"They shall be one in mine hand"
Having taken a view of the scriptural unity of the Church, and of the nature and causes of those divisions by which it is broken, let us now turn our eye to a more agreeable and cheering prospect.
III. Of the removal of the divisions of the Church, and the restoration of her violated unity.
1. A happy reunion of the divided Church is promised in the Word of God. It is implied in those promises which secure to the Church the enjoyment of a high degree of prosperity in the latter days in which God engages to arise and have mercy on Zion, to be favorable to his people, pardon their iniquity and hear their prayers, cause their reproach to cease, and make them a praise, a glory, and a rejoicing, in all the earth; in a word, in which he promises to pour out his Holy Spirit and revive his work. God cannot be duly glorified, religion cannot triumph in the world, the Church cannot be prosperous and happy, until her internal dissensions are abated, and her children come to act in greater unison and concert. But when her God vouchsafes to make the light of his countenance to shine upon her, and sheds down the enlightening, reviving, restorative and sanctifying influences of his Spirit, the long delayed, long wished-for, day will not be far distant. It will have already dawned.
But there are, in the Bible, promises that bear directly on this part of the Church's felicity, and pledge the divine faithfulness for the restoration of her lost peace and violated unity. Some of these I shall lay before you as grounds of your faith, and encouragements to your hopes and endeavors.
I begin with the declaration of the evangelical prophet, which has been often reechoed in the prayers of the friends of Zion, and which deserves your particular attention from its occupying a place in the midst of promises referring immediately to the times of the New Testament: "Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion" (Isa. 52:8). The divisions and distractions of the Church have, in every age, been greatly owing to the conduct of her overseers and guardians. If they "follow their own spirit, and see a lying divination," how can it be expected that they shall "go up into the gaps, to make up the hedge, or stand in the battle in the day of the Lord?" (Ezek. 13:3-6). If in giving forth instructions respecting sin and duty, danger and safety, their voices be dissonant and contradictory, must they not cause great distress and perplexity to their people, and prove, instead of messengers of peace, "the snare of a fowler in all their ways, and hatred in the house of their God?" (cf. Hos. 9:8; Micah 7:4). How cheering, then, the assurance that they "shall see eye to eye" in the matters of God, and lift up their united voice in "publishing salvation, and saying to Zion, 'Thy God reigneth!' " (Isa. 52:7-8).
To this may be added another passage from the same prophecy which bears an equally undoubted reference to the latter days, although clothed in Old Testament language: "He shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the enmity of Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim" (Isa. 11:12-13). Then, instead of waging an unnatural war, and forming ungodly alliances to enable them the more effectually to harass one another, they shall, with united strength, assail the avowed enemies of religion: "They shall fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines they shall lay their hand upon Edom and Moab; and the children of Ammon shall obey them" (Isa. 11:14).
The remark made as to the period referred to in the above predictions may be applied to the following, although some parts of the description relate more immediately to the deliverance from the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities: " 'At the same time,' saith the Lord, 'will I be the God of ALL the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.' " (Jer. 7:1, 6). "For there shall be a day that the watchmen upon the mount Ephraim shall cry, 'Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto the Lord our God.' " "Behold, I will bring it health and cure, and I will cure them, and will reveal unto them the abundance of peace and truth. And I will cause the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel to return, and will build them, as at the first" (Jer. 33:6-7).
Suffice it to add these two evangelical promises: "Then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent" (Zeph. 3:9). "It shall yet come to pass, that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities: and the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, 'Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord: I will go also.' Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord" (Zech. 8:20-22). "And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be ONE Lord, and his name ONE" (Zeph. 14:9).
These, brethren, are "exceeding great and precious promises" (2 Pet. 1:4); and do they not amply secure the attainment, in due time, of the blessing to which they all so evidently refer? Yes, "these are the true sayings of God" (Rev. 19:9) of Him who cannot lie nor change nor call back his words. They are the sayings of him "that frustrateth the tokens of liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish; that confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers" (Isa. 44:25-26). They are "written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord" (Ps. 102:18) for the fulfillment of them. Give him glory by placing your hope and confidence in his promises; and let the cheering prospect which they hold forth console and animate your hearts, amidst all the distress which you feel in contemplating the present disordered and divided state of the Church. Are you still disposed to say, "How can these things be?" Do you find it difficult "against hope to believe in hope?" (cf. Rom. 4:18). Consider what I have farther to say.
2. The removing of divisions, and the restoring of unity and peace to the church, is the work of God. What "the mouth of the Lord hath spoken," his hand will perform. He has not only predicted that the event shall happen, but he has promised to bring it to pass. He may employ men as "workers together with him" (2 Cor. 6:1), but he has not left the success to depend on their exertions, and with his own irresistible and all -powerful arm will he redeem the pledge which he has given by the interposition of his sacred and inviolable word: "I will take the stick of Joseph which is in the hand of Ephraim . . . and put it with the stick of Judah, and they shall be one in mine hand. I will make them one nation in the land" (cf. Ezek. 37:19-22).
God is the great Pacificator, and Repairer of the breach. This is the name by which he is repeatedly called, and the truth of which he will evince, "The Lord God which gathereth the outcasts of Israel" (Isa. 56:8). The disorders which break out among Christians, and which destroy the unity and peace of the Church, are, as we have seen, sure marks of his divine displeasure. Because they have moved him to jealousy and provoked him by their vanities, he permits the hot burning bolts of mutual jealousy and provocation to be thrown among them. It is impossible that the fire thus kindled can be extinguished; it will continue, in spite of all exertions to "burn with a most vehement flame" (cf. Song 8:6), until he is reconciled, and shall have pardoned their sins. "O God, hast thou cast us off, thou hast scattered us, thou hast been displeased; O turn thyself to us again. Thou hast made the earth to tremble; thou hast broken it: heal the breaches thereof; for it shaketh" (Ps. 60:1-2). When he has "taken away all his wrath, and turned himself from the fierceness of his anger," he will "speak peace to his people and to his saints" (cf. Ps. 85:3, 5). he will smile success on those measures which he formerly blasted with his frown; and those who wept to see "the city of their solemnities," a scene of confusion and strife, shall behold it "a quiet habitation" the city of peace (cf. Isa. 33:20). "He that scattereth Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock" (Jer. 31:10).
He will establish unity on the solid and immovable basis of immutable truth and eternal righteousness. This distinguishes the work of God from the coalitions formed by the wit and policy of men. They are often so intent and eager to reach the end, that they overlook and pass by the means proper for gaining it, and are ready to sacrifice truth and communion with God, for the sake of peace and fellowship with creatures. But his "eyes are on the truth" (cf. Jer. 5:3), and he bears an invariable love to judgment and righteousness. "The prophets" of the Church may be "light and treacherous men, and her priests may do violence to the law; but the just Lord is in the midst thereof; HE will not do iniquity; every morning doth he bring his judgment to light: he faileth not" (cf. Zeph. 3:4-5).
And as he cannot, consistently with his moral perfections, do what is prejudicial to the truth, or injurious to any of his laws and ordinance, so he is never reduced to the necessity of having recourse to methods which involve this, in order to fulfill his designs and promises. "Wonderful in counsel and excellent in working" (Isa. 28:29), he can devise and execute a plan for accomplishing the highest ends by the best and holiest means.
Call to your minds the amazing plan, conceived by "wisdom dwelling with prudence" (cf. Prov. 8:12) for reconciling the world to himself, and for repairing and closing up the wide and tremendous breach opened by the apostacy of man from his Maker. Survey this "wisdom of God in a mystery" (1 Cor. 2:7), as it is now unfolded by the gospel. Consider the disposition of its parts, the perfect adaptation of the means to the end, and the nice adjustment of each of these means to the rest. See how it tends to vindicate the authority of the divine law, to assert the honor of the supreme lawgiver, and to stamp heaven's broadest, blackest brand of infamy on sin, at the same time that it provides a way of escape and salvation to the rebellious sinner. See those attributes of Deity, whose claims were apparently conflicting and irreconcilable, harmonizing and conspiring together to promote the gracious design, reflecting lustre upon one another, mingling their rays and concentrating their lights, until at last they burst forth in one united blaze of glories, more effulgent and overwhelming than is to be seen in all the other works of God. See "Mercy and Truth meeting together; Righteousness and Peace kissing each other; Truth springing out of the earth, and Righteousness looking down from heaven" (cf. Ps. 85:10-11). Surely the God of Peace, who has displayed such "manifold wisdom" (Eph. 3:10) in restoring us to his favor by Christ Jesus can be at no loss to reconcile his followers, and to terminate their minor differences, in such a way as shall be fully consistent with the claims of truth and holiness.
