Page images


So much is said and argued just at this time on the subject of the Church, by those who use the word in different senses, and those who attach to it little distinct sense at all, that I have thought it might be useful, by way of promoting sound and consistent views concerning it, to consider it attentively in several of its bearings, and principally in its relation to Romanism, which possesses the most systematic theory concerning it. Unhappy is it that we should be obliged to discuss and defend what a Christian people were intended to enjoy, to appeal to their intellects instead of “stirring up their pure minds by way of remembrance,” to direct them towards articles of faith which should be their place of starting, and to treat as mere conclusions what in other ages have been assumed as first principles. Surely life is not long enough to prove every thing which may be made the subject of proof; and, though inquiry is left partly open in order to try our earnestness, yet it is in great mea


sure, and in the most important points, superseded by Revelation,—which discloses things which reason could not reach, saves us the labour of using it when it might avail, and sanctions the principle of dispensing with it in all cases. Yet, in spite of this joint testimony of nature and grace, so it is, we seem at this day to consider discussion and controversy to be in themselves chief goods. We exult in what we think our indefeasible right and glorious privilege to choose and settle our religion for ourselves; and we stigmatize it as a bondage to be bid take for granted what the wise, good, and many have gone over and determined long before, or to submit to what Almighty God has revealed.

From this strange preference, however originating, of inquiry to belief, we, or our fathers before us, have contrived to make doubtful what really was certain. We have created difficulties in our path; we have gone out of our way to find ingenious objections to what was received, where none hitherto existed; as if forgetting that there is no truth so clear, no character so pure, no work of man so perfect, but it admits of criticism, and will become suspected directly it is accused. As might be expected, then, we have succeeded in our attempt; we have succeeded in raising clouds which effectually hide the sun from us, and we have nothing left but to grope our way by our reason, as we best can,-our necessary, because now our only guide. And as a traveller by night, calculating or guessing his way over a morass or amid pit-falls, naturally trusts himself more than his companions, though not doubting their skilfulness and good will, and is too intent upon his own successive steps to hear and to follow them, so we, from anxiety if not from carelessness, have straggled each from his neighbour, and are all of us, or nearly so, in a fair way to lose our confidence, if not our hope. I say, we, or others for us, have asserted our right of debating every truth, however sacred, however protected from scrutiny hitherto; we have accounted that belief alone to be manly which commenced in doubt, that inquiry alone philosophical which assumed no first principles, that religion alone rational which we have created for ourselves. Loss of labour, division, and error have been the threefold gain of our self-will, as evidently visited in this world,—not to follow it into the next.

How we became committed to so ill-advised a course, by what unfortunate necessity, or under what overpowering temptation, it avails not here to inquire. But the consequences are undeniable; the innocent suffer by a state of things, which to the proud and carnal is an excuse for their indiffer

The true voice of Revelation has been overpowered by the more clamorous traditions of men; and where there are rivals, examination is necessary, even where piety would fain have been rid of it. Thus, in relation to the particular subject which has led to these remarks, that some one meaning was anciently attached to the word “ Church,” is certain from its occurring in the Creed; it is certain, for the same reason, that it bore upon some first principle in religion, else it would not have been there. It is certain moreover, from history, that its meaning was undisputed, whatever that meaning was; and it is as certain that there are interminable disputes and hopeless differences about its meaning now. Now is this a gain or a loss to the


present age ? At first sight one might think it a loss, so far as it goes, whatever be the cause of it; in the same sense in which the burning of a library is a loss, the destruction of a monument, tbe disappearance of an ancient record, or the death of an experimentalist or philosopher. Diminution from the stock of knowledge is commonly considered a loss in this day; yet strange to say, in the instance before us, it is thought far otherwise. The great mass of educated men are at once uneasy, impatient, and irritated, not simply incredulous, directly they are promised from any quarter some clear view of the original and apostolic doctrine, to them unknown, on any subject of religion. They bear to hear of researches into Christian Antiquity, if they are directed to prove its uncertainty and unprofitableness; they are intolerant and openmouthed against them, if their object be to rescue not to destroy. They sanction a rule of philosophy which they practically refute every time they praise Newton or Cuvier. In truth, they can endure a

« PreviousContinue »