Page images
PDF

form, tangible, visible, and Aaron yielded to the wish; because he thought it a prudent and allowable compliance with the weakness of human nature. He was wrong, and was punished for it; and this transaction we shall find the type and foreshadowing of everything that has since happened in the world with regard to religion. The Almighty gives man just enough to rest, his thoughts upon : it is the fire on the altar, the cloud, the temple, and last of all the man, in whom our devotion may find also an object of affection: but he requires that we shall not go beyond this. We must not return to earth, and make for ourselves a worship less spiritual than he has instituted; on the contrary, he requires us to pierce through the veil as we advance in knowledge, and discern the spiritual through the visible. Hence the perpetual denunciations of the prophets against the Jews for their adherence to forms, which latterly they did adhere to, instead of giving attention to the purification of their hearts. Among all but the Israelites, the progress of the tangible was much more rapid: idolatry, with all its gross rites, had established itself among the people, at any rate, in Egypt, at a very early period; and spread from that old and luxurious empire, through the more simple states which sprang up around and from it. The Exodus was a warning from on high, that there was a Being, unseen and intangible, whose fiat governed all things: and this lesson was not wholly without fruit: yet still the human race reverted to the objects of the senses, till, in God’s good time he sent his Son: presented a tangible form on which the mind could dwell—then removed it from the earth, and said, “You may now think on this, and give your imagination a resting-place: this form you shall see again; but in mean time you must purify your hearts from earthly desires: that form will only greet your eyes when you have cast off the burden of the flesh, and have entered upon a spiritual existence.” The first Christians remembered and loved the man; his precepts, his example, his smallest words or actions were recurred to with the fondness of personal friendship; and this carried Christianity through the first two centuries; but then this remembrance began to have a character of abstraction, and again the human heart called for tangibility. Then came, step by step, gorgeous ceremonies, pictures, representations of the personal presence and sufferings of the Saviour. The very requirements of those who quitted the splendid and sensual rites of heathenism for the faith of Christ, led the Christian doctors to endeavor to replace the festival of the idol by something analogous in the Christian church: and thus without well knowing what they were tending to, the heads of the church yielded one point of spiritualism after another; sought to captivate and awe the people by impressive ceremonies: and finished by the sin of Aaron: they set up the image and said, “These be thy Gods, O Israel! that brought thee out of the land of Egypt.” For be it observed here, that Aaron set up this image merely as a tangible representation of the true Deity; a help to the devotion of . people, who could not worship without seeing something. This then is Romanism; it is not transubstantiation, nor the mediation of the Virgin and the Saints,f nor the infallibility of popes and councils; these are natural consequences indeed, but the distinctive character of the Romish church is tangibility. “There is the actual flesh,” it says; “there is the representation of the actual human presence of saints and martyrs; there is the actual man enthroned, who represents the power of God:” but it might have fifty other ways of satisfying this restless craving of the human mind, and it would be equally pernicious in any of these forms. Man's great struggle has always been between the animal and the spiritual nature, and when religion goes one step farther towards tangibility than the Deity himself has allowed, the animal nature gains strength; and vice and licentiousness follow as naturally, among the mass of the people, as rain fola lows the cloud. Observe, I do not here deny that many may profess a religion of sense and remain spiritually-minded themselves: Heathenism had its Socrates, its Xenocrates, &c. —Romanism has its Pascal, its Fenelon, and a train of other great names: but look at the people during that period, and the account will be very different. When an ignorant man imagines that he can remove the Divine anger by a sacrifice or a penance, he avoids the trouble of curbing his passions, and compounds, as he thinks, for indulgence of the one, by the performance of the other; but when he is told that purity of life and thought is the only road to Divine favor, if he sins, he sins at least with some feelings of compunction, some dread that he may not have it in his power to remove the stain he is incurring. The preaching of Wesley reformed multitudes, all enthusiastic as it was; but it would be difficult to find a parallel in the annals of Romanism. As great a movement of the public mind was made by the preaching of Peter the Hermit; but how different was the object and the result! The personal pilgrimage to the #. Sepulchre, as a mode of wiping out sin, was undertaken by thousands, who perished miserably, or, if they lived, came back not better men than they went: under a system of less