James Bowling Mozley.

A review of the baptismal controversy online

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proof from Scripture we understand an obligation result-
ing from the terms of Scripture alone to assent to the
doctrine in question as the teaching of Scripture. This
is the natural and only legitimate meaning of proof ^row
a document, viz. that the language of such document
of itself conveys a particular truth or fact as its necessary
meaning; in the absence of which evidence from the
language itself, such truth or fact is not proved hy
the document, however it may be by other evidence.
Such proof admits of different degrees, and less than

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Chap. I.] Proof from Scripture. 9

the large and fall amount which some doctrines receive
from Scripture, might yet be sufficient to constitute proof
from Scripture.

A particular explanation of this Canon, however, has
been offered by some who appear to consider it enough
to constitute proof from Scripture if, a doctrine having
the consent of antiquity. Scripture only admits of being
understood in agreement with it. But this Canon requires
that the doctrine in question should be proved by
Scripture, not simply that it should not be disproved by
it, or that Scripture should be susceptible of the interpreta-
tion. Nor can the consent of antiquity ever, according to
this Canon, supply the place of proof from Scripture, as
if where the former was very prominent the latter might
be proportionably reduced, till at last only absence of
disproof was necessary ; but proof from Scripture is the
previous condition, in the absence of which the consent
of antiquity is for the purpose of raising a doctrine into an
article of the faith, of no force. Such an explanation indeed
of proof from Scripture entirely changes the meaning
of it; for, inasmuch as a doctrine is not proved by
Scripture simply because Scripture admits of being under-
stood in agreement with it, to allow the consent of anti-
quity to raise a doctrine into an article of the faith, only
with the salvo that Scripture shall admit of being inter-
preted in agreement with it, is to allow the consent of
antiquity to determine an article of faith in the absence of
proof from Scripture.

The case must be recognized indeed of particular state-
ments in a book being, in default of internal clearness,
correctly explained from collateral sources, i. e. of facts or
truths being asserted in a book according to the intention
of the writer, while the proof that they are thus asserted
in the book, comes from another quarter than the book.
But recognizing such a case we still could not designate

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lo Proof from Scripture. [Part I,

the proof instanced in it as proof from the book, which it
plainly is not ; whereas in this Canon proof from the
book itself is the proof mentioned and required.

Proof from Scripture must thus be specially distin-
guished from what are called '' hints '* from Scripture,
The duty is sometimes urged of accepting hints from
Scripture, as if omission were designed to try our faith ;
and this as a different duty from that of merely carrying
out into particulars general principles and precepts of
Scripture, which are more than hints. Such a point of
view in which to regard omissions in Scripture, to what-
ever purpose we apply it, requires caution, inasmuch as
it represents humility and obedience as tested by adding
to Scripture ; for to supply a meaning to statements not
strictly contained in them, is to add to such statements ;
and, there being a risk that the ideas by which we thus
supplement Scripture will represent our own mind rather
than the mind of Scripture, such a criterion of humility
and obedience should be used with great qualification.
But there is one purpose to which this point of view is
quite inapplicable; because whatever be the design of
these alleged " hints '' of Scripture, it is not to establish
articles of the faith, for which purpose there is specially
required proof.

Such being the natural meaning, however, of proof
from Scripture, we encounter on going into the practical
application of this Canon three objections to this meaning.

The first is an objection drawn from the influence of
custom, tradition, and education, in determining our
sense of Scripture. It is urged that we practically
obtain our meaning of Scripture from tradition and
education, and that therefore proof from Scripture only
means practically a sense put on Scripture by tradition.

