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different, that I should despair of convincing him, and proceed at once to what is rather more a matter of fact and less a matter of tastenamely, the aspect of the work as it regards the church of England. This I hope to do, and in the meantime I am, my dear Sir, yours very faithfully,
S. R. MAITLAND. Erratum.-In the preceding Letter, p. 625, line 23, for Triune, read Trine.
REMARKS ON “THE PROTESTANT DISSENTERS' CATECHISM,” AS TO
THE CONFORMITY OF THE APOSTLES TO TIIE JEWISH CHURCH. In an abridgment of the Protestant Dissenters' Catechism,* “ designed to instruct and establish young persons among the dissenters in the principles of nonconformity,” the following question and answer are found in page 12:—
“Q. Have we any instances in scripture of good men refusing conformity to the national religion ?
“A Yes; Daniel, in praying to his God, when the king had issued out a decree against it; as also the three Hebrew youths, in refusing to conform to the worship of the image which Nebuchadnezzar set up. In like manner, the apostles of Christ disobeyed the Jewish priests and rulers, in not conforming to the religion of their country; and when reproved by the high priest for violating their command, bravely answered, “We ought to obey God rather than men.''
This argument for dissentif argument it can be called-may be answered very easily by a similar process of catechisation, For example :
Q. Have we any instances in scripture, of good men conforming to the national religion?
A. Yes, Moses and Aaron, Joshua and David, and all the saints mentioned in the Old Testament, were conformists.
Q. Have we any instances in scripture of bad men refusing conformity to the national religion ?
A. Yes; Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, wished to set up as dissenting ministers, but were swallowed up alive for their presumption. Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, and his idolatrous successors, the apostate ten tribes, and the false prophets, all “refused conformity to the national religion.”
Now, if the former reasoning be conclusive in favour of dissent, this latter catechisation must be admitted as equally valid against it; and has, moreover, this advantage, that the number of examples adduced of good men conformists, and bad men dissenters, is quite overpowering, when compared with the few instances culled out from the whole volume of scripture. But we are not, like the dissenters, so pinched
, by necessity as to have recourse to such miserable attempts to throw dust in the eyes of the young and unwary. We are perfectly willing to rest the duty of conformity upon the examples of Christ and his apostles ; and desirous, in this matter of conformity and nonconformity, as well as in all other things, to tread in their steps. We propose, therefore, to inquire, whether Christ and his apostles were dissenters? There are three features characteristic of all dissenters : first, they separate from the communion of the church of England; secondly, they refuse conformity to rites, and ceremonies, and usages, of human institution; thirdly, they object to all and any interference of the civil governor in ecclesiastical matters. If these features be also characteristic of Christ and his apostles, they were dissenters. But if this be not the case—if Christ and his disciples did not separate from the communion of the church of Israel-did not refuse conformity to rites and ceremonies of human institution—did not object to the ecclesiastical authority of the civil magistrate, then they were not dissenters, but conformists; and the whole weight of their example goes to show that the dissenters are wrong both in principle and practice.
* Leeds : Binns and Brown.
The first question is, whether Christ and his apostles separated from the communion of the church of Israel; and the New Testament answers in the negative. No instance can be pointed out, in which either Christ or his apostles separated themselves from the sacraments, or the public worship of the Jewish church, or in which they invaded the rights, or usurped the office of the Mosaic priesthood. They frequented the synagogues; they went up to Jerusalem to the feasts”; they joined in the worship of the temple; they celebrated the pass
In the case of the Lord Jesus Christ it is a theological axiom, that, “ being made under the law,” he perfectly obeyed the law; and if so, it is impossible that he should have refused obedience to any of its commands, or in any way separated from the communion which it established. Corrupt as the Jewish church was, Christ came into the world to be a conformist to all its institutions, and a conformist he continued to the last; so that his bitterest enemies could not prove him guilty of a single act of disobedience, and never attempted even to accuse him of separation, or intrusion into the office of the priesthood. He taught the people, and gave authority to his disciples to do the same; but this he did as a prophet, able to afford full proof of his extraordinary mission; and for the teaching of the prophetespecially for the exercise of Messiah's prophetic office—the law of Moses had made special provision. As a prophet, possessing supernatural credentials, he might also have interfered with the office of the priesthood, as Samuel and Elijah had done; but though greater than either, it is remarkable, that the Lord Jesus Christ never assumed the privileges, or exercised the functions, and never directed his reproofs against the character, of the priests. The scribes, the Pharisees, the lawyers, the Sadducees, were all subject to his most unqualified censure ; but there is not one instance of a similar attack upon the priests. The only allusion to the tribe of Levi is in relating the history of the good Samaritan. There the priest and the Levite
Deut. xviii. 15.
