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The societies called Churches, constituted and set in order by those ministers of the New Testament, were of such as received and acknowledged Jesus as Lord Messiah, the Saviour of the World, and had put themselves under his guidance. The ONLY BOND OF UNION among them was faith in him and submission to his will. No subscription to abstract propositions framed by synods; no decrees of councils sanctioned by kings; no rules of practice commanded by ecclesiastical courts were imposed on them as terms of admission into, or of continuance in, this holy brotherhood. In the “ apostles' doctrine ” and in the “apostles' commandments” they stedfastly continued. Their fraternity was a fraternity of love, peace, gratitude, cheerfulness, joy, charity, and universal benevolence. Their religion did not manifest itself in public fasts nor carnivals. They had no festivals no great and solemn meetings. Their meeting on the first day of the week was at all times alike solemn, joyful, and interesting. Their religion was not of that elastic and porous kind, which at one time is compressed into some cold formalities, and at another expanded into prodigious zeal and warmth. Notheir piety did not at one time rise to paroxysms, and their zeal to effervescence, and, by-andbye, languish into frigid ceremony and lifeless form. It was the pure, clear, and swelling current of love to God, of love to man, expressed in all the variety of doing good.
The order of their assemblies was uniformly the same. It did not vary with moons and seasons.
It did not change as dress, nor fluctuate as the manners of the times. Their devotion did not diversify itself into the endless forms of modern times They had no monthly concerts for prayer ; no solemn convocations; no great fasts, nor preparation, nor thanksgiving days. Their Churches were not fractured into missionary societies, Bible societies, education societies; nor did they dream of organising such in the world. The head of a believing household was not in those days a president or manager of a board of foreign missions; his wife, the president of some female education society; his eldest son, the recording secretary of some domestic Bible society ; his eldest daughter, the corresponding secretary of a mite society; his servant maid, the vice-president of a rag society; and his little daughter, a tutoress of a Sunday school. They knew nothing of the hobbies of modern times. In their
Church capacity alone they moved. They neither transformed themselves into any other kind of association, nor did they fracture and sever themselves into divers societies. They viewed the Church of Jesus Christ as the scheme of Heaven to ameliorate the world; as members of it, they considered themselves bound to do all they could for the glory of God and the good of men. They dare not transfer to a missionary society, or Bible society, or education society, a cent or a prayer, lest in so doing they should rob the Church of its glory, and exalt the inventions of men above the wisdom of God. In their Church capacity alone they moved. The Church they considered “the pillar and ground of the truth ;” they viewed it as the temple of the Holy Spirit--as the house of the living God. They considered, if they did all they could in this capacity, they had nothing left for any other object of a religious nature. In this capacity, wide as its sphere extended, they exhibited the truth in word and deed. Their good works, which accompanied salvation, were the labours of love, in ministering to the necessities of saints—to the poor of the brotherhood. They did good to all men, but especially to the household of faith. They practised that pure and undefiled religion, which, in overt acts, consists in taking care of orphans and widows in their affliction, and in keeping one's self unspotted by the vices of the world."
In their Church capacity they attended upon every thing that was of a social character, that did not belong to the closet or fire-side. In the Church, in all their meetings, they offered up their joint petitions for all things lawful, commanded or promised. They left nothing for a missionary prayer meeting, for seasons of unusual solemnity or interest. They did not at one time abate their zeal, their devotion, their gratitude, or their liberality, that they might have an opportunity of showing forth to advantage or of doing something of great consequence at another. Such things they condemned in Jews and Pagans. No, gentle reader, in the primitive Church they had no Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving Monday, Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, nor Preparation Saturday. All days were alike good-alike preparation-alike thanksgiving. As soon as some Pharisees that believed began to observe
days, and months, and times, and years, so soon did the Apostle begin to stand in doubt of them.
Having taken a cursory view of some of the leading features of the Christian religion, exhibited in prospective, and in actual existence at its first institution, we shall in the last place advert to its present appearance. But, alas ! " how is the fine gold become dim !” Instead of the Apostles' doctrine, simply and plainly exhibited in the New Testament, we have got the sublime science of Theology, subdivided into scholastic, polemic, dogmatic, and practical Divinity. Instead of the form of sound words given by the Spirit to be held fast, we have countless creeds, composed of terms and phrases, dogmas and speculations, invented by whimsical metaphysicians, Christian philosophers, rabbinical doctors, and enthusiastic preachers. Instead of the divinely established order of bishops and deacons, or as they are sometimes called, elders and deacons, which remained when the age of “ spiritual gifts” and “ spiritual men passed away, we have popes, cardinals, archbishops, metropolitan bishops, diocesan bishops, rectors, prebendaries, deans, priests, archdeacons, presiding elders, ruling elders, circuit preachers, local preachers, licentiates, class leaders, abbots, monks, friars, &c. &c.
