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judges of this contrariety? Why this same Church: and of course the contrariety can never happen, (d)
If there be one thing clearer than another in the New Testament, it is, that Christianity is a personal religion. Every one is bound for himself to ascertain what its truths are, as of himself he must realize its virtues if he would enjoy its blessings. No man, or set of men, are or ever have been vested with the character of authorized interpreters, and its assumption is intolerable. Jesus, and he alone, is the religious Teacher of the world. Yet has the Church of England put forth an enormous collection of propositions, and declared that this is Christianity, and shall be believed.
And what is meant by the Church in this connexion? The 19th Article well defines a church to be “a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments duly ministered, according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.” This is good and liberal, though not very consistent. It is not Episcopacy, but Independency. But has such a congregation a power in matters of faith? Have they a right to say to their individual members, or to any desirous of joining them, or to their offspring, You must believe these articles to be a Christian, to have fellowship with us, to
be admitted to Christian privileges, and to reach heaven hereafter? Certainly not. assumption destroys their claim to be a church, and makes them Unchristian and Antichristian usurpers. They have no right for themselves any more than for others. They are disciples, and should leave open the doors of inquiry for their own minds, and not at once decree the cessation of intellectual and religious improvement.
But the sense of the members of the Church of England never was taken on this mass of creeds and articles. They have never been consulted : for, by a dexterous juggle, whenever any thing of this description is the subject, the Church means either the Clergy, or the Bishops, or the Parliament, or the Sovereign, or one, or all of these powers, but never the community. In this case, faith was fixed by the Convocation, passed the Legislature, and was ratified by Queen Elizaleih: they were the Church; and could have given another gospel to the good people of England for all generations.
Another extraordinary circumstance in this spiritual usurpation is, that it was to extend not only to contemporary subject millions, but to all posterity. The one hundred and seventeen Priests of the Convocation in 1562, are to be, instead of Christ, for ever the spiritual lawgivers of this realm. Though many could not write their own names, and others voted by proxy, yet their opi
nions are the standard of truth, the perfection of wisdom, and the boundary of improvement.
No less than eight attempts have been made at a reformation in the Church, since the passing of the Act of Uniformity, and all have totally failed. There seems to be a horror of removing the greatest absurdity, or changing the merest trifie. What must be the ultimate fate of a system which thus obstinately resists the progressive illumination of the human mind, and the desires of its best and wisest votaries? (0)
Let us now see, by a few examples, how this lordship over faith has been exercised.
The Church has three Creeds, or, reckoning the Articles, four; composed in distant ages, and gradually becoming more absurd, erroneous, unscriptural and intolerant. The first is called the Apostles' Creed. It was indisputably not of apostolic composition; nor is it expressed in terms borrowed from their writings. It is, however, of early date, and strictly Unitarian. The Trinity, the Atonement, Original Sin, and other gloomy reveries of later times are no part of it. Yet the doubtful tale of the miraculous birth of Christ is there; as is also the marvellous falsehood of his descent into hell, which is repeated in the third article. That he was buried, is a separate clause; there is therefore no room for the evasion that by “hell” is only meant the grave. Whether the authors and patrons of the creed, meant with
Calvin, that the Saviour actually was sent to the place, and shared the torments of the damned; or that he went there, or to any other invisible region, as a visitor or a conqueror, there is not the least foundation for the notion in Scripture, nor any ground for its belief but mere human authority.
The next is the Nicene Creed; which is entitled to no great reverence on account of its original authors. Jortin observes," the first thing they did was to quarrel, and to express their resentments, and to present accusations tu the Emperor against one another. If such councils made righteous decrees, it must have been by strange good luck.” Orthodoxy was now grown bolder: yet the ancient and still popular doctrine of the divine Unity is respected by an introduction similar to that of the Apostles' Creed. “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible.” We find in this Creed the Deity of Christ; and yet a subordination to the Father is apparent: he has but a derived Godhead, and is spoken of as suffering; but where is it taught in Scripture that Christ was “God of God; light of light, very God of very God; begotten, not made; of one substance with the Father"? The original creed had simply, “ We believe also in the Holy Ghost :" and the advance of Trinitarianism again appears in the interpolations, which the Church has
adopted, relative to the third person, who is styled “ The Lord and giver of life; who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified.” These additions are compensated, indeed, by the omission of the original conclusion : “ The holy, catholic, and apostolic Church anathematizes those who say that there was a time when the Son of God was not, and that before he was begotten he was not, and that he was made out of nothing, or out of another substance or essence, and is created, or changeable, or alterable.”
Last comes that tremendous composition, the Athanasian Creed, which is the very sublime of impiety and absurdity: in which contradiction is piled on contradiction, till the sight makes one giddy: where the Infinite Spirit is anatomized, and laid out in distinct persons: where such tricks are played with the Eternal God as jugglers use to make fools laugh: and all is crowned with the declaration that “except every one do keep this faith whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.”
These three creeds, the sth Article declares,
may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture”!
Other extraordinary demands are made by these Articles upon faith, or submission, or credulity. The 9th teaches“ Original or Birth