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union between certain good men in the national establishment, and others of a very different character; with whom, on account of their continuing in the church, they are in the habit of associating. They are all professed christians, and all unite together at the Lord's supper; but there is no more foundation for christian fellowship, than if the one were what they are, and the other avowed infidels. Some of these good men, it is true, withdraw from all intimate acquaintance with persons even in their own communion who do not discover a love to the gospel, and form their acquaintance amongst those who do: but others have been carried away, and drawn into measures highly dishonourable to their christian character, and injurious to their usefulness in the cause of God. Now the same reasoning will hold good, out of the church as well as in it. If we form religious connections with persons in whom there is no proper foundation for fellowship, communion, concord,' and a mutual participation of spiritual interests, we in so doing become straitened' rather than ' enlarged.'
Much has been said in favour of unity of affection, without a unity in principle. But such affection, if it can exist, is very different from any thing inculcated by the gospel. Christian affection is for the truth sake that dwelleth in us.' It does not appear to me however that it can exist. From any thing that I have felt in myself, or observed in others, I cannot perceive any such thing as unity amongst men, except in proportion as they possess a congeniality of principles and pursuits. It is not possible in the nature of things, that 'two can walk together except they be agreed.' They may not indeed be agreed in all things; but so far as they disagree, so far there is a want of union; and the ground of affection between them, is not those things wherein they are at variance, but those things wherein they are agreed. It argues great inattention to the human mind and its operations, to suppose that there can be affection, unless it be merely that of good-will, where there is no agreement.
Those who plead for such affection are as much united in society by agreement in sentiment as other people, only that sentiment may be of a different kind. They may set aside an agreement in the great principles of the gospel as a ground of union, but they are certain to substitute something else in their place. They have their fundamentals, and circumstantials, as well as other people. Whatever things they are which deeply interest the mind, whether they be things evangelical, or things political; things which relate to doctrine, or things which affect the order, form, and discipline of the church; these are our fundamentals, and in these we shall ever require an agreement, while other things are dispensed with as matters of less importance.
I am a dissenter, and a rigid regard to Christ's kingly authority is in my esteem a sacred thing. For all the honours and emoluments in the establishment, I would not pollute my conscience by subscribing to its common prayer, or conforming to its unscriptural ceremonies. Yet I do not consider my dissent as the chief thing in religion. So to consider it would in my judgment be making it an idol; and if this were general, the dissenting interest would cease to be the interest of Christ. But I am persuaded that, at present, this is not the case. May those things which are amiss amongst us be the objects of our attention, that we may not only repent, and do our first works, but strengthen the things which remain, and which are ready to die.
STATE OF DISSENTING DISCIPLINE.
It may be difficult to determine whether the apostles of our Lord, in the first planting of Christianity, were more intent on the conversion of unbelievers, or the building up of believers in their most holy faith. It is certain that both these objects engaged their attention.
In our times they have been thought to be too much divided. Towards the middle of the last century, several eminent men were raised up in the established church, whose labours were singularly useful in turning sinners to God: but whether it was from the advantages of their situation as churchmen, or whatever was the cause, they and others, who since their times have been a kind of half dissenters, have generally been considered as neglecting to form their societies after the model of the new testament. And congregations of this description having considerably encreased, apprehensions have been entertained, that the order and discipline of the scriptures would in time fall into general disuse.
From a somewhat earlier date, many amongst protestant dissenters, too much attentive perhaps to the points on which they separated from the church, and from one another, began to neglect the common salvation, and to render the general theme of their ministrations something other than Christ crucified. Even many of those who retained the doctrines of their forefathers, preached them in so cold and formal a way, that the spirit of vital religion seemed to be fled. Hence many serious people forsook them in favour of a more lively and evangelical ministry, even though unaccompanied with the discipline and government to which they had been used. Hence
arose mutual jealousies, and the distinction of regular and irregular dissenters.
Such alas is the contractedness of the human mind, that while attending to one thing, it is ever in danger of neglecting others of equal if not superior importance. It is a fact which cannot be denied, that many who have exhibited the common salvation with great success to the unconverted, have at the same time been sadly negligent in enforcing the legislative authority of Christ upon their hearers: nor is it less manifest, that others who have been the most tenacious of the forms of church government and discipline, have at the same time been wofully deficient in preaching the gospel to the unconverted.
But is it not possible to unite these important objects, at least in a good degree, in the manner in which they were united in the primitive times? One should think it were as natural for a minister, and a people, where God is pleased to bless the word to the conversion of sinners, to be anxious for their edification, as parents who are blessed with a numerous offspring, to be concerned to have them properly fed, and clothed, and educated. It is not enough that a company of christians unite in a preacher, and make a point of going once or twice in the week to hear him, and after having exchanged compliments with him, and a few of the people, depart till another sabbath. That bids fair to be the true scriptural form of church government, which tends most to promote brotherly love; which brings the members into the closest religious contact, and which is accompanied with the greatest faithfulness one towards another.
DISCIPLINE OF THE ENGLISH AND SCOTTISH BAPTIST
Extracts from two letters to Mr. M'Lean, in 1796.
As to our churches, it would be very wrong to plead on their behalf, that they come up to the primitive model. It is our great endeavour as ministers, (and we are joined by a good number of private christians) to form them in doctrine, in discipline, in spirit, and in conduct, after the example of Christ and his apostles. But after all that we can do, if reviewed by the great Head of the church, and perhaps by some of his servants who may be unconnected with us, there would be a few, or rather, not 'a few things against us.'
Till of late, I conceive, there was such a portion of erroneous doctrine, and false religion amongst us, that if we had carried matters a little farther, we should have been a very dunghill in society. Nor can this leaven be expected to be yet purged out, though I hope it is in a fair way of being so.
In discipline there is a great propensity, in some churches especially, to be lax and negligent. In our annual associations we have been necessitated to remonstrate against this negligence, and to declare that, unless they would execute the laws of Christ upon disorderly walkers, we would withdraw from all connection with them and such remonstrances from the associated churches, have produced a good effect. It is not our practice however, lightly to separate from churches or individuals. We consider the churches of Corinth and Galatia, and the great patience of the apostle amidst the most scandalous disorders; labouring to reclaim those whom others of less patience would have given up, and