« AnteriorContinuar »
Christian unity. The tendency of deep piety to promote this union is happily illustrated by the Rev. Andrew Reed of London, lately on a mission of love to this country, designed to strengthen the bond of union between British and American Christians. We allude to a missionary sermon preached by him in his own country some two or three years ago, entitled, "Eminent Piety essential to Eminent Usefulness." We have read the sermon with much pleasure, and regret that we have not a copy at hand to select some quotations. We have, however, recently met with a pretty full expression of the views of Robert Hall on the same point, and cannot deny ourselves the gratification of giving the following extract, for the length of which the reader will find himself amply compensated, when he shall have witnessed its pertinency, elegance, and force : “ That union among Christians
which it is so desirable to recover, must, we are persuaded, be the result of something more heavenly and divine, than legal restraints, or angry controversies. less an angel were to descend for that purpose, the spirit of division is a disease which will never be healed by troubling the waters. We must expect the cure from the increasing prevalence of religion, and from a copious communication of the Spirit to produce that event. more extensive diffusion of piety among all sects and parties, will be the best and only preparation for a cordial union. Christians will then be disposed to appreciate their differences more equitably, to turn their chief attention to points on which they agree, and in consequence of loving each other more, to make every concession consistent with a good conscience. Instead of wishing to vanquish others, every one will be desirous of being vanquished by the truth. An awful fear of God,
and an exclusive desire of discovering his mind, will hold a torch before them in their inquiries, which will strangely illuminate the path in which they tread. In the room of being repelled by mutual antipathy, they will be insensibly drawn nearer to each other by the ties of mutual attachment. A larger measure of the spirit of Christ would prevent them from converting every incidental variation into an impassable boundary; or from condemning the most innocent and laudable usages for fear of symbolizing with another class of Christians. The general prevalence of piety in different communities would inspire that mutual respect, that heartfelt homage for the virtues conspicuous in the character of these respective members, which would urge us to ask with astonishment and regret, Why cannot we be one? What is it that obstructs our union? Instead of maintaining the barrier which separates us from each other, and employing ourselves in fortifying the frontiers of hostile communities, we should be anxiously devising the means of narrowing the grounds of dispute, by drawing the attention of all parties to those fundamental and catholic principles in which they concur.
"To this we may add that a more perfect subjection to the authority of the great Head of the church, would restrain men from inventing new terms of communion, from lording it over conscience, or from exacting a scrupulous compliance with things which the word of God has left indifferent. That sense of imperfection we ought ever to cherish, would incline us to be looking up for superior light, and make us think it not improbable that, in the long night which has befallen us, we have all more or less mistaken our way, and have much to learn and much to correct. The very idea of identifying a
particular party with the church would be exploded; the foolish clamour about schism hushed, and no one, however mean and inconsiderable, be expected to surrender his conscience to the claims of ecclesiastical dominion. The New Testament is surely not so obscure a book, that were its contents to fall into the hands of a hundred serious, impartial men, it would produce such opposite conclusions as must necessarily ensue, in their forming two or more separate communions. It is remarkable, indeed, that the chief points about which real Christians are divided, are points on which that volume is silent— mere human fabrications, which the presumption of men has attached to the Christian system. A larger communication of the Spirit of truth, would insensibly lead Christians into a similar train of thinking; and being more under the guidance of that infallible teacher, they would gradually tend to the same point, and settle in the same conclusions. Without such an influence as this, the coalescing into one communion would probably be productive of much mischief; it certainly would do no sort of good, since it would be the mere result of intolerance and pride acting upon indolence and fear.
"During the present disjointed state of things, then, nothing remains but for every one, to whom the care of any part of the church of Christ is intrusted, to exert himself to the utmost in the promotion of vital religion, in cementing the friendship of the good, and repressing, with a firm and steady hand, the heats and eruptions of party spirit. He will find sufficient employment for his time and his talents in inculcating the great truths of the gospel, and endeavouring to form Christ in his hearers, without blowing the flames of contention, or widening the breach which is already the disgrace and the calami
ty of the Christian name. Were our efforts uniformly to take this direction, there would be an identity in the impression made by religious instruction; the distortion of party features would gradually disappear, and Christians would every where approach towards that ideal beauty spoken of by painters, which is combined of the finest lines and traits conspicuous in individual forms. Since they have all drunk into the same spirit, it is manifest nothing is wanting but a larger portion of that spirit to lay the foundation of a solid, cordial union. It is to the immoderate attachment to secular interest, the love of power, and the want of reverence for truth, not to the obscurities of revelation, we must impute the unhappy contentions among Christians, maladies which nothing can correct but deep and genuine piety."
As has been already intimated, we have not enumerated all the means which we believe adapted to accomplish the reunion of the friends of Christ. We have specified what may rather be called the incipient measures to prepare the minds of Christians to adopt those of a more decisive and effective character, bearing more directly upon the final result. Should the Lord smile upon those which we have pointed out, other means will soon come in aid of them to hasten the work.
Among these will be the discontinuance of that sectarian training which is now given to children by parents, and even some Sabbath schools, and by ministers to their congregations. If we should weigh the prospect of the final accomplishment of the scheme of reunion, we would name this as the most important of them all, and as holding the same place in this, as the principle of total abstinence does in the temperance reformation. We should have placed it in the list of means in the preceding chap
ters, had we not been persuaded that with the greater portion of the religious community it will not be adopted in the inceptive stage of the work. But to those who are prepared to hear it, we hesitate not to recommend it as a step to be taken at the very commencement, being convinced that wherever it is adopted the progress of the enterprise must be very rapid. As long as parents continue to inculcate upon their children, Sabbath school teachers upon their pupils, and ministers upon their people, the superior excellence and the scriptural authority of the tenets and forms of the denomination to which they belong, how can they ever become weaned from their attachment to sectarian peculiarities and distinctions, and how can they ever desire to draw closer the bond of union among God's children? As well might you expect to see sobriety prevail in a family where the cup of intoxication is daily ministered to its inmates. Whenever this sectarian training, by means of the catechisms and formularies of the churches, or through the sermons of the preacher, shall be abandoned, the very aliment of sectarianism will be withdrawn. The Bible then will be read without prejudice on the conflicting points that separate different denominations, and the truth of God will more probably be ascertained. But so long as that sectarian training is continued, we see not how, without a moral miracle, union ever can take place.
And why cannot this be done? Why need a Presbyterian, whether minister, parent, or Sabbath school teacher, say any thing about the doctrine of election or perseverance to his people, or children, or scholars? Why need a Methodist say any thing about falling from grace? Is either doctrine, if true, necessary to the salvation of the soul? And is not the "prima facie” evidence of the