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'They that are of different opinions in these lesser mat- , ters, say, thus ::We will not receive each other at all; i. e, not to any Christian communion, and yet we will obtain the end, that St. Paul would have, viz. The setting forth the glory of God by another way as good. Since we are of this opinion, and you of that, do you make one church of Christ, and we will make another; we will own no church communion with you, nor you with us; we will neither receive you, nor desire to be received by you ; and yet we will live in peace, and try which shall come to Heaven soonest.
Now, this is, on the other side, the most contrary to the nature and design of Christianity of any thing that could be devised; for Christ, as he is but one head, never designed to have any more but one body. Here we see already two, totally distinct, for they receive not one another; and observe the consequence of such a principle; they continue but a very little while before that, in each of these churches, some members differing from the rest in opinion about some new-started matter, make a subdivision, as necessary as the first division was. Then the church, which out of one became two, out of two is propagated to four; and by the same reason, and by following on the same principle, there will quickly be forty. Nay, it is cer: lain, and will be plain to any one that considers, that by driving that principle home, of making, separate churches of all different opinions, it will come to pass at last, that there will not be any two men of one church; for if all things relating to religion were to be canvassed, there are not any two men in the world of the same mind in all things.
The fault therefore of this way is evident. They are in the right in supposing that there will always be variety of opinions, and that it is in vain to think by any foice to prevent it; but to think that the number of churches must hold place with the number of opinions, is a mistake of wretched consequence : it makes Christ's church, which should be a compact body, a rope of sand; it perpetuates for ever those strifes and janglings,
about opinions, which, in one 'cominunion, would quickly cease ; for each party when they have thus taken sides, will always strive to justify their own side. It is that which the ancient Christians call the setting up altar against altar. It gives so advantageous a handle to the common enemy, that he desires no other to ruin any church that is so divided into parties. St. Paul well apprehended the consequences of such dividings, wlien he (1 Cor. i. 10) besought the Corinthians, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they would liot adınit of any such method; and when he intreated the Christians at Rome (Rom. xvi. 17) that if
one among them did go about such a practice, the effect should be, that every one of them should avoid bim. In a word, where Christianity is in this state, it is in the next degree to dissolution.
And whereas the proposers or defenders of this course do say, We may live in peace, though we do renounce one another's communion in religion; this is neither practicable for any long time, nor is it sufficient for a Christian's purpose. Not practicable; for, as our Saviour has said, a house so divided cannot stand'; so we see, by experience, the heart-burnings, and hatred, and emulations, and bitter zeal which the separate parties do always shew one against another. Not sufficient, because Christ requires that all his disciples should be as brethren, and as limbs of the same body; which is more than outward peace and quiet
The Heathen neighbour cities that worshipped several gods, would sometimes make a league of peace,' and say, - Do you worship your god, and we will worship ours, without meddling with one another's religion; -- but it is horrible so to divide Christ!
It remains therefore, that there is no other way to answer the design of Christ, than that Christians of the same faith do hold comrnunion and receive one. another, notwithstanding their various opinions; - and if any one object against his joining with the Established Church where he lives, That he is of one opinion, and they of another in many things, lie needs only to mind
that this is the very case that St. Paul was here speaking of, when he bids them receive one another. They that he speaks to were likewise of different opinions ; and it was on occasion of such difference that he gives them this command of not separating for them.
Before I go any farther, I shall observe two corollaries that do naturally follow from what has been said :
One is, That in far the greatest number of the divided churches and partics that are in Christeudom, the sin, the mischief, and the danger to their souls, does not consist so much in the tenets and opinions for which they differ, as in the divisions which they make for them; the separations, the mutual excommunications, or renouncing of one another's communion. This, I conceive to be so clear a truth, that whereas, if I had a friend or brother, or any one for whose eternal good I were most concerned, that differed in some such opinions from the church where he lived, and (as I thought) from the truth, and yet did resolve and declare (as the old English Puritans did) that he would make no disturbance or separation, I should think it a thing of no great consequence whether ever his opinion were rectified or not; yet, if I found that he were inclined to separate, I should think labour ought to be taken, as for bis life, to hinder that.
