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And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy. and to walk humbly with thy God?
WHEN Jehovah was pleased to introduce by the Messiah, a perfect and permanent economy of religion, he founded it on facts, attested by the most unexceptionable evidence. The results were evident. If the apostles would teach the doctrine of a resurrection and a future judgment, they deem it sufficient to appeal to the fact of Christ's resurrection and session at the right hand of God. So the other doctrines, sublime and consolatory, originated in facts and events which appealed to the senses, and passed in this visible theatre, though their ultimate result is commensurate with eternity. In order to rescue us from the idolatry of the creature, and the dominion of the senses, he who is intimately acquainted with our frame, makes use of sensible appearances, and causes his Son to come to us, and we so saw his glory amongst us, that by faith in a crucified Saviour, we may ascend, as by a mystic ladder, to the abode of the Eternal.
But the chief excellence of divine morality is, that it supports itself without any foreign aid. It is not a good practice upheld by bad or doubtful motives; but it is religion grounded on religion, and always able to maintain itself without any assistance from accidents or remote and precarious causes. For this reason we call christian morality good, because it is enforced by good motives. It may happen-it often has happened, that the duties of christianity have fallen in with the interests of mankind, and it has suited their convenience more to perform than to neglect them. In this case, base motives have given birth to laudable actions, and men have done right for the sake of what was wrong. This is not christianity; this is an abuse of christianity; and on what an uncertain ground would the duties of the christian religion rest, were they left to such evasions as these! Alas! how often does it happen to be more convenient to neglect our duty than to do it ; to say of Christ, "Crucify him, crucify him,—not this man, but Barabbas," rather than to render such homage as is due to him! It may happen, that the morality of the gospel cannot be practised without exposing ourselves to difficulty, danger, and distress. What is to support the christian character then? The smiles of the world? Alas! they frown and threaten! The hope of gain? No, here is nothing to be gained, but every thing at stake, and all likely to be lost. Will our own passions and senses, right eyes, right hands, right feet, favourite sensations, will they support the practice of christianity? Quite the contrary; the heart will join with the world, conspire against God, disobey the Saviour, and trample upon his law; "without will be fightings, within will be fears." The primitive christians experienced many hardships, and surmounted many difficulties, in order to practice the duties of their religion; yet they "took joyfully the spoiling of their goods;" because they were supported by motives good and religious like the practice itself; "ye take joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.
Till death shall end my mortal days,
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
In order to recommend religious freedom, we must give a brief sketch of the history of christians, so far as it respects the most valuable of their rights, the right of thought. It is a matter sussceptible of perfect proof, that during the apostolic age and the two which immediately followed it, the liberty, freedom of thought, and entire equality, which seem to be among the most distinguished principles of the gospel, were felt, acknowledged and in practice admitted. The new Gentile convert, still under instruction, called the Catechumen, was the only exception, and a reasonable exception it was, because no man could be said to be a christian, till he understood what christianity teaches.
So long as the christians were a persecuted sect, this entire equality, founded upon the eminently christian graces of humility and charity, subsisted. But when the Roman emperour and his empress embraced christianity, and the fashion of the court and the swords of the legions were the instruments of conversion, these fundamental principles of christianity, entire equality among the lay and clerical brethren, and the enjoyment of equal privileges, disappeared. The simple system of christianity, so delightfully displayed in the life and language of our Saviour and his apostles, was not suited to the taste of the emperour, who had been sovereign pontiff under the gorgeous and showy, but horrible system of heathen mythology. There was at once formed a complete alliance between church and state. The despot raised the humble teacher of Christ into the rank of nobility. Wealth and titles were lavished upon him. It was not surprising, that, dazzled by his elevation and corrupted by wealth, he should feel grateful to the hand which had thus exalted him, and, forgetful of his divine Master, should conspire with his new converted and ambitious sovereign, in the oppression and degradation of his poor flock.
Such is the history, and the unvarnished history of christianity. The laity sunk into slaves-slaves of the basest sort-mental slaves -not daring to think-even deeming it a crime to think.
