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To this truth the house of God are bound to bear testimony to the world. And also, to another, that the Scriptures give light upon every subject, which suits the intelligent nature of men; which gratifies their thirst for knowledge, as well as is calculated to promote their eternal happiness. And that light wbich they give, the house, or church of God, are bound to show forth, for a confirmation of the truth, and a testimony to the world.
The followers of Christ ought not to be babes, unskilful in the word of righteousness, but advanced to perfection. They ought to be intimately acquainted with “ the Scriptures, which are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Thus they will fulfil their duty as lights shining in the midst of the world; and do good in their day and generation, by the diffusion of knowledge in the circles to which they belong, and in which they have influence.
Thirdly, The household of faith constitutes the centre, to which all God's providences do point. As he has gathered them from out of the world for his own glory, so he makes all the movements of his government tend to the illustration of this glory.
The history of nations has a direct, or indirect, relation to the company of believers. Thus the Assyrian, the Egyptian, the Babylonian, the Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman empires, each in its place and day, promoted the purposes of God towards his people. And could we take a view of the nations which have been since their existence, and which now are, we would see all their revolutions regulated by infinite wisdom, in such a manner as to produce ultimate effects upon the Church. As the cross of Christ is the creative agent in forming this Church, and by its virtue constantly applied by the Holy Spirit, the means of her continuance, we may, with propriety, consider the following eloquent quotation as appropriate in this connexion. “ The cross of Christ is an object of such incomparable brightness, that it spreads a glory round it to all the nations of the earth, all the corners of the universe, all the generations of time, and all the ages of eternity. The greatest actions or events that ever happened on earth, filled with their splendour and influence but a moment of time, and a point of space : the splendour of this great object fills immen. sity and eternity. If we take a right view of its glory, we will see it contemplated with attention, spreading influence, and attracting looks, for times past, present, and to come; heaven, earth, and hell ; angels, saints, and devils. We will see it to be the object of both the deepest admiration of the creatures, and the perfect approbation of the infinite Creator; we will see the best part of mankind, the church of God, for four thousand years looking forward to it before it happened; new generations yet unborn, rising up to admire and honour it, in continual successions, till time shall be no more; innumerable multitudes of angels and saints looking back to it with holy transport, to the remotest ages of eternity.**
To disregard God, or his providence towards the world, but especially towards the Church in ordinary matters, is condemnable in private life; much more so in public life; most of all in those works which profess to give us authentic facts, and reasonings from those facts, in reference to nations.' How lamentably deficient in this respect are our best historians ! “ When they descant,” says an eminently pious writer," upon the rise and fall of empires, with all their professed sagacity, in tracing the connexion between causes and effects, they are totally unacquainted with the great master-wheel which manages the whole movement; that is, the Lord's design in favour of his Church and Kingdom. To this every event is subordinate; to this, every interfering interest must stoop.”+ The same writer, in another place, says, and we quote his words with entire approbation," I have lately read Robertson's History of Charles V. which, like other histories, I consider a comment upon those passages of Scripture which teach us the depravity of man, the deceitfulness of the heart, the ruinous effects of sin, and the powerful, though secret rule of Divine Providence, moving, directing, and controlling the designs and actions of men, with an unerring hand, to the accomplishment of his own purposes, both of mercy and judgment. Without the clue
* M'Laurin on Glorying in the Cross of Christ. † Newton's Works, Vol. I. p. 467. Lond. edit.
and the light which the word of God affords, the history of mankind, of any, of every age, only presents to view a labyrinth and a chaos; a detail of wickedness and misery to make us tremble ; and a confused jumble of interfering incidents, as destitute of stability, connexion, or order, as the clouds which fly over our heads. But with the Scripture key, all is plain, all is instructive--Then I see, verily there is a God who 'governs the earth, who pours contempt upon princes, takes the wise in their own craftiness, overrules the wrath and pride of man, to bring his own designs to pass ; and restrains all that is not necessary to that end; blasting the best concerted enterprises, at one time, by means apparently slight and altogether unexpected, and, at other times, producing the most important events, from instruments and circumstances which are at first thought too feeble and trivial to deserve notice. I should like to see a writer of Dr. Robertson's abilities give us a history upon this plan, but I think his reflections of this sort are too general, too cold, and too few."*
Such then being the relation which the Church sustains to the world, her duty is twofold.
