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TAE MONTHLY

CHRISTIAN SPECTATOR.

SEPTEMBER, 1852.

Mr. Cuoper’s ‘ Frer Church of Nurirat Christendom.'*

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GROTESQUE and novel as many of the groups of auriferous excavators in Australia are, combining well-educated men of broken fortune with notorious gamblers, impoverished beaux from Paris and the West-end, working at the side of clodpoles from Suffolk, or half-starved weavers from Spitalfields, and men of highly religious habits with felon outlaws, this incongruous muster of diggers' does not present stronger contrasts than are to be seen in the excavators of ecclesiastical antiquities in the present age. In this field of labour, we have fantastic gangs of young Oxonians, ardently toiling in the hopeless task of turning up from the mounds of Carthage, Rome, or Jerusalem, something that may be made to figure as authority for a Book of Common Prayer, or for an order of bishops, analogous to that hybrid race with which this country has been so long afflicted; and in the same ruins Puseyite and Papist are equally busy in endeavouring to exhume the evidence of Peter's episcopal residence at Rome, or proofs that Rome always had precedency in the Church. Sifting diligently the same debris, are also to be seen the outrageous and vain disciples of Strauss, with our modern infidels, whose search is, not indeed to discover indications of what true Christianity in its primitive state was, but to turn up, if possible, the old weapons of Trypho, of Celsus, and Julian, or whatever else may be thought to invalidate that most invaluable little volume, the Pauline Epistles,' and its graphic introduction, the Acts of the

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* The ‘Free Church of Ancient Christendom.' By Basil H. Cooper, B.A. I'p. 420. 12mo. London : Albert Cockshaw, Ludgate-hill.

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Apostles,' by Luke. To these motley gangs of antiquity delvers, Mr. Cooper has resolutely joined himself as an earnest labourer ; having, however, no other similitude to them than is presented in the sphere of his labour, and the energy, diligence, and astuteness with which he has devoted himself to his object of proving, that the Church of Ancient Christendom was FREE alike from state control, and from sacerdotal domination ; and no less free, from the demagogical intolerance of multitudes, or the conceited and blatant overbearing of spiritual conclaves. It is chiefly, however, with the freedom of the Christian Church from civic and governmental connexions that our author concerns himself.

The work before us consists of a dozen chapters, of which the first two are an introductory resumé of the moral state of the Gentile and the Judaic world. The author then divides the body of his work into four sections, which he denominates • The Apostolic Period,' • The First Transition Period,' «The Hierarchical Period,' and · The Second Transition Feriod;' the last of which ends in that Mosquito era, the age of Eusebius and the Council of Nice, A.D. 325. Our author adopts Neander's definition of the Church—' A union of men arising from the fellowship of religious life: a union essentially independent of, and different from, all other forms of human association;' and maintains that such was the Church formed by Christ himself, and that, as such, it was incapable of any connexion with the civil government. He contends that it could never have been the design of Christ that the State should teach his religion, for Mr. Cooper very justly states, that if Christ intended the State to teach his religion and to govern his Church, he would not have constituted it as he did ; for the plain reason, that its construction is prohibitory of State subordination. He ridicules the theory of Rothe, the author of the · Die Anfänge der Christlichen Kirche,' that Christianity must ultimately be co-ordinate with the state; and that the Apostolic Church was nothing more than an intermediate institution ; and he adopts, indeed, as he does too generally, the view of Neander, that it was a fundamental element of the formation of the union (church), that religion was no longer to be inseparably bound up, either as principal or subordinate, with the political and national relations of men; but that it should develop itself by its own inherent energy, as a principle of culture and union superior in its very essence to all human powers.' Such Mr, Cooper considers, and in this we agree with him, was the substance of all the doetrinal positions advanced by our Lord; and such a church only could be capable of executing his purposes or of administering his laws. If we possessed no tuitions beyond these facts relative to the genius and independent spiritual confederacy of the Chureh, we might safely take our stand in opposition to all State religious establishments; for if the great evangelical lawgiver altogether ignored the worldly rulers in the construction of his kingdom, it is a most logical inference that they were never designed by him to claim its terrene headship to determine who shall compose its members, to subjugate its entire ministry of peace and holiness by bribes to the magistratic power, and even to resolve what

