good and evil at once, a good involving an evil? Or is it an absolute and simple evil? Questions of this sort rise in the mind on contemplating a principle which leads to more than the thirty-two points of the compass, and, in consequence, whatever we may here be able to do, in the way of giving plain rules for its exercise, be it greater or less, will be so much gain.
Now the first remark which occurs is an obvious one, and, we suppose, will be suffered to pass without much opposition, that whatever be the intrinsic merits of Private Judgment, yet, if it at all exerts itself in the direction of proselytism and conversion, a certain onus probandi lies upon it, and it must show cause why it should be tolerated, and not rather treated as a breach of the peace, and silenced instanter as a mere disturber of the existing constitution of things. Of course it may be safely exercised in defending what is established; and we are far indeed from saying that it is never to advance in the direction of change or revolution, else the Gospel itself could never have been introduced; but we consider that serious religious changes have primâ facie case against them; they have something to get over, and have to prove their admissibility, before it can reasonably be allowed; and their agents may be called upon to suffer, in order to prove their earnestness, and to pay the penalty of the trouble they are causing. Considering the special countenance given in Scripture to quiet, unanimity, and contentedness, and the warnings directed against disorder, insubordination, changeableness, discord, and division; considering the emphatic words of the Apostle, laid down by him as a general principle, and illustrated in detail, “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called”; considering, in a word, that change is really the characteristic of error, and unalterableness the attribute of truth, of holiness, of Almighty God Him self, we consider that when Private Judgment moves in the direction of innovation, it may well be regarded at first with suspicion and treated with severity. Nay, we confess even a satisfaction, when a penalty is attached to the expression of new doctrines, or to a change of communion. We repeat it, if any men have strong feelings, they should pay for them; if they think it a duty to unsettle things established, they show their earnestness by being willing to suffer. We shall be the last to complain of this kind of persecution, even though directed against what we consider the cause of truth. Such disadvantages do no harm to that cause in the event, but they bring home to a man’s mind his own responsibility; they are a memento to him of a great moral law, and warn him that his private judgment, if not a duty, is a sin.
An act of private judgment is, in its very idea, an act of individual responsibility; this is a consideration which will come with especial force on a conscientious mind, when it is to have so fearful an issue as a change of religion. A religious man will say to himself, “If I am in error at present, I am in error by a disposition of Providence, which has placed me where I am; if I change into an error, this is my own act. It is much less fearful to be born at disadvantage, than to place myself at disadvantage.”
And if the voice of men in general is to weigh at all in a matter of this kind, it does but corroborate these instinctive feelings. A convert is undeniably in favor with no party; he is looked at with distrust, contempt, and aversion by all. His former friends think him a good riddance, and his new friends are cold and strange; and as to the impartial public, their very first impulse is to impute the change to some eccentricity of character, or fickleness of mind, or tender attachment, or private interest. Their utmost praise is the reluctant confession that “doubtless he is very sincere.” Churchmen and Dissenters, men of Rome and men of the Kirk, are equally subject to this remark. Not on extraordinary occasions only, but as a matter of course, whenever the news of a conversion to Romanism, or to Irvingism, or to the Plymouth Sect, or to Unitarianism, is brought to us, we say, one and all of us: “No wonder, such a one has lived so long abroad”; or, “he is of such a very imaginative turn”; or, “he is so excitable and odd”; or, “what could he do? all his family turned”; or, “it was a reaction in consequence of an injudicious education”; or, “trade makes men cold,” or “a little learning makes them shallow in their religion.” If, then, the common voice of mankind goes for any thing, must we not consider it to be the rule that men change their religion, not on reason, but for some extra-rational feeling or motive? else, the world would not so speak.
Now, for ourselves, we are not quarrelling with this testimony, – we are willing to resign ourselves to it; but we think there are parties whom it concerns much to ponder it. Surely it is a strong, and, as they ought to feel, an alarming proof, that, for all the haranguing and protesting which goes on in Exeter and other halls, this great people is not such a conscientious supporter of the sacred right of Private Judgment as a good Protestant would desire. Why should we go out of our way, one and all of us, to impute personal motives in explanation of the conversion of every individual convert, as he comes before us, if there were in us, the public, an adhesion to that absolute, and universal, and unalienable principle, as its titles are set forth in heraldic style, high and broad, sacred and awful, the right, and the duty, and the possibility of Private Judgment? Why should we confess it in the general, yet promptly and pointedly deny it in every particular, if our hearts retained more than the “magni nominis umbra,” when we preached up the Protestant principle? Is it not sheer wantonness and cruelty in Baptist, Independent, Irvingite, Wesleyan, Establishment-man, Jumper, and Mormonite, to delight in trampling on and crushing these manifestations of their own pure and precious charter, instead of dutifully and reverently exalting, at Bethel, or at Dan, each instance of it, as it occurs, to the gaze of its professing votaries? If a staunch Protestant’s daughter turns Roman, and betakes herself to a convent, why does he not exult in the occurrence? Why does he not give a public breakfast, or hold a meeting, or erect a memorial, or write a pamphlet in honor of her, and of the great undying principle she has so gloriously vindicated? Why is he in this base, disloyal style, muttering about priests, and Jesuits, and the horrors of nunneries, in solution of the phenomenon, when he has the fair and ample form of Private Judgment rising before his eyes, and pleading with him, and bidding him impute good motives, not bad, and in very charity ascribe to the influence of a high and holy principle, to a right and a duty of every member of the family of man, what his poor human instincts are fain to set down as a folly or a sin. All this would lead us to suspect that the doctrine of private judgment, in its simplicity, purity, and integrity, – private judgment, all private judgment, and nothing but private judgment, – is held by very few persons indeed; and that the great mass of the population are either stark unbelievers in it, or deplorably dark about it; and that even the minority who are in a manner faithful to it, have glossed and corrupted the true sense of it by a miserably faulty reading, and hold, not the right of private judgment, but the private right of judgment; in other words, their own private right, and no one’s else. To us it seems as clear as day, that they consider that they themselves, indeed, individually can and do act on reason, and on nothing but reason; that they have the gift of advancing, without bias or unsteadiness, throughout their search, from premise to conclusion, from text to doctrine; that they have sought aright, and no one else, who does not agree with them; that they alone have found out the art of putting the salt upon the bird’s tail, and have rescued themselves from being the slaves of circumstance and the creatures of impulse. It is undeniable, then, if the popular feeling is to be our guide, that, high and mighty as the principle of private judgment is in religious inquiries, as we most fully grant it is, still it bears some similarity to Saul’s armor which David rejected, or to edged tools which have a bad trick of chopping at our fingers, when we are but simply and innocently meaning them to make a dash forward at truth.
