THE SIN AND DANGER
UNION BETWEEN THE CHURCH OF CHRIST
IMMORAL, OR ANTICHRISTIAN CIVIL GOVERNMENT:
REASON, SCRIPTURE, AND EXPERIENCE.
R E V. S T E W A R T B A T E S, D. D.
THE SIN AND DANGER OF UNION BETWEEN THE CHURCH OF CHRIST AND AN IMMORAL, OR ANTICHRISTIAN CIVIL GOVERNMENT: ILLUSTRATED FROM REASON, SCRIPTURE, AND EXPERIENCE.
“Be not unequally yoked.”
“Can two walk together except they be agreed?”
WHETHER the Church of Christ may lawfully contract an alliance, or be united with a civil government, is a question which, for many years past, has been debated with no ordinary vehemence. Wise and good men, in large numbers, have been ranged on opposite sides of the controversy, and after the utmost efforts of argument, they seem, on both sides, to be confirmed in their original opinions. As it commonly happens in cases of controversy among christian men, the actual amount of difference between the contending parties is much less than the apparent; and on each side much important truth is urged, in which those on the opposite side could readily acquiesce.
With those who embrace the affirmative of this question, we believe that an alliance may exist between church and state, not only without sin, or detriment to either party, but with decided advantage to both. We hold that civil government, when rightly constituted, is an ordinance of God; that it is put in subjection to the Messiah; and that although in its nature and specific objects it is perfectly distinct from the church, yet that it is capable of being so framed and administered, that the cause of true religion may derive the most important benefits from it on the one hand, or sustain the most fatal injury on the other. That official indifference or neutrality towards religion, which many regard as a distinguished qualification in a civil ruler, seems to us to be impossible in fact; and if it were possible in those who know the gospel and the righteous claims of the Messiah, it would be exceedingly criminal.
But after this question is disposed of, there is another of vast importance, remaining for investigation—the question we are called this evening to discuss; namely, What must be the character of the civil government with which the church may warrantably be allied? Heretofore this question has not received the attention to which it is entitled. On the one hand the Voluntaries, (and when we use the term, we employ it purely as a term of distinction, and not of reproach,) labour to prove that every alliance between church and state, is unwarrantable and pernicious. In their system, therefore, the inquiry we have now instituted can have no place. The advocates of existing religious establishments, on the other hand, have contented themselves with leading proof of the lawfulness and propriety of union. It either has not occurred to them as necessary, or they have not deemed it prudent, to raise any question in regard to the character of the civil government, with which the church may be safely allied.
But surely this is a question that ought not to be overlooked. It is a lamentable, but unquestionable fact, that the alliances between the church and the secular powers of the nations, that have existed since the days of Constantine, have, with few exceptions, proved hurtful to the cause of true religion; a source of weakness and decay, rather than of strength or efficiency. What can be more urgently required, than that those who advocate union between church and state, and especially those who become parties in such a contract, should patiently investigate the reasons why such alliances have commonly been productive of evil, rather than good. It is our conviction, that the chief source of this unhappy result will be found in the unworthy character of the civil governments with which the church has been united. That acute philosopher and able theologian, the late Dr. [Alexander] M‘Leod of New York, speaking on this subject in one of his lectures on the Apocalypse, thus expresses himself. “Christianity, hitherto, except in a few instances, has suffered by its connexion with civil polity; and from the very nature of society, it must suffer in such connexion, until both learning and power are transferred into the hands of godly men, and so made subservient to piety. Independently of the impressive lessons of long and painful experience upon this subject, it is quite reasonable to expect, that if unsanctified men incorporate revealed religion with civil government, such a form will certainly be given to religion, as may suit unsanctified power. The daughter of Zion is much better without such an alliance, for it is the very essence of anti-christianism. The Bride, the Lamb’s wife, cannot be supposed to escape pollution, if taken into the embraces of unholy men, and rendered dependent upon a government which they administer. It is safer for the friends of religion to continue like the witnesses prophesying in sackcloth, faithfully struggling in poverty against the frowns of power, than to become the stipendiaries of irreligious statesmen.” The diversity of character existing among governments, is not less wide than among individuals. Some are enlightened and upright, others are barbarous and unjust; some are distinguished for candour and good faith, others are fraudulent and deceitful. There have been thrones of righteousness which were the strength and stability of the state, and “thrones of iniquity” which established mischief by law. May the church indiscriminately contract alliance with the civil government in all these cases? The Spirit of truth declared to David, that the government of a just man, who rules in the fear of God, is “as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth,” and the fruits of his reign beautiful and profitable, like “the tender grass springing out of the earth, by clear shining after rain.” On the same authority, it was proclaimed by Solomon, that, “as a roaring lion and a ranging bear, so is a wicked ruler over a poor people.” In the prophecies of the New Testament, a period is foretold, when “the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ,” and another period when “the kings of the earth shall be of one mind, and shall give their power and their strength to the Beast.” Is there to be no discrimination here? May the church contract alliance with the throne that is upheld by injustice and oppression, as well as with the throne that is established in righteousness? with the antichristian as well as with the christian civil government? For ourselves, we must hold that such an alliance is not only dangerous in the highest degree, but positively unlawful; and that the church would be much safer in the friendship of enlightened and pious rulers, although her rights were secured by no stipulations, than in that of unprincipled and ungodly men, whatever wisdom may have been employed in framing the terms of the compact. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” Every union between church and state must be supposed to imply, that the parties uniting, mutually recognize each other as legitimate. This principle is illustrated in the intercourse of nations. A government that is deemed illegitimate, will not be admitted into alliance by surrounding states. A deputy governor of a province, who has revolted from his allegiance to the sovereign authority, will not be admitted into alliance by other deputy governors. Should they contract friendship with him while he persists in rebellion, they would justly be regarded as implicated in his revolt.
A union between church and state farther implies a mutual engagement of the parties to support each other. The state pledges itself to afford protection, and commonly also, pecuniary support, to the Church. The church, on the other hand, gives a pledge of hearty allegiance to the civil government, and an engagement to promote its permanence and prosperity to the utmost of her power. The practice of exacting oaths of allegiance, as a necessary qualification for the receipt of state support, has been, we believe, almost universal.
In the case of an established church, the union is still more intimate. Her Creed, or Confession of Faith, is usually embodied in the public laws of the kingdom, and the church is so incorporated with the state, as to form an integral or essential part of the constitution. Such a union necessarily involves the parties in deep responsibility for one another. And this is, of course, still farther heightened, where a church sends her representatives to take part in the public proceedings of the national government.
And here it is necessary to animadvert upon the line of argument that is often adopted by the advocates of existing establishments. When they have collected and marshalled the proof, that it is the duty of civil rulers, possessing divine revelation, to do homage to the Messiah, and to promote, in their respective territories, the cause of scriptural education and of true religion, and when they have triumphantly confuted those who would proscribe all national religion, and all national homage to the Most High, they very commonly leap to the conclusion, that the vindication of their own particular establishment is complete; and not infrequently stigmatize those who presume to dissent from it, as bearing the double guilt of schism, and of despising all those scriptural arguments which they have advanced. This often serves a present purpose; but it is neither just nor candid.
There are many supposable cases of union between church and state which ought certainly to be condemned. 1st. An immoral and wicked civil government may be united with a corrupt or idolatrous church. Under this head must be classed the greater number of unions between church and state which exist throughout the world. And next to the innate depravity of the heart of man, they present the most insuperable obstructions to the progress of the gospel. In Popish, Mohammedan, and Pagan countries, they repel the messengers of truth, and form the main bulwarks of the kingdom of darkness. 2d. We can suppose a well-constituted and equitable civil government contracting alliance with a corrupt church. The admirers of the British constitution will probably discern examples of this kind in the establishment and endowment of Popery in certain parts of the British dominions, and in the countenance so long given to the worship of Juggernaut in Hindostan. 3d. We can suppose a case of union where the church is sound and scriptural, but the civil government radically vicious and immoral; where gross or flagrant iniquity, such as piracy, the slave trade, the habitual desecration of the sabbath, or even idolatry, is maintained and provided for by laws embodied in the constitution. May the church consent to be allied to a civil government of this character? Surely there must be some strange obliquity either in the judgment or in the system of the Christian man who will answer in the affirmative. What would be thought of a Christian society consenting to be endowed by a banditti of robbers? It is perfectly possible that order and government may be maintained among such a fraternity, and we may suppose it to be placed in Arabia, or some region where there is no superior government, against which it could be considered as in rebellion. Only it is in open and avowed rebellion against God. To any proposal of alliance in such a case, the most appropriate answer might be rendered in the language of an apostle; “What concord hath Christ with Belial?” 4th. Again we can suppose a case where there is nothing palpably or outrageously wrong in the constitution of government, but where, from the prevailing irreligion of the nation, the administration is ordinarily vested in the hands of ungodly men; or where, at least, men of this description invariably constitute so large a majority of the rulers, that they are fully able to carry out their own measures, and impress their own character on the administration of public affairs. The question then is not what civil rulers ought to do, but what unprincipled and ambitious men may be expected to do, when placed in a position which gives them a dangerous control over the church.
We do not hesitate to declare our conviction that the leading features of the two cases last-mentioned, are combined and exemplified in the civil government of our own land. The immoralities embodied in the civil constitution, which we have attempted to specify in the testimony of the church, [See Historical part of the Testimony, p. p. 210-222.] are so grave and weighty in their character, that we and our fathers have felt constrained to dissent from the constitution for a period of 150 years. The sacrifices to which we have submitted in adhering to that dissent have been sufficient, we think, to prove both the sincerity and force of our convictions on this subject. But over and above the evils that are in the constitution, although in many particulars it commands our approbation, we cannot shut our eyes to the fact, that the overwhelming preponderance of men in the government, who are either totally irreligious, or the abettors of false religion, or whose religion is merely the handmaid of their ambition, has at all periods since the restoration of Charles the Second, given a tone and character to the measures of government decidedly adverse to true godliness, and the religion of the bible. It is most justly stated by a member of the legislature, [Sir Robert Inglis.] from whom we would not have expected such a testimony, that “the British government never had a conscience in religion,” even in what he considers its best period. But without insisting farther on this point here, we proceed to state a few specific objections against a union between the church of Christ, and an immoral or antichristian civil government. 1st. Such an alliance is unnatural. There is a manifest contrariety or repugnance between the parties in regard to their character, principles, and leading objects. The one is religious, the other irreligious; the one bears the stamp of holiness to the Lord, the other the stamp of impiety or ungodliness. The church consists of a people whom God “has set apart for himself,” that they may shew forth his praise. Their ruling principles are love to God, and reverence for his authority and for his law. The grace of God teaches them “to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in the world.” But the principles which regulate the conduct of ungodly civil rulers are not merely different from these, but repugnant to them. Instead of candour and uprightness, there is commonly intrigue and overreaching; instead of benevolence, selfishness or oppression; instead of humility, insatiable ambition; and instead of supreme reverence for the Most High, there is habitual forgetfulness of his claims, or even manifest contempt. The leading objects which are aimed at and prosecuted by the two parties are equally repugnant. The church seeks to uphold the sovereign authority of God; an irreligious government is solicitous only about its own authority. It is the object of the church to exalt God's word, as the supreme and infallible standard, by which every opinion and every practice should be tried, in religion, morals, and politics. But in the estimate of civil rulers who are without religion, political expediency is paramount to the bible. Even in our own highly favoured and beloved land, were the proposal seriously urged, that every public measure should be scrupulously conformed to this divine standard, in all the great departments of government—at the Horse Guards—the Admiralty—the Post Office—and in Downing Street,—with what surprise and derision would the proposal be received? Every true church must be supremely concerned about the sovereignty of God; the exaltation and glory of Christ; the authority of the divine law; the sanctity of the sabbath; the prosperity of religion; the purity of divine ordinances; and the eternal salvation of the souls of men. But are these objects in regard to which she can expect any sympathy or encouragement from ungodly civil rulers?
2d. The church cannot contract alliance with immoral or antichristian States, without incurring the guilt of unfaithfulness to her Supreme Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. It was early foretold that civil rulers would be among the most determined opposers of Christ and his cause. So writes David in the second psalm; “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.” And what is it they are labouring to prevent? the accomplishment of the divine decree by which Christ is appointed King upon the holy hill of Zion. So far from recognising him as the rightful “Governor among the nations,” “the Prince of the kings of the earth,” they will not consent that he should be “king in Zion,” the Head of his own church. They will not be satisfied that the people whom he has redeemed with his own blood, should “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's,” unless they farther offer to Caesar the things that are God's. In the remarkable vision of Nebuchadnezzar, the four great empires, which have swayed the destinies of the chief part of the earth, from the time of the prophet Daniel to this day, are symbolically represented by a great Image; and however they differ from each other in many respects, they all agree in this, that they are hostile to the authority and kingdom of Christ,—so much so, that before his kingdom can be established, these kingdoms must all be destroyed. “Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces.” Although these empires subverted one another, yet the strength of the preceding one was embodied in its successor; and when the insulted Redeemer arises to take vengeance on the last of them, namely, the Roman Empire, he will in fact execute judgment on the whole of them. The entire system, in which the same principles were substantially embodied, from the time of Nebuchadnezzar to the present day, will be utterly subverted and demolished, never to be restored. “Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away that no place was found for them: and the Stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.” What a sublime and tremendous idea is this! “The mountain of the Lord's house shall, then, be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it.” And with all this the visions of John the divine are in perfect harmony. The execution of judgment upon the antichristian powers against which the two Witnesses testified, and by whom they were slain, prepares the way for the seventh angel to sound his trumpet: (xi. 15.) “and there were great voices in heaven, saying, the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ.” Heretofore, they were antichristian kingdoms,“of one mind to give their strength and power to the Beast.” The church is represented as rejoicing in this astonishing change. She has, indeed, cause of joy.—“Since the captivity of Judah, about 588 years before the christian era, until the present day, scarcely an instance has occurred in the whole history of nations, of a kingdom or commonwealth regulating their polity upon purely scriptural principles. Many nations, it is true, have pretended to be christian. And religion has been scandalized by their unholy interference. Many christians have also been deceived and misled into a belief, that the kingdoms of the nations were so constituted as to merit their conscientious acquiescence, and pious support: but the Prince of the kings of the earth, who gave this revelation to his servant John, teaches us, that now, for the first time, the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of God and of Christ. Heretofore they have been thrones of iniquity, having no fellowship with God, (Psal. xciv. 20.) characterized as beasts, and horns of beasts, both by Daniel and the writer of the Apocalypse. Servants, and admirers, and apologists, and eulogists, they have had in abundance; but there was not a voice in heaven raised in their commendation. They were to be feared but not approved by the saints of the Most High.” [Dr. M’Leod, pp. 192, 193.] How then, it may be asked, shall the church justify her professed allegiance to Christ, while she contracts alliances with rulers that are in a state of rebellion against him? who offer him no vows of allegiance, who refuse to yield to the demands of his law, who instead of recognising his rightful supremacy, impiously lay claim to that supremacy for themselves, and presumptuously intrude, like Korah, into the precincts of the tabernacle. Shall the followers of the Lamb be guiltless, when they tender to such rulers their oaths of allegiance; when they support and encourage them in their impious enterprizes; and offer up prayers to God for the perpetuity of their government, and the stability of their thrones? Is it the Pharaohs, or the Herods, or the Neros, of modern times, in whom the church of Christ may hope to see verified the faithful promise, “That kings shall be her nursing fathers, and their queens her nursing mothers?”
