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distance of judgment which is between man and man, shall we not think that God above, that knows the heart, doth not discern that frail men, in some of their contradictions, intend the same thing, and accepteth1 of both? The nature of such controversies is excellently expressed by St. Paul, in the warning and precept that he giveth concerning the same, 'Devita profanas vocum novitates et oppositiones falsi nominis scientiae." Men create oppositions which are not, and put them into new terms so fixed; as' whereas the meaning ought to govern the term, the term in effect governeth the meaning.
There be also two false peaces, or unities: the one, when the peace is grounded but upon an implicit ignorance; for all colours will agree in the dark: the other, when it is pieced up upon a direct admission of contraries in fundamental points; for truth and falsehood in such things are like the iron and clay in the toes of Nebuchadnezzar's image4—they may cleave but they will not incorporate.
Concerning the means of procuring unity, men must beware, that in the procuring or muniting5 of religious unity, they do not dissolve and deface the laws of charity and of human society. There be two swords amongst Christians, the spiritual and the temporal, and both have their due office and place in the maintenance of religion; but we may not take up the third sword, which is Mahomet's sword, or like unto it—that is, to propagate religion by wars, or by sanguinary persecutions to force consciences—except it be in cases of overt scandal, blasphemy, or intermixture of practice against the state; much less to nourish seditions; to authorise conspiracies and rebellions; to put the sword into the people's hands, and the like, tending to the subversion of all government, which is the ordinance of God; for this is but to dash the first table against the second; and so to consider men as Christians, as1 we forget that they are men. Lucretius the poet, when he beheld the act of Agamemnon, that could endure the sacrificing of his own daughter, exclaimed:—
1 Accept of. To approve; receive favourably. 'I will appease him with the present that goeth before me, .. . peradventure he will accept of me.'—Gen. xxxii.
a 'Avoid profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so ealhtd.' —I Tim. vi. 20.
* As. That (denoting consequence). 'The mariners were so conquered by the storm as they thought it best with stricken sails to yield to be governed by it.'—Sidney.
* Daniel ii. 33.
* Muniting. The defending; fortifying. 'By protracting of tyme, King Henry might fortify and munite all dangerous places and passages.'—Kail. 'All that fight against her and her munitions'—Jer. xxix. 7.
'The arm our soldier,
'Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum."
What would he have said, if he had known of the massacre in France, or the powder treason of England? He would have been seven times more epicure3 and atheist than he was; for as the temporal sword is to be drawn with great circumspection in cases of religion, so it is a thing monstrous to put it into the hands of the common people; let that be left to the anabaptists and other furies. It was great blasphemy when the devil said, 'I will ascend and be like the Highest ;4 but it is greater blasphemy to personate God, and bring him in saying, 'I will descend and be like the prince of darkness,' and what is it better, to make the cause of religion to descend to the cruel and execrable actions of murdering princes, butchery of people, and subversion of states and governments? Surely this is to bring down the Holy Ghost, instead of the likeness of a dove, in the shape of a vulture or raven; and to set out of the bark of a Christian church, a flag of a bark of pirates and assassins: therefore it is most necessary that the Church, by doctrine and decree, princes by their sword, and all learning, both christian and moral, as by their mercury rod to damn and send to hell for ever, those facts and opinions tending to the support of the same, as hath been already in good part done. Surely in councils concerning religion, that counsel of the Apostle should be prefixed,' Ira hominis non implet justitiam Dei;" and it was a notable observation of a wise father, and no less ingenuously confessed, that those which held and persuaded6 pressure of consciences, were commonly interested therein themselves for their own ends.
1 As. That. See page 23.
- 'So many evils could religion induce.'—Lucret. i. 95.
3 Epicure. Epicurean; a follower of Epicurus. 'Here he describeth the fury of the Epicures, which is the highest and deepest mischief of all; even to contempue the very God.' 4 Isaiah xiv. 14.
6 'The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.'—James i. 20.
6 Persuade. To inculcate. 'To children afraid of vain images, we persuade confidence by making them handle and look near such things.'—Bishop Taylor.
'It is a happy thing when Religion is well contained within the true bond of unity."