Any tolerably serious man will feel this in his own case more vividly than in that of any one else. Who can know ever so little of himself without suspecting all kinds of imperfect and wrong motives in everything he attempts? And then there is the bias of education and of habit; and, added to the difficulties thence resulting, those which arise from weakness of the reasoning faculty; ignorance or imperfect knowledge of the original languages of Scripture, and again, of history and antiquity. These things being considered, we lay it down as a truth, about which, we think, few ought to doubt, that Divine aid alone can carry any one safely and successfully through an inquiry after religious truth. That there are certain very broad contrasts between one religion and another, in which no one would be at fault what to think and what to choose, is very certain; but the problem proposed to private judgment at this day, is of a rather more complicated nature. Taking things as they are, we all seem to be in Solomon’s case, when he said, “I am but a little child; I know not how to go out or come in; and Thy servant is in the midst of a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude. Give, therefore, Thy servant an understanding heart, that I may discern between good and bad.” It is useless, surely, attempting to inquire or judge, unless a Divine command enjoin the work upon us, and a Divine promise sustain us through it. Supposing, indeed, such a command and promise be given, then, of course, there is no difficulty in the matter. Whatever be our personal infirmities, He whom we serve can overrule or supersede them. An act of duty must always be right; and will be accepted, whatever be its success, because done in obedience to His will. And he can bless the most unpromising circumstances; He can even lead us forward by means of our mistakes; He can turn our mistakes into a revelation; He can convert us, if He will, through the very obstinacy, or self-will, or superstition, which mixes itself up with our better feelings, and defiles, yet is sanctified by our sincerity. And much more can He shed upon our path supernatural light, if He so will, and give us an insight into the meaning of Scripture, and a hold of the sense of Antiquity, to which our own unaided powers never could have attained.
All this is certain: He continually leads us forward in the midst of darkness; and we live, not by bread only, but by His Word converting the hard rock or salt sea into nourishment. The simple question is, has He, in this particular case, commanded? has He promised? and how far? If He has, and as far as He has, all is easy; if He has not, all is, we will not say, impossible, but what is worse, undutiful or presumptuous. Our business is to ask with Saint Paul, when arrested in the midst of his frenzy, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” This is the simple question. He can bless our present state; He can bless our change; which is it His will to bless? If Wesleyan or Independent has come over to us apart from this spirit, we do not much pride ourselves in our convert. If he joins us because he thinks he has a right to judge for himself, or because forms are of no consequence, or merely because sectarianism has its errors and inconveniences, or because an Established Church is an efficacious means of spreading religion, he plainly thinks that the choice of a communion is not a more serious matter than the choice of a neighborhood or of an insurance office. In like manner, if members of our communion have left it for Rome, because of the æsthetic beauty of the latter, and the grandeur of its pretensions, we are grieved, but, good luck to them, we can spare them. And if Roman Catholics join us or our “Dissenting brethren,” because their own Church is behind the age, insists on Aristotelic dogmas, and interferes with liberty of thought, such a conversion is no triumph over popery, but over Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Our only safety lies in obedience; our only comfort in keeping it in view.
If this be so, we have arrived at the following conclusion: that it is our duty to betake ourselves to Scripture, and to observe how far the private search of a religion is there sanctioned, and under what circumstances. This then is the next point which comes under consideration.
Now the first and most ordinary kind of Private Judgment, if it deserves the name, which is recognized in Scripture, is that in which we engage without conscious or deliberate purpose. While Lydia heard Saint Paul preach, her heart was opened. She had it not in mind to exercise any supposed sacred right, she was not setting about the choice of a religion, but she was drawn on to accept the Gospel by a moral persuasion. “To him that hath more shall be given,” not in the way of judging or choosing, but by an inward development met by external disclosures. Lydia’s instance is the type of a multitude of cases, differing very much from each other, some divinely ordered, others merely human, some which would commonly be called cases of private judgment, and others which certainly would not, but all agreeing in this, that the judgment exercised is not recognized and realized by the party exercising it, as the subject-matter of command, promise, duty, privilege, or any thing else. It is but the spontaneous stirring of the affections within, or the passive acceptance of what is offered from without. Saint Paul baptized Lydia’s household also; it would seem then that he baptized servants or slaves, who had very little power of judging between a true religion and a false; shall we say that they, like their mistress, accepted the Gospel on private judgment or not? Did the thousands baptized in national conversions exercise their private judgment or not? Do children when taught their catechism? Most persons will reply in the negative: yet it will be difficult to separate their case in principle from what Lydia’s may have been; that is, the case of religious persons who are advancing forward into the truth – how, they know not. Neither the one class nor the other have undertaken to inquire and judge, or have set about being converted, or have got their reasons all before them and together, to discharge at an enemy or passer-by on fit occasions. The difference between these two classes is in the state of their hearts; the one party consist of unformed minds, or senseless and dead, or minds under temporary excitement, who are brought over by external or accidental influences, without any real sympathy for the religion, which is taught them in order that they may learn sympathy with it, and who, as time goes on, fall away again if they are not happy enough to become imbued with it; and in the other party there is already a sympathy between the external Word and the heart within. The one are proselytized by force, authority, or their mere feelings, the others through their habitual and abiding frame of mind and cast of opinion. But neither can be said, in the ordinary sense of the word, to inquire, reason, and decide about religion. And yet in a great number of these cases, – certainly where the persons in question are come to years of discretion and show themselves consistent in their religious profession afterward, – they would be commonly set forth by Protestant minds as instances of the due exercise of the right of private judgment.
