« PreviousContinue »
And John xiv. 15, “If
love me, keep my commandments." And xv. 14, “ Ye are my friends, if ye do WHATSOEVER I command you."
These are a few of the plainest and most positive precepts, given by our Saviour to his disciples. Mark xiii. 37, “ And what I say unto you, I say, unto all, Watch.” It is not the spirit of these precepts, that hath set aside the letter or the literal observance thereof. I am persuaded, if professing Christians were to prove themselves disciples of our Lord, by thus doing whatsoever the Saviour commands them, it would give a grand opportunity for the exercise of those « fervent charities,” of which you speak.
Assuredly, these precepts are as obligatory upon all the disciples of our Lord, as any injunctions relative to ordinances or church discipline. Can you, my venerable friend, conceive why reformers in every age of the world, since the promulgation of the gospel, have been so much more attentive to ordinances, to forms, and to ceremonies, and this for the express purpose of proving their obedience, than to the abundantly more weighty precepts enjoined by our divine Master? Yes, you know the reason why they are subject to ordinances; for the same reason, that certain persons made shrines. Acts xix. 24, 25, 26, 27, 28. But you
will urge, the abuse of an institution should not oblige us to lay aside the use thereof; very true, and I am persuaded it never will. For example; the abuse of water, bread, and wine, will not prevent the disciples of Jesus Christ from making such use of those elements, as his word and spirit directs. Our Saviour took bread and blessed it, and giving it to his disciples, told them it was his body, and directed them to eat it. He also took the wine, and told them it was his blood, commanding them to drink it, and they all drank it, Matthew xxvi. 26, 27. Mark xiv. 22, 23. And Luke xxi. 19, 20. This bread, and this wine, the disciples were directed to eat and drink, in remembrance of their, of the world's Saviour. It does not appear, that our Saviour gave any directions with respect to time, place, or manner. But after he had ascended up into heaven, numbers who professed faith in him and his salvation, meeting together in one place, Acts ii. 1, and i Corinthians xi. 20, brake bread, but not in one place only; they brake bread from house to house, eating their meat with gladness and and singleness of heart. Acts ii. 46. And 1 Corinthians xi. 25, “ This do ye, as oft as ye eat and drink, in remembrance of me.”
As you are acquainted with my ideas of the symbolic bread and wine, it will not be necessary that I should enlarge on this particular part of our subject, and I have only to observe, that as there are no figures of our salvation, and the salvation of the world, which more clearly teaches the grace of the gospel than the bread and wine, so there are no figures of which true believers are more fond. Acting up to their character, they never neglect to make that use of them, which their divine Master required ; and they faithfully adopt the sentiments of the Apostle Paul, who, writing to the Corinthians, affirms, That as oft as they eat bread, and drink wine, they do shew forth the Lord's death until he come. But if I never dare to eat bread, and drink wine as a devotional act, but when in a particular company, and a particular place, as I am not thus stimulated or thus restrained by a command of God, I am certainly walking after the imaginations of my own heart.
I am exhorted by the spirit of God, to do all things to the glory of God, 1 Corinthians x. 31: “Whether, therefore, ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
As I am not commanded never to eat bread, nor drink wine, except in a church and at certain seasons, broken by a person who represents our Saviour, and handed by him to certain persons who personate his first disciples, and by those to the multitude. I say, as none of these forms wear the stamp of divine authority, I am not bound by them. As, however, I shall always behold the bread and wine with devout gratitude, I can have no objection to communicate with such who may unite with me, in discerning the body of our Lord; and as I said, I shall always, while under the influence of religious impressions, view the bread and wine with pious thankfulness. I shall not venerate those figures the less, for receiving them in communing with associating Christians, with those who are not ambitious of exhibiting a show of will, worship, and humility, who behold the head of every man, holding fast the profession of their faith without wavering. The true believer is eager to profess his Lord and Master before men, and living by faith on the Son of God, he will consider him as the one thing needful, the better part which can never be taken from him. He hath always the answer of a good conscience, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Is he opposed by the world, the flesh, or the devil; do they seek to intimidate him by threats, still he is not terrified; he will fight the good fight of faith, 1 Timothy
vi, 12, he will lay hold on eternal life whereunto he is also called ; having professed a good profession before many witnesses. The Christian weapon is the sword of the spirit, which sword, is the word of God, the word which alone abideth forever. The Christian, the true Christian disdaineth any other weapon.
I am far, however, from censuring those who are subject to the use, even of the ordinances appointed by men. I only think there is no christianity in such obedience. We are obedient to the di. vine commands, no farther than we walk by the Christian rule; but I know no society in this world who walk by the rule Christ has laid down, or even in the steps of as many as were true believers among the primitive Christians. There are, I believe, numbers who are established in the belief of the same divine truth, and, believing in their hearts, that God raised the Lord Jesus from the dead, they shall be saved. Romans x. 9.
