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4. Attendance on the meetings of the Union-contributions to its funds-candid examination of its plans and objects—thoughtful views of the interesting, yet critical times that are passing over us—considerate regard to the past history of the Congregational body—just observation of the benefits reaped by other bodies through organisation and united efforts—a due appreciation of the vital importance and inestimable value of the distinctive principles of Independents—a grateful remembrance of that real unity of sentiment and heart which pervades the entire Congregational brotherhood—a correct estimate of the good that has resulted to the church and to the world by the Independent churches even when acting without full concert, and of the much greater results that might be expected from unity of effort and combination of means among them—all will promote the interects of the Congregational Union of England and Wales—all will point to Union as the great desideratum of the churches-the dictate of wisdom—the strength of every cause, most of all of that which has in it most of truth, liberty, and charity.
RESULTS ALREADY ATTAINED BY THE UNION. 1. It has realised the conception of a Union of the Independent churches of Eng. land and Wales, and has subjected it to the test of experiment for more than eleven years.
2. It has secured many numerous meetings of the delegates and brethren of the united churches, most harmonious, edifying, and invigorating in their character.
3. It has obtained, both by delegations and letters, fraternal correspondence with bodies of evangelical Christians in Scotland and Ireland, in the United States of America and the British Colonies, and on the Continent of Europe.
4. It has put forth a declaration of faith and order of the Congregational churches, which has been very widely circulated, with great approval and advantage. It has also issued various publications; and has commenced a series of tracts, all designed to promote the interests of pure truth and vital religion in connexion with the churches and principles of Independents.
5. It has originated efficient Missions in the British Colonies-exerted a salutary influence on the Home Missions of the Independent churches—and is engaged in efforts to serve in a like manner those conducted by them in Ireland.
6. Its proceedings and publications have exerted a beneficial influence on the sentiments of the Independent body, in a period to them of equal difficulty and interest.
7. And, lastly, secure foundations have been laid for the stability of the Union, as a permanent medium for the fellowship, counsels, and action of the Congregational churches of this country, as the events of the future may summon them to testimony, to action, or to suffering in the cause of Christ.
Upon the reading of this paper a long and very interesting conversation arose upon the present state of our denominational interests in town and country, when statements were made from different parts of the kingdom of a very interesting and cheering character. The document having passed, as we may say, “ through a committee of the whole house," with very general approbation, was adopted, and ordered to be published.
A second paper was then presented to the brethren, entitled, “ A Declaration of Views and Principles on various Deeply Interesting Questions Agitated during the Present Crisis, as they affect the Duty and Reputation of the Independent Churckes." This gave rise to a very animated, but most amicable discussion upon the propriety of a Declaration at all, and upon the correctness of some particular statements in it. At length, it was referred to a Sub-Committee to revise and present it again on Thursday morning.
We must anticipate our narrative, by stating, that the following is the form in which it was brought up by the Committee, and unanimously adopted for publication. DECLARATION OF Views, ETC. For a period now exceeding ten years, the state of our beloved country has been one of deep and anxious interest. From the position among the nations of the earth assigned to her by Providence, whatever effects the welfare of Britain, must hardly less influence them for good or for evil. The questions moreover that have been recently, and still continue to be, agitated in this country, are in their nature and principles of permanent, universal importance. They will be solved in England not only by discussion, but by example, for the benefit of all nations, and of all times. It was, therefore, impossible that any body of enlightened, energetic, Christian men, should stand in the position of mere observers, amidst the times and scenes alluded to. Every generous, patriotic, Christian impulse forbade it. Accordingly, the Independent churches of England have, at this deeply interesting period, acted their part, and caused their voice to be heard, amidst movements and discussions in which the welfare of their country, the claims of sacred truth, and the destinies of the church and the world, are all involved.
The question, surpassing all the others in importance, and indeed including within itself all which have, during this period of general debate and struggle, occupied the pnblic mind, has been that relating to the principles on which the affairs of the church of Christ ought to be administered. On this it was impossible for Congregationalists to be silent. It was their question. Their opinions on this subject formed at once the cause of their original separation from other churches, and the distinctive characteristics of the community they constituted. At the same time, no question could be more complex and exciting. No position of human affairs could be imagined more adapted than that now prevailing in England, to render its discussion at once advantageous and difficult—advantageous inasmuch as there is hardly possible a practical illustration of the question which it does not supply--difficult because never were false principles so singularly intrenched in powerful interests, plausible associations and results, cherished predilections, and impressive appearances, as in the ecclesiastical institutions of this country. To deal honestly and fearlessly with this question was therefore no easy task. The party that would do so, must act with undesirable associates ; must be placed in a most unfavourable social position; must incur the bitter hostility of the interested, the contempt of the haughty, and, which is far more to be deprecated, the misapprehension and censure of many more excellent, but mistaken persons. Now the Independent body generally did so meet the discussion of the day. They did not originate, but neither did they shrink from the controversy. They did not conceal their sentiments either when they foresaw, or while they suffered, the penalty sure to follow their avowal. The result is natural. They are accused by their opponents--not of timidity, but of rashness-not of concealing, but of obtruding their obnoxious sentiments. And they are suffering an amount of obloquy, pressure, and opposition, more severe, prolonged, and universal, than at any former period, since the settlement of the nation under the house of Brunswick.
