Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

sed Virgin. He would be to us pure spirit, for all is pure spirit that pertains to eternity, and therefore invisible and inaccessible. We should, then, have no more regular or certain way of coming into a spiritual relation with the Father of spirits than we should have had, if he had not come at all. The whole rests on this great fact, that we can commune with spirit only as embodied, that is to say, through the medium of a “prepared body.” Hence, when Jesus says, “Lo! I come to do thy will, O God!” he adds, “For a body hast thou prepared me."

The radical necessity of the Church is in the radical necessity of this “prepared body"; and the radical idea of the Church is, that it reproduces and continues the incarnation of the Word. It is, as St. Paul says, the “body of Christ”; and in it we find continued the same union, without confusion, of the human and divine, which was in Christ himself. As Christ was the revelation of the Father, the light by which human eyes may behold the Divinity, mortality behold immortality, so is the Church the revelation of Christ, the light by which we behold him in whose face shines the glory of the Father. Hence, Jesus, addressing his disciples, as the Church, says, “Ye are the light of the world.”:

In the Church is ever present the Holy Ghost, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, but who is one with the Father and the Son. As in the days when Jesus, as son of Mary, tabernacled in the flesh, we would have approached him bodily, and sat at his feet in order to come to God and learn of him; so now we must approach the Church, the reproduction and continuation, so to speak, of his body, and learn his will, receive his spirit, and by him be united to God, the Father of life and Fountain of blessedness. Such is our radical conception of the Church. It is to Christ what Christ was to the Father; and as the Son spoke in the name and by the authority of the Father, because the Father was in him, and he in the Father; so the Church speaks in the name and by the authority of Christ, because he is in the Church and the Church in him.

The radical conception of the Church, as the body of Christ, is necessarily that of an authoritative body, but of a body whose authority is divine, not human. Here is the source of the error of Mr. Sparks's work on “ Episcopacy.” Mr. Sparks is a Unitarian, and takes up the subject from the Unitarian point of view. As a Unitarian, he cannot conceive of the union of perfect God and perfect man in the one person of Jesus; and for the same reason, he cannot conceive of the union of the human and divine, without confusion, in the Church. Consequently, as he sees in Jesus only man, he can see in the Church only human authority; and this authority he very properly rejects. His work is not properly a work against Episcopacy, but against the Church as an authoritative body, and all the doctrines that would tend to make it an authoritative body. He denies the right, not merely of Episcopacy, but of the Church herself, to claim or exercise any authority over the individual reason and conscience, and therefore, in principle, if not in fact, her right to exercise any control over the life and conduct of her members. The Church, with him, therefore, disappears, and can at best be replaced only by a voluntary association of believers.

But, if there is any truth in the principles we have laid down, Mr. Sparks not only rejects the authority of the Church, and therefore the Church herself, but the Gospel of Christ, and denies, virtually, that God through Christ has made any permanent provision for the salvation of sinners, and the growth and sanctification of believers. The question he raises is not a question between Episcopacy and Congregationalism, but between Church and No-church, between apostolic Christianity and no Christianity.

But leaving Mr. Sparks and his Unitarianism, conceding to him that no human authority has any right to control us in faith or discipline, yet asserting that the Church represents the authority of Christ, or rather, is the human medium through which Christ exercises his divine authority, as his body which was crucified was the medium through which he revealed his divine Sonship, we may still ask, Where is this authority lodged ? Who are “the earthen vessels” to whom it is committed ? Is it commited to the brotherhood, or to the apostolic ministry? Here is the true question between Episcopacy and Congregationalism. Both admit the Church ; both admit it to be an authoritative body; and both admit its authority to be not its, but Christ's ; that is, not its authority in so far as it is human, but only in so far as it is divine. Both agree that no human authority is legitimate, and that the only authority which is legitimate is Christ's authority. Both agree, also, as to the nature and extent of this authority. The difference is solely as to its depositaries and administrators.

Congregationalism asserts that the authority is committed to the great body of the faithful, that is, to the brotherhood. This view is plausible, and seems to be countenanced to some extent by the opinions and practices of some individuals or portions of the primitive Church. But the great body of the Church has never accepted it in the purely Congregational sense. There may have been individuals who have contended for it; there may have been, here and there, a local congregation that virtually practised on it; but it was the exception, not the rule ; an irregularity, an anomaly, not the established order.

