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if they had, could not read it; but what has this to do with stated preachers, who preach only to those who profess to believe in Christianity, and are in possession of the Bible. If it is an argument for any thing, it is for an order of men called schoolmasters, to teach men to read, and for an uncorrupt translation of the Bible, freed from all its forgeries and interpolations, to be afterwards given to those who have learned to read it.
But so simple is the Christian religion, that I am satisfied it neither needed that men should be able to read, or an order of men to teach it, to make it be understood; and it is this extreme simplicity that fitted it for the instruction and comfort of allinen in all circumstances and situations of life, however poor or unlearned they might be. If this be the case, we shall find, by a reference to the New Testament, that the means for perpetuating the knowledge of it among mankind was adapted to that end. It is well known that Christianity was never intended to depend upon writing; for if it had, the first thing necessary for Jesus and his apostles to have commanded, would have been that all men should have been taught to read—a knowledge which I apprehend few possessed in any age before the art of printing was invented; and had the knowledge of Christianity even depended on writing, and preaching had been necessary under those circumstances, it could be no argument for preaching in the present day, when so great a portion of mankind can read, and through the means of printing all the rest might so easily be taught. Let us only suppose that all the 30,000 preachers employed in this kingdom were to set about the task of teaching men to read, and we might be sure in less than two years their services might be altogether dispensed with, as every person might in that time be enabled to read his Bible.
Jesus wrote not any thing of his life or doctrines-he never commanded his disciples to do it for him. The Acts and the letters of the apostles were written without his commands, and were the result of peculiar circumstances--they were never intended to perpetuate Christianity. The Evangelists wrote their histories for particular churches, probably without any view to posterity--they only became of consequence to Christianity when it had been corrupted by the intervention of priests, and these records were then referred to as the best remaining source of information; to shew what was approved or disapproved of by the writers ; and in these scattered fragments it is that we are enabled to discover what was the primitive doctrines and practices of the first Christians, and for which we cannot be too thankful, as although they do not contain a regolar digested system, yet we find sufficient, when selected and
compared, to serve as a clue to lead us out of the labyrinth in which priests bave artfully bewildered the Christian religion; for, as Robinson (Ecclesiastical Researches, p. 51) says, “ to ward the latter end of the second century, most of the churches assumed a new form, the first simplicity disappeared, and .insensibly as the old disciples retired to their graves their children, along with new converts, both Jews and Gentiles, came forward and new modelled the cause.' This having been the case, and all sects and parties having declined the task of going back to the original standard, and contenting themselves with trifling and very partial improvements, it becomes the duty of the Freethinking Christians to search the matter to the bottom, and to exhibit truth in all its native simplicity and loveliness," whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear.
I have shewn that Christiauity is a simple religion—that it was intended for men of all conditions-for those who could not read,
as the learned that it was not designed to depend upon writing-of course it behoves me to shew also, that the means adopted by Jesus and his apostles for perpetuating the knowledge of it must be simple and well adapted to the end it was intended to promote. In the first place then, we may expect to find that Jesus took every proper method to teach his apostles what his design was in this respect, and from their conduct may learn what it was he taught them, as being fresh in their memory: they, being his faithful servrnts, and also assisted by the holy spirit, would no doubt act entirely agreeable to his directions; accordingly we find (Acts i. 3),“ that he was seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God;" and be side the instructions then given in compassion to buman infirmity, he had promised them every necessary assistance lest they should mistake or forget (John xiv. 26); but the advocate, the holy spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever 1 have said to you.
Here then we see they were instructed not in the truth or the evidence of those facts on which Christianity was founded, this was unnecessary, but in the things pertaining to the king. dom of God-undoubtedly in the proper means to be used for establishing and perpetuating that kingdom: and as a kingdom implies government, a constitution, and laws; and as it is evident that facts and the evidence of them, of which they were eye-witnesses, needed not to be taught them- it must relate to the former and not to the latter, which. Jesus employed forty days to instruct his disciples respecting, and for the right accomplishment of which he promised them the assistance of the holy spirit. Of course whatever means they appointed for perpetuating the knowledge of Christianity was of divine authority, as was also the constitution and discipline of the Christian church as instituted by them; and as there can be no doubt that they faithfully adhered to the instructions they had received, their example, where it can be traced, must in all cases, except where accompanied with miraculous effects, or only designed for temporary purposes, and adapted to peculiar circumstances, be to us an infallible and unerring guide, which cannot be departed from on any pretence' of expediency or utility, without assuming to ourselves the possession of greater wisdom than the Deity, under whose guidance and direction it is evident the apostles acted.
Now, Sir, as I know there are some men with whom the authority of a priest is of more importance than that of Jesus and his apostles, or even of God himself, I will give you the opi. nion of Dr. Priestley, from the preface before referred towan opinion given, I suppose, in his unguarded moments, and which is so much in unison with the plan adopted by the apostles for perpetuating the knowledge of Christianity, that their practice will appear only a comment on his advice, for be says (page 1),
My advice therefore would be, that for the present the Unitarians in this city (Philadelphia) should form themselves into societies, though'in small numbers. Let a few persons who, as in primitive times, may be called elders, be chosen to direct their affairs." And that this method was entirely competent to the purpose of making Christianity known, he adds (page 12), « The opinion and practice of individuals in private life have little effect for want of notoriety, but a church and a place of public worship, known to all and open to all who choose to attend it, is like a city that is set upon an hill that cunnot be hid; by joining such churches or assemblies we likewise make that open profession of our principles which the gospel requires of us.'