3d. An alliance between the church and an immoral civil government has a tendency to suppress a faithful testimony against the sinful policy of civil rulers. The world is in a state of alienation from God, and the plan of his providence and the honour of his government require, that explicit and faithful testimony be borne against abounding iniquity. And as God is more dishonoured by the disobedience and impiety of public bodies than by the sins of individuals, it is of peculiar consequence that public iniquities be exposed and condemned. But can it reasonably be expected that this momentous duty will be performed, with any fidelity, by a church in alliance with an ungodly state? The fact that she has contracted such an alliance, even if it did not prevent, must in a great degree neutralise her testimony against the evil that is in it. But it is matter of certainty that the existence of such an alliance will have the effect of preventing a faithful testimony from being given. To expect that any large number of men, who are dependent on the absolute will of unprincipled civil rulers for the whole, or a chief part, of their support, and the support of their families, should continue resolutely to expose and testify against the iniquitous policy of these rulers, would be contrary to every sound view of fallen humanity, as well as to experience. It is altogether romantic. Individuals may be found even in these disadvantageous circumstances, whose strong sense of duty, and zeal for the glory of their Lord, will raise them above all selfish considerations, and lead them to administer pointed and seasonable reproof to noble or even royal transgressors. But it would be madness to expect that all ministers should equal the zeal and intrepidity of Elijah and John the Baptist of ancient times, or of Knox and Melville of a more recent period. It is proverbial that princes seldom hear the truth; and least of all are they likely to hear it from those who are either in expectation or possession of favours which may be revoked at pleasure. What infinite evil might have been prevented in the conduct of civil rulers, had the church and her ministers been faithful to their trust! How many unrighteous and disastrous wars might have been arrested at the outset, had the impolicy and injustice of these wars been distinctly set before civil rulers, by the ambassadors of the Prince of peace! Where there has been one Micaiah, to proclaim unwelcome truth in the king’s ear, there have been hundreds of flattering prophets to raise the shout, “Go up to Ramoth-Gilead and prosper, for the Lord shall deliver it into the king’s hand.” What an astonishing and humiliating spectacle has been exhibited, when protestant nations have been slaughtering each other in the field of battle, storming each other’s cities, and sinking each other’s ships in the deep, and all the while the gospel ministry in the contending nations have been multiplying contradictory prayers, on both sides beseeching the Most High to bless and prosper their righteous cause! How many unholy alliances might have been prevented, had the church and her ministers, respectfully, but firmly, represented to civil rulers the guilt and danger of confederacies with the enemies of God! Such representations are not always unsuccessful. Even a rash and headstrong king of Judah was arrested in his course by the warning of a single messenger. “There came a man of God to Amaziah, saying, O king, let not the army of Israel go with thee, for the Lord is not with Israel. But if thou wilt go, do it; be strong for the battle, God shall make thee fall before the enemy; for God hath power to help and to cast down.” (2 Chron. xxv. 7, 8.)
How much tyranny and oppression might have been prevented or greatly mitigated, had the ministers of religion been faithful in tendering to civil rulers sound and seasonable advice! But alas! they have commonly had more of the character of courtiers than of judicious and faithful counsellors. They have too often given to ambitious and arbitrary rulers such counsel as the young men gave to Rehoboam. “My father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.” In all ages and countries, ambitious ecclesiastics have been the sternest enemies of rational liberty. Whatever may have been the sufferings or complaints of the people, a pampered and time-serving clergy have been foremost to reproach them as insolent, and to silence their murmurs by a perverted application of holy writ: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation”—as if the scriptures gave sanction to oppression, while they absolutely prohibited to the sufferers all efforts to obtain deliverance or redress. To what extent this line of conduct, and this strain of doctrine, on the part of churchmen, have had the effect of implanting in the breasts of an oppressed and suffering people a deep-seated hatred and hostility, not only to civil government, but also to the church and the bible, the day of judgment alone will disclose. Under the worst reigns, and the worst oppressors, the clergy have been almost invariably the abettors of tyranny; and although a Pilate, and a Henry, and a Charles might not, perhaps, have been less ungodly, they certainly would have been less cruel and sanguinary, had there not been a Caiaphas, and a Wolsey, and a Laud, and a Sharpe, to counsel and stimulate them in persecution.
4. Such a union as we are contending against never fails to bring a church into bondage. Let it be recollected that we speak of a government in the hands of men devoid of piety; in whom the fear and love of God are not the master principles, and with whom the advancement of the kingdom of Christ, and the salvation of immortal souls, cannot possibly be the chief ends. It is a moral certainty that such men cannot love the church on account of her intrinsic worth, or feel any sympathy with her in the great objects she labours to accomplish. On the contrary, a church that is faithful to her supreme Lord, and which displays the beauty of holiness, must inevitably be an object of their dislike. By a necessity of nature they must desire to see the church less holy, less pure, less faithful and uncompromising, than the law of Christ requires her to be; and unless they can succeed in divesting her of those attributes which the carnal mind abhors, she must be an object of increasing aversion. If such men shall choose to make an alliance with her, their object in doing so must be a worldly or political object. It cannot possibly be their aim that the church should contribute to render men religious, excepting in so far as religion may be tolerated by an unconverted world. But there is nothing on earth which the world can less tolerate than true religion. “The friendship of the world is enmity with God,” and the faithful followers of the Lamb may expect to be hated for his name’s sake. But if ungodly civil rulers cannot befriend the church, out of any regard to true religion, what can their object be in extending favour to her? The children of this world are wise in their generation. All their noisy zeal for the church, and princely liberality to her, are not blindly thrown away. They know what influence the church and her ministers are capable of exerting on the public mind; they know that the church is the most powerful engine on earth for directing the feelings, and moving the will, of the great body of the people. It has been, therefore, at all periods, one of the highest objects of their ambition, to have the church under their own exclusive management and control. The sum and substance of their policy has been this, make the clergy loyal and subservient, and by their means the people. Far be it from us to depreciate the legitimate influence which ministers of religion may exercise, and are bound to exercise, in preserving the order and tranquillity of a nation, and in repressing the unreasonable complaints and murmurs that are sometimes excited against the most salutary measures of government. In such cases, they will use their utmost efforts to remove prejudice, and inculcate submission. They will exhort the people to “render unto all their dues; tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.”
But the case is altogether different when irreligious and ungodly men stretch forth sacrilegious hands to the church of God, that they may mould and fashion it to suit their own ambitious designs. When, after the example of the Man of Sin [i.e., the Pope], and with an impiety not less daring, civil rulers claim the right of prescribing a creed or confession to the church, and perhaps of enforcing submission to it by civil penalties; when they undertake to regulate the government of the church, in virtue of a usurped supremacy over her; when they claim the right of nominating her office-bearers, or of authoritatively determining in whose hands that right shall be placed; when they control the meetings of ecclesiastical courts, convening, proroguing, or dissolving them, at pleasure, or limiting them in regard to the matters discussed in them; when they tamper with the worship of the church, loading it with rites and ceremonies, and disguising the beautiful simplicity of New Testament worship, by pompous additions of human invention; when they interfere with the discipline of the church, by admitting or excluding members, annulling ecclesiastical censures, or dictating terms of church fellowship, it is no time for the church to truckle or succumb, but to address the rulers as the apostles did, “whether it be right, in the sight of God, to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.” “The liberty wherewith Christ has made us free,” shall no man take from us.
It may, perhaps, be asked, might not all this be done to a church not in connexion with the civil government? We answer, No; the thing is impossible. Who ever heard of a church, not connected with the State, waiting on the civil rulers to receive its creed, or its form of church government; or submitting to their dictation in regard to discipline, or the appointment of its office-bearers?
It should be carefully observed, that a church never can be brought into bondage but by her own consent. She may be persecuted, but she cannot be enslaved. Her public assemblies may be interdicted, and her ministers cast into prison, and her members proclaimed outlaws and traitors; but all this does not rob her of her independence. Her allegiance and loyalty to her ONE LORD may be as leal and hearty under these distressing circumstances, as when she enjoys undisturbed tranquillity. The Neros and Domitians of the first age, could desolate and lay waste the church; but it was through the perfidy of her own office-bearers, and the insidious friendship of civil rulers, who made religion the stalking-horse of their own ambition, that she was finally brought into bondage. The uprightness and integrity of a church are put to no inconsiderable trial, by her having men of rank or opulence in her communion, even where these men are Christians. The epistle of James shews that some churches, even in the apostle’s days, were drawn into sin from this cause. It is, of course, much more dangerous to a church to admit into her fellowship ungodly rich men, or to be in any important measure dependent on them for her support. But the danger is greatly increased, when the church contracts alliance with an ungodly civil government. And if the terms of the alliance be such as to invest the rulers with any authority or control whatever, in the appointment of the church’s ministers; in other words, in the selection and choice of the persons who are to receive public support, that church must be regarded as being already in chains —and these not the less binding that they are made of gold. A variety of circumstances may concur to modify or retard the effect of such an alliance, but the tendency of it is unalterable. The law of gravitation is not more uniform in its operation.
A stone projected by a feeble force is instantly deflected from a straight line, and brought to the earth. A piece of metal discharged from a cannon pursues, for a time, a path so nearly rectilinear, that it might be almost held debatable whether it feels the force of gravitation. But a brief space will determine the dispute. The cannon ball descends to the earth as surely as a pebble thrown by the hand of a child. Could we suppose a church in a healthy and sound state, having enlightened and zealous ministers, and religion flourishing in her, suddenly brought into such an alliance as we have described, it is nothing improbable, that, for a time, it might be difficult to discern any palpable change in her purity or efficiency. And yet this must very much depend on the circumstances of the case. There are remarkable instances on record of churches having sustained most serious damage by the very first contact with irreligious and crafty civil rulers. One of the most memorable and instructive of these, perhaps, was exhibited by the church of Scotland, at the time when the Scottish nation received home the young prince Charles, as their covenanted king, after the death of his father Charles I.
In the year 1649, the church of Scotland had reached the meridian of her Reformation attainments. Imperfections and blemishes, no doubt, still remained in her. It is in the world to come that the exalted Redeemer will “present to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.” But for anything that authentic history records of her, we feel persuaded that the church of Scotland, at the period to which we have referred, might bear a comparison with any other church of equal extent, and equally well known, that has existed since the days of the apostles. In the month of June, 1650, Charles arrived in Scotland; and before one year had elapsed, the church had begun to retrace the steps of Reformation she had just attained. At the earnest solicitation of the king and his counsellors, the Commission of the General Assembly gave their consent to the repeal of some acts of Parliament, passed in the preceding year, with the view of excluding from places of trust or power persons who had incurred the censures of the church by the scandalous immorality of their lives, or their notorious hostility to the Reformation. A majority of the members of the next General Assembly approved of the resolutions of the Commission. Thus the door of admission into the church as well as into civil offices, was thrown open to the malignants, who, in order that they might qualify for places of power and emolument, went through a disgraceful scene of mock repentance. A lamentable division was created in the church, at the time when increasing danger demanded the most cordial union. The more discerning and resolute minority, who deplored and testified against these defections, were on that account prosecuted with much rigour by the majority. Thus a multitude of good and pious men, who had fearlessly gone forward with the work of Reformation, in defiance of the threats of the first Charles, were now seduced by the blandishments and cunning of his son, to lay their own hands rudely on the Sanctuary, which they had been rearing with so much pious care; and even to make a chamber in the temple for Tobiah the Ammonite, by receiving the malignants into the fellowship of the church. It is a historical fact, that the very men into whose hands Charles now put the reins of government, became his ready instruments, ten years afterward, in virtue of the authority with which they were now invested, both in subverting the civil liberties of the kingdom, and in overturning the Reformation.
In taking a theoretical view of the question now before us, we should hold it as very important, that it be the unquestionable design and wish of those by whom the church is supported, that her ministers be faithful to their trust; and that it must inevitably be an ensnaring position, even for good men, to be dependent for their support on those who undoubtedly desire that they should temporize, and consult expediency. Insofar as this point alone is concerned, the influence on the character and conduct of ministers would be a happy one, whether their support be derived from christian rulers, or a christian people; and on the contrary, the effect must be unhappy and pernicious, whether the support be derived from ungodly civil rulers, or an ungodly multitude falsely called a Christian congregation.
The entire argument on this head is sometimes evaded by the remark, that there are temptations attending the reception of money, through whatever channel it comes. But could this allegation be admitted as satisfactory, it might be employed in the defence of many evil things. There are temptations in the house of God, as well as in the play-house,—yet we hold it right to frequent the church, but unwarrantable to frequent the theatre. There may be dangers connected with partnership in trade, even where a partner is of unblemished reputation, but that would be no good reason for forming a partnership with a man known to be fraudulent and deceitful. Sometimes the argument is met by the indignant demand, whether there are not ministers supported in the manner here condemned, as much distinguished for faithfulness as any others. But neither is this at all satisfactory. The argument respects the ordinary effect of such an alliance, not on particular individuals, but on large numbers, and not for a few years merely, but during a long course of time. There was an Obadiah in the court of Ahab; a Nicodemus in the Jewish Sanhedrin, and a judge Hale on the bench, in the days of Charles the Second, but this by no means proves that the position of any one of these eminent persons was favourable to integrity, or virtue.
5. In a community greatly divided in religious sentiment, an alliance between the church and the government opens the way for unprincipled rulers to patronize, and support the most corrupt churches. Were an enlightened regard to the glory of God, and the eternal interests of men, the high principles, by which civil rulers were induced to extend favour and support to the church, this support would be granted to those churches only by which the interests of true religion could be effectually promoted. But when state support is bestowed by rulers not on religious but on political grounds, the difference between true and false religion will be wholly disregarded. Should it so happen that true religion actually possesses political influence, then statesmen must make a virtue of necessity, and although they should hate it as Ahab did Micaiah, they must nevertheless make an effort to conciliate it. And therefore endowments will be given if the parties who ask them have political influence to give weight to their demand. If they cannot be conciliated they may at least be quieted. For the very same reason and by the same means must the professors of false religion be conciliated, or their hostility disarmed. When power is the Divinity, and Political expediency the supreme law, it matters nothing about the character of the religion which demands support, whether it be true or false. The great question is, What political influence can it command? This is the only consideration in determining both the grant and the amount. In the case of such rulers, the true reasons for granting support to a church are “far above out of their sight.” The blasphemies of Rome, or the sublime imaginations of Brahma, may as really meet their views, and as effectually serve their purposes, as the gospel of Christ. But we need not dwell on a hypothetical case. The flagrant iniquity of propagating false religion by grants from the public treasury is practised in our own country to an enormous extent, and must justly be reckoned one of our great national sins. And what is especially to be lamented is, that from the absence of any strenuous opposition, or marked protest against the evil, by any of our Established churches, the government of the country can scarcely be aware that it is regarded by them as sinful. Truth and error are diametrically opposed to each other, as wholesome food is opposed to poison. We could not but execrate the father, who, when his children ask bread, gives them a stone; or when they ask a fish, gives them a serpent. But the case before us is infinitely worse. It is the immortal soul that is poisoned and destroyed by error. It may possibly be said, that the parties who prefer the error will obtain it, whether the government provide it or not. To this we reply, that the supposition contradicts the very ground on which government assistance is craved—viz., that the parties wish to propagate their principles more extensively by means of the assistance of government, than they are able to do without that assistance; and, 2d. It proceeds on the assumption that if the people wish for error, the government may, without sin, provide it for them. If the people choose to poison themselves, the government may supply depositories, at the public expense, from which they may be supplied gratuitously, or at reduced prices. 3d. Error provided and paid for by the government of a country, is more dangerous and formidable than when sought for by the people themselves, as it then comes with the stamp and signature of public authority. And, 4th. What is done by government in such a matter, involves the entire nation in the awful responsibility of the measure—those only excepted, who do every thing in their power to prevent it.