Such are the greater number perhaps of converts at this day, in whatever direction their conversion lies; and their so-called exercise of private judgment is neither right nor wrong in itself, it is a spontaneous act which they do not think about; if it is any thing, it is but a means of bringing out their moral characteristics one way or the other. Often, as in the case of very illiterate and unreflecting persons, it proves nothing either way; but in those who are not so, it is right or wrong, as their hearts are right or wrong; it is an exercise not of reason but of heart. Take, for instance, the case of a servant in a family; she is baptized and educated in the Church of England, and is religiously disposed; she goes into Scotland and conforms to the Kirk, to which her master and mistress belong. She is of course responsible for what she does, but no one would say that she had formed any purpose, or taken any deliberate step. In course of time, when perhaps taxed with the change, she would say in her defence that outward forms matter not, and that there are good men in Scotland as well as in England; but this is an after-thought. Again, a careless person, nominally a Churchman, falls among serious-minded Dissenters, and they reclaim him from vice or irreligion; on this he joins their communion, and as time goes on, boasts perhaps of his right of private judgment. At the time itself, however, no process of inquiry took place within him at all; his heart was “opened,” whether for good or for bad, whether by good influences or by good and bad mixed. He was not conscious of convincing reasons, but he took what came to hand, he embraced what was offered, he felt and he acted. Again, a man is brought up among Unitarians, or in the frigid and worldly school which got a footing in the Church during last century, and has been accustomed to view religion as a matter of reason and form, of obligation, to the exclusion of affectionateness and devotion. He falls among persons of what is called an Evangelical cast, and finds his heart interested, and great objects set before it. Such a man falls in with the sentiments he finds, rather than adopts them. He follows the leadings of his heart, perhaps of Divine grace, but certainly not any course of inquiry and proof. There is nothing of argument, discussion, or choice in the process of his conversion. He has no systems to choose between, and no grounds to scrutinize.
Now, in all such cases, the sort of private judgment exercised is right or wrong, not as private judgment, but according to its circumstances. It is either the attraction of a Divine Influence, such as the mind cannot master, or it is a suggestion of reason, which the mind has yet to analyze, before it can bring it to the test of logic. If it is the former, it is above a private judgment, popularly so-called; if the latter, it is not yet so much as one.
A second class of conversions on private judgment consists of those which take place upon the sight or the strong testimony of miracles. Such was the instance of Rahab, of Naaman, if he may be called a convert, and of Nebuchadnezzar; of the blind man in John ix, of Saint Paul, of Cornelius, of Sergius Paulus, and many others. Here again the act of judgment is of a very peculiar character. It is not exactly an unconscious act, but yet it is hardly an act of judgment. Our belief in external sensible facts cannot properly be called an act of private judgment; yet since Protestants, we suppose, would say that the blind man or Sergius Paulus were converted on private judgment, let it even so be called, though it is of a very particular kind. Again, conviction after a miracle also implies the latent belief that such acts are signs of the Divine Presence, a belief which may be as generally recognized and maintained, and is as little a peculiar or private feeling as the impression on the senses of the miracle itself. And this leads to the mention of a further instance of the sort of private judgments to which men are invited in Scripture, viz., the exercise of the moral sense. Our Creator has stamped certain great truths upon our minds, and there they remain in spite of the fall. Saint Paul appeals to one of these at Lystra, calling on the worshippers of idols to turn from these vanities unto the Living God; and at Athens, “not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone graven by art and man’s device,” but to worship “God who made the world and all things therein.” In the same tone he reminds the Thessalonians of their having “turned to God from idols to serve the Living and True God.” In like manner, doubtless, other great principles also of religion and morals are rooted in the minds so deeply, that their denial by any religion would be a justification of our quitting or rejecting it. If a pagan found his ecclesiastical polity essentially founded on lying and cheating, or his ritual essentially impure, or his moral code essentially unjust or cruel, we conceive this would be a sufficient reason for his renouncing it for one which was free from these hateful characteristics. Such again is the kind of private judgment exercised, when maxims of principles, generally admitted by bodies of men, are acted upon by individuals who have been ever taught them, as a matter of course, without questioning them; for instance, if a member of the English Church, who had always been taught that preaching is the great ordinance of the Gospel, to the disparagement of the Sacraments, thereupon placed himself under the ministry of a powerful Wesleyan preacher; or if, from the common belief that nothing is essential but what is on the surface of Scripture, he forthwith attached himself to the Baptists, Independents, or Unitarians. Such men indeed often take their line in consequence of some inward liking for the religious system they adopt; but we are speaking of their proceeding as far as it professes to be an act of judgment.
A third class of private judgments recorded in Scripture are those which are exercised at one and the same time by a great number; if it be not a contradiction to call such judgments private. Yet here again we suppose staunch Protestants would maintain that the three thousand at Pentecost, and the five thousand after the miracle on the lame man, and the “great company of the priests,” which shortly followed, did avail themselves, and do afford specimens, of the sacred right in question; therefore let it be ruled so. Such, then, is the case of national conversions to which we have already alluded. Again, if the Lutheran Church of Germany with its many theologians, or our neighbor the Kirk, – General Assembly, Men of Strathbogie, Dr. Chalmers, and all, – came to a unanimous or quasi-unanimous resolve to submit to the Archbishop of Canterbury as their patriarch, this doubtless would be an exercise of private judgment perfectly defensible on Scripture precedents.
Now, before proceeding, let us observe, that as yet nothing has been found in Scripture to justify the cases of private judgment which are exemplified in the popular religious biographies of the day. These generally contain instances of conversions made on the judgment, definite, deliberate, independent, isolated, of the parties converted. The converts in these stories had not seen miracles, nor had they developed their own existing principles or beliefs, nor had they changed their religion in company with others, nor had they received new truths, they knew not how. Let us then turn to Scripture a second time, to see whether we can gain thence any clearer sanction of Private Judgment as now exercised among us, than our search into Scripture has hitherto furnished.
There certainly is another method of conversion upon private judgment described in Scripture, which is much more to our purpose, viz., by means of the study of Scripture itself. Thus our Lord says to the Jews, “Search the Scriptures”; and the treasurer of Candace was reading the book of Isaiah when Saint Philip met him; and the men of Berea are said to be “more noble than those of Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” And it is added, “therefore many of them believed.” Here at length, it will be said, is a precedent for such acts of private judgment as are most frequently recommended and instanced in religious tales; and indeed these texts commonly are understood to make it certain beyond dispute, that individuals ordinarily may find out the doctrines of the Gospel for themselves from the private study of Scripture. A little consideration, however, will convince us that even these are precedents for something else, that they sanction, not an inquiry about Gospel doctrine, but about the Gospel teacher; not what has God revealed, but whom has He commissioned? And this is a very different thing.
