Page images

stick out of its place, or to dissolve the unity of the mystical body..

From this general view of the power which the local branches of the church possessed to reform error and abuse, I proceed to ex* amine the case of our national establishment.

Here it need not be insisted upon, that we had, in this island, an apostolical and duly-constituted church for some ages be, fore the Christian world heard the name, or felt the authority, of an universal bishop: For it is not to be denied that, in subsequent times, and for many centuries prior to the Reformation, our ancestors were in cominunion with the church of Rome, and in professed subjection to the authority of its bishop.

But this connection does not affect the solidity of our foundation ; for it is acknowledged on all hands, that the church of Rome, in its original state, was apostolical and pure. This need not, therefore, be proved, from the writings of St. Paul, and the history of the primitive ages of Christianity.

[ocr errors]

If, however, erroneous opinions and irregular practices had begun to manifest themselves days of the apostles, it need not be matter of surprise if, during a long succession of dark and barbarous ages, such things should have been gradually introduced into the church of Rome. And this was the case.

Like the churches of Corinth, Galatia, and Asia Minor, this church also had fallen from its original purity. Through the weakness of fallible, or the designs of ambitious men, numerous, absurd, and unwarranted doctrines had been added to the faith once delivered to the saints, and many corrupt practices had been introduced detrimental to the purity of Christian conversation. These things greatly darkened the lustre of this church: but they had not destroyed its existence as a church of Christ. The golden candlestick still remained in its place.

Down to the age of the Reformation it preserved, amidst all its lamentable corruptions, and even to the present day it has maintained, the essential form of a church. Though it has wickedly withholden the Holy Scriptures from the people, and


greatly obstructed their influence, by the admixture of false or doubtful tradition, and the perverseness of interpretation, yet it has not denied their divine authority.

Notwithstanding its groundless aņd ex; traneous doctrines, it has persevered in the confession of all the fundamental articles of the true Christian faith contained in that creed which it always held in common, as to its general tenets, with the universal primitive church. And the sacraments or dained by the Gospel are here administered by a priesthood which derives its appointment, in uninterrupted succession, from the apostles ; and its authority from Christ our great master, and from God the Father of all. : Here, then, the golden candlestick has hitherto remained in its place; and it is not the province. of man to remove it. Our ancestors did not, therefore, attempt this unwarranted act; nor did they presume to dissolve the unity of the church; but, according to the injunction of the Spirit to the angel of the church of Ephesus, they remembered from whence they were fallen ; they repented, and did the first works-in other words, they effected a reformation in

he same body, without shaking the constitution, or sapping the foundation, of the church.' And, 'in the prosecution of this labour, they did not resign their judgment to the various prepossessions and devices of insubordinate men'; but kept a steady and determined: eye upon the sacred rule of the Gospel, and the model of the primitive church, which the apostles had established upon earth, and committed to the care of their regular and lawful successors.

And how far the blessing of God attended their pious endeavours may be distinctly perceived at the present day; for, by the favour of a divine Providence, not only the rule of the Gospel still remains upon record, but also many of the writings of the early fathers, who, in the purer ages of Christianity, succeeded to the apostolical charge.

But let us take a nearer view of the age of the Reformation About the commencement of the sixteenth century, when the veil of ignorance, which had long overspread the world, began to be removed, many pious and learned men perceived and protested against the errors and abuses which prevailed amongst the hierarchy of Rome, and took some active measures to restore the church to that height from whence it was fallen.

Amongst the reformers of that age the fathers of our national church eminently distinguished themselves. Not actuated by the presumption of self-will--not following the devious tracks of private speculationnot aiming each to advance, the reputa. tion of his individual name, and place it at the head of a separate persuasion, like the heresiarchs of ancient and modern times, they took the Holy Scripture for their rule; they studiously attended to the form, the faith, and the practice of the primitive and uncorrupted church, and laboured to restore that church in its essential form of unity and harmony-not of division and contention-not as the church of Paul, of Apollos, or of Cephas-not as the church of Luther, of Caloin, or of Knox-but as the church of CHRIST. . And thus, they were enabled to discard error and reform abuse, without dividing the mystical body.

The assumed supremacy of the Pope

« PreviousContinue »