Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

despise him that eateth not : and let not him which eateth not, judge him that eateth : for God hath received him” (ver. 2, 3), as an adopted son, whom he will not condemn hereafter for his well-intended innocent mistakes, arising from a christian principle, or intending honour to God,- but according to his works, as evidences, or not, of christian faith. By this, therefore, we see, that it is the motive which is regarded ; and that, whilst the rich man's offering may be rejected, the widow's mite may be received.

But to apply it at once to the present state of things : Upon what ground does the dissenter frame his condemnation of the Church of England for observing the festivals which are set apart to commemorate the great actions of her Redeemer's career? Surely not upon the ground of that christian liberty wherewith he boasts that he hath been made free from a law of ordinances! Or, upon what ground can it be contended, that they who observe a fast, are guilty of superstition, in imagining that God is pleased or gratified with hunger or with the abstinence of man from those good things which He has given us freely to enjoy ? Surely not upon the ground that it is wrong to abstain from that which conscience condemns ; that “ he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith” (ver. 23); for if so, then must the objectors condemn themselves, if they abstain from partaking of our altars.

The application of the Apostle's argument is self-evident. If the Church of England sets apart the anniversary of her Saviour's birth, temptation, crucifixion, passion, resurrection, and ascension, - if she celebrates the fulfilment of Christ's gracious promise of the Holy Spirit,-if she remembers in her offices and her prayers, the great and holy doctrines of her faith,-if she adores the Triune Jehovah, and marks her calendar with the names and actions of the apostles and confessors,- it is not from any superstitious notion, that one day compared with another day is more holy, or less to be revered; but that the Christian, in his passage through a wilderness of sin, may have his pathway marked by the beacon-lights of faith and holiness ; that he may be refreshed in his toilsome conflict against the enemies of his soul, with the grateful recollection of the works of wonder done in the days of old; that he may be excited, by emulation and zeal, to show himself a worthy champion in the cause of Him, who, being “ the Captain of his salvation," was “ made perfect in sufferings.” If, too, she celebrates the great events of her Redeemer's life by prayer and praise and the voice of melody, it is from affection to Him who hath done such marvellous things, and with his holy arm and his own right hand hath gotten us the victory ; because it is consonant to the heart of man to remember the acts of friendship, or the enterprises of honour : and it is not only national to keep up, by festivals, the recollection of those achievements of glory and renown which a grateful country has enrolled upon her annals as memorials for posterity, but strictly personal, to celebrate the birth-days of our relatives and benefactors, as a token of our thankfulness for the blessings they have brought. And if it be compatible with the interests of commerce, that public business should stand still to watch the ebullitions of a multitude upon the anniversary of their monarch's nativity, if a display of warlike bravery is made to celebrate

the annual return of those great days of history which victory has marked with the unfading chaplet of praise,- it cannot surely be deemed degrading to a christian subject of the King of Heaven to keep the day of His incarnation with religious joy, or to celebrate the mighty triumphs of the great Captain of our salvation over sin and death, by the observance of religious rites appropriate to the acts recorded. Thus, however, to compare the records of our faith with merely human cus. toms, may, to some, appear a lowering of the standard by which our estimate of duty should be measured. But, without insisting on that point, we may observe, that, since the just employment of human feelings and human affections is, and must be, a main source of religious advancement, it is only right to exhibit the strength of our assertions by such illustrations as we are enabled to supply. We need not, however, descend so low as this. Festivals and rites of holy observance are as old as revelation, and of divine appointment. And to deny the proper use of any, is to strike at the root of all.

There can be no necessity to weigh down this discussion with examples, because the Apostle has direct allusion to them ; but it will be sufficient to point out the institution of the Passover, and the corresponding rite of the Lord's Supper; and to refer you, my brethren, to the reasons assigned for the continued remembrance of those rites, according to the endurance of the respective covenants; “ It shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service ? that ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord's Passover."" (Exod. xii. 26, 27.)

Again, it is said, respecting the anniversary of the Jews' deliverance from Egypt-" Thou shalt show thy son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which the Lord did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt: and it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes; that the Lord's law may be in thy mouth. .... Thou shalt, therefore, keep this ordinance in his season from year to year.” (Exod. xii. 8-10.) “ This do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me." (1 Cor. xi. 25.) Now I imagine, that as long as the law of Moses lasted, it was imperative upon the Jews to observe, not only the Passover, but all other ordinances, whether new moons or Sabbaths; and so it is imperative upon Christians to observe whatsoever rites the law of liberty may sanction, whether the celebration of the christian Passover, or the festivals and fasts which the christian Church assigns : and we know that our Saviour himself did not refuse his sanction to the festivals of the Jews; but that his custom was, to frequent the synagogue with them, and to conform in all things to the ceremonies of the law.

