“The Right of Private Judgment” American Sentinel 12, 28, pp. 421, 422.

It is a favorite argument urged by Rome against the doctrines of Protestantism that Protestants adhere to the right of private judgment in the study of spiritual truth, and that this principle has caused the many divisions which exist to-day in the Protestant ranks. Rome points to these divisions, in contrast with the unity which pervades the ranks of her own adherents, as an evidence that Protestantism represents a departure from the truth and Church of God.

In this argument there is an appearance of truth, but no reality. As a matter of fact Protestantism does not lay claim to any “right of private judgment,” and it is only Protestantism which rescues an individual from the fatal fruits of this error.

The whole papal system of doctrines represents the fruits of private judgment. This judgment has been set forth before the church and the world in various forms. In one case it is the “bull” of a pope, in another the decree of a church council, in another the pronouncement of some other church “authority”; but always it is a human judgment, an emanation from a fallible and sinful source. It is the fruit of an excercise [sic.] of private judgment.

Protestantism leads men away from the fallible human teach, to that Teacher which is infallible and divine—the Holy Spirit. Protestantism does not for a moment claim that any individual ought to attempt to apprehend divine truth by the exercise of his own judgment. And it just as strenuously opposes his reception of any doctrine as spiritual truth by the exercise of any other person’s judgment; while the papacy teaches that it is all right to receive doctrine and hang upon it the eternal destinies of the soul, provided that doctrine be the pronouncement of a fallible mortal called the pope, or of a collection of fallible mortals sitting in the capacity of a church council.

But the pope, it is said, when speaking “ex cathedra,” is infallible. Who said so? Who proclaimed him to be infallible? The cardinals did so, at that memorable conclave which was assembled at Rome in 1870. But is a cardinal infallible? Were any of the cardinals of that conclave, or all of them together, infallible? And if not, was their pronouncement infallible? Out of fallibility, comes infallibility—out of the impure fountain, a pure stream! Strange phenomenon, unknown elsewhere in all the world of cause and effect!

Protestantism proclaims the Holy Spirit as the divine Teacher and Guide into all spiritual truth. It does this upon the authority of the word of God. For of the Spirit it is written: “When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.” John 16:13. And also: “The Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10), and “God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.” Ib. Therefore we are counseled, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” James 1:5. The true Protestant goes to the Word of God for wisdom in spiritual things, and with humility and faith asks God to enlighten his understanding. And the promise of Him who cannot lie is that it shall be done.

This is not exercising his own private judgment,—far from it. He first learns from that Word that his own judgment counts for nothing in the apprehension of spiritual truths, because such truths must be spiritually discerned. He lays aside his own preconceived opinions, and opens his mind and heart to the illumination of the Holy Spirit; and that illumination is shed always upon the Word. The relation of the Spirit to the Word has been well likened to that of a locomotive to the rails upon which it runs. The Spirit speaks through the Word, and departs not from it. “He shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak.” John 16:13. He speaks not his own words, but the words of Christ. John 14:10. And all Scripture is the Word of Christ. 1 Peter 1:10, 11.

Instead of coming, then, to a fallible mortal like himself, for enlightenment in those truths which pertain to salvation, the true Protestant comes to God, who is in truth infallible, and views his Word under the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the divine Guide who cannot err. But why, then, it may be asked, are Protestants so divided in their views of scriptural truth? The answer is, that they have not taken the truly Protestant course, but have too nearly followed the principles of the papacy. They have held too much to the opinions of men, either their own opinions, or those of some others. Their very denominational names indicate this, as do the creeds upon which they stand. God’s Word is true, and his promises are sure, whatever may be the short-comings of his professed followers. And as certain as that his Word is true, so certain is it that the Holy Spirit does guide into all truth those who humbly seeek [sic.] the Lord for enlightenment. How he does this, it is not our business to inquire; nor does it matter. But he does it, as certainly as that there is any spiritual truth to be known.

The unity of the papacy, is the unity of blind [422] submission to the spiritual guidance of a man. Christian unity is the unity of intelligent submission to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In the former there is the exercise of human judgment, which is private judgment, on the part of him who “as God, sitteth in the temple of God”, and of his counsellors; in the latter there is the enlightenment of the individual understanding by the illumination of the Holy Shirit [sic.] upon the infallible Word.

And in the latter, also, there is spiritual growth; and only by it can spiritual growth be realized. For one cannot grow spiritually on a papal Bull, a decree of a church council, or a church creed. In short, he cannot grow on the word of man, because there is no element of growth in it. In the creeds and decrees which men have fixed there is no room for growth. Nor is it ordained that the child of God shall experience a fitful and uncertain spiritual growth by hearing an occasional pronouncement upon spiritual things by priest or pastor. He is to grow daily, hourly, if he will; and this can be realized only through the instruction of the ever-present Spirit.

“The right of private judgment” as exercised in spiritual things, is a papal principle entirely; and the more Rome inveighs against it, the more she condemns herself and justifies the Protestant principle of becoming wise unto salvation through the Word of God and the guidance of the Spirit.

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