The establishment of different, or opposite, systems of religion in the same empire is at once wicked and absurd. If Presbytery be right, Prelacy is wrong—and on the contrary if Prelacy be right, Presbytery must be wrong. If Protestantism be right, Popery must be wrong;—or if Popery be right, Protestantism must be wrong. They cannot be right on both sides. If the British Sovereign believes prelacy to be right, how sinful to oblige him, (or her,) to swear to support presbyterianism and popery—systems opposed to each other, and both of which he believes to be wrong. In the British Parliament, Scottish presbyterians sit down with Episcopalians and assist them in establishing or maintaining prelacy; and Episcopalians unite with Presbyterians in establishing or maintaining Presbyterianism; and then, both classes of Protestants sit down together, and establish or endow popery in the colonies, and appropriate the goodly sum of £9000 per annum to the support of the popish college at Maynooth! Nor is this done of late years merely. The same monstrous wickedness was perpetrated when the British Parliament consisted exclusively of professed protestants, and when each member of the legislature was required to take a solemn oath that popery was blasphemous and idolatrous!!
Can anything be conceived more absurd, than for the government to pay one class of men for propagating truth, and another class of men for propagating error: to pay one class of men for building up a system, and another for pulling it down; to pay one class of men for labouring to establish the protestant system in Ireland, and another for subverting it: to pay oneclass of men for preaching salvation through faith in the divinity and atoning blood of Christ, and another class of men for preaching down the atonement and divinity of Christ; to pay one class of teachers for endeavouring to save, and another for destroying the souls of men? Truth sanctifies and makes men moral, but error demoralizes and destroys. To pay men for teaching error is to pay them for demoralizing and destroying a nation. It is setting the seal of national authority to this monstrous absurdity, that error and heresy, blasphemy and idolatry, are as favourable to the prosperity of a nation, and as profitable to the souls of men, as the truth of the gospel.
Insofar, however, as we can perceive, the union at present subsisting between the civil government and the churches of these lands, renders this result inevitable. No one party is strong enough to maintain its own church revenues, which are now generally acknowledged to be public property, without purchasing the forbearance of other parties, by a base and sinful silence, while they make good their claims to a share in the favour of government. Individuals may declaim in private against the expenditure of the public revenue for the support and diffusion of popish superstition, and the blasphemous doctrines of socinianism; but the stoutest opponents of these systems, belonging themselves to a state-supported church, find their tongue to cleave to the roof of their mouth in the national assembly, when increasing grants are annually appropriated to heretical and idolatrous churches. With what colour of reason and consistency could the members of the established churches offer resistance to these grants? We are aware it may be pled that truth has rights, and that error has none; that true religion deserves to be supported, but that false religion cannot be supported without heinous sin. But, while the correctness of this statement is fully admitted, it may still be asked of what weight or utility it can be in an assembly constituted as is the British House of Commons? You might bind Samson with a thread of gossamer sooner than control that assembly by an argument of such a texture. And besides, the established and endowed churches have disabled and neutralized this argument, in so far as it could be urged on their behalf, by their mutual consent to establish and endow one another. Were the question of a general endowment to the Romish clergy in Ireland debated in Parliament, and a member of the Episcopal church should object to the proposal on the ground that, Popery being a corrupt and wicked system, it was not entitled to support;—the Roman Catholic could readily retort, “You have established and endowed presbyterian churches, which you do not recognise as churches of Christ at all, which in very important matters are more remote from your sentiments than the Church of Rome; for if one of our priests joins your church, you recognise him without his being re-ordained—you acknowledge the validity of our ordination; but if a presbyterian minister joins your church, you insist that he shall be ordained anew.” Should some member of Parliament connected with the Church of Scotland oppose the grant on similar grounds, it would probably be replied, “You have solemnly consented to the establishment of Prelacy, which your forefathers pronounced antichristian, and were sworn to extirpate, and the Puseyism of which, at the present day, is at least as remote from your views of orthodoxy, as the semi-popery of Archbishop Laud in the time of the Solemn League,—you agree, moreover, that the Arian synod in Ireland, and the Remonstrant synod, and the Southern Association should be endowed from the public treasury, although you know that all these sects deny the supreme divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, which Roman Catholics acknowledge; and although they deride that atonement which you believe to be the only sure foundation of hope for eternity.” Verily, should the clergy of the Romish Church in Ireland, who have hitherto been averse to receive a national endowment, become desirous of sharing in the public support, there does not appear to be any single obstacle of importance in the way of their success. The grant would be in perfect accordance with the principle on which the government has been acting for a very long period, with the consent and concurrence of all our established churches; and we do not apprehend that any of them would have the faithfulness, or the courage, to offer any decided resistance. Even if a few individuals, more conscientious or incautious than the rest, should offer a protest against the impious proposal, they should speedily be silenced by the confounding challenge, “do you cease to tax us for the support of your churches, and we shall crave no assistance for the support of ours.”
6th. Union between the church of Christ and an immoral or antichristian state has a tendency to break down and destroy the discipline of the church. It has been already observed, that men devoid of piety are incapable of appreciating or understanding the sublime and hallowed purposes for which a church is preserved in the world. Their object in supporting her must be a political object. They design that she should subserve the purposes of their own ambition. In order, however, that she may be effective for such purposes, it is indispensable that her credit and influence be maintained; this is one important reason why they should embrace her fellowship, by becoming church members. Politicians, generally, choose to be connected with the church; this increases their own influence over her, while it adds respectability to the church in the eyes of an irreligious multitude. Now it is altogether beyond the bounds of credibility, as it is certainly unprecedented in history, that a church which has consented to be allied to a civil government, composed chiefly of irreligious and ungodly men, should have the courage and fidelity to refuse to these men the participation of her most sacred ordinances. To preserve a purely scriptural discipline, is one of the most important, and at the same time, one of the most difficult duties which the church owes to her exalted Head. But the difficulty of doing so is prodigiously increased when her connexion with an immoral civil government brings a godless aristocracy into her temples. Besides, when a church is very richly endowed, and there are livings and revenues to be disposed of, which may be objects of desire to a great man’s own connexions, or to his political friends and supporters, there is a powerful additional reason why the higher ranks should keep in her fellowship. There may be men whose profligacy of deportment is too revolting to admit of their seeking church privileges; and others, whose hatred of religion, in every aspect of it, may be strong enough to overbear their convictions of political wisdom; but a large proportion of resolute, ambitious, calculating politicians, choose to connect themselves with the church. And where shall we find that church, which is dependent on the favour of the state for her support, that will decline to receive them? We speak not of what individual ministers might do—men of uncommon firmness and energy of character, or men of singular conscientiousness; but of what the great body of the clergy of a church will do, situated as we have described. Let him who possesses a sound knowledge of human nature, or let history and experience answer; both will testify that a church, so placed, will receive into her fellowship the noble, and the honourable, and the opulent, without any regard to religious character, and with extremely little regard to moral character, unless their wickedness be so flagitious and notorious that common decency would revolt at their admission. Nor does the evil stop here. The walls of Zion being once broken down to admit the ungodly possessors of rank and power, the church has no means of defence against other intruders. Nothing can be more offensive to the world than a christian church, in which the truth of God is faithfully proclaimed, every form of iniquity fearlessly condemned, and the special privileges of Christ’s house extended to those only who give satisfactory evidence of christian character. But on the other hand, nothing can be more acceptable than a political church, reared up and supported by the fostering care of civil rulers—themselves destitute of the fear of God—where men may acquire the reputation of religion, while they loathe the reality; where they may enjoy no inconsiderable share of the luxury and display of the theatre, at a mere fraction of the cost of it; where deluded mortals may persuade themselves that they are making their peace with God, while they continue, habitually and zealously, in the service of the devil, the world, and the flesh.
The true church is the chaste and faithful spouse of Jesus Christ. When sinners are converted by the word of truth, and regenerated by the power of the Holy Ghost, they are properly received into the church, whether they be high or low, rich or poor. They are the holy spiritual seed of the Redeemer—a people formed for himself, that they may shew forth his praise. But when the church is extended by the admission of an irreligious multitude, who are brought into her fellowship in consequence of her connexion with the civil government, the scriptures employ a very different emblem to set forth this enlargement. Then the church is represented as an unchaste woman, maintaining a dishonourable commerce with the kings of the earth; and the multitudes that crowd to her fellowship, solely on account of her wealth and worldly honours derived from the state, are regarded, in an ecclesiastical sense, as an illegitimate race—the children of adultery. It would be a mistaken and criminal politeness, that would prevent us from calling attention to the fact, that the Spirit of God has expressly made choice of terms and images, calculated to awaken our abhorrence of such a connexion. The apostate church is broadly represented as an abandoned harlot, holding in her hand a golden cup, full of abomination, and filthiness of her fornication; the kings of the earth are her paramours; the vast increase of her members is the fruit of her guilty connexion with the rulers, and not of any relation to Christ. State influence, State fellowship, the attractions and honours and emoluments which are the result of her alliance with the State, these are the sources of her crowded assemblies. Let the friendship of the State be withdrawn, and let the church exercise a faithful scriptural discipline, and her crowded assemblies would, in many instances, dwindle into insignificant societies. It may possibly be alleged that the prophecy to which we have now alluded has a reference to the apostate and idolatrous church of Rome; but while this is frankly admitted, it does not follow that it has no reference to other churches. It is significantly said of that church, that she is the MOTHER OF HARLOTS, an expression which seems to imply, that there would be other churches descending from her that would bear a lamentable resemblance to the mother. And here again we take leave to guard ourselves against the invidious allegation, that our argument would condemn every alliance between the church and a civil government, whatever might be its character. We are convinced it can bear no such construction. Were a government constituted on scriptural principles, and the rulers possessed of scriptural qualifications, such rulers might be received into the fellowship of the church without any breach of her discipline. Such rulers would give no countenance to factious persons, who might attempt to intimidate gospel ministers in maintaining the law of Christ’s house; but both by their own example, and by their authority as magistrates, they would strengthen the hands of church officers, and secure to the government of the church, when exercised within its own province, all due reverence and respect. Their countenance and favour would be the reward of distinguished devotedness and fidelity to the Redeemer, and not, as heretofore, the price of political partisanship and servility.
II. But is this a question on which we can ascertain the mind of God by an appeal to the inspired record? It would seem highly improbable that, on a subject so momentous, the Lord should have left his church without direction. The fact is, that the guilt and danger of contracting alliances with the wicked, is a lesson so often brought up to view, and inculcated on the people of God in such a multitude of ways, that an adequate representation of the scriptural evidence on this topic cannot possibly be given, within the narrow limits prescribed to a lecture. We can do little more than indicate to our hearers some of the principal sources of evidence, which we would intreat them to investigate and examine for themselves.
1st. We might refer to the numerous and peremptory charges, addressed to the ancient Israelites, respecting alliances with the heathen. From the urgency and solemnity with which they were exhorted on this subject, it is manifest that of all the moral dangers to which they were exposed, this was one of the most formidable. And the events of their subsequent history shew that this was the case. When they “mingled with the heathen, they soon learned their way.” “Observe thou that which I command thee this day; Behold I drive out before thee the Amorites; take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee.” And how soon do we find their disobedience to this command involving them in distress! “And an Angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you into the land which I sware unto your fathers, and I said I will not break my covenant with you; and ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars; but ye have not obeyed my voice: why have ye done this? Wherefore, I also said, I will not drive them out from before you, but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.” (Judges ii. 1–3.) From that period unto the present day, ungodly allies have proved to the people of God as “thorns in their sides,” to pierce and lacerate, and as a snare to seduce them from their allegiance to the Most High.
Of similar import are a multitude of passages in which the Israelites were reproved for having sought assistance from heathen allies, when they were brought into straits. “Wo to the rebellious children, saith the Lord, that take counsel but not of me; that walk to go down into Egypt, and have not asked at my mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt. Therefore shall the strength of Pharaoh be your shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt your confusion. They were all ashamed of a people that could not profit them, nor be an help nor profit, but a shame and also a reproach.” (Isa. xxx.) Is there nothing in the vicissitudes and disappointments that have been experienced by the church in this land, within a few years past, that might lead her friends to a just application of this portion of scripture? It should be farther considered, that after the ten tribes apostatized from the service of God, the kings of Judah were forbidden to make alliances even with them, although of the seed of Abraham. In whatever respects such counsels and injunctions may have had a peculiar application to the ancient people of God, this one lesson is presented in them, which we believe to be of permanent obligation, that it is unwarrantable and dangerous for the church to contract intimate friendship with the wicked, or to betake themselves for assistance in the propagation or defence of true religion, to its undoubted enemies.
