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atira, Sardis, and Laodicea,* were all stained in their discipline ; some of them with very foul blots, as every one conversant in the New Testament knows. They were admonished, reproved, threatened, by the Lord Jesus himself, through his servants Paul and John; yet there is not a syllable enjoining upon others the disruption of communion with them; nor on the purer part of any of them to withdraw from the more depraved majority. On the contrary, the faithful few in Thyatira are simply encouraged and commanded to hold fast their integrity and their testimony.t Nor is there a single instance of Christ's directing his people, or any portion of them, to break off church communion by their own act, except in the case of their departure from apostate Rome. . Now, although no conclusion can be drawn from these facts in favour of negligence, sloth, or other corruption in maintaining the law of God's house, yet they do show that, Christ Jesus himself being Judge, it is the duty of Christians rather to endeavour to rectify irregularities, than by deserting or disowning churches in which they prevail, to remove, as much as in them lies, the only human
* Perhaps we may add the churches of the dispersion. See the ep pf James.
+ Rev. ii. 24.
restraint upon the career of iniquity, and suffer it to “ drown in destruction and perdition,” all the remaining interest and glory of his cross.
By this rule did the church walk after the days of the Apostles. Over the dishonour brought upon her name by the misconduct of some who bore it, did the noblest of her sons mourn;
but they never thought of setting up separate communions. Sore as was their affliction on her account, they did not, in their haste, betake themselves to a remedy more fatal than the disease. Their scrupulousness on this head was the more remarkable, as there was much greater aberration from correct conduct among both clergy and laity, in the third century, than perhaps would be tolerated now in either by any evangelical church. And yet the most learned, , laborious, holy men—the most stern reprovers of public declension, were the champions of one communion; and the most strenuous opposers of schism and separation.
The Novatian sect, which carried its rigour so far as to shut the doors of readmission upon the lapsed,* however penitent, refused to hold com
*“ Lapsed,” was a term applied to those who after public reception, by baptism, into the Christian church, had fallen into any heinous sin, especially shrinking from their faith in the time of persecution.
munion with the rest of the church expressly on account of her alleged corruptions. against them that CYPRIAN wrote his treatise on the Unity of the Church : the whole bent of which is to show that their separation was unscriptural and unlawful; and that they who will not hold communion with all and every part of the Catholic church, cast themselves out of her pale, and forfeit their share in her benefits. He urges the same doctrine in many of his letters. Take an example:
“ Although tares appear in the church, neither our faith nor our charity ought to be so hindered thereby, as that we should go out of the church because we perceive the tares to be in it. Our duty is to labour that we may be of the wheat ; so that when the wheat shall be gathered into the Lord's garner, we may reap the fruit of our work. The Apostle says, that in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour and some to dishonour. Let us, therefore, do our diligence, and labour with all our might, that we may be golden or silver vessels. But to break the earthen vessels belongs only to the Lord, in whose hands is the rod of iron The servant cannot be greater than his master; nor may any one claim to himself what the FATHER hath given to the Son alone; so as to imagine that he possesses ability to ventilate and purge the floor ;' or, by human judgment, to separate universally the tares from the wheat. By such an attempt men display only a proud obstinacy and a sacrilegious presumption, the effect of depraved frenzy. . And while they assume to themselves a power beyond the claims of mild righteousness, they perish from the church.99*
The Donatists in Africa, treading in the steps of the Novatians, set up a sectarian communion upon the very same pretext. “ The church was polluted—there were bad men in her fellowship-their consciences would not permit them to remain, lest they should be contaminated.”. Such were the alleged reasons of their schism. We know in what light their conduct was viewed. AUGUSTINE, their chief antagonist, and a formidable one he was, quotes CYPRIAN, to prove that he was only maintaining the doctrine which had been maintained before, and was the received doctrine among Christians. 66 In his letter to Antonianus,” says Augustine, " he shows that before the final separation of the just and the unjust, we are in no manner to withdraw from the unity of the church on account of the commixture of bad men with good"*
* Nam etsi videntur in Ecclesia esse zizania, non tamen impediri debet aut fides aut caritas nostra, ut quoniam zizania esse in Ecclesia cernimus, ipsi de Ecclesia recedamus. Nobis tantummodo laborandum est ut frumentum esse possimus, ut cum cæperit frumentum Dominicis horreis condi, fructum pro opere nostro et labore capiamus. Apostolus in Epistola sua dicit; in domo autem magna non solum vasa sunt aurea et argentea, sed et lignea, et fictilia, et quædam quidem honorata, quædam vero inhonorata. Nos operam demus, et quantum possumus laboremus, ut vas aureum vel argenteum simus ; ceterum fictilia vasa confringere Domino soli concessum est, cui et virga ferrea data est. Esse non potest major Domino suo servus. Nec quisquam sibi quod soli filio pater tribuit, vindicare potest; ut putet aut ad aream ventilandam et purgandam palam ferre se jam posse, aut a frumento universa zizania humano judicio segregare. Superba est ista obstinatio et sacrilega presumtio, quam sibi furor pravus assumit: et dum dominium sibi semper quidam plusquam mitis justitia deposcit, assumunt, de Es. clesia pereunt.
СҮР, ep. 54,
_and then transcribes a passage of the same purport, and nearly in the same words; though, if possible, still more pointed than the one above.
In another tract he goes yet further. “I do not say that I am to deny the communion of the
* Cum enim ad Antonianum scribens ostenderet ante tempus ultimæ separationis Justorum et iniquorum, nullo modo esse propter commixtionem malorum ab ecclesiæ unitate recedendum ; ubi declarat quam sit sanctus, et illa quam meruit martyrii claritate dignissimus, ait, “ Quan-tus arrogantiæ tumor est; quanta humilitatis et lenitatis oblivio, et arrogantiæ suæ quanta jactatio, ut quis audeat aut facere se posse credat, quod nec apostolis concessit Dominus, ut zizania a frumento putet se posse discernere," &c.
August. contra Donatistas, lib.IV. Opp
Tom. vii. col. 425. Froben, 1569.