The context of the passage in which our Lord speaks of searching the Scriptures, shows plainly that their office is that of leading, not to a knowledge of the Gospel, but of Himself, its Author and Teacher. “Whom He hath sent,” He says, “Him ye believe not. Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of Me.” He adds, that they “will not come unto Him, that they may have life,” and that “He is come in His Father’s name, and they receive Him not.” And again, “Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me, for he wrote of Me.” It is plain that in this passage our Lord does not send His hearers to the Old Testament to gain thence the knowledge of the doctrines of the Gospel by means of their private judgment, but to gain tests or notes by which to find out and receive Him who was the teacher of those doctrines; and, though the treasurer of Candace appears in the narrative to be contemplating our Lord in prophecy, not as the teacher but the object of the Christian faith, yet still in confessing that he could not “understand” what he was reading, “unless some man should guide him,” he lays down the principle broadly, which we desire here to maintain, that the private study of Scripture is not intended ordinarily as the means of getting a knowledge of the Gospel. In like manner, Saint Peter, on the day of Pentecost, refers to the book of Joel, by way of proving thence, not the Christian doctrine, but the divine promise that new teachers were to be sent in due season, and the fact that it was fulfilled in himself and his brethren. “This is that,” he says, “which was spoken by the prophet Joel, I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.”
While, then, the conversions recorded in Scripture are brought about in a very marked way through a teacher, and not by means of private judgment, so again, if an appeal is made to private judgment, this is done in order to settle who the teacher is, and what are his notes or tokens, rather than to substantiate this or that religious opinion or practice. And if such instances bear upon our conduct at this day, as it is natural to think they do, then of course the practical question before us is, who is the teacher now, from whose mouth are we to seek the law, and what are his notes?
Now, in remarkable coincidence with this view, we find in both Testaments that teachers are promised under the dispensation of the Gospel, so that they who, like the noble Bereans, search the Scriptures daily will be at little loss whither their private judgment should lead them in order to gain the knowledge of the truth. In the book of Isaiah we have the following express promises: “Though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the waters of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers, and thine ears shall hear a voice behind thee, saying, This is the way,” etc. Several tests follow descriptive of the condition of things or the circumstances in which these teachers are to be found. First, the absence of idolatry: “Ye shall defile also the covering of thy graven images of silver, and the ornaments of thy molten images of gold”; and next the multitude of fellow-believers: “Then shall He give the rain of thy seed, that thou shalt sow the ground withal; in that day shall thy cattle feed in large pastures.” Elsewhere the appointed teacher is noted as speaking with authority and judicially, as: “Every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.” And here again the promises or tests of extent and perpetuity appear: “Thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left, and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles”; and “My kindness shall not depart from them, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed.” Elsewhere holiness is mentioned: “It shall be called, The way of holiness, the unclean shall not pass over it.” One more promise shall be cited: “My Spirit that is upon thee, and My words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed … from henceforth and for ever.”
In the New Testament we have the same promises stated far more concisely indeed, but, what is much more apposite than a longer description, with the addition of the name of our promised teacher: “The Church of the living God,” says Saint Paul, “the pillar and ground of the truth.” The simple question then for Private Judgment to exercise itself upon is, what and where is the Church?
Now let it be observed how exactly this view of the province of Private Judgment, where it is allowable, as being the discovery not of doctrine, but of the teacher of doctrine, harmonizes both with the nature of Religion and the state of human society as we find it. Religion is for practice, and that immediate. Now it is much easier to form a correct and rapid judgment of persons than of books or of doctrines. Every one, even a child, has an impression about new faces; few persons have any real view about new propositions. There is something in the sight of persons or of bodies of men, which speaks to us for approval or disapprobation with a distinctness to which pen and ink are unequal. This is just the kind of evidence which is needed for use, in cases in which private judgment is divinely intended to be the means of our conversion. The multitude have neither the time, the patience, nor the clearness and exactness of thought, for processes of investigation and deduction. Reason is slow and abstract, cold and speculative; but man is a being of feeling and action; he is not resolvable into a dictum de omni et nullo, or a series of hypotheticals, or a critical diatribe, or an algebraical equation. And this obvious fact does, as far as it goes, make it probable that, if we are providentially obliged to exercise our private judgment, the point toward which we have to direct it, is the teacher rather than the doctrine.
In corroboration, it may be observed, that Scripture seems always to imply the presence of teachers as the appointed ordinance by which men learn the truth; and is principally engaged in giving cautions against false teachers, and tests for ascertaining the true. Thus our Lord bids us “beware of false prophets,” not of false books; and look to their fruits. And He says elsewhere that “the sheep know His voice,” and that “they know not the voice of strangers.” And He predicts false Christs, and false prophets, who are to be nearly successful against even the elect. He does not give us tests of false doctrines, but of certain visible peculiarities or notes applicable to persons or parties. “If they shall say, Behold, he is in the desert, go not forth; behold, he is in the secret chamber, believe it not.” Saint Paul insists on tokens of a similar kind: “Mark them which cause divisions, and avoid them”; “is Christ divided?” “beware of dogs, beware of evil workers”; “be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so, as ye have us for an ensample.” Thus the New Testament equally with the Old, as far as it speaks of private examination into teaching professedly from heaven, makes the teacher the subject of that inquiry, and not the thing taught; it bids us ask for his credentials, and avoid him if he is unholy, or idolatrous, or schismatical, or if he comes in his own name, or if he claims no authority, or is the growth of a particular spot or of particular circumstances.
If there are passages which at first sight seem to interfere with this statement, they admit of an easy explanation. Either they will be found to appeal to those instinctive feelings of our nature already spoken of which supersede argument and proof in the judgments we form of persons or bodies; as in Saint Paul’s reference to the idolatry of Athenian worship, or to the extreme moral corruption of heathenism generally. Or, again, the criterion of doctrine which they propose to the private judgment of the individual turns upon the question of its novelty or previous reception. When Saint Paul would describe a false gospel, he calls it another gospel “than that ye have received”; and Saint John bids us “try the spirits,” gives us as the test of truth and error the “confessing that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh,” and warns us against receiving into our houses any one who “brings not this doctrine.” We conceive then that, on the whole, the notion of gaining religious truth for ourselves by our private examination, whether by reading or thinking, whether by studying Scripture or other books, has no broad sanction in Scripture, is neither impressed upon us by its general tone, nor enjoined in any of its commands. The great question which it puts before us for the exercise of private judgment is, – Who is God’s prophet, and where? Who is to be considered the voice of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church?
Having carried our train of thought as far as this, it is time for us to proceed to the thesis in which it will be found to issue, viz., that, on the principles that have been laid down, Dissenters ought to abandon their own communion, but that members of the English Church ought not to abandon theirs. Such a position has often been treated as a paradox and inconsistency; yet we hope to be able to recommend it favorably to the reader.
