Page images

tion, (in an ecclesiastical form, if you please,) of the Congregationalists, the Baptists, the Episcopalians, etc., in Massachusetts, in Maine, in Connecticut etc., and of Presbyterians in other parts, for the whole range of benevolent purposes. Accordingly, the various benevolent enterprises of the day would be undertaken, not by the church of Christ in Massachusetts or any other State, acting together as one body, but by several distinct parts of it, each part acting independently of the others. Now if by the church you mean such a portion of one denomination of Christians, as live in one part of the country; then these benevolent enterprises, thus conducted, might be said to be conducted by the church.

But, while the mode of proceeding just described might in present circumstances, be proper; there would be several difficulties not to be overlooked, respecting the manner of treating the subject. It would be a manifest impropriety of language to call a small portion of the whole body of Christians, and a small portion of a single denomination of Christians, the church of Christ : :-as manifest a solecism, as to call a single town or county, the nation, or a single nation, the world. And it is very questionable, whether the particular portion of Christians, and the particular portion of one denomination of Christians, above specified, can be called a church. A church may properly signify a particular society or congregation of Christians, united together for the worship of God in one place. But with what propriety can we call the general body of Congregationalists in Massachusetts, a church? And with what propriety can we call the Presbyterians belonging to one Presbytery or Synod, a church? In truth, the general body of Congregationalists in Massachusetts cannot be called either a church or the church. Nor can they be called a Congregational church, or the Congregational church. Nor can the Presbyterians, composing a Presbytery or Synod, be called either a church or the church, or, a Presbyterian church, or the Presbyterian church. The same as to other denominations. A Congregational, Presbyterian, or Episcopal church is a body of Christians smaller than what is here intended; while the Congregational, Presbyterian, or Episcopal church is larger.

Here one difficulty comes up after another. It is said, that the Scriptures authorize only one public association of men for benevolent purposes, which is, the church of Christ, that this is the only divine institution, and the only institution to be used for the spread of the Gospel, etc., and that any thing which is added to this, vitiates the church, and dishonors God. Now where do we find this one public association of men, this one divine institution, which is to accomplish every benevolent object? Is there any such thing on the face of the earth ? I do not ask, whether there should be a body of men answering to this description ; but whether there is such a body. If it exists, where is it found? Where, in any part of the world, or in all parts together, can you fix your eye upon one public association of men for benevolent purposes,-one and only one divine institution, which is adequate to accomplish every good object? If all the followers of Christ were united and organized into one great, harmonious body, that body surely could be found. But, it does not exist. And if benevolent objects are not to be accomplished, except by this one public association of men, they are not to be accomplished at all.

Is then that one divine institution, that one public association of men found in each of the different denominations of evangelical Christians ? Does the one and the only divine institution show itself in the Congregational, the Presbyterian, the Baptist, the Episcopal denomination, etc. ? If by that one public association is meant, what would seem to be meant by it, the organization of God's people on earth into one visible body for the accomplishment of his benevolent designs; then, as I have before said, there is no such thing in existence. The followers of Christ are divided into a great number of parties, each party organized in a manner different from others, and for the most part acting separately from others, and not unfrequently in opposition to others. Now is this dividing of the Christian world into parties, or sects, in accordance with the will of God? Is it the divine institution, that there should be, as there actually is, a multitude of distinct and separate public associations of Christians, formed on different principles, bearing different names, having no visible connection with each other, and often acting against each other? Is all this according to the word of God? Far from it. Every sober man must acknowledge that the existence of these various and clashing sects is a wide departure from the precepts and the spirit of Christianity ; that these different and separate associations and denominations of Christians are institutions devised by man's wisdom, and established by his authority, in opposition to the authority of God. And yet there is no other church of Christ on earth, but what is made up of these different denominations. What now shall be done? Shall the attempt be made to bring all Christians to unite in one body, one public association; and shall the attempt be continued till such a visible union is effected? And shall we adopt the principle, that no great work of love is to be undertaken, till Christians are thus united, and so fitted to act harmoniously in accomplishing the objects of benevolence ? Christians at large have certainly, by their divisions, deviated from the standard of holy writ, and have thereby involved themselves and the cause of their Master, in great difficulty. In all this they are verily guilty before God. But because they have sinned in this matter, shall they sin in every thing else? Because they have left undone the duty of maintaining a complete unity among themselves, shall they leave all other duties undone ? Because they have disobeyed those divine precepts which require them all to be one, and which respect them in their associate capacity as constituting the kingdom of Christ; shall they also disobey those precepts which respect them in their individual capacity, and require then to relieve the distressed, to instruct the ignorant, to labor for the spread of the Gospel and the conversion of sinners, and to do good to all men ? And if a smaller or larger number of individual Christians find that they can unite together in accomplishing any labor of love to which they are called by the word of God, and are satisfied that such union will aid their efforts and contribute to their success; what shall hinder them from uniting? And may not the union and united action of those who are prepared for it, be among the most effectual means of bringing about a larger union, and of hastening the time when Christians every where shall unite and act together ?

