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PRETATION

THE COMPETENCY OF PRIVATE JUDGMENT AND PRIVATE INTER

OF SCRIPTURE EXAMINED.Private Judgment leads to Uncertainty and Error, whether it be used to determine the Question by intrinsic or extrinsic Evidence.Private Interpretation of Scripture also leads to Uncertainty and Error.

By private judgment, we understand the solitary opinion and judgment of every individual, uninfluenced by authority, or by the opinions or judgments of others.

Whether we consider the objects of inquiry, or the ordinary results of individual research, we must admit that private judgment, or the individual opinion which each one may form on the subject in question, is not a sure means of determining with truth and certitude, what in fact Christ did or did not teach and command.

Taking some particular doctrine; for example, that of the Trinity, as the object of inquiry : how is it to be determined with truth and certitude, by private reasoning or private judgment, whether this doctrine was or was not taught by Christ? Is it by examining the intrinsic nature of the object of this doctrine, viz. of the mystery of the existence of three persons in one God; and by concluding, from arguments drawn from natural principles, that the doctrine is or is not TRUE, and consequently that it is or is not REVEALED ? It has been shewn (Part i, chap. iii) that the truth or falsehood of revealed doctrines cannot be ascertained by intrinsic, evi, dence. If, therefore, from the private judgment which an individual may form “ that the doctrine is not true,he should argue that it is not revealed, he would argue from a false principle and from a fallacious judgment. If the doctrine is in fact revealed, it is true, and its truth is grounded in the judgment and revelation of Christ : and hence, in the supposition of its being in fact revealed, the private judgment

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of the individual concerning the truth of the doctrine would be opposed to the judgment of the Son of God himself!

But the present inquiry is, not whether the doctrine is true or false; but whether in fact it was or was not revealed by Christ.

Suppose then that some individual, a man of learning and piety, has inquired into this fact, and is come to the conclusion that the doctrine of the Trinity, for instance, was not taught by Christ: will his private judgment be to him a reasonable ground of certitude that this doctrine was not revealed; if his judgment is found to be opposed to the uniform judgment of many thousands of men, in every Christian country, and in every age from the beginning of Christianity, men distinguished by their learning and piety, and who were all convinced by the strongest evidences of testimony, that the doctrine of the Trinity was really taught by Christ? Surely, with such a weight of general affirmative judgment against him, on this matter of fact, the individual must doubt the accuracy of his own private negative judgment; he cannot reasonably adhere to it as a prudent and certain judgment of his mind.

But, fairly to settle the point in question, we must consider whether the private judgment, even of every individual in the great mass of mankind, of every artisan and husbandman, is competent to determine, with certainty, whether the doctrine of the Trinity, or of any other article of Christian faith, was or was not revealed by Christ; in short, to determine what was revealed by him, as necessary to be believed in order to salvation ? And, whether this ignorant individual can reasonably and safely rest on his own private judgment, that the doctrine of the Trinity, or of any other article in question, was not revealed, although the article has been uniformly believed and professed by all Christian churches, from the first establishment of Christianity to the sixteenth century, and is still believed and professed by far the greater majority of Christians, as a revealed doctrine? Will any reasonable man say, that the private judg. ment of the individual, in this case, can be to him a ground of certitude? If, moreover, we consider the ordinary results of private

judgment and individual opinion in common life, we shall see that they often lead to uncertainty and error. Leave an individual merely to the lights of his own mind on many doctrinal and moral subjects, without any guirlance whatever from authority, or direction from the judgment of other men; how does he wander in opinions, and grope as it were in the dark for truth! How uncertain is he in his judgment! And is a judgment so uncertain, when left to its own lights, a sure guide to certitude in matters of divine revelation? What contradictions do we not daily observe, between the private judgments of individuals on the most ordinary questions, that occur to be examined by them ? How difficult is it often for twelve men to come to an uniform judgment, on the same subject ? Must there not be error, amidst these contradictory individual judgments and opinions ? What reasonable man, then, would ever admit, that the private judgment of every individual is a basis and rule of certitude, in determining what are the doctrines, precepts, and institutions of Christ; or what are the dispositions and conditions of salvation, which were prescribed by him, and on the knowledge, and observance of which the eternal happiness of every individual depends ?

