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are declared by St. Peter, (Acts i. 21. 22.) to belong to witnesses of the doctrines and works of Christ; their business therefore evidently was to report the doctrines of Christ, not to deliver doctrines of their own. St. Luke particularly tells us that he wrote his gospel, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, (i. 3.): thus following the rule prescribed by St. Jude, and reporting the faith once delivered to the saints. St. John also refers to the beginning and first revelation of the gospel, to show the authority of the doctrines which he delivered, (1 Epist. i. 1-3.): these verses explained, showing also that a right of fellowship with the Apostles, or a right to church communion, depends on embracing the faith once delivered to the saints, and on no other doctrines of later date whatever. St. Paul's case was a singular one; he had not the qualification required in the Acts, or in the Epistle of St. Peter; but the way by which this defect was supplied, will justify the observation we are on in the strongest manner imaginable. As St. Paul conversed not with Christ in the flesh, so had he not the gospel from any of the Apostles who did; but he had it by immediate revelation from Christ himself; and therefore, says our Lord, I have appeared unto thee, &c. (Acts xxvi. 16.): hence he speaks to the Galatians, of his own authority, as an Apostle, (Gal. i. 1. 11. 12.) And this revelation extended not merely to points of doctrines, but to the knowlege of historical facts also; as is plain from 1 Cor. xi. 23. All these things prove that the Apostles were witnesses and teachers of the faith, and had no authority to add any thing to the doctrine of Christ, or to declare new articles. If then the Apostles who were so highly gifted, had not this power, can their successors without great impiety pretend to it? this point enlarged on in the case of the Romish church. Can then any sober Christian trust himself to such guides, and not tremble when he reads, though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel, let him be accursed? When the corruptions of the church of Rome were generally
felt and complained of, and no applications caused any alteration, the fear of owning an error being more powerful to continue old errors than the force of truth or even conviction was to reform them; what was left for serious Christians to do, but to separate between the old doctrines of the gospel and the new inventions of men, and to build up a church on the foundation of the Apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the head cornerstone?
Hitherto we have spoken only of the doctrines of the gospel, and points of Christian faith. If we extend this farther, and say that the Apostles and the church after them had no more authority in any thing else, we shall run into an extreme that can produce nothing but disorder and confusion, and must in the end be subversive of all Christian societies. Let us now then consider the grounds of this distinction, as found in holy Scripture. We have this direction from our Saviour: if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault, &c. (Matth. xviii. 15-17.) In cases which fall under this direction, the church has a judicial authority, though it may be and often has been flagrantly abused: to say it has none, is to deny not only the authority of the church, but of Christ also, who gave the direction. This authority is noticed by St. Paul, who rebukes the church of Corinth for not using it to separate from them the incestuous person, who had given offence, not to one, but to all Christians. Another power which the Apostles had and exercised, was the authority of settling churches, and prescribing rules of order and decency to them. St. Paul's conduct in the disputes which happened in the church of Corinth, will show how carefully he distinguishes between his duty to preach the pure gospel of Christ, and his authority in matters of order and decency. The Corinthians had been guilty of great impropriety in eating the Lord's supper, as if they had forgotten the end and use of it; Paul, as related 1 Cor. xi. 23. 33. 34. : he also committed the
and they are set right by St.
like authority to his pastoral successors. The Epistles to Timothy and Titus are full of canons for the government of their respective churches. All these particulars laid together show that particular churches had power to settle matters of discipline, order, and decency, for themselves; and that there were no rules of this kind of universal obligation to all churches. As the Apostles, considered singly in the light of commissioned and inspired teachers, had no authority over the faith, neither had they when met together in council. We have but one instance of an Apostolic council, which was held at Jerusalem, of which the proceedings are recorded in Acts xvi. This matter was plainly one of discipline, not of the substance of faith; and it was determined by prudential considerations, arising from the circumstances of the Christian church at that time. This case fully stated and commented on.
