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Now that they judged their concord in the capital articles of faith to be sufficient for every purpose of Christian unity and fellowship, is plain from their obvious intention, which was, to justify themselves and their principles from the calumnies of their adversaries. The great crime with which they were charged was their renouncing the church. They were stigmatised as schismatics, heretics, fanatics, apostates, profligates. They replied, that their departure was a matter not of choice, but of necessity ; that they had no alternative but to part with popery or with piety; to put their souls in jeopardy, or to withdraw from Rome: and that instead of apostatising from Jesus Christ, they were only returning to the ancient faith which Rome had forsaken. They accordingly laid open her abomi. nations to the world; and with their bible in the one hand, and their confession in the other, they proclaimed the truth which is “according to godliness.” Certainly, if it was to enjoy this truth, and the worship connected with it, that they broke communion with Rome, their very act declares it to be the ground of communion with each other; for if it were not so, and so viewed, they would have been self-convicted of having lost the church of God in their zeal to reform her, inasmuch as they would not have retained enough to
erect a church-communion. But if they were not guilty of such folly; if they committed no such ridiculous suicide, as every Protestant will insist; then it follows that the doctrines of their confessions being substantially the same, and excluding, often avowedly, their other differences as not essential, were, in their own eyes, the true and broad foundation of church-communion.
This conclusion grows out of the very structure of their confessions; but they have fortified it by declarations which are of the nature, and almost in the form of a protest against disunion, on account of those peculiar features which may distinguish the churches of one country or name from those of another, without infringing upon their common faith. All such peculiarities, whether in government, worship, discipline, manners, or modifications of doctrine, they held to be subjects of brotherly forbearance; and no just cause of dissension, far less of sectarian communion. On the contrary, like the primitive christians, they maintained, that the one church of God, scattered over the whole earth, ought to have but one communion. So that whoever is in communion with one part of the Catholick church, is, by this very fact, in communion with every other part, and is so to be acknowledged, received, and cherished,
Lest I should be thought to exaggerate, they shall speak for themselves.
The AUGSBURGH confession, (A. D. 1530,) "condemns the Donatists and their like."* Now the Donatists, as was shown above, broke off from the Catholick church on pretence of her having bad men in her communion, and even in her ministry. This, say the Lutheran Protestants, was not a sufficient cause: they of course condemn all those churches who refuse communion with others on account of defective moral discipline.
The Belgic confession, i. e. of Calvinist Protestants in the United Provinces, (1561,) thus lays down their faith respecting the church:
“ We believe and confess one catholickor universal church ; which is the true congregation or assembly of all faithful Christians who expect their whole salvation from Christ Jesus alone; as they are washed in his blood, and sanctified and sealed by his Spirit. This holy church is limited to no particular place or person, but is spread over the whole earth; yet, through the power of faith, is joined and united, all of it, by affection and will, in one and the same spirit.
6 We believe, that since this sacred asserably and congregation consists of those who shall be
* Art. viii
saved, and there is no salvation out of it, no person, of whatever rank or dignity, may withdraw himself therefrom, so as to live separately contented with his own custom only. But on the contrary, that all are bound to join themselves to this assembly, and carefully to preserve the unity of the church, and freely to submit themselves to her doctrine and discipline, bowing their neck to the yoke of Christ; and as members in common of the same body, to lay themselves out for the edification of their brethren, as God has bestowed his gifts upon them respectively. Moreover, that these things may be the better observed, it is the duty of all believers to disjoin themselves from those who are without the church, and to join themselves to this assembly and congregation of the faithful, wherever God has formed it. Whoever, therefore, shall forsake that true church, or shall refuse to connect themselves with it,” (in whatever part of the world it be,)“ do openly resist the commandment of God.
“ We believe that the utmost diligence and prudence are to be used in determining, according to the word of God, which is that true church, since all the sects upon earth lay claim to the same title. We do not now speak of hypocrites who are mingled with good men in the church, although they do not properly belong to. her, but of distinguishing the body and congregation of the true church from all other sects which falsely boast of being members thereof.
“By the following marks, therefore, shall the true church be distinguished from the false. If there flourish there the pure preaching of the gospel, and the legitimate administration of the sacraments according to the command of Christ. If, moreover, right discipline be applied for the coercion of vice ; if, in fine, to sum up all in one word, she reduce every thing to the rule of God's word, reject all things contrary thereunto, and acknowledge Christ to be her only head. By these marks, we say, may be known the true church, from which it is not lawful for any one to separate himself."*
* Credimus et confitemur unicam Ecclesiam Catholicam, seu universalem. Quæ est vera congregatio seu cætus omnium fidelium Christianorum, qui totam suam salutem ab uno Jesu Christo expectant quatenus videlicet ipsius sanguine sunt abluti, et per Spiritum ejus sanctificati atque obsignati. Hæc porro Ecclesia ut ab initio mundi fuit, ita et usque ad ejus finem est perduratura. Id vel ex eo apparet, quod Christus rex æternus est, qui nunquam sine subditis esse pa test. Cæterum hanc Ecclesiam deus contra omnem mundi furorem et impetum tuetur; quamvis ad aliquod tempus parva admodum et quasi extincta in conspectu hominum appareat; quemadmodum tempore illo periculosissimo Achabi Deus sibi septem millia virorum reservasse dicitur, qui non flexerant genu coram Baal. Denique hæc Ecclesia sancta nullo est aut certo loco sita et circumscripta, aut ullis certis ac singu l'aribus personis agtricta aut alligata. Sed per omnem orbem terrarum