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Taylor expresses it, the liberty of prophecying! In stating this, it is not meant that there must of necessity be an agreement in all that is true ; for not only are different parts of inspiration of more or less comparative importance, as affecting the essentials of religion, but all minds, or even many minds in all things, cannot be supposed to be absolutely coincident. The intellectual capacities and perceptions of men are infinitely various, nor is it any more necessary that they should be precisely alike, than that every leaf of every tree should be so in order to the unity of creation. As Chillingworth said, in his immortal axiom : "The Bible, the Bible only, is the religion of Protestants ;' so we say in reference to the present object, — The Bible, the Bible only, must be the religion of unionists. The Bible is truth-pure, unsophisticated truth; and it is universally true, or true in all its parts. But in respect to those who receive it generally, and with a solicitude perfectly to understand it, there are great diversities of opinion on points of criticism, taste, history, chronology, science, and it may be institution and doctrine. Thus, while truth is always the same, the shape and aspect of it admits of endless diversification, by the defective vision of the observer. We must not, however, visit as a sin the blemish of the eye, or remove the standard from the affections to the perceptions.
As it is evident, therefore, that all minds need not and cannot have the same ideas respecting all parts of divine truth, the ground of christian association is not to be found or fixed in the sentiments and practices of any particular community. No one can say, 'This doctrine or this discipline of my church, as a whole, is the real and only point of contact, the rallying ground of unanimity. You must conform to my system, my creed, or my worship, or we cannot hold fellowship. And none can be entitled to say this, although patronised by the greatest influence and the highest authority ; no, nor though the sect embracing such and such views should, in fact, be the most assimilated to the christian faith and apostolic worship. For the question is not how true particular opinions or practices may be, as received by one sect, but how far toleration and forbearance should go, with regard to all parties who hold the Head' in their deviations as the one great bond of a pious and cordial association.
When, therefore, it is pleaded, that truth is the basis of union, we mean that portion of Christianity, whatever it may be, which constitutes its essence and is vital to the system. The religion of Jesus is distinguished by something—some principles—by which it is known and recognised as peculiar, and in its character unique and divine. By this it is seen to be, not heathenism
not philosophy, not science, not morals, or metaphysics, but a system enwrapping and unfolding a doctrine heavenly and spiritual. Its being is in the conscience, and its influence in the heart; and each conscience and each heart touched by it, and in being touched transformed into its own likeness, is brought into sacred and eternal sympathy with every other. Like a magnetic or electric power, which operates through, and in despite of a thousand intervening media, so it associates christian souls living at whatever distance, and separated by whatever differences of conception or forms of outward observance. But while much of this is admitted, even by sturdy sectaries, we are apprehensive that there is too strong an inclination to curtail the freedom of utterance to be quite compatible with union. Our notion is, not only that there should be no compromise of principle, but no restraint of legitimate discussion. If the basis of union be the extinction of controversy, then we shall never be united; or, if it be the imposed necessity of not offending the sensitiveness of others with regard to their religious peculiarities, neither can we then be united. We must not only think and let think, but speak and let speak. Christian union can never be successfully pursued by sacrificing christian liberty. Truth itself must be valued more than any system; and we must neither set up the infallibility of judgment, nor the infallibility of party. Why should not a sentiment we hold, or a practice we pursue, be impugned 2 And why should it not be impugned by a friend, rather than by a foe, that at his warning voice we may be driven to re-examination? And why should they who denounce our errors, or denounce them, as thinking them to be such, inflame our resentment rather than conciliate our regard? If we hold error, let us be urged to renounce it; if we find the presumed error, after new inquiry, to be in our opinion truth, let us thank the friendly denouncer for the fresh stimulus to investigation he has furnished, and use both our liberty and our conviction, in enlightening our opponent. But let not his view of our error, nor our view of his, preclude the union of love which is demanded by our common christianity. The model to be imitated in seeking union, as all will doubtless agree, is the primitive church. We speak now of the spirit of the earliest disciples, rather than of any outward framework or constitution. On the dark surface of this globe one spot of pure and bright sunshine has appeared, intercepted by no clouds, and which for a time no shadows obscured. Amidst the subsequent turbulence and confusion of human things, what christian does not look back to that place and period, as to the sweet and smiling childhood of the christian dispensation, and feel his soul expanding with all blessed sympathies and retrospections; and who would not say, entreatingly, let that second paradise return upon the troubled church, from which, as by another fall, it has been self expelled? It is not conceivable that a more attractive picture should be drawn than that which presents itself in the Acts of the Apostles: “They that gladly received the word were baptized, and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” (Acts ii. 41—47.) This perfect unanimity, however, was of transient duration, and we cannot be very much surprised at it, when we reflect on the character of the human mind, and the gradual removal of those eminent individuals who were possessed of an inspired wisdom and authority, although we may justly wonder at the magnitude and rapid diffusion of the errors that insinuated themselves into the apostolic churches. It is not with these we have at present to do; but with those which might