Contents The Christian System
by Alexander Campbell



I. "All things lawful are not expedient, because all things lawful edify not." So Paul substantially affirmed. A position of licentious tendency, if not well qualified. As defined by its author, it is perfectly safe. He only assumed that there were many things which he might lawfully do, which were not expedient for him to do. He might, for example, have married a wife, eat the flesh of either Jewish or Pagan sacrifices, or drunk the wine of their libations, etc. etc., according to the Christian law; but in the circumstances of his peculiar vocation and localities, to have done these things would have been inexpedient.

II. Law itself is, indeed, at best but an expedient - a means, supposed at the time of its promulgation, suitable to some rational end. But, owing to the mutability of things, laws often fail to be the best means to the ends proposed; and are therefore abolished, or, for the time being, suspended. This is true of all laws and institutions prescribing the modes and forms of action, whether in religion or morality. Moral laws, properly so called, are, indeed, immutable; because the principle of every moral law is love, and that never can cease to be not only a way and means, but the only way and means, to rational, to human happiness. Positive precepts, however, prescribing the forms of religious and moral action, emanating from God himself, have been changed, and may again be changed, while all the elements of piety and morality are immutable. It would now, for example, be immoral to marry a natural sister; yet it was for a time done by divine authority. It became inexpedient to continue the practice, and the law was changed.

III. There is, therefore, a law of expediency, as well as the expediency of law. This law of expediency, as it is, indeed, the basis of the expediency of law in the divine government, has been, as in the case of David eating the loaves of the presence, and the priests profaning the Sabbath by the labours of the Temple, occasionally elevated above the precepts that prescribe the forms of religious and moral action. True, indeed, that such cases are exceedingly rare; and they are rare reasoners who can safely decide when any particular precept prescribing the form of action, may, for the sake of the action itself, be waived or suspended. It is, moreover, exceedingly questionable, whether, under the more perfect institution of Christianity, the law of expediency can ever clash with any moral or religious precept in the New Covenant.

IV. Still there are many things left to the law of expediency, concerning which no precepts are found in the apostolic writings. To ascertain these is the object of this chapter. They are, then, in one sentence, those things, or forms of action, which it was impossible or unnecessary to reduce to special precepts; consequently they are not faith, piety, nor morality; because whatever is of the faith, of the worship, or of the morality of Christianity, was both possible and necessary to be promulgated; and is expressly and fully propounded in the sacred scriptures. The laws of expediency, then, has no place in determining the articles of faith, acts of worship, nor principles of morality. All these require a "thus saith the Lord" in express statements, and the sacred writings have clearly defined and decided them. But in other matters that may be called the circumstantials of the gospel and of the church of Christ, the people of God are left to their own discretion and to the facilities and exigencies of society.

V. Many things, indeed, that are of vital importance to the well-being and prosperity of the kingdom of Christ, are left to the law of expediency. A few examples will suffice: - Can any one imagine any measure of more consequence than the safe-keeping of the apostolic writings, the multiplication of copies, the translation of them into different languages, and the mode of distributing them throughout the whole world? Now, who can show a positive or special precept on any one of these four vital points? Scribes or copyists, paper-makers, printers, book-binders, and vendors of the oracles of God, are as unknown to the apostolic writers as mails, post-offices, rail-roads, and steam-engines. So negligent, too, has the kingdom of Christ been on some of these points, that she has not at this hour a received copy of the Living Oracles. We American and English people have a received version by authority of a king; but we have not a RECEIVED ORIGINAL by the authority of any king or government civil or ecclesiastic. A startling fact, truly! But who dares to deny it?

VI. Next to these are meeting-houses, baptisteries, Lord's tables, the emblematic loaf and cup, times of convocation, arrangements for the day, etc. etc. Acts of Parliament, decrees of synods and councils, but no apostolic enactments, statutes, or laws, are found for any of these important items. There is neither precept nor precedent in the New Testament for building, hiring, buying, or possessing a meeting-house; for erecting a baptismal bason, font, or bath; for chancel, altar, table, leavened or unleavened bread, chalice, cup, or tankard, and many other things of equal value.

