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REMARKS ON VOLUNTARY AND ECCLESIASTICAL ORGANIZA
TIONS FOR THE PROMOTION OF BENEVOLENT OBJECTS.
By Leonard Woods, D. D., Theological Seminary, Andover.
The object of the following article is, to promote free, candid and fraternal discussion, and to do what can be done to bring Christians to agree in their modes of doing good, or, if they differ, to differ without strife, and in the exercise of brotherly kindness. How deplorable at this day, is the prevalence of party-spirit,-one mark of which is, that we see and acknowledge nothing wrong in the party to which we belong, and nothing right in the party opposed to us. For men of active benevolence and piety, to whatever denomination or party they belong, we ought to cherish a cordial affection and esteem. Towards
who love the Lord Jesus Christ, we cannot indulge ill-will or coldness, nor can we speak of them harshly or unkindly, without sin. God loves all his people; why should not we? God forgives their faults; why should not we? God commands us to do them good; why should not we obey ?Suppose good men differ from us; this is no reason why we should impugn their motives, or do any thing to injure their personal character, or to curtail their useful influence?
On the subject which I here introduce, I shall freely express my own thoughts and conclusions,—thoughts not hasty, but Vol. XII. No. 32.
sober and deliberate ; and conclusions, not rashly adopted, but resulting from long reflection, and long experience. And from the same reflection and experience, I derive a deep and growing conviction, that I am constantly liable to mistake, and that on subjects like the present, I ought specially to guard against undue confidence in my own opinions, and against all severe and uncandid reflections against those ministers of Christ who entertain other opinions. And if in what follows, a single unkind or disrespectful word shall be found, I will heartily condemo it, and wish it blotted out. The attitude which I would take, is that of one who sincerely inquires, what is the will of God. Most cheerfully will I give the right band of fellowship to all who are seeking the good of Zion, whatever modes of action they may adopt; and I would say only this one thing to those who may judge differently from me as to the mode of doing good ;-Dear Brethren, grant to me and those who think as I do, what we freely grant to you ;—permit us quietly to labor for the advancement of Christ's kingdom in the manner which we think to be the wisest and best, and most pleasing to God.
I have not proposed to go into a particular examination of the arguments which have been urged on one side or the other of the subject here considered. The following article was written at the close of the last year; and of course it had no reference to any thing which has since been published. My design was to suggest a few thoughts kindly, and with as much brevity as possible, for the consideration of men of intelligence and piety, who are desirous of doing good in the safest and most effectual manner.
There are some men of great excellence of character, who think that the objects of benevolence should be accomplished by the church of Christ, as a divinely organized body; and that there are valid objections against all attempts to do good on a large scale, except by the church in its corporate state
. I freely acknowledge that God has appointed the church to be the light of the world, the means of spreading the Gospel and saving the souls of men; and that the members of the church ought to be united in this work. But when men speak of the church in reference to the subject under consideration, we cannot judge of the truth and propriety of their positions, without knowing exactly what meaning is to be affixed to the word. What then do you mean by the church? Do you use the word
to signify all the followers of Christ on earth, considered as one body? The word sometimes has this sense.
But I think you cannot use it in this sense here. For whatever you may say as to the duty of the whole body of Christians on earth to act together in a corporate or united state; the fact is, that no such state exists. They are not united and organized as one body, and of course are not in a capacity to act together as one body, to promote any benevolent object. So that if good is not done in some other way, it will not be done at all. For every one knows, that any attempt, in the present state of things, to bring all Christians on earth to act together in any work of benevolence would be abortive.
Do you then use the word church to signify a collection or congregation of Christians in a particular place? And when you say, that the work of benevolence should be undertaken by the church in its corporate state, as the only public association of men for benevolent purposes ; do you mean that each local church, i. e. each congregation of Christians, should act as a church, in accomplishing the work of benevolence? According to this plan, every particular church would act by itself, without any visible connection with others, in disseminating the Scriptures and religious tracts, in raising up ministers, and in sending the Gospel to the heathen ; that is, every single church would, to all intents and purposes, be a distinct Bible Society, a Tract Society, an Education Society, and a Missionary Society. And this would be the case with every single church belonging to every denomination of Christians. Each would exert its agency, and pursue its object in its own way, unconnected with others. But this mode of operation would be attended with difficulties and embarrassments so manifest and so multiplied, that no one could be found to advocate it. Will
you then use the word church to denote the whole body of Christians of one particular denomination, taken by itself ; the whole body of Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Episcopalians and Methodists, living in this and other lands? And when you say the church must, in every case, undertake the work of benevolence; do you mean that each of these classes or denominations, including all its individual members in different parts of the world, taken collectively, must act together in undertaking the work, and that nothing must be done till they can be brought to exert a united agency? But who can be found that will advocate a mode of operation like this? An
attempt to bring all in different countries, who belong to either of these classes, to a visible, direct coöperation, would be a very unwise and hopeless atteinpt.
