Page images

in their addresses to the whole people. They concealed them with peculiar caution from heathens. When any such were present, they either ceased speaking, or, using this formula,

6. The initiated know, the faithful know,” shaded divine subjects with obscure and ambiguous modes of expression. Here I may be allowed to remark, that, since they had the presumption to suppose that they could improve Christianity by assimilating it to heathen institutions, or to Jewish traditionary practices, they were punished by means of this presumption itself. For I entertain little doubt that this affected concealment, in regard to some of the grand truths of the Christian faith, furnished to the heathens a pretext for charging them with abominable doctrines and actions. They supposed, not without some show of reason, that, since Christians hated the light, their opinįons and deeds were evil.

The same mode of discipline which was used in the heathen mysteries, and imitated by the Christian clergy, was also followed by some of the pagan philosophers, particularly by those of the Pythagoric school ; and Porphyry, the great enemy of the religion of Christ, was strenuous in support of these institutions, as tending in some respects to place his philosophy, in point of moral effect, on a parity, as he imagined, with the purifying influence of the gospel. Both by the Christian and heathen ritual of this period, the non-initiated were excluded from certain ceremonies, while other parts of divine service were publicly performed. Nay, Christians borrowed from the pagans the terms themselves which they used. Hence, to be initiated ; initiation ; the initiated ; "the uninitiated ; consecration, or mystery; the consecrated, or perfect; the profane, or imperfect ; spectators (of sacred rites) ; and to inspect, or merely view.

4 "Ισασιν οι μεμυημένοι, ίσασιν οι πιστοί.

0 John iii. 19,

All these modes of expression, and the usages and rites to which they related, Christians borrowed from the Jews or heathens, with a view, as already stated, of investing their own religion with more ceremony and pomp, of preventing its appearing too bare, simple, and vulgar, in the opinion of the world, and of alluring converts by inducing them to believe that the rites which they formerly practised, were applied solely to better purposes, or at least not entirely relinquished. It is but a slight censure to say, that, as gaudy and barbaric ornaments and colours disfigure the real beauty of nature, so such glittering appendages deform the beautiful simplicity of the Christian religion. But the real charge has an import far more serious. It implies that men pretended to be wiser than God; that they disdained to receive his institutions in the form and complexion in which he has delivered them, and imagined that they could improve their effect by some adjunctions of their own invention, which, by their puerile insignificance and empty glare, betrayed the corrupt and shallow source from which they proceeded. Every departure from the primitive simplicity of the gospel, whether in doctrine or worship, has, by abstracting men's minds from “ the weightier matters of the Christian law, judgment, mercy, and faith," produced the most pernicious consequences, in regard to their religious improvement, the purification of their hearts, and the right regulation of their lives. The only means of avoiding these is strictly to adhere to the institutions of the gospel, or, if they have been in any considerable degree relinquished or disfigured, to return to them as soon as the advancing knowledge of divine truth will permit. It must, with regret, be acknowledged, that in some respects the Reformation was incomplete, and that certain corruptions of primitive simplicity were, in some instances, allowed to remain. These,

a Μυϊσθαι, μύησις, μεμυημένοι, αμύητοι, also τελετή, τετελειωμένοι, ατέλεστοι, επόπται, εποπτεύειν, with several other expressions of a similar import, frequently in the writings of the fathers. Some religionists of our own times seem to have adopted this kind of phraseology. Error may change its object, but never its nature.


a Matt. xxiii. 23.

the religious zeal, so generally kindled at the glorious period of religious reform, might have removed with no more difficulty than was experienced at the removal of the grosser depravations. But, habit and long usage have now so incorporated them with the opinions and institutions themselves of certain protestant churches, that lukewarmness or bigotry will hardly admit of complete restoration.

Christianity knows no mysteries respecting the worship of God, in the heathen or Jewish sense of that term. It admits of no sacred rites which require concealment, or prescribe disclosure to such only as have been previously instructed in their mystical meaning. The common service of God makes no distinction between the people and the initiated, Publicans and sinners are equally admitted to it, with the elect of God, whom God only knows. The tares are allowed to grow up with the wheat till the general harvest, when the lord of the field shall separate them, and order the latter to be “ gathered into his barn,” but the former to be “ bound in bundles, and burnt."

This open declaration of the gospel, and this public celebration of its sacred rites, without discrimination of persons, unless as far as gross ignorance and scandalous immorality establish and


Matt. xiii. 24-30,

a Matt. ix. 11; xi. 19. Luke vii. 34. 37-42.

evince the distinction, are founded on its nature and character. Our Saviour pointed it out to John's two disciples who were sent to him, as one of the signs of his being he who should come, that the poor had the gospel preached to them.a Who shall dare to limit the influence of God's grace on the human heart, in the use of those means of conversion and reformation which he hath appointed ? weak, blind, fallible man, pretend to know the consciences of his brethren, to assume to himself the prerogative of the Searcher of hearts, and to declare that such and such persons are to be excluded from that worship and from those religious rites to which he is pleased to admit others who are acceptable to his presumption ? Many instances have occurred of the strongest and most effectual impressions being made on the minds of the most atrocious sinners, by the public preaching of the word of God. What daring arrogance, then, is that which would presume to circumscribe this instrument of grace, by a determination of human judgment, always fallible, frequently precipitate and unjust ? I have already granted that gross ignorance, or notorious profligacy of conduct, or both, are sufficient reasons for excluding from a participation of sacred rites, which, by their very nature, require a cer

Shall man,

a Matt. xi. 2-5.

« PreviousContinue »