Images de page
[merged small][ocr errors]

opposite principles, so that liberty shall be consistent with law, and a just latitude of opinion, compatible with an unwavering faith. Yet it is by this means alone we can secure that unity in diversity from which harmony and happiness result.

The difficulty, however, of the task appears much less, when we consider that although man delights in freedom of thought, its unrestricted wanderings become to him a torment and a curse; and that, under such circumstances, the very necessities of his natnre speedily demand that lawless license shall give place to lawful liberty. When we reflect, indeed, upon the springs of human action, it will be found that voluntary subjection to fixed principles is by far the most powerful of them all. The mind of man is oppressed by the burden of an unlimited and indefinite freedom, and exults even in the most submissive obedience, if allowed to think that its subjection has been voluntary. It is when it has submitted to the mastery of Truth, that it realizes and enjoys the precious freedom which Truth alone can give. Liberty can find no restingplace upon a shoreless ocean, but must return, like Noah's dove, to the hand that sent it forth, until it shall be able to discover the Terra Firma of truth. Settled and fixed principles are the true home of Freedom. It is License alone that spurns the just restraints of law, and becomes a criminal, and a vagabond in the earth. The very first annunciation, indeed, of freedom to mortals was by the law of Eden: “Of every tree of the garden thou mayst FREELY eat," for it is by law alone that liberty can be granted. And in proportion to the excellency of the law, will be that of the liberty it confers. Hence it is, that, under the law of Love, devoted service is perfect freedom; and that, in the belief and voluntary obedience of the gospel alone, man can receive that emancipation of soul; that enlargement of thought, that make him free indeed.

He who formed the human mind, knew well its character, and that it must have some haven of rest-some sure and stedfast anchorage, so as not to be forever tossed upon the billows of uncer. tainty. In giving to man the gospel, he has given to him, therefore, the very security he requires. We can imagine nothing more unshaken or enduring. Immoveable as the throne of Deity, and indestructible as his love, it can resist the fury of its adversaries, and the ravages of time. God has laid in Sion, a “tried stone;" a “sure foundation stone;" and he who believes in Him “shall never be confounded.” Surely, there can be nothing less indeterminate than the gospel of Christ; nothing less transitory than the word of God "which lives and abides for ever;” nothing less unstable than

the Christian confession,—the great central truth of Christianitythat rock on which Jesus declared he would build his church, and against which he promised that the gates of Hades should not prevail! The solemn sanctions, even, which are thrown around the gospel, indicate its character and its importance. It becomes the savor of death, as well as that of life. “He that believeth not shall be condemned.” Shall guilt attach to the disbelief of any thing that is doubtful? “Vengeance" shall be taken upon those who "obey not the gospel.” Shall the Judge of all the earth condemn for disobedience if the import of the command may be lawfully disputed? Most assuredly, the divine truth upon which God has made to rest not merely the hopes of life, but the fears of everlasting death, is unchangeably certain, unmistakeably evident, and indubitably credible.

The Protestant reformers, with all their zeal for the right of private judgment, were not únaware, as we have already intimated, that man requires fixed principles of action. These, accordingly, they attempted to supply. While denying the infallibility of the Pope, they proclaimed that of the word of God, and labored to unfold its teachings so as to present them, as they supposed, in a clear and definite form. In some respects, however, they unfortunately confounded the infallibility of the scriptures with the fallibility of their own understandings; and dogmatically affirmed doctrines to be true, because they appeared to them to be so. And, still more unfortunately, they were led by zeal for purity of doctrine, to transcend the just limits of theChristian faith,and not only to give to various minute particulars in divine revelation itself an unnecessary conspicuity, but to add, as of equal authority, the deductions of their own minds. Granting, in theory, the right of private judgment, and insisting upon it as the very ground of their own revolt against the Pope, they, at the same time, delivered to their followers systems of religious belief, in which they have gone so much into detail,as to touch upon almost every subject of religious knowledge; embrace almost every speculative opinion; and decide excathedra almost every possible question. Hence it is, that, under these creeds and confes. sions, a man cannot think for himself at all without becoming a · heretic, and the right of individual judgment exists in name alone. Instead of the simple facts, and general truths propounded as the subject matter of faith in the word of God, they have delivered philosophic theories, and special tenets. For actions, they have substituted doctrines; and for faith, opinion. The gospel, which was designed as a haven of rest, yet ever open towards the ocean of

divine truth and love, they have changed into a creed-a dry-dock in which the vessel is immoveably fixed to undergo repairs forever. That which was intended by the Divine Architect as a free and happy home for the Christian, they have converted into the close and joyless prison of the sectary.

