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Such correspondence could never bring the parties nearer to union; every attempt towards this would be unconstitutional, and ought to be resisted as a breach of the fundamental principle, that they are to remain and be preserved entirely separate and independent."
Does not this give ground of suspicion, that these ecclesiastical bodies do stand in the way of scriptural unity, and that when the time of accomplishing this shall come, they shall be smitten like the feet of Nebuchadnezzar's image?
In short, it appears that this plan of correspondence and communion is a sacrifice to the golden image of Unity and Forbearance which has been set up, and to which almost all denominations of Christians have burned incense. Yet it is such a sacrifice as the priests of this image will not be pleased with, nor accept; it is blind, and torn, and lame, and sick.
Non tali auxilio, non defensoribus istis
Tempus eget. The foundation of the plan being so ill laid; the superstructure reared upon it must be weak and useless. Any examination of it might therefore be thought unnecessary; but as it proceeds upon the principle of occasional communion among churches which are erected upon independent foundations, and continue separate; and as this principle has been extensively and industriously propagated and patronized in the present day, and is acted upon by some professed Presbyterians, who yet “from considerations of propriety and expediency,” make as little noise about it as possi ble, and who consequently have not, like their American brethren, taken steps publicly to recommend or establish it as a general law-it may be of use to enquire a little into this part of the plan. The three following kinds or degrees of intercourse are recommended;“the communion of particular churches; the friendly interchange of ministerial services; and a correspondence of the several judicatories of the conferring churches.” The manner in which these are to be carried into effect is explained at length in the printed plan, and it is always specially provided by the contracting parties, that the supreme law of expediency be attended to, and that their fundamental and constitutional principles be preserved inviolable,
One cannot but be struck with the coincidence between this plan and that proposed by the Independents in England during the sitting of the Westminster Assembly. The following quotation will shew this. “Holding,” say the Independents," and retaining communion with neighbour churches, [the Presbyterian churches,] in baptizing our children (as occasion may fall out of absence of our ministers) in their churches, and by occasional receiving the Lord's supper in their churches, and receiving such members of theirs as are above mentioned, unto communion with us also occasionally: Also our ministers to preach in their congregations, and receive theirs also to preach in ours, as ministers of the gospel, as mutually there shall be a call from each other: And when we have any cases difficult and hard for ourselves, electively to advise with the elders of their churches: And in case of controversy, not to refuse to call them in for the composing of it. Further, in the case of the choice of elders, to seek the approbation and right-hand of fellowship from godly ministers of the churches together with our own: And in case any of our churches miscarry, through mal-administration or neglect of censures, to be willing, upon scandal taken by their churches, to give an account, as to sister churches offended: And to esteem and account (as we do) a sentence of non-communion by them, as churches, against us upon such scandals wherein they are not satisfied, an heavy and sad judgment, and to be looked at as a means to humble us, and ordinance of God to reduce us."* Notwithstanding this freedom which they had to hold occasional communion with the Presbyterian churches, and that they professed that they would practice the most of the same things, and those the most substantial which are found in the rule itself, the same ordinances of worship in the Directory, the same officers, &c. of the same qualification required in the rule, the same qualification of members the assembly itself holds forth to have been in the primitive churches, &c. and these officers to join into one eldership in all acts of government of the church; holding also the same censures,” &c.; and although the Presbyterians agreed practically to bear with those who scrupled to recognise the subordination of judicatories, and diligently and zealously laboured to obtain the removal of certain obstacles to the exercise of discipline which were offensive to them as well as to their dissenting brethren; yet the latter proceeried rashly to set up and obstinately to maintain their separate and independent congregations, to the distracting of an unhappy people, at the critical moment when a public profession of religion, and the regular observance of its institutions, were about to be set up in agreat measure of agreeableness to the divine pattern, and with the prospect of the general satisfaction and lasting edification of three kingdoms; and all the apology they make for this is by
* See the Papers and Answers of the Dissenting Brethren, and the Committee of the Assembly of Divines-for Accommodation, at the reviving of tha: coinmittee, 1645.