Our devotion exhibits itself in prayers, in the set phrase of pompous oratory; in singing choirs ; in long sermons, modelled after Grecian and Roman orations, logical themes and metaphysical essays; in revivals, camp-meetings, praying societies, theological schools, education societies, missionary societies, Sunday schools, and in raising large sums of money by every way that ingenuity can devise, for
propagating the gospel.
Our zeal burns brightest in contending for orthodox tenets, and a sort of technical language rendered sacred and of imposing influence by long prescription. Such as the covenant of works; the covenant of grace; the active and passive obedience of Christ; legal repentance; the terms and conditions of the gospel, the gospel offer ; the holy sacraments ; ministerial, sacramental, and Catholic communion ; the mediatorial kingdom of Christ; the millennium ; historic faith, temporary faith, the faith of miracles, justifying faith, the faith of devils, the faith of assurance, and the
assurance of faith ; the direct act of faith, the reflex act of faith ; baptismal vows ; kirk sessions ; fencing the tables ; metallic tokens, &c. &c. Thus to speak in clerical dignity, anagogically, more than half the language of Ashdod is mingled with less than half the language of Canaan; and the people are generally zealous about such confounding, misleading, and arrogant distinctions, which all result in divesting Christianity of its glorious simplicity, which adapts it to boys and girls as well as to philosophers, and which distort it into a mystery, fit to employ linguists, philosophers, doctors of divinity, all their leisure hours, at a handsome sum per annum, in studying, and then in giving publicity to their own discoveries, or in retailing those of others.
But into how diverse and opposite extremes and absurdities have many run in their wild, superstitious, and chimerical views of the Christian religion. Inquisitive reader, turn your eyes to yonder monastery, built in that solitary desert, filled with a religious order of monks, and an abbot at their head. Why have they shut themselves out from the world in that solitary recluse ? Is it for the purpose of becoming more abstemious, more devout, more devoted to the study of mystic theology? Hear them contending whether the Solitaires, the Cænabites, or the Sarabaites have chosen the course most congenial to the gospel. See these poor, gloomy, lazy set of mortals, habited in their awful black, their innocent white, or their spiritual grey, according to their order, forsaking all the business and enjoyments of society, spending their days in penury and affliction for the sake of sublimer contemplations of God and of the heavenly world ; and say, have they ever seen a Bible ! Again, see this sacred gloom, this holy melancholy, this pious indolence, becoming so popular as to affect all the seminaries of Christendom for a time! See it command the respect of the highest dignitaries of the Church; and hear them call those haunts of gloom and superstition, as some of the reformed orders of modern times call our colleges, “ fountains and streams that make glad the city of God," by qualifying pious divines! Yes, these monasteries became so famous for piety and solemnity, that the Church looked to them for her most useful ministers. And, indeed, much of the gloomy aspect, dejected appearance, and holy sighing of modern
times, and especially of the leaders of devotion, sprang from those monasteries.
Next, consider for a moment, yon sobbing anchorite, with his amulet round his neck, his beads solemnly moving through his fingers, bent upon his naked knees in yon
miserable cell, muttering his “ Ave Maria," and invoking St. Andrew to intercede in his behalf; and say, has he a Bible ? O yes! It lies mouluing and moth-eaten on his shelves !
From this scene of infatuation turn your eyes to yonder dismal edifice, with iron gates and massy bars. Within its merciless apartments view the “ minister of religion," the “ ambassador of Christ," attired in his sacred robes, with holy aspect and flaming zeal for the “ divine honour" and that of his Church, exhorting the vile heretic on pain of the most excruciating torments here, and eternal damnation hereafter, to abjure his heresy. As an argument to enforce his pious exhortations, observe the red hot pincers in hand, pointing to the boiling lead, the piles of faggots, the torturing wheels and all the various engines of horrid vengeance. Do
you ask who is he? I answer, it is the Reverend Inquisitor. On the most solemn AUTO DA FE, see this incorrigible heretic brought forward, arrayed in his santo benito, or sleeveless yellow coat, flowered to the border with the resemblances of flames, of red serge, decorated with his own picture, surrounded with devils, as doomed to destruction for the good of his soul. Then declare of what use is reason or revelation to many called Christians !
But leaving the dungeon and that quarter of the globe, visit the
of reformed Christians, and see another order of “ teachers of the Christian faith,” “ ministers of religion," having prepared themselves by the study of Grecian and Roman languages, laws, history, fables, gods, goddesses, debaucheries, wars, and suicides ; having studied triangles, squares, circles, and ellipses, algebra and fluxions, the mechanical powers, chemistry, natural philosophy, &c. &c., for the purpose of becoming teachers of the Christian religion ; and then going forth with their saddlebags full of scholastic divinity in quest of a call to some eligible living ; then ask again, where is the Bible ? And, stranger still
, see that Christian general, with his ten thousand soldiers, and his chaplain at his elbow, preach