THE BIBLE AND THE WHOLE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
By H. F. GREEN
From the end of the first century and for the next 300 to 400 years there was a Christian company of teachers now known as the Early Fathers. The majority of the students of the Early Fathers find very little that the Fathers held in common, insomuch as they came from many different classes and ways of life (some had been pagans and had subsequently become Christian converts); yet despite the diversity of their individual make-up and of their concepts of life generally, they were unanimous in their views of the Old and New Testaments which they taught with one mind and with one voice. There was absolutely no divergence of opinion among them; they all believed and taught the absolute authority of the Old and new Testaments.
Dr. Westcott in his “Introduction to the study of the Gospels” gives a selection of the writings of the Early Fathers on this subject and his selection will be good enough for us, so we will have a look at some of their testimonies.
Clement of Rome quotes many passages from Scripture with the words “for the Scripture saith”; “by the testimony of Scripture”; “the Holy Spirit saith.” He exhorts his readers to “look carefully into the Scriptures which are the true (utterances) of the Holy Spirit.” Again he says, “Ye know beloved, ye know well the sacred Scriptures and have looked carefully into the Oracles of God.”
Justin Martyr gave numerous Scriptural quotations and his mode of citation is singularly expressive. He tells us of the “history which Moses wrote by Divine Inspiration” while the “Holy Spirit of Prophecy taught through him.” Again he quotes the language of David who spake thus (Psalm 19, verses 2: 5) through the Spirit of Prophecy; and of Isaiah who was moved by the same Spirit.
Cyprian held the books of the Old and New Testaments are to him the “Fountains of Divine fullness from which the Christian must draw strength and wisdom”; “the foundation of our hope, the bulwark of our Faith, the support of our hearts, the guide of our path, the safeguard of our salvation.”
Origen tells us that it was “most evidently preached in the Churches that the Holy Spirit inspired each of the Saints, Prophets and Apostles, and that the same Spirit was present in those of old times as in those who were inspired at the coming of Christ”; for “Christ, the Word of God, was in Moses and the Prophets,” and by His Spirit they spake and did all things. All the sacred volumes “breathe the Spirit of fullness, and there is nothing, whether in the Law or in the Prophets, in the Evangelists or in the Apostles, which does not descend from the fullness of the Divine Majesty.”
I do not think that any Evangelical to-day could more enlarge on the point at issue than have the authorities quoted. All evidence thus far goes to show that the Bible was considered the Oracles of God, the bulwark of our faith and foundation of our hope.
From the close of the period of the Fathers for a matter of many centuries the preponderant Church was the Roman Catholic whose teaching was as follows:- “Holy Scripture is the collection of sacred writings of Prophets and Sacred Writers, Apostles and Evangelists inspired by the Holy Ghost, and received by the Church as inspired. Holy Scripture is divided into two parts, the Old Testament and the New. The word Bible means the collection of sacred books, the Book inspired by God. Holy Scripture is called the Book par excellence, because of its Author. In Holy Scripture there can be no error, because, as it is all inspired, the Author of all its parts is God Himself.” In another paragraph they taught – “The truths which God has revealed are contained in Holy Scripture and tradition.” It is on the last two words that the Protestant Communions part company with them in this matter at least.
As I have previously said it is natural to expect that throughout centuries a great many traditions and habits should have been introduced into the Christian Church; and it was the struggle of certain Christians against these traditions and against the “diluting” as it were in any shape or form of the truth of the Bible that led to the uprising known as the Reformation, amongst the leaders of which was The Morning Star, no other than devout and courageous John Wycliffe.
Dr. Dyson Hague in his book on the “Life and Work of John Wycliffe” says:- “For, first and foremost of all, Wycliffe maintained as the corner-stone of his doctrinal position the supremacy of the Authority of the Holy Scriptures. With him the infallible test of all doctrines was the Word of God.” He quotes Wycliffe as follows:- “It is impossible that any word or any deed of the Christian could be of equal authority with the Scripture.” Further Dr. Hague says – “We say then without hesitation that Wycliffe’s doctrine with regard to the Canon of Scripture and the authority of Scripture is the doctrine of the Church of England, and that the teaching of Cranmer and Ridley was simply, almost line for line and word for word, what John Wycliffe himself, the Master Builder, had laid down.”
