RIGHTS OF A CHURCH
As it was manifestly the design of the Redeemer that his Churches should embrace only such as professed his name, and submitted to his will as the law of their life, so, also, he has entrusted to them the high privileges of self-government under Him. The New Testament, which contains the charter, constitution, and discipline of these voluntary societies of Christians, defines and limits their rights. Whatever powers have been expressly delegated to them, they may exercise: the assumption of others is an unauthorized usurpation. The Churches are bound to retain the full possession of the rights and privileges committed to them by Christ. They have as little authority to diminish, as to increase them. Acquiescing in the wisdom of the divine plan, and grateful for the advantages it secures, they should firmly resist every invasion of its supremacy, or violation of its spirit.
The divine constitution of the Churches is equally illustrative of the wisdom and the condescension of the Redeemer. In committing the government of his chosen people to themselves, he has graciously evinced his confidence in their fidelity and love. And this confidence has not, usually, been betrayed. The enormous evils which, under the guise of Christianity, have cursed the Church and the world, were the legitimate fruits of priestcraft, prelacy, and hierarchical domination. The great body of the people, when left to themselves, have always retained their loyalty and love to their invisible king.
1. Every Christian Church possesses the right of discipline, formative and corrective. With its divine constitution in its hands, defining the qualifications which entitle to membership, it is its province to determine as to the possession of those qualifications, in the case of every applicant. Its nature as a voluntary society, involves the right to admit and to exclude. Primitive Christians constituted a voluntary compact; they gave themselves first to the Lord, and then to one another; and were always addressed as those who had decided for themselves on the solemn subject of adherence to Christ.
The fundamental principles of Church discipline are laid down in Matt. 18: 15?18. Here the Saviour enjoins the course to be pursued towards an offending brother, and designates "the Church?? as the tribunal of ultimate appeal. What, then, is the Church? The context affords a satisfactory reply. "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I." This is the Church to which Christ alludes. It is gathered in his name, and blessed with his presence; and is, therefore, competent to decide a question involving the interests of his cause. The Scriptures recognize no higher authority. It is worthy of remark that in the organization of this ecclesiastical court for the trial of offences, the officers of the Church are not even mentioned. Their presence is not considered indispensable. "No officer is here. It is not the Church clerk, nor the parties that have neglected to summon him. The Church?s Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, has left him out."83
To evade the force of these remarks, and take from the people the discipline of the Church, it is contended that the word, in this place, refers to the officers or representatives of the Church.84 But, surely, nothing but the most imperative critical necessity would justify such an unusual interpretation: an interpretation which, so far from being demanded by the exigency of the case, is positively excluded. Some of the best critics, even among Episcopalians, sustain this, the natural and usual explanation of the passage.85 The correctness of this interpretation is supported by the directions which were subsequently given to the Churches by the apostles. Rom. 16: 17 ; I Cor. 5: 9?13 ; II Thess. 3: 6, 14, 15. If the reader will turn to those passages of Scripture, he will see that they recognize the right of the Churches to discipline offenders, and demand its exercise.
