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Protestants, have made the separation into sects an argument that a religion that develops itself in such modes of division, and under such forms of contention, cannot be from God. Those who seek an excuse for not making any profession of religion, often take refuge in the fact that divisions exist in the Church, and allege that until Christians shall themselves agree as to what is to be believed, they cannot with propriety be urged or expected to connect themselves with a Church in which there is no union and no common faith or charity.
It is important, then, to inquire what is the true ground to be taken on this subject; and to ask whether the division into denominations is at variance essentially with the true spirit of Christianity, and is inconsistent with the proper notion of the unity of the Church. On this point, and in reply to the questions just proposed, we submit the following remarks :
1. While the essential doctrines of Christianity are plain, and are easily defined, those on which the various Christian denominations differ, pertain to the loftiest subjects which can come before the human mind. They belong to a philosophy on which there has as yet been no unity of opinion among men, and not a few of them seem to lie beyond the range of the human intellect in any of its developments in this world. There has been as yet, for example, no way discovered of explaining the consistency between the freedom of the will and the doctrine of divine decrees; and men, as they make one or the other of these doctrines the stand-point in their observation, will form different theories about the nature of religion, and just in that proportion there will be a tendency to the formation of different organizations in the Church; and yet there is in this fact no insuperable reason why both should not maintain the essential truths in regard to the plan of salvation and the duty of men. On these high subjects, where perhaps even angels may differ, where Milton makes his fallen angels enter into a profound and yet unsatisfactory discussion-finding no end
In wandering mazes lost, it is not to be expected that men, with their limited views, should come to a perfect understanding, or should be able to relieve these doctrines of all perplexity; and it may be better
it is better that those who entertain different views on these subjects should be organized into different denominations, than to attempt to compress them into one. The interests of religion
—the true interests of charity, confidence, and love,—will be better promoted by such a separation than by a forced and unnatural union ; a separation that shall in fact produce more real union than could exist if they were forced into a single organization.
2. Men look at objects from different points of view. In contemplating a landscape, though the same objects—houses, trees, hills and streams—are observed, yet the whole scenethe picture-takes its character, as is well known, from the point of view; the “stand-point” of the observer. Even though the same objects come under the eye, yet the whole is so changed by the different combinations; the different lights and shadows; the different apparent position of the objects; that unless our own position in looking at a painting be the same as that of the artist, we seem to be looking at different things, and the whole may be as much varied as though we were looking at a wholly different scene. The same thing occurs in moral objects. One man from his stand-point looks only at God. He makes the Creator's throne the central point in his observation, and he brings prominently and almost exclusively into view the divine nature, plans, purposes, agency-and he becomes a Calvinist. Another, in his contemplation, looks more directly on man; on his moral agency; his free will; his responsibility; and, fearful that all will be resolved into fatalism, he becomes an Arminian. With one, the divine honor, the divine purposes, the divine glory, becomes the direct and main object of contemplation ; with the other, the doctrine of free agency and responsibility fills the whole field of vision. Both are honest; both hold parts of the great system of truth, and both may be good men, yet here, in their theological views, they part asunder, and a foundation is laid for a difference of denomination.
3. There is a diversity in the mental constitution of men; in their modes of thinking; in their habits of reasoning; in their power of observation; in the congeniality of their mental structure with certain forms of belief. Whatever John Wesley might have been under any circumstances, it is certain that Jonathan Edwards could have been nothing but a Calvinist. His mind was so constituted that when he looked at God and his government, he at once saw the Calvinistic system to be true. And there are many such minds. In their regeneration they are born Calvinists—and they can never be any thing else. They make God the centre of the whole system of truth; they look upon him as a Being of eternal purposes and plans; and all their “experience in their conversion is such, that all the hope which they cherish is traced to the eternal purposes and the sovereign mercy of God. To their apprehension nothing is more certain than that if God had not interposed in their case; if he had not formed an eternal plan embracing their salvation, they would have perished forever. Such men can never have a conception of God except as acting according to an eternal plan; and such men will be Calvinists, and their theology will be as fixed as the everlasting hills. Whatever may be true of
Jesuits, in their power of adapting themselves to new forms of belief, Jansenists are susceptible of no such moulding by outward circumstances; and they will be found true to the principles which they embrace when they first look at the subject of religion, and in accordance with which they were born into the kingdom of God.
