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When we look at the different sentiments prevailing among the various bodies of Christians who all profess to derive their opinions from the word of God; and when we notice the diversity which exists even among those who belong to the same denomination, it may seem a hopeless task to state in an unexceptionable manner the character of scriptural divinity.
Yet Christians are agreed in far more sentiments, and those the main and most important truths than at first sight might be supposed. The infidel is not so secure as he imagines in his boast on the ground of their divisions. All having any just claim to the name of Christians, however humble or deficient in talent and learning, have a fuller knowledge of the leading outlines of divine truth than Socrates or Cicero ever had, and agree in more important points than ever obtained the concurrence of men of the sublimest genius and the highest intellects in the heathen world, and probably come nearer to each other in far more points, and those too of chief moment, than they themselves are generally aware.
Differences of opinion arise, and are aggravated and multiplied, not from the indecision or indistinctness of revealed truth, but from our indistinctness of conception, and the corruption of our hearts. Here indeed is the chief cause of all differences of sentiments. While men love sin they will put darkness for light, and call good evil, and evil good. Different sentiments
entertained by men holding the same revelation, arise not therefore mainly from the obscurity of the scriptures, nor from the limited intellect of man, but mainly from the evil heart of unbelief. Instead of throwing a doubt on Christianity, they do but evidence how true its doctrines are. Look at the different opinions on the declarations and on the character of prophets and apostles coming with miracles and inspired authority, which were entertained by their hearers, while the inspired writers lived, and see how the love of sin alienated the mind from the reception of the truth.
May the Holy Spirit deliver our minds from the prejudices and errors which the corrupted nature of man thus engenders, and enable us to discern the leading characteristics of divine truth. Christian union is to love one another for the truth's sake. 2 John 1-3. 3 John 1. May we discem then those truths which, held by all real Christians, notwithstanding they are in different Christian communions, unite them together as one family in brotherly love. A clear perception of such truths would furnish a clue or guide to the student with reference to all his future studies.
The grand truth of Scripture is one from the beginning to the end. The apostle expresses it when he says-We have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Here is the substance of the Bible from the first promise of the seed of the woman bruising the head of the serpent to the last declaration in the revelation of his love and power. All the rays of divine truth proceed hence, all the lines centre here. Christ Jesus, the only begotten of the Father, coming into the world to save sinners from the power of sin and Satan, to save them fully, freely, and eternally; Christ Jesus, the only light, life,
hope, purifier, and joy of the whole earth; this is the topic, the main topic of the Bible, and the uniting point of the church below, and the church above.. Christ dying for sinners, this is the one thing to be first of all known. The Bible is the word of Christ, the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. He is the Alpha and Omega ; the grand theme of Christian ministers on earth, aud the burden of the song among the blessed above. To endear the name of Christ, and to exhibit the excellence of his redeeming love, seems throughout to be the grand object of historians, prophets, and apostles, through the sacred volume. The mode of speaking on this point strongly manifests
1 its primary importance. To him give all the prophets, witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. Acts x. 43. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 1 Tim. i. 15. The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. Luke xix. 10. There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. Acts iv. 12. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John iii. 16. Here the leading truth, the character of scriptural divinity, salvation through faith in a Redeemer, is clear and obvious. Divine truth is therefore emi. nently the truth as it is in Jesus, (Ephes. iv. 21.) and bears an intimate and constant relation to him.
Hence we may observe, that when Christians were in the beginning admitted into the church, they had simply to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Saviour. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Acts viii. 37. .'
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. Acts xvi. 31.
This was the grand bond of union. For as the body ""is one and hath many members, and all the members of that one body being many are one body, so also is Christ. 1 Cor. xii. 12. We being many are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Rom. xii. 5. The want of love to the Saviour was the point which the Apostle singled out as marking those from whom he separated. If any man love not the Lord Jesus, let him be anathema maranatha; (1 Cor. xvi. 22.) and genuine love to him was the distinguishing character of those for whom he specially desired the divine favour. Grace be with all them that love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Ephes. vi. 24.
Happy would have been the state of the church, had only this primitive simplicity of doctrine continued to be needful. But soon false doctrine crept in, heresies spread, and it became necessary in consequence of the subtilty and artifices of those who calumniated or perverted the truth, to form creeds, confessions, and articles of faith. These have gradually enlarged, but the remedy, while it has preserved the great essentials of doctrine from age to age, has like all human remedies, failed of fully accomplishing its object, and has in some degree multiplied the divisions which it was intended to heal. 1
Creeds were at first very simple, as we see in the
1 The Author enters not into that controversy to which 'The Confessional' of Archdeacon Blackburn gave birth. He has seen too much of the advantages of the 39 Articles, and believes them too cordially, ever to wish to see them removed or changed.
Apostle's Creed. Bishop Davenant, in his Treatise on Brotherly Communion, considers the Apostle's Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Two Sacraments, a sufficient ground of union and communion among all the churches of Christ. Certainly unduly to press lesser points, and to make large requirements of faith, is the way to excite and perpetuate disunion. If we would be united, we must discern and rise to those great things in which real Christians concur. Only let us remember on the one hand, that union purchased at the expence of important truth, is too dearly bought, and on the other, expressed unanimity in lesser points is too dearly preserved, if preserved with the loss of brotherly love, with extended duplicity, and with a greatly contracted communion of the church.
Human systems are, after all, like every thing human, imperfect. Mr. Newton has justly observed * The fault of the several systems under which, as under so many banners, the different denominations of Christians are ranged is, that there is usually something left out which ought to have been taken in, and something admitted of supposed advantage, not authorized by the scriptural standard. A Bible Christian therefore will see much to approve in a variety of forms and parties; the providence of God may lead
lead or fix him in a more immediate connexion with some one of them, but his spirit and affection will not be confined within these narrow enclosures. He insensibly borrows and unites that which is excellent in each, perhaps without knowing how far he agrees with them, because he finds all in the written word.' 1
1 Newton's Works. Vol. VI. 413, 414