« AnteriorContinuar »
importance in the Christian scheme of salvation, and must be esteemed as such by all who have a just sense of the high origin, and inestimable value of the gospel of Christ. To those who consider the religion of our adorable Redeemer, as nothing more than a republication of what they call the Religion of Nature, it must, to be sure, appear very absurd and ridiculous, to be inquiring into, or disputing about, the external polity or government of the church; since in their opinion the only thing necessary, is to find out how far the precepts of the gospel agree with the moral fitness of things, and are supported by the law or feelings of nature, and the deductions of human reason. But surely they who regard Christianity as a religion of divine inftitution ; who believe, that its gracious Author came into the world, to save finners, and that “his “ name is the only name under heaven whereby “ they can be saved ;' that his facraments of baptism, and the eucharist, are the appointed means of uniting us to him, and preserving us in that union, and derive all their efficacy and importance from his blessing and sanctification of them: Such persons cannot poflibly think it a matter of indifference, whether the hand from which they receive these facraments, be the hand of an administrator, who derives his authority from Christ, and is empowered to bless in his name, or the hand of one who has nothing of that kind but what he has taken to him. O ?
felf, or received from those, who had as little pow. er as he, to grant any such call or commission.
But to consider the validity of the Christian sa. craments, and the authority of those who adminifter them, as matters of such high importance, we have been told by a late popular writer, * " is plac“ ing the essence of religion not in any thing inte“ riour and spiritual, not in what Christ and his “ apostles placed it, something personal in regard “ to the disciple, and what is emphatically styled in “ fcripture, the hidden man of the heart ; but in an 66 exterior circumstance, a circumstance, which in “ regard to him is merely accidental, a circumstance, 6 of which it may be impossible for him to be ap“ prized.”—And so we may fay, may “his belief " and obedience of the gospel," be merely accidental, and depending on the circumstance of his being born and educated in a Christian country, yet not the less acceptable to God, or beneficial to himself on that account. But the author of the work, to to which I am now alluding, calls it “ an absurdi. “ ty to make the truth of God's promises depend on 6 circumstantials ;' and to him “ nothing is more “ evident, than that the essence of Christianity, ab“ stractedly considered, consists in the system of « doctrines and duties revealed by our Lord Jesus “ Christ, and that the essence of the Christian cha
* See Lediures on Ecclefiaftical History, by George Campbell, D. D. Principal of Marischal College, Aberdeen. Vol. I. p. 86, &c.
"racter consists in the belief of the one, and the “ obedience of the other.” Although we acknowledge in general the truth of this observation, we cannot lee much propriety, or any advantage arising to religion, in thus splitting it into essentials and cir. cumftantials, for the sake of weighing the one against the other; because there is much danger of not making a proper division : And so by mistaking the nature of what is essential, and what circumstantial, we may throw into the one scale, what should be placed in the other, and thereby make a separation of what God has been pleased to join together for our comfort and instruction. It was therefore well observed by a learned and ingenious author,* chat " as it is one of the peculiar weaknesses of human “ nature, when upon a comparison of two things, “ one is found to be of greater importance than the “other, to consider this other as of scarce any im. “portance at all; it is highly necessary, that we “ remind ourselves, how.great presumption it is, to “ make light of any institutions of Divine appoint56 ment; that our obligations to obey all God's “ commands whatever are absolute and indispen“ fible; and that commands merely positive, admit“ ted to be from him, lay us under a moral obliga“ tion to obey him-an obligation moral in the “ strictest and most proper sense.”
Hence • Bishop Butler, in his Analogy, &c. p. 193 of the fifth edition-a work which contains much elaborate reasoning in favour of revelation, yet surely afcribes by far too much confequence to its pretended rival, the light or religion of nature.
Hence it would appear, that there is not so much ground as is generally imagined for the common distinction of moral and positive duties; which, being both alike founded in the will and revelation of God, must be equally binding on man, and can admit of no other variety of obligation on our part, than what is determined by our Lord's own decision of this matter—" These ought ye to have done, and “ not to leave the other undone."* If we see suffi. cient reason to embrace the religion of Christ, as the only ground, on which we can hope for salvation and happiness, we must also be convinced, that in order to promote that important end, it must be received whole and entire; as a combined “system of “ do&rines and duties,” requiring our “ belief of “ the one, and obedience of the other," without any other reference to our judgment and discretion, than what is necessary for our discovering, that these “ doctrines and duties were revealed by our Lord « Jesus Christ," either immediately while he so. journed on earth, or after his ascension into heaven, by means of the Holy Spirit, who was “ to guide « his apostles into all truth.”
So far then we are agreed with the learned Lecturer on Ecclesiastical History, whose words I have now quoted, though we shall afterwards have frequent occasion to differ from him. In his subsequent de. fcription of what he deemed to be the “ essence of
* St. Mat. xxii. 23.
“ Christianity,” we think, he ought to have men. tioned, what he could not but know, that a part of the “ system of duties,” revealed by the Holy Spirit to our Lord's apostles, and expressly enjoined by one of them, was obedience and submission to those who have a right to “guide or rule over us, and to “ watch for our souls :"* And as it is impossible, that such a right as this can be possessed by any man, or order of men, who have not derived it from the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls, in the way that he appointed for the transmission of it, we cannot but consider it as a matter of the highest importance to ascertain, as far as we are able, in what form of church government this right was originally investa ed, because to that government alone can such obedience and submission be due.
On this point, our Ecclesiastical Lecturer is obliged to allow that a certain external model of go. “vernment must have been originally adopted for « the more effectual preservation of the evangelical “ inftitution in its native purity, and for the care“ ful transmission of it to after ages.”t And when there were such strong reasons for the original adoption of a “ certain external model of government,” it may well be presumed, that the apostles, supporing them to have been only possessed of common judgment, without the benefit of inspiration, could not fail, as governors of the church, to take the