ePub 版

the Saviour of sinners; and it implies obedience to all his commandments and instructions. The term doctrine, in the New Testament, does not mean a speculative opinion, but a practical precept or principle. Every man, with the Bible in his hands, is at liberty to interpret the divine will as therein exhibited, according to his own best judgment. This privilege is conceded to him by the gospel and by the common consent of Protestants. Neither his reason nor his conscience ought to be enslaved, or subjected to the arbitrary will or dictation of any human power or judicatory whatever. He may voluntarily adopt the creed or confession of any church; and then he is bound in conscience and honour to adhere to it, so long as he sustains the relation implied and created by such a connexion.

Protestants intended that the Bible alone should be their paramount rule of faith and practice. In subordination to this principle and with its explicit recognition, they soon found it necessary or expedient to prepare certain compendious formularies, exhibiting the most prominent articles of their scriptural belief; in order to avoid the misconstruction of their enemies, and to maintain harmony, union and concert among themselves. Whether they acted wisely or unwisely, is not the matter of our present inquiry. It would not be very charitable or discreet to condemn their conduct in this particular, until it be shown that any sect or denomination of Christians has been able to get along without a creed of some sort, expressed or well understood. Those, at this day, who have no written

or printed creeds, or who profess to make the Bible their only guide and standard, do nevertheless impose their own peculiar interpretations and translations upon their disciples: and they all have some formal test of qualification for church membership. We have yet to learn whether the Bible, simply and exclusively, and agreeably to each individual's own construction of its import, can be made the sole bond of union, communion and church fellowship among any set or association of Christians.

In this connexion, a question of some practical importance arises: How ought our Protestant Presbyterian Church to regard and treat other Protestant Churches?

1. I answer, in the first place: It would be contrary to the express statutes and pervading spirit of our liberal code, to excommunicate, anathematize or condemn other churches, or to inflict upon them any judicial or formal censure whatever. If we do not like them, we may let them alone. I see no necessity or propriety in ever denouncing them from the pulpit. We cannot enlighten, convince or benefit the distant or absent members of a heterodox church by preaching against them-much less by abusing them. If we believe them to be in such darkness and error as to endanger their salvation, Christian charity and common humanity should induce us rather to send missionaries to convert them, as we would to Pagans, Jews and Mohammedans. Should a Christian Church refuse to acknowledge us as a Christian Church, we are not therefore bound to retaliate, and to render evil for evil. We ought rather to suffer wrong, and to leave the issue with God. Christian charity, however,

does not require us to admit to the ordinances and privileges of our church, the members of any other church, unless we are satisfied in regard to their faith, character and habitual practice. On this subject, as an independent Christian society, we have a right to exercise our own judgment and discretion in the premises. And while we concede to all other denominations the same right, they can have no just ground of complaint or offence. Thus far, the course of duty and propriety seems pretty plain and obvious.

2. But, in the second place: How is a particular church or congregation to regulate its intercourse with other churches, of different names, in the same city or town or vicinage? I answer, that in all cases of church fellowship and intercommunion, a perfect reciprocity of kind and friendly offices ought to obtain. Each should admit the other to be in all respects her equal. If we invite her members to commune with us, we ought, when occasion offers, cheerfully to commune with them at her own board. If we accept her invitation, we ought to reciprocate the favour or the courtesy. But if, on the other hand, she should admit us to her communion and refuse to come to ours; or if we should admit them to ours and refuse to go to hers; it is manifest that, after a fair experiment of this left-handed civility, all intercourse between the parties, as churches, must cease and determine. Unless one party shall be willing to yield to the exclusive pretensions of the other. A concession, which neither Christian charity nor the laws of selfrespect can ever demand.

The same general rule is applicable to occasional attendance on the ordinary public worship of the several churches by the people, and to the exchange of pulpits by the clergy; as also to the use of each other's houses, on any emergency, either for divine service or other purposes; to the recognition of the validity of each other's official acts and ordinances, as baptism, the eucharist, and ordination; and, indeed, to the entire subject, in all its details, of neighbourly intercourse and interchange of civilities. If the whole, and each particular, be not on a footing of acknowledged and open-hearted equality and reciprocity, the parties had better cherish the spirit of brotherly kindness and charity by keeping at a respectful distance from each other's holy festivals and holy places. Mutual suspicion, jealousy, irritation and hostility would be the natural and inevitable result of any half-way course or system. In such matters, there must be no concealment, no duplicity, no mental reservations, no affected superiority, no parade of unmeaning liberality, no protecting condescension, none of that fastidious courtly delicacy which insinuates or seems to say, "mine is better than thine," and nothing of that lordly churchism and somewhat ludicrous bigotry which boldly proclaims, "my church is the only true church, and your church is no church at all."

Our Presbyteries and Synods are not bound, by any considerations of duty or kindness, to invite ministers of other persuasions to sit with them as corresponding members, whose own conferences or conventions or associations would not, in similar cases, extend

to us the same token of fraternal confidence and regard.

We, as Presbyterians, I trust, will never arrogantly claim or covet what we would not cheerfully accord; nor stoop to surrender the smallest iota even of etiquette which would imply, or could be construed to imply, any inferiority on our part, or the acknowledgment of any superiority on the part of others.

None of these remarks are designed to have the slightest bearing on the common social intercourse of families or individuals. Such intercourse must be regulated by the tastes, interests or caprices of the parties themselves. We may visit, and receive the visits of Jews, Pagans, Turks or Mormons, as may suit our fancy or inclination.

Now should any man conceit that I have betrayed an illiberal or sectarian spirit in any portion of this discourse, I would respectfully beg him to inform us how he would speak of his own church under similar circumstances and in reference to the same points? Would he claim less for his church than I have claimed for mine? Would he concede to other churches more than I have freely conceded to all? Have I not assumed them to be equally honest and conscientious, and equally entitled to all the rights and privileges, temporal and spiritual, which, as religious associations, they may lawfully possess and exercise in this free republic? Am I expected to express a preference for his church, or for any church, over my own? Will he not be satisfied that I leave him unmolested to think as highly of his own church, and as humbly of mine, as he pleases?

« 上一頁繼續 »