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essential to fellowship, this is only requiring that a man appear to be a Christian before he can have a right to be treated as such. Suppose it were required of a Jew or an infidel, before he is admitted to the Lord's supper, (which either might be disposed to solicit for some worldly purpose,) that he must previously become a believer ; should we thereby impose Christianity upon him? He might claim the right of private judgment, and deem such a requisition incompatible with its admission : but it is evident he could not be entitled to Christian regard, and that while he exclaimed against the imposition of ereeds and systems, he bimself would be guilty of an imposition of the grossest kind, utterly inconsistent with the rights of voluntary and social compact, as well as of Christian liberty. .
In order to be a little more explicit on the subject, it may be necessary to offer the following remarks.
First: It is admitted that no society has a right to make laws where Christ has made none. Whoever attempts this, whether in an individual or social capacity, is guilty of substituting for doctrinės the commandments of men, and making void the law of God by their traditions. . Secondly: The fallibility of all human judgment is fully allowed.
A Christian society, as well as an individual, is liable to err in judging what are the doctrines and precepts of Christ. Whatever articles of faith and practice, therefore, are introduced into a community, they ought, no doubt, to be open to correction or amendment, whenever those who subscribe them'shall perceive their inconsistency with the will of Christ.
Thirdly: Whatever may be said on the propriety of human systems of faith, they are not to be considered as the proper ground on which to rest our religious sentiments:--The word of God, and that alone, ought to be the ground of both faith and practice. But all this does not prove that it would be wrong for an individual to judge of the meaning of the divine word, nor for a number of individuals who agree in their judgments, to express that agreement in explicit terms, and consider themselves as bound to walk by the same rule.
- Fourthly : Whether the united sentiments of a Christian society be expressed in writing or not, is immaterial, provided they be mutually understood and avowed.—Some societies have no written articles of faith or discipline; but with them, as with others that have, it is always understood that there are certain prin. ciples, a professed belief of which is deemed necessary to communion. .! :: The substance of the inquiry therefore would be, whether a body of Christians have a right to judge of the meaning of the doctrines and precepts of the gospel, and 'to act accordingly? That an individual bas a right so to judge, and to form his conbexions with those whose views are most congenial with his own, will not be disputed : but if so, why hath not a society the same right? If Christ has given both doctrines and precepts, some of which are more immediately addressed to Christians in their social capacity, they must not only possess such a right, but are under obligation to exercise it. If the righteous nation which keep the truth, be the only proper characters for entering into gospel fellowship, those who have the charge of their admission, are obliged to form a judgment on what is truth, and what is righteousness ; without which they must be wholly unqualified for their office.
If a Christian society have no right to judge what is truth, and to render an agreement with them in certain points a term of communion; then neither have they a right to judge what is righteousness, nor to render an agreement in matters of practical right and wrong, a term of communion.
There is a great diversity of sentiment in the world concerning morality, as well as doctrine : and if it be an unscriptural imposition to agree to any articles whatever, it must be to exclude any one for immortality, or even to admonish him on that account ; for it might be alleged, that he only thinks for himself, and acts accordingly. Nor wonld he stop here : almost every species of immorality has been defended and may be disguised, and thus · under the pretence of a right of private judgment, the church of God would become like the mother of harlots—the habitation of devils and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.