fairly raise the question of forbearance, and therefore serve as exemplars for our conduct in modern times. That some deviations from christian truth and conduct were deemed intolerable cannot be doubted, and these were treated accordingly with merited severity, as being opposed to the nature and doctrines of the religion of Christ; but with regard to others, the maintaining of which implied an error of judgment, and not an obliquity of heart, the apostles distinctly and earnestly enforced the exercise of mutual charity. The churches were required to manifest this spirit in no small degree, when directed not only to receive ‘him that is weak in the faith,’ but to allow of great latitude in respect to ceremonial observances, and disputes about meats and drinks, and to obey this injunction, ‘Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many that they may be saved.” (1 Cor. 10.) The same apostle also speaks with great kindness though with solemn rebuke, with regard even to those who had strangely and criminally perverted the design of the Lord's supper. The spirit infused into the primitive church, therefore, appears to have been a thorough, decided, and broadly avowed WOL. XVII. A A. A
hostility to whatever opposed and tended to corrupt christianity, by undermining its essentials; and a fraternal sympathy with all who, however devious in their course from simple mistake, loved the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. What we have to do, and what to avoid, is thus sufficiently obvious. We must be firm, but not litigious. We must take care of principles, and deal gently with mistakes. We must maintain everlasting truth, and bear with incidental error ; but see to it that we justly discriminate what is antichristian, and save the church by seeking to destroy its corruptions. In dealing with what was simply erroneous, but not vital, in the apostle you see the lamb; but in maintaining the truth of God against the falsehoods and inventions of men, the lion was roused.
The practicability of a universal union among christians depends on another consideration, namely, the practicability of restoring or raising the christian world to the character of the primitive church, when religion was not an outward form, but an inward energy. This we believe to be practicable, but it is not to be expected on a sudden, or by means of mere excitement; but by a series of moral approximations. The long distance to which we have gone from the spirit of the first church, cannot be travelled back in a day. Our steps must be retraced amidst occasional collisions, and perhaps some fallings out by the way. We cannot subdue the prejudices of others, we cannot conquer ourselves at once; but we can try to do so; we can determine and begin and persevere. But we must do it in the right way, and in the right spirit. If we begin in compromise, we shall end in confusion. If our charity be defective in principle, it will be destructive to agreement. They labour for union who labour for truth; for this we must be unflinching advocates, if we would be true disciples of Christ, true successors of the apostles, and true friends. All love is nothing that is not love for the truth's sake. Let that be our pole star, and we shall by God's blessing sail securely through the beating surges and the stormy climes, till the vessel of the church shall enter the haven of peace, amidst warmest greetings and shouts of praise.
During the progress of these remarks, as in reading the observations of others, the question has again and again forced itself upon our attention, what specific proposals might be made to the christian world of a definite and practical character, with a view of promoting the greatest degree of union? In what particular objects might they be called upon to unite? Our answer embraces the following suggestions :
1. Let them unite—not controversially or doctrinally, to form or to propagate creeds—but to advance a pure and primitive
Christianity, by the holding of meetings for prayer, conference, and public declarations of good-will.
2. Let them unite on certain fixed occasions to advocate the common objects of missionary enterprise, to report the different missionary movements in a very condensed form, and make collections that shall be distributed among the chief missionary societies.
3. Let them unite in celebrating the Lord's Supper together. That objections might be taken to this by some parties whose conscientious scruples would preclude such a union, we are aware ; but these need not change their position in the general union; they may unite as far as they can go, and others may carry out their own views, without violating in the slightest degree, the law of love.
4. Let them unite in sending deputations into various countries of Europe, to ascertain the state of christianity, and promote an interchange of kindness among all christians.
5. Let them unite to discountenance by prudent measures all persecution for righteousness' sake; and, by correspondence or otherwise, condole with and assist christian sufferers of every class.
It may possibly be imagined by some, that by our firm and not unfrequent advocacy of truths, both political and ecclesiastical, which wear a severe and frowning aspect towards corruptions of every kind, and spiritual wickednesses in high places, we are somewhat disqualified for joining in that hallowed confederacy for which we plead—that the acid of our arguments may be too pungent, or the ardour of our spirit too vehement, to mingle kindly with those other, and, as may be supposed, loftier and purer elements of christianity which are to pacify the world; but we beg to say, that the uncompromising love of truth which, being implied in the statement, we take to be no compliment but simple fact, is precisely that quality which does fit for closest union-not, indeed, with error, but with its own kindred virtues, and with those who hold essential truth, whatever may be their incidental mistakes. The affection which an unflinching adherence to, and public declaration of conscientious convictions cherishes, as it must be the most sincere, is likely to be the most unchanging. Its language is, 'Either unite on a right principle, or not at all. If you unite, receive the assurance that the love of principles shall be stronger than the hatred of forms.
It is strange that people will not distinguish between anger and decision, -that they will persist in imputing wrong motives and bitter feelings to those whose real aim is the advancement
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