Catholic Communion, In The Present State Of The Christian Church Inconsistent With A Due Regard For Truth:
A Lecture Before the Students of the Theological Seminaryof the
Associate Reformed Synod of the West,
February 11th, 1836.
Circumstances of no interest to the public, led the Author of the following Lecture in the course of last winter, to call the attention of the students under his care, to the subject of Christian communion. Nothing could have been further from his mind at the time, than a design to publish his views through the medium of the press. However, as some of my good friends among whom my lot has recently been cast, have thought proper to spread a report that I am an advocate of the doctrine of catholic communion; and generally, that I am not faithful in my adherence to the peculiar doctrines of that branch of the church, with which I have the honor to be connected, I have been induced to yield to a request of the Board of Superintendents of the Theological Seminary, to furnish a copy for publication. The reader will please to bear in mind, that this humble Lecture, does not pretend to be any thing like a thorough investigation of the subject of which it treats; but is simply a brief exhibition of the views which I consider it my duty to inculcate upon the minds of those entrusted to my care. And the object proposed by its publication, is particularly, to afford to my brethren who have committed to me the theological instruction of their youth, an opportunity of knowing the character of the instructions which are given on this subject.
THE subject of the “Communion of Saints,” of which the 26th chapter of our Constitution treats, and upon the consideration of which we now enter, it is well known to you all, has of late given rise to no little controversy in the Christian world. The church of Christ is unhappily divided into a variety of ecclesiastical communities, differing from each other, more or less, in their views of the doctrines of the gospel. By some, it is maintained, that all denominations of Christians who are agreed in the essentials of the gospel should hold communion with each other, irrespective of any diversity of opinion with regard to matters of subordinate importance. These are advocates of, what is termed catholic communion. On the other hand, we contend that while there exist causes which are sufficient to keep different portions of the church of Christ in a state of ecclesiastical separation from each other, they cannot with propriety hold communion with each other. It must be admitted that there is something particularly pleasing in the idea of union among all the followers of Christ, in commemorating the death of their common Lord. That the day may be hastened when this interesting spectacle shall be witnessed, is the earnest prayer of the church of God. And, in theory, the principle of catholic communion looks exceedingly attractive. But a careful examination of the subject may lead us to the conclusion, that, this principle carried out into practice, must, in the present state of the Christian church, exert an influence very prejudicial to the interests of truth.
Communion presupposes the existence of union. Betwixt the Lord Jesus Christ and all true believers there exists a vital, spiritual union. To represent the intimate and indissoluble nature of this union the Scriptures employ a great variety of expressive similitudes. Christ is the Head and true believers are the members of his body. He is the true Vine, they are the branches of the vine. He is the Foundation, they are the superstructure of the building. From this union betwixt the Lord Jesus and true believers, there results communion. They have a mutual interest in each other. He has an interest in them, as the objects of his love; the ransomed of his blood and the members of his body; while they have an interest in him as their Lord and Redeemer; and betwixt them, there is an interchange of holy affections. He cherishes for them a love which is unchangeable and everlasting; and to all that believe he is precious. Betwixt all true believers, who arc united unto Christ the Head, there also exists a spiritual union. They are all partakers of the Spirit of Christ, are fellow members of that same body of which Christ is the Head, and are joint heirs to the same heavenly inheritance. And hence they have communion with each other. There is a sympathy betwixt them, analogous to that which subsists among the members of the human body. They rejoice in each other’s joy and mourn over each other’s sorrows. Being all one in Christ Jesus, it results from their spiritual union, that they have communion with each other. They have a common interest in each other’s gifts and graces, inasmuch as whatever belongs to any one believer has been conferred upon him, not for his individual benefit alone, but for the good of the whole body. There should therefore be no schism in the body of Christ. But the hearts of all who are constituent members of this body, should be knit together in love, and they should perform all such duties, both public and private, as may conduce to their mutual good, “whether in the inward or outward man.”
That Christian communion which should exist among the members of the household of faith, we see happily exemplified among the followers of Christ, in the primitive days of the Christian church. They continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. In temporal things, they distributed to all, as every man had need. And they continuing daily with one accord in the Temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. They adhered with united hearts to the DOCTRINE of the Apostles and had communion both in spiritual and temporal things. But this harmonious state of things did not long continue. Doctrines irreconcilable with the faith once delivered to the saints, were soon propagated, and irregular practices soon began to display themselves among the professed followers of Christ, and that comfortable and profitable fellowship, which had existed was interrupted, while division and discord made their appearance in the Christian church. These things ought not so to be. They are in themselves evil, and they exert a most unhappy influence in retarding the progress of pure and undefiled religion.
