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ART. V. THE AMERICAN CHURCH AND CLERGY.*
We have no design or wish to present to our readers a sketch of the pamphlet named below. We place its title here, only to indicate the style of attack and abuse, to which the Church and Clergy are subjected by many prominent agents in the great moral Reforms of the day. Our present purpose is to give as fair and full an exposition as we can, within the limits of a single article, of the general character of the American Church and its ministry, and of their position with regard to philanthropic associations and enterprises.
// What is the Church, that is, the external, visible Church? Under this name is included the whole body of avowed and organized Christian believers, of those who profess themselves the disciples of Christ, and connect with that profession the regular observance of whatever rites they deem to be of his institution. The observance of the Lord's Supper may be regarded as the index of professed discipleship, except among the Quakers; but they are by no means to be excluded from the pale of the visible Church, because they deny the perpetuity of this ordinance; for they have their own ecclesiastical organization, and their own peculiar Christian ritual, which they found and observe on the alleged authority of Christ. The two things, then, that characterize the Church, are the formal profession of Christianity and the regular observance of Christian ordinances. Now the earnest and vehement denunciation of the Church as a preeminently wicked body by (so called) reformers, may authorize our raising and discussing a question, which until very recently has never been mooted within Christian precincts, namely, whether the profession and the ordinances of Christianity are in themselves likely to create or to indicate a higher or a lower standard of moral goodness, than that of the world at large.
How is it, in the first place, with a Christian profession? We must admit, at the outset, the liability of the Church to
*The Brotherhood of Thieves; or A True Picture of the American Church and Clergy: A Letter to Nathaniel Barney, of Nantucket. By STEPHEN S. FOSTER. Boston Anti-Slavery Office. 1844. 12mo. PP. 72.
be imposed upon by false professors. But it is a liability essentially self-limited within very narrow bounds, and one, too, which of itself bears testimony to the genuineness of the profession in the vast majority of instances. A counterfeit implies the substantial credit and trustworthiness of the thing counterfeited; and so soon as the counterfeits of any article bear a large proportion to the genuine specimens, the article itself loses credit to such a degree as to be no longer worth counterfeiting. No one counterfeits a dishonored currency, or the bills of a broken bank. Were not a Christian profession in nine cases out of ten connected with so much sincerity and practical goodness as to give credit and do honor to the profession, no one would consider a false profession as worth making. A very brief and partial prevalence of hypocrisy would necessarily give place to open, undisguised infidelity. Hypocritical professors of Christianity must then, from the very nature of the case, be comparatively few; so that the true question is as to the effect, upon the character, of a sincere religious profession.
Now the open, manly profession of what one is, or means to be, seems an essential part of frankness and honesty. It is the law of all honorable men, in every department of common life. He, who in business, or in politics, practises concealment or subterfuge, he who carefully hides, or stealthily acts out his convictions, plans and purposes, deemed utterly mean and unworthy. Nicodemus, coming to Jesus by night, represents a style of character, which, when exhibited with regard to worldly matters, calls out unqualified distrust and contempt. If a man is, or means to be a Christian, he is bound by every maxim of fairness and consistency to make open profession of that fact or purpose, and thus to be a member of the Church of Christ. Surely, if to be a Christian does one no harm, to profess himself a Christian cannot make him a worse man.
Again; open, honest profession greatly aids a man in the attainment of the object of his profession. It pledges him to strenuous and constant effort in the pursuit of that object. It identifies him more entirely with it. It surrounds him with the sympathy and aid of those who are pursuing the same object. It multiplies inducements to perseverance, drawn from the just self-respect which one
can feel only by being true to his profession, and the shame which inevitably ensues on his falling short of it. Nor is there anything to prevent all this from being the case with a professor of Christianity.
Church membership also implies regular attendance upon Christian ordinances. On this point we need not enlarge. There can be no need of proof or illustration for the statement, that the sole design of Christian ordinances is to bring and keep the great Master near the minds and hearts of his followers. We go to the sanctuary, to learn of him. We break the consecrated bread in memory of him. We drink the cup that he blessed, that it may renew us in his spirit. We are so constituted, that the outward continually acts upon the inward. Forms and tokens of every kind work upon the affections. Christian forms and tokens draw the heart to Christ. And it is reasonable to suppose that the regular use of all the forms and tokens, with which the Master's image is thought to be associated, would draw the heart nearer to him, and make him the subject of stronger faith and more fervent love, than the infrequent use of but a part of those forms and tokens.
