Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

as well as in name, who are content that we should remain as hitherto, very quiet and submissive; that we should abide by the old method, each sect working in obscurity for itself alone men who assure us, as the Prophet on one occasion assured the Israelites, that “our strength is to sit still,”—who are alarmed at the effects which they anticipate from our union-the increased virulence of all our malignant enemies—the cry of disaffection and irreligion which High-State and High-Church politicians will not fail to raise against us—the misinterpretation by the bigotted and the stupid, of our hostility to a system into personal rivalship--and the coolness (which indeed we shall all regret if it occur) of liberal men, hitherto friendly, although attached to establishments. Now, in answer to such anticipations we might say, that our Society will merit no such reception from any party; that, our design being merely to exhort and to argue, merely to print and to publish, and only to complain when suffering under grievances—no man will have right or reason on his side, who shall take offence at our proceedings.

But, with your leave, Sir, I will not apologise for, or explain away our Association.

These repeated meetings; the formation of this Society ; the publication of these principles, it would be gross affectation to deny, will be a more direct, and I trust, a more formidable assault upon the ecclesiastical system of this country, than has yet been made in Scotland. And being such, we must stand prepared for a proportionate manifestation of new ardour and opposition from all its defenders. Indeed, it will be mortifying if the measures we are pursuing, are received with calmness; for that will show them to be ineffective. But if they produce alarm in all the high places of the church—if they provoke from its less reputable organs, an increased outpouring of dishonest invective-so far from being astonished or daunted, we will hail the omen which assures us that we are really in action ; that we are not engaged in a mere idle parade ; but are felt, feared, and even hated by those who are unjust enough to regard us with such a sentiment. Anticipating all these inconveniences and evils—for such they must ever appear to right-thinking men, who can have no pleasure in the enmity of their fellows—foreseeing them all—we are still, I trust, prepared to say, that dissenters ought to depart from their old policy, and enter upon a more bold, let it be a more

[ocr errors]

offensive course.

For this the reasons are manifest and abundant. Different conditions of society demand and justify different measures. What was well for us in a state of mutual misunderstanding and common weakness, will not suit a season of union and comparative strength; and brightening prospects of success, as they impose higher responsibilities, so do they call for more strenuous exertions. But not only is our strength greater, and our opportunities more favourable ; our knowledge also is more advanced. We now see more clearly than ever, what is the true reason for becoming dissenters, and wherein consists the great grievance of protestant countries. This was for a long time unknown to a large proportion of dissenters in this country.

Lingering around the walls of the Establishment from which they had seceded, many were enveloped in the mists which brood over that neighbourhood. But light has since broken in upon us, and upon the world at large, which has disclosed enemies in quarters where once we saw only friends, has opened up to us new views of truth, and altered to our eyes the whole complexion of history,

If any one should ask us what these new views, and our present opinions are, our Fundamental Principles will supply a ready answer. These will show, that if we are hostile to Establishments, it is not for few, or slight, or ill-considered reasons; that our opinions have been formed after a wide and deliberate enquiry; and that we have founded our Association on a broad and varied basis of truth. We unite in different characters. We unite as citizens, to accuse Establishments of being unjust and oppressive, adverse to civil freedom and an equitable distribution of political power ;-as lovers of good government, to declare that they have been the fertile sources of perplexity and toil to statesmen; and to subjects of uneasiness, jealousy, and strife; -as men of sense and reason, to expose their inconsistency with the nature of human society, which is ever advancing, while they are immutable, and claim to be perfect, and are therefore hostile to new developments of truth, lest their imperfections should be detected, and their authority weakened. But above all, we have united as christians, to teach our countrymen that Church Establishments are at variance with the spirit of our religion; with its express appointments; with the example of its early history; that they have corrupted the church, retarded its progress, and

tarnished its reputation. Here it is that we take our chief stand, and a union upon such ground we feel to be most wise and necessary; for indeed, no class of men has equal cause with christians, to oppose Establishments: none has suffered so much by their existence, and none will be so much benefited by their downfal. That they have carried serious evils into whatever department of human society their influence has reached ; depressing reason, curtailing freedom, banishing peace,—we assert and maintain. But upon religion, the result of a State alliance, of that shifting of the foundation of christianity from freewill to force, of that change in its condition from independence to slavery, which a State alliance effects,—has been not simply to deteriorate, but almost to transform—so to alter and disfigure all its original features, that he who knew it in its infancy, would not have recognized it in what might have been its season of manhood.

