« PreviousContinue »
The isolation of the Church of England, and the exclusiveness of such of her children as consistently carry out her principles, are frequent topics of abuse with those who hate and malign her. The Romanist points to the vast territories which acknowledge the spiritual supremacy of the successor of St. Peter, and turns from them to scoff at the extent of the Anglo-Catholic communion. The Dissenter denounces the intolerance of that Church which refuses to acknowledge him as a brother; and the sceptic, surveying superciliously our contest with both these bodies, quietly pronounces that, as we cannot be equally right, we must be equally wrong
Were these things merely the insinuations of open enemies, we should not at present notice them, We regret, however, to say that such is not the case. Many a weak brother, as yet within our pale, and whom we heartily pray God will still preserve there—many a weak brother, we say, is staggered by these appearances, and troubled by these sayings. Can this be a branch of the Catholic Church, asks the insidious Romanist, which holds communion with no part of the Christian world? Can this be the true Church, exclaims the bold Dissenter, which repudiates all connection with so many of the saints of the Lord? Can so small a body claim to be in the right? cries one adversary. Is the exclusiveness which you maintain consistent with Christian charity? exclaims another.
To all these queries we answer boldly and fearlessly, that our relations towards other bodies of professing Christians are not incompatible with either Catholicity or Christianity, that they form no argument against the righteousness of our cause, nor prevent the exercise of Christian charity in those who maintain it.
Vol. I.--No. IV.
We shall not at present discuss in detail the merits of our case against those bodies from which we are divided, nor show the manner in which Christian charity is consistent in practice with orthodoxy; we shall content ourselves with an endeavour to show that the fact of our isolation, taken by itself, is an argument not against, but in favour of, our Church.
We shall commence with the argument a priori; urge that from experience; proceed to examine the general assertions of Scripture, and support our interpretation of them by examples drawn from Scripture itself.
Firstly, then, let us consider the argument a priori.
It was an assertion of Pythagoras and his followers, that truth partook of the finite, and falsehood of the infinite; the meaning of which is, that, in
any given case, there could be only one truth and an innumerable quantity of falsehoods, so the latter must be immeasurably greater than the other. Thus is it also in mathematics; there is but one straight line between any two points, but there may be an infinite number of crooked or curved lines between them. The same principle holds good as to moral action:
εσθλοι μεν γαρ απλως παντοδαπως δε κακοι, ,
as the old poet says; which may be freely rendered, " There is only one way of doing right, but an infinite number of ways of doing wrong." It is then, abstractedly speaking, without any reference to circumstances, more likely, that, in any given case, where no cause can be shown to the contrary, an individual should choose the wrong and the false, than the right and the true: and it is therefore more likely that, out of a large number, the majority—the immense majority--should choose the wrong and eschew the right; choose the false and reject the true. And it is consequently a priori natural to suppose that the supporters of the true and the right should form a small minority. Of course, where a universal cause is supposed, a universal effect may be inferred, and vice versâ; but irrespectively of that or any other circumstance, the chances are against an individual's choosing the one right amongst many wrongs.
And what does experience tell us?
What is history but a record of folly and fraud, and violence and vice? How many of the vast multitudes who have lived on earth, have known or advanced the end of their being? How many at the present time do so? Let us call even our accusers as witnesses. Will they agree to abandon their peculiar tenets because the greater part of the world are heathens or infidels? We imagine not. And again, the Romanists themselves condemn a vast multitude of professing Christians--condemn them far more severely than we do ; whilst Protestant Dissenters, on the other hand, seem to delight in returning in ample measure the savage intolerance of which they so justly complain. Surely, then, the argument from experience does not favour the infallibility of numbers, nor does the practice of our adversaries offer any support to their precept. Surely all these considerations lead us to the inference, that truth
is not universally triumphant, nor virtue universally popular; and that our inquiry should not be, How many think thus and how many otherwise ? but, Whose thoughts are right, with whom does the truth dwell? Nor does isolation necessarily involve either error or uncharitableness; or the discoveries of Galileo were but vain chimeras, and a youth who avoids bad company is thereby proved to be devoid of that holiest of virtues without which all else is but as a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.
That the general tenor of the principles laid down in Scripture supports the statement, that neither isolation of position nor paucity of numbers is inconsistent with truth or incompatible with right, must be clear to all who have perused the sacred volume with any attention. Nay, we may go further, and fearlessly assert that even a cursory examination of the word of God would necessarily lead us to the conclusion, that isolation of position and paucity of numbers are rather signs of the truth and notes of the true Church, than presumptions to the contrary.
Of the many passages which assert the relative numbers of the votaries of right and wrong, we will content ourselves with one quotation from the mouth of Him who spake as never man spake:Enter
ye in at the straight gate; for wide is the gate and broad is way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat; because straight is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
It is rather difficult to select, but in reference to isolation we would refer our readers to the following passage :
“And when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee, thou shalt make no covenant with them, neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor thy son unto his daughter." And after reading this and similar passages in the Old Testament, we read in the New, Come
out from among them, touch not the unclean thing." Such are a few, a very few, of the numerous passages bearing on the point at issue, every one of which is in favour of our statement.
And what does the sacred history tell us ? Does it show us vast multitudes holding fast the faith, and feeble minorities supporting falsehood? Does it exhibit a single family destroyed for their sins, whilst the rest of the world are miraculously preserved for their virtues? Do we perceive all the kingdoms of the earth preserving the worship of the true God, and one solitary people adoring stocks and stones? Do we find a mighty concourse assembled to serve Jehovah, and a solitary old man advocating the worship of Baal?
And with regard to the question of isolation, do we find that intercourse with the votaries of falsehood bas been ever the unvarying mark of the true worshipper of God ? Were the sons of God rewarded for mingling with the sons of men; or the people visited with awful judgments for refusing to mingle with His enemies? Was it deemed a breach of charity not to worship with an idolater, or to refuse to hold any fellowship with those who rejected the law? A careful examination