3. God will bring about this happy event under the administration of his Son, and by the influences of his Spirit.
"I will make them one nation . . . and David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd" (Ezek. 37:22, 24). Christ is "the Prince of Peace;" and "having made peace by the blood of his cross" (Isa. 9:6; Col. 1:20), it is fit that he should have the honor, and he is qualified for the task, of terminating all the variances which may arise among those whom he has reconciled to God. As the High Priest of our profession, his prayer for them that have believed on him is, "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee, that they also may be one in us" (John 17:21): and when at any time, in their present imperfect state, they kindle the anger of God against them by their discontents and seditions, "he stands," like Aaron with his golden censer, "between the dead and the living, and the plague is stayed" (cf. Num. 16:48). As the King of the Church he will confer this blessing on her. Though we do not yet see that "abundance of peace" (Ps. 72:7) which was predicted of his reign, we have the best grounds to believe that, in the progress of his wise and righteous and beneficent administration, the ecclesiastical feuds which have prevailed among his followers, and even the political wars which have raged among the nations, will gradually subside, and issue in a state of peace, concord, and amity, which, though not so perfect and uninterrupted as some have sanguinely anticipated, has hitherto been unexampled in the world. "He shall speak peace unto the heathen" (Zech. 9:10). "He shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" Micah 4:3; cf. Isa. 2:4).
He will accomplish this chiefly by the influences of his Spirit, accompanying his word enlightening, regenerating, humanizing, purifying the hearts of men, and thus uniting them in love to himself, and subjection to his laws. The conversions, the revivals, the reformations, the unions, the enlargements of the Church, are all ascribed in Scripture to this secret, irresistible, all-subduing agency. When God had begun to bestow on his people the blessings promised in our text and context, the prophet Zechariah was presented with the sight of a golden candlestick, having a bowl on its top, with seven lamps and seven pipes, and two olive trees which furnished the bowl with a constant supply of oil. And this is the explanation of the emblem, as given by the angelical interpreter who stood by it, " 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,' saith the Lord of hosts" (Zech. 4:6).
The "briars and thorns" of contention, and all the bitter fruits that have sprung from the old curse, will continue to "come upon the land of God's people," "until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high" (cf. Isa. 32:13-15). When, at his ascension, Christ shed down the Holy Spirit, and "the appearance of cloven tongues, as of fire, sat on the disciples," the strangers who were collected heard each in his own language the wonderful works of God, and "the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul" (cf. Acts 2:3-11; 4:32). Nor is it to be expected, my brethren, that we shall emerge from our confusions (worse than those which invaded mankind in the plain of Shinar [Gen. 11:1-9]) or that we shall regain primitive unanimity, until we are blessed with a new and liberal effusion of the influences of that Spirit who descended on the day of Pentecost.
In order to our becoming again "one body," we must be "all baptized by one Spirit, and all made to drink into one Spirit" (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13). It is "the unity of the Spirit" that we are to "endeavor to keep in the bond of peace" (cf. Eph. 4:3). Without his gracious aid we shall not be able to regain it when lost; our counsels will be foolish and carnal, and our endeavors feeble and abortive. Without this, it will want the essential characters of a scriptural and godly union. Ought it to be a union in the truth? He is "the Spirit of truth," and it is his work to "lead unto all truth." Ought it to be holy? He is "the Spirit of holiness" (cf. 1 John 4:6; 5:6; John 16:13; Rom. 1:4). In fine, it is he who produces and cherishes all those dispositions by which Christian union is cemented, and who counteracts all those principles which tend to its dissolution: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." "If we live in the Spirit," we shall "not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another."
4. God prepares the way for union by reformation, and the revival of real religion. Abuses, and a course of corrupt administration, in a civil state, excite discontent and sedition, and sometimes lead to open rebellion and anarchy. The corruption of the Word and ordinances of God is one great cause of divisions and offenses in the Church. The only way of effectually curing the evil is to remove the cause. Hence, the false prophets are severely reproved for "healing the hurt" of God's ancient people "slightly," and promising peace to them, while they remained impenitent and unreformed (cf. Jer. 6:14; 8:11). When a wicked king asked, "Is it peace?" the only reply which he could obtain was, "What hast thou to do with peace?" "What peace, so long as the whoredoms of thy mother Jezebel and her witchcrafts are so many!" (2 Kings 9:19-22). If religious societies are in a corrupt or declining state, their corruption could only tend to aggravate their corruption and accelerate their decline.
When God intends to restore unity to his Church, he begins with reforming her, and removing those evils which are offensive to himself, and to his faithful people. He gives commandment to "cast up, to prepare the way, to take up the stumbling-block out of the way of his people." He, as "the Breaker, goes up before them" (cf. Isa. 57:14; 62:10; Micah 2:13). He enters his house, and his eyes, as a flame of fire, survey every apartment and every corner in it. He sees what is awanting and needs to be supplied and set in order, as well as what is superfluous and ought to be removed all error, will-worship, prostitution of sacred things, tyranny, disorder. He ascends his judgment-seat, fences his great court of inquest and review, calls his servants before him, and institutes an inquiry into their conduct; reproving their mismanagement, reversing their unjust sentences, correcting every abuse, redressing every wrong, and deciding impartially and finally every quarrel and controversy that may have arisen among the members of his household.
This judicial process is often very severe to many it may prove ruinous; but to his Church its issue is most beneficial and salutary. "Who may abide the day of his coming? Or, who shall stand when he appeareth? He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer a pure offering in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old and as in former years" (cf. Mal. 3:2-4).
Examine those promises which hold forth the prospect of reunion to the Church. You will find this in every instance associated with her reformation. Does God promise, "They shall all serve me with one consent?" (cf. Zeph. 3:9). This is the fruit of a previous promise, "I will turn to the people a PURE language." Does he say, "I will give them one heart?" He will do so, when "they shall take away all the detestable things and all the abominations thereof from thence" (Ezek. 11:18-19). Does he say that "Israel shall be the third with Egypt and with Assyria?" It is in the way of these two heathen nations being made to "speak the language of Canaan, and swear to the Lord of hosts" (Isa. 19:18, 21, 24): that is, profess the true religion, and devote themselves to the service of God.
I ask your attention particularly to the predictions of the event immediately referred to in our text. The following declaration summarily announces the divine plan: "Thus saith the Lord, 'In the day that I shall have cleansed you from all your iniquities, I will also cause you to dwell in the cities, and the waste places shall be built' " (cf. Ezek. 36:33). How this purification shall be effected is declared in these words: "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean . . . a new heart also will I give you . . . and I will put my Spirit within you" (Ezek. 36:25-27).
The permanent effects of this reformation are predicted in a verse subsequent to the text: "Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions: but I will save them out of all their dwelling places, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God" (Ezek. 37:23).
The process is described in different language, but of the same import, in a preceding part of the prophecy: "I will cause you to pass under the (tithing) rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; and I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me . . . they shall not enter into the land of Israel" (Ezek. 20:37-38). When this has been executed: "In mine holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel ... there shall all the house of Israel, ALL OF THEM in the land, serve me: there will I accept them" (Ezek. 20:40). It shall be as of old, "The tenth part shall be holy to the Lord" (cf. Lev. 27:32).
Sometimes, indeed, the process of refinement is not carried so far, and the residue is reduced only to a third. " 'It shall come to pass, that in all the land,' saith the Lord, 'two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried; they shall call upon my name, and I will hear them. I will say, "It is my people," and they shall say, "The Lord is my God" ' " (Zech. 13:8-9).
Run over the pages of the Church's history, and you will find the facts corresponding to the language of prophecy: her unions have been preceded by reformations. This was the case in the days of Hezekiah. That pious and reforming monarch not only removed the monuments of idolatry, but also "brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made," because "the children of Israel did burn incense to it" (2 Kings 18:4). He opened the house of the Lord, and excited the priests and Levites to santify it, to offer the burnt offering upon the altar, and to celebrate the praises of God, "according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king's seer, and Nathan the prophet." After this he sent "posts with letters through all Israel and Judah," inviting the people of both kingdoms to turn again to the Lord, enter into his sanctuary, and keep the solemn Passover which he had indicted. The following is the account of his success: "Diverse of Asher and Manasseh, and of Zebulun humbled themselves, and came to Jerusalem. Also in Judah, the hand of God was to give them one heart to do the commandment of the king and of the princes, by the Word of the Lord." "So there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel, there was not the like in Jerusalem" (2 Chron. 29:25; 30:1, 10-12, 26).
This was the case also at the return from Babylon, when the schism between Judah and Israel was about to be completely cured. They were both cured of their disposition to idolatry; "the altar was set upon his bases;" the temple built "after the manner thereof;" and "whatsoever was commanded by the God of heaven diligently done for the house of the God of heaven" (cf. Ezra 3:3; 7:23).
It was at a period emphatically called "the time of reformation" (Heb. 9:10), that Jew and Greek, Barbarian and Scythian, bond and free, were made one, after the labors of the greatest of all Reformers as well as Peacemakers, and of his Forerunner, of whom it was said, "Many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:16-17).
Subsequently there have been times of reformation in the Church, and especially in our land, which were accompanied by a happy and uncommon spirit of unanimity and conjunction among the friends of religion. And to those measures which once and again put a premature stop to the progress of religious reform in England, and which at one time overturned, and afterwards defaced and marred, a more perfect reformation attained in Scotland, we must principally attribute those ecclesiastical divisions and feuds which have arisen at different periods, and still prevail in both countries.
