Page images


Perhaps there is no feature of the period in which we live, more gratifying to the pious mind, and more promising with respect to the future, than the fact, that Christians of different denominations are more united in spirit than formerly; more disposed to feel as “one body in Christ,” and to act together in those great plans which have for their object the diffusion of Christian knowledge, and the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom. We have witnessed the delightful spectacle of ministers of the gospel, and private Christians, of various ecclesiastical connections, who, until lately, stood aloof from each other, coming together with fraternal affection, and cordially co-operating in efforts to send the book of God, and the glad tidings of salvation throughout the world. We have seen these noble coalitions in our own land, in Bible Societies, Missionary Societies, Tract Societics, and other associations for promoting the temporal and eternal welfare of men. have heard of pious, warm hearted missionaries of the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist denominations, and even, in one or two cases, Episcopalians (in whom the love of Christ and his cause happily triumphed over the love of sect), meeting on foreign shores, taking sweet counsel, and communing together as brethren in Christ, with heart-felt affection and delight. That such truly refreshing scenes are becoming more frequent, every Christian ought to rejoice, and to pray that the spirit which produces them may fill the world.

But with this spirit the high church doctrine is utterly and irreconcilably at war. Its language, even to the most pious and devoted individual breathing, out of its own paleis,“Stand by, for I am holier than thou.” It refuses to co-operate with non-episcopal Christians in any thing. Even in circulating the Bible, “ without note or comment,” it declines to take any

And we

[ocr errors]


part, unless its own sectarian forms can accompany every copy of the word of life. Nay, even amidst the darkness and misery of perishing millions, it can deliberately say, “ Let nothing be done if it cannot be comprehended in our

own enclosure. Let every plan of mercy be suspended,

every effort of Christian benevolence abandoned, rather “ than run the risk of departing from the “uninterrupted “ succession;' rather than suffer gospel ordinances to be “ distributed otherwise than in conformity with rigid "• canonical regularity.'” I do not mean that this is the language often uttered by the lips of high churchmen; but that it is the unavoidable and unequivocal language of their principles ; and that these principles lead to corresponding practical results. Indeed, there is reason to fear that, in some cases even low churchmen have caught something of the infection, and manifested a spirit closely allied with that of which I speak. One professedly of this class, has been known to offer his services to a respectable missionary association for a foreign mission; but at the same time distinctly to announce, that if he should be sent forth in company with other missionaries, not Episcopally ordained, he could not possibiy, when he should arrive on the foreign field, receive the sacramental symbols from their hands, but only when dispensed by himself! The missionary association in question, of course, thought it wise to decline annexing such an individual to a body, all the other members of which were of one heart, and one soul. This occurrence would not have been thought worthy of notice, did it not serve to illustrate the fact, that even some low churchmen are beginning, contrary to all their former protestations, to disclose some leaning to the high church doctrine, or, at any rate, to act upon it. In truth, when they are once, in any degree, entangled in the toils of the prelatical claim, it is easy to see that they can scarcely fail of finding themselves involved in embarrassments of the most serious kind.

Is it not evident, then, my Christian brethren, that the high and exclusive claim under consideration, is peculiarly unfriendly to the spirit of the present day?-a day in which the union of effort to spread the knowledge of the Gospel is manifestly increasing; when the spirit of our common Christianity is beginning, if I am not deceived, to be better understood, more deeply felt, and more divested of human additions ; -when Christians are beginning to distinguish more accurately than formerly between the essentials and the forms of religion, and to see that many things, which once kept them apart, ought no longer to do

In such a day as this, the spirit of high-church, which was always antichristian, is peculiarly unseasonable and odious; unfriendly to the universal spread of the Gospel; utterly inconsistent with harmonious effort in this great cause ;

fitted to create difficulty and obstacle at every step; calculated to degrade our holy religion in the eyes of the heathen; or to tempt the heathen to exchange one superstition for another, a little more decent and respectable, but, when made the ground of hope, quite as delusive and fatal as their most miserable idolatries.

