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for the heat of party spirit, for mutual stimulation and recrimination, for the blinding effect of an ardent controversy, and for the thousand militant influences generated by crowded public meetings continued day and night.
The ecclesiastical controversies of the present day prove conclusively, if any proof were needed, that creeds and confessions of faith of man's devising are but a feeble barrier against the intrusion of error, and but a poor auxiliary in the diffusion of truth. They have their use, and are not lightly to be discarded. They serve as a convenient manual of doctrines, especially for ministers of the gospel. But has not their employment as a means for discovering and excluding error real or supposed, -as a touchstone of soundness in the faith, or as rules or laws by which to try individuals for heresy been, for the most part, a signal failure ? Look at the great church establishments of Christendom—those which are regarded as possessing the most orthodox symbols and creeds. A large majority of the members of the Dutch Reformed church of Holland are universally reported as entertaining loose, latitudinarian, or Arminian views; and yet this resultat least in former times — did not take place through want of efforts at discipline, and of other strong
In Germany, in 1825, out of one hundred professors of theology, not more than nineteen were considered orthodox. If there be some return in the Scottish church to evangelical views, how long is the time since Dr. Robertson, at the head of the moderate party, had gone sufficiently far from the tenets of Knox and Calvin ? And still the creed of this church is most thoroughly Calvinistic. A majority of the inhabitants of England are professedly members of the established church; but how few either of her ministers or members strictly adhere to the articles in their true sense ? Those who are called evangelical preachers in the establishment undoubtedly approximate nearest in their views to the thirty-nine articles. “ In Ireland,” says the London Quarterly Review, “where the chapters have little or no weight, the connection of discipline between the bishop and the clergy has been proportionably weakened ; and the main safeguard for purity of doctrine lies in the hostility to Romanism.” The presbyterians of the north of Ireland have been sadly troubled with doctrinal differences; while the same sect in England has become principally merged in unitarianism. A similar induction of facts that have occurred in this country would lead us to the same conclusion. The integrity of divine
truth connot be maintained by the iron clasps of creeds and formularies. A more effectual method for the attainment of this object is a critical and patient study of the Bible, calm and friendly discussion, an earnest coöperation on the part of all Christians in efforts to spread the gospel, and above all in a general effusion of the influence of the Holy Spirit. Catechisms are good in their place. The revived attention in many parts of our country to the excellent Assembly's Shorter Catechism is among the favorable indications of the times. Still the church must study the Scriptures rather than the creed, must rely on prayer rather than on any human device whatever.
By the lamentable occurrences which are taking place in various parts of Christendom, we are taught not to divide further, as some persons confidently argue, but to strengthen the things which remain. The visions which burst upon us thirty years ago were not delusions. The shackles of sect and party,
which were rent in sunder when the British and Foreign and the American Bible societies were formed, are not to be reforged. The churches will not consent to be strangled again with the bandages which were manufactured by the intolerance of past
* An entire abandonment of the principles on which so large a part of the Christian world acted in the formation of the Bible societies and other national institutions, would be alınost enough to call the venerable dead from their graves. “ An excitement,” says Dr. John M. Mason, as extraordinary as it is powerful, has roused the nations to the importance of spreading the knowledge of the one living and true God, as revealed in his Son. Local feelings, party prejudices, sectarian jealousjes, are excluded by its very nature.
Its members are leagued in that and that alone, which calls up every hallowed, and puts down every unhallowed principle the dissemination of the Scriptures in the received versions where they exist, and in the niost faithful where they inay be required. In such a work, whatever is dignified, kind, venerable, true, has ample scope ; while sectarian littleness and rivalries can find no avenue of admission.” “ The formation of the British and Foreigo Bible Society," says Robert Hall,“ will, we trust, constitute a new era in the history of religion, which may be styled the era of unanimity. It affords a rallying point for the piety of the age, an unsuspicious medium of communication between the good of all parties and nations, a centre of union and coöperation in the advancement of a common cause, which cannot fail to allay the heats and sinooth the asperities of discordant sentiment."
We are aware that in the opinion of individuals of sound judgment and of extensive observation, the present indications of Providence seem to be adverse to the method of evangelizing the world by the means of large national associations. They hear in the unhappy collisions which occur the voice of divine wisdom, warning us that we have erred in adopting our magnificent plans, and that we ought to toil for the salvation of the world, rather as individuals, and with more secrecy and caution. We dissent from this interpretation. We do not think that the finger of Providence points to the abandonment of our large institutions. Why may not these sad events be for the trial of our faith? Why may they not be intended to teach us that the organizations in question, though in themselves excellent, are but organizations, and that the moving power is with God. We may have relied upon them to the exclusion of the divine influence. We may now be receiving the punishment of our temerity. But chastisement is not final reprobation. These institutions need discipline. They are, as really as their individual supporters, in a state of probation. But is every frown of the Almighty to be regarded as an anathema ? Did the long and bitter troubles of the London Missionary Society indicate that God was displeased with the organization of that institution ?