The other is, That those churches which do impose, as terms of communion (I mean of lay-communion) the fewest subscriptions, or indeed none at all, to any doctrines, beside the fundamental doctrines of Christian faith, have in that respect the best and most excellent constitution; it is fitted for the fulfilling of this command of the Apostle :- to do otherwise, is to refuse what he here prescribes, of receiving one that is weak in the faith; for, supposing those doctrines to be true, yet he may think otherwise; and then he cannot be received without affirming what is in his conscience a falsehood. He is therefore rejected, and, as far as that church can go, lost; whereas, if he had been received without such a condition, he might either have learned
better in time; or if he had not, that error would not finally have much hurt him, for it is supposed to be no fundainental oné; nor would it have hurt the church, for he is supposed to be one that desired to be received, and that would not have made any schism for it. I do not pretend to know the history of the constitutions of the many churches that now are; but of all that I do know, the Church of England is, in this respect, the best constituted. That church requires of a layman no declaration, subscription, or profession, but only of the baptismal covenant. Any person when he is baptized; must, by himself, if he be of age, - by his sponsers, if an infant, profess to renounce the Devil and all wickedness, to believe the Creed, and to keep God's commandments. There is nothing required after this to his full communion; save that he learn and answer to the questions of a very short Catechism ; of one clause whereof I must, by and by, say something. Nobody can in other matters compel him to subscribe the opinions which the church thinks truest, nor to recant those which he thinks truest.
3. The same that has been said of different opinions in doctrinal points not fundamental, may be applied to the several ways of ordering the public worship, prayers, adıninistration of the sacraments, &c.; of which ways it does as naturally fall out that some do like one best, and some another, as it does of the foresaid different opinions, that some think one true, and some the other, The same rule for avoiding of schism must therefore be applied here as there, only with this difference : Of those opinions, there was no necessity that the man I spoke of should be required to assent to such as the generality thought the truest ; but here, the nature of the thing requires, That if he hold communion, he must join in the prayers and other service. I must divide the difficulties that may arise upon this, into two cases.
One man does not apprehend any thing sinful, unlawful, or erroneous, in any of the prayers or service; but yet he likes some other ceremonies, orders, and ways of worship that are used in some other nations
or churches, better than he does those of his own; and therefore he holds it lawful, and useful for spiritual advancement, to gather together a number of men of a like taste and relish with himself, and make a separate body by themselves.
This man has but a very little and slight sense of the sin of schism, scandalously little. Either he' has not read what the Scripture says of it, or else dulness or prejudice has taken off the edge of his apprehension, sq as that he felt nothing at the reading of those earnest and moving passages of our Saviour and the Apostles on that subject. To confess the orders and service of a church to be lawful, and to join in them perhaps sometimes, and yet to foment the mischief of schism, under which all Christendom, especially the Protestant religion, and particularly the state of religion in England and Holland, does now groan and gasp! and all this for a gust, a flavour, a humour, an itching éar pleased with this or that mode of preaching, praying, &c. to divide the body of Christ out of mere wantonness! what answer will such an one make at the last day, for having made so light of that on which the word of God has laid such a stress? St. Paul(Phil. ii. 1) intreats by the consolation in Christ, by the comfort of love, by the fellowship of the Spirit, by all bowels and mercies, that Christians should be unanimous;, - is it then a matter of small moment to divide them into sides, parties, and several boilies ?
That among various ceremonies, fornis, and methods of ordering church matters, one should like one best, and one another, is no new or strange thing at all; but ever was, and ever will be. But yet, in the primitive times, if any man or number of men went about upon that pretence to set up a separate party from the establised church of that place, it made the Christians tremble to hear of such a thing; and all the neighbours iny churches (for they then all kept a correspondence and communion with one another) did use to send notice of their abhorrence of such separatists, and renounce any communion with them during their schism, and