« PreviousContinue »
"Charity suffereth long and is kind" under severe provocations. "Envieth not" a successful competitor for popular favor. "Vaunteth not itself;" does not trumpet its own virtues and praises. "Is not puffed up" with vain self-estimation. "Doth not behave itself unseemly" by a light, and vain deportment. "Seeketh not her own;" has no pleasure in monopolies. "Is not easily provoked" by the perverseness of men. "Thinketh no evil," plotteth none -suspecteth none. "Rejoiceth not in iniquity;" as if the means could sanctify the end. But "rejoiceth in the truth," as having to do with the affections. "Beareth all things;" revilings and misrepresentations with meekness. "Believeth all things" just as they are revealed, as those knew all things who had an unction from the Holy One. "Endureth all things;" temptations with fortitude, afflictions with submission.
5. The faith delivered to the saints is to be defended by earnest written discussion.
The opinion that controversy is of no use because disputants never convince each other, is derived from a very limited view of the subject. It is nearer the truth to say, that no great advance has been made in science, religion, or politics, without controversy; and certain it is that no æra of powerful theological discussion has ever past away, without an abiding effect in favor of truth. The discussions of Augustine, Luther and Calvin are felt to this day; and the controversial writings of Edwards have been to error, what the mounds and dykes of Holland have been to the sea.
One danger only is to be guarded against, it is that of diminishing, in the public mind, the high sense which has existed of the criminality and danger of error. If our personal attachments, and literary friendships, and courtesy of manner, should bring down the high and holy subject of contending for the faith, to a cool and amicable. trial of classical and polemical skill; the public feeling would soon be chilled, and fall to this low level of practical estimation. Every discussion of the doctrines of Christianity should be conducted with benevolence evidently, but in a language and in a manner which carries home to the hearts of
men, the full impression of our deep conviction, both of the criminality and the danger of rejecting the truth.
6. Another means of defending the faith, is to be found in a careful maintenance of the apostolic tenure of membership in the visible church.
This, there is no reason to doubt, consisted in a credible profession of repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And as long as these continued to be the terms of admission, the primitive churches continued in a healthful state. But when, as a matter of courtesy cr of authority, the tenure of membership was altered, after the protection and control of civil government began; a door was opened at which the state entered, unsanctified, the church of God, and in the progress of ages, reared the most terriffic despotism of superstition and ambition, that ever provoked God or oppressed men.
At the reformation the same interposition of government modified the terms of admission, and by the secular and unsanctified mass thrown upon the church, hindered its consummation, and prepared the way for that swift and great declension from evangelinal doctrine and vital godliness which followed.
When our fathers came to this land in their flight from persecution, it was primarily that they might build the church, according to the evangelical pattern, of lively stones only; and in the beginning the tenure of membership was a professed belief in the doctrines of the reformation, attended by credible evidence of regeneration. This strict tenure of membership, about the close of the first generation, became a subject of complaint, by those who were excluded from office, because they could not conscientiously join the church, and by those whose children on the same account remained unbaptized, and by emigrants from England of less strictness of religious sentiment, who came over after the first perils of settlement were past. These united, constituted a strong party in the State who were for admitting all persons of a regular life to full communion, on their making a profession of their belief in the christian religion, without any inquiry with respect to a change of heart; and for regarding all who
had been baptized in infancy, as, on that ground, entitled in adult age to membership in the church. The legislators generally favored the liberal side of the question, and some ministers. The innovation was however strenuously resisted by the rest of the clergy, and by the churches almost universally. While hosts without assembled, and murmurs long and loud were heard, they stood to defend the gates of Zion from the intrusion of the stranger. At length, however, they were overpowered by numbers. The gates of the holy city were burst open, and the world rushed in, and took possession of the baptismal water and the sacramental host. Thus at a stroke was prostrated the system of church organization established by heaven to perpetuate pure doctrine and vital piety; and from this time for three quarters of a century, both declined in a manner the most rapid and alarming which the churches of New-England ever witnessed.
