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stood on the basis of Scripture, could be nothing better than a base counterfeit, and not the genuine coin.
All such latitudinarianism we, however, disclaim. We believe, and the Author is now giving expression to the opinion of many others as well as his own, that the principles of Congregational Dissent rest on inspired authority; and we consequently feel, and powerfully feel, that we must prove unfaithful servants, if, while giving to the weightier matters of the law that prominence which their higher importance demands, we neglect to inculcate what in our judgment revelation teaches in reference to the lesser matters of the law. We cannot forget that to the command to preach the Gospel to every creature, addressed by Christ to the apostles, he himself added the injunction, “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Compliance with this injunction on our part, assuming as we do that it is done with Christian temper and spirit, does not furnish just ground of offence to those with whom we happen to differ in our views of ecclesiastical polity, or in reference to any point the belief of which is not essential to salvation. We cannot persuade ourselves to think so injuriously of the great body of our Christian brethren of other denominations as to imagine for a moment that offence will be taken; and, if in regard to a few individuals our hopes on this point should be disappointed, and they should be found so unreasonable as to require us to refrain from discharging a duty as the condition of their continued co-operation, we should honestly, though courteously, tell them that they set too high a price upon their favours; that we are willing to make any sacrifice to maintain fraternal affection between
ourselves and them, except the sacrifice of a single grain of Divine truth, or our practical liberty to teach it to our own people.
The author is not without his apprehensions that some persons, both Churchmen and Dissenters, are apt to think it impossible to hold their sentiments on minor points, as an act of subjection to Divine revelation, and at the same time to exercise Christian forbearance and love to those who differ from them on those points ! He has, at any rate, met with individuals who seemed to imagine that they must either be latitudinarians or bigots. No error could be greater than this. It receives no countenance from the word of God. It is contradicted by fact; for, paradoxical as it might at first view appear, it will be found to be the case, generally at least, that the most liberal men are those who have been most careful to gather all their opinions from revelation. Conscientious themselves, they conceive others to be so, and respect them on that account. It mistakes the nature of Christian liberality, and founds it on the wrong basis. Christian liberality does not rest on the assumption that there is, correctly speaking, no right and wrong in reference to distinctive tenets ; or, in other words, that men, equally honest and impartial, equally free from any bias which might improperly influence the judgment, equally humble and devout, might, on examining the New Testament, form different opinions in reference to the nature of a church, the character of its members, the mode of its government, &c.; for in that case Divine revelation, so it appears to us at least, would be chargeable, from its want of explicitness, with all the evils which have resulted from the
division of the Christian church into sects and parties. Let us throw the blame of this, as far as it involves blame, upon man, and not upon God. (Vide p. 102.) Christian liberality ought not to be founded on latitudinarianism ; nor upon any such falsely assumed obscurity or deficiency in Divine revelation; but on the wellgrounded distinction which exists between essential and non-essential truths in religion : or, in other words, between those truths, the belief of which is necessary to acceptance with God, and to the formation of the Christian character, and those which are not essential to either. It supposes both unity and diversity. Unity in essential truths; diversity in minor ones; and without either of these it could not exist. If among believers there were found perfect identity of opinion, there would be no opportunity for the exercise of liberality. If all religious sentiments were essential points, it would be impossible to exercise it. A field is required for its manifestation; yet there are boundaries which it cannot overleap, and limits within which it cannot be confined. It cannot expatiate without the line of essential truth; nor confine its actings to any single spot within that · line. Christian liberality, in short, loves none who do not love Christ, and all who do. Overlooking all minor differences of opinion, it fixes upon this single point of identity as the grand attaching and uniting principle. It admits, indeed, that diversity of sentiment, even on subordinate points, must be ascribed to ignorance, prejudice, &c.; yet, maintaining that these causes of mistake may co-exist with general uprightness of mind, and habitual subjection to conscience and to
God, it gives with the heart of Christian love the right hand of Christian fellowship.
No person, then, who understands the nature of Christian liberality, will be disposed to consider, as at variance with it, either a firm conviction of the truth of the great principles of Congregational Dissent, or a temperate and Christian advocacy of these principles. To the latter, we venture to urge the ministers of our denomination. Somewhat has, indeed, been done by individuals, but chiefly in the way of controversy; and therefore less likely to operate powerfully upon the body at large. The measure most especially to be desired at present, is the more private and pastoral inculcation of our principles in our own congregations. Sufficient opportunities of doing this will present themselves to those who may think that such subjects should be avoided on the Lord's day,—though it deserves consideration, whether even then it can be either improper or inexpedient to inculcate the spiritual nature of the kingdom of Christ, together with certain other topics, which must be classed with the distinctive tenets of our system. The leavening influence of Dissent upon the country at large has not been proportioned to our numbers; and chiefly, it is conceived, on account of the feeble grasp with which too many amongst us hold their own principles. To the same cause, also, must be ascribed certain practical evils which exist in the body. These, in most cases, are evils of administration, the result of ignorance; not radical imperfections of the system; and it were, consequently, most unwise to think of abandoning it for another, of the probable practical working of which, in this country, we cannot form an enlightened judgment. Before we attempt to remedy these evils, let this be done in the first place :-Let our churches be more fully instructed on this point; be led to see more distinctly how Congregational principles should be brought into action; and then proceed, with wisdom, and prudence, and Christian love, to carry theory into practice; and the result, it is confidently ex. pected, will prove that they are more powerfully adapted than any other to promote those great spiritual purposes which it is the design of every system of ecclesiastical polity to secure.
The Author has endeavoured to supply what has been thought by many to be a desideratum. How far he has succeeded others must be left to judge. He has been desirous that the price of the book should throw it within the easy reach of the members of our churches generally. Some topics have accordingly not been introduced, and others not enlarged upon, to secure this object. Designed for the whole of the Congregational body, it does not touch, it will be observed, upon the subject of baptism.