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and the truth together, the choice has been their own; and they will have two things to answer for: first, the embracing error, when truth was before them; and in the next place, the breaking the peace of the church, of which, according to CHRIST's institution, and upon the supposition that no unlawful terms of communion have been required from them, they ought to have continued dutiful members.
The loose way of thinking that prevails upon this subject, can make no alteration in the subject itself. The plan upon which Christ has established his church in the world must continue, till its object shall have been accomplished. And though this church, from the days of its first settlement, hath been passing from country to country, as the inhabi, tants of each became respectively unworthy of its longer continuance among them; yet for our comfort we are assured, that the gates of hell shall not completely prevail against it. In one part of the world or another, it will be found to the end of time.
How long it may be in the counsel of God to continue it in this country, He only knows. But the present divided state of Christians, so much lamented by all found members of the church, together with that too general indifference for all religious opinions, which, under the fallacious term of libea rality of sentiment, now prevails, holds out to us no very promising prospect.
So long indeed as a notion prevails, to which the practice of the world gives countenance, that it matters not what religious profession a man makes, or with what religious society he connects himself; it will be impossible to say any thing upon the subject of religious conformity, that will not be liable to cavil and objection; because, under these circumstances, we are not dealing with the reason, so much as with the prejudices and passions of mankind; which are always, more or less, in a state of rebellion against every thing that wears the appearance of restraint or fubmiffion.
But if men will mistake the liberty with which Christ has made them free; namely, a deliverance from the dominion of over-ruling passions, from the absurdities of heathenish idolatry, and the yoke of the Jewish ritual; for a freedom from all restraint, an uncontroled exertion of private judgment in religious matters, and an independence of ecclesiastical institutions; we cannot be surprised, that their conduct upon this subject should militate against the plan laid down by CHRIST for the establishment of his
church. Whilst those prejudices and passions, which the Christian religion was designed either to regulate or subdue, maintain their ground in the human mind, the standard of judgment set up in the Gospel will be rendered in a great degree useless. Men, under these circumstances, will persuade themselves, either that it does not apply to them, or by some fallacy or other will contrive to evade the conclusion, that must otherwise have been drawn from it. Thus self-deception is industriously put in practice, in order to steer clear of that troublesome thing called self-conviction.
In fact, human pride is, generally speaking, so much mixed up with human error, that till one can be separated from the other, there is little hope of effecting an agreement of sentiment upon any disputed subject; for men will not see what they are not disposed to acknowledge.
But when men “ become as little children," porseffed of that meek, lowly, and teachable temper, which alone renders them capable or desirous of information; the Bible, although it cannot speak a plainer language than it does at present, will then be better understood; because men will fit down to it, not with a view to confirm opinions already embraced, but to draw from it, in fimplicity and sincerity,
that knowledge, which by Divine grace it was designed to convey to all disposed to receive it.
In that case, they will perceive, that one great object which Christ had in view in the establishment of his church, was, that the members of it might be joined together in the bond of peace and unity; in the language of St. Paul, that “ there might be no schism in the body:" and consequently, that no gratification of private fancy or opinion, much less of prejudice or passion, ought to be weighed in the scale against this most essential consideration. St. Paul has so fully determined this point in the case of some of his Corinthian converts, by telling them, that even the miraculous gifts of which they were in poffeffion, would prove no justification for their disturbing the peace and order of the church, as to leave nothing necessary to be added on that fubject. In the judgment of St. Paul, the gift of prophecy, the understanding all mysteries, and all knowledge, and all faith, were as nothing in comparison with that charity, by which it was designed that the members of the Christian church should be joined together.
In the judgment of the world, what was of such consequence in the early days of the church, is now,
we are forry to think, become of no consequence at all; and that harmony among Christians, for which our SAVIOUR earnestly prayed, and which the Apoftles and primitive rulers of the church laboured fo constantly to promote, is now become a matter of comparative indifference: as we must conclude to be the case, when we see men, not only without those miraculous gifts, upon which the Corinthians presumed, but oft times without that degree of know. ledge necessary to qualify them to understand the letter of the Gospel, which they undertake to publish, drawing congregations after them, and making the fupport of some private conceit, or the flightest difference of opinion upon matters not essential to the Christian cause, a fufficient ground for separation from their appointed teachers.
But would men consider, that charity and humility are two distinguishing marks of a Christian, they would feel themselves disposed to believe more, and to dispute less. Would the men to whom we now more particularly allude consider, that the submission of human reafon to the revealed word of God is part of that self-abasement, which the Christian is called upon to practise; whose every “ thought is to be brought into captivity to the obedience of