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Every church refusing to hold communion with another, does, by that fact, declare herself to be too pure for such communion; i.e. that such communion would contaminate her in the eyes of her God, and bring down upon her the tokens of his displeasure. It needs no proof that a church must be very sure of her own pretensions before she venture upon such high and dangerous ground-Very sure that the mantle of her excluding zeal does not cover offences against the Lord her God quite as provoking as those which she charges upon others--that there is no place for the Jewish proverb, Physician ! heal thyself, or for the heathen aphorism,
-mutato nomine de TE
that she does not wink at abuses in her own members, which she laments and reprobates in her neighbours. It is the more necessary for her to be sure of her own sanctity, as the very as sumption of a censorial power over her Christian sisters invites the most unsparing scrutiny; and no honourable a mark is affixed by Truth itself, to those who, regardless of their own faults, say, Stand by thyself; come not near me ; for I am holier, than thou!
* -Change but the name,
The character's your own.
· The refusal of one evangelical church to hold communion with another is, in appearance at least, an offence against the visible unity of the body of Christ, and against his commandment to cultivate that unity at the expense of much inconvenience, and even of many sacrifices. Difference of denomination, it must be owned, does not necessarily involve this consequence: but exclusive communions, founded on that difference, it will be difficult to acquit from the imputation.
In fine-To refuse communion with a church or with her members is, in effect, to unchurch her, and to declare that she is no church, and that her members are no followers, of Jesus Christ. At least it is a declaration that they are so very corrupt as to render their communion unlawful. Now such a declaration, whether expressed or implied, can be viewed as nothing less, on the part of those who make it, than an excommunication in disguise—but a disguise so thin that it might as well be dropped. For what is excommunication (the heaviest penalty in the kingdom of God) but a judicial exclusion from the communion of the church on account of the unworthiness of the excommunicated; i.e. the unlawfulness of holding communion with them? If then you refuse communion with a church or with individuals, justifying your refusal by the plea of their corruptness, your conduct is a virtual denial of their visible Christianity; and, having already the substance, wants nothing but the form, of an excommunicating act. This consequence, viz. the virtual unchurching and excommunicating all the churches and people of God upon earth, with whom we refuse communion, is so dreadful that every Christian heart shrinks from it with fear and hortour. It is, therefore, disowned and rejected by the most strenuous opponents of catholick fellowship. We are glad to acquit their intentions; but cannot so easily acquit their argument, or their practice. They shut out from their comniunion other Christians and churches : what is thig but excommunication what more can
they do to the blasphemerjand the profligate? - This draws deepoisFor the scriptural doctrine, common to Protestant Christendom, is, that heinous violations of the law of God in practice; and such errours in principle as unhinge the Christian profession, are the only scandals for which the sentence of excommunication should be passed."* Where it is inflicted, either
formally or practically, for less weighty reasons, Pe for secular ends, or through the influence of party-passions, there can be but one opinion
* Discip, of the Asso, Ref: Church, B. ii. ch. vi. Title, "of excom
among Christians who are not infatuated by their own share in the sin-it is a deed which the Lord our God will never ratify in heaven; and which owes to his marvellous forbearance whatever immunity it enjoys from prompt and exemplary punishment on earth.
Seeing, therefore, that the refusing our communion to other Christians when it is desired, and the declining theirs when it is offered, involve claims of great peril, if not of great presumption-are an apparent violation of that unity which our master has commanded us to maintain-and treat many members of the household of faith like open unbelievers; virtually excommunicating them, as if they were blots and scandals to their holy calling-Seeing these things, it becomes us to pause: to review our proceedings as those who shall give account:" and to be thoroughly satisfied, by an honest and intelligent examination of the word of God, that our reasons shall be found valid and ourselves acquitted at his tribunal ; lest we meet with the rebuke of those who make sad the hearts which he has not made sad;" and instead of honouring and comforting, “smite their fellow-servants," with the aggravation of smiting them in His naine.
PART III.-A Review of Objections.
What, then, are the objections to a more liberal communion than we have been accustomed to cherish? What are those imperative considerations which, apparently, in the face of plain scriptural injunction of our own solemn profession; and of dangers enough, one would suppose, to appal the stoutest heart, do, nevertheless, forbid us to reciprocate frank and cordial fellowship with all acknowledged Christians and Christian churches ? In so far as the authour can discover, they are, substantially, the following, viz.
“That God may hold communion with those with whom we may not
“ That so general a communion as this plea inculcates, would prostrate all scriptural distinction between the precious and the vile, and that salutary discipline by which the house of God is to be kept from pollution
“ That it involves an approbation of abuses and corruptions in churches with which it is held; and thus makes us partakers of other men's sins
" That by giving publick countenance to churches erroneous or corrupt, it destroys the force, or at least shackles the freedom, of a faithful testimony to Christ and his truth