Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“
[ocr errors]

associate with the offender no longer, till his conduct cease to deny his profession ; but their withdrawing from his society can hardly be regarded as a dismission from the Church of Christ. T'he power conferred does not extend so far; and if man assumes it, in order to effect bis own: ambitious purposes, he has no reason to expect, nor others to fear, that his sentence will be affirmed on high.

But, it may be said, we hear of persons dismissed from one Church and admitted to another; for example, those who change their place of residence, are formally dismissed by the Church which they leave, and readmitted in the place to which they go. If such is the practice, it seems to us to be a needless form ; since, as there is but one Church, whoever is admitted to one is at the same time, and by the same act, a member of every other. In such a case a letter of recommendation is all that is required. He is already a member of the Church in the place to which he goes; but if he is a stranger there, he needs an introduction; this is given as a friendly, not an official act; and this, of course, becomes unnecessary when the party is known.

But a question like this may be proposed; — Suppose that a member of a local church becomes so dissatisfied with the conduct or doctrines of those with whom he is connected, that he requests a dismission from them, - what are they to do? They are to explain to him that he misunderstands the nature of the connexion. He joined the Church of Jesus Christ; from this they have no power to dismiss him; whatever obligations are contracted in consequence of that profession, bind him to Jesus Christ; from these they have no power to absolve him. As for his obligations to them, there are none. If their covenant is what it ought to be, he engages to attend the ordinance of religion with them so long as he feels that he can derive improvement from it, and not a moment longer. When the time arrives in which he considers it desirable to connect himself with others in preference to them, let them cheerfully recommend him as a brother and a friend, and let him be contented with this; for it is all the dismission which they have any right to give.

Since this case is not an uncommon one, we will go on to say, that there are two things which should be distinctly explained to such a person.

The first is, that those individuals never considered him as making a profession of belief in them ; so

that if he should be persuaded by others, that their sentiments are dangerous and untrue, it is nothing to him; he never professed to believe them; he did not make himself responsible for their opinions, nor they for his ; all his profession was made to Jesus Christ; and whether made in company with Barbarian or Scythian, bond or free, if it was made honestly, without hypocrisy or reservation, He will pronounce it good.

The second thing to be impressed on such a person, is that he must have some authority for saying by his conduct, that those with whom he has formerly associated are not worthy of his communion ; for if they are Christians, he is bound to hold communion with them, and he cannot cease to do this without declaring that he does not regard them as Christians. Then they have a right to ask him to show his authority for giving judgment on the characters of other men. Je

esus Christ is the only person to whom God has given this power, and it is not known that he has ever delegated it to men. What if their sentiments are, in his opinion, wrong? He never made himself answerable for their sentiments, by sitting down at their table; and if they are wrong, this mistake involves no forfeiture of the name and fellowship of Christians. It ought to be proclaimed on the house-top, till the sound reaches bigotry in her darkest caverns, that whoever sits thus in judgment on others, be it an individual or a Church, is guilty of an open and presumptuous sin.

Again; there are some, who have been dismissed, as it is called, from one Church and have not yet entered another. We have heard it said by those who should know better, that they are not members of any Church at all. Strange! how little this relation is understood. Members of no Church ! When did they cease to be members of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ? They became members of his Church when they first made a profession of faith in Christianity. After that, all Christians were their brethren; go where they would, they had a right to a place at every table of the Lord. The narrow boundaries of sect, the warlike liveries of party,--the uncouth names of Catholic and Protestant, Episcopal and Congregational, are nothing to Him. He knows but one church, - the Christian, which is not divided by these

, differences among men. The man who begins to draw lines about him,- to say that they who will not believe as he does shall not enjoy a privilege which Christ has given freely to

all,

[ocr errors]

to say that men shall not drink the waters of life except from his own stagnant cistern, that man may give the name of conscience to his bad passion if he will, — he may babble of a sense of duty, — but his conscience, if he had any, would

a act within the province which Jesus Christ assigned it, his sense of duty would be governed by the word of God. His good sense and feeling must be drowned in religious delusion before he can claim civil power for a Church; still more, before he can claim for it that divine power to determine the destinies of others, which belongs to God alone.

