« PreviousContinue »
cious consequences flow from both. Heresy consists in erroneous sentiments, and schism consists in bitter animosity, contention, and separation in a church. When the members of the body are disjointed or obstructed in their natural operations, it produces acute pain, or extreme anguish in the body. Solomon says, "Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint." But heresy or schism in the body of a church is a far more painful and dangerous evil. It creates discords, animosities, contentions, divisions, and separations, which counteract all the pious and important purposes for which the church is formed. It deeply concerns the members of a church to guard against, and if possible, to prevent such moral maladies rising up and spreading among them. And the only effectual remedy they can employ is the cultivation of mutual affection, or brotherly love, which will produce a sympathy and cement that will hold them together. For this cause, the duty of Christian union is so repeatedly and solemnly enjoined upon them. This is enjoined upon them in the text to prevent schism. "That there should
be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care one for another." Again the apostle says in this same epistle, "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind." Again he says to the Philippians, "If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind." And the apostle Peter says to Christians, "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren; see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently." It highly behooves the members of a church to love as brethren; and so long as brotherly love continues, there is no danger of heresy or schism breaking out among them. While united in brotherly love, they will be joined together in the same mind, embrace the same doctrines, repel the same errors, discountenance the same discord, animosity, contentions, divisions, and separations, and strive together to promote the peace and purity of the church. The tendency of brotherly love to promote such great and desirable objects is a powerful reason why the members of a church should constantly maintain it; especially since it is so solemnly enjoined upon them.
2. It is of great importance, that the members of a church
should cherish and maintain union and affection, in order to enjoy Christian communion, in attending public worship and the special ordinances of the gospel. It is one, if not the principal object they profess to have in view, in becoming members of the church, to hold Christian communion and fellowship together in attending divine ordinances. But without union they can have no spiritual communion or enjoyment. They may walk together to the house of God in company, and sit together at the table of Christ; but if they are alienated in their affections towards one another, they cannot enjoy Christian communion, or have spiritual enjoyment. Says the apostle to the Corinthians, among whom he had heard there were discords and contentions, "Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." Again he says in the same epistle, "I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread." "Now in this that I declare unto you, I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you: and I partly believe it." The men of the world may unite together in the pursuit of worldly objects, and gain the objects of their pursuit, without brotherly love or union and affection. But the members of a Christian church cannot obtain one of their principal objects, unless they are cordially united, and love as brethren. This the apostle Peter knew, and therefore said to Christians in general, "Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another; love as brethren." As there is nothing more necessary to the union and communion, peace and harmony, edification and happiness of a church, than brotherly love; so it is of the highest importance, that all its members should constantly cherish and maintain this Christian grace. Besides,
3. Their own honor and usefulness, as a church, depend upon their maintaining and exhibiting that union of affection, upon which it is founded. Those that are without, are very critical and severe observers of those that are within the pale of the church. And there is no one mark by which they judge of the reality of religion and the sincerity of Christians, more fre
quently than by their union or disunion among themselves. The heathen remarked to the honor of the primitive Christians, "See how they love one another!" But the men of the world have more generally and reproachfully remarked, "See how heresies, schisms, contentions, and even persecutions have prevailed among the professed followers of the Prince of Peace." It cannot be denied, that Christians have too often given ground for such severe reproaches. But they ought to avoid them as much as lieth in them. And by maintaining that union of affection, which both their duty and profession require, they may convince the world that they have that union of affection, which Christ prayed the Father to give them. Having prayed for his disciples in particular, he prayed for all his future followers. "Neither pray I for these alone; but for them also which shall believe on me through their word: that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them as thou hast loved me." So ardently did Christ pray for union of affection among his followers, for the sake of their convincing the world, that they were united in love, as he and his Father were united, that his Father loved them as he had loved him, and that the world might believe and know, that he had come to seek and save them that are lost. Union of affection in a church is the highest evidence that it is a Christian church, and the existence of a Christian church is the highest visible evidence to the world, that God has sent his Son into the world; that he has suffered and died, and established a religion superior to any other religion ever devised or practised by mankind. It is only by cherishing and maintaining brotherly love among themselves, that the members of a church can convince the world they are sincere, and that the religion they profess is a divine reality.
