Preview Chapter



1. The infirmities of human legislation are not in God’s law

The learned commentator on the laws of England defines municipal law to be, a rule of civil conduct, prescribed by the supreme power in a State, commanding what is right and prohibiting what is wrong. [1. William Blackstone.] When he says, Commanding what is right, and prohibiting what is wrong, he means, as judged by the theory of municipal law, of which he was speaking. As judged by the theory of civil government, and not by the law of God, or of abstract justice, the civil law always commands what is right, and prohibits what is wrong. As the civil law is often unjust, when judged by the principles of morality, the lawmaking power in political government could not rightfully require us to believe its enactments just.

As no power in such a government can know the thoughts and intents of the mind, unless manifested by outward signs, the civil law could only place crime in action. No mere intention however wicked, can constitute a crime under this theory. The intention is only one of the ingredients of crime. And as the civil law leaves belief and intention untouched, it could never form a moral code. It lacks the wisdom, power, and justice required; and must, therefore, be exceedingly imperfect in these respects. All that the law of the land can rightfully require us to do is to comply with its provisions by our acts.

But the infirmities necessarily incident to human legislation are not found in the law of God. That sublime code can rightfully require us to believe all its provisions to be just because they are, in point of fact, just; and we are only required to believe that which we may know to be unerringly true.

2. God’s law governs intention as well as act

For the very reason that a fallible lawgiver could not rightfully assume to govern faith and intention, an infallible lawgiver should regulate both; otherwise, they would be left without government. And if faith and intention are left without control, there can be no pure morality, and no perfect obedience.

The wicked intention is the first element of moral wrong. To hold a free agent responsible for this first voluntary act, is the most efficient, and for that reason, the most merciful rule. To teach the party governed, that he is responsible for his evil thoughts and criminal intentions, is to check vice in its inception. Therefore, to teach him that he must believe the truth is to secure his love and reverence for it and his more ready and hearty obedience to it. For obedience will always be more faithful to a law believed to be just in itself, than to one whose justice is disputed.

We may safely conclude that whatever revelation God made to man, must have been just and true. If just, it must for that reason, constitute a rule of moral conduct; and if true, it must for that reason, be believed. A perfect law in every particular, has a right to demand our perfect obedience, in thought, belief, and act. It is reasonable that an Infinite lawgiver should be just to Himself, as well as others; and for this reason, have some eye to his own rights, and the respect due to His real character.

The human legislator prescribes his law, and says to the party governed; I have given you the best law I could, but it is still imperfect. I do not, therefore, ask you to believe it just; and if I did, my limited powers would not enable me to reach your thoughts and intentions. But as the good of society imperiously requires government, and government must, of necessity, require obedience, you must obey my law in act whatever you may believe and intend. However, an Infinite Lawgiver holds a different language, and says: My statutes are just and true in every particular. I, therefore, require you to think right, intend right and act right; and I have the right, the knowledge, and the power, to enforce obedience in all these particulars.

3. Law is indifferent to the mode of its dissemination

The law governing any associated body of men, either civil or ecclesiastical, may be promulgated in different ways. Therefore, it may be either written or oral, or partly written and partly traditional. Speaking of the promulgation of law, Blackstone says:

But the manner, in which this notification is to be made, is matter of very great indifference. It may be notified by universal tradition and long practice, which supposes a previous publication, as is the case of the common law of England. It may be notified, viva voce by officers appointed for that purpose, as is done with regard to proclamations, and such acts of parliament as are appointed to be publicly read in churches and other assemblies. It may lastly be notified by writing, printing, or the like; which is the general course taken with all our acts of parliament.[2. William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, Vol. 1 p. 46.]

As language, whether oral or written, is still but a sign or medium by and through which our intelligence communicates ideas to another, the character of the law itself is not affected by the mere manner of its publication. The will of the legislator exists without any regard to the mode of publication; and the publication is only evidence of that will. The different modes of publication only constitute different kinds of evidence to prove the will of the legislator. The thing to be proven is, in both cases, the same.

These two modes of publication have their respective advantages. A written code is more concise and portable, while a traditional code is more full and complete. A mixed code combines the advantages of both, and is most preferable in practice. The two parts of a mixed code mutually explain and illustrate each other.

The municipal law of England is divided into two kinds, the unwritten, or common law , and the written, or statute law.[3. Ibid., p. 62.] The States of our Union with one exception, have adopted the common law, and have, therefore, mixed codes of jurisprudence. And in speaking of the unwritten law, Blackstone, the learned commentator on the laws of England, says:

I would not be understood as if all those laws were at present merely oral, or communicated from former ages to the present solely by word of mouth. But with us at present the monuments and evidences of our legal customs are contained in the records of the several courts of justice, in books of reports and judicial decisions, and in the treatises of learned sages of the profession, preserved and handed down to us from the times of highest antiquity. However, I, therefore, style these parts of our law lex non scripta because their original institution and authority are not set down in writing, as acts of parliament are.[4. Ibid, p. 64.]

Again the same learned commentator says:

But here a very natural and a very material question arises, how are these customs or maxims to be known, and by whom is their validity to be determined? The answer is, by the judges in the several courts of justice. They are the depositories of the laws, the living oracles, who must decide in all cases of doubt, and who are bound by an oath to decide according to the law of the land.

And, indeed, these judicial decisions are the principle and most authoritative evidence that can be given of the existence of such a custom as shall form a part of the common law. The judgment itself, and all the proceedings previous thereto, are carefully registered and preserved, under the name of records, in public repositories set apart for that particular purpose; and to them frequent recourse is had when any critical question arises, in the determination of which, former precedents may give light or assistance.

For it is an established rule to abide by former precedents when the same points come again in litigation; as well to keep the scales of justice even and steady, and not liable to waver with every new judge’s opinion, as also because the law in that case being solemnly declared and determined. What before was uncertain, and perhaps indifferent, is now become a permanent rule, which it is not in the breast of any subsequent judge to alter or vary from, according to his private sentiments. He being sworn to determine, not according to his own private judgment, but according to the known laws and customs of the land; not delegated to pronounce a new law, but to maintain and expound the old one.

Yet, this rule admits of exception, when the former decision is most evidently contrary to reason; much more if it is clearly contrary to divine law. But even in such cases, the subsequent judges do not pretend to make a new law, but to vindicate the old one from misrepresentation.[5. Ibid. p. 69.]

4. The advantages of a mixed code

To those who are engaged in the practical administration of the law, the advantages of a mixed system will become apparent. A written code can only conveniently embrace the leading principles of a system, expressed in general terms. It cannot be so full or complete as the unwritten law . In the application of a written system to particular cases, where it is not aided and illustrated by the unwritten law, the difficulties would seem to be great. It is very doubtful whether any complete system of written law , suited to the various wants of a civilized people, could be formed and practically put in operation, without the aid of the unwritten law. It would necessarily be either so concise as to be defective in omitting necessary provisions, or so voluminous and minute, as to become inconvenient for ordinary cases.

It must be obvious to those who have well considered the nature of all laws intended for the government of men, that a comprehensive principle may be adopted in a very concise form, and yet embracing a great number of cases under it. Or the legislator may himself extend the principle out into its various ramifications, so as to show its application to different classes of cases.