If any thing further were necessary to vindicate the rights of God?s people, and sustain them against the assumptions of clerical supremacy, it would seem that the case of the Corinthian Church is unambiguous and decisive. On an occasion which demanded the most stringent application of corrective discipline, even an apostle does not venture to trench upon the prerogatives of the brotherhood. He does not interfere, in virtue of his apostolic authority, to coerce them; he does not address their officers; but takes occasion, in an epistle "to the Church of God which is at Corinth," to suggest a proper method of procedure. "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together and my spirit, with the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan [i. e. to cast him out of the Church and send him back to the world, which is the kingdom of Satan,] Purge out, therefore, the old leaven." I Cor. 5: 4?7, 13. The faithful exercise of discipline in this case, seems to have been blessed by God to the restoration of the Church?s purity and peace. The incestuous person was led to repentance. The apostle again tenders the brethren his advice. "Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many, [that is excommunication by the majority of the Church] so that ye ought, rather, to forgive him and comfort him. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love to him." II Cor. 2: 6?11. "The apostle does not here," observes Punchard, "speak as one having alone the key of the Corinthian Church; but contrariwise, as one who recognized the power ?of the many? to act in the matter. He does not command the Church to restore the penitent, but he ?beseeches? them: much less does he restore the excommunicated person by the authority vested in himself as a minister of the gospel of Christ."86 The tone of rebuke with which the apostle addressed the Church, not its officers, shows that the responsibility rested with them, and that they were chargeable with gross dereliction of duty. Had this not been the case, his censure would have been equally unjust and unkind.87
The Christian system involves a provision of mercy for the human race, irrespective of natural distinctions. It is the divinely appointed remedy for guilt and depravity; and as these are the universal characteristics of our fallen race, it proffers its redeeming and sanctifying grace to woman as well as to man. But it is no part of its design to disturb the natural relation of the sexes, or obliterate the distinctions which the Creator has himself appointed. Hence, in the organization of the Church it has pleased divine wisdom to sanction and perpetrate the subordination of woman to man, by excluding her from any share in the administration of its government. To woman was assigned the distinguishing honor of giving birth to the Saviour of mankind; and this fact alone is sufficient to redeem Christianity from the imputation of depreciating or slighting the sex, even though it confers upon her no other prerogatives in the church than silence, obedience, and the personal illustration of the graces appropriate to her high vocation. "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence."?1 Tim 2: 11?12. This passage, compared with 1 Cor. 14: 34, amounts to a total exclusion of the sex from the public instruction and government of the Church.88 It has been supposed that 1 Cor. 11: 5, conflicts with the other passage of the epistle to which I have referred. "We must account for this apparent contradiction," says Neander, "by supposing that Paul, in the second passage, (1 Cor. 11: 5,) cited an instance of what occurred in the Corinthian Church, and reserved his censures for another place.89 For Mr. Mercer?s views, which accord with my own, with respect to the participation of females in the government of the Church, see his Memoirs by Rev. C. D. Mallary, App. p. 447. The Discipline of the Charleston Association, p. 132, declares that "female members are excluded from all share of rule or government in the Church." Some of our Churches practice otherwise. Mr. Punchard says: "It is generally thought desirable that the female members of a Church should be present at the transaction of all ordinary business, for their satisfaction and instruction but it is utterly inconsistent with established usage, for females to take any part in business transactions."?p. 170.90 This unscriptural custom originated, probably, in that spurious delicacy which induces some ministers, on baptismal occasions, to administer the ordinance to the women first, a species of refinement which partakes more of modern chivalry than primitive Christianity. Women who appreciate their true position will decline the honor.
2. A Church possesses the right to choose its own officers.
The evidence of the Scriptures in support of this position is clear and conclusive. They record instances of the election of an apostle, and of deacons, delegates, and elders, each by a popular vote. It need excite no surprise that the position has been vigorously assailed.91 The importance of the principle at stake, justifies both the attack and the defence. If the clergy have been invested with the sole power of appointment, they are right in contending for it. If, on the contrary, the Head of the Church has deposited this prerogative with those whose interests are most intimately involved in its exercise, it becomes them to resist clerical encroachment, with the vigilance and firmness of Christ?s freemen.
The first instance on record is the appointment of an apostle.?Acts 1: 15?26. If the apostles had considered themselves authorized, in any case, to act upon their own responsibility, it would have been on this occasion, when a vacancy was to be supplied in their own body. But we hear nothing of the apostolic power of appointment. They settle at the outset the principle which is to determine such matters, by committing the choice of an apostle, under God, to the people. The Church at Jerusalem was vested with the appointing power. Even if this extraordinary case were an exception, it would not negative the evidence in favor of popular suffrage, which is derived from other instances. These will now be examined.