The poor teacher of christianity-having laid aside his scrip and his staff and assumed his scarlet and purple robes; invested with unlimited ecclesiastical power; being created the sovereign disposer of spiritual gifts; as the ages grew more and more dark, and learning and true religion disappeared, being the sole depository of the scriptures, which, as christianity spread into the west of Europe, were as to these nations, enveloped in a foreign language-soon acquired as despotic a power over the prince as he had long exercised over the subjects. Hence arose those monsters in the christan church, the Roman pontiff and the Grecian patriarch. For nearly twelve centuries these ecclesiastical despots divided the sovereignty with the civil rulers, and vied with them in the debasement of the ⚫ human mind. With the revival of letters, and by the aid of the art
of printing, the human intellect recovered some of its rights. first triumph of returning knowledge was achieved at the expense of ecclesiastical despotism. The pope, that proud pontiff who had given law to kings and people, felt the first shock.
How grateful should we be to God, who has caused light to spring out of darkness, and allowed us to enjoy so richly its beams.
HISTORY OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM CONTINUED.
If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.
HAVING traced the history of religious freedom, we said the Roman pontiff first trembled at the dawning light of the reformation. But truth is gradual in its progress. Eyes, long accustomed to midnight darkness, would be blinded by a sudden removal to the blaze of full day. The reformation took place—but what a reformation! The first substitution in Germany was the power of a feudal prince, and in England, the first defender of the Protestant church was that mild prince of immaculate memory, Henry the VIII. He declared himself the sovereign pontiff of England, and a tyranny practically greater than that of Rome, was erected on the ruins of the papal power. Protestantism was a mere name under his bloody auspices. The amiable Edward afforded a short breathing spell to the advocates of religious freedom. Under the catholic queen, Mary, the feeble light of protestantism was nearly extinguished. But whatever praises may have been bestowed upon her masculine successor, it must be confessed, that the true principles of protestantism were checked rather than advanced during the long and absolute government of Elizabeth. The feeble and tyrannical reigns of the four Stuarts and the civil wars, afforded better opportunities for the spread of religious freedom. Under the reign of Charles I., New England was settled, and by the most rigid class of dissenters. The principles of these settlers were, that the church was of right independent of the state; that each congregation was independent of all others, and enjoyed the right of self government. Those principles, followed out to their fair and necessary consequences, would have brought them to the immortal and imperishable truth, that man, an immortal being, is accountable to God only for his religious belief; that, as such, his right to form and express his opinions is imprescriptible-as free as he feels his own thoughts to be, when he retires within himself.
But our ancestors were only half converted to free principles. Their old prejudices closely adhered to them. It is no dispraise to them to admit this. Freedom, that noble principle of action, the natural state of man, not of uncivilized, but of cultivated, enlightened man, is a right slowly comprehended. The French revolution, the revolutions in Mexico and South America prove it. The slavery which of all others men are most unwilling to spurn, is that exercised under the cloak of religion; yes of that religion, which announces the equality of man, and the freedom of human judg
Our ancestors, let us admit what our records most abundantly prove, were tyrannical and bigoted on some religious topics. But they were not alone in this respect. The Huguenots of France had never the power to show their intolerance, but Luther and his German associates-Calvin and his Swiss friends-the Dutch reformers, and especially the Scotch presbyterians, had most ample opportunities of proving that they did not yield to the Inquisitors of Spain in the intolerance, the bloodthirsty zeal of their ambitious usurpation. The blood of archbishop Sharpe, himself a protestant bishop, will forever be a spot on the robe of the Scottish covenanters, which ages of liberality will not efface.-God be thanked, the mild spirit of liberty and charity is advancing.
RELIGIOUS RIGHTS OF CHRISTIANS.
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
THE opposition to the church of Rome was not founded merely on its abuses, but on its assumption of the right to bind the consciences of men to all future generations. The doctrines of transubstantiation, of the worship of saints, and other absurdities, were, like witchcraft and alchymy, absurdities, which would have fallen, like the doctrine of the revolution of the sun round the earth, by the increasing light of science, and the overwhelming power of the press; but the essential victory of the reformation was over the assumed power of a privileged caste, calling themselves eminently the ambassadors of Christ, to dictate to christians what they should believe of a revelation open to all, and, God be praised for it! within the compass of all tolerably educated minds, who piously seek the truth. Yes, this is the great triumph of protestantism, that it put the Bible into the hands of the laity; this is what has rendered Wickliffe immortal, and has laid a much more solid foundation for Luther's fame than any of his doctrines.