In the first instance, his law will be very brief in form, while in the second it will be very full. But whether the lawmaker adopts the concise or more detailed mode of enactment, or a combination of both, the result must be substantially the same in the end, or injustice must be done to the parties governed. Their wants are still the same, and those wants must be provided for, either by the law itself in full, or by the construction of the courts. The particular cases must be decided either by the specific provisions of the law, or by the extension of concisely expressed principles by the judgments of the courts.

Laws, as a rule, can only lay down general principles, expressed in general terms. One general principle may embrace a number of subordinate principles legitimately flowing from it. The subordinate principles, when not developed in the law itself, must be discovered and applied by the courts; otherwise there is a defect of justice. If, then, a written code be adopted, and the unwritten law excluded, the judges will find it more difficult to administer such a system, and they will be forced, either to pass by wrongs without a remedy, or they must take the responsibility of extending the principles of the statute to doubtful cases.

It would seem to be exceedingly difficult, in the nature of thing, to adopt an entire written code that will be sufficiently full and complete, so as to embrace all the cases demanding relief under civil government. It is by a combination of the two parts of written and unwritten law that the most just, complete, and convenient code can be formed. The statute law will then embrace all new changes, and also the more ordinary everyday provisions, while the unwritten law will contain the more infinite provisions necessary to be applied in critical cases. The Romans, Spaniards, and Swedes had a common law.[6. Ibid. 66, 74.]

As illustrative of this view I may refer to an experiment in France. “Though the French codes, says Chancellor Kent, digested under the revolutionary authority are distinguished for sententious brevity, there are numerous volumes of French reports already extant upon doubtful and difficult questions, arising within a few years after these codes were promulgated.[7. James Kent Commentaries on American Law 1 468.]

The learned American commentator states in a note that these reports had amounted, in 1818, to fifty volumes and upward, and that from the time of the French Revolution down to 1828, there were over one hundred volumes of statutory law made in France.

5. Tradition as a mode of transmission

It has been often objected that tradition is an unsafe medium of transmission; and those who urge this objection usually illustrate it by referring to the uncertain nature of general reports circulating in a community. That tradition is an uncertain medium of transmission when used for the preservation of unimportant matters, in which no one is particularly interested, is true; and it is apprehended that writing would not be sufficient to perpetuate the memory of that which no one cared to preserve. Besides this, such unimportant matters are not committed to any particular depository no one is specially charged with their preservation and safe transmission.

But such is not the case with regard to laws. They are matters too deeply important to be neglected or forgotten, for the reason that they not only regulate the dearest interests of society, but they are of daily application and competent tribunals are made the depositories, as Blackstone says. That tradition, under such circumstances, and in reference to such important matters, is a safe, certain and efficient means of transmission, is demonstrated in the case of the common law of England. For after all the changes that have been made in that system and all that may hereafter be needed, the great mass of its provisions will most likely remain. And if we make a judicious deduction for unadvised changes, which rashness and ignorance have made in the name of reform, we shall be able to see how little has been accomplished in the way of genuine improvement upon that great traditional system of law.

The true character of laws is best seen and understood when they are practically administered. As the military commander that is the most consummate chieftain is he whose plans work out most beautifully upon the field of battle, so that system of law is the best which produces the most practical good. Our great judges our best law writers, from Lord Hale to Chief Justice Marshall , and from Blackstone to Kent , are almost, if not quite, unanimous in their admiration of the common law , and in their condemnation of all hasty and crude changes in the system.

If we look into the numerous and perplexing cases that have arisen in courts of justice in modern times, we shall find that the most difficult questions have been in reference to the construction of statutes. We shall also find that the most uncertainty and confusion have been produced by these frequent changes; and that of the two, the common law is the more uniform, consistent, and certain. And says Blackstone:

it hath been an ancient observation in the laws of England, that whenever a standing rule of law, of which the reason perhaps, could not be remembered or discerned, hath been wantonly broken in upon by statutes or new resolutions, the wisdom of the rule hath in the end appeared, from the inconveniences that have followed the innovation.[8. William Blackstone, op. cit. 70.]

Mr. Justice Cowen , among other things, says:

There is scarcely any branch of legal policy more worthy of being enforced than that which aims to keep the laws of a nation the same in all respects from one age to another, except in points where change becomes absolutely necessary.[9. In the case of Douglass vs. Howard 24 Wendell?s Rep., 45-47.]

Lord Hale says:

Time, is wiser than all the wits in the world, and the law which has been tried by it has the highest possible evidence in its favor. Time is the schoolmaster, which teaches law most effectually, and without which it cannot be generally known.

The same great judge calls this an age when there is literally a mania for changing every law in some way. In this sentiment Chancellor Kent agrees when he speaks of the rage for bold, reckless, and presumptuous innovation, so prevalent at this day, acting in contempt of usages and wisdom of the common law. [10. James Kent op. cit. 1473 note.] And Lord Hale says, Such are the common laws of England; namely, the production of much wisdom, time and experience.[11. Ibid. Cited by Kent 472.]

If, then, a great system of law, so nearly approaching perfection, and, as Lord Hale says, is vast and comprehensive, and consists of infinite particulars has been transmitted by tradition from age to age, in a form so fixed, certain, and uniform, upon what ground can we say that such a medium is unsafe in the transmissions of laws in the preservation of which every member of the association is so deeply interested?

The abstract objection against tradition as a medium of transmission is not only shown to be unfounded by the historical test in the case of the common law of England and other countries, but also by the history of the creation. God’s early dealing with mankind was transmitted by tradition from age to age, for the space of two thousand years, until written out by Moses . Speaking of which, Dr. Spring says Before his word was reduced to writing, these various communications were narrated, treasured up in the memory, and became a traditionary revelation.[12. Gardiner Spring. A Dissertation on the Rule of Faith 13.]

So far as abstract considerations go, they are not against the position that the law of Christ is partly written and partly oral; but for the reasons already given, and others that will be hereafter stated, they would seem strongly to support it. And it was admitted by Dr. Spring , in reference to this law of Christ that there is no absurdity in supposing it to be partly oral and partly written, while both might be amplified and interpreted by one another.[13. Ibid. 12.]

6. The written law of Christ

In the nature of things, before the mind can arrive at the conclusion that the Bible is inspired, there must be, sufficient proof of this fact. This evidence must either be found in tradition, or in the book itself, or in both combined.

If the point to be proved is simply the historical existence of the Scriptures, then the testimony of ordinary history will suffice. In other words, it will be competent to prove that the separate books, bearing the names of the writers, were in fact written by them; for ordinary history can show us that those books were in existence at a certain period, purporting to have been written by the authors whose names they bear; and this will, prima facie, prove their authenticity and genuineness, as the same kind of testimony would the authenticity of the works of any other writer. It will also prove. prima facie, the integrity of the writers, for this must be presumed until the contrary is shown. But when we prove the authenticity of the books of the New Testament that they were in fact written by the persons whose names they bear, and at the periods mentioned, we have not established anything more than the facts stated in each of the books themselves. Moreover, if the fact of inspiration is not stated in the books we must of necessity, resort to other testimony, or admit the assumed fact without proof. In short, we must look to proof outside the record.

