« ZurückWeiter »
do it at the peril of their liberty, property, character, and life, it is not easy to conceive what possible inducement any persons could have to make the profession of it, and avow themselves its advocates, except a conviction of its divine authority. The Saviour himself had warned his followers that they should be hated of all men for their attachment to him—they were instructed to lay their account with shame, reproach, and suffering, from an ungodly world, nor had they any encouragement to expect that “the offence of the cross would cease,” so long as the world continued to lie in “ the wicked one.” “ If ye were of the world,” said Jesus, “the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” And again, “ I have given them thy word ; therefore the world hateth them.” These are his own sayings, and they sufficiently indicate the opposition which was to exist between his religion, while maintained in its purity, and the course of this present evil world. The apostles, uniformly inculcated the same lesson upon their disciples ; they taught that it was “through much tribulation they must enter the kingdom ;” and that, “if any man would live godly in Christ Jesus, he should suffer persecution.” We find no trace in all the New Testament, or the slightest intimation, that the world would at any future period become better affected to the doctrine of the cross the enmity of the two seeds, which has existed from the beginning, we have reason to believe will continue, in one shape or other, to the end. Persecution from the hands of the civil magistrate may, no doubt, greatly vary at different periods of time. In this respect, He who is head over all things to his church—who has the hearts of all men in his hands, and who turns them as the rivers of water—who causes the wrath of man to praise him, and at his pleasure restrains its overflowings and binds up the remainder-He acts sovereignly in all the affairs of his kingdom; at one time permitting his churches to enjoy rest and peace, so that they are allowed to sit under their own vine and fig-tree, none molesting or making them afraid ; anon, when he finds them abusing their liberty, growing careless, lukewarm, and taking up with this world as their portion, he, in mercy to their souls, sends his judgments among them, unsheathes the sword of the civil magistrate, and,
PROPHETIC INTIMATIONS OF AN APOSTACY.
in various ways and forms and degrees, awakens their attention to the gospel of his grace, reclaims their wanderings, and shows them that this is not their true rest.
It is nevertheless a fact that the holy apostles during their continuance with the churches gave them repeated intimations that an awful apostacy, or falling away from the spirit of the primitive profession, would take place in the latter days, and concerning which they left the most solemn warning in their writings. They witnessed the spirit of error secretly operating in the churches under their own eye; and, in a particular manner, apprised them that this monstrous evil (the Antichristian apostacy) should not only be engendered but matured and consummated through the influence of corrupt teachers. False teachers, they said, “should bring in damnable heresies, and many should follow their pernicious ways, by reason of whom the way of truth should be evil spoken of--and through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandize of you.” And, to mark with indignation the atrocity of their conduct in “making a gain of godliness,” it is added, “whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not,” 2 Pet. ii. 2, 3. Such is the awful anathema denounced by the Spirit of inspiration on avaricious and ambitious clergymen! It is of the same description of persons that Paul writes in his epistle to Timothy when he says, “ This know, also, that in the last days perilous times shall come ; for men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God: having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof-from such turn away,” 2 Tim. iii. 1--5. Now that the holy apostle, in this appalling catalogue, has his eye upon the leaders in religion, under whatever name they may be classed, may be inferred from his describing them immediately afterwards as “creeping into houses and leading captive silly women laden with their sins”-“men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith”-“evil men and seducers, waxing worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” It was probably this that led Luther to say, “Religion was never so much in
danger as from the clergy."* Christianity neither needs nor accepts the puny arts of man to advance her cause or support her interests; yet various methods have been devised by ecclesiastics, in every age of the church, to obviate the offence of the cross, and render themselves respectable in the eyes of the world. The apostles had no such ambition; they were men of another spirit. Recollecting what their divine Master had said, and the example which he had set them for their imitation, their highest ambition was to tread in his steps; they were content to be esteemed the filth of the world and the offscouring of all things. Let us hear one of them speaking in the name of the whole apostolic college: “I think that God hath set forth us, the apostles, last, as it were appointed to death ; for we are made a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ : we are weak, but ye are strong: ye are honourable, but we are despised ; even unto this present hour we both hunger and thirst and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place, and labour, working with our own hands; being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat,” 1 Cor. iv. 9-15; and this striking appeal is made to a church which was “full, and rich, and reigning as kings,” in their own estimation, though this same apostle had begotten them by the Gospel ! In a solemn warning, which he found it expedient to give to the elders of the church at Ephesus, we find him saying, “I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel; yea, ye yourselves know that these hands have ministered unto my necessities and to them that were with me. I have showed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, " It is more blessed to give than to receive,” Acts xx. 33-35. I quote these passages from the apostolic writings, because they serve as a criterion whereby to regulate our judgments of the spirit of primitive Christianity compared with all its counterfeits-to discriminate between the disinterested servant of Christ and those who avail themselves of the ministerial office to subserve their own secular interests. Alas! since the decease of the apostles, what a revolution has taken place among
gold, or ind him
* Nunquam periclitatur Religio nisi inter Reverendissimos.
