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The breach of this is termed “ adultery--fornication--whoredom.” Thus, in the Apocalypse, the Antichristian apostacy, or declension into false worship, is called " fornication,” and the church that leads others into it is termed “the mother of harlots.” Now the inference which I deduce from these passing hints is, that there must be something more in this matter than professors in general are disposed to allow, and I shall therefore make no apology for dwelling a little upon it at this time.
The allegiance which the disciples of Christ owe to him as their Lord, Redeemer, and King, requires that they receive nothing, practise nothing, own nothing, in his worship, but what he has appointed, or comes sanctioned by his authority. From the foundation of the world, and under every dispensation of religion, the Most High never did, nor ever will allow that the will of the creature should be the measure of his honour, or the principle of his worship either as to matter or manner. True Christians know what account is made by the blessed God of all will WORSHIP. They cannot forget that he hath expostulated, “Who hath required these things at your hands ?” The best reception that it meets with is, “ In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the traditions of men.” It is an acknowledged principle, in all national establishments of religion, that “the church hath authority to institute and appoint rites and ceremonies belonging to the worship of God.” For my own part, I am fully persuaded that this principle lies at the bottom of all the horrible superstition and idolatry, the confusion, bloodshed, persecution, and religious wars that have for so long a period spread themselves over the face of Christendom. What, in fact, is the main design of the book of the Apocalypse, but to make a discovery of this truth? Statesmen and politicians are confounded in their speculations respecting the confusion that every where prevails at this day throughout the kingdoms of modern Europe, and are greatly perplexed to account for it. But the Christian has only to open his Bible, and there he finds the problem unravelled. It is the Lord's controversy with them for the wrongs of his church. Notwithstanding the clear revelation which he hath given of the nature of his kingdom, as contrasted with all secular kingdoms and political bodies, the wills and fancies of men have been employed in imposing upon the
world human inventions, under the pretext of order, decency, and the authority of the church, in the ways and worship of God. What is meant by “the authority of the church,” it is not easy to comprehend : it seems to be a chimera that baffles all explanation; for no one can define it, no one knows what is, wherein it consists, nor in whom it resides. And as to the pretext of conferring glory, beauty, comeliness, and conformity on the worship of Christ's house, which is the great thing pleaded for by the patrons of national establishments, you may find in what estimation these things are held by the Lord of glory, if you consult Ezek. xvi. 25, &c. But look at the state of religion in all those communities which are formed after this new model and have received the improving hand of man. Observe how the Spirit of God in prayer is derided, the powerful preaching of the Gospel despised, the sabbath decried, and holiness stigmatized and persecuted !-and to what end? Why, that the Lord Jesus Christ might be deposed from the sole privilege of legislating for his church—that the true husband of the church might be put aside, and the adulterers of his spouse embraced--that a ceremonious, pompous, outward show of worship, drawn from Pagan, Jewish, and Antichristian observances, might be introduced, of all of which there is not one word, tittle, or iota in the New Testament. No man or body of men has a particle of authority to legislate for Christ in his kingdom : nor should his servants practise any thing in his worship, either public or private, for which they have not his warrant, either in express precept or in approved example ; for unless it come in his name, with “ thus saith the Lord Jesus,” they are bound to reject it, though it claim the authority of an angel from heaven. Even the apostles themselves had no authority to make laws or enact observances in the Christian church : all that they could do was to teach believers of the Gospel to observe what Christ had commanded them and that alone, Matt. xxviii. 20.
The observations now made will not be without their use, I trust, in enabling you to appreciate the revolution which took place in the state of the Christian profession, at the time Constantine the Great ascended the imperial throne, and established Christianity by law as the religion of the Roman empire. In several of these Lectures I have had occasion to speak of innovations that had crept into the Christian profession; such as, the unauthorized distinction between a bishop and an elder, which might be called the first stone in the kingdom of the Clergy; and not long after that was the introduction of infantbaptism, a practice which, by breaking down the scriptural barrier between the church and the world, contributed greatly to draw a form of godliness over multitudes on whom the Gospel had no salutary influence. These, with other unscriptural usages and human inventions that might be mentioned, exhibit clear proof, that the spirit of error was at work, and Antichrist beginning to raise his head, before the times of Constantine. There was, however, a check, or let, or hindrance to his progress, so long as the Roman government continued Pagan ; but when this obstacle was removed out of the way, which was effectually done by the incorporation of Christianity with the civil government under the auspices of the imperial convert,-- from that moment the man of sin began to stalk abroad with gigantic strides, as will be hereafter shown. In the mean time, as the advocates of national establishments of Christianity, have since the days of Constantine bent all their efforts, and exerted their utmost skill, in order to vindicate the connexion between church and state, and palliate what I consider to be an evil of enormous magnitude, I shall now attempt to set this important topic in its true light.