Now that seceders, sectarians, independent thinkers, and the like, by whatever name they call themselves, whether “Wesleyans,” “Dissenters,” “professors of the national religion,” “well-wishers of the Church,” or even “Churchmen,” are in grievous error, in their mode of exercising their private judgment, is plain as soon as stated, viz., because they do not use it in looking out for a teacher at all. They who think they have, in consequence of their inquiries, found the teacher of truth, may be wrong in the result they have arrived at; but those who despise the notion of a teacher altogether, are already wrong before they begin them. They do not start with their private judgment in that one special direction which Scripture allows or requires. Scripture speaks of a certain pillar or ground of truth, as set up to the world, and describes it by certain characteristics; dissenting teachers and bodies, so far from professing to be themselves this authority, or to contain among them this authority, assert there is no such authority to be found anywhere. When, then, we deny that they are the Church in our meaning of the word, they ought to take no offence at it, for we are not denying them any thing to which they lay claim; we are but denying them what they already put away from themselves as much as we can. They must not act like the dog in the fable (if it be not too light a comparison), who would neither use the manger himself, nor relinquish it to others; let them not grudge to others a manifest Scriptural privilege which they disown themselves. Is an ordinance of Scripture to be fulfilled nowhere, because it is not fulfilled in them? By the Church we mean what Scripture means, “the pillar and ground of the truth”; a power out of whose mouth the Word and the Spirit are never to fail, and whom whoso refuses to hear becomes thereupon to all his brethren a heathen man and a publican. Let the parties in question accept the Scripture definition, or else not resume the Scripture name; or, rather, let them seek elsewhere what they are conscious is not among themselves. We hear much of Bible Christians, Bible religion, Bible preaching; it would be well if we heard a little of the Bible Church also; we venture to say that Dissenting Churches would vanish thereupon at once, for, since it is their fundamental principle that they are not a pillar or ground of truth, but voluntary societies, without authority and without gifts, the Bible Church they cannot be. If the serious persons who are in dissent would really imitate the simple-minded Ethiopian, or the noble Bereans, let them ask themselves: “Of whom speaketh” the Apostle, or the Prophet, such great things? – Where is the “pillar and ground”? – Who is it that is appointed to lead us to Christ? – Where are those teachers which were never to be removed into a corner any more, but which were ever to be before our eyes and in our ears? Whoever is right, or whoever is wrong, they cannot be right who profess not to have found, not to look out for, not to believe in, that Ordinance to which Apostles and Prophets give their testimony. So much then for the Protestant side of the thesis.
One half of it then is easily disposed of; but now we come to the other side of it, the Roman, which certainly has its intricacies. It is not difficult to know how we should act toward a religious body which does not even profess to come to us in the name of the Lord, or to be a pillar and ground of the truth; but what shall we say when more than one society, or school, or party, lay claim to be the heaven-sent teacher, and are rivals one to the other, as are the Churches of England and Rome at this day? How shall we discriminate between them? Which are we to follow? Are tests given us for that purpose? Now if tests are given us, we must use them; but if not, and so far as not, we must conclude that Providence foresaw that the difference between them would never be so great as to require of us to leave the one for the other.
However, it is certain that much is said in Scripture about rival teachers, and that at least some of these rivals are so opposed to each other, that tests are given us, in order to our shunning the one party, and accepting the other. In such cases, the one teacher is represented to be the minister of God, and the other the child and organ of evil. The one comes in God’s name, the other professes to come simply in his own name. Such a contrast is presented to us in the conflict between Moses and the magicians of Egypt; all is light on the one side, all darkness on the other. Or again, in the trial between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. There is no doubt, in such a case, that it would be our imperative duty at once to leave the teaching of Satan, and betake ourselves to the Law and the Prophets. And it will be observed that, to assist inquirers in doing so, the representatives of Almighty God have been enabled, in their contests with the enemy, to work miracles, as Moses was, for instance, and Elijah, in order to make it clear which way the true teaching lay.
But now will any one say that the contrast between the English and the Roman, or again, the Greek, Churches, is of this nature? – is any of the three a “monstrum nullâ virtute redemptum”? Moreover, the magicians and the priests of Baal “came in their own name”; is that the case with the Church, English, Roman, or Greek? Is it not certain, even at first sight, that each of these branches has many high gifts and much grace in her communion. And, at any rate, as regards our controversy with Rome, if her champions would maintain that the Church of England is the false prophet, and she the true one, then let her work miracles as Moses did in the presence of the magicians, in order to our conviction.
Probably, however, it will be admitted that the contrast between England and Rome is not of that nature; for the English Church confessedly does not come in her own name, nor can she reasonably be compared to the Egyptian magicians or the prophets of Baal; is there any other type in Scripture into which the difference between her and the Church of Rome can be resolved? We shall be referred, perhaps, to the case of the false prophets of Israel and Judah, who professed to come in the name of the Lord, yet did not preach the truth, and had no part or inheritance with God’s prophets. This parallel is not happier than the former, for a test was given to distinguish between them, which does not decide between the Church of Rome and ourselves. This test is the divine accomplishment of the prophet’s message, or the divine blessing upon his teaching, or the eventual success of his work, as it may be variously stated; a test under which neither Church, Roman or Anglican, will fail, and neither is eminently the foremost. Each Church has had to endure trial, each has overcome it; each has triumphed over enemies; each has had continued signs of the divine favor upon it. The passages in Scripture to which we refer are such as the following: Moses, for instance, has laid it down in the Book of Deuteronomy, that, “when a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously.” To the same effect, in the Book of Ezekiel, the denunciation against the false prophet is: “Lo! when the wall is fallen, shall it not be said unto you, where is the daubing wherewith ye have daubed it?” And Gamaliel’s advice to “refrain from these men, and let them alone, for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought,” may be taken as an illustration of the same rule of judgment. Hence Roman Catholics themselves are accustomed to consider, that eventual failure is the sure destiny of heresy and schism; what then will they say to us? The English Church has remained in its present state three hundred years, and at the end of the time is stronger than at the beginning. This does not look like an heretical or schismatical Church. However, when she does fall to pieces, then, it may be admitted, her children will have a reason for deserting her; till then, she has no symptom of being akin to the false prophets who professed the Lord’s name, and deceived the simple and unlearned; she has no symptom of being a traitor to the faith.
