LATE RECTOR OF THE PARISH.
STANFORD AND SWORDS, 139, BROADWAY.
At a meeting of the Vestry of St. George's Church, New-York, April 17th, 1845, the following resolution was unanimously adopted:
Resolved, That this Vestry respectfully solicit from the family of our late Rector, a copy of his last sermon to the congregation of St. George's Church, delivered on Sunday morning, April 6th, 1845, on "CHRISTIAN UNITY," that the same may be published and widely circulated, as containing the last testimony of our venerated Rector on this interesting subject.
IMMEDIATELY after the delivery of the following Discourse, and while its venerable author was yet in the enjoyment of health and strength, its publication was urged by many of those who heard it. Two days after, on the 8th of April, the preached was summoned suddenly from this scene of his long and faithful labors, and entered into his rest. His whole congregation were naturally led to recur to the last instructions which they had been privileged to hear from his lips; and the desire at first expressed by a few, now became universal, that the Sermon might be preserved for the benefit of his people, and be published for the good of the Church. The family of the deceased Rector have kindly acceded to the request, and now the editor has the melancholy satisfaction of presenting to the Christian public the last lessons of wisdom which fell from that aged and beloved servant of God.
NEW-YORK, APRIL 26, 1845.
LUKE VI. 37. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged.
THERE is no infirmity of our nature that more frequently manifests itself in the intercourse of life, than that against which this admonition of our Saviour is directed. The disposition, if not universal, is very prevalent, to form hasty and very decided estimates of the opinions and conduct of our fellow men, and to express ourselves with precipitation and rashness concerning them.
This evil would be less injurious in its effects, if we always resorted to the infallible standard of rectitude both in respect to principle and practice, which the sacred Scriptures present, as the guide of our decisions; instead of making, as we are too prone to do, our own preconceived sentiments and conduct the sole criterion by which we test those of our neighbor. For although even when we profess to make God's Word the standard of our judgment, caution and forbearance in its annunciation is the course of prudence and propriety; yet we do not presume our Lord to require of his disciples such an extension of charity to others, as [7/8] would countenance evident departure from the truth of God on points that are fundamental, or to withhold censure from such a course of conduct as is manifestly vicious. It would be a prejudicial misconstruction of this salutary counsel, should it make us indifferent to the firm and energetic maintenance of the faith once delivered to the Saints, or allow us to relax the rule of the Divine Word, pronouncing holiness to be indispensable in him who would attain the vision and fruition of God.
The principal view which I propose now to take of the precept, is in reference to that great diversity which we see obtaining in the christian world in the forms of Church polity, and in the sentiments on subordinate points of doctrine, severally advocated by men, who nevertheless agree in holding to the divine Head of the Church, and to his revealed Word as the permanent rule, both of doctrinal opinion and of moral and religious conduct. Supposing them to be in error on some inferior topics, not affecting the vital principles of faith or practice, shall we judge them with severity, separate on this account from their society,-refuse to unite with them in measures for the promotion of our common christianity? or, what is more important, adjudge them to be out of the covenant of God's mercy? God forbid! We are not required to surrender our opinions, deliberately and intelligently formed, to theirs, whether the subjects to which they relate be of more or less consequence in the general scheme of our religion; nor should we require such a sacrifice, except as the result of [8/9] sincere conviction from them. Christ's precept does not oblige us to abstain from the maintenance, under proper circumstances, and in a suitable temper, of any peculiarities in our own system. But the least important of these should be least prominently presented, and occupy a less frequent, and less intense employment of our zeal. Is it not a painful reflection, that religious controversialists of almost every name, in so many of the polemical discussions that have employed their pens, should have forgotten the precept requiring christians to let their "moderation be known unto all men," and so flagrantly have violated, in their angry contentions, the brief, but amiable lesson of the Redeemer, which forms our text? These violent collisions of party spirit, disgraceful and injurious even in the world of politics, have marred the interests of Christ's kingdom, and interrupted the peace of society. They have separated on earth to a much greater distance than their actual differences required, or a suitable regard to the spirit of their professions justified, brethren of the same great family, many of whom, it is believed, are in sweet and unbroken harmony now uniting their songs of praise in heaven. Happily for the bests interests of true piety, for some years past the collisions of sects has been less fierce; for a season the arena of religious contention was in a good degree unoccupied; and feelings of charity and love far more prevalent than those of bitterness and wrath. The kind providence which some years since united various denominations in the circulation of the sacred [9/10] Scriptures, first broke that magic spell by which bigotry and intolerance had so long bound each sect in a selfish and exclusive regard to its own interests. And, blessed be God, the spirit which has uniformly characterized the Bible Societies of Europe and America, led to such an acquaintance and intercourse between the charitable and pious of different communions, that new and conjoint plans of religious and moral usefulness were most amicably and successfully put in operation; the result of which, under the blessing of Providence, has been to extend the knowledge of true religion, remove unhappy jealousies, lessen the alleged causes of separation, and hasten that glorious period, for the arrival of which, in our excellent liturgy, we constantly pray, when "all who profess and call themselves christians shall be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in the unity of spirit, and in the bond of peace."
