תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

after his time, that the Mennonites, more especially those of the rigid class, carried the freedom of their religious speculations to such an excessive height, as bordered upon extravagance. This circumstance alone, were there no other, proves that the heads of this sect employed the smallest part of their zeal to prevent the introduction and propagation of error; and that they looked upon sanctity of life and manners alone, as the essence of true religion. The Waterlandians indeed, and after them, the other anabaptists, were obliged, at length, to draw up a summary of their doctrine, and to lay it before the public, in order to remove the odium that was cast upon them on account of their bold tenets, and their extravagant disputes, which were likely to involve them in the greatest calamities. But these confessions of the Mennonites were, in reality, little more than a method of defence, to which they were reduced by the opposition they met with, and must therefore be rather considered as an expedient to avert the indignation of their enemies, than as articles of doctrine, which all of them, without exception, were obliged to believe. For we do not find among the Mennonites, a part of the modern Waterlandians excepted, any injunction, which expressly prohibits individuals from entertaining or propagating religious opinions different from the public creed of the community. And indeed when we look attentively into the nature and constitution of this sect, it will appear to have been, in some measure, founded upon this principle, that practical piety is the essence of religion, and that the surest and most infallible mark of the true church is the sanctity of its members ; it is at least certain, that this principle was always universally adopted by the anabaptists.

xiv. If we are to form our judgment of the religion of the Mennonites from their public creeds and confessions, we shall find that though it varies widely Thehe Malesion from the doctrine of the Lutherans, yet in most nilus. things it differs but little from that of the reformed church. They consider the sacraments in no other light, than as signs or symbols of the spiritual blessings administered in the gospel ; and their ecclesiastical discipline seems to be almost entirely the same with that of the presbyterians. There are however peculiar tenets, by which they are distinguished from all other religious communities, and these

The religion of the Memo

may be reduced under three heads. For it is observable, that there are certain doctrines, which are held in common by all the various sects of the Mennonites; others, which are only received in some of the more eminent and numerous sects of that community, such were the sentiments of Menno, which hindered him from being universally acceptable to the anabaptists; and others, again, which are only to be found among the more obscure and inconsiderable societies of that denomination. These last indeed appear and vanish alternately, with the transitory sects that adopt them, and therefore do not deserve to employ our attention any farther in this place. XV. The opinions that are held in common by the Men

nonites seem to be all derived from this leading The great and fundamental principle, that “the kingdom werichterste which Christ established upon earth is a visible oftebe Meund: church or community, into which the holy and

the just are alone to be admitted, and which is consequently exempt from all those institutions and rules of discipline, that have been invented by human wisdom, for the correction and reformation of the wicked.”

This fanatical principle was frankly avowed by the ancient Mennonites; their more immediate descendants however began to be less ingenuous; and in their public confessions of faith, they either disguised it under ambiguous phrases, or expressed themselves as if they meant to renounce it entirely. To renounce it entirely was impossible, without falling into the greatest inconsistency, and undermining the very foundation of those doctrines that distinguished them from all other Christian societies. And

The great principle en which the ge.

nites is founded.

a That they did not renounce it entirely, is evident from their own creeds and confessions, even from those in which the greatest caution has been employed to conceal the principles that rendered their ancestors odious, and to disguise whatever might render themselves liable to suspicion. For example, they speak in the most pompous terms concerning the dignity, excellence, utility, and divine origin, of civil magistrates ; and I am willing to suppose that they speak their real sentiments in this matter. But when they proceed to give reasons that prevent their admitting magistrates into their communion, they discover unwarily the very principles which they are otherwise so studious to conceal. Thus, in the thirtieth article of the Waterlandian confession, they declare, that “Jesus Christ has not comprehended the institution of civil magistracy in his spiritual kingdom, in the church of the New Testament, nor has be added it to the offices of his church ; the Latin words are; “Potestatem hanc politicam Dominus Jesus in regno suo spirituali,ecclesia NoviTestamenti, non instituit, neque hane officiis ecclesiæ suæ adjunxit.” Hence it appears, that the Mennonites look upon the Church of the New Testament as a holy republic, inaccessible to the wicked, and consequently exempt from those institutions and laws that are necessary to oppose the progress of iniquity. Why then do they not speak plainly, when they deliver their doctrine concerning the nature of the church, instead of affecting ambiguity and evasions?

yet it is certain that the present Mennonites, as they have in many other respects departed from the principles and maxims of their ancestors, so have they given a striking instance of defection in the case now before us, and have almost wholly renounced this fundamental doctrine of their sect, relating to the nature of the Christian church. A dismal experience has convinced them of the absurdity of this chimerical principle, which the dictates of reason, and the declarations of Scripture, had demonstrated sufficiently, but without effect. Now, that the Mennonites have opened their eyes, they seem to be pretty generally agreed about the following tenets; first, that there is an invisible church, which is universal in its extent, and is composed of members from all the sects and communities that bear the Christian name; secondly, that the mark of the true church is not, as their former doctrine supposed, to be sought for in the unspotted sanctity of all its members, since they acknowledge that the visible church is promiscuously composed of the righteous and the wicked, but in the knowledge of the truth, as it was delivered by Christ, and in the agreement of all the members of the church in professing and defending it.

