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to be placed upon a footing, it would not per. haps be very difficult to decide. If the effect that it has upon individuals is equivocal, that which is produced upon the sect is not so; confession of error is generally extorted, and societies are often built up in their own righteousness.
As people are introduced into the peaceable kingdom of Heaven, they of the spirit feel no offence, either individually or collectively; and then alone they constitute the church of the “first-born, whose names are written in Heaven :" this is believed in by many, who still taking authority from scripture, act therefrom, in opposition to those feelings which are before scripture or any other law. If in our walks among men, we were to separate ourselves from those who had offended us, or acted upon principles different from what we deemed right, letting them be heathens to us, practically adopting the language, “ stand by thyself, I am holier than thou.” Should we feel most peaceful in such conduct, or in returning good for evil ? The answer is very plain, and yet men, professing godliness, act in society capacity, as they would be unwilling to do individually.
What do societies mean, when they speak of the true church, composed of all nations and
kindreds ? and yet merely for the preservation of written rules, hold as aliens those who individually they believe to be honest and virtuous! Do they not deny in conduct what they profess in words, by letting the formula of religion draw lines of distinction between themselves and their fellow members? can such things be true? is there no reason to doubt the basis on which such religion stands ? are there no sincere mînds, actors in these things, who are convicted of their inconsistencies? none whose eyes are opened to see, that they originate in principles wholly adverse to true religion?
But even admitting, that offence is felt, and that the object of religious society is to increase virtue among mankind; is religion really increased by excommunicating men from their sects ? the offender if he is such, who is cast off unconverted upon the world at large, remains as much one as he did before ; and virtue is not increased thereby; nay further, if they believe, as they profess to do, that there is great good in being members of society; it is contrary to every pure principle of benevolence, to excommunicate those who most require their fostering
We may pursue all the bearings, which the written laws of the various sects have upon in
dividuals, and we shall not find cause for their existence in any other, than selfish sectarian principles; which are looking to their own individual good, and which are distinct from those enlarged and heavenly views, wihch encompass all mankind the world over ; which knows no sect or party, and which flowing from a pure dependance upon their heavenly Father, are as unlimited as his love.
I have before stated cases, in which societies may judge and condemn, for acts of real righteousness in individuals, and this proceeds from those principles, which look not so much to the promotion of true religion, as to the maintenance of their own particular order and cere. monies :--they undertake to limit the operations of the Holy Spirit, by circumscribing it within those bounds which they call order and godliness-they limit its operations, by condemning the most virtuous of their members, if it has pleased Divine Providence, to open their minds to more exalted views of virtue, than they themselves have,-they limit it, by supposing that men are better for being members of their societies, than of no society at all, —they limit it, by forming creeds as it were to assist God in regulating faith towards him; and they seem to doubt the sufficiency of his power,
when they direct men not to his light in their own minds, as a rule for the conduct of their lives, but to some uncertain and variable standard without them.
Such is the state of the various sects of Christians, and shall I yet believe, that membership with any one of them, is of any value ? I can realize that a pious man might feel disposed to withdraw from all of them; but I can hardly imagine how any one could feel bound to assist in the support of those laws and creeds, which are so much in opposition to true reli. gion,—to attempt to uphold, under the name of truth, that reputation which is so much an idol with each. Mistaken men ! Truth needs not your support, you can neither build it up nor pull it down.
Such indeed, is the state of each society; such their outward views; that with much
profession of a belief in Christ, I feel almost the assurance, that if he was to appear again as he did to the Jews; they would say in substance as they did; “ we have a law and by our law he ought to die." True it is, that the laws of the land, and the genius of the times, would forbid taking his life; but what if they were to see him, with a seamless garment, enter one of their houses called places of worship,
and say, with perhaps as much truth as he did to the Jews; that they were Pharisees,
tythed mint, anise and cummin, and neglected the weightier matters of the law;" what would they say, but that he should keep silence and not disturb their worship; if he continued to speak would they not thrust him out of their synagogue, apply to the civil law, put him in prison, and cry crucify him, crucify him ?” And this effect would probably be increased, if they knew, as the Jews did; that he came from among a people who were deemed heretic, for holding in utter contempt the righteousness of the Pharisees. The query would arise, “can any good come out of Nazareth?” “ have the rulers believed on him?" If indeed he was regularly ordained, and had credentials of appro. bation to present to them, they would tolerate him in any kind of doctrine, but touching their idols.
This is no picture, but the words of truth and soberness. If what I have said, does not apply to every sect, the exception is to such as are not limited by creeds and written laws; and every sect has its creed, which has any other touchstone to judge of men by, than that of truth and righteousness. It is vain to talk of not having a creed, merely because it is not