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This objection lies with equal force against every proposal for reforming what is amiss, or for suppressing what is evil. It will do no good to abolish lotteries, because men are more disposed to obtain money by gambling than by honest labour; and therefore public feeling will dictate public sentiment, and soon effect the restoration of the lottery system. Why should we weary ourselves in the attempt to suppress the evil of intemperance, and the abominations of the theatre, since the appetites and propensities of men will soon bring them back to former habits? And why should we disquiet ourselves and the Christian community, by attempting to abolish sects, since the discordant opinions, and contentious dispositions of Christians will soon split them again into parties?
What answer would Paul or our Saviour give to this objection? They would point him to the constitution of the church one and indivisible. They would show him the bond of union which God has provided to encompass all his children, and hold them together, namely, the holy principle of love, maintained in all its strength and beauty, by the exercise of mutual forbearance in the spirit of meekness. They would remind him of the many great and precious promises recorded in the Scriptures, and designed to make the children of God partakers of the divine nature, which is love itself, and upon which promises the church of God may confidently rely, when she walks in the path of duty. They would prove to the objector that this same bond of love, if Christians would only gird it around them, would be seen to possess the same efficacy which it had in the primitive ages, when for two or three centuries, the world was con
strained to exclaim, behold how these Christians love one another!
Admitting, for the sake of argument, that the union. of the church, though framed upon due deliberation, and after years of well directed preparatory measures, should prove not to be of permanent duration, is it not worth some pains to procure a temporary respite from the contentions, strife, and multiplied evils of sect? Is not a short peace among nations at war, deemed among all the wise worth the trouble of a negotiation for the restoration of peace?
If by a hasty movement upon some sudden impulse, the various denominations should become amalgamated, we readily concede that it would be utopian to expect a long continuance of such a union; as much so, as it would be to calculate upon a cessation from war in the earth, in case a congress of nations should suddenly agree forever to sheathe the sword, without any preparatory measures having been taken to impress upon the minds of rulers and people a due appreciation of the sinfulness and evils of war, and the value of peace. To bring about the union of the church upon a solid and permanent basis, requires much of patient preparatory labour. Our views of what is necessary and expedient to accomplish this all-important object, will be given in a subsequent chapter.
OBSTACLES TO THE REUNION OF THE CHURCH.
1. The power of long cherished habits and opinions.-2. The powerful interests which bind men to sect.—3. The subjection of the periodical press to the interests of sect.-4. The fear of odium and contempt.-5. The many objects of attention already before the public.-6. The present low state of religion.-7. Human creeds, confessions of faith, and systems of theology.
OUR aim, thus far, has been to impress upon the reader our own convictions of the unconstitutional and evil nature of sectarian divisions. Admitting that we have succeeded in satisfying his judgement of the correctness of our own convictions, he may yet see such obstacles, difficulties, and discouragements, in the way of reuniting the church, as to deter or discourage him from embarking in the enterprise of collecting the scattered fragments, and restoring her original unity. We propose, in this chapter, to take a view of these obstacles, and to show that they are by no means insurmountable. They may be removed, we apprehend, with the exercise of a
moderate share of Christian fortitude, zeal, and perse
I. The power of long cherished habits and opinions, is the first obstacle which we shall notice.
It is true that Christians of the present, and several of the preceding generations, have breathed the very atmosphere of sect and party. The religious education of children, where it has not been of an infidel cast, or wholly neglected, has been of a sectarian character. From childhood to mature age, the same training has been continued; for our books, our schools of religious instruction, our preaching, the organization of our churches, have been sectarian. And it may be supposed that the Christian community are in conseqence as firmly settled in their opinion of the lawfulness of sect, as the Hindoo is in the propriety of caste, or the Mahometan in the truth of the alkoran. We may be told, moreover, that this opinion has been fortified by the sectarian habits which they have produced or cherished; insomuch that the professors of the gospel of peace and love, are so much accustomed to the exercise of jealousy and alienation of heart towards Christians of other sects, that the thought of uniting with them is wholly inadmissible.
Formidable as this obstacle is, we cannot admit it to be insuperable. It cannot be so difficult to convince the Christian whose mind is enlightened with a knowlledge of the principles of the Holy Scriptures, that he may have overlooked or misapplied those principles, as it is to convince the Hindoo of the absurdity of caste, or the Mahometan of the falsity of the koran. To break down the prejudices of these, we have no argu
ments to adduce but such as are addressed to their understandings, which have become wholly obscured by the false principles of their faith; but with the Christian, we meet on common ground, for we both acknowledge the Bible as the only rule of our faith and practice. And if from the Bible it can be satisfactorily proved that sects are unlawful, unconstitutional, and a Pandora's box of evils to the church, what right have we to assume that the lovers of truth will not be willing to hear the voice of truth speaking in the oracles of God, and obey its dictates? The reformation from popery, in the sixteenth century, is a standing proof of the power of scriptural truth to change the most inveterate and long cherished opinions; and the progress of temperance in our own times, is a convincing proof of the power of an enlightened conscience to change the most fixed habits, and even to conquer the strength of long indulged appetite.
The word of God is represented to be, and truly is, as the fire and hammer that breaks in pieces the hearts of the enemies of God, hard by nature, and more hardened by the continued practice of sin; and why then should we fear that the same word will fall powerless upon the hearts of the friends of God, which have been softened by the influences of the Holy Spirit. We may not judge so uncharitably of our Christian brethren, concerning whom we are in duty bound to think no evil, but to believe all things, and to hope all things. 1 Cor. xiii. 5, 7.
The sentiment that the antiquity of opinions and customs proves them to be correct, is much impaired in the minds of the Christian public; and as it is believed that the men of the present generation are capable of under