That “saints by profession, are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification,” and that, this communion, as God offereth opportunity, “is to be extended unto all those who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus,” is the doctrine of our Constitution and of the sacred oracles. But it is by no means a legitimate conclusion from these premises, that we are under obligations to receive to communion with us, in the participation of the Lord’s supper, all who may make a profession of the religion of Jesus, nor that we are bound to unite in communion with all such. With regard to those who desire to enjoy communion with the church, there are two things which must be carefully inquired into. 1. Do they receive and hold the faith once delivered to the saints? 2. Do they regulate their life and conversation by the precepts of the gospel? If they do, the church cannot without rebellion against the authority of her Lord refuse to receive them; but if they do not, she cannot without treason against her King receive them into her fellowship. To ascertain whether one who desires to enjoy those privileges, which are peculiar to the household of faith, possesses the requisite qualifications, in so far as his faith is concerned, it is necessary that the church should have a creed. Having in a previous lecture endeavored to prove that a creed is proper and necessary as a means of preserving the purity of the church, I shall now take this position for granted. The creed of the church should indeed, be framed with great circumspection and care, and should require nothing to be received as an article of faith, which is a matter of doubtful speculation, but should embrace plain, scriptural truth. Having framed a creed in which the honor of her Lord and the interests of his truth are sacredly maintained, the church desires those who wish to enjoy her fellowship, to say whether they are united with her in attachment to the faith and purity of the gospel. If they give satisfactory evidence that they are, it is not a matter of choice merely, but of obligation that she receive them. But if they reject what she regards as involving the faith and purity of the gospel, it is equally a matter of obligation that she should close the door upon them. And in this case, if the result should be a schism in the body of Christ, the fault does not lie with the church who is faithful to her Lord, but with those who reject his truth and walk not according to the faith of the gospel. Suppose an individual who is now in the communion of the church should by his inconsistent deportment, expose to reproach his Christian profession, or should embrace and maintain principles at war with the faith once delivered to the saints, the principle of self-preservation, a regard for her own welfare, as well as respect for the authority of her King, would require his excision. And if this course would be proper and requisite with regard to one who is already in the fellowship of the church, the same principle should govern in the case of an applicant who desires to be received into the communion of the church. Whatever would amount to a sufficient reason for the excision of one who is already a member of the church, ought to be regarded as sufficient to prevent the reception of one who may desire to be received into Christian fellowship.
But it will be said: “By refusing to receive into communion those who may be members of another ecclesiastical community, do you not in effect deny their Christianity, while at the same time you must believe that they are of those who have spiritual communion with the Lord Jesus Christ?” To this I reply, that a refusal to receive an individual to communion in the church, does not amount to a declaration that he is not a true Christian. An eminently pious man like David, may fall before the power of temptation, and thus give great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme; in consequence of which, it may be necessary for the honor of religion to exclude him from the fellowship of the church, while there may at the time exist no doubt of the reality of his piety. His exclusion by the authority of the church is a public declaration, that in this particular case, his conduct has been inconsistent with the Christian character. And when the church refuses to receive into her communion an individual who embraces a principle at war with the truth as it is in Jesus, or who openly rejects a doctrine contained in “the form of sound words,” she publicly declares that in this particular, his conduct is inconsistent with that honor which is due to the authority of the Lord Jesus, and that fidelity to her Lord requires that she, as a witness for him, should testify against it. But as to the reality of his Christianity, she does not presume to decide. That belongs to her Lord, whose exclusive prerogative it is to judge the heart. She regards the individual in the light of an offending child and applies the rod of discipline for his amendment. And of course the correction must be continued until amendment shall be visible.