It is, indeed, insisted that the inspiration of Scripture is, in part, seen upon the face thereof, although not expressly stated in words. Thus the Rev. Hartwell Horne says: The miracles related in the old and new Testaments are proofs that the Scriptures were given by inspiration of God.[14. Thomas Hartwell Horne, An introduction to the critical study and knowledge of the Holy Scripture Vol. 1 Introduction p. 204, 7th ed.] And Dr. Spring says: These books speak for themselves that they are not the work of men.[15. Gardiner Spring op. cit. 28.]

It would seem somewhat difficult to understand how the miracles related in the Bible can be a proof of the inspiration of the books in which they are simply recorded. We can well understand how these miracles were proofs of the character and capacity of the persons by whom they were performed, but it is not so easy to see how they can constitute proofs of the inspiration of books written long after they occurred. The facts related may constitute proofs. This inherent capacity, as proofs, exists in the facts themselves, no matter when or by whom related, if they are duly authenticated. If, therefore, the same facts are related in any other book, and their simple relation proves the book inspired, then the history of Josephus is inspired, because true miracles are related therein.

It is not, then, the character or quality of the facts related that proves the inspiration of the historian. These facts may be related by an uninspired historian as well as any other class of visible facts. And when Dr. Spring says the Scriptures speak for themselves that they are not the work of men, he does not mean to say that they state so in express words; but that the extraordinary character of the facts and doctrines stated is proof that the mind of man could not have originated the system therein recorded.

But this relates only to the nature of the matter recorded; and not to the inspired character of the record itself. That which assumes to be a deposition may contain important and true evidence , and yet this will not entitle it to be read. It must have been properly taken. And I apprehend that if an honest, yet uninspired historian, had been with Christ, and witnessed his miracles , and had, to the best of his ability faithfully recorded what he saw, and that this record had come down to us, neither Dr. Spring nor Mr. Horne could have pronounced as to its inspiration, simply because of the character of the matter related.

It may well be conceded that the human mind is competent to determine the extent of its own powers, and that, consequently, the system recorded in the Scriptures could not have originated with man. But this is not the only fact to be proven. We wish also to know whether the Scriptures contain nothing but the truth; and when we reach the conclusion that the record is inspired, we are satisfied that it contains no falsehood. The inspiration, when once established, is a conclusive guaranty that the record is true.

But how can the human mind assume the capacity to determine, from the face of the record itself, that there have been no additions or omissions? The capacity to decide upon the face of the record, that no changes have been made, must be equal to the capacity to originate. Suppose some texts omitted, and some interpolated, would the human mind be able to restore the mutilated text to its original form? And with a copy of the original Scriptures before him, would not the forger be able to make so good an imitation as to defy detection by a simple comparison of the two, when it was unknown which was the genuine record?

7. Were the authors of the New Testament inspired by God?

What then is the logical course of examination that will lead an original inquirer to the conclusion that the New Testament Scriptures are inspired? The point to be proven is that these books are all, and each, of them inspired records, containing only the truth, written by the authorized agents of God.

It is obvious that any being inspired by God, for a given purpose, must be His agent for the end intended. A principal, who, in virtue of his own nature, possesses a mass of powers, may delegate them in smaller or larger portions, at his pleasure. So, God can delegate inspiration and authority to one or more individuals for one specific purpose only, or for several specific purposes. In such cases, the inspiration and authority will be confined to the specific purposes mentioned in the commission .

It is also obvious to common sense that when power is delegated from a principal to his agent that the principal must himself give the evidence of that fact. It is true that the principal may appoint an agent, with the power to appoint subagents, but in that case the evidence of the original grant of power must flow from the principal, and is shown by his act.

Power and inspiration could not flow from God without His consent, and the evidence of such a delegation to another must necessarily come from him. His act alone can constitute such evidence. This evidence must be of such a character as to be apprehended by the persons to be affected by the acts of the agent; otherwise, the fact of agency could not be known to them.

With these principles in his mind the inquirer takes up the New Testament and any other history relating facts bearing upon the question. He regards them all as placed upon the same ground – as simple, uninspired history. He considers the New Testament writers as men, competent, without inspiration to state facts they witnessed, and relate discourses they heard. The genuineness of their works, and the integrity of the writers, are proved to him in the same way, and by the same evidence , as the works and integrity of the other historians he may consult.

The miracles of Christ were visible acts. So, His discourses were delivered in human language, and could be recorded as any other discourses. The inquirer becomes satisfied, from the testimony that the miracles related were in fact performed by Christ. From his knowledge of the more obvious and familiar laws of nature, he knows they could not have been the acts of men, and he draws at once the conclusion of Nicodemus that no man could do those things, except God be with him.[16. Jn 3:2.] The performance of the miracles is established by the historical testimony, and the miracles, when proven, establish the character and capacity of Christ.

The inquirer is then prepared to believe Christ upon His word; for if he is God, He cannot lie; and if He were not God, but only an inspired agent, still he cannot lie as to the facts of his agency and inspiration. Whatever account, therefore, the divine or inspired person gives of his character and of his mission, must be believed, because God by His own act, has conclusively established the veracity of the person, in reference to those matters.

Whenever such a person assumes to act in his capacity as such agent, he must be believed. Then as to what Christ said, the same simple historical testimony relates to it. Matthew and John heard it, and have left their record. Therefore, the historical testimony equally proves the miracles , and discourses, and the acts of the apostles. The miracles performed by the apostles prove them to have been veracious and competent witnesses, and their testimony, as to the facts, must be true.

From the testimony of the New Testament, he learns that Christ said He would build His church, against which the gates of hell should never prevail that He commanded His followers to hear this church that He commissioned the eleven to teach all nations that they did set up the Kingdom, the church, and put the law of Christ into practical operation. By the record he is informed how the church was practically governed what was its character, what were its powers as then exercised, and that the whole deposit of faith was left by Christ with the Church.

His reason and common sense assure the inquirer that Christ, like any other founder of a government, would necessarily make the institution created by Himself the depository of the laws intended for its own direction. He finds it historically related as a matter of fact, that long after the organization of the Church, a difficult question arose among its rulers; that to settle this question the Council of Jerusalem was called. He finds that some of the apostles, as well as other governors of the Church, participated; that this body rendered a final and conclusive decree, declaring the law applicable to a particular case; that this decree was the act of the Church; and that, upon its face, it assumed to be the result of inspiration of the Holy Ghost . He finds, upon the face of the historical record of this degree, the evidence of Peter , Paul , and James, to the inspiration of the Church. He also finds Paul stating that this Church was the pillar and ground of truth.

Having thus arrived at the knowledge of the fact that the Church is an inspired witness, he finds, by examining her history, that she has attested the fact that the works of the New Testament authors, including those of Mark and Luke (who were not apostles), were the inspired word of God, originally deposited with the Church.

In this way the inquirer arrives at the conviction that the canon of Scripture is complete, containing all the inspired books, and only such. With him ordinary history proved the miracles and discourses of Christ and His apostles; they proved the institution and character of the Church; and the Church proved the inspiration of the New Testament writers; the chain of testimony is complete, and he has supernatural or inspired testimony to the fact of the inspiration of each writer, of each book, of the New Testament.