2d. In confirmation of this doctrine we might adduce passages of Scripture to an indefinite extent, in which the lesson cannot be understood as temporary or local, but permanent and universal. We might refer to the solemn announcement given in the garden of Eden, respecting the natural, invincible, perpetual enmity, that should subsist between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent; and to the frequent lessons which the Saviour addressed to his disciples, in regard to the treatment they might expect to meet with in the world. “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own, but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore doth the world hate you.” And again; “I have given them thy word, and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Can anything be less in harmony with the scope and doctrine of these passages, than the expectation that irreligious and ungodly civil rulers should become sincere friends and patrons of true religion? nursing fathers and nursing mothers to the church? If they do extend to her their fostering care, we may be certain that one or other of these two causes has led to it: either there is some insidious political design concealed under their professions of friendship, or the church must have so far conformed to the world, that the distinguishing features of Christianity have ceased to be discernible in her. One single passage of Scripture might seem sufficient to decide the question, were it possible for men to ponder it without prejudice. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” This passage appears to interpose a perpetual interdict against such a union as that under consideration. How can it be denied that a church united to an immoral civil government is “unequally yoked?” Has this not proved to be the case in regard to the Church of England, during the entire period of her union with the State? a church so bound and fettered by the royal prerogative, that scarcely a vestige of liberty has been left to her. And is not this equally true of the Church of Scotland, which, for more than a century, has been compelled to bear the double yoke of Moderatism, and of Erastian control? Since she has been partially awakened to a sense of her degradation, and by a succession of vigorous efforts, has succeeded in breaking the former of these yokes, does she not at this moment feel what a rugged and formidable antagonist she has to contend with in her efforts to shake off the latter? And even if it were for a time removed, we should have no confidence that her independence, and spirituality, and purity, could be secure, as long as she clings to such an alliance as that which has, heretofore, proved so disastrous to her,—the source either of her corruption and inefficiency, or of her distress and dishonour. Would to God, that all who are upright in her, her ministers and her people together, had the courage and the faithfulness to comply with the divine injunction which immediately follows the passage we have quoted!—“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”
3d. The view given in prophecy of the character of the civil governments that should exist in Western Europe, during the period of antichristian domination, exhibits very strongly their total unworthiness to be admitted into alliance by the church of Christ. This, however, is an argument which ought not, perhaps, to be touched, unless it could be fully stated; and this our limits will by no means suffer us to do. In the writings of Daniel and of John, faithful delineations are given of the character of the four great empires, that have followed each other in succession, from the time of Nebuchadnezzar until the present day. In the apocalypse, only the fourth of these empires is brought into view, because the other three had passed away before the incarnation of Christ. This is the Roman empire—the last of the same character noted in Scripture. Its emblem is a terrific animal or Beast—the prophetic symbol of tyrannical, immoral, and ungodly power. The Beast has seven heads—both in allusion to the seven hills of ancient Rome, and to the seven forms of government which successively prevailed, from the first origin of the Roman State. This beast had ten horns, which are explained to mean ten kingdoms, that should spring out of the Roman empire in the latter period of its astonishing history. These are almost universally understood to be the ten kingdoms into which the empire was divided, after it was subverted by the Northern nations. In these horns, or kingdoms, the Beast still lives, and exerts his immoral and impious power. It has been already hinted in this lecture, that these powers are represented as holding a most intimate, but most debasing and criminal connexion, with an apostate church. The symbol of the corrupt church is the woman in gorgeous attire, riding on the seven-headed Beast. The combined sway of the woman and the beast, is again and again declared to be for 42 months, or one thousand two hundred and threescore days, which being interpreted according to scripture analogy, signifies 1260 years. During all that time the ten kingdoms are described as retaining the spirit of that mighty power from which they sprung; “for God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the Beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.” But while these powers are tame and subservient to the apostate church, as a beast to his rider, they are actuated by deep and rancorous hostility to the true church. This is forcibly represented by the vision recorded in the 12th chapter of the Apocalypse. There the seven-headed Beast is represented as a dragon;—as being actuated and influenced by Satan, even as the Serpent in paradise was the Devil's agent in seducing our first parents. And so the antichristian powers are the agents and instruments of Satan—the pillars and supporters of his kingdom, through the most important part of the world. They have all of them supported the blasphemous pretensions of the “Man of sin, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; they have all of them prostituted their wealth and their power in maintaining an idolatrous and soul-destroying system of religion; they have all of them been habitually opposed to the gospel and to true religion; they have persecuted and murdered the saints. They are, moreover, laden with the guilt of tyranny and oppression; stained with the blood of unrighteous wars; and implicated in the multiplied enormities of slave-holding and slave-trading. The church of Christ, instead of receiving any favour or kindness from them, is represented as a woman fleeing into the wilderness, like Elijah from the face of Jezebel, where a place of retreat and obscurity, privation and suffering, is prepared for her, until a thousand two hundred and threescore years are expired. If there be any soundness or truth in the view of this prophecy held by the most enlightened Commentators, including Scott, Bishop Newton, Dr. M’Leod, and a host of others, it would fully establish the following particulars. 1st. That the character of the civil powers existing within the bounds of the Latin Roman empire, for a period of 1260 years from the rise of Antichrist, should be decidedly immoral and irreligious. 2d. That whatever differences should exist among them in other respects, they should be of one mind in maintaining the great apostasy; in supporting arbitrary power in the state, and superstition, or a corrupted christianity, in the church. 3d. That church and state should be closely united together, and should mutually strengthen each other, in the prosecution of common objects, 4th. That the true church has nothing to expect from either of them but hatred, hostility, and persecution. It is difficult to conceive a more exact accomplishment than that which this prophecy has received, for more than a thousand years. What fellowship can the church of Christ maintain with such powers as these? The church is the pillar and ground of the truth; these are the pillars of the kingdom of darkness and superstition. The church is like her divine author, holy, harmless, and benevolent; these powers are despotic, sanguinary, and prone to persecution. The church is devoted to the honour of the Lord Jesus Christ; they are pledged to the support of Antichrist.
We know of nothing in scripture to invalidate the argument now presented; of no precepts or instructions tending to limit the meaning of those now adduced. The only facts mentioned in the bible that require notice, as seeming to have an adverse bearing on our argument, are those contained in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, where the kings of Media and of Persia are recorded to have made grants from the public treasury, towards the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem, and restoring the worship of God in it. Whatever use may be legitimately made of these facts, in the argument with those who hold it to be an unrighteous thing for a civil government to devote any portion of the public money to the support of religion, and unlawful for the church, under any circumstances, to accept of such aid, they appear wholly irrelevant, if employed to prove the lawfulness of union between the church and an immoral civil government. There is no such analogy between the cases as would admit of arguing from the one to the other. In order to make out the parallelism, it would require to be proved, 1st, That the grant of support by the Persian government was not temporary, and intended to meet a present emergency, but permanent; that the priests and Levites had agreed to become stipendiaries of the Persian kings. 2d, That as a qualification for receiving this support, the priests and Levites were required to give oaths of allegiance and loyalty to the Persian rulers, or to homologate a corrupt civil constitution. 3d, That the Jewish church was incorporated with the State, so as to make an integral part of a complex constitution. 4th, That the relation was so contrived as to secure to the civil rulers a control or supremacy over the church, in virtue of which they might nominate the priesthood, or regulate the manner: their appointment, interfere with ecclesiastical arrangements, and, on some occasions at least, issue their orders in regard to the public worship of God. Even if these things were proved, the impossibility of reconciling the case with the great mass of evidence abounding in scripture—all leading to an opposite conclusion—would compel us to regard the case as altogether peculiar and extraordinary, and by no means designed as a pattern for imitation in after ages. But it is presumed that these things never can be proved; and therefore the analogy totally fails. There is another case mentioned in scripture, to which that under review bears a much closer resemblance; namely, the case of the Israelites when they came forth out of their protracted bondage in Egypt. In both cases the seed of Jacob had been pillaged and oppressed: in both cases the hand of the Lord was conspicuously seen in disposing their oppressors to permit them to go free, and to make liberal presents and contributions to them at their departure; and in both cases some part of the wealth thus received from the heathen, was consecrated to the service of God. But neither the one nor the other can supply any solid argument in defence of union between the church of God and an immoral or heathen civil government.—It is important moreover to observe, even in the case of rebuilding the temple at Jerusalem, that when the people of the land came to the Jews, and offered their assistance in the work, professing to be Worshippers of Jehovah, that Zerubbabel and Joshua, and the chief of the fathers, unanimously and resolutely declined their aid, because they had no confidence in the character of their allies, and had reason to suspect that some sinister design lay concealed under this specious proffer of friendship. (Ezra, 4th ch.)
III. We pass to the argument from experience, which we are obliged to treat with the utmost brevity.
By the divine appointment, “the Jewish commonwealth exhibited to the nations an example of an alliance between church and state, and of a civil polity so framed as effectually to promote the interests of the church, without church and state being blended together, or the one invading the province of the other.” It seems difficult to conceive how one can arise from an attentive perusal of the sacred history, without being thoroughly convinced on the one side, that the interests of religion may be exceedingly promoted by the fostering care, as well as by the example of enlightened and pious kings; and on the other, that nothing can more effectually or speedily debase and corrupt the church than the wicked interference of ambitious and ungodly civil rulers. The efforts employed by David and by several of his descendants,—by Asa and Hezekiah, and Josiah, and, after the captivity, by Nehemiah and Zerubbabel, to reform the nation, and to revive and diffuse the power of godliness, were productive of incalculable advantage. And on the other hand, the impious establishment of Jeroboam, and the influence and authority of his successors, precipitated the ten tribes into the lowest depths of profligacy and idolatry. “They made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king, and Jeroboam drave Israel from following the Lord, and made them sin a great sin. For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam, which he did; they departed not from them, until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight.” (2 Kings xvii. 21–23.)
The history of the christian church, during the first three centuries, throws no light on the question under discussion, as, during that period, the church had no alliance with the state. It was in the beginning of the fourth century that the empire was revolutionized by Constantine. Under his reign, and through his agency, paganism was generally suppressed throughout the Roman empire; the worship of idols was publicly interdicted; heathen temples were converted into christian churches; heathen judges and magistrates were degraded, and their offices assigned to the professors of christianity; and the storm of persecution, which had raged so long and so fiercely, was hushed into a calm.
Had Constantine and his successors been men of truly christian character, enlightened and discriminating in those matters which concerned the glory of God, there was, no doubt, opened up to them a sphere of usefulness, the most magnificent, perhaps, that was ever presented to mortal men,—the apostles only being excepted. But, however distinguished some of these emperors were in other respects, they were wholly destitute of that heavenly wisdom and spirituality of mind, which were indispensable to the right improvement of the momentous crisis, which, in the providence of God, came into their management. It would be unjust and ungrateful not to acknowledge, that the immediate and proximate consequences of the revolution under Constantine, were in many respects happy and beneficial. But it must be either ignorance or perverseness that can deny, that the ultimate results of the system introduced by him, were exceedingly disastrous, and all but ruinous to the cause of christianity. The emperors of that period, it is true, expended immense labour and cost upon the church, in constructing for her an ecclesiastical government, after the model of the civil government of the empire; in extending the foundations and elevating the towers of a gorgeous hierarchy, with its Bishops, and Archbishops, and Metropolitans, and Exarchs, and Patriarchs, and a long gradation of church officers of inferior rank; in adjusting the rivalships and animosities of an ambitious priesthood, and in gratifying the unchristian zeal of contending parties within the church, when they demanded the execution of civil penalties on each other. But all this labour and expense were worse than thrown away. The obvious effect was that all that was vicious and corrupt in the church before, was now prodigiously aggravated and increased. Revenues, and dignities, and the favour of civil rulers, were the main objects of ambition among the clergy, and pompous forms and superstitious observances supplanted religion among the people. The grand impediment to the growth of the apostacy was now removed; (2 Thess.ii. 7) and the man of sin rapidly advanced to that gigantic strength which made him a terror to the whole Parth, and prompted him to exalt his usurped authority into blasphemous competition with the throne of God.
It would be a superfluous task to prove, that the union which has subsisted between the apostate church of Rome and the civil governments of European nations, for more than a thousand years, has been a source of infinite evil to mankind. It is almost universally acknowledged by protestants, that it was by means of this union, that error and superstition in the church, and despotism in the State, were upheld and perpetuated. The secular powers were ever ready to draw the sword to silence complaints against either the doctrines or the lives of the priesthood. How many noble efforts to awaken the nations from their fatal lethargy, to expose the errors of popery, and to draw the attention of men to the study of the bible, have been in this way suppressed! How many patriots and martyrs have been sacrificed! How many promising christian societies have been searched out and destroyed! The infamous harlot in splendid and costly attire, with the golden cup of delusive error, would have possessed most formidable powers of seduction, had she been alone and unassisted; but by becoming the favoured mistress of the civil rulers, her ability to do evil was immensely increased. Then her jealousies, and resentments, and capricious passions, could call a power into action, that rendered them tremendous. The gospel history will supply to us here an instructive analogy. Had Herodias been the mistress of some private person, she might have reviled and slandered the servant of the Lord, who testified against her adultery and incest; but it was her control over the king that enabled her to gloat over the bloody head of the faithful martyr, served up in a charger. Thus might the MOTHER OF HARLOTS—the apostate church—have raved and stormed against the enlightened and holy men, who wrote and preached against her unbounded profligacy and superstition; but without a connexion with the state, she could not have carried on a systematic persecution against them; she could not have silenced, imprisoned, and banished them; she could not have organized murderous fraternities to hunt them from nation to nation; she could not have instituted inquisitions to torture them; she could not have raised crusades to spread slaughter and devastation through obnoxious cities and provinces; she could not have commanded the whole civil and military forces of the nations to take vengeance on them. It was the position she attained as the rider of the scarlet-coloured Beast that invested her with power so appalling. This savage monster—the seven-headed beast—had raged and devoured before, but never in such fashion as after he came under the control and direction of the woman. Her wakeful jealousy, and untiring perseverance, and malignant enmity against true religion and the professors of it, goaded on to such excesses of cruelty, as had no parallel in the history of the world. Then, indeed, the prophetic character of the Beast was verified to the letter; he became “dreadful and terrible,” “devoured, and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with his feet;” was steeped in blood himself, and kept the cup of his insatiable rider perpetually full of the blood of the saints.
It is humiliating and melancholy to reflect that the remarks now made, respecting the apostate Church of Rome, may, to a large extent, be truly applied to the Protestant Church of England. That church is literally and undeniably ‘a creature of the state.’ Her articles, her canons, her liturgy, her form of church government, were, all of them, enacted for her by civil authority. She neither has now, nor ever had power to deliberate on the question, in a judicial or ecclesiastical capacity, whether she should receive or reject them. Henry, in the exercise of his own despotic authority, abolished popery, and made the church, to a certain extent, a protestant church. His daughter Mary found it protestant, and summarily made it a popish church. Her sister Elizabeth found it popish, and in the same summary manner, and in the exercise of the very same Erastian principle, made it protestant again. Little alteration has been made on it since the time of Elizabeth. New prayers may have been added to the liturgy, or new holidays to the calendar; but for any constitutional or substantial reform, that church is powerless, The church of Rome herself, is scarcely more iron-bound against improvement by her alleged infallibility, than the church of England by the royal prerogative. At their entrance upon office, her clergy are all bound, by solemn oath, to uphold and maintain the royal supremacy—the prolific source of her manifold abuses. Whence is it that she has no discipline, that the immoral and the profane crowd to her communion? that arminian and other gross errors have for ages been preached in her pulpits, by three-fourths or four-fifths of her clergy? that when the errors of Romanism are spreading in her like a gangrene, infecting her universities, and multitudes of her ministers, she has no judicial power to arrest or expel them? that no convocation of her clergy has met for the transaction of business for more than a hundred years? that she has no power to alter or amend a canon, or a ceremony, or a prayer in her liturgy, or the legal apparel of her ministers, or to shift or change a pin or a loop of her tabernacle? All this is owing to her being “unequally yoked” to an irreligious civil government.
