contend for the faith – quotable (1)

I’ve been doing a little research on the phrase ‘the faith once delivered’. In the process I’ve found a few gems. Here’s the first:

“Justification by faith, I have said, is a fundamental doctrine of the gospel. It is vital. It is ‘the faith once delivered to the saints.’ No system from which it is excluded, can ever be justly regarded as embodying the religion of Christ. It was taught by the apostles, and early ministers, constantly, forcibly, emphatically. It was cherished by the primitive churches as a priceless truth. How can we account for its abandonment by the professed followers of Jesus Christ? There is, I answer, an inherent tendency in human nature, renewed though it may be, to pass from the substance to the forms of religion. The transition is so easy that it can only be prevented by perpetual vigilance. The influence of this propensity the early churches did not very long escape. Among the first of the corruptions they admitted and embraced, was the undue importance which became attached to religious ceremonials. They gradually exalted the rites above the doctrines of Christianity, while both were perverted and misapplied. Baptism, especially, was imagined to possess great and peculiar virtues. Thus justification through grace by faith, was ultimately displaced by justification through grace by baptism. Popery was the result, the doctrine of which, on this subject, is thus expressed by the Council of Trent: — ‘Justification is by means of the sacraments, either originally infused into us, or subsequently increased, or when lost, again restored.’ Thus the Christian world was plunged into darkness, which remained unbroken for a thousand years.”

R. B. C. Howell, Evils of Infant Baptism (Roger Williams Heritage Archives, 1851), 102-103.

A few points to highlight:

  • The inherent tendency to pass from the substance to the forms of religion. A very pernicious trait.
  • The first of the corruptions was the undue emphasis attached to religious ceremonials. Desiring the subjective experience more than exercising faith? The charismatic impulse?
  • From forms to popery. A slippery slide? The fact that the slippery slide slips slowly doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

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