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history of which is recorded in the 15th chapter of the Acts, and which was composed of the apostles and elders, was productive of the most salutary effects, by exhibiting the true principles of the gospel, and by affording consolation to those who were delivered by it from the bondage of the Mosaical rites. It is true that those who composed this council were directed by the Holy Ghost," and that supernatural assistance is no longer vouchsafed to any ecclesiastical assemblies whatever. Still, if they confine themselves to their proper province, are actuated by principles purely Christian, and implore the divine direction and blessing, they have reason to expect them; and, if their decisions are founded on the word of God, they are entitled to the acquiescence of the Christian community.

A question has been agitated concerning the right of convoking synods and councils. On this subject the Confession of Faith of the church of Scotland seems to me to express itself with great wisdom and moderation.c

Its words are,-" I. For the better government and further edification of the church, there ought to be such assemblies as are commonly called synods or councils.

"II. As magistrates may lawfully call a synod of ministers and other fit persons to consult and c Chap. xxxi. of Sy

a Acts xv. 31. nods and Councils.

b Acts xv. 28.

advise with about matters of religion; so, if magistrates be open enemies to the church, the ministers of Christ of themselves, by virtue of their office, or they with other fit persons upon delegation from their churches, may meet together in such assemblies."

The next section states the subjects of deliberation in such assemblies, and the extent of their authority.

The fourth is in these words, "All synods and councils since the apostles' times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as an help in both.

"V. Synods and councils are to handle and conclude nothing but that which is ecclesiastical; and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs, which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or by way of advice for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereto required of the civil magis

trate."

Such are the general principles which relate to the government and discipline of a Christian church; and in the application of these to emerging cases, the prudence and temper of its rulers must be particularly evinced. Under the Christian dispensation, every point of external observance is not minutely defined, as it was un

der the Jewish economy. This minuteness could be more easily admitted in a system so ceremonial as this last, and intended for one particular people, and for a temporary duration. Christianity, designed for all nations, and for every period of time till the final consummation of this terrestrial scene, could not admit of one unvarying form of government, discipline, and mode of external worship; such a form as might be adapted to every state of the gospel, both in its infancy and maturity,-to every political or domestic condition of men, to every country, to every peculiarity of character, civilization, and improvement, and to all ages of the world, in which constant varieties are arising, and revolutions of opinion and manners appear in continual succession. All these circumstances seem to require different modifications of external religion and of ecclesiastical government, provided the grand ends of all religion are invariably studied, namely, peace, and the advancement of true piety and virtue. "Let all things be done to edifying," "let all things be done decently, and in order," are, with respect to such matters, the apostolical injunctions; and, as these are general, much is left to the judgment of those who direct their Christian brethren; so that, while the weightier matters of the Christian law remain

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unimpaired, just offence is avoided, and order and decency maintained, a certain degree of accommodation to times and circumstances may be adopted. In mere externals (I wish I could say, and in these only) councils and synods have differed; nor is this censurable when circumstances require it. But never ought they to introduce changes merely with a view to gratify their own ambition or avarice. The advancement of true piety, and of the salvation of man, ought to be the exclusive object of ecclesiastical regulations. In all that relates even to the external exercise of religion, and to the administration of discipline, the safest and most salutary rule is, to adhere as closely as possible to scriptural standards.

It ought always to be remembered that the Christian church is a voluntary association, distinguished from every other by doctrines, precepts, and institutions, under Christ its head. I use the term voluntary, not as expressive of the original principles of this community, for these depended upon no human will; but I denominate it voluntary, in as much as no person can be compelled to enter into it, or remain in it longer than he chooses. Christ requires the free and unconstrained assent and obedience of the heart; and it is the peculiar property of his religion that it makes its way solely by the power of truth, and can never employ compulsion either against infidels, or against its own professors.

Mohammed propagated his religion by the sword, and its progress was marked with blood. Christianity never received increase from blood, but that of its martyrs, shed by its enemies. The professors of corrupted Christianity may, by threats of torture and death, drive men into their polluted pale, or retain them within it. The professors of "the truth as in Jesus" point out to mankind the way to salvation and eternal life, exhort them to enter on it, and by their pure and holy example gently constrain them, as it were, to follow their footsteps. Such are illu mined by the rays of divine light, and drawn by the cords of man, the bands of love."

We may be sure

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that the church of Christ shall never perish. Paganism or Judaism will never be restored., Mohammedism will never generally prevail to the extirpation of the gospel, Of all this Christ himself has assured us by declaring, that he has built his church on a rock; that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it ; and that he will be with his disciples alway, even unto the end of the world. But, promising to preserve his church from extinction, he did not promise that he would always preserve it pure either in doctrine or in practice, as far at least as regards the great body of its professing members. For even in the earliest and most corrupt

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b Hosea xi. 4. c Matt. xvi. 18; xxviii. 20.

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