Nearly half a million of the wealth which the state expends upon her, is devoted to sinecures. One hundred and sixty-three thousand pounds, annually, is paid to twenty-six bishops; three hundred thousand pounds per annum, is expended on cathedrals. Not a single pastor or bishop, in the scriptural sense of that term, is supported by all this. With a moderate endowment to each—such as is paid by government to Presbyterian ministers in Ireland—this sum would support from four to five thousand ministers. But perhaps they are not required? The friends of the church, including some of her dignitaries, declare that they are most urgently required; that the existing destitution, even in the metropolis of the empire, is appalling. An English nobleman, lately deceased, who a few years ago published a scheme of reformation for the Church of England, states, that within a circle of ten miles around London, above 900,000 persons are cut off from all share in the pastoral offices of religion. And why, you may demand, can such a state of matters be allowed to exist for a single year? Why are not the bishops at once relieved from the overwhelming load of wealth and dignity, by which they are incapacitated for pastoral duty? And why are not these enormous sinecures abolished, and the wealth so long lavished upon them, at once appropriated to the legitimate objects of an established church, the providing of sound religious instruction for the people, that the dead sea of irreligion may be healed, and the moral miasmata that spring from it,—the rationalism, and socialism, and chartism, and rockism, and repealism, and countless other disorders which abound throughout the community, may be speedily dissipated? Lord Henley will explain to us why these things are not done. “On inspecting the list of dignitaries,” he says, “it will be found that not more than one in twenty of them has any claim to preferment on the ground of theological, or even of literary attainments. Parliamentary influence, family connexions, party gratitude, have filled up the vacancies as they occurred, with the sons, brothers, and favourers of ministers and their adherents. This species of patronage has generally been considered as so much oil to grease the wheels of government, that the machine of the state may roll on the more smoothly. Widely as the several parties, that have governed the country for a century past, have differed in other things, they have all agreed to regard the church as a source of patronage, which might fairly be employed either for the gratification of private partiality, or as the price of so much parliamentary influence.” Here is the reason why the sinecures cannot be abolished. Here is the reason why zealous churchmen are not ashamed to clamour to parliament for an increase of church revenues, while they are fully aware that nearly half a million sterling, of the revenue already secured to the church, is devoured by a body of ecclesiastical drones; a pack of “dumb dogs that cannot bark, sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber;—greedy dogs which can never have enough.” They know well, that mere politicians cannot be averse to increase the revenues of the church. A little more oil may cause the wheels of state to roll on the more smoothly. And all this might be borne, without any vehement emotion, could our attention be confined to the mere economical part of the question. It is immeasurably better to expend a few hundreds of thousands in keeping an aristocracy quiet at home, than to lavish millions in the support of military armaments abroad. But when we view the question in its religious bearings, and recollect that this politico-ecclesiastical, semi-popish, semi-protestant institution, is held out to the people as the church of the living God,—that multitudes of unconverted and heretical men, Demases, and Judases, and Simon Maguses, are thrust into pulpits as the spiritual guides which the government, has provided for millions immortal beings; then, indeed, the mingled emotions of grief and indignation can either be disguised nor repressed; we then feel inclined to beseech the good men who are in that church, to obtemperate the divine injunction; “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, that ye receive not of her plagues.”
Nor has this church escaped the guilt of sanguinary persecution. The sufferings of the Non-conformists for nearly 150 years, will furnish another chapter in the history of alliances between the church and irreligious civil rulers. The blood shed by Gardiner and Bonner, in the days of the British Jezebel—queen Mary, may be justly ascribed to the spirit of popery. But the multiplied sufferings of the Puritans, under Parker, and Bancroft, and Whitgift, and Laud, with the concurrence and sanction of Protestant civil rulers, cannot be traced to such an origin. The blind bigotry of the last of these archbishops, brought a moral blight over England, the effects of which are not yet exhausted. Many thousand families, who could not be permitted to worship God at home, agreeably to the light of his word, were compelled by the rage of fellow christians to seek refuge among the more hospitable savages of the Western world. There the pilgrim fathers, going and weeping, scattered widely the precious seed of gospel truth, and many generations have already reaped the precious fruit. By the act of uniformity, at the restoration of Charles the II, above 2000 excellent ministers were driven from their flocks, and together with their starving families, compelled to wander as fugitives on the earth. An estimate was made of nearly 8000 protestant dissenters, who perished in prison, under the reign of Charles. In their trade and outward estates, it was computed that they had suffered, in a few years, not less than to the amount of two millions sterling; and a list of sixty thousand persons was taken, who had suffered in England by the penal laws, either in their persons or their property, between the restoration and the revolution. Of the fearful oppressions endured by the Scottish covenanters during the same period, my brethren who preceded me in this Course of Lectures, have already spoken. Now whatever the church of England might have been in other respects, heretical in doctrine, lax in her discipline, superstitious in her worship, or scandalous in regard to the lives of multitudes of her clergy; this much is certain, that had she not been united to an immoral civil government, she never could have been a persecuting church; she never could have borne this indubitable mark of descent from the church whose emblem is an unchaste and cruel woman, “drunken with the blood of the saints, and with. the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.”
In passing to the history of the church of Scotland, it is pleasant to remark in the outset, that the general course of that history exhibits nothing so criminal and revolting as the enormities that have been just recited. This observation, however, does not apply to one dark period of Scottish history, in which prelacy, in its rampant mood, rioted in Scotland like a wild beast broken loose from its barriers. Several circumstances conspire to render the history of the Scottish church pre-eminently fitted to elucidate the question under discussion. 1st. Because her history is better known to us than that of more distant churches. 2d. Because the experience of that church illustrates our question in a two-fold aspect; both as regards the effect of an alliance with enlightened and pious rulers, and of an alliance with rulers of an opposite character. 3d. On account of the pre-eminent advantages which that church possessed for withstanding the corrupting influence of a dangerous alliance. When we call to mind the unrivalled excellence of her formularies, the compactness and firmness of the Presbyterian church government, the very moderate provision made for the ministers, and the proverbial energy and sturdiness of the Scottish character, it must be admitted, we conceive, that if any church could bear the ordeal of such an alliance, the church of Scotland might have done so. What then are the facts of the case in regard to this church?
When we glance at the history of the Scottish church after the reformation from popery, we observe in her diversified experience for a period of thirty years, that the alliance of civil rulers may be either a distinguished blessing, or a grievous curse to a church. During the greater part of that time, the effective power of the civil government was in the nobles. Neither Mary of Guise, nor Mary Queen of Scots, was ever able to exercise the unfettered authority of a Sovereign. The same remark applies to the early part of the reign of James, who was advanced to the throne at twelve years of age. It pleased the Most High to dispose a number of the leading nobility to favour the reformation, and by their instrumentality, the cause of true religion in Scotland was exceedingly promoted. But the church was much afflicted by the vicissitudes which arose from the frequent change of the persons who administered the government. At one time the ministers were caressed; at another time harassed and persecuted. At one time Episcopacy was overpowered and put down; in a short space the rulers had set it up again. At one time the church was permitted to manage her own affairs without much interference; at another time she was fettered and controlled by Erastian authority. Lay patronage kept its place in her during this entire period. Yet amidst all her struggles and conflicts, the cause of religion was greatly advanced throughout the kingdom, in the time specified.
During the next 40 years, from the time that James began to grasp the reins of government more firmly, the condition of the church was very much changed for the worse. The freedom of the General Assembly was completely destroyed. It was permitted to meet only at distant intervals; and immense pains were employed, that nothing should be transacted in it, but what was agreeable to the Sovereign. The Assembly itself was made the instrument by which the church was corrupted and degraded; violence and cunning were employed, alternately, as the occasion required; until at length it was cajoled, bribed, or intimidated into compliance. The same system of policy was pursued by Charles. The son was indeed vastly inferior to the father in political sagacity; but what was wanting in intrigue and dexterous management, he endeavoured to compensate by violence, and inflexible obstinacy. The power of the bishops were augmented. The High Commission Court was stimulated in its high-handed oppression. The articles of Perth were rigorously enforced. The loudest declaimers in favour of Arminianism, and superstitious ceremonies, were patronized and promoted. All intrants to the ministry were bound by oath to submit to the Bishops. At length a book of canons, and a liturgy, were prepared, with the view of destroying every remaining vestige of Presbytery in Scotland. This proposal brought on the crisis, which issued in the SECOND REFORMATION. On the whole, it would be a hazardous assertion, that the church of Scotland reaped advantage from her connexion with the state, for a period of forty years, from 1596. A process of direct and palpable corruption was successfully carried forward, which must soon have deprived her of all her pre-eminence, and have made her as formal, heretical, and servile, as Laud or his master could have desired.
Of the bearing of the SECOND REFORMATION on the point under discussion, we can afford to submit only the following observations: 1st, That reformation was commenced and carried forward, not by the assistance, or with the concurrence of the existing civil rulers, but in spite of their most determined hostility and opposition. Had Charles possessed sufficient power to prevent it, the reformation would, certainly, not have been accomplished, under his reign. When the crisis occasioned by his own despotism drew on, he anxiously looked to Scotland for assistance, in his struggle with the English Parliament. And knowing the supreme regard which the Scottish people had for their religion, he was disposed, in the existing emergency, to make every concession. A parliament being therefore called, under these favourable circumstances, the jesuitical prince concurred with it, in ratifying the leading and primary measures of the reformation. Indubitable evidence was afterwards afforded, that this was a mere stroke of policy, and that he was fully determined, as soon as he should be able, to overturn and reverse everything he had now established. In the progress of the civil war, the sovereign authority was laid under a sort of suspension in Scotland, as well as in English. From this cause, the party who were inimical to the reformation, were broken up and enfeebled. This party, to which the general name of malignants was commonly applied at that period, included a great variety of characters. Some were concealed papists. Many were attached to prelacy. Others were indifferent or opposed to all religion—sceptics or infidels. Many of them, as might be expected, were men of immoral and wicked lives. They were all supporters of the royal prerogative—the friends and abettors of arbitrary power. Had Charles possessed the sovereign authority unfettered, these were the men who would have been his councilors and great officers of state; and it is absolutely certain, that under their administration, the Second Reformation could not have been effected.
2d. The reformers themselves laboured strenuously to have the church united to a reformed and christian State. Every person who has given attention to the history of the period, must have been struck with the astonishing exertions they made, to have the civil government constituted on scriptural principles, and to place the administration in the hands of christian men. They were deeply impressed with the conviction, that in a reformed nation, it was wrong in principle, and dangerous to the interests of religion, to invest the immoral and ungodly with power. They laboured to exclude such persons both from the legislative and executive departments of government. In their covenants, they promise allegiance to the king, only “in the defence and preservation of the true religion, liberties, and laws of the kingdom.” The importance they attached to this principle was farther demonstrated in those acts of Parliament, usually termed acts of Classes, the design of which was “to purge all judicatories and places of power and trust, and to endeavour that they might consist of, and be filled with, such men as were of known and good affection to the cause of God, and of a blameless and christian conversation.” This they regarded as a moral duty commanded in the word of God, and of perpetual obligation. It is therefore manifest that the Reformers of this period acted steadily on the principle, that the state as well as the church should be constituted and regulated in conformity with the dictates of the word of God,—and therefore, give no sanction to a union between the church and an immoral or ungodly civil government.
3d. As soon as the power of the government came into the hands of irreligious men, the whole of the Second Reformation was overturned and abolished. The principles on which it was effected were declared by act of Parliament to be “rebellious and treasonable,” and the measures used for promoting it, “unlawful and seditious.” Similar epithets were employed respecting and reforming Assembly at Glasgow, and all its acts and decisions were pronounced “null and void.” All the meetings of Parliament, during the reforming period, were condemned, as without authority, and all their acts rescinded, as “testimonies of disloyalty, reproaches upon the kingdom, and unfit to be any longer on record.” Thus all that could be done by government was done, to bury the attainments of the reformation in oblivion, or to overwhelm them with everlasting disgrace. The public proceedings of the reforming parliaments were torn with indignation from the statute-book, and the public proceedings of the reforming assemblies, were torn from the records of the church. No civil government, since that time, has ever proposed to replace the former; and no established church has ever seriously attempted to replace the latter. The new government after the revolution, never restored the authority of the laws of the reforming period; and the revolution church never restored the authority of the ecclesiastical proceedings of the reforming period. This may suffice to shew the measure of respect entertained for the principles and attainments of the Second Reformation by an irreligious civil government, and by the churches that are united with it.
I am in a great measure relieved from the necessity of expounding the lessons of experience on this subject, exhibited in the history of the church of Scotland, since the revolution. The instruction which may be derived from that source, has of late been very frequently and forcibly presented to the public mind: and although it has been adduced for a very different purpose, it is not the less available for the illustration of the great principle of this lecture. Whatever evidence has been presented, of the dismal effects of patronage in Scotland, for 100 years, of the indolence and inefficiency, and unsoundness in the faith, and political subserviency of a multitude of her ministers during the ascendancy of moderatism, the whole of this serves to prove the pernicious tendency, and mischievous effects, of an alliance between the church and an irreligious government. I shall not presume to travel over the ground that has been so ably occupied by a preceding lecturer, in this course, by pointing out the palpable defects and blemishes of the ecclesiastical settlement, at the revolution; but content myself with remarking, that these defects must, to a very large extent, be ascribed to this single cause, that the church accepted of an improper alliance. Whatever exceptions may be justly taken to a number of the ministers admitted into the first assembly, after the revolution, it is a matter of certainty, that a majority of them submitted with great reluctance to the Erastian interferences of the civil rulers, and that the Assembly, had it been free and unfettered, would have constructed an ecclesiastical edifice much more in accordance with the model of the Second Reformation, than that which was actually set up. The fact is, that for nearly thirty years after the revolution, the sounder and better part of the church maintained an unequal conflict against the perpetual encroachments of the state. They struggled against the arbitrary interference of government with the freedom of the General Assembly, in summoning, proroguing, and dissolving, its meetings at pleasure. They struggled against the admission of the curates into the fellowship of the church; a measure so pregnant with corruption, that no considerations of expediency could justify their submission to it. They struggled against the incorporating union with England, by which Scotland virtually pledged her concurrence in the perpetual establishment of Prelacy in England and Ireland. They struggled against the imposition of ensnaring oaths, from which the church has never since been emancipated. They struggled against the restoration of patronage, by the Act of Queen Anne, many of them being strongly impressed with the boundless injury it would inflict on the cause of true religion. But they still clung to an unsuitable and improper state alliance, and were overcome; and under the operation of these measures, the sounder part became progressively less capable of contending with their opponents. The house of David waxed weaker and weaker, and the house of Saul stronger and stronger. And then came the reign of Moderatism;—a long, and dark, and dreary period; a century of ecclesiastical misrule and oppression. Then came a race of ministers cringing and servile to the aristocracy, but truculent and haughty to the people; shepherds who ate the fat, and clothed themselves with the wool, but they fed not the flock. Then the wise maxims of heathen moralists were much more quoted in pulpit orations, and much more admired, than the heavenly maxims of the Saviour, or the writings of the inspired apostles. Then the rights of the Christian people were violently usurped, and she voice of remonstrance stifled, while a high-handed patronage filled the vacant pulpits with the proteges and parasites of the nobility and gentry. Then the Confession of Faith, although still subscribed by ministers at the: ordination, “all honourable men,” was commonly regarded as a piece of antiquated lumber, full of fanaticism and absurdity. Then came in a flood of Arminianism, and Pelagianism, and Rationalism, and Socinianism, unblushingly propounded in the universities, and in vast numbers of pulpits. And what might have become of genuine piety and practical godliness under all this, it is impossible to conjecture, had not the exalted Messiah, in his zeal for his own cause, constrained a few right-hearted ministers, and a multitude of pious people, to come out and be separate, and to adopt measures for preserving and extending the knowledge and power of the gospel, beyond the pale of the establishment.
