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is little, if at all, diminished, by their conformity in one particular, by their insisting upon baptism as a term of communion; when it is recollected that the principles on which they found it, have no relation whatever to those on which it was maintained by the ancient fathers.
For the length to which this part of the discussion is extended, a natural and laudable anxiety to repel the charge of misrepresentation, will probably be deemed a sufficient apology.
BEFORE I put a final period to my part in this controversy, the attention of the reader is requested to a few miscellaneous remarks, which naturally arise out of the contemplation of the whole subject. · It is just matter of surprise, that the topic in debate should be regarded by any serious and intelligent christian, as of small importance. Such a conclusion can only be ascribed to extreme inattention, or to the force of an inveterate, though perhaps latent, prejudice, producing an unrerited predilection in favour of certain systems of ecclesiastical polity, which are incapable of sustaining the ordeal of inquiry. That those should shrink from the investigation of such topics, who, by receiving their religion from the hands of their superiors, in a mass, have already relinquished the liberty of thinking for themselves, is no more than might well be expected. But to minds free and unfettered, accustomed to spurn at the shackles of authority ; and, above all, to protestant dissenters, whose peculiar boast is the privilege of following, in the organization of their churches, no other guide but the Scriptures, that such subjects should appear of little moment, is truly astonishing. The inquiry first in importance undoubtedly is, What is christianity? What, supposing the truth of scripture, is to be believed, and to be done, with a view to eternal life? Happily for the christian world, there probably never was a time, when, in the solution of this question, so much unanimity was witnessed among the professors of serious piety, as at the present. Systems of religion, fundamentally erroneous, are falling fast into decay; while the subordinate points of difference, which do not affect the primary verities of christianity, nor the ground of hope, are either consigned to oblivion, or are the subjects of temperate and amicable controversy ; and in consequence of their subsiding to their proper level, the former appear in their just and natural magnitude.
Hence, in the present state of the church, externally considered, the evil most to be deplored is, the unnatural distance at which christians stand from each other; the spirit of sects, the disposition to found their union on the “wood, hay, and stubble" of human inventions, or of disputable tenets, instead of building on the eternal rock, the “ faith once delivered to the saints." They all profess to look forward to a period when these divisions will cease, and there will be “one
fold under one Shepherd.” But, while every denomination flatters itself with the persuasion of that fold being its own, the principal use to which the annunciations of prophecy are directed, is to supply a motive for redoubled exertions in the defence and extension of their respective peculiarities; and instead of hailing the dawn of a brighter day, as an event in which all are equally interested, it is too often considered, there is reason to fear, as destined to complete the triumph of a party.
If we consult the Scriptures, we shall be at no loss to perceive, that the unity of the church is not merely a doctrine most clearly revealed, but that its practical exemplification is one of the principal designs of the christian dispensation. We are expressly told, that our Saviour purposed by his death to “ gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad ;” and for the accomplishment of this design, he interceded, during his last moments, in language which instructs us to consider it as the grand means of the conversion of the world. His prophetic anticipations were not disappointed; for while a visible unanimity prevailed amongst his followers, his cause every where triumphed: the concentrated zeal, the ardent cooperation of a comparative few, impelled by one spirit, and directed to one object, were more than a match for hostile myriads. No sooner was the bond of unity broken, by the prevalence of intestine quarrels and dissensions, than
the interests of truth languished; until: mahometanism in the east, and popery in the west, completed the work of deterioration, which the loss of primitive simplicity and love, combined with the spirit of intolerance, first commenced. : ; : :
If the religion of Christ ever resumes her ancient lustre, and we are assured by the highest authority she will, it must be ' by retracing our steps, by reverting to the original principles on which, considered as a social institution, the church was founded. We must go back to the simplicity of the first ageswe must learn to quit a subtle and disputatious theology, for a religion of love, emanating from a few divinely energetic principles, which pervade almost every page of inspiration, and demand nothing for their cordial . reception and belief, besides a humble and contrite heart. Reserving to ourselves the utmost freedom of thought, in the interpretation of the sacred oracles, and pushing our inquiries, as far as our opportunities admit, into: every department of revealed truth, we shall not dream of obtruding precarious conclusions on others, as articles of faith ; but shall receive with open arms all who appear to “ love bur Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity," and find a sufficient bond of union--a sufficient scope for all our sympathies, in the doctrine of the cross.I If the Saviour appears to be loved, obeyed, and adored if his blood is sprinkled on the conscience, and his spirit resides in the heart, why should we be