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of this case is easily made to our own: we have seen what our Saviour thought of the traditions, what of the law and prophets of the Jewish church. The Christian church has its Apostles and Evangelists, and also too many traditionary doctrines, not founded in holy writ. What are we to do then? We cannot want better authority than our Saviour's to reject the traditions of men, and to hold fast the doctrine of the Apostles and Prophets of the gospel; that is, contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.
GENERAL EPISTLE OF ST. JUDE, VERSE 3.
-It was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you, that ye
should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
It is at all times the duty of the pastors and ministers of the Christian church to call on the people to be zealous to maintain, and by proper methods to propagate, the faith of the gospel ; but there are seasons in which it is more especially necessary for them to discharge this duty ; seasons which require that the pastors should be vigilant to prevent, and the people careful to avoid, the danger of growing errors and superstition.
Such was the season, and such the occasion of this Epistle. Some very dangerous errors, and some abominable practices, began to show themselves among the members of the church, and there was great reason to apprehend the infection would spread. Certain men, it seems, “had crept in unawares ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.' This it was that made it needful for the Apostle to exhort Christians every where to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints.'
If it was needful in the Apostle's times, when the mischief began first to show itself, what must it be in ours, when this evil seems to be at its full growth, and to surround us in different shapes on every side? Superstition on one hand, and irreligion on the other, have left true Christians a narrow path to walk in: and though reason and reflexion will make men
the inhe ly
sometimes sick of the extremes, yet the transition from one
Another difficulty there is, which distinguishes our times
But it is to little purpose to exhort men to be zealous for the Christian faith unless you can give them some sure and certain mark to know what the right faith is. If you inquire of particular churches, or societies of Christians, which is the true faith, each of them will answer, that the faith professed by them is the true one, and that other societies have fallen into errors and mistakes. In this divided state of things, therefore, no church has a right to be believed on its own word merely, without giving a reason of the faith which is in them ; and yet this pretence of authority is the only thing that can be said, and therefore it always is said, to justify the dominion which the church of Rome has usurped over the faith of Christians. With how much better grace might St. Jude have dictated to
the Christians of his time, and told them, on his own authority, what the true faith was, in opposition to corrupt teachers! But does he so? By no means: so far from it, that he gives them another rule to examine the faith by, and sends them to inquire what the faith was, which was once or from the beginning delivered to Christians.
Church authority is one of those unhappy subjects which is seldom seen but from one of its extremes: in some places, and with some persons, it can do every thing; in others, it can do nothing. I cannot propose to consider justly so copious a subject in the compass of a sermon; and therefore I shall content myself with laying before you some observations on the apostolic rule in the text, which may be of use if duly considered. And,
First, since an Apostle of Christ, in the early days of the church, sent Christians to inquire after the faith delivered from the beginning, it follows manifestly that the Apostles themselves were but teachers and witnesses of the faith, and had no authority or commission to make new articles of faith. Had it been otherwise, how absurd was it in St. Jude to send Christians to an inquiry after the faith once delivered,' when he and they could not but know that there was a standing authority to make articles of faith, and that no such inquiry was wanting.
The truth of this conclusion may be abundantly proved by considering the commission and authority the Apostles received from Christ, and their conduct in the execution of them: 'Go ye,' says our blessed Lord, into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature:' Mark xvi. 15. The gospel then was the thing committed to them to be taught to the world, and not to be made or to be altered by them; which sense is delivered in terms more express in St. Matthew, for there the words are, Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you :' ch. xxviii. 20. The promise annexed, And lo, I am with you to the end of the world,' must be relative to their commission, and they could depend on it no longer than whilst they kept within the limits of their commission, which was to teach what Christ had commanded.
When the time of our Saviour's leaving the world drew near,
he told his Apostles he would not leave them comfortless, but pray the Father to send them another Comforter, to abide with them for ever:' John xiv. 16. The office of this Comforter is described, ver. 26. ' The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.' If then the office of the Spirit was to 'bring to their remembrance' what Christ had said to them, their office, as teachers, could only be to publish the doctrine of Christ. The Spirit was likewise to teach them all things,? that is, to teach them to understand rightly all things, and to preserve them from mistaking the meaning of what our Lord said to them, which was frequently their case whilst they conversed with him on earth.
Let us consider, in the next place, the conduct of the Apostles, and how they executed the commission with which they were intrusted.
One of the first things they did was to elect an Apostle into the place of Judas. When they were to choose an Apostle, without doubt they considered the qualifications necessary to the office; and for that reason St. Peter declared that the choice was necessarily confined to such as had 'companied with them all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among them, beginning from the baptism of John, unto the same day that he was taken up from among us;' so that no man was capable of being an Apostle, who was not capable of being a witness of the doctrines and works of our blessed Lord; a plain evidence that their business was to report the doctrines, of Christ, and not to deliv er doctrines of their own. Accordingly the four gospels, pub lished to instruct the world in the Christian faith, are an history of what our Saviour did, taught, and suffered and St. Luke particularly tells us that he wrote his gospel, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first.' So that St. Luke, in writing his gospel, followed the rule prescribed by St. Jude, and reported the 'faith once delivered to the saints.'
St. John, in his first Epistle general, refers likewise to the beginning and first revelation of the gospel to show the authority of the doctrines which he delivered. Hear his own words: