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liberty that, as children of the Church, we have been all along enjoying until now.
To say that they are doing so, is no pre-judgment of their cause. They may, for aught that is implied in the statement, be doing a meritorious work, discharging a sacred duty. All that can be required of them, is, honest avowal of their respective purposes, and in order to that, clear conceptions of them for themselves. They should know, and let their brethren know, in what direction, to what extent, the boundary line of fit and lawful, is to be removed; and also, whether its removal is to be effected by a widening of the circle of permissible affinities and actions, or a shifting of its centre. Or if its existence at any given point is denied, they should show whether only that point of our circle of relations and possible expansions is left open, or whether our religious liberty has the property of infinite space, to have its centre every where, its circumference nowhere?
On one hand, the bosom of a brother expands with a large hearted zeal for the extension of the blessings of the Gospel that leads him to ascend the platform in aid of religious efforts not known nor sanctioned by the Church, and tending to the counteraction and destruction of her discipline. He claims to be within the limits of his liberty in doing so.
But on the other hand, an equal largeheartedness of zeal, in its longing for catholic communion after its own fancyings, is willing to excuse errors stamped with the condemnation of the Church, to seek the fraternity of those who receive and practise them, and even to modify its own tenets and ministrations to
the nearest possible conformity with such as bave been disallowed by the Church as dangerous or sinful. He, too, claims to be within the limits of his liberty, and to have done no wrong.
Are both these brethren right? If not, which ? Why one more than the other ?
There is one limit to their liberty, which both at once
They equally, unfeignedly and unreservedly admit their right of thought, speech and action to be restricted by the will of God.
That will, they both desire to carry out, and aim to do so, in their several courses of action.
How do they know it? And how does it affect them?
They know it directly or indirectly; by revelation to themselves, or by a general revelation, of which they, with others, are sharers.
A revelation to themselves, if they suppose it, by the immediate operation of the Spirit, who is the guide to all truth, upon their hearts, is of force for them, and for themselves only. Their thoughts, words and actions it must control, and in following it, they must abide by the consequences of their liability to delusion. But it is for themselves only. The moment it affects their relations to others, in any circle, from the narrowest to the widest, under any responsibilities, from the lowest of social affinity to the highest of official station, their individual persuasion becomes worthless, without other sanction. Signs and wonders and the demonstration of the SPIRIT must attest a direction, which is otherwise a mere temptation. The integrity of revelation, and the defence of Society against fanaticism and insanity, depend on the observance of this law.
Of general revelations we know but one; and among us, thank God, there is little question about the nature and authority of its record. The Scriptures are our common rule, by the contents of which we all admit our obligation to be guided. Their paramount authority is owned ; and what they authorise or direct, we will all allow to be sufficiently upheld.
But the Scriptures to be a rule, must be applied and interpreted; and to be a rule for more than one, must be applied and interpreted by an authority co-extensive with the limits of the company to be ruled. If a believer stood alone before God on earth, his own understanding of God's word would be his sufficient guide. But the moment two or three are joined in mutual relation and common duties, their joint sense of the application of the express directions, and of the interpretation of the implied import, of the common rule, must be the limit of the common liberty, and therefore of that of each. The Church, as a society, must have for its rule as such, the Scriptures as understood and applied by the society; and every member must be governed by that rule in every respect in which his actions, words or even thoughts can affect his relations to any other member of the society, or the society itself.
The rule of a society binds according to its purposes: no further; and no less. Men associated for transient or partial interests and ends, can only be bound by a rule of transient or partial application. Higher and more
extensive ends of association bring men under a more extensive rule.
The ends of our association in the Church of CHRIST cover all the concerns of life in all their infinite variety, and extend through all the duration of our endless being. When enrolled in that association, we gave body, soul and spirit up to Christ our Lord, unchangeably,
The rule of the Church, then, covers all human duty throughout the term of our probation. All our conduct comes in its purview. We can do nothing, we can engage in nothing, which it does not more or less affect.
Thus it is evident, that as individuals enjoying membership in the Church of Christ, our liberty is limited by the will of God, declared in the Scriptures, as applied and understood by the Church.
For all her members, the Church Catholic has furnished her application and interpretation of the Scriptures, in the “form of sound words," on profession of which they were admitted to their membership by Baptism. Laymen or ministers, we all may say, with the divines of Wittemberg before the Council of Trent, “our faith accepts the guidance of the writings of the prophets and apostles in that natural sense which is expressed in the Creeds — the Apostles', the Nicene and the Athana
Adfirmamus clare coram Deo et universa Ecclesia in cælo et in terra, nos vera fide amplecti omnia scripta Prophetarum et Apostolorum : et quidem in hac ipsa nativa sententia, quæ expressa est in symbolis, Apostolico, Niceno et Athanasiano.-Confessio Doctrina Saxonicarum Ecclesiarum Synodo Tridentino oblata, Anno M.D.LI, 8.0. De Déctrina, p. 14. Ed. 1552.
For the Church Catholic, the Creeds are the catholic interpretation and application of Scripture; and by them only should we be bound, if we could be members of that Church without being members of some one branch. But that we cannot. Our membership is through the branch in which we partake of the Word and Sacraments. By the law of its being, we are bound, as the law and condition of our membership of the Church Catholic.
Every branch of the universal Church is, and must be, a society in itself. As a society, it must have its terms of membership correlative and coextensive with its end of association. That end is the glory of God in the salvation of human souls by their being brought to the knowledge of His grace and faith in Him, to spiritual worship and to holy life. Doctrine, discipline, and a pattern or custom or law of worship, are needful for that end - all controlled by the rule of the universal Church, but having a form and subordinate peculiarity of their own.
The society of whose existence they are necessary terms, can exist only as one. Its unity implies unity in the law by which that unity is maintained. As one, it can have but one doctrine, one discipline, one law or custom or pattern of worship. These, conjointly, are its interpretation and application of the will of God declared in His revealed word, for the guidance of its members.
The limit of individual liberty, then, for any Christian, is the teaching of Scripture as interpreted and applied for him by the Church, in the catholic creeds and