Extracts From Letters of J.N.D.: Authority in the Church; Romanism

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MY DEAR BROTHER, Authority in the church is neither more nor less than the power of the Holy Ghost. There may be added at the beginning the apostles, as constituted companions of Jesus, and having, directions from Him. But now this is simply the working of the Holy Ghost in the church. This may be in an individual according to the measure of power given to him, or it may be in the body; but it will always recognize the Holy Ghost in the body, and in all the members. This is most marked in the Epistles; they speak as to wise men, who have an unction from the Holy One. This is the whole matter; this once departed from, some mere arrangement takes its place, and the Holy Ghost is in principle-that is, in faith-set aside, and weakness is soon apparent. The kingdom of God is in power, but that power is known only to faith.
As to traditions, no one who has read the Greek Testament can for a moment doubt that this word is, in the New Testament, a doctrine delivered, not handed down, though this might sometimes be the character of what was delivered. Εἰς ὃν παρεδόθητε τύπον of Rom. 6 makes this plain. So tradition, in the popular sense, is in contrast with scripture. But in the passage you refer to (2 Thess. 2:1515Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. (2 Thessalonians 2:15)) it is either the direct word of prophecy in the church there, or the apostle's epistle: nothing handed down in the church is secured by subsequent authority. The saints were to keep the doctrine they had been taught-the body of 'saints.
Suppose I were to write to the body of saints in -, to hold fast what they had been taught, whether viva voce, or what I had written to them by letter, what would that have to say to the authority of the church or tradition of a subsequent era? Yet this is exactly the case, save that that teaching was divine and inspired, and therefore the exhortation had its peculiar place and weight: rite τὰς παραδόσεις ἃςἐδιδἀχθητε εἴτε, λόγου ἐπιστολῆδ ἡμῶν clearly shows παραδόσεις just to be a doctrine delivered. Nor do I see what the communication of what he had learned to faithful men, so as to form teachers, has to do with tradition. Nobody-unless they deny ministry-could gainsay this, and, as far as a man could be trusted as receiving it from St. Paul, it would, of course, have weight; but that is just the question. It was not authority, but a means of communicating truth. The confounding these two things is the generally unperceived sophism of Milner's "End of Controversy." "A rule of faith," he says, " or means of communicating Christ's religion, it must be plain," &c.; but these things are not the same. A mother does it to her babe, but she is not a rule of faith, perhaps does it perfectly,
rightly; but that alters nothing. Now here the apostle is directing the means of communicating truth to others, of course, as surely as he can, but not setting up either authority, or a rule of faith. When I had a dozen young men reading with me at Lausanne, I was doing this according to my ability. Was I dreaming of setting up, authority, or a rule of faith, in them? Clearly not. The written word is clearly such, the moment we own it inspired.
The real question is, Is it addressed to all saints as possessing the Spirit, so as to use it? They are the church. Ministry may be a means of communicating, and a very precious one, as Eph. 4, but they are never a rule, nor an authority. A rule must be an existing quantum of doctrine, but this no men are. That, as an authority, must be infallible, which none is but God. Infallible is not perfectly right. I may say what is absolutely right, but I am not infallible. Whenever the apostles spoke by inspiration, they uttered in revelation what was absolutely right from God, but this did not make them, infallible. God is, because in His nature He never can say anything but what is right. When God spoke by them-as every true christian believes He did-they were absolutely right; but God remained the alone Infallible, who never could of Himself say anything wrong. This was not communicated to an apostle, since, if He did not speak by inspiration, he was as another man-more experienced, perhaps, but a man. Inspiration comes from the Infallible One, but does not render the inspired one infallible, but only perfectly right and divine in what he utters as inspired.
Further, I believe God will secure by His power that the truth shall not be lost in the church to the end. It may be only in an upright, godly few, as when almost all the professing church, and Pope Liberius among them, turned Arian. But this does not make the church infallible; but it does prove that God will keep His elect in vital, essential truth to the end. But being kept is not authority. I am persuaded I shall be kept in the truth for the end-sure of it-through grace; but this is not making me an infallible authority, it is just the opposite-I am subject to the truth. So the church, the elect saints, are subject to the truth always. They may have accompanying obscurities on many points, but they will never deny saving truth to the church; many foolish things may be brought in, and added, but it will not deny saving truth.