There will be, therefore, as long as the world stands, a class of men of whom Pascal, Calvin, John Knox, and Jonathan Edwards, were the types. They will be inflexible in their faith -perhaps stern, fixed, rigid in their character—and no power of earth or hell will be able to turn them from their opinions. They might have been infidels; but even their infidelity would have assumed a Calvinistic form, for it would somehow have been based on the doctrine of eternal purposes—of a fixed and settled order of things. There has been always, also, a large class of men of whom Arminius was the type. These latter would have found their prototypes among the Epicureans, as the other class would have found theirs among the followers of Zeno; in men of modern times, the types of such men were found among the Jesuits in the Roman communion, and the Wesleys among Protestants. By their habit of mind; by their modes of looking at objects; by all their “experience,” they become Arminians—and nothing can change them.
Now we think that it is better that those who look at the objects of religious belief from the same points of view, and those who from their education, their temperament, their mental structure, are led to the same doctrinal views, should be organized into distinct bodies or denominations, than to attempt to collect them into one body. There must be some kind of division in the Church. It is impossible that all the members of the Church on earth should be collected into one body; should be under one specific mode of government; or should be assembled for council or for worship in one place; and it is equally impracticable that there should be one delegated body that should watch over the universal Church, and direct its affairs. Either, therefore, geographically—by cities, towns, neighborhoods, or by the affinities of language, nation, or com. plexion; or by differences of culture, education, refinement; or by the affinities created by preferences in modes of worship or differences of doctrinal views, there must be a breaking up of the universal church into smaller bodies; bodies that can be assembled for worship, or represented for government and counsel. A geographical separation, or a mapping out of the whole Church into so many blocks and squares constituting so many separate Churches, is impossible; a division by national customs and by language, where it can be avoided, is undesirable; a difference founded on the distinction of condition, culture, or education, would be foreign to the spirit of Christianity; but a division founded on the different views which men, from the circumstances above stated, take of government and doctrine, is that which is most natural, and which will best secure the ends of an organization into a Church. The advantages secured by this, and which are in our view a full vindication of the propriety of thus dividing the Church into distinct denominations, and, perhaps, a full equivalent for all the incidental evils that grow out of it, are such as the following:
(a.) It promotes internal harmony. It lays a foundation for mutual confidence and affection in a Church. It prevents internal strife and collision, by uniting in one compact communion those who come constantly together for worship and fellowship, while, at the same time, it is not, as we shall see, inconsistent with a recognition of other Churches, or with love for those who,
in different communions, are also united, according to their own preferences, on the principle of affinity of doctrine, or affinity of views in the government of the Church.
(6.) The different denominations thus exercise a happy and desirable scrutiny over each other. This is not by any direct interference; not by an attempt at control; not by denunciation, or by one portion regarding the other as left to the uncovenanted mercies of God; but it is by the wholesome restraint which exists when we are conscious that we are observed by others. Every man is under a happy stimulus to virtue who is conscious that he is observed by his virtuous neighbors and friends; every family derives an important advantage, though it is secret and silent, from the fact that it is one of a group of virtuous families, each having its own distinct organization, and each pursuing its own interest; and in like manner, each Church in regard to its own spirituality and purity, derives an important advantage from the fact that it is one of a group of churches, each and all, in their own way, striving to promote the cause of religion in the world.
(c.) An important benefit arises from the existence of such denominations in the fact that great and important truths are ultimately stricken out and established, which, so far as appears, could be reached in no other way. Truth makes its way in the world by means of discussion and conflict-by the collision of different minds, as fire is elicited by the collision of flint and steel. Many of the most important truths and principles now in the possession of the Church, are the results of long, and warm, and perhaps angry discussion; as the principles that enter into our views of liberty are the results of ages of conflict. We are, therefore, no enemies to controversy. We believe that while a Christian spirit should be manifested, and while there should be Christian charity and candor, controversy is one of the most important means for promoting the cause of truth, and consequently of promoting pure religion. It sharpens the intellect; it, of necessity, puts the mind on its guard and makes it cautious, knowing that there may be a keen-eyed opponent who will examine the positions which are laid down; it calls up all the power of invention in seeking arguments to maintain the position assumed; it thus, on the one side and on the other,