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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Private Judgment

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is the right the Protestants claimed in the Reformatory movement of the 16th century, and has since become the corner-stone of Protestantism (q.v.). The term signifies the right of man to read the Bible for himself and form his own judgment of its meaning under the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. In the view of Protestantism, man does not only enjoy this privilege, but is bound to exercise it. But, on the other hand, the Romish Church steadfastly denies this right to any man, amid holds the Church alone authority and guide in Scripture interpretation. On this point the Council of Trent thus decrees: "In order to restrain petulant minds, the council further decrees that in matters of faith and morals, and whatever relates to the maintenance of Christian doctrine, no one, confiding in his own judgment, shall dare to wrest the Sacred Scriptures to his own sense of them, contrary to that which hath been held, and still is held, by holy mother Church, whose right it is to judge of the true meaning and interpretation of Sacred Writ, or contrary to the unanimous consent of the fathers, even though such interpretation should never be published. If any disobey, let them be denounced by the ordinaries, and punished according to law." From the terms of this decree, it is plain that Romanists hold that their Church alone is entitled to judge of the true meaning and interpretation of Sacred Scripture. To the same effect the creed of pope Pius IV declares: "I also admit the Holy Scriptures according to that sense which our holy mother the Church has held, and does hold, to which it belongs to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Scriptures. Neither will I ever take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the fathers." In opposition to such doctrines as these, the Word of God explicitly teaches that every man is bound to judge for himself of the true meaning of Scripture. Thus 1 Thessalonians 5:21, "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." Acts 17:11, "These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so." Mark 12:24, "And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the Scriptures, neither the power of God?" Luke 16:29, "Abraham saith unto him, "they have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them." Isaiah 8:20, "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."

The popish theory goes to destroy individual responsibility; but in alleging herself to be the appointed interpreter of Scripture the Church of Rome is obliged to concede the right of private judgment so far as to enable us to determine for ourselves from the Divine Word that we are bound to submit our understandings to her guidance in spiritual things. But by any concession of the exercise of private judgment to any extent whatever, her theory falls to the ground. Dr. Whately shows this in a very striking manner in a passage which we extract from his Cautions for the Times: "A man who resolves to place himself under a certain guide to be implicitly followed, and decides that such and such a Church is the appointed infallible guide, does decide, on his own private judgment, that one most important point which includes in it all other decisions relative to religion. Thus, by his own showing, he is unfit to judge at all, and can have no ground for confidence that he has decided rightly in that. If, accordingly, he will not trust himself to judge even on this point, but resolves to consult his priest, or some other friends, and be led entirely by their judgment thereupon, still he does in thus resolving exercise his own judgment as to the counsellors he so relies on. The responsibility of forming some judgment is one which, however unfit we may deem ourselves to bear it, we cannot possibly get rid of, in any matter about which we really feel an anxious care. It is laid upon us by God, and we cannot shake it off. Before a man can rationally judge that he should submit his judgment in other things to the Church of Rome, he must first have judged,

1, that there is a God;

2, that Christianity comes from God;

3, that Christ has promised to give an infallible authority in the Church;

4, that such authority resides in the Church of Rome.

Now, to say that men who are competent to form sound judgments upon these points are quite incompetent to firm sound judgments about any other matters in religion is very like saying that men may have sound judgments of their own before they enter the Church of Rome, but that they lose all sound judgment entirely from the moment they enter it." See Elliott, Delineation of Romanism; North Brit. Rev. 34:260; Daubigne, Hist. of the Ref. i, 281; Congre,. Quar. 8:2, 66; Lee, Right and Responsibility of Private Judgment (N. Y. 1855); Rogers, Reason and Faith.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Private Judgment'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/p/private-judgment.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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