« AnteriorContinuar »
traces of any such religious rite among Christians to be found in the New Testament, or in the writings of the first Christians; whereas the Lord's supper is expressly mentioned by Justin Martyr and Tertullian, one of whom lived 150 years, and the other 200, after the birth of Christ.
UNHEALTHY STATE OF THE CHURCHES.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE CONGREGATIONAL MAGAZINE.
Dear Sir,—Christian churches are liable to many changes. They are sometimes blessed with peace and prosperity, which gladdens every pious heart; at other times they are depresssed with adversity, which excites painful anxiety in the breast of every child of God. The gloomy state of the times has, doubtless, had some effect on the minds and religion of the people; but earthly troubles, instead of lowering the tone of personal piety, and diminishing fervent zeal in the cause of Christ, ought to awaken Christians to greater searchings of heart, excite them to cherish the spirit of ardent devotion, and stimulate them to greater practical effort. By pursuing this course, the churches would honour the Lord Jesus, and extend his kingdom in the world.
I have for many years, Mr. Editor, made rather extensive inquiry into the state of Congregational churches, especially in some of the midland counties; and it is painful to observe, that many of them appear to be in anything but a vigorous and healthy condition. Where there is the absence of health, there must of necessity be some occasion of complaint; and to discover the cause of the disease is the first step towards obtaining a cure. Diversified may have been the occurrences in operation to produce this unhappy state of things; but it is too obvious that a worldly spirit has crept into the churches, which has generated cold-hearted formality, and a great want of devotional piety. These indications of spiritual declension have doubtless contributed, in numerous instances, to bring the churches into that torpid and inactive state, into which they appear to have fallen.
It is admitted that all Christians are citizens of the world, and have a share of interest in the great affairs of the nation ; yet it may
be supposed, without indulging unkindness, that party politics may have operated, to some extent, in eating out the spirit of piety. As political strife is always found to be an uncongenial element for the growth of holy graces ; so, instead of rendering the members of churches more conformable to Christ, they seem to be brought, perhaps insensibly, yet really, into greater conformity to the world. And may it not be feared, that by the worldliness generated in the churches, with the consequent departure from the spirit of Christ, there is but little difference between many professing Christians and the men of the world
Is not the expostulation addressed to the church at Ephesus, then, singularly appropriate to many churches still ?—"Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent."
The evils complained of ought to produce deep humiliation and unfeigned repentance, and a holy reformation of the churches will follow; yet, after the most candid and mature investigation, it appears that ministers are not altogether blameless, but that they have, in some instances, cherished what may be deemed wrong predilections, if not departed, to a certain extent, from the spirit of their office. The fact cannot be too much regretted, and requires the bitterest lamentation. It has of late years become a subject of grave doubtfulness with some, whether pastoral visitation be the duty of a settled minister. The good old times of Baxter and his colleagues have passed away, who cherished and strenuously urged this practice ; but have we a race of ministers, more learned, more holy, and more devout, employed in the vineyard of Christ? If candidates for the ministry disapprove of pastoral visitation, ought they not in justice to state distinctly their sentiments when proposed to the pastoral office? This would allow the people an opportunity of judging whether their objections were not insurmountable difficulties against their receiving invitations ; and it would, in numerous instances, prevent that misunderstanding which too often arises between minister and people, especially where pastoral visitation is considered as indispensably necessary.
The question is not, whether the conduct of churches be right or wrong, when they require the minister to imitate the apostles' practice, who taught the people “publicly, and from house to house;" but whether he can, in justice, refuse this department of pastoral service, without an express stipulation agreed to by both pastor and people ? The lamentable fact is, that where pastoral visitation is practically neglected, it is almost sure to engender a spirit of dissatisfaction, if not of entire alienation from the minister, which cannot fail to be prejudicial to personal and social piety. It may be added, that the present condition of Christian churches furnishes ample illustration of these statements.
In close connexion with exemption from visitation, is the assumption of pastoral authority and government in the church of Christ. But, if ministers refuse to visit their people, it might be supposed they would not attempt to govern them : if they refuse the former, how will they perform the latter? And what saith the apostle ?—“Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy.” But those who claim authority to be governors of churches, assume an office and authority not given them in the New Testament, but derived from their own predisposition, making themselves “lords over God's heritage." It is painful to add, that ministers of this class not only exhibit those propensities which fail to improve their reputation ; but it is too often seen that they create disorder, and sometimes disruption, in Christian churches. We learn from authentic records, that the assumption of power in Christian churches has been the greatest plague that ever visited them. Those who claim the authority in question, forget to state its legitimate extent, and at what point it terminates ; also, whether it constitutes a new species of apostolical succession. Ministers showing great fondness for governing their flocks, are not likely to train them to be governed by Jesus Christ. Erroneous principles lead to erroneous practice.
