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Perhaps it is less a union of bodies or denominations of christians, than of individuals, as detached from the masses, and drawn together by an attraction unknown to the whole; nor must it be denied that even their union has at present too little of power, and of the elements of permanency in it. Without depreciating its character, we cannot help therefore deploring its weakness; still it is capable of being strengthened, enlarged, and perfected; and for this consummation many are sighing and praying. Nay, more than this,—they are making efforts, and efforts of a very direct kind, and of eminently beneficial tendency. We would willingly be numbered among such christian philanthropists, and request permission, therefore, to contribute for this end our portion of remarks, to the general sum of observation and inquiry.
First, then, we propose to advert to a few of the sources of disunion among christians; and sorry are we to feel constrained to assign a prominent place to the bitterness of theological controversy. We are no enemies to free discussion ; on the contrary, we believe that when properly conducted it is calculated to advance the cause of religion, and like the strong winds that conduce to vegetable growth to shake out old prejudices from the mind, and make the roots of just and well-considered opinion strike deeper into the soul. We cannot be too well guarded against the reception of any particular dogmas, because they wear the ancestral livery, or because we have been accustomed to this or that doctrine or practice which has the stamp of education or the stamp of authority upon it. A genuine spirit of inquiry is much to be hailed and cherished. As minds are differently constituted, it will, of course produce diversities of sentiment; but a spirit of inquiry must be beneficial, so long as it is unaccompanied by acerbity and exasperation. These, religion disowns; and under their influence withers. When the unholy passions of the man blend with the discussions of the christian controversialist, the unhappiest consequences are to be anticipated; the struggle is for victory, and what is fair and honourable is too often sacrificed to personal invective and dislike. It is remarkable that these exhibitions of temper are most visible and violent when the matters of difference are the least important, and the general questions of disagreement least numerous. In fact, it is commonly when only one or two points divide them, and these often the least important, that they appear the most separate and the most alienated; perhaps, because they mutually feel as if they had less right to be divided when they are so nearly agreed, than when they are more manifestly and widely diverse. When a great gulf is to be passed, the very hopelessness of passing it
produces a degree of calmness and quiet despondency; but when only a small stream is interposed, we naturally become more impatient of obstacles and repellents. On this principle, the poet has sung
Religion should extinguish strife,
No combatants are stiffer.' We must, nevertheless, congratulate ourselves on the improvements that have been made in controversy since the days of the Reformation. However short we fall of what we should be, it is gratifying to think of what we are, even in the conduct of our worst-spirited controversies, in comparison to what our predecessors were. Our Calvins no longer call their opponents dogs, nor our Luthers denounce those with whom they contend, as unfit for the kingdom of heaven.
It is deplorable, as another source of disunion, to think of the centralizing and sectarian spirit of denominationalism, and the pride of party consequent upon it. Not only are the multitude seduced into unreasoning compliance with an error, or opposition to a truth, merely by dint of some watch-word, but even men, otherwise intelligent and enlightened, are so influenced. Terms are often employed, not as language should be employed, to express clear and definite ideas, but to conceal or exasperate prejudice. They are rallying points-points d'appui - from which a system is to be defended, or where a diversion is to be made in favour of some weak or exposed part. Of this nature is the current phrase, our church,' which it is not only difficult to explain, but-however unwittingly to those who use it-involves something of a concession, which they would not be very willing to give in a plainer form. It places our church in contradistinction to the church ; that is, our catholic, or our protestant, or national church in a different category to the church of Christ. In truth, this expression is not only too frequently the refuge of ignorance, but the platform of attack; and when the notion cherished by it is thoroughly imbibed, it not unnaturally generates a species of vanity, and contempt for those who deny its assumptions, which cannot but produce disputes and discontent. It is a convenient way which pride takes to inflict humiliation upon an opponent, and it is an equally successful method of sowing divisions. In analogous phraseology, persons are continually referring to 'our denomination.' We are very much inclined to question the propriety, both of the name and the thing. Why should these unscriptural designations be assumed? Why should fellow-christians make their differences more palpably apparent than their agreements ? Why should they so constitute their societies, and arrange their subordinate movements as to make it a point of honour to sup: port their party, rather than their christianity; and proclaim their Shibboleth, rather than their common faith, in every town and district, in every church and chapel, in every circle and family, in every sixpenny magazine and penny periodical ? Why baptize or sprinkle everything in a name? Why inscribe meum and tuum on every religious deed or association? Can nothing be done unless one is for Paul, and another for Apollos, and another for Cephas ? Must both literature and religion be for ever poisoned with sectarianism, and a civil war prevent a more combined and extended assault upon the territories of sin and of Satan ? It
may be alleged that we must have our distinctive names, for by these we represent our separate and appropriate actions. It is not clear, however, that these were ever so necessary, or that they did not originate more in the spirit of defiance than in the love of truth. But supposing, especially in the present state of christendom, that these terms might be admissible, simply as descriptive designations, and for the purpose of keeping distinct diversified operations, it does not follow that they should be erected into walls of separation, from whose loopholes the fierceness of party may shoot its arrows, and thus become military fortifications, instead of peaceful enclosures. When the term, our denomination,' is established, unhappily the weakness of the human mind is such, that we are apt to bend everything to it in pure selfishness; the claims of our neighbours are unheeded; we magnify everything into greatness which belongs to this name; the heart soon begins to grow narrow and exclusive, and we feel more of the littleness of party than the breadth, the greatness, and the expansiveness of christian charity. This, therefore, is unfavourable to union.