But by what right do men presume to add to the conditions of salvation, or restrict the privileges of Christian liberty? Since He who created and redeemed man, has given to him a basis of Christian faith and Christian union, adapted by infinite wisdom to the requirements of his nature, by what authority do men presume to modify or change it? Surely the simple gospel which saves men has power to unite them in Christian love. Certainly no other foundation can be laid for Christian union, than the great fundamental truth for which Jesus and all his martyrs suffered. “On this rock,” he declares, “I will build my church.” It is then a basis not merely of individual salvation, but of church union, and this is Christian union. But is this the foundation on which the “Evangelical Alliance" proposes to unite the discordant parties of Christendom? If it has acknowledged that there is a common faith, and, to some extent, omitted in its proposed basis peculiar denominational opinions, has it embraced therein the gospel as defined by Paul, (1 Cor. xv.) or the good confession made by Peter, (Math. xvi. 16.)? If it has stated some great truths, has it not at, the same time, employed expressions ambiguous and unscriptural? And how greatly does it seem to have fallen short of those simple yet sublime conceptions of unity and diversity; of law and liberty; of principle and practice, exhibited by Christ and his Apostles! It is nevertheless a movement which indicates a change in the spirit of partyism; and it is a concession to the true principles not only of Protestantism but of Christianity itself, in so far as it is an acknowledgment of a common ground of union, and a common liberty of thought. In throwing aside the details of creeds and confessions, and the opinions engrafted upon them, an approximation, at least, is made to the proper basis; but this will never be reached, until the passion for pure doctrine shall be moderated by a regard for true facts; and until the love of theory shall give place to the love of Christ. R. R.

A SENTIMENT WORTH ATTENTION. If men were as honestly desirous to be on the side of the scriptures, as they are to have scripture 'on their side, how much sounder, as well as more charitable, would their conclusions often be!

Archbishop Whately SERIES III1-Vol. V.


THE UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH. The above is the name proposed for a new religious denomination about to be formed from the union of the Associate Reformed, and the Associate Churches; which, however, are better known as the Union and Seceder Churches. The more intelligent and pious of these denominations have, we understand, for many years, been impressed with the conviction that there does not exist, either in doctrine or order, any appreciable difference, that would justify a separate existence:-and not only so, but on the contrary, they have believed, that their standing off from each other in separate communions, is in itself sinful, by thus dividing the body of Christ, as well as by giving rise to much evil surmising and unreasonable prejudice, wholly at variance with that Christian love that “doth not imagine evil.” We, amongst others, not immediately concerned in the object of the meeting, were present at one of their late deliberative meetings, convened according to previous appointment, to consider some ten propositions touching the contemplated union. It was not, however, indeed, any vain curiosity that prompted our attendance. We are not so fond of taxing our patience, or our flesh, with those long sessions of some four hours, so common to such deliberative bodies. As the advocates of a scriptural union upon the one tried foundation, we could not but with interest regard the object of their meeting, how remote soever their views or measures might be from attaining a scriptural basis of Christian union. We were pleased to see, what we considered an unfeigned desire, manifested, both by speakers and hearers, generally, for a union of the parties concerned;-that they might be no longer twain, but one undivided body-no longer obnoxious to those unchristian prejudices and evils inseparable from a state of divison and alienation. Much, however, as we were pleased with this desire for union so apparent, still we could not but deeply regret that they had nothing better to propose to each other, than what they already possessed, as a bond or basis of union. It was still that good old Confession of Faith, for the making of which, the head of the English Church, some two hun. dred years ago, had by royal edict convened some ten Lords, twenty Commons, and one hundred and twenty-one Divines.

It was not, however, exactly this which was proposed as a basis; it was rather a manifestation of it as expressed in some twenty propositions setting forth their views of certain points of doctrine and church order not so fully or so satisfactorily expressed in those modified forms of the Westminster Confession, hitherto held by these churches respectively.

This additional supplement is, indeed, when properly viewed, the basis of union proposed, by which the two parties are to be constituted into one body; and should this union be consummated, it will constitute a new ecclesiastical organization at once respectable for doctrine, numbers, and influence.

Now had we been permitted to have given our views of the basis of union proposed by these churches to each other, we would have added, by way of dissent, another proposition, something like the following Any terns of Christian union upon which the most enlightened charity will not receive into its communion all whom it regards as Christians, cannot constitute a scriptural basis of church union. Or, in other words, that which constitutes a man a Christian is all that the word of God requires to entitle him to church fellowship. Now when this new church shall have been formed, under the denomination of the United Presbyterian Church, its enlightened charity will, as its constituents now do, find many in other branches of the Presbyterian church, whom they will still acknowledge the members of Christ's body; but whom it has, nevertheless, debarred from its fellowship.

For, to acknowledge that they believe many of those whom they debar from their communion to be Christians, is, in other words, saying, We believe that Christ has received them. Whom, then, the Head of the Church has received, a portion of that same church refuses, by the declared terms of its organic union, to fellowship. Is not, then, the proposed basis too narrow upon which to unite the members of Christ's body? It is even so narrow that out of twelve or fourteen branches of the Presbyterian church, but two of them can find room to build upon it.

Now, so far as we know, there is not a single branch of the Presbyterian Church that holds a damnable heresy. We would say further, that we believe there cannot be found an equal number of religious denominations in our country that will compare with them in the soundness of their religious views. Why, then, debar from the fellowship of the United Presbyterian Church, those other branches of the same great family or household of faith?

Had these two churches, now about to unite, presented themselves for admission into the Presbyterian church, Old School or New, I presnme they would have been received with all Christian courtesy, without a single requirement in addition to what they already possessed. Why, then, should these two churches, or rather

« PrécédentContinuer »