The Doctrine Relating to Canon – Method of Faith – 2

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



410. This method of science, which can render such valuable service to the cause of God as long as it is not allowed to pass the limits of its legitimate use, is, nevertheless, exposed to grave objections, when persons are disposed to follow it without, at the same time, making use of the method of faith.

Section First,
Its Novelty.

411. An observation which must strike every person who attends to the habits of the believers of the Old Testament, including the apostles and their Master himself, is this, that the procedure which seeks for proofs of the canon in sacred criticism, and in the monuments of history, was never theirs. They had for the Old Testament no other documents to consult than the holy book itself, and yet its canon was always received by all. Saints, prophets, apostles, and the first Christians, had then evidently another method of satisfying themselves than that of science. What was it ? shall mention it presently and, besides, this is at present not the question. But, meanwhile, let us first recognise by this important fact, that we ourselves are able to have for the New Testament other guarantees than criticism and history. If in the present day we had not a history of the canon of the New Testament any more than existed formerly for Moses and the prophets, ought we, while maintaining, like the apostles, the firmest confidence in the canon of the Old Testament, to regard ourselves as without a guarantee for the confidence we ask for the New ? No, certainly. We must, then, seek elsewhere for these guarantees.

Section Second,
Its Inaccessibility.

412. But, again, what must strike us, in the exclusive use of this method of science, is its inaccessibility. In order to follow it, philological knowledge and prolonged researches are requisite, which, generally, are beyond the reach of unlettered men and of pious women; while the method of faith always remains open for every Christian who reads with reverence the Scriptures of his God. Such a man carries in his own soul a witness superior to all the traditions of history, and all the citations of the fathers.

Section Third,
Its Want of Spirituality

413. More than this, you will always suffer in the method of science, from its absolute want of spirituality. Addressing its proofs only to the cold regions of your understanding, and having nothing to do with the depths of your moral being, it can produce nothing more than a literary conviction, without influence over your affections, or control over your will ; while the method of faith, by placing you before the God of the Scriptures, and shewing Him to you there always like Himself, presents you with heartfelt proofs that correspond with the aspirations of your soul and lay hold of your inmost convictions.

Section Fourth.
Its Dangers.

414. Yet, again, another consideration, still more important, is this, that this method of science, when followed in too absolute a manner, without being constantly restricted to its legitimate use, is full of dangers. In speaking thus, far from us be the thought of discouraging its use when conducted with wisdom.

But it is too certain that, by seeking only among the documents of history, and the lucubrations of criticism, for the light they throw upon the canon, even a sincere piety may be easily endangered. If we make this pursuit an exclusive study for a length of time, if we are not careful to refresh our souls in the vivifying fountains of faith by a devout use of the Scriptures, if we do not thus place ourselves in daily communication with the divine facts they present to us, with the power they display, with the living God who speaks to us in them here is our danger. This study leads us, by a logical and necessary abstraction, but deceptive and full of peril, to reason upon our Scriptures as we would on purely human compositions, and as if we knew nothing of the divine dispensations which have given them to us, nor of the promises and commands which they address to us. Hence you take into consideration only the common accidents of their history ; and, thus occuppying yourself, you create for yourself a duty, which very soon, alas becomes a habit, of forgetting that, as a Christian, you believe in the intervention of the Holy Spirit in the composition of these books. Thus we reason on their characteristics and their destiny, as if the great facts of redemption had never transpired in the world, and as if God had never interfered with them. But ” all the majesty of the gospel will go to ruin,” Calvin has said,l ” when we no longer know that the living Saviour speaks from heaven.” But Jesus Christ is living. He promised His apostles to be with them to the end of the world that is, no doubt, to be with their testimony and their writings, to bless them with success. And yet no work of critical science on the canon has ever said a single word on this truth, of the presence and agency of Jesus Christ in His Church this great, divine, and perpetual fact. The question is discussed, on the contrary, as if it related to the Koran or the Zendavesta, as if Jesus Christ was as dead as Mohammed or Confucius, as if He no longer watched over the destinies of His Church, and, consequently, over the books which have given it life and perpetuity, as if, after having given His word to the apostles by the Holy Spirit, he took no further interest in it, but cast it to the winds, exposed to all hazards.

