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The Writer is persuaded, that a departure from this principle in the denomination to which he belongs, has been extremely injurious, not only to the credit and prosperity of that particular body, (which is a very subordinate consideration,) but to the general interests of truth; and that but for the obstruction arising from that quarter, the views they entertain of one of the sacraments would have obtained a more extensive prevalence. By keeping themselves in a state of separation and seclusion from other Christians, they have not only evinced an inattention to some of the most important injunctions of Scripture, but have raised up an invincible barrier to the propagation of their sentiments beyond the precincts of their own party.
It has been insinuated, that the Author has taken an unfair advantage of his opponents by choosing to bring forward this disquisition, just at the moment when we have to lament the loss of a person whose judgement would have disposed, and his abilities enabled him to do ample justice to the opposite side of the question. He can assure his readers, that none entertained a higher veneration for Mr. Fuller than himself, notwithstanding their difference of sentiment on this subject and that when he entered on this discussion, it was with the fullest expectation of having his opposition to encounter. At that time, his state of health, though not good, was such as suggested a hope that the event was very distant which we all deplore. Having been led to mention this affecting circumstance, I cannot refrain from expressing in a few words, the sentiments of affectionate veneration with which I always regarded that excellent person while living, and cherish his memory now that he is no more; a man, whose sagacity enabled him to penetrate to the depths of every subject he explored; whose conceptions were so powerful and luminous, that what was recondite and original appeared familiar; what was intricate, easy and perspicuous, in his hands; equally successful in enforcing the practical, stating the theoretical, and discussing the polemical branches of theology: without the advantage of early education, he rose to high distinction among the religious writers of his day, and in the midst of a most active and laborious life, left monuments of his piety and genius which will survive to distant posterity. Were I making his eulogium, I should necessarily dwell on the spotless integrity of his private life, his fidelity in friendship, his neglect of self interest, his ardent attachment to truth, and especially the series of unceasing labors and exertions in superintending the mission to India, to which he most probably fell a victim. He had nothing feeble
or undecisive in his character; but to every undertaking in which he engaged, he brought all the powers of his understanding, all the energies of his heart; and if he were less distinguished by the comprehension, than the acumen and solidity of his thoughts; less eminent for the gentler graces, than for stern integrity and native grandeur of mind, we have only to remember the necessary limitations of human excellence. While he endeared himself to his denomination by a long course of most useful labor, by his excellent works on the Socinian and Deistical controversies, as well as his devotion to the cause of missions, he laid the world under lasting obligations. Though he was known to profess different views from the Writer on the subject under present discussion, it may be inferred from a decisive fact, which it is not necessary to record, that his attachment to them was not very strong, nor his conviction probably very powerful. Be this as it may, his sanction of the practice of exclusive communion, has no doubt contributed in no small degree to recommend it to the denomination of which he was so distinguished an ornament. They who are the first to disclaim human authority in the affairs of religion, are not always least susceptible of its influence.
It is observable also, that bodies of men are very slow in changing their opinions, which with some inconveniences is productive of this advantage, that truth undergoes a severer investigation, and her conquests are the more permanent for being gradually acquired. On this account the Writer is not so sanguine as to expect his performance will occasion any sudden revolution in the sentiments and practice of the class of Christians more immediately concerned; if along with other causes it ultimately contribute to so desirable an issue, he shall be satisfied.
It may not be improper to assign the reason for not noticing the treatise of the celebrated Mr. Robinson, of Cambridge, on the same subject. It is not because he is insensible to the ingenuity and beauty of that performance, as well as of the other works of that original and extraordinary writer; but because it rests on principles more lax and latitudinarian, than it is in his power conscientiously to adopt; Mr. Robinson not having adverted, as far as he perceives, to the distinction of fundamentals, but constructed his plea for toleration,* in such a manner as to comprehend all the varieties of religious belief.
* The intelligent reader will understand me to refer, not to civil toleration by the state, but that which is exercised by religious societies.
The only author I have professed to answer, is the late venerable Booth, his treatise being generally considered by our opponents as the ablest defence of their hypothesis.