The precept of our Lord requiring that we should forbear to judge others, lest we ourselves be judged, forms an apposite censure of the spirit which the mighty undertakings of the present day are calculated to subdue, and furnishes an appropriate basis for some reflections, adopted to the furtherance of the cause of christian unity and concord. Whether the happiness of society, the extension of Christ's kingdom, the dismay of infidels, or the prosperity of our own communion, be an object of desire, I am persuaded each will be best promoted by that mild and conciliatory temper, to the cultivation of which the minds of [10/11] Christians have, of late years, so much more than formerly, been directed. It is not by a stately and proud reserve in our demeanor towards others, nor by advancing high sounding and exclusive claims to the favor of God, nor by casting contemptuous sneers at the principles or systems of such as in outward things walk not with us, if they profess allegiance to the same Master, and faith in His blessed Gospel, that true religion will be promoted, or our venerable Church obtain from other denominations that respect to which her character and institutions entitle her; and which, when presented with the moderation and meekness that characterized our adorable Exemplar, it is believed she will not fail to receive. It is one thing to be attached to our own peculiarities, because we believe them to be right, and another, to denounce in the language of asperity and unkindness, the opinions and doings of others as positively wrong; or, to attach to their disunion from us in ministry, discipline, and worship, consequences that involve in doubt their everlasting prospects. It is one thing to look with feelings of deep regard on the external order and symmetry of our own dwelling, and another to despise, because somewhat less beautifully constructed, that of our neighbor. In plain terms, it better becomes us, and it will be in all respects more profitable, instead of spending our time in judging others, to judge our own selves; and to be more anxious to exhibit an unshaken faith in the grand doctrines of our religion, and a course of conduct evincive [11/12] of the sincerity of our professions, than to expend our zeal, and excite our passions, and court opposition, by constantly dwelling on inferior discrepancies, which neither vitally affect a christian's standing with God, nor materially influence his conduct in life. If heated controversies on all sides were avoided, and a spirit of christian charity fervently cherished, the Church universal, "which is the blessed company of all faithful people," would rise in all her majesty and strength, her enemies would sink into merited insignificance, and we should realize with a more undoubting confidence, the promise of her great Head, that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against her. There is, it is true, some plausibility in the grounds on which violent party disputants defend a stern and unbending attachment to their own views, and a right to judge with severity the views of their opponents. There are certain axioms to which they readily resort; but it happens, that, however opposite in their opinions, each claims the same right of summoning these to his aid. In this state it is not probable either will be convinced by his adversary; but each, if he has imbibed the spirit of his Master, should, as far as possible, forbear from any harsh judgment of his motives, or the results of an honest difference of views. For instance, one alleges he must be right, because truth is an unit; as "there is one faith, one Lord, one baptism," so no two opposing propositions can be true. A God of truth cannot contradict himself. As the same fountain sends not forth bitter water and sweet, so truth and [12/13] falsehood cannot issue from the same source. They, perhaps, each tell us too, that they have placed their minds under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and that he cannot be wrong because the promised office of that heavenly agent is to "lead" the disciples of Christ "into all truth." Each will also allege that the standard to which his creed is conformed is the Word of God. The law and the testimony constitute the touchstone to which they are alike willing that every proposition they advance should be brought. Now where candor obliges us to award to these disputants both a competent measure of intellect, and also honesty of purpose and intention, would we not recommend to them-if we are the party on one side or the other of these supposed controverted points, would we not ourselves exercise-much forbearance in their enforcement, much reciprocal charity and indulgence? In all such cases it will contribute to this feeling, if we reflect why it probably is that good people have such different apprehensions of the truth of God; how it is, that, in the religious world, (by which term I would be understood now to refer to such as agree in certain great points deemed essential to salvation,) such numerous diversities of sentiment should obtain. It is no matter of surprise that wicked men should be opposed to the truth, or have a thousand incongruous and conflicting views respecting it; for their creed is commonly dictated by their evil propensities and passions. They have, in no sense, "received the truth in the love of it," and God often "gives them [13/14] over to strong delusion to believe a lie." But why on many points does so great variety of opinion obtain among those who truly love and fear God?
