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said may be gone by; and while no change is in immediate contemplation-while I can speak independently, and you can hear impartially-when there is nothing to hinder the free and unbiassed exercise of the understanding on so interesting a topic, perhaps some ideas may be thrown out and treasured up, which may be useful when the time shall arrive for their practical application. I trust for their favourable reception to your candour, and the sincerity of the intention by which they are prompted.
It is an high recommendation of religion, and an evident proof of its suitableness to the nature of man, that it is not only a personal but a social principle. In whatever age of the world, or under whatever form it has appeared, it has brought men together to pay their joint homage to the object of their worship. The obvious impossibility, however, of performing an uniform and concordant act of adoration or supplication by every individual of a mixed multitude, suggested the necessity of its being done by some one or few in behalf of the rest; and these would of course be such, as from superiority of natural or acquired endowments, were also best qualified to discharge the correspondent office of instructors. That this convenient, and indeed indispensable regulation, was observed under the Jewish economy, is apparent through its whole history. It was received, with respect to its principal features, by an easy transition into the Christian-but with this difference, that the office was no longer confined to a particular tribe or familybut all, to whom the gifts of the Holy Spirit were imparted, were in one degree or other, qualified for diffusing gospel knowledge. Peter, in his speech to the multitude on the day of Pentecost, quotes the
prophecy of Joel to this purpose; and in his first epistle, chap. 2. thus addresses Christian believers in general: "Ye are a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." And again, "Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people." But it is abundantly mamifest that in the operations of the same spirit, there was great diversity. Besides the gift of tongues and their interpretation, the working of miracles, the healing of diseases, the discerning of spirits, there was the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge; there were appointed, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers-moreover, evangelists, pastors and exhorters. This variety of component parts, conspiring to produce one important and beneficial end, is compared by Paul to the different members of the human body, or the several materials of a building, which when fitted together, and applied to the peculiar purpose for which each is adapted, form one beautiful, harmonious and profitable whole. But however advantageous, however necessary, this plan might be in the infancy of the Christian church, nothing is more certain than that it was not intended to be permanent. To the apostles alone was confined the power of imparting the gifts of the spirit; nor does it in the least appear that Timothy, Titus, Luke, Apollos, or any of the persons mentioned as standing high in the affection and esteem of Paul and his fellows, and whom we may well suppose to have been largely endued with spiritual gifts, could place their successors on the same footing, in this respect, with
themselves. Indeed the irregular exercise and frequent misapplication of these supernatural faculties, requiring the authoritative interposition, and correcting hand of the apostles, would seem to have been alone a sufficient reason for their discontinuance. Such qualifications, however, as might be supplied by natural genius and superior ability, were still necessary, and were with the utmost propriety employed for the preservation of order and discipline in the different societies of which the general church was composed, and for instruction, exhortation, and the conduct of devotional offices. And there is sufficient reason to believe that perhaps for 100 years subsequent to the apostolic times, matters went on for the most part, upon those happy principles of unity, love, peace, and equality, which form the striking and peculiar features of our divine and holy religion-The gospel spread like the hidden leaven-it shot forth like the grain of mustard seed-it even grew by opposition and persecution, and was mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds, and every thing that exalted itself against the knowledge of God, and to the bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. But in process of time, and as had been repeatedly foretold, grievous wolves in sheep's clothing entered in, not sparing the flock. That precedence and advancement which had been justly awarded to shining virtue, and was conferred by the public voice in consequence of peculiar fitness for the discharge of public duties, became the object of pride, ambition, and the thirst of filthy lucre. Then it was recollected what singular advantages were derived from the possession of miraculous gifts; and those who trod in the steps of Simon the magi
cian, were not slow in perceiving how gainful would be a popular persuasion that they were still attached to the offices they held.
Look then, my brethren, into the history of the church previous to the Reformation, and you will find almost every enormity committed by priests and prelates, and even the most flagrant tyrannies and usurpations of the papacy, perpetrated under the pretended influences of that spirit, which it was untruly asserted had been promised by Christ to be continued with his ministers always, and even to the end of the world. Carry your research yet lower down, and you will perceive the age of Protestantism still infected with the same kind of superstition; nor can even our own more enlightened times boast an entire freedom from it. Still are titles, habits and forms of address affected, for which no precedent can be found in the earliest and best days of Christianity-still is it believed by some that none can lawfully undertake the pastoral office, unless inducted by authority lineally derived from the apostles. Ordination is by many thought not only absolutely necessary, but incomplete, without the laying on of hands, the action used by the apostles when they communicated spiritual gifts; and in some instances the accompanying words directly convey the idea of such a real communication. Still also do we hear too much of supposed divine operations, which may not only be easily traced to natural causes, but the effects of which too plainly prove them to have their origin in human ignorance and weakness, and which the consistent friends of religion cannot witness without much pain and regret. But it cannot be necesssary to enlarge on such subjects in this place. I believe we are not prepared
to bow to human or clerical authority under any form whatever, and least of all to that which would obtrude itself upon us under the pretext of divine right, or of that immediate influence from above, which, while we acknowledge its existence and expedience in the origin of Christianity, reason, fact, and the tenor of scripture itself concur in convincing us is no longer to be found in the church. How is it possible then, that the cause of truth should be promoted by any thing that will, in the event, be found unable to stand the test of free inquiry, and to have the character of an imposition upon common sense? The human intellect, since the days of Luther, has been fast outgrowing the swaddling bands of its infancy; and if it do not stop at the era of manly thought and mature reflection, will be in great danger of running wild into the excesses of infidelity and a total disregard of all religion. Certain it is, that if we compare the opinions and practice of modern, with those of former days, we shall find ecclesiastical supremacy and influence much upon the decline. Civil liberty has made a rapid progress, and religious liberty is its close attendant; for when a man has been accustomed to exercise his free voice in choosing his temporal governors, hardly will he be persuaded to submit to dictation in the appointment of a spiritual director; and he might produce arguments in refutation of any such encroachment on his right, to which it would be impossible to give a satisfactory reply. But here alas, in one case as well as in the other, lies the misfortune-On the sacred altar of liberty, peace is too often the sacrifice; the mild and gentle, the forbearing and conciliatory dictates of the gospel, are smothered and lost in the effervescence of the spirit of