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THE VERY REV. DEAN M'NEILE, D.D.
IN FOUR VOLUMES.
THE CHURCH AND THE CHURCHES;
THE CHURCH OF GOD IN CHRIST, AND THE
HERE ON EARTH.
“ Scripturarum ignorantia omnis mali fons et origo est : nobis enim salus
Christus est; salutis via Fides; viæ dux Scriptura.”
Painful as the necessity is, it seems now to be impossible to deny that the necessity exists for Christian controversy. If miracles may not be expected, and if therefore means must be used for the preservation of Christian truth in the world, it is plain that the prolific ingenuity of the advocates of error must be patiently and perseveringly resisted.
There is nothing new in this state of things except in degree. Since the beginning of the world controversy has been an inevitable condition of the preservation of truth. The sacred writings are eminently controversial.
The prophets of Baal who patronised idolatry, and the false prophets of Israel who said, “ Peace, peace, when there was no true peace, daubing the wall with untempered mortar,” compelled the faithful witnesses for Jehovah to engage in controversy.
A similar necessity was laid upon the great Prophet, “the faithful and true witness,” by the Sadducees who denied the resurrection, and the Pharisees who “made void the commandments of God through their traditions."
And in like manner the apostles were compelled to become controversialists, by the various false teachers, who, even then, intruded into, disturbed, and divided the infant Christian Churches. “The noble army of martyrs,” both primitive and Protestant, were controversialists.
We must not complain of the inheritance of our fathers, and, judging by their experience, we have no reason to fear for the great cause of “our Master and only Saviour, Jesus Christ.” For ourselves, it is of primary importance that we should defend what we believe to be His truth, with “meekness of wisdom ;” and not defend only, but restate that truth also, with all plainness of speech ; remembering that Christian knowledge is not hereditary, and that the real source of danger from the heresy of the few, is to be found in the ignorance of the many.
The writer of the following pages has addressed himself to direct teaching, rather than direct controversy; and his standard of ultimate reference for all his teaching, has been the holy Scripture. With a cordiality which words can but inadequately express, he agrees in the statement that “what we find there (in holy Scripture) is a part of Christianity, whether recognised as such or no, in after ages : what we do not find there is no part of Christianity, however early, or however general may have been the attempts to interpolate it. If this be not so, we must change our religion and our master ; we can be no longer Christians, servants of Christ, instructed by Him and His own apostles; but Alexandrianists, Syrianists, Asianists, following the notions which happened to prevail in the Church, according to the preponderance of particular local or temporary influences, and following as our master neither the wisdom of God, nor even the wisdom of men ; but the opinions of a time and state of society, whose inferiority in all other aspects is acknowledged.”
To a mind duly sensible of its own infirmity in grappling with questions of abstract truth or falsehood, and a conscience awake to the solemn responsibility of influencing other minds, every fresh reflection tends to enhance the value and the mercy to us, of God's written word. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, for us to form strictly
Arnold's Fragment on the Church, p. 47.
saccurate judgments of our fellow-men ; to examine fully, fairly, and impartially, the operations of mind, the workings of affection, the conflicts of passion, the calculations of interest which compose the complicated machinery of a human character ; to trace with nice discrimination the boundary lines between the sincerity which deceives self, and the hypocrisy which deceives, or aims at deceiving, others.
Our difficulties in so doing arise from various causes.
First, these elements of character are evanescent. They fluctuate. They do not, like masses of matter, present always the same aspect to the inquirer. Rather they resemble the clouds, ever changing their forms before the wind, and their colours in the rays of the passing sun.
Moreover, secondly, they are deceitful, frequently presenting appearances which are not real, like the clouds again, exhibiting fantastic shapes of mountains, castles, battlements, or even of living beings. Neither are our difficulties confined to those causes only which belong to the things to be examined.
They arise, thirdly, from the state of the examiners. We also ourselves are fluctuating and deceitful. If Adam, in all the perfections of his unfallen nature and unclouded understanding, had been brought to the investigation of such a creature as one of his fallen descendants, doubtless his glance would have been penetrating, and his knowledge derived therefrom extensive and accurate. The glass would have been steady in the hand of the enquirer, and whatever inaccuracy might have arisen in the process, would have been occasioned exclusively by the movement in the object of his examination. But in all our enquiries the case is different. We are ourselves involved in the movement. The hand which holds the glass is unsteady, as well as the object to which the glass is directed. The subject to be investigated is dark, and the investigator is a partaker of that darkness. The human character is deceitful, and the human student of character