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belief of certain doctrines is made an indispensable condition of their salvation. For example : he that believeth on the Son, hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
Non-essential doctrines are those whose rejection does not amount to a rejection of the Gospel; and, therefore, men may differ about them, and yet not forfeit their claim to the Christian character. We may not agree with a man in these minor points of doctrine, and yet see evidence in the leading articles of his faith, and the tenor of his life, that he is really born of God. To refuse fellowship to such an one, on account of any difference of opinion which we regard as not essential, is to exclude one, whom we acknowledge the Saviour has accepted, and with whom we hope to spend eternity in heaven. It is to act, as if fellowship on earth were more sacred than fellowship in heaven. In the days of the. apostles, though the members of the church sometimes differed about points not essential, they did not therefore refuse to one another the fellowship of brethren. And although Paul urged believers to turn away from such as had a form of godliness, but : denied its power, he severely reproved those who made divisions in the church, on account of non-essentials. Distinct churches, refusing fellowship, although acknowledging each other to be real believers, was a spectacle reserved for later times. The Saviour prayed that the church might be one; and the idea of its unity runs through the apostolic epistles. It is there called the household of faith—not several households, nor a divided house ; also the body of Christ, animated by the same spirit, and therefore no more to be separated than the members of the human body. All this, however, does not preclude the idea, that those agreeing in minor peculiarities might unite together in separate branches; but it forbids them, however distinguished from one another by modes and forms, to refuse fellowship to any, who agree with them in all they deem essential to salvation.
To this view of Christian fellowship, we doubt not, Unitarians will assent. Indeed, most of them will probably contend, that we ought to carry the principle so far, as never to resuse fellowship lo a professing Christian, merely on account of his opinions, however widely he may differ from us in his views of doctrine. In other words, they believe that no doctrines, about which professing Christians differ, are absolutely essential to salvation; much less to communion. To show that some of these doctrines are essential, in both these respects, becomes therefore necessary.
A man may deny every doctrine of the Bible, that is, he may give it such a construction as amounts to its rejection, and yet prosess to be a Christian. If, then, no difference of opinion, that may exist between those who prosess to believe the Bible, ought to be regarded as essential, it follows, that no doctrine of revela
tion is essential; and a man may reject every truth it contains, and yet be saved. How directly contradictory is such a sentiment to the Bible, which says, He that believeth not shall be damned !
In all their preaching and conduct, Christ and his apostles most evidently proceeded on the principle, that the Gospel contained certain truths that must be believed, in order, not only to salvation, but to admission to the fellowship of the church. When Christ said, 'He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned; the context shows us, that he meant a belief in the truths of the Gospel. When Philip was requested by the Ethiopian eunuch to baptize him, he consented to perform the service on this condition: If thou believest with all thy heart. From the answer of the eunuch, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, it appears, that the character and offices of Christ were the fundamental truths which he must profess to believe, before Philip would admit him to Christian fellowship. Said Paul to the Galatians, I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ, unto another gospel : which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the Gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you, than that which we Chave preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. Let the reader ponder well this passage; for it clearly establishes several important points, in relation to the subject under consideration. In the first place, it shows us, that there is a definite collection of truths, or doctrines, which constitute the Gospel; and that there may be also a false gospel; a system called the gospel, which lacks something essential to it. It shows us, secondly, that men are able to distinguish between the true and the false gospel, and to determine what system of truth the Bible teaches : for had the Galatians been incapable of understanding the Gospel, why should the apostle marvel that they had removed from it? If the difference between the true and the false gospel had not been strongly marked, it would not, surely, have been strange, that artful men had led them to adopt the erroneous system. In the third place, this passage shows us, that men are bound to determine what constitutes the Gospel, on peril of their salvation. For Paul pronounced those accursed, that is, devoted to destruction, who should preach another gospel; and error is no more dangerous to the preacher, than to his hearers; except that he may resist greater light, and act under a weightier responsibility. Were it necessary to fortify still farther the position, that men put their souls in jeopardy, who do not determine what constitutes the Gospel, we might quote the words of Paul to the Corinthians : But if our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. If, therefore, men do not determine what truths constitute the Gospel, it is not because these truths are indistinctly revealed, but because their minds are blinded by the god of this world ; and until they do decide what these truths are, and believe them, they are in a lost state. Finally, the passage above quoted from Galatians, shows, that we ought not to receive those to Christian fellowship who deny any of those doctrines we deem essential to the Gospel : for such are pronounced accursed ; and how absurd to regard those as Christian brethren, whom God has devoted to destruction.
With these passages agree the other sacred writers. Says Peter, But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. Says John, Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets have gone out into the world. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed, is partaker of his evil deeds.
If these passages, to quote no more, do not prove that Christ and the apostles regarded certain truths as essential to the Gospel, the professed belief of which was indispensable both to salvation and fellowship, then are they unintelligible, if not ridiculous.
