תמונות בעמוד




of England, will be received with jealousy and suspicion, on account of his supposed biassed preference. It may be only necessary therefore to refer to facts, and to avoid any enlargement on those reasons which appear to compel an impartial enquirer to conclude that the form of Church government established in England is preferable to that of any other religious society, now claiming the approbation of an English Christian. It may be sufficient to remark, that the reformers in the reiga of Edward wisely endeavoured to retain as much of the religion of their ancestors as possible; and to receive nothing as good, either because it was novel, or because it differed more widely from the Church of Rome. The consequence of this great moderation was, that the people were generally united in the reign of Edward in support of the Protestant Church ; and the union would have continued, if two unfortunate circumstances had not prevented it: the obedience of the Romanists to the bull of the Pope, in the reign of Elizabeth, which commanded the people not to continue to frequent their parish churches--and the desire of the exiles who returned to England from the continent, after the death of Mary, to introduce the new, and, as they believed, the purer form of ecclesiastical regimen, which they had imbibed in the lecture-room of Geneva.

I may be permitted to observe here, that the long controversy, which has been so frequently agitated between various parties in England, respecting the origin of some of the doctrinal articles of faith professed by the Church of England, may be said to have been decided by the most unbending of all testimonies, that of dates. It has been affirmed by many, that the articles in question were borrowed from the opinions which were taught by the Reformer of Geneva. A reference to the dates when those documents, upon which the articles of this Church were founded, were first published, will demonstrate that the establishment was settled rather on Lutheran or Melancthonian, than on Calvinian principles. This point has been amply discussed by two of our modern divines, Mr. Todd, and the Archbishop of Cashel.

At the time when Elizabeth in England had peacefully restored the Protestantism of our early reformers, Philip was busily engaged in extirpating the adherents of the same opinions by means of the sanguinary Inquisition, and proscriptive decrees, both in Spain and the Netherlands. So great was the power, at this time, of the Church of Rome, throughout Europe, that it seemed impossible but that Protestantism must be extinguished under the universal persecution, if it had not pleased the providence of God to grant his protection to its sacred cause. Though we no longer witness tbe manifestations of the Holy One from above, nor hear the thunders of Sinai, nor wonder at miraculous interpositions, the course of this world is as uniformly and as certainly ordered now as formerly by the invisible Providence of God. The designs of the Almighty are still accomplishing. One plan it has always pleased him to adopt for the protection of truth. When the blood of martyrs is shed in vain, and the Church is threatened with its utmost danger, its deliverance is effected by the elevation of some one nation to defend and rescue the ark. If the King of Spain had succeeded in his attempted conquest of England, the banner which the Pope had blessed would have now waved victorious over England and the Continent. The Protestant witnesses who had escaped persecution would have been reduced to the condition of the Waldenses : and so probable was the success of the cause of Rome, that it seems most rational and wise to impute the victory of Elizabeth to the immediate interposition of the Almighty. Hitherto the Protestants had beea without an ostensible head. It was only in the moment of the greatest danger to their cause, when the united strength of Europe was ready to overwhelm them, that the Sovereign of England was prepared to avert the storm which must have destroyed the public profession of the reformed religion. The errors of Rome appeared, for the first time in its history, to be embodied in the form of a general armament against truth: and then, for the first time, the Protestant sword was wielded by the hands of England, never to be again returned to its scabbard, till the danger from the same enemy shall utterly and finally cease.

In the reign of James an attempt was made to unite the Romanists of England by the bond of a new oath of allegiance. The union was forbidden by the Pope.

The ancient jealousy had not ceased. The opinions of the people, and the wisdom of the legislature, are alike divided, respecting the extent of the privileges which may be allowed to the adherents of the corruptions of Christianity. This is not the fittest opportunity of discussing the question whether the genius of Romanism is altered, or whether the liberality of the Protestants is degenerating into weakness.

