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that the church, by her collective wisdom and understanding of the divine rule, is to regulate all her internal affairs, and that her affairs are not to be regulated by the private judgment of her individual members ; for this will be ever varying and fluctuating, and instead of regulating, will be the means of introducing disorder and confusion into the body.
This is also evidently the true doctrine of the Bible, for the power of discipline is certainly lodged in the collective wisdom and judgment of the church, in both the larger and restricted sense of this term. The church has authority to adopt such rules and regulations, in conformity to the divine will, as are necessary to secure all the great objects of church organizations. She chooses her own officers, elects her own pastor, and adopts such regulations as will enable her to maintain permanently the public worship of God. She preserves order and decorum in all her meetings of worship, of discipline, and of business. She examines and decides upon the qualifications of all who are admitted to her communion, and then judges of their orderly or disorderly walk. She administers instruction, warning, admonition, reproof, and excommunication, as the several cases of her members may demand. This is the natural right of the churches. As it belongs to her to admit members, she ought to have the right, in case individuals prove unworthy, to exclude them. And this right of the church is expressly recognized in the New Testament. To the aggrieved brother, Christ says: “ Tell it to the church ; and if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto them as a heathen man and a publican;" a form of expression which clearly implies that it belongs to the church to hear and judge of offences, and to admonish, counsel, and advise ; and if all proper means fail to reclaim the offender, as the last resort, to exclude him from the church. St. Paul, writ. ing to the church at Corinth, says: “ Purge out the old leaven;" and again, “ Put away from among yourselves that wicked person;" 1 Cor. V., 7, 13. He exhorts the brethren at Rome to “ mark those which cause divisions and offences, and avoid them;" and at Thessalonica, to “ withdraw themselves from every brother that walketh disorderly.” Besides, nearly all of the epistles are addressed to the churches in their collective capacity, and they are filled with instructions and directions to the body how to proceed in extraordinary and difficult cases of discipline ; how to detect impostors and false pretenders; and how to preserve the church in purity of doctrine, of worship, and of holy living. From these, and other considerations which might be urged, it is evident that the power of discipline is vested in the churches, and that on them rests the solemn responsibility of maintaining it.
But Br. Russel says: “ When we are ready to adopt 'a sectarian test of fellowship—a test by which acknowledged Christians are excluded from the privileges of the church, that moment we are bound, in common honesty, to write out our creed, that it may
be read and known of all men-yea, more; that moment we step off the platform of common Christianity, erect a sectarian platform for ourselves, we are bound, as honest men, to relinquish the name Christian-a name common to all Christians—and take a sectarian name.” What does Br. Russel mean by a sectarian test? I have said nothing about a sectarian test; my whole argument has been to prove a Bible test, a Scriptural test, such a test as the great head of the church has ordained and established, and placed in the hands of every gospel church ; and requires that a constant use should be made of it in the exercise of her discipline. Is she not required to make use of it in the examination into the qualifications of those who apply for membership? Or is she to receive, indiscriminately, anything and everything that offers ? Is she not to make use of it in the administration of the institution of baptism and the reception of members ? Or, is baptism to be administered in any form, in every form, or in no form ; and individuals thrust into the church anyhow and everyhow, sideways or backwards, just as their crude notions and strange fancies may suggest ? Is she not to make usc of this test in the exercise of her discipline? Or is she to abandon her discipline altogether, and leave her members to be guided as passion, appetite, or interest may suggest ? Is every divine institution, every Scriptural doctrine, every evangelical precept, and every wholesome regulation in the church, to be thrust aside under the false and fictitious name of “a sectarian test ?” Are the whole Christian connexion to turn pale, renounce the laws of heaven, violate the institutions of the gospel, shrink back from a sense of duty, and be thrown into disorder and confusion, merely because some misguided individual, under a mistaken notion, cries out " sectarian test ?" Shall we make use of our liberty, because we have taken the Bible as our rule of faith and practice, to wink at sin, to connive at error, and to justify the plainest violations of the law of heaven? I say, the Bible clothes the church with authority to execute the laws of heaven, so far as her jurisdiction extends, and she is held responsible for the exercise of this authority ; and, if she do not discharge her whole duty, she must incur the displeasure of him who holds the stars in his right hand, and walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks. The church is said to be “the pillar and ground of the truth,” but if she abandon her Scriptural test, she must become the pillar and ground of error, be carried about by every wind of doctrine, and become as unstable as water.
Let us now consider the other view of the subject, and trace the necessary consequences of a church having no permanent rules and regulations, but committing the guidance of her affairs to the ever varying, changing, and conflicting opinions of the private judgment of her individual members. She is to have no test by which the qualifications for membership are to be determined, but every man is to be the judge of his own qualifications; and if
he is righteous in his own eyes, then he is to be admitted a member of the church. She is to have no mode of initiation into the body, but one man is to creep into the window, another is to crawl into the door, a third is to climb up some other way, and a fourth must be let down through the roof, just as their strange fancies may dictate. And, should these apertures not be sufficiently wide to accommodate all who may desire to enter, the whole front of the temple must be removed for their accommodation, just as we remove the end of the ship-house, when the ship is launched. The church is to have no order of service, no rule of discipline, but every member is to do as seems good in his own eyes. Now who does not perceive, that under such a state of things, no church can prosper for any great length of time. Schisms, and divisions, and fierce contentions, will spring up in the body, and the church having no rule by which to adjust them, but the private judgment of the contending parties themselves; the warfare will go on till one party or the other are subdued, or the whole fall in the conflict together. Among the many instances of this kind, I will merely refer to one as an example : “ About this time, there crept into the church, controversies about the freedom of church members. A few troublesome persons had attached themselves to the church, who were continually fomenting discord. “They professed, says Elder Jones, in his Journal, to be governed by the Spirit, and a most perverse spirit it was.' It was unfortunate for the church, that the ‘spirit,' whatever it was, was not laid early ; for it increased in power, until in 1821, it divided the church into two parties, both of which have since been dissolved and disappeared.”—Memoir of Elder Jones, p. 81. This is the practical result of unscriptural doctrine.
