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arises from the counsel and advice of sister churches and the providence of God. It wants no other. This is enough, and far better than more. Congregationalism, in this respect, bases itself on the assumption that the Bible is an intelligible book, adapted to the human understanding ; that its essential doctrines are matters of certainty, not of opinion merely; and that honest inquirers, being fully competent, by the grace of God, to understand them, must understand them alike. A competent judge cannot be directed, authoritatively, how he should decide litigated questions of law, nor a juror how he shall decide questions of fact. The judge must decide according to his knowledge of law, and according to the law itself; and the juror must decide according to the evidence, of which he is sole judge.
So, in religion, every man is made a' judge for himself, according to his knowledge and ability, both of the scriptural principles of doctrine and church order; and no man may lawfully relinquish his fundamental rights and duties in this respect. According to his ability and opportunities he must judge what is right and true, and must act upon his judgments. To do less than this is to be proportionably less than the noble beings that God designed us to be ; and to expose ourselves to endless impositions and delusions, as well as to unlimited oppressions.
It has been a great question, among Congregationalists, how far diversities of opinion and imperfections of religious faith and knowledge ought to be tolerated in the church. This question met all the early Protestant reformers, and was decided by them variously, but with a strong leaning to Popish illiberality and intolerance. The Pope had undertaken to prescribe the precise limits beyond which dissent should not be allowed, under his jurisdiction. The world acquiesced in this, and the reformers themseves did not perceive anything wrong in the principle. They only thought that it was carried out wrong. When, therefore, they founded their several new communities, they copied the intolerance of the Papacy, but directed it against different particulars. This is not strange. They were but men; and to emerge at once from the Egyptian darkness of the Papacy into the blazing light of perfectly unadulterated Christianity, was too much for man. It was not the design of Providence that they should exhaust all the stores of wisdom and divine knowledge, and leave no improvements to be made by their successors. They were enabled to do much. Few have taken such mighty strides in the department of progress as they took. God said by them, as at first, Let there be light, and there was light. They purged the temple of God, and invited back the glorious shechinah of the divine presence and power. God took up his residence among them, and gave them his own mighty arm to lean upon. The blessings of his providence and grace were the seals of his approbation of their work. They served their generation well, and have enrolled their names and embalmed their memories in the hearts of men, as the benefactors of their race.
But they did not finish up the work of God on earth. They could not. It is too great for the men of any age to do. It will engage the abilities and industry of all ages, and tax them to the utmost. The man that undertakes to stop the work of God where they left it, misapprehends entirely its magnitude; and, so far from being a worthy disciple of these men, is the abettor of the very principles which they opposed.
It was a sad defect of the reformation, and a disastrous error of the reformers, that, with all their sublime conceptions of Christian liberty, as they maintained it against Papal intolerance and oppression, they did not understand the wide extent to which it ought to be maintained against themselves, and against one another. Having abolished the despotism of the Papacy, they did not clearly see that the church only wanted the Lordship of Christ. They thought they must settle terms of communion, . and rules of faith, which Christ and the apostles had not settled. The great law of church fellowship and communion is contained in Rom. 14:1, “Him that is weak in the faith receive, but not to doubtful disputations." Christ received all that came. We hear of no applicants for church privileges being rejected by the
apostles. The weak in faith are the imperfect in faith. Paul tells us that these are to be received with others, as far as they can walk with the church in peace. Beyond this they are to be rejected; and only beyond this.
The Gospel is an institute of faith and knowledge, but it is still more an institute of love and holiness. The church and fold of Christ is for his flock; and all the true members ought to be admissible to the different departments of this fold, as far as they can come in and enjoy its blessings in peace. The strong should easily bear with the weak; the learned with the ignorant; the wiser with the less wise; and the more perfect with the less perfect. The intolerance of the Papacy is its sin and shame, and cries aloud to Heaven for vengeance to be poured out on that corrupt and merciless despotism. But how much more shameful is the intolerance of Protestantism! With an open Bible in hand, and the laws of love and liberty on our lips, and the rights and obligations of independent private judgment on the fore-front of all our religious movements, how can we set up bars and gates to shut out of our own particular enclosures of the church of Christ, the weak and ignorant, and erring in faith, whom, nevertheless, God accepts, and with whom the Holy Spirit deigus to dwell! How can we be guilty of such arrogance and inconsistency! How can we allow ourselves thus to sin against our weak brethren, and put stumbling-blocks both in their way and in the way of sinners! How can we so belie our professions, and dishonor our Master, whose living and dying charge it was, that we should love one another as he loved us; and whose prayer it was, in the immediate view of his crucifixion, that we all may be one, even as he and the Father are one; that we may be one in them! John 17: 21.