It would seem exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, upon any other authority, to establish the inspiration of all the books composing the New Testament , especially those of Mark and Luke . These writers perform no miracles so far as we are informed; and we have no testimony of Christ as to their inspiration, nor do any of the apostles tell us they were inspired, nor do the writers themselves claim any inspiration. So far from Mark or Luke saying they were inspired historians, the latter, in his preface, seems to write as an ordinary historian as he states he received the facts recorded from the witnesses who had delivered them to him. And if they had stated they were inspired, such a statement alone, made by persons whose veracity was not first divinely attested, could not have proven it to be true, as it would have been only that human testimony which any impostor could have given, without the fear of direct contradiction.

To prove the performance of miracles , or the delivery of discourses, which are external matters, cognizant by the senses, and seen and heard by a number of witnesses, who are mutual checks upon each other, the testimony of ordinary history is amply sufficient. But when we come to prove the higher fact of the secret and invisible communication of the Holy Spirit to the minds of Mark and Luke , we must have testimony as high as the fact to be proved–that of miracles, or of persons whose veracity has already been divinely attested. A man cannot prove his own inspiration by his own testimony, independent of that of God. The secret inspiration could not be known to others not inspired, and the ordinary historian could not give evidence of that which, from its nature, could not be known to him without the visible attestation of God.

8. The Unwritten law of Christ

From the simple history of the New Testament it is shown that Christ appeared among men as a lawgiver that He promulgated his law orally, that He gave no command that His laws should be reduced to writing but having verbally instructed His apostles, that He commissioned them to act as His agents.[17. There is no evidence in the record that He ever wrote anything, except what He wrote with His finger upon the ground.] These inspired agents carried out the commission , and the kingdom was governed for many years before any part of the law was written. This unwritten law was the original law of the Church. It was given and practically administered in that form, and in that form was obligatory upon every member of the association.

This being the original and established form of the code, to substitute the written law for the unwritten, either in whole or in part, would require the affirmative act, either of the lawmaker Himself or of His lawful agents. Only in so far as the written includes the unwritten, can the former become a substitute for the latter, except it be expressly so declared. If, then, it is true, that only a part of the original law of Christianity has been written, the entire code must consist of both these parts, unless the unwritten portion has been expressly repealed.

When God gave a law to the Jews , He expressly commanded it to be written.[18. Ex 24:4 “And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord.”] The tables upon which the law was engraved, having been broken by Moses , they were renewed.[19. Ex 31: 1-28.] The law was required to be read to all the people at the end of every seventh year, at the Feast of Tabernacles.[20. Deut 31: 10,11.]

If our Lord intended that the law governing the Church organized by Him should become a written code, it would seem very natural and reasonable that He should have made provision for that end, as was done in the case of the Old Law. It would seem difficult to understand why God, intending to accomplish the same end in both cases, should make express provision to secure the end in one, and not in the other. Upon the theory that He intended the code to be written in the one, and not in the other, we can well understand why God acted differently in both cases.

We meet with no intimation, either in the words of Christ or those of His apostles, that any such intention ever existed. And when we come to look into the books themselves, and consider their history, we shall see abundant reason to negate any such idea. We find that these books were the result, not of any direction of Christ that they should be written, but of casual circumstances.

Matthew wrote for a specific class of readers, and Luke wrote for a single individual. The epistles of Paul were evidently written to different churches and individuals, whom he could not visit at the time, and for the purpose of correcting some local corruptions or heresies. The very form in which the books of the New Testament are written, not being regular and methodical, shows they were not intended by their authors to form a complete code of law. Many of the most important doctrines mentioned by Saint Paul were very concisely stated, and introduced parenthetically, and as illustrations.

The apostles were expressly commanded to preach, and this mode of teaching became obligatory. But as to teaching by written instructions, there seems to have been nothing determined by Christ. The adoption of that mode was left discretionary to be governed by circumstances. Hence, we find the apostles resorting to the written mode to communicate with particular individuals or churches as often as circumstances rendered it advisable. While absent or in prison, this was the only means available

As the unwritten law was the first law of Christianity, and the only law for many years; before the written law could become a part of the code, it would be requisite to establish its validity by some affirmative act. The mere fact that portions of the law were subsequently written, would not, of itself, show any intention to substitute those portions for the entire code.

If we go back to the earliest British statutes now extant, the fact of their existence as written law , and the passage of numerous statutes since, by parliament, will not afford the slightest evidence of any intention to abolish the common law . Except, of course, where it has been expressly superseded, or the statute is manifestly incompatible with it. It may be justly said, that the statutes themselves recognize the common law as a part of the law of the realm. It would seem to be equally true that the written, expressly admits the existence of the unwritten law as part of the Christian code. We will consider this in another place.

9. The written word is not the entire law of Christ

Those who insist that the written word contains the entire law of Christ, are bound it would seem, by every rule of sound interpretation, to show at least one of two things:

1. That the written law contains all of the original unwritten law ; or

2. That admitting it not to contain all the original law of the kingdom , it has been by competent authority, expressly adopted as an entire substitute for it.

For unless one or the other of these positions can be satisfactorily proven, the presumption of law and right reason would always be, that the code consists of two parts, the written and the unwritten.

As to the first position, that the written includes all of the unwritten law , there is no satisfactory proof. The evidence seems clearly to establish the contrary fact. It is true that Saint Luke says, in the preface to his Gospel, that he had “perfect understanding of all things from the very first;” and in his Acts of the Apostles he says, the former treatise have I written of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach. Yet these general expressions are not only limited by his own statements in other places, but are limited by the statements of other New Testament writers and by the facts recorded by them. Luke himself informs us that Christ was seen by the apostles forty days after His Passion, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God; and this writer no where assumes to give these instructions of our Lord in full.

Besides, Matthew , John and Mark record numerous facts and instructions of our Lord not mentioned by Luke ; and Saint John tells us that many other things Jesus did, which he does not himself record, and says, in strong hyperbolical language, that if they all should be written, every one, the world itself, he supposes, could not contain the books. And none of the subsequent books assume to contain all the instructions of Christ or of His apostles, Indeed this position is so clear, that I am not aware of any writer who maintains the contrary.

In reference to this matter, Dr. Spring says:

The Savior appeared among men as a living teacher. We have no evidence that His personal instructions were delivered to the apostles in writing, or that the preaching of the apostles was in any other way than orally. On the other hand, we do not deny that both Christ Himself, and His apostles, uttered many and important truths that were never committed to writing.

But there is no evidence that any of them (the instructions of Christ and His apostles), or even any of the books of the New Testament , were written until years after His ascension into Heaven.[21. Gardiner Spring op. cit p. 17.] These are very important admissions, and while they concede no more than the simple truth, they give rise to serious and interesting inquiries.

Was Christ a lawgiver? As such, was He powerless, incompetent, or frivolous? In giving His law, did He so exhaust His powers that He made no provision for the preservation and perpetuation of His entire code? Or did He intend that the Christians of the first age should be governed by a full and complete code of law, while the Christians of all succeeding ages should be governed by a mutilated code, robbed of many and important truths? Did He intend that the Church, in the days of the apostles, should believe one system of faith, and His followers, in after ages, should believe another?

