« ForrigeFortsæt »
HARMONY OF CHRISTIAN CONFESSIONS OF FAITH.
PY A MEMBER OF THE EVANGELICAL ALLIANCE.
A few introductory remarks seem necessary, before bringing under the reader's attention the very interesting comparison of the Confessions of the Evangelical Churches prefixed to this volume. Of the evidence of the Divine origin of Christianity it is needless to say more than this—that if it be admitted that mankind were in a condition requiring a revelation from God, it will scarcely be denied that the Bible, from the sublimity of its doctrines, the purity of its precepts, and its adaptation to our moral and intellectual 'nature, possesses all the characteristics which might be expected to distinguish such a Divine message.
Christianity was embodied in the types and ceremonies of the Jewish Church, but it was not fully developed till the advent of the great Teacher, who “brought life and immortality to light by the Gospel.” This took place at a remarkable crisis in the religious history of the world. As prophets foretold, the Saviour appeared when the sceptre was departing from Judah, and the Jewish religion had dwindled down into a system of outward observances—when its temporal power had for ever departed, and the last vestiges of its spirituality were disappearing under the ostentatious formalism of the Pharisees and the scepticism of the Sadducees. The mythologies of the heathen were, at the same period, rapidly becoming effete. “The enfeebled world (says Dr. Merle D’Aubigné) was tottering on its foundations when Christianity appeared. The natural religions which had satisfied the parents, no longer proved sufficient for their children. The new generations could not repose contented within the ancient forms. The gods of every nation, when transported to Rome, there lost their oracles, as the nations themselves had there lost their liberty. Brought face to face in the Capitol, they had destroyed each other, and their divinity had vanished. A great void was occasioned in the religion of the world. Then the Word was made flesh; God appeared among men, and as man, to save that which was lost.' In Jesus of Nazareth dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. This is the greatest event in the annals of the world. Former ages had paved the way
for it; the latter ages flow from it. It is their centre and their bond of unity. Henceforward the popular superstitions had no meaning, and the slight fragments preserved from the general wreck of incredulity, vanished before the majestic orb of eternal truth.”
When the Lord Jesus Christ had finished the work which his Father
gave him to do, he commissioned his followers to go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature, and the Founder of Christianity ascended up to heaven, where he was before The first community of Christ's disciples was thereupon constituted at Jerusalem, where their missionary labours were to be begun, according to the express command of the Redeemer. Another community, formed at Antioch, in Syria, first assumed, about the year 65, the name of Christians, which had been originally given to them by their enemies, by way of reproach. By the missionary labours of the apostles, the Gospel was extended from Palestine and Syria into Asia Minor, Greece, the islands of the Mediterranean, Italy, and the northern coast of Africa, in all of which countries churches were established in the first century. The epistles of the apostles formed the doctrinal foundations of these primitive churches. These epistles foretold the rise of a power which would ere long subvert the simple order of those early Christian societies. Meanwhile the Gospel continued to spread. The lives of its adherents were spiritual and holy, as their habits were simple and in accordance with the principles of their religion. They soon experienced the fulfilment of their Master's prophetic warning, that the world which had hated him would persecute them; but the blood of the martyrs proved to be the seed of the Church. “So mightily grew the Word of God, and prevailed.” At the end of the second century, Christians were to be found in all the Roman provinces, and Rome was then the mistress of the world. But even thus early appeared the first indications of the great apostacy. Rites and ceremonies began to be multiplied. The ministers of religion, forgetting the example, the precepts, and the warnings of the apostles, assumed unwarrantable authority in the government of the Church. First arrogating the name, they presently usurped the functions of the ancient priesthood. Mosheim observes that, “In a little time these titles were abused by an aspiring clergy, who thought proper to claim the same rank and station, the same rights and privileges, that were conferred with those titles upon the ministers of religion under the Mosaic dispensation. Hence the rise of tithes, first-fruits, splendid garments, and many other circumstances of external grandeur, by which ecclesiastics were eminently distinguished,” even so early as the second century. It is to be remarked, that the tendency to exalt the priesthood increased in proportion as the Church at large lost sight of that great fundamental principle of the Gospel: “By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.” In the fourth century, the bishops assumed a princely authority, violating the rights of the people, and encroaching upon the