In Acts 6: 1?6, the election of deacons occurs. The apostles call together "the multitude of the disciples," and propose the matter to them. The "whole multitude" unite in the choice of the seven, and "set them before the apostles for prayer and the imposition of hands." No satisfactory explanation of this case can be given, but that which supposes that in the judgment of the apostles it was the prerogative of the Church to choose its own officers.92 The comment of a distinguished Episcopalian on this transaction is worthy of notice. "The apostles, the heads of the Church, prescribed the qualifications for the office, the people chose the persons who were thus worthy, and the apostles ordained them to the appointed office. Every Church, we infer therefore, is entitled and bound to follow this plan of conduct. . . . The same rules which were on the present occasion prescribed, we have reason to suppose, were observed likewise in the nomination of bishop and deacons in the Churches."93 Although he denies that any possible authority can be derived from this portion of Scripture to sanction the laity in taking upon themselves the choice and appointment of their respective ministry," he makes every concession for which Congregationalists have usually contended. They insist upon the right of the laity to elect their own officers, but admit that the act of a presbytery is necessary to induct them regularly into office.94
The position which I have taken is confirmed by the fact that even in the appointment of individuals to less important duties than those which appertain to official station in the Church, the apostles invited the counsel and cooperation of the brethren, and submitted to their choice. Acts 15: 22?29, (comp. II. Cor. 8: 19,) records an instance of the election of delegates. "Then pleased it the apostles and elders with the whole Church, [at Jerusalem] to send chosen men [having chosen men from among themselves to send them95] of their own company to Antioch." The letter which they bore was addressed in the name of "the apostles and elders and brethren," evincing the participation of the Church in the Mission to Antioch.96 On this point Neander remarks: "It is evident that the first deacons, and the delegates who were authorized by the Church to accompany the apostles, were chosen by the Churches themselves. From these examples we may infer that a similar method was adopted in the appointment of elders."97
The instances cited above are amply sufficient to determine in whose hands is deposited the right to appoint to office in a gospel Church. They are clear and explicit. The proof derived from them cannot, therefore, be invalidated by the citation of those equivocal cases upon which the abettors of prelacy have expended so much of their strength. No rule of interpretation is more indisputable, than that obscure portions of Scripture are to be explained by those which are perspicuous. These remarks are applicable to the transaction referred to in Acts 14: 23, 24. "And when they, (Paul and Barnabas) had ordained them elders in every Church," &c. Attempts have been made to sustain the doctrine of popular rights, by showing that it is implied in the meaning of the term ordained. Beza went so far as to render the passage "when they had created elders by suffrage;"98 for which he has been severely censured by Campbell.99 Many modern writers have followed Beza?s example.100 A recent advocate of episcopacy contends that the word does not necessarily imply a popular election.101 In this I am compelled, on critical grounds, to concur. The term, (which is composed of two words signifying to lift up the hand,) did originally signify to choose by suffrage, in accordance with the custom of the Greeks; but it acquired, in common use, a secondary signification, and was employed to express an appointment in any way. It is manifestly so employed by Josephus.102 It does not appear, therefore, that any proof can be derived from this instance in favor of a popular election. With as little reason can it be employed on the other side. In a succinct history, like Luke?s, it is not to be expected that he should enter into the details of every transaction which he records. It is sufficient that he has furnished us with indubitable instances of election to office by the suffrages of the brethren. All other cases must be settled in conformity with the principle there laid down or exemplified, so that wherever he informs us that the apostles ordained elders, it is to be understood that it was with the consent and concurrence of the people.103
On this point it has been well remarked by Haldane: "That the pastoral relation between teachers or pastors and a church can only be formed by mutual consent, is not only manifest from the conduct of the Apostles recorded in the Scriptures, but is necessarily implied in the nature of this relation, considered in every view. It is not less absurd to maintain, that because we have no direct example of a church choosing its own elders, that this matter is left undetermined, than it would be to argue, that since the word of God has not declared the marriage union is to be entered into by mutual choice, it is doubtful whether this be required. Such obvious principles as necessarily result from our nature and circumstances, are frequently taken for granted in Scripture."104
The evidence in support of this position is so clear and full that it is admitted by the highest authorities in ecclesiastical history.