However, I should be glad to see a society of Christians continuing steadfast in the apostolic doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers; and wherever the first Christians acted consistent with the spirit and letter of our great Master's directions, I should be glad to see their example followed; but no further. In Acts iv. 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, we have a glorious view of the first Christians. They are described as filled with the Holy Ghost; the multitude of believers were of one heart, and one mind, neither said any that ought of the things which he possessed were his own, but they had all things in common, neither were there any among them that lacked; for as many as were possessors of lands or houses, sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostle's feet: and distribution was made unto every man, according as he had need. This did very
vell, where every one was filled with the Holy Ghost, and were consequently, all of one soul. In such a church as this, I should be glad to see deacons chosen, because in such a church as this it would not be difficult to find them. Where all were filled with the Holy Ghost, it was easy to find seven men of good, of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost, and of wisdom. In such a church, I should rejoice to witness the laying on of hands. There we find the Holy Ghost was really given by the iniposition of hands, and that it was not in word only, is manifested by its effect upon Simon, who being of a mercenary disposition, would have purchased this gift, for the purpose of making merchandise thereof. When Paul laid his
bands upon them the Holy Ghost came on them and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.
In such a church I should venerate the ceremony of ordination. Then the Holy Ghost said, separate me, Barnabas and Saul, for the work whereunto I have called them; and when they had fasted and prayed, they laid their hands on them. This was not an empty show, 2 Timothy, i. 6. “Wherefore I put thee in remembrance, that thou stir up the gift of God which is in thee, by the putting on of my hands." Here one 'man, full of the Holy Ghost, laid his hands ori another, and God owned the ordinance by giving his spirit upon the occasion. Surely, if the Holy Ghost be not present upon these occasions, nothing but the shadow remaineth to us; a body without a soul; the ordinance is not the same. In its first institution it was animated and blessed by the holy spirit of our GodNow, but I forbear, and shall only observe, it would be difficult to point out any place or people, in which, or among whom, any one ordinance in the Old or New Testament, is even literally observed. Yet if God thought proper to continue those ordinances, they would be continued as in the first ages of christianity. We know that an Omnipotent God was able to give healing and complete restoration, even to a look upon the brazen serpent, not only to the days of Hezekiah, but to the coining of the Messiah. But did God do thus ? Sir, you know he did not. The people however continued to look to this brazen serpent with devout admiration, until the time of Hezekiah, when the good and judicious king, aware that God had withdrawn his divine presence from this figure, thought proper to remove it from the people, and therefore destroyed it, giving it a most contemptuous title-a trifle of brass. Indeed, all things ob. served in a religious view, and not acknowledged by the Holy Spirit, are, in my opinion, dead bodies. Let me but see the presence and power of my God as the thing signified, in these outward and visible signs, and I will, with every faculty of my soul, advocate their observance. But as they are now made use of, they are hardly the shadow of a shadow ; and I declare to you, I esteem what is generally called church discipline, to be a species of profanation. Yet, doubtless there are many serious well-disposed persons concerned therein, as there were among the Jews, and as there are among the Roman Catholicks at this day.
But let every one be persuaded in his own mind, we ought not, we cannot judge or determine for others. Shadows are sometimes
VOL. II. 27
pleasant, as they recal the memory of a beloved friend. A picture is acceptable in the absence of an individual endeared to our souls. This.do in remembrance of me, will always be properly influential upon the mind of a Christian. The Christian man will eat bread and drink wine in grateful recollection of the character of his Redeemer, and of the immeasurable grace exhibited in the symbolic elements ; but he will receive those emblems as he conceives they were designed by the Redeemer.
On the whole, from a diligent and careful investigation of scripture records, it appears that the divine Being gave his disciples many rules and precepts, to which it is their interest, as well as duty, to attend"; and that as long as his spirit filled the disciples, and accompanied the things they were commanded to observe, his divine precepts were followed both in letter, and in spirit-but no longer. No doubt God accompanied every regulation he had ordained, as long as he thought proper, and no doubt the end designed was fully answered. But when they were left by the spirit of God, they were assumed by the adversary, who, by his seducing spirit, misleads the soul, and frequently converts the best institutions to the worst of purposes. Witness the trifle of brass, reduced, by the pious monarch, to ashes. When we stop short of the substance, and worship the figure, it is full time such figure was brought to a period.
But many of the precepts of Emmanuel will continue in force, and be accompanied by his presence, until the earth and the visible heavens are no more.
God, in infinite mercy and great goodness, increase the number of faithful observers of these divine precepts; and may my venerable friend continue in the path of that just one which shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
I am, with sincerity,
In giving the piece of paper pinned to your letter a second perusal, I observe you have made a small mistake relative to the manuscript to which you refer.'
Thus you express yourself, " But when you speak of partaking the Lord's supper alone, without respect to any other, it appears to