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WORKS OF ARMINIUS - ON THE POWER OF THE CHURCH IN DELIVERING DOCTRINES
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ON THE POWER OF THE CHURCH IN DELIVERING DOCTRINES
I. The power of the church may be variously considered, according to various objects; for it is occupied either about the delivery of doctrines, the enactment of laws, the convening of assemblies, the appointment of ministers, or, lastly, about jurisdiction.
II. In the institution of doctrines, or in the first delivery of them, the power of the church is a mere nullity, whether she be considered generally, or according to her parts; for she is the spouse of Christ, and, therefore, is bound to hear the voice of her husband. She cannot prescribe to herself the rule of willing, believing, doing and hoping.
III. But the whole of her power, concerning doctrines, lies in the dispensation and administration of those which have been delivered by God and Christ -- necessarily previous to which is the humble and pious acceptance of the divine doctrines, the consequence of which is, that she justly preserve the name that has once been received.
IV. As the acceptance and the preservation of doctrines may be considered either according to the words, or according to the right sense, so, likewise the delivery of the doctrines received and preserved must be distinguished either with respect to the words, or with respect to their correct meaning.
V. The delivery or tradition of doctrines according to the words, is when the church declares or publishes the very words which she has received, (after they have been delivered to her by God, either in writing or orally,) without any addition, diminution, change or transposition, whether from the repositories in which she has concealed the divine writings, or from her own memory, in which she had carefully and faithfully preserved those things which had been orally delivered. At the same time, she solemnly testifies that those very things which she has received from above are [when transmitted through her] pure and unadulterated, (and is prepared even by death itself to confirm this her testimony,) as far as the variations of copies in the original languages permit a translator into other languages [thus to testify]; yet they do not concern the foundation so much as to be able to produce doubts concerning it on account of these variations.
VI. The delivery or tradition according to the meaning, is the more ample explanation and application of the doctrines propounded and comprehended in the divine words, in which explanation, the church ought to contain herself within the terms of the very word which has been delivered, publishing no particular interpretation of a doctrine or of a passage, which does not rest on the entire foundation, and which cannot be fully proved from other passages. This she will most sedulously avoid if she adhere as much as possible to the expressions of the word delivered, and if she abstain, as far as she is capable, from the use of foreign words or phrases.
VII. To this power, is annexed the right of examining and forming a judgment upon doctrines, as to the kind of spirit by which they have been proposed; in this, also she will employ the rule of the word which bears assured evidences that it is divine, and has been received as such; and indeed, they will employ the rule of this word alone, if she be desirous to institute a proper examination, and to form a correct judgment. But if she employ any human writings whatsoever, for a rule or guide, the morning light will not shine on her, and, therefore, she will grope about in darkness.
(2.) When, for certain reasons, she declares divine doctrines with her own words, not to compel any one to receive or to approve them, except on this condition, so far as they are. consentaneous with the meaning comprehended in the divine words.
(3.) And not to prohibit any man who is desirous of examining, in a legitimate manner, the doctrines proposed in the words of the church. Whichsoever of these things she does, she cannot, in that case, evade the criminal charge of having arrogated a power to herself, and of abusing it beyond all law, right and equity.
It is one of the fabulous stories of the papists that the Holy Spirit assists the church in such a manner, in forming her judgment on the authentic Scriptures, and in the right interpretation of the divine meanings, that she cannot err.