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CONFERENCE ON CHRISTIAN UNION. Narrative of the
Proceedings of the Meetings held in Liverpool, October, 1815. London : Nisbet. 1845.
The year which is now closing must have been, to Christian minds, peculiarly dark and distressing. It has been marked by national sins of no ordinary blackness; and the dark and louring clouds of national judgments appear to be hanging over our country at its conclusion. But national sins and national judgments will suitably combine to bring the humble Christian to a throne of grace ; and, waiting humbly there, he will see upon those clouds, however dark and threatening, the rainbow of promise: for it is written, “ When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.” And certainly the Christian may well confess, that there have been gleams of heavenly light, peculiarly cheering, in some of the events of the year that is just closed.
Among these cheering circumstances we certainly reckon the Conference which was held at Liverpool, at the beginning of last October, on the subject of Christian Union. That more than two hundred ministers and laymen, out of twenty sections or denominations of the Christian world, should have met together, for devotion and for conference on such a subject, is a pleasing and encouraging circumstance. That they should have freely conferred togetherdiscussed many weighty subjects—and passed at length a series of highly-important resolutions, with perfect unanimity—is an event so far beyond anything which we had dared to anticipate, that we can only say (as we believe was said again and again, by many wbo were present), “ This is the Lord's doing; it is marvellous in our eyes ;
and to Him be all the glory! We rejoice that an authentic narrative of the proceedings has been published by the provisional committee. The following passage, from the introductory remarks with which it commences, will sufficiently explain the nature of this publication, which is of a modest, unpretending character, and does not lay claim to the fulness or the accuracy which might have been looked for, had professional reporters been employed ; and it explains why they were not.
“It would be impossible to convey to those who did not enjoy the privilege of being there, any adequate impression of the spirit and tone which pervaded this surprising assembly. Names well-known in the church of Christ, for works of faith and labours of love, and many of them venerable for mature wisdom, long-established piety, and eminent usefulness, will be found in the roll of its members. And, doubtless, the presence and prayerful coumsels of
such distinguished servants of the Lord, contributed much to the devotional feeling, the happy unanimity, and the brotherly affection which so signally prevailed. All, however, it is believed, were made to feel that a higher presence than that of man was there ; and, as was afterwards finely said, though there rushed no mighty wind, and there hovered no lambent flame, yet many times such an influence rested on every soul, that no one doubted the Spirit of God was there. And hence, while many confessed that they had come not very sanguine as to the result, and others that they had been full of apprehension and unbelief, many prayers were offered, and prayer prevailed. The
set time was come. For a season every eye was made single; and doubts, and fears, and scruples, all were swept away before a tide of holy love. So surprising was the issue, and so conscious was each that his natural self was for a time superseded by a better, that when, on the unanimous adoption of a basis of common truth, one of the brethren gave sudden vent to his emotion by exclaiming, The Lord be praised;' almost instinctively, and as with one consent, the whole assembly rose, and sang with a loud voice, giving the glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
“ These meetings extended over three successive days; and, though in some respects they were days of great exhaustion, from the length of time during which the discussions lasted, and the deep and stirring emotions which the occasion excited, still they were days of uncommon joy. And when they were ended, many were tempted to linger near, or quitted with reluctance the scene where so much happiness had been tasted, and so much holy influence enjoyed. All, however, it is believed, could carry with them, impressed with more than usual vividness upon their minds, the precious lesson of the efficacy of united, fervent, believing, prayer. All too had discovered something more of the meaning and the value of the Saviour's words: 'A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another.'
“The following pages do not pretend to convey any adequate idea of the character of this memorable Conference. They do, however, it is believed, present a pretty accurate outline of what was said and done by the assembled brethren. It was impossible to tell beforehand what turn affairs might take, or how far a disclosure of the proceedings of the Conference as they went on might be for edification ; and hence professional reporters for the press were excluded. This was done too, that the brethren might feel themselves to be without the restraint which publicity imposes; and so be encouraged with the utmost frankness and freedom from reserve, to express their views and feelings on the various questions that might arise. Such, however, and so much to the honour of the religion of Jesus, were the actual character and results of the whole proceedings, that the utmost publicity has become desirable. And the copious notes of one of the secretaries (Rev. William Chalmers), aided by the recollections of the speakers, have furnished the accompanying narrative."