On the contrary, did not Christ build but one Church, for the government of which He gave but one law? And did He not intend that this entire code, as He delivered it, should govern this one Church, from the first even to the last period of her existence upon earth? Did not the Christians of the apostolic day live under the same dispensation and under the same code of law as we of the present? Were they not required to believe the same things?

Our Lord promised His apostles the Holy Ghost , who should teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.[22. Jn 14: 26.] And after making this inviolable promise, He gave them that imperative command to “teach all nations to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.

This command was the last one given. It was to take effect and be put in force on and after the day of Pentecost. Therefore it included all things Christ had commanded the apostles to observe before that day, except the few commands specially limited to them, such as the command to tarry in Jerusalem. The command in the commission is general, and for a general purpose. It is not limited by any other text; and, according to our fourth rule, must be taken in its widest sense compatible with the general scope of the whole system. [23. Cf. Chap. 1 Introduction. Ed.]

The apostles executed this commission for Saint Paul tells the elders of Ephesus: “I have not shunned to declare unto you all the council of God.[24. Acts 20: 27.] And the same apostle says to the Galatians: But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a Gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. And so important did Saint Paul esteem this doctrine that he repeats it in the next verse, almost in the same words.[25. Gal 1: 8.]

If, therefore, the Gospel received and taught by the apostles was made up of certain requisites, no man is authorized to preach any other Gospel made up of any other requisites, either more or less. For if such a Gospel contain more or less constituents than the original, it is adulterated in the first, and mutilated in the second case, and it cannot be the same, but must be different. How, then, can the Gospel which does not contain “many and important truths uttered by Christ and His Apostles,” as Dr. Spring admits, be the same gospel preached by the Apostles?

If we can omit “many and important truths” and the identity of the gospel be not destroyed, what limit can there be to such omissions? Would a mutilated statute, deprived of “many and important” sections, be the same as the original. Suppose we strike from the constitution of the United States, “many and important” provisions, would it still be the same constitution?

10. Has competent authority repealed the unwritten law ?

The law of Christ was originally promulgated orally, and reduced to practice in that form. For many years the entire church was so governed and as the written law is conceded not to contain “many and important truths” before we can assume that the entire unwritten code has been repealed, the proofs should be of the highest and most conclusive character.

The intention thus to mutilate a great system of law, given for the government of the same perpetual institution, and given by a Divine Legislator, Who could make His law perfect at the beginning without the necessity of subsequent change, ought to be shown by proofs remarkably clear and full. For it would seem a strange anomaly, that a lawgiver of such a character should so defectively arrange His government, that His code should become incomplete in a very few years after its promulgation; thus leaving the subsequent subjects of His kingdom not so well governed as those at the beginning.

Such a result might well happen from the imperfect system of a human legislator, and contrary to his intention. But how the law of Christ could be thus crippled, contrary to His intention, is most difficult to imagine. For we cannot conceive why the “many and important truths” should have been uttered by Christ and His apostles, unless it was intended they should be preserved. Nor can we think that Christ and His apostles were idle or powerless that they uttered truths to be forgotten enacted laws not to be obeyed and that they promulgated important principles, forming a part of one entire system of law, that they, nevertheless, intended should be lost.

It is true that Saint John says: “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name.” But this he spoke of his own gospel only, as can be seen in the preceding verse. If the apostle intended anything exclusive in this statement, so as to show that his gospel was alone necessary and sufficient, independent of any other part of the law, then he intended to exclude, as well the other Scriptures, even his own Epistles and his Revelations, as the unwritten law itself. He does not seem to have that consequence in view; and as the text is general and not specific, we must look to other portions of the Scripture, which refer to this question, and construe and apply all together, and give force and effect to all.

11. Saint Paul ’s view of the written and unwritten law

Saint Paul in his Second Epistle to Timothy seems to place this subject in a clear light. He says,

But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned, and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them.

This passage taken in connection with proceeding passages, especially those where Saint Paul tells him to “hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard from me.” and “the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men able to teach others also,” as well as those regarding the manner of Saint Paul’s teaching, inculcates upon Timothy the duty of continuing in the things which he had learned from the apostle verbally. And he is to commit the same to others in the same way. In other words, it is a commendation of tradition; showing that the law thus conveyed to Timothy was obligatory upon him and others in that form.

The apostle goes on to say in close connection with this passage:

And that, from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which were able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Jesus Christ.

Now the Scriptures here spoken of were undoubtedly those of the Old Testament , for Timothy had known them from when he was a child. These Scriptures are said to be able to make Timothy wise unto salvation; but the apostle qualifies this language by adding “through faith which is in Jesus Christ.” The substance of this passage is an endorsement of the Old Testament Scriptures; and taken in connection with the preceding verse, which is part of the same sentence, amounts to a statement, that these Scriptures and the system taught by Christ, when taken together, were able to make Timothy wise unto salvation.

The apostle, having thus far spoken of tradition and the Old Testament Scriptures, commences a new sentence, and speaks of the character of all Scripture without distinction in this way:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine , for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.[26. 2 Tim 3:16-17.]

Now, when Saint Paul says that all Scripture is profitable to produce a certain end, does he mean to say that it is alone sufficient? Does he mean to say to Timothy , “The Scripture is the only rule necessary, and that tradition which I have just commended, you may set aside?” In other words, is there anything exclusive in the form of expression used? I cannot so understand it!

On the contrary, the term profitable gives to the apostle’s language a limited meaning, and shows that his intention was not to exclude tradition, but to include “all Scripture,” as being profitable to produce the end stated. Two or more means may be profitable to produce the same given end, and we may, therefore, speak of each one separately, and say it is profitable for that purpose. The term, in this place, means useful, advantageous; and to speak of the sole agent in producing the indicated end, as being profitable, would seem not to be accurate. The word able or sufficient would express such exclusive meaning better.

We are told in Scripture, in one place, that we are justified by grace; in another, by faith. In one place that we are saved by hope; in a second by faith; in a third, by confession and faith; in a fourth, by baptism ; and in a fifth, by keeping the commandments. We cannot say that these expressions, though much stronger than the word profitable, are intended to exclude all agents in justification and salvation, except one only, in each of the cases mentioned. On the contrary, we must understand that all these agents form parts of one entire system, and all combine to produce the result stated.

So we understand Saint Paul , in the four verses under consideration as including (1) Tradition , (2) the Old Testament , and (3) all Scripture, as composing but parts of the law, and all being profitable to qualify a minister for every good work. And he certainly does inculcate all these upon Timothy , and could not, therefore, have intended to exclude any one or more of them.

The language of Saint Paul , in portions of his other epistles, seems still more explicit. To the Corinthians he says:

I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.[27. 1 Cor 11: 2.]

To the Thessalonians he says:

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter…. Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.[28. 2 Thess 2: 15, 3: 6.]

These passages are very much to the point, and give rise to very important reflections.

It must be conceded that the Thessalonians had been taught the entire law of Christ; and this entire law the apostle calls “the traditions,” whether taught by word or epistle. That which was taught by word and that by epistle were equally obligatory; and they were both placed upon the same footing, and entitled to precisely the same confidence and obedience.