It may, therefore, not be inappropriate, or without useful results, that the present meeting should put forth a calm declaration of its views as to the social and public duties of the body of Christians with which it stands connected, at the present crisisas applicable to the past it may come in aid of their vindication—in respect to the future it may assist to guide them in their course. Such a statement may neither silence accusers, nor satisfy enemies; but it may really vindicate not only the accused, but the truth itself. It may put on record for the information of those on whom more peaceful times may hereafter come, how their fathers thought and acted in days of struggle for precious truths and principles, as to us in these times the record of our predecessors' conflicts and sufferings for the same sacred interests, in periods still more stormy, is pregnant with instruction, impulse, and encouragement.
To embody these views in a public document, subjected to the discussions of an assembly of brethren, must test and sift them. To place them in such an authentic form before the public must give every advantage for their examination. Some accusations may be safely condemned, and wisely neglected. They may either not require refutation, or silence may best declare them false. But in the case that calls forth the following vindicatory declaration, a numerous body of Christian churches has been assailed with persevering misrepresentations for a course adopted under views of duty, in defence of truth, for the cause of Christ. It is therefore due, not to personal but public reputation; not to private, but general and sacred interests, that the course pursued by the Congregational body through recent eventful years, should stand recorded and explained by those who know what they speak, and whereof they affirm.
Therefore, to all lovers of truth and candour, the present meeting submits with respect the following declarations intended to explain and vindicate the public course of the Congregational body generally, through the still pending struggle of the present crisis.
1. No accusation has of late been more unsparingly and bitterly urged against Protestant dissenters in general, and specifically against Independents, than that they are political. What is the precise meaning of the charge remains still unexplained. There can be do doubt it is urged in a bad sense. It is intended by it, to acease and condemn. In every such sense it is calmly denied. If it be meant by the principles of Independents-that they plead conscience, but are in reality influenced by faction, it is not so. If it be affirmed of their spirit, that they prefer the clamour and strife of political struggle to the calm virtues and peaceful walks of religion, it is not so. If it be asserted of their objects, that they have for their end political change, the overthrow of political institutions, the attainment of political power, it is not so. But being moved by conscience toward God, and guided by sacred Seripture, Independents are ardently aiming to promote the simplicity, spirituality, and purity of the church of Christ. They would remove political influence and power out of the church, they would separate the entirely distinct functions of the body politic, and the body ecclesiastic; and for this, those who would retain the political character and alliances of the church assail them as political. After bearing a long unheeded testimony to their views of truth on these subjects in their own religious proceedings, the altered state of the public affairs and mind summoned them into a more open and observed witness for the same sentiments in public appeals to the nation and the legislature. The evils against which they protest could be no otherwise corrected or even exposed. But these proceedings originated in religious motives, and were directed to religious ends. This meeting disavows, on the part of Independents, any political sentiments or interests peculiar to themselves. In things civil and political, dissenters have no standing in this country as a separate body. They are known to the state, and recognised by it, as a distinct class in religion, and in religion only.
2. Independents are firm, unchanged, uncompromising Protestants, as opposed to Roman Catholics—they are of undoubted, strenuous orthodoxy, as the antagonists of Socinianism—they are firm believers in the holy religion of Christ, against every form or degree of infidelity—the Episcopal church in this nation, while conscien. tiously objecting to its establishment by the state, and lamenting deeply the doctrine of sacramental efficacy taught in its offices, they yet regard as an illustrious branch of the reformation from Popery. The changes advocated by them in the ecclesiastical institutions of their country, they desire in the full and firm persuasion that their accomplishment would promote, in a degree not to be described, all the great interests of vital Christianity. The Gospel, no longer associated with the coercion and penalties of law, would vindicate itself against the infidel by its own truth and power-Protestants, no longer divided by invidious distinctions, would unite for
their common cause—the deep and wide chasm now separating large classes of the subjects of this realm would be closed—the Episcopal church, would grow pure and powerful for good amidst the genial influences of liberty—the various bodies of believers in this land would dwell in love so as under existing institutions they never can—the strength now expended in mutual contention would be employed in enterprises separate or combined for the advancement of their common Christianity—the entire church, depending only on strength from on high, would be replenished with heavenly influence from her Almighty Lord. It is only in the belief that such would be the results of the separation of church and state, that Protestant dissenters have desired so momentous a change. It is only in the ardent desire to realise these results that they have, amidst difficulty, contempt, and bitter revilings, sought for that separation. They know themselves to be animated by genuine patriotism. They entirely believe that their sentiments, carried into effect, would not overthrow but unspeakably improve the institutions of their country.