But it may be said, such a union of individual Christians, as that just mentioned, instead of being a divine institution, is altogether of man's devising ; and consequently it cannot be a fit and lawful means of spreading the gospel, and doing good in other ways. But is such a union of individual Christians for benevolent purposes any more a matter of man's devising, than the union of individual Christians in a distinct and separate denomination ? And is it any farther from being a divine institution ? Why then should it be regarded as less fit for the accomplishment of the objects of benevolence? I know it may be said, that God authorizes Christians to form themselves into an ecclesiastical body, a church state, and in that state, to labor for the conversion of sinners and the enlargement of Christ's kingdom. But does God authorize Christians to form themselves into such ecclesiastical bodies as now exist, i. e. distinct and separate ecclesiastical sects or denominations ? Does not the Apostle Paul earnestly protest against it? (See 1 Cor. 3: 1-4, and many other places, and is not the existence of such sects a standing subject of lamentation with all enlightened Christians ? Much is said against the associations of benevolent individuals for benevolent purposes, because they are formed voluntarily, in contradistinction to what is expressly of divine appointment. But are these benevolent associations more voluntary, and more in contradistinction to what is expressly of divine appointment, than the combining of Christians into separate sects in an ecclesiastical form ?

What then is to be done ? Let me ask, what is done, even by those who contend that every thing should be done by that one association of men, which the word of God expressly authorizes, and by no other ? Why, each separate sect or denomination, though existing in that separate state in direct opposition to the divine institution, goes on and acts, as a distinct and separate and voluntary association, in accomplishing every great and good object, and seems not to doubt that all is right. Yes, even those, who maintain that every thing should be done by that one public association of men which the Bible authorizes, act in this way, i. e. by uniting together as a distinct denomination, separate from the great body of good men who constitute the real church of Christ, (a proceeding far from being authorized by the Bible ;) or, when they cannot bring their

whole denomination to unite, they bring a part of it to unite ; and with that part, even if it be a small part, they undertake the business of christian benevolence.

I do not mention this to object to it. But it is manifestly in direct opposition to the principle, that nothing should be done, except by the one divinely authorized public association of men, the church of Christ. For plainly, those members of the denomination who are prepared to act together, are not the church of Christ. Nor is the whole denomination the church of Christ. If you say, they are a part of the church ; any individual Christians who choose to unite together in doing good.

To maintain that an ecclesiastical organization is the only one which can properly prosecute the work of benevolence on a

-So are

large scale, would be attended with special difficulty among the Congregationalists in Massachusetts, and in other parts of New England. For, except particular churches, and a few Consociations, we have no permanent ecclesiastical organization. And this want of ecclesiastical organization makes it impracticable for us to do any thing on a large scale, in an ecclesiastical way. For example : The Congregationalists in Massachusetts cannot engage in the missionary work ecclesiastically, unless the members of all the churches meet in one great assembly and act together in sending forth missionaries, or appoint representatives to act in their stead. The first cannot be thought of. As to the second method, how important soever we may consider an ecclesiastical body, representing the Congregationalists in Massachusetts ; yet we have none.

The Convention of Congregational ministers, the Pastoral Association, the General Association, and the several district Associations, are all clerical bodies, having no delegates from the churches, and not being themselves representatives of the churches. The General Association is indeed a representative body ; but it is merely clerical, and is made up of delegates from other clerical bodies. Now suppose we were, at this time, to begin the work of Foreign Missions, as we did a quarter of a century ago. Should we call all the churches to come together in one great body? Or should we invite them to send delegates to form a Foreign Missionary Society? But what if they should refuse? Besides on the principle under consideration, who would have a right to send forth such a call, unless previously authorized by the churches ? And if any individuals should venture to do it, might they not be charged with an unwarrantable assumption of ecclesiastical power ? Should then the General Association undertake the work ? But the General Association is not the church, nor is it a body which represents the church? It is not an ecclesiastical, but a clerical body. And if it should do any thing in the name of the churches, or any thing involving the churches in any obligation ; would it not be regarded as clerical usurpation ? Would there, then, be no way to begin the work of Foreign Missions ? Might not the members of the General Association, or any other ministers or Christians, in compliance with the commands of God, engage in the business themselves, as individuals ? And might they not propose it to others to join with them ? Doubtless they might. The members of the General Association in 1810 actually did this, as a clerical body, VOL. XII. No. 32,


« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »