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With our view of apostolic pre-emi- | the hierarchical party, and ultimately nence, we need be but little troubled the presbyterian party, were all, in their about the human line of our succession, different ways, opposed to the liberty inasmuch as the stern dictates of con- which their system breathed; and had science would not permit us to linger at a they not been men of masculine courage single stage of the past, until we had and determined endurance for conscience reached the hallowed sphere of inspired sake, the primitive platform of Christian communication. Why, then, undertake discipline for which they contended, and the fruitless task of searching after pedi- for which they were prepared to suffer grees and spiritual descent, when the New the loss of all things, would have been Testament is open before us ; and we can, strangled at its birth. But they testified at once, by a direct process, determine for truth, as the spirit of the times would how far our church principles are in permit; and when the rude onset of peraccordance with the only standard in reli- secution drove them into exile, their very gion worthy of being regarded ?
expatriation itself was made subservient But strong as we are in our own con- to the cause which they espoused; and victions of these great principles, we are their successors of a better age, which not unmindful of the moral heroism which they had laboured to produce, were perled men to act upon them at a period in mitted to sit under the shadow of that our national history when human autho- tree of liberty which they had planted in rity had overborne the liberties of Chris- evil times, and watered abundantly with tian men. The Puritan age was alike their tears and their prayers. remarkable in its relations to the past and There is nothing which strikes us with the future. It was as life from the dead, profounder awe, in looking at this section or rather as life among the dead, when of ecclesiastical history, than the lofty kingcraft and priestcraft united their dire- piety and the heroic virtue of the men ful energies to crush the liberties of the who could endure so much for the asserChristian church. It was as the star of tion and maintenance of a great principle. hope to generations then unborn; and, Indeed, in so far as “church principles" though many who espoused its principles fall back upon the simplicity of primitive never saw fully and clearly where those times, nothing can sustain them in any principles were conducting them, yet it age, and especially in an evil age, but a became a school in which great thoughts powerful current of vital godliness in those and great virtues were nursed into ulti- who profess them. Congregational Nonmate maturity. The struggle which arose conformity can never stand as a mere in the days of Elizabeth for Christian political system. As a theory, indeed, it liberty, promoted by the noble-hearted need not shrink from the most rigid inPuritans, and gathering strength by all the vestigation to which it can be subjected tyranny and oppression of the following among church systems. But, then, it is reigns, may be regarded as the seed-bed too spiritual in its character and pretenof that revival of primitive Christianity, sions to admit of progress or triumph, but which may be traced in all those churches as it is held, advocated, and exémplified which reject the hierarchical principle, by men of faith and prayer. among which the congregationalism of This brings us to the immediate subject the present age occupies a distinguished announced for discussion this evening, place.
viz, “ Nonconformity viewed in its relation It would not comport with the object to vital godliness.” Now, we are prepared and design of the present discourse to to show that it has such a relation essenenter into anything like a minute histo. tially involved in it, and that it can only rical detail of the mighty and perilous verify its true claims by making maniconflict through which the fathers of inde- fest the reality and extent of such relapendency had to pass. The popish party, I tion.
In looking at principles, we are pre- of our denomination will have passed pared to show
away. 1.-That CONGREGATIONAL NONCON 1 2. Its principle of membership, as reFORMITY HAS IN IT AN ESSENTIAL RELATION cognizing the spirituality of the kingdom TO VITAL GODLINESS.
