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audience perceive that union consists in words, not in faith? Will it not be perceived that while A subscribed a cate chism, teaching such particular doctrines, the other subscribed a catechism, the doctrines of which were very different? Here then will be at least two parties in this harmonious association just as far apart as before, the one desiring that his sentiments may prevail, to the suppression or extermination of contrary sentiments; the other as cordially reciprocating the same desire. But, says an advocate for the measure contemplated, let both be prudent, and cautiously guard against mutual offence. Whereunto they have already attained, let them walk by the same rule; let them mind the same things. So says the writer; but pray why may they not do this without subscribing the catechism? Why may they not, at present, converse freely together, see where they agree, and where they differ, unite in supporting what they both deem important, and to oppose what both unite in condemning?
Why may not this be done without professing a creed, which, it is extremely possible, neither subscribes, in the sense of its original framers? The English clergy have, it is well known, brought much reproach on themselves, by their readiness to subscribe articles, which, in their most obvious sense, they do not believe. It is not easy to see why others who imitate them should not partake in the same reproach. Whatever injury is done to the cause of uprightness and true religion, in the one case, may be done in the other.
Another inconvenience likely to attend on the contemplated association is, its being conducive to a wrong estimate of clerical character. The catechism will, in the use proposed, be a standard of orthodoxy. People will be led to view those, who subscribe, as orthodox; all who refuse to subscribe, heterodox.
Here are two men, let it be supposed, whose theological sentiments perfectly coincide. Both view the catechism as a remarkably succinct and well digested summary of the Christian faith. Both believe in man's hereditary depravity; but do not believe that the posterity of Adam either sinned in him, or fell with him. But though agreed in divinity, they are not agreed in every point of Christian casuistry. One supposes, that, taking all things into consideration, he may safely subscribe. He does it, and is reputed sound in the faith. The other, whose faith is precisely the same, judging differently as a casuist, does not subscribe; of course, he is reputed a person of corrupt sentiments. His reputation suffers, and his usefulness is diminished.
These thoughts are suggested for the consideration of the candid and pious. If they have no weight, or be counterbalanced by those, which have more, the writer cordially hopes, that the contemplated coalition will be formed. On the other hand, if the reasoning be just, the sincere friends of Zion will not despise it.
But what, interrogates the reader, shall be done? Are the peculiar doctrines of Christianity to be given up, or viewed with indifference? Is it of no concern ment, whether we preach the eth
ics of Epictetus, or the gospel of Messiah? And should we not contend, with a Christian temper, for the Christian faith?
The writer humbly proposes the following measures.
1. Let those ministers who believe that men are in a state, from which they need to be renewed by the Holy Spirit, endeavour to cultivate a friendly intercourse.
2. Let them collect the most important points, on which they do agree, and unite for the defence of them.
3. Let them consider the threatening errors, which they both condemn, and unite to oppose them.
4. Though they should not pretend union of sentiment, where it does not exist, let them not magnify the points of disa greement.
5. Let them agree not to act in the ordination of a candidate, unless liberty be granted to examine his qualifications.
To these, let there be added humble prayer, a mild temper towards all men, and increased zeal in the discharge of ministerial duty. J.
REMARKS ON THE FOREGOING
In the view of the Editors, the plan of the GENERAL ASSOCIATION is favourable to the interest of religion. It has, therefore, received their decided approbation, and their cordial and zealous patronage. It can, they believe, be defended on principles, which result from scripture, from sound reason, and from the experience of ages. Their re
luctance to publish the preceding communication has not aris en from want of respect for the talents of their Correspondent, nor, on the other hand, from a fear of meeting his objections in the most public manner. They would not become advocates of a measure which, in their apprehension, would suffer by fair, open investigation. The delay of the publication has proceeded from their unwillingness to occupy the attention of their readers with arguments, which, though specious, are not weighty, and which, in their serious judgment, tend rather to perplex, than to enlighten the mind. They have further considered how easy it frequently is, by a few sentences, to entangle a subject with puzzling difficulties, and to inwrap it in obscurity; and how much attention and labour are sometimes necessary to free it from such entanglements and obscurity, and to place it clearly in the light of truth. This consideration, which has increased their backwardness to publish the foregoing performance, must be received, as an apology for the length of their reply.
But in attempting a just reply to the communication of J, it is by no means necessary to prove, that his objections are wholly without foundation. We never indulged the expectation, that the plan of the General Association would occasion no undesirable consequences; nor are we disposed to say that the evils, which our Correspondent has mentioned, if they should follow, are worthy of no regard. It is to be remembered, that no scheme, though devised by the most consummate wisdom, and
calculated to yield the greatest advantage to the public, can be proposed, against which a fertile imagination and a subtle understanding cannot urge very plau sible arguments. What plan of extensive utility to mankind has ever been brought forward, the accomplishment of which has not been hindered by a host of objections. If our finding men, who will object and oppose, be considered a serious discouragement, we must relinquish every great and good work, and despair of ever attaining the object, to which Christian benevolence is devoted.
