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But nothing can be more delusive, or more entirely at war with notorious facts. The truth is, when we come to scrutinize with care the real operation of this claim, it is to exclude from the visible church of Christ, and from all the promises of divine mercy,--the whole Lutheran denomination, in every part of the world ;-all the reformed churches in Germany, France, Holland, Switzerland, and Scotland, without exception ;-perhaps nearly one half the population of England itself; and probably nineteen twentieths of the whole population of the United States; including not only all classes of Presbyterians, but also the Congregational, Methodist, and Baptist churches, with many other less numerous portions of professing protestant Christians, in every part of the European and American world :—all these when traced to their original organization, and their subsequent practice, have no other than Presbyterian ordination ; and of course, all of them the high-toned prelatists unequivocally denounce; not merely as defective in their views and organization; not merely as labouring under serious error of doctrine or order; (such a charge might be consistent with the purest charity:) but as absolutely ALIENS FROM THE CHURCH OF GOD and from all his covenanted mercies ;-nay, as was before remarked, in a situation worse than the heathen, inasmuch as the heathen, having no light, cannot be said to have resisted it; but non-Episcopalians, in a Christian land are more guilty, enjoying the means of information, and, of course, being altogether without excuse. Such then, is the real state of this wonderful case. We have a comparative
small body of professing Christians ; not, certainly, tenth part of the population of protestant christendom, undertaking to exclude from all the warranted hopes of the gospel, ALL THE REST OF THEIR FELLOW PROTESTANTS; ~ declaring them out of covenant with Christ; and, however eminent their piety, or fervent their zeal, or abundant their services in the cause of the Redeemer, yet, notwithstanding
all, aliens from his family, and having no divine promises of which they have a right to lay hold. In short, we have here the extraordinary spectacle of a body of professing Christians, virtually avowing, that no piety, however elevated, no obedience, however pure, without communion with prelates, can avail any thing in reserence to Christian character:—that they are all nothing-literally nothing, so far as a gracious relation to God, and hopes in his precious promises are concerned, unless connected with a point of external order, of which the Bible does not give the smallest intimation, and a reliance on which is contrary to the whole genius of the gospel !
It may be safely affirmed, that there is no parallel to this in the whole religious world, EXCEPTING IN THE PAPACY. It is true, there are portions of the protestant church, both in and out of our own country, which are each in the habit of laying much stress on their respective peculiarities, representing them as highly important, and holding them fast with great, and sometimes, no doubt, with excessive tenacity. But they all, with one accord, grant that there may be genuine, acceptable piety, out of their own pale; and they all, with equal unanimity, acknowledge, that wherever sincere faith in Christ, cordial repentance, and holiness of life exist, the happy subjects of them will be accepted of God, and made for ever happy with him, just as certainly as if they belonged to their own denomination :--nay, that this will assuredly be the case, even when these truly pious individuals were never connected with any visible church in their lives. To this statement I know only of one exception in the whole protestant world, and that is formed by the exclusive pre latists of whom I am speaking. This comparatively small body feel no hesitation in consigning to “uncovenanted mercy” nine-tenths of all protestant Christendom; stigmatizing them as schismatics, rebels, presumptuous usurpers of that to which they have no right; aliens from the
commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise." But can there be the least countenance found in the Bible for this uncharitable proscription? Can it be that all the blessed reformers on the continent of Europe, who laboured and suffered more for the cause of truth and piety than any others in their day; and all the precious ministers and private christians who have flourished from that day to the present, in the churches founded by them; ALL deserved to be considered in this light ;-ALL to be regarded as aliens from that Saviour to whom they consecrated all they had, and in whose service they lived and died indefatigably labouring ? No, it cannot be. It is a sentence as unreasonable as it is dreadful. No such sentence was ever thought of by the Cranmers, the Hoopers, the Ridleys, the Jewels, and the Grindals of former times ; nor can it be now pronounced without an offence, as odious as it is criminal, “ against the generation of the righteous.
