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derstanding in all things, particularly in this, for the sake of Christ Jesus, our Redeemer, to whom in the unity of the ever holy and glorious Trinity, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now and for evermore. Amen.
THE CHURCH OF CHRIST CAN HAVE BUT ONE MIND.
[A FREE AND OPEN EXPOSTULATION WITH THE DISSENTERS.]
1 CORINTH. I. 10.
Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but be perfectly joined in the same mind, and in the same judgment. THE Apostle takes occasion thus earnestly to press the Corinthians to uniformity both of sentiment and speech, because he had been told, there were contentions among them,' the converts of Paul, of Apollos, and of Cephas, having split into so many sects, as they had teachers, and distinguished themselves, in an invidious manner from one another, by the names of those teachers, as if each had professed a separate religion; whereas they had 'but one faith, and one baptism,' which could be no more divided, than Christ, the author and finisher of that faith.' He conjures them, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,' to lay aside these schismatical distinctions, these foolish divisions, that being joined perfectly together in the same mind and judgment, they might all speak the same thing.'
A modern libertine would arraign the purport of this exhortation as unreasonable, and insist, that so many men could not be of one mind, and therefore ought not to speak the same thing.
Nay, some of our present sectaries, although they differ many plain points with one another, and in this of uniformity, with the church and the Scriptures; yet find the way to agree with the libertines in their principle, that unifor
mity of sentiment, as to religious matters, is impossible. But common sense and experience vouch for the Scriptures in the point before us, and shew that multitudes of men, not only may, and do, agree about things that are plain, but that they can hardly differ in relation to such. No church nor society of Christians could ever be formed, were it not possible for men to agree in some religious principles; nor could such societies be governed, if their respective members did not think it their duty peaceably to yield obedience to their governors whom they take to be properly authorized, even in cases where the governors, and governed, differ in judgment, provided the latter do not understand the matters, about which they differ in opinion with their rulers, to be essentially or unalterably ruled by Scripture against the mind of those rulers.
As on the one hand, all Christian liberty, all ingenuous inquiry, and all edification and improvement, in religious knowledge, must be given up, if the rulers of the church may arbitrarily prescribe the principles and practices of their subjects, though ever so repugnant to Scripture and reason; so on the other, all order, all communion, all peace, all ecclesiastical society and government, must cease at once, if the opinions of private men are not submitted to the judgments, and their obedience paid to the authority, of church governors duly empowered, in all things not unalterably prescribed by Holy Scripture and reason; because there can be no administration even of the things so prescribed, unless the circumstances and manner of administering them, which the Scriptures usually leave unlimited, be submitted to the governors of the church. The Scriptures, for instance, nowhere prescribe the posture in which the sacrament of the Lord's supper is to be received. In one national church therefore the governors may order it to be taken standing; and in another sitting. But if in a third they shall judge a more devout and humble posture fitter, why shall they not be obeyed? Whose liberty does this abridge? Or how can any man of sense and temper say, the governors of the church 'take too much upon them,' in ordering one posture for the sake of uniformity; and that the humblest posture, for the sake of devotion? To quarrel with authority, when so modestly, so devoutly, so
rationally, exercised, as in instances like this, is, in effect, to disclaim all authority, and to act the part of a child, equally foolish and froward. If ecclesiastical rulers may be disobeyed in things of this nature, and the peace of national churches disturbed on difference of opinion about matters wherein the salvation of mankind is so remotely or so minutely concerned, farewell to religious order and government; farewell to Christian charity. Suppose in this instance, which may serve for all others of the like kind, the governors of the church had gone too far in making this circumstance necessary to communion, although the Scriptures have not made it necessary, who is most to blame? The governors for imposing a posture in itself indifferent, or rather by custom consecrated to acts of devotion? Or the dissenting members, who break communion and oppose the national church under which they live, for a matter of no consequence at all to the conscience of any man? Let reason, let love and charity speak. Is a Christian to lay a greater stress on such trifles, than on the peace of the church, and that uniformity so pressingly recommended in my text, while he owns he is acted, rather by an aversion to the injunction, than to the thing enjoined, as if the prerogative of our spiritual governors, could only serve to desecrate what it endeavours to recommend, and by authorizing, turn those things into sinful which it found indifferent. This is to pervert the very nature of things, inasmuch as it is the property of power, whether civil or ecclesiastical, to give a sanction to whatsoever it enjoins, provided no law of God forbids it. If this is a spirit of liberty, and is to be recommended to the nation, as well as the church, sure I am it can no where subsist, at least no where have free operation, but in a state of absolute anarchy; and of course, liberty and society must be incompatible.