But it will be said, “Are there not babes in Christ, as well as perfect men, who have a right to the privileges of the church? And is it to be expected that one who is a babe in Christ, can digest the system of doctrines contained in a voluminous confession of faith? And are not the babes in Christ, objects which especially deserve the attention and parental care of the church?” It is readily admitted that there are babes in Christ, and that the church should act the part of a tenderhearted mother towards them. But who are to be regarded as babes in Christ? They are those who being young in knowledge and in gracious attainments, desire the sincere milk of the word, that they may grow thereby. Such members of the household of faith may have difficulties in their own minds in consequence of the imperfection of their knowledge, in relation to some important doctrines of the gospel. And while they evince an inquiring and teachable spirit, and manifest no disposition to disturb the peace of the church, by maintaining and propagating principles at war with the truth, they should be treated with all possible tenderness. But, where an individual openly avows and maintains principles in direct opposition to what the church believes to be the truth, the case is entirely different. Such an one does not act the part of a babe in Christ, and can have no claim to the treatment which is due to the humble and modest inquirer after truth. He publicly lifts up his voice against the decision of the church, sets his wisdom above hers, and then practically demands that she should admit that he is right and that she is in error, by receiving him into, her communion. And it is what no man has a right to expect, that the church should so far lose sight of the glory of her Lord and of her own preservation, as to take under her protection those who thus arraign her conduct and reject the faith which she considers it her duty to hold.
But it will be said, “The church of Christ is ONE. There is a spiritual union among all the followers of Christ, and there ought to be communion among them.” All this, we not only admit, but maintain. There is but one church of Christ on earth; and this church is not confined to any one ecclesiastical community, but is composed of all those throughout the whole world who profess the true religion together with their children. But does it follow from this that we are to receive to communion in the participation of the supper of our Lord all who belong to this church? Then we must receive the baptized infant seed of believers to communion, for they belong to the visible church of Christ as well as their parents. But the propriety of this will not be admitted even by the sober advocates of catholic communion themselves. And hence the conclusion drawn by some, from the unity of the church, is not legitimate, themselves being judges. There is a spiritual union among all the members of the body of Christ. This is unquestionable. It is equally evident, that there is a spiritual communion among all the members of the true church of Christ, and there ought to exist among them organic communion. And if it does not exist there is manifestly a fault somewhere. But with whom does the fault lie? is the question. Is it the fault of the church, which maintains a faithful testimony for the truth committed to her by her Lord? Or does the blame rather lie on the heads of those who corrupt the institutions of Heaven and reject the testimony of the King of Zion? This is the question on which the controversy in relation to catholic communion hinges. All the followers of Christ should be united, in their firm adherence to the truth, and then there would be no ecclesiastical divisions, and consequently no obstacle in the way of comfortable and edifying communion among them—in all the exercises of religious worship. But unhappily the fact is not so. All are not united in adherence to the truth. What some regard as precious truth, is regarded by others as unfriendly to the power of godliness. A practice which, in the estimation of some, is conducive to the glory of God and edifying to the souls of men, is regarded by others as involving a corruption of the worship of God. It is indeed a matter much to be lamented that such diversity of opinion should exist among the professed disciples of Christ. But still, it will not be denied, that such diversity does really exist. And in these conflicting and irreconcilable views is laid the necessity for distinct ecclesiastical organizations. These things are in themselves evil, and they originate in a sinful cause. A woeful responsibility exists somewhere. But on whom is the fault chargeable? Does it belong to those who contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, or does it lie on those who reject the truth and teach for doctrines the commandments of men? The question is not of difficult solution.
The interruption of communion among the professed followers of Christ, is confessedly an evil; but it should be recollected that it has its origin, in a previously existing evil, that is, the want of union in adherence to the truth. And until this previous evil is removed out of the way, communion cannot be maintained in such a manner as would comport with a due regard for the truth or conduce to Christian edification. It may be proper to remark here, that the obligation lying upon the disciples of Christ to hold communion with each other, is not restricted to the single duty of commemorating the death of their common Lord, in the observation of the sacrament of the Eucharist. This, if you please, may be considered as one particularly interesting part of divine service, in which we are bound to express our love to our common Lord, and to each other. But it is only one of the many religious duties in the observation of which, saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship with each other. They are under solemn obligations to cultivate communion with one another in prayer and praise, and all other parts of the instituted worship of God. But it is perfectly evident, that where one believes that it is exclusively the work of God to change the heart, while another maintains that it belongs to the sinner to perform the work himself, a prayer conceived in accordance with the views of one, would not be an offering, in presenting which unto God, the other could hold communion with him. One believes that evangelical hymns composed by uninspired men, are preferable to the songs of inspiration; while another regards the substitution of the compositions of uninspired men, in the room of the songs furnished by the Spirit of inspiration, as a corruption of the worship of God. It is perfectly plain, that two such individuals cannot hold communion with each other in the praise of God, where the principle of the advocate of an uninspired psalmody is carried into practice. Still it is the duty of Christians to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and consequently in prayer and praise, which are important parts of divine worship. But in the cases just referred to, this communion cannot take place, because there is not only a want of union in adhering to the truth, but a serious discrepancy of views in relation to the truth. Here then is an interruption of that communion in the worship of God, which saints by profession are bound to maintain with each other, and there must be a fault somewhere. But with whom does the fault rest? With those who hold fast the truth? or, with those who pervert the truth? I speak as to wise men, judge ye what I say.