The ways and thoughts of the Almighty are very different from ours. We seek great things; he seeks those which are good. We look on the outward appearance of a cause or measure; he looks into the heart of it. We "despise the day of small things" (cf. Zech. 4:10), and nothing will satisfy us but an attempt upon a great scale; he, on the contrary, delights in a work which is in its "beginning small" in its progress, gradual, noiseless, and often inperceptible, but in "its latter end doth greatly increase" (cf. Job 8:7). We would unite large masses, and afterwards set about reforming them; his plan is the reverse. "Turn, O backsliding children ... and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion: and I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding. And it shall come to pass when ye be multiplied and increased in the land ... they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord; and all nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the Lord" (Jer. 3:14-17).
5. God sometimes facilitates and prepares the way for union by removing the occasions of offense and division. In righteous judgment he permits stumbling-blocks to fall in the way of professors of religion, which he afterwards mercifully removes.
As long as the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel subsisted they were rivals, and policy concurred with a passion for idolatry in keeping up their religious dissensions. In overturning the kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians, he whose views are not limited to the accomplishment of a single end, intended not only to punish that people for their defection from his worship, but also to prepare the way for their coalescing with Judah into one holy society. "Yet a little while (says he) and I will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel. Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head, and they shall come up out of the land" (cf. Hos. 1:4, 11).
Even the kingdom of Judah behoved to be dissolved, that every obstruction might be removed out of the way; and that "the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem might not magnify themselves" over their brethren (cf. Zech. 12:7). A long and violent quarrel had subsisted between the Jews and Samaritans, which turned chiefly on the question, whether Jerusalem or Mount Gerizzim was the divinely appointed place of sacred service. The Jews were right on the merits of the question, though they allowed their zeal to carry them to a vicious extreme, in not only refusing to symbolize with a corrupt worship, but in also declining to have any civil or friendly dealings with the Samaritans. This was the Savior's judgment; and yet he intimated to the woman of Samaria that God was about to put an end to the dispute in a way which neither of the contending parties looked for. "Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers of the Father shall worship him in spirit and in truth" (cf. John 4:21-23).
It pleased God who "made peace by the blood of the cross" (cf. Col. 1:20), at the same time to reconcile Jews and Gentiles, and to abolish the ceremonial law which was a wall of partition between them, that they might become one holy family. Though the virtual abrogation of this law by the death of Christ set the consciences of Christians free from its observance, their union was not yet complete; the temporary regulations made by divine direction for preserving the communion between Jews and Gentiles, though they allayed, did not put an end to all offenses and divisions arising from this quarter; and therefore God provided for the consolidation of the union by destroying the temple, and thus rendering the peculiar service connected with it physically impossible.
Instances of the same kind, or at least analogous, might be pointed out in the subsequent history of the Church. Dissensions which had arisen among early Christians, during the severe and numerous persecutions which they suffered, were terminated on the overthrow of pagan Rome. The law known by the name of the Interim, enacted in Germany soon after the Reformation, was not only the cause of much suffering, but also of violent disputes and great disunion among Protestants; while some of them pleaded the lawfulness of complying with its regulations, and others, more firm and constant, condemned this as a sinful conformity. Of the same kind, during the last and sorest persecution in this country, were the disputes among Presbyterians, excited by the various ensnaring oaths and tests imposed by government, and the indulgences and tolerations which flowed from an Erastian supremacy, were clogged with sinful conditions, and intended to pave the way for the establishment of Popery and arbitrary power. All of these were abolished at the Revolution.
I do not mean to say that the simple abolition of these or similar impositions will in itself heal the divisions which they had occasioned, or that it is a sufficient and proper reason for the immediate restoration of interruped communion and harmony. As no external circumstance ought to mar the unity and peace of the Church, nor can it have this effect without the intervention of human imperfection and sin, so no change of external circumstances can restore what was lost without the cooperation of the grace of God, inclining the hearts of the parties to their duty and to one another. All that is meant is that this is one of the means which providence is sometimes pleased to employ and bless, and that by removing temptations on the one hand, and occasions of offense on the other, it has a tendency to facilitate arrangments for peace, in which a regard to faithfulness and the public interests of religion are combined with a due respect to the consideration of the circumstances in which they may have been placed. I cannnot help viewing the present non-imposition of that oath which at first occasioned a breach in the Secession body, as a dispensation of this kind, and which admits of being improved in the way just mentioned; provided the parties were cordially attached to the common cause espoused by their fathers, and at one as to the great ends and objects of their original association.
6. God prepares the way for union in his Church by causing the divided parties to participate of the same afflictions and deliverances. Having described the judgments inflicted on the kingdom of the ten tribes, God says to Judah: "Thou shalt drink of thy sister's cup deep and large . . . thou shalt be filled with drunkenness and sorrow, with the cup of thy sister Samaria" (Ezek. 23:32-33). Both the punishment and the deliverance of Israel and Judah are often spoken of by the prophets as one, and as intended equally for their reformation and reunion. "By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sin. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall beat along the channel of the river unto the stream of Egypt; and ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel" (cf. Isa. 27:9, 12).
Providence blesses their communion in suffering to fit them for communion in love and holy living. How can fellow-sufferers but have a fellow-feeling for one another? Having drunk of the same cup of suffering, must they not desire to drink of the same cup of blessing and thanksgiving? (2 Cor. 1:7; 1 Thess. 2:14). The process by which they are refined also prepares them for uniting, by consuming or separating the dross and tin and clay of corruption, which kept them asunder. "Put many pieces of metal together into the furnace, and, when they are melted, they will run all together," says a pious writer.
When the Hebrews in Egypt smote and strove with one another, and spurned the mediatory offices of Moses, who "would have set them at one again" (Acts 7:26). it was proof that the time of their deliverance was not yet come, and that they needed to be longer in the iron furnace. It was when the sons of Jacob were suspected as spies in Egypt, and harshly treated, and thrown in prison, that they remembered their treatment of Joseph with whom they had dealt cruelly as a spy on their conduct, and feelingly expressed their compunction in the presence of their offended, but forgiving and tender-hearted, brother (Gen. 42:21-23).
Bishops Hooper and Ridley had a warm contest in the reign of Edward VI. But when, in the time of the bloody Mary, they were thrown into the same prison, and had the prospect of being brought to the same stake, they lovingly embraced, and Ridley readily professed his contempt for that ceremony which, with intolerant eagerness, he had imposed on his reluctant brother.
The affair of the Public Resolutions, during the Second Reformation in Scotland, caused a very hurtful schism in the Presbyterian church, and those who protested against the measure had church censures inflicted on them by the ruling majority. But after the Restoration, when the religion and liberties of the nation were overturned, and the arm of persecution was stretched out against both parties, some of the leading promoters of the Resolutions had their eyes opened, and candidly confessed that their protesting brethren had acted a wiser, and more upright part than themselves: a confession honorable to faithfulness, and a thousand times more creditable to the persons who made it, than if they had stood stiffly to the defense of their conduct after the event had shown its faultiness, or if, covering self-love with the cloak of forbearance, they had insisted on consigning the affair to silence and oblivion.
When God grants a common deliverance to those who were exposed to similar sufferings and dangers, he throws around their hearts "the bands of love," and draws them together as with "thecords of a man" (Hos. 11:4). The powers of hell and earth combined could not have severed the three young captives, after they came up from the burning fiery furnace, linked together in chains of a very different kind from those which the flames had recently consumed (Dan. 3:13-30). "Lovely and pleasant in their lives" ( 2 Sam. 1:23), what a spectacle must they have afforded, "in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation among whom they walked as lights!" (cf. Phil. 2:15).
In the field of modern church history, I do not know a spot on which the mind rests with a more pleasing emotion, than that which describes the deputation sent by the Waldenses of Bohemia to congratulate and establish concord with the first reformers of Germany and Switzerland; the candor with which that interesting and simple body of Christian confessors stated the faith and religious practice which they had so long retained and held fast in the jaws of persecution; and the ingenuous and meek spirit with which they received the advice and admonitions of their more enlightened brethren.
The harmony of the confessions in the Protestant churches, and their mutual correspondence and cooperation, evince the unanimity and good will by which they were actuated at the era of the Reformation from Popery. It is true that a dispute early arose between some of the leading reformers, which was managed with unbecoming violence and obstinacy by at least one of the parties. But it was confined to a single article, and did not lead to an irreparable breach, until after their deaths, when there had arisen a generation which knew not the mighty works which the Lord had done in rescuing their fathers from Antichristian darkness and bondage.
I need not dwell on the effect which emancipation from a popish and hierarchichal yoke had, at different periods, in uniting the friends of religion and reformation in our native land, and in exciting them to seek the extension of this "blessed union and conjunction" to other Christian churches.
It is presumptuous to limit divine sovereignty, or to prescribe an invariable mode of action to the Al mighty and All-wise; but, brethren, as often as I reflect on these things, and survey the present state of the Church of Christ, the thought still recurs forcibly to my mind: surely we must be made to pass through some fiery trial, before we shall be refined from those corruptions which have defaced the beauty and eaten out the power of religion, and before we shall be fitted for becoming "one in the hand of the Lord" (cf. Ezek. 37:19).