"In those primitive times each Christian Church was composed of the people, the presiding officers, and the assistants or deacons. . . . The highest authority was in the people, or the whole body of Christians. . . . The assembled people, therefore, elected their own rulers and teachers, or by their authoritative consent, received them, when nominated to them. They also, by their suffrages, rejected or confirmed the laws that were proposed by their rulers, in their assemblies; they excluded profligate and lapsed brethren, and restored them; they decided the controversies and disputes that arose; they heard and determined the causes of presbyters and deacons; in a word, the people did everything, that is proper for those in whom the supreme power of the community is vested." Mosheim, Ch. Hist, I. pp. 82, 143.
"Each communicant, as member of the Church, had the right of taking part in all the transactions of that body, especially in the choice of the clergy, and in the discipline of the Church." Augusti, in Coleman?s Antiq. p. 60. See also chap. 5.
"In ancient times there was not any small Church which had not a suffrage in the choice of its pastor." Barrow on the Pope?s Supremacy, Supp. 6, ?12.
"In the earliest government of the first Christian society, that of Jerusalem, not the elders only, but the whole Church, were associated with the Apostles." Waddington, Ch. Hist. p. 41.
"As it is plain, by the general epistles, that all Church power was in the people, so we find them, before these were written, exercising this power." Tindal, Rights of the Christian Church, chap. 4, ?46, quoted in Hanbury?s Historical Memorials, I. p. 9. London, 1839.
"The discipline of Christian Churches was primitively popular." Harrington, Popular Government, B. 2, chap. 5.105
3. It is the right and duty of a Church to interpret for itself the laws of Christ, and to enforce obedience, on the part of its members, to the system of faith and practice which it derives from the word of God.
"The Socinians hold that, as the Scriptures are the rule of faith, the essential articles of faith are so few, so simple, and so easily gathered out of clear explicit passages, that it is impossible for any man who has the exercise of his reason to miss them; that all mistakes and differences of opinion amongst those who search the Scriptures, respect points which are not essential, and concerning which it is both vain and hurtful to try to establish an uniformity of opinion; that it is in all cases a sufficient declaration of Christian faith to say that we believe the Scriptures; that no harm can arise from allowing every man to interpret the Scriptures as he pleases; and that, as Scripture may be sufficiently understood for the purposes of salvation, without any foreign assistance, all creeds and confessions of faith, composed and prescribed by human authority, are an encroachment upon the prerogative of the Supreme Teacher, an invasion of the right of private judgment, and a pernicious attempt to substitute the commandments of men in place of the doctrine of God. According to this plan, there is left to the Church, and its ministers, in their teaching, merely the office of exhortation."106
Such is the substance of the argument against human creeds, against the right of a Church to maintain its own views of divine truth, and require a concurrence in them on the part of all who are received to its fellowship. This position of the Socinians, the effect of a violent reaction against the extreme doctrine of the Papists, on the subject of tradition and church power, has never received the sanction of the great body of Protestants, who have insisted, both by precept and practice, upon the right and duty of a Church to set forth the main articles of its belief, in what is usually called a confession of faith. This has been the practice of the Baptists, both in their primary organizations, as churches, and in their general combinations for the spread of the Redeemer?s kingdom. The Baptists in Great Britain, through the elders and brethren of upwards of a hundred churches, put forth, in the year 1689, a confession of faith, generally known as the Century Confession, together with a Catechism for the use of the young. These were adopted by the Philadelphia Association, in this country, in 1742, and subsequently by the Charleston, Savannah River, and other Associations. As Associations are composed of delegates from the Churches, their acts merely expressed the will of these bodies. The General (Arminian) Baptists of Great Britain published their confession of faith in 1663.107
The Century Confession embraces the following doctrines:?The unity of God; the existence of three equal persons in the Godhead; the just condemnation and total depravity of all mankind by the fall of our first parents; eternal, personal, and unconditional election; the proper divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ; the necessity of his atonement, and its special relation to the sins of the elect only; justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ alone; effectual calling; perseverance of the saints; believers? baptism by immersion only; the Lord?s Supper, a privilege peculiar to baptized believers, regularly admitted to Church fellowship; the resurrection of the body and general judgment; the final happiness of the saints, and misery of the wicked, alike interminable; the obligation of every intelligent creature to love God supremely, to believe what God says, and practice what God commands; and the divine inspiration of the Old and New Testaments, as the complete and infallible rule of faith and practice.108
