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then of such charges as the following being brought against them by Dr Davidson ? Judging from the actual duties done by ruling elders, we should say
that their services deserve no remuneration. As far as our observation has reached, the majority are the tools of the bishop. In church courts they commonly vote as he votes. His sentiments are their sentiments. Even when inclined to think and act independently, they are restrained in Synods and prevented in many cases from being troublesome, as it is called, to the clergy.' I say, with all the calmness and solemnity of witnessbearing, that so far as my knowledge extends, this representation is the reverse of the truth. In countless instances, I have admired the independent votes of elders: and in presbyterial and synodical meetings, the constant effort, frequently carried to excess, is to elicit a free expression of the convictions of our eldership. Not deserve remuneration! The good Lord will judge differently. He will not forget their work and labour of love. Does Dr Davidson not feel that he incurs a solemn responsibility in hurling such imputations against a body of men of whom thousands and tens of thousands are ready to testify, that they serve the church of Christ with disinterested devotedness?
When Dr Davidson has such an estimate of our sessions, it is no wonder that he impugns the purity of our churches. He says of Congregationalism, that 'the purity of her communion raises her far above
* Ecclesiastical Polity, p. 194.
those denominations which, though outwardly compact, are deficient in the vital essence of the unity demanded of God. .. Let all objectors to our form of government attend particularly to one feature of it, that a church consists only of those who give credible evidence of true piety, and many of their adverse remarks will be withheld, or lose their point. We as Congregationalists endeavour with all carefulness that none other should belong to the spiritual society. Those on whom has descended the sanctifying influence of the Spirit, are the only acknowledged subjects of our communion.' *
This is high praise; as much, surely, as could be said of any church not in glory. And what has Dr Davidson to say of Presbyterian churches? Those of us who are unconnected with the state (he observes) allow that the members admitted into churches should be such as profess their knowledge and faith in Christ, together with their subjection to him in ordinances; or, in other words, those who are true christians in the judgment of charity. We fear, however, that though they admit in theory the scriptural qualifications church members, they forget them in practice. Their system, however favourable it may seem to the scriptural standard on this vital point, has never secured holiness in the members to any considerable extent. As long as a palpable line of distinction is not drawn between the hearers composing a congregation, and while candidates for the ministry enter on their studies for the office without giving
evidence of personal holiness, this denomination cannot pretend to attain the character they admit to be so desirable.'*
I am glad that I can not merely cherish a favourable impression of Independent churches in Scotland, but from intimate knowledge can speak confidently of the piety of not a few of them. But the same familiar and prolonged acquaintance with facts, warrants me in saying that Independents take no precautions that we do not take, or for which we have not others equally efficient, to secure pure communion. I never knew a person free of scandal leave us, who was not readily welcomed by an Independent church. In those benevolent exertions and devotional meetings which are regarded as indicative of piety, I do not see that Congregationalists (most favourably as I can speak of them) have any more than their own proportion of numerical strength. I freely admit,' says Dr Wardlaw, that a minister and his session, duly impressed with the importance of purity in fellowship, and acting conscientiously, bave a great deal in their power. It were most uncandid to deny or to question that, with due care, their success may be equal to that of any Independent church.' † And where is the proof that it is not equal ? We have much to confess and lament before God: and happy will it be for us if the censures of others lead us to reply, not in angry language but in improved conduct. Yet viewing the case in relation to men, and as regards other religious bodies, I am desirous, for the sake of our Congrega* Page 63.
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tionalist brethren themselves, to disabuse them of unkind impressions; and I therefore tell them explicitly and positively, that such accusations as I have cited are untrue. If Dr Davidson adhere to them, I call on him to substantiate them, or to adduce so much as a single fact in justification of his invidious and censorious comparisons.
In replying to the strictures of Drs Wardlaw and Davidson, I have spoken freely, for I am not permitted, in defending what I believe to be a scriptural and most important institution, to suppress or compromise my convictions. But I entertain high respect for these writers. Dr Wardlaw has perhaps done more by his example than any other controversialist of his day, to denude controversy of its venom, and to show how possible it is for a writer to do justice at once to his argument and to his opponent,
Dr Davidson sometimes indulges in acrimonious language, and, like others with whom it is an honour to be associated, I have got a share of his disrespectful diction.* But I will not permit a little rudeness
* It is curious,' says Dr Davidson, 'to observe how the main point is kept out of sight in King's Treatise on the Ruling Eldership, where the real fact of debate between Congregationalists and Presbyterians is never stated. In the second edition, from which Dr Davidson makes his quotations, that which he calls the real fact of debate, (whether elders who did not preach had the right to do so,) is both stated and discussed, in my strictures on Dr Smyth. Dr Davidson is incapable of doing me deliberate injustice; and therefore his misrepresentation is the result of mere oversight. Such mistakes, however, are unhappy, and they are damaging to the honour and influence of controversy.
to myself to abate my grateful sense of the services which he has rendered to christian society by his write ings: nor will I permit it to keep back the acknowledgment even in regard to the particular work in question, that bitterness is its occasional fault, and not its essential or pervading character. The writer leaves no doubt on the mind of a careful reader, that he has aimed to find and develop the truth of God; and I regard his treatise as an important contribution to its department of theology.
Throughout the preceding pages I have, for the sake of brevity, adduced sparingly positive evidence where the views I advocated seemed to me to be conceded. I hope, in another treatise, to discuss the same subject more fully and satisfactorily.