Now we are free to express our persuasion, that God does not suffer one of his real children to embrace, and die in the belief of any dogma, by which his salvation is endangered. The Apostle tells us of those who "being in damnable heresies." But though every deviation from the truth is error, every such deviation is not damnable error. Some things are fundamentally important-others are not so. I am aware that there may seem to be difficulty in determining what are of the one, or the other, description. I know of no better rule of distinction than this. All truths are fundamental, the belief of which is necessary to produce such exercises of faith and holiness as are essential to salvation: and all errors are fundamental errors, which a man cannot hold, and yet receive that faith and holiness, without which, according to the scriptures, he cannot be saved. For instance, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is absolutely essential to the salvation of those to whom he has been revealed. For "without faith it is impossible to please God." Repentance for sin is essential: for God "commands all men every where to repent." Spiritual regeneration is essential: for Christ declares "except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of Heaven." Sanctification is essential: for "without holiness no man can see the Lord." We might [14/15] extend the examination; but these examples, plainly derived from the book of God, are sufficient for illustration. Many matters of secondary importance, however, may be believed or disbelieved by persons who profess all the doctrines that have been stated, and others equally mighty; which neither leading into immoral practice, nor putting in jeopardy the salvation of the soul, do not require that the bond of christian brotherhood should be severed; but, on the contrary, call for such a liberal construction and treatment as may conform to the spirit of our Lord's injunction in the text: "Judge not." But the man who believes his own mind to be under the spiritual influence of the Holy Spirit, may find it hard to believe his neighbor, who differs from him on these subordinate points, a real disciple of Christ's; because, as intimated above, of the impossibility of the gracious Comforter, who was to lead into all truth, bearing on the same subject a different testimony to different minds. Now may we not remove this difficulty-must we not do so unless we are prepared to violate every principle of christian charity-by supposing that the passage referred to as descriptive of the office of the Holy Spirit, and others of a similar nature, apply only to the essential truths of salvation? Is it not a harsh judgment to pronounce an individual wholly destitute of grace, because in theory or practice he appears to us to err on some inferior points? On any other principle we must involve numbers in peril of perdition on account of their ignorance or [15/16] unbelief of propositions, which, though true, are such as the Divine Word no way connects with the hope of future blessedness. If we are disposed to the exercise of a charitable judgment, may we not, in some measure, account for the subsisting differences of opinion on a variety of minor topics connected with religion? Many propositions of this less important nature are not so clearly taught in Scripture, as are those immediately connected with the salvation of the soul. It has been the great mercy of its adorable author, that those propositions, a cordial assent to which is necessary to the exercise of faith and the practice of holiness, are so plainly taught and so frequently repeated, that if a man will not shut his eyes, and suffer his passions to give law to his understanding, he must believe them; while others less important (this very circumstance showing that they are so) are not delivered with such indubitable clearness, but that they may, when brought under the consideration of differently constituted minds, or under varying circumstances of education or association, become subjects of dispute. Many of the points on which Christians differ, are, in fact, rather deductions and inferences, than positive scriptural prescriptions, which each man assumes the right to make for himself, and therefore it is not by any means surprising, that one should draw, on such questions, a conclusion which another would not. Every one has not the same quickness of apprehension, the same extent of information, the same reasoning powers, and talents for logical deduction. Though [16/17] he may have the spirit of truth dwelling in him, and the outward Word to direct him, he may not be placed in as favorable circumstances, he may not have the same collateral assistance, or the same capacity of distinguishing truth from error, as others; or if he has, yet in measuring and weighing a variety of propositions, he may err on some. As undoubted Christians are often observed not to be free from every error in practice, so neither are they from every error of understanding. If they have not the same faculty for the apprehension of divine truth, nor the same means and advantages for knowing the mind and will of God, it is not more to be wondered at that they should differ in the fashion of their opinions, than of their faces. To what different conclusions even well-informed minds have arrived, after an attentive examination of scripture, in relation to the external polity of the visible Church! We allege the imparity of the ministry, and the gradation of three orders; others contend for an entire equality, and a single order. Supposing they are mistaken, shall we judge our brethren, who honestly dissent from our conclusions, as out of the pale of the Christian Covenant, and either consign them to eternal ruin, or leave them to a bare peradventure as to their eternal hopes? So we entertain no doubts that infants are to be baptized, though we cannot support our position by any positive command expressly mentioning them, any more than such an authority can be produced for the administration of the Lord's Supper to females. But as the latter is a matter of fair [17/18] inference from the generality of the command for the observance of the Lord's Supper, so the former is inferred from the same generality, as well as from identity of the covenant of grace under the Old and New Testaments, from the law of circumcision, from early usage, from the Savior's declaration of the right of infants to the kingdom of God, &c. Yet others, no doubt as sincere as ourselves, do not see the force of our conclusions, and conscientiously abstain from the practice. Should we harshly judge each other on these and similar topics? or may we not severally hold our opinions, and pursue our convictions of duty, with the charitable hope that our doings being designed to be conformed to the Divine Will, may be accepted of God?