In the early history of our society, we had the practical proof of this doctrine, in the whirlwinds, tornadoes, hurricanes, and devastations which it spread through the body. There was a class of ignorant pretenders in the churches, wilful
, headstrong, and confident; always changing and always right; wiser in their own estimation than seven men who can render a reason ; ever imposing their dictation upon others, and never willing to submit to any wholesome restraint themselves; cutting, thrusting, and spearing everybody and everything that stood in their way; thus they went on exciting the fury of some, and the contempt of others, creating uproar and confusion wherever they went, and leaving behind them a scene of disorder and desolation, that years of the most prudent labors could not rectify. These men were for pulling every-lynch-pin out of the gospel car, and then driving ahead with the fury of Jehu. There, Zion was like a city broken down and without walls, into which every snake, and toad, and reptile, could crawl at will and pleasure. The persons introduced into the church by them were, for the most part, the disaffected of the religious sects—the odd, the singular, and the self-willed. When
they had despoiled one church, they went to spread havoc in another, till at length they acquired the general name of disorganizers. In one case it was found necessary to exclude a minister of this class, with all his adherents. But at length, the church saw the necessity of sternly setting their faces against them, and in process of time, their influence became greatly curtailed ; and, as the churches introduced order and good regulations, they began to rise in character and influence, and increase in numbers, in piety, and in strength. And our churches have not the least idea of fall: ing back into this state of anarchy and confusion, from which they have been, in some good measure, extricated, and from which, I trust, they will in a few years be fully redeemed.
I maintain, then, that the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, is the rule of the faith and the practice of the church, and that the church in her collective wisdom and understanding, is to be the judge of the true meaning of the divine rule, and is to regulate all things properly under her jurisdiction and direction in accord. ance with this rule, and from which she has no authority to deviate ; and if she does, she does it at her peril. Now, to admit that, as ministers of the gospel, we are directed by the great Head of the church, to initiate converts into this very church by baptism, then, to maintain that the Bible is our only rule of faith and practice, and then go on to prove that this rule should be violated whenever a weakminded disciple may desire, and if the church does not do it, to call her sectarian, and declare she has introduced “ a sectarian test," and she is bound in common honesty to renounce her Chris. tian name, is, to me, the height of folly and the consummation of absurdity. To grant to us that we have “ the truth on the subject of baptism," as Br. Russel does, and then press us with arguments to show that this precious truth should be cast down to the ground; and, at the same time, attempt to persuade us that we are walking in the truth, and obeying the divine rule ; surely he must think that we are not a little wanting in common understanding.
An Address delivered in the Christian Chapel, Fall River, April 7th, 1836, at the Reception of Eighty-five Members into the First Christian Church.
MY DEAR FRIENDS : You have this day made a public profession of the Christian religion, before many witnesses, by baptism; and you are now to be received as members of a Christian church. An event so solemn, and so deeply interesting, but seldom occurs ;
and with you will, probably, never occur again, in the short scene of this transitory life. I shall, therefore, embrace the present opportunity, to make a few remarks, which, I humbly hope and trust, will prove beneficial to you, in establishing your minds in the true faith of the gospel, and in directing your feet in the true way of eternal life.
In order to become firm and stable Christians, it will be necessary for you to become settled in your religious opinions. A double minded man, says an inspired apostle, is unstable in all his ways. Having no settled opinions of his own, he will be ever fluctuating in his religious belief, and will be carried about by every wind of doctrine. It is not, however, always easy to apprehend the truth, even when we seek for it as for hid treasures. Passion, prejudice, and the force of education, frequently stand in the way of the sincere inquirer, and serve to darken the understanding, and pervert the judgment. In searching for the truth, we should, therefore, endeavor, in the first place, ar far as we are capable, to divest ourselves of all those passions and prejudices, which would serve to distort the form and features of truth, or give a false coloring to error. In this state of mind, we should come directly to the word of God, the fountain of truth. Sermons, commentaries, and confessions of faith, may be used as helps; but they are not to be received as the standards of truth, or to be placed in competition with the word of God. To the law and to the testimony ; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. We should also remember, that all the truths of Christianity are expressed in the language of the Bible; therefore, no sentiment, no doctrine, should be either inculcated or received as a Christian sentiment, or a Christian doctrine, but what may be expressed in the language which the Holy Spirit useth. If you follow these directions, you will, doubtless, be led to perceive and to embrace the true doctrine of the gospel. It is included, as apprehended by your pastor, in the following summary. I believe,
1. That the Holy Scriptures, including the books of the Old and New Testaments, contain a full revelation of the will of God concerning man, and are alone sufficient for everything relating to the faith and practice of a Christian ; and were given by the inspiration of God.
2. That the Holy Scriptures are addressed to the reason of man and may be understood, and that every individual possesses the unalienable right of reading them; and of exercising his own judgment with regard to their true import and meaning.
3. That there is but one living and true God, the Father, Al. mighty, who is unoriginated, infinite, and eternal; the Creator and Preserver of all things, visible and invisible; and that this God is one spiritual intelligence, one infinite mind, ever the same and never varying.
4. That this one God is the moral Governor of the world, the