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enable us all, if we are suitably disposed, to be rich, in the only way in which our riches can follow us, - rich in good works.'

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[For the Christian Examiner.]

ART. XII. The Nature and Powers of the Christian Church.


THERE are many at the present time, who are asking for information respecting the nature and powers of the Christian Church; and it becomes important to answer such inquiries, , in order to set conscientious doubts at rest; still more so, to expose the weakness of that pretension by which too many factions attempt, under the name and authority of the Church, to overawe and govern the Christian world. In a nation, that usurpation is most to be dreaded, which professes to respect the forms of freedom; and in the Christian world the same unwearied and grasping spirit is most to be feared, when it desists from its endeavours to gain the state and circumstance of power, and aims at establishing its authority in the hearts of men. Nor is this so difficult an enterprise as many suppose; for the name 'Christian Church'carries authority with it; it is respected even more than it is understood: those who know not what it means, regard it with the veneration it deserves, though not of the kind which it deserves; and if any

ambitious sect can persuade them that it is the Church of Christ, that all who resist it are resisting him, and all who join or sustain it are friends to him, they are almost sure to gain numbers and power. We have sometimes feared that the freedom of the Christian world was owing more to the variety of conflicting parties, each putting down the pretensions of the others, than to any general disposition to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made them free.

The misapprehension which lies at the foundation of all this error, may be stated in few words. Men regard Christians, or rather the Christian Church, as a body enjoying certain chartered rights, vested in them by the great Source of power. They speak of them as trustees of Christianity, with ample power to appoint their own successors, and, when they leave the stage, to transmit the religion to whatever hands they will. They suffer no one to question the existence of these claims; they profess to hold them by divine right, a pretension, which, though exploded in all other subjects, still has power in this. They consider it an affront and injury to have any inquiry made concerning the genuineness of this prescription ; and if any one insists upon opening the statute book of our faith to learn the nature of this trust and find the page where it is given, they hold him up to the world as an enemy of all righteousness, and thus render his arm powerless against themselves, however strong it may be. There is no substantial difference between the proceedings of religious and political parties; the moment power becomes their

bject, principle, which would be exceedingly inconvenient to them, is set aside. A Christian sect does not by any means feel obliged to confine itself to Christian ways of extending its influence and numbers; the unworthy object is effected by unworthy arts, and the conscience, which ought to rise like a strong man to oppose their measures, is cheated into unfaithfulness by giving the name 'Christian' to that which Christianity condemns.

It seems to us to be an impression far from uncommon, that to enter a Christian church is like entering one of the lodges of Freemasonry; as taking one of those degrees makes a man a Mason, so whoever is admitted to a local church is regarded as a Christian, henceforth bound by obligations and enjoying privileges far superior to those of other men; and this impression is kept up by the solemnity and preparation with which men are admitted within the mysterious circle. They are persuaded that a supernatural change has taken place in their hearts; they are taught to speak with high disdain of this world, - duties, enjoyments, and all; they learn that it is a crime to differ from them in opinion, and that there is a natural enmity between religion and cheerfulness, day-light and devotion. Lest the ordinary course of life should wake them from this dream, and their reason explain to them the trick of imagination by which all this is effected, they are carried through a regular process of exhaustion, by which the mind is enfeebled, till it loses all wish to be free. They go nightly to the gloomy tabernacle, and with the dim light of sinking lamps, - with the stifling air,— with the ghastly looks, and the deep drawn sighs around them, are subdued to a devotion, which consists in yielding themselves up with a brok


en spirit, as passive instruments in the hands of the managers of the delusion. In this way they are fitted to join the mystic number of those, who have made sure of salvation already; and when once they have passed the threshold of the church, have nothing more to hope for or to dread. If Christian inprovement were the object sought for, it would pass the ingenuity of man to devise a preparation more fatal to religious advancement or even common morality than this, which so entirely removes the restraints and inducements on which morality and improvement depend; but if it be done for the purpose of strengthening a party, it is more powerful in its agency than is commonly imagined ; it reaches and holds, by appeals to the senses, many, who would be little moved by any thing addressed to the mind or heart.

This kind of preparation is much more common now than in former days : it has always been used for similar purposes; but in these times is followed up with an energy resembling that of despair. And it has a most unfortunate effect, both in subduing the weak and young to the bondage of a party, which they mistake for submission to the kingdom of heaven, and in disgusting calm observers, who do not understand the subject, but say that, if such are Churches and such is Christianity, the less we have of them the better. There is yet another class who are unhappily affected,- those who believe in the reality of all this, but find their own minds obstinately rational, and their hearts wholly insensible to such impressions, and therefore tremble, lest they never shall be found worthy to commemorate their Saviour's death.

