I always feel in doubt about them. When I hear them asking: "Do you believe in the doctrine of Election?" or: "Do you believe in sprinkling?" or: "Do you believe in immersing?" I feel sad. I never knew such converts to be worth much. Their sectarian zeal soon sours their feelings, eats out all the heart of their religion, and molds their whole character into sinful, sectarian bigotry. They generally become mighty zealous for the traditions of the elders, and very little concerned for the salvation of souls.
TRADITIONS OF THE ELDERS .
7. From what has been said, we may understand, why it is, that for so many hundred years, the gospel has had so little influence over the minds of men. For many centuries, but little of the real gospel has been preached, that is, it has been so mixed with the traditions of men, so much that is human, so much that is false, has been added to it, and intermingled with it, as to break its power. All the multitudinous errors, and false notions that have clustered around the doctrine of physical depravity, have every one of them served to shield the sinner form the arrows of the Almighty. Physical depravity, physical regeneration, the sinner's inability, and all their kindred errors, have formed so many hiding places, under which, millions upon millions have been entrenched, until the hail has swept away their refuges of lies, and the waters of Almighty wrath have overflowed their hiding places: and it is not to be doubted, that thousands of millions of our race are now groaning in hell, that might have been saved, but for these traditions of the elders that have made void the commandment of God. The design, and the tendency of the gospel, is, to bring men to immediate repentance. It lays upon them no requirement short of this. It never calls upon them to do any thing less than to repent, and obey the gospel. But men, holding, as many of them have, that sinners were unable to do this, have set them to do something else, which God never required at their hands, as a condition of salvation; and in doing which, they put off repentance sinned away their day of grace, and lost their souls. I have already observed that the gospel was early corrupted. These corruptions have continued in a greater or less degree, to mingle themselves with the pure gospel; and precisely in proportion as more or less error has been mingled with the truth, the gospel has been more or less successful. Its power depends on its purity.
9. Again, the day of earth's redemption can never come, till the traditions of the elders are done away; till all those dogmas that afford hiding places for the enemies of God, are rejected as making no part of the gospel of Christ. When ministers of all denominations shall see eye to eye, shall disencumber the glorious gospel of all these traditions of men's devising; shall take the pure commandment of God, and bring it with an uncompromising spirit to bear with mountain weight upon the rebellious hearts of dying men; when they call on them instantly to repent, and treat them as if they expected them to repent; when they live, and labour, and pray, and preach, and exhibit the true gospel in all they say and do; then, and not till then, will the full power of God's moral government be felt on earth.
10. These traditions of the elders are the grand sources of most of the fatal errors of the present day. Universalism, as I have before remarked, has evidently had its origin in the notion of inability, and physical depravity. They have reasoned thus:--If men came into being with a depraved nature, physically and naturally inclined to all evil; if they are unable to obey God, as they really must be, if such is their nature; then surely a God of justice cannot damn them. Now this inference is irresistible from their premises. For God to make men physically incapable of obedience, and then damn them for disobedience, would be infinite tyranny and injustice. From the benevolence, and even upon the ground of the justice of God, upon the principles of physical depravity and inability, the arguments for Universalism are irresistible. Upon this hypothesis, they are right in rejecting, as most modern Universalists do, mercy from their system, and placing the salvation of men upon the ground of justice.
12. It is easy to see why revivals do not, and cannot prevail more extensively than they do. There is such a sticklishness on the part of many, for these crippling errors; such a constant effort to maintain these traditions of the elders, as to paralyze the influence of a great portion of the church. Many good men are halting and doubting whether they should reject them or not; and they are in that state of "betweenity," that they can heartily exhibit neither one thing nor the other. Many come out boldly, and strenuously, and hold up those dogmas, and while these are the topics continually held before the mind, it cannot be expected that revivals should prevail. It is true that men have had great and powerful revivals who have held and sometimes exhibited these views; but it was not when they exhibited them, that their preaching took effect. But when happily they were inconsistent enough to lay aside these peculiarities, and come out with the pressure of the gospel upon the hearts and consciences of men. Take a parable. A lady, who had been a long time under conviction, had often called on her minister, to know what she should do to be saved. He had as often reminded her of her helplessness, and dependence upon God; exhorted her to pray, and use the means, and wait patiently for God to change her heart. On the Sabbath, he would frequently call upon sinners to repent; but before he closed would be sure to caution them against self-confidence, depending upon their own strength; and would solemnly remind them that they had no power of themselves to repent and embrace the gospel. But one day, when this agonized woman was present, he happily forgot his accustomed inconsistency, and after pressing sinners to immediate repentance, sat down without the usual addition that they could not. Before the last hymn had concluded, the gospel had done its work in the woman's heart; and after the congregation was dismissed, she was observed to stand weeping and waiting as he passed out to speak with him. As soon as he came near enough she exclaimed, my dear Mr. ------- why did you not tell me of this before? Tell you of this before, replied the astonished pastor, why I have declared it to you every Sabbath. Yes, she replied, but always until now, you told me before you set down, that I could not repent. I hope, said the pastor, you have not gone on in your own strength; no she replied, not in my own, but in the strength of God I have repented, and should have done it before had you not told me that I could not. This is the legitimate tendency of cannotism; if they believe it, they certainly will not repent: and how can revivals prevail, how can the world be converted, while so many are vehemently contending for these traditions of the elders. These dogmas, are exalted into fundamental doctrines, and they are supposed to be heretics, who do not keep these traditions. Well might Christ turn upon them with the rebuke, "wherefore do ye make void the commandment of God by your traditions." Oh! when will the day arrive, when the spurious philosophy upon which these dogmas are based, shall be given up? When unanimity of sentiment, and clearness of views, and brotherly love shall prevail? then will righteousness run down our streets, and salvation as an overflowing stream.
2. Christ does not appear to have differed in his dress and dietetic habits from the mass of the people. It should be remembered, however, that among the eastern nations, modes of dress were not perpetually fluctuating as they are in the west. It is manifest that Christ was observant of the innocent civilities of life, attended marriages, and politely accepted the hospitality of all classes for the purpose of doing them good. He observed the rites of the ceremonial law, as they were typical, and that dispensation was not ended, but he paid no other regard to the superstitious traditions of the elders, than to rebuke them, and to reject their authority.
6. Nothing done from sheer superstition. This is most obvious. If I had time I should like to point out various things done here which are real superstitions. Superstitions are not restricted to the Roman Catholics. They dome down among Protestants also, in the form of traditions of the elders, with which persons are exceedingly careful to comply, and thus think to work out great and important righteousness.