Lastly, in healing the divisions of the Church, God has cemented and consecrated the parties by disposing them to give the most solemn pledges of their fidelity to himself, and to one another. It was predicted that the return from the captivity and the conjunction of Judah and Israel should be distinguished by such exercises. " 'In those days, and in that time,' saith the Lord, 'the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the Lord their God. They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, "Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten" ' " (Jer. 50:4-5). How exactly the event corresponded to the prophecy, you may see by consulting the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Public vows and religious covenants formed no part of Jewish peculiarity. They did not belong to the ceremonial law; and it would be something worse than an absurdity to describe them as oaths of allegiance to Jehovah, as the political head of the nation of Israel. They are not more unsuitable to the character of the Christian Church than they were to that of the Jewish. Accordingly, it is expressly foretold in many prophecies, that such solemn exercises shall take place in New Testament times (Isa. 19:18, 21; 44:3-5; 45:23; Jer. 4:2; Zech. 2:11; 13:9). These predictions have been verified and fulfilled at different periods and in different countries. And in none have they been more eminently fulfilled than in our own land, especially in times of reformation and union. When peace has been restored between contending nations, it is common for them to renew their former compacts of amity, and to repeat the solemnities by which they were originally ratified. What more seasonable for those who have long been divided by their own sins and the divine anger, than to humble themselves before God, and to ask of him a right way? And what more fitted for expressing their gratitude and cementing their union, than a joint declaration of themselves to God, accompanied with solemn pledges of mutual fidelity?
I shall now state some inferences from the doctrine that has been laid down.
1. You may see from this subject the extensive and permanent utility of Old Testament Scripture. Not only was it "given by inspiration of God," but it still "is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16). Its utility is not limited to those parts which contain prophecies relating to the New Testament, or which afford us instruction by means of types and figures. It abounds with direct information respecting the great truths of religion, the worship of God, and the exercises and experiences, the conflicts and comforts, of a holy and godly life. It conveys important instruction concerning the divine dispensations to individuals, nations, and the Church; and concerning the duties which men owe to God and to one another, in their individual or collective capacity, and in their different stations and relations, natural, civil, or ecclesiastical.
The permanent authority and usefulness of the Scriptures of the Old Testament rest on such principles as these: that the author of both great divisions of the Bible is one and the same; that he has in all ages governed the world of mankind by moral laws, as well as ruled over a peculiar people; and that true religion, and the Church of God professing it, have ever been substantially the same under subordinate varieties of external dispensation. Even those parts of the inspired record which refer to the Jewish, admit of an application to the Christian economy, in the way of analogy by setting aside whatever was peculiar to the former, and seizing on the points of agreement or resemblance between the two economies, and on those principles and grounds which are common to both. This is a key to the Old Testament which appears to be much neglected, and whose value has not been sufficiently appreciated although our Savior and his apostles have set us examples of its use and importance (Matt. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 9:8-14; 10:1-11; Jam. 5:16-18, with many other places).
Erroneous, mistaken, or defective notions on this subject are injurious to the unity and peace of the Church. They are common in the present time; have given rise to "diverse and strange doctrines" (Heb. 13:9), and an endless variety of novel opinions; have produced distorted and partial views of morality; have sapped the foundation, and impaired the evidence of many religious institutions; and, under the name of Christianity, have led to the adoption of a faith and practice not only different from, but, in its genius and spirit, opposite to that religion which God revealed from the beginning, and which was professed and followed by the fearers of his name for four thousand years. Many who maintain the divine origin and inspiration of this part of the sacred volume, show a disposition unduly to abridge that authority which they acknowledge in general, while they resist, as impertinent and inconclusive, every argument brought from it, unless it is supported and confirmed by the writings of the New Testament. The principles, communion, and practice of Christians must necessarily be defective and wrong, when they are formed and regulated not by the whole, but a part only of the perfect and divinely authorized standard. How can it be expected that parties will come to one, if they are not agreed on what constitutes the supreme judge of all their controversies, and the infallible canon by which they are bound to walk together?
2. We may hence see what constitutes the evil of schism, and wherein this differs from warrantable separation. Though all parties nearly agree in the general notion of schism, yet, when they come to explain and apply it, they are found to differ widely in their opinions. Few subjects have been involved in greater obscurity, and have given occasion to such opposite charges and severe recriminations. Some, both in ancient and modern times, have described it in the most exaggerated colors, and represented it as the most heinous of all sins. Papists have grossly perverted the meaning of the word, and made it, along with heresy, a constant topic of declamation and unjust reproach against all who have left their communion; and in this part of their conduct they have been followed by the warm admirers, and undiscriminating advocates of some national churches among Protestants. Others have erred on the opposite extreme, have extenuated its evil, and narrowed the Scripture meaning of the term, by confining it to one kind or branch of it, and excluding or overlooking all others.
The original word in the New Testament translated schism or division, signifies any rent or breach, by which that which was formerly one is divided; and when applied to the Church, it is always used in a bad sense. Christians are reprehended for giving way to schism, and exhorted to avoid those who cause it. It is a relative term, and cannot be understood without just views of that unity and communion of which it is a violation.
Schism does not consist, as some have preposterously maintained, in separation from the Church considered as invisible. It is not to be restricted to separation from the catholic body, or whole community of Christians as if none could be justly chargeable with this sin, for withdrawing from the communion of particular churches. It is often displayed in fomenting factions within a church, and accompanied with an uncharitable, bitter, or turbulent spirit; but there is no good reason for confining it to one or both of these and neither the proper meaning of the word nor the scriptural use of it, supports the favorite opinion of some modern critics and divines, that "no person, who, in the spirit of candor and charity, adheres to that which, to the best of his judgment is right, though in his opinion he should be mistaken, is, in the scriptural sense, either schismatic or heretic." Dishonesty and uncharitableness are not essential qualities either of heresy or schism, but aggravations which are sometimes found cleaving to them.
On the other hand, schism and separation are not convertible terms, nor are the things signified by them necessarily of the same kind. Schism is always evil; separation may be either good or evil, according to the circumstances. To constitute the former, there must be a violation of some of the scriptural bonds of unity in the body of Christ. It presupposes a church formed and constituted by the authority and according to the laws of Christ, and an administration corresponding to the nature, character, and design of such a society, at least so far as that persons may belong to it without sin, and hold communion with it consistently with that regard which they owe to their spiritual safety and edification.
The Christian Church is not an arbitrary institution of men not a mere voluntary association of any number of people, for any purpose, and on any terms, which to them may seem good; nor has its communion been left vague and undetermined by the laws of its founder. It is not schism to refuse submission to human constitutions (though they may be called churches, and may have religion some way for their object), nor to refuse conformity to such terms as men may be pleased to impose without warrant from the Word of God whether these constitutions and terms proceed from the lust of power, or from the pride of wisdom, and whether they are intended to forward the policy of statesmen, to feed the ambition of churchmen, or to flatter the humors of the populace.
That churches, once purified and faithful, may degenerate so far, and fall into such a state as will warrant separation from them, is evident from the injunctions and examples of Scripture, and from facts compared with the nature and ends of religious fellowship. Nor can this be denied by any consistent Protestant. To "cleave to the Lord," to cultivate fellowship with him in the way he has prescribed, and to "follow him whithersoever he goeth," constitute the primary object to be kept in view by Christians: to this, fellowship with men is secondary and subordinate; and we are bound to forego and relinquish the latter, whenever it is found incompatible with the former (cf. Deut. 4:4; Josh. 23:8; Acts 11:23; cf. Matt. 8:19). We are exhorted to "follow peace with all men," not absolutely, but so far only as it is consistent with "holiness," and may be lawfully practicable (Heb. 12:14). No particular church has any promise securing her continuance in the faith and purity of communion; and, consequently, none can have a right to claim a perpetual or inviolable union with her, or to denounce persons schismatics simply on the ground of their withdrawing from her pale and declining her authority.
Separation may be either negative or positive. A negative separation consists in withdrawing from wonted communion with a church, either in the way of not participating with her in some ordinances, on the ground of corruptions attaching to them, or in a way of suspending all public communion with her. A positive separation consists in the formation of another church, and the holding of other assemblies, in contradistinction from those with which we were formerly connected. In all ordinary cases the former ought to precede the latter; as it is our duty to try every means for removing of evils before adopting the last resource. But when the prospect of recovering our Christian privileges, consistently with our duty to God, may be distant and doubtful; when many may be placed in the same situation with ourselves; and when the public interests of religion are involved in the matter of our grievances; the same reasons which warranted a negative separation will, by their continuance, warrant that which is positive. For none are at liberty to live without public ordinances when they have access to enjoy them. I need scarcely add, that if in providence we can find a church already constituted to which we can conscientiously accede, regard to the communion of the saints, and aversion to unnecessary division, ought to induce us to prefer this course to the formation of a new society.
