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powers of the world—the sword of the magistrate—the terrors of ihe law, together with the exercise of dictation and authority, or of that which comes to something very like it-an appeal of the nature of a bribe or a threat—an appeal, from you, to the pecuniary interests, or the mental indolence, of other generations ? Considering the nature and genius of the gospel, is it not likely that to think of preserving it by legal bonds, may, in God's sight, be actually worse than for a father to imagine, that to keep his children from “erring and straying,' he must put them in prison, or that to keep them honest, he must cut off their hands?
Space, we find, would utterly fail us, if we attempted to propose all the questions, difficulties, and doubts, which recent meditation on the present subject, in connexion with the character and controversies of the times, has excited within us; nor will it be possible here, even to glance at many things which, more or less, bear upon and illustrate both its perplexity and importance. We much fear that the celebrated Protestant principle, so frequently put, and so frequently cheered, is not understood, or not held, or not acted on, or not trusted, by many Protestants. We much fear that some who profess to be Protestants, par excellence, and who taunt some sister church or sect with being but balf reformed, or hardly that, will scarcely themselves pass unscathed under the fire of their own arguments. We much fear that though the professed principles and popular apologies of some religionists are all on the side of religious liberty, their actual practice involves what countenances Popish assumption. We much fear that all the different Christian denominations are proceeding on a plan which must render the fulfilment of Christ's prayer impossible unless Cæsar will give permission. They are giving perpetuity to their differences and distinctions, and so completely putting them into the keeping of the law, and out of their own power of correction, that if, by a sudden donation of grace and light, they were all to be ready to come together on some comprehensive and catholic platform, abandoning every thing but the principles and rites of a common Christianity, they could not do it-or could not legally - till the powers of the world nodded assent. We much fear that either the Protestant principle or the Protestant practice must be given up- that both cannot be held by same parties. A church claiming the patrimony of a traditional interpretation of the Bible can consistently seek to perpetuate that by ecclesiastical creeds and legal securities, and to forbid its successors ever to depart from it; but a church appealing to the Bible, and the Bible only,' and actually claiming as 'its undoubted prerogative,' the privilege of changing its creed, can only state, at any given time, its own present belief, without professing to be bound by that of its predecessors, or attempting to bind its successors to its own. A church may change its creed, but the church cannot. A Protestant church may do so, and ought to preserve to itself the liberty of doing so, because it is one of a number of sects that have all, as once a part of the apostacy, been carried away from primitive truth and primitive customs, -are all professedly laboring to get back again to the state of things under the apostlesare all bound, therefore, to be ready to adopt any change that shall bring them nearer to their desired object-and, till they are sure that they have attained this, none of them can call itself the church, or can, consistently with its character, either bind itself to inquire no more, or forbid its successors to inquire for themselves. The Church, however, may do this. Its doctrines and constitution are true and apostolic; they cannot be changed without arrogance and injury-and, therefore, it would seem, may be attached by it to its buildings, and imposed on its successors, as Protestants may consistently attach the Bible. Is every Baptist and Independent society this church? Are they in every point, -doctrinal, ritual, and constitutional,-perfect and apostolic ? Is there nothing for them to alter, that they ask the law to see to it that for ever they alter nothing?
· But nobody thinks of what deeds may specify or appoint. Most ministers and churches are probably ignorant of the contents of their own. They never practically have any operation, and therefore the whole matter is much more speculative and curious than useful. To this objection, there are two replies. If it be true, the thing is not right; and if it be false, it is not good. If churches are holding property on a certain tenure, and are yet utterly regardless of that, using their liberty to think and act in opposition to the legal injunctions against it, what is this but another form of clerical or ecclesiastical subscription without caring about what is subscribed, or without intending to be bound by it? But the objection is false in fact. Not only is it always possible, at any moment, for any individual to take advantage of some clause in a deed, to annoy or eject a church that may
be exercising 'its undoubted prerogative,' but such cases actually occur. It also occurs that churches are saddled with what they dislike, or a majority in them, but they choose to bear it for the sake of the property rather than exercise their undoubted prerogative.' We have in our eye, at this moment, a Baptist church which became open in its communion-one of the simplest specimens of change - one that will be admitted by most, to have advanced it nearer to what a church should be; but, after doing this, it was discovered that it was not their “prerogative,'—they might do it as a church,' but they could not as an endowed church. Some few stuck to this. Whether scriptural or not, it was law. Law was on their side. The founders of the church had given them the advantage of an argument in favor of their views, which enabled them to listen, with perfect composure, to the most convincing demonstrations of their brethren, and to look calmly at their overwhelming numbers as compared with themselves. The result was, that the majority departed, to exercise their undoubted
prerogative of building for themselves another sanctuary, which will probably be secured to open commuion ; so that, if their successors, using the rights and liberties of their fathers, should come to be convinced that strict communion is, after all, right and apostolic, they will be compelled, by force of law, to violate their consciences or quit the place! There are cases, also, in which churches submit to the reading of the prayers, because they cannot get rid of them, but at the expence of their building, which they cannot afford. In many things, indeed, trustees are sometimes found practically to interfere with the proceedings, peace, and · independency of a church.
Here, however, for the present, we must close our remarks. We shall be glad to see the subject thoroughly gone into by some able hand; and as we have left many things unsaid, and may probably be called upon by some to say them, we shall be happy, in this way, to contribute our mite towards the discussion.
