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ly, no inferences from the text are to be admitted, but such as follow necessarily and plainly from the words themselves ; lest we should be constrained to receive what is not written for what is written, the shadow for the substance, the fallacies of human reasoning for the doctrines of God : for it is by the declarations of Scripture, and not by the conclusions of the schools, that our consciences are bound.
Every believer has a right to interpret the Scriptures for himself, inasmuch as he has the Spirit for his guide, and the mind of Christ is in him ;* nay, the expositions of the public interpreter can be of no use to him, except so far as they are confirmed by his own conscience. More will be added on this subject in the next chapter, which treats of the members of particular churches. The right of public
The right of public interpretation for the benefit of others is possessed by all whom God has appointed apostles, or prophets, or evangelists, or pastors, or teachers, 1 Cor. xii. 8, 9. Eph. iv. 11-13. that is, by all who are endowed with the gift of teaching, every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven,' Matt. xiii. 52. not by those whose sole commission is derived from human authority, or academical appointment : of whom it may too often be said in the words of Scripture, “woe unto you, lawyers, for ye have taken away the key of knowledge ; ye enter not yourselves, and them that were entering in
hindered.' Luke xi. 52. It is not therefore within the province of any
visible church, much less of the civil magistrate, to impose their own interpretations on us as laws, or as binding on the conscience; in other words, as matter of implicit faith.*
* Every true Christian, able to give a reason of his faith, hath the word of God before him, the promised Holy Spirit, and the mind of Christ within : 1 Cor. ii. 16. Treatise of Civil Power, &c. Prose Works, III, 321.
If however there be any difference among professed believers as to the sense of Scripture, it is their duty to tolerate such difference in each other, until God shall have revealed the truth to all. Philipp. iii. 15, 16. let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded ; and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you: nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.' Rom. xiv. 4. to his own master he standeth or falleth: yea, he shall be holden up. The rule and canon of faith, therefore, is Scripture
Psal. xix. 9. the judgments of Jehovah are true and righteous altogether. Scripture is the sole judge of controversies; or rather, every man is to decide for himself through its aid, under the guidance of the Spirit of God. For they who, on the authority of 1 Tim. iii. 15. the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth,' claim for the visible church, however defined, the supreme right of interpreting Scripture and determining religious controversies, are confuted by a comparison of the words in question with the former part of the verse, and with that which precedes. What Paul here writes to Timothy, and which is intended to have the force
* "What Protestant then, who bimself maintains the same principles, and disavows all implicit faith, would prosecute, and not rather charitably tolerate such men as these ?". Of true Religion, &c. IV. 263.
See the Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes : "First it cannot be denied counts all heretics but himself,' Prose Works, III. 320_326. VOL. II.
of Scripture with him, is a direction by which he may know how he ought to behave himself in the house of God which is the church ; that is, in any assembly of believers. It was not therefore the house of God, or the church, which was to be a rule to him that he might know, but the Scripture which he had received from the hands of Paul. The church indeed is, or rather ought to be, (for it is not always such in fact) the pillar and ground, that is the guardian, and repository, and support of the truth ; even where it is all this, however, it is not on that account to be considered as the rule or arbiter of truth and the Scripture; inasmuch as the house of God is not a rule to itself, but receives its rule from the word of God, which it is bound, at least, to observe scrupulously. Besides, the writings of the prophets and apostles, in other words the Scriptures themselves are said to be the foundation of the church : Eph. ii. 20. • built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.' Wow the church cannot be the rule or arbiter of that on which it is itself founded.
That some of the instructions of the apostles to the churches where not committed to writing, or that, if written, they have not come down to us, seems probable from 2. John 12. ‘having many things to write
I would not write with paper and ink. See also 3 John 13. Col. iv. 16. that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.' Seeing then that the lost particulars cannot be supposed to have contained anything necessary to salvation, but only matters profitable for doctrine, they are either to be collected from other passages of Scripture, or, if it be doubtful whether this is possible, they are to be supplied, not by the decrees of popes or councils, much less by the edicts of magistrates, but by the same Spirit which originally dictated them, enlightening us inwardly through the medium of faith and love. John xvi. 12, 13. “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now; howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all truth.' So also Peter admonishes us, 2 Eph. i. 19. 'to take heed to the sure word of prophecy, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in our hearts,' that is to say, the light of the gospel, which is not to be sought in written records alone, but in the heart. 2 Cor. iii. 3. “ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.' Eph. vi. 17. the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.' 1 John ii. 20. “ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. v. 27. 'ye need not that any man teach you; but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. Thus when the Corinthians had made inquiry of Paul on certain subjects with regard to which there was no specific direction in Scripture, he answers them according to the natural dictates of Christianity, and the unction of the Spirit which he had received: 1 Cor. vii. 12. "to the rest speak I, not the Lord.' v. 25. concerning virgins, I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful : I suppose therefore—' v. 40. “she is happier if she so abide
after my judgment; and I think also that I have the
the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not.'
Under the gospel we possess, as it were, a twofold Scripture; one external, which is the written word, and the other internal, which is the Holy Spirit, written in the hearts of believers, according to the promise of God, and with the intent that it should by no means be neglected; as was shown above, chap. xxvii. on the gospel. Isai. lix. 21. as for me, this is my covenant with them, saith Jehovah ; my Spirit which is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith Jehovah, from henceforth and for ever.' See also Jer. xxxi. 33, 34. Acts v. 32. we are his witnesses of those things, and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.' 1 Cor. ii. 12. we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.'
Hence, although the external ground which we possess for our belief at the present day in the written word is highly important, and, in most instances at least, prior in point of reception, that which is internal, and the peculiar possession of each believer, is far superior to all, namely, the Spirit itself.