of Christ, allies it essentially with vital 1. Its doctrinal basis, embodying, as it does, all the grand elements of evangelical Its doctrinal element gives the cast truth, allies it closely with all the impe- and complexion to its religious fellowrishable realities of spiritual religion. ship. It is believed among us, that the Without any creed or confession authori- title to membership in the apostolic tatively prescribed, our Congregational churches was the evidence of “repentNonconformity, through all the periods ance towards God, and faith towards our of its history, has maintained a decisive | Lord Jesus Christ." Without the recogtone on the great and cardinal truths of | nition of this definite principle of Christhe everlasting gospel. Its orthodoxy, in tian communion, there could be no a well-defined sense of that term, has distinct line of separation between the been beyond all suspicion. Moderate church and the world. Moral virtues, Calvinism, so called, has been the type of submission to outward rites, theoretical its doctrine; though no ecclesiastical acquaintance with the gospel, could never screw has been applied to produce a forced realize “the communion of saints," in uniformity. Whatever is most vital in the absence of true conversion to God, the Christian system has been the staple deliverance from the power of unbelief, of our ministry. Our pulpits have been and union by faith to the great Redeemer. bold and decisive in the announcement of We hold it to be essential to fidelity to all those truths which stand opposed to Christ's claims, that the church should self-righteousness, religious scepticism, be distinguished from the world practicand antinomian license. We have had ally as well as doctrinally. A church is no sympathy with those who have im- not a code of doctrines and laws; but a pugned the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, circle of living men, embodying the great and the vicarious nature of the Redeemer's truths of the gospel, and proving its vital sacrifice. Ours has been the steady de reception of them by the palpable determination to glory only in the cross. monstrations of repentance, faith, and Justification by the righteousness of faith holiness. It may be quite true, that after has been the only hope held out by us to the most careful scrutiny, there may be dying men. A spiritual, and not a ritual instances now, as in the apostolic age, transformation, by the power of God's in which false professors, and persons regenerating spirit, has been the burden | being deceived, may creep into the felof our message. Yet have we never been lowship of the church; but this is no identified with those who would relax the reason for the exercise of less, but of claims of moral obligation, and turn the more vigilance. It is impossible to adgrace of God into licentiousness. For minister the spiritual laws of the gospel the truth of all this we can appeal to the but among spiritual men : hence the writings of our most distinguished men, obvious necessity of admitting those only from the Puritan age downwards, and to Christian communion who can realize no less to those who occupy and adorn its ends, who can enjoy its privileges, our ministry in the present day. Spiritual and who can fulfil its obligations. Though religion, as opposed to the heterodoxy of the early Puritans, and some of the some, and the pharisaism and formalism Nonconformists, did not feel themselves of others, has been, and is, the grand bound by their views of the law of Christ, peculiarity of Congregational Noncon- to reject the patronage of the State in formity. And, if ever this aspect of support of religion ; by all the original our affairs should he changed, the glory Independents this corrupting and un
natural alliance was formally renounced; themselves for their transgression against and, both before and since the Revolu- God, they are to be reinstated in their tion, the Congregational Body in this Christian privileges, “lest they should country has been agreed in the convic- be swallowed up of over-much grief.” tion, that “Christ's kingdom being not Thus it will be seen, in the review of of this world,” cannot, without material these principles which enter into the detriment, be associated with the secular very elements of Congregational Nonand selfish interests of human empire. conformity, that it allies itself distinctly No two injunctions can be more distinct, in theory with the power of vital godlior more binding: “Give to Cæsar the ness. It has ever been the unflinching things which are Cæsar's, and to God advocate of those doctrines of grace, upon the things which are God's.” Happy which the salvation of perishing sinners we are to say, that Congregationalists depends; and no settled taint of heteroare not the only body of Christians in our doxy rests upon its escutcheon. Its day, who resolutely maintain the non- principle of membership is, that conpolitical and non-secular aspect of the verted and believing men are the only Christian church. And there are those, precious stones which are to compose the alas! who avow our doctrine, and yet great spiritual temple. And its grand cling practically to the union of Church disciplinary rule is, that none are to be and State.
retained in fellowship who forfeit the 3. Its plan of discipline, in separating religious character which gained them the precious from the vile, allies it essen- admission into the Christian church. tially with vital godliness.
