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AN ADDRESS delivered at the Second An
niversary of the BLOOMSBURY and South PANCRAS AUXILIARY BRITISH and FoREIGN BIBLE Society, February 27, 1815.
I am sure every one must participate in my feelings in rising after what you have already heard. No one can hope to add any thing to the impression which has been made : it only remains for him not to lessen the effect which he cannot produce. And indeed, I must confess I rejoice in witnessing the emotions which are excited on this occasion, because I have always thought that the simple and high cause of the British and Foreign Bible Society, calls not so much for argument as feeling, and appeals rather to the kindling 'energies of a pious mind, than to the cold deductions of a tame and distrustful prudence. For who can justly appreciate the sacred Volume of Inspiration, or feel aright the obligations under which we lie to that God who has blessed us with the
gift, and not employ every legitimate effort to disseminate it throughout the earth? It really, Sir, does surprise me, the more I consider the subject, that in this Protestant country, any serious objection should be made to the peaceful union of Christians for such a cause as this. And yet, objections are stated and circulated with so much of misrepresentation and confidence, that it may perhaps be allowed to me, as a Secretary of this Auxiliary Society, to notice slightly one or two points.
If I am asked, then, on what principle, as a clergyman of the Church of England, I unite in this Society with Christians who are separated from her communion, my reply is, that the Holy Scriptures is common ground which all Christians may fairly occupy.
If indeed I were a member of the Church of Rome, wbich maintains that there is no salvation out of her own communion, and condemns without discrimina. tion to eternal punishment those whom she brands as heretics, I might hesitate even on so simple a subject as this. But, Sir, I profess myself a member of the Protestant Church of England, which has seceded from that apostate body, and seceded upon this principle, amongst others, that the Bible alone is the fountain of authority and truth. I belong to a church which, whilst it adheres to its own reformed apostolical discipline, admits all those other
various communities, which hold the main doctrines of salvation to be parts of the catholic body of Christ's Church. With these views, I may lament indeed what appear to me to be the errors or mistakes of the Lutheran as well as Calvinistic Churches on the continent; I may lament some usages or sentiments of the Presbyterian Communion in Scotland, and of our Dissenting Bodies at home; but I do not therefore presume to exclude them from the pale of the spiritual church; I do not therefore d'efuse to act with them in a design which touches on no one point of either doctrine or polity; I do not therefore spurn the proposal of ascending above the spot where the stream divides itself, and drinking at that higher and purer torrent which rolls for the life and refreshment of the nations. Nay, Sir, the very feelings which lead me to lament over the divisions of the Christian church, only increase the ardour with which I press to the consecrated elevation where I can cordially co-operate with my Christian brethren, and look down for a moment on the differences which are left behind us on the distant plain.
I allow, that there is need of caution in employing this kind of sentiment. An intemperate zeal in support of the most innocent principles may betray an unsuspecting mind. We are compelled, I am aware, frequently to hesitate when proposals of co-operation, though at first sight plausible, may appear likely to lead on to measures which we do not exactly understand, and may not be able to controul. In fact, all general axioms require consideration when brought down to particular cases. But, Sir, I feel no hesitation for a single moment in applying the universal rule of Christian charity to the measure before us. I need not, I cannot pause, when I see my way so clearly as I do in the Bible Society. In the dissemination of the unerring word of God our project begins and ends. What danger can be secretly at work here, I am utterly unable to discover. The moment, however, any sinister designs--which it is to my mind almost impossible to associate with such a cause--shall appear to be necessarily appended to it, that moment I reserve for withdrawing myself from this grand and simple institution.
And in taking this ground, which I have not taken lightly, I conceive that I am promoting in the surest manner the stability and glory of the Church to which I belong. I know I am here entering on a delicate topic; but I trust I may be allowed to express, with every deference for the opinion of others, the view which has presented itself to my own mind. In every national church, and especially in those which have long been protected by the state, and which enjoy external peace, there are two
ways of advancing its interests.
The one is that of firm and enlightened attachment, which endeavours to allot to every branch of the wide subject of Christian doctrine and discipline the importance which it respectively claims; which stands immoveable on the grand peculiarities of Christianity to which all external institutions are subservient, and endeavours by every honest method to conciliate the regards of those, who, agreeing with us in the great truths of the Gospel, differ on the subordinate topics of order and polity; which, in a word, unites consistency to our own principles, with candour and moderation towards those of others. Need I say, Sir, that there is another order of persons who appear to me too much to incline, little I am sure as they suspect it, to the side of apprehension, timidity, coldness, aversion towards all who differ from their own judgment of what constitutes truth even on the smallest points ; who lay on matters of discipline a weight which they can never fairly bear; who pursue with common ardour topics differing widely from each other in almost every respect, and which ought to be defended with a discriminating regard to their relative importance; and who, as a consequence of this, at times appear to be quite as zealous for the forms, as for the substance, of Christianity. In making these remarks, I mean nothing personal or disrespectful: I speak