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the edifying of itself in love."*
The unity of the Church, therefore, as instrumental in preserving the grand fundamentals of Christianity in the world, must, on that account, be a subject of essential importance to the Christian. It must also be seen in the same light, when we regard its direct tendency to produce that Catholic spirit of good-will, which constitutes the great blessing of society, and which will in vain be expected from any other cause.
"I know," says a learned writer,† than whom no one was better acquainted with the subject before us, "that men will now say, that they can love all parties, and that they can live without animosities towards all sorts of men; but if a few men can be so perfect, what is that to the generality of mankind, who will still be divided in affections as they are in parties and communions; as has been found by woeful experience, not only in this Church, but all the Churches where divisions have been since the time of Christ. Wherefore, generally speaking, it must needs follow, that opposition in communions will breed partiality and opposition in affections among Christians. Where particular persons, or congregations, separate from any Church as corrupt, there must needs be bitter
strife and envyings between that Church who will justify herself, and the separatists who will maintain their separation; and in such contentions for the truth, Christian charity and discipline will decay, and utter licentiousness and atheism, and all manner of heresies, will spring up. These are the reasons into which the precepts for unity, and the strictures against division in the Christian religion are resolved; and I am persuaded, were the benefits of the one, and the direful effects of the other, well considered by those who hold opposite communions to this Church, they would be as zealous for the positive precepts of Christian union, as for the most weighty duties of the moral law."
It may be remembered, that the Jews and Samaritans agreed in the essentials of religion. But the separation of the latter from the worship at Jerusalem, and the setting up distinct altars of their own, were circumstances which operated so strongly upon the minds of the respective parties, as effectually to destroy all social intercourse between them.
It may be remembered, also, that the two principal sects among the Jews (the Pharisees and Sadducees) were engaged in a kind of ceaseless hostility with each other, during the whole time of their existence. So irreconcileable was their mutual enmity, that they chose rather to perish in their division, than to unite in opposition to their common foes.
If we come down to later times, the conduct of the Puritans towards each other, after their emigration to America, together with the spirit of
intolerance manifested by the contending sectaries, in the last century, leads to a similar conclusion upon this subject. Whilst the railing accusations continually brought against the established clergy, together with the indecent language in these days so lavishly bestowed upon them, by those self-constituted teachers, who nevertheless profess themselves to be disciples of the same Master, will not allow us to hope for better things than have heretofore been experienced from the uncontrolled passions of the natural man.
To lead men, therefore, to think that a Catholic spirit of universal good-will and amicable fellowship, may be kept up among those of different sects and persuasions in religion, is to induce them to act upon an imaginary idea unsupported by facts; whilst they hold themselves indifferent to the plan which God has provided for the certain attainment of that desirable object. Let us not fancy men to be more charitably disposed than they really are, and thereby flatter them into schism. Charity, be it remembered, is the offspring, not of nature, but of grace. Let us, therefore, rather tell men what they are, and use our utmost endeavours to persuade them to make use of the means calculated to make them what they ought to be. The unity of the Christian Church will as certainly lead to a Catholic spirit of good-will and amicable fellowship, as does the division of it to the opposite disposition. To imagine that this characteristic of true Christianity will be found among men left to the guidance of their own fancies and passions in religion, is to be wise above what is written; is to
forsake the paths of truth and knowledge, and flatter ourselves that we shall find comfort in those of confusion and error.
Whilst, therefore, it is impossible but to look up with respect to the author before me, I nevertheless must think, that the effectual advancement of Christianity, and the consequent security of its benefits to the world, will ever depend upon a conformity to the plan laid down by God for that purpose. Consequently, the more attention is paid to the unity of the Christian Church, considered as a society of Divine institution, the more of true Christian faith and charity will be found in the world.
Upon this ground I would suggest it to the consideration of those members of the Church to whom I now address myself, who regard the establishment of the Church in this country as an object of great national importance, whether, by their occasional attendance upon irregular teachers, who hold themselves independent of it, they would wish to become instrumental to the destruction of the cause they profess to have at heart. Whether they are not actually placing themselves in that predicament, when, by their influence and example, they convey an idea into the minds of the people, absolutely destructive of one great end of the Divine institution of a Church; by leading them to conclude, that it is a matter of no consequence whether they continue in communion with it or not. I would entreat them, by the love of Christ, to consider, whether the doctrine which they may hear out of the Church will balance against what
they lose by their separation from it? Putting
But upon the consideration that all order in this matter proceeds from God, (the Apostle having told us, in reference to the priesthood, that “no man taketh this honour to himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron;"* and that, as man, Jesus Christ himself proceeded in the discharge of the Christian priesthood by commission) I would conjure them, by the obedience which they owe to the Head of the Church, to consider, whether their disregard of an establishment calculated to promote peace and unity among Christians, may not provoke God to deprive them of a blessing which they appear to undervalue. Whether this taking
the cause, as it were, into their own hand, and upon the ground of occasional defect in the ministers of the Church, running into an open breach of
* Heb. v. 4.