DISSENTING MINISTERS CAN APE THE CLERGY,
the professed ministers of the Gospel in this respect! It might do good to some of us to look around us in the present day and ask, where shall we find the men who are making conscience of imitating the apostle's example, in working with their hands in order to supply their own and their family's necessities, and to have wherewith to give to him that needeth. In these observations I have not so much in view the clergy of the national establishment as I have those of our strictest dissenters-men who take credit to themselves for separating from a worldly establishment for conscience' sake, and yet are rendering their ministerial functions a source of temporal grandeur. Numbers of the clerical character, in our national establishment, have indeed deliberately subscribed what they did not believe, solemnly professed their consent to what they could not approve, and frequently practised, as part of their public devotions, what they were constrained to wish had never existed. Nay, as if the ministers of that establishment possessed a righteous monopoly of publishing evangelical truth, and of administering divine ordinances, numbers of them have sworn to persecute their Protestant dissenting neighbours for daring to hold separate assemblies. It is not, therefore, with persons of this class that I have to do at present-I rather turn my attention to those who possess a sounder creed, and take credit to themselves for the virtue of protesting against all departures from apostolic purity: let us examine for a moment how far their conduct justifies their profession.
That they may not be thought, like the fishermen of Galilee, “unlearned and ignorant men,” we find them eager after literary titles, and affecting to be called Rabbi, or reverend. To adorn the ministerial office, and to confer a sanction on their administrations, they must, like Jewish priests, appear in canonicals! To prevent the pride of their hearers being disgusted, certain humiliating truths are kept out of sight; and, that the consciences of others may not be pained, softening interpretations of divine precepts have been given. To stand free from all suspicion of bigotry, the importance of capital truths is surrendered ; and, to keep fair with something that is termed charity, it has been agreed that human inventions should hold the place of divine institututions.* This, for the most part, is the state of matters among our modern dissenters of the present day—but surely it becomes us to bring these things to the law and the testimony,” and enquire how far they are found to agree with or to differ from that divine standard.
* Booth's Essay on the Kingdom of Christ.
I took occasion, in a late Lecture, to observe, that the only rule which is given us from heaven to regulate our conduct in the affairs of religion, since the ascension of Christ, is to be found in the New Testament, which contains all that we are required either to believe or practise. It exhibits a complete rule of faith and duty. The character of Christ, as Lord and Head of his church, is clearly set forth, as are also the laws of his Kingdom, and the duties which he requires of his subjects, with the motives by which they are enforced. But these things are not delivered so much in the way of abstract doctrine, as they are in the example of the churches instituted by the apostles in his name, by his authority, and under his inspiration. The things which the first Christians statedly attended to, in their public assemblies, are recorded for the guidance and direction of others to the end of time. But what I would in an especial manner urge upon your consideration, in this place, is; that Christ, who purchased the church with his own blood, claims the honour of being sole legislator in his kingdom, and consequently demands from all his subjects that in all the affairs of religious worship they should hear and obey him, and him alone, without any regard to the doctrines and commandments of men. “My sheep hear my voice,” said he, “and I know them, and they follow me, and a stranger will they not follow ; for they know not the voice of strangers," John x.
The real disciples of Christ, or the true subjects of his kingdom, hear his voice in his institutions, as these relate to the matter and manner of his worship. You know that, to manifest the intimate, endearing, and indissoluble union which subsists between him and the members of his mystical body, he appropriates to himself the endearing title of a “ husband,” Isa. liv. with Eph. v. 23, &c. ; 2 Cor. xi. 1-3. Having betrothed his church, and taken it to himself in the marriage relation, he claims the chaste and choicest affections of his bride, and this is expressed in the keeping of his commandments and observing his institutions and worship, according to his own appointment.