תמונות בעמוד

them, and bring them into fellowship one with another, and this is altogether distinct from sectarian feelings, or written laws. Is this principle most felt, or most attended to, in any one society, that we are to love that one more than all the rest? Few will be willing openly to say that this is the case with their own sect, and if it really was so, is it any reason that they should call themselves by its name, more than men formerly, by that of Paul, Apollos, or Cephas. Is the hedge of societies necessary to the maintenance of Divine harmony among men? so far from it, the moment written laws begin to act, in the same degree it ceases to exist. “ We cannot serve God and Mammon,' cannot be subject to them, and the Divine law; it is utterly impossible. This has been previously said, and it admits not only of the most perfect demonstration, but is consistent with every serious reflection : for if religion is spiritual, then must its laws be spiritual also.

Religious society is founded upon the idea of promoting religion ; but suppose individuals were to take for the rule of their conduct, the laws which their respective sects have made ; would they be any better for it? there must be at bottom, some real piety and virtue, or they would become mere formal bigots; so that se


far from the adherence to them, doing good, it would tend to build up a pharasaical righteousness, which like false coin, would be more scrupulously to be avoided, because it out. wardly resembled that which was genuine.

This is the effect that follows from an adhe. rence to outward laws, men are made righteous by them, but it is a righteousness wholly dif. ferent from real purity of life : their hearts may be corrupt before their Maker, and yet “ touching the law, blameless,” that the most rigorous fulfilment of every iota which they exact, is not to be considered as the smallest proof of real godliness, or as the ascent of one step on the road to heaven.

If these positions cannot be controverted, the fulfilment of the laws which bind societies together, are wholly inefficacious, as a rule of life in religion; and I may add, the more formal they become, the more they tend to the total extinction of it.

Seeing then, that without real piety, laws in religious sects, increase bigotry and self-righteousness, it can hardly be supposed, that when that exists, they can be of any real use-but the most plausible arguments in their favour, are drawn from an idea, that they are made for the disobedient, to restrain them by the influence

of certain penalties; the most common of which at this day is, dismembership,g or disuniting them from the society.

Jesus told his disciples—" If thy brother trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established, and if he shall neglect to hear them, then tell it unto the church, but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man, and a publican.” Matthew xviii. 15, 17. Upon this doctrine has been built, the superstructure of all church governments, from that of the Vatican at Rome, to every petty congregation, which taking to itself the power of the Al. mighty, assumes the privilege of interposing between man and his Maker-by judging and condemning sin—in denying communion with its members, or bringing them to confession, and passing by their offences.

It is not moral offences that are principally aimed at, for these the laws of the land take cognizance of; þut religious offences, of which none can judge but that Being who sees the heart of every man. The power which dif

ferent sects assume, under the idea that they are the church of Christ, is almost unlimited; and this is founded upon directions given by Jesus Christ to his immediate followers, which have no necessary relation to us, and which it is not too much to say, are neither the perfec. tion of Christian experience, nor in accordance with those more sublime and exalted doctrines, which he at other times spoke of, and upon which he acted; not of telling of offences; not of letting men be as heathens to each other, but of loving our enemies, giving to those who would take from us; and of that humble dependance upon God, in which the excellence of his character and mission, are so beautifully displayed.

If the power of knowing the hearts of its members, was really delegated to societies; then indeed their might be reason, why they should undertake to judge them; but as they do not know the feelings and motives which ac. tuate their conduct, they cannot know their sins, nor can they correct them; that it is an illusion to pretend to reform them, by the application of written laws: this is constanily exemplified in

very country: men are most severely punished, but it seldom happens that they are reformod thereby: we so constantly witness the re

newed exercise of the civil law on the same in. dividuals for similar offences; that there is great reason to doubt whether it is any means of reformation. It may by force restrain them from injuring their fellow-men; but every true amendment must begin in the heart, by obe. dience to that principle which God has placed there.

As we do not observe reformation and amendment to follow, from the punishments which the civil law inflicts, neither do we, from those of ecclesiastical tribunals. Where is the man that has really and truly been made better, by being dismissed from a religious society ? if indeed it has made one better, it has made ten worse, by holding them as heathens; and even when this is not the issue, it is altogether to be doubted, whether the exertions of individuals, acting as such, would not always be more efficacious than those which are the effect of society contrivances, and which as they are official, so they are often formal and ungodly; for as a regular ordained ministry made by the appointment of men, does prevent the effusions of pure minds; so do official reformers, tend to discourage the honest efforts of other men, perhaps more pious than themselves. How far every act which is merely official in religion, is

« הקודםהמשך »