Page images

variety of other points not necessary to be noticed here, was the celebrated Baron Emanuel Swedenborg, whose books they receive as an immediate revelation from heaven, and in obedience to whose authority, they construe the Bible in a manner which makes it truly a sealed book to the ordinary reader. But are we competent to deny the fellowship of Christ to the sincere Swedenborgian, on account of his errors, plain and grievous as we may hold them to be? Nay, my brethren. The power of this judgment is the prerogative of our divine Master. Or shall we presume to say that there is no peril in his doctrines-that he is as safe as if he had remained steadfastly in the whole truth of God, prescribed in the only infallible directory? Impossible ! for this would be an equally presumptuous and unauthorized decision. So that here, again, as in the other case, we may feel the kindness of Christian charity and indulge the anticipation of Christian hope; but it is not for us to confound truth with error, or undertake to promise salvation on any other conditions than those, which the blessed Author of salvation has himself proclaimed through his commissioned agents.

The Roman Catholic, on the other hand, while he stands boldly prominent as the defender of Apostolical authority, has been led to mingle with the doctrines of primitive truth, a vast mass of superstition. The worship of the Virgin and the saints-the tenet of transubstantiation-the depriving the laity of the sacramental cup-the priestly power of absolution—the purgatorial punishments, over which the Pope is supposed to exercise uncontrolled dominionwith many other human additions to the pure faith of the Apostolic day,—all shew the sad propensity of the mind of fallen man to wander from the heavenly simplicity of the Gospel.

But shall these errors deprive the pious and sin

cere Roman Catholic of the ultimate favor of the Redeemer? Far be it from us to say so. Nay, we doubt not, that many of that corrupt Church have found their way to the mercy of Christ, notwithstanding the grievous heresies of their system. Shall we, however, for this reason, presume to say that there is no danger in these errors, or place the maintainers of them on an equality with those who have been faithful to the original platform erected by Apostolic hands? As little right have we to say this as the other. It behoves us solemnly and carefully to search for truth in every thing connected with our religious duties, and to hold it steadfast when we have found it. In the truth alone can we be safe. There is always danger in And although we cannot draw the line where the portion of error may prove fatal, and therefore, most carefully abstain from pronouncing a sentence of exclusion, which belongs, not to us, but to the Eternal Judge, yet we must never presume, in the exercise of our charity, to disregard the authority and regulations of his Word; nor may we expect an equal portion of his favor upon conflicting systems, which are not equally directed by the counsel of his will.


It is very manifest that the same simple principle runs through the whole question of sectarian controversy. The Apostles of Christ were the only persons commissioned by him to establish the laws of his Church for all time to come. For this work they had the special guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Church, as established by them, was doubtless, one, and not many. And as the various divisions of our day cannot be all equally near that standard, and as the divine promises were given to no other, it results, that just in proportion as we are in accordance with the Apostles, we have our part in that blessing, and no

farther. And, of course, the notion that all are equal in the divine judgment, and that it matters not to which we attach ourselves, can neither be justified by reason nor Scripture.

I conclude, therefore, that notwithstanding the variety of sects into which the Christian community is divided; notwithstanding the kindest judgment of charity and hope toward them all, the obligation to examine which, amongst them, has adhered the most closely to the Apostolic rule, is binding upon every man who possesses intelligence and opportunity to make the examination. The only apology which can excuse from the performance of this duty, must be derived from a deficiency of the information required to determine the question. Such information, however, we possess, in the Scriptures of divine truth, and in the history of the Primitive Church; and if I do not greatly deceive myself, the evidence derived from these sources, as exhibited in the following lectures, will be found abundantly sufficient to prove, that the Protestant Episcopal Church, as now existing in the United States, is the most closely conformed to the Church of the Apostles, in the doctrines of faith, in worship and discipline, in ordination and government, which include all that belongs to the most comprehensive description of the Church of Christ.

If any special reasons be desired for the present undertaking, let them be derived from the fact, that the Protestant Episcopal Church is greatly misunderstood, and, therefore grievously misrepresented, by a large portion of the Christian community; that her government is accused of being monarchical; that her worship is styled an exhibition of popish formality; that her doctrines are said to deny the necessity of any spiritual change of heart; that her communion is supposed to be open to the licentious

and profane, as much as to the faithful and consistent; and that she is reported to be the foe of vital piety, and of evangelical religion. There are very few persons in our country, who have not had many opportunities of hearing more or less of these railing accusations; and deeply is it to be lamented, that they sometimes proceed from those, whom we feel every disposition to respect and esteem as Christian brethren. In the spirit of meekness, as I trust, though not of fear, I offer to disprove these charges, with such little measure of ability as it hath pleased God to endow me withal; not desiring to return railing for railing, or to repel these unkind and unjust aspersions by casting reproach or censure on other parts of the Christian community, but simply to speak the words of truth and soberness, in the hope that, however humble the work may be, he who is the God of truth, will give it his blessing.




HAVING shewn, my brethren, in my first lecture, the great principle which should guide us in the selection of our Church, in these days of sectarian division, namely, that the Church which is truly identified with the Apostolic pattern, is that in which we have the most perfect assurance of the divine blessing; I have now to enter upon the next part of my undertaking, the proving that our own branch of the universal Church, taken as a whole, possesses this unspeakable privilege, beyond any other portion of the Christian community. And I beseech you to remember, that my design is not to assault or trouble the choice of others, but to defend and justify our own, so as to furnish, to every candid and inquiring mind, a satisfactory refutation of the injurious accusations which many of our pious but mistaken brethren have brought against us. I do not desire to believe, I confess to you, that our accusers wish to do us wrong. I cannot bring myself to the point of charging good men with intentional calumny. Fain would I suppose that they misrepresent us, either through ignorance, which better information would dispel, or through an erroneous system of thought in relation to the question at issue; and, therefore, I cannot deny myself the hope

« PreviousContinue »