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with them in making Christianity known, or in comforting and strengthening the churches among whom they went; and if in any instance they did preach in such places, it was only where the place was very extensive and the number of believers few. But how different is the practice of modern teachers; instead of abstaining where Christ has already been made known, and where churches are established, they studiously avoid those places where there are few believers, and seek for those only where numbers are to be found who hold their dogmas, and merely repeat those things which were well understood before.
Again, if we examine the New Testament closely, it will be found, that we have the most clear and definite directions as to the design and duty of the church, as it respects the subject under consideration; for Paul clearly points out what God intended the church should do and how it should be done, and also commends them for what they had done in this respect (See Cor. xiv.) “ If all prophesy (teach), and there come in one that believeth not (or unlearned), he is convinced of all, he is judged of all; and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship (reverence) God, and REPORT that God is with you of a truth.” Again, (Ephes. iii. 8, 9, 10) speaking of the design of his ministry, le says, unto me who am less than the least of all saints, is this favour given, that I should preach (proclaim) among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the begin. ning of the worid hath been hid in God who created all things (that is, arranged or constituted all things relating to the Chris. tian church) by Jesus the Christ, TO THE INTENT that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly things MIGHT BE KNOWN BY (OR THROUGH) the church the manifold wisdom of God.” Can any thing be more plain and decisive than this passage, where Paul declares that he was only an instrument to make the church acquainted with these truths, that they might be able to teach others ?
Again, (Philippians ii. 15) writing to the church at Philippi, he says, that“ ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and per. verse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world holding forth the word of life.” And Jesus (John xvii. 20, 21), contemplating the effects that must naturally result' from the united exertion of those who believed on his name, says, " neither pray I for these alone (the apostles) but for them also which sball believe on me through their word, that they all may be one, as thou Father art in me, and I in thee, that they all may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent ine."
Here then we have the express declaration of Jesus, in his most solemn moments, that the church, and not an order of men called preachers, were to be the instruments in propagating Christianity ; and it does appear as if those men were fully aware of this, as they have taken to themselves the exclusive title of being the church of God, and on this claim many found their pretensions to the exclusive right of exercising in what they call holy things. They call themselves the clergy, and the people the laity-an explanation of the term clergy will expose all the craft. It means, if translated, the heritage; and as the church is called God's clergy or heritage (Peter v. 2), by assuming the name, they claim all the privileges attached to it. But if the duty of teaching Christianity belongs to God's clergy, heritage, or church, and all believers who are united tot: e church form that clergy or heritage, then it follows, that preachers are not only useless, but base usurpers of the rights und privileges of the Christian church. But it should be known, in justice to the Papist and Protestant churches, that they are not the only usurpers- the enlightened Unitarian preachers claim the title and the privilege, and their senseless followers meanly submit to the degradation and the robbery.
But not only have we these plain declarations of the duty of the church to teach Christianity, but apostolic acknowledgment that they performed that duty effectually, and commendation for so doing (I Thess. i. 6 to 8.) “ Ye became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the holy spirit; so that ye are ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God ward is spread abroad, so that we need not speak any thing.
In this and every other church, no doubt the Old Testament was read; and the prophecies compared with the facts relating to the Messiah. Paul commends the Bereans, as honourable for searching the scriptures, and he assures Timothy that these scriptures were able to make him wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus, and that they are profitable for doctrine, reproof, and instruction in righteousness, and to make the Christian perfect and thoroughly furnished to every good word and work. (See 1 Tim. iii. 15 to 17). In addition to the Old Testament, they read also in their assemblies those epistles which were written by the apostles to the church (2 Thess. v. 27) Paul says “ I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren." Now if we add to this, that in edifying each other and building up each other in their most holy faith, they talked together of the resurrection of Jesus, and of the doctrine and duties resulting therefrom, allum
and if (as Dr. Priestley says) their place of meeting was known to all and open to all, what could be more effectuaily calculated to perpetuate the knowledge of Christianity, and convert men to the Christian church, than this was ?
It needed butritif mot learning in the teachers, or in the hearers - the man who
had never learned to read was as fully competent to hear and teinrehad heen ever so learned.
understand what these simple men read and taught, as if he Tietowy, Had this practice continued, it must be evident to every re
it to have introduced erroneous doctrines into Christianity, as immediately upon their being offered the rest of the members would have resisted them, and proved that they had “ no such doctrines, neither the churches of God.”* Beside which, the mutual correspondence kept up between the different branches of the Christian church would have been a prevention; for had any thing improper crep: into one branch, all the rest would have protested against it, and have thereby prevented the evil; but when one man was hired, and appoiņted to be the sole teacher, and the different branches of the church became separated from the main trunk, and considered themselves entirely independent of the body at large, then in the very nature of things tlieir doctrines and practices would become corrupted --it would be the interest of the preacher to invent doctrines, &c. different from other preachers, such as would please the greatest number, and insure to him the greatest profit; and being the sol teacher, none would dare or have opportunity of giving an antidote with the poison : and holding no communication with the Christian church at large, he would be free from their interference and protest-he would, indeed, have “the world before him, and interest his guide.
