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MATT. Xviii. 7.
It must needs be that offences come, but woe unto that man by whom the offence cometh.
THAT the divisions of Christians are a scandal to our holy religion, and have ever tended to contract the sphere of its saving influence, is a position which few, even among the separatists themselves, have been prepared to controvert: perhaps indeed it may be asserted, that the mischievous consequences of these divisions have never been more truly a depicted, or lamented with a greater appearance of real feeling, than by those divines, who prepared the way for the separation from our own Church.
But while all moderate and reflecting
a See Note CVII. Appendix.
persons of every persuasion have agreed in deploring the breaches of Christian unity; those who have been charged with producing them have endeavoured to repel the accusation by arguments, which, if valid, would attach the guilt of disunion upon the Church herself, by proving that a longer continuance in her communion was incompatible with the preservation of a good conscience towards God. They have readily allowed, that schism is a grievous sin, and that fearful punishments are reserved for those to whom its guilt attaches but they have steadily maintained, that theirs is the suffering, and not the criminal party; and that the woe denounced against such offences must be the portion of those, who would have imposed a yoke upon the neck of their brethren, which they were not able to bear. This ground of defence, which in fact involves the whole question at issue between the Church of England and her dissenting brethren, it will be the object of the present discourse to investigate and if it can be shewn, that this Church has given no rea
sonable cause of offence to those, who have withdrawn from her communion; and that she has left no means untried, by which, consistently with her duty as an appointed guardian of the truth, she could hope to bring back her erring children to a sense of their obligations; it may be concluded, that she is innocent of that great offence, which has thus been laid to her charge.
I. It may be readily granted, that all b separation from a particular church does not, in every case, necessarily involve the sin of schism; and that, where the separatist can prove, by the clear and undoubted testimony of holy Scripture, that unlawful terms of communion were exacted from him, his conduct is not only justifiable, but such as it was his indispensable duty to adopt.
But at the same time it may be assumed, that no trivial cause, no inherited prejudices, no hastily formed opinions, should influence any man to take such a step; for
b See Note CVIII. Appendix. • See Note CIX. Appendix.
as schism is a great and grievous offence, since it not only disturbs the peace, but hinders the salvation of Christians, no common caution should be thought sufficient in so momentous a concern.
The warning voice of Scripture is so plainly raised against idolatry and false doctrine, that where a church can be clearly d convicted of having corrupted the saving truths of the Gospel, or debased the Christian sacraments and worship by idolatrous practices, it is evidently our duty to come out of her, and be separate from her communion. Such was the charge proved against the Church of Rome, at the period of the Reformation. She had made the word of God of none effect by her traditions; she had corrupted the doctrine of Christ by her interpretations, and obscured it by her innovations; she had taught men to rely on their own merits for salvation, instead of placing their confidence in the atonement made for sin by Jesus Christ ; and in contempt of the plain declaration of d See Note CX. Appendix. • See Note CXI. Appendix.
Scripture, that "there is but one me"diator between God and men, the man "Christ Jesus," she had encouraged her members to put up their prayers to many mediators of her own appointment.
In addition to the false doctrine which she had thus preached, and the idolatry she had recommended; she had presumed to debase the sacraments by her own vain inventions; refusing the cup to the laity; and converting the eucharist itself into an abomination, by substituting an idolatrous worship of the outward sign, for that pure and reasonable service, which our Saviour required.
It therefore became the duty of those, whose eyes had been opened to a knowledge of her errors and corruptions, when she refused to reform herself, to depart from her, lest they should become partakers in her plagues; and to restore the purity of faith and worship, by reverting to the primitive model, from which she had schismatically departed.
The Church of England however re
f 1 Tim. ii. 5.