There are undoubtedly many, who would rejoice to do this duty, if they could remove these impressions, which were early received and have been constantly gaining strength. They are rather to be pitied than condemned; for although the Bible is open to them, they go to it under the influence of these impressions, and expect to find in it a constitution drawn up for the Christian Church with articles and provisions defining its immunities, rights, exemptions, and powers. Finding nothing of all this, they suppose that the rules of the Church must be inferences, drawn by minds wiser and better than their own. They feel as if independent thought would be presumption in them; and this, together with a secret satisfaction in the idea of resting their own responsibility on others, keeps them in that undecided state in which they are

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more afraid to do, than to neglect, their duty. If they cannot be induced to examine the subject, of course nothing can be done for them; but if they can, let them ask, whether the word of God can teach more on this subject to others, than it teaches them; and whether their spiritual guides have any means of information on this subject, which are not open to all the world. This will be sufficient to show them that they must judge for themselves. And when they speak of the awful weight of obligation which a connexion with the Church would lay upon their souls, let them inquire whether those without, as well as those within the Church, are not bound to be Christians,- as good Christians as they can be ; and what possible way there is, in which the obligations of the one class can exceed those of the other. Even with respect to the eating and drinking at the table, if it is an obligation to the one, it is so to the other; the great obligation to carry Christian obedience and devotion as high and far as they are able, rests alike on all who have ever heard of Christianity. With respect to imaginary rights and distinctions, offered as a bounty to those who will make the Christian profession, we know of no such thing. The man who crowns his obedience to the moral commands by observing this memorial, which he believes to be enjoined by the highest authority, has the satisfaction of knowing that he has endeavoured to do all his duty,- to fulfil all

righteousness,' as becomes the Christian, leaving nothing deliberately undone. Undoubtedly those who are influenced by these apprehensions, ought to examine the Scriptures, to learn whether these things are so. They would find that they have not done well to take the word of others in preference to that of God; they would find that many of those who undergo the incomprehensible change of which they hear so much, are like children, who break off branches from the trees and set them out in their gardens, thinking that they have saved themselves the labor of planting and years of care: even that verdure does not wither sooner, than the fine promise in the young convert's breast. They would find, that if it is a duty to make a Christian profession, there can be no conflicting obligation; and they must beware of giving the name of duties to imaginations, asking always, not so much how they shall satisfy themselves, as how they shall fulfil the demands of God.

Those who have been disgusted with the pretensions of Christian Churches are equally under the necessity of ex

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amining the subject in the Scriptures. They will find that nothing could be more unassuming than the Church, as our Saviour left it; and they may be a little surprised to see that whenever Churches put forward such claims, they act against the instructions and the spirit of their religion. It is melancholy to see many, who have the power of knowing better, judging from hasty observations and unfounded impressions, and thus making Christianity responsible for all the abuses and perversions which itself suffers in the hands of men. They say they do not find members of the Church better than other Christians. Why should they expect to find any magical change produced in them by the circumstance of their professing Christianity? They have no more means of instruction than others, they

they are exposed to the same temptations as others. It is true that their Master is recalled to their minds by his own memorial service; but this can produce only gradual improvement; and if they expect to find a marked distinction between members of the church and others, their expectation must be founded on the mistaken idea we have just alluded to, that every one admitted passes through a revolutionary change, and that this change is real and endures, — both which impressions are unsupported

by the Scriptures. They also say that they cannot see what benefit would result from associating themselves with the Christian Church : but they should reflect, that if they are satisfied that the duty is enjoined, that point is not left to them to determine; their duty is to obey; and beside, that it is only from experience that they can determine whether it is beneficial or not. They do not hear any one who has made the experiment, saying that it does no good; it is only those who stand at a distance and judge theoretically, who doubt its advantages. If a Christian profession be regarded according to its design ; if the service, by attending which men are understood to make the profession, be attended with a view to religious improvement alone; if this high aim be pursued without stooping to the unhappy dissensions of party, - the person who does this, will not be disgusted with the Church or any of its attendant institutions. He will rather discover, that the only way to cure that disgust is to become practically familiar with the subject. In this way he will be able to separate the ordinance of Heaven from the abuses of men ;



N. S. VOL. VII. NO. I.

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