7.We have a law. They mean that, in proceeding against Christ, they do what is right, and are not actuated by hatred or sinful passion; for they perceived that Pilate had indirectly reproved them. Now, they speak as in the presence of a man who was ignorant of the law; as if they had said, “ are permitted to live after our own manner, and our religion does not suffer any man to boast of being the Son of God. ” Besides, this accusation was not altogether void of plausibility, but they erred grievously in the application of it. The general doctrine was undoubtedly true, that it was not lawful for men to assume any honor which is due to God, and that they who claimed for themselves what is peculiar to God alone deserved to be put to death. But the source of their error related to the person of Christ, because they did not consider what are the titles given by Scripture to the Messiah, from which they might easily have learned that he was the Son of God, and did not even deign to inquire whether or not Jesus was the Messiah whom God had formerly promised.
We see, then, how they drew a false conclusion from a true principle, for they reason badly. This example warns us to distinguish carefully between a general doctrine and the application of it, (159) for there are many ignorant and unsteady persons who reject the very principles of Scripture, if they have once been deceived by the semblance of truth; and such licentiousness makes too great progress in the world every day. Let us, therefore, remember that we ought to guard against imposition, so that principles which are true may remain in all their force, and that the authority of Scripture may not be diminished.
On the other hand, we may easily find a reply to wicked men, who falsely and improperly allege the testimony of Scripture, and the principles which they draw from it, to support their bad designs; just as the Papists, when they extol in lofty terms the authority of the Church, bring forward nothing about which all the children of God are not agreed. They maintain that the Church is the mother of believers, that she is the pillar of truth, that she ought to be heard, that she is guided by the Holy Spirit. (160) All this we ought to admit, but when they wish to appropriate to themselves all the authority that is due to the Church, they wickedly, and with sacrilegious presumption, seize what does not at all belong to them. For we must inquire into the grounds of what they assume as true, that they deserve the title of The Church; and here they utterly fail. In like manner, when they exercise furious cruelty against all the godly, they do so on this pretence, that they have been ordained to defend the faith and peace of the Church. But when we examine the matter more closely, we plainly see that there is nothing which they have less at heart than the defense of true doctrine, that nothing affects them less than a care about peace and harmony, but that they only fight to uphold their own tyranny. They who are satisfied with general principles, and do not attend to the circumstances, imagine that the Papists do right in attacking us; but the investigation of the matter quickly dissipates that smoke by which they deceive the simple. (161)
(159) “Entre la doctrine generale et l’ d’.”
(160) These statements regarding “ Church ” our Author considers to be what logicians call the major proposition of the syllogism; and by the Latin word “ hypothesis “ rendered in French “ l’ ” he evidently means the minor proposition, which he declares not only to be unsupported by proof, but to be utterly false. His own early training and habits, as a lawyer, naturally led him to throw the argument into this form, especially when it related to a criminal prosecution; for even in our own times indictments invariably take the form of a syllogism. He appears to have conceived the accusation against Christ to run thus: “ mere man, declaring himself to be the Son of God, is guilty of blasphemy, and deserves to die. But Jesus of Nazareth, who is a mere man, hath made himself to be the Son of God. Therefore, according to our law, Jesus ought to die.” The major proposition cannot, be questioned, being manifestly taken from the law of Moses. The minor proposmon consists of two parts. 1. Jesus is a mere man. 2. Jesus hath made himself to be the Son of God. The second part is true, but the first is false; and, consequently, the whole argument, plausible as it had seemed, falls to the ground. It ought to have been known and acknowledged by the Jews, that the honorable rank of the Son of God, though it could not without blasphemy be claimed by a mere child of Adam, belonged of right to Jesus of Nazareth, of whom, even before his birth, the angel said to the Virgin Mary,
That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God, (Luk_1:35.)
(161) “Ces fumees, par lesquelles ils abusent les simples.”