Let us see, then, what can be said on the primâ facie view of the subject, in behalf of the notion that Scripture is on principle, and not only by accident, the sole Canon of our faith.
First, the New Testament is called by the name of a testament or will. Indeed the very circumstance that St. Paul calls the Gospel Revelation a Testament, and that Testaments are necessarily written, and that he parallels it to the Mosaic Testament, and that the Mosaic was written, prepares us to expect that the Gospel will be written also. And the name of Testament actually given to the sacred volume confirms this anticipation. It evidently is a mark of special honour; and it assigns a most significant purpose to the written Word, such as Tradition, however clearly Apostolical, cannot reach. Even granting Tradition and Scripture both to come from the Apostles, it does not therefore follow that their written Word was not, under God's over-ruling guidance, designed for a particular purpose, for which their Word unwritten was not designed.
Next, we learn from the testimony of the early Church, that Scripture and Scripture only is inspired. This explains how it may be called in an especial manner the Testament or Will of our Lord and Saviour. Scripture has a gift which Tradition has not; it is fixed, tangible, accessible, readily applicable, and besides all this perfectly true in all its parts and relations; in a word, it is a sacred text. Tradition does not convey to us any sacramental words, as they may be called, or sustained discourses, but ideas and things only. It gives us little or nothing which can be handled and argued from. We can argue only from a text; we can argue freely only from an inspired text. Thus Scripture is in itself specially fitted for that office which we assign it in our Article; to be a repository of manifold and various doctrine, a means of proof, a standard of appeal, an umpire and test between truth and falsehood in all emergencies. It thus becomes the nearest possible approach to the perpetual presence of the Apostles in the Church; whereas Tradition, being rather a collection of separate truths, facts, and usages, is wanting in applicability to the subtle questions and difficulties which from time to time arise. A new heresy, for instance, would be refuted by Tradition negatively, on the very ground that it was new; but by Scripture positively, by the use of its text, and by suitable inferences from it.
Here, then, are two tokens that Scripture really is what we say it is. But now let us proceed to a third peculiarity, to which more time shall be devoted.
Scripture alone contains what remains to us of our Lord's teaching. If there be a portion of Revelation, sacred beyond other portions, distinct and remote in its nature from the rest, it must be the words and works of the Eternal Son Incarnate. He is the One Prophet of the Church, as He is the One Priest and King. His history is as far above any other possible revelation, as heaven is above earth; for in it we have literally the sight of Almighty God in His judgments, thoughts, attributes, and deeds, and His mode of dealing with us His creatures. Now this special revelation is in Scripture, and Scripture only; Tradition has no part in it.
To enter into the force of this remark, we should carefully consider the peculiar character of our Lord's recorded words and works when on earth. They will be found to come to us even professedly, as the declarations of a Lawgiver. In the Old Covenant, Almighty God first of all spoke the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai, and afterwards wrote them. So our Lord first spoke His own Gospel, both of promise and of precept, on the Mount, and His Evangelists have recorded it. Further, when He delivered it, He spoke by way of parallel to the Ten Commandments. And His style, moreover, corresponds to the authority which He assumes. It is of that solemn, measured, and severe character, which bears on the face of it tokens of its belonging to One who spake as none other man could speak. The Beatitudes, with which His Sermon opens, are an instance of this incommunicable style, which befitted, as far as human words could befit, God Incarnate.
Nor is this style peculiar to the Sermon on the Mount. All through the Gospels it is discernible, distinct from any other part of Scripture, showing itself in solemn declarations, canons, sentences, or sayings, such as legislators propound, and scribes and lawyers comment on. Surely everything our Saviour did and said is characterised by mingled simplicity and mystery. His emblematical actions, His typical miracles, His parables, His replies, His censures, all are evidences of a legislature in germ, afterwards to be developed, a code of divine truth which was ever to be before men's eyes, to be the subject of investigation and interpretation, and the guide in controversy. "Verily, verily I say unto you,"—"But, I say unto you,"—are the tokens of a supreme Teacher and Prophet.
And thus the Fathers speak of His teaching. "His sayings," observes St. Justin, "were short and concise; for He was no rhetorician, but His word was the power of God." And St. Basil, in like manner: "Every deed, and every word of our Saviour Jesus Christ is a canon of piety and virtue. When then thou hearest word or deed of His, do not hear it as by the way, or after a simple and carnal manner, but enter into the depth of His contemplations, and become a communicant in truths mystically delivered to thee." St. Jerome tells us that St. John's disciples once asked him why he so often said, "My little children, love one another;" on which he replied, "Because it is a precept of the Lord's, and is enough, though it be alone." And Cyprian, "Whereas the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, came to all men, and, gathering together learned and unlearned alike, did to every age and sex proclaim the precepts of salvation, He formed those precepts into a grand compendium, that the memory of His scholars might not be taxed by the heavenly teaching, but might promptly learn what for a simple faith was needed."
As instances in point, I would refer, first, to His discourse with Nicodemus. We can hardly conceive but He must have spoken during the Pharisee's visit much more than is told us in St. John's Gospel; but so much is preserved as bears that peculiar character which became a Divine Lawgiver, and was intended for perpetual use in the Church. It consists of concise and pregnant enunciations on which volumes of instructive comment might be written. Every verse is a canon of Divine Truth.
These then are some presumptions in favour of attributing a special sacredness to the New Testament over and above other sources of divine truth, however venerable. It is in very name Christ's Testament; it is an inspired text; and it contains the Canons of the New Law, dictated by Christ, commented on by His Apostles and by the Prophets beforehand. Though then, as the Romanists object, it be incomplete in form, it is not in matter; it has a hidden and beautiful design in it. Why we limit it to the particular books of which it is composed, will be seen in the next Lecture, in which, passing from antecedent presumptions, such as have here been discussed, I shall draw out the direct proof of the Article on which we are engaged.