holding out a flag of pretended peace, forbearance, and occasional communion with sister churches. With great strength of reasoning did the committee of divines expose the inconsistency and unreasonableness of their principles and practices in this matter, although their words have been much misinterpreted, so as to mean that they intended to deny all liberty of worship to the dissenting brethren; whereas the scope of the paper shows that it was an ecclesiastical question, and ecclesiastical toleration, which they at that time discussed. A few quotations from that paper applicable to the plan of communion among American Presbyterians may be added. Concerning the proposal of their brethren, they say,
“ It plainly holds out the lawfulness of gathering churches out of true churches, yea out of such true churches as are endeavouring further to reform according to the word of God; whereof we are assured there is not the least hint of an example in all the book of God.” Concerning the offer of occasional communion, they say, “ If they may occasionally exercise these acts of communion, with us once, or a second, or a third time, without sin, we know no reason why it may not be ordinary, without sin too; and then separation and church-gathering would have been needless. To separate from those churches ordinarily and visibly, with whom occasionally you may join without sin, seemeth to be a most unjust separation. All the communion here spoken of is but ad placitum.” “They can preach in our congregations, and admit us to do the like as ministers in theirs. No need then of separate churches for the exercise of their ministry."*
If any person wishes to see this reasoning enlarged upon, and enforced by the consideration of the pernicious consequences that would follow from the principle opposed, particularly the introduction of “perpetual schism and division in the church,”
irritations between the parties going away and those whom they leave, and again between the church that should be forsaken, and that to which they should go;” and “all manner of confusion in families where the members were of several churches,” for satisfaction they may consult the book above referred to, and from which these extracts are made
It would have been more becoming if the Presbyterian bodies
so honourably tried, and have recourse to Independents, to learn the things which tend to unity, to peace, and to edifying? Then may we say with the Poet,
immota labescunt, “ Et quæ perpetuo sunt agitata, manent.” Indeed, among the strange revolutions of the present time, we may expect to find revolutions in ecclesiastical bodies as well as others; and those in America are not the only Presbyterians who have receded from the principles of their fathers, and who now look with a favourable eye upon certain opinions of Independents, which were instrumental, first, in retarding, and at last in putting an entire stop to that glorious reformation, which, with their brethren, they had jointly begun, and which both were under solemn obligations jointly to perfect.
AFFINITY BETWEEN SIN AND ITS PUNISHMENT.
When the proposal was made to Jacob's sons, who by Joseph's order, had been put into ward, that one of them should remain in prison as a hostage, and the rest go home and fetch their youngest brother, they made the following reflection one to another. “We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore, behold also, his blood is required.”Their conscience, being awakened by the afflictions which happened to them, brought to their remembrance their relentless cruelty towards their brother: the recollection of what they had done filled them with remorse, while they saw and confessed the equity of Providence, in measuring to them according to the measure they meted to him.
There is often to be seen in the course of Providence a near and striking affinity betwixt the sin and the stroke inflicted on account of its commission. Besides the instance in the case of Joseph's brethren, there are many other examples to be found not only in sacred history but profane. When Adoni-bezek fell into the hands of the Israelites, and was deprived of his thumbs and great toes, humbled by his sufferings, and led to reflection, he acknowledged the righteousness of God in what was done to him. “Threescore and ten kings having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done, so God hath requited me.” David most wickedly invaded the bed of Uriah, and Absalom, in compliance with the counsel of Ahitophel, did the same to him. Nadab and Abihu, when offering strange fire before the Lord, were devoured by fire. Jacob cheated his father, making hirn believe that he was Esau; and his father-in-law cheated him, beguiling him with Leah instead of Rachel. The same Rachel peevishly said, “Give me children, or else I die.” She obtained her desire, and dies in delivery of one of them. The Jews crucify the Lord of glory, pretending to be afraid, that their permitting him to live would bring desolation upon them by the Romans; and, in consequence of their thus filling up the measure of their iniquity, the very evil they pretended to fear, actually came upon them. To give an instance or two from profane records. Charles IX. carried his barbarous cruelty against the Protestants to such a length, as to make the very canals of Paris to stream with their blood: and soon after, the inhuman tyrant died most miserably, his blood streaming from every part of his body. Henry II. of France, in a fit of rage against a Protestant counsellor, committed him to the hands of one of his nobles to be imprisoned, with these words; that he would see him burnt with his own eyes. Within a few days after, having urged that same nobleman to engage with him in a tilting match, he was pierced in the eye by his lance and killed.
I believe there are few or none whose observation and experience will not furnish them with various instances in proof of the remark. Did people reflect more closely upon their own doings, and observe more attentively the doings of the Lord, they would, in many dispensations, read their sin in the most legible characters. How impressed ought we to be with that solemn declaration, “ Verily, he is a God that judgeth in the earth.” The Most High is not an unconcerned spectator of the violations of his law. He sees and is displeased with every trespass; and though he may keep silence for a while, yet, in his own time, he will reprove the transgressor, and set his sin in order before his eyes. With what circumspection then ought we to walk! With what accurate examination should we ponder the path of our feet ! With what strictness should we set a watch upon the door of our lips! With what diligence should we keep our hearts ! not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye meet, it shall be measured to you again."