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then little understood, and not generally agreed upon till long afterwards. I am backward, replied Luther, to pass a sentence of death, let the demerit be ever so apparent; For I am alarmed, when I reflect on the conduct of the papists, who have so often abused the statutes of capital punishments, against heresy, to the effusion of innocent blood. Among the protestants, in process of time I foresee a great probability of a similar abuse, if they should now arm the magistrate with the same powers, and there should be left on record a single instance of a person having suffered legally for the propagation of false doctrine. On this ground, I am decidedly against capital punishment in such cases; and think it quite sufficient that mischievous teachers of religion be removed from their situations." Milner's Eccl. Hist. vol. v. p. 1100.
But, whatever were the opinions or practice of those times in this respect, or whatever the sentiments of any in our times may be, it seems to me incontrovertible, that every church, or associated company of Christians, whether as a national establishment, or in any other form, has a right (for the use of which they are responsible to God alone) to appoint the terms on which such as voluntarily desire it, shall be admitted to communion with them, or to teach as pastors, and as tutors in their schools and academies; to refuse admission to such as do not agree to these terms, and to exclude those who afterwards act contrary to them. And if they have funds, which are properly their own, they have a right to employ these funds, to the exclusive support of such as voluntarily concur with them; volenti non sit injuria: and it is absurd to deem those compelled, or their liberty infringed, who of their own voluntary will choose to conform, whether under an establishment or elsewhere. The Eclectic Review on 'Gisborne on the Colossians,' says, "Was it possible for the author of these discourses to put down a sentiment so just, and so weighty as this, without the perception of its censure bearing against the rites and ceremonies of his own church? Is there nothing of will-worship in that communion? What are sponsors, and the sign of the cross in baptism, the compulsion to kneel at the Lord's supper, but new commands and prohibitions added to those which are established in the Bible?" Eclectic Review, May 1817, p. 481.
My concern at present, is only with the word compulsion. Can it be conceived, that they who voluntarily come to the Lord's supper in the church of England, consider kneeling as compulsion? And, who is at present compelled to receive the
Lord's supper in that church? Some indeed, are tempted, too strongly tempted; but none are compelled. Again, would it not excite at least as much surprise and perplexity in a dissenting congregation, both to minister and communicants, if one or more of the company should kneel down to receive the bread and wine, and refuse to receive them in any other posture; as it would in a church, if one or more should sit down, or stand, or refuse to kneel, at the time of receiving? Should the custom of receiving in a sitting posture, be considered as compulsion, and as a command, or prohibition added to those which are established in the Bible? By no means. Each company has its usage, whether established by law, or by the appointment of an independent church. That usage is known; it is seldom seen, that a communicant expresses the least objection to it. He is voluntary, or he need not come. Whether kneeling, as uniting solemn prayer with receiving; or sitting, as among presbyterians and independents; or standing, or reclining on couches, (the posture no doubt of the apostles, at its institution,) if it be voluntary in each person, there is no infringement of liberty,
whatever else may be controverted respecting
the μυσικίσι But to return to Belgium and the Synod of Dort. There toleration of dissentients was not thought of; and the effort was made, to enforce conformity on the whole mass of the population, especially on public teachers; and this, not only by exclusions, but by very severe disqualifications and other punishments. And probably the change of sentiment and practice in Belgium in this particular, which soon afterwards took place, and the toleration granted there, before it had any legal ground in Britain, combined in augmenting the general odium against the measures connected with this Synod.
However I do, in my private judgment, consider the articles of the Synod of Dort as very scriptural: yet, when made the terms of conformity, or of officiating as public teachers, even with full toleration and exemption from any thing beyond simple exclusion, I must regard them as peculiarly improper. The terms of communion, even where none are molested who decline them, and of being public teachers, should by no means be carried into all the minutia of doctrine, which perhaps the ablest theologians are convinced to be scriptural. They should include only the grand principles, in which all the humble disciples and pious ministers of Christ agree; and not those in which they are left to differ. "Him that is weak in the faith, receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations."
The apostles never attempted to enforce by authority, the whole of what they infallibly knew to be true. And who then should attempt to enforce their fallible opinions on others? Besides, by aiming at too much, the very end is defeated: the numbers, who from ignorance or indolence, and corrupt motives conform in such cases; and of those, who teach other doctrines, than what they have consented to; becomes too great for any discipline to be exercised over them. Many also, of the most pious and laborious teachers who, in one way or other, manage to explain the established articles in their own favor, or at least as not against them, add greatly to the difficulty and evil: and so all discipline is neglected, as facts deplorably prove.
Probably, this has been, and is in a measure the case, in most or all of the churches; but the proceedings of the Synod of Dort, and the rulers of Belgium at that season, were more exceptionable than those of any other, at least as far as I can judge. And this appears to me the chief blame to which they are justly exposed; but which is almost, if not wholly overlooked, in the torrent of indiscriminate invective in which they, and these transactions, have been long overwhelmed.