I do not mean to determine the delicate question, how far or how long communion may be maintained with corrupt churches, nor to state the causes which may render separation from them lawful and necessary. The decision of such questions must always depend much on the state of particular facts and actual circumstances occuring at the time. Some general points are almost universally conceded: such as, that it is warrantable to separate from a church which obstinately maintains gross and destructive errors, or is chargeable with idolatry, or adulterates the ordinances of Christ, or exercises a tyrannical authority over the souls of men, or has established sinful terms of communion, or whose fellowship we cannot enjoy without being involved in sin, and living in the neglect of some necessary duty.
When a church once reformed and faithful not only departs from what she had professed and received, and persists in this by a series of public acts, but also restrains all due freedom in testifying against her defection; or when she adopts doctrines inconsistent with her former scriptural profession and engagements, and imposes these by the perverted exercise of authority and discipline, separation from her communion is lawful. When the public profession and administrations of a church have been settled conformably to the laws of Christ, and sanctioned by the most solemn engagements, if the majority shall set these aside, and erect a new constitution sinfully defective, and involving a material renunciation of the former, the minority refusing to accede to this, adhering to their engagements, and continuing to maintain communion on the original terms, cannot justly be charged with schism.
But while the lawfulness and duty of separation in certain cases is to be asserted and vindicated, we must not overlook the evil of schism, nor forget to warn you against unwarrantable or rash separations. It cannot admit of a doubt, that in the present time there is a strong tendency in the minds of many to run to this extreme; and to this they are inclined in no small degree by the incorrect and loose notions which they entertain on the subject. Many can assign no grounds for their leaving the communion of a church which will stand the test of Scripture or reason. They are actuated by mere arbitrary will or obstinate humor, by selfishness or unsociability of disposition, by capriciousness or levity of spirit, and by dislikes which they cannot explain to others and perhaps cannot account for to themselves. Others are influenced by indifference to the benefit of religious fellowship, weariness of the offices and duties connected with it, love of carnal liberty, aversion to some of the doctrines or institutions of Christ, and impatience of faithful admonitions and the due exercise of church discipline. Others, who show a regard for divine ordinances, and profess a concern to preserve their purity, may relinquish the fellowship of a church from personal offenses and grudges, from pride, envy, or disappointed ambition, or on account of debates and differences which have no immediate relation to the terms of ecclesiastical communion.
A church which has received the doctrines of Christ, and in which the office-bearers and ordinances instituted by him, and all the privileges conducive to salvation may be enjoyed, may nevertheless be chargeable with various defects and evils. I think myself warranted by Scripture, and supported by the sentiments of the soundest divines who have treated this subject, when I state, that separation from such a church cannot be vindicated when it proceeds on such grounds as the following: personal offenses given by the misconduct of individual church members; wrong decisions in personal causes or particular acts of maladministration, when they are not of lasting injury to the whole body; differences of opinion among the members of a church about matters that cannot be shown to be positively determined by the Word of God, and have not been received into the public profession of that church; diversity of practice in some points of mere external order, or in prudential regulations as to the form of divine worship; the venting of errors by particular teachers, while the instances of this are infrequent, and not openly countenanced by authority in the church; and the relaxation of discipline by admitting improper persons into communion in particular cases, or by not duly censuring those who are guilty of scandals provided the ordinances themselves are retained in purity, the rules of discipline are not set aside, and there is access to have grievances on this head heard and redressed in due time; in fine, irregularities or abuses of different kinds in a church which is panting after reformation, endeavoring to free herself from restraints and hindrances that prevent her from attaining it, and disposed to allow the use of those means which tend to further this desirable object.
3. We may hence see ground for lamentation on account of the dissensions and divisions which at present abound in the Church of Christ. When, of old, one tribe in Israel was divided from the rest, or was prevented by intestine dissensions from "coming to the help of the Lord against the mighty" (Judges 5:23), it was a matter of deep distress, and bitter regret to every lover of religion and the public welfare. "For the divisions of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart ... for the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart" (Judges 5:15-16). And, surely, we ought to be affected in the same way in contemplating the dissensions of the Christian commonwealth, and of the particular provinces and sections of which it is composed. It is true that, in the complex and extensive arrangements of divine providence, they are necessary; and they will be overruled for the production of ultimate and superabundant good. But this does not prove that they are not evil in themselves, nor that they may not be productive of manifold and great evils during a long series of years.
It is also true that they have prevailed in every age, and that the Church was not altogether free from them when she appeared in virgin purity and with angelical power on her head. The presence of inspired Apostles and the possession of miraculous gifts did not prevent division. Nay, these gifts became the occasions of fomenting the evil, and by their abuse the members of the Church were "puffed up one against another" (cf. 1 Cor. 4:6). But at no former period, and in no other country, has division prevailed to such an extent, as it does at present in our own land, which exhibits a countless variety of religious persuasions, and groans under endless divisions and subdivisions of parties. We have societies maintaining contradictory sentiments on almost every article of faith that can be named, and pursuing opposite practices respecting every institution of religion and every form of its celebration.
Nor are the members of these societies in many instances more united among themselves than the different parties are with one another. Every one has a psalm, has a doctrine, has a revelation, has an interpretation (1 Cor. 14:26). Such a wanton use have we made of our liberty as to have almost brought the very name into disgrace, and to tempt men to think that there is no certainty in religion. Scotland was long distinguished for her religious unity, as well as purity. But, alas! it is to be lamented that, in both respects, there is reason for saying, "The glory has departed!" (1 Sam. 4:21). First the staff of Beauty, and afterwards that of Bands, have been broken in our land (Zech. 11:7-14). We are now as much disunited as our neighbors; sects have multiplied among us; and those who were the most firmly united, and under the highest obligations to abide by a common profession, once solemnly embraced by the whole nation, have been divided and sore broken in judgment.
Whether we consider the causes or the consequences of our divisions, they call loudly for mourning. What reason have we to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, whose displeasure they so strongly indicate! To inquire, "What meaneth the heat of this great anger?" (Deut. 29:24). To smite on our breast and say, each for himself, "What have I done" to kindle or to keep alive the flame? What a humiliating spectacle of human weakness and depravity! To see religion, which is calculated to unite men together "even as with a band of iron and brass" (cf. Dan. 4:15, 23), and Christianity, which breathes nothing but "peace and goodwill" (cf. Luke 2:14), and the Bible, expressly given by God as a common rule of faith and manners, become the occasion of so much division and discord and strife in the world! What matter of triumph to the infidel and the idolater! What cause of stumbling and offense to the weak and doubting Christian! How much has it contributed to mar the influence of the gospel at home, and to obstruct the propagation of it abroad, or to weaken the efforts that are made for this purpose! But I refrain from a theme which has been copiously treated by many pious and eloquent writers.
Some, perhaps, may see no reason for such deplorations. They rejoice in the mitigation of that spirit of keenness and asperity with which religious disputes were formerly carried on; and anticipate the happiest results from the associations which have lately been formed among Christians of almost all denominations. But a little consideration may serve to lower the exultation which these facts are calculated at first view to raise. The general object of some of these societies, and the distant field of exertion chosen by others, remind us of our existing differences. Under the combinations, too, which have been forming, a process of decomposition has been secretly going on in the minds of Christians, by which their attachment to various articles of the faith has been loosened. A vague and indefinite evangelism, mixed with seriousness, into which it is the prevailing disposition of the present age to resolve all Christianity, will, in the natural progress of human sentiment, degenerate into an unsubstantial and incoherent pietism, which, after effervescing in enthusiasm, will finally settle into indifference; in which case, the spirit of infidelity and irreligion, which is at present working and spreading to a more alarming extent than many seem to imagine, will achieve an easy conquest over a feeble and exhausted and nerveless adversary. "When the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). Let wise men judge whether these forebodings are fanciful.
4. The danger of latitudinarian schemes of union and fellowship. Mournful as the divisions of the Church are, and anxious as all its genuine friends must be to see them cured, it is their duty to examine carefully the plans which may be proposed for attaining this desirable end. We must not do evil that good may come; and there are sacrifices too costly to be made for the procuring of peace with fellow Christians.
Is it necessary to remind you, that unity and peace are not always good, nor a sure and infallible mark of a true and pure church? We know that there is a church which has long boasted of her catholic unity notwithstanding all the corruptions which pollute her communion; and that within her pale the whole world called Christian once enjoyed a profound repose, and it could be said, "Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language" (Gen. 11:6). It was a union and peace founded in ignorance, delusion, implicit faith, and a base subjection to human authority; and supported by the arts of compulsion and terror.
But there are other methods by which Christians may be deceived, and the interests of religion deeply injured, under the pretext or with the view of uniting its friends. Among these I know none more imposing, nor from which greater danger is to be apprehended in the present time, than that which proceeds on the scheme of principles usually styled latitudinarian.
It has obtained this name because it proclaims an undue latitude in matters of religion, which persons may take to themselves or give to others. Its abettors make light of the differences which subsist among religious parties, and propose to unite them on the common principles on which they are already agreed, in the way of burying the rest in silence, or of stipulating mutual forbearance and charity with respect to everything about which they may differ in opinion or in practice.
