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faith; which faith, except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly:" you will affirm, in the spirit of charity, "God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation, he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” Instead of addressing prayers to the Son, the Holy Ghost, the Trinity, you will “ bow your knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ:" instead of a gloomy and a capricious Deity, you will have a God who is love: and for a system which derives support from penal statutes, or political patronage, or which exists by exciting childish terrors, and shunning or stifling examination, you will have principles which are advancing in defiance of all these, holding on a triumphant course, and shining brighter and brighter unto the perfect day.
The flame of free inquiry is kindled; and while the precious things of truth, liberty and righteousness, will abide its purifying operation, all else is doomed to perish in the conflagration. But this bright prospect belongs to a subsequent part of our Course. To delineate the evil, is our first and painful task; nor is it useless. Disgust with error may invigorate our love of truth. The enormities of bigotry are a foil to the beauty of benevolence; while the degradation of religious slavery teaches impressively that we should “stand fast in the liberty wherewith
Christ has made us free, and not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Direful as their influence has been, the corruptions of Christianity have less of evil than the genuine gospel has of good; they should endear it to our hearts, as the best gift of God; the pledge of human improvement, peace and happiness here, and of immortality and blessedness hereafter.
Acts xix. 15.
Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?
These words are as applicable to systems as to persons. They consist of an assertion, and a question ; and though attributed to an evil spirit, the assertion was true, and the question pertinent. And that spirit, though submissive to Christ, or his apostle, was too strong for the priestly impostors who assumed their name without authority. I take the verse as a motto, and without further application, proceed to the subject of this evening's Lecture.
Comparing the language of Daniel with that of the Apostles John and Paul, in several distinct predictions, the characteristics of the apostacy which was to take place in the Christian Church, have appeared to be spiritual tyranny; alliance with temporal authority; mystery; idolatrous worship; blasphemy; hypocrisy, deceit and affected austerity; and persecution. To these
might have been added immorality; but that it is more correctly viewed as a general result of the whole, than as a distinct and additional trait. Certain it is, that the great body of professing Christians have long ceased to resemble the first believers, in purity and elevation of character ; nor can the difference be well accounted for, but by supposing, either that a religion from heaven may become enfeebled by age, and cease to be followed by the effects which it was designed to, and originally did, produce; or, that the corruptions of the gospel have materially interfered with its regenerating and sanctifying efficacy. There can be no hesitation in adopting the latter supposition. Even amid the glories of primitive Christianity, the seed of these evils was traced lurking in the churches. It soon sprung up, and when the apostles were removed, had a rapid growth. After the political conversion of the Roman emperors, it attained a baneful maturity, and spread its branches over the earth, while every fairer flower withered in its shade. It is not yet “ hewn down and cast into the fire." We have found its fruits in different sects; and in some behold goodly slips, which, though severed from the trunk, retain many of the noxious qualities of the parent Upas. To recover from that great apostacy must needs be a work of time. Those reformed churches which
left the path of free inquiry open, did most towards it: but those which made certain changes, and then stopped, did little or nothing. The essence of the evil remained; and its abolition has been found as difficult as ever. To which of these classes we must assign the sect which took possession of much of the authority, property and privileges of Popery in this kingdom, will appear from a brief review of its constitution, faith, worship and influence.
Following the same train of thought as in the first Lecture, in which dominion over conscience appeared to be a criterion between genuine and spurious Christianity, we inquire, Does the Church of England claim, or renounce, this forbidden lordship? Are its members at liberty to believe and profess whatever appears to them to be taught in the New Testament? No such thing. Their faith is marked out for them; and on almost every subject of interest, and on many of very inferior moment, they are minutely instructed what they must believe. Nay, it is broadly asserted, (Art. xx.,) that “ the Church hath power to decree rites or ceremonies, and authority in controversies of faith.” This assumption may be apparently limited by the declaration which follows, that it must not be contrary to God's word, nor make Scripture contradict itself: but the limitation is only in appearance; for who