We thus see that all which constitutes Church membership, in its very nature tends to make and keep a man a Christian. If then there is any reasonable basis for the charges so often brought against the Church, it must be Christianity itself, and not the Christian profession or ordinances. When therefore we hear the Church denounced as a "brotherhood of thieves," and when people are bidden, as in the pamphlet before us, to "quit this unfortunate and inglorious connection, come out from among them, and touch not the unclean thing, and henceforth enter not into their counsels," the ultimate question is;— Is a man likely to be injured in his character, to be made less conscientious, less benevolent, less philanthropic, by being a Christian? To be a Christian implies some good degree of acquaintance with the character of Jesus, who was, in the apprehension of not a few, the only spotless exemplar of virtue and piety that the world has ever seen, who was all faithfulness, tenderness and love, who forgave his murderers, and blessed those whose fiendish curses rang around his cross, - who combined in his own person godlike energy and meek submission, a charity embracing
every form of human suffering, and a zeal for every cause of God and of humanity, a hearty hatred of all sin and a deep compassion for all sinners. His life, his death was one divine act of love; and he who follows his precepts and drinks in his spirit, cannot leave an enemy unforgiven, a sufferer unrelieved, a subject of pity within the reach of his charity unblessed. The follower of Christ must also cultivate those personal graces of piety towards God, inward purity and lowliness of spirit, which give power to example, weight to influence, and an unction to charity, but without which philanthropy is arrogant and scornful, benevolence one-sided and unjust, and charity mere proselytism and partisanship. There are indeed some modes of usefulness, which one who holds frequent and close communion with Christ will find it difficult to adopt. He will never resort to denunciation or harsh invective as a means of doing good. He will remember what was written of his Master, "He shall not strive nor cry, he will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax; and he will feel that "the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle to all men," and "speak evil of no man." Then, too, he who learns of Christ, will never put off" the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit." His energy will be still, calm and spirit-like, often not to be marked in its steps, but witnessed in its results. His charity will never be noisy or obtrusive, and often its only record will be in heaven. His fervent prayers for every cause of God and man will not be shaped for the ear of the multitude; but they will reach the ear of the Most High. His example will not be ostentatiously labelled, nor his influence sent forth with a flourish of trumpets; but his devoted and loving heart will make itself felt, and will be constantly reproducing itself in other hearts.
Such must needs be the character and influence of every man, so far as he is a Christian. To be sure, no member of the Church of Christ will venture to call himself a perfect Christian; and many are very imperfect. But it cannot be denied, that the tendency of Christianity, and, consequently, of its profession and ordinances, is to make a man pure and pious, benevolent and philanthropic, in the most eminent degree. Nor can any system of doctrines or opinions be pointed out, to take the place of Christian
ity as regards these tendencies. All philanthropy, all charity springs from the path, or gushes from the cross of Christ. The vaunted systems of modern times, Fourierism and its multitudinous kindred of every name, are mere schemes of external arrangement, mere economical contrivances, by which selfishness is systematized, and cold, calculating prudence solicited to do the work of Christian charity. The Gospel alone touches the heart, commands the affections, and penetrates every chamber of the soul. If we are, then, to abandon Christ, we may well ask, "To whom shall we go?" We may fittingly demand some other name, by which we may be saved from selfishness, from coldness of heart and indifference to duty. But if we are to be, or to continue Christians, there is, as we have shown, in the nature of the profession and ordinances that constitute the Church, nothing adapted to make it other than the school of Christ. In the essentials of its organization there is nothing unchristian or antichristian, but only what is adapted to lead the soul to Christ, and to make the disciple like his Master.
But let us quit these general considerations. Let us take a survey of what the Christian Church has been, and see whether its history should put its members to shame, or expose it to righteous denunciation or reproach. There has never indeed been a time, when the Church could compare herself with her Founder without blushing; but yet there has never been a time when, as compared with the rest of the world, the Church has not shown herself incontestably superior. The "chosen generation, the royal priesthood" has never ceased. In the darkest and most corrupt ages, there was still at work a leaven of truth and of principle; and there were in the Church forms and modes of practical virtue and goodness, which existed nowhere else. As for philanthropy, to one conversant either with the past or the present there is hardly need of saying, that the Church has possessed an almost undisturb-, ed monopoly of it since the creation. The amount of charitable gifts and efforts that have been bestowed independently of the Church, bear to those bestowed under the leading and auspices of the Church, about the same proportion, which a single bucket of water might bear to the Atlantic Ocean. One might count on his fingers all the