Page images

sion ; and both sculls are venerated as having once veritably contained the brains of the patron saint! The door is open to credulity, and there is no stopping-place. Under a system of formal religion, such is the training of the mind, that her followers necessarily become, in all things, too superstitious.

2. Another evil resulting from externalism is a misinterpretation of the Bible. It gives a material where it ought to give a spiritual sig. nification. Take two examples, by which to judge of all others : first, the doctrine of transubstantiation, which has figured largely in the pulemics of the church. Christ says, “this is my body;" and hence formalists naturally suppose that when the bread and win e receive the sacerdotal blessing, they are literally converted into the real body and blood of Christ. And as it is right to worship Christ, it becomes right to worship the host, as the elements are called from the Latin word hostia, a victim. This doctrine prevails, and has for centuries prevailed, in the Romish Church. And even the great reformer only modified, without rejecting it. Nor is this strange. He could not be expected to obtain, at once, a complete emancipation from the thraldom of formalism. His principle of action in reforming the church was, to retain whatever of Romanism was not manifestly contrary to Scripture. He did not, like Zwingli and the Swiss reformers, reject everything not expressly sustained by the authority of the Bible. And so Luther and the German reformers retained many of the practices of Romanism, and only half enjancipated the Lutheran church from the power of formalism. They, indeed, rejected transubstantiation; they could not say, with the thorough Romanist," what the priest holds in his hands, shuts up in the box, eats himself, and gives to be eaten by others, that is my only true God; and to me there is no God beside, in heaven or on earth.” (D'Aubigné, III. 354. Farel.) Four at least of their senses -sight, smell, taste, and touch, bore decided testimony on the other side. They could not resist this testimony. It was too convincing to be set aside by the mere authority of the pope. And so they chose a middle course, maintaining that, in some miraculous manner, the real body and blood of Christ became united with the sacramental elements. This doctrine of consubstantiation, or the real presence, as it is called, is held by the Lutheran churches to the present day. But the churches of Switzerland, composed of hardy freemen who had snuffed the clear cold breezes of the Alps, could not embrace this doctrine of Lutheranism. They sought, below the material elements, for a spiritual signification; they received them as memorials of the great work of redemption, designed to remind them of the death of the bleeding sacrifice. They received them as an ac

Formalism substitutes Man for God.

735 knowledgement of their reception of the crucified Jesus for their Redeemer and king. In celebrating the eucharist, they merely indicated that, as their bodies derived strength from the bread and wine, so their souls derived nutriment and comfort from the doctrine of salvation by the dying pains of Calvary. They therefore believed that when Christ said, “this is my body,” he meant to teach, as Paul did when he said, “that rock was Christ ;" as John did, when he said, "behold the Lamb of God ;” and as Christ himself did, when he said, “I am the door;and again, “ I am the true vine ;" that the one symbolized, or in some important respects resembled, the other. Their interpretation was the natural fruit of a spiritual religion, while the dogma of transubstantiation just as naturally flowed from the system of externalism.

In the same way, formalism perverts the grand duty of repentance; making it, not an internal feeling, but an outward act. As she understands it, the command is not, be penitent in heart, that your sins may be blotted out; but, do penance, perform an act of bodily nortification, inflict suffering on the flesh, go on a pilgrimage, or pay money into the treasury of the church, that your sins may be blotted out. And so she deposes the conditions of salvation, fixed immutably by God himself, from the elevated and purifying place they properly hold in the plan of salvation, and reduces them to the insignificant matter of enduring a little self-inflicted bodily pain, or paying a trifling sum of money. The rebuke, once administered by Peter to Simon Magus, is justly applicable to all such gross misinterpreters of the Bible : “thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.” Acts 8: 20.

3. Formalism, wherever it predominates, exalts and honors man instead of God. The material being made superior to the spiritual, it would seem to follow, that a material man should be elevated above a spiritual God. And so it is. The whole system of formalism, both doctrine and practice, tends to bring man prominently before the worshipper, and keep God out of sight. Look at the foundation of its hopes of life. It is laid, not in the love of God, nor the vicarious sufferings of Christ, affording a spiritual influence to sustain moral gov. ernment and reconcile mercy with justice, but in self-inflicted pains of body, austerities, pilgrimages, masses, fastings, sackcloth and ashes. These so-styled good works of man, instead of the blood of Christ, make atonement for sin, satisfy the demands of the law, and reconcile God and man. When the soul feels the burden of sin, and conscience utters her reproaches, and fears for the future agitate the spirit, and the heart pants for a power that can give the laboring conscience peace

and wash away its stains, the formalist, instead of going directly to God, and seeking comfort from the great source of peace, goes to his spiritual guide for hope and help. Materialism always interposes a man between the convicted soul and a forgiving God. And his ghostly adviser, to secure for himself that confidence which belongs only to God, directs the heavy laden applicant to repeat pater nosters and aves, to go on a pilgrimage, engage in a crusade, worship a cross, or bow before an image, and gives him the assurance that his soul will be thereby purified from sin. No wonder the troubled conscience is, in this way, often hushed to sleep; for the thoughts are thus directed to new objects, and the sins of the heart and life partially or wholly removed from sight. No wonder bis adviser secures his confidence; for he encourages him to do what he is ever disposed to do, viz., to believe outward works meritorious, and trust in them for pardon and life. But externalism does not stop here. After having substituted human works for the atonement of Christ, she begins to feel the need of a ready fund of these works, for cases peculiar, and so fabricates a system of supererogatory works, for the benefit of those who cannot or will not perform them themselves. And so she establishes an order of religious recluses, monks and nuns, to make prayers, and perform vigils and fasts not needed for themselves, but to be kept in reserve and sold out, for the benefit of the church, to those who have inore money in their purses than oil in their lamps. And thus the rich, instead of living a life of abstinence, devotion, and piety, might, by the payment of money, procure from the funds of the church prayers