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prayers should be presented to heaven, and what doctrines should be exponed to the flock; all which monstrous invasions of the spiritual empire of the Son of God every secular Church ipso facto claims the right to make. Resistance to this iniquitous and impolitic claim, created the spirit of evangelical Nonconformity; and so long as any form of government choose to insult the consciousness of Christian men, and to vitiate the legal institutions of Jesus, Nonconformity will continue ; modified, as it ever will be, by the degree of sound piety, of scriptural knowledge, and the love of freedom, that may be found in the dissident body. The attempt at different times of the political power to extinguish this Dissent has always intensified it; and yet so indocile and imperious is the Governmental mind of this country, that it is as industriously purposed as ever to extend the visible domains of this illegitimate Church, that one might be inclined to think that it only had never heard of the Pilgrim Fathers, of the Dutch Remonstrants, or of the Huguenots, and, above all, of the fact, that the last census goes far to demonstrate that of the religious population of these kingdoms, the majority as heartily protests against any State Church, as it does against the infamous doctrines of the Papacy itself.

Our author then procceds to notice the provision of Christ to guard his Church against the loss of its freedom, by the spiritual despotism of its ministers and other influential officers. Mr. Cooper contends that this is effected by making all the members of the Church immediately dependent on his authority alone: securing absolute subordination to the head and equality among the brethren; and involving for ever the abrogation of all priesthood, no longer necessary, since the great omnipresent High Priest of our profession had superseded all types of himself, by his own unchangeable priesthood, neither subject to the modifications and lapses of time, nor to the imperfections of humanity. The author feels the difficulty, so often felt, of conciliating the universal priesthood of Christian society with the divine institution of the ministry; but he removes the difficulty with considerable effect, and would have done it more lucidly, as we conceive, if he had not incumbered himself in this instance with the quotations of Neander and Chevalier Bunsen, neither of whom is always free from that filmy verbiage, which is so characteristic of the German mind, and especially of its theological writings.

We have no right to quarrel with our author because he pursues his own modes of demonstration, for we are free to confess that he has the best warrant to conclude that the view which has been most convincing to his own mind, is most likely to convince others. But for this aspect of the case, we think Mr. Cooper has made too little use of the voluminous evidence on the freedom of the primitive Church, producible from the Acts of the Apostles, and of many of the authorities cited by Lardner and King. In the epistolary portions of the New Testament, and even in the teaching of our Lord himself, for the most part all that we have on the question of the Church is doctrinarymost lucid, definite, and authoritative, we admit; but the historic treatise of Luke, we have the advantage of seeing many of the

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churches, in the principal cities, in their earliest state of organization, with glimpses of their subsequent working in ordinary, as well as in anomalous, action; and in all we find them enjoying perfect freedom,

. either from the control of any civic authority, or from the domination of their teachers. It is true that we find the apostles exercising supreme directive influence when they happened to be present; but eren this seems to have been conducted with so much deference to the feeling of the brethren, that they evidently acknowledged the Church existed on higher authority than their own, and from that source possessed immunities which even the apostles could not ignore. No writer with whom we are acquainted has yet elaborated the stores on the true ecclesiastical polity which are contained in the · Acts of the Apostles; and we are sorry to add, that Mr. Cooper has not supplied this desideratum, at least, to anything like the extent of which the subject admits.* But if our author has not done what he is so well capable of doing, he has made a quotation from Professor Huther's • Cyprian's Lehre von der Kirche,', which may be regarded for the most part as a fair summary of the conclusions which that acute writer draws from his investigations of the narrative of the beloved physician :'