These primary principles, in connection We hold that the absence of discipline with the absence of all secular control is incompatible with the prevalence of in the management and support of their social Christianity in the present imper- system, impart to the views of Congregafect state. If there be no actual method tional Nonconformists an air of unearthof dealing with those who prove them- liness and spirituality, which cannot fail selves unworthy, it is quite clear that to associate them with the interior and the distinctive character of the church, vital power of Christianity. Their system except so far as mere name is concerned, of doctrine, membership, government, would very speedily cease to be a reality. and unencumbered ritual, seems to proIf it be necessary to demand Christian claim, in a distinct and emphatic tone, qualification in order to membership, it that the kingdom of God is not meat is no less necessary to see to it that such and drink; but "peace, and righteousqualification is not subsequently lost. We ness, and joy in the Holy Ghost. are not to “suffer sin upon a brother;" IInd PROPOSITION IS, THAT CONGREnor to be "unequally yoked with unbe- GATIONAL NONCONFORMITY lievers." "If a brother be overtaken in a fault, those who are spiritual are to restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering themselves lest they 1. This is a conclusion which might be also be tempted." Those who "sin be- reached on mere general grounds. For fore all, are to be rebuked before all;" the more simple and spiritual that any while more private offences are to be theory of church principles may be, the dealt with privately, in the first instance, more necessary it is, both for consistency with a view to their removal. Incorrigible and efficiency, that there should be no offenders are to be removed from the palpable discrepancy between its profellowship of their brethren, that the fessed platform and its actual and known church may not be polluted, and as the character. The best things, in profession most probable means for their restora- and outward seeming, become the worst, tion ; but if they repent, and humble when they are dissociated from the essens
VERIFY ITS CLAIMS BY MAKING MANIFEST
THE REALITY AND EXTENT OF ITS RELA
TION TO VITAL GODLINESS.
tial elements which impart to them their | They profess to regulate and control the true value and their obvious vitality. No conduct, spirit, and intercourse, of men greater mistake can be committed than spiritually alive, not of men “dead in for men to suppose that systems of church trespasses and sins." They suppose a government are of value, for their own transition from unbelief to faith, from sakes, when they are denuded of their enmity to love, from sin to holiness. spiritual glory, and cease to be the in- Human laws and authority may restrain strument and expression of the spiritual or punish the overt acts of men; but the
laws of Christ are intended, and, by the No one can thoughtfully contemplate grace of the Spirit, are adapted, to mould the inspired record of the apocalyptic and regulate the inmost affections of the churches, without reaching the affecting soul; and to create external obedience conclusion, that the purest forms of ec- upon principles of reverence, gratitude, clesiastical polity may exist, where error, and love. But even the laws of Christ corruption, and spiritual torpor prevail. cannot effect impossibilities. Though A scriptural form of church government they have a claim upon all—just because is doubtless the fittest medium for de- they are wise, holy, and benevolent—they veloping the energies of our social Chris- can only take effect where the principle tianity; but let the vital elements of of faith has obtained the ascendant; and faith, and love, and holiness, be sup- it is an eternal truth, that they were never planted, and what is the most primitive intended to minister to a mock exhibition model of church order and rule, but a of the holy and heavenly principles of body without the soul,-a fair and lovely the Redeemer's kingdom. form without the animating principle ? What, then, is the grand lesson con
Indeed, it cannot be concealed, that veyed to the churches of our order by a the nearer any church advances to the solemn review of these principles ? Is it professed standard of apostolic times, the not, that we dare not rely on the aposmore obvious and painful will be its tolicity or primitive simplicity of our practical departure from the spirit and church system? As a medium of Chrispower of the primitive faith. Worldly tian development, it is divinely and men may take shelter in systems which wisely adapted to its end; but if it takes are worldly like themselves; but when the place of vital Christianity in the they are found in association with forms members of our several churches, then of worship and doctrine which are essen- will it become our snare and our retially spiritual in their aspect and claims, proach ; and others who adhere to less the discrepancy will be alike painful and scriptural systems may become our rivals revolting.