But who shall determine what these essential doctrines are; and how can the unlearned man know, amid so many clashing opinions among men of equal talents, which side is right, and which side is wrong? Every man, we reply, must determine for himself, what are the essential truths of the Bible; and we have just shown that the Scriptures require him to decide this point. Nobody can settle it for him; and he is accountable to God for his conclusions. Nor let any one suppose, that it requires, either great talents, or great learning, to ascertain the terms of salvation' : for, as far as essentials are concerned, the Bible is a remarkably plain book. But it does require an honest, a humble, and a holy heart. The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him ; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. A heart, sincere, humble and holy, will earnestly and perseveringly pray for divine assistance, when reading the Bible; and every man of common sense, with such a heart, and adopting such a course, will, without difficulty, determine all in the Gospel that is essential to salvation. But, destitute of such a heart, and leaning to his own understanding, many a learned scholar has stumbled at the plainest declarations of thr word of God. The one receives, with childlike confi
e, set dowgacred writers the necessity of
dence, every truth he finds in the Bible; the other admits nothing which does not agree with his preconceived opinions, nothing which will show him to be radically wrong.
The man of sincerity, and prayer, in his examination of Scripture, will, in the first place, set down, without hesitation, as essential doctrines, all those which the sacred writers expressly declare essential; for example, the existence of God, the necessity of holiness, repentance, and justification by faith. He will also perceive, that some doctrines are so connected with those which are declared to be essential, that, if the one be essential, the other must be ; such, for example, as the immortality of the soul, which cannot be dishelieved, without rejecting everything else of importance in the Bible. Following, then, these two rules, first, to regard all essential which is declared to be so in the Bible, and, secondly, all which is implied to be essential, this man will not be long in determining what constitutes the essence of the Gospel.
It has been said, however, with much apparent deference to the Bible, that as all creeds, or articles of faith, not in the words of Scripture, are framed by fallible men, and the Scriptures are infallible, we ought to require nothing of a man, as a condition of fellowship, but the general expression of his belief in the Bible, as containing a revelation from God, and a sufficient rule of faith and practice. But the English version of the Bible was made by fallible men, and is, therefore, a fallible explanation of the original; and hence, the same objections lie against acknowledging a belief in the English translation, as against any other creed; for a creed is nothing but a summary of the Bible. Yet the English and other translations must be used, since the great majority of men cannot read the original Hebrew and Greek, in which the Scriptures were first written, and, therefore, they cannot tell whether they. believe in the originals or not. There is, however, another more serious objection to such a test of fellowship. There is probably no doctrine of revelation which some have not denied, who have professed themselves believers in the Bible. But all these, according to this test, must be admitted to Christian fellowship, and treated as Christian brethren. It might, indeed, be thought a bright exhibition of liberality, to see such a motley collection of men around the communion board; but it would resemble anything else, more than a church of Christ.* It would at once annihilate all distinction between the church and the world ; nay more, all distinction between the religion of the Gospel, and the religion of nature.
Others maintain that we ought to require nothing more of a man, as a condition of fellowship, than a professed belief in Jesus
* A curious illustration of the consequences of adopting so lax a test of fellowship, is now exhibiting among the Unitarians of England. An animated discussion has taken place among them, upon the question, whether a vowed unbelievers or deists, shall be admitted into the church.
Christ, as the Messiah; since this, in their opinion, was all that was required by the apostles. It would seem, indeed, from the history, that in some cases, this was all the test they employed to ascertain the piety of those they admitted to baptism. But it should be considered, that the sole object of requiring a belief in any article of revealed truth, is to determine whether a man possess a genuine religious character. And it demanded so much courage and sincerity to acknowledge Jesus to be the Messiah, in the days of the apostles, that an assent to this single article, furnished stronger proof of piety, than can now be attained by an assent to every doctrine of the Bible.
At this day, many who are openly immoral may be found, who, with apparent sincerity, will acknowledge Jesus to be the Messiah; yet, according to this test, we are bound to admit such to our fellowship as Christian brethren: for the sacred historian does not tell us that a moral life was one of the conditions of admission to the church among the apostles; and we must follow their example, as it is on record. Do you say that the apostles directed the churches to excommunicate immoral members; and, therefore, a moral life must have been required as a condition of fellowship? So we say the sacred writers represent other doctrines to be essential, besides that of the Messiahship of Jesus; and, therefore, we ought to ascertain whether a man believes or rejects these, before we receive him to our fellowship, although, in the particular cases referred to, the apostles did not perhaps require anything more than an assent to the general truths above named. And yet, they probably made such an explanation of this doctrine, as they have in their epistles; and their converts avowed their belief in it as thus explained. But if you have a right to add to a belief in this doctrine, the requisition of a moral life, as a condition of fellowship, because you think you find this condition in other parts of the Bible, then have we the same right to require a belief in any other doctrine, besides the Messiahship of Christ, if we think we find others that are essential in any part of the Bible. If you depart from the example of the apostles, as recorded in the Scriptures, by adding the smallest condition to this single article, every other man has a right to add what he deems important; and if you do not add anything to it, then must you admit to Christian fellowship the most immoral wretch who acknowledges Jesus to be the Messiah. If you refuse admission to such an one, on account of his immorality, he will have as real ground for representing you as intolerant and exclusive, and as saying, Stand by thyself, I am holier than thou, as that man has, who is required to subscribe to the thirty nine articles of the English Episcopal church, as a condition of membership
Another opinion not unfrequently advanced on this subject, is, that a correct and exemplary life is the only condition of Christian