1. In respect to herself, to take good heed that her light does not become darkness, and her salt does not lose its savour. For this purpose, she must most carefully watch over, and preserve purity of doctrine and practice in her members. Every departure from the simplicity of the truth, as it is in Jesus Christ, revealed to us in the word of life, ought to be checked in its very commencement. To do this is the peculiar duty of her officers, to whom her glorious Head has committed her government. The rule according to which they are bound to execute their duty, is the word of life, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. Of this word the Reformed Churches have given their explanations, in their respective Confessions of Faith. Without entering into a defence of these Confessions, we remark, that the very men who are opposed to them, are compelled by necessity to use them, in some shape or other. Two cannot walk together except they are agreed: And how shall their agreement be known without an interchange of opi. nions? If they do agree after this interchange, assuredly their. agreement is their Confession, or bond of union.
* Newton's Works, Vol. I. p. 514, 515.'
By these Confessions, the officers of the Church, in the different denominations of Christians, are bound to try every doctrine which is maintained by the persons committed to their
From these forms of sound words, they are to admit no departure which affects the essential parts of the same. They must, however, make a difference in their estimate of the departure, whether it relates to doctrines, which essen-. tially affect Christian character, or those which relate to Christian comfort, and establishment. The former ought not only not to be allowed for one moment without a suitable condemnation, but the persons charged with it, ought to be excluded from Christian communion. The latter must be opposed; but its supporters are still entitled to the fellowship of the Church, provided they possess in other respects the essential marks of Christian character. Whilst thus treated by the officers, it is their duty not to attempt destroying the peace of the Church, by their peculiarities or novelties; but to be quiet. If, on the contrary, they exert themselves to make proselytes, and unbinge the faith of others, they must either be constrained peaceably to leave the Church, or be censured. for disturbing its quiet. In this treatment, there is no in-. fringement of the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free. We cannot better express our view of this subject, than in the language of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in these United States, in their answer to an inquiry, in what manner certain persons should be treated who were desirous of joining one of the Presbyteries of that body, with objections to certain doctrines, and their own construction of others.* “ We wish you to be careful not to yield any principle, either in doctrine or government. You will readily perceive the propriety of the advice; when you recollect that our Standards constitute our bond of union. Neither individuals nor judicatories
* Printed Extracts for 1811.
cah alter them; for the whole Church is interested. If you modify any part of our Standards to suit these men, you are bound by the precedent to modify another part, for another set of men, if they should make objections. Take your stand, therefore, on the ground of the Confession of Faith and the Book of Discipline; keep that ground. If these men wish to join our Church, they know the terms. Their wish to alter these terms is not very modest ; for it is requesting the majority to yield to the minority. As we force no one to adopt our standards, there is no oppression exercised over any by our adherence to our own principles. The contrary practice, in fact, is the intolerance of a few over the many, and must produce ruinous effects. The history of your part of our Church is a warning."
The right of construction, assumed by many, which construction goes to set aside a very large proportion of the whole system of doctrines contained in the Confessions of Faith, combined with an actual rejection of parts as unscriptural, clearly proves the truth and the wisdom of these remarks of the General Assembly. There is an affectation of originality, connected with the support and propagation of novelties in religion, under the imposing name of Improvements ; which gratifying human pride, makes even good men swerve unintentionally from their integrity, so far as their adherence to Confessions of Faith, voluntarily adopted, is concerned. Independent of this natural feeling, arising from the corruption of our nature, there is a social feeling, originating in our civil relations, which not unfrequently gives ambitious men a dominancy over conscientious men, by using their National attachment as the engine to promote sectarian selfishness. Against the feelings of individuals, in both these particulars, the Officers of the Church, in any Denomination, ought to bear testimony. They ought never to forget that, next to allegiance to God, they are pledged to their Church, to maintain her principles and government. And thus also it is their duty, to enforce obedience to the law of God as a rule of life. Aberrations from this rule, in the conduct of any, are as much the objects of con