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regard is to be had to times, places, and circumstances, why do Sandemanians allow it to be binding "only when it can be an act of kindness to do so?"
It was customary in the east, and still is so in many countries, for men to express affection to each other by a kiss; and the apostles directed that this common mode of salutation should be used religiously. But in a country where the practice is principally confined to the expression of love between the sexes, or at most among relations, it is much more liable to misconstruction and abuse; and being originally a human custom, where that custom ceases, though the spirit of the precept is binding, yet the form of it, I conceive, is not so.
For a man to have his head uncovered was once the commonly received sign of his authority, and as such was enjoined: but with us it is a sign of subjection. If therefore, we are obliged to wear any sign of the one or of the other in our religious assemblies, it requires to be reversed.
The Apostle taught that it was a shame for a man to wear long hair like a woman, not that he would have concerned himself about the length of the hair, this being a distinctive mark of the sexes, he appealed to nature itself against their being confounded; that is, against a man's appearance in the garb of a woman.
In the primitive times Christians had their love feasts: they do not appear, however, to have been a divine appointment, but the mere spontaneous expressions of mutual affection; as when breaking bread from house to house, they did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart. While these feasts were conducted with propriety, all was well; but in time they were abused, and then they were mentioned in language not very respectful, These are spots in YOUR feasts of charity. Had they been of divine institution, it was not their being abused that would have drawn forth such language. The Lord's supper was abused as well as they; but the abuse in that case was corrected, and the ordinance itself reinculcated.
These brief remarks are intended to prove that, in the above particulars, Mr. Sandeman and his followers have mistaken the true intent of Christ and his apostles. But whether it be so or
not, the proportion of zeal which is expended upon them is far beyond what their importance requires. If, as a friend to believers' baptism, I cherish an overweening conceit of myself, and of my denomination, confining the kingdom of heaven to it, and shutting my eyes against the excellencies of others, am I not carnal? The Jews, in the time of Jeremiah, thought themselves very secure on account of their forms and priviliges. Pointing to the sacred edifice, and its divinely instituted worship, they exclaimed, The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these: but were they not carnal? In how many ways, alas are poor blind mortals addicted to err !
When the reflecting Christian considers what contentions have been maintained about this nature, what divisions have been produced, and what accusations have been preferred against those who stand aloof from such strifes, as though they did not so much as profess to observe all things which Christ has commanded, he will drop a tear of pity over human weakness. But when he sees men so scrupulous in such matters that they cannot conscientiously be present at any worship but their own, yet making no scruple of joining in theatrical and other vain amusements, he will be shocked, and must needs suspect something worse than weakness; something which strains at a gnat, but can swallow a camel; something, in short, which, however good men may have been carried away by it, can hardly be conceived to have had its origin in a good man's mind.
I am yours, &c.
AN INQUIRY INTO RHE PRINCIPLES ON WHICH THE APOSTLES PROCEEDED IN FORMING AND ORGANIZING CHRISTIAN CHURCHES.
My Dear Friend,
You need not be told of the fierce disputes which were first agitated by the leaders of this denomination, and which have since extended to others besides those who choose to be called after their names, concerning the order, government, and discipline of gospel churches. To write upon every minute practice found in the New Testament would be to bewilder ourselves and perplex the subject. If we can ascertain the principles on which the apostles proceeded in all they did, it will answer a much better purpose.
For me to contend for an Erastian latitude in matters of church government and discipline, or to imagine that no divine directions are left us on the subject, but that the church must be modelled and governed according to circumstances. This were to open a door to every corruption that human ingenuity and depravity might devise. But, on the other hand, it is no less wide of the truth to consider the whole which is left us as a system of ordinances, or positive institutions, requiring in all cases the most literal and punctilious observance. Such a view of the subject, among other evil consequences, must introduce perpetual discord; seeing it aims to establish things from the New Testament which are not in it.
It may be thought that in reasoning thus I adopt the princples of the Episcopalians against the Puritans who denied the necessity of
express precept or precedent from the scriptures, which the others pleaded for. Had Episcopalians only denied this in respect of moral duties, I should have thought them in the right. It certainly is not necessary that we should have express precept or precedent for every duty we owe to our neighbours, but merely that we keep within the general principle of doing unto others as we would that they should do unto us. And the same may be said of various duties toward God. If in our thoughts, affections, prayers, or praises, we be influenced by love to his name, though his precepts will be our guide, as to the general modes in which love shall be expressed, yet we shall not need them for every thing pertaining to particular duties. When Josiah, on hearing the book of the law read to him, rent his clothes and wept, it was not in conformity with any particular precept or precedent, but the spontaneous effusion of love. The questions between the Episcopalians and the Puritans did not relate to moral obligations, but to "rites and ceremonies," in divine worship, which the church claimed a "power to decree." Hence it was common for them to urge it upon the Puritans, that if their principles were fully acted upon they must become Antipædobaptists; or, as they called them Anabaptists:* a proof this, not only that in their judgment there was neither precept nor precedent in the scriptures in favour of pædobaptism, but that it was in matters of positive institution that they claimed to act without either.
The question is, On what principles did the apostles proceed in forming and organizing Christian churches positive or moral? If the former, they must have been furnished with an exact model or pattern, like that which was given to Moses in the mount, and have done all things according to it but if the latter, they would only be furnished with general principles, comprehending, but not specifying, a great variety of particulars.
That the framing of the tabernacle was positive there can be no doubt; and that a part of the religion of the New Testament is so, is equally evident. Concerning this the injunctions of the Apostles are minute and very express. Be ye followers (imitators) of
Preface to Bishop Sanderson's Sermons, Sect. 23.
me as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ORDINANCES as I delivered them to you. For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you. But were we to attempt to draw up a formula of church government, worship and discipline, which should include any thing more than general outlines, and to establish it upon express New-Testament authorities, we should attempt what is impracticable.
Doubtless the apostles acted under divine direction but in things of a moral nature, that direction consisted not in providing them with a model or pattern, in the manner of that given to Moses, but in furnishing them with general principles, and enduing them with holy wisdom to apply them as occasions required.
We learn, from the Acts and the Epistles, that the first churches were congregations of faithful men, voluntarily united together for the stated ministration of the word, the administration of Christian ordinances, and the mutually assisting of each other in promoting the cause of Christ; that they were governed by bishops and deacons of their own choosing; that a bishop was an overseer, not of other ministers, but of the flock of God; that the government and discipline of each church was within itself; that the gifts of the different members were so employed as to conduce to the welfare of the body; and that in cases of disorder every proper means was used to vindicate the honour of Christ and reclaim the party. These, and others which might be named, are what I mean by general principles. They are sometimes illustrated by the incidental occurrence of examples; (which examples in all similar cases are binding;) but it is not always so. That a variety of cases occur in our time respecting which we have nothing more than general principles to direct us, is manifest to every person of experience and reflection. We know that churches were formed, officers chosen and ordained, and prayer and praise conducted with "the understanding," or so as to be understood by others: but in what particular manner they proceeded in each, we are not told. We have no account of the formation of a single church, no ordination service, nor any such thing as a formula of worship. We are taught to sing praises to God in psalms, hymns, and spirit