Shall then the word church denote the collectire body of Christians of each denomination, living in a particular country? And when you say that the church, as such, must do any work of benevolence, is it your meaning, that all Congregationalists, and all Presbyterians and all Episcopalians in the United States, as distinct classes of Christians, must act together in such a work; and that nothing should be done, till all belonging to each particular class, at least a fair majority, shall be brought to unite? Few, I apprehend, would argue in favor of such a principle; and few good men, duly awake to the objects of benevolence, with whatever denomination they may be connected, would hesitate to act on another principle. It will be recollected that a majority of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian church, for several years, refused to organize a Board of Foreign Missions; yet Synods, Presbyteries, and individuals of that denomination, who were in favor of such an organization, scrupled not to exert themselves in one way
and another in favor of that truly christian object. Nor has any denomination of Christians doubted the propriety of acting in the same way. If only a part of any denomination, --say Congregationalists or Episcopalians,—are in favor of any great work of benevolence, shall that part neglect it? Shall those who are ready to act, lie still, because others are not ready? How has it been with different classes of Christians in Europe and America ? What has been the commencement of action in the Bible cause, in the cause of Tracts, Sabbath schools, Foreign Missions and Temperance? And how has each been carried forward? Let us look at the history of benevolent undertakings, both here and abroad, and receive the instruction it affords.
But I must pursue the inquiry further. Will you then enploy the word church to denote a part of those who belong to a particular denomination, as the Congregationalists in a particular State, the Presbyterians in a particular Synod, or the Episcopalians in a particular diocese? 'Suppose such a part of those belonging to a particular class of Christians, are of one heart in favor of some benevolent object. Can any the propriety of their uniting their endeavors, on any plan which they may prefer, to accomplish it? Now if this plan should go extensively into operation, there would be a distinct organiza
tion, (in an ecclesiastical form, if you please,) of the Congregationalists, the Baptists, the Episcopalians, etc., in Massachusetts, in Maine, in Connecticut etc., and of Presbyterians in other parts, for the whole range of benevolent purposes. Accordingly, the various benevolent enterprises of the day would be undertaken, not by the church of Christ in Massachusetts or any other State, acting together as one body, but by several distinct parts of it, each part acting independently of the others. Now if by the church you mean such a portion of one denomination of Christians, as live in one part of the country ; then these benevolent enterprises, thus conducted, might be said to be conducted by the church.
But while the mode of proceeding just described might in present circumstances, proper;
there would be several difficulties not to be overlooked, respecting the manner of treating the subject.—It would be a manifest impropriety of languaye to call a small portion of the whole body of Christians, and a small portion of a single denomination of Christians, the church of Christ :-as manifest a solecism, as to call a single town or county, the nation, or a single nation, the world. And it is very questionable, whether the particular portion of Christians, and the particular portion of one denomination of Christians, above specified, can be called a church. A church may properly signify a particular society or congregation of Christians, united together for the worship of God in one place. But with what propriety can we call the general body of Congregationalists in Massachusetts, a church? And with what propriety can we call the Presbyterians belonging to one Presbytery or Synod, a church? In truth, the general body of Congregationalists in Massachusetts cannot be called either a church or the church. Nor can they be called a Congregational church, or the Congregational church. Nor can the Presbyterians, composing a Presbytery or Synod, be called either a church or the church, or, a Presbyterian church, or the Presbyterian church. The same as to other denominations. A Congregational, Presbyterian, or Episcopal church is a body of Christians smaller than what is here intended; while the Congregational, Presbyterian, or Episcopal church is larger.
Here one difficulty comes up after another. It is said, that the Scriptures authorize only one public association of men for benevolent purposes, which is, the church of Christ, that ihis is the only divine institution, and the only institution to be used