There is a good deal that is questionable then in the
statement of fact here made. To a certain extent we

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Chap. I.] Proof from Scripture, 1 1

donbtless depend npon education and custom as inter-
preters of Scripture ; still we are rational beings, and
are able, with a moderate attention, to see whether such
and such is the natural meaning of a statement in Scrip-
ture or not ; and if it is not, it is gratuitous to suppose
that we should always go on thinking it was, because
we had been so taught. But however this may be, the
consideration here nrged is an irrelevant one. For the
meaning of proof from Scripture is not in the slightest
degree affected by the mode in which we gain our per-
ception of such proof, whether by our own judgment, or
by education and tradition. It often happens that when
we have not seen the meaning of a statement in an
ordinary book by ourselves, on somebody coming and
pointing it out to us we see it quite clearly. But when
we see it clearly because it has been pointed out to us,
we still see it as being implied in the words themselves,
and shown to be the meaning }3y the words. The light
which has been thrown upon the passage, even if a bor-
rowed one, shows the sense of the passage all the same
as being contained in the language. In seeing a truth,
then, to be proved by Scripture, whether we have arrived
at that meaning of Scripture by our own judgment or by
education and tradition, in either case we must see the
meaning in the words themselves, and as necessarily con-
tained in them ; otherwise it is incorrect to say that we
do see the proof in Scripture. Proof from Scripture
does not suppose that Scripture may not have been inter-
preted to us by education or tradition, but only that,
when it has been interpreted, the meaning in question is
then seen to be contained in the words themselves, and
to be their obligatory meaning, not one only among
others which they admit of. We may be wrong in
asserting — and we are liable to error whether our guide
be tradition or our own judgment — that certain words

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1 2 Proof from Scripture. [Part I.

do prove a particular doctrine ; still that they must 'prove
it is what we assert in this Canon^ not only that they
must admii of the construction.

When then it is said that tradition ''first teaches cer-
tain doctrines, and then proves them out of Scripture/'
there is nothing in such a statement inconsistent with
the Canon we are now considering, provided we under-
stand that the proof from Scripture which tradition gives,
when she does give it, is of this sort, viz. that we then
see such to be the necessary meaning of the language
of Scripture itself.' For if Scripture is treated as so
obscure, that even when its meaning is pointed out we
see it only as the meaning of which the words are aus'
ceptihle, not that which they demand, it is ridiculous to
speak of proving anything by Scripture.* Tradition
may indeed, on such an hypothesis, extract a meaning
out of Scripture, which meaning, if tradition is infal-
lible, will be the true one ; but it is incorrect to say that
this meaning in Scripture is proved by Scripture, when
by the very supposition it is only proved to be in Scrip-
ture by tradition.

• The text, " I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and
the Grod of Jacob," appealed to by our Lord as proving the doc-
trine of a future state, only proves this doctrine to those who aee
the latent argument in it, after it has been pointed out, and so see
the proof in the words themselves. Those who do not see the
proof in the words, doubtless accept this meaning of them upon
owr Lord's authority, but the doctrine is not proved to them hy
this text of Scripture.

• " The difference between their opinion and ours concerning this
difficulty is, that they think the Scripture so obscure and hard to
be understood, that heretics may wrest and abuse it at their plea-
sure, and no man be able to convince their folly out of the wisdom
of Scripture itself. .... But we say that men not neglecting
the right of direction which the Church yieldeth, nor other helps
and means, may he asawred .... that they have found out the
true meaning of it." Field on the Church, p. 365.

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Chap. I.] Proof from Scripture. 13

We may indeed easUy exaggerate the obscurity of
Scripture, the language of which, where it relates to
truths which most Christians agree in considering funda-
mental, is as plain as the language of ordinary intelli-
gible books. And though variety of interpretation,
where there has been such universal, anxious, and curious
examiantion, would not, if it existed to a greater extent
than it does, show the obscurity of Scripture itself, so
much as the torturing nature of the ordeal to which it
was exposed ; still, as a matter of fact, we may observe
a very general agreement among Christians in the funda-
mental doctrines they extract from Scripture, and con-
sider to be proved by it. The Roman Church imposes
various articles, indeed, on the express ground of tradi-
tion or Church authority, which she does not profess to
rest upon Scripture proof, not considering such a condi-
tion necessary ; but, if we except one or two sects, there
is a very general agreement among Christians in the
truths which are considered to be proved by Scripture