When the danger which had threatened the establishment effected by Elizabeth had nearly ceased, another evil arose, from the opposition of the partizans of that Church Polity, and of those thesiogical doctrines, which had been submitted to the world by the Reformer of Geneva. The monarchy and hierarchy yielded to the tempest.

During this struggle, the people had become divided into the austere and the profane. On the restoration of the monarchy, the latter were for a time triumphant. Infidelity infected the higher classes, and a gloomy discontent brooded over the lower ; while the intermediate ranks of society preserved the temperate attachment of their fathers to the institutions of the country. The utmost jealousy prevailed among them against both the extremes which had thus threatened the extinction of the Protestant Church. In the next reign the decision of the people was irresistibly declared




against the appearance of the influence of Rome; and the most solemn national act which has ever yet adorned the annals of a great country, gave the throne to a Protestant, on condition of the perpetual exclusion of Romanism from the councils of the State.

It was necessary thus briefly to allude to these transactions, that we may understand the manner in which the true religion, wbich confirms the existence of civil liberty, and perfect toleration, has been maintained among so many fluctuations. England still continues (as we have abundant reason to offer up our prayers to God, that it may continue till Christ shall come to judgment,) to be the only powerful state whose government is exclusively Protestant. It is necessary to the existence of truth, and freedom, and human happiness, that this sublime distinction should continue.

In the mean time, when national profligacy, in the reign of Charles the Second, had usurped the place of national austerity; the restored clergy distinguished themselves by endeavouring to heal the wounds which religious enthusiasm had inflicted, by introducing a better style of instruction ; and to heal the wounds which infidelity had inflicted, by devoting their own attention, and by directing the attention of the people in general, to the study of the evidences of Christianity. They thus established religion on that firm and immoveable basis, from which it can never be thrown down. While they kept this object steadily in view, they were no less unanimous in writing and preaching against the ancient enemy of their Church, and the religion of Christ in general. The good consequence of their exertions was effectually demonstrated, by the overthrow of the remnant of papal influence, at a moment when they accomplished the downfal of the despotism which would have fastened the yoke on the neck of England. By the labours of the clergy, civil and ecclesiastical tyranny fell together; and never was the nation so powerful, or the Church so pure, as at the period of that glorious Revolution, which sealed the charter of that political and religious liberty for which we had contended through so many centuries.

After the period of the Revolution, till that dreadful shaking of nations, which commenced with the convulsions in France, a general religious repose seemed to tranquillize the world. The influence which the Church of England exercised over the people was rudely shaken by the efforts of two of her ministers, who afterwards separated from her communion; and who in different ways have strengthened the various religious parties, which still survived the restoration of the monarchy. Wesley and Whitefield were of opinion that the clergy were inactive, and they endeavoured to supply their defects. Instead of attempting to interest the hierarchy and the state in the reformation of supposed evils, they appealed to the people against their teachers, whom they stigmatized as negligent; while they approved of their religious opinions, and acquitted them of immoral conduct. The effects of the labours of these zealous teachers still continue; and when the alienation of the public mind from the institutions of the country, which they too much induced, shall be removed, the consequences of their exertions will be, increased morality, and unobjectionable good.

The results of the French Revolution are so extensive, that I shall not enter at present into this sabject.

Two and twenty years have now elapsed since the great contest which terminated this convulsion. We cannot so interpret the prophecies of God, that we may certainly predict the future. The present, however, is before us, and is worthy of our attention. A new spirit seems to be infused into a large number, while elsewhere there appears to be either much religious indifference, or a revival of the influence of the corruptions of the Church of Rome. In Europe, we see its finest countries, France, Spain, Portugal, and others, submitting to the ancient error; and prevented from breaking their chains by the union of their rulers; all of whom are desirous of perpetuating the dominion of that enemy of civil liberty and true religion, which tolerates no opposite opinion. The protestantism of Geneva is deadened ; its gold has become dim, and the divinity of Christ has been deposed from the school of Calvin. In Germany, the purity of faith has been sullied by the speculative Deism of its more celebrated theologians. Michaelis, Semler, Eichhorn, and many others, deserve the censure of Protestants. In America, while the episcopalians may be called the aristocracy of the country, every gradation of religious and irreligious opinion flourishes among them. Truth receives no sanction, and falsehood no rebuke. Into southern America there is reason to hope that the civilization of Europe may import arts, commerce, peace, religion, liberty, as well as its false creeds, and remaining principles of despotism. The supremacy of the Pope has been rejected : the lie which bound them as captives to error is broken, and the young eagle may be able to soar to heaven.

