Изображения страниц

and with it the wiles of priestcraft, and the guardianship of tyrants. Society is now reached and elevated and ennobled in all its members by this most benign principle, and the majestic power of its own cohesion is far greater than the might of paltry kinglings.

It would be natural for those who reject the magical element in the ordinances to be affected by it in another direction, viz., in respect to the imagination. They would with the least difficulty achieve emancipation from the shackles of superstition, and might be expected from a priori grounds to take a foremost position among the iconoclasts of their day, being unappeasable opposers of imposition and sham in every range of thought and action. And to the observer of the distinctive features of Baptist culture, this is probably one of the most striking. They seek to “prove all things,” to lay stress upon

the substance, and allow due liberty in regard to form, except where positive commands intervene. No ceremonial sacredness is attributed to their houses of worship; their grave-yard is a cemetery, and not a campo santo; their ministers speak from a pulpit, and not from a “sacred desk;” they use no consecrated vessels or implements, nor do they lay bonds on intellectual and moral freedom by admitting, in any sense, that ordination is a sacrament; thus breaking up the monopoly of priestcraft, and destroying the strongholds of superstition and abjectness. This kind of philosophy could not fail to produce characters full of vigor, business capacity, and practical unadorned simplicity. It might foster the energies of a poetical imagination, but it is not likely that a great painter would spring from circles where the mysterious and obscure and awe-inspiring are vigorously investigated, and unsparingly judged. A parallel case is found in the earliest churches, where pictures and crosses were not known. They were only introduced after spirituality had become so weak as to need external material supports. There needs not far to seek to discover that in this particular the Baptists — in union with others whose views are more or less in keeping - have impressed a peculiarity of their being ineffaceably upon the character of the American people. Some will esteem this a reproach, others an honor, according to the point of view occupied, but be that as it may, the evidences are everywhere abundant that almost the whole body of our countrymen have shared with us in these results of our teachings. It is the origin of that self-confidence which invites to difficult enterprises, that restless activity which has produced an unparalleled prosperity, which is the wonder of the world, and of that utilitarianism that has too much robbed our lives of æsthetical culture and graces.

1 Bingham, Ant. Chr. Church, B. VIII, Ch. vii.

[ocr errors]



Once more: the rejection of sacramentalism and the earnest conviction that the sanctity of the church of Christ is to be found in the personal experience of each member, is especially likely to deepen the currents of religious life and feeling. Nothing is more evident than that the theory in question is based upon the natural disinclination of men to personal effort. In countries where the Romish system prevails, the masses leave their religious concerns in the hands of the priesthood, and, in most instances, take no individual interest in measures designed to promote the salvation of men, and foster a zeal commensurate with the demands of the Christian life. Or, if they bestir themselves to labor, the organization of their worship is so complicated, the spirit of devotion is so much cramped and pressed down by external ceremony, that the heart is seldom touched by a sentiment drawn from enlightened reflection. The Bible is hidden from the gaze of all but the initiated, and the multitudes are bidden to trust to the utterances of their superiors, and to dispense with the dangerous labor of private investigation. In Protestant countries, on the other hand, if there be less of blind submission to authority, there is far more of intelligent faith, earnest thought, and genuine devoutness. It must be admitted, alas, that this is sometimes expressed by extravagant and even offensive demonstrations, that fanaticism and enthusiasm have been known to usurp the rights of spiritual worship; but these evilsy, while the are deplored, are the tokens of the vital energies of faith dwelling among the people who only need guidance and enlightenment in order to offer acceptable and reasonable service. Moreover, there is no religious organization which can lay claim to entire freedom from these imperfections. Even those who oftenest reproach Dissenters, in respect to their proneness to extravagances, cannot endure a strict and candid examination of their own history on this point, particularly in those rare seasons when devotion has gained the mastery over a dead formalism. The effect of these varied, deep, and burning emotions, founded as they are on individual appreciation of the most solemn truths that ever appeal to humanity, cannot be too closely remarked. If the sense of personal independence which this doctrine fosters should sometimes introduce a tendency to atomization, this increased force of moral suasion will check the mind, guide it to the right exercise of liberty, and raise the entire nature to higher planes of thought and desire and action. If it endows men with greater intellectual dignity, it sanctifies their enfranchisement at once to nobler and holier ends. It is, in a word, a new creation. The human mind being a unity, it is quite impossible to determine its spiritual functions to unwonted activity without, by the same means,


exciting it to increased intellectual activity. The era of Queen Elizabeth, so memorable in English annals, was a time of almost unheard-of religious fervor. One might sometimes conclude that every peasant and shopman considered it the highest duty of his life to search out the subtlest distinctions of theology, and explore to their foundations the abstrusest questions between creeds, and to discuss their deeper and more hidden contradictions. In like manner, it is by no means questionable that the astonishing interest manifested by Americans in their churches, and the dogmas that they hold, is one of the secrets of our intellectual activity. Among our people the Baptists are, it is well known, prominent as respects the part which each individual bears in all ecclesiastical concerns; and, without arrogance, a reasonable share may be claimed for them in bringing about the intellectual vivacity that may be observed in all classes of society.