It is, therefore, very important to have a clear notion of the nature of the christian unity spoken of in the Scriptures, and to understand in what this 'true bond of unity' consists, so often alluded to and earnestly dwelt on by our Sacred Writers. The unity they speak of does not mean agreement in doctrine. nor yet concord and mutual good will; though these are strongly insisted on by the Apostles. Nor, again, does it mean that all Christians belong, or ought to belong, to some one society on earth. This is what the Apostles never aimed at, and what never was actually the state of things, from the time that the christian religion extended beyond the city of Jerusalem. The Church is undoubtedly one, and so is the human race one; but not as a society or community, for, as such, it is only one when considered as to its future existence.2 The teaching of Scripture clearly is, that believers on earth are part of a great society (church or congregation), of which the Head is in heaven, and of which many of the members only 'live unto God,' or exist in his counsels,—some having long since departed, and some being not yet born. The universal Church of Christ may therefore be said to be ONE in reference to HIM, its supreme Head in heaven; but it is not one community on earth. And even so the human race is one in respect of the One Creator and Governor; but this does not make it one family or one state. And though all men are bound to live in peace, and to be kindly disposed towards every fellow creature, and all bound to agree in thinking and doing whatever is right, yet they are not at all bound to live under one single government, extending over the whole world. Nor, again, are all nations bound to have the same form of government, regal or republican, &c. That is a matter left to their discretion. But all are bound to do their best to promote the great objects for which all government is instituted,—good order, justice, and public prosperity.
1 Great part of what follows is extracted from a Charge of some years bock. 3 See Bishop Hind's History of the Origin of Christianity. See also C«t<<!e>n* for the Times, No. 2.
And even so the Apostles founded christian churches, all based on the same principles, all sharing common privileges,— 'One Lord, one faith, one baptism,'—and all having the same object in view, but all quite independent of each other. And while, by the inspiration of Him who knew what was in Man, they delineated those christian principles which man could not have devised for himself, each Church has been left, by the same divine foresight, to make the application of those principles in its symbols, its forms of worship, and its ecclesiastical regulations; and, while steering its course by the chart and compass which his holy Word supplies, to regulate for itself the sails and rudder, according to the winds and currents it may meet with.
Now, I have little doubt that the sort of variation resulting from this independence and freedom, so far from breaking the bond, is the best preservative of it. A number of neighbouring families, living in perfect unity, will be thrown into discord as soon as you compel them to form one family, and to observe in things intrinsically indifferent, the same rules. One, for instance, likes early hours, and another late; one likes the windows open, and another shut; and thus, by being brought too close together, they are driven into ill-will, by one being perpetually forced to give way to another. Of this character were the disputations which arose (though they subsequently assumed a different character) about church music, the posture of the communicants, the colours of a minister's dress, the time of keeping Easter, &c.
This independence of each Church is not to be confounded with the error of leaving too much to individual discretion of the minister or members of each Church. To have absolutely no terms of communion at all,—no tests of the fitness of any one to be received as a member, or a member of each Church respectively,—would be to renounce entirely the character of a christian Church; since of such a body it is plain that a Jew, a Polytheist, or an Atheist might, quite as consistently as a Christian, be a member, or even a governor. And though the Scriptures, and the Scriptures only, are to be appealed to for a decision on questions of doctrine, yet to have (as some have wildly proposed) no test of communion but the very words of Scripture, would be scarcely less extravagant than having no test at all, since there is no one professing Christianity who does not maintain that his sentiments are in accordance with the true meaning of Scripture, however absurd or pernicious these sentiments may really be. For it is notorious that Scripture itself is at least as liable as human formularies (and indeed more so) to have forced interpretations put on its language.
Accordingly, there is no christian community which does not, in some way or other, apply some other test besides the very words of Scripture. Some churches, indeed, do not reduce any such test to writing, or express it in any fixed form, so as to enable every one to know beforehand precisely how much he will be required to bind himself to. But, nevertheless, these Churches do apply a test, and very often a much more stringent, elaborate, and minute test than our Liturgy and Articles. In such communities, the candidate pastor of a congregation is not, to be sure, called on to subscribe in writing a definite confession of faith, drawn up by learned and pious persons after mature deliberation, and publicly set forth by common authority,—but he is called upon to converse with the leading members of the congregation, and satisfy them as to the soundness of his views; not, of course, by merely repeating texts of Scripture—which a man of any views might do, and do honestly; but by explaining the sense in which he understands the Scriptures. Thus, instead of subscribing the Thirty-nine Articles, he subscribes the sentiments of the leading members— for the time being—of that particular congregation over which he is to be placed as teacher.1
And thus it is that tests of some kind or other, written or unwritten (that is, transmitted by oral tradition), fixed for the whole Body, or variable, according to the discretion of particular governors, are, and must be, used in every christian Church. This is doing no more than is evidently allowable and expedient. But it is quite otherwise when any Church, by an unwarrantable assumption, requires all who would claim
1 Cautions for the Times, p. 451. I have known, accordingly, a minister of a continental Protestant Church strongly object to all subscriptions to Articles, Buying, that a man should only be called on to profess his belief in Jesus Christ; and yet, a few minutes afterwards, denouncing as a 'Rationalist' another Protestant minister.