« AnteriorContinuar »
of the soul, with how much greater truth is that character claimed by the Christian scheme, which, from the "death of sin," restores men to the life of holiness," and renders them " a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, that they should show forth the praises of him who hath called them out of darkness into his marvellous light !"
OF THE EXTERNAL MEANS WHICH CHRISTIANITY HAS APPOINTED FOR ITS PRESERVATION AND
THE last branch of the Christian scheme which I proposed briefly to delineate, is, the means of its preservation, extension, and diffusion in the world. To this I shall now direct the attention of my reader.
Founders of states, of sects of philosophy and of religion, have always desired to perpetuate their institutions and their discipline, and to extend them as far as possible. This desire is not
a 1 Pet. ii. 9.
prompted merely by the love of fame and of posthumous reputation, but has in many instances originated in a much nobler principle. Persuaded of the salutary and beneficent nature of the doctrines which they taught, or of the institutions which they established, they were moved by feelings of philanthropy, to take the most effectual measures for their preservation, their transmission to posterity, and their communication to the rest of mankind, by the instruction and eloquence of their disciples.
It is no wonder, therefore, that the Saviour of the world, animated by that unparalleled love of mankind which pervaded the whole series of his actions and sufferings, connected with his doctrine the most efficacious means of its maintenance and dissemination through the world, even to the end of time.
The first measure for this purpose was, to consign it to faithful and genuine records, and to secure the integrity of these through all succeeding generations. The incarnate Son of God left no writings of his own; but the task of recording his life and doctrine, whether as delivered by his own lips, or as further unfolded by those whom he commissioned for this purpose, was executed by his apostles and disciples, who were guarded from mistake and error by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, received by them with irrefragable attestation after his ascension into
heaven. Hence, the writings of the New Testament are the infallible standards of Christian faith and manners, without which, both must have rested on the shifting foundation of mere tradition, and been exposed to all the uncertainty and corruption which tradition never fails to produce. We see what have been its fatal effects whenever it has been allowed to intermingle its apocryphal influence with the genuine dictates of the sacred record, and with what difficulty it has been cleared away in a considerable part of Christendom, even with the aid and guidance of the written record. As long, however, as this remains, (and we have the pledge of God's wisdom and goodness that it will remain till the end of the world,) we possess an oracle to which we can always appeal for the purity of doctrine, discipline, and worship, and for the correction of every abuse and corruption by which they have already been, or may afterterwards be, debased and perverted.
But this is by no means sufficient for the preservation, the power, and the propagation of Christianity. The sacred writings, being expressed in human language, the only means of conveying divine truth to human beings, are subject, in many cases, to that diversity of signification which is inseparable from every form of language employed by man. The great body of mankind, although they may easily under
stand their general import, and all that is absolutely necessary for salvation, are incapable of that accuracy of knowledge, and that discrimination of judgment, which are requisite for the right application of scripture to emerging cases and circumstances, on which correct religious opinion and just moral conduct must necessarily depend. Neither have they leisure and inclination to render divine truth the permanent object of their study, and to give it that influence over their minds which will render it effectual for resisting temptations to vice, for placing duty in its preeminent dignity, and for regulating the whole tenour of conduct. The great body of mankind require religious instructors, appointed times for receiving instruction, and assiduous guardians of their spiritual concerns.
Christianity separates also its professors from the three other denominations of religion which I have already considered, Jews, Pagans, and Mahomedans; and although it dissolves not, but rather strengthens, even in regard to these, the ties of a common nature, yet it draws that line of discrimination which is prescribed by its essence and general character, and establishes a spiritual community among all who unite in one common form of doctrine, worship, and discipline. No community can subsist without order and government adapted to its peculiar nature, and without persons duly qualified to main
tain the one and to conduct the other. Such order and government our Saviour and apostles actually established in the Christian church, as one important means of preserving and extending the religion which they published, and left as their best legacy to the human race. This leads me directly to the consideration of the nature and characteristics of a Christian church.
Our word church is evidently of Saxon origin in the first instance, and of Greek origin in the second. The German word is kirch, the Dutch, kerk, the Scotish, kirk, and the Greek, zugiazov, signifying the place or temple of the κυριακὸν, Lord. This was contracted into kuriak, or kyrk; and lastly, more grossly corrupted in English than in any other language, by being converted into church. I must beg leave here to observe, that it appears to me a weak attempt to throw a species of ridicule on the church of Scotland, by always denominating it the kirk, as if it were something different from a church. Those of the church of England who exhibit this silly affectation, seem not to consider that the term kirk is not significative of any particular form of worship or ecclesiastical government, but expresses every species of spiritual and Christian society, whatever be its peculiar doctrines or goIn speaking of the Gallican church, those persons should, on this principle, call it the église of France, or designate the Italian church by the term, the chiesa of Italy.