Imatges de pàgina
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had perverted the gospel. But we must remember, that as they used the term, a heretic stood not for those, who in seriousness and sincerity separated from others on points of doctrine, but for schismatics, fomenters of discord, those who made their difference of faith a ground for contention, and for immoral irreligious practices, for which they would fain make christianity answerable. These the apostles severely rebuked, and called upon christians to come out and be separate. But, for liberty of conscience, properly speaking, never was there a more zealous advocate than the apostle Paul. He would hear of no dominion over the mind or faith of another. He would allow of no interference in that which he conceived belonged to the individual as an indefeasible possession and right. Hast thou faith,' he cries, have it to thyself before God.' Who art thou that judgest another man's servant ? To his own master he standeth or falleth.' Though himself the chief of apostles, he arrogated no power over the faith and conduct of another, beyond that which any wise man may exercise, through the accents of warning, instruction, intreaty, persuasion.

What a delightful picture do we then witness of the simplicity and purity of the primitive church. And how inournful and scarcely credible the departure from it, which took place after the end of the second century, and continues to this hour.

How was it that the christian ministers, from being the servants of the christian churches, came to be their rulers; their cruel and imperious masters ; nor theirs only, but of the world; so that princes could not go and come,

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por king's decree, nor emperors call their crowns their own, but as a christian minister, declared his pleas

The steps by which this power was gained were too minute and various, to be fully explained or enumerated here. One natural and obvious source of rank and power, however, was the circumstance of the elder of one church, when the congregation be

too numerous to be accommodated in one place, having an associated church in another place erected, over which he still presided; but not being able to discharge all the duties himself, had an elder under him to assist. As these affiliated churches multiplied in various directions, the elder of the mother church became in fact a diocesan bishop. The name of bishop was adopted by him, while that of elder was 'confined to those who were placed over the dependent churches. Again, the elders or bishops, who resided in the large cities, came from that circumstance, to enjoy a sort of pre-eininence. And the bishop of Rome, that city being the great centre and capital of the world, derived from the circumstance, an importance and dignity surpassing that of all oth

The clergy, then, came frequently together in councils, to deliberate on the common good. For the more orderly holding of their assemblies,' says the author of The Corruptions of Christianity, some one bishop in a large district was employed by common consent to summon them, and to preside over them; and this being generally the bishop of the metropolis, or the city in which the civil governor resided, he was called the metropolitan, or archbishop.' 'In consequence of these and various other changes,

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he adds, there did not remain, at the conclusion of the fourth century, so much as a shadow of the ancient constitution of the christian church. The privileges of the presbyters and the people having been usurped by the bishops, they did not fail to assume the state and dignity suited to their new distinctions.' Even at this time, many of the bishops affected the state of princes, and equalled them in wealth ; so much so, that a Roman, who was standing for the consulship, being urged to embrace christianity, said, • Make me bishop of Rome, and I will become a christian.'

But the event which served more than any other to advance the power and influence of the clergy, was the conversion of the northern nations to christianity. These had, under their rude superstition, been accustomed to look up to their priests as little less than gods; they were consulted as oracles; their most rigorous decrees were submitted to without a murmur; and no gifts of land or wealth, and no concessions of power were thought to be excessive. This superstitious reverence of their priests, they transferred, on their conversion, to the ministers of the christian church, and heaped upon them the wealth, and conferred upon them the power, and paid them the honors previously bestowed upon the servants of Thor and Odin. At that period, there was too much love of power, and too little conscience, to check or decline any voluntary offerings like these, on the part of the laity'; and rights, properties, privileges, thus freely relinquished by the people, were greedily seized by the clergy, and never restored till the reformation, and then but in part.

After this accession of power from the superstitions of the northern tribes, the authority and tyranny of the ministers of the christian church went on continually increasing, till it arrived at its height in the twelfth century, under Gregory VII. and Adrian IV. and Celestine III.

It was at this period that Gregory VIJ. compelled the emperor Henry IV. whom he had excommunicated, and who applied for absolution, to wait with his empress and children barefoot, in the midst of winter, three days, before he would grant an audience. It was at this period that the emperor Barbarossa held the stirrups for Adrian IV.; and Alexander III. trod upon the neck of the same emperor ; that Henry VI. took his crown from the feet of Celestine III. ; and that the English Henry II. to appease the pope for the murder of Becket, walked barefoot to the tomb of the saint, and was whipped by the monks of Canterbury.

The power which was thus exercised over kings and princes, in the temporal affairs of the world, was yet more despotically exercised, in ecclesiastical affairs, over the mind, the conscience, the liberty, and the religion of the christian. No estate, reputation, or life, was safe, where heresy was suspected. The faith of all must be the faith of the church. It was death to question the infallibility of the pope and council; death by the cruelest tortures the inquisition could invent. From the fourth to the sixteenth century, the power of the clergy was unbounded, both in church and state ; and it was scarce ever exercised for any but ambitious and worldly ends. The benevolent

spirit of Jesus, the head of the church, and the tolerant one of Paul, its great apostle, never seem to have been heard of, or understood, or exemplified, during those weary centuries.

Who beforehand could have believed, that the ministers of a church like that which Jesus established in Judea-of a church like that which flourished under the apostles,—whose whole duty consisted originally in preaching the pure truths of thè purest religion, could become so corrupted, as to be examples to the most abandoned and profligate, of a profligacy yet more abandoned, and of which the world at the present day offers no parallel ? Yet such was the fact. The lesson conveyed, will not perhaps be too dearly learned, if it teaches us the necessity and the duty of making the scriptures our guide, in all that relates to the institutions of christianity; if it teaches us the danger of conferring upon christian ministers, who are still men with the weaknesses and passions of men, more power than that which was held by the original preachers of christianity; if it teaches us to watch with jealousy to see that they do not themselves assume and claim powers which do not of right belong to them.

If it be asked, who now are ministers of the church of Christ, its true ministers, I answer, all those whom christians choose to be such ; all those of every denomination throughout the church, who have been elected to the office which they hold, by the free votes of christian assemblies or churches. Wherever there are christians, there is a church ; and whomsoever they choose to that office, he is their minister, presbyter, or bishop, by the same rightsul claim which the

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