The objector, however, will turn round and say, Though I deny not your argument, so far as the reasonableness of analogy is concerned, yet I can find no sanction in the Scriptures for the observance of what you are pleased to call your christian festivals. But such an objection as this is as powerful against the christian Sabbath as against any other day; and if the argument be considered legitimate, our observance of the Lord's-day itself must be, on that ground, a superstitious observance, --which, it is to be hoped, few Christians, whatever be their denomination, will allow. For there is not a syllable in the New Testament, either of command or precept, from the Saviour or his Apostles, respecting the observance of this Sabbath ; the great argument for that observance lies in the example of the early Christians ; and that example must be acknowledged as powerful in its influence, as any process of reasoning can possibly be.

The institution of the Sabbath was not of Jewish, but of universal importance; and was acknowledged by the patriarchs as of eternal endurance, ages before the establishment of the Levitical priesthood : and St. Paul himself enjoins, “Let no man judge you in meat or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days; which are a shadow of things to come.” (2 Col. 16, 17.) From which passage I think we may infer, that there was a typical allusion in the Jewish services to the services of the christian church; and that, on other festivals, as well as on the Lord's-day, Christianity was to be inculcated, encouraged, and enforced. Those, therefore, who charge us with superstition because we keep Christmas Day, Lent, Good Friday, or any other feast or fast-day of the Church, have no resource in the arguments they bring from Scripture itself; for the Scripture says nothing against us, but rather seems to argue in our favour. As to the charge brought against us of Popery, because, as is said, we borrowed our festivals and many other things from the Romish Church, I meet it with this broad and positive assertion--that the Church of England has borrowed nothing from the Church of Rome whatever ; for whatever was the exclusive property or invention of that church, she left where she found it,-amongst the tinsel and tawdriness with which Romanism had dressed up Christianity, till it was no longer what it was before the time when the corruptions of Popery began. The Church of England celebrates her festivals, not because the Church of Rome set her the example, but because the primitive Christians observed them centuries before the Church of Rome had assumed to herself the power and the corruptions with which we justly charge her. When religion had been secularized by the Church of Rome, it was then that superstition introduced a host of saints and martyrs into her calendar, which primitive Christianity could not have tolerated, and the Christianity of the Reformers altogether rejected. And the Church of England, so far from borrowing any unwarranted doctrines or observances from the Church of Rome, made those very observances and doctrines the ground of her separation from that Church. Since, then, all our present festivals were observed by the first Christians, by those who lived in the days, and immediately after the days, of the Apostles ; and since we retain nothing in our ritual or services, against which the Scriptures are opposed, it cannot be permitted to any one, legitimately, to conclude, that our observances are superstitious and popish, because it so happens that the Church of Rome herself observes them ; for both churches drew these sources of religion from the same fountain primitive antiquity : and if we argued in this way, we ought also to reject the Sabbath itself, baptism, prayers, and worship of every kind; since, with all her corruptions, the Church of Rome has the spirit of the Gospel within her pale ; and if it flourish not, it is the fault of those corruptions, and not the result of her original nature.

Such, then, being the case-as any one may satisfy himself that will

take the trouble to search into the history of Christ's church-there is no superstition to be feared in the observances to which that branch of Christ's church to which we belong, invites us on the ensuing week. Our text inculcates a charitable construction of the motives which induce dissenters to reject these observances ; but, at the same time, we demand from them, not only on the strength of the text, but of the preceding arguments, a charitable construction of our motives and design in following up the ordinances of our faith.

“Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind ;" let him act upon his convictions : and if he sees that there is nothing unscriptural in our festivals or fasts, let him join us in our worship; but let him not condemn, if he be not convinced, for to “ our own Master we stand or fall." “ Let us, therefore, follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.” (Rom. xiv, 19.) But, on the other hand, let us also remember, that “ happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.” (Rom. xiv, 22.)

