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that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant?" (Romans xiv. 1, 4.)
Immorality, persisted in, disqualifies for the purposes of religious society; and for this cause, and this alone, the founders of Christian Churches gave them authority to exclude. They have no right to do so on any other pretence whatever. The heretic (Titus iii. 10), who was to be rejected" after the first and second admonition," appears evidently, from the use of that term, the connexion of the passage, and the declaration "he that is such, is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself," to be, not the conscientious holder of erroneous doctrines, but a partisan, one wishing to form a clan, and raise dissension, and employing means, or pursuing an object, of the wickedness of which he was conscious.
Christians of different opinions are, doubtless, at liberty to associate for the promotion of those opinions, and to exclude from such combinations those who do not think with them. They may unite to recommend Calvinism or Arminianism, Adult Baptism or Pædobaptism, Trinitarianism or Unitarianism; they can then frame what laws they please: but they ought never to identify these associations with Christian Churches, in which they are not authorized teachers, but
fellow-disciples; and where they have no right to legislate, nor any discretionary power of admission, rejection, or excommunication.
1. The first violation, therefore, of religious liberty, and which leads to all the rest, is that of particular societies infringing on the right of individual members, by defining Christianity. A Christian Church is only a body of disciples; all are to obey the Master, but they are not to obey one another. The majority has no more right than the minority to erect a standard of faith. Those who cannot, or will not, worship with them, they have no power to retain; but those who can, or wish to do so, they have no authority to reject. He who believes the divine mission of Christ, and acts accordingly, ought not to be kept out of any church professing to be Christian. This was the case originally, and consequently there were neither sects, nor parties, nor party names. When opinions were made a test, and believers were named from some doctrine or leader, then,
2. Churches lost their liberty-the reign of Sectarianism commenced. Those who agreed as to some disputed tenet, had a stronger affinity with each other, than with the rest of the Christian body: they united for the sake of strength in this internal warfare. Hence, meetings and councils of their pastors and leaders; and at length, authority to enforce the decisions of such
meetings upon the whole sect; so that the church which had tyrannized over the individual, was, in turn, tyrannized over by the party. To this succeeds,
3. The successful appeal of some one sect or party to the civil magistrate, who declares that party to be the exclusive possessors of Christianity, bestows upon them wealth and honours, and brands their opponents with disgrace, deprives them of their rights, perhaps sends them to the dungeon or the scaffold. There was but another step in the ascent, when
4. The Church itself became a temporal power, making monarchs and nations bow to its decrees. This is the mode in which believers lost "the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free," and just in the inverted order has its restoration proceeded. The Reformation broke off so many limbs from the temporal sovereignty of Rome, but left the magistrates of each country lords of their subjects' consciences, and used their authority to patronize one sect at the expense of all others. The Presbyterians countenanced this usurpation as completely as the Episcopalians. The Assembly's Confession declares, that "the civil magistrate hath authority, and it is his duty to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the church; that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in
worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them, be according to the mind of God." Many of the sects which had not the opportunity of forming this unholy alliance, yet retained a most oppressive despotism over their ministers and churches. These same Presbyterians declare, that "it belongeth to synods and councils ministerially to determine controversies of faith and cases of conscience; to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God and government of his church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authority to determine the same." Can any thing be more arbitrary and absurd than the following oath, exacted by the heads of the French Protestants, in the year 1620: "I swear and promise before God and this holy assembly, that I receive, approve and embrace all the doctrine taught and decided by the national Synod of Dort. I swear and promise, that I will persevere in it all my life long, and defend it with all my power, and never depart from it in my sermons, college-lectures, writings, or conversation, or in any other manner, public or private. I declare also and protest, that I reject and condemn the doctrine of the
Arminians, &c. So help me God, as I swear all this without equivocation or mental reservation"? The Independents had the honour of breaking the bonds of sectarian slavery, and claiming the rights .of congregations, in which they were followed by the Baptists, and afterwards by the English Presbyterians. They abolished the tyranny of the few over the many, but still retained too generally that of the many over the few. The Quakers were the only party among the early English Nonconformists, who allowed internal liberty in matters of faith and worship. This drew upon them the reproach of heresy, and occasioned very general suspicion and antipathy: but they needed the admonition, "thy crown let no man take;" for orthodoxy and despotism made way amongst them, while liberty was dawning on others, and have led them to expulsions, the principle of which would have excluded even the illustrious Penn himself. The last step back to original equality and liberty, was made among the General Baptists and the nominal Presbyterians; many of whose societies now only require a man to be a Christian, a believer, that is, in the divine mission of Jesus, to welcome him to all which they can bestow of Christian privileges. The revival of Unitarianism has been, by turns, both cause and effect of this increased liberality of sentiment.
Let it not be supposed that, however kindred