« AnteriorContinuar »
of the great abyss. From these commotions, these deep waters, arose the symbolic fog, the figurative vapours which overspread the heavens and hid the Sun of Righteousness from the eyes of mortals. The volumes of traditions, the cabalistic dogmas, the eastern philosophy, the pagan speculations, combined and modified, intercepted entirely, or totally eclipsed the light of the moral sun. Nearly all the earth was overspread in this darkness. The middle of this period has properly been called “the dark ages.”
Though the eclipse was total in Rome, it was not so everywhere. But the fairest portions of the Old World shared in it, and it was partial almost everywhere where it was not total.
Why was this so? is one question ; but, Was it so ? is another. That it was so needs no proof, because all agree in the belief of this fact. We know some reasons, which may yet be offered, why it was so. But now we only appeal to the fact that it was so. This darkness has been only partially dissipated.
The Bible was brought out of prison, and Luther bid it march. He made it speak in German, and thus obtained for it a respectful hearing. It was soon loaded with immense burthens of traditions, drawn from the cloisters and the cells where it had so long been incarcerated. It soon became unable to travel with its usual speed and then stopped the Reformation. They took the points off the arrows of truth, and blunted the sword of the Spirit, so that the enemies of the truth could not be conquered.
About the commencement of the present century, finding that notes and comments, that glosses and traditions were making the word of God of little or no effect--I say, the pious of several of the great phalanxes of the rival Christian interests did agree to unmanacle and unfetter the testimony of God, and send it forth without the bolsters and crutches furnished by the schools ; and this, with the spirit of inquiry which it created and fostered, has contributed much to break the yoke of clerical oppression, which so long oppressed the people--I say, clerical oppression ; for this has been, and yet is, though much circumscribed, the worst of all sorts of oppression. The understandings, the consciences, the feelings, the bodies, and the estates of men have been seized by this most relentless of tyrants. All who have demanded the first fruits and tithes, -all who have paralysed the mind and forced the assent, or secured the homage of the conscience, have not been tyrants. Neither have all they who have rejected and reprobated this system been humane, courteous, and merciful. There are exceptions even among priests. If the clergy never could reform the system, the system always could reform them. To repudiate the system, is to desecrate the priest; and whosoever has profaned or made common the priests, has been not only unchurched, but unchristianised. Such have been the past fates of those who ventured to depart from the consecrated way. But a new order of things has, within the memory of the present generation, begun. Many of the priests have become obedient to the faith, and the natural, political, and religious rights of men have begun to be much better understood. All these auguries are favourable to the hopes of the expectants of the restoration of the ancient order of things. But nothing has so much contributed to the hopes of the intelligent, and nothing can more conduce to the regeneration of the church, than the disentanglement of the Holy Oracles from the intricacies of the variant rules of interpretation which the textuaries have fashioned into a system the most repugnant to all we call reason, common sense, and analogy.
In the happiest state which we can ever expect on earth, we can only, as individuals, enjoy as much of the favour of God as the most intelligent and devout of the first converts; and, as communities, we could enjoy no more Christian peace and joy than some of the first congregations after the first promulgation of the GospelGreater temporal felicity might be enjoyed, but the spiritual attainments of many of the congregations cannot, in the aggregate mass of religious communities, be much, if at all, surpassed.
Place the whole of any community, or even the great mass of any community, under influences similar to those which governed them, and what the most sanguine would expect from a Millennium would, in social and religious enjoyment, be realized. But there is no fixing bounds to the maximum of social and refined bliss which would flow from the very general or universal prevalence and triumphs of evangelical principles. To see a whole nation bowing, with grateful and joyous homage, to the King eternal, immortal, and invisible, mingling all their affections in their admiration and love of him who had obtained immortality for man, would open a new fountain of enjoyments of which we have not yet tasted. To see even a few scores of intelligent Christians, in whom we confide as fellow-soldiers and fellowcitizens, and joint heirs of the heavenly inheritance, meeting around one and the same Lord's table, and uniting in the praises and adoration of one and the same common Lord and Saviour, imparts to us a joy which we are unable to express. What we should feel, or how we should feel, among myriads of such, is not for us now to conjecture. But of this in its proper place.
All I wish to remark, on this occasion, is, that the first step towards the introduction of this glorious age is to dissipate the darkness which covers the people and hides from their eyes the Sun, the quickening, renewing, animating Sun of Mercy. We expect no new Sun, no new revelation of the Spirit, no other than the same Gospel and the same religion, only that it shall be disinterred from the rubbish of the dark ages, and made to assume its former simplicity, sublimity, and majesty. The demons of party must be dispossessed, and the false spirits cast out. The human mind must be emancipated from the bondage of error, and information not only augmented, but extended to all the community.
Light is certainly increasing—charity enlarging the circle of its activities—the mountains of discord diminishing, and the deep vallies which separated Christians are filling up. But much is to be done before all flesh shall enjoy the salvation of God. If all who love the Lord and the salvation of men would unite their energies and bury the tomahawk of party conflicts, no seer could predict how rapid would be the march and how extensive the triumphs of the Gospel.