At the commencement of the Protestant reformation, and subsequently, the Protestants divided and formed themselves into different communions, many of which had no fellowship with others. Calvinists had no communion with Arminians, and the church of England had none with dissenters. The church of
England still persists in its absurd attitude of withdrawing from all communion with dissenting churches. Contemptible arrogance and impiety!, It, regards dissenters, practically, as its rivals and enemies, and the enemies of God and man. A portion of the Presbyterians still retain the same intolerance of Arminianism. But more generally this has passed away; and the disciples of the two systems sit in peace together, at the same communion-tables, and share in common the privileges and blessings of the same churches. Though most intolerant of dissenting communions, the church of England tolerates the greatest diversities of faith in her own connection, and among her members. Her members may believe almost anything, but they must adhere to that church.
When Unitarianism arose, it was made a question, both in Europe and America, whether it should be tolerated as an allowable diversity of opinion, or expose its subjects to separation and excommunication. The subject of the precise character and relations of Christ had been long debated in the ancient church, and had been the occasion of sanguinary wars and persecutions. Some of the most pious and eminent of the ancient fathers had not been sound in the faith on this subject, according to the standards of ancient and modern orthodoxy. The ancient controversy, however, after occupying the attention of the world for some centuries, and engaging the most profound inquiries, had been settled in conformity with the orthodox faith of modern times. The victory had been dearly bought, and stubbornly contested; but it had been clearly, and for a long time, undeniably gained. The Papal church, the Oriental churches, and all the great branches of Protestant Christendom, concurred in regarding the divinity of Christ, not only as a great truth of the Gospel, but one of its most important and distinguishing truths; and with this was associated the doctrine of the Trinity.
Under these circumstances, it is not strange that it was a matter of regret with many that the controversy concerning the character of Christ should be revived in modern times, and that there was a general disposition to prohibit dissent on this subject in most Protestant churches. The church of England is an exception. Her ritual and ministers have generally taught the Catholic doctrine of the divinity of Christ; but dissent from that doctrine has never been made a disciplinable offence among the membership, and not usually among the ministry. Its policy, in this respect, has been the policy of forbearance. Considerable fault has been found with it by zealous exclusionists of other connections, but no great injury has resulted from it. The doctrine of Christ's divinity is generally held both by the ministry and membership of the church of England notwithstanding its toleration of dissent from it. The toleration of error seldom prejudices the interests of truth. Intolerance often does.
The Presbyterian churches in England, Switzerland and France, adopted the same principle of toleration as the church of England, and Unitarianism gained the ascendency among them. The Presbyterian churches of the United States adopted the opposite prohibition policy. The Congregational churches of New England were at first tolerant of Unitarian views, tiil, considerable defections having occurred, the subject came up, in 1816, for general discussion, when this toleration was abandoned, and the opposite policy adopted. This was a revolution in the policy of Congregationalism, against which many protested at the time, and concerning which some are doubtful still.
Since this time, the supreme divinity of Christ has not only been generally held by Congregationalists, as it is by church of Englandists and Episcopalians, but has been insisted upon as necessary to membership in the church. The correctness of this, either in respect to principle or policy, admits of being seriously questioned. It is supposed to be the means of great good, in preserving Christianity from radical corruption. The denial of the divinity of Christ is undoubtedly a great error, and an error which, if admitted, leads to many other great and injurious errors. But it is as undoubtedly the error of many noble and ingenuous minds, and of many devout and earnest