Some plead for this on the ground that the several professions of religion differ very little from one another, and are all conducive to the happiness of mankind and the honor of God, who is pleased with the various diversified modes in which men profess their regard to him, provided only they are sincere in their professions a principle of difformity which, however congenial to the system of polytheism, is utterly eversive of a religion founded on the unity of the divine nature and will, and on a revelation which teaches us what we are to believe concerning God and what duty he requires of us.
But the ground on which this plan is ordinarily made to rest is a distinction made among the articles of religion. Some of these are called essential, or fundamental, or necessary, or principal; others circumstantial, or non-fundamental, or unnecessary, or less important. The former, it is pleaded, are embraced by all true Christians; the latter form the subjects of difference among them, and ought not to enter into the terms of ecclesiastical fellowship. On this principle some of them would conciliate and unite all the Christian denominations, not excepting Papists, Arians, and Socinians; while others restrict their plan to those called evangelical, who differ mainly in their views and practice as to the worship, order, and discipline of the Church.
The distinction on which this scheme rests is itself liable to objections which appear insuperable. It is not warranted by the Word of God; and the most acute of its defenders have never been able to state it in a manner that is satisfactory, or which renders it subservient to any practical use. The Scripture, indeed, speaks of certain truths which may be called the foundation, because they are first laid, and others depend on them first principles, or elementary truths, which are to be taught before others. But their priority or posteriority in point of order, in conception or instruction, does not determine the relative importance of doctrines, or their necessity in order to salvation. Far less does it determine the propriety of their being made to enter into the religious profession of Christians and Christian churches.
There are doctrines, too, which intrinsically, and on different accounts, may be said to have a peculiar and superior degree of importance; and this, so far as known, may properly be urged as a motive for our giving the more earnest heed to them. It is not, however, their comparative importance or utility, but their truth and the authority of him who has revealed them, which is the formal and proper reason of our receiving, professing, and maintaining them. And this applies equally to all the contents of a divine revelation. The relations of truths, especially those of a supernatural kind, are manifold and incomprehensible to us; it is not our part to pronounce a judgment on them; and if we could see them as God does, in all their extent and at once, we would behold the lesser joined to the greater, the most remote connected with the primary, by necessary and indissoluble links, and all together conspiring to form one beautiful and harmonious and indivisible whole.
Whatever God has revealed we are bound to receive and hold fast; whatever he has enjoined we are bound to obey; and the liberty which we dare not arrogate to ourselves we cannot give to others. It is not, indeed, necessary that the confession or testimony of the Church (meaning by this that which is explicitly made by her, as distinguished from her declared adherence to the whole Word of God) should contain all truths. But then any of them may come to be included in it, when opposed and endangered; and it is no sufficient reason for excluding any of them that they are less important than others, or that they have been doubted and denied by good and learned men. Whatever forbearance may be exercised to persons, "the Word of the Lord," in all its extent, "must have free course and be glorified" (cf. 2 Thess. 3:1). And any act of men call it forbearance or what you will which serves as a screen and protection to error or sin, and prevents it from being opposed and removed by any proper means, is contrary to the divine law, and consequently is destitute of all intrinsic force and validity.
There are truths also which are more immediately connected with salvation. But who will pretend to fix those propositions which are absolutely necessary to be known in order to salvation, by allpersons, of all capacities, and in all situations; or say how low a God of grace and salvation may descend in dealing with particular individuals? Or, if we could determine this extreme point, who would say that it ought to fix the rule of our dealing with others, or the extent of a church's profession of faith? Is nothing else to be kept in view in settling articles of faith and fellowship, but what may be necessary to the salvation of sinners? Do we not owe a paramount regard to the glory of God in the highest, to the edifying of the body of Christ, to the advancing of the general interests of religion, and to the preserving, in purity, of those external means, by which, in the economy of providence and grace, the salvation of men, both initial and progressive, may be promoted to an incalculable extent from age to age?
In fine, there is reason for complaining that the criteria or marks given for determining these fundamental or necessary articles are uncertain or contradictory. It is alleged that "they are clearly taught in Scripture?" This is true of the others also. "That they are few and simple?" This is contradicted by their own attempts to state them. "That they are such as the Scripture has declared to be necessary?" Why then have we not yet been furnished with a catalogue of them? "That they are such as embraced by all true Christians?" Have they a secret tact by which they are able to discover such characters? If not, can they avoid running into a vicious circle in reasoning, by first determining who are true Christians by their embracing certain doctrines, and then determining that these doctrines are fundamental because they are embraced by persons of that description?
Many who have contributed to give currency to this scheme have been actuated, I have no doubt, by motives which are in themselves highly commendable. They wished to fix the attention of men on matters confessedly of great importance, and were anxious to put an end to the dissensions of Christians by discovering a mean point in which the views of all might harmoniously meet. But surely those who cherish a supreme regard for divine authority will be afraid of contemning or of teaching others to think lightly of anything which bears its sacred impress. They will be disposed carefully to reconsider an opinion, or an interpretation of any part of Scripture, which seems to imply in it that God has given men a power to dispense with some of his own laws. And they will be cautious of originating or countenancing plans of communion that may involve a principle of such a complexion.
These plans are more or less dangerous according to the extent to which they are carried, and the errors or abuses which may prevail among the parties which they embrace. But however limited they may be, they set an example which may be carried to any extent. So far as it is agreed and stipulated that any truth or duty shall be sacrificed or neglected, and that any error or sin shall be treated as indifferent or trivial, the essence of latitudinarianism is adopted, room is made for further advancements, and the way is prepared for ascending, through successive generations, to the very highest degree in the scale.
Another plan of communion, apparently opposite to the former, but proceeding on the same general principle, has been zealously recommended, and in some instances reduced to practice, in the present day. According to it, the several religious parties are allowed to remain separate, and to preserve their distinct constitution and peculiarities, while a species of partial or occasional communion is established among them. This plan is liable to all the objections which lie against the former, with the addition of another that is peculiar to itself. It is inconsistent and self-contradictory. It strikes against the radical principles of the unity of the Church, and confirms schism by law: while it provides that the parties shall remain separate, at the same time that it proceeds on the supposition that there is no scriptural or conscientious ground of difference between them.
By defending such occasional conformity, English Dissenters at a former period contradicted the reasons of their dissent from the establishment, and exposed themselves to their opponents: for where communion is lawful, it will not be easy to vindicate separation from the charge of schism. The world has for some time beheld annually the spectacle of Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Independents, Methodists, and Seceders, sitting down together at the Lord's table, and then going away and maintaining communion, through the remainder of the year, on their own separate and contradictory professions. Nay, it has of late become the practice to keep, in the same church, an open communion table for Christians of different denominations on one part of the day, and a close one for those of a particular sect on the other part of the day; while the same ministers officiate, and many individuals communicate, on both these occasions. And all this is cried up as a proof of liberality, and a mind that has freed itself from the trammels of party.
It is difficult to say which of these plans is most objectionable. By the former, that church which is most faithful, and has made the greatest progress in reformation, must always be the loser, without having the satisfaction to think that she has conveyed any benefit to her new associates. It behoves her profession and managements to yield, and be reduced to the standard of those societies which are defective and less reformed. And thus, by a process opposite to that mentioned by the Apostle, those who have built on the foundation "gold, silver, precious stones," are the persons who shall "suffer loss" (1 Cor. 3:12, 15). By the latter, all the good effects which might be expected from warrantable and necessary separations are lost, without the compensation of a rational and effective conjunction; purity of communion is endangered; persons are encouraged to continue in connection with the most corrupt churches; and a faithful testimony against errors and abuses, with all consistent attempts to have them removed or prevented, is held up to odium and reproach, as dictated by bigotry, and as tending to revive old dissensions, and to defeat the delightful prospect of those halcyon days of peace which are anticipated under the reign of mutual forbearance and charity.
5. We may learn from this subject what is the temper of mind which becomes Christians in a time of abounding divisions in the Church, and what are the qualities required in those who attempt to heal them. All have it in their power to contribute, in some degree, to the promoting of this work, and therefore ought to cherish the dispositions which correspond to it; although this is in a more eminent manner the duty of such as possess superior influence, or who, from their station, may be called to take a leading part in the negotiations.
And here I do not hesitate to name, as the primary qualification, an inviolable love to truth and supreme regard to divine authority. That person is totally disqualified for being a negotiator, or for acting the most subordinate part in such a sacred treaty, whose pulse does not beat high with this honorable and divine feeling. He will betray those interests which are in themselves the highest, and ought to be the dearest to all parties, whenever they are found irreconcilable with the attainment of an inferior object which he is determined to gain. When genuine, and pure, and enlightened, the feeling which we are recommending, so far from obstructing, as is often mistakenly imagined, will greatly facilitate and forward any negotiation to which a good man would wish success.
