Page images
PDF
EPUB

please God to honour you as the mean of doing them good. You must not quit their unsympathising society for that which may be more agreeable. Recollect the words of the Lord, 'It is not the whole that have need of a physician, but they that are sick.' Look to the foundations of the church of which you are a member; look to the public documents which that church has put forth, as the doctrine upon which she rests: are they not indeed Christian, and accordant with the Holy Scriptures ? If so, then, in meditating a separation from such a church because there are some unworthy men professedly members of it, you are upon the brink of committing a schism of the most unchristian character. Let not selfishness and love of ease seduce you. You ought to bear your distressing situation with Christian fortitude, as the cross which God has been pleased to appoint you ; but, oh ! for the love which you bear to your perishing and unenlightened brethren, forsake them not, to search in vain after the chimera of a perfectly pure communion. Remain; take every opportunity of instructing those who are more ignorant than yourself; for it is the ignorant and indifferent who stand in need of that light with which God has endowed you. Delight in, and seek after, the intercommunion of the wiser and stronger brethren in Christ; but it is not these who stand in need of you: you must not leave those whom you may be enabled to profit, merely to enjoy the fellowship of those whom you cannot. You will perhaps say, Those amongst whom I live look upon me as over-much religious, and avoid me as methodistical. To which I reply, This is a proof how much they need one to lead them into the path of truth. Let them see that the source of love in you is too deep and fruitful for terms of reproach and manifestations of dislike to eradicate. If we are commanded to love our enemies,' and to 'do good to them that hate us,' how much more are we bound to do it to those who have the badge of Christ, who have been baptized into his church ? * Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.' Have no fellowship with any evil deeds, but always in love reprove and testify against them. You may not yourself, and in your life-time, be able to remove abuses and reform your-fellow-men; but you may prepare the way, by shewing the sinfulness of remaining as they are. And though you may see no fruit spring up from your labours, be comforted with the Divine promises, 'Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters' (Isai. xxxii. 20); Ye shall reap in due time, if ye faint not ;' and a hundred others, with which you must be familiar. I here conclude my remarks on this case, by observing that the profitableness of the various appointments in the church-such as public worship, preaching of the word, and administration of the sacraments-depends not

1

upon the worthiness or unworthiness of those who administer the same, but upon the sincerity and faith of those who wait upon them: “Them who honour God, God will honour.” This is plainly expressed in the XXVIth article of our church :

Although in the visible church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the minitration of the word and sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ's, and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their ministry, both in hearing the word of God and in the receiving of the sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ's ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God's gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual because of Christ's institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men. Nevertheless, it appertaineth to the discipline of the church that inquiry be made of evil ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences ; and finally, being found guilty, by just judgment be deposed.”

The next case which I will consider, is that of a young man who feels himself called to take upon him the responsible office of a Christian minister, and yet shrinks back from taking orders in the Church of England, because there are some expressions which startle him in the Articles, Prayer-book, or other documents of the Church, which he is expected to subscribe to, and with which, according to his best judgment at the time, he cannot agree.--As in the former case the principal difficulties sprung from an incorrect notion of the visible church, we shall find that it is equally so in this. I must here recall to mind the principle which I have endeavoured to establish-namely, that nothing can justify dissent from a true church; and it is not necessary to its being a true church that it be absolutely free from imperfections and corruptions. Let no one be alarmed at this avowal, and mistake me as the apologist of existing corruptions and malpractices. I most heartily lament them, and feel it to be the duty of a Christian man ever to be striving for the removal of what is evil, and to rectify every abuse. I feel too awfully impressed with the denunciation of our Lord, “Woe to that man by whom the offence cometh," to dare to open my mouth in justification of error, even if my spirit, from a holier principle of action did not revolt from it; but it is equally necessary to the declaration of the whole truth to affirm, " for it must needs be that offences come.Any theory which left this latter out, must be a fanciful one, and be inapplicable in fact. I mention the same thing so often, at the risk of being very tedious, because I desire to shew the extent of the principle, and not to

veil any thing that follows consequentially from it, either from myself or others. Surely, then, I may calculate upon the assent of the most zealous separatist, that the Church of England excludes no truth that is necessary to salvation; and, considering myself as addressing the hesitating individual whose case is proposed above, I say, "My dear brother, regarding you as agreeing with me in the destructive evil of schism, and that it is on no account to be attempted, I will endeavour to shew you that your objection to taking orders because there are some things with which you cannot fully accord, is not a valid objection. Considering the arguments used above convincing, I feel myself justified in presuming upon the admissions here enumerated. You admit the Church of England to be a true church : and that I say is quite sufficient to justify you in becoming a minister of the same. Moreover, you admit that every visible church is to be expected to have some things imperfect and to be condemned : and because there are such imperfections existing, this is evidently no reason against your becoming one of her ministers, for it is common to all churches. You acknowledge the authority of the Scriptures, and renounce every doctrine as false which contradicts 'them; and your earnest desire is to be a minister of a church which shapes itself in accordance with the written word of God: if you could find such an one, your heart would be at ease : but such is the Church of England. See Article VI.: ' Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation : so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. This is plainly put forth, and is the sentiment pervading all the documents of the church. Here, then, is the ground upon which you, as an individual rational and responsible, and the Church of England, stand agreed ; and it is to this agreement you must look, which you may feel assured is sincere on both sides, when you are called upon to attach your signature and solemn subscription. As no true church assumes itself to be infallible, which is the sole prerogative of God; and as all past experience attests that every church has been disfigured by various imperfections and blemishes; so it must be allowed that the Church of England is not perfectly free : otherwise all its public documents and ordinances must stand upon a level with the Scriptures, which I think no man will contend for. And when she calls