If in any church the governors have appointed no usages that are superstitious or wicked, and but a very moderate number even of such, as the time, the place, and other circumstances have recommended as fit and expedient; if they have likewise provided, that every member of the church wherein they are intrusted, may easily have all things, made necessary to his salvation by the word of God, and be tied to nothing forbidden by that word; he can never
excuse his separation from it, because whatsoever else he may dislike cannot be of consequence enough to justify a division; nor can he have in this any more right, than in respect to the laws of the land, to prefer his own private judgment to that of his rulers. Now whosoever coolly and candidly examines the established church of this kingdom by these rules, will find it so conformable to them in all respects, as to leave little or no shadow of an apology for separation.
How comes it then to pass, that so many even of our Protestant brethren have thought fit to dissent from it almost ever since the Reformation? Why do they shun its service and its communion, as if they regarded conformity with it, in the light of a dangerous or damnable sin? I say dangerous or damnable, because they can never justify their separation from it, unless they have reason to think, that conformity deserves either the one or the other epithet.
One half of our dissenters seem to pay little regard to what we say concerning the sinfulness of schism, as well when we argue from Scripture, which they interpret in another sense, as when we reason from the ill effects of the thing, to which they are ready to answer, that although heresies and schisms are attended with some inconveniencies, yet in the main, they do more good than harm. Besides, they sometimes stick not to maintain, that God is better pleased with variety than uniformity, in the religious sentiments of mankind. So say the Deists, but surely if revelation says any thing, it says the very reverse. Nay there is not a man who talks at this rate, who does not either labour, or wish, to have all men think as he does. How are these two things to be reconciled? Is God such a lover of variety, as to be pleased with contradiction and contrariety, like this, in the same man?
But the rest are as ready, as we, to expatiate on the sin of schism, and to give it all its aggravations, whether arising from the malignity of its own nature, or from the shocking effects it produces. And here they enforce what they say, just as we do, by the same passages of Scripture, understood exactly in the same sense. They agree with us, that brotherly love is the essential sign of Christian discipleship; that it is in vain to expect Christian love and charity, without uniformity; that Christian 'charity is greater than faith and
hope;' and that therefore it is the indispensable duty of every Christian, as far as in him lies, to think and speak the same thing with the church of Christ. Nay, they agree, that on all these accounts, and many others, too tedious to mention, the sin of separation, wherever it lies, is a gross, a crying, an unchristian sin. They farther own, that there is a palpable schism between them, and the established church of this kingdom. But then they insist that the sin of that schism lies at the door of that church, which hath imposed, say they, unlawful and unscriptural terms of communion.
Now among all the transactions of the church from the apostolic age down to this, I know of none managed with more temper, more tenderness, more regard to Scripture, or primitive practice, as delivered to us by written, not pretended oral tradition, than the reformation of the church of England. The English divines who engaged in that work, were men of great abilities, of great piety and candour. But not caring to trust altogether to themselves, they called to their assistance Peter Martyr, Martin Bucer, Paul Fagius, and others, the most judicious and moderate of the foreign divines. These good men, who either lived confessors, or died martyrs, for what they did, having a just and prudent regard to the Papists on the one side, and the Protestants on the other, made the Scriptures the rule of their reformation, that they might comprehend the Protestants; and retained a small number of ancient usages, such as they judged most decent and useful, though practised by the church of Rome, that they might leave a door open, for the yet unconverted Papists. Their perseverance and sufferings are, I think, a full proof, that they had not the smallest hankering after Popery. And their culling from the church of Rome, or rather from antiquity, such ceremonies and portions of the liturgy, as neither reason nor Scripture condemned, shew us, that they did not proceed merely on a bigotted and narrow-hearted spleen to that church. Had they retained any thing superstitious or wicked, practised in the church of Rome, they had shut the door against their Protestant brethren. Or had they retained nothing, they had shut it against the Papists, who were at least one half of the nation; and had given occasion to all men of reason to look on them, not as the candid and conscientious re