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damnation, ideas which appeared to haunt you at the time you were writing your book; for, if you will take the trouble to examine the sources from whence I have drawn my information, you will be abundantly convinced, that the doctrine delivered by me on the present subject, is of a much older date than Popery.
The unity of the Christian Church was the doctrine of Jesus Christ: it was consequently the doctrine of his Apostles; and was moreover the uniform doctrine of the Church for 1500 years. As I bear you record, that you have a zeal for God, I have therefore only to beseech you, in the language of St. Paul, "to hear me patiently."*
It will be allowed, on all hands, that a Church, or ecclesiastical society, the members of which are united to God and to one another, by a divine covenant, has been formed in the world: and it will, it is presumed, be as generally allowed, that God only can make or constitute a Church. The Church so constituted is called by the Apostle "the body of Christ," and the Christians the members of that body. From whence it follows, that there can be but one body or Church of Christ. Though the Church of Christ, therefore, may be divided into several branches or particular Churches, as from distance of place and circumstances must be the case; yet it cannot be divided into distinct and separate Churches, unconnected and independent of each other; for this would destroy the unity of the Church. The unity of the Church then is formed by that bond of communion, which, in consequence +1 Cor. xii. 27.
*Acts xxvi. 3.
of that Divine covenant which is common to all its members, consolidates, as it were, all the several scattered parts or branches of the Christian Church into one connected body, under the title of the Catholic Church of Christ.
To be in the Church communion, therefore, signifies to be a member of the Church or body of Christ; which, however dispersed, is but one all the world over; in consequence of which, the Christian communicates, as circumstances may require, with any branch of the Christian Church, in whatever quarter it may be situated.
From hence the true notion of a separate Church, or separate communion, in which the sin of schism consists, may be clearly understood. For, though many allow that there is such a sin as schism, and appear sensible of the enormity of it, they yet take such pains to avoid the charge of its being brought against themselves, that, in their description of what is to be understood by a separation from the Church, they so confound the subject, as that neither they themselves, nor any one else, shall understand what it is.
But if, according to the premises, "there is but one Church and one communion, of which all true Christians, and Christian Churches are, and ought to be, members;" then those Churches which are not members of each other, are separate Churches.
"Where there are two Churches which are not members of each other, there is a schism, though they agree in every thing else, but in one communion; for there is a division of the body of Christ:
and where Churches own each other's communion, as members of the same body, there is no schism; though they are as distant from each other as East and West."* Whenever, therefore, there is a new Church, or a society of Christians calling themselves a Church, gathered out of a Church already constituted and regularly established, and formed into a distinct and separate society; this, by dividing Christian communion, makes a notorious schism. The application of this position to the case of all those different societies of Christians; who separate from the established Church in this country, is left to yourself. My object is only to state clearly the nature of schism, as it was understood by the primitive Church, and as it is now understood by our own Church; which consists (to make use of primitive language) in setting up altar against altar; by which, in consequence of that bond of communion, by which the Church of Christ was designed to be held together, being broken, Christians are divided from each other.
Having thus briefly laid before you the true meaning of these important words, Church communion and schism, I turn to page 179 of your publication, where you have given me a long extract from the writings of a Dr. Edwards, who, if he be the same Dr. Edwards who has been mentioned in a former part of this letter, was, (what, I am sorry to say, sometimes happens to be the case) a dissenter in principle, though a churchman by profession. The
*See "Resolution of some Cases of Conscience, which respect Church Communion, by Dr. Sherlocke, in London Cases, vol. i, page 60.
Doctor, after setting out with a proper definition of the word schism, "that it is an unlawful breach of the orders and institutions of the Christian Church, and an unwarrantable separation from its communion," by degrees steals off from the ground upon which he set out; till, after having proved that there is no Church, that Christians can be called upon to hold communion with, he concludes, "that those profane persons are the true separatists from the Church, who never worship God in public." So that, according to the Doctor's ingenious disquisition on this subject, to separate from the Church, and set up a communion in opposition to the communion of the Church, means no more than to absent from the worship of it.
According to the Doctor's first position in favour of separatists from the Church, that they cannot possibly be schismatics, because "there is not one individual assembly that worships God according to the manner prescribed in scripture, but they are ready to communicate with it:" there will be no such thing as obligation to Church unity, and consequently no such thing as schism in the world. For I would be glad to know, what manner of worship was prescribed in scripture for the direction of Christians in this respect, when the Apostles considered every separation from the communion of the then established Church, as schism. If the obligation to Church unity depend upon a manner of worship described for that pur pose in scripture, and no such manner of worship is to be found, there can be no such thing as Church unity at all: consequently, those who created
divisions in the primitive Church, might have told the Apostles, in reply to their censures on that subject, · that they could not possibly be schismatics, because they were ready to communicate with any assembly that worshipped God according to the manner prescribed in scripture. According to the Doctor's curious logic, therefore, at the time they were actually guilty of the sin of schism, by separating from the established Apostolic Church, they were at unity with it.
The Doctor's concluding position, by which he makes separating from the Church, and absenting from it, to mean the same thing, proves that he thought his cause fairly run out, and that he was quite at a loss for an argument to prevent its falling breathless to the ground.
There is still one plausible idea upon this subject, which, from its great prevalency, must not be passed by unnoticed. It is found in page 156 of your book, where, speaking of the established clergy and their Dissenting brethren, you say, "whilst they are agreed in essentials and fundamentals, let them not fall out about ceremonials and circumstantials." This is an idea, I beg leave to say, that was never heard of in the Church till these latter days; and it is an idea perfectly inconsistent with the unity of the Christian Church. But, to take this matter on your own ground: if the members of the established Church, and dissenters from it, are agreed in essentials and fundamentals, as you seem to allow them to be; it follows, that the separation of the dissenters from the established Church, which constitutes the sin of