There is a ground of objection, stronger than any which has been urged against the observance of our festivals, which may perhaps be urged, and not uncharitably, against the manner of observance; and if the dissenter had rested his objections there, we could not have gainsaid the charge, though the abuse of any institution is no argument against its proper use. The word of God was made of none effect by the traditions of the Jews; but the word of God was, nevertheless, as perfectly binding. The word of God is also oftentimes made of none effect by the traditions of the Church of Rome : but that word is still imperative when it claims homage for one only Mediator once dying for the sins of mankind. The festivals and fasts also of Christianity at large, may, by the improper use of them by the members of the Church of England, be made of none effect ; but their usefulness may still remain uninjured, and their claim to attention still be undisputed or allowed.

It is not the mere observance of the festival, but the true observance of it, that tends to God's glory and our profit. We may regard the day, but if we regard it not unto the Lord, our error must be greater than if, from a consideration of the Lord, we did not regard it at all. There is nothing in Good Friday, as a day, or in abstaining from unnecessary food upon that day, in itself, to recommend us to our Redeemer ; for we know that even the Sabbath, baptism, prayer, and the celebration of the Lord's Supper, may be, and have been, and will be, occasionally, to all who use those means of grace unworthily, not "the savour of life unto life, but of death unto death.” It is faith that makes the difference. "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink ; but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Rom. xiv. 17.)

When men, not satisfied with the celebration of those services which the Gospel enjoins, went about to seek devices for imposing upon the beholders with a multitude of costly and gorgeous ceremonies,- when, not contented with worshipping God, they must erect into one greater than God, her whom the Scripture declares to be “blessed among women,” but no more,—when, not satisfied with acknowledging the apostles and martyrs of the days of Christ, they loaded their calendar with the names of hundreds for whom worldly policy, more than

religious duty, claimed the honours of canonization, -- when, not acknowledging that reason, as well as the Gospel, declares, that there is but “ one Mediator between God and man,' even the God-man Christ Jesus, a host of inferior mediators and intercessors were created and adored, when, refusing to walk by the light of faith, through the aid of pictures, and statues, and all the blazonry of earthly invention, it was attempted to lead men by the sight of human devices to the mercy. seat of the invisible God ;—then it was, that the Church of Rome fell from her high estate of innocence, and corrupted and defiled the pure unsullied worship decreed in the book of life. And it was for this that the churches of Protestant Christendom repudiated her connexion, and rejected her assumption of authority.

The text distinctly leads to the conclusion, that in this Protestantism did well. Moreover, in things not forbidden, in things allowed, there was also much error in the Church of Rome. Those fastings which the Gospel enjoins as means of grace, as useful handmaids of religion in preparing the heart for the entrance of true Gospel humility, superstition erected into works of merit, and taught to be the means, not only of humbling the soul before God, but the means of claiming a reward. And, therefore, neglecting the true use of fasts, men vainly imagined that it was the abstinence, and not its result, which recommended them to the favour and protection of the Lord, as evidence of faith.

Now this is the real state of things between the Romish and the Protestant communions. Yet the same chapter of St. Paul to the Romans urges upon us this necessity,—that we must not, whilst we avoid the errors which we see and condemn, fall into the uncharitable. ness of condemning where there is no direct proof of intended fault. The Apostle's argument is expressly directed against rash condemnation of our neighbours, where the subject involves no offence against the Gospel, and where human judgment and the operation of faith are allowed free scope. Whilst, therefore, we justly renounce the errors of the Church of Rome, let us not uncharitably condemn her where she is not in fault; for there is as much sin in want of charity as in superstition itself. Wherefore, however wrong may be some of the uses to which fasting is put, since the Scriptures themselves inculcate fasting as a duty and a most useful aid to the influence of religion, it must be understood that the correct employment of that means of grace is not only not forbidden, but is an express and imperative obligation on the part of all.

And thus, again, we are led to conclude, that it was the abuse, and not the use of allowable forms and practices, which called down the vengeance of Heaven on the Jews of old ; and that St. Paul is borne out fully by the strictest arguments of reason, when, in the last verse of the chapter before us, he tells us that “whatsoever is not of faith is sin,”

The form of godliness, even where the form is lawful, without the power thereof, is but a lifeless and spiritless body, dead and vain ; and even the institutions and appointments of God himself, may be made, by hypocrisy, or want of discernment, but the means of insult to the majesty and power of Jehovah.

It is the want of this consideration which brings a direct charge of

« ZurückWeiter »