One of the ablest advocates for reform in the church of Scotland at the present day, who justly designates the system of moderatism an “antichristian system,” presents, in a recent pamphlet, this affecting picture of the period of church history to which we have just referred. “For about 20 years after the revolution, the church of Scotland was, upon the whole, in a most efficient condition, and conferred most important benefits upon the country. But about the time of the restoration of patronage, the elements of spiritual corruption and decay began to work, and to shew themselves. The old faithful ministers, who had endured the persecution, had gone to their rest; the corrupting influence of the Episcopalian conformists, who had been received into the church, was extending itself; men of ability and activity, but of unsound principles, and destitute apparently of personal religion, contrived by sycophancy and court favour, to get into situations of importance,—were made Principals of Universities, and Professors of Divinity, and this, combined with the exercise of Patronage, restored by a popish and jacobinical faction, and exercised generally by an irreligious and profligate aristocracy, spread the leaven of iniquity, and thus paved the way for the ascendancy of the moderate party. Under their reign, during the latter half of last century, the preaching of sound doctrine, and the practice of serious religion, were discountenanced by the whole weight of ecclesiastical authority; everything that a christian church ought to aim at was disregarded; the rights and consciences of christian men were trampled under foot, and ministers were settled even at the point of the bayonet; our ecclesiastical leaders had for their most intimate friends avowed infidels, and governed the church in a worldly and infidel spirit: though professing to act like philosophers and gentlemen, they were notoriously engaged in a pitiful scramble for pelf and pensions; the greatest offence a minister could commit was to be valiant for the truth; the church courts did their utmost to protect those accused of heresy and crime, and manifested as much indifference about the interests of morality, which they pretended to respect, as about the doctrines of the gospel which they avowedly despised.”
Such is the testimony of Mr. Cunningham. And although the language of Dr. Chalmers on the same subject, may contain less of the indignant reprehension which characterizes the passage just quoted, it fully corroborates the sentiment of the passage. “If the effect of the present contest,” says the Doctor, “be to re-establish the triumph of moderatism, the likelihood is, that it will recall both the inoperative theology, and the careless ministration which obtained in the days of our fathers, and alienated thousands and tens of thousands from the church;—or, in other words, a theology which tells not on the hearts and consciences of men—a ministration which lost to the establishment that mighty and pervading influence for good, which, under the reign of apostolic doctrine in the congregation, and of apostolic diligence from house to house among the families, it at one time had, throughout the great bulk and body of the population.” And when contrasting the moderate with the evangelical, he describes the former as “nauseating and despising as ignoble and fanatical and vulgar, what the other holds in highest esteem, as being at once the theology of conscience, and the theology of the New Testament.” In so far, therefore, as moderatism has prevailed, the church of Scotland has been an engine for evil and not for good; a pillar of error and delusion, rather than a pillar and ground of the truth; a fraud and deception upon the souls of men. What infinite evil has arisen from the maintenance of such a system, as a national institution, while three entire generations passed into eternity! What fearful iniquity to impose upon the people, whose eternal welfare was at stake, a ministry that “nauseated and despised the gospel as ignoble, and fanatical, and vulgar;” a ministry publicly hired and supported to feed the people with the bread of life, but who starved or poisoned the souls committed to their charge; a ministry, of whom a weeping remnant in the land might have taken up the language of Mary, “they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.” And to what do we ascribe all this? To the fact that the church was united to the state? By no means; but to her union with an irreligious and ungodly state. In the lapse of years the population was doubled or trebled, but the destitute condition of this increasing multitude seemed to give no concern to the church; she not only made no effort to provide instruction for them herself, but discouraged and obstructed those who would have made provision. Other churches sprung up and laboured and grew strong, from very small beginnings; but the national church, publicly supported, and possessing twenty or fifty times the resources of all her competitors, continued in the same dimensions, stunted and without growth. Even the pious people who were in her communion, appeared almost as indifferent to the moral destitution around them, as their irreligious companions. The wise virgins slept as profoundly as the foolish. Say not, it was the misfortune of the times that churches were not orthodox; for those churches around her, which kept free from the corrupting alliance into which she has entered, continued to be orthodox when she was most heretical; and whatever may have been the causes of decay in churches in other lands, it is clear to demonstration, that the inefficiency, and heresy, and stunted growth of the church of Scotland for a hundred years, were the result and consequence, of that unhappy and fatal alliance, which opened the way for the unhallowed and wicked interference of an irreligious and Erastian civil government.
But the reign of moderatism has, for the present at least, been subverted, and a most material change for the better has now taken place, in the character and operations of the national church. In this we greatly rejoice; but while we frankly admit that an extensive and very beneficial change has taken place in her, and that the return of orthodoxy, and activity, and a growing spirit of independence, has given her a place in the esteem and affection of many in the land, to which she had long been a stranger; still we are constrained to hold, that there is nothing in all this to prove the lawfulness or advantage of an alliance with an irreligious government. Nay, if additional evidence to the contrary had been required, after the experience of three hundred years, this recent revival in the church of Scotland would have supplied it. Has her alliance with the state prompted, or facilitated, or promoted, any one of the improvements that has heretofore been effected? On the contrary, has not her relation to the state been the great drag and impediment to her progress in reformation, ever since she set herself to attempt improvement? Those changes which she calls reformation, the noble and the honourable, whom she has been accustomed to lean upon as her steadfast friends, have pronounced to be grievous blunders and defections. Her present attitude, which she accounts one of reformation, appears to them as one of turbulence and sedition. When she ventures to assert her claim of spiritual independence, and to exercise those rights which inherently and inalienably belong to every church of Christ, she is charged, with putting forth “monstrous and extravagant pretensions.” As long as she was pliant and obsequious, although for all the great purposes of an establishment inefficient and worthless, she was cherished and caressed by the great. But now when she begins to assert her proper rights, and to make vigorous efforts to cast off the yoke she had long borne so tamely, her former friends stigmatize and scourge her with little mercy. They offer to adjust the yoke that galls her somewhat more commodiously, but at the same time more tightly than before; and when she declines the proffered kindness, they fly off in a rage, and leave her to extricate herself as she best can. And here, verily, is the alternative which mere politicians have extended to the church in all ages, and which the history of the Scottish church, from her very infancy, so fully illustrates. If she concede to the state a real and effectual control over her;—if the mutual compact be so arranged as to secure to civil rulers as large a return of political influence, as they could reasonably expect to secure by the same amount of wealth expended in any other way, then their good offices and friendship will be granted to her without parsimony, and without grudging. But if, on the contrary, the church be faithful to her divine Lord, and disdain every compromise with those who would usurp his authority; if she resolutely maintain her own rights, and sturdily resist every Erastian encroachment; if she be faithful in exposing what is corrupt, even in the civil constitution, and is testifying against what may be unrighteous or impious in the administration, it will invariably be found, that in the administration, it will invariably be found, that in the prosecution of such a course, the favour of ungodly rulers will be forfeited; and she must either make a compromise, or be deprived of their support. “What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness, and what concord hath Christ with Belial?”
It is no new thing for the ministers of the Reformed Presbyterian church to hold forth and proclaim such sentiments as these. It has been their practice to do so ever since the revolution. It is true, their testimonies and reproofs were not regarded, perhaps scarcely heard, by those who, being elevated in the sunshine of royal favour, looked upon them as a precise and impracticable set of men, who, on the ground of mere punctilios, and unintelligible crotchets, shut themselves out from advantages which they might have shared with others. And we are fully aware, that were these doctrines proclaimed by no other voice than ours, even at the present day, they would awaken little attention. Nay, although they were published with all the eloquence and skill in argument, that have often been enlisted in the defence of opposite opinions, we are convinced, from the nature of the obstacles that resist their progress, they would make only a slender or transient impression. But when the Almighty arises to teach mankind, his words shall not fall to the ground. When momentous lessons, which may have been long disrelished or rejected, are embodied in the dispensations of divine Providence, men’s thoughts are forced into a new channel, and their cherished theories are confounded. How wonderfully has this been verified, within the last few years, in the experience of the Church of Scotland! The remarkable events which have occurred, have proved the means of effecting changes of opinion, even in a period that may be reckoned by months, which a century of argument and remonstrance proved inadequate to accomplish. Who can contemplate the recent movement towards the abolition of patronage, without astonishment, that has attentively observed the reception given to antipatronage efforts and petitions, even within the last ten years? Nay, the very veto law itself, was an acknowledged effort to preserve patronage. It was artfully contrived for the express purpose of making such a plausible concession to the people, as might prevent a formidable insurrection against this master grievance. The words of man may be despised, however true,—even as the arguments and invectives that were wont to be hurled against patronage, were scouted as the babblings of weak minded people, or as the effusions of sectarian spleen and bitterness. But when God writes the lesson on the mighty events of his Providence, it flashes conviction on the most reluctant observer. We do not yet despair, therefore, to behold the momentous doctrine so inadequately traced in the preceding lecture, brought home with such power of conviction to the understandings and consciences of christian men, that they shall as heartily denounce union between the church of Christ and an ungodly civil government, as they at present abominate the intolerable yoke of an unfettered lay-patronage. And of this we feel the more assured, when we observe, that principles are avowed, and confessions made, even already, by some of the most enthusiastic admirers, and most able defenders of existing establishments, which if followed out to their legitimate consequences, would lead them, at all hazards, to abandon every erastian or antichristian alliance, as a thing to be reprobated and abhorred. And here we crave liberty to present a few extracts from a recent publication, by one whose pre-eminent abilities, and commanding eloquence, have secured to him the first place among the living advocates of the Church of Scotland. Let us hear how Doctor Chalmers describes the difficulties the church has had to contend with, in her efforts to promote reform. “The truth is, that she has been engaged with a twofold, or rather a manifold perplexity. Her direct task, of itself sufficiently arduous, and in the prosecution of which she, in the divided state of politics, has to encounter difficulties of the most formidable description, is to obtain the consent of the legislature to some method of giving effect to her own views of ecclesiastical polity, free at the same time from the hazard of a conflict with the civil tribunals of the country.” Now the case, even as thus far delineated by the Doctor, is distressing enough. That a protestant church, under a protestant government, in the light and liberty of the 19th century, should be unable to act on her own declared principles, without incurring the hazard of a conflict with the civil tribunals of the country, is what could never have been anticipated by the admirers of the Revolution Settlement. But there is an additional trial in the case, another fruit of the church’s alliance with an erastian government, which the Doctor proceeds to describe. “While thus engaged,” he says, “she has over and above been exposed to a warfare of incessant annoyance from another quarter. The likest thing to it that I know in ecclesiastical history, in the case of Nehemiah, whose proper task it was to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, but whose attention to the work was ever and anon called off, by the perpetual assaults of Sanballat and the Horonites. Now, we, in like manner, have a Sanballat and his Horonites to contend with, fierce and vigorous assailants, armed with peculiar weapons of hostility, and having the command of very peculiar tactics, by which they cannot only bring down upon us a hand of violence from without, but stir up against us, and that in all the various quarters of our establishment, an anarchy and misrule within our borders.”
It is instructive farther to observe, how the Doctor deplores the hostility, which the higher orders in the state have manifested, towards the reforming measures of the church: “It is by a singularly perverse and infatuated policy on the part of the upper classes, that, when the church was fast recovering this wholesome and most beneficial, yet withal, pacific ascendancy over a grateful and willing community, an arrest should have been laid on it, and that too at a period when society is obviously verging to dissolution from the growing irreligion of the multitude. Yet, in the face of this danger, many, and calling themselves conservatives too, have entered, and with the keenest exasperation against the alone policy by which the church can be made the instrument even of a temporal salvation from the horrors of impending anarchy; and, accordingly, it is in one and the same quarter, that we behold the deadliest antipathy against either the church being extended, or the church being evangelized. Heaven grant that the eyes of our aristocracy may at length be opened to the hazard, not of their own position merely, but of the country at large.” Elsewhere the Doctor admits, that at one time he was sanguine enough to believe, that even the opposition of the irreligious might be conciliated, by clearly demonstrating the good, political and economical, that an evangelical church is fitted to confer, by “charming away, or at least, lessening indefinitely all turbulence, and pauperism, and crime;” but that he has now become convinced that the antipathy to true religion by which such men are actuated, is a part of the old man, the inveteracy of which cannot be overcome but by regenerating grace; “that christianity, if not welcomed in her spiritual character, refuses to make herself known as the harbinger even of those blessings which statesmen and philanthropists most long to realize.” But without farther multiplying extracts, where there is much that is appropriate, I give one paragraph in which the Doctor expresses his matured judgment in regard to the two great parties in the state at the present day; “After all, I now feel that I owe an act of justice to the Whigs. I understand justice in the sense of equity, (æquitas), and I am now bound to say that if, on the question of church endowments, I have been grievously disappointed by the one party,—on the question of church independence, I have been as grievously disappointed by the other. Of course I speak on the basis of a very limited induction; but, as far as the findings of my own personal observation are concerned, I should say of the former that they seem to have no great value for church establishments at all; and of the latter, that their great value for a church establishment seems to be more for it as an engine of state, than as an instrument of Christian usefulness. The difference lies in having no principle, or in having a principle that is wrong; in either way they are equally useless, and may prove equally hurtful to the church; and though the acknowledgment I now make to the Whigs be a somewhat ludicrous one, if viewed in the character of a peace offering, I am nevertheless bound to declare, that, for aught like right church purposes, I have found the Conservatives to be just as bad as themselves.” It is not improbable there may be those who have not been impressed by any arguments now advanced, who may nevertheless defer to the opinion of such a man as Dr. C., and to me it does certainly appear that if the principles involved in the extracts now made, were followed out to their legitimate results, and brought into practical operation, Dr. C. would reject the alliance of ungodly civil rulers as resolutely as we do ourselves.
If we might presume to offer a word of counsel to the church in such difficult and perplexing circumstances, it would be to ponder the example and adopt the resolution of the ancient church in circumstances not dissimilar. “Therefore, behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall that she shall not find her paths. And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them; then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband, for then it was better with me than now.”—Hos. ii. 6, 7.
[go to LECTURE IX.]
A few days after the preceding Lecture was delivered, the following Advertisement appeared in the Scottish Guardian Newspaper:
“In the Course of Lectures on Infidelity, the next discourse—that is for Monday evening—treats of infidelity as manifested in various schemes of civil government. Dr. Willis—the lecturer for that evening—intends to notice in the course of his exposition, the erroneous opinion which would classify the British Legislature (since the Revolution at least,) with irreligious and antichristian governments. He intends to show that this extreme opinion in unscriptural, inconsistent with the professed sentiments of those who promulgate it, and as held by some religious men, tends to encourage infidels in their contempt of civil authority as the ordinance of God.”
From the coincidence of the time at which this announcement was made, and the fact that the general principle advocated in the lecture, is that which Dr. W. has impugned, there was no room for doubt that he had the lecture, and those who espouse the principle of it, in view. It might have been better, perhaps, had Dr. Willis waited until it should have been in his power to deal with the arguments set forth in the lecture. He would thus have escaped the censure which Solomon pronounces on the person who answereth a matter before he heareth it; (Prov. xviii. 13.) and it may be presumed, might have rendered his reply some what more satisfactory. The writer is aware that Dr. W. did him the favour to be a hearer on the evening on which the lecture was delivered in Glasgow: but it will be recollected that, for want of time, certain portions of it were passed over without being read.
