Page images

in the true scriptural sense of the term, is undoubtedly the best preservative of Christian benevolence; for they who "have "the same love," who are "of one ac"cord, and of one mind" upon religion; a subject so deeply involving all that can interest the passions and affections; will be much more likely to "live in peace," than they who differ on a point of such importance. But though its evident tendency is to foster Christian benevolence, yet is the one by no means to be identified with the other; and they who make that tie, by which Christians should be united, to consist wholly in mutual kindness, forbearance, and good-will, are as defective, in their conception of the true principles of Church membership, as they are in their view of the nature of civil society, who resolve all the duties of men, as citizens, and subjects, into a vague indefinite Philanthropy.

II. As Christian unity is not merely a union of hearts and affections, so neither

I Phil. ii. 2.

$ 2 Cor. xiii. 11.

does it consist in, or require an entire union of opinion. We are indeed enjoined to be "all of one mind;" and it was one distinguishing glory of the infant Church, for the short time that it presented a perfect model of union, that the “ multitude "of them that believed were of one heart "and one soul." But still, these words must be understood in a sober and qualified sense, or we shall destroy the possibility of unity, by making that essential to it, which never can be obtained.

It is certainly essential to unity, that the fundamentals of Christianity be preserved inviolate. Reason itself seems to prove, that he who holds not the Christian Faith, " cannot with propriety be called a Christian: for as the name was first invented to denote those, who believed that Jseus was the Christ; he who believes not the record which God gave of his Son, but doubts, or denies any of those characteristic doctrines, by which this record is to be discerned from all other systems of religion;

t Acts iv. 32.

u See Note IV. Appendix.

can neither justly claim to be reckoned of their company, nor properly assume that title, which especially distinguishes them from the rest of mankind.

The Scriptures also, as might be expected, speak strongly and decidedly upon this subject. They teach us to "hold fast "the form of sound words;" and to ""stand "fast in one Spirit, with one mind striving "together for the faith of the Gospel :" and lest we should be seduced from these saving truths, they warn us to withdraw from all who "consent not to wholesome words,


even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, "and the doctrine which is according to godliness;" and assure us, that even "" if

[ocr errors]


an angel from heaven should preach any "other Gospel unto us," than that which the Apostles preached, he must "be ac"cursed." There are however many less important points of Christian doctrine, on which some variety of opinion may safely be allowed. For though the word of God

2 Tim. i. 13.
z 1 Tim. vi. 3, 5.

y Phil. i. 27.
a Gal. i. 8.

is truth, and can admit of but one right interpretation; still, as the minds of men are differently constituted; as all have not the same opportunities of information, or the same abilities; in matters of inferior moment, on subjects which are obscurely delivered, and therefore hard to be understood, the bignorant may err, and the learned differ, without a breach of unity. Nay, though such difficult questions should give rise to protracted controversy, the study and investigation thus promoted will tend to serve the cause of truth; and provided the bounds of Christian moderation be not overpassed, neither the peace nor the unity of the Church can sustain a serious injury from the discussion.

In our inquiries then into the nature of Christian unity, these cautions are to be observed; first, that we do not confound it with that, which is generally, and should be always, its effect; as they seem to do, who resolve it into a mere union of affection: secondly, that we do not so mis

See Note V. Appendix.

interpret the unanimity recommended by the Apostles, as to exclude even a shade of difference, upon the most trivial question; and then imagine that unity cannot exist, where this unattainable harmony of opinions is not to be found. We may love our neighbours, and do them good, without living in religious unity with them; for such was the feeling and the conduct of the benevolent Samaritan towards the wounded Jew: and we know that the unity of the Church is not violated by every disagreement in sentiment, respecting things indifferent, which may arise among its members; for St. Paul himself, as we learn from his directions to the dRomans concerning meats, and the observance of particular days, left such matters as these to the private conscience of each individual; restricting him only to such a maintenance of his opinion, as might be consistent with the peace of the Church, and the spiritual welfare of his brethren.

c Luke x. 33.

d Rom. xiv.

« PreviousContinue »