3. They are citizens of a free country, the subjects of a limited monarchy. The laws of the realm, both in their letter and in their spirit, recognise the right of the subject to discuss with freedom, limited by respect, questions affecting the government, constitution, and interests of the nation. The representative system, on which the public liberties are based, embodies the right of the people to influence the national policy, and provides for the orderly and beneficial action of that right. Every elector is invested with his share in the ultimate and supreme power of the state. These rights create duties. These privileges involve responsibilities. These institutions summon the people of this country to think and act for the public good. Providence, by these arrangements, addresses to the pious and virtuous of this nation an orderly call to act their part for the public good in the fear of God. In free states, true religion, sound morals, public virtue, are, if possible, more essential to national welfare than in those wherein more despotic rule prevails. The public mind, the ruling powers of a nation, cannot be imbued with just principles, if good men shrink from their political duties through dislike, timidity, or mistake. Let it be admitted that this is a just view of the position and the duty of an English subject, educated, possessed of substance, and entrusted with the franchise-to add that he is a man who fears God, alters his public duty only by rendering it more necessary to the state, and more binding on himself. Such are the views of this meeting. The brethren now assembled believe, that at this juncture the fearless discharge of their political duties is imperatively demanded of all British Christians who combine the love of liberty with the fear of God, and who value their civil rights chiefly as they are subservient to their spiritual privileges and duties. They think that when men of wealth and power endeavour to coerce electors in the exercise of their franchise to use the rights of the people as the instruments of their own power
to make the possession of that right an injury rather than a privilege, an occasion of subserviency rather than an exercise of influence that then, in the Christian voter, the fear of God should come in aid of integrity, and invigorate the love of liberty, to a fearless discharge of duty. They think that Christian electors should be examples of a sustained, consistent, and honest independence—that when bribery abounds without shame or fear, the public interests are bought and sold for filthy lucre, and the public virtue is undermined for party triumph, not only should every Christian elector shake his hands from holding of bribes, but every pastor, every church, should number among the sins that mark a man as unworthy of their fellowship the sale of his conscience in his vote. They think that both the sufferings and the vices of the poorer classes in the strangely unequal and divided state of society in which they dwell—that the partial laws which prefer the rights of property before those of humanity, and in some cases of justice that the acrimony, dishonesty, and flagrant calumnies of the press, protected alike against loss or shame by party interests-present occasions for the exercise of Christian patriotism in the various walks of public duty, from which Independents ought not to shrink, the very circumstances that render such duties irksome, or difficult, or disadvantageous, rendering them at the same time imperative and indispensable.
4. To this assembly pure and vital Christianity is precious above all other interests and considerations. The brethren present believe, indeed, that a pure administration of Christian institutions will greatly conduce to the purity of Christian doctrine; and that a wise adjustment of political institutions will remove the chief hindrances to a pure administration of the appointments of the Gospel. The views of Independents on the politics of the nation, and on the institutes of the church, have all reference to their love of evangelical truth. In that they take their origin, in that they centre and terminate. The vital, characteristic truth of the Gospel, Independents believe to be, justification by faith-salvation by grace through faith. The clear perception, the consistent advocacy of this truth, they believe will lead on to just conceptions of the entire Gospel. This cardinal truth can only be established by, and it will, in its turn, establish, the sole, supreme authority of sacred Scripture as the rule of faith. It will require for its administration not a sacramental priesthood, but a preaching ministry. It will work in the personal experience and holy lives of Christians. It will uphold the supremacy of Christ, and so secure the liberty of Christians. This glorious truth, preached and defended by Paul as the very essence of the Gospel-revived and proclaimed by Luther as the very life of the reformation from Popery, Independents would retain unblemished, unclouded, not as their distinction and honour merely, but as the patrimony of the entire church, the hope of the world, and the glory of Christ. In the present day, Independents see with grief this ancient and glorious truth abandoned and opposed. They see regeneration by baptism substituted for salvation by faith. They see this primary error draw after it a train of sentiments, claims, and practices essentially Popish. Their own ministry is condemned as invalid, and their churches denounced as forming no part of the great fellowship of believers in Christ. The right of private judgment is assailed, and the sole authority of Scripture, as the rule of faith, is impugned. This meeting, therefore, declares the conviction, that, before and above all other claims and duties now resting on the Independent churches, is that of a resolved stand for the genuine Evangelical and Protestant faith as it is in Jesus, as it is in Scripture. That the people should uphold their pastors in preaching this truth, and that the pastors should deem it their honour and joy to proclaim and defend this faith once delivered to the saints. And this seems to the present meeting, the special dispensation from the Lord at this time to the Congregational body, in a faithful and courageous fulfilment of which his servants may expect the refreshing power of the Divine spirit, and will best subserve all the interests of the church, the nation, and the world. They feel summoned to this course of doctrine and labour by the signs of the times, as by a voice from heaven. And as they have no designs as a separated body of Christians, or as a class of the subjects of this realm, no interests or objects, civil or sacred, for themselves or for their country, for the church or for the world, which they do not verily believe the fearless proclamation of the pure Gospel will, more than any other instrumentality, powerfully promote, they can proceed to this work calm and uniettered, fearing the loss of nothing while they retain the Gospel, and that retained not doubting to effect all that is in their hearts in the service of Christ, and for the good of mankind.
5. But so far as the views of Independents are rightly understood and interpreted by this meeting, they regard even sound evangelical doctrine itself, but as a means to a higher end. They value scriptural church polity as subservient to the preserva