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TO OUR READERS.
The separate existence of the United Secession Magazine terminates with the present number. It will in future be combined with the RELIEF MAGAZINE ; and the united journal under the title of The UNITED SECESSION AND RELIEF MAGAZINE, will appear on the 1st of January 1847. For business details we refer to the publishers' prospectus.
The reasons for this change will, we are persuaded, prove as satisfactory as they must be obvious to our readers. From the time that the Basis of Union was adopted by the United Secession and Relief Synods, the two bodies were virtually one. In a few months, it is expected that, with the good hand of God upon us, the formal act of incorporation will take place. It was felt by the brethren concerned in the management of both Magazines, that it would be only acting in the spirit of the Union, at once to amalgamate their respective journals, which, though not affecting to be official organs have been all along devoted to the public good in the denominations with which they are connected, and will aim in future to fulfil their vocations in jointly furthering the interests of the United Church.
It is not without mingled feelings we make this announcement. Our journal, under its present name, has existed for fourteen years. Under successive editorial management, it has pursued the same course of zeal for the welfare of the United Secession, as exemplified by the defence of her principles, by the prominence given to her movements, and by the advocacy of those public questions in which she has taken a part, and in which her interests are involved. If regrets are mingled with our retrospect, it is because our performance has not equalled our wishes. The changes which have occurred in the political and ecclesiastical world since the commencement of our course have been of the most eventful description. The progress of enlightened views, both in Church and State, gives a character all its own to the period which the labours effects of the various crises which have passed over us will be felt and remembered—days still remote will be occupied with the development of results, the causes and springs of which we have seen called into operation. Without intruding into secret things which do not belong to us, we may, on the strength of prophetic announcement, presume to anticipate the issue as probably not distant, and as transcendently glorious. In the progress of events, so important and diversified, those who aspire to guide or to give effect to public opinion, have been invited, by many and most available opportunities, to enforce enlightened views of things pertaining to the kingdom of God, and the duty of the friends of truth with respect to its extension, and their own advancement in the life of faith, holiness, and charity. Not insensible to the importance of these claims, we have, to our painful consciousness, come short of what we had purposed and hoped to perform.
Without large promises, we may be allowed to express our expectation, that a coalition of forces, a thoroughly good understanding in the matter of joint Editorial inspection, and unity of effort in the service of a United Church, will secure the extended usefulness of our Miscellany. We look to the friends of the common cause to second our exertions. Good wishes, a kindly welcome, a ready support from contributors,—a candid construction of words which, spoken monthly, may not always be well considered, and a fair allowance made for shortcomings when we fain would do our best,—these are the tokens of favour which we would now bespeak; and which, if accorded, will contribute, in no slender degree, to animate us in our undertaking, and, by the blessing of God, to crown our endeavours with success.
December 1, 1846.
UNITED SECESSION MAGAZINE
FOR JANUARY, 1846.
THE VOLUNTARY PRINCIPLE, WHAT IT IS.
In a former paper we stated, for the purpose of removing some misapprehensions entertained on the subject, what the voluntary principle is not. We mentioned that it is not to be regarded as the symbol of opposition to religion,—that it does not consist, as has sometimes been alleged, of opposition to any branch of the kingly power and authority of Christ,—that it is not a principle identical with optionalism, with which it has not unfrequently been strangely enough confounded, and farther, that it involves in it not merely a separation from a national church establishment because of its errors and corruptions, but a dissent from the entire system of civil compulsion in matters of religion. We now proceed to say a word as to what the voluntary principle is. As our object at present is statement mainly, and not argument, it will not be necessary to do more, after what has been said, than merely to indicate what are the leading characteristics by which voluntaryism is distinguished. .
It may be observed, in general, that the principle on which the voluntary system rests, is not one of expediency, but, as has been mentioned, one which is founded directly on the word of God. There are, it is true, various other grounds on which it may be maintained and defended; but that which gives to it its chief influence and authority in the case of its supporters is, that it is received and held by them as a part of the truth of God. It implies the following things as maintained on the part of those by whom it is advocated.
1. That the kingdom of Christ is a spiritual kingdom, distinct from the kingdoms of this world. This distinction is held not in name, but in reality, by the supporters of the voluntary system. The kingdom of Christ, they maintain, in its nature, objects, laws, government, and discipline, is purely of a spiritual character, and the authority of Christ in all things which concern his church, supreme. The kingdom of Christ, being thus entirely spiritual in its nature, is not only distinct from the kingdoms of this world, but, in those respects now mentioned, is incapable of being amalgamated or blended with these king
NO. 1. VOL. III.
doms. Whatever union existed, under the former dispensation, between things temporal and spiritual in the kingdom of Christ, that union is regarded as having been abrogated by the Saviour, when he declared, “ My kingdom is not of this world;"_" now, it is not from hence." With such views, those who hold the voluntary system deny that an alliance can lawfully be formed between the church and the state,—that every such alliance is incongruous in its nature, and abhorrent to the very spirit and genius of the gospel,—and that state churches, therefore, or churches formed on the principle of a connexion with, and dependence upon, civil power, are altogether unscriptural. Christ himself establishes his church, and He alone, who is the Most High, can establish her; and, based in respect of her principles on His authority, protected by His power, and dependent on His boundless resources, “ the gates of hell shall not prevail against her!"
