Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

per se.

any line of action which would not be immediately defended and advocated from the pulpits of the country, is well-nigh inconceivable. It is extremely natural, therefore, for all those who are displeased with the government, whatever be the source of provocation, to turn against the church also, whose only mission seems to them to be the defence of measures which they regard as unreasonable or tyrannical. From this point to the total rejection of religion the way is not long. In this manner are thousands every year precipitated into impassioned infidelity. Widespread and perilous injury is done to the lower classes, from whom moral restraints are entirely removed; and even the existence of stable government is jeopardized. Nobody hates religion

It is only the hypocrisy and vindictive tyranny with which it allies itself in political organizations that men despise and contemn; but, unfortunately, this drives them so far away from the restraints of morality as to endanger, often, the very groundwork of social order.

But let us not pursue this subject any further than to add that under a theocracy it is quite impossible to maintain that degree of discipline which is indispensable to ecclesiastical purity, and which, be it well observed, is one of the notes of a church of Christ. The bounds of an established church are usually as wide as those of the state; and the certificates of baptism and confirmation are the title to citizenship. Now the higher classes of the people are of course among the most prominent supporters of religion, although it often befalls that their morals are loose, their principles corrupt and unworthy, and their tempers inhumane. Men whose life was a scene of unvaried debauchery have been hailed as the "eldest sons of the church,” and as the “defenders of the faith.” But these characters from the highest walks of life, are met, on the other hand, by many more from the lowest; and you shall see certain classes whose membership in the church must be proved in order to legalize crimes that society and nature hold in like abhorrence. But such evils are to be endured as composedly as possible, because excommunication or any other form of official censure is attended with civil disabilities, which render it difficult for the ecclesiastical authorities—whatever, personal sentiments they may entertain—to do anything in vindication of the dignity of the Lord's house.

The importance of these reflections ought not to be misunderstood. Bearing as they do upon the moral and political education of the largest classes of society, they have in many cases a world-historical significance. It is these quiet, hidden agencies that produce the most astonishing and solid results. “The German schoolmaster it was who conquered at Königgraetz ;” and we claim that the impression of Baptists upon the people of America, as one of the main causes preventing the adoption of any state-religion, and thus of averting the evils indicated as inherent in them, is deep and widely felt, and consequently that their share in the development of our present culture is by no means inconsiderable.

1 Cf. Litton, Church of Christ, p. 353.

But the ground-principle of our practical theology, taken in connection with the spiritual nature of religion, has led the Baptists from the beginning to become the champions of another doctrine; namely, of the rights of both the conscience and intellect. This position is a pendant of the preceding. While that asserts that the kingdom of Christ is not of this world, this declares that “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his word, or not contained in it.” In the gracious providence of God, the social station of the Baptists was always humble; and they have been exposed almost incessantly to unsparing persecutions. Dire necessity thus furnished them frequent occasions to define and emphasize this article of their faith. Owing to a most fortunate conjunction of circumstances in the state of Virginia, and in the United States, during the second half of the last century their sufferings and struggles were rewarded with results of almost incalculable importance. When we compass in thought the meaning and breadth of intellectual liberty, we shall wonder greatly that anything so comprehensive and benign, and so clear, radical, and bold in its demands upon society, should have emanated from a people so obscure; for their claims to the enouncement and untiring championship of this doctrine are superior to those of all others, although a most honorable mention is due to the labors of the founder of Maryland, in this connection, who in respect to toleration was far in advance of his times, and a brilliant exception to the long line of inquisitors and persecutors whom his church has produced. It will be observed, however, that the Baptists at no time demanded toleration simply, but always freedom of conscience. They perceived distinctly, with Paine and others, that "Toleration is not the opposite of intolerance, but is the counterfeit of it. Both are despotisms. The one assumes to itself the right of .

. withholding liberty of conscience, the other of granting it.”? They are the only religious denomination who carried the principles of the Reformation to their logical results. Even the authors of the Reformation, although they liberated the mind, pretended to govern it by law. But those whom they treated contemptuously and cruelly

Rights of Man p. 58.

1

alone fully understood the principles and effects of the movement. Luther opened the Bible to the masses; but, with strange inconsistency, desired to enforce an iron uniformity. Our predecessors proclaimed the enfranchisement of mind, a principle broad enough to embrace Protestant and Catholic, pietist and atheist, and "all sorts of consciences."

Many, it is true, unaware of the theoretical and practical difficulties that environ this subject, have spoken of religious freedom in a way more rhetorical than scientifical. But while casuistical objections may be raised on every hand, and actual, burning questions sometimes arise, it will not be disputed by persons of moderate candor, that these are much more readily solved when the civil government approaches them from a merely political point of view, unshackled by religious or confessional considerations.

