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gion, which, when preserved in its own pure and unsophisticated doctrines and ordinances, administers knowledge, salvation, the consolations of grace, the motives and power of holiness, and, consequently, leads to freedom ;-in the hands of its designing corrupters, only ministered bewildering fables, polluting dogmas, the dread of ghostly and mysterious powers possessed only by themselves, and issued in the almost universal extinction of true religion for many ages. All this, with much more, constitutes the dreary picture of Christianity in every place; and the whole resulted from inattention to the apostolic injunction delivered to the primitive church : “Whereunto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing."
The same caution is applicable to ourselves, as a Christian body. The duty, however, must rest on the evidence of several important facts. It supposes that, in our leading and essential views, principles, and proceedings, our system corresponds with the primitive model. If we have not “walked by this rule,” we can be under no obligation to continue to “mind the same thing ;” rather, the obligation would lie on the other side, and it would be our duty to abandon our ancient landmarks, and inquire, with Pilate, though in a different spirit, “What is truth?” This point must be at once conceded. No Christian community can be under a necessity to remain in heresy, in schism, or in obstinate separation, if these cases of sin can be made out against it. But if, on the other hand, it rests on the one " foundation of the Prophets and Apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone ;” and if “a dispensation of the Gospel has been committed to it;” if the Lord has wrought a great spiritual work in the world by its instrumentality; if its order and discipline are found to conserve and advance this work in the souls of the people under its influence; if deep, wide, and great religious interests on a large scale, and an extended surface, are involved in its existing doctrines and polity; if a numerous, intelligent, and pious people are obviously “making their calling and election sure,” under its fostering care ; and, moreover, if the blessing of God continues to crown its efforts for the conversion of men, at home and abroad ;then it is clearly the duty of such a church to be faithful to its trust, to “ walk by the same rule, and to mind the same thing."
That which is thus stated hypothetically, regarding any church in general, must now be examined as to ours in particular. If it can be made out, that, by the blessing of God, the true doctrines of the Gospel are held, a system of means originated, and a spirit of genuine religion created identical with New Testament truth, times, and precedents, then the apostolic exhortation must be applicable to us. Methodism is a great fact. Irrespective of reasoning, it exists; and the means of its formation is a question worthy of examination, as well as its spirit, doctrines, and polity. It cannot be deemed, we hope, unsuitable to the present important occasion, impartially to review our position as a Christian community. The times are peculiar ; the doctrines and principles of church polity are being sifted; we are not likely to be left to repose in peace; assaults from many quarters are being made upon us already; and, judging from the attitude assumed by some parties, perhaps more formidable and virulent opposition may be expected. In this state of things, it is our duty to examine whether our “ house is built on the sand," or on a rock."
In considering our position as a Christian community, it will be requisite,
I. TO EXAMINE THE QUESTION IN ITS PURELY SPIRITUAL AND RELIGIOUS BEARINGS ;
II. TO INVESTIGATE THE SUBJECT IN ITS ECCLESIASTICAL OR ECONOMICAL ASPECTS ;
III. To JUDGE MEANS, WITH THE OBVIOUS DESIGNS OF THE GOSPEL, IN EVAN
GELIZING THE WORLD.
WE ARE TO EXAMINE THE QUESTION OF OUR POSITION IN A
PURELY SPIRITUAL AND RELIGIOUS POINT OF VIEW.
The character of the movement which is now, and, indeed, has long been, going on, must be sought primarily in the purely religious spirit of Methodism. Forms and professions, in our case, were preceded by a living piety, which gave them all their peculiar cast.
Genuine Christianity is obviously intended to produce practical and saving results ; and such results must originate in divine power.
In the absence of such fruit, we have reason to suspect that the truth is not announced, and that any church-system failing in this point, however applauded, is either vicious in principle, or corruptly administered. On the other hand, when we behold the preaching of the word in “ power, in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance ; the services of the sanctuary administering grace, consolation, and spiritual life, to those who devoutly wait upon God; the prayers of the church answered in “showers of blessing ; ” and all issuing in the illumination, pardon, and holiness of great numbers of persons, previously “dead in trespasses and in sins ;” then we have proof of sound doctrine, a genuine religious, and, indeed, a directly divine, result.
Both our Lord and his Apostles put the test of a true and valid commission on this practical proof : “ Beware," said our Saviour,
of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
YE SHALL Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles ? Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name ? and in thy name have cast out devils ? and in thy name done many wonderful works ? - And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you : depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matt. vii. 15, 16, 22, 23.) St. Paul appeals to the same test : “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men : forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart.” (2 Cor. iii. 2, 3.)
This kind of evidence cannot, indeed, be the first and chief proof of a divine call ; but it is essential that such evidence should be given as a witness of its validity. An individual Christian, who should profess faith in Christ, and affirm that he enjoyed all the blessings of an adopted and regenerate state, and yet fail to give proof of the genuineness and divinity of the work by spiritual and holy fruit, would be justly considered either an enthusiast or an Antinomian. The change of his heart, indeed, would lie much beyond this external holiness, and must originate in the blessing of God; but the latter is always, and rightly, considered as an essential part of the work of grace.