IX. The doctrine of the exclusive prelatists is, beyond all doubt, UNFRIENDLY TO CIVIL AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY. There is, probably, no principle more familiar to the intelligent Christian who has formed his sentiments from the Bible, than that the genuine religion of Jesus Christ has ever been, and ever must be, essentially favourable to all our choicest rights, as men and as Christians. It represents all men as standing, by nature, on a level before God, having equal privileges and equal responsibilities. It forbids men to put their consciences or their hopes in the keeping of others, but imposes upon every man the duty of inquiring, judging, believing, and obeying for himself. It secures to every one the right of private judgment, and represents the exercise of this right as essential to the proper intercourse between God and the soul. It teaches the Christian, that the opinions of his fellow-men are no law to him; but that “to his own Master he standeth or falleth.” In short, it turns away the minds of men from the
dictation, and unwarranted claims of both civil and ecclesiastical oppressors; and calls upon them to acknowledge the sovereignty of truth alone, and to regard the Bible as the only statute book of Christ's kingdom,--the only infallible rule of faith and practice.
Now, to all these principles, it is manisest that the spirit of the exclusive prelatists is decidedly unfriendly. I am far from affirming, indeed, that a man may not cordially prefer the Episcopal form of church government, and yet receive and love all these principles. Many may, and doubtless do, possess this decided preference, who are yet warm friends of both civil and religious liberty. I do not even affirm that every high churchman is, in reality, unfriendly to religious freedom; and far less, that he avows to himself this unfriendliness. But my position is, that the doctrine of the exclusive and thurough-going prelatists, when traced to its legitimate, and, indeed, unavoidable consequences, naturally leads the minds of men, in proportion to the degree in which it is received, to all those impressions and habits which are connected with mental servitude. This doctrine introduces human mediators as essential to intercourse between Christ and the soul. It attaches indispensable importance to the agency and authority of "privileged orders” in the church. It represents a mere man as a vicar of Christ, as a keeper of the human conscience, and . as the only channel of grace. According to this doctrine, there is no access to God, but through a certain “order of priesthood ;" this order hold in their hands all the means of approach to heaven; and their's is the prerogative to impart or withhold the “ covenanted mercies” of God. When such a doctrine is once admitted, there are no bounds to the power which it involves, or the unhallowed dominion over the conscience to which it naturally leads. It is the fundamental principle on which the whole superstructure of Papal tyranny has always rested. Hence the claim of that corrupt body to be the only authorized inter
preter of the Scripture ; to prohibit its perusal ; to dispense
In a word, to this doctrine, traced out, I will not say, to its legitimate, but certainly to its natural consequences, we may refer the haughty triumph in past ages, of the ecclesiastical over the civil power;--the bulls and interdicts which have carried not only terror, but the most formidable privations to rulers, and even kingdoms; and all that array of ghostly penalties and coercions, of which the history of the world gives so many mournful examples. The truth is, the moment we quit the gospel plan of approaching God, and obtaining acceptance with him; the moment we assign to the agency of man in intercourse with heaven, that paramount and indispensable character which the Bible no where warrants; that moment we encroach on the great principles of religious liberty ; we commence an invasion of Jehovah's prerogative, of which no one can estimate the mischief, or see the end.
But it will, perhaps, be asked, do no other classes of professing Christians, besides exclusive prelatists, contend for the importance of the Christian ministry, and represent its agency as necessary to the regular course of ecclesiastical administration ? Certainly they do. It will be seen in the following pages, that Presbyterians, and most other nonepiscopal denominations maintain decisively that the gospel ministry is an ordinance of God; that its functions ought not to be usurped by those who have not been regularly called to them ; and that it is the ordinary means of imparting saving knowledge to the minds of men, and building them up in faith and holiness unto salvation. As such, they bless God for the ministerial office; they highly value it; and consider it as the duty of all men to avail themselves of its faithful services, as they may have opportunity. But further they do not go. Precious as the Christian ministry