xvi. Notwithstanding all this, it is manifest, beyond all possibility of contradiction, that the religious opinions which still distinguish the Mennonites from cu all other Christian communities, flow directly from or doctrines. the ancient doctrine of the Anabaptists concerning the nature of the church. It is in consequence of this doctrine that “they admit none to the sacrament of baptism but persons that are come to the full use of their reason;" because infants are incapable of binding themselves by a solemn vow to a holy life, and it is altogether uncertain whether or not, in maturer years, they will be saints or sinners. It is in consequence of the same doctrine that “they neither admit civil rulers into their communion, nor allow any of their members to perform the functions of magistracy;" for where there are no malefactors, magistrates are useless. Hence do they pretend also “ to deny the lawfulness of repelling force by force, and consider war, in all its shapes, as unchristian and unjust;" for as those who are perfectly holy can neither be provoked by injuries, nor commit them, they do not stand in need of the force of arms, either for the purposes of resentment or defence. It is still the same principle that excites in them the utmost aversion

Their pe culiar tenets

to the execution of justice, and more especially to capital punishments; since, according to this principle, there are no transgressions nor crimes in the kingdom of Christ, and consequently no occasion for the arm of the judge. Nor can it be imagined, that they should refuse to confirm their testimony by an oath upon any other foundation than this, that the perfect members of a holy church can neither dissemble nor deceive. It was certainly then the ancient doctrine of the Anabaptists, concerning the sanctity of the church, that gave rise to the tenets now mentioned, and that was the source of that rigid and severe discipline, which excited such tumults and divisions among the members of that community.

XVII. The rules of moral discipline, that were formerly

ir system observed by the Mennonites, were rigorous and of morality. austere in the highest degree, and thus every way conformable to the fundamental principle, which has been already mentioned as the source of all their peculiar tenets. It is somewhat doubtful whether these rules still subsist and are respected among them; but it is certain, that in the times of old their moral precepts were very severe. And indeed it could not well be otherwise ; for, when these people had once got it into their heads, that sanctity of manners was the only genuine mark of the true church, it may well be imagined that they would spare no pains to obtain this honourable character for their sect; and that, for this purpose, they would use the strictest precautions to guard their brethren against disgracing their profession by immoral practices. Hence it was that they unanimously, and no doubt justly, exalted the rules of the gospel, on account of their transcendent purity. They alleged that Christ had promulgated a new law of life, far more perfect than that which had been delivered by Moses and the prophets; and they excluded from their communion all such as deviated, in the least, from the most rigorous rules of simplicity and gravity in their looks, their gestures, their clothing, and their table; all whose desires surpassed the dictates of mere necessity; nay, even all who observed a certain decorum in their manners, and paid a decent regard to the innocent customs of the world." But this primitive austerity is greatly diminished in the more considerable sects of the Mennonites, and more especially among the Waterlandians and Germans. The opulence they have acquired, by their industry and commerce, has relaxed

their severity, softened their manners, and rendered them less insensible of the sweets of life; so that at this day the Mennonite congregations furnish their pastors with as much matter of censure and admonition as any other Christian community. There are however still some remains of the abstinence and severity of manners that prevailed formerly among the anabaptists; but these are only to be found among some of the smaller sects of that persuasion, and more particularly among those who live remote from great and populous cities.

XVII. The particular sentiments and opinions that divided the more considerable societies of the Mennonites, were those that follow : 1. Menno denied The singular that Christ derived from his mother the body he some sects. assumed; and thought, on the contrary, that it was produced out of nothing, in the womb of that blessed virgin, by the creating power of the Holy Ghost. This opinion is yet firmly maintained by the ancient Flemingians, or rigid anabaptists; but has long since been renounced by all the other sects of that denomination. 2. The more aus.

tenets of

op b It is certain, that the Mennonites in Holland, at this day, are, in their tables, their equipages, and their country seats, the most luxurious part of the Dutch nation. This is more especially true of the Mennonites of Amsterdam, who are very numerous and extremely opulent.

c This is the account that is given of the opinion of Menno by Herman Schyn, in his Plenior. Deduct. Hist. Mennonit. p. 164, 165, wbich other writers represent in a difa ferent manner. After an attentive perusal of several passages in the writings of Menno, where he prosessedly handles this very subject, it appears to me more than probable that he inclined to the opinion attributed to him in the text, and that it was in this sense only, that he supposed Christ to be clothed with a divine and celestial body. For that may, without any impropriety, be called celestial and divine which is produced immediately, in consequence of a creating act, by the Holy Ghost. It must, however, be acknowledged, that Menno does not seem to have been unchangeably wedded to this opinion. For in several places he expresses himself ambiguously on this head, and even sometimes falls into inconsistencies. From hence perhaps it might not be unreasonable to conclude, that be renounced indeed, the common opinion concerning tlje origin of Christ's human nature : but was pretty much undetermined with respect to the hypothesis, which, among mauy that were proposed, it was proper to substitute in its place. D o See Fucslini Centuria I. Epistolar, a Reformator. Helveticis scriptar. p. 393. Be tbat as it may, Menno is generally considered as the author of this opinion concerning the origin of Christ's body, which is still embraced by the more rigid part of his followers. It appears probable, nevertheless, that this opinion was much older than his time, and was only adopted by him with the other tenets of the Anabaptists. As a proof of this, it may be observed, that Bolandus, in his poem, entitled Motus Monasteriensis, lib. X. v. 49, plainly declares, that many of the Anabaptists of Munster, who certainly had not been instructed by Menno, held this very doctrine in relation to Christ's incarnation :

* Esse, Christum, Dherm statuunt alli, sed copore carnem,

Humanam sun'o sustinuisse negant;
A Diam inentem, tennis quasi fance canalis,

Per Mariæ corpus virginis isse ferunt." d Many writers are of opinion that the Waterlandiang, of all the other Anabaptists, showed the strongest propensity to adopt the doctrine of Menno, relating to the origins of Christ's body. See Histoire des Anabaptistes, p. 223. Ceremonies et Coulumes de lotro

« הקודםהמשך »