It is the same with respect to a ministry, or a church. The primary call and designation is eminently divine, and not cognizable by us; and involves all the prerogatives of Deity, the sovereignty of grace and government, the operations of the Holy Spirit, and all the great principles of the kingdom of Christ; for, inasmuch as he is the “ Head of his body the church,” it follows that the ministerial function must originate in his election and grace. All this is prior to, and independent of, any external and ministerial fruit. The evidence of St. Paul's call to the apostleship lay, in the first instance, in its extraordinary circumstances, and must be limited to himself. No other parties could be judges of the first depositum of “ this grace." It was
a solemn transaction of transcendent grandeur and importance, between “the Lord of the harvest," and his servant, whom he had chosen to “send forth into his harvest." But allowing this to be the case, the fruits of apostolical inspiration, teaching, miracles, and labours, must be necessary to give corroboration to the spiritual and hidden call. Had nothing religious and divine resulted in the mission and ministry of this “chosen vessel,” where would have been the proof of his being so chosen ? In addition to the extraordinary change, the personal holiness, the spiritual gifts, of this eminent man, the world saw multitudes converted to the faith, the foundation of numerous churches laid, a great company
of believers rallying round his standard, and the whole exhibiting the evidences of Christian piety. These were the fruits of his divine vocation; these were the corroborative evidences of its genuineness.
The successors of the Apostles ought to embrace the whole of their vocation. If they profess to hold their commission, they are bound in all fairness to give evidence of the fact by corresponding labours and results. Of what value can a pretended office be considered, which fails to accomplish the purposes of its origination? Those who not only put in an exclusive claim to this honour and dignity, but also anathematize all others as intruders and not Ministers, and their charges as assemblies of schismatics and Heathens and not churches, cannot complain if the proof of their own “apostleship" be demanded in such fruits as surrounded the triumphant labours of those who really bore the office.
How comes it to pass, that, in connexion with this supposed valid line, this only divinely-commissioned ministry, this exclusively guarded, sanctioned, and authenticated function,-we ask, How comes it to pass, that all possible doctrinal, moral, disciplinary, and social abominations have grown up? All the enormities of Popery, all the superstitions of the Greek Church, and, to speak in the mildest terms, the defective piety, through long periods, in our own national Church, stand connected with this supposed exclusive descent of ministerial rights and grace. When it is affirmed, that no moral delinquencies in the “successors of the Apostles” can invalidate their commission, or render their ministrations ineffective, is it meant, that this benefit extends to their flocks as well as to themselves ? because, for ages
and ages, we see Priest and people involved in the same enormous profligacies and crimes. Surely we must have some valid rule by which to judge of such a
What does efficacy in this claim mean? When it is said, “ The impiety of the Minister, who has received this commission, does not invalidate the efficacy of the sacraments, rites, and ordinances of the Church ; and, moreover, all worthy recipients are regenerated in the sacrament of baptism, and continue to retain justifying and saving grace in the sacrament of the Lord's supper ;” is it meant, that this grace, thus received, leaves its subjects just in the same immoralities and sins as the most wicked, and yet is, at the same time, efficacious ? To what end is it efficacious ? Evidently not “unto salvation.” We urge this question, because of its importance. If it were really true, that the parties, claiming to be exclusively apostolical Ministers, bore this honoured commission, and the divine grace and blessing were limited to their order, irrespective of the religious and moral character of the holders, and that nothing can invalidate the efficacy of their administrations; then it follows, that fruit correspond
ing to the purity of primitive doctrine must appear. But we find not this fruit, except in the case of converted Ministers, be their station what it may; so that the assumed commission has no corroboration.
Assumption and exclusion exist together. Those who claim to be the only Ministers, and their flocks to be the only church of God, of necessity exclude and repudiate all others. We are one of these excluded (not to say, excommunicated) communities. We are grieved more on account of others than ourselves, that this should be the
A want of the fraternal love, so often inculcated in the New Testament, is not the only evil involved. The theories which set up an exclusive claim for catholic truth and communion, as developed in the views and movements of the party referred to, are, we believe, false, as well as uncharitable. Their spread is to be deplored most, on the ground of their dragging from their obscure recesses the longexploded errors of past generations, and making their anti-evangelical opinions the basis of a new, combined, and, it would seem, powerful religious demonstration. That our doctrines should be branded as heresy, our views of religious enjoyment as fanaticism, and our churchfellowship as schism, are matters of no great moment, otherwise than as the spirit engendering these sentiments must exist as a new element of sectarian bigotry, and thus prevent the growth of true religion, though the parties claim for themselves a pure catholicity.
But the attempt to establish “another Gospel” is a much more serious subject. It is not our business to deal with this question at present ; otherwise the charge might easily be made out. Whatever may be the truth regarding ourselves, the movement in question is either a new apostasy, or a return to the old one. Its universality is its bane. It perverts the holy Scriptures; the atonement of our Lord; the genuine offices and influences of the Holy Spirit ; the legitimate nature of the ministry and the church; the true design of the institution of the holy sacraments; the evangelical substance of Christian doctrine ; the characteristics and specific nature of experimental religion ; together with the freedom and just rights of God's people and household. All these great and fundamental parts of Christianity are made the subjects of this new assault. This is the distressing part of the case. In disputes which only involve personal or party considerations, it is undignified, often unchristian, to intermingle in the strife ; but when God's own truth, and God's own work, are involved, the matter assumes a different aspect : it is base to be silent.
More with a view to self-vindication, and the establishment of our own people in the “faith once delivered” to them by their fathers, than with any hope of convincing others, we bring forward the proof that a genuine experimental work of religion has been wrought amongst us. To accomplish this, it will be necessary,