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sanctification of the Lord's day. The heathens, who held the reins of empire, would not sanction it; the rulers in the church could not; it must therefore have been by common consent; a consent so general and unanimous as could have no other origin than a conviction of its being ordained by Christ and the apostles. It was a matter respecting which the early Christians could not be mistaken, and how is it possible for all the churches throughout the Christian world to have agreed, even from the beginning of their plantation, to make the first day of the week a festival, unless they had been directed by the founders of their religion ? Hence, as it has been shewn by evidence which cannot, in fairness, be disputed, that the consecration of a septenary day was the universal practice by the orthodox in the best and purest ages of the church, it must have originated in divine appointment, which proves the perpetual sanctity and obligation of a weekly religious festival.
We are now arrived at that stage of our inquiry, from which many, who have travelled together in unanimity, have diverged into very opposite directions. In the ample and spacious field which opens to the view, we shall be liable, without the utmost caution, though treading upon firm ground, to be led astray into wandering and devious paths. Resting upon the previously established conclusion, that it is a bounden duty, ratified by the scriptures, and by the practice of the Christian church from the earliest ages, to dedicate every seventh day to the service of Him in whom we live and move, and have our being, it still remains to undertake the difficult investigation of the mode in which this homage is to paid. The holy solemnization of one day in the week, though admitted to be incumbent upon believers in the gospel, is a subject which has given birth to a wide contrariety of opinion; it being prescribed, on the one hand,
with a laxity which loosens, if not entirely dissolves, its religious obligation; and on the other, with a rigid austerity scarcely practicable, and certainly but ill-adapted to the present constitution of human nature. To draw the necessary line of distinction requires the prudent exercise of a chastised judgment; and, had the plan of this inquiry admitted it, the author would gladly have avoided an attempt, to the execution of which he is far from presuming himself to be fully competent.
In entering upon this task, it is impossible not to feel the greater hesitation and diffidence, as the sacred Scriptures furnish us with but little direct and particular information. To legislate minutely on any particular branch of moral and religious conduct, on which the Almighty has not promulged his revealed will, is often presumptuous, and not unfrequently mischievous. If we hold the fundamental truth of Protestantism, the sufficiency of Holy Writ, correctly interpreted, in matters of faith, to enjoin aught as a religious duty which is not written there, must be at least a dangerous experiment. It is especially so in regard to the external duties of our sacred vocation, as an error here has a natural tendency to induce weak, but well-disposed minds, to depend too much upon ceremonial observances. What has contributed more to sully and obscure
the pure spirit of religion, than the immoderate introduction of unauthorized rites and ceremonies ? External ceremonies are more easily performed than the internal purification of the heart; for which reason the former are apt to be substituted for the latter; and if this inherent propensity of the mind be pampered by those who minister in sacred things, outward ordinances will assume an importance in the eyes of the people, to which they are not justly entitled. The utmost vigilance should be used against stamping that which is ritual, with the same degree of sacredness as that which is essential in religion; otherwise the end, however important, will be lost sight of, in a too fond attention to the means. To a want of care of this kind is to be attributed the regard and value which the Pharisees attached to their traditionary prescriptions, to the neglect of the weightier matters of the law; and awful, yet useful, is the example of the church in the middle ages, during which, tradition assuming a paramount authority to Scripture, Christianity, pure, spiritual, vital Christianity, degenerated into a religion of parade and ceremony.
In recommending a vigilant caution in matters upon which the sacred Scriptures are silent, it is not intended to deny the necessity of external ordinances. In all social religion they are requisite; and every church has authority to decree such rites and ceremonies as are deemed expedient, provided nothing be ordained contrary to the word of God. The disputatious puritanical opposition to such ceremonies as common sense must pronounce to be at least harmless, is now happily almost extinct; yet in a recent publication it is asserted, that “Nothing can more strongly depict the weakness and folly of mankind, than the assumption of the right to publish laws for the regulation of his (God's) worship, in cases where He himself has chosen to be silent; and to punish their fellow men for non-compliance with them, without the shadow of a proof of a divine warrant to substantiate the transgression, or inflict the penalty.” But public worship being impossible without published laws for its regulation, and none being delivered in the volume of Revelation, the duty of enacting them devolves of necessity upon the supreme governors of the church. As the Almighty has given few directions concerning some of those external performances which he requires, it must clearly be his sovereign will to leave such matters to the general power with which he has invested the church; and he cannot be wholly free from a schismatical spirit who refuses submission to what is justified by necessity, and recommended by expediency.