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· THE PRINCIPLES OF THE NONCONFORMISTS
COMPARED WITH THE SCRIPTURES.
i Cor. xi. 19. For there must be also heresies among you, that
they which are approved may be made manifest
among you. HOWEVER the opinions of men may be divided on the precise nature of Christian unity, or on the means of renewing and maintaining it, it was certainly the design and the prayer of Christ, that his disciples should be one; and the several figures b.under which the Church is described, all agree in representing it as a compact and united body. It would nevertheless be difficult to fix upon any period in its history, in which
a John xvii, 11. 21–23. Rom. xii. 5. Ephes. ii. 20, 21.
b John X. 16. xv. 5. a
the perfection of this unity was exhibited, with the small exception of the time when it was under the immediate government of the Apostles, “ and the multitude of them " that believed were of one heart and of “ one soul.". The Apostles themselves are found remonstrating upon the divisions which in their time began to prevail; and the uninterrupted tradition of the Fathers agrees with our own observation of the manifold disorders of the Christian Church.
Is then the purpose of Christ defeated by these divisions, and are the representations of the prophets concerning the state of the universal Church contradicted by the records of its history ? The event hath been foreseen from the beginning; and he. who knew what should come to pass, hath spoken of it before it came to pass, that we may believe, and be confirmed in the faith, by seeing the fulfilment of his predictions. “Woe unto the world because “ of offences ! for it must needs be that so offences come; but woe to that man
e Acts iv. 32.
“ by whom the offence cometh 4!” The necessity of the offence originates in the perverseness of the human will, and offers no excuse to the individual in whose misconduct it hath its operation. In the same sense, our Lord declares to his disciples, “ It is impossible but that offences will “ come: but woe unto him through whom “ they come !” The Apostle in the text adopts the same language concerning the schisms or divisions which obtained in the Church of Corinth; and the reason which he assigns for believing the report which had reached him, sufficiently proves that he was not surprised by the communication, nor unprepared to receive it: “ I hear “ that there be divisions among you; and “ I partly believe it. For there must be also s heresies among you, that they which are “ approved may be made manifest among “ youf.”
While therefore we grieve for the offence, and would reclaim the offender, it cannot disturb our Christian faith, if there be a fulfilment of the words of prophecy in the present divisions and disorders of the Christian Church. The mainspring of these divisions, as they exist in this country, is the popular claim of the right of private judgment, and unlimited inquiry in matters of religion. In immediate connection with this master principle of Dissent, is the assumed independence of the primitive Churches, and a consequent aversion from national Establishments, with a misapprehension of the nature of ecclesiastical unity. Although it is justly acknowledged, that there are in the New Testament “ princi“ ples, precepts, and precedents, sufficiently “ plain to form the outlines of Church “ governments," there is also much doubt
e Luke xvii. 1.
] Cor. xi.
d Matt. xviii. 7. 18, 19.
8 Winter's Pastoral Letters on Nonconformity, p. 25.. " To those who are accustomed to attach superlative “ importance to the constitutional form of Christian “ Churches, it may appear a notion bordering upon “ heterodoxy, that the New Testament, our only rule “ in matters of faith and practice, does not furnish spe“ cific directions in what is deemed by them so essential a6 a particular. Let it however be remarked, that while “ the form of government is left thus indefinite and