But the mighty agent, or rather the successful means, of this most desirable revolution, will be the Ancient Gospel. There are many gospels now preached. The gospels of every sect are something different from each other, and something different from the Apostolic. There can be, in truth, but one Gospel; but there may be many new-modified and perverted gospels. Some make their own god and worship him ; and all who create a new god invent a gospel to suit his character. Surely no man of good common sense can imagine that the god of the Calvinists and the god of the Arminians are the same god. He that fancies that the god of the Trinitarians and the god of the Unitarians are one and the same divinity, can easily believe in transubstantiation.
The wisdom and the power of God, when combined, will be surely adequate to accomplish the most extraordinary promises on record. Now, the placing of all nations, under the dominion of his Son, under the reign of favour, under the influence of all that is pure, amiable, and heavenly, is promised ; and by what means so likely to be accomplished as by that instrument which is emphatically called the wisdom and power of the Almighty ? That instrument is the old Gospel preached by the Apostles. This is almighty, through God, to the pulling down all the strongholds of infidelity and profanity, to the subversion of Atheism, Deism, and Sectarianism. It proved its power upon the nations once, and it begins to prove its power again. The sword of the Spirit has been muffled with the filthy rags of philosophy and mysticism until it cannot cut through the ranks of the aliens. But so soon as this Gospel is promulged in its old simplicity and in its native majesty, it will prove itself to be of God, and as adequate as in days of yore. It will pierce the hearts of the
King's enemies; and, while it slays their enmity, it will reconcile them to the authority and government of the Prince of Peace.
In prosecuting one of the great objects of this paper, and, indeed, the leading object, this point will not be lost sight of. Our modern gospels, like the metaphysics of the schools, have been inoperative, except to alienate men from one another, and to fill some with spiritual pride, and to abase others under a morose humility. Here we see them exulting in enthusiasm, and there melancholy under a system of doubts. Between these two classes there is the opinionative, the speculative, the cold and stiff formalist-exact in the ceremonies, and precise in all the forms of religion, without the power. Some, from a bolder and more independent mind, and from a happier constitutional temperament, dared to be pious and to aspire after a higher enjoyment of the spirit of religion. But these do not give character to the age.
The ancient Gospel spoke by facts, and said little about principles of action of any sort. The facts, when realised or believed, carried principles into the heart without naming them; and there was an object presented which soon called them into action. It was the true philosophy, without the name, and made all the philosophy of the world sublimated folly. It was ridiculous to hear Epicureans and Stoics reasoning against Paul. While they were talking about atoms of matter and refined principles, about virtue and vice, Paul took hold of the resurrection of the dead, and buried them in their own dreams. He preached Jesus and the Resurrection ; he proclaimed reformation and forgiveness of sins ; and, before they awoke out of their reveries, he had Dionysius the mayor of the city, the lady Damaris, and other notable characters, immersed into Jesus.
The ancient Gospel left no man in a reasoning mood about any principle of action. It left him in no doubt about the qualities or attributes of faith. It called for the obedience of faith ; and, by giving every man an opportunity of testing and showing his own faith by his works, it made no provision for cases of consciences, nor room for philosophic doubting. But I do not here eulogise it ; I only intend to say that it is the only and the allsufficient means to destroy antichrist, to heal divisions, to unite Christians, to convert the world, and to bless all nations; and, viewing it in this light, we shall find much use for it in all that we shall attempt in this work.
In detecting the false gospels, nothing will aid us so much as an examination of their tendencies, and a comparison of their effects with what the Millennium proposes. The gospel of no sect can convert the world. This is with us a very plain proposition ; and, if so, the sectarian gospels are defective, or redun
viii dant, or mixed. To one of these general classes belong most of them.
Many topics will demand our attention in this work. How we shall attend to these and manage them we can now make no promise-time alone will show. We only claim an impartial and attentive hearing. We ask for nothing—not a single concession upon trust. What we cannot evince and demonstrate, we hope all will reject. What we enforce with authority and evidence, we hope that the thoughtful and the devout, the rational and the inquisitive, the candid and the sincere, will espouse and carry into practice. What will not, what cannot, console the unhappy, cheer the disconsolate, confirm the weak, reform the transgressor, purify the ungodly, save the world, and ennoble the human character-we shall rejoice to see repudiated.
When opposed by the interested, by those whom the corruptions of Christianity feed with bread and gratify with honour, I will call to mind the history of all the benefactors of men, and draw both comfort and strength from the remembrance that no man ever achieved any great good to mankind who did not wrest it with violence through ranks of opponents-who did not fight for it with courage and perseverance, and who did not in the conflict sacrifice either his good name or his life. John, the harbinger of the Messiah, lost his head. The Apostles were slaughtered. The Saviour was crucified. The ancient confessors were slain. The reformers have all been excommunicated. I know that we shall do little good if we are not persecuted. If I am not traduced, slandered, and misrepresented, I shall be a most unworthy advocate of that cause which has always provoked the resentment of those who have fattened upon the ignorance and superstition of the mass, and have been honoured by the stupidity and sottishness of those who cannot think and will not learn. But we have not a few friends and associates in this cause. There are many with whom it shall be my honour to live and labour, and my happiness to suffer and die.
The Ancient Gospel has many powerful advocates ; and the heralds of a better, of a more blissful order of things, social and religious, are neither few nor feeble. No seven years of the last ten centuries, as the last seven, have been so strongly marked with the criteria of the dawn of that period which has been the theme of many a discourse, and the burden of many a prayer.