« AnteriorContinuar »
articles of faith which are not revealed in the Word of God;, yet they consider themselves as invested with the office of interpreting Scripture, of publishing the truths there taught, and of guarding the people against error. They think that they derive from the example and the directions of the Apostles, a clear warrant to regard unsound doctrine as an object of the judicial power of the Church; and they sometimes proceed to inflict the highest censures upon those who are guilty of heresy.
But there are two limitations of this exercise of ecclesiastical discipline, which, to the Church of Scotland, appear to be prescribed by Protestant prin'ciples.
First. Heresy, when considered as a legitimate object of Church censure, denotes, not the entertainment of a false opinion in the mind, but the pub. lication of that opinion by discourse or by writing. Those who are admitted to join in communion with the Church, profess, by partaking of the ordinances of religion as administered by her office-bearers, that they approve of the doctrine which she holds. This profession is considered as a sufficient evidence of their faith; and the Church goes beyond her proe vince, when by collecting suspicious circumstances, she attempts to expiscate their sentiments.Hence, disclaiming a tyranny which invades the prerogative of the Almighty, and disturbs the tranquillity with which every man has a right to enjoy his own opinions, those only are considered as liable to the charge of heresy, whose zeal in the propagă. tion of opinions contrary to the doctrine of the Church, has a tendency to lead others into what she accounts error, and to excite those animosities and altercations wbich have ever attended the general diffusion of controversial discussions in theology, But judging sind censuring such persons the Church gives notice that she disapproves of their doctrine, and, in execution of the office committed to her, warns Christians of the danger of being led aside from the truth, and holds forth to their attention the faith once delivered to the saints.
Secondly. Heresy, when considered as a legitimate object of Church-censure, must respect some fundamental and pernicious error.
3. Schism. The same attention is not due to those who revile both the regulations enacted by the Church, and the authority from which they pro. ceed.
The name of Schism is reserved for separation proceeding upon some frivolous reason, which is of ten merely a pretext for gratifying the passions of ambition, avarice, resentment, and envy.
Whatever be the nature of the frivolous or corrupt motives which give to separation the character of Schism, the conduct of all who deserve the name of Schismatics is blameworthy. It does not correspond to the descriptions of the Catholic Church, which is said in Scripture to be “ one body, in which there ought to be no schism ;" it is opposite to the exhor. tations and entreaties in which the Apostles recom. mend unity and peace; and in all ages it has appeared to the Church deserving of the same reprehension and censure which the Apostles directed against a similar spirit in their days.
While the Church of Scotland, by the simplicity of her worship, makes less demand' upon the obedience of those who belong to her communion than almost any other Church, she does not fail to warn them of the evil of Schism, and to employ every Christian method of preserving them from a situation in which they naturally imbibe that rancour towards all who differ from them, that attention to things of inferior importance, and that self-sufficiency or spiritual pride, which are the general characters of Schismatics. But when, notwithstanding the united influence of prudence, condescension, and authority, separate congregations are formed within her bounds, she does not forget that her judicial power with regard to them comes to an end.
With respect to the Churches of different countries, there can be no exercise of judicial power, and there is no other judgment recognised by the spirit of the Gospel, but the judgment of charity. Every national Church is a whole society within itself, independent of every other, and invested with a full right to regulate its own concerns. But amongst all of them there is a bond of union formed, by their subjection to the same Lord, and their profession of the same faith; and upon this union is founded that spirit of love which ought to pervade all the Churches of Christ, that brotherly correspondence by which they may often promote the comfort and edification of one another, and that “ holy fellowship and communion of saints in the worship of God, which, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those, who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus*.” This communion certainly supposes a consent in the great articles of the Christian faith; but it does not imply, either a perfect agreement as to every disputable point of doctrine, or an uniformi. ty of rites and ceremoniest. It is a just and enlarged idea of the venerable Irenæus, that the diversity of external observances amongst those who hold the same great doctrines, illustrates and confirms the unity of faith. And all who understand the true
nature of that great society which is constituted by the followers of Jesus in every land, have learnt not to judge their brethren in respect of days, and meats, and drinks, points of doubtful disputation, and matters of order; amidst those differences which are unavoidable in the present state of human nature, they are “ perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment;' and,“ speaking the truth in love,” they “ endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
FOR THE CHRISTIAN's MAGAZINE.
(Concluded from page 347.) So long as, in the language of the religious world, the word believer is considered as synonimous with the phrase true Christian, it must be interesting to all professed Christians to understand what believing is-What is faith? And he must be greatly igno. rant of the contents of his Bible, who does not know that faith in Jesus Christ is necessary to salvation. He that believeth shall be saved. He that believeth not shall be damned. Sound vigorous Christians there are, and there always will be, who do not understand the philology of ETIE, and are unable to discuss critically the doctrine of faith. But until Protestants also adopt the maxim that “ Ignorance is the mother of devotion," it will be admitted that every one ought to be fully persuaded, in his own mind, what faith is, and whether he is himself a believer.
The fact that some of the strongest men living are entirely ignorant of the number and the nature of the muscles of the body, will never be employed as an argument against the propriety of studying the anatomy of man. In like manner, if we rejoice in some godly men, who are more powerful in practising, than in describing faith, we do not admit the fact as a reason for neglecting the investigation of the doctrine.
Contend earnestly for the faith which was once de. livered unto the saints, is a duty which cannot be ac
ceptably discharged by zeal which is not according - to knowledge. : It has been already observed, that the meaning of the term FAITH is to be ascertained by the signification of Disis ; the various acceptations in which it is used in Scripture; and the other modes of expres. sion employed to communicate the same idea which faith represents.
From an examination of the radical meaning of the word, and of the applications made of it, the con·clusion has already appeared “ Faith is such admission of the Gospel testimony as complies with its design.” “ The Believer assents to the truth revealed, and embraces the Saviour offered to sinners in the Gospel.” It remains only that we examine,
3. Other modes of expression employed to communicate the same idea with faith and believing.
Infinite wisdom has happily provided, in the reve. lation of grace, for such a copious display of evangelical truth, that none of the great Christian doctrines depends for its. proof upon the interpretation of any one single expression, however appropriate and perspicuous. Each doctrine is interwoven with other doctrines, with historical facts, with precepts, with promises, and with ecclesiastical ordinances. This is the case in a remarkable degree with the doctrine of FAITH.
It is expressed by many various modes of speech.