The law as taught to these brethren, consisted of two parts, the written and the unwritten, and in these forms, was obligatory upon them. Where have we any evidence that these oral teachings were reduced to writing? There is none by Paul , for the command to hold fast both, was given in his second and last epistle to the Thessalonians. If these oral teachings were so necessary to these Christians, why are they not so to us? The doctrines taught were true; and were the doctrines taught by Christ!

Where, then is the evidence in the Scriptures that the written superseded the entire unwritten law ? The kingdom was for many years governed by the unwritten law, and by that only. And when the law was written, it was only in part, and upon special occasions; and we find Saint Paul mentioning both parts of the law, and commanding both parts to be held equally sacred, for the reason that they were both the Word of God.

Now in opposition to the general principle, that a body of laws once obligatory in a certain form, unless they are subsequently all written out, or partly written and those not written expressed repealed; and in violation of the clear language of Saint Paul commanding his brethren to stand fast and hold both; by what system of right reason can we assume to mutilate a great and sublime code of law, by leaving out “many and important truths” originally belonging to it? And if the apostles had so intended, would they not have told us so in terms not to be mistaken? Where is that authoritative act recorded, which every principle of sound law, and reasonable construction , requires to have been performed, in order to set aside an entire system of unwritten law , first authoritatively established and put in practical operation by Christ and His apostles?

12. The alleged incompatibility of the Bible and Tradition

In reference to the question of the incompatibility of the Bible and tradition, Dr. Spring has certain abstract positions that I examined with care. He says:

To ascribe infallibility to any other standard of truth than the Bible, is itself casting the Bible into the shade. Two infallible standards of faith cannot be; since, if they differ, one must be wrong, and if they do not differ, they are the same thing.[29. Gardiner Spring op. cit. 72.]

The imagination cannot conceive, not the tongue of man utter any encomium upon the Scriptures, as to their truth and sublimity, that they do not merit, for the simple reason, they are the Word of God. And, perhaps nothing can add to the beauty of the simple statement of Saint Paul , that, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” As to their sacred character, there is no question.

But is it true that the Scriptures contain the entire Word of God? And if they do not, how can it depreciate the written Word, to put the unwritten Word of God upon the same footing? Were they not both uttered by the same Infinite Lawgiver? Are they not both infallibly true? If so, how does it wrong either one to be just to each, and to both?

If we put the two parts of a machine together, to make it complete, is this a wrong to either part? And if you put two parts of an infallible code together, and thus make it complete, is this error? is this confusion? Or is it order–heaven’s first law? I confess that I could not understand how putting both parts of a code together could depreciate either. It would seem that they were both honored, and the true intent of each was accomplished.

With due deference to the opinion of the learned Divine, I submit that the whole question is resolved into does the Bible contain the entire code as originally delivered by Christ and His apostles? and if not, was that portion of the unwritten law not recorded in the Bible repealed? If the Bible does not contain the entire code now obligatory, to say it is the only rule, is to do it as clear an injustice as that attempted towards Saints Paul and Barnabas , when the people wished to sacrifice to them as gods. And such a course would be equally unjust to Tradition , as withholding from it that which is its just due.

When the learned Divine, speaking of the incompatibility of Scripture and tradition, says, “Two infallible standards of faith cannot be” he seems to overlook his own clear language, uttered in the preceding page. Speaking of the Christian law he says, as already quoted: “There is no absurdity in supposing it to be partly oral and partly written, while both might be amplified and interpreted by one another.”[30. Ibid., 12.]

In addition, he seems to me to answer himself very fully, as to the supposed incompatibility of Scripture and Tradition in making a charge against the Catholic Church. “Romanists,” Dr. Spring says,

teach the doctrine that truth becomes truth because it is believed, and that it is first believed and then true, whereas, independently of its being believed, it has an unchanging and everlasting existence.

If truth has an everlasting and unchangeable existence, then all that Christ and His apostles did utter, whether written or unwritten, is equally true in both forms, and wholly consistent. All the facts that ever did exist – all the events that ever did occur – all the truths ever uttered by God, or man, were consistent with all others, and harmonious in every particular. How then can there be any contradiction or inconsistency in the words of Christ and His apostles  “those many and important truths,” as the learned Divine admits, “that were never committed to writing,” and those that were so committed?

When Dr. Spring says that if these standards “do not differ, they are the same thing,” I understand him; but when he says that, “if they differ, then one must be wrong,” I cannot see “whereunto this must grow.” He himself has told us that “many and important truths uttered by Christ and His apostles were “never committed to writing;” and of course these truths “never committed to writing” must be different from those written; and yet he admits they were truths, and if truths, they must have an “everlasting existence” and, therefore, “must not be wrong.”

Under the Catholic theory , the Scriptures and Traditions are held to be but constituent parts of one whole system of law, each part containing nothing but the truth, and both parts, taken together, only containing all the truth. There can be no theoretical contradiction or inconsistency herein; and there can be none, in point of fact, unless truths have been lost or error added to the system by one or both of these parts.

When Dr. Spring maintains that there must be an incompatibility, I must think him wholly mistaken. Or if not I must say, that the first part of Scripture which was written was itself incompatible with that portion of the truth not then recorded.

It is true that in systems of civil law composed of two parts, written and unwritten, there is always a provision, that where they conflict, the written law shall prevail as being the last will of the legislator. This provision is predicated upon the ground that human legislation is imperfect–that it may need amendment—that the lawmaker is actually fallible, and for that reason may contradict himself. Hence, such a provision becomes necessary.

But the same principle cannot apply to a system of law made by Christ. The same liability to imperfect legislation cannot exist. The nature and character of the Lawgiver, and, therefore, of His law itself, being as different from human legislation, as fallibility and infallibility from each other. This principle, so necessary to the fallible system, is, for that reason, inapplicable to the infallible.

When the learned Divine, Dr. Spring , asserts that “Romanists teach the doctrine that truth becomes truth because it is believed, and that it is first believed and then true,” with due deference I must say, I could never find any verification of such a statement. So far as I have been able to discover the true teaching of the Catholic Church, he has precisely reversed her maxim, for she holds, not that “truth becomes truth because believed,” but that it is believed, because it is truth.

True the Church lays down this rule in substance, that the fact of a certain doctrine having at all times been believed and taught by the Church, as a truth coming down from the apostles, is conclusive evidence to show that such a provision was proclaimed originally by Christ and his apostles. This belief of the Church is treated by Dr. Paley as evidence of the truth of Christianity itself, as we shall hereafter see.

Blackstone says, as we have seen, that the judges of the courts are the depositories of the common law  that they determine what it is  and that their decision is the most authoritative evidence that can be given of the prior existence of such a custom. But the learned commentator did not mean to say that such a custom become a law because of these decisions; for the judges are not delegated to pronounce a new law, but to declare and maintain the old one. The courts only declare the law the legislative power makes it. The law was in existence before the courts so declared it.

So it is with the Catholic Church. Under her theory, she is the depository of the entire law, not delegated to pronounce a new law, but simply to declare and expound the old one. Her decisions do not create a law–do not make that law which was not before such–but are simply evidence of the law “once delivered to the saints.”