We may draw an inference also with respect to excommunication, as it is called. That this power resides in the Church no one denies. When a member continues to deny his profession by persevering immorality, the Scriptur authorize the members of a Church to separate him from their number, and this is done by separating themselves from him. This is the only excommunication known to the gospel, and this is for a corrupt life. We challenge the advocates of exclusion to show us a solitary passage in Scripture, which authorizes them to inflict the least censure on those whose sentiments merely are wrong. But this simple, intelligible, and reasonable practice has been converted into an engine of tremendous power; men have actually been at times persuaded, that others had power to cast them out of the Church ; and by the same act to cut off all their hopes of heaven. And by throwing a veil of mystery over the simplest of all simple things; by keeping up the impression that heaven is for them and their own, and hell for all beside; by repeating, till they make men believe it, that God is of their party, that their friends are his friends, and their foes his foes, they have established a kingdom in the world under the counterfeited authority of the King of kings. Men not knowing much about the subject, think it safest to avoid their censures, and the general feeling with respect to them is a mixture of hatred and dread. Excommunication, perverted from its original design, has been the instrument for prolonging the hour and power of darkness in the world.

There is a kind of excommunication frequently practised by narrow and deluded men. We allude to their neglecting the ordinance of the Supper, if they chance to be in Unitarian Churches, by way of casting censure on those whom they deem unsound in the faith. A very little reflection, with a .

, 18

VOL. XII.

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

6

right understanding of the subject, would show them that this practice, while it is unfelt by those for whom it is intended, is a direct insult to Him, in remembrance of whom the table is spread. They have no concern, in any form, with the profession of others; and to say that they will not 'do this in remembrance of him,' because others, whom they dislike, happen to be present, is the gratification of a spirit as different as possible from his own. It may be well for them to consider, to whom their disrespect is paid.

Without attempting to exhaust this wide subject, we will now point out some unfortunate results flowing from these usurpations on the part of Churches. One consequence is, that the very name of the Church is brought into contempt. Many believe that they are an association of men, who claim to be better than others, who imagine that they gain an accession of personal importance by thus associating together; that they feed their spiritual pride, by looking down on all other men.

If the Church did indeed resemble this description, it would be the most unchristian thing in the world. But in our view, the Church is simply composed of those, who believe that Jesus Christ required them to make a profession of their faith in him; who pretend to no superior sanctity; who would gladly welcome all, young and old, to their number; who insist upon keeping the door of the church open continually, day and night; and who would not for the universe straiten the gate, nor put stumbling-blocks in the way that leadeth unto life. But they do consider it a duty to remember their Master in his chosen way; and they will not leave it neglected, to reproach them in the hour, when they shall wish, oh! how fervently! that they had left nothing undone.

Another result of this perversion is seen among ourselves. There are those in all liberal societies who have been kept from this ordinance by the alarming impressions with which men have surrounded it. This renders them afraid to obey our Saviour's last command; and they are so easily persuaded that the gloomy view of every religious subject is the true one, that they do not even examine the Scriptures. But when it is explained to them that these terrors are inventions of men; when you show them what Jesus Christ said, and all that he said concerning it; when you remove every obstacle that prevents their coming, and show them that if they delay it longer, the difficulty must be in themselves; instead of being grateful for the explanation, they sometimes appear as if sorry to be deprived of an excuse which has quieted their conscience so long; they say that you have divested the ordinance of its solemnity, and cut it down to nothing. The fact is, that there are many in every sect, who have no idea of solemnity apart from forms; they cannot feel realities; take away the show and state, and they say, like Micah, ' Ye have taken away my Gods, and what have I left me?' because they have nothing left but their duty, their Saviour, and their God.

We have endeavoured to show that most of the errors on this subject, and all the reproach, have arisen from the attempts to divide Christ; from the idea, that Churches are distinct and independent associations, having the right to frame their ov laws and dictate their own conditions. In opposition to this we have stated the truth, which may be denied, but cannot be disproved, that there is but one Church, consisting of those in every region, who have professed their faith in Christ, and performed the service appointed in remembrance of him; and

l that the members of this Church can exert no civil or divine power, which is not 'expressly allowed them by the great Head of the Church, in whom all authority resides. We feel as if it were necessary to state these things with precision, because many, who are liberal in sentiment, are yet thorough Calvinists in their imaginations of the Lord's Supper. They still cling to fancies concerning it, which they do not believe, not love, --cannot possibly maintain, and yet are unwilling to surrender. Therefore we are earnest to have them regard it no longer in the light of a form, but to consider it as a plain, simple, solemn, and important duty. We do regard this as a most important subject, and are surprised to see that so little is said or written concerning it; for the abuses we have alluded to seem to us the most entire and enormous of all the

corruptions of Christianity. The sign of Christian fellowship is made the sign of disunion; the banner of love is unfurled in unholy strife; all the bands of affection by which Jesus Christ intended to hold together the hearts of his followers are used as lines of party separation. It is impossible to conceive a more complete perversion of his kind purposes than this. It is a subject that needs to be presented often to the attention of men. It is true that they might find in the Scriptures the correct statement of the nature and design of the ordinance thus abused;

do

a

« AnkstesnisTęsti »