VII. There is no law, rule, or precedent for the manner of eating the Lord's supper, no hint as the quantity of bread and wine to be used by each participant; nothing said about who shall partake first, or how it shall be conveyed from one to another. These are all discretionary matters, and left to the prudence and good sense of the Christian communities - in other words, to the law of expediency.

VIII. Touching these and very many other such matters and things, nothing is enacted, prescribed, or decided by apostolic authority; but all the things to be done are enjoined in the very clear and broad precepts, or in very striking and clear apostolic precedents. General laws and precepts, embracing the whole range of religious and moral action, are often found in the sayings of the Lord and his ministers of the New Institution, from which also our duties and obligations may be clearly ascertained. That "marriage is honourable in all" - is clearly taught; but who ever read a verse on the manner in which the most important of all social institutions is to be performed? No age is fixed at which the covenant shall be made or ratified - on time of life prescribed for its consummation , nothing said about who shall perform the service, the formula, the witnesses, the record, etc. And, still more singular, there is no table, no law, or statute in all the New Covenant saying who may, or who may not, enter into that relation on any principle of consanguinity or affinity. By the consent of the Christian church the Jewish law obtains in this matter.

IX. The communion of saints, of all Christian churches - the co-operation of churches as one holy nation, a kingdom of priests, as a peculiar people in all common interests and benefits - an efficient gospel ministry, supported justly and honourably by the whole community - are matters clearly and fully taught by both apostolic precept and authority; but the forms, the ways and means by which these ends shall be attained, are left to the law of expediency.

X. But here arises a practical and all-important question, viz. - Who shall ascertain and who shall interpret this law of expediency? We all agree that expedients are to be chosen with regard to times, seasons, and other circumstances. Changes in these must always change expedients. The mariner's compass, the art of printing, new modes of travelling, Banks and their commercial operations, new forms of government, etc. etc., have changed the order of society and all human expedients. Now the law of expediency is the law of adopting the best present means of attaining any given end. But this is a matter which the wisdom and good sense of individuals and communities must decide. This is not, this cannot be, a matter of standing revelation. Now if the church was always unanimous in opinion as in faith - if all the accumulated wisdom gave one uniform decision on all such questions, then the whole church is by one voice to ascertain the law of expediency on any given point. But this is not the case. No class of men - apostles, teachers, privates, ever did agree on questions of expediency. Paul and Barnabas dissented and differed, without any breach of communion, on a question of this sort. Hence arises the necessity of the spirit of concession, subordination, bearing, forbearing submitting to one another. When there are two views or opinions on any question of expediency entertained by two parties, one of them must yield, or there are two distinct systems of operation, and ultimately two distinct parties. According to the law of expediency, then, the minors in age, experience, or numbers, must give place to the majors in age, experience, or numbers. But as numbers are supposed to represent the ratios of age, wisdom, and knowledge, it is expedient that a clearly ascertained majority of those whose province it is to decide any matter, shall interpret the law of expediency; or, in other words, the minority shall peaceably and cordially acquiesce in the decisions of the majority. Since the age of social compacts began till now, no other principle of co-operation, no other law of expediency, can secure the interests, the union, harmony, and strength of any people, but that of the few submitting to the many.

XI. He that asks of unanimity asks for what is not often attainable in a small number of persons. He asks for the liberty of one or two to govern or to control a whole community - for the government of a minority, however small, over a majority, however large. This is virtually, though not formally, and not often intentionally, the demand of all the advocates of unanimity in ascertaining or interpreting the law of expediency in any given case. The law of expediency enacts that a majority of the seniors shall decide in all cases what is most expedient to be done in attaining any of the ends commanded in the Christian Institution, the means to which are not divinely ordained in the written laws of that institution; and that the minority shall cheerfully and conscientiously acquiesce in such decisions.

XII. The law of love is the supreme law of religion, morality, and expediency. No code of laws, without it, could make or keep any people pure, peaceable, and happy; and, with it, we only want, in most matters, but general laws. - This is the spirit, and soul, and body of the Christian Institution. We cannot love by law, but we can walk in love with no other law but that of love. The Christian system contemplates love as supreme, and makes no arrangements nor provisions for keeping together a carnal, worldly, selfish, self-willed population. Better such a confederacy had burst into as many particles as persons, by the repellent principle of selfishness, than to be hooped together by all the laws of expediency from Noah to John Wesley.

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