This the Council of Trent, and hence the Catholic body (I do not say every individual), have pretty much done. Hence the difference of the Establishment. The Prayer-book has added a mass of destructive, false, and superstitious errors, but the Articles in general, though obscurely, do not deny, but proclaim, saving truth. Hence-the Galatians-Paul was afraid of; they were on the point of denying-really the saving truth, though recovered. The Colossians were introducing superstitions which led to this, but they were not met exactly in the same way, as they were not denying justification by faith, for example, as the Galatians were well-nigh doing. But this is saving subjection to the truth, not authority: and this is the real point of difference.
They say, with a law we must have an interpreting judge. God says, With my word I must have saving faith mixed-the heart must bow to it itself; another cannot do this. No one denies that one can help another according to his measure of the Spirit-that is, help spiritually the soul in reception; but this is not authority, it is ministry. The truth received has God's authority, and by the truth we are subject to Him. The word of God can have no authority to apply it, nor power either, but God Himself. Its whole object is to bring the soul and conscience into direct and immediate relationship with Himself. Interposed authority, as to conscience, sets aside God. There cannot be a judge with God's word, because Christ is (there may be discipline, and, in this sense, judgment, in which the whole body acts, but this is another question); but the whole point is the authority of God's word itself on the conscience: and mark, because God has said it, discerning it such, we set to our seal that God is true-not that the church is. The church it is that believes it, and thereby it is the church. So, " ye received it, not as the word of man, but (as it is in truth) the word of God, which effectually worketh in them that believe." The church does not judge about the word of God. The word of God judges it first as sinner, and then as saint. Whoever gets above this, gets into sin-is not a doer of the law, but a judge.
I do not enter here on the external part of the question, that the tradition, nor even the authority, is not to be found, though, de facto, many things are surely believed. It is clear that the local priest is not, though he may be a means of communicating. It is quite clear that the ponderous tomes of Councils are not a more clear, or accessible, or intelligible rule of faith than the living word. But the truth is, they are not agreed whether it resides in a Pope or Council, and this is serious. It will be said, certainly in both. But the Council of Constance deposed, and that of Basle set itself above, the Pope, and ended without him. Also there were two, and neither owned by the former. And yet more? the Church of Rome cannot pronounce with unanimity which are the general councils. There are (I trust my memory) nineteen, but they dispute as to the enumeration of them. What a difference from the pure word of God!
1846. Yours affectionately, J. N. D.
MY DEAR BROTHER, It is very important to observe that Romanism does take infidel ground, and, to press this on their consciences, I have often done so in Ireland. God is competent to make men responsible by speaking Himself. This is a most important proposition, and this is the one they have to defend by His own testimony-that is, in their arguments there is a grand rpiii"rov tfailacc, namely, that the means of communicating Christ's religion is the same thing as the rule of faith. This is a fundamental fallacy of Milner's " End of Controversy." A mother, a child may be the means of communicating Christ's religion, but they are not a rule of faith. These two things may be united, but they are in no way the same things. I suppose the book you have, however, is Wiseman's.
Now, I would take the bull by the horns, and say that there is no living, saving faith whatever, but that which is wrought by the operation of the word of God, received on His direct authority, without any warrant whatever. If it is received on the authority of the church, it is not believing God. The word of God proves itself to the conscience, and puts man by itself under the responsibility of crediting it, because God cannot speak without man's being bound to know and hear Him, for none speaks like Him. He may, in grace, use proofs, and confirmations, and witnesses, but man is bound to hear Him. God will prove that in the day of judgment; nay, the very heathen are without excuse on much lower ground. The reason is plain, too, practically. The word of God judges, and is not judged -" he is convinced of all, he is judged of all," and the secrets of his heart being revealed, he falls down, and confesses " that God is in you of a truth." That is not authority, but it is the only saving thing. A man does not want authority to know that a two-edged sword is sharp. A faith founded on miracles-though God vouchsafed this confirmation-is no saving faith at all; Jesus did not commit Himself to it (John 2), He knew what was in man. But, then, in the corruption of the church, and its prevalent power, it may be a reason why none but those who receive the love of the truth should escape. But this power of the word by the Spirit, acting on, not judged by, man, supposes the unbeliever; all else is no faith at all. But the church has the Spirit and the word, and the spiritual man judges all things.