The fact being undeniable and conceded, that “many and important truths uttered by Christ and His apostles were never committed to writing;” and, therefore, not to be found in the New Testament , it is difficult, upon any system of sound logic, to reject Tradition . Such a rejection leads to so much confusion and contradiction, that I was wholly unable to find any warrant, either in Scripture or common sense, to support it. It is derogatory to Christ, as a lawgiver, and to the Church as an institution founded by Him.

To maintain that God created anything in vain, is to impute to Him an infirmity, deeply disparaging to His character as Creator. We may not be able to comprehend the exact use for which portions of the Universe were designed, but we can see the purpose for which most portions of the visible creation were made; and the consistency and beauty of these portions should satisfy us that nothing was made in vain, though it be true that our limited intellects will not enable us to scan the entire creation at a glance, and designate the precise purpose for which each portion was made. So, if we say that Christ made any portion of His code of law in vain, we impute to Him an idle frivolity deeply disparaging to His dignity as a Divine Lawgiver.

13. The correct theory of Christ’s lawgiving

It occurred to me that Christ being a Divine Lawgiver he would never make a system of law, and permit it to be either mutilated or lost. He never would have committed His law to the world at large–to aliens and strangers–to take its chances of preservation like the teachings of mere philosophers. He would perpetuate it whole either by His special superintendence, or by depositing it with an inspired and protected guardian. The latter method was not only most in accordance with reason and in accordance with his system of governing men, but with the express declaration of Scripture. And if He adopted either of these methods, the truths of the system, written or unwritten, would alike come down to us as originally given, that we might enjoy, if we would, the same advantages as the Christians of the early church.

I could not conceive why Christ should build a church against which the Gates of Hell should never prevail, and which Saint Paul declared to be the pillar and ground of the truth and yet not commit the very law intended for the government of this great institution to its keeping. The idea that Christ, as a Divine Legislator, should organize an institution, such as He and Paul described it, and yet it be incapable of knowing its own faith, and not a credible witness of the same–thus creating an association of living men, wide as the world, and durable as time, and yet so frail and unreliable as not to deserve the respect and confidence due even to ordinary civil institutions would seem, upon its face, to be wholly inadmissible.

It did seem to me that those who reject Tradition , under the idea of attaining greater certainty, did, indeed, increase the uncertainty; not only by destroying a part of the law itself, but by attacking the credibility of the only proper and reliable witness to the inspiration and authenticity of the entire canon of Scripture.

By conceding that “many and important truths” of the system have never been written, and must, therefore, be lost, because the testimony of the Church is unworthy of belief, the character of our Lord as a Lawgiver, and of His Church as a competent witness, is depreciated, and the whole subject left in irremediable doubt.

In the Catholic theory, there is a combination of all the proofs, as well as beauty, strength, and consistency. Every motive of credibility and every proof are therein preserved. In this theory “our Lord” as Mr. Campbell justly says, “anticipated the future in all his precepts, and spoke with an eye to it, as well as to the men of his own time.[31. A. Campbell and J. Purcell, A debate on the Roman Catholic religion. 14.]

Knowing that the art of printing would not be invented for fourteen centuries, and that the great mass of men would always be unable to read; and that, therefore, all entire written law interpreted by each individual for himself in the last resort, would be impracticable, our Lord, for these, and other reasons, adopted a method that must be practical everywhere, and at all periods; and, therefore, promulgated His law orally. He commanded His apostles and their successors to do the same thing, leaving such portions of the law to be reduced to writing as after circumstances render prudent and advisable. And as the different modes of promulgation and transmission of laws by writing and tradition have each their advantages, a combination of both methods is most efficient and useful. So, the apostles and others, inspired by God, wrote parts of the laws of the early Church, and committed the same to the Church, as also the unwritten traditions, for safe transmission, attestation, and practical administration.

By this theory, the Church is the inspired depository, witness, and interpreter of the entire code left by Christ and His apostles. So that, no part of the law can be lost, and the code remains entire, without mutilation or change; and the work of Christ, and the institution founded by Him, remain perfect and complete, and worthy of the character of a Divine Architect.

14. Extracts from the Fathers

Of Saint Ignatius , the holy martyr, and disciple of Saint John , Eusebius says:

He warns them to be especially on their guard against the heresies just then springing up and increasing. He exhorts them to hold firmly to the tradition of the apostles, which, for security, he thought necessary, as a witness, to confirm in writing.[32. H.E., 1.iii.,c.36.]

Saint Irenaeus says:

So also Polycarp , who not only had been instructed by the apostles, and had conversed with many who had seen the Lord, but was also appointed by apostles, bishop of Smyrna, in Asia. Him we saw in our early youth….

The things which he had learned from the apostles, those he uniformly taught, which also he delivered to that church, which alone are true. To these all the churches throughout Asia, and they who to this day have succeeded Polycarp , bear testimony, being a witness of the truth more credible and more faithful than Valentinius and Marcian , and the rest of the perverse thinkers….

But the church also in Ephesus, founded indeed by Paul , but with which John remained until the days of Trajan , is a veracious witness of the tradition of the apostles.[33. Saint Irenaeus Adversus Haeres., 1. iii., c. 3, n. 4, p. 175.]

Therefore we ought to avoid them, but to cling with the utmost care to whatever is of the church, and to hold fast to the tradition of truth.[34. Ibid. 1. iii., ch., 4, p 178-9.]

But when, on the other hand, we challenge them [heretics ] to that tradition which is from the apostles, which is preserved in the churches, through the succession of presbyters, they are adverse to tradition, saying, that being themselves not only wiser than presbyters, but even than the apostles, they have discovered the genuine truth…. Thus it turns out that, at last, they neither assent to the Scriptures nor tradition.[35. Ibid. 1. v., c. 20.]

In a fragment of the Epistle ad Flavinum preserved in Eusebius :

These dogmas are not in accordance with the church…these dogmas the presbyters before us, and who shone together with the apostles, delivered not to you.[36. Fragment Epistle Adversus Flavium t. i., preserved in Eusebius History of the Church .,m 1. v., c. 20.]

Saint Clement of Alexandria, G.C., says, among many other things,

Let him go the real light–to the truth, which in what is written, indicates the things not written.

But these were preserved the true tradition of the blessed doctrine directly from Peter, and James and John, and Paul, the holy apostles, having received it in succession, the son from the father, etc.

There were some things delivered to the Hebrews without writing.[37. Clement of Alexandria, Saint Stromateis, 1. v., p 682-5.]

So he has ceased to be a man of God, and faithful to the Lord, who has thrown aside the ecclesiastical tradition, and plunged into the opinions of human heresies.[38. Ibid, 1. vii., p.  890.]

Tertullian says:

For these and such like rules, if thou requirest a law in the Scriptures, thou shalt find none. Tradition will be pleaded to thee as originating, custom as confirming, and faith as observing them.[39. De Corona p 101-2.] That was different so it had been handed down; now that which has been handed down, that was true, as having been handed down by those whose it was to hand down.[40. De Carne Christi n. 2 p 308.]