It is scarcely necessary to observe, that this assumption is opposed to the regal supremacy of Christ, contrary to the doctrine of the apostles, subversive of the rights of conscience, a constant nursery of human pride, and almost a certain interruption to ministerial usefulness. The faithful and worthy ministers of Christ deserve, and seldom fail to enjoy, the warmest sympathy of their flocks; but it must be remembered, that ministers are only men ; and when they unhappily become self-sufficient, manifest a dominant spirit, and trifle with the immunities of Christian churches, may they not expect that their usefulness has terminated, and the blessing of God is withheld ? Placed in these unpropitious circumstances, they may strive to raise the scattered church ; but they usually find their efforts unavailing ; yet they sometimes continue to occupy the office of pastor, manifestly to preach down the church and congregation. Ministers showing so great a fondness for government, instead of fully exhibiting the regal supremacy of Jesus Christ, place themselves in perilous circumstances, and are in danger of doing themselves irreparable injury, of which they seem utterly unconscious; but who can calculate the amount of injury done to the church of Christ ? By pursuing this unwise course, they inflict a wound on a Christian church, scattering the flock of Christ, which, as appears from the solemn annunciation of the prophet, is no trivial calamity :-“Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the Lord. Therefore, thus saith the Lord God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people, Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them : behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the Lord.” The state of the flock, when wounded and scattered, usually requires the prudential labour of years to effect a restoration. In not a few instances have we witnessed these lamentable occurrences ; in which ministers have sometimes so far forgotten themselves, as to increase and aggravate the wound, instead of applying, with the utmost care and tenderness, the healing balm of the Gospel. Those who contribute to open the wound, can hardly be expected to apply the healing remedy.
Every faithful labourer is certainly “ worthy of his hire ;” but the fact is too obvious to be doubted, that young ministers sometimes go forth, not so much as labourers in the vineyard of Christ, as inquirers for an easy place, a good salary, and respectable society ; seeking, in truth, to be country gentlemen. These will, probably, be considered grave charges, which is readily acknowledged ; but are they more grave than true? Are they not facts, of too frequent occurrence ? and ought they not to be exposed, and, if possible, corrected? Without naming particular churches, are there not some evidently sinking under these burdens ? The narration of these things is, Mr. Editor, to me extremely unpleasant ; but, if facts be of any force, one or other of these statements exhibits the actual position of not a few of the churches at the present time; and, in all such instances, may we not suppose that the apostle's exhortation has been too little regarded, if not entirely overlooked ?—“Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed.” If the evils which have been enumerated be not speedily corrected, no one can doubt that an appalling deterioration in the state of religion amongst us, which seems to have already commenced, will inevitably follow. Ought not the churches which find themselves in this declining state, without hesitation or delay, to bewail their condition before God, and never rest till their sins are forgiven, their backslidings healed, and their souls quickened according to God's word?
All intelligent persons are aware, that the future prosperity of the churches depends, to a great extent, on the rising ministry having correct views of doctrine and discipline, exhibiting sound piety and discreet practice. I am not an opponent, but a friend to an educated ministry; and you will permit me, Mr. Editor, to unbosom my settled conviction, the result of long and unbiassed observation, concerning the lamentable defects in the rising ministry; and you will allow me to add, that if those defects do not obtain some early check and correction, it will be difficult to calculate the amount of mischief which may be anticipated. Those who enter into a full and impartial investigation of the subject, will consider the fashionable style of sermonizing as no very favourable omen ; while, in the pulpit, they discover so manifest a deterioration of pointed and prominent doctrine, that they may sit under such ministers many years, and not be able to ascertain their views of the Gospel! We do not say whether this arises from a purpose of concealment, or from a want of better knowledge of sacred truth; but their superficial views of the Gospel appear very unlike those of able and devout ministers of Jesus Christ : and who can help feeling disgusted with the flimsy essay carried into the pulpit, and delivered apparently to set forth the self-admiring speaker, rather than Jesus Christ and him crucified ?
The discussion of these topics, which is both delicate and painful, will doubtless serve to correct existing abuses, tend to elevate the character both of ministers and churches, and to purify and advance the cause of Jesus Christ. These topics are, therefore, submitted to the serious consideration of some of your able correspondents, hoping the subject will engage their full investigation, and the blessing of God may be expected to follow. The present communication is intended as an introduction to a more copious discussion of the important subject, which I am persuaded, Mr. Editor, will gratify and benefit many of your readers, and greatly oblige, yours,
AN AGED MINISTER.
TO THE FREE CHURCH OF SCOTLAND.
“Persecuted, but not forsaken ; cast down, but not destroyed.”—2 Cor. iv. 9.
“And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels.”—Malachi iii. 17.
And is there upon mortal life
So much of holiness bestowed,
There are—who make a stand for God?
Who leave the fanes their fathers raised,
And kneel upon the roofless sod-
A holy and a present God ?-
A thousand treasures for the skies
Till gloriously redeemed they rise ?-
Homes !-dear to kindred's softest ties,
A hundred tender sympathies ?-
Is not for time, and time-clad things;
Thy mighty purpose, King of kings !
You witness in the oppressive gloom ;
Through the dark way it leads you home :
Home !-to the spirits of the just,
Home !-to partake their bright reward,
Home !-to the bosom of the Lord !