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Christ has made us free, and not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Direful as their influence has been, the corruptions of Christianity have less of evil than the genuine gospel has of good : they should endear it to our hearts, as the best gift of God; the pledge of human improvement, peace and happiness here, and of immortality and blessedness hereafter.
Acts xix. 15: Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?
THESE words are as applicable to systems as to persons. They consist of an assertion, and a question; and though attributed to an evil spirit, the assertion was true, and the question pertinent. And that spirit, though submissive to Christ or his apostle, was too strong for the priestly impostors who assumed their name without authority. I take the verse as a motto, and without further application, proceed to the subject of this evening's Lecture.
Comparing the language of Daniel with that of the Apostles John and Paul, in several distinct predictions, the characteristics of the apostacy which was to take place in the Christian Church, have appeared to be spiritual tyranny; alliance with temporal authority; mystery; idolatrous worship; blasphemy; hypocrisy, deceit, and affected austerity; and persecution. To these might have been added immorality; but that it is more correctly viewed as a general result of the whole, than as a distinct and additional trait. Certain it is, that the great body of professing Christians have long ceased to resemble the first believers in purity and elevation of character; nor can the difference be well accounted for, but by supposing either that a religion from heaven may become enfeebled by age, and cease to be followed by the effects which it was designed to, and originally did, produce; or, that the corruptions of the gospel have materially interfered with its regenerating and sanctifying efficacy. There can be no hesitation in adopting the latter supposition. Even amid the glories of primitive Christianity, the seed of these evils was traced lurking in the churches. It soon sprung up, and when the apostles were removed, had a rapid growth. After the political conversion of the Roman emperors, it attained a baneful maturity, and spread its branches over the earth, while every fairer flower withered in its shade. It is not yet “hewn down and cast into the fire.” We have found its fruits in different sects; and in some behold goodly slips, which, though severed from the trunk, retain many of the noxious qualities of the parent Upas. To recover from that great apostacy must needs be a work of time. Those reformed churches which
left the path of free inquiry open, did most towards it: but those which made certain changes, and then stopped, did little or nothing. The essence of the evil remained; and its abolition has been found as difficult as ever. To which of these elasses we must assign the sect which took possession of much of the authority, property and privileges of Popery in this kingdom, will appear from a brief review of its constitution, , faith, worship, and influence.
Following the same train of thought as in the first Lecture, in which dominion over conscience appeared to be a criterion between genuine and spurious Christianity, we inquire, Does the Church of England claim, or renounce, this forbidden lordship? Are its members at liberty to believe and profess whatever appears to them to be taught in the New Testament? No such thing. Their faith is marked out for them; and on almost every subject of interest, and on many of very inferior moment, they are minutely instructed what they must believe. Nay, it is broadly asserted, (Art. xx.,) that “the Church hath power to decree rites or ceremonies, and authority in controversies of faith.” This assumption máy be apparently limited by the declaration which follows, that it must not be contrary to God's word, nor make Scripture contradict itself: but the limitation is only in appearance; for who
judges of this contrariety? Why, this same Church: and of course the contrariety can never happen. (d)
If there be one thing clearer than another in the New Testament, it is, that Christianity is a personal religion. Every one is bound for himself to ascertain what its truths are, as of himself he must realize its virtues if he would enjoy its blessings. No man, or set of men, are or ever have been vested with the character of authorized interpreters, and its assumption is intolerable. Jesus, and be alone, is the religious Teacher of the world. Yet has the Church of England put forth an enormous collection of propositions, and declared that this is Christianity, and shall be believed.
And what is meant by the Church in this connexion? The Nineteenth Article well defines a church to be “a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments duly ministered, according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that. of necessity are requisite to the same.” This is good and liberal, though not very consistent. It is not Episcopacy, but Independency. But has such a congregation power in matters of faith ? Have they a right to say to their individual members, or to any desirous of joining them, or to their offspring, You must believe these articles to be a Christian, to have fellowship with us, to