However, there is a third type of rival teaching mentioned in Scripture, under which the dissension between Rome and England may be considered to fall, and which it may be well to notice. Let it be observed, then, that even in the Apostles’ age very grave outward differences seem to have existed between Christian teachers – that is, the organs of the one Church; and yet those differences were not, in consequence, any call upon inquirers and beholders to quit one teacher and betake themselves to another. The state of the Corinthian Christians will exemplify what we mean: Paul, Cephas, and Apollos were all friends together, yet parties were formed round each separately, which disagreed with each other, and made the Apostles themselves seem in disagreement. Is not this, at least in great measure, the state of the Churches of England and Rome? Are they not one in faith, so far forth as they are viewed in their essential apostolical character? are they not in discord, so far as their respective children and disciples have overlaid them with errors of their own individual minds? It was a great fault, doubtless, that the followers of Saint Paul should have divided from the followers of Saint Peter, but would it have mended matters, had any individuals among them gone over to Saint Peter? Was that the fitting remedy for the evil? Was not the remedy that of their putting aside partisanship altogether, and regarding Saint Paul “not after the flesh,” but simply as “the minister by whom they believed,” the visible representative of the undivided Christ, the one Catholic Church? And, in like manner, surely if party feelings and interests have separated us from the members of the Roman communion, this does not prove that our Church itself is divided from theirs, any more than that Saint Paul was divided from Saint Peter, nor is it our duty to leave our place and join them; – nothing would be gained by so unnecessary a step; – but our duty is, remaining where we are, to recognize in our own Church, not an establishment, not a party, not a mere Protestant denomination, but the Holy Church Catholic which the traditions of men have partially obscured, – to rid it of these traditions, to try to soften bitterness and animosity of feeling, and to repress party spirit and promote peace as much as in us lies. Moreover, let it be observed, that Saint Paul was evidently superior in gifts to Apollos, yet this did not justify Christians attaching themselves to the former rather than the latter; for, as the Apostle says, they both were but ministers of one and the same Lord, and nothing more. Comparison, then, is not allowed us between teacher and teacher, where each has on the whole the notes of a divine mission; so that even could the Church of Rome be proved superior to our own (which we put merely as an hypothesis, and for argument’s sake), this would as little warrant our attaching ourselves to it instead of our own Church, as there was warrant for one of the converts of Apollos to call himself by the name of Paul. Further, let it be observed, that the apostle reproves those who attached themselves to Saint Peter equally with the Paulines or with the disciples of Apollos; is it possible he could have done so, were Saint Peter the head and essence of the Church in a sense in which Saint Paul was not? And, again, there was an occasion when not only their followers were at variance, but the Apostles themselves; we refer to the dissimulation of Saint Peter at Antioch, and the resistance of Saint Paul to it: was this a reason why Saint Peter’s disciples should go over to Saint Paul, or rather why they should correct their dissimulation?
We are surely bound to prosecute this search after the promised Teacher of truth entirely as a practical matter, with reference to our duty and nothing else. The simple question which we have to ask ourselves is, Has the English Church sufficiently upon her the signs of an Apostle? is she the divinely-appointed teacher to us? If so, we need not go further; we have no reason to break through the divine rule of “being content with such things as we have”; we have no warrant to compare our own prophet with the prophet given to others. Nor can we: tests are not given us for the purpose. We may believe that our own Church has certain imperfections; the Church of Rome certain corruptions: such a belief has no tendency to lead us to any determinate judgment as to which of the two on the whole is the better, or to induce or warrant us to leave the one communion for the other.
One point remains, however, which is so often felt as a difficulty by members of our Church that we are tempted to say a few words upon it in conclusion, and to try to show what is the true practical mode of meeting it. And this perhaps will give us an opportunity of expressing our general meaning in a more definite and intelligible form.
It cannot be denied, then, that a very plausible ground of attack may be taken up against the Church of England, from the circumstance that she is separated from the rest of Christendom; and just such a ground as it would be allowable for private judgment to rest and act upon, supposing its office to be what we have described it to be. “As to the particular doctrines of Anglicanism, (it may be urged,) Scripture may, if so be, supply private judgment with little grounds for quarrelling with them; but what can be said to explain away the note of forfeiture, which attaches to us in consequence of our isolated state? We are, in fact, (it may be objected,) cut off from the whole of the Christian world; nay, far from denying that excommunication, in a certain sense we glory in it, and that under a notion, that we are so very pure that it must soil our fingers to touch any other Church whatever upon the earth, in north, east, or south. How is this reconcilable with Saint Paul’s clear announcement that there is but one body as well as one spirit? or with our Lord’s, that ‘by this shall all men know,’ as by a note obvious to the intelligence even of the illiterate and unreasoning, ‘that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another’? or again, with His prayer that His disciples might all be one, ‘that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them as Thou hast loved Me’? Visible unity, then, would seem to be both the main evidence for Christianity, and the sign of our own participation in its benefits; whereas we English despise the Greeks and hate the Romans, turn our backs on the Scotch Episcopalians, and do but smile distantly upon our American cousins. We throw ourselves into the arms of the State, and in that close embrace forget that the Church was meant to be Catholic; or we call ourselves the Catholics, and the mere Church of England our Catholic Church; as if, forsooth, by thus confining it all to ourselves, we did not ipso facto all claim to be considered Catholics at all.”
What increases the force of this argument is, that Saint Augustine seems, at least at first sight, virtually to urge it against us in his controversy with the Donatists, whom he represents as condemned, simply because separate from the “orbis terrarum,” and styles the point in question “quæstio facillima,” and calls on individual Donatists to decide it by their private judgment.