It seems proper to observe here, that the writer of the preceding lecture is alone responsible for it. Neither the church with which he is connected, nor brethren in the ministry, can be in any way answerable for sentiments, or trains of reasoning, about which they were never consulted. In regard to the great leading doctrine of it, however, that it is unwarrantable and pernicious for the church of Christ to contract alliance with an immoral or antichristian civil government, he has no reason to believe that there is any difference of opinion among his brethren. They have all deliberately adopted a testimony, in which such an alliance is explicitly condemned. [Historical part of Testimony, pp. 170, 172.] They have all made costly sacrifices in maintaining their testimony on that head. They have all proclaimed their conviction that the British government—even since the Revolution—has in it many grievous immoralities; “that the principles and the policy of the great Romish apostacy are so conspicuous in the constitution and administration of both Church and State, as to stamp the whole with the character of Antichrist. [Historical part of Testimony, p. 210.]
That Dr. Willis considers it a privilege for the church to be united with the present civil government of these lands, he has made abundantly manifest; and it will excite no surprise that he should evince peculiar sensitiveness when the propriety of such a union is called in question. But there is certainly no good reason why he should betray irritation, or indulge any bitterness of feeling, when those who differ in judgment from him on that subject give frank and open expression to their opinions. Nothing can be easier than to imagine and insinuate corrupt motives for men’s conduct. Even Dr. Willis’s zeal to be received into the Established Church might furnish a theme for a world of uncharitable surmise. But no candid controversialist would indulge such a spirit, either in himself or his readers. It is altogether unwarrantable and wrong, therefore, for Dr. W. to ascribe the temperate expression of opinion, in regard to what would be best for the interests of religion in these lands, to “antipathy” against the church; to “rival jealousy;” to “Sectarian hatred;” (odium theologicum) to that malevolence which “cheers over a brother’s calamities;” which “anticipates with pleasure the church’s downfall;” which “sympathises with her oppressors.” Is this the amount of Dr. W.’s charity? or were these the sentiments which he himself entertained towards the church when he professed to be a Dissenter?
The writer of the preceding lecture takes leave to declare, that in reading Dr. Willis’ lecture, now published, he has met with a two-fold disappointment. 1st. He has been much disappointed in comparing his promises with his performance. The announcement in the Scottish Guardian was very formidable; but the connexion between this announcement and his reasoning is so slender, that one is tempted to conclude, he relied more on the effect of his advertisement than of his argument. He has been further disappointed, that even within the compass of seven pages, which he has devoted to this branch of his subject, so small a share of the argument advanced in the preceding lecture has been canvassed or challenged.
Dr. Willis does, indeed, denounce vehemently the leading principle advocated in the lecture. That principle is this: that it is unlawful for the church of Christ to contract alliance with, or become dependent on, an immoral or antichristian civil government. This sentiment he regards not only as erroneous, but as pregnant with unbounded evil; as a very Pandora’s box of mischief. It would “unchristianise the constitution;” “open the sluices of unrestrained ungodliness, and license the proclamation of open rebellion against the rulers of the world.” It is closely allied to the unscriptural opinion that “dominion is founded in grace”—an opinion which Dr. Willis knows we repudiate and condemn. It is akin to the principles of the German Anabaptists, who, in the 16th century, “threw Christendom into disorder, and would have erected their imaginary monarchy on the ruins of empires.” Here there is abundance of assertion. It is a sufficient reply to say—we reject those doctrines to which you allege our doctrine is allied, and we deny the resemblance you profess to have discovered between them. We are convinced it is an exercise of genuine kindness, as well as an act of imperative duty, for the church to say to a corrupt and immoral civil government, “as long as you embody gross immorality in your constitution, disown the supreme authority of the Scriptures in your public policy, and usurp the prerogatives of the Son of God, we cannot contract alliance with you. REPENT AND REFORM. You shall find us the steady friends of social order, and we should rejoice to be favoured with your countenance and assistance in our endeavours to diffuse religion throughout the kingdom; but we cannot even appear to sanction that which God condemns. The church of Christ must not have fellowship with “thrones of iniquity, which establish mischief by law.” Would this be the same thing in Dr. Willis’ eyes as to “open the sluices of unrestrained ungodliness, and license the proclamation of open rebellion against the rulers of the world?” There were certain controversialists with whom Reformed Presbyterians had to deal, more than half a century ago, who, when tired by the toughness of debate, were accustomed to hurl charges of sedition and disloyalty against their opponents. But Dr. Willis, it might be hoped, would not stoop to such expedients; and even if at any time he did feel an impulse to revive these antiquated charges—charges which have been equally groundless as respects our principles and our practice, he ought certainly to abstain until his own position, and that of the party with which he acts, be such as to provoke no retort, ere he attempt to fix the brand of rebellion on fellow-christians, who are as warm friends and as steady promoters of public order and tranquility as he is himself.
Dr. Willis has two strong positions which he seems resolved to defend against all assailants. 1st. The British Government is a religious government. 2d. Even if it were irreligious and immoral, yet, as being the ordinance of God, the church may dutifully and safely contract alliance with it.
I. The British government is a religious government. He will not allow it to be said that the constitution is irreligious; he will not permit “the British legislature, at least since the Revolution, to be classified with irreligious or antichristian governments.” He is prepared, however, to make large concessions. He admits that “in some recent instances” the purity of the constitution “has been impaired, and its strength weakened by the removal of some of the bulwarks of the Protestant interests:” that our “law does, in some provinces of the empire, lend its positive support to the antichristian cause;” that “there is a growing licentiousness of opinion which would obliterate all religious distinctions, and a disposition to legislate on the principle of Gallio—of caring for none of these things.” Elsewhere he adds; “With many of our politicians” (he does not say how many,) “the question is not what is scriptural—what is agreeable to the moral law? but what is expedient? They discard the obligations of religion, as if it were not meant for men in their collective character; our treaties, our alliances, our wars, how little care is taken to secure that they do not affect for evil the cause of God and his truth in the earth! With many this question is altogether in the background. And so in matters of internal polity. That the sacredness of the sabbath is to be violated; that the consciences of the pious are to be offended: that the spiritual interests of the poor are to be mercilessly ruined—do these considerations restrain, as they ought to do, the hand of legislation in the enactments, for example, concerning mails and railways? But if legislators and magistrates are to regard themselves as Ministers of God, should such considerations not restrain and regulate them? Would not also the consciences of the servants of government be saved from violation, in being compelled to witness the abominations of heathen worship? and the brave defenders of the land from being cashiered because they will not bow themselves in the house of Rimmon, and wink connivance at” (the Dr. should have said, ‘take an active share in’) “the superstitious services of a popish ritual.”
Still, according to Dr. Willis, our government is a religious government. The evidence on which he rests his proposition, he has not deemed it necessary to submit. We have heard this proof offered from other quarters; that the formularies of the Churches of England and of Scotland are embodied in the British Constitution, the Westminster Confession, the Articles, the Canons, and the Liturgy. If this be held decisive of the question, it cannot well be denied that the Church of Rome is a very religious church, inasmuch as she embodies the Holy Scriptures among her standards. She claims, no doubt, the right of putting her own interpretation upon them, as the Court of Session, does in regard to the Confession of Faith. But, it is urged farther, that the support and favour which the British government renders to religion, confirms its claim to be accounted a religious government. It establishes Episcopacy in England and in Ireland, and endows them munificently. It establishes Presbyterianism in Scotland, and endows it sparingly. It confers a regium donum on the Presbyterian church in Ireland, which is evangelical, and on several smaller sects, which are grossly heretical. And it establishes Popery in Canada, and endows it handsomely in the Colonies. It also expends some £9000 per annum in the education of popish priests at Maynooth. Now, if this proof be deemed satisfactory, there is certainly no civil government having better claims to be accounted religious. The same kind of proof, it is true, will be availing in behalf of the antichristian governments on the Continent of Europe. That which was established in France by Buonaparte, under which all sects and denominations received public support, will have the best claim, perhaps, to come into competition. The amount of money bestowed may not have been so large as that conferred upon the more favoured sects in England; but in estimating the intensity of the religious spirit, the means and resources of a country, must, in equity, be taken into account. If, however, the appropriation of public money for the support of religion be admitted as evidence that a civil government is religious, the question will naturally suggest itself, of what religion, then, is the British Government? of the Protestant, or of the Popish religion? and if of the Protestant, is it of the Episcopal or of the Presbyterian persuasion? or must it be concluded that it is not of any one of these religions, but a little of each and all of them; that the religion of the British Government is a sort of medley, being partly Protestant, partly Popish, partly Prelatic, partly Presbyterian, partly orthodox, and partly heretical? Dr. Willis argues freely from the duty of an individual to that of a civil government. What would be thought of an individual who is a Protestant in England, and a Papist in Ireland or in Canada, a Presbyterian in the North of Britain, and an Episcopalian in the South; who upholds and advocates orthodoxy in the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and Arianism or Socinianism in the Remonstrant Synod, and in the Antrim Presbytery? Would the conclusion be that the person is exceedingly, and marvellously religious, or that his religion is merely a party-coloured cloak, which he can cast off or on at pleasure, and which may be changed as the climate may require?
But, then, says Dr. Willis, “We cannot be so uncandid as to say that the spirit of the Constitution looks equally complacent on religion and irreligion.” He complains of “generalities” when the irreligion of a government is spoken of; yet he finds it convenient to employ them himself. What does he mean by “the spirit of the constitution?” Does he intend the intelligence which plans, and the effective power which habitually controls and regulates the general course of public policy? If the spirit be something that is inoperative and powerless, that is habitually overborne by the flesh, it matters little whether it smiles or frowns on religion. But if we must judge of the spirit, which we cannot see, by the prevailing course of administration, which we can see, the soundness of Dr. W.’s view on this head, may be held liable to debate. That we may not be embarrassed with “generalities,” however, we should wish to understand precisely what he intends by religion, when he affirms that the spirit of the constitution regards it with special favour. Does he mean religion in its scriptural purity, or anything which, in a loose sense, may be called religion? Is Popery religion? Is Unitarianism? or the Puseyism of the English church? If such things as these must be recognized as religion, then the government must be allowed all the credit which Dr. Willis claims for it. But if these things should rather be classed with irreligion, which we understand to mean the absence of true religion, then it is not so manifest that the government looks with more complacence on religion than on irreligion. If evidence be sought that the government exercises an enlightened discrimination, and gives a preference to pure christianity over that which is corrupted and debased, we shall speedily meet with many strange anomalies. Where has the spirit of the constitution been when the various sects of evangelical dissenters in England, who form so large a share of the strength of the empire, both morally and physically, have been treated with cold neglect, while Socinianism and Popery have both been taken into the warm embrace of the government? Whether does the legislature bestow a smile of kinder approbation on the orthodox Presbyterianism of Scotland, or on the heterogeneous and chaotic system of the English Church? Let this one fact give the answer; it expends about as much annually on the idle pageant of cathedrals, as it grants for the religious instruction of the whole Scottish nation. The idlers and sinecurists attached to the English Church have as large a mess from the royal table as all the ministers of the national church of Scotland. What does the spirit of the constitution say to this? Again, it might be asked, Does the government look with more apparent complacence on the spreading Puseyism of the English church, or on the non-intrusionism, of the Church of Scotland? Even if it could be proved, which it cannot, that the government never gives a preference to corrupt christianity over that which is more scriptural and pure, the evidence of its religious spirit would still be most unsatisfactory. It is a pitiful proof of piety that a man does not love irreligion as much as religion; and, in the judgment of well-informed christians, it will appear no injustice, that the man who is christians, it will appear no injustice, that the man who is equally disposed to favour every form of religion, true or false, should be ranked with those who are indifferent to all religion—that is, with the irreligious.
But in the event of Dr. Willis finding his first position insecure, he has a second, which he seems to regard as more impregnable. It is this: whatever may be the character of a government, moral or immoral, religious or irreligious, it is the ordinance of God; and therefore the church may warrantably and safely be united with it. “There is,” he says, “a twofold fallacy in the assertion that a church may not be united with irreligious governments; first, there is a confounding of what is good in the ordinance of God with the evil that is found in man; and secondly, an assumption that the alliance contended for implies a surrender of the church’s spiritual liberty or independence.” It is to be regretted that in enunciating some of the most comprehensive and sweeping doctrines in the whole compass of his lecture, he should have chosen, as in this instance he does, an obscure and ambiguous style of expression. It is presumed that the following sentiments are involved in the paragraph now quoted. 1st. Every civil government that exists by the providence of God, whatever may be its character, is the ordinance of God, and ought to be received and acknowledged as such. 2d. The Church of Christ may be united to any civil government whatever, that exists in the providence of God. 3d. It is a groundless apprehension, that the church is exposed to any peculiar danger by being united to an immoral or irreligious government. It would be gratifying to find that the passage has been misapprehended, and that these are not, in reality, opinions held by Dr. Willis; as the author of the preceding lecture cannot but regard every one of them as an error of the greatest magnitude, and the whole of them are most dishonouring to God, most ensnaring to the souls of men, and most perilous and fatal to the church.
In regard to the first position, that every civil government existing in divine Providence is to be acknowledged and reverenced as the ordinance of God, this is not the time nor place for controversy. It is one thing for Christians to conduct themselves as quiet and inoffensive members of society, and quite another thing to be incorporated with a corrupt constitution, or to give pledges of allegiance to that which is believed to be morally wrong. The members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church have practised the former, but have steadily refused to do the latter. They cannot believe that ‘thrones of iniquity,’—tyrannical, impious, anti-christian governments, should be acknowledged and reverenced as ordinances of God. Such governments may be ordinances of God in that sense in which a banditti, or a piratical vessel, is the ordinance of God. Dr. Willis may allege, that to speak in this manner is to “encourage infidels in their contempt of civil authority as the ordinance of God;” we reply, that his doctrine tends to encourage infidels in their contempt of God’s authority, as the author of the Bible. The efforts that have been made to screen and sanctify the injustice, oppression, and impiety of civil governments, by the authority of the bible, have constituted one of the most prolific sources of infidelity. These efforts have been made principally by the clergy, of whom immense numbers have been the hirelings and parasites of immoral powers; and they have been unintentionally abetted by others, who were themselves sincere friends of the gospel, although they unhappily entertained the error that seems to be advocated by Dr. Willis.
The next doctrine in the passage, which appears less equivocally expressed is this; that the church of Christ may properly be united with any civil government that exists, whether moral or immoral, religious or irreligious. If the conditions of the union were satisfactory, Dr. Willis would not be deterred by the character of the government, whatever that might be. If he would be inclined to make any exceptions, he has given no hint to that effect. Only let the terms of the contract be well drawn, and he would not scruple to espouse the church to the most flagitious and impious government on earth. By a most ingenious distinction he has decided, that the church so united, is not in alliance with the evil or irreligion of ungodly rulers, but only with what is good in them, “their constitutional power.”
