« PreviousContinue »
of these belligerent powers is to be much honoured in the conversion of the world. Certainly they must change their present grounds and lose the very spirit which I fear produces more than half their animation, before they can be persuaded to turn their arms from their brethren, and employ them against their common enemy.
The world is not to be converted by carnal weapons ; nor to such a distorted self-consuming Christianity. Even should that narrow-minded and intolerant part of the church of which I am speaking diffuse their present principles and feelings among all the nations of the earth, the world would need a second conversion before the millennial glory could be introduced. For one, I do not regret the impossibility of their moulding the unchristianized portion of mankind into their own image. The gossamer theories about which many of them contend, are too attenuated to be woven into the coarse web of heathen languages. It is as much as can be done to make some of the tribes of men acquainted with the rudiments of Christianity. Even the grosser forms of church-government, as they exist in Christian lands, cannot at first be introduced under all circumstances among the heathen. The missionary is at times obliged to be the sum of all church-officers and church judicatories, and to model his materials, not according to prescribed rules, but to existing exigencies. I confidently expect that the world will be “ filled with the knowledge of the glory of God," before one-half of mankind is qualified to comprehend, and the other disposed to value all those shibboleths which now divide and alienate the members of the redeemed family.
THE LIBERAL-MINDED CHRISTIAN.
The next speaker was a Christian, who was known to rise superior to all the littleness of party spirit. He always acted on the sublime principles of Christian benevolence ; never stopping to inquire whether his own sect, or any other, was to reap the honours of his exertions.
I am not surprised, said he, at the strong feelings which have just been expressed. I have often thought that if any thing is calculated to offend and afflict those who have just emerged from heathenism, it is this strife among “the followers of the Lamb."
To contend earnestly for the essential truths of Christianity, and to guard the church against the introduction of fatal errors, is an unquestionable duty. The evils of a sectarian spirit do not lie here. They result from a want of discrimination between the fundamental and the unimportant in religion. And this is the infirmity of some of our best men. Their dread of heresy inclines them to magnify trifles, and insist upon non-essentials, while the peace of the church, and to a great extent, the triumphs of the gospel, are incon
siderately sacrificed. Still, since there is disunion among Christians, what can be done to counteract its evil tendency? By what means can we improve the condition of the divided church, and render more salutary its influence upon a lost world?
There is a respectable and an increasing number belonging to every religious body, who have no sympathy whatever with their brethren in these household contentions. They may prefer their own church, but they are willing to accord to others the same soundness of judgement, the same liberty of choice, and the same sincerity of principle, which they claim for themselves.
Let such then, in all their conduct, strike a broad line of distinction between the essential doctrines of the cross, and the unimportant tenets of religion.
Let them cherish respect and love for their Christian brethren of every name. Let them uniformly show that they would rather assist those who differ from them, in promoting Christianity, than those who belong to their own sect, in their mere party encroachments. This has been the practice of some of the best men in different churches; -- why should not all adopt it as an invariable rule of action? It is the only course which involves no compromise of principle,
at least of those principles which alone ought to govern the “ stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
There is another class in every communion, who, as has been mentioned, are evidently indulging the most erroneous impressions. They have been led to believe that the difference between themselves and others is much greater than it really is. It is this misapprehension which constitutes the chief aliment of sectarianism -- the very staff of its life. The strife is about terms which convey dissimilar ideas to different minds. The greatest opposers of their brethren I ever knew, were under this strong delusion. They were fighting their own fancies. The errors for which they were arrayed in deadly hostility against other Christians, were as abhorrent to those Christians as to themselves.
To those who find within themselves an aversion to their brethren of other sects, or a want of sympathy with them, the course of duty is plain. Admit that you may be mistaken in your opinions respecting the views of your brethren, and then take the only safe plan to test the accuracy of your knowledge. Do not go to your own party for the information you seek, lest you add their mistakes to your own; but go rather to the brethren whose views you wish to ascertain, and in the