Page images
PDF
EPUB

LECTURE I.

JUDE 3.-Ye should contend earnestly for the faith which was once

delivered unto the saints.

Three hundred years, my brethren, have nearly rolled away, since the glorious Reformation worked so vast a change in the character of Christendom. Liberty of thought, liberty of speech, liberty of action, were established, where despotism the most absolute had for centuries prevailed. The rights of conscience, after a long and searful struggle, triumphed over the force of superstition. The marvellous empire of the Papacy, which had attained a height far above the loftiest earthly throne, lost its dazzling lustre, and the iron rod of its dominion was broken, as it was fondly hoped, to bruise no more.

I shall not occupy your time by an attempt to develop the results of the revolution, which this great event accomplished in the civil and the mental history of man. How the hardwon jewel of religious freedom glanced its varied light upon every other subject, and gave a portion of its own hue to all the processes of thought;--how every region of philosophy felt the inspiring influence, and intellectual life, in all its freshness and its energy, burst forth, rejoicing, from the trammels which had fettered it so long;-how civil despotism, and every form of prescriptive injustice, were compelled to listen to the voice of bold remonstrance, until, one after another, the hoary abuses of time-honoured tyranny were abandoned, and government was acknowledged to be, not a prerogative insti- .

B

tuted for the aggrandizement of the few, but a solemn trust held for the benefit of the many ;-how these and similar advantages in the whole complicated frame-work of society were the consequences, directly or indirectly, of the Reformation, has been often proved by far more eloquent tongues than mine; and it is no part of my present purpose to repeat the demonstration. Rather let me confine myself to the track which belongs to my office, and inquire what has been the result upon those interests which so far transcend the highest aims of earthly sagacity--the interests of the Church of God.

And here, my brethren, a field opens upon us, vast in extent, and pre-eminently worthy of examination. To traverse it, however, in the hope of making a perfect and complete sur. vey, would need a knowledge of the past and present state of Christendom which no one man possesses. All that I can pretend to perform must be a far more humble undertaking. The corruptions, doctrinal and practical, which were the exciting causes of the Reformation, the principles on which it was conducted, especially in our mother Church of England, and the effects produced upon the Church of Rome, and upon those leading Protestant communions with which we are best acquainted, will form a circle of topics quite large enough for our contemplated course; and of these, the first only will de. mand an elaborate consideration.

But I beg leave to premise--and I trust the unavoidable egotism of the statement may be pardoned—that although these lectures will, of necessity, bear somewhat of a controversial aspect, yet are they commenced in no spirit of unkindness to the Church of Rome, or to any other Church of Christendom. I do indeed profess myself a firm believer in the one Catholic or Universal Church of the Redeemer, which forms a distinct article of the primitive creed; but I have long cherished the opinion that all orthodox believers are members of that Church, whatever may be the diversities of their particular communion. The cardinal truths which form that simple creed, and in which all Christians concur, seem to my mind greatly to outweigh the minor points on which they differ; and, therefore, while I desire to hold the truth on every subject, and regard every distinction which tends to divide the followers of Christ as a sore evil, yet would I endeavour, at all times, to remember the far weightier matters in which they agree, and thus realize a measure of Christian charity, even when compelled to utter the language of reprehension.

It is, I am aware, supposed by many, that such an acknow. ledgment renders controversy unnecessary, because if men may be saved whether they are in all respects right or wrong, the attempt to set them right in non-essential matters is hardly worth the trouble. But no one argues thus on any thing else except religion. All men, for example, belong to the same human family, and agree in the great essentials of their nature; and yet, since none can be perfect, either in body, or in mind, or in circumstances, the whole labour of life is directed to improve them. For who would say that the healthy man has no superiority over the diseased ? that the man with all his bodily members possesses no advantage over him who is maimed or mutilated? or that the man of education and refinement has no better lot than the ignorant and debased ? Nay, to what is the entire range of human science and industry directed, if it be not to elevate the social and individual condition of those who are yet admitted to be the children of the same common father? Indeed, so far is it from being true, that because my neighbour is a man as well as 1, there. fore it is not worth my while to rectify his mistakes and en. large his knowledge, that the direct contrary would be my proper rule of duty. It is precisely because he is my fellow, that I am bound to lead him out of error, and do him all the good I can. Now, surely, on the same principle, my acknowledging all Christians as members of the same spiritual household, which is the Catholic or Universal Church, does by no means require that I should justify the errors of their system, but the contrary; since the more disposed I feel to regard them as belonging to the great family of Christ, the more anxious I must be to behold them united in sentiment. Be. sides which, all error is dangerous, even though it be not fatal. Truth alone is safe. Most absurd, then, would it seem, to contend for the better health of the body, and yet be silent as to the diseases of the soul. Most preposterous to be sensitive to all the disorders of the civil government, and yet be indifferent to the errors of any portion of the Church of God; for these errors, and the strises growing out of them, form a constant theme of reproach against religion, and not only hinder the peace of Christians themselves, but are a standing obstacle to the diffusion of the gospel.

We are far, however, from admitting, that the divisions of Christians ought to have an effect so injurious to the progress of Christianity. However hostile they must needs be to the full joy and comfort of spiritual life, we cannot see any force in the infidel assumption, that if the Bible were divine, there could be but one mind amongst all that receive it. For it is obvious, that the corruption of human nature, which con. verts the very gospel of peace into an instrument of discord, is equally active in perverting and abusing every other gift of God. Is not the blessed sun in the heavens the work of an Almighty hand, and yet does not man compel it, as it were, to look on deeds of darkness? Is not human reason a gist of God, and are not men continually degrading it in the defence of folly? Are not our bodies the workmanship of God, and are they not, nevertheless, given over, too often, to the service of iniquity? What gift of divine goodness does not man pervert and abuse as well as religion? On what science or art are men universally agreed any more than on religion? Most

confidently may it be answered, None, if the numbers engaged in them, and the subject matter, be taken respectively into consideration. It is, therefore, after all, no more than what ought to be expected, that religion, though indeed divine and perfect in its unity, so far as God, its glorious author, is concerned, should be subject to the universal calamity of human nature, partial misapprehension, division and strife, on the side of man.

And may we not further remark, in the analogy before us, that the goodness of God does not immediately withdraw his gifts even when men abuse them. The sun does not refuse to shine upon those who pervert the blessing. The faculty of reason is not overthrown as soon as it is prostituted to the de. fence of evil. The springs of life and health are not forthwith dried up, because the libertine and the profligate pollute them by iniquity. And just so is it in religion, that the mercy of God continues to vouchsafe the revelation of his truth and the influences of his Spirit to the children of men, notwithstanding their sad propensity, in every age, to adulterate the pure gold of divine authority with the miserable dross of human invention. Wretched, indeed, would be our lot, if the rule of heavenly compassion were less indulgent than it is; for if the Lord were strict to mark every transgression, if every deviation from his truth worked a forfeiture of the whole, what Church or what man could stand before Him?

But to return from what may seem to be a digression—there are in my mind some especial reasons, why I should select the causes, principles and results of the Reformation, as the peculiar subject of our Christian interest at the present time. First, because the aspect of the religious world, at this moment, presents the very same elements of controversy, only under varied forms of practical application, which agitated all Europe three hundred years ago. The Church of Rome then insisted that her system was the only exponent of the faith

« PreviousContinue »