ePub 版

For if the church be really a divine institution, separation from it cannot fail to involve an awful responsibility. The freedom allowed, by law, in this country, to every one to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience, can extend no farther than freedom from human control, in the choice and exercise of religion. But whilst in religious worship man is, and ought to be, unrestrained by man, yet he is bound, in this respect, as in every other, to obey God. It is his duty to worship God, as God has appointed to be worshipped. Conscience, instead of finding an excuse for disobedience to the divine will, is itself subject to that will, and must be informed and regulated by it. If, therefore, God has instituted a church, in the which it is his pleasure to be worshipped, it cannot be a matter of indifference whether a man worship in that church, or wander from it.*

It may not, therefore, be uninteresting to recapitulate, as briefly as possible, the first introduction of Christianity into England; and at same time to show the origin, corruption, and reformation of its church.


It is allowed on all hands, that Christianity was received in England during the lives of the apostles. Eusebius says, that "some of the apostles passed over the ocean to those which are called the British islands.” In another place, the same author affirms, that " some of the apostles preached the gospel in the British islands." Theodoret, another ancient and learned author, says, that "St Paul brought salvation to the islands that lay in the ocean." That Britain is meant by this expression, seems clear, from his having mentioned Spain and Gaul in connexion with it. The latter being only divided from the "islands that lie in the ocean" by a narrow channel. He also says, that St Paul, after his release at Rome, carried the light of the gospel to other nations." Again, that St Paul, after his imprisonment, preached the gospel in the Western parts." Here the British islands are to be understood. This assertion is corroborated by the testimony of Clemens Romanus, who says that "St Paul preached righteousness through the whole world, and in so doing went to the utmost bounds of the West." At the time when Clement flourished," whose name is written in the book of life,"† Britain was undoubtedly the " utmost bounds of the West." It is called "ultimam occidentis insulam," by all the ancient Roman writers.. In fixing the boundaries of the gospel, Arnobius mentions the Indies as the eastern, and Britain as the extreme western boundaries. Gildas, the oldest British historian, affirms, "on sure grounds and certain knowledge," that St Paul constituted the church in Britain" in the time of Tiberius Cesar." The emperor Tiberius died in the year of Christ 39, according to Cardinal Baronius, the great

*Claims of the Established Church.

+ Phil. iv. 3.

[ocr errors]

Roman chronologer. In another place Gildas also says, that "the gospel was received here before the fatal defeat of the Britons by Suetonius Paulinus." This defeat happened in the seventh year of the emperor Nero. St Paul being then at liberty after his imprisonment at Rome, had sufficient time and convenience to have settled a church in Britain. In one of his epistles, St Jerome says, that " France, and Britain, and Africa, and Persia, and the East, and India, and all barbarous nations, adore one Christ, and observe one rule of truth." Venantius, in his Life of St

Martin, says,

St Paul did pass the seas, where isle
Makes ships in harbour stand,

Arriving on the British coast,
And cape of Thule land.

It appears, then, that the Christian faith was introduced, and a church planted in South Britain, now called England, by St Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles. It is unreasonable to suppose that he would settle a different order of church government in Britain than he had established everywhere else. We have Jerome's testimony, that every country observed the same rule of truth. All the churches planted by the apostles were in full communion with each other. All" continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." While the Roman empire stood, the intercourse between every part of it was easy and frequent, and therefore any difference in doctrine or discipline could be easily ascertained. But we read of none. We must conclude, therefore, that the government of the British churches would be the same as the churches of all other countries, with whom they were in full communion. "This government," says Dr Lloyd, a learned antiquary," was unquestionably a diocesan episcopacy, not only in name, but in authority, the same as is now in these kingdoms."* We see, then, that a branch of the Christian church was introduced into Britain by the apostle Paul. Bishops descending from him sat in some of the earliest councils. At the council of Arles, in France, in the year 314, Restitutus, bishop of London, with two other bishops, sat and subscribed the canons. This council was held soon after the tenth general persecution, and before there could be any of those temptations of secular greatness, which are said to have introduced corruptions, and altered the primitive government of the church. There were some British bishops present at the council of Sardica, in the year 347, and also at the council of Ariminum.

After the final departure of the Romans, the ancient British were reduced to great distress by their warlike neighbours in the north. They

* Dr Lloyd's Historical Account of Church Government, as it was in Great Britain and Ireland, when they first received the Christian religion.

imprudently invited the Saxons into the kingdom to assist them. The Saxons were heathens. They drove back the Picts, but they made themselves masters of the country of their allies. They massacred the greater part of the Britons, and the survivors took shelter in Wales. The Britons in Wales continued Christians, and their church was in a very flourishing condition in the year 596. In that year, Gregory the Great, bishop of Rome, sent Augustine and forty monks into Kent, for the purpose of converting the Saxons, who were pagans, to the Christian faith. The constant hostilities which the Saxons maintained against the Britons, would create an aversion to receiving Christianity from them. Ethelbert, king of Kent, had married Bertha, daughter of Caribert, king of Paris, and a Christian; so that Augustine did not experience so much difficulty as might have been expected. Ethelbert, well disposed himself towards Christianity, assigned the missionaries a habitation in the isle of Thanet. This favourable reception encouraged Augustine to preach the gospel to the Saxons, which he and his successors did with such success that the greater part of the Saxons were converted in the course of seventy years. Augustine went over into France, and received consecration from the archbishop of Arles. Gregory had appointed him archbishop of Canterbury, when he despatched him from Rome. At this time, the British church was confined to Wales. Augustine proposed to the British bishops that they should acknowledge the Roman pontiff as their head: this they peremptorily declined to do. The British church maintained its independence on Rome for many years. For 1100 years the British bishops were elected and consecrated by their own bishops, without any connexion with Rome or Canterbury. "Always," says Giraldus Cambrensis, " until the full conquest of Wales by Henry I., the bishops of Wales consecrated the archbishop of St David's, and he likewise was consecrated by the other bishops his suffragans, without professing any manner of subjection to any other church." There was no difference in faith, in doctrine, or in discipline, between the British and the Saxon churches, their dispute was solely about the supremacy of the bishop of Rome. Parsons, the Jesuit, allows, "that the faith which St Austin brought, and that which the Britons had before, must needs be one and the self-same in all material and substantial points." When Henry I. subdued Wales to the dominion of the crown of England, he also subjected the ancient British church to the supremacy of Rome. From this time the British merged into the Anglo-Saxon church, and remained in subjection to Rome till the Reformation. If the Saxons had happily received their Christianity from the Britons, the Romish slavery might have been avoided.

