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order, in contempt of a Divine institution, be so likely a way to correct the evil complained of, as leaving the cause in God's hand; continuing dutiful members of his Church, praying for its ministers, and by conversation, writing, and example, endeavouring to re-animate them to a more spiritual discharge of their trust.*
It is safest (says an old writer) to trust God with his own causes. If Aaron had been chosen by Israel, Moses would have sheltered him under their authority. Now that God did immediately appoint him, his patronage is sought, whose the election was. We may easily err in the managing of Divine affairs, and so our want of success cannot want sin. God knows how to use, how to bless, his own means."
It should be remembered, then, that there is no excuse for separating from a Church, where the word of God is preached, and the sacraments duly administered; because, as it has been above observed, the efficacy of the service and sacraments of the Church does not depend upon the private
+"Cogitent in magnâ multitudine complures esse verè sanctos et innocentes coram oculis Domini, qui aspectum suum fugiant. Cogitent, et ex iis qui morbidi videntur, multos esse, qui in vitiis suis nequaquam sibi placent aut blandiuntur; sed serio timore Domini identidem expergefacti, ad integritatem majorem adspirant. Cogitent non ferendum esse de homine judicium ab uno facto; quando sanctissimi interdum gravissimo casu excidunt. Cogitent plus subesse ad colligendam ecclesiam momenti, tum verbi ministerio, tum sacrorum mysteriorum participatione, quam ut quorundam impiorum culpâ, vis illa tota evanescere queat. Postremò reputent, in censendâ ecclesià pluris esse divinum quam humanum judicium.”-CALV. Instit. lib. iv. c. 1.
character of the officiating minister: and as there is no excuse for separation under such circumstances, so neither can there be any advantage derived from it. Piously-disposed persons may certainly be as pious in the Church as they can be out of it; and it is the design of our Church, that all its members should be such. It may be a subject, therefore, well worth consideration, whether the practice so frequently adopted by serious persons, of separating from a Church which furnishes the most effectual means of promoting the true spirit of Christianity, may not be traced to the artifice of that grand deceiver, whose business it is at all times and by all means to prevent, as much as in him lies, the success of the Christian ministry: and, under this head, whether the idea which is now taken up by Christians of a certain description, relative to a supposed distinction between the Church of Christ and Church of England, be not employed by him, by way of prelude to their more easy separation from Church communion. Upon those pious persons who are on the point of being led captive by such a fatal delusion, the strong language of Bishop Hall will produce more effects, at the same time that it will be better received, than any thing I can hope to say upon the subject. "The God of the Church (says this pious Bishop) cannot abide either conventicles of separation, or pluralities of professions. This flourishing Church of Great-Britain (after all the spiteful calumniations of malicious men) is one of the most conspicuous members of the Catholic Church upon earth; so we, in her communion, do make up one
body with the holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, confessors, and faithful Christians of all ages and times. We succeed in their faith, we glory in their succession, we triumph in this glory. Whither go ye, then, ye weak, ignorant, seduced souls, that run to seek this dove in a foreign cote? She is here, if she have any rest under heaven.”*
To the foregoing important considerations, let it be added, that every representation of the clergy of this Church, which tends to lessen their influence upon the community, does injury to the general cause. For this reason, it becomes necessary to separate, as far as may be, the office from the man; and not to disregard the ordinance of God, because it has been occasionally disgraced. And this distinction between the public and private character of the teacher, our Saviour has taught us to make, in the direction given to his disciples respecting their conduct towards the Scribes and Pharisees, who were at that time notorious for moral depravity. "The Scribes and Pharisees (said he) sit in Moses's seat. All, therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works, for they say and do not."+ Though the ministers of the Church, therefore, ought to be, and would to God they all were, burning and shining lights to the world; yet it must be remembered, they are men. They have received "this treasure in earthen vessels,"‡ as men of like passions with those to whom they are sent. As men, therefore, they will have their personal defects.
But as their personal defects do not, through Divine grace, vacate the object of their commission, "any thing (according to the observation made by Dionysius to Novatian*) must rather be borne, than that we should rend the Church of God." A proper distinction, therefore, should. always be made between the clergy and the Church. For if well-meaning pious Christians are to leave the Church, because there are some ministers who do no credit to their office in it; it may be difficult say, when such a thing as unity could be found in it; since there never was a time, from the days of the Apostles, when such a cause for separation did not in a greater or less degree exist.
St. Cyprian sets forth the corruption of an early age of the Church in the following melancholy strain: "The discipline (says he) which the Apostles left us was corrupted with idleness and a long rest. Every one's care was to increase his estate; and quite forgetting either what the believers had done in the Apostles' days, or what it was always their duty to do, they gave themselves up to an insatiable covetousness, and laboured for nothing but to get wealth. There was no devotion in their priests, no charity showed in good works, not so much as the form of godliness in their behaviour." Yet St. Cyprian was so far from thinking that this shameful degeneracy of the clergy furnished an argument for separation from the Church, that he was one of the strongest advocates for the preservation of Christian unity.
Oportebat quidem nihil non ferre, ne ecclesiam Dei scinderes." DION. Epist. ad NOVAT. vide EUSEB, lib. viii. c. 44.
When the prophet said, "The priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts." It was at a time when the Jewish Church was in the most degenerate state; when the priests, as he afterwards tells them, "had departed out of the way, had caused many to stumble at the law, and had corrupted the covenant of Levi.”*
The reader will not suppose that it is our wish to shelter the present degeneracy of the clergy under that of their predecessors in any former stage of the Church. The only conclusion meant to be drawn from the foregoing circumstances is simply this, that the ministers of the Church are to be regarded in their public character, as "the messengers of the Lord of Hosts,” the “ambassadors for Christ; "+ as bearing a commission, which, though at times unworthily discharged, demands consideration from the respect due to the Being from whom it is derived; and that the cause of the master ought not to be affected by the unworthiness of the servant.‡
• Mal. ii. 7, 8.
† 2 Cor. v. 20.
In the course of the great rebellion, when the people were deluded to believe they could not set up the kingdom of Christ without pulling down that of their sovereign; among other transactions, we are told of an officer belonging to the rebels, who, after some skirmish, being taken prisoner with his party by the royalists, was modestly asked by one of them, "How it came to pass, that a gentleman of his seemingly good sense and education could be induced to engage in a cause so very unjust?" His reply was, "He had not so strictly examined the merit of the cause, as now he was convinced he ought; but one thing he could not but mention, that had prejudiced him (and he