Secondly, in order to explain away the meaning of
proof from Scripture, advantage is taken of this Canon
omitting to say who is the judge of proof. But the
meaning of proof is in no way affected by the omission
to decide who is the judge of proof; because whoever
the judge is, the question of which he is the judge is the
same, viz. of proof of a particular doctrine from a par-
ticular document. Whether the Universal Church, then,
or a particular Church, or an individual, be the judge of
such proof, it is this proof, and this alone, of which he
has to judge. The decision which the judge, whoever
he be, undertakes to make, is whether such and such a
doctrine is satisfactorily proved by the terms of Scripture
alone; diverging from which question, and coming to
the decision that Scripture admits of an interpretation in

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14 Proof from Scripture. [Paet I.

agreement with this doctrine, supposed to be proved by
antiquity, he deserts his proper task, and abandons the
office of judge of jnoof from Scripture.

On a question of ordinary fact, what is called '' proof
from evidence " leaves it wholly open who is the judge of
such proof; but proof from evidence does not the less
mean proof from the evidence itself, i. e. from that whole
collection of facts which is adduced in the case. When
we speak of proof from any ordinary book, a history, or
a treatise, that such and such a fact or opinion is asserted
in it, the meaning of proof in these cases is the same,
whoever is the judge of it.

Thirdly, it will be urged that some important points
of established practice among Christians have no clear
warrant in Scripture, such as Infant Baptism, the ob-
servance of the Sunday, and others ; and therefore that,
inasmuch as we accept these points, we admit the ground
of tradition as distinct from that of Scripture. But the
answer is, that though we undoubtedly admit the ground
of tradition, we do not admit it for establishing articles
of the faith, which is the question at issue. Neither
Infant Baptism nor the observance of the Sunday come
under the head of Articles of Faith, though they are
generally received as matters of Christian practice.
Though it was a proper answer, then, to the Puritans
who forbade the Church all rules and customs but such
as could be founfl in Scripture, to instance certain points
of practice which they themselves admitted, and which
yet were not found in Scripture ; it is irrelevant to urge
this fact against the position that articles of faith must
be proved from Scripture, upon which it has no bearing
whatever ; and such a reply is Hooker's just retort upon
the Puritan prohibition, illogically transferred to another
and wholly different one.^
' It is for the same argnmentatiye purpose that the remark is

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Chap. I.] Proof from Scripture: 15

Could any case be shown indeed of an article of the
faith which we admit without proof from Scripture, we
should be committed in principle to tradition, as a warrant
for articles of the faith. But no such case can be shown.
It is sometimes urged indeed that the doctrine of the
Trinity is not clearly contained in Scripture, but though
the word "Trinity" is not in Scripture, the doctrine
plainly is ; the Unity of God being the great doctrine
of the Bible from beginning to end, and the existence
of Three Divine Persons being clearly declared in the
New Testament.* These two revelations together com-
pose the doctrine, nor would it be possible to extract
anything else out of these several communications
respecting the Divine Being in Scripture, than what we
hold under the phrase " Trinity in Unity," which is in
meaning simply identical with those communications
taken together.

But is not the Canon of Scripture, it may be asked, an
article of the faith, and do we not obtain that plainly
from tradition, inasmuch as Scripture, even if it asserted,
could not in the nature of the case prove its own inspira-
tion ? I reply that it is not correct to say that the Canon
of Scripture is an article of the faith. The acceptance
of the main Canon of Scripture, as handed down by tradi-

sometiines made, that the law of monogamy cannot be proved out
of the Bible, and that therefore we are obliged to fall back upon
Christian tradition. Everything, however, that a Christian must
observe in practice, is not therefore an article of the Christian
faith, according to the distinction which was drawn above, p. 4.
And, moreover, this law w proved by Scripture (Gen. i. 27) as
interpreted by our Lord (Matt. xix. 4).