Ethelbert endowed the see of Canterbury with large revenues. He likewise established the dioceses of Rochester and London. The other

kings of the heptarchy followed his example, and erected bishoprics equal in extent with their kingdoms. This in some measure accounts for the unequal size of the dioceses, which were of the same extent as the dominions of their respective kings. The bishops became their councillors, and were always summoned to take part in the national councils. This is the origin of the connexion between church and state, and of the infusion of a Christian spirit into the legislature. For many years this connexion subsisted with much harmony. But after the moral world was subdued, and the papal tyranny completely established, the popes soon discovered, that to secure their own dominion, it was necessary to sever the alliance which had hitherto subsisted between the church and the state. They represented the church as independent, and its head to be the pope. His creatures struggled hard to maintain this disunion, but many and severe were the repulses the papal power met with in England, and many laws were enacted to restrain his usurped power. His usurpations were continued till the year 1535, a period of 940 years, when the clergy, the monarch, and the people, could bear his tyranny no longer. Henry VIII. threw off the yoke, declared that the pope was not the head of the church of England, but that the king, as in times past, was supreme governor over all persons, and in all causes, ecclesiastical as well as civil.

This was the first step towards a reformation. The bishops Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, and others, are not the founders of the church of England; they are only her reformers. They corrected all the errors in doctrine, which during an usurpation of nine centuries the church had imbibed from popery. They condemned the doctrine of transubstantiation, the worship of saints and images, communion in one kind, and the constrained celibacy of the clergy. They thus restored the church to its original state of purity and perfection. "They did not," says Mr Hook, " attempt to make a new, their object was to reform, the church. They stripped their venerable mother of the meretricious gear in which superstition had arrayed her, and left her in that plain and decorous attire with which, in the simple dignity of a matron, she had been adorned by apostolic hands." The church of England can trace her origin up through the apostles to our Saviour himself. To use the words of Mr Palmer, "the orthodox and undoubted bishops of Great Britain and Ireland are the only persons who in any manner, whether by ordination or possession, can prove their descent from the ancient saints and bishops of these isles. It is a positive fact, that they, and they alone, can trace their ordinations from Peter and Paul through Patrick, Augustine, Theodore, Colman, Columba, David, Cuthbert, Chad, Anselm, Osmund, and all the other worthies of our church."+


Hook's Serm. on the Church.

† Origines Liturgiæ, ii. p. 252.

At the Reformation, therefore, the church of England returned to the state of purity which she enjoyed previous to the usurpation of the bishop of Rome. There was no new church formed, the reformers restored the old one, swept and garnished from the rubbish of Roman superstition. The church did not introduce a new religion, she only revived the old. It has been frequently asked where the protestant religion was before the Reformation, and it has been as appropriately answered, in the Bible, where it is now, and where alone all true religion is to be found. The protestant church of England is more ancient than the modern church of Rome, and their accusing the church of England of being heretics is a bold and groundless charge, which she justly despises and protests against. For "after the way which they call heresy," the church of England "worships the God of our fathers, believing all things which are written in his holy word."

The essentials of faith, distinctly considered, are most advantageously taught, and most securely preserved, in the form of creeds. Such forms are calculated not only to inculcate a knowledge of the faith, by exhibiting in one point of view its leading and fundamental articles, but also to mark the important boundary between fundamental doctrines and such as are not fundamental. They serve, moreover, as standing records of primitive doctrine, to guard the pure faith from adulteration. Still following the example of the primitive church, the church of England has in this manner declared its faith, by the adoption of three creeds; which she receives and teaches on the sole authority of the word of God. Though successively introduced, these creeds were all in general use in the primitive church, and two of them were meant to counteract certain alarming corruptions of the Christian doctrine. In which point of view it cannot be denied, that they are now to the full as necessary as ever.

Besides the adoption of creeds, for the inculcation and preservation of its fundamental doctrines, the church of England has also deemed it necessary to frame articles of religion, upon points both fundamental and not fundamental. And she pursues with regard to these different classes of doctrine, a course which corresponds precisely with their respective importance. It is peculiar to fundamental doctrines, that a belief in them is essential to salvation. It is therefore of the first importance not merely to teach these doctrines systematically as fundamental articles of the Christian faith, (which is the object in the creeds,) but also by a more precise exposition than creeds are calculated to convey, to guard them against error-for, in such cases, error is heresy. The church has endeavoured to effect this object by the articles, which explain its doctrines on fundamental points, in terms so clear and explicit, as to be susceptible of no latitude of construction, and to leave no room for difference of

« 上一頁繼續 »