As in some degree growing out of this state of things, must be mentioned also the prevalence of antisocial feeling. Christians, when they have professed to attempt a union amongst themselves, have often forgotten the very first principles of our common nature, and have proceeded in a way as unphilosophical as it is unscriptural. They have not cherished the kindly affections in the only way in which they are to be cherished; and have been satisfied with frigid formalities rather than uniform and continued effort. In fact, the christian world, as a whole, may at present be regarded as lying rather in a
state of juxta-position than of union. Even where the ele. ments are not repellant, we see little of cohesion, and few, very few, of those exertions and self-denials which tend to promote it. They live, labour, and converse apart. What are the real facts, at the broad reality of which we must look, if we would improve?-what are they, but such as these, which nothing but the force of truth and a sense of duty could induce us to name ? Persons of different persuasions, or religious denominations meet on a platform (less freely, however, than formerly, even on a Bible-Society platform) ; several speakers address the gathered multitude on the same general topics; and one after the other, especially where the occasion seems to demand it, avow their affection for others, their kindness towards those who differ from them in some things, though they may join in this object, and their admiration of the beauty of christian fellowship and friendship; they descant most warm upon the glowing pictures of inspiration respecting the glories of the latter day, when the lion shall lie down with the lamb, and universal peace and harmony prevail throughout the redeemed world. There—that is, on the platform—they are full of brotherly love, or, at least, of all brotherly words; and sit down amidst applauses and with much content, having moved some resolution that is based upon the pure and exalted principles of the gospel of Christ; and what then? We are not conscious of misrepresenting, but are simply stating what is notorious and of every day occurrence; and we state it in pity and in sadness, but with the hope of seeing better things : then, after all these expressions and exhibitions, they separate, it is to be feared, generally with undiminished prejudices, jealousies, and dislikes,—with scarcely a shake of the hand; never to meet again, till another anniversary, or, perhaps, in many instances, never again in this world. One goes to his farm, another to his merchandize, and a third to his denomination; and from the moment of liberal professions, which seemed like a gleam of sunshine, everything begins to settle down into the gloom of sectarian bigotry.
Or, let it be acknowledged that the inconsistency is not always so glaring and enormous : what then ensues? Do these men meet in friendly conference, in conjoined devotion, in even social intercourse?-No. Do they hide each other's faults and celebrate each other's excellencies ?-No. Do they cultivate acquaintance and cherish love? Do they seek to advance common objects? Do many of them who are ministers, or leaders of the host of God, aim to advance union, pray for each other, preach for each other, and help each other's joy and labours ?
By no means. There are exceptions; but disaffection is the rule; and instead of being concealed, the good of the church requires that it should be told abroad. They are not united, for they are not social; they are not ONE; for self-interest, the very world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.
If we could honestly declare our conviction, that the different parties in question were brought into a state of any or much nearer approach to each other than formerly, nothing would afford us greater satisfaction than to do so; but we have not only our doubts of this, but feel certain, that in some quarters there is an increased alienation. We wish to be understood as speaking in general terms; for there have ever been, and still are, as we have intimated, a few bright exceptions, who do honour to the christian name, and, like morning stars, indicate, we hope, the coming day of light and love. The wish, however, to unite which has been so loudly uttered and echoed, is a token for good.
Incidental evils may accompany or arise out of what is substantially a good, as good may arise out of what is evil. And it seems so in the present case. Religious activity, which is so abundantly displayed among the various sections of the people of God, is unquestionably a good, and worthy of being estimated as an element of exalted piety; yet even this may be perverted to purposes and objects incompatible with the very principle on which it is founded, through the prejudices and, in some instances, even the passions of the best of men. Activity which is based in piety may thus diverge into sectarianism, and an injudicious and intemperate aim to promote individual or denominational views become the means of producing much of that very disunion which is so deplorable. It is forgotten that the points of difference must always be of inferior importance, unless they affect the vital principles of religion, to the essentials on which christians
agree. To put it in the strongest form,—that is, in a form that might appear to give the greatest plausibility to the opposite opinion,-surely our denomination, our mission, our societies, must be always regarded as subordinate to our christianity. The less may be great, but it must nevertheless be overruled by the greater, and that must necessarily be the greater out of which all the rest spring.
The picture which Dr. Struthers has drawn, in the seventh of these essays, of the party spirit in Scotland, really makes us melancholy, and far exceeds any thing we have hinted, or that can, we think, be asserted of England. We quote, in order to expose it more fully to public view, that a fresh stimulus may be given to the desire of so many to probe the wound and provide the remedy.