The Doctrine Relating to Canon – Method of Faith

Chris ThomasThe Canon, The Canon 2 Parts by Louis GaussenLeave a Comment

The Doctrine Relating to Canon


by Louis Gaussen

401. We are come to what, after all, forms the surest foundation of our confidence relative to the entire collection of the Scriptures.
But it will be necessary, before entering on this important subject, to premise two observations.
The first is, that our inquiry is no longer confined to the New Testament. Henceforward we shall treat of the entire canon.
In the second place, we feel bound to forewarn the reader that, in this Second Part of our task, we do not address exactly the same class of persons as in the first. In the preceding pages, our arguments were presented indifferently to believers and unbelievers. Henceforward it is sufficiently evident, that in explaining reasons of faith we address ourselves to men of faith—to readers who, without being quite clear respecting the entire collection of our sacred books, are yet persuaded that, in a part at least of what the Scripture calls “the oracles of God,” it is God himself who speaks to us; so that there its teachings must be received with all confidence as given by “the Holy Spirit, sent down from heaven.”
402. To you, then, earnest though unconfirmed Christians, we shall henceforward speak of the canon; to you, who read with reverence what you acknowledge of the Scriptures, and who wish with an upright heart to serve the living and true God according to His Word, and to wait for His Son Jesus from heaven, who will soon judge the living and the dead by that Word. We appeal to that part of the Scriptures which you acknowledge and revere, and from this our arguments will be taken.
403. Let it be carefully noted, we are not here taking the question for granted; nor shall we attempt to establish it by anything contained in itself. When we appeal to the faith to justify the canon in all its parts, when we avail ourselves for this purpose of a positive dogma, when we draw this dogma from the New Testament, reduced, if you please, to narrower dimensions, we by no means place the Christian reader in an illogical circle, since this positive dogma is given us by a part of the Scriptures that none of the adversaries of the canon have ever called in question; not even Marcion, nor Basilides, nor Heracleon, nor Ptolemy ; not even, in our own day, the Tubingen school. Moreover, we shall confirm its sense and value by the conduct of God during all the ages of His antecedent revelations, and by an assemblage of striking and incontestable facts.
Yet, before expounding this doctrine of the canon, and passing in this manner from the method of science to that of faith, it will be desirable to compare in some points these two sources of information, and the two kinds of conviction they are fitted to produce.



404. The Church, as we have said, has two methods of attaining satisfaction respecting the entire collection of the Scriptures—that of science and that of faith: that of science, which appeals to history; and that of faith, which appeals to a doctrine. We have hitherto proceeded along the first; we now enter on the second.
These two methods are sure, rational, and accessible; and each has its advantages; yet the most excellent, the most rational, the most indispensable, and the most sure, is the method of faith.