Is the private interpretation of Scripture a more sure rule of certitude, in determining these points of fact? Is it not, in reality, the same thing, in its principle and consequences, as private judgment?

I will not at present inquire, whether the authenticity of the Scripture, as a revealed book, or the integrity of its text, or the faithfulness of its translation, can be ascertained without the extrinsic testimony of the church of Christ. I will not inquire whether all those things which Christ taught, ordained, and commanded, are contained in the Scripture: though these are important points. But, waving these points, I will only consider whether the private interpretation of authentic Scripture is a sure rule of certitude, in determining the objects of the proposed question of fact.

Private interpretation of the sacred Scriptures, like private individual judgment, is uncertain, and leads to error. Its uncertainty is manifest from the variety of discordant interpretations of the same texts, which the same individual often adopts at different times. Its erroneous tendency is evident

that penance is and is not a requisite disposition for salvation ; that baptism is and is not necessary for all ; that the confession of sins is and is not an ordinance of his law.

If the method employed, for ascertaining what Christ really did teach and ordain, be found to lead sincere inquirers to adopt sometimes one doctrine on the subject in question, and sometimes its contradictory; it surely cannot be reasonably considered as a certain rule of truth, but must be a fallible and deceitful guide, often conducting to error.

Whoever feels the immense importance of knowing with certainty what are the doctrines which Christ really taught and commanded all to believe; what are the supernatural precepts of morality which Christ really delivered, and commanded all to follow in practice; what are the sacred ordinances which Christ really instituted and commanded to be observed ; what are the dispositions and conditions of salvavation which Christ really prescribed for all; he will at the same time feel that it is equally important to his salvation to know by what means he can ascertain the truth on these points of fact, on which his eternal happiness or misery depends.. "

It is an historical fact, that before the period of the revolution in religion, often called the Reformation, which took place in the sixteenth century, the ancient and universal testimony, or the authoritative teaching of the pastors of the church of Christ, was generally followed, as the divinely established means, by which all men were to be brought to the true and certain knowledge of the law and religion of Christ. · It is also an historical fact, that the bold reformer, who, in the sixteenth century, was the first and chief leader in this revolution, setting aside the ancient method, laid down the rule of determining by each man's private judgment, or by his private interpretation of Scripture, what are the doctrines, precepts, and institutions of Christ, and what the conditions of eternal salvation. . Whether this last rule, which is the principle of Protestantism, or the ancient rule, which is the principle of Ca-> tholicism, is the true and sure means of learning and determining with certitude, what are the doctrines, precepts, and institutions which were really taught and ordained by Christ,

CHAPTER II.

THE COMPETENCY OF PRIVATE JUDGMENT AND PRIVATE INTER

PRETATION OF SCRIPTURE EXAMINED.Private Judgment leads to Uncertainty and Error, whether it be used to determine the Question by intrinsic or extrinsic Evidence. -- Private Interpretation of Scripture also leads to Uncertainty and Error.

By private judgment, we understand the solitary opinion and judgment of every individual, uninfluenced by authority, or by the opinions or judgments of others. .. , .

Whether we consider the objects of inquiry, or the ordinary results of individual research, we must admit that private judgment, or the individual opinion which each one may form on the subject in question, is not a sure means of determining with truth and certitude, what in fact Christ did or did not teach and command.

Taking some particular doctrine; for example, that of the Trinity, as the object of inquiry: how is it to be determined with truth and certitude, by private reasoning or private judgment, whether this doctrine was or was not taught by Christ? Is it by examining the intrinsic nature of the object of this doctrine, viz. of the mystery of the existence of three persons in one God; and by concluding, from arguments drawn from natural principles, that the doctrine is or is not true, and consequently that it is or is not REVEALED? It has been shewn (Part i, chap. iii) that the truth or falsehood of revealed doctrines cannot be ascertained by intrinsic evi, dence. If, therefore, from the private judgment which an individual may form “ that the doctrine is not true,” he should argue that it is not revealed, he would argue from a false principle and from a fallacious judgment. If the doctrine is in fact revealed, it is true, and its truth is grounded in the judgment and revelation of Christ : and hence, in the sypposition of its being in fact revealed, the private judgment

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