But it may be said, that “Whatever diversity of opinion may exist among the professed followers of Christ, in relation to those things just now referred to, they are agreed in their views with regard to the design of the death of Christ; and therefore they may hold communion in commemorating the dying love of their common Lord, though they cannot hold fellowship in some other religious duties.” I might in reply observe, that other exercises of religious worship, such as prayer, praise, and the preaching of the word, are connected with the celebration of the death of our Lord. And, consequently, if by reason of discrepancy of views professed Christians cannot enjoy fellowship with each other in all these religious duties, it is not conceivable how their communion can be either comfortable or conducive to their mutual edification, while they engage in one part of the worship of God, but cannot unite in other parts which are connected with it. But independent of this consideration, suffer me to call your attention to a distinction betwixt private Christian communion, and what in the judicial acts of our church is termed organic communion. Wherever, in the providence of God, two Christians meet, they may, provided there is a general agreement in their views of divine truth, hold Christian communion in religious conference, in reading the word of God, in prayer, and in praise, and such like religious exercises. They may do this, though they are not in connection with the same ecclesiastical community, and even though they may not be in actual connection with any branch of the visible church of Christ. But they can have fellowship in the commemoration of the death of Christ only in the church, which is the divinely appointed organ for the administration of the sacraments. Organic communion is to be enjoyed only in the church. And before any one can enjoy the privilege of uniting with the followers of Christ in this service, he must be recognized by the church AS belonging to the household of faith. The church has no jurisdiction over those that are without. It is over them who are within her pale, that she extends her maternal care, and to them she dispenses the children’s bread.
Before, then, organic communion can be enjoyed by any individual, that is, before he can have fellowship with the church in the observation of sealing ordinances, he must in the first place be acknowledged by the church as belonging to the commonwealth of Israel. And what is to be required of those who desire to be recognized as members of the church of Christ? They must give satisfactory evidence of their Christian character. But the church cannot look into the heart, and how is she to form a true estimate of their character? There are two sources of evidence to which she must attend—faith, and practice. She must require evidence of their belief of the truth, and of their Christian walk and conversation. And to ascertain whether they receive the truth as it is in Jesus, she presents her creed which contains an exhibition of what are understood to be the doctrines taught in the sacred Scriptures, and she requires them to declare their cordial reception of it. If they are prepared to do this, and besides give evidence as far as can be determined from their external deportment, that their life is under the controlling influence of the truth, they are received under her care and are made welcome to the enjoyment of all the privileges which belong to the household of faith. But if they are not willing to do this, she must in so far as her power extends, treat them as offending children, whose privileges must be abridged as a chastisement for their fault. She cannot without rendering herself liable to the charge of unfaithfulness to her Lord, receive them as dutiful children, while she really believes, that they are living in the neglect of their duty, by rejecting the truth as it is in Jesus.
What has been said may be presented summarily in the following words. The Scriptural doctrine on the subject of organic communion is exemplified practically in the history of the primitive church. The members of the household of faith, were united steadfastly in THE APOSTLES’ DOCTRINE, and then they maintained a holy fellowship in the worship of God, in breaking of bread, in prayer, and in praise. Let there be therefore union, in adherence to the doctrine of the apostles in the church, and then the way is open for communion in breaking of bread, or in commemorating the death of our Lord, and in every other religious duty to which Christian communion should extend. The Associate Reformed church has exhibited in her constitution and standards, what she believes to be the doctrine of the apostles. When any one desires to enjoy communion with her, she presents her creed, to ascertain whether he is united with her in adherence to the faith once delivered to the saints, for which she considers herself bound to contend. If he is, she is happy in uniting with him in breaking of bread, and in every other religious service in honor of her Lord and Savior. But if he rejects what she regards as the doctrine of the apostles, she cannot as a faithful witness and guardian of the truth receive him into her communion.