No important measures for the public good have ever been adopted and pursued, which have not been attended with difficulties, and followed by some real evils. The medical art, though it has been a blessing to the world, has been the occasion of destroying the health and hastening the dissolution of many individuals. There is no civil law or constitution, though most wisely framed, and founded on the most rigid principles of public justice, which may not, in some real or supposeable case, open the door for a degree of injustice to particular persons. The most important improvements in the arts and sciences, and the most pious and successful plans for the reformation and everlasting welfare of mankind have occasioned partial disadvantage and injury. But what reasonable man ever thinks of urging an accidental, partial evil, which may possibly take place, as a decisive argument against a project, which promises a vast overbalance of advantage? How Ili
Vol. III. No. 10.
generally is it the case, that our judgment and practice are determined in favour of a proposed plan, not by the prospect of avoiding every evil, but by the balance of expected good? Here, we apprehend, is the great mistake of our respected correspondent. He appears too much impressed with the few possible inconveniences, which may attend the plan of the General Association, and too little, with the immense good, which it is likely to promote. Even if all the evils, which have occurred to his imagination, could be certainly predicted, those evils would, in our apprehension, be lost in the evident advantages of the General Association. These advantages have been briefly mentioned in a former number of the Panoplist, and need not be repeated. See Pan. Vol. II. p. 504.*
Upon the supposition, that the evils apprehended should actually take place, it is still an important question, whether they would arise from any impropriety or defect in the plan of the General Association, or from some other cause. That plan ought not to be charged with evils, which spring from the ignorance, the weakness, or the errors of men.
Readers will remember that the plan proposed is simply this; namely, that the Congregational ministers in this commonwealth, who embrace the doctrines of the reformation, shall meet together once a year, to deliberate on the concerns of religion, and to devise and adopt
The reader is requested to re. fresh his mind with the No. referred
measures for promoting the cause of Zion, receiving, as articles of their faith, and as the basis of their union, the principles of Christianity as they are generally expressed in the Assembly's Shorter Catechism. Is not such a plan perfectly consistent with our religious liberty, and with all our rights and duties as men, and as Christians? Is it not eminently adapted, particuJarly at the present time, to yield extensive good to the churches? If so, what have we to do with a few evils, which may possibly attend the execution of it, or be occasioned by it? Especially when we consider that the evils feared cannot be produced by any thing exceptionable in the plan, and, therefore, cannot be pleaded as an argument against it, any more than the fire, which Christ declared he came to kindle on earth, was to be charged to any thing malignant or hurtful in the nature of Christianity. Suppose the heterodoxy, the prejudice, or the needless scrupulosity of some men exclude them from the General Association.
this a reason why others should reject the scheme, and deprive themselves and the churches of important advantages within their reach?
Thus far we have admitted, that the inconveniences attending the General Association may be as numerous and great, as J. imagines. Now even upon this supposition, we consider the inconveniences so small, in comparison with the probable advantages, as to furnish no solid argument against the scheme under consideration. But let us inquire what are the inconve
niences and difficulties in the way? What are the evils, which have filled the apprehension of our correspondent? Let his reasoning be carefully examined. :
His great difficulty respects the creed, which is received as the basis of union. "It is not supposed, (he says) that all, who subcribe to this Catechism, think alike on all subjects of theology. Perfect union of sentiment is not the sine qua non of this coalition. As this is not required in order to subscription, so neither is it required of those, who have subscribed. It must then be clearly understood, that though we subscribe to the same Catechism, we are not bound to explain this Catechism in the same manner, nor to understand it in the same sense." But this is not correct reasoning. For although "it is not supposed, that all, who subscribe the Catechism, think alike on all subjects of theology;" it may be supposed, that they think alike on those particular subjects, which are introduced into the Catechism. Although "perfect union of sentiment" is not expected of those who join the Association; yet it may be expected that they will agree in understanding and explaining their creed, according to the plain, honest language of subscription. The most that can be clearly inferred from this language is, that subscribers are not bound to understand and explain the Catechism, in every particular article, or word, in precisely the same sense. J's mistake is, that he has made this inference too extensive.
He thinks it difficult to define what is comprehended under the
term, generally, and that, "while that is undefined, the language of subscription cannot be understood; that is, it cannot be clearly understood what a man's sentiments are, from the circumstance of his subscribing to the Catechism." We allow that, from a man's subscribing the Catechism in the manner abovementioned, it cannot be fully understood what his sentiments are on all subjects, and in all respects. But if he duly understand the principles of Christianity and the proper use of words, and mean to make a fair and honest declaration of his sentiments, his professing to receive the principles of Christianity, as they are generally expressed in the Catechism, clearly determines what is the general scheme of his sentiments. The Catechism is designed to exhibit the great outlines, or the fundamental principles of the Christian religion. These principles, in almost every instance, are expressed in unequivocal and perspicuous language, and in a connected, systematic form. No man, therefore, of tolerable information, can honestly declare, that he receives the Catechism, generally, unless he believe the great evangelical principles upon which it is constructed, and, indeed, of which it consists. And as this is the case, such a declaration may be easily understood. If a man, of whose knowledge and veracity we have satisfactory proof, declare to us, that he receives the principles of natural philosophy according to the general scheme of Newton, or as they are generally expressed in his writings; we are at no less about his meaning. He receives
the great system of the Newtoni an philosophy, and rejects every thing inconsistent with it; or, in other words, he receives the Newtonian philosophy in ita grand, discriminating principles; though as to the mode and result of some experiment or observation, and in some instances, as to the particular method of proof, he may not perfectly agree with Newton. If a man say, "I believe the general principles of Berkley's system;" we under stand that he believes Berkley's system in its grand peculiarities, or distinguishing principles; although in some explanations and minor points, which affect not the general system, he may differ from Berkley. So if a divine say, "I believe the principles of religion as they are generally exhibited in the writings of Calvin, Witsius, Stapfer, Owen, and Edwards ;" if another say, "I believe the general system of Arminius and Whitby ;" and another; " I believe the principles of religion, as they are generally contained in the writings. of Socinus and Priestley ;" it is not difficult to understand them. We conclude the honest meaning of each to be, that he embraces the peculiar principles, which constitute the system of his favourite authors, and which distinguish it from all other systems. Accordingly, we may justly denominate him a Calvinist, an Arminian, or a Socinian; although, in
some minor, unessential points, he does not exactly agree with Calvin, Arminius, or Socinus. It is not proper, that we should here undertake to show, what are the fundamental and essential principles of each of these systems. We refer it to