[ocr errors]

Such, my respected Christian brethren, are some of my objections to the high and exclusive claim which it is the object of the following pages to disprove. It is utterly destitute of all warrant from Scripture. It is entirely unsupported by an appeal to the earliest uninspired records of the Christian church. It is, undoubtedly, an innovation on the primitive model of ecclesiastical order. The original reformers in England did not receive it. In the best and purest period of the reformed church in that country, it was unknown; and did not obtain a footing until orthodoxy and piety had both grievously declined. It is a claim presumptuous, unreasonable, uncharitable; generally found in connection with other errors of very unhappy tendency; unfriendly to civil and religious liberty ; unsupported by

any benign and practical influence; and unfavourable to affectionate union of effort in evangelizing the world. That which is manifestly liable to all these objections, cannot be of God, and ought not be encouraged by those who desire the real prosperity of the Redeemer's kingdom.

To every Presbyterian, then, in the United States, I would


Be not deceived with the idea that the doctrine contended for by high churchmen is a mere innocent speculation ; erroneous, indeed, but likely to do little harm, even if extensively embraced. If the foregoing representation be correct, this is an entire mistake. It is a doctrine founded in important error, and replete with practical mischief. If, therefore, my beloved brethren, y wish well to the cause of Christ in our land; if you desire to see a spirit of harmony and love growing among Christians; if your hearts warm with the hope of seeing pure and scriptural revivals of religion pervading every part of our country ; if you would guard against every thing inimical to Christian liberty, and cherish every thing friendly to the diffusion of the genuine spirit of the gospel ;—then beware of the delusion of these men. I charge them with no sinister intention ; but their doctrine and claim, when traced to their legitimate consequences, are undoubtedly calculated to bring back the reign of Popery, and re-establish that thraldom of ecclesiastical domination, of which the world has already seen so many mournful examples. It is adapted—whether they design it or not-to arrest the progress of all that is simple and scriptural in principle, of all that is holy in practice, and of all that is diffusive, unshackled, fraternal, and affectionate in Christian intercourse and Christian effort.

I am aware that my character among those who know me, is that of a firm, and even zealous Presbyterian. This character I am willing to own. I have no doubt that the substance of Presbyterianism is to be found in the Bible ; that it continued to prevail in the primitive church, two

[ocr errors]

full centuries after the days of the apostles ; and that it is
unspeakably better adapted than any form of church go-
vernment, to bind the body of Christ together in truth,
love, holy living, and universal edification. Yet, I am free
to say, that, much as I love this form of ecclesiastical or-
der, I consider it as a trifle when brought into competition
with the great interests of vital piety, and the salvation of
the souls of men. I have no more doubt that a church
may exist and flourish under a different form, than I have
that a man may be pious, without being a Calvinist in his
doctrinal belief. When I meet with an Episcopal brother,
who, though he decisively prefers prelacy, and thinks he
can find it in primitive antiquity; yet forbears to put his
bishop in the place of the Saviour, and preaches the truth
in loveI regard him with cordial affection, and can un-
feignedly wish well, not only to his person, but also to his
ministry. Nay, I consider the success of any religious
party ; the triumph of any external denomination, as un-
worthy of regard, when compared with the great object of
“ turning men from darkness to light, and from the power
“of Satan to the kingdom of God's dear Son." If I am
not utterly deceived, I love a pious, warm hearted, exem-
plary Episcopalian, more, far more than a cold, formal
worldly Presbyterian. Nor have I the smallest desire
that Episcopalians should surrender their decided prefer-
ence for prelacy, or their firm belief in its apostolic origin,
for the sake of pleasing other denominations. This would
be an unreasonable demand. All I lament, is, that they lay
a degree of stress on an outward form which the Bible
knows nothing of; and that they adopt a principle, without
the slightest warrant, which necessarily leads to a system
of proscription, denunciation, and war toward all other
Protestant churches. I abhor the thought of making the
form of ecclesiastical polity a fundamental of Christianity.
You may be ZEALOUS PRESBYTERIANS, and yet not REAL
CHRISTIANS. And just in proportion to the degree in which

« EelmineJätka »