The next place is due to a pacific disposition. He who has said, "Love the truth and peace" (Zech. 8:19), intended to teach us what we are sometimes disposed to disbelieve, that a regard to the former is not incompatible with the latter. In settling religious differences, the nice and difficult task is to find out a way by which to adjust the claims of the two to "seek peace, and ensue it," without "erring from the truth." And who so fit for this as the "peaceable and faithful in Israel," who are endued with "the wisdom that is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated" (1 Pet. 3:11; cf. Jam. 5:19; 2 Sam. 20:19; cf. Jam. 3:17). If in any, surely in religious contests, the maxim should be constantly kept in mind: the end of all war is peace. He is not a good Christian who does not sigh for it in the heat of the conflict, who does not court it in the moment of victory, who does not enjoy a triumph in sounding the trumpet which shall "bid the people return from following their brethren" (2 Sam. 2:26). The man who loves to live in the fire of contention, who feeds on debate and controversy, whose thoughts are never turned to peace, but are "like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt" (Isa. 57:20), who is prepared to contest every point of common order as if it concerned the common salvation, is ever ready with his dissent (backed with its many reasons) against any ordinary measure which may not have obtained the sanction of his superior wisdom, and who flies off as soon as he finds that he cannot obtain his will in all things this man is unfit for religious society, and though he may pretend to a zeal for God and religion, his zeal, like his wisdom, is not from above.
Christian candor is another quality which is requisite. This displays itself in an openness of mind to conviction, a readiness to hear whatever may be advanced, a disposition to give and receive explanations, and to pay all becoming deference not only to the reasons, but also to the difficulties and scruples of brethren on points of difference, and to relieve these so far as may be practicable, safe, and consistent with public duty. It is also opposed to concealment, dissimulation, and all the crooked arts, by which worldly politicians conduct their negotiations, and endeavor to obtain the best terms for their contituents. Far from those who engage in this holy work be all such Italian and Romish strategems! Every one ought to speak the truth to his neighbor as he thinks, without equivocation or mental reservation; there ought to be no masked proposals, no ambiguous declarations, no secret articles, no understood agreement among leaders, no imposition on the credulity or the confidence of the Christian people. Genuine and unaffected candor has a powerful influence in inducing persons to persevere in a treaty when there may be great difficulties in the way of bringing it to a happy termination; whereas duplicity and art excite jealousy in the breasts of the intelligent, and if successfully practiced, lay a foundation for future repentance and disquiet.
The gift of knowledge and wisdom is requisite. This work requires a union of the qualities of the men of Zebulun and Naphtali who came to David, "to turn the kingdom of Saul to him according to the Word of the Lord;" they were "not of a double heart," and they "had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do" (1 Chron. 12:23; 32-33). That dexterity and knowledge of mankind which qualifies some individuals for settling ordinary disputes about the things of this life or in the Church will avail little in the work of which we speak. It requires an accurate acquaintance with the subjects of dispute in all their bearings; of the signs of the times, their duties, sins, and dangers; of the real character and dispositions of the parties, and other circumstances which may go to determine the call we have to engage in such an undertaking, or to preserve it; not to mention an acquaintance with attempts of the same kind which have been made in former periods, with the effects which they produced or the causes of their ill success.
Lastly, a public and disinterested spirit is indispensably requisite. Those individuals whom God has raised up in different ages to "do good to Zion in his good pleasure" (cf. Ps. 51:18), have been eminently endued with this disposition. Such was Moses: who showed himself fit for composing the strife of his afflicted brethren, when he "refused to be called the son of Pharoah's daughter;" and proved himself worthy of "standing in the breach to turn away God's anger" from Israel, when he magnanimously declined the offer of Heaven to "make of him a great nation" (Heb. 11:24; cf. Ps. 106:23; Ex. 32:10). Such also was Paul: who not only "became all things to all men," and "a servant to all," in things lawful and indifferent, but "could wish himself accursed from Christ for his brethren" (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19, 22; Rom. 9:3). There are no sacrifices which are in their power, which persons of this spirit will not be disposed to make for accomplishing so good and great a design their worldly interests, their reputation and honor, their station in the Church of God provided it proves an obstacle, they will cheerfully relinquish and lay at the feet of their brethren.
If these dispositions were more generally and more strongly displayed, there would be no ground for despairing of the abolition of many of our religious differences. Some of them no doubt imply a diversity of views so radical and extensive that it would be unreasonable to look for their speedy removal. But the cure of others may be said to be more within our own power. In vindication of the perspicuity of the Scriptures, and of the certainty of the standard of religion, it ought to be acknowledged that we often err from the path of duty, not so much because we cannot discover it, as because we are averse to it. "The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light" (Matt. 6:22).
If those who were once united had been true to their light and single in their aims; if they had lived together as became brethren; if they had been at one as to the ends of their Christian profession, and continued resolved, through grace, to prosecute them, "notwithstanding of whatever trouble or persecution they might meet with in essaying the faithful discharge of their duty" (cf. Phil. 3:15-16), fewer differences would have arisen among them, and these would have been more easily composed in the spirit of the gospel: "whereunto they had attained they would have walked by the same rule, they would have minded the same things; and if in anything they were otherwise minded, God would have revealed even this unto them." When we are brought to a proper sense of the causes of our "divisions and offenses" (Rom. 16:17), the cure of them will be more than half effected.
In fine, I would improve this subject for warning you against a twofold extreme into which persons are apt to run with respect to the present movements towards union. Beware of indifference on the object itself or to any unscriptural means for attaining it. You are under the strongest obligations, not only to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Ps. 122:6), but also to be "workers together with God" (cf. 2 Cor. 6:1), who has promised to bestow this blessing. If others err by allowing this object to engross their attention, this will not excuse your lukewarmness, or your refusal to do what may be in your power, in your place and station, for promoting it in any degree. Hard-hearted must he be who can look unmoved on the wounds of the Church, or pass by, like the priest and Levite in the parable (Luke 10:31-32), without feeling disposed to provide and pour in the healing oil and balm. It would be strange and unnatural, indeed, if any son of Zion should rejoice in her trouble, and take pleasure in beholding perpetual strife and violence in the city of God, instead of seeing it a peaceful habitation. If a true Christian is unavoidably placed in a scene of confusion, he will sigh and pray for deliverance from it; and if conscience and the the duty which he owes to God require him to say or do what may prove the occasion of disturbance or of alienating him from the affections of his brethren, he will sympathize deeply with the plaintive prophet, when he feelingly exclaims, "Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth! I have neither lent on usury, nor men have lent to me on usury; yet every one of them doth curse me" (Jer. 15:10).
No wonder that attempts to heal divisions have been made, proposals of conciliation started, and plans of union concerted in almost every age. The importance of the design might warrant them; and though they may not always have been in themselves proper or admissible, nor attended with success, yet the movers may deserve the praise and receive the blessing of peace-makers, so far as they singly intended and sincerely prosecuted an end confessed laudable. Every person of right feeling will be disposed to construe charitably, and to censure with lenity, some errors and miscarriages which may be committed in the management of such attempts provided no selfish interest or dishonest snare lurk under the mask of conciliation, and provided the plans do not evidently tend to produce other evils, greater than those which they propose to remedy.
It is no less necessary to warn you, on the other hand, against being ensnared by fair and plausible schemes of union. Remember that the Spirit of error takes an active part in the unions as well as in the divisions of Christians; and be not ignorant of his devices. Of old he deceived the people of God by raising the cry of "peace, peace" (Jer. 6:14; 8:11); and so successful has he found this strategem that he has ever since had recourse to it at intervals. There is a rage for peace as well as for contention, and men otherwise wise and good have been seized by it as well as the giddy multitude. If religion has suffered from merciless polemics and cruel dividers, history shows that it has suffered no less from the false lenity and unskillful arts of pretended physicians the motley tribe of those who have assumed the name of reconcilers. They will say that they have no intention to injure the truth; but it is your duty carefully to examine the tendency of their proposals, and not to suffer yourselves to be caught with "good words and fair speeches" (Rom. 16:18).
Have nothing to do with those plans of agreement in which the cornerstone is not laid in a sacred regard to all that is sanctioned by the authority of your Lord. Beware of all such coalitions as would require you to desert a faithful and necessary testimony for the truths and laws of Christ, would call you back from prosecuting a just warfare against any error or sin, would involve you in a breach of your lawful engagements, or prevent you from paying the vows you have made to God. Keep in mind that there are duties incumbent on you beside that of following peace. Violate not "the brotherly covenant" (Amos 1:9) by which you may be already bound to walk with your fellow-Christians in a holy and good profession, from a fond and passionate desire of forming new connections. Throw not rashly away a present and known good for the prospect of a greater which is uncertain and contingent. And do not suffer your minds to be diverted from the ordinary duties of your Christian vocation, by engaging in extraordinary undertakings, while the call to these is not clear, and you have not good ground to depend on God for that extraordinary aid which is required in prosecuting them.
The text on which we have been discoursing, my friends, and others of the same kind in the sacred volume will, if rightly improved, keep you from this as well as the former extreme. If your hearts are established by a firm persuasion that God will, according to his promise and in his own time, restore unity and peace to his Church, you will be kept equally from negligence and impatience, from indifference and precipitation. "Against hope you will believe in hope, that it shall be as God has said" (cf. Rom. 4:18); but you will "not make haste" (Isa. 28:16), nor have recourse to any improper means for obtaining the blessing.
