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NOTES ON SOME PASSAGES IN MR. M'NEILE'S LECTURES
ON THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND.
THE POWER OF THE KEYS.
“The commission given to the apostles themselves,” says Mr. M'Neile, “and acted upon by them in several notable instances, included the working of miracles; as healing the sick, casting out devils, raising the dead. The transmission of this is not pretended, and therefore discrimination in the matter is imperative, seeing that at the outset we meet with this undeniable abatement of an apostolical succession. But although the power of physical miracles is not claimed by any sane advocates of an apostolical succession, the power of the keys, as it has been called, is.”—Lect. 2, p. 25.
The power of the keys, and the power of working miracles, were given together, and evidently designed to go together; and we have no intimation whatsoever of their being separated, or that the one should continue after the other had ceased : and it appears to me, that it would now be scarcely less blasphemous to pretend to heal the sick, or to raise the dead, than it is for one fallible man, to say to another fallible man, —“Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted to them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.” The fact was, that a pretension to the one power, could not be maintained for very obvious reasons : but in the other, the
proof of failure not being so flagrant, it was too favourable to the purposes of priestly ambition to be suffered to drop, and speedily, became incorporated as part and parcel of that mystery of iniquity which so soon began to work. But if ocular proof in the case is wanting, moral proof is not. The gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost are not doubtful; they may be known and read of all men : and when we see one man who has never shown these gifts and graces, pretending to communicate them to another, who perhaps shows still more legibly, that he is, both before and after, wholly destitute of them, what conclusion can a sane mind come to, but that the pretension is absurd, and the exercise of it blasphemous? And when it is recollected, through what a polluted channel this pretended transmission of the Spirit has been carried; that this transmission is the grand foundation of the power, and authority, and infallibility, and intolerance of the church of Rome; —and when it is further recollected, that to this very pretension thus taken
up, and thus transmitted, the Church of England lays claim, and copies from that church the very formulary of conveying this miraculous endowment—the spiritual union of the two churches is thus proclaimed with fearful boldness, and a case is made out against the Church of England, which alone is sufficient to justify a conscientious dissent.
The presumption and delusion involved in this ordinance, assume a still deeper shade, when we follow them into that of absolution. Mr. M'Neile’s quibble about the different meanings of the words absolve and forgive, is unworthy of a Christian minister.* Were the question, a school question merely, or one of simple error, defensible, as Mr. M'Neile attempts to represent it, on the ground that the church does not pretend to infallibility, we should not be disposed to quarrel with it. But when it is recollected, that the function assumed is one of the most awful import, and, if assumed falsely, leads to the most awful delusion, the question is not one to be thus lightly got rid of. It is not to what extent the objectionable pretension to forgiving can be carried, but what is the condition of that which remains ? What is the actual amount of the pretension still reserved under the word absolve, and what the impression conveyed by it to the unhappy wretch over whom it is to be pronounced ? Taking the word absolve, then, at the lowest interpretation claimed for it, that of declaring or pronouncing forgiveness, still an exclusive attribute of Deity is invaded—that of omniscience. A minister can no more dare, without assuming this attribute, without the faculty of discerning what the searcher of all hearts only can discern, to pronounce the sins of a fellow mortal forgiven, than to take on him the prerogative of unconditionally and personally forgiving them. And when it is remembered, that the only confession of faith on which this declaration of forgiveness is required to be pronounced, is the bare verbal assent to a form of words, which, whatever else may be its merits, contains not one syllable of the
way of acceptance with God! which, beyond the mere facts of the death and resurrection of Christ, makes no mention of the grand discriminating doctrines of the Christian faith, of man's lost state, and the plan of recovery from it; of the atonement; of justification by faith ; of the mediatory office of Christ ; and of the renewing and sanctifying office of the Holy Spirit; those doctrines, a knowledge of which, modern Christians, at any rate, consider to be absolutely essential to salvation. When we think of this, and that so far as the appointed test goes, the man may be passed out of the world with an assurance of forgiveness, in ignorance of every one of them ; when we think of all this, the combined presumption and delusion are perfectly appalling.
SUBMISSION OF THE CHURCH TO THE CIVIL POWER.
" It is difficult to imagine,” says Mr. M`Neile, "anything more express and plain, than the divine commandment is with respect to the submission of the Christian church to the civil power. I must cite the well-known language of the apostles. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God : the powers that be, are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist, shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power ? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same : for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid ; for he beareth not the sword in vain : for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore
* Page 33.
ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. (Rom. xiii. 1-5.) Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be the king as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well.' (1 Pet. ii. 13, 14.)”—Lect. iii. p. 48.
These are the passages at length: and in which of them does Mr. M'Neile see the divine commandment he contends for? How is it possible for him, or any man, so thoroughly to mistake the apostle's meaning in these passages, as to argue from them for the subjection of the church to the civil power ?—to confound things so essentially different as subjection to the civil ruler, in things civil and things sacred ; the obedience due to the ordinance of man, with that due to the ordinance of God ? How can he fail to perceive, that these may
be often at variance, and obedience to the one, through the other, plainly impossible?