Here, then, I first take the ground, that the word of God received on authority is a rejection of God's testimony. If I receive an account of another because you put your name to it, it is because I do not believe the person who gives the account. God may providentially make it to be received where this genuine faith is not, but then it is not saving. To be saving, it must be faith in God: "He that hath received his testimony, has set to his seal that God is true;" he who demands the church's authority to receive it, has not. God may have used all manner of means of preserving, and even authenticating the testimony, and so He has in many, as we might expect, and I believe that the scriptures were committed to the church to keep-not to authorize, but to keep, as I keep a document safe. I give it no authority, it has its own. But I keep it safe. Now God, I believe, providentially, has done this. But then the Roman body has decidedly failed in this, because, in the Council of Trent-which is with them of divine authority-it has declared that to be scripture, which declares itself not to be so. That is, for example, the Maccabees, which conclude by saying, If I have done well, it is as befits the subject; if ill, it is according to my ability. Now it is profane to suppose for an instant that that is the Holy Ghost's inditing. The Prologus Salvatus, indeed, of Jerome, generally prefixed to the Vulgate, declares that the Apocryphal books are not scripture. Many other passages from the Apocrypha could be adduced, such as that the offerings for the dead were for those dead in mortal sin; that there are three contrary accounts of the death of Antiochus; but I prefer the fact that one book of the Maccabees declares it is not scripture, as above. Moreover, it is well known that Sixtus V., acting under the authority of the Council of Trent, promulgated, as the only authentic word of God, an edition of the Vulgate, which was suppressed, because his successor, Clement, altered it in two thousand places. Five copies only of it are in existence. Clement's bears in appearance its name. It has been in no sense what the church ought to be-a faithful keeper of the " oracles of God committed" to it.
But, after all, clever as Mr. Wiseman is, it is a vicious circle he is in; he takes the scripture as an authentic book. This itself, then, he supposes may be done. But if authentic, in the first place, it is clearly inspired, as any one who reads it may see; that is, it gives us (to say the very least, for I think it goes further) an authentic account of the actual authoritative teaching of Paul, Peter, James, John, Jude, and of the Lord Himself. If this be so, I have no need of the church to receive its doctrine as divine. The uthentic record of Christ's words and the apostles' teaching, gives me a divine instruction directly, which no reference to a derivative authority can set aside, because the body which would set aside, or call in question, the authority of that from which it derives, is not derivative from it at all. If it be, then, authentic, I have the original divine instructions which founded, formed, and guided the church itself at first. If it be not authority, then, to find that the church was founded proves nothing, for if not authentic, I do not know it is true. If I am to. receive the church from it, I certainly can receive Christ's and all the apostles' words from it directly. But I may go further. If it be not inspired as well as authentic, and if I do not know it to be so, I have no inspired warrant, that is, no divine warrant for hearing the church at all. So that on this ground you cannot set up the authority of the church, without setting up previously the authority of scripture itself. The authenticity proves inspiration, or it gives no inspired authority for the church, and I hear all Christ's and the apostles' inspired words, as well as that as to the church. For if I receive something a person says, and not the rest, I receive none of it on his authority.
But, indeed, when I examine the point further, I find the authority of this authentic book showing me plainly a church indeed established, that is, an assembly, but quite the contrary to the conclusion drawn from it. I find the test of being of God, as to doctrine, to be, hearing the apostles themselves-" he that is of God, heareth us." But I have their authentic words in this book. I am not of God if I do not hear them, themselves, as this guard against error. When I turn to hearing the church, I find not a word about doctrine at all, but a case of discipline (any rules of which, according to Catholic doctrine, are not binding, unless where received, though decreed by a council, though they allege decrees on faith are. The discipline of the Council of Trent was not everywhere received). It is a question of wrong done, carried to two or three, and at last before the assembly, and if the wronging party will not mind the whole body, he may be avoided by the offended one as a heathen. Whereas, I find the scripture referred to as the security in perilous times, and the certainty of having received the doctrines from the apostles personally-" knowing of whom." I find the Lord (whose words all of us would bow to as divine) yet preferring, as to the medium of communication, the written word-" If they believe not his writings, how shall they believe my words?"- ‘ they have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them."