2. That it is the duty of those who are the subjects of Christ's kingdom, or members of his church, to support the ordinances of his gospel. “ The Lord hath ordained,” says the apostle, “ that they that preach the gospel should live of the gospel.” Those who maintain the voluntary principle, accordingly, hold, that it is as much their duty, according to their means, to observe this part of the law of Christ as any other of the commands which he has given. The Lord having “ ordained” the manner in which his gospel is to be supported, it is esteemed by them a branch of their religion to fulfil in this matter his will, and so to render the homage that is due to the King of Zion. And if Christ's authority is to be supreme in his church, it will not do for any other party to interfere, saying, “ We will set aside the ordinance which Christ has appointed, and perform the duty which he enjoins upon his subjects." To do so, would certainly be very like 6 setting up in the temple of God an authority above all that is called God.” For Christians to ask, and to accept of support for the gospel from earthly governments, and to place the church of Christ in an attitude of dependence upon those governments, while the ordinance of Christ himself is neglected or set aside, must be sinful ; and to urge the civil power to perpetrate injustice in compelling others to perform the duty which they owe to the Saviour, cannot but be regarded as a great aggravation of the sinfulness of their conduct.
3. That it belongs to the Church, and not to human governments, to extend the gospel for the salvation of men. This duty, also, Christ has laid upon his subjects as the King of Zion. It is not to the potentates of this earth, but to his own followers, that Christ addresses the command,“Goye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." Where men are not able of themselves to maintain a dispensation of gospel ordinances, his command is, that those who compose his church 6 should bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” It is not the function of civil governments, as such, to judge of divine truth for men, or to establish divine truth, or to diffuse divine truth, even though the prerogative were given to them, which it is not, of infallibly discriminating what the truth of God is. It is they who have received the truth for their own salvation who are called to extend the knowledge of it to others, under the influence of those principles of love to the Saviour, and compassion for the souls of men, which the truth itself inspires. And it requires no other influence than the influence of heavenly grace to lead the church of God to execute the high commission which it has received, of extending “ the knowledge of the Lord” far and wide throughout our world, and of filling the earth with the glory of Immanuel ! And this work so great, so glorious, the Saviour has destined to be accomplished by the development, on the part of his people, of “ the voluntary principle."
Such, in a few words, are the distinguishing characteristics which enter into the nature of the voluntary principle as held by its supporters. And, all prejudice being laid aside, there is surely no very great reason why any one should be alarmed at the progress of this principle, or at the increasing earnestness of professing Christians in seeking to carry it out to its legitimate results. What though all professing Christians were to adopt the opinion that the kingdom of Christ, as a spiritual kingdom, is so distinct from the kingdoms of this world, that, according to the revealed will of the Saviour himself, it is sinful to support his gospel by civil compulsion. Could any barm result either to civil liberty or to the interests of true religion from the adoption of such an opinion ? What, again, though all professing Christians were to take up the view and to act upon it, that it was their solemn duty, binding upon them by the authority of Christ, the King of Zion, to maintain divine ordinances among themselves, and to extend, according to their ability, the gospel to others by whom its privileges were not yet enjoyed ? Could any injury arise to the Church of Christ, or to the interests of the nation at large, from the different denominations of Christians in a country becoming more and more zealous, as God opened their hearts by his grace, in maintaining and extending what they believed to be the truth of God for the salvation of men ? Are civil governments, then, as such, it may be asked, to do - nothing directly for the support of gospel truth? Were the “ voluntary principle” universally adopted and acted on by professing Christians, as we contend it is the will of Christ it should, there would be no need, it is evident, why civil government should extend state support for the maintenance of the gospel. The thing desired would be done; and why should it be done over again in a way so utterly opposed to the very nature and spirit of the gospel, viz. by the exercise of civil compulsion? Whatever means, compatible with its own nature, civil rulers may employ to countenance or to promote religion in a nation, nothing can be clearer, than that they can bave no right, derived either from God or from man, to coerce the consciences of men in matters of religion, or to set aside a positive institution which Christ has appointed in bis Church for the support of his gospel. There are various questions connected with the operation and progress of the voluntary principle, affecting deeply the interests and prosperity of the Church of Christ, which it is of the utmost consequence should be well understood in the times in which we live; but on the consideration of these we do not enter in the present paper.