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Scriptures; but that it requires to be written over again, in different language, by authority of the church, to make it intelligible, and deliver it from controversy. There are indeed two points of difference between them; Protestants place the authority in many councils, and the Catholics admit of but one. The latter pronounce the decrees of their own council to be infallible; the former do not in terms claim the decisions of their many councils to be infallible, but many of them adhere to those decisions with as much tenacity to all practical purposes, as if they were infallible. In discussing the question on the rule of faith and judge of controversy with the Catholics, the Protestant sectarians make the Bible the only rule of faith, and every man for himself, under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, the judge of what the Bible means; but when they deal with a clergyman or layman of their own denomination, while the Scriptures are, in theory, admitted to be the only rule of faith, the the church is substituted for the conscience of the individual, who must, by uniting himself with the church, surrender his judgement to her dictates.
We believe that purity of doctrine was maintained in the days of the apostles, and in the primitive ages of Christianity, without the aid of sectarian divisions; and if a united church was competent, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to understand the meaning of the Scriptures of truth in that period, we cannot comprehend how it can be necessary, in this age of the world, to keep the church in its divided state, in order to preserve the right understanding of the Scriptures, especially as we have the same Spirit for our teacher, besides the discussions and history of many centuries.
It is objected against the reunion of the church, that sundry denominations are necessary to operate to advantage upon all classes of the people.
Some denominations, it is said, are better adapted for the rich, the polite, and the learned; others for the middling classes in point of wealth, manners, and intelligence; others for the poor and unlearned; some for the populous towns and compact portions of the country; while others are better calculated to carry the gospel into the sparse settlements and the wilderness.
While the church was united in the early periods of its history, the gospel was carried to all classes of the people; and we see not why the same object may not be accomplished after sectarian divisions shall cease. Under the present organization, polity, views and feelings of some other denominations, we admit that the whole of the population would scarcely be supplied with the means of grace, to the extent they now are; and this defect may have operated as an encouragement to the formation or enlargement of other sects. But there is nothing in the nature of a united church that would-hinder it from embracing within its operations the whole family of human souls; on the contrary, there is much in union to facilitate extension and profitable distribution of labour. It requires a variety of talent, disposition, and habit to answer all the ends of Christian effort, and this variety may be found employed and directed by the united as well as the divided church, and may be made to operate with more efficiency, and the whole conducted in the spirit of love, instead of being moved by the spirit of party jealousy and strife. In the apos
tolic age, there was a diversity of talent, taste, acquirement, and habit, and a diversity of spiritual gifts besides. The apostles, however, did not deem it necessary or expedient to divide the church into parties, so as to afford better scope for the qualifications of the labourers to be employed. Nor does St. Paul seem to have discerned the advantage the church might have reaped from permitting the Corinthians to consummate their party divisions, by the formation of several independent sects, who might then have availed themselves of the diversified talents and dispositions of their Paul, their Apollos, and their Cephas, and the various spiritual gifts of the admirers and followers of each leader. This would commend itself to our advocates for sect, as an admirable expedient for operating upon all classes of the community, to the best possible advantage. But so thought not Paul; for he enjoins them, in the most strenuous manner, to heal their carnal divisions, not to arrange themselves under different names; but to remain together in one body, of one name and heart; so that all might act in harmony, like the different members of the human body. This is the wisdom of God, which is often found to be in direct opposition to the wisdom and traditions of men.
The next objection against the abolition of sects, is the danger of uniting church and state.
This objection, sometimes made by the friends of religion, has been borrowed from its opposers, who dread the concentrated energies of a united church. What they fear is not simply a union of church and state, but their aversion to Christianity leads them to fear that it
may attain such an ascendency as to elevate a majority of Christian men to office in the civil government. This event cannot certainly be deprecated, but must be devoutly desired by all intelligent Christians. It is barely possible that the sectarian prejudices of some may be so strong as that they would prefer to be governed by men destitute of religion, to the hazard incurred by the general prevalence of religion, that some of the larger sects might grow into a majority of the electors, fill the offices of state with men of their own denomination, and then perpetuate the ascendency by law.
It is the low state of piety that keeps the church divided into parties, and it will never be reunited, until the pure religion of the Bible shall have taken a stronger hold upon the hearts of its professors. Low as religion is, not a Christian of any intelligence can be found, who does not deprecate the union of church and state, as one of the greatest calamities that can befall the church, it being clear, from history and the relation of cause and effect, that when civil power is not attainable without a religious profession, the whole world of avarice and ambition will crowd themselves into the church, and destroy its spiritual character. The principle which will bring Christians into one band of union, is that of love, no other principle being of sufficient power to melt down the obstacles, and introduce harmony into the discordant materials. The process of effecting a reunion of the church must greatly increase the amount of personal religion among her members. If, then, with our present degree of light, religious feeling, and regard for the church, we see and deprecate the union of church and state, how can it be supposed that such a union will be desired and attempted, when Christians shall be more
deeply imbued with the spirit of the gospel, as they must be, before sects shall be abolished.
We admit it to be possible, that with the prosperity of the church, the spirit of the world may, in process of time, be revived; professed Christians may then seize the reins of government, and by legal enactments, exclude others from it. But this argument proves too much; because from the same premises, it may, with equal reason, be concluded that the general prevalence of the Christian religion is not desirable, lest the administration of the civil government should fall into the hands of Christians, and all other persons be excluded by law. This is surely a strange argument, when used by Christians, however much in character it may be, when proceeding from the enemies of religion.
No; intolerance has no affinity with the pure and spiritual religion of the Bible. It is the corrupting influence of the spirit of sect and party which has given birth to all the test acts which have ever been adopted. And should unfortunately any of the denominations now in existence, or hereafter to arise, becoming more conformed to the world than the rest, gain the favour of the irreligious part of the community, or form an alliance with some political party, and thereby attain to the command of the civil government, they would be under a strong temptation to intrench themselves in power, and trample upon the rights of conscience. Here lies the danger of the union of the church and state, and not in the abolition of all sectarian distinctions.
The last objection which we shall notice against the abolition of sects is, that the reunion of the church, if effected, will be only temporary.