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The advocates for sect seem absolutely to have forgotten that love-not the love of sect- but the love of holiness, the love of Christ, the love of mankind, is represented in the Scriptures as the most powerful of all the motives that can actuate an intelligent mind. It was love that moved the Father to spare his well beloved Son, and moved the Son to leave his Father, assume the nature of man, and suffer, and die. It was the love of Christ that moved Paul, and all the holy apostles, to forsake all and endure all things, that they might please and obey him, and benefit mankind. It was the principle of holy love which the apostle Paul names as the constraining power that actuated the genuine preachers of the gospel. It is the same principle which he describes with so much eloquence and force, as that which sustains the Christian under tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword. Rom. viii. 35, &c. And when will this principle exhibit its greatest efficiency; while it is contaminated and enfeebled by its commixture with sectarian and party pride, envy, jealousy, and emulations; or when its professors shall have achieved the victory over their carnal affections, healed the dissentions in the church, and united in one brotherhood the family of God on earth?
Further, if the division of the church gives birth to a more powerful motive to do good, than can exist in its undivided state, it seems strange that Christians are not commanded, or at least encouraged to split into parties, so as to put themselves into the best possible condition for doing good. It is passing strange that the apostle Paul, who enjoins it upon Christians to provoke one another to love and good works, should not only
have neglected to point to the best mode of effecting this object, the division of the church, but that he should have enjoined the Corinthian believers, who were already splitting into parties, that there must be no divisions among them.
Another objection to the abolition of sects, is that it involves a sacrifice of principle, to unite with Christians of a different faith.
In the epistle to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul exhorts the saints and the faithful in that city, evidently including those who loved the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, with all lowliness and meekness to forbear one another in love, and that they should endeavour to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. The argument upon which he founds the duty of forbearance, is that there is one body and one spirit, even as they were all called in one hope of their calling; and that there is
Eph. iv. 2 to 5.
one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. In the twelfth and thirteenth verses of the same chapter, he states the end or design of the means of grace enjoyed by the church, to be for the edifying of the body of Christ, "till we all come in the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God to a perfect man.”
These verses evidently convey the idea that there is a faith common to all believers, even as the hope of their calling is common to them all. That the Christians at Ephesus were perfectly united in all points essential and unessential, can scarcely be believed, although the apostle does not mention any particular differences as existing between them. That they were liable to such differences, is evidenced by the injunction made by the
apostle of the duty of forbearance to be exercised by one towards another, being bound together by the same hope, faith, baptism, and under the authority of one
What sacrifice of principle is demanded by the proposal to unite in one church all the saints of God? Is it asked of you that you shall renounce the belief of what to be the mind of God, in any porappears to you tion of his word? By no means. You are left at perfect liberty to adhere to your own belief, without the surrender of a single article or point; but you ought to be willing to allow the same freedom of opinion to others which you demand for yourself. Do you answer I am willing that Christians should adhere to their opinion, though different from my own; but they must go to another church? We answer, this is not forbearance, but merely abstinence from the grosser forms of coercion and persecution. That there is a wide difference between these, you will readily concede.
Do you know, Christian brother, what you mean by a sacrifice of principle, as being demanded of you by the proposal to belong to the same church with those who do not in all things agree with yourself? Or do you only require that those who shall live in the same communion with yourself should embrace every doctrine which you hold to be fundamental? Then there is no difference between us; for all Christians fundamentally and essentially have but one faith, according to the assertion of the apostle above quoted.
Or do you contend that to belong to the same church, its members should have the same creed on all important points? Then it may be necessary for you to define what you mean by the word important. If that
word conveys to your mind an idea different from the word fundamental or essential, we demand of you what authority you have from the Scriptures, for refusing to hold communion with such as you admit to be sound in the faith on all fundamental points, and yet differ from you on matters not fundamental but important. It is obviously more easy to discover from the Bible what are the essential articles of the Christian faith, than what are the important ones; and Christians standing free from the artificial shackles of sect, would find little or no difficulty to unite in a declaration of what are the fundamental doctrines of the gospel. If a definition can be made at all of the word important, when applicable to matters of religious belief, it must be entirely of the invention of man; and on this subject, there is room for so much difference of sentiment, as that scarcely two intelligent Christians would be found of the same opinion. The truth is that every doctrine contained in the Bible is more or less important; and if the children of God must be agreed on every important article of belief, before they can, without a sacrifice of principle, belong to the same church, they must either be perfectly of one mind, as to every tenet they draw from the Scriptures, or they must find some scale which has never yet been discovered, whereby to determine how important a given article of belief must be, to warrant a separation between Christians. This will be conceded to be impracticable; and therefore the objector is driven to take the ground that every man must be his own judge of the importance of any specified doctrine; and that he is at liberty to belong or not to belong to the same communion with others who differ from him, according to his own private judgement of its importance. And thus we
are left without any rule of action, except the judgement of the individual, irrespective of the Holy Scriptures. And then it results in this that the principle which the objector is so reluctant to sacrifice, is not any principle deduced from the only standard of faith and practice, but his own private fancy.
We presume it will not be denied that our Saviour was as tenacious of principle as any of his followers ought to be. But he remained in the same spiritual family with his disciples, notwithstanding their doubts and their unbelief of doctrines which were, in his view, very important, namely, the spirituality of his kingdom, his death, and resurrection; he having received them upon the evidence they gave of their attachment to him and his cause, and their belief in him as the Son of God and the promised Messiah. If in his ministry he was more lax in the admission of disciples than he designed his followers should be, this can only be inferred either from the dimness of the light, then but dawning upon the world, when compared with the full light that was thereafter to shine upon it, or from some command or intimation given by himself, or by his inspired apostles after his death. We may indeed require a different degree of evidence touching the Christian character of such as may apply for admission into the church, than what was required by the Saviour and his apostles, since we have now a more full revelation from God, as to what constitutes that character, than what was given in the Old Testament; which was all the Scripture then extant : and inasmuch as a simple avowal of faith in Christ, in that period of the church, afforded, under all the circumstances then existing, stronger evidence of a change of heart than the same act would now afford; yet the