'In the apostolic age,' he observes, “as, after the manifold investigations which have been devoted to the subject, may be taken as a point set at rest, at least for every unprejudiced person, there were no bishops, in the sense proper to that word, as used in later times. There was neither, in each respective church, a single church ruler in whom the guiding power was concentrated, nor any institution formally established for the purpose of binding the churches together into a unity; nor were there any who were regarded as being exclusively the

organs of the Holy Ghost. The unity of all the churches with one another was in nowise wanting ; but it was not an organized unity; it was the unity in the spirit. The guidance of every church was entrusted to a collective body-the college of presbyters--who were also called bishops; but these exercised this guidance only in this sense, that they require the consent of the whole Church, for every regulation which they wished to carry. Every one was an organ of the Holy Spirit, who by faith in the Redeemer had received the same. Even the apostles are not to be ranked with the later bishops ; although these were eager of being regarded as their successors; and, as such, to arrogate to themselves a special plenitude of power. The calling of the apostles was the preaching of the word of God, imparted to them by Christ, and sealed by the Holy Ghost; and the planting of Christian churches as connected therewith. As soon as, by their labours, they had founded a church, they handed over the further guidance of the same to the presbyters, who, though at their instance, yet were chosen by the churches themselves. It was, indeed, natural that they did not thereby withdraw from all connexion with such a church; the young plant still constantly needed, till it was firmly rooted, their care, guardianship, and watchfulness. Hence, they still assisted it with their counsel ; nevertheless, they imparted this in all outward church affairs, as counsel, and not as law. Only in one respect did they care about being always acknowledged as the highest authority, namely, in the declaration of the gospel ; as Paul, for example, plainly enough distinguishes between the case in which he had a commandment of the Lord, and that in which he gave his own opinion. They occupied the position of men who had received the word of the Lord immediately from the Lord himself; they were watchmen over the churches in that

* This subject will be taken up in our nex SPECTATOR.

number.-ED, CHRISTIAN

they sought, by virtue of their apostolical authority, to combat and to suppress every parasitical outgrowth that was ready to spring forth in opposition to the Spirit of Christ. In other respects, however, they left it to the churches themselves, to develop for themselves their own church order. Even in the places in which they fixed their head quarters, whence they proceeded on their everextending missions, and whither they were wont to return, they made no pretensions to a plenitude of power, exclusively attaching to themselves, with reference to any regulations that required to be made ; although in such places their influence was naturally weightier than in others. If it is possible to regard them as, in a certain sense, organs of ecclesiastical unity, yet they were not so in any definite and organic manner ; but in a free way, and as the nature of the case implied. Still less did they assume to be the exclusive organs of the Holy Ghost. Hence the thought was farthest possible from their minds, that any church act, e. g. baptism, must proceed only from them, or from such as they authorized thereto, in order to its validity.'

In the following chapter, which is entitled • The Age of John' (65— 100 A.D.), the author, after showing the utter absence of either a prelatic element in the Church, or the slightest tendency to subordinate itself to the State, combats the artificial theory of Rothe, that the apostles, about the time of the fall of Jerusalem, introduced a third order of Christian teachers in the Church, viz. prelates; to which pretentious conclusion Rothe arrives on the authority of that passage in Eusebius, which narrates by what means Simeon came to succeed James the martyr. This extravagant advocate of episcopacy does not, indeed, profess to prove that one single instance of a prelate is extant in the Church, prior to the year 70 A.D.; he even labours to show that no such institution existed. But Rothe maintains that after the year 70 such prelacy did exist, and he cites from the Epistles of John the proof, in the person of Diotrephes ! Bravo, criticism! thou hast evoked something from thy wordy legerdemain at last. So this profane talker, whose prating against us,' the ultimus apostolorum so solemnly denounced, comes, after all, to be the original type of the episcopal prelate! a not unworthy ancestor of a singularly consistent progeny, ever true to its patristic attribute of antagonizing the apostles of Jesus Christ! According to this Rothian theory, we shall expect to find Judas Iscariot cited as the prototype of an archiepiscopal treasurer, and perhaps Ananias himself may glow, under the action of the German lamp, into the proleptic archdeacon.

Mr. Cooper then enters on the First Transition Period, which he imagines to have commenced at the death of John, and to have extended to the martyrdom of Polycarp, A.D. 164. Our author considers that one of the most important objects achieved by the infant churches during the latter part of the age of John, was what he calls the domestication of Christianity,' a phrase which we think neither descriptive of the facts of the case, nor in itself felicitous. We think the author much more correct in the delineatory reasons that he advances to prove, why the apostles were never intended to have successors. As none after John could pretend to be eye-witnesses of the facts on which Christianity was based, or as fully authorized to expound them, much less to deliver new doctrines, or to impart the Holy Gospel to others, or to exercise authority in every church, it is obvious that all

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