« AnteriorContinuar »
A DISSENTER'S REASONS FOR SEPARATING FROM THE COMMUNION OF THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND.
Previous to the union of the Church and State under Constantino, Christians had formed themselves into a society of one denomination, under the pompous and exclusive title of "The Catholic and Apostolic Church." This terrestrial paradise, the Church, was said to be walled round like the: garden of Eden, and guarded by the flaming swords of cherubim from the intrusion of heretics. All within it was light and sunshine; all around was " outer darkness." But such a society, though' essential to Judaism, was abhorrent from the genius of Christianity. Christ's universal religion excluded none but unbelievers from its privileges and benefits; it could easily subsist without a public form, whether national or oecumenical; and the foolish priests who transferred this monopoly of the true faith by a society of one denomination, that peculiarity of Judaism, into Christianity, knew not what spirit they were of. In the true spirit of that spurious Apostolic constitution, which introduces "the night, the day, the moon, the sun, the stars, the elements, the seasons, the months, the weeks, the days, and the hours, things that are without life, and observe good order," as models of implicit obedience to ecclesiastical authority, none ventured to remove those things which the Bishops, according to God's will, had determined for them.
While the Church's Rulers were thus busily engaged in maturing its favourite scheme against Christian liberty, a mass of doctrinal and ritual corruption—either diseases which the vulgar had caught
from their heathen neighbours, or superstitions adopted by their governors from the Jewish system, then imposed upon all by infallible and catholic authority— a mass of doctrinal and ritual corruptions, had now been raised to an equality with the doctrines and rites taught and prescribed in the Church's only law, the Gospel, when Constantine, a Roman Emperor, entered with the priesthood into a new conspiracy against the purity of religion and the liberty of conscience.
Welearn from the apostolic writings, that the Judaizirig mania was already busily at Work, when Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and other primitive churches. The energy of this principle, and the long continuance of its operation would alone authorize a believer of the nineteenth century* cautiously to examine Whether the communion to which he happens to belong, retains any or many of those additions and impurities, which human ignorance, compliance and iniquity, ecclesiastical and political despotism, antichrist and the devil, have mixed up with the simple faith and spiritual worship of the Son of God.
As to the character of the church of the second and third centuries, my decided opinion is, that it was becoming gradually more and more corrupt; and in pronouncing this censure, I would have it understood, that as I believe all the Articles of the Christian faith, I am no Arian, no Socinian, no Antinomian, no rejecter of the institutions of Christ. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God," and every word in the Holy Bible
will, I trust, be respected by me as long as I live. The fathers of that period, with whose writings I am most familiar, are Justin and Cyprian; both are placed at the extreme points of a secular interval from the middle of the second, to the same period of the third century. Now the first of these holy men positivelybelieved—1. That our Saviour, at the time of his Passion for our salvation, prayed that his soul might not fall under the power of the devils.—2. That we are obliged, upon our approach to death, to imitate his example.—3. That the prophets were, after death, exposed to the insolencies of evil spirits.—4.That the souls of the faithful, who daily depart this world, are subject to the same inconveniences; and, consequently, do all stand in extraordinary need of being relieved by the prayers of the living.— See Blondel, of the Sibyls, b. ii. c. 13.
Thus were prayers for the dead, at this very early period, sanctioned by a most learned and eloquent saint and martyr. The very model of the Roman Catholic petition, Libera eas de ore Leonis, §c. "Deliver them from the mouth of the Lion," which is found perfect in Augustine's prayer for his mother, may be traced, under a less complete form, in the works of Justin.
As to Cyprian, the doctrine of human satisfaction for sin, might borrow some extremely plausible arguments from several passages of his writings; and it is rather remarkable, that this first known advocate of Infant baptism, should mention Infant communion, as the common practice of the African church. What shall we say to these things?—Conclude with an eminent Prelate of the National Establishment, that these fallible and superstitious ancients are not our Fathers: "One, therefore, is our Father which is in heaven; one is our Master,even Christ. And their will, as announced to us in sacred Scripture, is the only law, to which Christians, as such, are held and obliged. On this Rock, where Christ built his church, every private man may safely repose his conscience. To this truly infallible guide, we may commit ourselves with perfect confidence."— Warburton's Sermons, vol. ii. p. 114.
The primitive Bishops, as they are called, who governed the unestablished Church, soon forgot "that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and that
their great ones exercise authority upon them ;' but that Jesus has solemnly decided that so it should not be among hiss true followers, Mark x. 42. So that these spiritual lords of the golden age not only sanctioned false docfrine—not only governed Christ's heritage on a new and human principle, but they likewise usurped God's prerogative, a jurisdiction over conscience: they declared that none were Christians, except such as implicitly submitted their private judgment to their own sovereign will.