Christianity set out with simple and catholic institutions, with a free and equal government, which was bound to no local constitution or political system, which was supported only by the freewill of its subjects; and which knew no other means of accomplishing its peaceful revolutions, than the influence of truth and charity. But, after a part of the Roman world had, under this happy frame, been won over to its cause, a fatal error was committed by its adherents, which laid the foundation of its change. Violating a wise law of the empire, which forbad the possession of fixed property by private societies, and disregarding the remonstrance even of their own faithful pastors, superstitious devotees began to endow the churches with permanent revenues, which gradually accumulating, attracted for some time an ineffective opposition from the state, till at last, Constantine, descrying in this quarter, the origin of a new political power, artfully departed from the policy of his predecessors, sought and won the alliance of the rising church, loaded it with honours, and poured new riches into its lap. Incurably tainted from that hour with a false ambition, the church proceeded through centuries of increasing ignorance, by every means of fraud and force, till it became the mistress of nearly half the territorial wealth of Christendom. But before it could work itself up to this bad eminence, in order to protect this ill-gotten and corrupting treasure, it had found it necessary to put on

a

new character, to assimilate itself to its worldly ally, to entwine itself with every national institution,—to seek a high place in every political system,—to become thoroughly and exclusively an earthly kingdom. Hence, every part of it underwent a change. Hence its forms, once simple, became complicated with whatever mummeries gratified the taste of its barbarous votaries, or furthered the power of its ainbitious priests. Hence, its government once free and equal, was deformed, so to suit the Gothic gradations of feudal society, furnishing to every civil rank its appropriate minister, the bare-foot friar for the mob, the mitred bishop for the palace and the throne. Hence, directed now in its course by ambitious churchmen in league with scheming politicians, it moved only according to precedent, and usage, and temporal expediency, and along the line of territorial limits; employed force instead of truth, and was content to stop where arms failed to penetrate. Hence, finally, in its effects it was no longer peaceful and blessed, but hateful and terrible ; deepening ignorance, and legalizing immorality, exciting persecution and confusion, impelling the march of armies, drawing down devastation upon provinces, and ruin upon thrones.

From this enormous and preposterous perversion of Christianity, traceable to that early error, Europe was partially delivered by the Reformation. I say partially; for it is now evident, that that great and blessed work was after all left incomplete,_not only inasmuch as large territorites of Christendom remained in subjection to the unmitigated despotism of papal rule, but as even in those countries where the reformers had the viotory, they knew not how to use it to the thorough extermination of the evil. The authors of that great religious revolution for a while took their stand upon free ground, working from thence against the established system, and deriving from this,—the native soil of Christianity,—a vigour, which, for a time, was irresistible, and which emulated by its triumphs--the career of the apostolic age. But, no sooner had they effected the emancipation of the church from its purely spiritual evils, than falling into the same error which had led to its ruin in former times, they renewed its claim to temporal wealth and national privileges ; unwittingly with their own hands leading it into slavery, and again fastening on its chains. Honour and grati

rance.

tude must ever indeed be due to the mighty christian heroes who were the leaders in that critical enterprise. We must ever revere them, because they rectified the doctrine of the church, because they restored its morality, and simplified its government, because they cleared away from its worship, the mass of superstitious rites which had grown upon it during ages of igno

But we are bound to confess, that when they delivered over the institutions which they had thus purified, to the unholy keeping of the powers and principalities of this world,—regaining for their churches a large portion of their ancient privileges and wealth,—they prepared for them a fate scarcely less deplorable than that from which they had just been rescued. They then made an alliance which, they might have foreseen, would soon tame down the free fervour which inspired themselves and their early followers, would suppress in their descendents the activity, the energy, the enthusiasm, that were the human instruments of their own success, and would at last reduce the church to a condition of quiet moral indifference, the nurse of scepticism, and scarcely to be preferred to the supplanted superstition : a condition which we all know did in fact arrive at its appointed period, when, in the eighteenth century, all over Christendom, the endowed churches exhibited scarcely the remains of life, and when, but for the activity still visible in those obscure corners where toleration left room for free churches, the spectator had reason to fear that Christianity itself was yielding to the influence of time, that its strength had run out, that it was about to expire, and give up the direction of men's minds to a cold and heartless philosophy.

But to compensate for this state of apathy, to which its own sincere friends had thus brought it, we might have expected, that Christianity would have been reduced to equal inaction in the political world, and been no longer an actor in civil broils. But here again we are disappointed, as European history abundantly shows, where we may discover reformed Christianity, for a century and a half, plunging with the same eagerness as Rome itself, into bitter religious wars. But not to lose ourselves in that wide field, if we confine our observation to these islands we shall see that religious Establishments, particularly in the south, have never ceased to be political corporations,—presenting appearances, employing means, and producing effects, almost as contrary to Chris

[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »