The excerpt from the sermon below is over a hundred years old and still relevant today. Of course, now there are over 40,000 Protestant denominations, not 350.
“But, my dear people, how can you be sure of your faith? You say the Bible is your guide, but you cannot be sure that you have the faith. Let us suppose for a moment that all have a Bible which is a faithful translation. Even then it cannot be the guide of man, because the private interpretation of the Bible is not infallible, but, on the contrary, most fallible. It is the source and fountain of all kinds of errors and heresies and all kinds of blasphemous doctrines. Do not be shocked, my dear friends. Just be calm and listen to my arguments.
There are now throughout the world 350 different denominations or churches, and all of them say the Bible is their guide and teacher. I suppose they are all sincere. Are all of them true churches? This is an impossibility. Truth is one as God is one, and there can be no contradiction. Every man in his senses sees that every one of them cannot be true, for they differ and contradict one another, and cannot, therefore, be all true. The Protestants , say the man that reads the Bible right and prayerfully has truth, and they all say that they read it right.
Let us suppose that there is an Episcopal minister. He is a sincere, honest, well-meaning and prayerful man. He reads his Bible in a prayerful spirit, and from the word of the Bible, he says it is clear that there must be bishops. For without bishops there can be no priests, without priests no Sacraments, and without Sacraments no Church. The Presbyterian is a sincere and well-meaning man. He reads the Bible also, and deduces that there should be no bishops, but only presbyters. “Here is the Bible,” says the Episcopalian, and “here is the Bible to give you the lie,” says the Presbyterian. Yet both of them are prayerful and well-meaning men.
Then the Baptist comes in. He is a well-meaning, honest man, and prayerful also. “Well,” says the Baptist, “have you ever been baptized?” “I was,” says the Episcopalian, “when I was a baby.”
“And so was I,” says the Presbyterian, “when I was a baby.” “But,” says the Baptist, “you are going to Hell as sure as you live.”
Next comes the Unitarian, well-meaning, honest, and sincere. “Well,” says the Unitarian, “allow me to tell you that you are a pack of idolators. You worship a man for a God who is no God at all.” And he gives several texts from the Bible to prove it, while the others are stopping their ears that they may not hear the blasphemies of the Unitarian. And they all contend that they have the true meaning of the Bible.
Next comes the Methodist, and he says, “My friends, have you got any religion at all?” “Of course we have,” they say. “Did you ever feel religion,” says the Methodist, “the spirit of God moving within you?” “Nonsense,” says the Presbyterian, “we are guided by our reason and judgment.” “Well,” says the Methodist, “if you never felt religion, you never had it, and will go to Hell for eternity.”
The Universalist next comes in, and hears them threatening one another with eternal hellfire. “Why,” says he, “you are a strange set of people. Do you not understand the Word of God? There is no Hell at all. That idea is good enough to scare old women and children,” and he proves it from the Bible.
Now comes in the Quaker. He urges them not to quarrel, and advises that they do not baptize at all. He is the sincerest of men, and gives the Bible for his faith.
Another comes in and says, “Baptize the men and leave the women alone. For the Bible says, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. “So,” says he, “the women are all right, but baptize the men.”
Next comes in the Shaker and he says, “You are a presumptuous people. Do you not know that the Bible tells you that you must work out your salvation in fear and trembling, and you do not tremble at all. My brethren, if you want to go to Heaven shake, my brethren, shake!”
I have here brought together seven or eight denominations, differing one from another, or understanding the Bible in different ways, illustrative of the fruits of private interpretation. What, then, if I brought together the 350 different denominations, all taking the Bible for their guide and teaching, and all differing from one another? Are they all right? One says there is a Hell, and another says there is not Hell. Are both right? One says Christ is God, another says He is not. One says they are unessential. One says Baptism is a requisite, and another says it is not. Are both true? This is an impossibility, my friends. All cannot be true.
Who, then, is true? He that has the true meaning of the Bible, you say. But the Bible does not tell us who that is, the Bible never settles the quarrel. It is not the teacher.
The Bible, my dear people, is a good book. We Catholics admit that the Bible is the Word of God, the language of inspiration, and every Catholic is exhorted to read the Bible. But good as it is, the Bible, my dear friends, does not explain itself. It is a good book, the Word of God, the language of inspiration, but your explanation of the Bible is not the language of inspiration. Your understanding of the Bible is not inspired, for surely you do not pretend to be inspired!
It is with the Bible as it is with the Constitution of the United States. When Washington and his associates established the Constitution and the Supreme Law of the United States, they did not say to the people of the States: “Let every man read the Constitution and make a government unto himself. Let every man make his own explanation of the Constitution.” If Washington had done that, there never would have been a United States. The people would all have been divided among themselves, and the country would have been cut up into a thousand different divisions or governments.
What did Washington do? He gave the people the Constitution and the Supreme Law, and appointed his Supreme Court and Supreme Judge of the Constitution. And these are to give the true explanation of the Constitution to all the American citizens, all without exception, from the President to the beggar. All are bound to go by the decisions of the Supreme Court, and it is this and this alone that can keep the people together and preserve the Union of the United States. At the moment the people take the interpretation of the Constitution into their own hands, there is the end of the union.
And so it is in every government. So it is here and everywhere. There is a Constitution, a Supreme Court or Law, a Supreme Judge of that Constitution, and that Supreme Court is to give us the meaning of the Constitution and the Law.
In every well-ruled country there must be such a thing as this: a Supreme Law, Supreme Court, Supreme Judge, that all the people abide by. All are bound by decisions, and without that, no government could stand. Even among the Indian tribes such a condition of affairs exists. How are they kept together? By their chief, who is their dictator.