1. It appears from the origin, nature, and design of a Christian church, that it is Congregational. It is composed of members, who freely associate and confederate together, to meet together statedly for religious purposes and Christian communion and edification. This was the foundation of all the primi
tive churches. All the churches organized by the apostles were strictly congregational, and consisted of such members only as of choice and of affection bound themselves together for the purpose of attending the worship of God and the ordinances of the gospel. But immediately after the death of the apostles, different opinions rose up, with respect to the extent of a Christian church. Some supposed that it ought to consist of more than one body of Christians, that could meet together in one place. They first formed a Presbyterian church, composed of a number of individual churches and their pastors. These pastors, together with delegates from their several churches, formed into a presbytery, and agreed to submit to the watch, and care, and government of that ecclesiastical body. Next they enlarged their presbytery into a diocese, and submitted to the watch, and care, and government of a single Bishop at the head of a single diocese. They were not, however, contented with their diocesan church, but wished to form one universal church, under one supreme, visible Head. This they did ages ago, and in consequence of it, the Pope has ever since to this day, claimed the government of the universal visible church. But all these innovations are departures from the original form, design, and extent of the first Christian church in Jerusalem. The apostles followed the directions of Christ, and gathered none but Congregational churches. And had Christians followed the example of the apostles, they would have prevented some of the greatest evils and calamities that have ever fallen on the Christian world. Had churches continued Congregational, they could never have introduced the corruptions, idolatries, and usurpations of the church of Rome, nor raised up such a man as the Pope, to spread error, delusion, idolatry, tyranny, and persecution through Christian countries.
2. Since every Christian church is a free, voluntary society, it is in its own nature absolutely independent. The members of every individual church have a right to attend public worship and the ordinances of the gospel, agreeably to the word of God, and the dictates of their own consciences. They have a right to choose their own teachers, to regulate their own modes and forms of conducting their public worship, and of judging and deciding in respect to any controversies or difficulties arising among them. They have a right to claim independence, and to act independently of every other church or body of men in the world, in their religious concerns. They may ask advice of other churches, and either follow or reject it, according to their own judgment. Every church is completely independent, and has no right to give up its independence. This was the
opinion of the first ministers and churches in New England, and for a time they strictly acted according to this opinion. But they gradually altered their opinion and practice, till some became Presbyterians, and some Episcopalians. The clergy have been the most influential in bringing about these innovations. The cause is obvious. Presbyterianism and Episcopalianism throw more power into the hands of ministers than Congregationalism. The late union between the General Associations of New England and the General Assembly of Philadelphia, has led many who were Congregational ministers and churches to become Presbyterian. But they are stepping on unscriptural and dangerous ground. All Congregational churches ought to open their eyes, and guard against all means and measures that are used to introduce an ecclesiastical hierarchy in this country.
3. It appears from the nature and design of a Christian Congregational church, that every member ought to submit to the watch, and care, and government of the body to which he has chosen to belong. He united freely and voluntarily, and placed confidence in the wisdom, affection, and faithfulness of the members of the church; and can he have more reason to think, when they watch over him, rebuke him, or even censure him, that they have generally lost their Christian character, than that he has acted inconsistently with his, and deserved to be admonished, or censured? They may, indeed, judge and act wrong; but, in that case, their judgment and conduct is to be respected and revered, and not reproached. Every church is more apt to be lax than severe in watching over its members. And individuals, perhaps, suffer more by its laxness, than its severity or injustice.
4. It appears from the nature and profession of a Christian church, that every member ought to seek the good of the civil society to which he belongs. Every member of a Christian church is also a member of the civil society to which he belongs, and in which he enjoys civil privileges. His obligations to the church do not weaken, but strengthen, his obligations to the civil society to which he belongs. But the primitive Christians imbibed an opinion, that their Christian character, profession, and obligations, weakened, if not dissolved, their obligations as members of civil society; and this subjected them to the just reproach of the heathen among whom they lived. The apostle Peter reproved them for their false opinion, and their unruly conduct founded upon it. Hear what he says on the subject. "Dearly beloved, I beseech you, as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having