« The Scripture proof of the Personality of the Holy Spirit,
though less full than that of our Lord's Divinity, is still properly
proof, when we take in the whole of it, which connected state-
ments of it, such as Pearson's and Barrow's, only assist us in

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1 6 Proof from Scripture. [Paet I.

tion, is indeed essential in ordine to a belief in the
doctrines of Cliristianity ; and a person who rejected it
conld not entertain that belief^ because he conld have
no proof, without the admission of such Scripture, of
the revelation of such doctrines. But the Canon of
Scripture is not on its ovm account of necessary accept-
ance, as is shown by the fact that individuals have at
different times, with the consent — though justly cautious
and jealous — of the Church, exercised the right of re-
jecting smaller portions of it, where such a right could
be exercised without interfering with the Scriptural proof
of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity.

The distinction is indeed sufficiently clear between the
Canon of Scripture and an article of the faith. An
article of the faith belongs to the substance of revealed
truth ; but the channel of the communication of the truth
is no part of the substance of the truth : the instrument
of disclosure is external to the thing disclosed. If I
receive a message, it is necessary, in order to accepting
the intelligence conveyed in it, that I should believe
that a messenger has brought it; but the messenger
and his credentials are no part of the message. There
is no logical inconsistency then in saying that tradition
proves the inspiration of Scripture, and yet does not
prove articles of faith; because the inspiration is the
medium of communication, the article of faith is the
thing communicated. If the Bible contains, according
to the natural construction of its language, certain
truths, tradition may prove the Bible, but the Bible
proves the truths.®

* Hooker and Laud meet the fallacions difficulty of the Church
proving Scripture, and Scripture proving the Church, by sup-
posing an incipient belief in Scripture upon the assertion of
the Church, which is converted into assurance by personal insight
into Scripture (EccL Pol. iii. c. viii. a. 14 Laud's Conference

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Chap. I,] Proof from Scripture. 1 7

IL The meaning of proof from Scripture being stated^
the next point to be observed in this Canon is an ultimate
reference which is implied in it to our own reason as
the judge of such proof.

If the rule which requires proof from Scripture as a
condition of an article of the faith, leaves it open who is
the primary judge of such proof, and allows for the
function of the Church as interpreter of Scripture in the
first instance, it yet implies as absolutely essential to the
rational use and application of it, an ultimate reserve in
favour of the right of our own reason to this office. For
it belongs to the very nature and subject-matter of the
decision here, that our own reason has an ultimate re-
sponsibility in it, for we cannot help ourselves being
judges upon such a question as whether certain words
have a certain meaning, and whether certain statements
of Scripture prove that a particular doctrine is taught
there. Did the proof of doctrine indeed end in the
Churches assertion, no judicial capacity would be assigned
to our reason in the matter; but inasmuch as the proof
goes on, by an appeal of the Church herself, to Scripture
warrant, we cannot, without an absurdity, be under a

with Fisher, s. 16). For this somewhat hazardous ground on
which to rest the ultimate proof of inspiration, Thomdike sub-
stitntes the correcter ground of testimony simply; the presenter
of this testimony being the Chnrch, but not, as he draws the
distinction, the Church as a Church, which would be involving
himself in the argumentative circle just mentioned, but only as a
body of competent witnesses testifying to the assertion of certain
men, who gave the guarantee of miracles for the truth of it, that
their writings were inspired (" Principles of Christian Truth," c. iii.
s. 18, 19). Bishop Marsh rests the proof of inspiration upon
the same ultimate ground of miracles : — " We must have estab-
lished the divine origin d our religion before we can prove
inspiration. For nothing but either divine testimony or prophecy
can confirm it." Lecture ii. p. 36.

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1 8 Proof from Scripture, [Part I.

dogmatic and theoretical obligation to accept any state-
ment whatever, as such warrant, however wholly wide of
the mark it may be. And therefore the appeal to Scrip-
ture proof implies in itself an ultimate reserve of a
judicial functionate our own reason in the acceptance
of such proof.*

It may be asked, what is the practical advantage of
this right to the individual, if, whenever by the exertion
of it, he arrives at a different conclusion, on a funda-
mental point, from the Church to which he belongs,
he exposes himself to excommunication. But the answer
is, that the right is still a solid advantage. It is true
the Church must impose certain fundamental articles
of belief on her members, otherwise she has corporately
no belief at all; but if the Church acknowledges an
ultimate right in the individual to judge what constitutes
proof from Scripture, she is obliged in consistency, and
for her own security, to select the doctrines she imposes
by a fair and generally recognized standard of Scripture
proof : otherwise her members, feeling themselves by her
own admission possessed of this ultimate right, will leave
her upon her coming into collision with it. This admis-
sion thus dictates the Church's point of view from the
first, and ties her in limine to a fair and broad criterion
of proof from Scripture.

