Page images
PDF
EPUB

is in their view, and inestimable as are the offices which it dispenses, they do not consider either as necessary to salvation. They credit the divine declaration which proclaims, “ Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt

be saved. He that believeth on the son of God hath “ everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, “ but is passed from death unto life.” And, accordingly, they are persuaded and teach, that wherever there is one who has genuine faith in the Redeemer, and, consequently, a vital union of spirit with him, such an individual is as completely in a state of acceptance with God, though he should never see a church officer in his life, and as sure of covenanted mercy, as if he enjoyed the most unquestionable ordinances, dispensed by the most regular minister on earth. Now those who adopt this great gospel principle, and act upon it, cannot be subjected to the reign of spiritual domination. They own no master but Christ; no mediator but Him who 6 came to seek and to save that which was lost;” no infallible statute book but the Bible; no real dispenser of grace but that “ holy Spirit of promise” who alone can give efficacy to means by whomsoever administered, and who can find his way to the heart without

The Presbyterian, and those who think with him, take no view of the ministerial character which necessarily gives it any official power over the consciences or the hopes of men. No certificate or intercession of a “ priest” is needed to obtain access to the mercy seat. There is a wide, I had almost said, an infinite difference between all this, and maintaining that the agency of an “ authorized priest" is necessary to salvation; and that, as he may, at any time, withhold this agency at his pleasure, so an obnoxious individual from whom he chooses to withhold it, may be unavoidably lost, however pure and elevated his personal piety; nay, that a nation may incur this dreadful penalty in the gross, if unfortunately laid under the bar of an ecclesiastical interdict, such as spiritual tyranny

means.

has often imposed. In short, upon the high church principle, carried out to its legitimate consequences," the need of the priest as an intercessor is incessant, and dependence upon him absolute and extreme.”

X. The exclusive claims of prelacy are further refuted by the voicE OF HISTORY. That is, the practical in fluence of this system, as recorded in the annals of the church, has never justified or sustained the pre-eminence to which it lays claim.

It is always an arduous task, and to delicate and benevolent minds, a painful one, to compare with each other different denominations of Christians, and to attempt to award the comparative claims of each to purity and spirituality. It is a task in which sectarian feeling is so apt to interpose, and sectarian prejudice to blind the judgment, that few minds, animated by a proper spirit, will engage in it, unless compelled; yet it is sometimes necessary; and the case before us seems to be one in which it becomes unavoidable.

If a confident and arrogant individual, in setting forth his claims to the Christian character, should allow himself

" I only am in covenant with God. I only, of all “ my fellow professors, maintain a life of real communion " with him. All around me are aliens and reprobates. I " alone walk in the light, and in the favour of heaven:” would not every discerning neighbour be disposed, and with the utmost reason, to say to him: “ Where are your “ testimonals ? Bring forth fruits corresponding with this " high claim. If you would make it good, we shall ex

pect you to be more devoted, more spiritual, and more “ exemplary in every branch of Christian obedience, than "any around you. Where, then, is your evidence of the “ pre-eminent character which you arrogate to yourself ?” Would such a demand be deemed either uncandid or unreasonable ? By no means. It is a dictate of common

It is the very test which the Saviour himself pre

to say:

66

sense.

scribes. “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." And it is very certain that, in all rational society, such a claimant, unless he could sustain himself by appealing to a temper and conversation in some measure becoming his assumption, could not fail of incurring universal contempt.

