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he, and he alone, can fill, animate, and control all things by his vital power. There is thus produced a constant desire for the vision of his glory, and a deprecation and holy abhorrence of all human attempts to eclipse him and to take his place.
On the other hand, the introduction of higher organizations, judicial, legislative, executive, at once introduces human systems of order, articles of belief and human books as authoritative standards, between the churches and the Bible. Under the system ordained by Christ and his apostles, the word of God is always, and alone, the book. The Bible, as the title of the sacred writings, is the natural result of that system. On the other hand, extended organizations always produce some guide-book of human composition, which, by a natural course of things, usurps the title of the word of God, and is called the book.
Thus is created a field of interest and action, in legislation, interpretation, and judgment, adapted to divert the interest of the mind from the practical and experimental study of the Bible in the present local sphere which results from Congregationalism.
Thus, too, the way is opened for making, fearing, and worshipping a great idol, called the church, in the place of God. Thus, too, are introduced temptations, addressed to the love of wealth, power, honors, and place.
Nor is this all. An essential element of the cultivation of holiness, is the power of discipline. This is given by Christ to the local church (Matt. xviii. 15-18); and in the local church, as ordained by him, there is no standard but the Bible. All hierarchal organizations, from the necessity of the case, and as a matter of fact, take away this power from the local church. Thus is Christ's great law of discipline suspended, which contemplates the local church only, and recognizes no higher power.
These tendencies of hierarchies are not merely speculative. They have revealed themselves in facts, and have been fearfully effectual in every age. And, at this time,
there is no hierarchal organization on earth, in which human legislation and creeds do not come between the local churches and the Bible, or in which the law of Christ can be carried out in the administration of discipline. Under any hierarchy the local church has not the ultimate power of discipline, and cannot have it; for no local decision can be made that is not liable to reversal by superior powers.
We see, then, as we might suppose, that as free local churches were ordained by Christ, so they are the wisest and most effectual means of gaining his great end; and that their establishment was not owing to any peculiar and transitory circumstances of the age. In proportion as Christ's ideal of holiness, and of the kingdom of God through it, is understood; in proportion as the culture of true scriptural holiness becomes a matter of intense desire,—will the superior adaptation of free local churches to these great ends be the more clearly seen.
And it is an undeniable fact in church history, that in proportion as hierarchies subverted the system of free local churches, originally ordained by Christ, in the same proportion the study of the Bible receded, and the study of the traditions of men took its place. This process went on until the Old and New Testaments, the two great witnesses of God among men, were clothed in sackcloth, and testified for ages in vain. We use these words, not as the interpretation of a prophecy, but as the best description of a great and undeniable historical fact.
In antithesis to this, is the great and equally prominent fact, that the system which has been most efficient in producing popular education and intelligence, freedom, individual energy and enterprize, and a development of the claims of God to pervade and control the whole social fabric, is the system of free churches, organized on the assumption of the supremacy of the Bible as the inspired and only infal lible rule of faith and practice.
The Great Temptation and Delusion.
The great impulse towards higher organizations has ever been found in aspirations after the unity of the church, falsely understood. That God desires and aims at a unity of the church, is clearly asserted in his word. But it is a matter of great moment to know what this unity is, and what it involves. The Congregational view is, that it is not an external and formal unity, produced by organization, standards, rulers, and forms, but a real union, made and sustained by God. It is a union which is not possible without holiness, and which is real and powerful in proportion to the reality and power of holiness. Hence as free local churches are the wisest and most effectual means of producing this holiness, they tend most directly to this unity. In proportion as men become holy, God and his system become real to the mind, and are truly seen, and they have real and vital communion with him, and through him with one another. Thus are men united by God in the highest forms of intellectual, moral, and sympathetic unity.
This unity is commensurate with the globe. No lines of nations or continents bound it. It is a unity produced by that God who can at all times fill all things. It is a unity which no created being, or system of beings, can produce. It is the glorious result of the highest and most peculiar prerogatives of God. At this unity intelligent Congrega tionalism aims. It is content with nothing short of it, or below it.
On the other hand, Congregationalism teaches that any unity based on legislative and judicial organizations above local churches is not the unity desired by God; but results either in one world-embracing hierarchy, or else in divided and manifold hierarchies.
For if legislative and judicial organization, above local churches, is essential to preserve the unity of the church, then it ought to be commensurate with the unity to be preserved. But as God and his church are world-pervading, so must be the unity of his church. Here, then, we land in
a world-embracing organized hierarchy. This is the aim and profession of the Roman church; and it is a logical result of the premises. Rome at least is consistent with this principle.
If we still introduce higher organizations above the local church, and yet fall below a universal hierarchy, then we have organizations of local churches in particular states and nations, called churches of such states or nations. But what is to unite them? They must either remain divided, or at last rely on intellectual, moral, and sympathetic unity in God, on which Congregationalism relies from the beginning.
But if in addition to this, in any state or nation, as in ours, there are many organizations above local churches, each called a church, then the unity of each is not the unity of Christ's whole church, even in that nation. How, then, are these great churches to be united? To make any union, they must again resort to intellectual and moral unity, through God, even as Congregationalism does from the beginning.
But such large organized hierarchies, called churches, instead of promoting the union desired by God, tend rather to produce division, in its worst and widest forms. For when divided opinions as to doctrine or order or the choice of rulers occur, the interests, powers, and honors involved are vast, and tend to blind and deceive the conscience, and result in immedicable schisms. And when, in such vast organizations, schisms occur, they run through many local churches. Moreover, in large bodies, extending over a wide extent of territory, and developing love of power and honor, and by them intensifying conscientious convictions, and party beliefs and interests, the causes of division and disruption are not only multiplied, but are so intensified as to become irresistible.
Hence the history of hierarchies is a history of divisions, wide-spread and intense. The history of the Roman hierarchy is a history of schisms. The attempt to unite the
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church under a world-embracing hierarchy, led to the great and immedicable schism between the Greek and the Latin hierarchies. The schisms of the Greek church still pervade the oriental world. Who does not recall the great schisms of the papal hierarchy, when European Christendom has been divided between two or more contending and excommunicating popes? Who cannot recall the numerous schisms of Presbyterianism, both in Scotland and in this country? How many Presbyterian bodies there are, each of which calls itself the church, and talks of the unity of the church. What hierarchal body is exempt from such tendencies, and similar facts in its history? Such centralized judicial and legislative bodies, therefore, neither unite the church as a whole, nor do they unite even those portions of the church which they embrace. On the other hand, they involve in themselves the elements of division, and that of the worst and most wide-spread kind.
Congregationalism alone, by rejecting the hierarchal principle entirely, and aiming at an intellectual, moral, and sympathetic unity, through God, aims at a unity commensurate with the kingdom of God. This is a universal, a world-wide unity. It aims not at the unity of one denomi nation, not at the unity of all the churches of the nation, but at the unity of all who are redeemed by Christ in all nations. If this is to be effected by the hierarchal principle at all, it demands a universal hierarchy. Congregationalism renounces the hierarchal principle entirely, and aims at universal, intellectual, moral and sympathetic unity through God. Even hierarchal systems lower than the papacy are obliged to resort to the same principle, or else renounce other Christian bodies as no part of the church or of the kingdom of God.
It is the grand peculiarity of Congregationalism that it resorts to this idea of unity from the beginning, from the free local church. By this they aim to cultivate holiness, and by the power of God acting through this, to unite all the Christians of this earth as one.