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From the earliest age of Christianity, a disposition towards sectarian differences, has manifested itself among the professed followers of CHRIST; and gave no small share of uneasiness to the devout and holy PAUL, as may be scen in his masterly epistles to the Corinthians and Galatians, in which he labors to convince them of the impropriety of their divisions, and enforces the doctrine of the unity of the Church, and of the faith committed unto them by their Lord and Saviour JESUS CHRIST.
The same disposition was manifested toward the close of the first century, and the just reprehensions of the SPIRIT by the holy and venerable disciple of our Lord, may be seen in the 2d and 3d chapters of his Revelations; and with sincere grief we add, the same carnal disposition, to divide and subdivide, the one Church of CHRIST, is found to exist, even in the nineteenth century! and among men, who having the experience of past ages, and every facility of acquiring the true nature, design, and character of the Christian religion, have not in this respect, improved one step, from the schisms of the early Christians; but are in fact many steps in advance of them in points of religious differences and controversies.
That "the Primitive Churches throughout the world, were formed by the Apostles upon one and the same plan," we have only to refer to the second chapter of their Acts to prove: "they were of one mind, and acted as with one soul." Such was the Primitive, Apostolic and Catholic or Universal Church of Christ, in the days of the Apostles: we mean the faithful followers of CHRIST
But how is it now?-Let the numerous divisions, and subdivisions, animosities, jarrings, contentions, controversies, schisms, &c. give the reply.
To approach as nearly as times and circumstances would permit, the Primitive Faith and practice of the Apostolic Church, was, and is a primary object with the Associates in this City; as may be seen in their Fifteenth Article. And they were aware that their attempt, would be attended with many difficulties, that they would have to contend against misrepresentations and deep rooted prejudices, to encounter many, and adverse opinions, that have been long and fondly cherished; not alone among the advocates of other doctrines, but even among those who are also Universalists; though not as we are Universalists; and whose sentiments of the World's Redeemer, differs most widely from our sentiments; and lastly, that we should have to confront and soften the deadly animosities, that have so unworthily obtained against us, as the advocates for the Universal Faith, as embracing all, and rejecting no one of the doctrines of the Holy Scriptures.
That the public may be enabled to judge of our faith and doctrines, an honest and fearless avowal of them, has been deemed indispensable, in order henceforth to check the unqualified slanders and abuses that have been published and circulated against Universalists indiscriminately; and by those of whom we had hoped better things. We had also charitably hoped, that in the present enlightened age, writers, critics and censors, must, or ought to have known, that there are various classes of Universalists: some who differ from other Christian believers, in no one point, except as it regards the nature and duration of future punishments; but who as tenacious
ly cling to all the essential doctrines of the Scriptures, as any other denomination of Christians; that there are Universalists who agree with the former, in no one point, but that which regards the limited and disciplinary nature of future punishment; that there are some who have adopted the Arian, others the Socinian errors; and again, some who deny any future punishment at all; while others deny that there will be any resurrection, and are hence modern Sadducees.
The necessity of appearing before the public in this defence, is therefore obvious; and it will at the same time be seen, that one other object of the Association, in the publication of their Manual, is not to urge this doctrine as one that is essential to salvation; but to justify themselves to the world, for its adoption, by proving from the Scriptures themselves, that it is not only a Scripture doctrine; but is also one of the most glorious features of the entire gospel plan; as attributing the highest possible honor to GOD, and magnifying the character and offices of CHRIST, not beyond, but to the utmost extent of the limited capacity of rational beings.
Relying therefore, upon the accredited testimony of the Prophets of the Old, and the Apostles of the New Testament, we proceed to prove, that, there will be a "time of restitution of all things," and hence an end of sin and of death-consequently a final reconciliation of all things to GOD; an end to misery, and an eternity of happiness, "which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began." It will be hence seen, that we shall not rely solely on the writings and opinions of men, or sects of men, subsequent to the Apostolic age; but on the sacred records; and if to these, we can add the testimony of many of the early Fathers of the Church, in confirmation of our faith, we rationally conclude, that the
candid reader will acknowledge at least, that we are entitled to rank as members by faith of the Primitive, Apostolic and Universal CHURCH OF CHRIST.
The following will be the order of the introductory sections:
I. Scripture Testimonies in support of this Doctrine. II. Testimony of the Apostolic and early Fathers. III. Testimony of the Ecclesiastical and other Writers. IV. The Doctrines and Tenets of the Church explained. V. A Theory and Defence of the Holy Trinity, with copious remarks and illustrations.