III. A third point to be observed in the Canon which
requires proof from Scripture for an article of the faith
is, that it only looks to the fact of the presence or
absence of such proof in Scripture, and does not enter
into the reasons and explanations of its absence. Ex-
planations of the absence of certain doctrines in Scripture
might sometimes be given, drawn from the circumstances

* Those of our divines who stand up most for the authority of
the Church acknowledge this ultimate right in the individual.

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Chap. L] Proof from Scripture. 19

of the times in which the inspired writings came out, by
which such omission might be made to appear accidental,
and owing to temporary causes keeping such doctrines,
though true, in the background ; but with such explana-
tions we have nothing to do in the application of this
Canon, because this Canon makes the fact of the absence
of proof in Scripture the test and criterion, and the fact
only. All we have to ask ourselves is, — Is the proof
there ? Is there a sufficient amount of actual statement
in Scripture to constitute proof ? If there is not, it is
then irrelevant to proflfer reasons why there is not. For
no possible reasons that can be alleged for the absence
of tiiis proof can make it present ; and it is the presence
of the proof which is required in this Canon. Indeed,
if we were once to admit the authority of explanations,
this Canon would not be worth much, and it would be
almost better not to hold a rule in theory which would
be futile in practice. But this rule draws us away from
such speculations, and allows no other criterion of the
intentions of Scripture but the facts of Scripture.

c 2

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In the inquiry whether the position that all infants are
regenerate in Baptism is an article of the faith^ the
first question^ upon the principles of the preceding
chapter, to be decided is, whether this position can be
proved by Scripture ; the absence of such proof excluding
it from this class of fundamental doctrines. .

On referring then, in order to decide this question, to
the original institution of baptism, as described or alluded
to in Scripture, we find, in the first place, no mention
made in Scripture of the baptism of infants at all, and
no statement in Scripture from which the obUgation to
baptize infants can properly be inferred. God declares,
indeed. His good will towards infants, especially in the
text, ^' Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and
forbid them not.'^ * But though, when we rightly use
the liberty which Scripture does not deny us of bap-
tizing children, we suitably associate the act with God's
declaration of His good will toward them, such a general
declaration does not prove, in the first instance, that
infants are qualified for the benefit of that particular
ordinance. Nor again is such a fitness proved by the
natural innocence of children, though Scripture in various
places recommends this natural innocence to us as an
example, and a type of the Christian character, telling
1 Mark X. 14.

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The Doctrine of Baptism, &c. 21

us that " of such is the kingdom of God,'' * and that
" except we be converted and become as little children,
we shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven/' ^ Nor
because baptism is generally necessary for salvation,
which we gather from John iii. 5, is the obligation to
baptize infants evident, because for anything we know
the case of in&nts may be a peculiar one, and may be
an exception to the general rule thus laid down. The
obligation to apply this ordinance to them presupposes
their fitness for it; and that an ordinance itself is gene-
rally necessary does not prove the fitness of a particular
class for the reception of it. The Sacrament of the
Lord^s Supper is generally necessary to salvation, but we
do not therefore think infants fit to receive it. The
promise, again, is " to us and to our children," * but we
cannot gather anything more with certainty from this
text than that God's promise applies to successive

The bias of theology. Reformed and Anglican, was
indeed at first to the assertion of the necessity of infant
baptism, as a practice, the obligation to which could be
inferred by certain deduction from Scripture; but the

Online LibraryJames Bowling MozleyA review of the baptismal controversy → online text (page 2 of 38)