He knows to choose the best season for beginning and completing the work. We may think him remiss and slack in performing his promises, weary at his delays, attempt to anticipate him with unbelieving and impatient haste, or tempt him by saying presumptuously, "Let him make speed, and hasten his work, that we may see it: and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come, that we may know it!" (Isa. 5:19). The check which our Savior imposed on his disciples is needful here: "My time is not yet come: but your time is always ready" (John 7:6). He has ends, wise, important, and every way worthy of himself, to serve by permitting the continuance as well as the entrance of divisions.
Divine truth must be cleared and purified from every foreign admixture by its being submitted to the ordeal of keen controversy. The faithfulness of its professed friends must be tried; the hypocrisy of false disciples detected; and the ignorance, imperfection, and mistakes which cleave to the best discovered. God must be glorified by preserving the cause of religion in the world, not only in opposition to its open enemies, but also amidst all the dissensions and rivalships and deadly feuds which prevail among its professed friends. When these and similar objects have been accomplished, he will "hasten his Word to perform it" (cf. Jer. 1:12). Having begun the good work, he will not draw back his hand until he has "finished it in righteousness" (cf. Rom. 9:28).
Are there any who, whey they hear of the future of uniting all Christians in profession, affection, and practice, are disposed to receive the intimation with a smile of incredulity, to treat the prospect as visionary, and to exclaim, "How can these things be? Will God created a new race on the earth? Will he give new structure to the minds of men? Will they not continue to think and act about religion as they have done from the beginning until now?"
Hear the Word of the Lord, you scornful men: Is it a small matter for you to weary men, will you weary my God also? Has he not said, "I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me?" (Jer. 32:29). And will he not do it? Let God be true, and every man a liar (cf. Rom. 3:4). When the time comes, the time which he has set for accomplishing his promise, he shall arise, and every difficulty and every obstruction shall give way before him and vanish at his approach.
Do you ask a sign? Do you ask it in the heaven above? It is he that "binds the sweet influences of Pleiades, and looses the" frozen "bands of Orion, and guides Arcturus with his sons" (cf. Job 38:31). Do you ask it in the earth beneath? "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fattling together; and a little child shall lead them ... for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isa. 11:6, 9).
The Infinite One has, in his faithful Word, pledged all his perfections for the accomplishment of this work. What resistance can be opposed to infinite power, put in motion by infinite love, and guided by infinite wisdom? He can raise up instruments properly qualified and disposed for promoting his design, guide their counsels, animate them to constancy and perseverance, and, finally crown all their exertions with the wished-for success. He has the hearts of all men in his hand, and can turn them like the waters in an aqueduct. He can rebuke the spirit of error and delusion, "cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land" (Zech. 13:2), and remove and abolish all things that offend in his kingdom. He can subdue the most stubborn and inveterate prejudices, allay the fiercest heats and animosities, convert jealousies into confidence and hatred into love, and having "made the wrath of man to praise him" by accomplishing his purposes, can "restrain the remainder thereof" (cf. Ps. 76:10).
Who is among you that fears the Lord, and obeys the voice of his servant, who walks in darkness and has no light as to the removal or abatement of the melancholy divisions of the Church? Let him plant his faith firmly on the promises of Jehovah, and stay himself on his perfections. Say with the Prophet Jeremiah, in a similar case, "Ah, Lord God! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power ... and there is nothing too hard for thee ... The Great, the Mighty God, the Lord of Hosts, is his name, Great in counsel, and mighty in work" (Jer. 32:17-19).
Place yourself in spirit in the midst of the emblematical valley into which Ezekiel was carried, and say, "God who raises the dead can easily do this" (Ezek. 37:1-14; cf. 2 Cor. 1:9). Rivers, deep and broad, seas, noisy and tempestuous, "on which no galley with oars can go, neither gallant ship ride" (cf. Isa. 33:21), have disparted the territories which the God of heaven has given to his Son, and prevented the intercourse of his subjects. But he "shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea; and with his mighty wind shall he shake his hand over the river, and shall smite it in the seven streams, and make men go over dryshod. And there shall be an highway for the remnant of his people ... like as it was to Israel in the day that he came out of the land of Egypt" (Isa. 11:15-16).
Brazen "mountains of separation" may stand in the way of the desirable event. But the resistance which they oppose to it shall be overcome, not according to the confused plan of modern projectors, by throwing a scaffolding over them, by which those who have reared altars on their tops may hold occasional intercourse and partial communion; but in a way becoming the New Testament Zerubbabel, the Disperser of Confusion.
When he rends the heavens and comes down to do things which we looked not for, "the mountains shall flow down at his presence" (cf. Isa. 64:1). Those separations which have been of most ancient date, and which threatened to last forever, shall yield to his power: "The everlasting mountains shall be scattered, the per petual hills shall bow," before him whose "ways are everlasting" (cf. Hab. 3:6). If there shall be one that has reared its head above all the rest, and makes a more formidable resistance, it also shall crumble down and disappear: "Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain" (Zech. 4:7). Then shall the mountain on which the house of God is built be established on the top of the mountains, and exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow to it. And he will rebuke and repress the envious risings of its proudest rival. "A hill of God is the hill of Bashan, a high hill of Bashan. But why lift ye up yourselves, ye high hills? This (Zion) is the hill which God desireth to dwell in; yea, the Lord will dwell in it for ever" (cf. Ps. 68:15-16).
May God fulfill these promises in due time; and unto him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
Footnotes for Discourse 2
1. See Bishop Lowth's note on the passage.
2. This is, I believe, commonly understood of the rod of correction; I am inclined to think that the allusion is to the rod of the tithing master (Lev. 27:32). The following is, in my opinion, the meaning of the passage. The persons more immediately referred to are those Jews who, before the final destructionof Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, had fled and taken refuge in Phnecia, and other countries bordering upon Judea, who flattered themselves that they should soon be able to return to their own land, though they still cherished their idolatrous inclinations, and who had sent their elders to Ezekiel to obtain, if possible a response from God favorable to their wishes (20:1; compare chapter 14:1-4). The prophet is directed to inform them that what "cometh into their mind shall not be at all" that they shall be forced out of the countries where they now reside, and brought into "the wilderness of the people (Chaldea)," and there God will plead his controversy with them, as he had done with their fathers "in the wilderness of the land of Egypt," or into which they came after being brought out of Egypt (vvs. 32 36). More particularly, he will "cause them to pass under the (tithing rod)," setting aside a tenth part of them for himself, and for this part he will "remember his covenant in the days of their youth, and establish unto them an everlasting covenant (chap. 16:60-63)." The nine parts he will treat as he had treated the bulk of the generation that came out of Egypt; he will "purge them out as rebels" they shall not "enter into the land of Israel," but may "go serve every one his idols," where he chooses (vvs. 38 39). But the tenth part, which remains after "the rebels and transgressors have been purged out from among them," shall be restored to Judea, and "all of them in the land" shall serve God acceptably, and he will be "sanctified in them before the heathen (vvs. 40 44)."
3. A metaphor borrowed from the practice of hunters who beat the bushes along the banks of rivers to rouse and dislodge the wild beasts which took refuge there. Hence the phrase, Excutere cubilibus feras [to drive the beasts from their dens].
4. Matthew Henry on Ezekiel 37:21.
5. Solemn League and Covenant, article VI.
6. In their declamations against schism, such expressions as the following have been used by Protestant writers (let them be nameless): "An offense so grievous that nothing so much incenses God." "No reformation can be so important as the sin of schism is pernicious." "No multitude of good works, no moral honesty of life, no cruel death, endured even for the faith, can excuse any who are guilty of it from damnation."
7. Dr. Campbell's Dissertation on Heresy and Schism; prefixed to his New Translation of the Gospels. Some of the positions in that dissertation, indefensible, in my opinion, on the principles either of sound criticism or sound divinity, have been admitted with surprising facility in this country.
8. This distinction is variously expressed. Some modern writers on the subject of communion adhere to the distinction between what is essential, or not essential to salvation. Others, aware of what has been urged against it, choose to substitute the word fundamental in the room of essential; and, for security's sake, they would add a few other articles to the fundamental. But what the one or the other are they do not tell.
9. In America, "A Plan of Brotherly Correspondence" has recently been agreed to, between the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, and the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Church. The first article of agreement is "The Churches are to remain entirely separate and independent." By the remaining articles it is provided that the members of either church may be admitted to communion with the other; and that the officers in any congregation of either church may invite to their pulpit any minister or probationer in the other, "who preaches in their purity the great doctrines of the gospel, as they are stated in the common Confession of Faith, and have generally been received and taught in the Reformed Churches." Those under censure in the one church are not to be received into the other. The members of Presbyteries and Synods of one of the churches may be invited to sit as corresponding members of the same judicatories of the other; but if not invited they must not be offended. And a minister or elder from each of the supreme judicatories shall sit in the other, but without a vote.
Though I consider this plan as obnoxious to the censures in the text, I would not be understood as condemning all intercourse or correspondence between separate churches. On the contrary, I think that in some instances it may be of great utility for paving the way for the removing of subsisting differences, and preventing or remedying offenses, hurtful to the general interests of religion, which may arise from the managements of either party; such as, the receiving into communion of those who have fled from discipline in the other.
10. [A reference to the minister's ordination vows.]
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