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into perdition? Oh it must be false! scripture tells us, reason tells us, our own hearts tell us, it must be false! And what though the world and the voice of ages should tell us it is true? We loathe it, we turn from it with disgust, we cannot judge it to be right, and we therefore cannot believe it, and against the convictions of our own minds we should be guilty of sin if we should pretend to. Did Christianity teach a system like any of those we have imagined, there would be an insuperable objection against it. We could not believe it, if we would. But it is not so. Its real doctrines are all consistent and rational. When we enter the truly christian temple, we feel that we are worthy of its author; and we acknowledge that the same pure and holy spirit breathes in that, as is displayed in the universe around us.
But this right of private judgment, like every thing human, or in human hands, is liable to abuse, and should therefore be used tenderly and with caution. Above all, may we never forget, that the same freedom we claim for ourselves, belongs of equal right to the whole family of man. We therefore will not be angry with our brethren who dissent from us, for it may be without a cause. Though the great outlines of our constitutions are in all men alike, yet in the filling up, in the lights and shades of men's minds, there are differences without number, which must produce a corresponding variety in judgments and opinions. When tempted to complain of others, therefore, because they cannot think as we think, hear as we hear, read as we read, we hope we shall stop and consider who hath made us to differ. They are God's servants not ours, and to their own master let them stand or fall. As we would resist all dogmatism, and imposition, and prescription ourselves, we shall be careful how we impose upon, dogmatise or prescribe to others.
Nor let us mistake licentiousness for liberty, and imagine that because we are free, we are absolutely without restraint. For what is the peculiar honour of our intelligent natures, may thus be rendered our reproach;—a reproach to which we of this age of free inquiry into all the subjects of human thought, are particularly exposed. We have been told again and again, that it is an age of reformation,—an age in which much has been done, and more is still doing to remedy old abuses and
Its proportions are grand and correct old errours. This is remarkably the case in Theology. Theology has at length caught the spirit of freedom, the spirit of improvement that has so long breathed in every thing else around her. And though she has caught it last, perhaps she has inhaled it as freely and as copiously as any of her sister sciences. But we must beware that the desire of improvement do not degenerate into a passion for change. Our steps should be taken cautiously and tenderly, never advancing where we cannot feel our ground to be solid and able to bear us. For many, in flying too precipitately or too far from one errour or abuse, have not unfrequently been hurried into another, and that perhaps a worse one of the two. They have, for instance, seen so much that is absurd or revolting held sacred by Christians, that they have conceived a contempt for Christianity. In rejecting the commandments of men, their traditions, endless genealogies and old-wifes' fables, they have thought they were rejecting the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth; when, if they had stopped to inquire more thoroughly, when, if they had gone to their Bibles, instead of catechisms, and decrees of councils and assemblies of divines, they would have found it no such thing. They would have found that much, very much, of what is called Christianity does not deserve the name; and that they might read creed after creed, from almost the first to the last that has been formed, and reject, and reject, and still keep rejecting, till of them almost nothing remained, and yet have nearly the whole of what is really Christianity yet to pass in review.
Such are some of the views with which we enter upon our labours; but our limits will not allow us to say more. One other remark we will make, however, and then we shall have done. Whatever are now, or may be hereafter, our views of religious truth, we shall never be ashamed to profess them; never, if necessary, to hold them up in open day and before the face of the world. To be ashamed of an opinion is a tacit confession, that we are conscious of some reason why we should not hold it. But he whose faith is the result of his own inquiry and examination and what he of himself judges to be right, can never blush for it or hesitate to defend it. Nay, he will rather think it a treasure which has not yet proved its value, till it has contributed something to the happiness of his fellow men. Besides, it will shine in his example; it will be. his daily companion in all the walks of life. Where you see him, you will see that. For it will enter into the very composition and grain, if we may so say, of his whole character and become a constituent part of the man.
ARE THE CHRISTIAN RITES MORE HOLY, SOLEMN, OR EXCLUSIVE IN THEIR NATURE, THAN THE WEEKLY SERVICES OF THE SANCTUARY?
This is a question, I am aware, which is not to be lightly or rashly touched. With regard to its practical bearings—with regard to it as a question to be acted on, many good minds I believe are solicitous and sensitive. It may be thought, therefore, to be a matter of great delicacy to agitate it. Let me, then, say at once, that I propose it merely as a subject of speculation. I do not suggest any measure to be adopted. I do not suggest any inquiry into the expediency or inexpediency of offering the communion to the whole congregation. But, letting matters stand just as they are, it seems to me not without its uses, to consider the question, whether the ordinances are not unreasonably exalted in sacredness, above the ordinary services of our worship; or rather, perhaps, whether these services are not unreasonably depressed below the sanctity that belongs to every religious institution. For this is the ground I take—that every institution of God is alike and equally holy and solemn. For ' whether,' I might ask in the words of our Saviour, 'whether is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? whether is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?' These words are so exactly to my purpose, that I shall enter into some explanation and comment upon them. They referred to certain false distinctions which were set up by the rabbins, or Jewish teachers, of our Saviour's time; and to just such distinctions, I think, in their principle, though not in their object, as those which obtain at this day between the ordinances and the ordinary services of our christian worship.
It is a curious coincidence, we may remark in passing—it is a curious coincidence in the history of religion, that the Jesuits, who accommodated the maxims of morality to the loosest propensities of men, had their prototypes in the teachers of ancient Judea. Both agreed in the same system of evasion; both founded their principles on distinctions equally arbitrary, fantastic and puerile, and equally indicative of a desperate determination to escape from moral restraint. In these respects, the writings of some of the modern catholic fathers have a fair counterpart in the ancient talmuds, or explanations of the Jewish law. One of the subjects on which the Jewish commentators employed their subtilty, was that of oaths. They divided oaths into many different kinds, distinguishing those which were obligatory from those which were not, and leaving of course very few to be of any binding obligation. To one of their frivolous and absurd distinctions on this subject, our Saviour alludes in the passage which has just been quoted. 'Wo unto you, ye blind guides, which say, whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing,' that is, it is not obligatory, 'but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor,' that is, he is bound by his oath. 'Ye fools and blind! for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?' They held, also, the same distinction between the altar, and the gift or sacrifice brought to it. With this, too, our Saviour reproaches them, and asks again, 'whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?' He fully implies in these passages that neither is greater; that all things which are consecrated to God, are alike holy.
And this I believe is true with regard to the different parts of our religious worship; and in particular, with regard to the rites or ordinances of our religion in comparison with its ordinary service. I believe, that we have no warrant from Scripture or reason, for considering these ordinances as more holy, more venerable, or more awful, than any acts of worship. We have no more reason to approach these ordinances with trembling and hesitancy, or with any constraint of mind; we have no more occasion for preparatory lectures or preparatory meditations ;* we have no more business to shut them up to a pe
* I do not here touch the question, whether ' preparatory lectures,' technically so called, are, or are not useful. I only say, they are 'no more' proper to precede the communion than the ordinary worship of the 8«bbath, VoL. III. No I. 2
culiar and chosen few, than we have to treat in a similar manner any of the public services of the sanctuary. I have as much right to stand upon the threshold of a church, and to forbid any worshipper to enter, as I have to stand before the communion table and forbid him to approach; as much right to warn rmn from the observance of the Sabbath itself, as to warn them from the observance of the Lord's Supper. Restrictions, indeed, may be expedient, or may not;—of that I say nothing;—I speak only of the rational and scriptural warrants for one course or the other. I speak only of the great principle on which every christian institution and ordinance is founded; and I say that one is no more holy than another,—that one appointment of God is clothed with no more sanctions and with no more terrors, and is endowed with no more monopolies than another. For whether is greater or more sacred, the communion table or the temple of worship, baptismal water or the invocation of Almighty God?
On this subject, I seriously believe that the christian world is yet infected with superstition. How many are there who for a course of years, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, attend upon the solemnities of divine worship, who enter the sanctuary, and place themselves in the attitude of prayer and meditation, and all this, without any uneasiness or apprehension, who would be struck with awe, if not with horror, if you should propose to lead them to the communion table. That, in their view, is altogether a different thing, and altogether more solemn and fearful. If any minister were to invite the people indiscriminately to the Lord's supper, it would be looked upon by many as awful licentiousness. There would be, in the community, as there have been, in such a case, dubious looks and shakings of the head, and sighs, and forebodings, as if the very fabric of Christianity was falling. And yet people may all
ward forms in which their heart is not, and practise the hypocrisy of a seeming religion, where there is no religion; and nobody is disturbed; nobody trembles; nobody thinks of any glaring impropriety or shocking unseemliness, or alarming danger. A man may sit at church as quietly and as unconcerned as the post he leans against, and perchance fall asleep; but he is in a tremor if he comes to the Lord's supper, or he comes with a superstitious and artificial solemnity; and if by any
their lives long, go to church,