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actually delivered by Christ and his Apostles to the saints, and that such a change as we have supposed, did happen in the progress of two or three hundred years. But beside the utter failure of his proof, he might as well have attempted to show, that the course of all the rivers in the Roman Empire was reversed during the three first centuries of the Christian æra, in opposition to the testimony of all the historians and naturalists of the empire, convened by public authority, on purpose to inquire into the matter of fact.
5. It is a point decided by inspiration, that the Martyrs who suffered under Pagan and Papal persecutions, held the same faith, and that the faith which they held, and for which they suffered, is the faith which was delivered to the saints. The apostle John saw in vision under the altar, the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held. * It is called in another place, “the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.”+ These are the Martyrs under Pagan Rome. But with reference to those who suffered afterwards, under Papal Rome, it is said: “Here is the patience of the saints: Here are they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus." I The faith, then, which the Martyrs held under Pagan and Papal Rome, and for which they suffered, was the same, and was the WORD OF GOD AND THE FAITH OF JESUS: But we know, by evidence unequivocal and undeniable, that the doctrinal opinions of the Martyrs under Papal Rome, were the doctrines of the evangelical system, and not those of the liberal system. They exist now upon historical records, and in public creeds; and are denominated the Doctrines of the Reformation. The Doctrines of the Reformation then, which we denominate the evangelical system, have the seal of heaven impressed upon them, as being the word OF GOD AND THE FAITH OF JESUS, THE FAITH WHICH WAS ONCE DELIVERED TO THE SAINTS.
I am now to explain the manner, in which the Churches of our Lord should contend for the faith. And,
1. By a proper exercise of their civil influence.
* Rev. vi, 9.
+ Rev. xii, 17.
| Rev. xiv, 12.
The rights and duties of Christians, as members of a civil community, are not, it is believed, generally understood. As in the first generations of New-England, every thing, almost, was done by civil government, to promote religion; the idea has descended, that, christians have some influence to exert, favorable to religion, through the medium of government: without the perception exactly, how it is to be done in the present altered state of things which exist. Christians now in their civil capacity, are members of a great empire, whose administration cannot be modified in accommodation to local religious purposes. A multitude of denominations of christians have arisen, also, each, upon principles of religious liberty, entitled to impartial protection; and excluding in behalf of any, governmental favoritism. In this new state of things, christians are perplexed, and know not what to do. They are afraid to withhold their efforts, to benefit religion through the medium of government; and environed by difficulties and dangers, they are afraid to exert it. For my own satisfaction in the first instance, I have been led to investigate the subject; and though I have not found it unattended with difficulties, my mind rests in the following results.
1. Christians are not to attempt to control the administration of civil government, in things merely secular.
This is what our Savior refused to do, when he declined being a king, or ruler, or judge. It would secularise the church, as the same conduct, secularised the church of Rome:—and bring upon her, and justly, a vindictive reaction, of hatred and opposition. When great questions of national morality are about to be decided, such as the declaration of War; or as in England the abolition of the slave trade, or the permission to introduce christianity into India by Missionaries; it becomes christians to lift up their voice, and exert their united influence. But, with the annual detail of secular policy, it does not become christians to intermeddle, beyond the unobtrusive influence of their silent suffrage. They are not to “strive, nor cry, nor lift up their voice in the streets. The injudicious association of religion with politics, in the
time of Cromwell, brought upon evangelical doctrine and piety in England, an odium which has not ceased to this day.
2. It is equally manifest, that christians should not attach themselves exclusively to any political party, or take a deep interest in political disputes.
No party is so exclusively right, as to render it safe, for any man, to commit his conscience to its keeping, and act implicitly according to its dictation. Nor can any party, in a popular government, be sufficiently secure from change, to render it safe, to identify with it, the interests of religion. Beside, if christians enter deeply into political disputes, they will be divided, and one denomination arrayed against another, in their prayers and efforts: and one christian against another, in the same church. A spirit of party zeal creates also a powerful diversion of interest and effort from the cause of Christ: creates prejudices in christians one against another: and in the community against the cause itself. Annihilates spirituality of mind; prevents a spirit of prayer, and efforts for revivals of religion: and renders christians the mere dupes, and tools, of unprincipled, ambitious men. No sight is more grievous or humiliating than to see christians continually agitated, by all the great and little political disputes of the nation, the state, the city, and town, and village, toiling in the drudgery of ambition, and flowing hither and thither like waves which have no rest, and cast up only mire and dirt. I am persuaded that there has been utterly a fault among christians in this thing; and that there is no one particular in which it is more important that there should be a reformation.