In the course of ten years after this event, a suspension of divine influence took place, in the conviction and conversion of sinners so signal and alarming, as induced the legislature to call a Synod to inquire into and report the causes. The alarm was great, and the lamentations loud and many. Mr. Stoughton in an election Sermon 1660 said, "Alas, how is New-England in danger this day to be lost: even in NewEngland; to be buried in its own ruins! How sadly may we lament that all are not Israel that are now of Israel! How is the good grain diminished and the chaff increased!" In 1683; the Minister of Weymouth declared that "A great failure has taken place in the work of conversion, in the frequency of a credible profession of religion, and in the tokens of formality hypocrisy and apostasy." Dr. Increase Mather says 1697, that "Dr Owen has proved, that, the letting go, by the primitive churches of the principle, that, particular churches ought to consist of regenerate persons only, brought in the great antichristian apostasy." In the year 1700, he predicted, that, if the begun declension, (occasioned by the admission of unrenewed men into the church,) should continue to progress for thirty years to come, as it had done for thirty years past; the more conscientious people, would be
constrained to gather churches out of churches. A prediction, which was extensively verified, in about that time. This suspension of divine influence, and decline of vital religion, continued until the time of Edwards, the Luther of New-England, who by his example, and by his unanswerable treatise, on the terms of communion, revived the practice of receiving to the communion none but those, who furnished credible evidence of a moral renovation by the spirit, and of repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. A practice, which, has been steadily increasing, from his day to this; and with it, evangelical doctrine, and revivals of religion.
By this course of ample experiment, in the primitive church, at the reformation, and in New-England; the point is settled, that, evangelical doctrines, cannot be maintained in the churches of our Lord, but by maintaining the apostolic tenure of membership. Let men of the world be amalgamated with the pious, in the church, and soon evangelical opinions will be exiled, or remain only in her creed a dead letter.
In the application of this subject we invite the attention of those, to what has been advanced in this discourse, whose minds have been unsettled and perplexed, in respect to the claims of the liberal and evangelical systems, to be regarded as the faith delivered to the saints: or, who have been accustomed to regard the latter system, as unintelligible, contradictory, absurd, and of no salutary practical influence.
We are sensible, that, in our land, there are many, who have no opportunity of hearing the evangelical system of doctrines stated and defended, in a manner which its advocates would approve: and that, no small prejudice has arisen against it, through misapprehension. But with his Bible. in his possession, we are constrained to believe, that, every man may know what the Scriptures say on these subjects, and that, if the evangelical system be divine, it cannot be rejected with impunity. If, to any, this opinion shall seem severe, and as some have said, as if we were glad that many will be lost; we can say with an Apostle, and call God to witness, that we have great heaviness and continual sorrow in our
hearts, for our brethren our kinsmen according to the flesh;* whom, as we understand the Bible, we cannot but regard as fatally deceived.
If the effects of their mistake were in our view, confined to this transient scene; or, if we could believe, that, the truth of God as a whole, could be misunderstood, and rejected, consistently with that moral renovation of the heart, which is indispensable to communion with God, and admission to heaven; we might hold our peace: for of what possible consequence can it be to us, whether our fellow men agree with, or differ from us on points, which, in a few days, may be of no consequence. Time is too short, and eternity is too long, to justify great solicitude, about things which affect us only here. But if, as we believe, all the qualifications for heaven have ceased from the heart of man, and all the means of their restoration, lie in the system of revealed truth, and the efficacy given to it by the special influence of the Holy Spirit, and that God will not sanctify by the instrumentality of error, where his truth is rejected in the presence, or within the reach of ample evidence: how can we, in such circumstances, behold our fellow men, our friends, and neighbors, moving onward to the confirmed state of a miserable eternity, and not be deeply affected. We beseech you, brethren, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, that you be not offended with our plainness, in this discourse, nor with our importunity in its application. We repectfully, but earnestly, invite your attention to the argument, which has been submitted to your consideration; and intreat, that in the light of it, and of God's holy word, you will give to your own opinions one revision more: one careful, prayerful, immediate revision: for if you are wrong, it will soon be too late to retrieve the mistake. Allow me to ask you then, affectionately-solemnly, whether such collateral evidence, as we have been able to lay into the scale of evangelical exposition, can be the result of accident, or can be found, to be laid in the opposite scale? Are the doctrines of the liberal system, contained in the text, according to its
* Rom. ix, 1, 2.