These are taken from writers of the second century, and are only part of their testimony. I might quote many from the third and fourth century to the same effect.[41. Cf. From the third century – Saint Seraphian, G.C.; Caius, L.C.; Origen, G.C.; Saint Hippolytus, G.C.; Firmilian, G.C.; and Saint Cyprian, L.C.

From the fourth century – Eusebius, G.C.; Saint Julius, L.C.: Liberius, L.C.; Saint Hilary, L.C.; Saint Athanasius, G.C.; Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, G.C.; Saint Ephrem Syrus, G.C.; Saint Gregory of Nissa, G.C.;Saint Gregory of Nazianzum, G.C.; Saint Basil, G.C.; Saint Pacian, S.C.; Saint Damascus, L.C.; Faustinus, L.C.; Saint Siricius, L.C.; Theophilus of Alex., G.C.; Saint Epiphanius, G.C.; Saint Ambrose, L.C.; and Saint Jerome, L.C.]

I will make two extracts from Origen the learned Greek Father of the third century:

We are not able to credit these men, nor to go out from the first and the ecclesiastical tradition; nor to believe otherwise than as the churches of God have by succession transmitted to us.[42. T. iii. Comm. In Matt., n.46.]

Which has neither been transmitted by the apostles, nor manifested in any part of the Scriptures.[43. T. iii. Comm. In Matt., 1.xiii. Ex Pamphil. Apolog.]

The testimony of the Fathers of the fifth century is equally full, to the same point. Such seems to have been the faith of the ancient church in the days of her mighty struggles to establish Christianity, when she had received the deposit of faith fresh from the apostles, and no one but heretics , such as Valentinius, Marcian , and Cerinthus, disputed the authority of tradition.

15. Maintaining the true apostolic tradition

Of the Ancient Fathers Dr. Spring says:

The ancient fathers acknowledged the authority of the apostolic traditions, unwritten and written; but, as we shall hereafter show, they only never pretended that the church must blindly receive as apostolical traditions all that may be put upon them as such, but urged the obligation of bringing them to the test of the written revelation.[44. Gardiner Spring, op. cit. 17.]

According to the learned Divine, the principle of acknowledging the authority of the apostolical traditions, both unwritten and written, was the faith of the ancient church; but the church was careful not to admit everything that might claim to be tradition but brought them to the test of the written Word. That the church was careful to admit only true traditions seems clear, and that the Scriptures were used as well as other proofs to show what were apostolical traditions, is no doubt true.

But that a tradition was rejected simply because it differed from, while it did not contradict the Scriptures, is, I apprehend, an error, if such a position was intended to be advanced. It will be seen at once, that the unwritten must have differed from the written traditions – the Scriptures. To test them therefore, by the Scriptures could only be done in so far as they were alleged to be contradictory. Mere difference may not constitute contradiction. Every contradiction is a difference; but every difference is not a contradiction.

If additional facts be preserved by tradition these may not contradict the Scriptures, any more than the additional facts stated by Saint Luke , contradict the Gospel of Saint Matthew . It was only upon the ground that these additional facts were preserved by tradition, that the authority of tradition was admitted by the ancient church. There could have been no satisfactory reason but this.

It was by tradition that the Scriptures were attested, as a single extract from Origen will show:

As I have learned by tradition regarding the four gospels, which are the only disputed ones in the church of God which is under heaven –that the first was written, etc.[45. T. iii. Com. In Matt. P440 Eusebius H., 1. vi., c. 25.]

So far as I have been able to learn, the Catholic Church has never admitted, or contended that she must receive as apostolical traditions all that may be sought to be put upon her, as such; but she has been exceedingly careful not to admit any but such as were well attested by the church in all ages, and that she has always used both the unwritten and written law , to amplify and interpret one another.

She has ever held it to be alike her duty to reject spurious traditions, as well as spurious Scriptures. As Blackstone well says, the common law of England is not “at present merely oral or communicated from former ages by word of mouth.” Similarly the traditions of the apostles are not at present merely oral, nor were they communicated from former ages by word of mouth only, but were reduced to writing soon after the days of the apostles; and are found in the testimony of the Fathers , and in the decisions of the Church. Thus in the first extract regarding Saint Ignatius , martyred about 106 AD, we see he had reduced a portion of them to writing, as stated by Eusebius .

The learned Protestant Bishop Montague says:

There are hundreds of particulars which have been instituted by God in point of religion, commanded and used by the Church, of which we own that the Scripture delivers or teaches no such thing.[46. Cited by Demetrius A. Galitzin, in “A letter to a Protestant friend on the holy Scriptures,” published by F. Lucas, Jr., Baltimore. p. 396.]

I could never find the authority in the New Testament for keeping the first instead of the seventh day of the week as a Sabbath. The language of the Old Law is most explicit that the seventh day shall be kept. And not only is the language definite and certain, but the reason why God ordained that specified day is given; i.e., that the Creator himself rested on the seventh, and blessed the seventh day.[47. Cf. Ex 20: 8-11.] To say, in the face of so clear a provision, that the observance of any other day of the week is a compliance with the law, is to indulge a hazardous latitude with the explicit language of the lawgiver. But tradition informs us that the first was substituted for the seventh day of the week, by the apostles, in honor of our Lord’s glorious resurrection.

It has been often objected against the traditions of the Church, that our Lord told the Scribes and Pharisees that they had made void the law of God by their traditions. [48. Cf. Mt 15.] Our Lord certainly did condemn certain specified traditions, but how condemnation of particular traditions can be construed into a general condemnation of all traditions is certainly not obvious.

If our Savior had intended a general condemnation of all tradition as a medium of transmission He would not have used language specially confined to a particular class of traditions then in existence. His language, in such case, would have been general, so as to include the future, as well as the past and the present. As Christ expressly confined His condemnation to one class of tradition, by what rule of rational construction can we make general that which He chose only to make special? To expressly confine a provision of law to specified cases, is to exclude the idea of generality. When a lawgiver specifies a single error, and denounces that the denunciation cannot be extended to other matters not designated.

If we take it to be true, for the sake of argument only, that Christ meant simply to condemn the particular traditions alluded to, we cannot put into his mouth more appropriate words to express such intention, or language more definite and certain, unless we make him resort to useless tautology, a thing not usual with competent legislators. The quotation sustains the Catholic view, and is against the Protestant.[49. The very fact that our Lord was careful to condemn only a certain class of tradition, shows clearly that he did not intend to go beyond those mentioned. If He intended to make His condemnation general, then it would be idle to put it in a special from, and expressly confine it to certain specified traditions. Were a lawyer to quote a special statute to confute a general principle, he would be considered as establishing the general principle, and as confuting himself. To show exceptions to a general, only goes to establish it. So, to show that our Lord only condemned certain traditions, is to show that He did not intend to condemn other not mentioned.]

It would seem that our Lord did not intend to condemn His own, and the subsequent acts of His apostles, in promulgating and administering a traditional system of law. He did not intend to give the Jews the occasion to say, with truth: “You condemn all tradition, and then enforced your own system in the same form. To say that because there were some false, that there could be no true traditions, would seem about as illogical as to say that we should reject all true history, and true Scriptures, because there has been false histories, and spurious Scriptures.