« AnteriorContinuar »
riod of the world's history, we perceive discord-discord among the professed followers of the "Prince of Peace." Thus has the dearest brotherhood been sundered; and the Saviour" wounded in the house of his friends." Roman Catholics exult on account of divisions among Protestants, while boasting of their own supposed union; infidels "point the finger of scorn" at the "party spirit" discernible in the bosom of the church; while in consequence thereof a serious impediment is thrown in the way of the conversion of the heathen world; all tauntingly exclaiming," First settle your own differences, and then invite us to embrace truths in which you are agreed."
It becomes, therefore, a practical inquiry of the greatest moment and the most intense interest, whether a healing balm cannot be discovered to cure the wounds which deface the mystical body of Jesus Christ; and whether union of heart and fraternal fellowship among all Christians be not practicable. In a late public address at Geneva, D'Aubigne, the distinguished theologian and historian, gave utterance to the following truly Catholic sentiments: "I have one wish to express here to-day. It is, that if it be possible, and as much as lieth in us, there may be no more controversy with brethren. Let Christian union be realized; and let us all stretch forth our hands one to another. Are we not called to this duty by the surprising events of our days? What will become of the church in the midst of national convulsions, if its members are not cordially united according to the will of its divine Head? Have we not one Spirit and one Father? Are we not one body in Christ Jesus?"
In treating upon the subject now before us, I shall speak first, of the nature of Christian Union; and secondly, of its desirableness.
I. ITS NATURE. True Christian Union consists in a union of sentiment, respecting the fundamentals of religion; a union of feeling, or affection; and a union in outward effort.
1. Unity in Sentiment. It is not to be expected that there will be an entire coincidence of views, or a perfect agreement of opinions in respect to all the dogmas and rites of Christianity. Some may have more articles in their creed than others; their notions of ecclesiastical polity, and church discipline, may differ; their ideas in regard to the ordinances of the Gospel, as to their exact signification and best mode of administration, may not be precisely alike; their sentiments on numerous unessential points may vary; nevertheless, in order for Christian union, they must embrace the fundamental truths of Revelation.
Let Christians only adhere closely to God's Word, acknowledging that as an infallible standard of theory, and of practice; it would operate as a magnet drawing genuine believers together into a recognized brotherhood by its attractive influences! And do not all evangelical sects hold alike to the cardinal doctrines of
the Bible? For instance: That God exists, and is possessed of every conceivable perfection; that the Scriptures were divinely inspired that man apostatized from his primitive sinlessness into a state of depravity and ruin; that the Son of God incarnate visited our earth eighteen centuries ago to provide an atonement for fallen man," by whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;" that the work of regeneration is effected by the Holy Ghost; that men must repent of sin and believe in Christ to obtain pardon, with eternal life; that all penitent believers are justified freely through grace, and adopted into the household of that Being "of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named."
These are the sublime facts and everlasting verities which have the "suffrage of consenting Christendom," in the centre of which stands the cross of Calvary, and around which all Biblical truths do cluster and revolve. There may be different ways of stating them, and favorite methods of systematizing and arranging, in our various theological seminaries, among ministers of the Gospel, and even on the part of the private membership of the church of God; still they are substantially the truths which the pious of every name most heartily embrace. And the points wherein they agree are infinitely more important than those wherein they differ. The true church militant below, whether visible or invisible, is composed of all who have been brought to "repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; while saving grace in the heart, and a life of obedience, will endure an introduction into the church triumphant above. Now, that which is the common basis of salvation on the strength of which we hope ere long to reach the heavenly mansions, ought to be the common basis of union while travelling thitherward.
2. Union of Feeling. Are there not certain feelings which Christians share in common? As, for example, supreme love to God, love of benevolence to mankind universally, and love of complacence to all holy beings, zeal for the honor of religion, and a desire to do the will of their Redeemer. These are feelings and affections of the renewed heart which all the faithful possess to a greater or less extent. Though a dissimilarity of views in nonessentials may prevent an entire external union, yet these need not prevent a union in affection and mutual esteem. "The only unity that will ever be attained before the Resurrection of the just,' says a modern writer, "will be the unity of thinking differently in love." THINKING DIFFERENTLY IN LOVE. And doubtless this is true so far as the minor points of doctrine are concerned.
There is no reason, however, why all Christians may not greet one another with a "kiss of charity," and extend to each other not merely the "right hand," but the right heart of fellowship. There is no reason in the world why they may not grasp each other in a brotherly embrace, having for their motto, " In essen
tials, unity; and non-essentials liberty; in all things charity." As the old proverb hath it, "Hearts may agree, though heads may differ." Or, as Jeremy Taylor expressed it, "We ought to love alike, though we do not understand alike." Mutual concessions are necessary in such a world as this of ours. And wherever Christian unity prevails there will be a kind, conciliatory, condescending spirit; and he who is unwilling to pay such a needful tribute to human nature, constituted as it is with a wondrous diversity in taste, capacity, education, temperament and prejudice, had better retire from society, declare himself a misanthrope, and spend his days in the hermit's solitude.
