The following words are found in Christendom Astray, Lecture 1, written by Robert Roberts:
“Do you mean to say, asks the incredulous enquirer, that the Bible has been studied by men of learning for eighteen centuries without being understood? and that the thousands of clergymen and ministers set apart for the very purpose of ministering in its holy things are all mistaken? A moment’s reflection ought to induce moderation and patience in the consideration of these questions. It will be admitted, as a matter of history, that in the early ages, Chistianity became so corrupted as to lose even the form of sound doctrine – that for more than ten centuries, Roman Catholics superstition was universal, and enshrouded the world in moral, intellectual, and religious darkness, so gross as to procure for that period of the world’s history the epithet of “the dark ages.” Here then is a long period unanimously disposed of with a verdict in which all Protestants, at least, will agree, “Truth almost absent from the earth through the Bible was in the hands of the teachers.” Recent centuries have witnessed the “Reformation,” which has given us liberty to exercise the God-given right of private judgment. This is supposed to have inaugurated an era of gospel light. About this there will not be so much unanimity, when investigation takes place. Protestants are in the habit of believing that the Reformation abolished all errors of Rome, and gave us the truth in its purity. Why should they hold this conclusion? Were the reformers inspired? Were Luther, Calvin, Knox, Wyckliffe, and other energetic men who brought about the change in question infallible? If they were so, there is an end to the controversy: but no one will take this position who is competent to form an opinion on the subject. If the Reformers were not inspired and infallible is it not right and rational to set the Bible above them, and to try their work by the only standard test which can be applied in our day? Consider this question: Was it likely the Reformers should at once and in every particular emancipate themselves from the spiritual bondage of Romish tradition? Was it to be expected that from the midst of great darkness there should instantly come out the blaze of truth? Was it not more likely that their achievements in the matter would only be partial, and that their new-born Reformation would be swaddled with many of the rags and tatters of the apostate church against which they rebelled. History and Scripture show that this was the case - that though it was a “glorious Reformation,” in the sense of liberating the human intellect from priestly thraldom, and establishing individual liberty in the discussion and discernment of religious truth, it was a very partial Reformation, so far as doctrinal rectification was concerned-that but a very small part of the truth was brought to light, and that many of the greatest heresies of the Church of Rome were retained, and still continue to be the groundwork of the Protestant Church.
Such as it was, however. The Reformation became the basis of the religious systems of germany and England, Reformation doctrines were adopted and incorporated in these systems and institutions, and boys, sent to college in youth, were trained to advocate and expound them, and indoctrined by means of catechisms, text books, treatises, and not by the study of the Scriptures themselves; and on issuing forth to the full-blown dignities and responsibilities of theological life, these boys, grown into men, had to remain true to what they had learnt at the risk of all that is dear to men. Is it not wonderful in such circumstances that they did not get farther than the Lutheran Reformation. The position was not favourable to the exercise of independent judgment. Men so trained were prone to acquiese in what they were brought up to, from the mere force of habit and interest, sanctioned and strengthened no doubt by the belief that it was, and must of necessity be, true. And this is the position of the clergy to the present day. The system is unchanged. The pulpit continues to be an institution for which a man must have a special training. With a continuance of the system, we can understand how the religious teachers of the people may be grievously in error, while posessing all the apparent advantages of superior learning.
It may be suggested that the extensive circulation of the Bible among the people is a guarantee against serious mistake. It ought to be so; and would be so if the people did not, with almost one accord, leave the Bible to their religious leaders. The people are too much engrossed in the common occupations of life to give the Bible the study which it requires. They do not, with few exceptions, give it that common attention which the commonest of common sense would prescribe. They believe what they are taught if they believe at all. They cannot tell you why they so believe. Everything is taken for granted. Of course, there are exceptions; but the rule is to receive unquestioningly the doctrines of early days. Sometimes it happens that a thoughtful reader comes upon something which he has a difficulty in reconciling with received notions. There are two ways in which the thing comes to nought. The clergyman of minister is consulted; he gives a decided opinion, which, however arbitrary and unsupported, is accepted as final. If the enquirer is not satisfied, his business or his “connection” with the congregation suggests to him the expediency of keeping silent on “untaught questions.” If, on the other hand, he be of the reverential and truly conscientious type, though unable to satisfy himself of the correctness of the explanation prescribed, he thinks of the array of virtue and learning on the side of the suspected doctrine, and concluding that his own judgment must be at fault, he thinks the safest course is to receive the professional dictum; and so the difficulty is hushed up, and what might prove the discovery of Scriptural truth is strangled in the inception. Thus the great system of religious error is protected from assault in the most effectual manner, and is consequently perpetuated from day to day with effects that are lamentable in every way.”