Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

overwhelm the majority of the real supporters of the Gospel; thus throwing the religious rights and privileges of all who prize religion, into the hands of men who have no conscientious interest on the subject.

This is an alarming state of things, and brings upon the children of the Pilgrims a persecution as real as that from which they fied, when at first they came hither; and is subjecting them, almost daily, to the necessity of forming voluntary societies, after the example of other denominations, and of laying anew the foundations of those churches, which have been driven from the habitations of their fathers. Of how much value these local societies now are, it is not for me to say ; but so great is the change of circumstances in which they exist, that they are distinguished in nothing from voluntary societies which have risen up within their limits, except in the indefinite tenure of membership, and the insecurity of rights to all who are sincerely attached to them, and the legal membership of so many who are not attached to them, and whose agency may at any time be so easily employed to thwart the wishes of all who desire to perpetuate the religion of their fathers. Whether it be expedient to abolish these local societies, or to let them cease by the rapid course of events, I shall not now stop to inquire; but, evidently, the providence of God has brought us into a condition in which all denominations must be considered as having a right to promote their own religious institutions, wherever, in the providence of God, they are able to do it. It is equally clear, that no denomination has, or ought to have, a shadow of legal advantage over another. We all stand, and must stand, only by the goodness of our cause, the favor of heaven, and our own resources. As parish limits have, also, in some places ceased to help the Gospel, they ought not, surely, to be permitted to hinder it. The land is before us, and there is room enough for us all. Only, therefore, let us see to it, that real Christians of different denominations fall not out by the way, for we are brethren.

It will not follow, however, because Christian denominations have a right to establish an interest wherever they are able, that they can therefore do no wrong in this respect; for, while they have rights which cannot be abridged or controlled by law, they are to be exercised under the imperious obligations of relative duty, which cannot be evaded or shaken off. One denomination may have no right to hinder a course of conduct, which, notwithstanding, another may not, in the sight of God, have any right to pursue.

The relative duties of Christian denominations one toward another, need to be, therefore, ascertained and settled, before they will render to each other due benevolence, while all, persuaded in their own mind, small manage their own affi.irs peaceably in their own way, and with fervent charity towards all who love our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in sincerity and in truthi.

Avother consideration which renders a more definite knowledge on this subject indispensable, is, the increased activity of all Christian denominations to extend the power of the Gospel. This, if not regulated by correct views of rights and duties, which shall cause them to move in their respective orbits, and to bear with the accidental collisions which are inseparable from the doing by each what each has a perfect right to do, may, like the collision of comets, set the world on fire; whereas the attractions and repellances of love, guided by knowledge, will not fail to preserve the balance in the moral system, and secure the silent and harmonious movement of every orb.

To those who understand the law of love, by which Christians are bound to each other, it may seem impossible that it should be so extensively, and for so long a time, violated; and that men, who admit their obligation to love even enemies, should have felt themselves at liberty to indulge jealousy and alienation towards their friends.

Though this anomaly has resulted from the deceitfulness and wickedness of the heart, in good men, there are circumstances, doubtless, which have occasioned the temptation. One of these, may have been, the perversion of the apostolic treatment of heretics. There were those, early in the church, who claimed the Christian name as a cover for errors which precluded all evidence of piety. From such, the churches were commanded to withdraw, and have no fellowship with them. But it was not unnatural, for imperfect men to multiply these fundamentals, until differences, not inconsistent with the existence of piety, should become the occasion of separation, and of such treatment as one denomination of Christians ought never to exhibit towards another.

A more powerful cause, however, of alienation and strife, has been found in the alliance of the church with the civil power.

The consequence has been, an attempt to regulate the faith of men, and their modes of worship, by law; and to secure uniformity, not by argument alone, and persuasion, but by civil pains and penalties. From this resulted, persecution on the one part; and, on the other, a keen sense of injury, and deep rooted and long lived opposition. This is the state of feeling, between the Dissenters and the Established church in England. They remember the fire and blood of other days, and feel keenly their civil disabilities, and the double burdens they are now compelled to bear, for the support of the national religion and their own, while their sons are excluded from all the universities of the land. When our fathers came to this country, they came here smarting under a sense of recent and aggravated wrongs, and with all the feelings of men thrust out from their beloved land, and driven to a wilderness, by contumely and oppression. From these circumstances resulted an early prejudice, in this country, between Congregationalists and Episcopalians, which has been marked by an aversion somewhat peculiar, and which has not even to this day wholly ceased.

It might have been hoped, rather than expected, that our fathers, profiting by experience, would have granted to others that religious liberty which they claimed for themselves. But that was not the age of the application of correct principles in respect to religious liberty. The fountains of truth were beginning to overflow, but the waters were muddy, and the streams were yet choked by the rubbish of other ages, which, as yet, their power had not been able to sweep away. Having abandoned all that was dear to themselves in civilized life, for the perils of the ocean and the wilderness, our fathers felt it to be an aggravation of their exile to be molested by other denominations in their wilderness retreat; and, at the first, exercised a legal severity against dissenters from their doctrines and worship, which, though natural enough in that age, and in their circumstances, can never be justified; but which, by no means deserves that severity of rebuke, which some of their descendants have heaped upon them. They might as well be ridiculed, almost, for not employing steam-boats and stereotype plates, as to be censured for not acting in perfect accordance with the principles of religious liberty, before they were fully discovered and clearly defined, But, mild as the censure of their children should be, we may be permitted to regret their mistake; for much of the alienation, and strife, and evil speaking between the Congregationalists and the denominations which have sprung up around them, has arisen from the efforts, on the one part to overthrow, and on the other to maintain, the legal advantages which the Congregationalists established, when they were the only denomination in the State, It ought in justice to be added, however, that the alterations which a change of circumstances made necessary in the Congregational system, as established by law, have been made with a promptitude and cheerfulness wholly unparalleled in the history of the world, and such as in kingly governments could have been achieved only by revolution and blood, giving a glorious proof of the mild efficacy of republican institutions, and of the sufficiency of a community under the influence of religious principle, to accommodate their government to their own necessities. But it is time that the jealousies and alienations resulting from past collisions should cease; and that we . begin to make some atonement for the injury our contentions have done to the cause of Christ, by a studious cultivation of the arts of peace, under the influence of that charity which worketh no ill to its neighbor, but suffereth long, and is kind.

