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To those Members of the CHURCH, who occasion.
ally frequent other Places of Public Worship.
0 OCCASIONAL. Separation from the church
stands, in point of argument, on the fame ground with occasional conformity to it. If conformity to the church be a fin against the conscience of the party, which was the plea originally set up by those who separated from it in this country, every act of occasional conformity, being a commisfion of that sin, must be subject to condemnation.
If schism, or a wilful separation from the church, be in itself a sin, as from the authority of scripture and the primitive writers of the church it is 'adjudged to be; every occasional separation from it must be seen in a similar point of view. It is a commission of an acknowledged fin; and the only difference between
the constant separatist and the occasional one appears to be, that the one continues in the habitual practice of that fin, which the other occasionally commits.
Now the sin of schism consists, as we have already observed, in a wilful and needless separation from the communion of the church. And the church, as we understand the term, is that body or regular society of Christians assembled together under the form of government which has been established by its Divine Founder. What that government is, having been already shewn, it need only be here observed, that for fifteen hundred years, the Christian world knew no difference of opinion on this subject.
To get clear of the fin of schism, then, we must deny the existence of the church, considered as an a established society under its regular and appropriate government; and in contradiction to the original and established usage of the term, apply it in a vague and indiscriminate sense to all assemblies of Christians, la of what denomination or perfuafion foever.
This latudinarian mode of settling the point, by making the church of Christ comprehensive of all the different sects, into which the Christian world has been divided, dges certainly make it a matter of indifference, with what particular assembly of Christians
a man is connected. For, upon this principle, he may attend the service of the church in the morning, and that of the meeting-house in the afternoon, and still preserve a consistency of character; because, in in this case, he equally holds communion with the church in one place as in the other. But this idea being in direct contradiction to the letter of scripture, and subversive of one great end which Christ had in view in the establishment of his church, which was that the unity of the spirit and bond of peace might be preserved among its members, it is not to be fupposed that those to whom I now address myself are governed by it.
The confideration of their being professed members of that branch of the Christian church established in this country, added to that of their being serious and spiritually-minded persons, obliges me to conclude, that they have some better reason to give for their connection with the church, than what is to be derived from the accidental circumstance of their having been born in its communion. I therefore conclude, as in charity I ought, that it is either from an imperfect knowledge of, or want of due attention to, the nature and design of the Christian church, as a regular and visible society, together with a partial view of
the end of its eítablishment, that they are thus induced to act in contradition to it.
It is a prevailing notion of modern times, that where the Gospel of Christ is preached, there the church of CHRIST is assembled.
This notion, from its plausibility, has with many gained a degree of credit, to which, upon examination, it will not be found entitled. In some sense, indeed, every private Christian family, assembled for the purpose of religious worship, may be considered as a church of CHRIST; but when we speak of the church as a public body, under the direction of its appointed ministers, this mode of expression is certainly not to be admitted. As the church does not make the doctrine, so neither does the doctrine make the church, These two ideas, though designed to be inseparably connected, have nevertheless each a distinct and appropriate meaning. The church is the candlestick; the dolrine the light set upon it, for the purpose of illuminating the place where it is fixed. The candlestick without the light is an useless piece of furniture. On the other hand, the light without the candlestick to hold it is in continual danger of being thrown down and extinguished.
In the book called the Revelation of St. JOHN, the explanation of the first vision given by the angel was, that the seven candlesticks signified the seven churches of Asia; and the seven stars, which he held in his right-hand, the seven angels (or bishops) of those seven churches. Our SAVIOUR, in allusion to his Gospel, is emblemátically stiled “ the day-star from on high;” “ the light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” John the Baptist is , called “ a burning and a shining light;" and his Apostles, “ the light of the world.” In conformity with this idea of giving light to a world in darkness, the angel, in the vision above-mentioned, calls the bishops of the churches stars, in allusion to their office, which was to spread the light of Gospel truth through their respective dioceses.
The threat, in the course of this vision, pronounced against the church of Ephesus, was, that if she did not repent, and do her first works, her candlestick should be removed, i. e. her ministry should be taken away, and she should be no longer an Apostolic church. A threat which has been since carried into complete execution, in the case of all the churches above-mentioned.