3. It is plain, also, that no attempt should be made by christians of one denomination, to hinder the prosperity of other denominations, by any monopoly of governmental influence and favor.
The end of heaven has been answered, in the powerful and direct aid given to the churches, by the civil fathers of NewEngland. Then, it was needed, to lay foundations, to form habits, to surmount obstacles, and to carry the churches through the wilderness. But now it is not needed, and can
not be bestowed, in the manner it has been. All denominations of christians must live now, by a general impartial favor of government, and their own efforts, the goodness of their cause, and the smiles of heaven. The favoritism of government in a free country is an advantage too precarious also, to be employed safely, by any denomination. For such is the instability of popular governments, that their partial aid if resorted to might exalt at one time, and abandon and persecute at another. All denominations have an equal interest now, in renouncing all attempts at securing the partial favor of government; and in insisting upon impartial protection and favor only.
Should any denomination however be so destitute of wisdom, as to attempt to propagate its opinions, and facilitate its progress, by a monopoly of literary influence, through governmental favor, and by rendering their own sentiments a passport to places of honor and trust, in the higher, and more subordinate stations of civil office and employment. If in these, and other ways, they should seek to give to themselves, by the adventitious favor of government, a weight in the community, and an influence on the public mind, favorable to their own religious views, and adverse to those of other denominations: in such case, civil and religious liberty would authorise and demand, that, all christians of other denominations, should withhold their suffrage from the ambitious sect, who had perverted and abused, the public confidence. This, by those who should experience the salutary admonition, would be deprecated, no doubt, as introducing religion into politics” but it would in fact be, only a righteous effort to put that religion out of politics which they had unrighteously identified with them:—and to place the religious rights and privileges of christians, upon an equality. When this had been accomplished, persons of worth, of that denomination, exempt from such sectarian bias as would abuse the confidence reposed in them, might enjoy the public favor as before.
4. I cannot perceive that churches are bound in point of duty, or required on the ground of policy, to confine their suffrages exclusively, to persons of their own denomination, or to regulate them, exclusively, with reference to piety or doctrinal opinions.
There are certain guarantees of integrity, and of security to the general interests of religion, which as christians, we are bound to require. There must be such a belief in the being of God, and of accountability and future punishment, as lays a foundation for the practical influence of an oath: such exemption from immorality, as will render the elevated example of rulers safe to the interest of public morals: such general approbation of the christian religion, and its institutions, as will dispose them to afford to religion, the proper protection and influence of government: and such exemption from sectarian zeal, as will secure from abuse, the confidence of other denominations, and an administration impartial in its aspect upon all of them. But where these securities are given, I do not perceive that christians are forbidden to repose confidence in men, for civil purposes, who do not profess religion, or afford evidence of piety. Men of piety are doubtless to be preferred and greatly to be desired, other things being equal: but I cannot perceive, that the qualifications for civil trust, and for membership in the church, are the same: and wherever they have been so regarded, the consequence has been, the intrusion of unsanctified men by a lax examination, or by dispensing entirely with piety as a qualification for communion. As long as communion in the English church shall continue to be an indispensable qualification for office, so long will the tide of ambition roll through her interior, and damp the fire upon her altars. It was the mistake of our pious fathers in making the terms of communion and civil trust the same, which produced the lax mode of admission to the churches of New England, followed by the long and dreadful declension from evangelical doctrine and piety, which, in many churches continues to this day: and the same course persisted in would perpetuate the same effects.
What, then, is the ground, which the churches ought to take? It is the high ground of Christian temper, Christian principle, and Christian practice. It is a great mistake if any suppose,