The reasons which are now assigned for departing from this time-honored custom, are not sufficiently cogent to justify such a course, especially as our churches are as much as ever exposed to the irruption of a lax or false theology. It has been observed by a writer who argues against "the propriety of having any human selection or compilation, as a standard of faith and practice":?"If it be said that the compilation thus prepared contains what is in the Bible, the question comes up, why then form the compilation? Why not use the Bible as the standard. Can man present God?s system in a selection and compilation of some of its parts, better than God himself has done it, as a whole, in His own book? Suppose the legislature should select portions of the constitution of the State, and compile them into a book, and set it forth as the standard by which its laws should be made. Would the people allow it?"109
This objection proceeds upon an erroneous conception of the nature and design of a creed. It is not a compilation of some of the parts of God?s system, nor does it consist of select portions of the Scriptures. It is a digest of the whole, presenting in a small compass, and in the shape of distinct propositions, the great principles which constitute the system of revealed truth. In the Bible, these principles are not merely exhibited, they are expounded and defended at large. Moreover, a creed is not intended to supersede the word of God, as the standard of faith and practice; for it derives its validity and authority solely from its agreement with that word. It is a standard or rule of faith only in a secondary sense, and only to those who adopt it as the exponent of their views. It does not create, it simply expresses the truth; and is to be viewed, not in the light of an authority but a testimony. The adoption of a creed on the part of a church indicates not what is to be, but what is already believed. It is an expression of its cordial reception of the truth, and "sets forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among?? its members.110
The right of a Church to frame for itself a summary of Christian doctrine is evident from the nature of its organization. If "two cannot walk together except they be agreed," much less can professors of Christianity constitute a harmonious and efficient body, unless they concur in their views of what Christianity is. If it be proper for them to have correct views, it is proper to express them; and if it be proper to express them orally, it is equally so to express them in a written form. Again, each member of a church is bound to bear his testimony to the truth. But with what show of reason can it be affirmed that a duty, which is incumbent on members of a Church, in an individual, is not obligatory upon them in a collective capacity? It has been proved that a Church is charged with the discipline of its members, in reference both to faith and to practice. In a case of discipline, who is to pronounce judgment?the Church, or the party accused? To this question there can be but one reply. The Church, in the exercise of its legitimate prerogative, is to decide as to what is truth, and what constitutes a departure from the faith. But if a Church possesses this right, when an offender stands arraigned before it, it must have possessed the right previously,?the right to define its views of Scriptural truth, and require its members to conform to the same. "It has been asked," says Andrew Fuller, "by persons who disapprove of all church proceedings, on account of difference in religious principles, who is to judge what is heresy? We answer, those who are to judge what is immorality, in dealing with loose characters. To suppose it impossible to judge what heresy is, or to deny that the power of so deciding rests in a Christian Church, is to charge the apostolic precept with impertinence."111 Again: "If a Christian society have no right to judge what is truth, and to render an agreement with them in certain points a term of communion, then neither have they a right to judge what is righteousness, nor to render an agreement in matters of practical right and wrong a term of communion."112
Such being the unquestionable right of a Church, it simply remains to show that there is an obvious propriety and duty in having "human compilations," or summaries of doctrine. "Whether the united sentiments of a Christian society be expressed in writing or not, is immaterial, provided, they be mutually understood and avowed. Some societies have no written articles of faith or discipline; but with them, as with others that have, it is always understood that there are certain principles, a professed belief of which is deemed necessary to communion."113 It will be perceived that the writing of Articles of Faith is accidental, not essential, and involves no principle which is not implied in holding them.