But according to the doctrine of what is termed catholic communion, the church ought to receive into her fellowship those who hold the essentials of Christianity, though they may differ from her in their views with regard to doctrines of comparatively subordinate importance. In opposition to this view suffer me to offer for your consideration the following objections.
1. This plan of communion leads practically to the rejection of creeds or confessions of faith. A creed is an exhibition of what the framers of it consider the great doctrines of the Bible. One leading design of a creed, is the preservation of the purity of the church. When an individual desires to be received into the communion of the church, she presents to him her creed, to ascertain whether he is agreed to walk with her in adherence to the truth as it is in Jesus. If he is willing to embrace this formula of the faith, which the church has adopted as her testimony to the truth, they can walk together in love and peace, being united in the truth; and he is therefore cordially received. But if men are received to the enjoyment of the highest privileges of the church, who are not willing to embrace her creed, but in many important particulars reject it, does not this amount to a virtual declaration, that men may reject or embrace the creed of the church according to their pleasure? And of what practical advantage is a creed, for the purpose of preserving the purity of the church, if men may enjoy all the distinguishing privileges of the church whether they are pleased to reject or embrace it? It would manifestly be of no practical utility. And the church might just as well throw away her creed at once, as to receive into her fellowship those who are not willing to embrace it.
2. This scheme of communion tends directly to produce indifference in relation to the truth. A particular branch of the church professes to receive a certain system of doctrines as taught in the sacred Scriptures, and to this system her members are required to subscribe. But here is an individual who does not receive some of the doctrines comprehended in this system, but on the other hand rejects them and testifies against them. And yet he is received into the fellowship of the church upon the ground of his adherence to the essential doctrines of the gospel. What is this, but a practical declaration by the church in her official capacity, that diversity of opinion in relation to these doctrinal truths is a matter of little or no importance. They who reject them, may enjoy the same privileges in the church as those who embrace them. And consequently the conclusion to which such a course of conduct naturally leads, is, that it is a matter unimportant, what particular system of religious opinions a man may embrace. The difference betwixt truth and error, is thus represented as a matter of trivial importance, and the minds of men are prepared to embrace whatever doctrines are most popular or most congenial to their own taste.
3. If the principle of catholic communion carried into practice, does not produce indifference in relation to the truth, it cannot fail to introduce discord and strife among brethren. One regards this doctrine as a precious truth, while another considers it as an absurdity. Now if men maintaining these discordant views, are brought together into one ecclesiastical fellowship, is it not manifest that in the present state of imperfection, animosity rather than brotherly love, must be promoted? So long as professing Christians entertain different views with regard to doctrinal truths, there is a better prospect of peace, and some degree of harmonious feeling by maintaining distinct ecclesiastical organizations. To bring together those who maintain discordant opinions, is to convert the church of Christ into a Babel, a scene of confusion rather than a city of peace. Let therefore each particular branch of the church operate within her own sphere, according to the light to which she has attained, until that time shall come when we shall no longer see through a glass darkly, but shall see face to face and shall know as we are known. And in the mean time, let brotherly love be cultivated, and let each one in his own proper place, endeavor so far as his influence extends, to spread the light of evangelical truth. No union can promote the peace and prosperity of the church, which is not established upon the basis of truth. He therefore who does most to promote the reign of the truth as it is in Jesus, labors most efficiently to establish that union, which will prepare the way for communion among all the followers of Christ.
As it has been maintained by some that the doctrine of catholic communion is taught in our standards, or if not directly taught is not inconsistent with them, it may be proper in conclusion, to call your attention more particularly to this point.