Immediately following Wycliffe the great struggle and the terrifying onslaught which the Reformation produced took place and this was based entirely upon the Reformers’ attitude towards the Testaments. The Reformers said in so many words:- “We shall not have anything to do with the trappings and traditions which you have introduced into the Christian Faith.” By making their position so plain as not to be in any way veiled, many of them were prepared to suffer martyrdom and death rather than accept, for instance, the truth of the traditions of the Roman Catholic Religion. Amongst such a noble army, one could find many evidences of their attitude to Scripture, but we will use just one instance which to my mind very beautifully sums up the attitude of the whole. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, which is one of the greatest authorities of the happenings at this particular time, gives us the Confession of various Godly Preachers sent from their prison whilst awaiting martyrdom, addressed to the Powers that were at that time. In it they state:- “If they will write we will answer, and by writing confirm and prove out of the infallible verity, even the very Word of God. First, we confess and believe all the canonical books of the Old Testament, and all the books of the New Testament, to be the very true Word of God, and to be written by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and are therefore to be heard accordingly, as the judge in all controversies and matters of religion.”
When peace to a limited degree had come to the Church life a certain Bishop wrote an “Apology of the Church of England,” and on it being attacked, he, Bishop Jewel, wrote what he called “A Defence of his Apology.” I give these details so that you may see that what he stated was with considerable care realizing that all statements would be subject to rigid examination by his opponent, a certain Dr. Harding. This is what he stated:- “We receive and embrace all the canonical Scriptures both of the Old and New Testament, giving thanks to our God, Who hath raised up unto us that light which we might have before our eyes. Also we profess that these be the heavenly voices whereby God hath opened unto us His Will; that they be the foundation of the prophets and Apostles, whereupon is built the Church of God; that they be the very sure and infallible rule whereby may be tried whether the Church do swerve or err, and whereunto all ecclesiastical doctrine ought to be called to account.”
Soon after the establishment of the Church of England dissent arose from different quarters and various Nonconformist Communions were formed. All these however subscribed in the same way to the doctrine with regard to Scripture. We will just take two illustrations to demonstrate this fact. In 1643 the Westminster Confession of Faith, the doctrinal basis of the Presbyterians, was issued; and on this matter they taught “The authority of the Holy Scripture dependeth not on the testimony of any man or church; but wholly upon God (Who is Truth itself), the Author thereof.”
In 1677 the Baptists issued what was called a “Second Confession of Faith” which was modelled on the Westminster Confession. In it they stated:- “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience ... Nothing is at any time to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit or Traditions of men ... The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself.”
Within the limits allowed us we have traced the whole of the Church’s teaching with regard to Scripture up to the latter half of the 17th Century, and now we will see what they have to say during the latter half of the 19th Century and up to date, in other words, during the last hundred years.
In 1854 a series of eight lectures were given at the University of Dublin by the late William Lee, D.D., Archdeacon of Dublin, sometime Fellow of Trinity College, Archbishop King’s Lecturer in Divinity in the University of Dublin, and examining Chaplain to His Grace the Archbishop of Dublin. I give these details to show he was not ignorant on these matters. I will quote from three of those lectures:- “The facts to be accounted for are briefly as follows. Firstly, from a multitude of writings extant among the Ancient Jews and Christians, a selection of certain Books was made to the exclusion of others. Secondly, the several Books thus selected were received as infallible and Divine; those which were excluded being regarded as fallible and human.” “The principle involved is that the narrative portion of the Bible, whether contained in the historical books of the Old Testament or in the Gospels ... is to be looked upon as stamped with the same infallible truth as the account of Christ’s discourses ... That even the form and language in which its truths are expressed bear the impress of its Divine origin ... in which it is invariably assumed that the Words of Scripture are no less stamped with the seal of the Spirit - no less divinely significant than the doctrine which they convey.”
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THE WORD OF GOD
“In opposition to all error, to all false philosophy, to all false principles of morals, to all the sophistries of vice, to all the suggestions of the devil, the sole, simple and sufficient answer is the Word of God. This puts to flight all the powers of darkness. The Christian finds this to be true in his individual experience. It dissipates his doubts; it drives away his fears; it delivers him from the power of Satan. It is also the experience of the church collective. All her triumphs over sin and error have been effected by the Word of God. So long as she uses this and relies on it alone, she goes on conquering; but when anything else, be it reason, science, tradition, or the commandments of men, is allowed to take its place or to share its office, then the church, or the Christian is at the mercy of the adversary. Hoe signo vinces - the apostle may be understood to say to every believer and to the whole church.”
- CHARLES HODGE.