In the decision of this question, regard must be had to the dictates of reason and the lessons of experience. Had the author of revelation been pleased to give us truth, in naked propositions, arranged with scientific symmetry, in a regular system, the necessity of framing such a system for ourselves would never have existed. But he has not so chosen; and in this respect, there is a beautiful harmony between nature and revelation, indicating that both proceed from the same divine author. As in nature (to select a single example), the various vegetable productions which beautify the surface of the earth, and adorn the caverns of the sea, are not found arranged with reference to their respective genera and species, according to the classification of the botanist, but are scattered promiscuously over the globe, soliciting the labor of science to classify them, and rewarding it by unfolding new and glorious views of the wisdom, power, and benevolence of the Deity, so the truths of revelation, the several parts of a beautiful and glorious system, lie scattered over the pages of the Bible, to be gathered by the hand of pious diligence, and reared into a temple to the divine glory. This method subserves the purposes of moral probation and discipline; for the character of the system which each inquirer derives from the Bible depends, in a great measure, upon the moral qualifications with which he consults its sacred pages.
Were the results of such inquiries always the same, did the various bodies which profess our common religion hold the same sentiments, specific Articles of Faith might be dispensed with; but when it is remembered that these bodies, although they take their position upon a common platform?-the word of God?profess diverse and even opposite sentiments, the necessity of such articles is evinced by the most plain and cogent considerations. Our Lord warned his disciples against false prophets, who would come in sheep?s clothing, while inwardly they were ravening wolves. The Apostles witnessed the fulfilment of his predictions; and their epistles abound with complaints of false teachers, who corrupted the word of God, brought in damnable heresies, subverted whole houses, and wrested the Scriptures to their own destruction.114 Against these, Christians are exhorted to "contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints," and to be on their guard against "the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive."115 These and similar directions "teach clearly that an acknowledgment of the truth of Scripture is not a sufficient security for soundness of faith, because they state a perversion of Scripture by those who have received it, as not only a possible case, but as a case which then actually existed; and consequently they imply that it is lawful for the ministers of religion (and the churches) to employ some additional guard to that ?form of sound words,? which they are required to hold fast and defend."116 These observations expose the futility of the demand which is sometimes made, that Confessions of Faith should be expressed in the language of Scripture, or in general terms. "The very purpose for which they are composed being to guard against error, it is plain that they become nugatory if they deliver the truths of religion in those words of Scripture which had been perverted, or in terms so general as to include both the error and the truth."117
The only plausible objection which is urged against the use of human creeds as the condition of Church fellowship, is that it restricts freedom of inquiry, and interferes with the rights of conscience. "If," says Andrew Fuller, "a subscription to Articles of Faith were required without examination, or enforced by civil penalties, it would be an unwarrantable imposition on the rights of conscience. But if an explicit agreement in what may be deemed fundamental principles be judged essential to fellowship, this is only requiring that a man appear to be a Christian, before he can have a right to be treated as such. Suppose it were required of a Jew or an infidel, before he is admitted to the Lord?s Supper (which either might be disposed to solicit for some worldly purpose), that he must previously become a believer. Should we thereby impose Christianity upon him? He might claim the right of private judgment, and deem such a requisition incompatible with its admission; but it is evident that he could not be entitled to Christian regard, and that, while he exclaimed against the imposition of creeds and systems, he himself would be guilty of an imposition of the grossest kind, utterly inconsistent with the rights of voluntary and social compact, as well as of Christian liberty."118
The use of a confession of faith, so far from disparaging the authority of the Bible, as a standard, really exalts it. It insists upon a correct interpretation of the word of God, a cordial reception of its truths, and an entire submission to its directions. A Church, rearing this rampart around the sacred volume, guarding every entrance with jealous vigilance, and carefully questioning every comer who essays to gain admission under false colors and with "feigned words," protects the divine repository of truth against the insidious artifices of those who would corrupt it or handle it deceitfully. If they choose to wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction, the responsibility rests with themselves. The Church will never fraternize with them in their unholy designs, nor suffer them to pollute her sacred enclosure. Thus she fulfils her high mission as the "pillar and ground of the truth." As pillars, in ancient time, bore the written edicts of the potentates of the earth, "seen and read of all men," so the Church stands forth, with the great principles of divine truth graven upon her front,?the living, faithful witness of her invisible king.