Now, if we separate the rule of faith from the means of communicating Christ's religion-which last all admit may be, and is, fallible -(consequently the individual priest), where is their accessible rule? Is it in the Acts of nineteen Councils (and which are they? for you are aware that Romanists are not agreed which the nineteen are)-Acts in Latin, moreover, or in Greek? Where is this accessible rule of faith? And now, further, Romanists are not agreed what the rule is. Ultramontanes hold the Pope infallible-Cismontanes hold he is not. Many, as the Councils of Constance and Basle, hold that they had authority to act independent of a superior to the Pope. At the time of the former there were two Popes. The Council deposed them, and chose another, who (Martin V.) dissolved the Council. Is the Council of Constance a general council? If so, it has given an authority in matters of faith quite different from the papal advocates, and it acted on it, and deposed the popes; and yet, if it had not this authority, the whole succession of the popedom is founded on a schismatical act. However that may be, the authority in matter of faith Romanists are not agreed on; not only so, but these councils have decreed things against the Pope's authority, and he against theirs. The acts at Basle the Pope declared void after the departure of his legate, having transferred the Council elsewhere, though only a part left. But further, the Council of Chalcedon declared the equality of the Sees of Constantinople and Rome. This Pope Leo rejected.
Now, if a Roman Catholic says, I am not learned enough for all this; then I reply, Where is the simplicity and accessibleness of their rule of faith? For this is it. If you say, But I trust my priest, then you are on confessedly fallible ground. I had much rather trust, with God's help by the Spirit, the writings of Paul, and Peter, and John, &e., addressed to all saints—expressly so addressed.
How fallible this is you may suppose, when I tell you that, in the four standard Catechisms, published by the authority of different archbishops and bishops of Ireland, there are not the same lists of the seven deadly sins. But this is by the bye. But is not this a fearfully upsetting thing, that the moment I do turn to the Bible-take the Roman translation-I find it set aside all the cardinal points of Romanism.
For instance, there I read, There is no more oblation for sin. I am told by the highest authority of the Roman system that the Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the living and the dead. Yet, take away this, and all Romanism falls. Again, There is one Mediator. Now the Roman system makes many, and, in fact, more referred to than to Christ. And it is in vain to say that it is only as praying. Their merits are positively acted on in the Missal, and the Virgin Mary is called upon to save us now, and at the hour-of death. Nay, so far is this carried, that the confiteor, on which absolution is received, leaves out Priest altogether.
The inadequacy of the scriptures to give unity is a mere claptrap. Has Rome produced it? Clearly not, unless by blood. Look at it from without. Authority, they say, was in the church from the beginning; if not, it is new, and good for nothing. Well, did it preserve unity? Witness the Greeks, Nestorians, Jacobites; earlier, the Nervatian system, Paulicians, Protestants; half professir Christendom at this moment is outside their unity. But their authority being alleged to be the original, effectual thing, it is clear, then, it has failed to prove it. They tried, by fire and blood, when Protestantism arose, but in half Europe in vain. Present facts, then, prove its inadequacy to this end. To say that it promotes. unity among those subject to it, is merely what the smallest sect in Christendom would say too. I remember a poor Romanist telling me nine and thirty religions arose out of the Bible. I told him I supposed his did, or it was good for nothing, which he admitted; and I told him then there were forty. And really the argument is worth no more! Nothing can produce unity but the teaching and power of the Spirit of God.
Your second point is founded on the suspicion of communicating a rule. I close for the present. My letter has been unavoidably delayed since it was written. I will write again on any other point that strikes me in yours.
1846. Ever affectionately yours, J. N. D.
THE world is lying in wickedness, and the God of unity is the holy God. Separation, therefore, separation from evil, becomes the necessary and sole basis and principle; I do not say the power, of unity, for God must be the center and power of that unity. J. N. D.