in all the essential graces of the spiritual It cannot be too deeply impressed upon life. As in the worst schemes of ecclethe minds of thoughtful and Christian siastical polity, the life of true faith may men, that the outward form and type of sustain and nourish itself; so in the best, Christ's church are in strict harmony it is but too frequently manifest, that it with the spirit, principles, and design of may sink into utter decay. We may his gospel. They are intended and fitted
serve, to develope the spiritual life. They are 2. That Nonconformity has always not of this world, just because they are been seen to greatest advantaye when it ordained to minister to the power and has been found in alliance with a lofty prevalence of spiritual and invisible and devoted piety.- In the earlier periods realities. It would be utterly impossible of our national history, our Nonconformto apply the church principles of the ing forefathers had to struggle for a New Testament to a body of mere nomi- comparatively undeveloped principle. nal Christians. They appeal to the hidden They had to do this by the light of faith, principles of true and genuine saintship. I amidst the contempt and derision of the
obworld, and with all the stormy elements the vigilance of self-jealousy and selfof persecution playing around their de- distrust. In times of ease and comparavoted heads. But it was amidst scenes tive prosperity, we are in danger of being like these, as in primitive times, that a entangled in the spirit of the world, and masculine piety was nurtured to its full of losing that brilliant polish and refinematurity; and that Christian liberty was ment of moral and religious sentiment asserted and maintained upon the plat- which persecution rarely fails to impart form of enlightened conscience, sustained to men of lofty bearing. We are thankby the power of vital godliness. We ful for our liberties; but if they should, may well entertain a doubt, whether, in through our grievous infirmity, become these days of settled liberty, wrought out the means of lowering the standard of for us and for our country, by the Non- our spirituality, and of tempting us to conformists of a bye-gone age-our cling to “ the form of godliness without churches move in an orbit as lofty and the power,” how powerless, for the future spiritual, as when they were oppressed regeneration of mankind, will be our conby the arm of power, and tolerated rather gregationalism, which has come down to than cherished.
us from a band of noble confessors to the By these remarks it is not intended to truth of Christ. Far be it from us to look set light by the advantages arising from upon men or things with a gloomy or full liberty of conscience, or to discourage jaundiced eye; but we do perceive, in the the present race of Nonconformists from extension of the political franchise, in the bearing their unfaltering testimony to the introduction of Dissenters to our city corgenuine principles of Christian freedom. porations, and in the growing interest On the contrary, they must never forget which our churches, as such, take in the that, so long as the patronage of the State parliamentary questions of the day,--the is conceded to particular sects, they will working of elements which may, through have to watch, with a sleepless eye, the the artifice of Satan, and the deceitfulness movements of two distinct classes--the of the human heart, inflict a serious and statesmen of the age and the churchmen lasting injury upon the piety of our Nonof the age. Never will liberty stand on a conforming communities. firm footing, while any civil incorporation One thing is certain : if the spirituality of Christianity exists in the midst of us— of our churches is suffered to expire—if not even though that incorporation should politics take the place of prayer; if a be so far enlarged as to embrace all reli- flippant sectarianism is substituted for gions that will accept the political bribe. deep-seated, solemn convictions; if we Nay, my firm belief is, that when this are tempted to rely on the purity of our sort of corrupt patronage has been gene system rather than in the godliness of our ralized, the conscientious sections of the lives—we shall have done more to check Christian church which dare not accept the onward course of Protestant Nonconof it, will have to encounter the perils formity than could have been effected by which we had fondly hoped in this coun- the frown of the world, or by the super. try would only disfigure the history of cilious contempt of those who can see the past. Let any candid man, not warped nothing worth commending beyond the with prejudice, read the late debate in pale of an Established Hierarchy. The the House of Commons, and he will be at public spirit of these times is no doubt au no loss to discover the venom and spite evidence of our intellectual and moral indulged in by men of all political parties advancement; but we shall have puragainst those who dare not take to the aid chased that public spirit at too costly a of the state in the support of religion. rate, if we fail to associate it with a fer
But while we would urge this particular vent adherence to gospel truth, and a species of vigilance, there is another which vigorous display of the Christian life. It we would yet more earnestly urge. It is is easy to become wranglers upon every