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1 COR. iii. 3.
Whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
WHEN the present distracted state of the Christian world is compared with the harmony and union which prevailed in the infant Church at Jerusalem, as described by the Evangelist; so lamentable a departure from primitive excellence cannot but excite sensations of humiliation and sorrow in the mind of every man, who is zealous for the honour of his religion, and well instructed in the duties of its professors.
Little consolation will such a person derive from knowing, that the divisions which now harass the Church are not peculiar to the present day. For he will perceive that their danger is not less alarming, nor
their guilt less deadly, because we have inherited them from our forefathers, or can discover the injurious operations of their influence in almost every page of ecclesiastical history. The language of the Apostle in the text shews indeed, that the evil had begun to work even in his days; but it proves also, to the confusion of the present generation, that it was then universally known, deplored, and censured as an evil: men were not accustomed to regard it with indifference; it had not so far insinuated itself into the very vitals of Christianity, as to render the remedy, by which alone it could be counteracted, as intolerable as the disease; nor were there to be found any so hardy or so blind, as to deny the mischief of disunion, or to maintain, that religious discord is not unpleasing in the sight of God. Still however it will be useful to trace these divisions to their source; for such an investigation will at least empower us to attach the guilt of producing them where it ought to be fixed;
a See Note LXXXI. Appendix.
and to shew that the contests and animosities, which have disturbed the Church, are not to be rashly attributed to the misconduct of its ministers, much less to any inherent defects in our holy faith itself; but rather to the perversity of that nature, which it was intended to reform.
The first breach of unity upon record took place in the church at Corinth, when under the immediate superintendance of St. Paul, whose authority was in vain exerted to repair it: for though he succeeded in restoring a temporary harmony, the epistles written by b Clement to the same Church, not long after the martyrdom of that Apostle, bear testimony to the dissensions by which it still continued to be agitated. Hence then it is manifest, that schism and contention may disturb a church, although no possible charge of deficiency, either in zeal or ability, can be brought against its ministers.
Where the Apostles themselves officiated, there could have been no pretence for such
b See Note LXXXII. Appendix.
an accusation: their doctrine could not have differed in essential points; none of them could have been wanting in diligent attention to the laborious duties of their important office; and the Holy Spirit vouchsafed to all the same confirmation of their mission, by granting c" signs and "wonders to be done by their hands." Yet the Corinthians formed into parties, and affected to class themselves under different teachers; forgetting that they had all been called into the fellowship of Jesus Christ; and that, as brethren, it became them to be "perfectly joined together in "the same mind, and in the same judg"ment."
It requires then little argument to prove, that the original causes of disunion are not to be found in the nature of Christianity itself, nor to be charged upon the frailties or defects of its teachers. As God is love, and willeth that his disciples should love one another, his precepts must tend to promote the harmony in which he delights:
c Acts xiv. 3.
d 1 Cor. i. 10.