405. Science, in studying the history of the Sacred Volume, presents to our notice at once two very important facts. There is, in the first place, the wonderful unanimity with which all the churches at the present day throughout the world, even those most opposed to one another in their institutions and doctrines, agree in offering us for fifteen centuries one and the same canon of the New Testament. Next, that among the twenty-seven books of which it is composed, twenty can be counted which, even before these fifteen last centuries, and from the days of the apostles, have never ceased to be received by all Christendom.
To render these two great facts more striking, science, studying the history of the first ages with the greatest care, shews us, first of all, how the lives of almost all the apostles being remarkably prolonged, enabled the primitive Church to have recourse to these men of God, for more than sixty years, to assure her of the canon as it was gradually formed; so that, under their sanction, the numberless churches already spread over the world received the living oracles of God to transmit them to us. Moreover, it acquaints us with the sacred custom of all the churches as to the public reading of the Scriptures; and exhibits to us, under the universal control of the Anagnosis, the completion of the canon, and its maintenance everywhere, without constraint, noise, or dispute. It does more: It seeks out in the history of Christian literature all the primitive monuments of the canon, and everywhere it finds incontestable traces of it; everywhere the same voice of confirmation is heard. In a word, nothing can be more conclusive or more solid, in a matter of historic testimony, than the majestic assemblage of proofs accumulated in favour of the first canon; and we are constrained to acknowledge that the literary history of the whole world offers no example of an authenticity so strongly guaranteed.
406. Yet, when we have studied these facts, science presents us with two others of a nature to disturb our confidence. The first is, that among the twenty-seven writings of the New Testament there are two which, though universally received during the two first ages of the Church, were questioned for a certain time at the beginning of the third; and the second is, that five short, later epistles, though recognised from the beginning by a great number, (it has even been said by the greatest number,) were not received by all till the first quarter of the fourth century. From these two facts naturally arise the two following questions:—
If the wonderful unanimity of the first Christians respecting twenty books of the first canon is fitted to inspire the Church with such strong assurance, will there not be, in their temporary hesitation about the seven other books, something to shake her confidence in the part of the canon thus disputed, and perhaps in the whole canon? And, on the other hand, if these books are, after all, divine, how is it that they were not from the first universally received ? We believe it has been satisfactorily shewn, that the same science which has raised this twofold objection is perfectly competent to answer it. It gives the reasons of the alleged facts. It exhibits in broad daylight the usages of the ancient Church; it explains why the second canon was formed more slowly; it shews that the second-first, for a time the object of doctrinal prejudices, was never assailed by historical objections; it shews that the hesitation of a part of the primitive churches respecting the second, attests their vigilant jealousy for the sacred deposits; it attests the astonishing Christian liberty which never ceased to pervade every place on this important question; it collects the testimony borne to the disjiuted books, and shews most distinctly the prodigious difference, in this respect, between these sacred writings and all spurious books. In one word, to all the objections which are attempted to be drawn from its archives, it answers by these very archives; and thus it establishes the legitimacy of our entire collection on historical bases, far superior to all that the literary history of the whole world can offer for any other book.
407. Still it must be said that, notwithstanding all the eminent services this first means of conviction can render to our faith, we ought not to use it so much for a foundation as to pave the way for it to act as an auxiliary or a defence. Our faith is otherwise founded. So in the first times of the gospel, “miracles,” as Calvin observes, “were never to be separated from the Word, and served only for aids and supports of faith, preparing some for it, and confirming it in others;” and in the same way, as our Lord has said, that one rising from the dead would not produce faith in those who refused to hearken to Moses and the prophets, so also (we hasten to declare it) all the proofs furnished by science are incapable of imparting a living and true faith to those who have not derived it from the Scriptures, rendered operative by the Holy Spirit.
408. Woe, then, to our teachers and our churches, if they imagined that, to obtain certainty on the subject of the canon, there is no other foundation than the study of the fathers and of history ! Our faith requires a support much more certain, and of easier access—speaking more to the inner man, and founded on a more solid basis.
Christian experience has attested this to pious men in all ages, and this our Reformers have taken care to express in our most accredited confessions of faith. “We know,” they have said, “these books to be canonical, and the infallible rule of our faith, not so much by the general agreement of the Church, as by the testimony of the Holy Spirit.”
409. In speaking thus, they do not mean to assert that the testimony rendered by the Holy Spirit to the Scriptures in the heart of every Christian who has been truly converted by them, applies itself directly and in an equal measure to every book and every chapter and every sentence of which they are composed. What they mean to say is only this, that to every truly converted Christian the Bible is presented in some way to his soul, with evidence, as a miraculous book—as a living and efficacious word,—which “pierces even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit” —illumines in a moment the inmost depths of his being, and reveals to him the features, hitherto unknown, of his inner man— softening, persuading, and subduing it with incomparable power. Certainly, never book spake like this book ! ” Verily, it told me all that ever I did !” “Whence knowest thou me. Lord? Truly, Lord, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.” Henceforth the soul can no longer be under a mistake about it. To it this book, in the whole or in part, is certainly from on high. The seals of the Almighty are attached to it. But this ” witness of the Holy Spirit,” of which our fathers spoke, and which every Christian has more or less acknowledged when he has read his Bible with vital efficacy—this witness may at first be heard by him only in a single page of the Scriptures; but this page suffices to spread over the book which contains it an incomparable lustre in his eyes. And as to the divine authenticity of each of the parts of which the entire collection is composed, we shall soon shew that a Christian reader has legitimate reasons for retaining the conviction that the divine origin of these passages in which the Holy Spirit has spoken to him, guarantees that of the rest, and that, moreover, he can rest in this respect on the general agreement of the churches, and on the fidelity of God; because a doctrine of his faith authorises him to recognise in this general agreement a work of eternal wisdom. He will regard the whole book as divine long before each of its parts has been able to convince him by itself of its own divinity. Is it not thus that it is sufficient for a naturalist when he examines by a solar microscope in the fin of a living fish a space of the size of a pin’s point, and beholds there fourteen streams of blood running constantly night and day in two opposite directions, and accomplishing night and day with astonishing beauty the double wonder of the circulation, —is it not, we say, sufficient for him to have had this spectacle under his eyes to infer most legitimately that this potent mystery of the blood and of life is accomplished likewise in the whole body?

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