We think that some men deceive themselves on this point. In their humility, they would have the church act on a small scale. They are earnest advocates for movements which are simple, narrow, easily comprehended, and easily controlled. But ought we not in this case to be governed by the soundest maxims of wisdom ? Is it entirely certain, that if our national institutions should be sundered into a hundred independent societies, we should escape trouble ? Would not jealousy, envy, and the other bad passions have a fine opportunity to reveal their tendencies in the provincial or State or county associations ? Could we wholly exclude the demon of party if we had twenty-six home missionary institutions, instead of two or three? Supposing that New England had six entirely independent organizations for this purpose, would controversy and narrow-mindedness be excluded? Are there not differences of theological views in some of the States of New England which would interfere with the harmonious movement of a benevolent association? In that case, a minuter subdivision would be required, till single counties, or single associations of ministers, or single churches, or
parts of churches, (for these theological differences exist in particular churches) would be organized, till the whole land would be overspread with societies, each laboring in solitary grandeur and inefficiency.
“ The impulse,” remarks the eloquent Dr. Mason, “ which the British and Foreign Bible society, ten thousand times more glorious than all the exploits of the sword, has given to the conscience of Europe, to the slumbering hope of millions in the region and shadow of death, demonstrates to Christians of every country what they cannot do by insulated zeal; and what they can do by coöperation.” “Concentrated action is powerful action. The same powers, when applied by a common direction, will produce results impossible to their divided and partial exercise. A national object unites national feeling and concurrence. Unity of a great system combines energy of effort with economy of means. Accumulated intelligence interests and animates the public mind. And the catholic efforts of a country thus harmonized, give her a place in the moral convention of the world ; and enable her to act directly upon the universal plans of happiness which are now pervading the nations." We see no reason to abjure these considerations. They are the results of the soundest wisdom; they are based in the nature of man ; they are corroborated in every year's history of the church. What a sublime object is held up by the British and Foreign Bible society before all the nations of the earth ? And what is now doing in comparison by the smaller societies? - Where is the discontented Edinburgh Bible society? Who now hears of the Trinitarian off-shoot ? What, moreover, are the evils which the world is suffering from the national or rather we should say, ecumenical institutions? Is the freedom of thought and of action abridged? Are chains forged for the unwary by these irresponsible organizations ? Is the Protestantism or the Calvinism of Christendom brought into hazard ?
Some persons may regard these strange and revolutionary movements in the churches as a signal for the abandonment of voluntary societies, and the warmer embrace of ecclesiastical organizations. All things appear to be loose and disorderly. In every outbreak of popular or clerical violence, they see the necessity of some single, central, coërcive power, who shall take the disease and the remedy into his own hands, and ordain and execute laws and rules of action, without any troublesome reference to the parties interested, or the persons to be affected.
But while this may be a beautiful theory, it seems to us to be entirely unsupported by facts, or by philosophy. Our civil constitutions are utterly inconsistent with any such dictatorial, metropolitan influence. Our republican government must be merged into a monarchy or a despotism, before a single cardinal or a college of cardinals can control our benevolent agencies. Charities are not to be ordered or enjoined. They will flow freely or not flow at all. Any attempt, even in language or by the terms employed, to bring our beneficent plans under a systematized ecclesiastical control would be met, at least in large and enlightened districts of our country, with the most decided opposition. Besides, such a change would imply nothing less than an utter overthrow of some of our forms of ecclesiastical policy. We should be under the necessity of disowning long established and warmly cherished usages and habits, which though now combined into order and system, are, strictly speaking, nothing more than voluntary compacts. The Congregational and the Baptist denominations are not accustomed to say much about the jus divinum of their church governments.
It would seem that evidence enough is furnished by recent events to demonstrate that ecclesiastical organizations are not the best mode for conducting missions and other benevolent operations. What possibly can be more contingent and precarious than the action of the highest judicatories of some of our denominations, where a majority this year will be a minority next year, where one set of measures will prevail to-day and a different set to-morrow? In these ecclesiastical assemblages, there is nothing of permanence, uniformity, steadiness, without which a charitable institution can accomplish nothing. And yet no argument is more frequently urged in favor of church organizations than this: Voluntary societies are usurping the place which belongs to the church. The church was instituted for the very purpose of doing that which irresponsible bodies have unrighteously assumed.' But is not the church left free to select what plan she pleases for the diffusion of the gospel? Is she not as truly laboring for the conversion of the world in the existing mode, as she would be if the thousand and one sects, into which she is now sundered, were to resolve themselves into Missionary, Education, Tract, Bible, Sunday School, Temperance and the numerous other associations now in successful operation ? These associations are not independent of her influence and control. If she withdraws her patronage, they wither and die.