are made to pass by on the other side ; but this very instance proves the marked and intentional respect which Christ paid to the office of the priesthood. There is here a delicacy of reproof which contrasts very strikingly with the woes denounced upon the hypocrites of the scribes and Pharisees. Now this line of conduct shews one of two things, either that the priests, as a body, were less deserving of reproof than the other classes and then we have a remarkable instance of God's honouring his own institution by preserving them comparatively pure in a degenerate age—or, though equally guilty, that respect for their holy office restrained Christ from holding them up to public scorn. In the same way, when he cleansed the lepers, he shews a similar respect for their rights, by sending them to the priest, as the law prescribed.* The Lord Jesus Christ was therefore, in po sense, a dissenter, neither in fact nor spirit. He remained in full communion with the church of Israel : he maintained the rights, and carefully abstained from all railing accusation against the character, of its priesthood.
The conduct of the apostles is still more remarkable, and more conclusive against dissent. It may be said, that Christ came into the world for a particular purpose; that that purpose required that he should be “a minister of the circuincision," and therefore a conformist to the church of Israel; that until the sacrifice of Christ was offered, the law was still in force. But, in the case of the apostles, after the crucifixion and ascension of Christ, none of these things can be pretended; and yet it is clear, from the Acts of the Apostles, that they remained to the last in the communion of the Jewish church, and taught the Christian churches of Judea to remain in it too.
“ They continued daily in the temple.” (Acts, ii
. 46.). “They went up to the temple at the hour of prayer." (Acts, ii. 1.) “They attended the worship of the synagogue.' (Acts, xiii. 14; xiv. 1; xvii. 2.) “They took part in the sacrifices." (Acts, xxi. 24.) And the great body of Christians not only continued in communion with the Jewish church, but were actually zealous of the law. (Acts, xxi. 20.) It would be hard to find a much more untenable assertion than this, “ that the apostles refused conformity to the national religion" of Israel. Every one that has read the New Testament knows that they did conform; and every one who has read a little of ecclesiastical writers knows that their
conformity has been a source of perplexity to commentators, from the days of Jerome and Augustine downwards.t Nothing can be more certain than the fact, that the apostles in Judea, and the Christian church in Jerusalem, down to the destruction of the city, conformed to the law of Moses—i. e., to the Jewish church,—and that so strictly as to have no bishops, excepting those who had received the initiatory sacrament of Judaism. What the motive of this conformity was-whether they thought the law of Moses binding, or whether they complied in order to gain the Jews,-matters nothing in
• Matt. viii. 4; Luke, xvii. 14.
Euseb. Eccles. Hist. Lib. iv. c. 5.
the present argument. The facts of the case are, that there was a national church; that that church had openly denied and crucified the Son of God; that it persecuted his apostles, and opposed the truth; and yet that those very apostles still continued in communion with it, and taught their fellow Christians to do so too; and that so effectually, that, so long as the Jewish national church existed, the Jewish believers in Christ never dissented. Now, one of two things is possible_either the Jewish national church remained the church of God, or it did not. If the former supposition be adopted, then it will follow that the grossest corruptions, both in doctrine and practice, are not sufficient to unchurch a church, nor to warrant separation. If the latter, then the argument against dissenters is still stronger ; for then we have the apostles and the primitive Christians conforming to a national establishment which had ceased to be the church of God, and that under circumstances which required much greater sacrifices than any which dissenters are required to make, in conforming to the church of England. If after the rejection of Christ the Jewish national church was not the church of God, then the Jewish priests were not God's priests; yet to them the primitive Christians paid tithes. The sacrifices were not acceptable to God, and yet they took part in them, and contributed to the expense of furnishing them. The temple was not the house of God, and yet thither they went up to pray ; and for its maintenance they gave of their substance. Circumcision was no longer a divinely appointed sacrament, but a cruel rite, and yet with this, for the sake of conformity, they tortured their children. If it be replied, that they did this in compliance with Jewish prejudice, this reply only adds to the guilt of modern dissenting separation, and more strikingly illustrates the difference between the apostles and dissenters. The dissenters separate from the church ; and, as they say, separate in order to preserve the truth of God: the apostles conformed, and, according to this answer, conformed because they thought that by conformity the truth could best be preserved and promoted. Modern nonconformists, therefore, dissent not only from the church, but from the principles and practice of the apostles.