The peculiar and prominent features of our holy religion belong to all real believers, irrespective of denominational distinctions. Hence instead of saying "I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of John the Baptist, and I of Calvin, and I of Luther, and I of Wesley," it were better to glory more in the cross, and to unite in saying, "We are of CHRIST." The closer we cling to him, the closer shall we cleave to all who are his; while the more we love God, the more we shall love every child of God. "Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us, to the glory of God." We should plant ourselves on a platform long enough and broad enough to hold all the accredited followers of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
"Not by a party's narrow banks confined,
The age has gone by when the free soul of man will submit to be trammeled and fettered, or stretched upon the iron bedstead of Procrustes. But a flame of sacred love, when enkindled in the breasts of Christians, will melt down those sectarian barriers which separate their souls, until the mouths of gainsayers are stopped, and all are charmed by beholding their mutual sympathy and good will. Under the influence of such a peace-breathing spirit, the principles of union would spread more and more till all differences are hushed in that immortal anthem of praise which shall ascend before the great white throne of purity and of love forever.
3. Union of Effort. It is by the "good works" of Christians that we are to determine whether their sentiments are correct, and their hearts right; for "the tree is known by its fruits." Not that we expect separate ecclesiastical organizations will be disbanded, and all God's people merged into one and the same church, this cannot be reasonably anticipated till the millennial morning; perhaps not even then, for creeds, both written and unwritten, will be necessary down to the end of time; but that Christians, in every feasible way, combine their strength for the
destruction of sin, and the promotion of holiness. Feeling that they are but different companies in the same great army, under the same commander, they may praiseworthily unite their efforts, with no other contention than that of "provoking one another to love and good works," rejoicing in the advancement and prosperity of any branch of the "Church of the First Born" that is "built on the prophets and apostles. Jesus Christ being the chief corner-stone."
With great propriety and perfect harmony may Christians cooperate in the various societies for the promotion of benevolent operations, as, the distribution of the Word of Life, the temperance reformation, the extension of freedom, the peace enterprise, educational societies, circulation of tracts, the colporteur system, home and foreign missions, and Sabbath schools instruction. The American Bible Society, the American Tract Society, and the American Sunday School Union, are beautiful illustrations of the fraternizing influences of religious truth. These are lovely "sisters of charity," and harbingers of a better day, the “good time coming," that "golden age" of the church to which numerous ancient prophecies refer, and many of the modern "signs of the times" do point us. In these, and kindred associations, all the people of God can mingle in sweet accord. Such union of labor, and communion of spirit, will help to mellow the soul, soften asperities, and create harmonious feelings,-a consummation "devoutly to be wished."
Blessed be God, that there are some spots on earth where men and women representing the different Evangelical persuasions can meet and feel at home with each other. If they would oftener thus meet, and know each other better; if they would oftener come together, and look each other right in the face, and know each other better; if they would oftener resort to the same praying circle, and conference room; and let their fervent prayers and tearful sympathies blend together, groundless prejudices would be quickly removed, and Christian union greatly promoted. My brethren, "let us not love in word only, but in deed and in truth!"
II. Under the second general head we are to consider the DESIRABLENESS or IMPORTANCE of Christian Union. Reasons in favor of union among all Christians appear from the teachings of Scripture; the example of apostles and primitive saints; the evil consequences produced by disunion; from the fact, that Christians are engaged in the same cause; that union is strength; that it is promotive of human happiness; and that only by the exercise of that love which is the foundation of all union can one resemble God, or become imbued with the spirit of heaven.
1. The Teachings of Scripture. That we are commanded, in terms the most explicit, to cherish a warm attachment for all the
members of Christ's body, and that no branch of religious duty is inculcated more frequently, must appear evident to every student of the Bible. It is as much the duty of Christians to avoid rending the seamless garment of our Saviour, as to avoid any sin whatsoever. It is as much their duty to seek to effect and maintain union, as to obey any commandment of the Most High. It is as much the duty of preachers to exhort to the exercise of brotherly love, as to penitence for sin, faith in Christ's atoning blood, or submission to the sovereign will of God.
Christian union is not only desirable but obligatory. Running through the whole of the New Testament are to be found the plainest directions for the cultivation of this precious principle. Paul, in his letters to the churches, dwells much upon it. Hear his language: "If there be, therefore, any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, of one accord, of one mind." Again he says," Be kindly affectioned one to another in brotherly love, in honor preferring one another. The Lord make you increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men; to the end he may stablish your heart unblamable in holiness."
This was also the favorite theme of John, the beloved disciple, that most affectionate of all the followers of Jesus. Doubtless you have all been struck with the numerousness of the exhortations to love which abound in his epistles. And it is recorded of him in traditionary documents handed down through successive ages, that in the feebleness of advanced life he was carried to church when his public discourses were in keeping with the compositions of his pen, being reduced to this one short sentence: "Little children, love one another." When asked why he repeated this exhortation every Lord's day, he replied, that" if Christians could only be persuaded to love each other as brethren they would be sure to perform the other duties of religion."
Now were that good old apostle, who during the early period of his discipleship leaned so lovingly upon the bosom of his Master, and during his after years had such wonderful visions on the Isle of Patmos of the glories of the redeemed in Paradise, to appear on earth again, and enter our modern pulpits, would not large numbers of the people get wearied with that sort of preaching, so much in favor of love? But remember, that the very essence of religion is love-love to God, and love to man.
We read, it is true, of a certain disciple saying unto Christ, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followeth not us." But the utterer of that language "knew not what manner of spirit he was of." How unlike the great apostle to the Gentiles, for he thus writes: "Some preach Christ, even of envy, and some of contention, supposing to add affliction to my bonds; what then? Christ is preached, and