Page images
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

those Christian writers who came after him, we find immediately the necessary mixture of human error: unwise sayings, hasty judgments, fanciful and exaggerated notions occur in the same writer, in the same writing, in the same page with the words of Christian truth and wisdom. There is much to admire in these writers, much to love; but because of this mixture of error, they are not fitted to be an authority. The distinction is of immense importance, and one without which they cannot be read with advantage: while, on the other hand, he who amidst the goodness and the sense of the Fathers is grieved from time to time at those marks of human infirmity which make it clear that they are no staff to lean upon, he may turn with greater thankfulness to the epistles of St. Paul, and of the other Apostles, and may there find that which the human heart so eagerly craves foran authority which it may trust without reserve.

And this brings me to the last division of my subject. How can those writings be an authority, it may be asked, in which are some things hard to be understood, and which may be wrested even to our destruction. They may indeed be so wrested by “the unlearned and unstable,” as the other Scriptures are also wrested; as every good gift of God has been, is, and will be. But why need we be “ unlearned and unstable?” for “unlearned” does not here mean those who have not read many books,


[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

nor got much of what is commonly called “learning.” Another ignorance is here spoken of: that ignorance which St. Paul meant, when he said, “Be ye not unwise but understanding what the will of the Lord is ;” or, again, when he charged the Colossians “ to walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise.” If we know nothing of God and duty, or if we are for ever wavering in our principles and practice, St. Paul's epistles, the words of Christ Himself, all may be wrested to our harm. More especially the particular passages which St. Peter no doubt had in view, when he spoke of " things hard to be understood.” For he doubtless meant that part of St. Paul's doctrine which St. James had heard so much misrepresented; his doctrine of justification by faith without the deeds of the law. Wrested indeed this doctrine has been by many at different ages of the Church, but only by the “unlearned and unstable,” by those who knew not God and Christ, or who followed Them wavering and with a double heart; by those who knew not what sin is, or if they knew, did not feel it. Not the unlearned in the common sense of the term; not the simple readers, who with little of outward help go to St. Paul's epistles for the words of comfort and of instruction: they are not the persons who have wrested to their destruction his most true and most holy doctrine. When they read that they are justified by faith

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small]

without the deeds of the law, they know well the merciful meaning of the words, that they can be and are forgiven when they come to Christ, even though in their deeds they are most unworthy of his acquittal. They feel that these words are spoken for the penitent; but he is no penitent who does not hate his sins, and in his heart cast them from him. They know that to whom is much forgiven the same will love much; but thatif there be a nature so base as to be moved by this free forgiveness not to love, but to a bolder ingratitude then having been forgiven, he will therefore sin the more presumptuously: then St. Paul tells him, that tbus building again the sins which were destroyed, he makes himself a transgressor, and that for such wilful and obstinate sin there is no second sacrifice: he was once freely justified, but forasmuch as he incurred obstinately a new account of guilt, he will be judged according to his deeds, and certainly condemned.

This is what the simple reader draws from St. Paul's epistles; whilst the unlearned and unstable, -those whom the Scripture calls “ fools,” a term never applied by it to the innocent deficiencies of the mere intellect, but to the moral errors and blindness of the heart,—they wrest them to their own destruction. But they wrest all Scripture also, and all God's gifts of every kind : “ To the impure and unbelieving is nothing pure, but even

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

their mind and conscience is defiled;" the evil is in themselves, and can only be removed by a change within. For those who are pure in heart, let them read St. Paul's epistles earnestly; they will find indeed passages which they may not understand, but nothing which they can wrest to their harm : they may not have the key to all the treasures of his wisdom, but they will find enough to make them wise unto salvation, and nothing to hinder them in their progress.


April 24th, 1836.



1 CORINTHIANS, viii. 2.


If any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing

yet as he ought to know.

[ocr errors]

THOSE who are acquainted with that delightful book, the Pilgrim's Progress,--and who is there who is not acquainted with it ?-will recollect that the Pilgrim is described as carrying the volume of the Scriptures in his bosom; and that when he is in any difficulty he opens the book, and finds in it some passage suitable to his case. Now, the meaning of this is, if it be not needless to explain what is so clear, that the Scriptures furnish every man with a guide to his practice; and that he who in every difficulty acts according to the principles which are to be found in the volume of Scripture, will be sure to act rightly. But many persons seem to have applied what is said of the

« PreviousContinue »