« AnteriorContinuar »
describe that active malignity which has ever delighted to blacken the characters of reputed heretics, and cast out, not only from the church, but from an honourable abode in the memories of men, those who preserved the tabernacle of God in this wilderness of corruption, and who shall dwell in heaven? The charge is advanced against the Ecclesiastical State, and the Civil Powers in alliance with the church. It may be a condemnation of their aspiring to spiritual legislation, and of the manner in which that authority has been exercised. Blasphemy is evil-speaking. Intentional defamation of the Deity is scarcely to be imagined. But we must lament that such creeds have generally been established, as tend to throw a dark shade over the Divine perfections. They impair our perception of his excellence, by notions which compress infinity into human shape, and connect spirituality with corporeal organs and sufferings: they sully his moral character, and dim its loveliness, by attributing to him actions that would disgrace even imperfect man, and sink him from the Father into the tyrant of the human race.
Pious frauds, feigned miracles, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, are now matters of history, like the other predictions, and but too easily and frequently to be met with. (c) We find them abundantly in the fourth century, when the maxim was almost uni
versally adopted, “ that it was an act of virtue to deceive and lie, when by that means the interests of the church might be promoted.' Of this period, Mosheim remarks, “a whole volume would be requisite to contain an enumeration of the various frauds practised, with success, to delude the ignorant, when true religion was almost entirely superseded by horrid superstition.” Athanasians and Arians, as opportunity allowed, fought with the same weapons, and opposed fraud to fraud, miracle to miracle, and persecution to persecution. While we gladly forget the gross trickeries by which, in dark ages, ignorance was gulled, that it might be enslaved and plundered, we must be allowed to express regret, that Protestants and Dissenters should yet retain some traces of this evil. How often, in the recollection of every one, has reputed heresy been assailed with calumnious and forged tales of blasphemies and sudden judgments, got up for the purpose of terrifying men from the use of their common sense on religious subjects! Truth disdains such arms: they are the weapons of Antichrist, and worthy only of the policy of the Inquisition, which, when its victims are led to the stake, clothes them with robes covered with painted devils. Happily, their use is almost abandoned by the more respectable of every party.
Persecution is also sufficiently visible in the pages of Ecclesiastial History, and alike inca
pable of an exclusive application to the Church of Rome; for though she may have been “ drunk with the blood of saints and martyrs,” her daughters have sipped, and many of them not sparingly, the same horrid beverage. The history of state religions, which is also the history of what is called orthodoxy, is written, for ages, with blood. The stain attaches also to the different sects which have only had temporary power. Socinus was a party to the unjust imprisonment of the aged and venerable Davides, for refusing to worship Christ: Calvinism has its infancy and origin blackened by the murder of Servetus: the Presbyterians in this country would have taken the life of Biddle, but for Cromwell: and the Puritans who fled to America for liberty of conscience, denied that, and even life, to some of the sectaries who followed thein.
The following passage, on the propriety of making Babylon the symbol of Anti-christianity, and the impossibility of restricting that apostacy to Rome, while it evidently applies to the opinions, history and practices, of the whole of what has been called the Orthodox Church, is by Evanson, a clergyman who relinquished his emoluments for conscience' sake: “ The figurative terms, Babylon the Great, that great city, &c. are manifestly opposed to those of Jerusalem, the holy city, the new Jerusalem, &c.; and therefore, since the latter type cannot denote any one parti
cular city, but must necessarily include in its signification every society of true Christians, who embrace and practise the pure religion of the gospel, and acknowledge no Lord nor Lawgiver in religious concerns but Jesus Christ; so the former cannot be confined to any one church or city, but must needs extend to every society, in every nation, by whatsoever denomination they may call themselves, who adopt the anti-christian superstition, which temporal power alone hath established, and alone continues to uphold. In this sense there is, indeed, a very just and striking correspondence between the thing signified and the sign: for as Babylon was the source of ancient, so hath the Orthodox Church been of modern, idolatry: as Babylon first aimed at universal empire, and enslaved tlie nations around it; so the Orthodox Church first attempted to establish an universal empire over conscience, and enslaved the minds of men: as the despot of Babylon decreed that all who would not worship the image he had thought fit to erect, should be destroyed in the burning fiery furnace; so the princes of the Orthodox Church condemned those who refused to conform to the idolatry they had established, to perish at the fiery stake; while the church herself, not satiated with such diabolical vengeance, hath impiously presumed to anticipate the final judgment of heaven, and doomed them in the next world to suffer everlasting burnings;
as Babylon desolated and laid waste Jerusalem, led captive the people of Israel, and compelled them to violate the principles of the law of Moses, and publicly to offer sacrifice to Pagan idols; so the Orthodox Church hath ruined and enthralled the Church of Christ, and compelled the professors of Christianity to contradict the very spirit and first principles of the gospel, and openly to embrace her catholic faith, and idolatrous mode of worship. Lastly, as the Assyrian metropolis projected the impracticable scheme of an universal union of mankind, and erected a common centre of unity for that purpose, which ended in the disunion and entire separation of the people from each other, by the confusion of tongues; so the Orthodox Church, wheresoever it hath been established, hath erected a common standard of religious belief, and wildly and vainly endeavoured to accomplish an universal agreement of opinion and uniformity of doctrine, and the attempt hath ended in the division and subdivision of Christendom into a very Babel of contending heresies and differing modes of fanaticism and superstition.”—Letter to Hurd, p. 109, 2nd Ed.
This view of our subject, though at first it inay seem harsh, is really conducive to charity. It teaches that no one body of professing Christians is to be singled out, and held up for odium, as peculiarly stained with the characteristics of the