Fayetteville, Onondaga Co., New York, Thursday, Feb. 10, 1842 – No.21.
For the Methodist Reformer.
Albany, Feb. 1, 1842
Dear Brother Bailey: - If the number of a man’s opponent prove he has the wrong side of the question, I shall be convicted, of course, as there are now ‘three upon one’, viz. Bro. Scott, Plumb, and yourself.
I should, perhaps, be ungenerous to say any thing upon Br. Scott’s communication, as he has told us he ‘shall not, probably, reply to any remarks that may be offered upon’ his ‘article,’ I will therefore make a few observations on your reply to my letter in the same paper.
Speaking of the ‘Reformed Methodists’ refusing to ‘submit to that wicked usurpation of the saints, Methodist Episcopacy,’ you say, ‘If our fathers had taken counsel of Br. Storr’s theory of Christian Union, (not of his practice in Methodist matters,) they would have remained in the Old Church unto this day.’
I am really sorry, brother, to find I am so unintelligible in many remarks. I certainly have not intended to say anything from which such an inference could be drawn. Was it not the fact, that that ‘wicked usurpation – Methodist Episcopacy’ was embodied in a Discipline of Human Invention, and enforced by human agency, disregarding the Bible, that caused your ‘fathers’ to leave the ‘Old Church?’ So it appears to me. But if you and I have a right to form creeds, and rules of Church Government, and make conformity to them a test, then the ‘Old Church’ has the same right, and we have no more right to call their arrangements a wicked usurpation, than they have to call ours so. The truth is, I believe all arrangements of human invention, as a test of fellowship or membership among the children of God, are a ‘wicked usurpation,’ and therefore your ‘fathers’ were bound to come out of the ‘Old Church,’ and this is the reason why I can ‘not conform to the views and practices of the majority of the Christians in Albany;’ – they insist upon my subscribing to human creeds, and make that a test, without which they will allow me to walk with them. Let them answer for their own sin. I am willing to walk with them, but they will not let me; and why? because they require me to do that which I Believe would be a sin.
I think, brother, you do not ‘understand’ me, if you think I ‘hold that no possible circumstances can justify real Christians from separating’ from professed Christians, so far from it, I think they ought always to separate from those assemblies that make man-made creeds and disciplines, a test of brotherhood, or that allow practices condemned by the Bible; but when separated, you may ‘understand’ me to say, they have no right, themselves, to set up a human test: let them take the Bible, as it is, and make that alone the standard of appeal: then let them walk together in love, ‘forbearing one another, forgiving one another,’ &c.
You say, you ‘grant a church have no right to adopt unscriptural plans’ – ‘but,’ you ask, ‘who shall determine what the scriptural plan is?’ I would ask, in my turn, is the Bible so indefinite as to make such confusion and ‘anarchy’ as you suppose would be the result, if every man was left to interpret for himself? Is it so dark and uncertain that our Saviour’s prayer can never be answered, that his disciples should should all ‘be one even as we are one?’ Does not the insinuation, that if we were all to live in the same church, and have the Bible for our Creed and Discipline, we should have ‘organized division, and unionized disunion,’ represent the Saviour as making a prayer that he knew could not be answered? And does it not give infidelity cause to triumph and say, your Revelation is useless; for, you Christians cannot agree among yourselves enough, as to its meaning, to live together in the same church?
That there are no difficulties in the way, in taking the Bible alone, I never pretended; but, I do say, there are no more, not as many, as when men undertake to make human creeds and man-made disciplines their rule. In looking over the history of the M. E. Church, for years past, can you doubt this statement? Do you believe, if they had had nothing but the Bible, they would have had more disunion? What discord and strife about even the meaning of their man-made rules, and their application.
If Br. Scott will not think me unkind in taking a “bird’s eye view” of ‘remarks’ he will ‘not, probably, reply to,’ I will just notice what I suppose is the strongest point in his article. He pleads for man-made creeds to keep out of his church such as would not be ‘likely to agree on what the Bible teaches.’ He then says, ‘A man might present himself, to join the church, who denies the doctrine of native depravity, the divinity and atonement of Christ, together with all future punishment. He may promise to take the Bible for the rule of his faith and practice. How can I reject him on Br. Storrs’ ground? Will he say, that he would not receive him unless he had evidence that Christ had received him? I ask him, then, if it would not be possible for him and his church,’ [I have no church,] ‘to have an evidence that Christ had received him when He had not? Surely they will not profess infallibility. The man may live decently, and we have no right to judge his heart.’
I have little fear that a person, holding the sentiments Br. Scott speak of, will ever offer himself to a church that is spiritual. If he should, however, Br. Scott would find him out by his ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a human creed; and the poorest hypocrite could say ‘yes’ to that. I would look for the Spirit and mind of Christ. I might be deceived, and so were the Apostles, sometimes, for a while; see the case of Simon the sorcerer, Ananias and Sapphira, &c. But, says Br. Scott, ‘He may promise to take the Bible for the rule of his faith and practice.’ Then, try him, brother, and see if he can walk by that rule; and you say, yourself, ‘We have no right to judge his heart.’ If he can walk by the Bible, and you ‘have no right to judge his heart,’ what right have you to sit in judgement on him, to keep him from the ordinances of the Church of God? – to his own master he standeth or falleth.
In creed-making churches, how many men are received because they are orthodox, though they never give living evidence that they are striving ‘to walk even’ as Christ ‘walked.’ But they retain their standing in the church so long as they openly assent to the creed, though, perhaps, in their hearts, if they do not deny all the points Br. Scott has named, they may strongly think, secretly, of course, that all men will be finally restored from ‘future punishments,’ or some other equally false and dangerous error, but are not likely to be reclaimed from it, because, their standing in the church depends upon the darkness they can throw around them on the subject. Let them know that their tempers and lives are the fruit by which we are to determine their real characters, and I fancy we should have fewer impositions upon the church than we now have; because, it is easier for men to profess faith, than it is to govern their tempers and regulate their lives, or live holy.
But, Br. Bailey, hitherto you and I met, on the subject of human creeds, rather in skirmishes, I propose, if it please you, to commence a regular battle against them, in my next communication.
I shall attempt to make it appear –
I. That, Humans Creeds lack Authority in their Origin.
II. That, they are calculated to deceive and bewilder.
III. That, their requirements are unreasonable.
IV. That, they rend the true Church, and enslave the free-born children of God.
V. That, they beget hatred instead of love, even among those who were friends before they professed religion.
VI. That, they prevent the spread of the Gospel – rob God and his poor.
I hope, on all these points, to state what I conceive is truth, in love.
Yours, as ever,
in the bonds of the Gospel.