We must not attempt to give any summary of the contents of this important document. We commend it to the perusal of our readers; and it is published in so cheap a form, that it is accessible to every one. It would be very difficult to abridge it; and we suspect that any abridgment would be tame and dull, in comparison with the report at full length. We shall therefore only give the principal resolutions, that is to say, those which serve to explain the principles and objects of the proposed evangelical alliance. These we give from a paper that has been printed and extensively circulated by the Committee in London.
“ VI. That the Conference now assembled on the important subject of extended Christian union, after lengthened engagements of devotion and discussion, in which the happiest tokens of the Divine favour have been sensibly experienced, offer to the brethren in Scotland, by whom they were invited to assemble, most cordial thanks and congratulations.
“ VII. That, as the Conference rejoice in the substantial agreement which exists among the people of God, so they are deeply impressed with a sense of the importance of exhibiting and carrying out that agreement; believing, as they do, that the alienation of Christians from one another, on account of lesser differences, has been one of the greatest evils in the church of Christ, and one main hindrance to the progress of the gospel; and that the aspect of affairs, in a religious view, both at home and abroad, is such as to present the strongest motive to union and co-operation.
“VIII. That this meeting desires to express its humiliation before God and his church, for all the divisions of the Christian church, and especially for everything which we ourselves may have aforetime spoken, in theological and ecclesiastical discussions, contrary to speaking the truth in love; and that we would earnestly and affectionately recommend to each other, in our own conduct, and particularly in our own use of the press, carefully to abstain from, and to put away, all bitterness and wrath, anger and clamour, and evil speaking, with all malice; and, in things in which we may yet differ from each other, still to seek to be kind, tender-hearted, forbearing one another in love, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ's sake, bath forgiven us; in everything seeking to be followers of God as dear children, and to walk in love, as Christ also has loved us.
“IX. That as the Christian union, which this Conference desires to promote, can only be attained through the blessed energy of the Holy Spirit, the Conference unanimously recommend the members present, and absent brethren, to make this matter the subject of simultaneous weekly petition at the throne of grace, in their closets and families; and suggest the forepoon of Monday as the time for that purpose.
“X. That the Conference record with delight and heartfelt thanksgiving to God, that, after the most frank and unreserved expression of their sentiments, by brethren of various denominations present, there has been found, not only a general and warm desire for extended Christian union, but ample ground of common truth, on a cordial belief in which the assembled brethren could themselves unite, for many important objects, and also invite the adhesion of all evangelical Christians; so that, cheered by these auspicious commencements, the Conference would go forward with their great object, depending on continued help from the Divine Head of the Church ; and now determine that a more extensive meeting shall be convened in London, in the summer of next year, to which Christians from various parts of the world shall be invited."
The next resolution is peculiarly important, as setting forth the great scriptural truths on which the union is founded.
“XI. That the Conference, postponing the preparation of a full and formal document on the subject, deem it sufficient for the present to intimate, that the parties who shall be invited to the future meeting, shall be such persons as hold and maintain what are usually understood to be evangelical views in regard to such important matters of doctrine as the following, viz. :
1.--The divine inspiration, authority, and sufficiency of holy scripture. "2.- The Unity of the Godhead, and the Trinity of Persons therein. “ 3.—The utter depravity of human nature, in consequence of the fall.
4.—The incarnation of the Son of God, and his work of atonement for sinners of mankind. “5.-The justification of the sinner by faith alone.
6.- The work of the Holy Spirit in the conversion and sanctification of the sinner.
"7.-The right and the duty of private judgment in the interpretation of boly scripture.
**8.–The divine institution of the Christian ministry, and the authority and perpetuity of the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
XII. That it be recommended to the future meeting, in connexion with the promotion of Christian union, that they form an institution, whose name shall be The Evangelical Alliance.
Then follows a resolution which is wisely framed to avoid all appearance of compromise.
