« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
Titus, ch. 1. v. 5.
“For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest-ordain elders in
every city, as I had appointed thee.
The christian never does any thing more difficult to his own conscience, nor more uncomely in the eyes of others, than when he undertakes to deny what he knows has been expressly revealed in the scriptures. “Thus saith the Lord,” is a law both in heaven and on earth; and it should exert a more powerful influence over none, than the spirit of him who has been cleansed and redeemed by Jesus' blood.Indeed the presumption is, that every man in the church, of every clime, of every age, of every rank, would eagerly, continually, and prayerfully inquire after what God has said; and especially that we would give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard” in “these last days,” when Jehovah “has spoken unto us by his Son."
It is, notwithstanding, a lamentable fact, that this very matter has created strife in the sanctuary of grace; and that, at this late hour, after eighteen centuries have nearly rolled by since the canon of scripture has been closed, and when divine providence appears to be hastening human things to their crisis, the place which the word of God is calculated to occupy, is not clearly defined:-no, not even by the ministry themselves, whose commission is based on a “thus saith the Lord.” So much is this the case, that in approaching the consideration of a scriptural subject, like that which our present text and the present occasion call upon us to investigate, there is considerable hazard in making a simple reference to the Bible, or in venturing either to disregard, or not to comply with, sectarian law. But surely, brethren, the Bible will not lead us astray, neither may we be afraid to make it the man of our counsel, and our constant companion. Rather let our unanimous voice be, "to the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” If you will join me in this, and agree honestly and prayerfully to seek after biblical truth, hazardous as it may be, I will endeavour to give you what I find in the scriptures on our present subject, so far as circumstances may demand the disclosure.
At the same time, while I have no desire to entertain you with novelties, nor to distract you with any arbitrary innovations of my own, you must not be surprised to hear the validity of some human customs seriously questioned, or the inconsistency between divine law and some sectarian principles or ecclesiastical forms plainly exposed.
The subject of church government, very few undertake to examine. Many christians think it an unimportant, if not an indifferent, matter. Others are appalled by the variety of opinions which have been broached, which have been zealously and pertinaciously maintained, and in behalf of each of which so long a list of learned,venerable, and reverend names can be so easily furnished. And perhaps not a few may have very carelessly and indolently supposed, that no precise or intelligible scriptural legislation has been communicated about it. Nor may we wonder that such impressions have been cherished. The warm contests which have been produced by episcopalian, presbyterian, and independent combatants, sometimes sustained by the deadly hate of political partisans, or the strong arm of civil power, and at other times allied
to conflicting opinions on the general subjects of religion, sufficiently account for such impressions. Or if this be not enough, then the prurient curiosity, and the astonishing diligence with which the pages of the fathers have been searched,-fathers, many of whom lived in an age of "wide-spreading degeneracy,” who would scarcely have been remembered, and seldom named, had they not been considered as noble witnesses in this controversy,--would make up the deficiency. 0, when shall this strife cease? When shall christianity enthrone the lord of conscience on the human heart, and gloriously achieve the freedom of the human mind?
But after all, why should we be careless about this matter? What doctrine of the Bible has not been involved in the same difficulty, and enveloped in the same clouds?All that belongs to the attributes of Godhead, the characteristics of his moral government, the powers of man, and the final issue when Jesus Christ shall surrender up the kingdom to his Father, have been handled with equal irreverence, and presented in sectarian forms equally misshapen. And if we should suffer our impressions to extend as far as this polemical chivalry has carried the sons of the church, we must cease to be christians altogether. Every christian grace we have would dwindle into a fragment of human policy; our assurances for heaven would become petty intellectual conceits; and our hopes must perish in that fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries.
Let us not part with our religion so easily; nor pusillanimously shrink from an inquiry, which, it may be found, we are all qualified to make. Church government may not be so embarrassing a subject as we suspect; but when stripped of human legislation, it may be seen to be characterized by a beautiful simplicity. Every man feels an inquiry into the principles of political government to be important; every day is issuing, from every city, town, and
village, her numberless chronicles as the vehicles of political information; and why should not liberty, in all its branches, stir up the human heart with her intensest feelings, and the human mind with her noblest powers?Surely God has not made his government of love so difficult of access; nor our social duties, the result of reciprocal love, so hard to be understood. There may be difficulty, it is true; but then it proceeds from ideas which we ourselves have created: it lies in prejudices which we have not magnanimity or strength enough to surrender; while our ingenuity is most painfully exercised in an attempt to coerce the scriptures into a conformity with our own “immature" speculations.
I presume that the necessity for any government at all in the church, as sustained by human instrumentality, grows out of our moral infirmities. Government is, or ought to be, a mere social scheme to secure general benefit, and results from the fact that man has been created a social being. It is therefore designed as a prudent arrangement of our necessary dependence on each other, and should be framed in such a manner as to unite the greatest amount of individual effort with a corresponding amount of social good. On the one hand individual character should be carefully regarded, and on the other the general welfare should be anxiously protected. According as one or the other may be slighted,
, anarchy or despotism must ensue; to neither of which will the great I AM impart the seal of his Holy Spirit. As in the state men are distinguished by varidus talents, so in the church they possess various gifts: and in neither relation are any of their faculties useless; but they must all act in harmony and seek the common weal, as accountable to the great Governor of the whole for any ability to do good, which he may have committed totheir trust. To effect this -to guard against hurtful collision, and to preserve due order