It is answer enough to this extraordinary perversion of Scripture, that the apostles could not be writing on speculation merely-on what might be in some day, and in some country, and in some problematical concatenation of circumstances—a day, and a country, and a contingency, all beyond the reach of their inspired vision. Nor could they, passing by their own converts, be dictating instructions to some far remote converts of unknown regions, in unknown ages, glimpsed by their prophetical foresight. Nor would they mock the disciples, by commanding them to do that which the loss of life itself would not induce them to do ; to yield subjection in religious matters, or in other words, to surrender up the Christian church to the then ruling power.
But one or the other of these they must have been doing, if their purpose was any other than that of simply inculcating the duty of obedience to the civil power in things civil. The fact was, that the civil power under which the apostles and their disciples, to whom these charges were given, were living, was a heathen power.
But it was to these same disciples, actually living under this same heathen power, that these commandments were addressed, and by whom they were to be received and obeyed. But here is the conclusion which no sophistry or casuistry can get over—the government under which the church then existed being a heathen one, the subjection contended for was impracticable :
ergo—it could have no place either in the minds of the apostles, or in the passages quoted from them by Mr. M'Neile.
Again, in the same Lecture, (p. 56,) Mr. M'Neile writes as follows: " The apostles, as we have seen, enjoin submission-conscientious, religious submission, for the Lord's sake,—to every ordinance of men, whether it be to the king as
eme, or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him. This command is given to the Christian clergy, to whom other commandments also are given by the same divine authority. It is their duty to obey all their Lord's will.” Then, after stating that one part of that will is, the performance of their spiritual functions, which he calls their ecclesiastical duty, he adds—"Another part of their Lord's will is, that they should be, and continue, subject to the civil power. Call this their political duty.”*
Monstrous as this must appear to those who have not surrendered their judgments and their consciences to kings and parliaments, it is no caricature of the real doctrine of the church on this subject. Hooker, throughout his Eighth Book, gives the same view of the ecclesiastical sovereignty of kings, and the prostration of the church before the civil power. “Touching that which is now in hand,” says he, “we are on all sides fully agreed ; first, that there is not any restraint or limitation of matter for regal authority and power to be conversant in ; buit of religion whole, and of whatsoever cause thereto appertaineth, kings may lawfully have charge; they lawfully may therein exercise dominion, and use the temporal sword.”+
According to these slavish doctrines, religious submission is due, let the civil ruler act up what religion he may. This is one of the inevitable sequelæ of the state conscience system : by virtue of which, kings (with or without parliaments, as the constitution of the country, or their own will may determine ;) may, as we have seen done by kings and queens of England, set up popery at one time, and protestantism at another; or popery in one section of their dominions, protestantepiscopacy in another, and presbyterianism in a third, at one and the same time ;—that an emperor of Russia, or a king of Greece, may, by the same right, establish the Greek church ;—that the bishop of Rome, or a king of France or Spain may establish popery, and the subjects of each be severally bound to obey.
* What the real nature of this subjection is, may be seen in the Acts of Supremacy and l’niformity, and in the Constitutions and Canons Ecclesiastical.”
+ Book viii. ch. ïi. sect. 16.
In creation, man was placed in a state of integrity and uprightness : by transgression he was reduced to a state of guilt and condemnation : through conversion he is elevated to a state of justification and grace.
The state of grace is evidently one of favour and acceptance with God, and involves the possession and enjoyment of numerous and inestimable privileges. The subject of this state is no longer treated with disfavour, nor regarded as an enemy.
He has been reconciled to God; his sins have been pardoned; he is purified; he has free access to the mercy-seat; he enjoys peace in his conscience ; he is sustained and cheered amid the toils of his pilgrimage, and rejoices in anticipation of his final reward. (Rom. v. 1-11.) What a state is this ! how safe, how happy, and how glorious! What a change in character, condition, and prospects, it implies ! what a change, in these respects, it promises. A sinner once-now a saint-hereafter to be a spirit in glory! Once in guilt, danger, and wretchedness—now in safety and happiness, and hereafter to be for ever with the Lord ! “Now are we the sons of God, but it doth not yet appear what we shall be.”
This state is the result of grace, of pure and sovereign favour. Man does not, will not, cannot originate his own conversion. His spiritual change is not self-produced. He is guilty, worthless, powerless. Left to himself, he would inevitably perish. He has no claim on the Divine bounty or pity. A wilful rebel against the God of heaven, his only desert is death, his only doom is hell. But mercy pities the wretched, and grace blesses the unworthy. “Who hath made thee to differ ?” “By the grace of God I am what I am.”
Salvation is, however, not so entirely of grace, as to exclude all regard to the claims of law, justice, and truth. It is purely gratuitous to man, but at an immense cost to the adorable Redeemer. “Ye were redeemed by the precious blood of Christ : being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Justice has her claims, as well as pity her tears,-claims, too, which must be met before pity can be exercised. The pleadings of merey were unavailing while justice insisted on satisfaction, and till Jesus undertook to meet all her demands. In his own person, and by his own obedience and death, he engaged to remove every obstacle in the way of a sinner's return to God, and to render it possible for the Governor of mankind to be “just, and yet the justifier of the ungodly.” “ The just died for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” “He died for our offences, and rose again for our justification.” His resurrection proclaimed to the universe, that “the kingdom of heaven was now opened to all believers ;” while his intercession secures access to