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In the following work it will appear that while there may be unity, there cannot be—or at least there never has beenuniformity of opinion. This arises from the weakness and imperfection of our minds; the many influences which shape and modify our view of evidence; and the various "standing points” (as Neander would express it) from which we contemplate the truth. This variety in the midst of unity is found even in doctrinal sentiment, but much more in matters of ecclesiastical order. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there will be found unity in all that is essential, and “liberty” to differ in all that is not fundamental. And when we wish to know what is essential and what is not essential to salvation, and therefore to the glory of God and the edification of his people, we have perhaps the best and only guide in the words of the apostle, “The letter killeth but the spirit giveth life;" “We are ministers, therefore, not of the letter but of the spirit.” Just in proporition, therefore, as any point bears upon the spirituality of the church, and the spiritual wellbeing of its members, is it essential; while just so far as it is but a means towards this end, and an instrumentality for securing this result, is it unessential, and one therefore about which differences of opinion may be more freely tolerated, and differences of practice allowed. In reference to all such matters, we should act upon the apostolic canon: “Neverthe-. less," (that is, notwithstanding "ye be otherwise minded ") "whereto we have attained” to unity of sentiment, “let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing," and be one in our affections towards each other.
Speaking of this subject, the late Dr. Arnold, in his Fragment on the Church, says :-"Comparing these early Christian writers with the Scriptures on the one hand, and with the later Church system on the other, as developed in the forged apostolical constitutions, we shall be able to trace three stages through which Christianity passed, and which indeed exhibit what may be called the law of decay in all institutions, whether administered by men only, or devised by them as well as administered. The first and perfect state exhibits the spirit of the institution not absolutely without all forms, for that is impossible; but regarding them as things wholly subordinate, indifferent in themselves, and therefore deriving their value from particular times and circumstances; and as such particu
lar times are not yet come, the spirit of the institution is as yet wholly independent of them; it uses their ministry, but in no way depends upon their aid. Then comes the second stage, when from particular circumstances the existence of the spirit of the institution depends on the adherence to particular outward regulations. The men of this generation insist, as well they may, on the necessity of these forms, for without them the spirit would be lost. And because others profess to honor the spirit no less than they do, therefore they are obliged to make the forms rather than the spirit their peculiar rallyingword. Around and for these forms is the stress of battle; but their defenders well know that they are but the husk in which the seed of life is sheltered; that they are but precious for the sake of the seed which they contain, and to the future growth of which they, under the inclemencies of the actual season, are an indispensable condition.
“Then the storm passes away, and the precious seed, safely cheltered with its husk, has escaped destruction. The forms have done their appointed work, and, like the best of mortal instruments, their end should be, that after having served their own generation by the will of God, they should fall asleep and see corruption. But in the third stage men cannot understand this law. Their fathers clung to certain forms to the death; they said and said truly—that unless these were preserved, the spirit would perish. The sons repeat their fathers' words, although in their mouths they are become a lie. Their fathers insisted on the forms even more earnestly than on the spirit, because in their day the forms were peculiarly threatened. But now the forms are securely established, and the great enemy who strove to destroy them whilst they protected the seed of life, is now as ready to uphold them, because they may become the means of stilling it. But the sons, unheeding of this change, still insist mainly on the importance of the forms, and seeing these triumphant, they rejoice, and think that the victory is won, just at the moment when a new battle is to be fought, and the forms oppress the seed instead of protecting it. Still they uphold the form, for that is a visible object of worship, and they teach their children to do the same. Age after age the same language is repeated, whilst age after age its falsehood is becoming more flagrant; and still it is said, “We are treading in the steps of our fathers from the very beginning; even at the very first these forms were held to be essential.' So when the husk cracks, and would fain fall to pieces by the natural swelling of the seed within, a foolish zeal labors to hold it together they who would deliver the seed, are taxed with longing to destroy it; they who are smothering it, pretend that they are treading in the good old
ways, and the husk was, is, and ever will be essential. And this happens because men regard the form and not the substance; because they think that to echo the language of their forefathers is to be the faithful imitators of their spirit; because they are blind to the lessons which all nature teaches them, and would forever keep the egg-shell unbroken, and the sheath of the leaf unburst, not seeing that the wisdom of winter is the folly of spring.”—pp. 119-121.
We may therefore lay it down as a sure criterion of the scripturality and purity of any church, that while it is found contending earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, and for all the essential principles of ecclesiastical law, as far as they can be clearly discovered in the heavenly institutes, it is at the same time willing to receive and treat as brethren, those that "are otherwise minded" on matters pertaining to the outward form and order of the church, and the minute arrangements of ecclesiastical order.
Such assuredly has been, and ought to be the character of the Presbyterian church. Such it was under apostolic regimen; in its primitive development; in its continued existence in the Vaudois and Culdee churches; and in its period of glorious reformation. The views of Calvin and other reformers we have presented elsewhere. We cannot, however, resist a quotation from the letter of Ecolampadius, to the pastors of Soleure: "You will consider," he says, "the ceremonies to be used in the Lord's supper, which you are backward to omit and cannot omit without giving great offence. Some it seems follow the order of Zuric, some of Berne, and some that which we have adopted at Basle. We are here quite in harmony with Zuric and Berne, though we have a different ritual. When we began to reform the churches, we considered, what might be most useful to a weak people, without injury to the truth; what the feeble-minded could bear. Our object was that, though in these respects we migh differ from Zuric or Strasburg, while we preserved charity towards strangers we might maintain uniformity among ourselves, who were of the same state and under the same government. For the papists and other enemies of the truth, we showed no respect. Thanks be to God, the consequence is entire harmony among the (reformed) clergy of Basle. The same is the case at Zuric and Berne; no inconvenience follows from their little variations from us. Your case is at present different; but nothing can be more advisable than that you should endeavor to agree upon a common formulary among yourselves. Some I know make light of Zuingle, and some of Ecolampadius; we however are, and always have been friends, and no one gratifies us who would sow discord in the house of God under pretence