Such are some of the reasons which justify the Churches in the use of definite articles of faith. The custom is thought by some inquirers into the usages of antiquity, to have been apostolical, or, at least, sanctioned by apostolic precedent. It is supposed that the sermon on the mount, which presents a digested system of Christian ethics, the Lord?s Prayer, the use of the baptismal formula, and the allusion to a "form of sound words,"?all point to such an observance. But however this may be, we possess incontestible evidence that, soon after the age of the apostles, when the rise of heresies began to threaten the peace and purity of the Churches, it was deemed necessary to embrace the leading facts and principles of the Gospel in a compendious system, and present them, for concurrence or subscription, to candidates for baptism and church fellowship;119 and in all succeeding times, the supporters of truth against error have deemed it their sacred duty to bear their explicit and unequivocal testimony, in terms which neither friends nor enemies could misinterpret; some of them, in circumstances in which a mere general assent to the truth of the Scriptures, would have saved them from the appalling agonies of martyrdom.120
The propriety of the course which has been adopted by Christian Churches, with reference to a formal enunciation of their distinctive principles, is illustrated and confirmed by analogous procedures in other bodies. Thus the government of the United States is administered, according to the provisions of a written constitution. Under this constitution different parties have arisen, sustaining the same relation to it which the various denominations of Christians sustain to the Scriptures. It is not deemed sufficient by any one of these parties, to require, on the part of its adherents, a simple subscription to the constitution; for this is the common basis of them all. Each party sets forth its own construction of the constitution, and states distinctly the principles upon which it is based. If an individual were to suffer himself to be chosen as a representative of one of these parties, and were then to betray their confidence, by giving his support to the measures of another, in vain would he plead in justification of his treachery, that the constitution was his political confession of faith; all parties alike would denounce him as a deceiver.
If it be the duty of each church, as a separate and independent body, to bear its unequivocal testimony to the truth, it is equally so when it is united with others. A union of churches upon grounds that permit the rejection of principles which each is separately pledged to sustain, is an absurdity so gross and palpable, that it is surprising it should find any advocates. It has indeed been said that "uniformity is not to be secured and preserved by
confederacies of churches, confessions of faith, or written codes or formularies framed by man, as bonds of union for the churches of Christ."121 To this it may be replied, that while it is true that the recognition of a common confession does not always secure real uniformity, and this will always be the case, so long as deceivers exist who are base enough to profess what they do not believe, yet this method affords the nearest approximation which can be made to so desirable a result. Real uniformity can exist only among those who "all speak the same thing, and are perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." 1 Cor. 1: 10. A union of contradictions is an impossibility. Agreement in sentiment is the bond of Christian union. "I have heard a great deal," says the judicious Fuller, "of union without sentiment; but I can neither feel nor perceive any such thing, either in myself or others. All the union that I can feel or perceive arises from a similarity of views and pursuits." All other grounds of union are impracticable and worthless, and all the hopes of ecclesiastical prosperity or denominational enlargement which are based upon them will prove deceptive in the end. " Christian enlargement is not accomplished by extending our connections, but by confining them to persons with whom we can have fellowship, communion, concord, and a mutual participation of spiritual interests"122
If the views which have now been presented with reference to the rights and powers of Christian churches be correct, they are placed in a position of great eminence and responsibility. All the authority which Christ has not reserved to himself, he has delegated to them. They are the guardians of his cause upon the earth. To them he has committed a solemn and responsible trust. It is their imperative duty to retain it in their own hands, and discharge the duties involved in it, with a zeal and fidelity proportionate to the honors and privileges it confers. The fact itself is a noble and affecting appeal to their best sentiments, and it should be the aim of the churches to vindicate the wisdom of the Redeemer in their organization, by proving that the trust has not been bestowed in vain.
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