It is a trite and frivolous objection, which some have made against subscriptions and articles of faith, that it is setting bounds to the freedom of inquiry, and requiring a conformity of sentiment that is incompatible with the various opportunities and capacities of different persons. The same objection might be urged against the covenanting of the Israelites, * and all laws in society. If a religious community agree to specify some leading principles which they consider as derived from the word of God, and judge the belief of them to be necessary in oriler to any persons becoming or continuing a member with them ; it does not follow that those principles should be equally understood, or that all their brethren must have the same degree of knowledge, nor yet that they should understand and believe nothing else. The powers and capacities of different persons are various; one may comprehend more of the same truth than another, and have bis views more enlarged hy an exceeding great variety of kindred ideas; and yet the substance of their belief may still be the same. The object of articles is to keep at a distance, not those who are weak in the faith, but such as are its avowed enemies. Supposing a church covenant to be so geg. eral as not to specify one principle or duty, but barely an engagement to adhere to the scriptures as a rule of faith and practice, the objection would still apply ; and it might be said, One man is capable of understanding much niore of the scriptures than another, and persons of more enlarged minds may discover a great deal of truth relating to science, which the scriptures do not pretend to teach : why, therefore, do we frame articles to limit the freedom of inquiry, or which require a conformity of sentiment incompati. ble with the opportunities and capacities of persons so differently circumstanced ? The objection, therefore, if admitted, would prove too much. The powers of the mind will probably vary in a future world ; one will be capable of comprehending much more of truth than another; yet the redeemed will all be of one mind, and of one heart.
Every one feels the importance of articles or laws, in civil society; and yet these are nothing less than expositious or particular
applications of the great principle of universal equity. General or universal equity is that to civil laws, which the Bible is to articles of faith ; it is the source from which they are all professedly derived, and the standard to which they ought all to be submitted. The one are as liable to swerve from general equity, as the other from the word of God : and where this is proved to be the case in either instance, such errors require to be corrected. But as no person of common sense would on this account inveigh against laws being made, and insist that we ought only to covenant in general to walk according to equity, without agreeing in any leading princi. ples, or determining wherein that equity consists ; neither ought he to inveigh against articles of faith and practice in religious matters, provided that they comport with the mind of God in his word. If articles of faith be opposed to the authority of scripture, or substituted in the place of such authority, they become objec. tionable and injurious : but if they simply express the united judg. ment of those who voluntarily subscribe them, they are incapable of any such kind of imputation.
It has been observed that sinful propensities are commonly, if not always, the original propensities of human nature, perverted or abused. Emulation, scorn, anger, the desire of property, and all the animal appetites, are not in themselves evil. If directed to right objects, and governed by the will of God, they are important and useful principles'; but perverted, they degenerate into pride, haughtiness, bitterness, avarice, and sensuality.
By this remark we may be enabled to judge of the propriety and impropriety of bestowing commendation. There are some, who, for fear of making others proud, as they say, forbear the practice altogether. But this is contrary to the scriptures. We have only to hear what the Spirit saith unto the seven churches in Asia, to perceive the usefulness of commending the good for encouragement, as well as of censuring the evil for correction. Paul, in bis Episties, seldom deals in reproof, without applauding at the same time what was praiseworthy. This, doubtless, ought to be a model tus us. Those who withhold such commendation for tear of makmg others proud, little think of the latent vanity in their own minds which this conduct betrays. Ifshey did not attach a considerable degree of consequence to their own opinion, they would not be so ready to suspect the danger of another's being elated by it. A minister, fifty or sixty years ago, after delivering a sermon and descending from the pulpit, was accosted in rather a singular manner by another minister who had been his hearer. Sbaking him by the hand, and looking him in the face, with a smile, “ I could," said he," say something, : .... I could say something, ..... but, perhaps it is not safe ; it might make you proud of yourself.” No danger, my friend, replied the other, I do not take you to be a man of judgment.
Yet there is real danger of our becoming tempters to one another, by untimely and improper cominendation. Man has too much nitre about him to render it safe to play with fire. Whatever may be said by worldly men, who have adopted Lord Chesterfield's maxims, and whose only study is to please, it is got only injurious, but by men of sense considered as inconsistent with good manners to load a person with praises to his face. Such characters are flat. terers by profession, and their conduct is as mean as it is offensive to a modest mind ; for what is dattery, but insult in disguise ? Its language, if truly interpreted, is this, I know you to be so weak and so vaio a creature, that nothing but praise will please you ; and as I have an end to answer by obtaining your favour, I will take this measure to accomplish it.'
The love of praise, has been called “the universal passion," and true it is that no man is free from it. There are some, however,