and penances enough to ensure their salvation. Those who were the depositaries of this sacred fund, obtained an amazing influence over the minds of the deluded people. They prescribed the terms of pardon, the number of prayers to be repeated or purchased, and the amount of money to be paid. They, moreover, required confession of sin to be made to themselves instead of God, and so gained admission to the secrets of all bosoms. In the confessional they sat in the place of God, receiving confession of sin, prescribing terns of pardon, then remitting or retaining sin, and opening or shutting the gates of heaven. They took the throne and prerogatives of God, and what could they have more? Give me this power, and I can govern the world at my pleasure. There is nothing so dear to man as his eternal interests; nothing clothed, in his view, and in truth, with so high an importance. Nothing, in time, can bear the slightest comparison with it. To escape the horrors of eternal misery, and secure the felicity of an eternal heaven, he will surrender any earthly good. The poor man will give his time and labor, the rich man will 1849.]

Formalism creates unfounded Distinctions.


give his money. If not in the days of health, yet when death comes to snatch him from all his heart loves best, then he will relinquish his grasp on his gold, and gladly exchange it for the assurance of heavenly bliss. The man of power will surrender to me his office and power, or use them in my service. Give me the authority thus to manage man's highest interests, and fix his eternal destiny; and, from the king in his palace to the houseless beggar, I can rule lord over them all. Such is the power which materialism arrogates to herself. She makes the eternal destiny of the soul dependent on the will of a mortal. She invests that mortal with the attributes of Deity. He sits in the place of God, showing himself that he is God. He does the work of God, for who can forgive sin but God only. He possesses the attributes of God: he must be infallible ; for matters of such vital consequence, where a wrong decision would prove eternally fatal, could not be safely entrusted to a fallible being. And claiming the power to pardon the living, the step is short and easy to the assumption of the power to pardon the dead, and deliver from the pains of the future life. And thus spring the doctrines of purgatory, and masses for the dead; all adapted to honor man, and invest him with the prerogatives of Deity. Thus a frail mortal, a child of the dust, a man of sin and son of perdition, opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he, as God, sitteth in the temple of God, showing hiniself that he is God. 2 Thess. 2: 4.

4. But though externalism exalts and honors man, it does not honor all men alike. It creates distinctions where none exist in nature: it makes the intervention of one class of men necessary to the salvation of another; it thus exalts the priesthood and depresses the laity. A spiritual religion removes the distinctions which exist between man and man, and brings the different members of the human family on a par with each other. It affords the only true principle of equalizing the race: not by making them all alike in their external condition, in size, in wealth, rank, or station ; but in the privileges and responsibilities of rational and immortal beings. It ascribes to all the possession of a spiritual nature, infinitely more valuable than all the external gifts of Providence. It asserts the equal subjection of all to the divine law. It proposes to all equal conditions of salvation, equal promises of life, equal access to the mercy-seat, and equal facilities for admission to heaven. Belief in Christ, a work easier than obedience, it says shall be imputed for righteousness to all who exercise it. And all have, at the last, one Judge, are judged by the same unchanging rule. In view of these momentous equalities, the differences which separate man from his fellow dwindle into perfect insignificance. Give a man the means of easily securing an eternal crown, and associating forever with angels and God, and what, in the comparison, is the wealth of Croesus or the throne of Caesar. This equalizing spirit is expunged from formalism. Her doctrine is, that man is the mediator between God and man. She reposes the eternal welfare of the many in the hands of the few, and thus makes some demigods, and others mere underlings of creation. As a natural consequence, she fosters bigotry and pride; and, as might be expected, she manifests her bigotry in efforts to bring all others to an outward conformity with her own views and practices. She tolerates nothing inconsistent, in the least, with her own system. She has gained her supremacy by externals, and why should she not maintain thein ? She makes heaven dependent on them, and why should she be tolerant towards those who disregard them? She manifests her intolerance in her constant prating about the unity of the church, and her hostility to all who infringe on this unity, as understood by herself. True church unity is not subjection to one earthly head, or one common system of governinent. The true church of Christ is one, and of necessity must be so. The only true principle of union is found in the spiritual element, in the exercise of faith, and in subjection to the Lord Jesus Christ as the head of the church. All who are united to him by faith, are members of this one church. We may establish a factitious union, by outward forms and ceremonies, by officers and constitutions; but, lacking the inward principle, it is but a rope of sand. When the temporal interests of the different sections of the church come in conflict, it is severed as the flax that falls asunder at the touch of fire; and yet formalism clings to this ritual unity as to her life: her ministers must be all apostolically inducted into the priesthood; they must have the hands of a bishop imposed on them; and through his fingers, not by the calling of God, nor the power of the Holy Ghost, the consecrating influence must descend on their heads and constitute them true priests of the church. No matter how sapless the head by nature, if a right reverend hand has been imposed upon it, the owner becomes, by virtue of the imposition, a grave and reverend divine, inspired to pray and skilled to teach. But woe to the presumptuous man who attempts to dispense the gospel without the apostolic consecration, and on whose head no bishop has laid his anointed and anointing fingers. No matter if he has been brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, and is learned in all wisdom, buman and divine; no matter if he be called of God, as was Aaron, and the fire burns in his heart, and the love of souls constrains him; no matter if the church has chosen him as their teacher, and his brethren have given him their approbation and commission ; still, if he

« PreviousContinue »