Orwell, Bradford Co., Pa. June 5, 1833.
BROTHE RBEEBE: – The following attempt, to show the absurdity of the notion of a national church; and remark on some of the things practised, having a natural tendency to build one; are submitted for your consideration and publication if you think proper.
While I admit that another may be as honest, in differing from him, I cannot help thinking that worldly policy mixes itself too much with the system, and feelings of such as are endeavoring to build up, or praying for the upbuilding of a national church. Many no doubt, are ignorantly led into pursuits, that if carried to their legitimate end; would accomplish such an event, who now do not believe it any more than Hazael believed what Elisha told him of the evil that he should do to the children of Israel.
Nor yet have I any thing to boast over them, for I have nothing but what I have received. It is believed by some, that God had no churches in this world until the days of Abraham; and that he never had but one church, and that commenced in the house of Abraham also, we do not now intend to search after the root of, nor define the word church. We would ask, why the nation over which King Melchesidec reigned, was not a church? He was a Priest of the most high God, nearer in Gospel order, than ever Aaron himself, why then was not the nation over which he reigned a church, as really as the house of Abraham? And whether, if it indeed was a church, it was the same that began in the house of Abraham? I confess, that to me it appears from what the scriptures state on the subject, that King Melchesidec , and his people, bears more the resemblance of a church, than did the house of Abraham, until they were organized, at the foot of Sinai. And from all that I can learn from the sacred history, of either or both of them they could be no more than national churches.
With respect to the house of Abraham, it is certain that when organized; having received their laws, and ordinances from God, by the hand of Moses, they were nationally the people of God, see 2d Saml. vii, 23; 1st Chron. xvii,21. Yet notwithstanding, as a nation he had redeemed them for a people to himself; many of them were Idolators in Heart, and practice; many of the Prophets, were Prophets of Baal, were light and treacherous persons, his Priests polluted the sanctuary, and many of the people were the children of Belial.
And it is also certain, that as a nation they revolted from the government of God; as a nation they rejected the Lord Jesus Christ; as a nation they were thrust out of the inheritance that God gave them, and as a nation they are dispersed among all the nations of the earth.
Yet with these facts staring them in the face, many that profess to love, and believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, with great learning and zeal, are endeavoring to build up a national church, and call it Gospel. Notwithstanding the perspicuity with which the national, and Gospel churches are distinguished in the New Testament. In examining the national church, we find their civil, judicial, military, and Ecclesiastical code all blended together, and each make a necessary part of the whole; besides one of their great privileges, was the enjoyment of the land of promise. Take either of them away, and their national charter is greatly marred.
How unlike the Gospel church, which can live and enjoy all its privileges, in any land, and under any kind of civil government where its members are let alone as religionists; besides there is neither civil, nor Military laws found to be enacted, in all the instruction given by the founder of the Gospel church. Another wide difference appears to be, increase of property, and worldly splendour, constituted at least one important part of the happiness of that nation. While in the Gospel, a man’s life (or happiness) consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. Christ the head, and a great part of the members of the Gospel church were poor. Hath not God chosen the poor of this world?
Again, the bloody rite of circumcision, commencing in the house of Abraham, was the separating seal, or wall of partition, between Jews and Gentiles; as to the enjoyment of privileges in that national church. If this was neglected by those that had the care of unconcious male infants, past the eighth day – the babe must be cut off, he had broken the covenant. Attention to this, gave the person upon whom it was performed, a perfect right to all the privileges of the church – according to his station, without any regard to the disposition of his hearth. In the Gospel church, neither Jews, nor Gentiles, have a perfect right to privileges, without faith which is in Christ Jesus.
The principle, and ceremonies of that national church, was a yoke which they were not able to bear. The Gospel church enjoys perfect liberty in Christ her Lord. The ministration of their economy, was a ministration of condemnation and death. The ministration of the Gospel, is righteousness and life; among them natural men could discern, and enjoy the things of their inheritance, carnal ordinances and shadows of good things to come. In the Gospel church, natural men cannot discover the things of their inheritance, the things of the spirit, the substance of the good things shadowed. It is certain that they were of this world, and their inheritance was in the land of Canaan. The Gospel church is not of this world, their inheritance is in the Lord.
But we proceed to make a few remarks on the practice which leads to the formation of a national church. Should the practice of those who bring unconcious babes into what they call the church, by sprinkling, prevail to universal extent, of either of the denominations, their church would of course become a national one, and national religious institution would exactly agree with such a church.
Hence we see the legitimate end of infant sprinkling, and as sprinkling the babe never altered the disposition of the heart, any more than the bloody rite did – the church made up of the whole nation, must embrace in its bosom, all the corruptions found in the nation and they must destroy the lives of the corrupt members, or banish them, or be defiled with the corruption.
How unlike this, to the Gospel method of expelling corrupt members, but the great utility of the numerous societies formed, to evangelize the world, and the mighty efforts made in the great work of reform, may plead as means of changing their hearts.
That these in their issue will produce a national church, either by the prevalence of (?) one of the denominations, or the (?) of many. I have no doubt, for they all tend that way.
Then will be produced a christian world, not a world of christians, a national church – not Gospel church, a great change in the face – not in the heart of society.
That the societies formed, and the exertions made, can never produce a gospel church is evident from the following considerations.
1. The doctrine, is in opposition to Gospel doctrine. It holds forth the law for life, & righteousness; whereas there is no law given which cold give life. I do not frustrate the grace of God; for if righteousness came by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. Moreover, they teach that a man must give up his heart to God, endeavoring to maintain that “a compliance with the terms of reconciliation with God, is fairly within the compass of” the ability of unrenewed men. While the Gospel teaches the necessity of a manifestation of divine power to give life, before creatures can be found in the exercise of any grace acceptable to God, and to break the bonds of wickedness, by which they are held in the service of the strong man armed, before they can act with any liberty in divine duties.
2. They calculate a proportionate number to be saved, according to the amount of earthly treasure communicated, & the distinguishing efforts made by men. While the Gospel attributes the number saved according to the choice of God, and the work of saving them to Jesus Christ exhibiting distinguishing grace.
3. The whole system is the fruit of created ingenuity, and darkness of mind, as appears from the system of means devised, which are no where to be found in the Gospel.
And, 4th. It is beyond the power of man, with all their means, to change the heart of one of God’s enemies. As the minds of men are capable of cultivation in natural things, they may do much toward polishing the outside; that is the way men work, and they may make as polished priests, pharisees, and lawyers, as were in olden time for ought I know. But they can never make a child of God, that is God’s work, it is the province of God alone, to change the heart. It is beyond (?) of the human mind, to build a Gospel church. Men may gather together large bodies of men, creatures of state policy, – they may compass sea and land, to make Proselytes, and when they are made they are twofold more the children of Hell than themselves. “Behold they shall surely gather together but not by me,” (saith the Lord of Hosts). “Whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake.”
These few imperfect hints, give such a sketch of the difference between a national and gospel church, as show that a national church cannot be a gospel one-- and that the present popular mode of operation, is not building up a gospel church. Oh! that all the dear children of God would open their eyes, and behold what many of them are engaged in building up. If they would only compare the present popular doctrine, and practice, with their Bibles, it seems as if they could not help discovering sufficient abominations to bring them to a stand, and lead them to trust more in God, and less in man, and means. That they might, is the prayer of their unworthy servant, for Jesus sake.
Signs of the Times
Volume 1, No. 17
July 17, 1833