We are not disposed to apologize for remarks which may seem to embarrass our own friends. We have no friends to be put in comparison with CONSISTENCY and TRUTH. We have no doubt either, but that many of those with whom we side in the great controversies of the day, have often revolved the subject before us, and have seen their way through all its intricacies. We shall deem ourselves happy in eliciting their thoughts. For Dr. Wardlaw, Dr. Halley, and others, to whom we have had to refer, we cherish unfeigned and profound respect. Our opinion of Dr. Wardlaw's volume, with the exception to which we have now referred, and perhaps one other, is before the public. Dr. Halley we hold in bigh estimation. The sentiments we have quoted from his discourse are, we are persuaded, deeply felt and ardently cherished by him, and sincerely believed to be such as he could consistently avow. With him, we hold and value them; like him, we feel that they must be held by us, and held fully, practically, consistently, or we shall be able to defend ourselves neither against those from whom we dissent, nor against those who dissent from
Dr. W. has done the first; Dr. H. the second. On the ground they take, they are safe and successful; but, as we have our doubts whether this ground is always kept, or whether it be not practically abandoned by the bodies to which our friends belong, these doubts we have taken the liberty to throw out. By the way, we wonder what the brethren,' for instance, and some like them, who profess to bave not only the Bible in the midst of them, but the Spirit, in a peculiar, if not miraculous, sense, so unfolding to them the truth, that they can never affirm that they will think to-morrow precisely as they think to-day-we wonder
what they do with their buildings ? When they erect a place, and thus create property, how do they secure it? That there must be some sort of security we have already admitted. Public property is not private. As to our views of the extent to which, and the terms by which, a society of Protestants, more especially Dissenters, should secure theirs, in consistency with their professed and fundamental principles, these we reserve to a future occasion.
Such were our intended last words. It strikes us, however, that one or two may not improperly be added, to guard against the misconception of our spirit and purpose. We are not unaware that the lamentable defection of the English Presbyterian churches, their sliding into Socinianism, or dying out,-is often attributed to the want of specificness, in their trust-deeds, of the doctrinal sentiments to be maintained by them; and in these days of insinuation and calumny, it might be said that the Eclectic had become Socinian, because of our introduction of the present discussion. To these objections, we reply, in the first place, that the defection referred to may perhaps admit of explanation on other grounds. We believe it may, and that it might have been prevented without the legal specificness demanded. But if not, the question still comes, whether legal securities are the Scriptural way, according to certain popular and controversial commionplaces, of preserving and perpetuating the true faith? If not, and
yet if necessary, where are we? On such an admission, can the great Protestant principle, the Bible, and the Bible only,' be honestly professed, or confidently trusted? If it be felt that it cannot, let it be acknowledged. If experience have proved that it is inexpedient to leave succeeding churches and generations to the Bible and to themselves, let it be avowed that we do, from expediency, what it may be difficult to reconcile with theoretic maxims; and then let this moderate, in some degree, the tone and language with which such maxims are used in debate. As to any leaning, on our part, to that irreligious and impious recklessness of speculation, which may be supposed to be guarded against by protecting the faith by legal securities, we think it unnecessary to deny the existence. The evangelical spirit that has ever distinguished this journal, and which we are as anxious as any of our predecessors to maintain, is denial enough. There are other evils besides heresy; and other rights besides those of man. God has his rights, if we may so speak without impropriety; and, jealous for his honour, we have thrown out, what, in our view, may tend to maintain them. A legal instrument may not only restrain the spirit of man, the liberty of human speculation that leads to error; it may restrain the Spirit of God; it may limit the liberty of the church to listen obediently to the voice of its Lord—to mark his stately steppings in the sanctuary -to
welcome his will as his word unfolds it,—that word which, after having long been wrested from it by the usurpation of Antichrist, it has now recovered, and recovered to obey exclusively and alone. We are not arguing for the liberty of men to carry out whatever they think; but of Christian men to carry out whatever they read! 'If it should be objected, that the principle of noninterference with the inquiries and faith of future generations,
if pushed to its legitimate consequences, would require churches to be so left, that they might be turned into mosques, or synagogues, or heathen temples, or halls of science, or schools of atheism; we should reply, that our observations ought in fairness to be taken as explained and limited by the subject they refer to.
We have all along been proceeding on the principle of Protestantism, and on the right of private judgment, as claimed by Protestant sects; a right to be exercised within the bounds of the Bible, not beyond them. If the principle cannot be consistently maintained without involving the hazard of such extremes as we have specified, others must look at this as well as we. We believe that it can. Even, however, if it could not, we should have no fear for either Protestantism or Christianity in acting upon it. We wish it also to be observed, that our remarks are not intended to apply to Baptist and Pædo-baptist Dissenters only. Methodists, Presbyterians, Protestant Episcopalians, and others, are all concerned, more or less, with the bearings of this subject. They are all seeking to perpetuate, by law, their respective peculiarities, and are thus putting it out of the power of themselves or their successors to be any thing but what they are at this moment. We deeply feel this view of the matter; and, though we have glanced at it already, cannot close without referring to it again. We are thirsting for Christian union, and, as far as possible, for Christian unanimity. We pray for the peace of Jerusalem-we sigh over the distractions of the times. We long to see the approximation of the pious towards each other. We should be happy, indeed, if the different denominations who hold the • Head' could meet and mingle in the services of the sanctuary, and thus evince their substantial oneness, even while retaining their several peculiarities ; but we should be still happier, if they possessed the will, and with it the power, to give up something for the sake of union,-a union somewhat more palpable and impressive than is indicated by the interchange of good words and kind looks, in connexion with the maintenance of their distinctive badges. We have often stated, that we oppose establishments because they necessarily interfere with the union of Christians ; they perpetuate differences; they confer immortality on the distinctions of a sect; they are thús in their very nature separating and schismatical, by rendering it impossible for those communities which they fetter with their favors, from modifying any thing to