The next general deduction drawn from the fundamental principle of the practical theology above-mentioned, viz., the spirituality of the churches, and also from the spiritual nature of all true religion, is, that there ought to be preserved an entire separation between the state and the church, or, in other words, that a state can only be termed Christian by virtue of the moral character and religious belief of its citizens. The propriety of this separation, however, is not maintained by them from a fanatical contempt for human means in the propagation of the gospel, and an ill-understood reliance on divine support, but because they believe that the union is unnatural, nay monstrous, contradicting both the Word of God and right reason.

The civil government has in its own name an indefeasible right to existence, and its foundation is as firmly laid in the social necessities of mankind, as in the Word of God. The magistrate, in the exercise of his office, is to be reverenced as the minister of God, and he is as truly engaged in the service of God as those who perform acts of benevolence or devotion. This position was taken and defended with much emphasis by Dr. Martin Luther, in the early stages of his career, although his later conduct contradicted very much the theory which he first embraced. It had, before his day, been urged for ages by those witnesses for the truth who dissented from the church of Rome; not that they believed as some have done, that all human governments are as such despicable, but because they concluded that the sphere of the state is entirely distinct from that of the church. In America, Roger Williams was probably the first to give abiding expression to this principle. If it be then established that the Baptists of America, while

1 See article on this subject in BAPTIST QUARTERLY for January, 1872.

opposing a union between the state and the church, are by nothing constrained to assume an unfriendly attitude towards the former, let us inquire what influence this separation (which in America is almost entirely due to them) is likely to exert upon society; or, in in other words, what sort of an agency it proves in moulding the thought and the philosophy, and thereby the history, of our people.

It must be granted, in the outset, that when the separation is complete, the church and its ministers, as such, lose entirely their political position and political power. Their outward control of the destinies of the state is at an end; the only weapons left to them are those “not carnal but spiritual”; their actions are no longer partly political and partly spiritual, but wholly the latter. To very many minds, the idea of a theocracy-although it is manifestly adapted only to men in the lowest stages of intellectual and spiritual culture, and belongs to the worn out institutions of a former and darker dispensationstill possesses irresistible charms. But to those who hold the substance as of more value than the shadow, it is no matter of regret that ecclesiastical institutions seem to decline in political importance; for they gain thereby a vast increase of historical importance.

It is true that the churches cannot, as such, thrust themselves into the midst of the struggles of the hour, and "shape the whispers of thrones"; but this same intermeddling has always proved the most serious check of spiritual healthfulness and vigor. Where Lords Spiritual have the same rights in the legislative branch as Lords Temporal, and if each party is suspiciously watched, and anon superciliously overborne by the other, the wounds with which such a rivalry afflicts the interests of piety are incalculably grievous. Many, bowever, consider the bare suggestion of the idea here advanced as treason against the church of Christ. But the Baptists, in their advocacy of it, have been instigated by no quietistic theories, nor by any indifference to the truth; but, on the contrary, they cherish the earnest conviction that the best hopes of the cause of religion and of the world are founded upon the separation of the state from the church. The former, no longer responsible for unity of faith and worship, is relieved of the necessity of perpetrating, in its maintenance, crimes against all faith and virtue. The ambition of the ministers and standard-bearers of religion is thereby circumscribed to such limits as are wholesome for them, and beneficial to the cause of religion. The strivings after high ecclesiastical position and pitiful material gains, are to a degree discontinued, so that the Great Head of the church is less seldom dishonored by those who should be the exponents of Christian purity. An indifferent spirit and a


decline of vital piety may be often accounted for, in theocratic states, by occurrences of this kind.

Allusion may also be indulged to another very apparent but very practical question in this connection. It is the theory of all establishments to render the minister independent of the people whom he

Their opinion, whether favorable or unfavorable, does not affect his standing; the state having appointed him, is forced to claim a due respect for her authority, and private preferences must be surrendered. But is it not a mutual disadvantage for one who has the care of souls to be thus entirely above his people? He loses thereby, a powerful and honorable incitement to self-culture; his character loses, as a consequence, by slow degrees its tension; his purposes possess no longer their ancient fixity; pastoral duties, and all others, become more and more irksome, until the man who gave promise of symmetrical and large expansion has dwindled to the proportions of a dwarf.

In connection with this stands the fact that no bonds of sympathy unite him to the people. He having been placed over them without regard to their wishes and tastes, it would do violence to human nature to suppose that in any real sense he could become the pastor of the flock. Thus a condition of alienation is very frequently produced, which prevents even well-meant efforts from accomplishing useful results.

I am aware that on the other side a condition of too entire dependence is likely also to produce evils of a deplorable kind; but they are by no means so necessary or so general as under the opposite system. But our concern with these particular views of the subject goes no further at present than they are supposed to have a bearing upon the individual and social status of the people. No one observes with greater foreboding the decline of earnestness in religious convictions than those who possess a philosophical eye for the conditions of social progress. The politician at all conscious of the significance of such an act, would be quite as much alarmed by the issuance of another " Book of Sports” as would the pious believer in our Lord Jesus Christ.

But the union of the state and church is thought to be the direct occasion of much infidelity and impiety. It is a circumstance full of

a meaning that on the continent of Europe the advocates of republicanism are almost without exception the passionate opponents of Christianity. This results from the fact that the church and state, both occupying an ultra-conservative ground, in most instances give each other mutual support. That the political authorities should adopt



[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »