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TO THE SPIRITUAL CHURCH OF CHRIST, GREETING !
A pamphlet was put into my hands a few days since, entitled, the Twenty-sixth Annual Report of the Religious Tract Society, 1825." Prefixed to the titlepage was the following advertisement, In consequence of several enquiries having been made to ascertain whether the Religious Tract Society is connected with the Gospel Tract Society, the committee of the former deem it necessary to state distinctly to the public, that there is no connexion whatever between the two institutions." And this notification bears the signature of Legh Richmond, Joseph Hughes, and C. Scholl, secretaries.
On the perusal of this paper, it immediately struck my mind that some more latent principle than the ostensible one assigned had given birth to this marked production: and from the singularity of the measure, I felt impelled not to take for granted a reason, which, had there been no other, would not have required such a mode of publicity; but to look further than the mere surface for the discovery of the real cause. And the result of my investigation hath been, from a comparative statement of the two societies with each other, that they are not only void of all connexions whatever, but in all their bearings, tendencies, and designs they are wholly dissimilar: they are utterly unlike in feature, in their origin, progress, pursuits, and their proposed issue and termination; and though in name and title there are apparently but a few shades of distinction between them, yet, in reality, there is not an atom of congeniality in their principles: nay, more than these, from their very stamina being formed in characters diametrically opposed to each other, they are naturally so unaccommodating, that, like the iron. and the clay
which the eastern monarch saw in vision, it is impossible they should ever coalesce, but necessarily act repulsive to one another, according to that well-known axiom in common philosophy, namely, ' where the sphere of attraction ceaseth, that of repulsion begins."
As the committee of the Religious Tract Society: have deemed it necessary to state distinctly to the public that there is no connexion whatever between the two institutions; they can have no just cause of complaint, if the committee of the Gospel Tract Society, modestly following their steps in this particular, endeavour to state as distinctly to the church (for it is the spiritual regenerated church of Christ, and that alone, with whom they have to do) the real cause of disunion, and wherefore it is, that there is indeed, and must everlastingly continue, no connexion whatever between the two institutions." And the relationship in which I stand to the Gospel Tract Society, both as the founder in the original formation of it, and as the final editor of the several publications which have issued from it to the church, it becomes my province to bear the brunt of reproach if justly due; and no less to contend against contumely if unmerited; and on both accounts, the service is rendered peculiarly mine. Indeed, under the view of the high trust reposed in me, and the solemn responsibility annexed to that trust, such considerations imperatively demand that I ought not to remain silent upon the occasion. I venture, therefore, unsolicited to assume this task. I volunteer to speak in the name of the committee in their defence; and I very humbly and affectionately address the spiritual church of Christ on this ground, for in such transactions between men they are the only fit jurors of spiritual things, that they may form right judgment. A few of the more luminous points which discriminate the two societies will be sufficient, when brought forth in a tangible shape, to shew with whom the sacred scriptures of God decide
in favour; and, of consequence, with whom should be the cause of regret, that 'there is no connexion whatever between the two institutions.'
In point of precedency, the first claim of investigation concerning the party with whom "the truth as it is in Jesus" is, will be the Religious Tract Society. And their design and plan of operation is fully developed in the title-page of this very report: they say, in the motto of their title-page, Religious tracts should consist of pure truth: by pure truth (say they) when not expressed in the words of scripture, the committee refer to those evangelical principles of the reformation, in which Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer were agreed. On this large portion (say they) of common ground, which the churchman, the dissenter, and the foreigner jointly occupy, they conceive that christian union may be established and strengthened; christian affection excited and cherished; and christian zeal concentrated and rendered proportionably effective.'
Such is the statement of the committee of the Religious Tract Society in their own words, and by which they profess to be guided in the formation or selection of their own tracts. In the name of the committee of the Gospel Tract Society, I beg to observe upon it, that, excepting the first line which is an unquestionable postulation of the necessity of pure truth, there is nothing by which this statement of their's can be made a standard to ascertain pure truth by. Holy scripture is the only unerring criterion: they say, indeed, that by pure truth when not expressed in the words of scripture, the committee refer to those evangelical principles of the reformation, in which Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer were agreed.' But, wherefore refer to men of like passions with ourselves, when we have the word of God to go by ? Is not this word at hand upon every occasion? And is not the command of inspiration to this express purpose, "that we may know the things
which are freely given to us of God; and not to speak in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth, comparing spiritual things with spiritual?" 1 Cor. ii. 12, 13. But to admit the statement in all its force; let us suppose those men of old were agreed in those important truths the committee refer to the next enquiry is, what were those evangelical principles of the reformation, in which Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer agreed? Were they not the glorious doctrines of the gospel of the ever blessed God? Were they not the grand discriminating doctrines "of the faith once delivered unto the saints?" Were they not of the Unity of the divine essence in a Trinity of Persons? Were they not of the election of grace; the everlasting love of God the Father to his church which he chose in Christ; the inherent, essential, and underived Godhead of the Son; the redemption of his church from the Adam-fall transgression, solely by himself in his own blood and righteousness; the Person, Godhead, and divine operations of the Holy Ghost on the church and people; the indispensable necessity of regeneration for an entrance into the kingdom; the true conversion of the heart to God; the final perseverance of the saints; and their unchangeable safety in Christ? Were not these the leading doctrines of the gospel, which our reformers embraced with ardour, and braved death in all its terrifying forms rather than relinquish? And are these the evangelical principles of Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer to which the committee of the Religious Tract Society refer? Is it on those standards of eternal truth they form the models of their tracts, and suffer no departure from them in any of their publications sent forth into the world? Can the committee - can Messrs. Legh Richmond, Joseph Hughes, and C. Scholl, who have here given in their names, that when the pure truth they publish, or are supposed to publish in the religious tracts of their So
ciety, are not expressed in the words of scripture, they are expressed in the language of those evangelical principles of the reformation, in which Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer were agreed? Can they, do they, appeal to the great Searcher of hearts that these things are so? that their own personal creed, and the sum and substance of the tracts they issue, through the medium of this Religious Tract Society to others, are in perfect conformity to the faith and lives of those illustrious reformers? If so, wherefore this renunciation of any connexion whatever with the Gospel Tract Society? when it is notorious, that all the publications which have emanated from this humble and despised Society are formed, or attempted to be formed, on the same plan as at the reformation.
But we must not stop here. The committee of the Religious Tract Society go on to observe, that on this large portion (as they term it) of common ground, which the churchman, the dissenter, and the foreigner jointly occupy; they conceive that christian union may be established and strengthened; christian affection excited and cherished; and christian zeal concentrated
and rendered proportionably effective.' What large portion of common ground this is on which persons so diversified by character may meet and harmonize, I am at a loss to know. If, by the phrase is meant, the ground on which Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer stood, when agreeing as is here stated in the doctrines of the reformation; and these men were faithful to God and to souls; the matter becomes inexplicable, and staggers credibility, to suppose that one and the same creed can suit all! How the churchman, who believes in and subscribes to the articles of the church of England; the dissenter, who from the denial of them takes his very name of dissenter; and the foreigner, whose tenets for the most part differ from both-how these characters shall cordially meet for religious purposes on this