Allow me another suggestion in respect to the existing differences of opinion among Christians. May they not be permitted by Divine Providence for wise purposes? The will of man is left free to choose or reject, such propositions as are laid before him. His exercise of this liberty, even when some error supervenes, may tend to the confirmation of others, and perhaps eventually of himself, in the truth. It is no uncommon thing for us, after satisfaction (resulting from inquiry, to hold with more tenacity than others, those truths of which our minds once doubted; and it cannot be questioned, that even polemical controversy, a thing, in itself, presenting so few attractions, when conducted in a meek and candid spirit, has often led to the more perfect proof and establishment of sound [18/19] doctrine. It may induce many, who would otherwise be indifferent to the duty, to search the scriptures, excite to more vigorous exercise of the understanding, and eventuate in the extension of the correct principles of the Gospel. Such were the results of those eminent displays of talent and piety, which distinguished the writings of the Reformers; and other instances might be adduced in verification of this statement. Even where men have contended for victory, rather than for truth, and have had more in view their own exaltation than the glory of God, he has not unfrequently made the infirmities, as well as the wrath, of man to praise him. When important truths have been assailed, and every effort of ingenuity exerted for their overthrow, the result has been, that, instead of blindly assenting to them, as unexamined traditions, their professors have been made thoroughly acquainted with the evidences on which they rest, and become, as the Apostle expresses it, "rooted and grounded in the faith," as well from the force of positive argument in their favor, as the weakness of those by which they have been assailed.
Further; The wisdom of Divine Providence may permit diversities upon points, which though not altogether indifferent, are comparatively so, that we may perceive that "the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy, in the Holy Ghost; for he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men." The kingdom of heaven is not made dependent on speculative opinions, or [19/20] on outward modes and forms. Yet our infirmities would sometimes lead us to such a conclusion, if it were not so ordered, that we have daily in our view many, who we cannot doubt fear God, and walk closely with him, and may perhaps have reached far higher attainments in holiness than ourselves, yet nevertheless differ from us in many respects in their theoretical opinions, worship God in a different community, and conduct their devotions in a manner variant from our own. It becomes us, in the spirit of our Saviour's precept, to judge tenderly of such, to view, what we may consider their errors, with indulgence, and beware how we suffer an over zealous fondness for things of an external nature, or of subordinate importance, to embitter our feelings against them. Alas! it too frequently happens, that bigots have more charity for the sins of others, than for their involuntary error as to the minor doctrines and the circumstantials of religion; and are found contending for trifles, having little or no influence on the interests of eternity, while they manifest comparative indifference in regard to other things, for which every man's conscience, and the law of God, must condemn him.