Now this is an objection which we must honestly say is deeply felt by many people, and not inconsiderable ones; and the more it is openly avowed to be a difficulty the better; for then there is the chance of its being acknowledged, and in the course of time obviated, as far as may be, by those who have the power. Flagrant evils cure themselves by being flagrant; and we are sanguine that the time is come when so great an evil as this is, cannot stand its ground against the good feeling and common-sense of religious persons. It is the very strength of Romanism against us; and, unless the proper persons take it into their very serious consideration, they may look for certain to undergo the loss, as time goes on, of some whom they would least like to be lost to our Church. If private judgment can be exercised on any point, it is on a matter of the senses; now our eyes and our ears are filled with the abuse poured out by members of our Church on her sister Churches in foreign lands. It is not that their corrupt practices are gravely and tenderly pointed out, as may be done by men who feel themselves also to be sinful and ignorant, and know that they have their own great imperfections, which their brethren abroad have not, – but we are apt not to acknowledge them as brethren at all; we treat them in an arrogant John Bull way, as mere Frenchmen, or Spaniards, or Austrians, not as Christians. We act as if we could do without brethren; as if our having brethren all over the world were not the very tenure on which we are Christians at all; as if we did not cease to be Christians, if at any time we ceased to have brethren. Or again, when our thoughts turn to the East, instead of recollecting that there are sister Churches there, we leave it to the Russians to take care of the Greeks, and to the French to take care of the Romans and we content ourselves with erecting a Protestant Church at Jerusalem, or with helping the Jews to rebuild their temple there, or with becoming the august protectors of Nestorians, Monophysites, and all the heretics we can hear of, or with forming a league with the Mussulman against Greeks and Romans together. Can any one doubt that the British power is not considered a Church power by any country whatever into which it comes? and if so, is it possible that the English Church, which is so closely connected with that power, can be said in any true sense to exert a Catholic influence, or to deserve the Catholic name? How can any Church be called Catholic, which does not act beyond its own territory? and when did the rulers of the English Church ever move one step beyond the precincts, or without the leave, of the imperial power?
“pudet hæc opprobria nobis
Et dici potuisse, et non potuisse refelli.”
There is indeed no denying them; and if certain persons are annoyed at the confession, as if we were thereby putting weapons into our enemies’ hands, let them be annoyed more by the fact, and let them alter the fact, and, they may take our word for it, the confession will cease of itself. The world does not feel the fact the less for its not being confessed; it is felt deeply by many, and is doing incalculable mischief to our cause, and is likely to hurt it more and more. In a word, this isolation is doing as much as any one thing can do to unchurch us, and it and our awakened claims to be Catholic and Apostolic cannot long stand together. This, then, is the main difficulty which serious people feel in accepting the English Church as the promised prophet of truth, and we are far indeed from undervaluing it, as the above remarks show.
But now taking the objection in a simply practical view, which is the only view in which it ought to concern or perplex any one, we consider that it can have legitimately no effect whatever in leading us from England to Rome. We do not say no legitimate tendency in itself to move us, but no legitimate influence with serious men, who wish to know how their duty lies. For this reason – because if the note of schism on the one hand lies against England, an antagonist disgrace lies upon Rome, the note of idolatry. Let us not be mistaken here: we are neither accusing Rome of being idolatrous nor ourselves of being schismatical, – we think neither charge tenable; but still the Roman Church practises what looks so very like idolatry, and the English glories in what looks so very like schism, that, without deciding what is the duty of a Roman Catholic toward the Church of England in her present state, we do seriously think that members of the English Church have a providential direction given them, how to comport themselves toward the Church of Rome, while she is what she is. We are discussing the subject, not of decisive proofs, but of probable indications and of presumptive notes of the divine will. Few men have time to scrutinize accurately; all men may have general impressions, and the general impressions of conscientious men are true ones. Providence has graciously met their need, and provided for them those very means of knowledge which they can use and turn to account. He has cast around the institutions and powers existing in the world marks of truth or falsehood, or, more properly, elements of attraction and repulsion, and notices for pursuit and avoidance, sufficient to determine the course of those who in the conduct of life desire to approve themselves to Him. Now, whether or no what we see in the Church of Rome be sufficient to warrant a religious person to leave her, (a question, we repeat, about which we have no need here to concern ourselves,) we certainly think it sufficient to deter him from joining her; and, whatever be the perplexity and distress of his position in a communion so isolated as the English, we do not think he would mend the matter by placing himself in a communion so superstitious as the Roman; especially considering, agreeably to a remark we have already made, that even if he be schismatical at present, he is so by the act of Providence, whereas he would be entering into superstition by his own. Thus an Anglo-Catholic is kept at a distance from Rome, if not by our own excellences, at least by her errors.
That this is the state of the Church of Rome, is, alas! not fairly disputable. Dr Wiseman has lately attempted to dispute it; but if we may judge from the present state of the controversy, facts are too clear for him. It has lately been broadly put forward, as all know, that, whatever may be said in defence of the authoritative documents of the faith of Rome, this imputation lies against her authorities, that they have countenanced and established doctrines and practices from which a Christian mind, not educated in them, shrinks; and that in the number of these a worship of the creature which to most men will seem to be a quasi-idolatry is not the least prominent. Dr Wiseman, for whom we entertain most respectful feelings personally, and to whom we impute nothing but what is straight-forward and candid, has written two pamphlets on the subject, toward which we should be very sorry to deal unfairly; but he certainly seems to us in the former of them to deny the fact of these alleged additions in the formal profession of his Church, and then, in the second, to turn right round and maintain them. What account is to be given of self-contradiction such as this, but the fact, that he would deny the additions, if he could, and defends them, because he can’t? And that dilemma is no common one; for, as if to show that what he holds in excess of our creed is in excess also of primitive usage, he has in his defence been forced upon citations from the writings of the Fathers, the chief of which, as Mr. Palmer has shown, are spurious; thus setting before us vividly what he looks for in Antiquity, but what he cannot find there. However, it is not our intention to enter into a controversy which is in Mr. Palmer’s hands; nor need we do more than refer the reader to the various melancholy evidences, which that learned, though over-severe writer, and Dr. Pusey, and Mr. Ward adduce, in proof of the existence of this note of dishonor in a sister or mother, toward whom we feel so tenderly and reverently, and whom nothing but some such urgent reason in conscience could make us withstand so resolutely.
So much has been said on this point lately as to increase our unwillingness to insist upon a subject in itself very ungrateful; but a reference to it is unavoidable, if we would adequately show what is the legitimate use and duty of private judgment, in dealing with those notes of truth and error, by which Providence recommends to us or disowns the prophets that come in His name.
What imparts an especial keenness to the grief which the teaching in question causes in minds kindly disposed toward the Church of Rome, is, that not only are we expressly told in Scripture that the Almighty will not give His glory to another, but it is predicted as His especial grace upon the Christian Church, “the idols He shall utterly abolish”; so that, if Anglicans are almost unchurched by the Protestantism which has mixed itself up with their ecclesiastical proceedings, Romanists, also, are almost unchurched by their superstitions. Again and again in the Prophets is this promise given: “From all your filthiness, and from all your idols will I cleanse you”; “Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols”; “Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols?” “I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land.” And the warning in the New is as strong as the promise in the Old: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols”; “Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels”; and the angel’s answer, to whom Saint John fell down in worship, was “See thou do it not, for I am thy fellow-servant; worship God.”