upon each minister, previous to his entering on the functions of the holy office, to subscribe his assent to her various documents, it is not to any errors or imperfections, but to the truth of God, to that only which is consonant with the holy Scriptures. The only thing which deters you from at once assenting, is, because you see some things which you look upon as dissonant therewith : but it is with the understanding that there be nothing contrary to Scripture that you are called upon to subscribe. Differences of opinion upon minor points we may naturally expect to meet with, from the finiteness and variety of our individual understandings, and the peculiar circumstances which modify each : but these differences we must tolerate in each other; earnestly striving for the fulness of truth, and never compromising it, but still not allowing these minor differences to divide us. (With all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love ; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace' (Ephes. iv. 2, 3). It is Christ that we are called upon

to serve, and not man. No visible church is infallible, or can call upon her members to regard all her detailed documents and ordinances with that solemn sacredness and unreservedness with which we are bound to regard the articles of faith; and if any members of any visible church, possessing authority, have so signified, they have outstepped the limits of the power entrusted to them. And although the stamp of their misconceptions be still affixed to the threshold of the sacred office of the ministry, and there be not sufficient strength in the existing ecclesiastical body to rectify it; then you, my brother, must mourn over it as an infirmity of your mother, and bear with it; but not on that account refuse to enter into the holy and responsible office, where you may be gifted with grace and power to remove the evil.”

Let not any attached member of our beloved Church be offended, as if I had been drawing an unjust and unamiable portrait of it in these latter paragraphs. It might by some be incorrectly inferred that the author found many faults in the Articles and Services of the church, but such is not the case. My aim has been to draw an outline of its features such as they do appear to a weak and doubtful brother, and to shew him, that, even if the Church of England be as he represents it to himself, yet still it is his duty as a Christian man not to attempt a separation, but cordially to adhere to it, and by bearing his brethren's burden so fulfil the law of Christ.

Before concluding these remarks with an extract or two from a work lately published by a profound Christian philosopher, I cannot refrain from once more re-stating my principle, and urging it upon the attention of all those who are professedly Dissenters, and who have been brought up in a spirit of alienation from the Established Church. I repeat, then, that except an individual can, after long and painful deliberation, conscientiously declare that the church which he is about to quit is anti-chrstian, and that the souls of men are in peril by being members of it, he is committing a grievous sin against the brethren, and his conduct cannot be justified on Christian principles. And as Dissent was in the first instance an unchristian act ; so the continuing dissenting principles is a perpetual act partaking of the criminality of the original deed, though lessened by circumstances. Those who began the separation, and made themselves Dissenters, are most to blame; but those who find themselves so are hardly more to be excused for continuing so. There seems to be a complete analogy between this case and that of a nation wherein a party have commenced a civil war upon insufficient grounds: they bring up their children and dependants to continue the strife. But if the parents have done wrong, are the children blindly to follow their course? When they arrive at manhood, they are, as well as their parents, responsible for every act; and all reasonable men would decide at once, that what was wrong in the parents is wrong in the children; and that it becomes the duty of the children, not only to desist from following the destructive course in which they were brought up, but to do all in their power to heal the wounds which had been inflicted by this unnatural war. So in the case before us: although the Dissenters of the present day—or, to speak more exactly, the greater number-have not to answer for the sin of beginning a schism; yet from the continuation of the same they cannot be justified ; and it remains with them whether the worst evils of schism shall ensue or not. Therefore I would most earnestly entreat all my Dissenting Christian brethren to strive for a re-union with that mother from whom, without sufficient reason, their fathers separated, and they still remain separate; and whose weakness and infirmities are to be in great measure attributed to them; as the life and strength, which should have been devoted to publishing the saving truth of Christ, have been wasted in fruitless contentions, which have sprung out of these separations, and which, if persisted in, will end in an universal confusion, in which all must suffer. These remarks are all which I have at present to offer, and which I put forth more as an aid to attain to right ideas of the Christian church, and the duties flowing out of the same, than as at all complete in themselves; and shall now proceed to give my promised extracts.

“But for other things, whether ceremonies or conceits, whether matters of discipline or of opinion, their diversity does not at all break the unity of the outward and visible church, as long as they do not subvert the fundamental laws of Christ's kingdom, nor contradict the terms of admission into his church, nor contravene the essential characters by which it subsists and is distinguished as the Christian catholic church.

“ To these sentiments, borrowed from one of the most philoVOL. 11.-NO, IV.

5 P

« EelmineJätka »