At the Reformation, the authority of the Church was discarded by the spirit then predominant among Protestants, and Scripture was considered as the sole document both for ascertaining and proving our faith. The question immediately arose, "Is this or that doctrine in Scripture?"—and in consequence, various intellectual gifts, such as argumentative subtilty, critical acumen, knowledge of the languages, rose into importance, and became the interpreters of Christian truth. Exposition lay through controversy. Now the natural effect of disputation is to make us shun all but the strongest proofs, those which an adversary will find substantial impediments in his line of reasoning; and, therefore, to generate a cautious discriminative turn of thought, to fix in the mind a standard of proof simulating demonstration, and to make light of mere probabilities. This intellectual habit, resulting from controversy, would also arise from the peculiar exercises of thought necessary for the accurate scholar or antiquarian. It followed, that in course of time, all the delicate shades of truth and falsehood, the unobtrusive indications of GOD'S will, the low tones of the "still small voice," in which Scripture abounds, were rudely rejected; the crumbs from the rich man's table, which Faith eagerly looks about for, were despised by the proud-hearted intellectualist, who (as if it were a favour in him to accept the Gospel,) would be content with nothing short of certainty, and ridiculed as superstitious and illogical whatever did not approve itself to his own cold, hard, and unimpassioned temper. For instance, if the cases of Lydia, of the jailer, of Stephanas, were brought to show our LORD'S wish as to the baptism of households, the actions of his apostles to interpret his own commands, it was answered; "This is no satisfactory proof; it is not certain that every one of those households was not himself a believer; it is not certain there were any children among them:"—though surely, in as many as three households, the probability is on the side which the Church has taken, especially viewing the texts in connexion with our SAVIOUR'S words, "Suffer the little children," &c. Again, while the observance of the LORD'S day was grounded upon the practice of the apostles, it was somehow felt, that this proof was not strong enough to bind the mass of Protestants: and so the chief argument now in use is one drawn from the Jewish law, viz. the direct Scripture command, contained in the fourth commandment.
Our SAVIOUR has noticed the frame of mind here alluded to, in Mark viii. 11, 12, where His feelings and judgment upon it are also told us:—"And the Pharisees came forth, and began to question with Him, seeking of Him a sign from heaven, tempting Him. And He sighed deeply in His spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? Verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation. And He left them."