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that many may labour under false impressions. It is in this case as it is with regard to religion itself. The form and outward structure must be distinguished from the living soul. External modes may or may not be the expressions of inward piety and holy zeal. They may be the result and natural efflux of the divine sentiment within ; or they may be the mere framework of a nominal christianity. Where they are of the former character, we admire their excellence and loveliness; we see the inward and the outward in beautiful harmony; and we value the outward, not for what it may be in itself, but for its becoming the expression and development of the indwelling glory. And thus the outward association of thousands may be or may not be the indication of a real union; may or may not tend to its production according to the real character of the association, the principles with which it is connected, or the results to which it tends. It may be a confederation of the wisest, the best, and the holiest kind; or it may not. But what we wish to be understood is, that such a demonstration must not be mistaken for union, which we fear it has been to some extent, and so far tended, if not to suppress or neutralise efforts of another kind, to generate too much self satisfaction. It seems to us that as we should aim to be christians more than to declare it ; so we should rather seek to be united than to publish it as a fact to the world ; at least to publish it in the manner of a national or ecclesiastical manifesto. If general meetings, smaller or larger, be held as the means of union, we will rejoice, as we have rejoiced in them; but if, as the proofs, we must first be more convinced by widespread piety, real kindliness, and scriptural co-operation.
But since we believe assemblies of the kind to which we refer are, or may become one important means of uniting christians, if rightly constituted, conducted, and above all, followed out, we deplore their want of frequency. It is to be regretted that the great meeting at Exeter Hall has not fulfilled its avowed intention, and been more permanently influentia and effective, which perhaps it might have become by similar demonstrations in other localities. The metropolis is, of course, the best adapted to the convening of a great assembly, but while it may give an impulse to any important movement, it cannot of itself ensure its perpetuity. It is favourable to concentration. It can bring together in greater numbers and in more rapid association persons of similar sentiments, and thus, for the time, give form and intensity to any purpose ; but there is danger lest the flame that is kindled should expire, if it be not fed with fresh fuel, and allowed to spread abroad. As appropriate methods of maintaining, with lasting advantage, this particular order of in. strumentality, we may be permitted to suggest that while a great metropolitan convention may be comparatively rare, district, and perhaps quarterly or semi-annual meetings, might be conveniently and usefully held in various parts of London, where the different sections of the christian family might assemble by their representatives. But it is still more important that the large towns or populous districts of the kingdom should be invited into this hallowed fellowship. Let meetings more or less frequent, as circumstances dictate, be arranged for such places, to be brought together at several periods of the year by a central committee acting in concert with a local one. These meetings might unite the advantages of public and private association. They might comprehend what are called public meetings with private conferences. And such meetings and conferences should be especially characterised by two things :-first, abundant prayer; secondly, entire freedom of thought and converse, without attempting any thing beyond the simple and exclusive object of promoting intercommunion and affection.
It may be asked, if the meetings were to be made circulating instead of stationary, how are persons to be brought together at such cost, from such distances, and with such expense of time? The answer is plain. There are various occasions on which christians already meet denominationally, and innumerable others on which they hesitate not to incur a far greater cost both of time and money. Let but the sublime object be fully grasped, and all difficulties will vanish. The mountains will become a plain, and we shall see the tribes of Israel on the march, going from strength to strength, and appearing at last in accumulated multitudes in the place of blessing and of praise. They will come from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, will associate ; and the sight and the sound will gladden our whole population, while far off islands and nations will rejoice.
Still we lay the stress, not on what is outward, but on what is inward-not on the visible union, but the invisible sentiment and deep working principle--not on the tide of people, but on the flow of soul. The spirit of union is a part of christianity, and christianity is, in its essence, an invisible thing! It operates irrespectively of modes and forms, of persons and places, of climate and colour. It is glorious without pomp; it is harmonious without compromise. Its light is pure and diffusive, like the light of nature. Its love is the love of heaven.
In contemplating the practicability of a general union among christians, we take leave to suggest that the basis of the confoderacy must be truth, and freedom of utterance, or, as Jeremy
Taylor expresses it, the liberty of prophecying! In stating this, it is not meant that there must of necessity be an agreement in all that is true ; for not only are different parts of inspiration of more or less comparative importance, as affecting the essentials of religion, but all minds, or even many minds in all things, cannot be supposed to be absolutely coincident. The intellectual capacities and perceptions of men are infinitely various, nor is it any more necessary that they should be precisely alike, than that every leaf of every tree should be so in order to the unity of creation. As Chillingworth said, in his immortal axiom : The Bible, the Bible only, is the religion of Protestants;' so we say in reference to the present object, — The Bible, the Bible only, must be the religion of unionists.' The Bible is truth-pure, unsophisticated truth; and it is universally true, or true in all its parts. But in respect to those who receive it generally, and with a solicitude perfectly to understand it, there are great diversities of opinion on points of criticism, taste, history, chronology, science, and it may be institution and doctrine. Thus, while truth is always the same, the shape and aspect of it admits of endless diversification, by the defective vision of the observer. We must not, however, visit as a sin the blemish of the eye, or remove the standard from the affections to the perceptions.