A.D. 250. Speaking of the most inoffensive Dissenters in Christendom, good Cyprian exclaims: "What peace can these enemies of thebrethren flatter themselves with? What sacraments can these rivals of the priesthood administer } Do they who meet together out of Christ's church, imagine that Christ is present at their meetings? Should such men even die for the name of Christ, that stain, that inexpiable crime of schism, could neither be washed away by their blood, nor atoned for by their sufferings. No church, no martyr; he who has forsaken the Queen, can never obtain the kingdom."—" Whatever quits the Mother's womb is an untimely birth, which can neither live, nor breathe, nor partake of salvation.''—Vc Unit. Eccles.
These are, indeed, "great swelling words of vanity;" the result, one would think, of extraordinary pride, prejudice, and ignorance. The ministers of the meek and lowly Jesus, no longer appearing, like their divine Master, under the form of servants, were thus self-elected lords over God's heritage, and imaginary lords over God's consciences, when Constantine literally transformed the kingdom of heaven into one of the kingdoms of this world. Antichrist now exhibited proofs of the variety of his resources; first, in exalting the Magistrate over the Priest in things spiritual; secondly, in exalting the Priest over the Magistrate in things temporal; and the event, in both cases, was injury to the great ultimate object of Christian associations, I mean to the advancement of God's kingdom upon earth.
The Roman CAurcAaddingblasphemy to usurpation, very consistently maintained her assumed jurisdiction over the souls of individuals, and over the body political, by the claim of Infallibility.
The Reformed Church, with far less judgment, when they had separated 203
FROM THE COMMUNION OF THE ESTABLISHED CHURCH.
"from Popery, on this very principle, that it had usurped the titles of Father Mid Lord, due only to God and his Son; forgot the condition on which alone they had a right to vindicate their Christian liberty from the dominion of a master, which was the not pretending to mastership themselves."—Warb. ib. p. 117.
When priests had submitted to the dishonourable yoke of a temporal chief, or supreme head in things spiritual, both master and servants ruled that flock, which it was their duty to protect and to feed, with a sceptre of iron, and with the rod of terror. "When the Reformers were once in the train of implicit submission, they grew ashamed to own they had any errors; and with reason, for what could more expose the criminal absurdity of such proceedings ?"—lb. p. 124.
It was thus put out of their power to retract with a good grace those faults into which they had fallen through an excessive admiration of corrupted antiquity, through injudicious attempts to allure the Papists, and through human weakness and ignorance. The doctrine and ceremonies of the English Establishment are still what they were under
Holy men, who should have strictly obeyed "the warning voice which called them out of Babylon," were unfortunately the dupes of that old Jewish prejudice, which made national societies of one denomination essential to Christianity; so that religion continued under the Reformation, as itwas und,er Popery, a political engine; and they discovered too late, that a confession of their errors, much more an attempt to remove them, might endanger the welfare of both king and priest, of both Church and State.
It is, however, probable that, like many other general nuisances, this evil cannot be of long duration, and that a great spiritual revolution will gradually he brought about. Secession from the Establishment must continue to increase, and to be the result of those associations for circulating the Holy Scriptures, and of other efficient means of promoting Christian knowledge on a large scale, which are at present in active operation. The time may soon come when it will be highly injudicious for the majority of the people of England to defray the expences of keeping up, under the name of the Established Church,
a small and contemptible sect. "Thy kingdom come," ana " hallowed be thy name," should now, more than ever, be the evangelical Christian's prayer.
To the usurped authority of the unestablished clergy, arid the false doctrines and impious or frivolous rites of the uncstablisned church, the coalition of Church and State under Constantine, and the exaltation of a Priest over the Magistrate in the person of a Western Patriarch or Pope, added innumerable abuses and corruptions, till at length the whole mythology and ceremonial of Pagan Rome, was adopted by the Christian church of the West.
Regarding the combination of ecclesiastical and political despotism as two great anti-religious principles, I consider them also as fomenters of intolerance, and of its natural train of evils, discontent, sedition and murder. It is remarkable," that the last primitive eulogy of toleration was penned by the eloquent Lactantius, a moment before Constantine established his church.
Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, derived so much assistance from the secular arm, against the Donatists, that he fancied that Persecution must be an excellent weapon for advancing God's kingdom, and subjecting his enemies. He therefore retracted his old opinion, "that schismatics should not be compelled and forced to communion by the violence of any secular power." Now, if so good a Bisliop could thus play the devil's part, and shift sides as best suited the interest of his party, who will deny that the amalgamation of Church and State, which furnished him at once the motive and the power of tyrannizing over another's, and, what is worse, over a rival's conscience, is a principle of mischief and discord? Who is not shocked at the. profane manner in which that otherwise godly Christian compares the divine operation of the Holy Spirit in renewing the will, to that tyrannical violence of wicked and foolish men, which -only multiplies hypocrites?— "Whereas," says he, in a letter to Gaudentius, "you think none must be forced to truth who are unwilling, you are deceived, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God, which makes those willing, who when they are compelled are unwilling."
Since the establishment under Constantine, truth and error have literally been forced upon all Christian denominations, as long as they have submitted to the combined usurpation of Church and State, and its mixed "jurisdiction in matters of faith," over the free-born conscience. Yet, neither Church nor State ever could explain one difficulty in this odd system, namely, the possibility of compelling me to believe what I cannot and will not believe. Till the secret is discovered, there is no alternative. I must dissent from the Church of England, as I cannot and will not believe what she teaches.
Cranmer, the first Reformed Archbishop of Canterbury, whose primitive simplicity and wisdom are of course the objects of extravagant praise, could, with all this simplicity and wisdom, dictate and approve the " great swelling words of vanity," in which Henry the Eighth's antichristian exaltation over Christ's kingdom, the Church, are expressed in the Parliamentary Statute of 1535.—(Stat, at large, torn. i. p. 436.) "The King, and his heirs and successors, shall be reputed sole supreme Heads of the Church of England, and in that quality, shall enjoy all titles, honours, dignities, pre-eminences, jurisdictions, authority and emoluments pertaining to that quality: as also they shall have full power and authority to Visit, from time to time, rebuke, redress and reform all errors, heresies, abuses, and delinquencies, and to ordain whatsoever any other spiritual authority hath power to ordain and reform," &c.—(P. Ordin. Angl. torn. i. p. 257.)
This statute, which was renewed in the first year of Elizabeth, was the foundation of her whole conduct, and of that of her successors in ecclesiastical affairs.—(Id. ib.)
"I allow," says the foreign author, who attempts to elude the force of this historical fact, "that the power of the Kings of England in spiritual matters, has been extended beyond its just limits; that the title of Spiritual and Temporal Head of the Church of England has something odious, and even scandalous in it; that such a title is unheard of in the church; and that it was impossible, without schism or prevarication, to invest the King with all the rights, privileges, and jurisdictions, which ever belonged to any spiritual power."
The Synod of 1562 were, however, ashamed of the primitive statute just quoted, and declared, that they ascribed .
to her Majesty " that prerogative, which they saw ascribed by God himself in Holy Scripture to all religious Princes." Even thus modified, Elizabeth's power in spiritual matters was declared equivalent to that of the Jewish monarchs, Saul, David, Solomon, &c.—an error resulting from the absurd, yet ancient confusion of the old and the new economy. The nature of this royal right is accordingly identified with that of those Jewish kings, in the Synod held at London in 1603, which excommunicates ipso facto "whoever shall act against or extenuate that regal supremacy."
Hooker, it is true, very nicely distinguishes between the sacerdotal power of declaring, and the regal power of decreeing the sentence of excommunication: "Thus," says he," Theodosius the younger, and Valentinian, ordained that the Nestorians should be accursed." 0 judicious Hooker! Now, I had much rather have heard her Majesty preach, (de iis concionando,) or seen her administer the sacraments (eas propriis manibus fideli populo distribuendo,)than to have heard the virgin Princess Elizabeth, the first Protestant Queen of England, anathematizing and dooming to the stake, the gibbet, the pillory, or the prison, whoever differed from her in doctrine or in worship, as little as the bigot Nestorius differed from the bigot Cyril, in matters of faith and superstition. Fortunately dissent is a hydra, too powerful to be crushed, or what would become of us under a " Supreme Head of the Church," to whom .the judicious Hooker in the first, and the pious Milner in the fourth century of our Reformation, could propose the two Theodosii as spiritual models! I
The Established Church of this country—the creature of a false principle, and of the confusion of two distinct econowiies, was remodelled at the Reformation, by men utterly ignorant of the nature of an Evangelical Church, and evidently unacquainted with the first elements oj Christian liberty; by men of the same stamp as Nestorius and Cyril, by turns persecuting and persecuted, but always "striving for the mastery;" by men ever ready to tell us as Theodosius: "Give me the earth purged from heretics, and I will give you heaven. Assist rfle in exterminating the enemies of God, and I promiseyou effectual aid against those of your empire." Nothing, could, there205
FROM THE COMMUNION OF THE ESTABLISHED CHURCH.
