« ZurückWeiter »
nature may be done by kings and princes without an establishment. But can a more effectual method be formed of giving religious instruction, and affording opportunities of religious worship, to those who can be induced voluntarily to attend on these means of grace, through any country, than by distributing it into districts and parishes, building places of worship in all proper situations, and stationing ministers to officiate in these places of worship, statedly, and especially on the Lord's day, under pious superintendents, who may see to it that they properly attend to their duty; encouraging those who do so, and censuring or superseding, those who do not? I cannot doubt that a plan of this kind, if superintended and conducted by truly pious characters, might go very far, by the blessing of God, in evangelizing the inhabitants: I say by the blessing of God, which in this case might be expected, and without which even the efforts of what is pleaded for as 'primitive 'Christianity' must be useless. It especially seems important, in procuring a willing observation of the Christian sabbath throughout any country. Many, perhaps, would object to any constraint in this also; and certainly what is done freely and willingly, and merely by instruction and persuasion, is far preferable; and, wherever a stated parish minister is punctual and earnest in his duties, it may generally be observed that, even when no constraint is used, the Lord's day is proportionably hallowed by his parishioners, with fewer exceptions by far than in the other places. The plan adopted by Jehoshaphat might also, from
time to time, come in aid of it with great effect.!
The Independents in general, as far as I can learn, consider the ministerial character conferred, or recognized, when the person whom they have chosen is ordained pastor over that special church, as distinct from his pastoral relation to them: they can dismiss him from the latter, and another church may choose him; but reordination is not required, and his ministerial character is deemed permanent. Whether he is at liberty, in foro conscientiæ, to renounce it, forms another question.
If Christian ministers derive their office merely from men, and are properly their ministers, they may be set aside by the same authority as appointed them: but the New Testament constantly speaks of them, as the "ministers of God, and of Christ." And the apostle in addressing the elders of Ephesus says, "Take heed unto yourselves, and to all "the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made
you overseers."3 Now, has man authority to disannul what the Holy Ghost has done? Even if the overseer, whom the Holy Ghost hath made, should on any account be removed from his original charge: do not his office and character remain indelible, except taken away by him who delegated them? Man has, almost in every age, had some assigned part in forming or recognising the mar
'See the Author's Commentary on 2 Chron. xvii. 7—9. 21 Cor. iv. 1, 2. 2 Cor. vi. 3. xi. 23. Col. i. 7. iv. 17. Acts xx. 28.
riage union; yet our Lord says, concerning it, "Those whom God hath joined together, let no 66 man put asunder." I will not say, that no earthly power can deprive a minister of his office, who has forfeited it by his misconduct; but no record is given of the transaction in the New Testament; and I cannot conceive that the churches, over which the apostles, and Timothy and Titus ordained pastors, (by whomsoever chosen,) were competent, without consulting either apostle or evangelist, or other pastors and churches, both to set them aside, and deprive them of the office conferred" by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery." 1
II. I proceed now to the last subject on which I purpose to give my thoughts; namely, the advantages arising to the cause of true religion from our national establishment, its provisions, liturgy, articles, and homilies; whatever faults, real or supposed, may be found in its constitution and its administration.
Supposing at the beginning of the last century, or towards the middle of it, the same number of pious ministers and Christians had been found in the land as there then were, and no more; and these without any advantage from an establishment, either of one kind or another; without churches, or episcopal chapels, or services on the Lord's day, or any thing Christian even in appearance, except in the places of worship belonging to this select company, separated from the rest of
1 Tim. iv. 14. v. 22.
the nation, according to the form of independent churches, of a more ancient or more modern description and supposing this to have been the case for a length of time preceding it; would the bulk of the population have differed much from the inhabitants of heathen countries? Would not even the more common notions of Christianity have been almost obliterated? Would not the very observance of the sabbath, especially as to attendance on public worship, have been nearly worn out; and all other regard to it, except as supported by the disallowed weapons of legal coercion? Would not the supply of truly pious ministers from our schools and colleges have been in a great degree, if not entirely, prevented? Or, if any young man, educating for some other profession, becoming attentive to true religion, should have chosen the work of the ministry, must he not have been shut out from the opportunity of exercising his ministry, where it was most wanted? For, without some legal and strong measures from the secular arm, it cannot be supposed that the chartered seminaries of learning would have shared their funds with the religious party. How far some kind of idolatry would have sprung up in such a desert, I cannot say ; but example shews that it commonly does return, in one form or other, under such circumstances. All, however, who had not been led to join the independent churches, and either to receive admission into them, or to attend at their places of religion, would have greatly resembled heathens in ignorance and ungodliness: and it is not without many lamentable exceptions, that even the
independent churches have preserved, in any good measure, the evangelical faith among them. The office of minister in such circumstances must have greatly resembled that of a missionary in Pagan or Mohammedan countries; except as the small number, at the time above stated, of these churches were concerned: and I believe it will be allowed, that, under God, the increase of them has been much owing to the labours of ministers in the establishment. Every thing inculcated concerning the grand truths and duties of Christianity must have been either wholly new, or considered as the notion of comparatively a small party; and, have met with as decided opposition, at least, as from Mohammedans. But now our parish churches and parish ministers, and Lord's day services, and various other observances, even when formal and inefficient, keep up in men's minds some idea of Christianity and, when a minister who is earnest to do good, and "well instructed to the "kingdom of God," is brought into any place, he finds a great many things ready prepared to his hand, which missionaries excessively feel the want of a place of worship; a general conviction that the Lord's day should be observed; a cessation of most kinds of labour; leisure to those who choose to attend on public worship; an extended opinion, at least, that the scriptures are the word of God; with many other advantages, not to be found in heathen countries, and greatly relieving those difficulties under which missionaries at first labour, and over which they mourn.
Even that degree of attendance on public worship, which is found in the most formal or neg