« PreviousContinue »
fire burning on the altar,--to the divine "glory shining between the cherubim.” There could be no religious benefit in the sacred edifice itself, or in the arrangements of the services of religion : the grace of God flowed from the truth taught, the sacrifices presented, the functions of the High Priest,—all typical of the glorious work of Christ. In like manner, however complete the hierarchical arrangements may be in the Christian church, no saving efficacy can attend them, unless the Gospel itself is found there also. If preached in the “high ways," on the mountain's brow, in the streets of our cities, or beneath the shade of spreading trees, this Gospel will still be efficacious to save.
The movement now going on amongst the Tractarians contemplates religious results and benefits, chiefly through the sacraments; and in like manner depreciates the value and efficacy of preaching as a divine ordinance. In what relation does St. Paul place the preaching of the Gospel? He says to the Corinthians, “I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius ; lest any should
say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas : besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel.” (1 Cor. i. 14-17.) It would be curious to hear those who so strenuously distinguish between the prophetic, and what is called the priestly, functions in the Christian ministry, explain this passage. The pre-eminence is always given to the priestly office ; and yet, in opposition to this, St. Paul glories in the fact, that Christ had not sent him to baptize, but to preach ! The reason is clear enough : by preaching the truth of God, he had been made instrumental in the salvation of men. To the Ephesian church, he said :
“In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation : in whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise.” (Eph. i. 13.) Their “believing,” their “salvation,” their “sealing,” arose out of their “hearing" the Gospel. In his complaints to the Galatians he adverts to this : “ I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another Gospel.” (Gal i. 6.) And again : “ This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Gal. iii. 2.) Here it is evident that this people had been called into the “grace of Christ" by that Gospel which they had perverted, and had also received the Spirit by “ the hearing of faith.” To the Thessalonians he writes : “ For this cause thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” (1 Thess. j. 13.) To the same people, in his Second Epistle, he says: "But we
are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth : whereunto he called you by our Gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thess. ii. 13, 14.) They were “called," we see, to all these blessings through the Gospel, which “ worked effectually in them that believed.” To the Romans the Apostle breaks out into the noble exclamation : « For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ : for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth ; to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith : as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” (Rom. i. 16, 17.) Facts corroborate this doctrine. The impressions wrought on the day of Pentecost, as connected with the outpouring of the Spirit, took place under the preaching of Peter ; and when God opened “ the door of faith to the Gentiles” in the family of Cornelius, it was by the word of the Gospel delivered by the same eminent Apostle.
We may fairly assume from these scriptural examples, that those Ministers who are the most pains-taking Preachers of the word of God, will be the most successful in bringing the lost sheep, for whom the Saviour died, to faith in his name, and the enjoyment of his grace. The uncompromising conduct of our fathers in this, as in other things, is a fine example to us. They trusted in the efficiency of the Gospel in its own truth, divinity, and power ; and only combined with its faithful preaching such means as it suggests. There was a directness—what in technical language might possibly be called a dogmatism—in their enunciation of the truth, which left none in the dark respecting its meaning. The thoughtless sinner did not go away complimenting himself that he was not like other men; he was left in no uncertainty as to whether it was his duty to repent and turn to God; the necessity and the marks of the new birth were given, so that none could easily mistake the question ; and the present practicability of faith in Christ, and, through that, the attainment of pardon and every other blessing, were pointedly but encouragingly exhibited. Great have been the effects; and similar ones must continue to follow, if we employ the doctrines of the Gospel unmutilated by the inventions of man's wisdom.
We have great advantages in our meditations on these momentous questions, in the circumstance that our system rests on these principles; and in their truth, again, being corroborated by the work of God around us. “ Other men laboured, and we are entered into their labours.” They have, indeed, in all respects, left us the legacy of a bright example. We are instructed in our present obligations and duties by their spirit, manner of life, preaching, toils, and triumphs ; we are led to see the manner in which God blesses and owns the plans and labours of his servants, in their great success in the conversion of sinners; we are animated and encouraged, by the support given to them in their poverty, privations, and sufferings ; we are filled with hope respecting the future, by beholding, from low and insignificant beginnings, an extended, spiritual, and active Christian community, still endeavouring to fulfil the commands of Christ; we derive great advantages from the moral power (next to that of God) which is the combined effect of the wisdom, piety, and evangelical labours of our ancestors ; and, above all, we are instructed by the living and dying joys and holiness of a countless host of witnesses to the truth and divinity of the religion we have received ourselves, and are endeavouring to propagate in the world.
Methodism is a great moral creation. Explain its principles as you may, here it stands! What awaits it, we know not ; for, who can penetrate the future? With one feeling we are deeply impressed ; namely, that at present and in future, the spirit of genuine, scriptural, deep, and devoted piety cultivated by its living disciples, must fix its state. This has ever been its power; and if this be lost, Methodism must dwindle first into a form, then into sectarianism, and expire. Our best light, next to the Bible, is the past history of our own body. We here behold God working in condescending mercy, in making those “a people who were not a people ;" we see the principles and doctrines of the Gospel illustrated by effects and fruits the most unequivocal; we are made acquainted with its simple efficiency, unaided by the countenance of power, or any other adventitious support; and we behold “the foolish things of the world confound the wise ; weak things of the world confound the things which are mighty ; base things of the world, and things which are despised, and things which are not, bring to nought things that are : that no flesh should glory in his presence.” (1 Cor. i. 27—29.) Our safety is still to follow the pillar in the wilderness; to “walk by the same rule, ta mind the same thing.”
IN CONSIDERING OUR POSITION AS A CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY, IT WILL BE REQUISITE
TO EXAMINE THE SUBJECT IN ITS ECCLESIASTICAL OR ECONOMICAL ASPECTS.
IT may be
proper to premise, that our status, in the midst of the general Christianity of the world, has been, and still continues to many observers to be, a perplexing phenomenon,-an inexplicable anomaly : they know not how to classify us, or what to make of us. Popery is very well understood, in the supremacy of its chief; its conclave of Cardinals ; its power of the keys; its claim of infallibility ; its pretended catholicity; its theological sentiments; its oppressive discipline; and its long history of blood and persecution : but then we are not Papists, and cannot be judged by the rules of this hierarchy. Diocesan Episcopacy, as held by many authorities, is a tangible system. The exclusive government of Bishops; the distinction of the three orders; the apostolical succession ; the supposed efficacy of the sacraments from the hands of this order of Priests only; the church, as the only catholic form of Christianity in this country, founded on the divine-right principle, to the exclusion of all other Christian communities; are very intelligible points. But we do not fall within these lines of demarcation, and, indeed, have our place assigned us out of the pale of the Church. Presbyterianism, too, possesses its well-defined platform. Its pastorate, assembly, lay-eldership, confession of faith, modes of discipline ; are all accurately exhibited. But we cannot be identified with this system in detail, though we are regulated by many of its principles. Independency, in its several communities, and in its all-absorbing suffrage-principle, is comprehensible ; but we are not Independents. By reason of our nonidentification with these bodies of professed Christians, in their several distinctive and ecclesiastical party-divisions, many of them deny that we are a church at all; and consider us merely as a set of irregular religionists, and if saved at all, it must be on the ground of what they call the uncovenanted mercies of God.
It never occurs to over-zealous and ultra partisans, that, by possibility, there may be some truth beyond the limits of their own enclo
These one-idea-ed men do not stop to think, as they cherish their fond but single notion, that there may be both variety and harmony; and, consequently, the mere fact of a community of Chris
tians not being of their party, is no proof that they have no place in
body of Christ ;” or that they are not true churches, or parts of the one true church of the living God. Moreover, it might not be amiss, if those who isolate themselves from the whole of Christianity except their own, were to inquire if their foundation is broad enough to sustain the entire kingdom of God; if the platform they have laid for themselves and their religious operations, is sufficiently extended and expansive to develope the whole truth of God, the mercies of redemption, and his gracious purpose to save the world. But, above all things, it might be useful to all parties who investigate these questions, carefully to distinguish betwixt that which is divine, and that which is human, in connexion with the church. If this were regarded, it would follow, that any Christian body which should faithfully hold the divine and immutable truth of the Gospel, must be of the true church ; though in the department which is human, and in which freedom is allowed, it might differ from others. There would be just as much sense in denying that a civil society could not belong either to the community of men or of nations, because they choose to adopt a costume different from that of other people, and because in their institutions shades of difference appear on questions of government; as in affirming that bodies of men are not Christian churches, though they hold all “ the truth as it is in Jesus,” because they do not conform to a set of regulations which have originated in expediency. On this rule of distinguishing the divine from the human, it might be found, on examination, that many of the principles in each existing system of church-order are out of place; and that a new adjustment would be an advantage, and much more in agreement with the whole truth than that held by any of the isolated bodies, calling themselves THE CHURCH.
But this must appear irregular to those who limit all truth to their own foundation. Church-polity can only have for its legitimate purpose, preaching the truth of God, the discipline of the New Testament, feeding the sheep of Christ's flock, and carrying out the purposes of redeeming love in the conversion of the world. This polity is not the church, though it is often so considered ; but it is the rule of its government, and the instrument of its action. Is it human, or is it divine ? That to which the whole administration of the church relates, as the Gospel itself, the laws of Christ as the rule of life, the sacraments to be administered, is divine. The office, too, of Pastor, Bishop, or Presbyter, as a generic function, is divine. But here we stop. The exercise of the church's own liberty, or rather judgment and prudence, begins at this point. What God has absolutely revealed and authoritatively appointed, can be subject to no modification of man. But the mode in which his truth shall be proclaimed, and the discipline of his kingdom carried into effect, not being so limited and defined, some scope for the exercise of judicious