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had but little faith ; and yet with admirable gentleness and patience, he bears with their weak faith.
18. This forbearance is also recommended to us from the example of the Apostles, who, though they were infallible, as we have seen before, yet exercised forbearance themselves, and enjoined the practice of it upon others.
19. And herein they were imitated by their successors, the fathers of the primitive church, at least by the best and wisest of them, whose many differences of opinions, and rites, did not disturb the peace of the churches; as particularly Socrates has shown.” And, therefore, if any arose, who too rigorously condemned their brethren, and refused them communion; as Victor about the observation of Easter, and Stephen in the dispute concerning the baptism of heretics; others stood up and opposed such unchristian attempts, and never scrupled to rebuke them sharply for such things. I confess persecution gained ground, with other evils that sprung up in the church, till at last anathemas and excommunications were thundered out for the merest trifles, without end ; and what innumerable evils arose from hence, every one knows. But Christ never gave his disciples any such instructions; and the first and best teachers of christianity took no such methods.
* Hist. Eccles. Lib. v. cap. 22.
Lastly, to add no more, the divines of latter times, who have justly been reputed men of learning and wisdom, do all agree with us in this matter. I shall only mention two out of abundance, the one of Zurich, the other of Bern. The former is the famous John Wirtzius, who, in the middle of the last century, was professor of divinity in the university of Zurich. He says, “The foundation of the fellowship and communion of Saints upon earth, is ‘the one God and Father, one Lord, one faith, one baptism;’ and consequently, a consent and agreement in fundamental articles of faith. So that where this foundation is not, or where this agreement in fundamental articles is wanting, there cannot be that fellowship and communion of saints which we make profession of in the Apostles’ creed ; but the words of St. John do then take place, “If any come unto you, and bring not this doctrine,’ &c. But where the unity of the foundation, and of christian faith does stand firm and unshaken, there is a communion and fellowship of saints, and there it ought to be, and to continue firm, and not at all be shaken, by a disagreement in this or the other point, which do not directly overturn the foundation; as also in rites and ceremonies. For as all differences do not utterly destroy the church, but only those that overturn the foundation of faith; in like manner all differences do not dissolve the fellowship and communion of saints, but only those that directly shake and weaken the foundation of faith in whole or in part.” And presently after ; “In short, agreement in fundamentals, or doctrines necessary to salvation, is requisite to the communion of saints; also in things not fundamental, in difficult questions, nay, even in rites and ceremonies, agreement would be amiable, and greatly to be desired. But in this imperfect state, and in so great a variety of particular churches, of the customs of places, and of human capacities, it is not to be expected ; yet the communion of saints may continue firm, as long as their consent in fundamentals does so continue.” Whence he concludes, that the reformed churches may, and ought to come to a union among themselves. The other is also a man of great note, Benedictus Aretius, a divine of Bern, who lived at the age of the reformation. He, speaking of the unity of the church, tells us, “That it consists in an agreement in the chief articles of true religion, notwithstanding diversity of gifts;” and repeats it again, “That the unity of the church consists in an agreement in the chief articles of faith;” and goes on thus; “We call those the chief articles of faith, which are necessary to salvation, and which are expressly contained in the creed. To come to an agreement in these, is what we call union ; in other things, where persons cannot come to an agreement, diversity of opinions must be allowed; yea, further, we may freely own our ignorance in these matters, as St. Austin says, “It is no reproach to a christian to confess his ignorance in abundance of cases;’ which makes against those, who insist upon universal consent, even in the most minute questions, and unless a person will subscribe to every point, are prepared with their thunderbolts, heresies, sects, excommunications, nay, prisons, and death. It were easy to produce proper instances hereof, if there was need ; but we know this was never the method approved of by the true church, only some malignant spirits have kindled such flames, that they might obtain the pre-eminence. But let them consider, what an absurd and impossible thing they require ; for there never was so perfect and finished a genius in the world, to whose judgment all learned men could see reason to subscribe, and to conform their own private sentiments. And the diversity of gifts seems to speak the same thing; for what if I have not that light that you have, or you that I have, or neither of us what a third hath, shall we therefore go to persecute one another for our different apprehensions of things? No! Religion allows no such thing. But if we examine the thing more thoroughly, this diversity of opinions sometimes has its advantages; for hereby men's abilities are excited, the reason of things is more duly considered, scripture is more carefully examined and compared with
itself, arguments are more impartially weighed, and posterity comes to understand and believe what at first was thought to be absurd.” Thus excellently well does he argue. But we are not insensible, that several things may be objected against this forbearance of persons, who disagree with each other, that we have been pleading for ; which yet may so easily be confuted from what has been already said, that we need not stay particularly to answer them. We shall only observe two things in the general; one is, that whatever is objected against toleration, or forbearance, is objected also against scripture itself, and particularly against the Apostle Paul, who so earnestly maintained and recommended it to us; the other is, that if any inconveniences should happen to attend such a toleration, or forbearance, let it be remembered, there are more, and greater by far, that attend the contrary; which is not an ungrounded assertion, but abundantly confirmed by the experience of all ages, as all who are acquainted with the state of the church in ancient or latter times, will readily own.