But of what use were these translations of the scriptures into the vernacular tongue, if, like the leaves of the Sybils, the only expositors are to be the clergy? Are laymen endowed with the gift of reason, that attribute of a spiritual and immortal nature, merely that they may prostrate it at the shrine of men who are themselves fallible? Why propagate the scriptures and publish them in all tongues and languages, if the readers are after all, not to exercise the gift of reason in expounding them, and are to refer to creeds established two hundred years since by men who had just emerged from the errours of popery ? No. This will not do.
Every man has a right to be his own expositor. The body of the people have a natural, equal and unalienable right, exclusive of all religious bodies and associations whatever, to elect their religious instructors. In politics, taxation where there is no representation is tyranny, so in ecclesiastical polity, any person who helps support the minister, has an equal, natural and legal right to help elect him. The people, as such, have in law, the exclusive right of choosing their religious instructors. Any attempt of synods, associations, consociations, churches, bishops, or presbyters, to interfere with this constitutional privilege, is usurpation and spiritual tyranny.-The word church, has, in this country, acquired a meaning not known in the apostolic age. In the New Testament it means the whole body of believers. Any other meaning is antichristian, and may mislead humble minds in their search for pure truth. Our constitution makes all men politically and religiously equal. They who submit to spiritual thraldom demand our pity. The rights are in the hands of the people alone. Slavery, whether of the body or the mind, is an infectious disease. It is a moral leprosy which taints and infects the surrounding air. Cold and indifferent must be that man, who sees such a moral pestilence in his vicinity, and does not exert his whole energies to prevent its spread. 'I am a man,' said an illustrious Roman, once a slave; 'nothing which touches human nature is foreign to me.' Shall a christian, born free, entertain a sentiment less noble? God and christianity forbid it.
CHRISTIANITY, A RELIGION OF LOVE.
Perfect love casteth out fear.
TAKE the whole of our holy religion together, and it deserves to be called, as it is simply, love. Often, very often, the whole is called love. What is God as he is described in this religion? "God is love." On what principle did he act when he designed the christian religion? "God loved the world." What is Jesus Christ? "The gift of God, the unspeakable gift of God." What is the whole of Jesus Christ in this religion, his doctrine, his death, his spirit, his precepts ? It is a "love that passeth knowledge." How does the gospel of Christ work upon the minds and hearts of men? It draws them with "cords of a man, with bands of love." It resembles the love of a parent to a little child, "teaching him to go, taking him by his arms," though he knows not the soft hand that supports him. What is the short history of revealed religion in the heart and life of man? The author tells us, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee." What we affirm is, that this religion of unutterable love is very credible-more than likely to be true. Is it incredible that God should love? What can be more worthy of belief than this? Is it improbable that he should love man, the only creature in the world made in his own image, when his tender mercies are over all his works? Let us reason on the subject of divine love, as the Psalmist reasoned on that of divine knowledge, "He that planted the ear, sha he not hear? He that teacheth man knowledge, shall he not know?" In like manner we ask, he that formed the hearts of those good parents, will He "forget to be gracious?" He that put irresistible eloquence into the tears of an outcast babe in a flag basket, so that a stranger "had compassion on him," and disinterestedly said, "go call a nurse; his name shall be Moses-I drew him out of the water;" will he who compels us by our own feelings to be kind, "in anger shut up his own tender mercies ?" Hear how the God of the whole earth condescends to answer our questions: "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. Can a woman forget her sucking child? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee." Such speculations as these were all to be collected from the world of nature before Christ came ; but if to these we add what the scripture calls the "acts-the mighty acts" of the Lord, how many blind eyes he has opened, how many hard hearts he has softened, how many crimes he has forgiven, how many disconsolate and wretched people he has made happy, by the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, we shall conclude that "the Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger, and of great mercy. Whom have I in heaven, O God, but thee; and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee !"
Now, if God is love, if Jesus Christ is love, if christianity is love, and if the kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of love, what manner of persons ought we to be, who are children of this God, disciples of this Saviour, professors of this religion and expectants of this kingdom?-Can we be uncharitable and unkind, can we be envious and revengeful, and yet hope for heaven? Can the wrath of man work the righteousness of God? No-If we would die with christian hopes, we must live by christian rules. If we would associate hereafter with just men made perfect, we must exhibit below the benevolence they practice above.