Another cause has lent its aid to the acrimony, which has too much pervaded the feelings of Christian denominations toward each other. It is the influence of worldly men, who, from motives of ambition, have identified themselves with a religious denomination, and, to answer their sinister purposes, have breathed into it

the spirit of a party, and swayed it by the wisdom which is from beneath. The ascendency of talent, or wealth, or political influence, has been such, as to overrule the counsels of meekness and love. Much of the virulence and heat, which have appeared in Christian denominations, has been the offspring of hearts which have never experienced the power of Christian benevolence. This, in all cases, where the church has been secularized by an alliance with the State, and guided by the influence of mere politicians, has been the chief cause, which has rent the seamless garment. Under the influence of this alliance, it has often happened, that the pious have not been the persecutors, but the persecuted; and that the asperities and cruelties, so freely laid to the charge of Christians, have been inflicted upon Christians by unholy men, and under the influence of a worldly policy, and a carnal heart. This fact evinces clearly, that the churches of Christ can never expect to be influenced wholly by Christian feelings towards each other, until they shall become separate from secular influence, and obey implicitly the laws of our Lord Jesus Christ. But in order to such a consummation, knowledge must lead the way. We must understand the charter of our mutual rights, and the relations of of relative duty, before all sections of the church of Christ will shine fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.

(To be continued.)

MORAL INFLUENCE OF AN ORTHODOX BELIEF.

In a Sermon preached by the celebrated Dr. Chalmers, in May, 1827, at the opening of the Scotch National Church in London, are the following remarks respecting the practical influence of the doctrines of grace.

“ It is this doctrine,”—of justification by faith through the merits of Christ—“that gives to the Gospel message the character of a joyous sound, the going forth of which among all nations shall at length both reconcile and regenerate the world. That were indeed a gladsome land, where this truth was preached, with acceptance and with power, from all the pulpits. It is, in fact, the great bond of reunion between earth and heaven. It is like a cord of love let down from the upper sanctuary among the sinful men who are below; and with every sinner who takes hold, it proves the conductor, along which the virtues of heaven, as well as the peace of heaven, descend upon him. This doctrine of grace is altogether a doctrine according to godliness, and as much litted to emancipate the heart from the tyranny of sin as from the terrors of that ven

geance which is due to it. O, it is an idle fear, lest the preaching of the cross should spread the licentiousness of a proclaimed impunity among the people. All experience assures the opposite; and that in parishes which are most plied with the free offers of forgiveness through the blood of a satisfying atonement, there we have the best and holiest families.

“But it may be suspected that, although such a theology is the minister of peace, it cannot be the minister of holiness. Now, to those who have this suspicion, and who would represent the doctrine of justification by faith—that article, as Luther calls it, of a standing or falling church—as adverse to the interests of virtue, I would put one question, and ask them to resolve it. How comes it that Scotland, which, of all the countries in Europe, is the most signalized for the rigid Calvinism of her pulpits, should also be the most signalized by the moral glory that sits on the aspect of her general population? How, in the name of mystery, should it happen, that such a theology as ours is conjoined with perhaps the yet most unvitiated peasantry among the nations of Christendom? The allegation against our churches is, that, in the argumentation of our abstract and speculative controversies, the people are so little schooled to the performance of good works. And how then is it that, in our courts of justice, when compared with the calendars of our sister kingdom, there should be so vastly less to do with their evil works? It is certainly a most important experience that, in that country where there is the most Calvinism, there should be the least crime,—that what may be called the most doctrinal nation of Europe, should, at the same time, be the least depraved, and that land wherein the people are most deeply imbued with the principles of salvation by grace, should be the least distempered, either by their week-day profligacies, or their Sabbath profanations. When Knox came over from the school of Geneva, he brought its strict, and, at that time, uncorrupted orthodoxy along with him ; and with it here pervaded all the formularies of the church which was founded by him; and, from one generation to another, have our Scottish youth been familiarized to the sound of it from their very infancy; and, unpromising as such a system of tuition might be in the eye of the mere academic moralist, to the work of building up a virtuous and well-doing peasantry, certain it is, that, as the wholesale result, there has palpably come forth of it the most moral peasantry in Europe notwithstanding."

Nor is it only from the advocates of evangelical doctrines that we have such testimony. The opposers of those doctrines have often acknowledged, that the fact, in relation to the character of those who embraced them, has generally been as stated above by Dr. Chalmers. Some of these acknowledgements have been seen by a portion of our readers, in Dr. Beecher's Reply to the Review VOL. 1.

23

« EdellinenJatka »