fore, be more injudicious than to submit now, without examination, to laws, the evident result of a principle fundamentally wrong, of blind ignorance, and of bigotted intolerance. Cranmer and Barlow were decidedly of opinion, "that in a Christian country without Priests or Bishops, the King has the power of administering the Sacraments, and ordainingministers." Vol.i.p.181. Burnet's Hist. Kef. Rec—Collier's Hist. Eccles. Sec
I mention this circumstance as an argumentum ad hominem, which must compel our high-church brethren to admit the fallibility and incapacity of that "extraordinary man;" and to expose their own inconsistency, in sometimes comparing his Grace, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, to that good martyr, whom they are bound to declare an arch-heretic. —" Downright Presoyterianism," says the Apologist of Anglican Ordinations," appears without the least disguise, in all Cranmer's answers, and it is but too evident that these Divines and Prelates (Cranmer, Barlow, &c.) only aimed at the extinction °f Episcopacy."—Id. ib. p. 181. Again: "The most obstinate Presbyterian never went farther in asserting the inutility of Ordination."—p. 182. Again: "This opposition of sentiments between most of these Prelates and Cranmer sufficiently proves, that the reformation of the Liturgy -was not blindly left at the mercy of that Archbishop's erroneous opinions and views, and that the preservation of the hierarchy was not his deed."—p. 186.
I have thus proved, that if Cranmer, Barlow, Thirleby, and their party, had prevailed in the Reformation of the Church.of England, it would now be a Presbyterian Church, or something worse; so that My Lord of Canterbury, the Primate of England, could at present be nothing better than an Episcopalian Dissenter; for, holding the necessity of episcopal government in a wellconstituted church, it would certainly be in him a conscientious and unavoidable duty to separate from the purest church upon earth—the Presbyterian, though
"Catholic and Apostolic Church of England!"
Now, though it is on a far higher principle than that which would compel his Grace to turn Dissenter, that I do so myself; this little matter of fact illustration of the iniquity and frivolity of the Established Church of England's claims, has its due weight upon me. I venture to think that it is not the purest church, in this country, just because it happened to be established three centuries ago;—because its Reformers were Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, &c.—because it is exclusively guarded by the secular arm, and maintained at the public expence.
I will not stain these sheets with a detailed account of the murders, religion is ergo, committed by Establishments. From the blood of Priscillian in the fourth, to the blood of John Penry in the sixteenth, all that innocent blood shed upon the earth must come upon them. Some they " killed and crucified, and some they scourged in their synagogues, and persecuted from city to city." Calvin imitated his master Augustin's intolerance of opinion; when he murdered Servetus even Melanctfion smiled. Zuinglius cried, in the true toneandspirit of the Jewish Crucipice! "drown the dippers," when consulted by the magistracy of Zurich, as to the fate of certain poor Baptists.* Cranmer did actually force Edward the Sixth to sign the death warrant of Jane Bocher, a Baptist, who was burnt to death. "My Lord, will you send her soul to hell?'' were the memorable words of the youthful king's remonstrance to this barbarous Pontiff? If Gardiner would have danced round the Smithfield bonfires, what would Heylin, Archbishop Laud's Chaplain have done, had he been present at Penry's execution—might he not have pulled the fellow's legs, as he calls him? This Penry, notwithstanding, was only accused of writing in a letter to a friend, "that Reformation must be shortly erected in England.''—His great crime was, his being the Author of an excellent petition in favour of his countrymen, the Welsh, who were almost destitute
• Brandt, that impartial Historian, says, Erasmus " -was particularly scandalized at the persecutions which the Zuingtians raised against the Anabaptists; for it was about the time that those of Zurich had ordained by a second decree—'that the Anabaptists should no where be tolerated within their * .niton, but taken up, in order to be brought to capital punishment.' They insist and argue, says he, that heretics ought not to be punished with death; whereas they themselves inflict the same upon the Anabaptists, a people against whom there U very little to be said, and concerning whom, we are assured there are many who have been reformed from the worst to the best of lives. And though, perhaps, they •nay fooliehly'err in certain opinions, yet have they never stormed towns or churches," &c—iirarttft, "I- i. b. B. i. 18. *• f