« PreviousContinue »
no relation to that spiritual society to which all Christians ought to be united. To make use, then, of the language of the primitive Church, here is altar set up against altar, and pastor against pastor. From whence it follows, that if there ever were such a sin as that of schism, in any age of the Christian Church, it is now to be found among us. It behoves those, therefore, whom it may concern, to take this subject into serious consideration. Should our Church require any terms of commu nion with which they are persuaded they ought not to comply, so long as that persuasion lasts, their separation from the Church ought to continue. But it must be remembered, at the same time, that their persuasion in this case will be their justification in the sight of God, in proportion only as it has been built upon rational and conscientious conviction. Should it have been taken up passion or prejudice, or adopted without examination; and should any means of information have been neglected, which might have been made use of for the direction of their judgment, their error in this case will be their sin, because it has been derived from their neglect; and their consequent separation from the Church will be also a sin; for one sin will not be permitted to be pleaded in
excuse for another.
Let me intreat such Christians, then, to examine fairly the ground upon which their separation stands. Let the objections which they have to communion with our Church be brought to a fair trial; laying aside every prejudice, not being too wise in their own conceits, but advising with those
who are better qualified to judge than themselves, and from whom they have a right to expect light and direction: remembering, that the Christian ministry was instituted for the very purpose of preventing Christians "being tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;" and that professing the faith in the unity of the spirit, and in the bond of peace, they might be edified in truth and love.*
Having thus brought to recollection the principal design of the foregoing Discourses, which was to furnish that uniform and consistent notion of the nature, design, and constitution of the Christian Church, which might qualify the reader to judge of the consequences attendant upon a wilful separation from it, I hasten to a conclusion; craving time only to press that part of the subject upon his mind, which it was one object of the establishment of Christ's Church upon earth to promote; namely, that whilst men with one mind and one mouth glorified God, their communication with each other in the same acts of religious worship, might form a bond of Christian fellowship, effectual for the security of peace and good-will among themselves.
It was a remark long since made by a learned writer, that the same fate (if the expression may be admitted) has attended the Christian, which of old attended the Jewish, religion. The great commandment, which constituted the foundation and principal characteristic of the Jewish religion, Eph. iv. 14, et seq.
was, that the Israelites should worship the Lord their God, and that to Him only their service should be dedicated. But, alas! this was the commandment which they were most disposed to break; idolatry being that prevailing sin of the Jewish people, to reclaim them from which, all the methods of Divine Providence proved for a long time ineffectual.
Charity, or a disposition to peace and unity, is the second great commandment of the Gospel, and a principal characteristic of the Christian religion. By this shall all men know," says Christ, "that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." 99* But of all the commandments obligatory upon the Christian professor, this, perhaps, is the one to which least attention has been paid. Indeed, through the numberless divisions which have unhappily taken place among Christians, and that alienation of mind from each other consequent thereupon, it is a commandment which seems almost entirely to have lost its force. Hence it has happened, that Christians, so called, have too frequently borne no resemblance to that amiable character, by which, in conformity with the Gospel standard of perfection, they ought to be distinguished.
The first and great design of Christianity was to reconcile man to God; the second, to reconcile men to each other.
If, then, we are right in our principle, that one object which the Friend of fallen man had in view in the establishment of his Church upon earth, was
*John xiii. 35.
to promote peace and good-will, by engaging the
with in the sacred writings, as constituting a grand
* W. Jones.
love one another. And hereby know we that we dwell in Him, and He in us;" in other words, that we are Christians, "because He hath given us of His spirit."*,
Upon the same idea, the kingdom of Christ, which is His Church, is described to be " righteousness, and peace, and joy, in the Holy Ghost."+
To qualify men for a state of membership in this spiritual kingdom, they are required to "follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.”‡ "As much as lieth in them to live peaceably with all men."|| "To be of one mind, to live in peace, and the God of peace shall be with them." And the Apostle says, in prosecution of the same Divine idea, "if there be any consolation in Christ, any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the spirit, if any bowels of mercy, fulfil ye my joy; that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves." ""** And as "there is one body and one spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling, walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace."+t
From hence it appears, that the religion of Christ is a religion of sensibilities, no less than of *1 John iv. 9, 11, &c.
Rom. xiv. 19.
+ Rom. xiv. 17.
tt Eph. iv. 1, &c.