Page images
PDF
EPUB

terms of union and communion-terms confessedly not prescribed in the New Testament.

The apostolical exhortation to avoid those who 'cause divisions'- is sometimes brought forward as a plea for rejecting all christian intercourse with those who do not belong to a particular communion, however conscientiously they may prefer another ; but the divisions,' or factions, here alluded to, were probably those which were caused by the Judaizing teachers; who sought to render essential those Jewish rites, which the apostle treated as things indifferent.2

But it may be urged that, while the language of scripture respecting divisions,' or 'walking disorderly,” may not be indiscriminately applicable to all separation:—though it be granted, that no mere human authority, in the absence of a divine warrant, can bind men's consciences, in matters

2

page 60—74.

dixootuglas. Rom. xvi. 17.
See

3 See page 283. • What is said by Christ, respecting binding and loosing, remitting and retaining, (Matt. xvi. 19; xviii. 18; John XX. 23.) seems properly understood to mean, that acts of moral discipline, in a christian society, which are conducted in the true spirit of the gospel, so as to be faithfully declaratory of its laws and provisions, are approved by Christ. Any other interpretation, either limits the application of these passages to the apostles, or leads at once to Romanism.

peace and

which lie wholly between themselves and Godmatters which do not interfere with the welfare of society, or with the things which are Cæsar's,' in distinction from the things which are God's:'-—and though no body of Christians who are imbued with the apostolic spirit, would desire to decree rites and ceremonies' for others against their will:—yet it may still be argued, that all persuasives to concession, and to christian union with the party in question, are imperatively overruled, by the divine right which attaches to the form and order of the church, by the appointment of Christ himself.

That voluntary neglect of an express divine command, prescribing the one sole external model and ceremonial of the church, would justify the charge of guilt, every Christian will admit. Nor can it be denied that separation from a community so constituted, and union with another, whether such separation be properly termed schism or not, would be a sin of great magnitude. In the First Part of the present essay, it has been endeavoured to deduce from scripture, and from the light which is thrown on it by early Ecclesiastical History, the principle—that no one form of gorernment ought to be insisted on, to the extent of making it essential to the visible unity of the church of Christ.* If this principle be just, se

* Part i. chap. viii. sections iii. iv. v.

paration from any one form, as such, is not necessarily sinful.

It was thought important, however, to view this question with especial reference to Episcopacy, as existing in our own country. For though, as Stillingfleet has plainly shown, this form of the Protestant church was settled in England, during several reigns-not on the principle of divine right, but on that of a power existing in human authority, to choose among different forms, at discretion, no one particular form being necessary:*—yet Episcopacy, in the sense of an official superiority of one class of ministers over the rest—a class possessed of peculiar powers—is declared by many to be a divine appointment, binding on the whole church of Christ, and essential to its genuine character: so that persons not episcopally ordained, are no ministers of Christ; and societies of professed Christians, not governed by bishops, are no churches of Christ. It follows that these societies, and their ministers, are to be avoided, as disorderly, schismatical, and disobedient to the revealed will of God, in their separation from the true, apostolic, episcopal church. The view to which the evidence on this

question, appeared to lead, is that of Jerome, in the fourth century : that bishops and presbyters were

Irenicum, part ii. chap. viii. See also pages 95, 96, above.

[ocr errors]

originally the same; and that the official superiority of the former, became a 'custom,' in the church; but was not an “institution of the Lord.** Controversy, however, was not the object of the present work, and anything even bearing the semblance of it, was contemplated by the writer with regret. Still, in order to ascertain whether separation from the episcopal mode were, in itself, sinful, it appeared absolutely necessary to dwell particularly on the exclusive claim of Episcopacy; especially as Episcopalians are, now, the only British Protestants, so far as we are aware, who are found formally maintaining that those who differ from them in church-government are 'schismatics. For though Presbyterians see, in their own form, that brotherly equality of ministers, which they regard as the image of the apostolic church, while, as yet, presbyters' and 'bishops' were but different names for the same office; and Congregationalists hold sacred, what they deem the rights and discipline of the Christian assembly, according to apostolic precept and example: yet no Christians belonging to either of these communities, or to those of the Wesleyans, or the Friends, discover a disposition to pronounce other Christian bodies, differing from them in church-government, 'schismatics,' and 'cut off from the church of Christ.' The charge of 'schism,

Hieronym. Comment. in Titum, cap. i.

is not heard to sound, either from the Kirk, or the Secession—from the Union, or the Conference, or the Yearly Meeting or even from the Synod of the Episcopal Moravians:- it proceeds from the Established Episcopal Church, alone.

So far as any one form of the church is thus made absolutely essential, it is evident that a strong bar exists to unity, and fraternal love. All voluntary separation will still be pronounced schismatical. How different the conduct of St. Paul, with regard to all the questions which occurred in the apostolic age, relating to externals! Diversities of opinion and of practice, existed as to several points. Of prejudice and narrowness of mind, there were many examples. But mutual forbearance was appointed to be the conservator of charity. Grant that some were 'weak in faith;'that they were erring, though sincere Christians : yet there was to be no compulsion-no imposition of the customs of one, on another. No one was allowed to judge his brother, and to charge him with being disorderly' and sinful, for not uniting with him in certain peculiarities of outward observance, which, however clear to himself, might appear doubtful to his brother : but all were to treat each other with that charity which 'THINKETH NO EVIL.' If St. Paul countenanced Jewish devotional rites, in which Gentile Christians were

[blocks in formation]
« EelmineJätka »