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required to solve, and which our age is busy in examining. Whether the past has offered, or whether the present is likely to find the true solution, may appear after a few words.
The method by which alone the two ideas can be brought into harmony is obvious. One must be made subsidiary to the other. Though both be important, or both essential, one must be allowed greater prominence than the other, and by that which is entitled to hold the first place the other must be qualified and controlled. We can have no hesitation in determining to which of the two we should assign the chief importance. Christianity was given primarily and chiefly for the individual. The Church was but a consequence of its effect upon those, who collectively formed the Church, but were separately brought under its influence. And when the Church, through the conversion of those of whom it was constituted, had acquired a visible existence, had passed from a prophecy into a fact, from a conception into a reality, it became, and from that period has ever since been, a means of increasing that spiritual life in the souls of men to which we trace its origin. The Church is a means, and not an end. It exists for the individual, and not the individual for the Church. As Jesus said of the Sabbath, that " it was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” so we say, according to our apprehension of the Gospel, that the Church is constituted for the sake of the believer, not the believer chosen for the sake of the Church. If there be any discrepancy between the two, it arises from overlooking the law of their mutual relation. If there be any conflict, the Church must yield its pretensions to the welfare of the individual, rather than the individual be sacrificed to the Church. For the Church is the subordinate idea, the individual is the central idea.
With this solution of the problem in our hands, we discover the great error of past ages, and a prevalent error of our own times. It has been maintained that the Church is the principal idea in the Gospel. It has been generally supposed that the individual exists for the Church. Ecclesiastics have contended, and the people have admitted, that the rights of the Church were stronger than the rights of its members; that the prosperity of the Church must be secured at the expense of the believer's peace and
independence ; that, in a word, everything must be made to yield to the Church. We need not attempt to show how mischievous this error has been, — what injustice it has wrought, what cruelty it has prompted; what chains it has placed upon the mind; what burthens it has imposed upon the conscience, which God did not lay there, and what burthens which God did lay upon the conscience, it has taken off; with what a paralysis it has affected the moral nature, and into what a mere mechanism it has converted the religious sensibilities; what obstacles it has put in the way of personal improvement, and what a barrier it has raised to the progress of society; how it has immured the worthy in dungeons, and lifted the worthless into thrones ; how it has built up a hierarchy, and depressed a people ; how it has kindled the fires of the Inquisition in Spain, and given an unrighteous authority to the decisions of a Convocation or an Assembly in England, and upheld persecution for opinion in the New World ; how it has been the leprosy of the Roman Catholic Church, covering it all over with hideous disfigurement, and how it tainted the life-blood of Protestantism, so that this has had but a sickly growth almost from the day of its birth. We need not recite all the detail of evils which have resulted, and do still result, from transposing the proper order of the ideas which we are considering. We wish only to bring into notice the fact, that such a transposition has been the common mistake of former ages, and is widely prevalent in our own.
The religious error which we are noticing, corresponds to the political error which covers so many pages of national history. In the political science of former ages the fundamental principle has been, that the individual exists for the State. Our age is beginning to learn that this notion is in direct contradiction of the truth. The difference between European legitimacy and American democracy turns on this point. The Government, says the former, is everything ; the individual belongs to the State. The individual is the essential idea, replies the latter; the State belongs to the people. The great political controversy of future times, whether it be carried on by the pen or the sword, will arise out of the antagonism of these positions. It has arisen, and the sympathies of the people of this land are all on one side. A similar controversy must be waged on theological ground. Shall not this country be found on the side of personal right, and personal responsibleness, here also ? The individual is merged in the Church, the Church is the great idea,' cries all Catholic Europe; and Protestant England repeats the falsehood. Let America send back in clear and full tones the truth, that the Church exists but for the individual, that the great idea is personal character.