Already, in speaking of the Baptist opposition to sacramentalism, we have found occasion to refer to some of the social and moral influences of the doctrine of intellectual and moral freedom, inasmuch as this latter is a natural consequence and development of the former. Allusion was had to advanced sentiments concerning personal independence, as also to the increase of intellectual and politico-economical activity. It deserves attentive consideration in this connection, that it was the matured conviction of Mr. James Madison, as well as many prominent men of the Revolution, that "if the church of England had been the established and general religion in all the northern colonies, as it was in Virginia, and uninterrupted harmony had prevailed throughout the continert, slavery and subjection would have been gradually insinuated among the American people.” And it would be an error to conclude that this opinion was due to any narrow bigotry or prejudice, for he was himself a member of the Protestant Episcopal communion; but it was based upon the broad ground that, “union of religious sentiment begets a surprising confidence, and ecclesiastical establishments tend to great ignorance and corruption, all of which facilitate the execution of mischievous projects.' The doctrine of freedom of conscience, then, has already done our people a most important service during a dangerous crisis.

But, turning from this point to one which has not been previously touched upon, it may be remarked that this principle has favored the birth and development of a multitude of religious sects. This, although it may be regarded in certain highly conservative quarters as a great evil, is with much more reason considered as a blessing, both to the world and to the cause of pure and undefiled religion. The rights of

1 Rives' Life of Madison, p. 43.

[ocr errors]

B

11

the mind and conscience being freely acknowledged, there is seldom an occasion for the manifestation of fanaticism, and the interests of the different denominations being extremely varied, there is scarcely a remote possibility of a religious war.

“ The unfettered and spontaneous diversity of opinions, of sects, of parties, of interests, in both politics and religion, is the only practical security for the equal liberty of all, by the mutual vigilance and inspection they will exercise over each other, and the mutual forbearance they will finally learn to practice from an experience of that security."ı Just observation will convince candid men that President Madison evinced wisdom and patriotism in nothing more conspicuously than in choosing this idea as the corner-stone of his political creed. In the United States, at least, we have had experience as to the workings of this system, and although many objections may be urged to it, it has put an end to persecution, and filled all hearts with repose.

This freedom of conscience is also useful to the cause of religion. Everything is open to criticism. No opinion, or creed, or system, is exempt. Theology must enter the lists with other sciences, and bravely defend herself against all comers.

There is no longer a covert of defence under the wing of the civil power, whither she may flee in an hour of defeat and distress. She is forced to depend on her own resources; she asks no favors; enters into no entangling alliances; makes no compromises, and by the might of her own arms achieves respect for herself on the arena where giants in the republic of letters hold their high debates. And in her own panoply of light she wages the ancient feud, against error and heresy, with far greater dignity and success than when tyrants and despots raised their impure and wicked hands to fight the battle of the Lord.

There is only space to mention one other consequence of the fundamental principle of our practical theology. It is the perfect equality established between all the members of the body of Christ. None are admitted to church-membership except those who have been justified by faith.

As such, they all occupy the same plane; they have places side by side at the table of communion; enjoy equal rights in the government of the church, and are equally burdened with the duties of the Christian life. In respect to this last — the active duties of religion — Baptists are accustomed to employ the apostolical phraseology, concerning the priesthood of every true Christian. 1 Peter ii. 5, 9. Referring back to the organizing principle of their systematic theology, salvation from sin through Jesus of Nazareth, the only Mediator between God and men, it will follow inevitably that

i Rives, p. 47.

[ocr errors]

none of those who were thus dependent upon free grace for their position among the people of God, can lay claim to any species of aristocracy above the rest. The theo-central principle of Calvinism is likewise equally levelling in its tendencies, but possesses, at the same time, an element far more stern, “invading the invisible world, and bringing down from the book of life the record of an enfranchise'ment decreed from all eternity by the King of kings,” and it produces, wherever it prevails, a noble ruggedness and honesty (although some times, alas, allied with narrowness) of character that has furnished humanity with many of its purest ornaments.

This levelling of all meretricious distinctions is instanced, moreover, in their views concerning the office-bearers of the churches. Whatever moral dignity they may attach to the station of the minister or deacon, it is to be understood in no case as giving them the right to “lord it over God's heritage.” The ceremony of ordination is invariably the act of the church herself (by whomsoever performed), and may be revoked by her at her pleasure.

The essential priesthood of all Christians is also taught by them in such a form that it is made the first duty of each individual to labor personally in the service of the cause of religion. No substitute is adınitted; an individual responsibility is enjoined. For the encouragement of the least of all the members, it is also taught that the priestly functions of even the humblest, are as acceptable as those of the highest, and that there is no distinction by reason of caste or office. That system which confines the functions of the priesthood to the ministry alone, is of the essence of popery, and a part of the theory of infallibility. By it the people are held under guardianship and bondage, and their energies are crippled and weakened. The other systein is fitted to secure the labors of the whole Christian community, and presents to every one, without exception, the strongest motives to leave the state of passive, and enter that of active religious life.

The effect of this principle in political life is, as a matter of course, democratic; it may be styled a humanitarian principle; but we may question, as before remarked, whether the democracy which it inspires is altogether as stern, rugged, and restless, as that which results from the Federal Theology. It is certainly never as vindictive and radica] in the day of unrestrained authority. It must be allowed, however, as if in contradiction of all theories, that it develops apathy in some rare cases, and a stupid egotism which reminds us but too painfully that even the most perfect systems fail at various points when the imperfect nature of man is a factor in the calculation.

The practical working of this equalizing idea in all the relationships

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »