NO one, I think, will seriously maintain, that any other definite religious system is laid down in Scripture at all more clearly than the Church system. It may be maintained, and speciously, that the Church system is not there, or that this or that particular doctrine of some other system seems to be there more plainly than the corresponding Church doctrine; but that Presbyterianism as a whole, or Independency as a whole, or the religion of Lutherans, Baptists, Wesleyans, or Friends, as a whole, is more clearly laid down in Scripture, and with fewer texts looking the other way—that any of these denominations has less difficulties to encounter than the Creed of the Church,—this I do not think can successfully be maintained. The arguments which are used to prove that the Church system is not in Scripture, may as cogently be used to prove that no system is in Scripture. If silence in Scripture, or apparent contrariety, is an argument against the Church system, it is an argument against system altogether. No system is on the surface of Scripture; none, but has at times to account for the silence or the apparent opposition of Scripture as to particular portions of it.
This, then, is the choice of conclusions to which we are brought:—either Christianity contains no definite message, creed, revelation, system, or whatever other name we give it, nothing which can be made the subject of belief at all; or, secondly, though there really is a true creed or system in Scripture, still it is not on the surface of Scripture, but is found latent and implicit within it, and to be maintained only by indirect arguments, by comparison of texts, by inferences from what is said plainly, and by overcoming or resigning oneself to difficulties;—or again, though there is a true creed or system revealed, it is not revealed in Scripture, but must be learned collaterally from other sources. I wish inquirers to consider this statement steadily. I do not see that it can be disputed; and if not, it is very important. I repeat it; we have a choice of three conclusions. Either there is no definite religious information given us by Christianity at all, or it is given in Scripture in an indirect and covert way, or it is indeed given, but not in Scripture. The first is the Latitudinarian view which has gained ground in this day; the second is our own Anglican ground; the third is the ground of the Roman Church. If then we will not content ourselves with merely probable, or (what we may be disposed to call) insufficient proofs of matters of faith and worship, we must become either utter Latitudinarians or Roman Catholics. If we will not submit to the notion of the doctrines of the Gospel being hidden under the text of Scripture from the view of the chance reader, we must submit to believe either that there are no doctrines at all in Christianity, or that the doctrines are not in Scripture, but elsewhere, as in Tradition. I know of no other alternative.
Many men, indeed, will attempt to find a fourth way, thus: they would fain discern one or two doctrines in Scripture clearly, and no more; or some generalized form, yet not so much as a body of doctrine of any character. They consider that a certain message, consisting of one or two great and simple statements, makes up the whole of the Gospel, and that these are plainly in Scripture; accordingly, that he who holds and acts upon these is a Christian, and ought to be acknowledged by all to be such, for in holding these he holds all that is necessary. These statements they sometimes call the essentials, the peculiar doctrines, the vital doctrines, the leading idea, the great truths of the Gospel,—and all this sounds very well; but when we come to realize what is abstractedly so plausible, we are met by this insurmountable difficulty, that no great number of persons agree together what are these great truths, simple views, leading ideas, or peculiar doctrines of the Gospel. Some say that the doctrine of the Atonement is the leading idea; some, the doctrine of spiritual influence; some, that both together are the peculiar doctrines; some, that love is all in all; some, that the acknowledgment that Jesus is the Christ; and some, that the resurrection from the dead; some, that the announcement of the soul's immortality, is after all the essence of the Gospel, and all that need be believed.
Moreover, since, as all parties must confess, the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity is not brought out in form upon the surface of Scripture, it follows either that it is not included in the leading idea, or that the leading idea is not on the surface. And if the doctrine of the Trinity is not to be accounted as one of the leading or fundamental truths of Revelation, the keystone of the mysterious system is lost; and, that being lost, mystery will, in matter of fact, be found gradually to fade away from the Creed altogether; that is, the notion of Christianity as being a revelation of new truths, will gradually fade away, and the Gospel in course of time will be considered scarcely more than the republication of the law of nature. This, I think, will be found to be the historical progress and issue of this line of thought. It is but one shape of Latitudinarianism. If we will have it so, that the doctrines of Scripture should be on the surface of Scripture, though I may have my very definite notion what doctrines are on the surface, and you yours, and another his, yet you and he and I, though each of us in appearance competent to judge, though all serious men, earnest, and possessed of due attainments, nevertheless will not agree together what those doctrines are; so that, practically, what I have said will come about in the end,—that (if we are candid) we shall be forced to allow, that there is no system, no creed, no doctrine at all lucidly and explicitly set forth in Scripture; and thus we are brought to the result, which I have already pointed out: if we will not seek for revealed truth under the surface of Scripture, we must either give up seeking for it, or must seek for it in Tradition,—we must become Latitudinarians or Roman Catholics.