But the dissenting catechism says, that the apostles refused conformity to the national church; and gives, as an instance of their nonconformity, their disobedience to the commands of the high priest and the council. But the dissenters must be in great straits when they cite this as an example of nonconformity. The apostles stood to the high priest and council as prophets, and, as such, filled an office expressly appointed in the constitution of the Jewish church. As prophets, provided with miraculous credentials, it was the duty of the high priest and the council to have obeyed them. And they were no more nonconformists by continuing to preach than was Amos, when the priest of Bethel forbad him; or Jeremiah, when he was forbidden by the men of Anathoth. To establish anything like a parallel case, the dissenters must first give the same proof of a divine mission as that which the apostles had given; but even then they will not be able to prove that the apostles were nonconformists, for, as has been shewn, they conformed to all the rites and ceremonies, and participated in the worship and the sacraments of the Jewish church. On the contrary, this solitary exception to their otherwise universal obedience makes their conformity the more cogent as an argument against dissent. It shews that they were possessed of an authority superior to that of the priests and rulers, and that, therefore, they might lawfully have dissented; but nevertheless, they did not dissent, nor think disobedience necessary or justifiable ; except when, after giving miraculous proof of a divine mission, they were forbidden to preach in the name of Christ. If, therefore, the dissenters have never, under similar circumstances, met with a similar prohibition, their case is not similar to that of the apostles. But this cannot be pretended. The dissenters have never yet given miraculous evidence of their call to an extraordinary mission. The church of England has never yet forbidden men, furnished with miraculous powers, to preach in the name of Christ. Moreover, the dissenters refuse conformity not simply in the act of preaching Christ, but to all the rites, ceremonies, and order of the church. In every other matter the apostles conformed. There is not, therefore, one single point of resemblance between the apostles and the dissenters.
But it may be argued that the apostles, as the commissioned founders of the Christian church, into which Gentiles, before excluded, were to be received, did by the very act of that foundation dissent from the Jewish church. It may be said, that nothing can be more formal separation than the erection of a new church, and the institution of new terms of communion. But perhaps there is not any one argument which so strongly shews the unlawfulness of dissent as the mode in which the Christian church was founded, or the light in which it is represented in the New Testament. In the first place, it is never represented as a new church, but an extension of that which had already existed. The Gentiles were admitted into that commonwealth of Israel which already existed (Ephes. ii.); they were grafted into the olive tree which had long stood in the garden of the Lord; not a new plantation, but a graft; but when there is a graft, the old tree must continue to stand. (Rom. xi.) The wall of partition was taken away, but no new temple was erected. But, in the second place, the mode in which this extension took place was in strict conformity to the existing laws of the Jewish church. The initiatory rite adopted was one that was already practised, and that was recognised as compatible with the strictest conformity. Baptism was practised by the Jews in the admission of proselytes. John, the son of Zechariah, was never considered as a separatist or schismatic because he baptized. Even the most bigoted sect that existed thought they could receive John's baptism without any danger to their conformity. The admission of the Gentiles was in conformity to a principle laid down in the law of Moses. It provided for the settlement of Gentiles in the land of Israel on certain conditions, without compelling them to be circumcised or to keep the law; and even the Talmudists admitted that Gentiles, though uncircumcised, yet by keeping the seven precepts of the sons of Noah might be saved. In the admission of the Gentiles, the apostles acted strictly upon these principles. They taught those