The truth which we must maintain is this,—that important as are the uses of the Church, they are but uses, and the Church itself a means, not an end. And that we may maintain it with fidelity or success, we must apprehend its nature, its justice, and its relations. We must clearly discern the meaning of such a statement, we must perceive the support which it derives from the whole doctrine and spirit of Christianity, and must be able to define the change which its acknowledgment will produce in the character of almost all ecclesiastical action. We must not delude ourselves with the belief, that the error of the middle ages is unknown in our times or in our land. Our ears are becoming accustomed to language the import of which, if properly weighed, might lead us to think that the distance between us and those ages is not so great as we have supposed. When the Church is described as the channel through which alone the saving influences of religion descend, what is meant, if there be not an ascription to the Church of an office and a value such as Christ never authorized ? The Church, the only appointed channel of Divine influence! If by any possibility such an expression could be justified, it must be either through the validity of a tradition (entrusted to the Church, which is recognized as Divine, or through the promulgation (by the Church) of edicts to which a similar character is ascribed. Now we can neither submit to the latter, nor consent to the former, if we mean to be true to Protestantism and to the Gospel. Christianity has no tradition which it offers along with the written word, and sanctions no edicts but those which fell from the lips of Christ.
If we adopt this conclusion, we shall find it easy to give an answer to inquiries which are often raised concerning the unity and the authority of the Church. What other unity can it possess, than that concert of sentiment which flows from a common sympathy with the mind of Christ? Any other notion of unity besides this must be a delusion. Disappointment has been the invariable consequence of an attempt to enforce a unity of doctrine or of discipline. Agreement in doctrine there may be to a certain extent, and where liberty of examination is allowed; but that any two men should think precisely alike upon all the nice points in theology is as vain an expectation, as that they should resemble one another in all the details of personal habit. A unity of belief, if it go beyond the first elements of Christian truth, or even if it enter into a minute explanation of these, will be hollow and unreal. A unity founded upon obedience to the same ecclesiastical discipline is a mere semblance. The only true union has its basis in sentiment. The Church is one, because its members are informed by the same spirit, having drunk of the same spiritual fountain, which is Christ, and been nourished on that bread of life which came down from Heaven. The voluntary consent of free minds, the accordant pulsation of hearts untrammelled by forms or creeds of human device - this constitutes the unity of the Christian Church. The believers are one now, as they were in the days of the Apostles, because they are “all of one mind and one heart." The unity is not confined to earth, but embraces the saints who have passed into heaven, since there as well as here the spirit of truth and love reigns in every soul. The circumstance which determines unity is not that men think alike, or worship alike, but that they are alike; not that they have the same creed, or the same outward service, but that they have a common standard of character, and maintain a common effort to reach that standard. This makes a solid and graceful unity, arising as it does, not from external pressure, but from spontaneous sympathy.
The authority of the Church, what is this? Little more than a fiction; a fiction which has cheated millions, and ruined multitudes, but a fiction still. If the Church be what we have described, how can it have any such authority as its rulers have claimed for it. Mark the contradictory terms of this very sentence,-the rulers of the Church have urged its claims. Is it not plain, that if they are its rulers, it is their own claims which they have urged, under the pretence of zeal for the Church? We deny altogether the existence of any authority in the Church, and we disown altogether such an authority as they who profess to be its guardians would exercise in its name.
If there be any authority deposited in the Church, then must the Church have some mode of expressing and enforcing that authority. But no such mode has ever been discovered, or can in the nature of things belong to it. When the Pope of Rome issues a Bull, it is his Bull, and that is all, - entitled to just so much regard as is due to a venerable, or a foolish old man, surrounded by good, or bad advisers; and no more. When any one else, or any body of men, undertakes to proclaim the decision of the Church, all which they can do, is to give their understanding of what has been the prevalent opinion or practice among believers; about which they may be mistaken, and concerning which we may rely upon their judgment only so far as we have reason to believe it is impartial and well-informed.
But there must be authority somewhere, we shall be told. Certainly. Instead of denying this, we would assert it as strenuously as any one. There is an authority to which we
hould all bow, the authority of Christ. He is the Master, and to him we must go to learn both truth and duty. The Church must not come between Christ and the disciple, to prevent the approach of the humblest believer to the person of his Lord. Let him go directly to Christ, and sit at his feet and take in large draughts of the inspiration which he communicates. There let him be as docile and obedient, as against all human dictation he shows himself to be firm. * But who shall interpret Christ for him?' Who? No
What a question is this ! Let him interpret Christ for himself. He cannot, do you say? We maintain not only that he can, but that he must and should. Christ is an open book, and who will may read, and who will may understand. But men will differ, it is said, in their inter pretations. Very well, let them differ; they cannot differ more widely than the Church, in its authoritative expositions of the truth, has differed from itself. Let each man construe the mind and character of Christ according to his ability, let every one read the New Testament with his own eyes and on the responsibleness of his own conscience, and then if we behold difference, it will be