III. IN WHAT DOES THE DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH DIFFER FROM THAT OF OTHER RELIGIONS, AND FROM PHILOSOPHY: AND WHY THESE DISTINCTIONS SHOULD BE RETAINED?
The doctrine of the church differs from that of all other religions, in four respects. First: the doctrine of the church has God for its author, by whom it was delivered, through the prophets and apostles, whilst the various religious systems of sectarists have been invented by men, through the suggestion of the devil. Secondly: the doctrine of the church alone, has such divine testimony in confirmation of its truth, as is sure and infallible, and which is calculated to quiet the conscience, and convict all the various sects of error. Thirdly : in the church the law of God is retained entire and uncorrupted, whilst in other systems of religion it is narrowed down and basely corrupted ; for the advocates of these false religions entirely reject the doctrine of the first table, concerning the knowledge and worship of the true God, either setting forth some other God besides him who has revealed himself to the church by his word and works, and seeking a knowledge of God, not in his Son, but out of him, or worshipping him otherwise than he has commanded in his word. And not only so, but they are also equally ignorant of the inward and spiritual obedience of the second table; and whatever truth and excellence there is in these systems of religion, it is nothing more than a part of the precepts of the second table, in relation to the external deportment of the life, and the civil duties which men owe to each other. Fourthly : it is only in the church that the gospel of Christ is fully taught, and rightly understood ; for the various sects, such as the Ethnics, the Philosophers, Jews, and Turks, are either entirely ignorant of it, and thus reject it, or else they add to their errors what little they have culled from the doctrine of the apostles; the use of which, however, they do not properly apprehend nor understand ; as is true of the Arians, Papists, Anabaptists, and all other heretics ; some of whom hold errors concerning the person, arid others concerning the of5 of Christ, the mediator. These great distinctions prove that the doctrine of the church alone should be taught and held fast to, whilst the doctrines and religious systems of the sects which oppose the truth, should be rejected and shunned, as the perversions and wicked devices of the devil ; according as it is said, " Beware of false prophets." And, “Keep yourselves from idols." (Matt. 7:15. 1 John 5:21.)
It is, however, different with Philosophy. True philosophy, although it also differs very much from the doctrine of the church, yet, it does not array itself against it, nor is it a wicked fabrication, and device of Satan, as is true of the false doctrines of the Sects; but it contains truth, and is, as it were, a certain ray of the wisdom of God, impressed upon the mind of man in his creation. It is a doctrine that has respect to God and his creatures, and many other things that are good and profitable to mankind, and has been drawn out from the light of nature, and from principles in themselves clear and evident, and reduced to a system by wise and earnest men. It follows, therefore, that it is not only lawful, but also profitable, for Christians to devote themselves to the study of philosophy; whilst, on the other hand, it is not proper for them to devote themselves to the study of the various doctrines of the sects; because these are all to be detested and avoided, as the wicked devices of the devil.
Philosophy and the doctrine of the church differ, especially in the following respects. First: in their principles. Philosophy is altogether natural, and is constructed and based upon principles deduced from nature. And, although there are many things in the doctrine of the church, which may be known from nature, yet the chief and principal part of it, which is the gospel, is so far beyond and above nature, that, unless the Son of God had revealed it unto us from the bosom of the Father, no wisdom of men or of angels could have discovered it. Secondly: they differ in their subjects; for, whilst the doctrine of the church comprehends the true sense and meaning of the law and gospel, philosophy is entirely ignorant of the gospel, omits the most important parts of the law, and explains very obscurely and imperfectly, those parts which it embraces in relation to civil duties, and the external deportment of the life, gathered from some few precepts of the Decalogue. And not only so, but philosophy also teaches some of the arts and sciences, which are useful and profitable ; such as Logic, Natural Philosophy, and Mathematics," which we do not find in the doctrine of the church, but which, nevertheless, have an important influence upon the interests of society, when taught and understood. Thirdly: they differ in their effects. The doctrine of the church alone traces all the evils and miseries which are incident to man to their true source, which is to be found in the fall and disobedience of our first parents in Paradise. It, moreover, ministers true and solid comfort to the conscience, pointing out the way by which we may escape the miseries of sin and death, and, at the same time, assures us of everlasting life, through our Lord Jesus Christ. But philosophy is ignorant of the true cause of all our evils, and can neither bestow nor direct us to that comfort which can satisfy the desires of the human heart.
There are, however, certain comforts which are common, both to philosophy and theology; among which, we may mention the doctrine of the providence of God, the necessity of obeying the law, a good conscience, the excellency of virtue, the ultimate designs which virtue proposes, the examples of others, the hope of reward, and a comparison of the different events and circumstances of life. But those greater and more precious comforts, by which the soul is sustained and supported, when exposed to the dreadful evils of sin and death, are peculiar to the church, and consist in the free remission of sin, by and for the sake of Christ, the grace and presence of God under these evils, together with final deliverance and eternal life.
But, although true philosophy be insufficient to meet the full demands of our moral nature, and, although it may be imperfect, as compared with theology, yet it does not oppose, and array itself against the doctrine of the church, as though it were hostile to it. Hence, whatever erroneous sentiments, such as are in plain opposition to the truth of God s word, are found in the writings of the different philosophers, and which are brought forward, by heretics, for the purpose of controverting and overthrowing the true sense of the Scriptures, these are either not philosophical, being nothing more than the subtle devices of human ingenuity, and the very ulcers of true philosophy, as the opinion of Aristotle concerning the creation of the world, and that of Epicurus concerning the immortality of the soul. &c., or they are indeed philosophical, but inappropriately applied to theology.
These distinctions between the doctrine of the church and that of other religions, and of philosophy also, should be observed and maintained, for these reasons. First: that all the glory which properly belongs to God may be attributed to him, which cannot be done unless we acknowledge and confess whatever he will have us to believe concerning himself and his will, and unless we add nothing to these revelations which he has been pleased to make of himself; for God cannot be joined with idols, neither can his truth be mingled with the lies and falsehood of Satan, without casting the greatest reproach upon his name. Secondly : that we may not endanger our salvation, which might occur if we were to be deceived, and embrace philosophy or the teaching of some one of the sects, for the true religion. Thirdly: that our faith and comfort may be increased, by seeing the superior excellency of the doctrine of the church to the teachings of all other systems of religion; and how many things are found in the religion of the Bible, which are wholly wanting in all others; and why it is that only those who confess and hold to the teachings of the word of God are saved, whilst all the various sects, with their adherents, are condemned and rejected of God. Finally : that we may separate ourselves from the Epicureans and Academics, who cither despise everything like godliness, or so pervert it as to suppose that every man who professes some form of religion will be saved, thus interpreting the declaration of the apostle where he says, " The just shall live by his faith." (Rom. 1. 17.) Now, as far as it respects these Epicureans, they are not worthy of being refuted ; and as for the Academics, they evidently wrest the declaration of the Apostle from its proper signification, and may, therefore, easily be refuted ; for the pronoun his never signifies that faith which any man may imagine, or frame for himself, but it signifies the true Catholic faith, peculiar to every one that has embraced the gospel of Christ ; and thus it opposes the faith of every other man, even though it be true ; and also the doctrine of justification by works. Hence, the true sense of this passage of Scripture is, The just man is justified, not by the works of the law; but only by faith in Christ, and that by his own peculiar faith, and not by the faith of another man.
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