Those who have paid any considerable degree of attention to the subject must have perceived that the writers in defence of ecclesiastical establishments have not all taken the same ground, neither indeed have the dissidents in opposing them. What is termed the Jure Divino argument has been long since exploded by all moderate men, and has given place to what is termed the argument from utility--in other words, it is pleaded that ccclesiastical establishments can be shown to have their use in advancing the cause of religion in the world, and consequently they must be right! This is the sole ground on which Dr. Paley thinks them defensible. But you shall have his own words :-" The authority of a' church establishment is founded on its utility; and whenever upon this principle we deliberate concerning the form, propriety, or comparative excellency of different establishments, the single view under which we ought to
of them is that of a scheme of instruction, the single end we ought to propose by them is the preservation and communication of religious knowledge. Every other idea, and every other end, that have been mixed with this, as the making of the church an engine, or even an ally of the state, converting it into the means of strengthening or diffusing influence, or regarding it as a support of regal in opposition to popular forms of government, have served only to debase the institution, and to introduce into it numerous corruptions and abuses.”*
There is much candour in this statement, and I should think it scarcely possible to place the subject of a church-establishment on less obnoxious grounds than Dr. Paley has here done. “ The notion of a religious establishment,” he tells us, “comprehends three things: a Clergy, or an order of men secluded from other professions to attend upon the offices of religion ; a legal provision for the maintenance of the clergy; and the confining of that provision to the teachers of a particular sect of Christianity.”
Now, on this I take leave to remark that, to secure this “ legal provision for the maintenance of the clergy,” the application of force, or of human laws, is necessary; it must be secured by acts parliament; it is not left to my option whether I will contribute to the support of this order of men or not; the magistrate is armed with authority to compel me,-he can enforce an immediate compliance with whatever he demands. “ The establishment,” says the Vicar of Harrow, “remembers that man is fallen, forces him to provide the means (of religious instruction), and trusts that the conversion may follow.”+
Such, then, is the ground which is taken by these writers to demonstrate the utility and necessity of a religious establishment. It is not presumed, nor is the smallest attempt made to show, that either the Saviour or his apostles have delegated a particle of authority to legislate in the affairs of his kingdom, to alter the constitution of his churches as framed by his direction and exemplified in the churches of Jerusalem, &c.; and it deserves particular notice that, in advocating ecclesiastical establishments on the ground of their utility, neither Archdeacon Paley, nor his ally, condescends to take the least notice of our Lord's account of his own Kingdom, as a spiritual economy, nor to show us how this officious interference on the part of his professed disciples is to be reconciled with his own claims of being sole legislator ;-besides which, the fact is somehow strangely overlooked, that, for the first three hundred years, ecclesiastical establishments were unknown-there existed no order of men secluded from other professions to attend on the offices of religion, nor any legal provision for the maintenance of the clergy. The elders, bishops, or pastors of the churches were chosen by the people, according to a rule prescribed by the apostles for their guidance and direction, 1 Tim. iii.; Titus i.; and 1 Pet. v. 144; and recollecting who had said, “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” and “ freely ye have received, freely give,” numbers of them imitated the example set them by the great apostle of the Gentiles, working with their own hands for the support of themselves and families, that they might make the gospel without charge, and thus demonstrate that they were not actuated by sordid motives, but by love for the Redeemer and the souls of their fellow mortals. It is not denied that the Christian law recognizes the right of an elder or pastor to receive support, nor that such persons in many instances did accept a maintenance from those who partook of the benefit of their labours, but the bounty of the church was a freewill offering—a matter of liberality; and compulsion, or force, in order to extort it, was out of the question, until the days of Constantine. In the constitution, order, and worship of the churches, instituted by the apostles, there is a divine simplicity pervading the whole, which indicates the finger of God; but it was ill adapted to gratify the ambitious views of self-seeking men, and in their great wisdom, or rather folly, they soon began to mingle their own inventions and introduce innovations under one pre· text or other, and, in exact proportion as these prevailed, that which professed to be the kingdom of Christ was wofully secularized, the fine gold became dim, and we shall presently see what consequences ensued.
* Moral and Political Philosophy, Book vi. ch. 10.
+ Cunningham's Velvet Cushion, p. 88.