I have only to add, that I commit the following treatise to the candor of the public, and the blessing of God, hoping, that as it is designed not to excite, but to allay animosities; not to widen, but to heal the breaches among Christians, it will meet with the indulgence due to good intentions, however feebly executed.
ON TERMS OF COMMUNION.
WHOEVER forms his ideas of the Church of Christ from an attentive perusal of the New Testament, will perceive that unity is one of its essential characteristics; and that though it be branched out into many distinct societies, it is still but one. "The Church," says Cyprian, "is one, which, by reason of its fecundity, is extended into a multitude, in the same manner as the rays of the sun, however numerous, constitute but one light; and the branches of a tree, however many, are attached to one trunk, which is supported by its tenacious root; and when various rivers flow from the same fountain, though number is diffused by the redundant supply of waters, unity is preserved in their origin." Nothing more abhorrent from the principles and maxims of the sacred oracles can be conceived, than the idea of a plurality of true churches, neither in actual communion with each other, nor in a capacity for such communion. Though this rending of the seamless garment of our Saviour, this schism in the members of his mystical body, is by far the greatest calamity which has befallen the Christian interest, and one of the most fatal effects of the great apostacy foretold by the sacred penman, we have been so long familiarized to it as to be scarcely sensible of its enormity, nor does it excite surprise or concern, in any degree proportioned to what would be felt by one who had contemplated the church in the first ages. To see Christian societies regarding each other with the jealousies of rival empires, each aiming to raise itself on the ruin of all others, making extravagant boasts of superior purity, generally in exact proportion to their departures from it, and scarcely deigning to acknowledge the possibility of obtaining salvation out of their pale, is the odious and disgusting spectacle which modern Christianity presents. The bond of charity, which unites the genuine followers of Christ in distinction from the world, is dissolved, and the very terms by which it was wont to be denoted, exclusively employed to express a pre
dilection for a sect. The evils which result from this state of division are incalculable; it supplies infidels with their most plausible topics of invective; it hardens the consciences of the irreligious, weakens the hands of the good, impedes the efficacy of prayer, and is probably the principal obstruction to that ample effusion of the Spirit, which is essential to the renovation of the world.
It is easier however, it is confessed, to deplore the malady, than to prescribe the cure: for however important the preservation of harmony and peace, the interests of truth and holiness are still more so; nor must we forget the order in which the graces of the Spirit are arranged. "The wisdom which is from above is first pure, then peaceable." Peace should be anxiously sought, but always in subordination to purity, and therefore every attempt to reconcile the differences among Christians which involves the sacrifice of truth, or the least deliberate deviation from the revealed will of Christ, is spurious in its origin, and dangerous in its tendency. If communion with a Christian society cannot be had without a compliance with rites and usages which we deem idolatrous or superstitious, or without a surrender of that liberty in which we are commanded to stand fast, we must, as we value our allegiance, forego, however reluctantly, the advantages of such a union. Wherever purity and simplicity of worship are violated by the heterogeneous mixture of human inventions, we are not at liberty to comply with them for the sake of peace, because the first consideration in every act of worship is its correspondence with the revealed will of God, which will often justify us in declining the external communion of a church with which we cease not to cultivate a communion in spirit. It is one thing to decline a connexion with the members of a community absolutely, or simply because they belong to such a community, and another to join with them in practices which we deem superstitious and erroneous. In the latter instance, we cannot be said absolutely to refuse a connexion with the pious part of such societies; we decline it merely because it is clogged with conditions which render it impracticable. It is impossible for a Protestant Dissenter, for example, without manifest inconsistency, to become a member of the Established Church; but to admit the members of that community to participate at the Lord's table, without demanding a formal renunciation of their peculiar sentiments, includes nothing contradictory or repugnant. The cases are totally distinct, and the reasons which would apply forcibly against the former, would be irrelevant to the latter. In the first supposition, the Dissenter, by an active concurrence in . what he professes to disapprove, ceases to dissent; in the last, no principle is violated, no practice is altered, no innovation is introduced.