« AnteriorContinua »
ture method of dealing with those who oppose themselves; and this has ever been found a much more effectual method to convince mankind of their errors than fire and fagot. In the teaching and conduct of our Lord Jesus Christ, and his inspired Apostles, we have neither precept nor example for destroying men's bodies, under the pretence of saving their souls; for injuring their temporal, in order to secure their spiritual interests. We have no instance of their treating men with reproach or violence-misrepresenting their principles, and casting out their names as evil, from a pretence of attaching them to the cause of God: and of truth. Our Lord's invitation to erring, perishing men, was, "Come unto me, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls." And to those. who declined his gracious invitation, the language of his reproach was no more than this"Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life."
And the Apostles of Christ closely followed his footsteps in this particular. In the discharge of the important duties belonging to their sacred office the Apostle Paul speaks of himself, and his colleagues in the apostleship, as "giving no offence in anything, that the ministry be not blamed; but in all things approving themselves as the ministers of God, in much patience,-by
pureness, by knowledge, by long suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left."
And now, my beloved brethren, if I have succeeded in my design of faithfully laying before you the leading principles by which Christians, and Christian Ministers, should be influenced and guided in their treatment of those who are opposed to them, or differ from them, in religious views, I trust I need not doubt your favourable reception of them, or your sincere desire to act upon them. They come recommended to you by the common feelings of your nature; by the high authority from which they emanate; by the precepts and the example of your Lord and by the conviction of your own minds, that they will ever be found the most effectual in the production of good. And I cannot but observe, with high satisfaction, (I hope I may say so without flattery,) that, as a Christian society, you are so generally influenced by these mild and tolerant principles. I should be sorry, indeed, ever to see any of you indifferent as to the principles either of your Christian faith, or of your Christian practice; for it is a good thing to be zealously affected always in a good cause:" but our zeal ought to be tempered with Christian humility and discretion. It is the privilege and
duty of every man to be "fully persuaded in his own mind," on all such subjects at least as admit of that full persuasion: but no man is thereby authorised to judge with harshness or severity of those who differ from him, but to judge this rather, that "no man lay a stumbling-block, or an occasion to fall in his brother's way." It is proper that we render to every man, that modestly asks it of us, "a reason of the hope that is in us," as Christians: but this should ever be done with meekness, with reverence, with godly fear. We should carefully avoid those questions which have no other tendency than to gender strife. And if, at any time, we feel it our duty to take part in the discussion of theological questions of importance, or in conversations upon them, let us ever remember that, even here, "the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men; apt to teach; patient; in meekness instructing those who oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth."
Whilst these principles should guide us in our general deportment as Christians, there are two special cases of importance to which, at present, we should feel it our duty to apply them.
The first of these to which I shall turn your attention, is the relation we stand in towards the great majority of the people of this island, who oppose themselves so strenuously to our religious
views. As a church, and as individuals, we claim the right of private judgment. We exercise the privilege of entertaining such sentiments on the subjects of Christian faith, worship, and morals, as we find in the Holy Scriptures. We are accustomed to regard the Bible as the sole standard in these matters. And, taking our measures by this infallible rule, we cannot but be impressed with the persuasion that in the Church of Rome there have been, and still are, as many errors in doctrine, and as much unauthorised observance in worship, as could well be combined with the profession of Christianity. But we form part of the same community with them; and the question is-how are we to carry ourselves towards them, so as most likely to become instrumental in removing their prejudices, in enlightening their minds, and in leading them to what we regard as a purer profession of the faith in Christ, and a more spiritual worship and service of the living God? Not, surely, by any means partaking of the nature of persecution, reproach, or violence :-not, surely, by misrepresentation and calumny, and casting out their names as evil. All these things have been brought much more into operation than they should have been; and they have all failed, as might have been expected, and as it was right they should, of producing any generally favourable results. Pains and penalties, and civil disabilities, have long been tried, and tried in vain; and no length of
time will ever cause such means to succeed. There is a barrier raised against them in the very pride and obstinacy of human nature, which they will never be able to surmount, and which, in truth, they do not deserve to be able to surmount. There has been some woful impolicy in the civil treatment of these people, which has all along stood in the way of their intellectual and spiritual advancement; and which, until it be removed, must ever defeat the rational hope of any such advancement. "That which now letteth, will let, until it be taken out of the way." What that impolicy is, and how it should be remedied, I do not take upon me to point out; nor would this be either the time or place for doing so, were I capable of it. One thing is clear, that, so far as relates to ourselves, it is our unquestionable duty, in all things, to manifest towards that people the mild and gentle spirit of the religion we profess. So long as they feel themselves aliens in their native land-so long as they are treated with scorn, and contumely, and exclusion, so long will they naturally view us, and every thing connected with us, with a jaundiced eye: so long will they continue to receive our overtures with jealousy, and to regard all our plans for their improvement with aversion and fear. It behoves those, therefore, who are really anxious for the spiritual good of that people to remove those obstacles as far as possible out of the way;