As it is evident, therefore, that all minds need not and cannot have the same ideas respecting all parts of divine truth, the ground of christian association is not to be found or fixed in the sentiments and practices of any particular community. No one can say, 'This doctrine or this discipline of my church, as a whole, is the real and only point of contact, the rallying ground of unanimity. You must conform to my system, my creed, or my worship, or we cannot hold fellowship. And none can be entitled to say this, although patronised by the greatest influence and the highest authority; no, nor though the sect embracing such and such views should, in fact, be the most assimilated to the christian faith and apostolic worship. For the question is not how true particular opinions or practices may be, as received by one sect, but how far toleration and forbearance should go, with regard to all parties who hold the Head' in their deviations as the one great bond of a pious and cordial association,
When, therefore, it is pleaded, that truth is the basis of union, we mean that portion of christianity, whatever it may be, which constitutes its essence and is vital to the system. The religion of Jesus is distinguished by something—some principles-by which it is known and recognised as peculiar, and in its character unique and divine. By this it is seen to be, not heathenism, not philosophy, not science, not morals, or metaphysics, but a system enwrapping and unfolding a doctrine heavenly and spiritual. Its being is in the conscience, and its influence in the heart; and each conscience and each heart touched by it, and in being touched transformed into its own likeness, is brought into sacred and eternal sympathy with every other. Like a magnetic or electric power, which operates through, and in despite of a thousand intervening media, so it associates christian souls living at whatever distance, and separated by whatever differences of conception or forms of outward observance.
But while much of this is admitted, even by sturdy sectaries, we are apprehensive that there is too strong an inclination to curtail the freedom of utterance to be quite compatible with union. Our notion is, not only that there should be no compromise of principle, but no restraint of legitimate discussion. If the basis of union be the extinction of controversy, then we shall never be united; or, if it be the imposed necessity of not offending the sensitiveness of others with regard to their religious peculiarities, neither can we then be united. We must not only think and let think, but speak and let speak. Christian union can never be successfully pursued by sacrificing christian liberty. Truth itself must be valued more than any system; and we must neither set up the infallibility of judgment, nor the infallibility of party. Why should not a sentiment we hold, or a practice we pursue, be impugned? And why should it not be impugned by a friend, rather than by a foe, that at his warning voice we may be driven to re-examination ? And why should they who denounce our errors, or denounce them, as thinking them to be such, inflame our resentment rather than conciliate our regard ? If we hold error, let us be urged to renounce it; if we find the presumed error, after new inquiry, to be in our opinion truth, let us thank the friendly denouncer for the fresh stimulus to investigation he has furnished, and use both our liberty and our conviction, in enlightening our opponent. But let not his view of our error, nor our view of his, preclude the union of love which is demanded by our common christianity.
The model to be imitated in seeking union, as all will doubtless agree, is the primitive church. We speak now of the spirit of the earliest disciples, rather than of any outward framework or constitution. On the dark surface of this globe one spot of pure and bright sunshine has appeared, intercepted by no clouds, and which for a time no shadows obscured. Amidst the subsequent turbulence and confusion of human things, what christian does not look back to that place and period, as to the sweet and smiling childhood of the christian dispensation, and feel his soul expanding with all blessed sympathies and retrospections; and
who would not say, entreatingly, let that second paradise return upon the troubled church, from which, as by another fall, it has been self expelled ? It is not conceivable that a more attractive picture should be drawn than that which presents itself in the Acts of the Apostles: "They that gladly received the word were baptized, and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.' (Acts ii. 41–47.)
This perfect unanimity, however, was of transient duration, and we cannot be very much surprised at it, when we reflect on the character of the human mind, and the gradual removal of those eminent individuals who were possessed of an inspired wisdom and authority, although we may justly wonder at the magnitude and rapid diffusion of the errors that insinuated themselves into the apostolic churches. It is not with these we have at present to do; but with those which might fairly raise the question of forbearance, and therefore serve as exemplars for our conduct in modern times. That some deviations from christian truth and conduct were deemed intolerable cannot be doubted, and these were treated accordingly with merited severity, as being opposed to the nature and doctrines of the religion of Christ; but with regard to others, the maintaining of which implied an error of judgment, and not an obliquity of heart, the apostles distinctly and earnestly enforced the exercise of mutual charity. The churches were required to manifest this spirit in no small degree, when directed not only to receive him that is weak in the faith,' but to allow of great latitude in respect to ceremonial observances, and disputes about meats and drinks, and to obey this injunction, 'Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many that they may be saved.' (1 Cor. 10.) The same apostle also speaks with great kindness though with solemn rebuke, with regard even to those who had strangely and criminally perverted the design of the Lord's supper. The spirit infused into the primitive church, therefore, appears to have been a thorough, decided, and broadly avowed VOL. XVII.
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