Hence, what is it that will happen too often in this important concern? It is that the faith of many will receive the most serious injury ; it is that, as an effect of this continual process of abstraction, in which science makes you forget, as a logical duty, for a time, that you are a Christian you will forget it, alas far too long, and sometimes without ever regaining the remembrance. Your soul, under this regimen, loses the habits of devotion, and acquires those of doubt ; it’s spiritual sense becomes palsied at last, it admits the most disastrous thoughts respecting the Scriptures of its God. This abstraction, which was at first only a method, becomes a permanent state of mind, and you can look at the sacred Word only on its human side. You very soon despise it under this aspect and, no longer remembering the blessed emotions it called forth, you forget all the divine interventions which you once admired in the history of redemption, from the days of Adam, Abel, and Enoch, to those of Noah, of Moses, of David, and the prophets, to those of our Lord and His apostles, to those great revivals so often effected in the Church by the manifest power of Jesus Christ. It is thus, alas that too often the soul, devoted to the science of the schools, and emboldening itself in this pernicious method, has seen the flood-gates of scepticism open before it, and the waves have hurried it into the abyss of infidelity, to overwhelm it there, perhaps, beyond recovery. In the Scriptures, so long ill-used, it can see only fallible documents, and a confused heap of errors. At last, it revolts openly against them ; and you have seen the most audacious impieties rise up in the schools of science, because the man who has lost reverence is quite ready for revolt, and God punishes self-created darkness by darkness, (Rom. i 28.) Such was the fall of our first parents, who, from the moment they lent an ear to the suggestion of the tempter, “Yea, hath God said?” very soon allowed him to say, “Certainly, you cat resist him; certainly, if you do it, you swill not die; certainly, “if you do it, you will your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods.” Then the fall was consummated!

415. Perhaps our meaning may be better understood by the following illustration:

Suppose a scribe, a contemporary of Jesus Christ, who for a long time had studied His character only in the perfectly human circumstances of His life of humiliation, His family at Nazareth, His artisan’s dress, His common trade, His callous hands. His popular dialect. His mother advanced in years, His poor sisters, and His four brothers who at one time did not believe in Him, and wished, with His mother, on one occasion to get hold of His person as of a man ” beside himself,” this man, no doubt, would have experienced for ” the Word made flesh ” something similar to what we here fear for the written Word on the part of the critical science which has for a long time studied it only in its human destinies and external features. Let him have followed Jesus in His daily walk, when surrounded by twelve fishermen and persons of bad reputation travelling on foot, eating with them, worn out with fatigue, laying Himself down to sleep, rising up, sighing and weeping, even ” with strong crying and tears,” ” without form or comeliness, and no beauty that He should be desired,” (Isa. liii. 2 ) would not such a man find it more difficult every day to recognise in this despised being the Christ promised ages before the eternal Word, the Creator who weighs the mountains in scales, the Searcher of the hearts and reins, the Judge who will return on the clouds of heaven, and of whose years there shall be no end ? And if this scribe had not taken pains, at the same time, to study His incomparable discourses, His divine works, His communications with angels. His ineffable deeds of love, would not his mind have been readily accessible, first, to all the doubts respecting tlie Son of man, and then to the most unjust thoughts and the most erroneous notions, till he confounded Him with ordinary men, and, perhaps, in a short time, with impostors ?

Now, just such is the danger which threatens, in different degrees, as to the written Word, men who are occupied in studying that Word only under the human forms that invest it, and in its literary accidents, without taking the precaution to submit, at the same time, their inner man to the influences of the Word itself. They also, losing their reverence for it, and entertaining erroneous notions respecting it, will at first confound it with ordinary books, and very soon with forgeries. In jjroportion as they advance more exclusively on the dangerous path, they will have increasing difficulty to admit that this is the Word ” of God, quick and powerful,” (Heb. iv- 12;) “the lively oracles” of the “living and true God,” ” sharper than any two-edged sword, dividing asunder the joints and marrow;” that incomparable power which created the Church and renovates the world. If, then, you behold these persons end in seeing only discordant and faulty documents, in which it is necessary to separate the chaff from the wheat, do not be surprised, but rather say with us, that if such is too often the result, such, certainly, is always the danger of this method when too exclusively followed.

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