“XIII. That in the prosecution of the present attempt, the Conference are clearly and unanimously of opinion, that no compromise of their own views, or sanction of those of others, on the points on which they differ, ought to be either required or expected on the part of any who concur in it; but that all should be held as free as before, to maintain and advocate their views, with all due forbearance and brotherly love. Further, that any union or alliance to be formed, should be understood to be an alliance of individual Christians, and not of denominations or branches of the Church; and the design of this alliance shall be to exhibit, as far as practicable, the essential unity of the Church of Christ; and, at the same time, to cherish and manifest, in its various branches, the spirit of brotherly love ;-to open and maintain, by correspondence and otherwise, fraternal intercourse between all parts of the Christian world ;-and, by the press, and by such scriptural means as, in the progress of this alliance, may be deemed expedient, to resist not only the efforts of Popery, but every form of Antichristian superstition and infidelity, and to promote our common Protestant faith in our own and other countries."
The next refers to an important practical object, in which, surely, all Christians may cordially concur.
“XIV. That, in the judgment of this Conference, one of the most important objects which the contemplated alliance ought to have in view, is the promotion of sound views on the subject of the sanctity of the Lord's-day, as well as the better practical observance of that day, and the removal of 'hindrances and obstacles to its observance."
These resolutions we commend to the special consideration of our readers. They set forth every thing to which the members of the Conference, and those who join them, are pledged; and they must be considered as the foundation of all future proceedings. And now we should have been content to leave the subject, only submitting the proceedings of the Conference at large, to the candid and unbiassed judgment of our readers, had it not come to our knowledge, that those clergymen who attended the Conference, and others who have since joined the Provisional Committee, have been assailed in no measured terms, as if, in so doing, they were false to their vows and engagements, open abettors of heresy and schism, and deserters of, or traitors to, the Church of which they are ministers.
These are grave charges, and we need not say from what quarter they proceed: and, if we considered only the manner and spirit in which they have been urged, we should dismiss them at once as unworthy of refutation. But they have led us to consider what is indeed the spirit of our Church in regard to those who differ from her, as manifested in her authenticated and acknowledged formularies. And, as this is a point which we conceive has been strangely and unaccountably overlooked in various quarters, we think it worth while to call attention to the facts of the case.
That the Reformers and Fathers of the Church of England maintained a cordial and brotherly intercourse with the Reformers on the Continent, is a fact that cannot be questioned. That this intercourse and brotherly feeling was confirmed by mutual offices of Christian kindness and hospitality to the Protestant exiles of other countries, when they sought refuge in this; and to those of our own country, when they, in turn, were compelled to seek it in foreign lands, --is well known, and forms an affecting and delightful page in the history of years gone by. That the foreign Protestant divines were regularly consulted by those of this country, in reference to our Articles and Liturgy, is equally well known; and volumes of correspondence which took place between them, are before the public, and easily accessible. “The Harmony of Confessions,” (which was first published in Latin in 1581, and an English translation of which appeared in 1586) and similar works which have been subsequently published, point out most clearly, that the Church of England was well understood to agree most fully in doctrine with the Protestant Churches on the Continent, and in Scotland. Thomas Rogers, in his very valuable book entitled, “ The Faith, Doctrine, and Religion, professed and protected in the Realm of England, and Dominions of the same," takes the same ground. His title-page announces, that the thirty-nine Articles are "analysed into propositions, and the propositions proved to be agreeable both to the written word of God, and to the extant confessions of all the neighbour churches christianly reformed.” And, in the dedication of the second edition of his book to Archbishop Bancroft, by his “Grace's poore Chaplains," (dated the 11th of March, Ann. 1607), he says, "All men againe may see that we are still at unitie both among ourselves at home, and with the neighbour churches abroad in all matters of chiefest importance, and fundamental points of religion, though our adversaries, the papists, would faine beate the contrary into the common people's heads;" and just at the conclusion he speaks again of the doctrine of our Articles, as“ correspondent to the confessions of all reformed churches in christendom.” In the body of the work, under every proposition, will be found direct references to these confessions : thus establishing, not only the fact of such agreement, but that it was a fact on which the Church of England rested, and in