Although I think this would be the natural consequence of such a state of things, and should feel perfectly satisfied in rejecting the modern practice from the consequences that appear so inevitably to result from it, and which demonstrate it to be so inexpedient and useless under any circumstances, yet we are not left to depend upon this mode of reasoning - there is a full tide of evidence in the scriptures, and history confirms all
• The Christian church was a religious corresponding society, consisting of all Christians in all nations ; and whoever remembers i he panic into which the English government was thrown in 1793, in consequence of a political society of that natore, will be able to appreciate the effeet that such a united society was capable of producing, and that nothing could be better calculated for disseminating and preserving principles and opinions than it was ; and had the government looked coldly on, and suffered them to proceed, they would certainly have accomplished their object, let it have been good or bad so wise and effectual were the means adapted to the end.
that has been said against it. See Robinson's Ecclesiastical Researches, page 51,52, where he says—“the first and the most fatal of all events to the primitive religion was the setting up of a CHRISTIAN ACADEMY at Alexandria in Egypt. Christians had been reproached with illiteracy, and this seemed a plausible method to get rid of the scandal. This school was first kept by Pantenus, whom Clement at first assisted, and then succeeded, as Origen did him. Each improved on his predecessor, and altogether invented questions about the Christian religion, sufficient to perplex and puzzle the whole world. From a wild enthusiastical philosopher of Alexandria, named Ammonius Sacca, these men imbibed a chaos of gross errors called philosophy; because it was the production of idle men, who concealed their love of ease under the specious name of love of wisdom. Vain questions about matter and spirit, the whole and the parts, human souls, demons, and the first cause; time, place, circumstances of events; were all applied by these men to the Christian religion, and the inspired writers were put on the rack, and tortured to give answers, and determine points, of which probably they had never heard the names, and never entertained a thought. Here youth were bewildere ed, under pretence of being taught ; here the most dangerous of all rules of interpreting scripture was laid down; and the tutors first amazed themselves with it, and then distracted the minds of their pupils. This was, that scripture had a double sense, the one obvious and literal, the other hidden and myse terious, wbich lay concealed, as it were, under the veil of the outward letter. The former they treated with the utmost neglect, and turned the whole force of their genius and appli. cation to unfold the latter; or in other words, they were more studious to darken the holy scriptures with their idle fictions, than to investigate their true and natural sense. Some Chris tians foresaw the mischief which this school would produce, and remonstrated against it; but they soon sunk into neglect and contempt. Time, however, hath discovered, that their fears were not groundless; for from this intoxicated house proceeded in a regular train most of the evils that have since afflicted the church. Having laid down a double sense of scripture as a first principle, all the rest followed of course; the four gospels became hard books; common Christians could not find out the meaning, for that lay in the mystical sense ; consequently, the aid of the school became necessary to inform them. Én proportion as ACADEMICS taught in the churches, and were applauded, unphilosophical and illiterate teachers were slighted: the title and dignity of philosophers delighted so much these vain men, that they always appeared in the philosopher's cloak, so that a man able to teach was instantly
known by his habit. The modest plain people retired, and kept at due distance. Some churches chose these superior geniuses to teach them constantly, and called them from the school to settle among themselves, and they returned the fa. vour by introducing mysteries, from which proceeded, first disputes, and then councils of men of their own order to settle them.”
Here then is the evidence of history, and that from the pen of a hireling priest, to prove that all I have suggested did happen in consequence of departing from the scripture plan, and setting up one man to be the teacher of the rest ; and that this plan of expediency and utility, as modern preachers call it, was the means and sole means of subverting genuine Christianity; and shall we resort to that for restoring Christianity, which is proved to have been its bane, and reject the scripture practice, which is so wise and simple, and comes to us sanctioned by the result of experience, and the evidence of facts ?
Thus then I have proved from scripture and history, not only that the Christian church was designed as the repository, and for the communication of divine truth, but that it always answered the purpose more effectually than any other method could have done. Dr. Priestley has acknowledged that it was the primitive method, and says that a church even in his time, was “ like a city set upon a hill that could not be hid.”
Now in all these, and numerous other places, the duty of making Christianity public is always ascribed to the church, and never to individual teachers; and even where the apostle Paul enumerates the different characters that were raised up in the first instance for promulgating Christianity, and forming, instructing, and establishing, the Christian church, he expressly declares it was only for a particular purpose, and they were to continue no longer than was necessary to perform the work for which they were appointed. See Ephesians iv. 13, where he says, these persons and gifts were “ for the edifying (building up) of the body of Christ till we (the church) all come in the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the son of man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ ;" i. e. till the church was fully established in all the truths of Christianity, and needed not these extraordinary per. sons and gifts, whose place none in the present day can pretend to supply, as they were all endowed with the extraordinary gifts of the holy spirit, which none now possess. Is it not then a most curious circumstance, that a system should be pursued and supported, of propagating Christianity by pulpit preaching, and stated ministers, not only without a single authority from