It is readily admitted that the communion referred to in our constitution, which is to be extended to all those who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus, relates to fellowship in the worship of God, as well as in relieving each other in outward things. The expression, “All who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus,” is taken from the apostle, and is a scriptural description of the Christian character. He who calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus, is one who makes a scriptural profession of faith in Christ, and who walks in accordance with that profession. And what is embraced in a scriptural profession, according to the sense of the constitution, is to be learned from the constitution itself. It contains an exhibition of what is believed to be the truth, which all are under obligations to receive.” And all who own the authority of the Lord Jesus, by receiving his truth, are recognized as having a right to communion with the church. That this is the light in which the matter was viewed by our church [i.e., the Associate Reformed], when her constitution was adopted, is evident from the language of the act which was passed relative to its adoption. In that document it is declared, “The terms on which any person shall be received a member of this church are, a profession of faith in the Holy Scriptures, together with an approbation of the Confession of Faith, Larger and Shorter Catechisms, Form of Church Government, and Directories for Worship as therein received; a holy life and conversation, and subjection to the order and discipline of the church.” Perhaps it may be said, “These are the terms on which a person may be admitted to membership, but not the terms on which he may be received to communion.” To this it might be sufficient to reply, that membership is supposed to precede communion. None can have communion with the church but those who are members of it. But that terms of membership and terms of communion, according to our standards, mean the same thing, is evident from the subsequent part of this act. After the declaration that the Confession of Faith, Catechisms, &c., are the standards of the Associate Reformed church, in all matters relating to doctrine, government, discipline, and worship, it is added: “Provided that nothing in this declaration, shall be construed to extend to the appendices thereunto annexed, so as to comprise the same within the terms of communion.” Now the appendices being expressly excepted from, the terms of communion, it is evident that a profession of faith in the other parts of the constitution was regarded as a term of communion. And consequently, in the sense of our constitution, the terms of membership and the terms of communion are the same.
In an act to amend the constitution of the Associate Reformed Synod, passed May, 1790, we find the following words: “The 26th chapter of the Confession, is understood by them as opposed not only to bigotry, which at least by implication, appropriates to a particular denomination of Christians, the character and privileges of the catholic church, but also to that scheme of communion called the latitudinarian, which unites all parties of professed Christians in the fullest communion, on the ground only of those general principles that some distinguish by the name of essentials, a scheme which they condemn as subversive of the design of this and every other stated confession of faith, and as having a natural tendency to promote error and to extinguish zeal for many important truths of the gospel, and consequently that they do not consider themselves as left at liberty by this part of the confession to hold organical communion, with any denomination of Christians, that is inconsistent with a faithful and pointed testimony for any revealed truth respecting doctrine, worship, discipline, and church government.” Here then is a pointed testimony against that scheme of communion called the latitudinarian, or as it is now more commonly termed catholic, which maintains that we should extend communion to all who hold the essentials of religion. It is moreover declared that this scheme of communion is subversive of the design of this and every other stated confession of faith. And this is manifestly the fact. What is the design of a confession of faith? It is to present an exhibition of the great doctrines of the Bible, as a means of maintaining the truth and of preserving the purity of the church. It is the testimony of the church in behalf of the truth. But suppose an individual who not only does not embrace that system of truth, but who maintains principles directly opposed to it, is received to the enjoyment of the highest privileges of the church, what is the result? The church at one time declares, “This is my testimony to the truth,” but at another, practically says to those whom she receives into her communion, “You may reject or receive it, as you please.” This is, in one breath, to bear witness to the truth, and in the next, to permit that truth to be trampled under foot.
But that the sentiments of the synod on this subject might be so plain that they could not be misunderstood, it is further declared, that “They do not consider themselves as left at liberty by this part of the confession to hold organical communion with any denomination of Christians, that is inconsistent with a faithful and pointed testimony for any revealed truth respecting doctrine, worship, discipline, and church government.”
In our system of church government, under the head of, “Admission of Members,” chap. 4, sect. 3, it is said, “Application for membership from members of other denominations, shall at all times be received cautiously; nor shall it be admitted in any case unless upon deliberate examination the applicants shall appear to act from a solid conviction of duty, and shall discover Christian meekness toward the party whose communion is relinquished.” Here it is manifestly supposed, that an individual in becoming a member of this church relinquishes the communion of that branch of the church with which he was formerly connected.
