We claim to be more free from Sectarianism than any other Denomination of Christians. I am aware that this claim will surprise many, as we are usually held up as most bigoted and illiberal, or, in modern phrase, of narrow and contracted views. We are not so anxious to multiply and increase congregations as to promote the adoption of sound and definite doctrine. Our organization exists for that end. There is an indissoluble connection between sound speech and the power of godliness. We are born again not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God; not otherwise. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God; not otherwise. Christ sanctifies His Church by the word. The word of God is truth, and truth makes free. In one word, God hath chosen men to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. Desiring the salvation of men, we can have no sympathy with those who "agree to differ," we do not believe the word of God differs from itself. It is charity which rejoices in the truth. I can hardly call it charitable to make light of the difference between truth and error.
We are advocates, therefore, of close communion. Some will be ready to ask, "Is that the extent of your liberality? Does not this fix on you the charge of Sectarianism hopelessly?" Reader, a little patience. You may think differently before you and I part company, and think more favourably of close communion. I speak as unto wise men, whose privilege it is to judge; and who are capable of judging what I say. The advocate of open fellowship takes you as you are, because he has no hope that you are ever to learn anything more or to correct anything; that you either lack the power or lack the will. In the face of the declaration that the Spirit teaches all things, yea, the deep things of God, he will go on to assert that, as we have differed, so we will differ till the last sun shall shine upon the earth. It would be hard to tell whether he treats the judgment of man or the power of the Spirit with less respect. All unconscious of a position which long established habits of thought have made easy, he goes on reciting the old lesson.
How often have I heard, how often have I read, some such language as this:—"Who can forbid a child of God to come to his Father's table? Who dare stand between the child and the Father's table?" All this seems, I have no doubt, to those who utter it, very conclusive, and, often to others, very devout and very charitable; yet it is in reality very shallow and deceptive. It is, however, so often and so confidently uttered, and is withal so plausible, that good men and good minds are carried away. We do not always think; the sensibilities obtain the mastery, and in very simplicity we are deceived. The doctrine of open communion is popular, and if our sole object were to add to our numbers, we would of course adopt it.
To our own table we have a right to invite whom we please, but not to a friend's. In that case we do not consult our own feelings, but what may be agreeable to the host. When we invite to the table of the Lord we are to be regulated by what may be acceptable to Him. This is triumphantly met by [this response]—"We invite a child of the Lord."
1. Friend, how do you know this? The Lord alone searches the heart. Open communion, at the very outset, invades God's province. We may believe a man to be a Christian, but we do not know it, so as to make that knowledge the ground of action in the Church. Hypocrisy is often more flashy and imposing than humble piety. Jehu is ostentatious of "zeal for the Lord," and Judas of care for the poor.
There is no Presbyterian, who knows his own principles, who ever thinks of making regeneration the condition of membership in the Church. He accepts him who witnesses a good confession, sustained by a corresponding practice, and treats him as a child of God, till by transgression he falls from his place.
2. If we know a man to be a child of God, it does not follow that he is to be admitted to fellowship in the Church. Paul instructs the Thessalonians, "If any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother." Here is one whom Paul will own as a brother, and will have the Church to own, and yet his present conduct, his refusal to submit to inspired counsels, excludes him from fellowship. The open communionist, to be consistent with himself, would stand up before Paul, and demand, "How dare you forbid God's child access to his Father's table!"
Close communion, in excluding from fellowship in the Church and in breaking of bread, does not deny a spiritual relationship to Christ; but open communion, in making regeneration the condition of fellowship, pronounces a very unwarrantable and uncharitable sentence on such as are excluded. God's strokes are safer than man's kisses.
3. If we have strong reason to doubt a man's piety, if we know him to be ungodly, and are not able to give a definite evidence of breach of vows and insubordination to the law of Christ, we would not be justified in excluding him from the Lord's table. The Saviour knew from the beginning what Judas was, and yet, with the Saviour's full concurrence, he holds his place among the Apostles, till by transgression he fell. Caiaphas was high priest according to a divine ordinance. He was a very bad man, and an enemy of Christ. Yet being in a divine office, from which there was no law to exclude him, God vouchsafes to him the gift of the Spirit. He utters a remarkable prophecy, and that utterance is expressly connected with the Priesthood. "He spake not of himself, but being high priest that year, he prophesied."
4. Exclusion from the Lord's table, then, does not imply a condemnation of a man's character, but of his principles or his course. "If any man obey not our word by this epistle." "Who concerning the truth have erred." "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof."
5. Open communion discourages self-examination. The churches have pronounced on our spiritual state. We are accepted as regenerate. Open communion is, in this aspect of it, better adapted to promote spiritual pride and carnal security than the "fear and trembling" of humble piety. In the supercilious contempt with which its advocates speak of those who differ from them, and in the assumption of more advanced spirituality and freedom, we discover the fruits [i.e., spiritual pride and carnal security] maturing.
6. It discourages the study of the divine word. If I may enjoy the highest privileges of the Church, no matter what I believe within the range of Evangelicalism, or what I do within the limits of a common morality, there is no very pressing necessity to apply myself to a close and searching examination of the word, that I may know the doctrines and laws of Christ. I am well enough as I am. Exhortations, prayers as little secret as possible, and singing of hymns as exciting as may be, are the elements of enjoyment.
7. Open communion leaves false impressions with regard to the importance of the truth of the Gospel. By inviting Methodists and Baptists to the Lord's table, we teach them that we make little account of what we profess, and that it has little hold of the heart. We are teaching in the most effectual manner our own people, that it is no matter whether we believe that Christ's death secures the salvation of those for whom He died, or that many for whom He died suffer the vengeance of eternal fire; whether that God chooses men because He foresaw their faith, or that their faith is the result of God's election; that it is no matter whether our children are baptised or not.
8. While open communion professes a desire to promote union, it tends to perpetuate disunion to the end. There is the appearance of harmony, and there remains the same contrariety of judgment, which there is no attempt to correct. It is not because we are enemies of union that we advocate close communion, but because we love it. It is not because we are enemies of our brethren who differ from us, but because we love them.
We are looking forward to union in all the churches of the saints; we are preparing for it, we labour for it—that all may be one as the Father and the Son are one, with whom there is no compromise, no agreement to differ, no open question. We are confident of the issue. We are commanded to "speak the same thing," to "be perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment." We have the promise that the watchmen of Zion shall see eye to eye and sing together. The Spirit, who is given to them that believe, who guides into all truth, is able to accomplish this, and to teach the members of Christ to speak the same thing.
We do claim for ourselves to have anticipated the time when the Lord shall bind up the breach of His people, and "the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days." We desire, we pray, we hope, that, if we be otherwise minded than the Record teaches, God will shew it unto us; and, in the meantime, we recognise the obligation, whereto we have already attained, to walk by the same rule, to mind the same thing; while we are prepared to honour the servants of the Lord everywhere, though in some or many things we consider them in error, or in a false position. The spirit from the beginning of Cameronianism [i.e., the Covenanters] is the spirit of true piety and love of the truth, in every place and in every age. We will find the most rigid exclusiveness and severest denunciations of apostacy, of error, and of immorality, bound up with the most ardent Christian affection, yearnings after the spiritual interests of those from whom a separation is maintained, and self-condemnation because of the lack of more earnest efforts for their sanctification and salvation. Nor is there any inconsistency in all this. All will acknowledge that there was more of the Spirit of Christ in Paul's delivering the transgressor to Satan, than in the Corinthians' allowance of his presence in the Church. Paul's severity contemplated his reformation and salvation, while the liberality and indulgence of the Corinthians tended to his eternal ruin.