By the help of this distinction, and by his general principle, he could unite the church to any civil government that ever existed - to that of Jeroboam or Ahab, of Jenghis Khan or Mahomet - provided always the consent of the civil ruler could be obtained. May it not have been a capital mistake of the church at Jerusalem, that it made no effort to obtain an alliance with the Jewish Sanhedrin, and with the government of Herod? And ought not the apostolic church to have taken measures for being united to that of Nero? Not of course to the irreligion that was in that monster, but to “his constitutional power.” On this principle, moreover, it was perfectly proper and dutiful for the church, during the entire period of antichristian domination, to stand in close alliance with the antichristian powers. Every one of them, it is true, was in open rebellion against God and his Son; every one of them was in league with the Beast; but no matter, the worst of them, although represented in sacred prophecy as diabolical and blasphemous,[Rev. xiii. 1, 2.] must, nevertheless, be acknowledged as the ordinance of God, and therefore a fit and proper ally for the church. It must henceforth be accounted neither impossible nor wonderful that righteousness should have fellowship with unrighteousness, light with darkness, and Christ with Belial. It would be delightful to find that Dr. Willis has been misunderstood; that he would recoil from all such alliances with abhorrence. But then, it is hoped, he will be pleased to explain what degree of immorality or irreligious in a government he would regard as a sufficient reason why the church should decline its fellowship. As the point touched in this section, however, involves the precise question argued in the preceding lecture, it would be improper to prosecute the argument here.
The third doctrine apparently involved in the paragraph quoted, is this; that the church incurs no peculiar danger in respect to her independence by being united to an irreligious government. “It is an assumption,” says Dr. Willis, “that the alliance contended for implies a surrender of the church’s spiritual liberty or independence.” Now, if the alliance defended by Dr. W. is an alliance between the church and an irreligious civil government, in the hands of men with whom political expediency is the supreme law, we must insist that the case would be more correctly stated by being reversed. That a church so united can long maintain her spiritual liberty or independence, is the assumption. That churches in such an alliance do, generally, nay, almost universally, lose their independence, is no assumption, but a plain historical fact; an unquestionable result of long-continued and widely-extended experience. The fruits of such an alliance do not always ripen at once, nor are they equally conspicuous in all cases. Circumstances may concur to mitigate and modify them in particular instances; but let the history of Protestant churches since the reformation be consulted, and let us cease to build on mere hypothesis, when the facts of experience are under our eye. What, it may be asked, has been the condition of the church of England in regard to spiritual liberty and independence, for nearly three hundred years? One and the same answer will serve in respect to the Protestant church in Ireland during the same period. And passing over the history of the church of Scotland for one hundred years from the time of the reformation, during which she was tossed and agitated by almost incessant changes, what is the lesson which her history presents on this head for a period of 150 years? It is granted that many good people in her believed that she was free, just as many excellent people in the church of England believe that their own church possesses all the freedom which it is desirable a church should possess. And had not the church of Scotland been led, a few years ago, to attempt the exercise of a portion of that liberty which does rightfully belong to every church of Christ, her members might have been reposing, at the present day, in the comfortable belief that no church could be more secure against Erastian control than their own. But no sooner had she advanced a few paces beyond the circumference of that circle in which she had been accustomed to range, than she received a checks, which must have convinced the most incredulous. Her brave sons, many of whom the writer admires and loves, are now struggling hard for larger liberty; but whether the terms they have heretofore demanded of the government, even if they were conceded to their largest extent, would have the effect of removing the chain, or merely of adding a few links to the length of it, is a question on which he and they will probably come to opposite conclusions.
“It should not be forgotten,” says Dr. Willis, that the church “has exhibited symptoms of revival, even as before of decline, while in alliance with the state.” Hence, it is presumed, we must conclude, that a church’s alliance to an ungodly civil government is no hindrance to her reformation. And to corroborate this opinion we may, perhaps, look to the history of the church of Scotland during the last five years. It could do small harm to permit this argument to stand in all its native strength; yet out of respect to Dr. Willis, we choose to submit the following remarks on it. 1st, It is now pretty well known throughout the kingdom, that in the efforts which the church of Scotland has been making, for a few years past, to accomplish certain changes which she regarded as important reforms, she has been thwarted and resisted at almost every step, by the civil government with which she is allied. 2d, A strong impression seems to prevail among the ministers of the church of Scotland, as well as in the community at large, that those changes which she has made, and has been attempting to make, have brought he connection with the state into the most imminent peril. The revival of true religion in her, and the several reforms she has been labouring to accomplish, would have unquestionably recommended her to an enlightened and religious government, and tended to draw closer the bond of union. But owing to the terms of her present alliance, and the character of her present ally, revival and reform are the very things which cannot be tolerated—which seem to threaten a violent disruption of the union. So much for the advantages secured to a church in prosecuting reformation, by her being united with an irreligious government. 3d, It is evident to demonstration, that almost every step of progress which the church has actually made in the way of improvement, has been at the same time a step of progress in with the state. The admission of the chapel ministers into her judicatories, and others not known to the law as having a parochial standing, was a step which loosened her connection with the state. The building of the extension churches was a large step of loosening from the state. And this veto law, and to proceedings consequent thereon, have so far loosened the connection, that it is yet a question whether the two parties shall not soon fall asunder. All these changes are improvements, and we rejoice in the accomplishment of them; but no thanks to her connection with the state for anyone of them. They have been effected in spite of that connection. The more the church has revived, the more she has detached herself; not indeed in desire or intention, but in reality; and could she be but persuaded to detach herself entirely from her present ensnaring, harassing, and oppressive alliance, our steadfast belief is, that the revival and extension that would follow would soon make her past efforts appear insignificant. She would thus be rid of two classes of allies alike unworthy of her—the moderates and the existing civil government. Both have been a plague and pest to her for generations. And in the present circumstances of these kingdoms, the hope of converting the civil government seems about as promising as that of converting the mistress of the seven hills.
It is asked by Dr. Willis, “Was there no alliance of Church and State in ancient days, existing by God’s approval and sanction, even at the time when individual rulers were many of them notoriously wicked? And although the Almighty sent prophets to remonstrate with them and reprove them, did he ever recommend in their days an entire separation between the throne and the altar?” To this it may be replied, first, that the constitution of government with which the Lord united his ancient church was framed by himself, and therefore, in accordance with his will; whereas the civil governments to which we object have immorality and impiety embodied in their constitution. 2d. It remains to be proved, either that an alliance did exist between the church of God and those Jewish kings who were notoriously wicked; or that, if such an alliance existed, it had the divine sanction and approbation. It is abundantly plain that an alliance did exist between Jeroboam and Ahab, and the churches which they severally patronized. And it is equally clear, that there was an alliance between David, Hezekiah, Josiah, &c., and the church at Jerusalem. But it is by no means so obvious what was the alliance between the church and such rulers as Ahaz, Ahaziah, and Manasseh—all kings of Judah, but all “notoriously wicked men.” If there was a union, wherein did it consist? What was the nature of it? What change would have resulted if, in their case, “the throne and the altar had been entirely separated?” That they were “not acquitted of the duty of encouraging God’s truth and God’s worship,” is of no consequence in the present argument. We have no controversy with Dr. Willis on that head. You do not acquit an ungodly man of the duty of obeying Christ’s command, when you refuse to admit him to the Lord’s Table. And no more do you acquit an ungodly civil government of the duty of doing homage to Christ and promoting his cause, when you refuse to admit it into an alliance of which it is wholly unworthy, and which would invest it with power to corrupt and enslave the church. The nature of the alliance between the apostate and idolatrous kings of Judah and the church of God, and the evidence that this alliance—if alliance there was—had the divine sanction and approval, and moreover, the resemblance or analogy between this alliance and that which subsists between churches and irreligious governments at the present day, are all matters that would require to be cleared up; and it will not do for Dr. Willis to pass off a brace of interrogatories as conclusive argument on a question so much involved in obscurity.
Dr. Willis argues that if irreligious men be permitted to contribute, in their individual capacity, to the building of churches, or the support of gospel ordinances, there can be no valid objection against a church being endowed by ungodly rulers. “If,” says the Doctor, “the ungodly or unbelieving hearer is allowed to contribute to the support of religious ordinances in an unendowed society:—if such a church recognizes an alliance with mere worldly pew-holders to the extent of permitting them to support the Gospel, without consenting to a sacrifice of its spiritual rights, why may not the support even of ungodly statesmen be taken?” “Do you refuse the contribution of the man of whose piety you stand in doubt? Do you not allow him to contribute a stone of your buildings, or to hold a pew in your sanctuary?” To this it may be replied; if the unbelieving and irreligious man shall choose to subscribe towards the building of a church, or to hire sittings in it, when it is built, or deposit his offering at the church door, we are aware of no good reason why he should be prevented, whatever may be his station. But if that individual, or any number of individuals of the same character, having some sinister worldly object to promote, should artfully employ their contributions as means of acquiring a preponderating influence over the congregation, and perhaps over its minister, and after having nursed them into helplessness, should employ that influence against the liberty or purity of the church, it were certainly better that the alliance between the congregation and these parties were at an end. But when Dr. Willis compares the danger that may arise from this source, with that which is inseparable from union between the church and an irreligious or Erastian government, he magnifies the molehill into a mountain. Let the church be sedulously guarded against Erastianism, from whatever quarter it may arise. Let the vineyard of the Lord’s planting be defended from injury. But it is surely preposterous to argue that because it requires vigilance to keep out “the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines,” we may as well throw open the gate and admit “the boar of the wood to waste” the vineyard, in his sense believe that “a stone in the building or a pew in the church,” through the contribution of an irreligious man, brings all the same peril to a church’s independence which belongs to a connection with an ungodly Erastian civil government? Pray, how many thousand examples can be produced, of Christian congregations being robbed of their freedom, by irreligious pew-holders or proprietors, not being themselves members of the church? In how many countries has the church been brought into bondage from this cause? For how many centuries has this system blighted religion, and oppressed the church? From the language which Dr. Willis has employed in this branch of his argument, one would conclude that although he has heard of instances in which unendowed congregations have had difficulty in preserving their freedom, he is not aware of any such thing having happened in Established churches. “If you allege,” says he, “that the irreligious individual is allowed to receive a benefit merely, but that he is not permitted to govern: neither, we reply, does the alliance you complain of, in the legally recognized church, contemplate anything more.” Here, however, the Doctor commits a mistake. “The alliances we complain of” are not fictitious alliances—mere creatures of the imagination, such as Dr. Willis may have sketched in his contemplative moments. These may be very beautiful alliances, for ought we can tell. We complain of the boundless injury that has been done to the cause of true religion by alliances actually existing; and we beg to remind Dr. Willis that the churches which have accepted of these alliances have submitted to vastly more than “merely to allow the State to receive a benefit;” that some of them have been treated as Samson was, when he took his fatal sleep in the lap of Delilah; they have been shorn of their locks, have had their eyes put out, have been bound with fetters, and made to grind in the prison-house. This may be matter of great surprise to Dr. Willis, who seems never to have heard of any such thing. He is aware that civil rulers have “attempted encroachments on the jurisdiction of the church established by law;” but that they have ever effected any encroachments is quite a different matter. He concedes that it “is possible the State may pretend to more” authority than rightly belongs to it. But a thousand things are possible that never have happened; and for ought that Dr. Willis’ readers can learn, this may be one of them. The State may pretend to undue authority; but who cares for its pretensions? The Established churches have, of course, nobly maintained their liberty and spiritual independence. To write in this strain may be good policy, in regard to a certain class of readers; but the studied concealment of the polemic is a wretched substitute for Christian candour and simplicity.
Dr. Willis has kindly spared the author of the foregoing Lecture a part of the infliction he had threatened in his advertisement, as he has not said a word to show that the principle of the Lecture is “inconsistent with the professed sentiments of those who promulgate it.”
In conclusion, we beg to tender to Dr. Willis our most hearty forgiveness for all he has said and insinuated about “antipathy” against the church, and “rival jealousy,” and “violent partisanship,” and “sectarian hatred,” and a disposition “to cheer over a brother’s calamities;” and if anything has been inadvertently admitted into the preceding pages, having the least affinity to these heavy accusations, it will be accounted a favour to have it pointed out, and the writer will be anxious to profess his penitence, and to entreat forgiveness.
 The anonymous and danger from Sanballat and the Horonites do not yet appear to have reached their consummation. Nor should it seem strange that it is so. The ecclesiastical fellowship which the orthodox party in the church have so long maintained with these Samaritans, has been one of the great sins of the church. The retributive justice of God would lead us to expect, that when christians from motives of expediency, embrace ecclesiastical fellowship with the known enemies of the cross of Christ, they must suffer for their unfaithfulness; and that, in all probability, the parties with whom they have contracted the unlawful alliance will be made instruments for inflicting the punishment. Thus did the Lord punish the improper forbearance of the Israelites towards the Canaanites; “It shall come to pass that those whom ye let remain shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell.” Having the settled conviction, that ecclesiastical fellowship between the orthodox party and the moderates, is altogether unwarrantable and unfaithful; we have observed with extreme regret, that at the last meeting of Commission, the temporizing policy recommended by Mr. Candlish, who wishes to retain the moderates, seemed to prevail over the sound and correct views of Mr. Crichton, who wishes to be finally separated from them. If anything could add to this regret, it would be the fact that this unsound expediency doctrine should proceed from Mr. Candlish, who has been so honourably distinguished for high principle and orthodoxy. Is it possible to convince the people that there can be anything seriously wrong or dangerous in the system of moderatism, as long as the leading men, of the most advanced section of reformers in the church, regard the moderates as proper associates in church fellowship? The scripture rule is: “A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject.” But Mr. Candlish’s counsel is, “when you have got a few hundred heretics, and sufficient power to expel them, take no step for their removal.” And the reason he is reported to have assigned for this advice, is not less strange than the advice itself. He “detests their principles,” but would deplore their secession, as an event which might lead to the overthrow of the establishment. He admits that the orthodox party might get on better without the moderates, in the ecclesiastical courts, but believes that they could not get on without them “as an establishment.” This statement exceedingly requires explanation. The aspect of it seems to be this; that “in the present circumstances of the church and of the country,” an established church cannot safely attempt to observe the law of the New Testament, in regard to discipline.
 We would not stretch the parallel unduly, but it is plainly as much in the power of an ungodly Erastian civil government to thwart and vex the church to harass and domineer over her, as in that of a domestic tyrant, to plague and torment his wife. The case of the church is in some points the most to be pitied, as, in the event of a separation, there is no court in which she can enforce her demand for a separate maintenance. In this respect the wife has manifestly the advantage. Notwithstanding, we are inclined to believe that a young woman who had come to the years of discretion, having under consideration a proposal of taking on the nuptial bond, would be reluctant to trust all to stipulations where there were strong grounds of apprehension, that her suitor was a person of evil character—an unprincipled, overbearing, and violent man. Dr. Willis might probably suggest to her, “there is a fallacy in your reasoning; marriage is the ordinance of God; and you should not confound what is good in the ordinance of god, with the evil that is found in man; do not fear the contract; you will not be married to what is evil, but only to what is good in the man.” After all, if the person addressed were a really prudent person, she might probably reply, “I thank you, Dear Doctor, for your advice; it is, no doubt, well intended; but I greatly fear that my marriage with that man would bring me into close contact with the evil that is in him as well as with the good; and from all I have observed and learned, there is evil enough in him to make me wretched for life: you will excuse me for preferring to remain as I am.”