Page images

which if any one went, he was to be regarded and treated as an apostate from Christianity. The Protestants, as one man, complained of this as a most unrighteous measure, while they were suffering under it ; but no sooner had they become established as an independent church, than they adopted the same themselves. They also, like the Catholics, allowed a certain latitude of thinking to the members of their communion, but fixed a mark, beyond which if any one went, though in the exercise of that very liberty on which Protestantism itself was founded, he was to be regarded and treated as an apostate from Christianity.

The consequence was, that each Protestant sect, as it fell away from the main body, received precisely the same treatment from those who called themselves orthodox among the Protestants, that is, the Protestant majority, which the first Protestants had received from those who called themselves orthodox among the Catholics, that is, the Catholic majority.

In process of time, however, the Protestant body became broken up into sects to such a degree, that no one sect retained sufficient power to overawe the rest. Some sects, meanwhile, had arisen, which from the freedom of their opinions, or their honesty in avowing them, made themselves peculiarly obnoxious, not to one sect only, but to several sects. Accordingly, these several sects, finding themselves unable to accomplish their object singlehanded, were disposed to forget their former differences, and unite their strength, in the hope that, by such a combination, they might the better succeed in hunting down the common enemy. Many remember when the great body of the Orthodox clergy



in New England attempted to cry down the Baptists, and after them the Methodists; and after that the schism arose among themselves, between what were called the oldfashioned Calvinists, and the Hopkinsians; but all these differences are studiously kept out of sight, and in a great measure forgotten, now that a common object of dread has appeared in the progress of Liberal Christianity. It may be worth remarking, however, in this connexion, as a curious lesson from history, and one which must do not a little to lessen the effect of their denunciations, that these sects, in their present unnatural combination, can hardly say anything so bad of Liberal Christians, as they used to say of one another.

Our attention will next be directed to the leading assumption, on which the parties in this coalition think to defend the system they have adopted. It is agreed on all sides, I believe, that a certain latitude of thinking must be expected and allowed among Christians; but the Exclusionists maintain that limits are to be set, beyond which this indulgence shall not be extended; and furthermore, that they are vested with authority to set these limits, and alter them at pleasure. Their whole defence turns on the question of their possessing this authority. Before proceeding to contest the claim, I wish to clear the ground I am to take from all misapprehension. The Catholic may deny that I am a Catholic; the Baptist may deny that I am a Baptist; the Methodist may deny that I am a Methodist, and do no wrong. For my belonging to either of these sects depends on my according with the authorized formularies of the sect in question, and whether I do, or do not accord with


these authorized formularies, the sect that made them is certainly competent to determine. The standards by which I am to be tried, in this case, are the work of

They were instituted by the sect in question; and of course, as I have before observed, the same authority that was competent to make them, is competent to interpret and apply them. But if, merely on the strength of this, any sect, or any number of sects, presume to deny that I am a Christian, this is doing what they have no right to do.

And the reason is obvious. The fact whether I am a Christian, or not, does not depend, like the preceding, on my coming up to the commonly received standards of any sect, but on my coming up to the standard of the gospel; and whether I come up to this standard, or not, depends on which of several interpretations of the gos pel is the true one. Now I have freely conceded to each sect the exclusive right to interpret and apply its own standards, because of its own framing ; on the ground, that each sect must certainly be supposed to understand what were its intentions in framing these standards, what they were intended to admit, and what to exclude. But when we come to apply the gospel as a standard, the case is different; for this being a standard framed by none of the contending sects, none can set up any claim to authority or infallibility, in interpreting and applying it, which either of the others might not set up with just as much reason. You, as belonging to one sect, may say of me, as belonging to another, that I differ widely from you in the interpretation I put on the common standard acknowledged by us both. But you cannot say, that my interpretation is a false one; for this is a point which you are not competent to de cide. You may say, that I preach another gospel from that which you preach; but you cannot say, that I preach another gospel from that which Christ and his apostles preached; for this involves a question which you are not competent to decide. I differ from you, it is true; but not more than you differ from me; and as our difference relates to a subject, respecting which you cannot pretend to any degree of authority, or infallibility, which I may not pretend to with just as much reas

ason, if my differing from you proves me to be no Christian, your differing from me will also prove you to be no Christian. You must perceive, therefore, that this argument proves nothing, or proves too much.

Here I am prepared to meet the hackneyed plea, that the dispute is not about common differences, such differences as must always be expected, but about fundamentals. It will be said, that there must be some doc. trines essential to Christianity; necessary to make it what it is, and without which it would not be what it is but something else, another gospel. Omit any of these doctrines, therefore, and it is contended that what remains will not be Christianity; and, of course, those who embrace it, will not be Christians.

Be it so. Nobody denies that Christianity, considered as a system of religious instruction, has its essential and fundamental doctrines, which are necessary to make it what it is, as a dispersation of pardon and life. But the question arises, who is to determine which these doctrines are? The Catholics said,

We are the persons to determine, and we have determined it at the Council of Trent.' No,' said the Lutherans, 'not you,

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

but we.

We are the persons to determine it; and we have determined it in the Confession of Augsburgh.' Not at all,' said the Calvinists; 'not at all. It was not for such persons as you to pretend to this authority. We are the persons to determine it; and we have determined it at the Synod of Dort, and afterwards in the Westminster Assembly.' ‘By no means,' said the Church of England. Who made you, or any of you, a judge in these matters? You are not the judge; we are the judge. If you want to know which are the es sential and fundamental doctrines of the gospel, the appeal must be made to the Thirtynine Articles.' Thus one sect after another has arisen, cach denying to al! the rest an authority, which, however, in the same breath it has had the inconsistency to arrogate to itself.

But it may be said, the doctrines which all these sects pronounce fundamental, must be so. All what sects? If by all these sects are meant all the sects in the world, the position, though conceded, would not answer the purpose of the Exclusionist; for, of course, there could be no ground for exclusion, so far as all were agreed, But if by all these sects, are meant a certain number of sects, I would ask on what ground these sects arrogate to themselves an authority, not supposed to belong to the rest, of determining for the whole church what shall be regarded as fundamental doctrines. In such a contest, it is with sects as it is with individuals; no one sect can set up pretensions to infallibility, which any other sect might not set up with just as much reason. And as for any additional authority to be derived from the circumstance of its being a combination of several sects, it should be considered, that on such a combina

« PreviousContinue »