Our next enquiry is, what steps did the apostles take to pero petuate the knowledge of Christianity? and we find that they in the first instance united all who believed, in one common family or church. (Acts ii. A, 42.) " And the same day were added about three thousand souls, and they continued stedfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayer; (v. 47) and the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” Again (Acts viii. 14)“ now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John,"
no doubt to form them into a church, and direct them how to act, as they did in every place where Jesus was acknowledged as the Messiah. And at a very early period many churches were established, as we read (Acts ix. 3)—" Then
had the churches rest throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria, and were edified (that, is built up), and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the holy spirit were multiplied."
Here are passages sufficient to sbew that the apostles united all who believed in church fellowship: and this must have been in consequence of the instruction they received during the forty days that Jesus was teaching them the things pertaining to the kingdom of God; for it does not appear that he gave them any direct command for that purpose, previous to that time : it is certain that he had spoken of a church indirectly, when he said to Peter “on this rock (viz. that I am the son of God) will I build my church.” I shall not enter into an explanation of the word church, in this place; let it suffice that I mean a body of men, not a building of wood, brick, or stone. Here then, are churches established, and by observing what is said respecting them, we shall find that they were organized bodies, to whom, as bodies, directions were given and letters addressed. (See Acts xiv. 23.) “When they had ordained elders in every church.-(xv. 22) It pleased the elders, with the whole church.-(verse 41.) Paul went through Syria, confirming the churches.-(xvi.4, 5.) And as they went through the cities they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders, and so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.-(1 Cor. iv. 17.) As I teach every where in every church, (vii. 17) so ordain 1 in all churches.---(xi. 16.) We have no such custom, neither the churches of God.-(xvi. 1) As I have given orders to the churches of Galatia so do ye.-(2 Cor. viii. 19) But who was chosen of the church to travel with us.-(xi. 28.) Cometh upon me daily the care of all the churches."
Here we not only find that churches were established, and that they were organized bodies, but that this organization did not depend on their own choice, or arise out of their consideration of the expediency and utility of such order, but was entirely dependant on the direction of the apostles.
I night here siop iny enquiry, and say that I had proved my point, and that the apostles, hy uniting Christians into churches, had done every thing that was necessary to perpetuate and spread the knowledge of Christianity, after their decease, without the aid of pulpit preaching; for, as Dr. Priestley says, “ A church and a place of public worship, known to all and open to all who choose to attend it, is like a city that is set on a hill that cannot be hid ; by joining such churches or assemhlies we likewise make that open profession of our principles which the gospel requires of us. ” But I shall not content my
self with his opinion, or with mere inference from the existx this therefore is a mulozily
Chrichu without apostles cafo
to make Laius
ence of churches, and their organization, but shew from the New Testament the nature and design of these churches, as it respected the propagating and perpetuating the knowledge of Christianity. And here I would be understood to speak only of their use in teaching it to the world : their other duties I shall reserve for another essay.
In the first place, the church of God is called the temple of God, and Christians the priests of God, (See 2 Cor. i. 16) for yeare the temple of the living God. (Peter i.9) But ye (all Christians, not the clergy only) are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should shew forth the praises of him who called you out of x tható bered that under the Jewish dispensation the temple was the Do
Zaby only place where the knowledge of the divine will was made
to known, and the priests the only communicators of it; conse-l), e com quently the Christian church, being called the temple, Christianity ought only to be made known from it, and Christians being the priests of God, it belongs to all Christians, and not to a particular order of men called the clergy, to make it known. And it is worthy of remark, that even the clergy among Dissenters make a distinction between the congregation and the church : those to whom they preach are called the congregation; a select body who confer together, and mutually edify each other are called the church; but such select bodies the enlightened Unitarians are endeavouring to abolish. Other preachers rob the church of the right to teach the worldibey are aiming to rob them of the duty of teaching each other.
Again (1 Tim. iii. 15), the church of God is called the “pillarand ground of the truth,"consequently the only repository of the truths relating to Christianity as communicated to them by the apostles; and Paul, referring to this, says (2 Thes. ii. 15), “therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which
have been taught, whether by word or our epistle.” And in writing to Timothy (2 Tim. iii. 2) he says, “the things thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” And so fully sensible was Paul of the competency of the church to propagate and perpetuate the knowledge of Christianity, we find him expressly declaring that he had studied not to preach where it had been made known before (Rom. xv. 20).“ Yea, so have I strived to preach the Gospel not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation, but as it is written to whom he was not spoken of they shall see, and they that have not heard shall understand.” And the other apostles followed his example, rarely ifever preaching in any place where chur. ches were established, but associated with the church, and joined