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the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.”, “This is a lamentation; and shall be for a lamentation."
II. Upon the church at large the system of sectarian fellowship operates with a most baneful power.
1. It is a practical rejection of her unity. How she can be one, and yet sundered into a thousand pieces-how her parts constitute a beautiful harmonious whole, while they are allowed to have no more visible conjunction than if they were destitute of all affinity, is a paradox beyond comprehension. To cut a man off, by excommunication, from the whole church, supposes her to be one: Then to refuse him, while he retains his standing, the benefits of communion with the whole, supposes her not to be one. Again, to admit him, professedly, into that communion, and preclude him from the use of it except in a little corner, is at once to admit and to deny her unity, and to play the robber with his privileges: mocking him with sonorous titles which mean nothing. And to make unity of sect necessary to communion in the church, is to take her fellowship off from the basis on which her master laid it, her Catholick unity; and to rest it upon a basis of our own making, directly the contrary to his, viz. her schisms; i. e. to found all her actual communion in the principle of her
disunion. In the mouths of men who behave thus,what intelligible sense can be annexed to the phrase, “unity of the church?”
2. Sectarian communion breaks up the charity which ought to subsist between all the members of the body of Christ
In their mutual benevolence:
In the support which each should receive from the other: and
In their co-operation to promote the kingdom of God.
1st. The restricted communion of sects is incompatible with their mutual benevolence.
It is not in the nature of things that men should avoid each others company; should strive pertinaciously for the mastery; should put upon each other marks of publick dishonour; and yet their “brotherly love continue.” The most amicable controversies are dangerous. They seldom end as they begin. An argument between friends is prone to gender animosity: and if they separate with excited feelings, alienation and enmity too frequently follow. It is so with collective bodies. When they are once apart, they gradually recede further and further from each other. New points of discrepancy arise; create new subjects of contention; open new sources of crimination; gather new faggots for the flame of party-passions ; present new obstacles to concord; and thus deface the fairest feature of Christianity—“love to the brethren.” How sadly this has been verified needs no proof. “This,” saith Dr. Owen, “is that whereon the Lord Christ hath laid the weight of the manifestation of his glory in the world: namely, the love that is
among his disciples; which was foretold as the peculiar glory of his rule and kingdom. But there are only a few footsteps now left of it in the visible church ; some marks only, that there it hath been, and dwelt of old. It is, as unto its lustre and splendour, retired to Heaven; abiding in its power and efficacious exercise only in some corners of the earth, and secret retirements. Envy, Wrath, Selfishness, Love of the World, with Coldness in all the concerns of religion, have possessed the place of it. And in vain shall men wrangle and contend about their differences in opinion, faith, and worship, pretending to design the advancement of religion by imposing their persuasions on others: Unless this holy love be again re-introduced among all them who profess the name of Christ, all the concerns of religion will more and more run into ruin."*
One would imagine that churches of the pre
* On Heb. xiii. 1.
sent day had been sitting for their picture to this great master of moral painting. Yet, with thankfulness to the God of peace, the likeness must be acknowledged to be less striking than it was some few years since; although too exact, even now, to be disputed as if it were not drawn from life with the pencil of truth.
One very remarkable circumstance here deserves our notice. Kind affections between churches and their members have decreased in the midst of eulogies upon the grace of love ; cogent arguments on its importance; and pathetick persuasives to its exercise. How has this happened ? “The plain reason of it is, because the love which men so contend for, is confined to that practice in and of ecclesiastical communion, whose measures they have fixed to themselves. If
you will do thus and thus; go in such or such ways; so or so far; leave off such ways of fellowship in the gospel as you have embraced, and think according unto the mind of God, then you have love, else you have none at all. How little either unity or love hath been promoted by such principles and practices, is now evident: yea, how much divisions, animosities, and mutual alienations of minds and affections have been increased by them."* Thus the fever of sectarian zeal has weakened the strength, and chilled the warmth of Catholick charity.
* OWEN on Heb. vi. 10, vol. iii. 106, fol.
2d. The same restricting zeal tends to expel from the churches a sense of their common interest.
My church”—“your church”—“his church,” are so incorporated with our habits of thinking and acting, as to make us nearly forget they are all members of one and the same church of God. Hence we feel but little concern in each other's welfare. The inspired rule has hardly any more place in our feelings. “Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it." Their sufferings and their joys are their own: we sympathize with them in neither the one nor the other. Where is the instance of a church rejoicing that the word of the Lord has free course and is glorified” in another? Do they not rather rejoice in each other's hurt ? Do they not seize, with evident satisfaction and avidity, upon those blemishes which provide matter for censure, and give a plausible colour to comparisons ? Are they not often eager to draw members away from sister churches? Do they not betray complacency in accessions which build themselves up at the expense of pulling the others down ? Do they not view and represent their increase by such means, as a proof that religion is flourishing ?