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Such a temper and treatment would, indeed, be irreconcilable with the notions, feelings, and conduct which are but too common. They would put out of countenance those Pharisaical, nauseating panegyricks which many are so fond of lavishing upon “ OUR CHURCH”—They would smother the noise of the brawler; would spoil the trade of ecclesiastical talebearers; would reduce to their proper insignificance the busybodies whom strife makes important; would absolutely strike dead those petty hostilities which irritated sectarians keep alive for the pleasure, one would suppose, of having something to fight about-But they would create a pause, a calm, in which might be heard the voice of that celestial “wisdom which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of compassion and of good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy."
Let us lay aside disguise. The antipathies and collisions of evangelical churches form the most detestable warfare which the devil has contrived to kindle in our miserable world. And the worst of all is his success in persuading multitudes of honest men, that in carrying on the contest of their own sinful passions, they are “ doing valiantly” for the cause of God. And that when, instead of admiring the general symmetry and
healthful appearance of other Christian bodies, they are keen, vigilant, incessant, in looking for a freckle, a wart, or a festering finger-when they open their ears to every slander--when they are extenuating all that is good in their neighbour, and magnifying all that is bad—when they are giving, with much satisfaction, shrewd hints that may leave a sting in his soul-when they are preaching at him, and praying at him; pouring out the gall of their animosity in the very preence of God, and before the throne of his gracethey are bearing a faithful testimony for Christ and his truth! Whether he shall himself so account of it, is another question.
This system has been tried long, and it never did any good yet. It has reformed none, convinced none, enlightened none. Let it be given up, and its opposite adopted. Let us shew our fellow Christians that we embrace them in the bowels of Jesus Christ—that we do not considers the children's bread" on their table as “ cast to the dogs." And let us shew it not by professions, but by fact-let us eat of their bread when they invite us; and welcome them, in turn, to eat of our own. One year of love will do more towards setting us mutually right where we are wrong, than a millenium of wrangling.
V. It is asserted, that “ general communion
among visible Christians will not only diminish the value, but impeach the propriety of all that service which, in every age, the churches of God have rendered to pure and undefiled religion by their judicial confessions of faith.” More briefly thus; “Catholick, communion subverts confessions of faith."
It would be marvellous indeed, if God's own people could not maintain a testimony for him, without disunion among themselves!! The whole corps of infidels put together is unable to produce so conclusive an argument against the Christian religion as a practical system. But let us take heed how we strengthen their hands by granting their assumptions—how we confound a testimony for God and his truth with a testimony for ourselves and our peculiarities. Were it so; were confessions of faith designed to be the shibboleths, the symbols, the flags, of religious, or rather irreligious, factions-challenges to battle among believers--wedges of dissention to split the church of Christ into pieces, the objection would be solid.
Admitting, however, the general unity of Christians in those things which immediately concern their common hope, it would prove, not that catholick communion is improper; but that confessions are what some represent them to be, mere nuisances: and, in that case, every “son of peace” would labour for their destruction. But if they are intended, as indeed they are, to proclaim wherein believers differ from the carnal world; and to be luminous rallying points of their strength and efforts in their conflict with the enemies of our Lord and of his Christ; it is inconceivable how they should interfere with the broadest Christian fellowship, or the broadest Christian fellowship with them. Even those particulars in which they might vary from each other, would but serve to set off, in the finest and most consolatory manner, the superiour worth and glory of their higher agreements; and furnish a suitable occasion for the exercise of that forbearance which is indispensable to “keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Certain it is that neither the Apostolick nor the Reformed churches found their confessions to be at war with their communion. The former studiously avoided, in their “symbols” of the faith, those inferiour matters about which opinions and practice clashed then not less than now: wisely confining their testimony to the substantial truths of revelation; and turning their united forces against those substantial heresies which, by sapping the foundations of the common salvation, aimed at the overthrow of the common interest.
The multiplied and essential corruptions of Popery called for corresponding confessions in the Reformed churches. But these, instead of putting them asunder, brought them together; and were the very ground of their confidence, communion, and co-operation. The Lutheran church formed an unhappy exception : and even that exception would not have existed, had the spirit of her illustrious founder continued to pervade her councils.
On this point many of my readers will be startled by what they will think a very strange assertion. It is, nevertheless, true; and is an induction from facts of which a number has been already detailed. It is, that the churches most sound in the faith, most correct in their order, most pure in their worship, were also the most liberal in their communion. Inquire at the mouth of history, who, from the dawn of the Reformation down to the Westminster Assembly, united the most faithful testimony to Christ with the most fervent charity to Christians ? Who were most full in their confession of the truth, and most catholick in their views of church-communion ? Her answer is, They were the Calvinists—they were the Presbyterians !
But allowing the objection to have much greater weight than it has, when applied to churches