There is a question arising out of this case, viz.-why were the particular orders to abstain from pollution of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, &c. singled out, when the Jews were strongly attached to other points of the law? If we consider the case, the reason of this distinction will appear: the great concern being to prevent offence to the Jews, and thus to preserve peace in the church of Christ, it was necessary to guard against practices which lay open to every body's view in daily life: thus a Jew could not have dined at the table of a Christian without having some security that he should not meet with things offered to idols and the like; and thus all intercourse between them would have been cut off, &c. but the great difficulty in this case lies in the word fornication; which seems to be an offence of a moral kind, in which the Jews had no particular concern. In the common sense of the word it could have no meaning here. In respect to things offered to idols, and the like, the Jews were not only forbidden the use of them, but all communication with those who had, even though they were strangers, (Lev.
xvii. 12.) The word ropveía, which we translate fornication, includes all carnal impurity. The abominable lewdness which made part of the heathen worship will account for the worship of idols and whoredom being joined together in the decree of the council. So also they are joined together 1 Cor. vi. 9. and Rev. ii. 14. 20. Idolatry is also styled whoredom by the writers of the Old Testament; and the great powers which spread idolatry in the world were characterised under the image of a great whore; so that nobody is at a loss to understand the meaning of those writers, when they charge the people with going a whoring after other gods. What has been said in few words, the importance of the subject being considered, may show us the foundation and proper bounds of church authority in holy Scripture, and also the true foundation on which our reformation from the church of Rome stands. If that church asks why we have departed from some which it accounts articles of faith, we answer, because they are no part of the faith once delivered to the saints: if we are pressed with the authority of the church which has received them, our answer is, that Christ Jesus was the author and finisher of the faith; to which nothing can be added, and from which nothing can be taken if it be asked why we have discarded much ceremony and discipline, we may, without entering into particular cases, answer that the church of England has as much authority to appoint rules for its members as the church of Rome has; that these have been settled on prudential considerations of the circumstances of England, whose church is a far better judge in this respect than that of Rome. But, secondly; if we are to contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints, where are we to find this faith, and how can we distinguish it from the addition of later ages? When our Saviour came into the world, the case of the Jewish church was in this respect the same as ours: the evil had been long growing, and the ancient prophets had taken notice of it, as in Isaialı xxix. 13. but yet
in our Saviour's time traditions were in such esteem, that the Scribes and Pharisees challenged him to answer this question: why do thy disciples transgress the traditions of the elders? (Mat. xv. 2.)—the very question this which is put to us by the church of Rome, and the darling point insisted on by their emissaries. But hear our Saviour's answer to it: why do you also transgress the commandments of God by your tradition?-a question hard to be answered, and which the rulers of the church of Rome should consider well, for they are much concerned in it. If that church pretends to have, by oral tradition, doctrines derived originally from the Apostles, the Jewish doctors referred theirs to Moses, from whom, as they supposed, they received them. The Jews had the writings of Moses and the prophets; the church of Rome has those of the Apostles and Evangelists; yet neither allow their own to be a complete rule, but recur to tradition in order to supply the deficiency. Consider how our Saviour treated this pretence of the Jewish church, and it will direct us how to behave in the like case. He speaks of them as holding doctrines of their own, not of God, (Mark vii. 8. 9.): he shows how their traditions contradicted the law of Moses, and then tells them, you make the word of God of none effect, &c.; plainly considering the written law of Moses as the commandment of God, but the traditions of the elders as the law of men. To Moses and the Prophets, who make up the Scripture of the Jews, our Lord constantly appeals: he bids the Jews search the Scriptures; tells them they err, not knowing the Scriptures; and when he tells them that on the two commandments, of loving God and our neighbor, hang all the law and the prophets, he plainly declared that they contained the whole of their religion; for if he had considered the traditions as a rule of religion, he must have reduced them also to his general precepts. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, our Saviour has fully determined this point in the person of Abraham. The application