Africa and the East are still lying prostrate before the altars of the dark idolatries of their fathers. The voice of England has been heard in the recesses of their groves ; it has resounded through their temples. Their gods are trembling in their shrines, and Dagon is falling before the ark of Jehovah. The Church and the State of England have at length adopted the only effectual plan of accomplishing good. Without repressing by useless persecution the desultory efforts of unauthorized, and sometimes of ill-judging zeal, they have clothed the truth of God with the robes of rightful authority, and invited the heathen and ignorant, whom they are able to influence, to receive the Scriptures, and become free, and happy, enlightened, and holy Christians.

It is difficult to speak of the actual religious condition of England without appearing to design 492



needless offence against some one party or class, among the people. This would be equally unnecessary and unwise ; and I need not say it is contrary to my intention. I well know that I cannot even mention some few facts without offence, even though I would speak as a Christian to all classes, not as a partisan to one. I would otherwise have observed, to what extent the three great divisions of religious opinion which prevailed in the reign of Elizabeth, still exist among us—and have attempted to form an estimate of the influence of each, both upon the people in general, upon the government, and upon the various parties in our senate. All this, however, would be misplaced ; and I defer such enquiries till a future opportunity. The age is characterized by benevolent intention, and active exertion. Insuperable difficulties appear to prevent the accomplishment of the only plan, by which the greatest, most permanent, and certain good would be effected; namely, that all the designs of approveable usefulness, which are now attempted by various popular societies and by pious individuals, should be conducted by a national Church in its corporate form. The spirit of Christian zeal should be made the bond of union at home ; while it devises schemes of benevolence abroad. I could suggest much on this subject, if I was not fully aware, that the most useful and unobjectionable designs must be considered visionary, when they appear to be impracticable.

With respect to the future, I consider history to be the only interpreter of prophecy, and I dare not be guilty of the presumption of asserting what God has not revealed. Some facts, however, appear to be so plainly predicted, that we may confidently affirm they will certainly take place. The eventual conversion of the Jews—the overthrow of the Mahometan power in the East-the overthrow of Romanisin, the apostasy of the West, and of idolatry and infidelity over the whole world, may be anticipated by every believer in Scripture. But through what variety of untried ways it may please God that the visible Church should pass, is not related. The Millennium, or universal reign of virtue, is the most rational opinion which a man can form, who believes in a Providence, and is satisfied of the true Christian doctrine of the original dignity, and present degradation of man, as a spiritual though fallen being. The blood of the atonement cannot have been shed in vain. The revolted province of earth must be recovered to the dominion of the King of kings, from the Prince of Darkness. The time must arrive when the progress of knowledge shall have banished ignorance; and the influence of holiness and virtue be more prevalent than that of wickedness and vice. Then will the perfection of the human race be completed, and evil be overruled by good. Then the human race shall have attained to the highest state of good which this lower existence can afford them; and after the object of man's creation shall have thus been answered, and the tree of life bloom again in this Paradise, where it was first planted; the fulness of time will have come, when the enlarged and purified faculties of man shall be prepared for a higher state of existence ; and the heaven and the earth shall pass away, but the word of these prophecies shall last for ever, though clouds and darkness, and thick darkness, may now veil His glory from the reason and curiosity of man. The happiness of man is the object of all the dispensations of God; and the temporary existence of evil cannot counteract the designs of Omnipotence. Our Father which art in heaven, may thy kingdom of glory come !






« הקודםהמשך »