The doctrine of our standards, then, may be briefly exhibited in the following words. The constitution of the Associate Reformed church, contains our testimony for the truth in relation to doctrine, worship, government, and discipline. Here are the terms on which we have associated together as a religious community under the authority of the Lord Jesus. If anyone desires to enjoy organic communion with us, in the service of our common Lord, here are the terms of admission into our community. This testimony we consider ourselves obligated to bear to the truth of our Lord and Master. If you agree with us in this testimony, we shall be happy in the enjoyment of communion with you. But if you will not unite with us in embracing this system of faith, we may not be unfaithful to our King, by laying down our testimony and receiving you into fellowship with us.
And that this is the doctrine of our standards, is evident from the practice of the framers of our constitution from the first. They, it must be supposed, understood their own constitution, as well as any who have come after them. That the uniform practice of our church from the beginning, was decidedly opposed to catholic communion, is manifest from her whole history, and particularly from the universal excitement from one extremity of the church to the other, which was produced by the conduct of the brethren, [John M.] Mason, [James M.] Matthews, and [John X.] Clarke, who in the year 1811 engaged in communion with the Presbyterian church. At the first meeting of General Synod after this occurrence took place, these brethren were called to account for this innovation in the practice of the Associate Reformed church. Dr. Mason at this time, did not undertake to defend his conduct upon the principle that catholic communion was the doctrine either of the Bible or of our standards, but pleaded in his own behalf the peculiar circumstances in which he and his congregation were placed. The peculiarity of his circumstances will appear from the following historical facts.
The congregation under the care of Dr. Mason being destitute of a house of worship, obtained permission to occupy temporarily the house belonging to the congregation of Dr. [John B.] Romeyn, of the Presbyterian church in the city of New York. This circumstance introduced the two societies into the most intimate acquaintance, occasioned each frequently to wait on the ministrations of the pastor of the other1; the consequence of which was, a high degree of mutual affection, confidence and esteem. Upon the first occasion on which Dr. Mason administered the Lord’s supper to his congregation, it was thought proper to admit Dr. Romeyn and the people of his charge to communion. And when Dr. Romeyn administered the Lord’s supper, an invitation was given to Dr. Mason’s congregation, which was accepted. But, says Dr. Mason, in his communication to General Synod [Minutes for General Synod for 1811], this intercommunion is not considered as involving the question of communion, with any other church than that one with which I and my people were so peculiarly connected; nor is it contemplated to continue after we shall have obtained a separate place for worship. From this statement it does not appear that the idea of catholic communion had at this time entered into Dr. Mason’s mind. The peculiarity of the circumstances in which he was placed was the ground on which he vindicated his departure from what had been the uniform practice of our church. He did not pretend that intercommunion under ordinary circumstances was proper. Nor was it then his intention, that the intercommunion which had taken place between his congregation and that of Dr. Romeyn should continue, after their peculiar connection should cease to exist. It is therefore evident, that even Dr. Mason himself did not at this time, suppose that the doctrine of catholic communion was taught by the standards of the Associate Reformed church. But some time after this a principle of interpretation was discovered, by which the constitution of our church was made to yield its support to catholic communion. And if men may be allowed to frame their own principles of interpretation, the Bible may be made to support Unitarianism. The thirty-nine articles of the Church, of England, (a formula of faith, just about as Calvinistic as Calvin’s Institutes,) can be interpreted so as to accord with the tenets of Arminius. In the light of the nineteenth century, we have seen theologians gravely undertake to interpret the Westminster Confession of Faith, so as to make it chime with the sentiments of Pelagius. And detached expressions in our standards may be laid hold of, and may be made to yield a plausible support to the doctrine of catholic communion. But the judicial acts of the Associate Reformed church, and her uniform practice from her origin, prove conclusively, that catholic communion has no place in that system of faith which she has embraced, as taught in the sacred Scriptures.
NOTE: For the memory of Dr. Mason, the author must, be permitted to say, he cherishes the most profound reverence. To have been a pupil of that distinguished master of Israel, he regards as one of the greatest privileges of his life. A lesson which Dr. Mason was accustomed to inculcate with much frequency upon the minds of his pupils was, “Call no man master upon earth, but examine every principle in the light of divine truth.” Taking this direction with me, in the investigation of truth, I have found it necessary to adopt a conclusion on the subject of catholic communion, very different from that of my venerated preceptor.
1. It ought to be noted here that the sin of occasional hearing apparently made the practice of occasional communion less objectionable.