But again, the minor differences prevalent in the christian world may be permitted for the very purpose of giving employment to the exercise of charity. It has been said, "precepts lead to duty; but examples draw us." There is no duty more strongly urged in scripture than charity, or brotherly love, nor any to which the unreserved propensities of our nature are more averse. Pride and [20/21] envy are the natural inmates of the human breast "God, I thank thee that I am not as other men" is still the pharasaic sentiment of many a corrupt and evil heart. But when Christians perceive that others who walk not with them in external things, or speculatively differ from them on some points of doctrine, are evidently one with them in spirit; when they are compelled to yield to the persuasion that with all their supposed mistakes, God has loved and accepted them, surely feelings of attachment must arise, which no points of unimportant difference can repress. Must not their hearts be drawn towards those whom they cannot but view as fellow heirs with them of an inheritance of glory, into grateful exercises of christian affection and esteem? Can they refuse to love those whom their heavenly Father loves? Can they deny the hand of fellowship, and the heart of sympathy, to brethren differing from them in name, but sprinkled with the same redeeming blood, justified by the same grace, sanctified by the same spirit as themselves? Is there weight, dear brethren, in these suggestions? Then how must we lament that error, which suffers alienation of affection, and reluctance to friendly intercourse, to be the consequence of differences about the inferior topics, or slighter circumstantials of religion! How egregious the mistake of supposing a claim to heaven to be forfeited by any thing else than an abandonment of the faith and holiness of the Gospel! How inconsistent in those who so properly object to popish infallibility, to claim it for [21/22] themselves! Has not my brother as much reason to quarrel with me for differing from him, as I have for his differing from me? But I allege scripture for my course. So does he. I think that that holy influence, to which I desire in spiritual things to subject my mind, persuades me of its correctness. So does he. I have the opinion and practice of many wise and holy men on my side. So probably has he. But the church to which I belong maintains the dogma, or the usage, for which I contend. So has he been educated in a church which maintains its opposite, and neither of them professes, or if it does, has a right to claim infallibility, or the power of teaching or prescribing any thing contrary to the Word of God. Hear the expostulations of that Word: "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? To his own Master he standeth or falleth." "Why dost thou judge thy brother, or why dost thou set at naught thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." "Let us not, therefore, judge one another any more." "Judge not lest ye be judged." "Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them."
0, brethren, had these amiable precepts been better understood, or practiced, what endless, unprofitable contentions would have been avoided! Instead of such unsatisfactory disputes about the outworks of religion, and matters of belief or practice unconnected with salvation, Christians would have found an ample bond of union in the single sentiment which recognizes faith and holiness as [22/23] constituting the whole essence of pure and spiritual religion. Whatever their other discrepancies, they would have agreed in striving together in love for these; and the intercourse of congenial minds on earth, would have been at least a faint image of the peaceful harmony of heaven. There, without a question, will meet the holy and the good of every religious name, and it will be found that a thousand distinctions, that many deem here of immense importance, will be there utterly disregarded and forgotten.
Let us, therefore, diligently inquire for ourselves what is truth; and let us, when discovered, cordially cherish and retain it. Conclusions honestly and deliberately formed, even on inferior and circumstantial points, we are not required to yield at the bidding of others. But let us cultivate a charitable disposition towards those whose inquiries, as honestly and deliberately made as our own, have led to opposite results. If God has received them, let us not refuse to do so, nor decline to be their associates in any suitable endeavors for the advancement of evangelical religion in the hearts of men, and its extension throughout the earth.
The length of these remarks preclude our exhibiting the precept of our Saviour in other points of view than that in which it has been the principal object of this discourse to place it. I cannot, however, conclude without observing, that if the injunction has the extent now given to it, its obligation cannot be doubted in the more limited one to which it has generally been confined. If we should [23/24] exercise a mild and charitable disposition towards our brethren of every name, we should most assiduously avoid harsh and severe censures upon those who in Church communion stand immediately connected with us. This charitable principle does not require us to be partakers of other men's sins. It compels us not to adopt their errors; it forbids us not to offer to our erring brethren suitable, seasonable, and scriptural counsel and advice. But it does peremptorily forbid our assuming in respect to them and their conduct, the prerogative of God. We have all sins enough of our own for which to judge ourselves, and as we know more of our sins than others do, we should be more ready to condemn ourselves than them. The author of that precept we have been considering, has solemnly warned us against saying to our brethren, "let me pull the mote out of thine eye," and behold, a beam is in our own eye. It is his command that we first cast out the beam out of our own eye, that we may see clearly to cast the mote out of our brother's eye; and his declared purpose is most solemnly announced that "with what measure we mete to others, it shall be meted to us again."
Note.-On this occasion, the metre Psalm selected by the author, was the 107th, New Selection, and the Hymn, the 178th, the three first and the last verses.