It may be truly said, that this is a simple, unexaggerated picture of the case before us. It cannot be alleged, indeed, that All Episcopalians prefer a claim of the character supposed. Many of them, I hope a large majority, though decided in their preference of Prelacy, are as inoffensive in their claims, as Presbyterians, or any other denomination of Christians. But the assumption of the high-church Prelatists is precisely analogous to that of the individual imagined; and, therefore, there can be nothing unjust in making the demand which I have stated. They tell us, that their's is the only true church ; that Episcopalians alone are in covenant with God; that they alone have an authorized ministry, and valid ordinances ; that all others are schismatics, rebels and outcasts, having no share in the promises of divine mercy. Now, surely, there ought to be more piety, more holy living among the peculiar people of God, than among rebels and reprobates. Surely, it is not unreasonable to demand, that those who are in covenant with Christ, and enjoy all the privileges of his holy family, should exhibit more of the “spirit of Christ” than those who are

none of his." Demonstration itself cannot be more unquestionable. To represent this as an unfair and odious comparison between two or more churches, is wholly deceptive. Nothing can be further from the truth. For, according to the high-church doctrine, the comparison between their body and other denominations, is a comparison between the only true church, and the world which lieth in wickedness.Now, that there should be more genuine, consistent, and truly spiritual religion in the former than in the latter, every one who believes that the church is Christ's family, and that to belong to it is a pri

vilege of any real value, will, without hesitation, acknowledge.

What, then, in reference to this subject, is the fact ? To those who have had an opportunity of surveying and comparing different denominations of professing Christians, let the appeal be made. Are the members of the Episcopal Church, and especially those who contend for highchurch principles, distinguished, above all other professors of religion, for their piety, zeal and universal holiness of practice? Are they more devout, more prayerful, more exemplary in abstaining from every appearance of evil, and in maintaining a conversation becoming the Gospel ? When we look over Episcopal congregations, do we find them every where drawing to their solemn assemblies the most truly serious, spiritual and devoted classes of professors; and as manifestly repelling from their communion the giddy, the worldly, and the licentious ? It is not denied, that there are many noble examples of Christian character in that denomination ; but are they more numerous than in any other? Is it, or is it not notorious, that the great body of Episcopal churches in our land, instead of excelling all others in the strictness and purity of their religious example, are inferior to many other denominations, in those characteristics which are universally allowed to belong essentially to the spirit of Christ? Where is the Lord's day most carefully sanctified? Where does the spirit of prayer most manifestly abound? Where do revivals of religion most frequently occur ? Where, in general, is there the greatest amount of sympathy for those who are “ sitting in darkness, and in the region and shadow of death," and of effort and sacrifice to send them the light of life? Where, in a word, is there the most withdrawment from the maxims and habits of a vain world, and the greatest activity and zeal in every good word and work? I ask again—Is there more of all these among Episcopalians than among other denominations ? I do not believe there is an

Episcopalian in the United States, of common discernment and common honesty, whose conscience will allow him to answer this question in the affirmative.

Again; how shall we account for the fact, that those who are devoted to worldly pleasure, ambition and splendour; those who hate faithful preaching, and strict discipline; those who wish to bear the Christian name, but not to have the trouble of any anxious thought, inquiry, or self-denial on the subject; those who lean to the utmost laxity of religious principle, but yet do not choose openly to take their station with Unitarians and Universalists; those, in a word, who content themselves with “the form of godliness without the power thereof;" how, I say, shall we account for the fact that all these are found, in general, resorting to the Episcopal, in preference to other churches, wherever there is one of that denomination at hand; and this not because they have examined the peculiar claims of that church, and found them firmly sustained; but because they find less to disturb them in their course of worldly pleasure ?

It is painful to present interrogatories of this kind; but our neighbours have compelled us. I am aware, indeed, that this whole argument is often indignantly repelled by those to whom it applies, as odious and unjust. But I will venture to say, that there never was an appeal more legitimate, reasonable or resistless; and that the advocate of high-church principles can never dispose of it but by sophistry or evasion. If the fact be as I have stated; and I rather suppose it will not be questioned by any well-informed and candid Episcopalian ; then, of all wonderful facts, it is one of the most inexplicable, on the supposition that Episcopalians are the only people in covenant with God; the only people who know any thing of holy communion with the Saviour, or who have any interest in “the exceeding great and precious promises” of his word!

XI. Another consideration occurs of deep and growing interest at the present day. It is, that the claim which I

« EelmineJätka »