« PreviousContinue »
These circumstances, humiliating to man, as a reasonable creature, have been brought forward to convince the reader, that separation from the Church as generally leads to further disunion among the separatists themselves, as it certainly does to the breach of that charity, by which the Christian religion, when professed in purity, binds all men together.
But, for the consideration of bigots of every description, whether in the Church, or out of it, (for the principle upon which they act is equally to be condemned) be it observed, that the honour of God can never be promoted at the expense of Christian charity; and he that maketh the glory of God the end, must take the word of God for the rule, of his actions. We are told, indeed, that "it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing;"* and we readily subscribe to the doctrine. We are, moreover, exhorted by the Apostle to "contend earnestly for the faith;"+ and God forbid, that Christians should at any time be otherwise disposed. But whilst we guard against that general indifference in religious matters, which constitutes one of the striking characteristics of the age; we must at the same time remember, that Christian zeal, under the direction of that wisdom which descendeth from above, will be "pure, then peaceable, full of mercy, and of good fruits;" in contradistinction to that furious and destructive quality, which has at different periods usurped its sacred name, but which bears the unequivocal mark of its disgraceful origin; it being "earthly, sensual, devilish."+
* Gal. iv. 18. † Jude iii.
James iii. 15, 17.
In a word, the zeal of the Christian must not be of a kind with that which the Disciples felt, when they would have called down fire from heaven to destroy the city that was indisposed to receive them but must resemble, as far as may be, the holy and affectionate zeal of that blessed person, who came into the world, not to destroy men's lives, but to save them. And that man knows nothing of the Christian religion, who does not know it to be what it has been here represented; and where what is called by that sacred name, is unaccompanied with the fruits above specified, depend upon it, some poisonous doctrine has been mixed up with it, destructive of its salutary effect; or the professor, how zealous soever he may be, has substituted the creature of his own imagination, for the truth as it is in Christ Jesus.*
"It were well, (says an old writert) if, instead of wild enthusiasm, we would come to learn the sobriety of religion. In which let us heighten our zeal and Divine enthusiasm, to adhere strictly to the revealed will of scripture; to have a flaming charity for the good of the body, and the unity of the Church; that our enthusiasm may tend to heal, and not to divide; to advance the glory of God, and to humble ourselves in our own conceits; that we may be willing cheerfully to submit ourselves to our superiors both in Church and state; and not be so apt to judge others, as to censure ourselves: and then, though we had different opinions, yet we should have no schism. We should live together, as members of the same body; that though one * Eph. iv. 21. + Lesley.
were more honourable or useful than another, yet there would be no strife, no emulation, but which should exceed most in mutual good offices, and care for the whole. Such a heaven we should see, if we had no schism."
But the evils resulting from schism are not confined to men in their private character of Christians, but affect them also in their public one, as members of a civilized state.
Schism and rebellion have, in all ages of the world, been intimately connected with each other. The same disposition of mind that leads individuals to make their own Church, if uncontrolled, leads them also to imagine themselves qualified to form their own government. Hence it is, that schismatics have been at all times, more or less, what they were in St. Jude's days, murmurers and complainers. By such men this kingdom has once been brought to desolation. The ministers of the Church were driven from their pulpits by them; that the godly preachers, as they were then called, might step into their places. And the fruit of their doctrine, when ripened to perfection, was this: a most pious prince was murdered, because he would not join with them in pulling down that Church, which he had sworn to support; and the constitution of this country was destroyed, because it was not built upon a plan of their own forming.
The same leaven of wickedness, which produced those scenes of misery aud confusion in the last century, is, it is to be feared, now working in this kingdom; and it will be no breach of charity to say, that the doctrines, which are at times delivered
by some of those irregular preachers, with which, unhappily for us, this country so much abounds, tend in a great degree to spread the mischief. In contempt of former experience, and in defiance of an existing example, the most wretched in its kind that the world ever produced of the effects attendant upon a general dissolution of order in society; there are not wanting men, who, either from vanity or design, are desirous of making hazardous expe riments, under the plausible idea of improving a science upon which few heads are competent to form a judgment; and to the consequences of a mistaken theory upon which, the very existence of a state may eventually fall a sacrifice.
Reformation, it shall be readily granted, is at all times a desirable thing, when the honesty as well as judgment of the reforming party are fully to be depended on. But there is a further and very important consideration belonging to this subject, which is seldom taken into account; and against which neither honesty nor judgment are a sufficient security. In politics, the most important events are ofttimes unforeseen, and derived from causes with which they have no immediate or apparent connection. Circumstances in proof of this position are to be met with in the history of every country. A plan set on foot by wise and honest men may be so distorted in its working, by passing through the hands of men differently disposed, that the evil eventually produced may far overbalance the good originally projected. For the direct and immediate consequences of innovation of any kind are, generally speaking, the least important. Hence
it follows, that reformers should be men possessed, not only of sound heads and honest hearts, but also of a considerable degree of forecast, a sort of anticipating knowledge with respect to future events, to enable them to see the remote as well as immediate effect of the means they set in motion. For no wise man, though sensible of an evil, provided it be not of the intolerable kind, will risk a remedy, the operation of which he cannot in some measure ascertain; and the effect of which may, from its violence, leave him in a worse condition than it found him.
With respect to ourselves, possessed of the best government, and the most Apostolic Church in the world, we are nevertheless, it must be confessed, a discontented people; owing in part to the hypochondriac feelings of some, who know not what it is to be happy under any circumstances; the designed misrepresentations of others; and the various projected schemes of imaginary reformers, whose zeal seldom permits them to weigh coolly the possible attainment of speculative perfection, against the probable risk attendant upon the prosecution of it. And perhaps it may be thus accounted for: in proportion as things in this world approach nearer to that perfection best calculated to promote human happiness, there the grand enemy of man, the disturber of peace, and the envier of his happiness, is always most busily employed. And when this prince of darkness assumes the dress of an angel of light, by making religion the tool with which he works for the accomplishment of his purpose, he is