It is then a note of the Christian Church, as decisive as any, that she is not idolatrous; and any semblance of idolatrous worship in the Church of Rome as plainly dissuades a man of Catholic feelings from her communion, as the taint of a Protestant or schismatical spirit in our communion may tempt him to depart from us. This is the Via Media which we would maintain; and thus without judging Rome on the one hand, or acquiescing in our own state on the other, we may use what we see, as a providential intimation to us, not to quit what is bad for what may be worse, but to learn resignation to what we inherit, nor seek to escape into a happier state by suicide.
And in such a state of things, certain though it be that Saint Austin invites individual Donatists to the Church, on the simple ground that the larger body must be the true one, he is not, he cannot be, a guide of our conduct here. The Fathers are our teachers, but not our confessors or casuists; they are the prophets of great truths, not the spiritual directors of individuals. How can they possibly be such, considering the subject-matter of conduct? Who shall say that a point of practice which is right in one man, is right even in his next-door neighbor? Do not the Fathers differ with each other in matters of teaching and action, yet what fair persons ever imputed inconsistency to them in consequence? Saint Augustine bids us stay in persecution, yet Saint Dionysius takes to flight; Saint Cyprian at one time flees, at another time stays. One bishop adorns churches with paintings, another tears down a pictured veil; one demolishes the heathen temples, another consecrates them to the true God. Saint Augustine at one time speaks against the use of force in proselytizing, at another time he speaks for it. The Church at one time comes into General Council at the summons of the Emperor; at another time she takes the initiative. Saint Cyprian re-baptizes heretics; Saint Stephen accepts their baptism. The early ages administer, the later deny, the Holy Eucharist to children. Who shall say that in such practical matters, and especially in points of casuistry, points of the when, and the where, and the by whom, and the how, words written in the fourth century are to be the rule of the nineteenth?
We have not Saint Austin to consult; we cannot go to him with his works in our hand, and ask him whether they are to be taken to the letter under our altered circumstances. We cannot explain to him that, as far as the appearance of things goes, there are, besides our own, at least two Churches, one Greek, the other Roman; and that they are both marked by a certain peculiarity which does not appear in his own times, or in his own writings, and which much resembles what Scripture condemns as idolatry. Nor can we remind him, that the Donatists had a note of disqualification upon them, which of itself would be sufficient to negative their claims to Catholicity, in that they refused the name of Catholic to the rest of Christendom; and, moreover, in their bitter hatred and fanatical cruelty toward the rival communion in Africa. Moreover, Saint Austin himself waives the question of the innocence or guilt of Cæcilian, on the ground that the orbis terrarum could not be expected to have accurate knowledge of the facts of the case; and, if contemporary judgments might be deceived in regard to the merits of the African Succession, yet, without blame, much more may it be maintained, without any want of reverence to so great a saint, that private letters which he wrote fourteen hundred years ago, do not take into consideration the present circumstances of Anglo-Catholics. Are we sure, that had he known them, they would not have led to an additional chapter in his Retractions? And again, if ignorance would have been an excuse, in his judgment, for the Catholic world’s passing over the crime of the Traditors, had Cæcilian and his party been such, much more, in so nice a question as the Roman claim to the orbis terrarum at this day, in opposition to England and Greece, may we fairly consider that he who condemned the Donatists only in the case of “quæstio facillima,” would excuse us, even if mistaken, from the notorious difficulties which lie in the way of a true judgment. Nor, moreover, would he, who so constantly sends us to Scripture for the notes of the Church Catholic, condemn us for shunning communions, which had been so little sensitive of the charge made against them of idolatry. But even let us suppose him, after full cognizance of our case, to give judgment against us; even then we shall have the verdict of Saint Chrysostom, Saint Basil, and others virtually in our favor, supporters and canonizers as they were of Meletius, Bishop of Antioch, who in Saint Augustine’s own day lived and died out of the communion of Rome and Alexandria.
We do not think, then, that Saint Austin’s teaching can be taken as a direction to us to quit our Church on account of its incidental Protestantism, unsatisfactory as it is to have such a note lying against us. And it is pleasant to believe, that there are symptoms at this time of our improvement; and we only wish we could see as much hope of a return to a healthier state in Rome, as is at present visible in our own communion. There is among us a growing feeling, that to be a mere Establishment is unworthy of the Catholic Church; and that to be shut out from the rest of Christendom is not a subject of boasting. We seem to have embraced the idea of the desirableness of being on a good understanding with the Greek and Eastern Churches; and we are aiming at sending out bishops to distant places, where they must come in contact with foreign communions and though the extreme vagueness, indecision, and confusion, in which our theological and ecclesiastical notions at present lie, will be almost sure to involve us in certain mistakes and extravagances, yet it would be un-thankful to “despise the day of small things,” and not to recognize in these movements a hopeful stirring of hearts, and a religious yearning after something better than we have. But not to dwell unduly on these public manifestations of a Catholic tendency, we should all recollect that a restoration of intercommunion with other Churches is, in a certain sense, in the power of individuals. Every one who desires unity, who prays for it, who endeavors to further it, who witnesses for it, who behaves Christianly toward the members of Churches alienated from us, who is at amity with them, (saving his duty to his own communion and to the truth itself,) who tries to edify them, while he edifies himself and his own people, may surely be considered, as far as he himself is concerned, as breaking down the middle wall of the division, and renewing the ancient bonds of unity and concord by the power of charity. Charity can do all things for us; charity is at once a spirit of zeal and peace; by charity we shall faithfully protest against what our private judgment warrants us in condemning in others; and by charity we have it in our own hands, let all men oppose us, to restore in our own circle the intercommunion of the Churches.
There is only one quarter from which a cloud can come over us, and darken and bewilder our course. If, nefas dictu, our Church is by any formal acts rendered schismatical, while Greek and Roman idolatry remains not of the Church, but in it merely, denounced by Councils, though admitted by authorities of the day, – if our own communion were to own itself Protestant, while foreign communions disclaimed the superstition of which they are too tolerant, – if the profession of Ancient Truth were to be persecuted in our Church, and its teachings forbidden, – then doubtless, for a season, Catholic minds among us would be unable to see their way.