Moreover, this view labors under several serious practical difficulties. The faithful must be the depositaries of this authority as individuals, or as a body corporate. If as individuals, does each individual possess it in all its plenitude? If so, you have absolute individualism, and, therefore, no ecclesiastical authority at all. Is it lodged with the majority? Then you transfer to the Church what Dorrism is in politics, and enable any number of individuals, however disorderly, if they are the majority, to rule, and to administer the authority as they please; and, moreover, as we have elsewhere said, you have no criterion by which to distinguish between the acts of the faithful, and those of others professing to speak in their name.

If you assume that they are intrusted with this au

thority only in their corporate capacity, that is, as one single corporate body, how will you bring together the whole body, which at this moment are so many millions, and enable them to act as a single corporation, with an official voice, through an official organ?

If you assume the faithful to be divided into separate congregations, and that each is an independent polity, possessing in itself the right to claim and exercise all the prerogatives of the Church of Christ, we demand the principle of this division. May any number of individuals, at their own pleasure, come together and resolve themselves into a Christian congregation, and, therefore, into a Church of Christ ? Will such congregation be a true Church ? If so, you must treat it as a Church, and extend to it all the courtesy, civility, fellowship, due from one Christian congregation to another. Suppose, then, a number of real infidels should come together, and resolve themselves into a Christian

a Church, and their infidelity to be Christianity, you must extend your fellowship to them; for you have no right to judge them. A case bearing some analogy to this has actually occurred in our own neighbourhood. We know a Congregational Church whose minister is to all intents and purposes an unbeliever, and yet that Church claims the fellowship of sister Congregational Churches, and our Unitarian friends so interpret Congregationalism that they feel that they cannot disown either the Church or its minister.

If you say, that there must be some authority outside of the congregation competent to decide whether it be or be not a Christian Church, you depart from Congregationalism. But assume such authority, - Where is it? The practice is, we believe, for the Churches already existing in the neighbourhood, officially to recognize the new congregation. Whence the right of the neighbouring Churches to do this? Is the new Church, when recognized, a true Church ? If so, according to your own principles, it is independent, and possesses plenary powers as the Church of Christ. On what ground, then, in case it becomes heretical, can you so far judge it as

50

VOL. I. NO. III.

to withdraw fellowship from it ? On what ground, moreover, does this recognition by neighbouring Churches introduce the new congregation into the family of Christian Churches? They must themselves have been recognized by other Churches, and these by others still ; and where will you stop this side of Churches founded by the Apostles themselves? The Churches recognizing must themselves be apostolic, or their recognition is good for nothing. How establish this apostolic character, without establishing their lineal descent from apostolic Churches ? Congregationalism, then, as well as Episcopacy, is obliged to resort to APOSTOLICAL SucCESSION.

In the great questions concerning the Church, and the regularity of Protestant Churches, we have here, so far as we can see, all the difficulties usually alleged against Episcopacy, and, if the Protestant Episcopal Church cannot make out the regular succession of her bishops, still less can Congregationalism make out the regular succession of Congregational Churches. Partial as our education has made us to Congregationalism, we should be loath to undertake its defence on any ground what

For the same reason, if for no other, that we reject the doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of the people, would we reject the sovereignty of the brotherhood. We would much rather if it must come to this — be under one tyrant than many. Moreover, we cannot conceive of a Church with the authority lodged in the brotherhood. The minister, if commissioned by the congregation, is not placed by the Holy Ghost over it, is not immediately accountable to Christ, but mediately, through the very body over which he is nominally an overseer. How can I rebuke, warn, reprove, discipline, teach with authority, the very body from which I derive my authority, and which may revoke it at will ? Make your clergyman absolutely dependent on his congregation, receiving his authority from it, and accountable to it for his doctrines, and for the manner in which he discharges his duty, and you deprive him of all authority as the minister of God. His congregation are

ever.

[ocr errors]

.

« AnteriorContinuar »