tangibility, and a preaching as effective, they might have staid in their homes, and glorified God by a life such as Christ came to teach and to exemplify. It is so much easier to make a pilgrimage, or endure a long fast, than to subdue and tame the animal nature till it becomes obedient to the rational will, and seconds instead of resisting its wishes, that it is not surprising that in all ages a religion of outward observance should be more popular than one of inward purification. Those even which set off with the highest pretensions in this way have degenerated, and the outward and visible form is too often substituted for the inward and spiritual grace, which it was intended to represent, not to supersede. That religion, therefore, has the j chance of influencing the soul, which, as far as is possible, renounces outward demonstrations, which human indolence is so glad to rely on, and preaches o and effectually the uselessness of ceremonies, farther than as they tend to preserve the remembrance of HIM who came to call the world back to HIMSELF, to trample on the sensual and the animal, and to raise man to his pristine, or rather to what is to be his future state. A public acknowledgment of Christ as our Master and Lord, and a compliance with his own few and simple ordinances, are all that Christian duty requires, and nearly as much as Christian prudence will permit. The rest is a matter of worldly expediency, and should be so regarded. No doubt rests on my mind—I leave others to think as they may—that Episcopacy was the established form of the Church as soon as the Christian communities began to assume enough of regularity to admit of any settled order; and I think it a wise form. As far any institution can, it secures unity and decency in the church: and as far as any institution can, that was not positively established by Christ himself, it possesses, in my mind, the sanction of antiquity. It gives the concentration of purpose and regularity of effort which are bestowed by the discipline of an army; for as in an army a detachment acts upon the same system of tactics, and obeys officers constituted by the same authority, and thus assists the efforts of the main body, and falls into rank with it when they meet; so the church, under such a form, may send detachments to the ends of the earth, who may meet after long years, as brothers of the same communion, and find that though the individuals have passed away, others have stepped into their place in the ranks, and are teaching what their predecessors taught. The benefit of church discipline, therefore, in my mind is great; but I do not suppose that salvation depends on it, because God has repeatedly declared that Christ died for all,” and that he is not willing that any should perish;t consequently he can hardly have made our eternal state dependent on what no man can accomplish for himself. A person may not have it in his power to receive baptism from an ordained priest, but he may live as Christ taught; or, having never heard of Christ even, he may, like the Gentiles, win glory and immortality,+ if, having not the law, he be a law unto himself. I would not receive Christ's ordinances from the hands of any but an ordained priest, myself, because if a doubt exist in my mind, I sin in doing the doubtful thing; but herein I speak only for myself; let every man do as he is “persuaded in his mind” in matters of secondary import, as all ceremonial matters must be. You will now be prepared for my opinion with regard to the late movement made in the church by the AngloCatholics, as they term themselves; Puseyites, or Newmanites, as they have been termed by others. They have been thought to have introduced innovations—they have not:-there is not one of the ceremonies or practices which they have recommended, which was not very early practised in the church; but it was from the undue importance attached to these ceremonies, which came to be regarded with reverence from having been instituted by apostles and martyrs, that the after growth of Roman superstition sprang up so rankly. I believe the first promoters of this movement were as remote from actual Romanism as I am, when they first began it; but when once reason is submitted to any human dictum, in matters of religion, there is no resting-place till we arrive at the “infallible” guide which the Romish church claims to be. There alone can the soul which will not think for itself, find a ready and confident director. Accordingly, we find that some of those very men who but a few years back exposed the errors of Romanism, have now yielded themselves blindfold to the guidance of that very church, which, as long as they allowed themselves to reason, they acknowledged to have departed from the truth. Yetit is perhaps fortunate for the people generally, that this declension of its pastors has been as rapid and complete as it has been :-they were going back towards the sin of Aaron—they were insisting on ceremonies as necessary to salvation, thus rendering religion gross and tangible, and the people thus taught would soon have forgotten what those ceremonies were intended to represent, and have depended for salvation on what could not avail them in the hour of need: for the repetition of prayer is

* Exod. xxxii. 4. t Wide Colossians, ii. 18, 19.

* 2 Cor. v. 15. 1 Tim. ii. 6. t 2 Pet. iii. 9. # Rom. ii. 6–11.

* Rom. xiv. 5.

« PreviousContinue »