It is a common proverb, and one very generally acted upon to-day, that, "In union there is strength." Both the Church and the world accept the maxim as correct; hence we find men binding themselves together in various unions, both social and religious.
From some standpoints the idea certainly is correct. How could labor resist the encroachments of capital, or capital protect its interests, without their respective unions? How else could Free Masonry and similar institutions have gained present power and influence? How could kingdoms maintain their authority and dominion? How could the churches, both Papal and Protestant, have gained or retained their mighty power, influence and authority, had they not each fortified themselves by a union of hands?
Looking out upon these great civil, social, and religious organizations, all must acknowledge that through their respective unions great strength has been secured. And the strength of each great party has helped to keep the other at bay. In other words, one uplifted arm of flesh has served to protect itself against another arm of flesh, as well as to exchange blows in the struggle for existence. And so the world to-day which has been banding its forces for centuries, and with increased energy during the last century, stands organized in companies of millions on opposite sides of almost every question of general interest.
And what does it mean? Where shall it end? When each great band having united its forces, feeling sure that in its union there would be strength, now turns to look upon the equivalent strength of its opponent, the outlook is truly appalling from every standpoint, and men begin to fear if after all, these unions have given them sufficient strength to withstand the approaching conflict, now so manifest to every reasoning mind.
While we have remarked the expressions and indications of fearful apprehension on the part of the great civil organizations, we also note the same indications on the part of prominent exponents of the great religious systems. While each secretly trembles for its own safety, yet outwardly boasts of its security, they note and delight to point out the elements of disintegration at work in each other.
"With Dr. McCosh, of Princeton, we believe, originated the idea of a Pan-Presbyterian Council. The Church of England people went through the form of holding a Pan-Angelical Convocation some few years ago in London. The Methodists at once followed the example set them by their Episcopalian friends, and attempted to gather together the representatives of Methodism from every land where 'the gospel,' as expounded by Wesley and his followers, had been preached, into a Pan-Methodist Conference. This Pan-Methodist Council was to be a wonderful affair; Methodism was a young, growing and intensely active religious organization; it reckoned its followers by the tens of thousands; it had made serious inroads, both in England and the United States, upon the older and established forms of Protestantism; hence, much was expected from the Pan-Methodist Conference that assembled in London a few years since. But it was the old story of Protestantism re-told. Instead of union and harmony prevailing in the councils of the Methodist body, there was a singular revelation of the lack of both those qualities so essential to the welfare and stability of the organization. There was no authoritive declaration on those important subjects of doctrine and polity which had split Methodism into different and contending sects. In a word, the Pan-Methodist Conference, like the Pan-Anglican Convocations, was a signal failure. It did not impress anyone, it may be questioned if it did Methodists themselves, with the notion that the Wesleyan system was an improvement upon those forms of Protestant belief which it had supplanted in many quarters.
"The idea of a Pan-Presbyterian Council was next taken up at the instigation of the President of Princeton, the able and learned Dr. McCosh. No sooner was the proposition put forward of holding a Pan-Presbyterian meeting, than it was hailed with a "remarkable unanimity and with almost universal interest and joy" by the Calvanistic Churches. What a pleasing spectacle it would be to see the divided followers of Calvin and Knox coming together and holding mutual intercourse and counsel upon their common standards of faith! Outsiders might be somewhat skeptical as to the possibility of a Pan-Presbyterian Council, but a supreme effort should be made, through the leaders of that body, to convince the world of the 'real and effective oneness' of Presbyterians throughout the world.
"Accordingly a call was issued. And the first Pan-Presbyterian meeting was held in Edinburgh in July, 1877; a second in Philadelphia, September, 1880; and the third, and quite likely the last, was opened in the city of Belfast, Ireland, on the 2nd of July past. We have been reading lately some very unfavorable criticisms of this Belfast Pan-Presbyterian Council made by Presbyterians themselves. A paper was read before the United Presbyterian Ministerial Association of Philadelphia on the Belfast meeting by the Rev. Mr. Dales, from which we make some extracts.
"'In looking, however, at the late meeting as we may now after the pleasurable excitements and varied entertaining, social and other interesting things connected with it are over, some matters may be noted which may be considered as grounds of apprehension in regard to it and the whole system of Councils as this one and its predecessors generally have been conductedand apprehension as to whether any real and lasting good may be expected to flow from themand apprehension also as to the desirableness, or possibly even the propriety, of their being continued.
"'The freedom and boldness with which, as at the meeting in Philadelphia and possibly in Belfast, speculative views at least were advanced to inspiration, the claims or pretensions of science, ritualism and other topics, and which could not be antagonized or properly controverted at the time or in the place, lest there might be developed some unseemly scene of difference, and, what the outside world might say, of strife among brethren of the same name. Thus more or less of serious error might go uncorrected and unrebuked.'
"Just so. There are most serious grounds of apprehension in the Presbyterian case, as well as in the Anglican and Methodist instances, of any "real and lasting good" likely to flow from such meetings. The elements are too discordant to be harmonized. And this critic goes on to say that 'there has been an unsatisfactory, and perhaps ominous, indefiniteness and uncertainty in those councils from the beginning.'"
From all this we gather that Presbyterians themselves do not believe in the utility or advantages to be derived from the holding of Pan-Presbyterian Councils; that the experiment is a dismal failure; and this for the simple reason: that "unless the Lord build the house, the labor of the builders is in vain." The Protestant fabric the Heavenly Builder certainly did not contemplate when he laid the foundations of the Christian Church."
Thus the "Mother Church" points out to her wayward daughters the error of their course in following the principle for which they parted company with her, viz.: the right of private judgment in the interpretation of the Scriptures.
And in their confusion they are beginning to heed her counsel, and by degrees are looking for the old pathsnot the old paths marked by the steppings of Jesus and the Apostles, but for the paths of the great apostate church of Rome.
As evidence of this, mark the spirit of intolerance which increasingly prevails throughout Protestantism: the authority with which they attempt now to silence private judgment, for which right they once contended; the emphasis with which they command their people to "stop thinking and go to work;" the effort to bind the people by fear, and to lead them to render undue reverence to men of like passions and frailties, who have assumed the right to lord it over God's heritage; and the indulgence they offer to men of the world who will advance their financial interests. Like Catholicism, they point to their age, their established clergy, trained and educated for their service, and their dignified presumption, as evidence of their divine authority.
In keeping with this growing disposition to admire and imitate the "Mother Church," was the proposition entertained in the "Protestant Episcopal Congress" recently held in Detroit, Mich., to establish Auricular Confession.
"It must have been a little startling to the majority of Protestants hereabouts, to discover the almost unanimity with which the clergy of the Episcopal Church Congress favored Auricular Confession. Indeed, almost the only arguments urged against it were those of expediency and practicability. Its philosophical [R696 : page 1] basis was heartily approved, and its scriptural authority conceded. The Latin clergy themselves could hardly have spoken more eloquently of the benefits of the practice than did the reverend gentlemen who appeared as its advocates in the Episcopal Congress."
These and similar indications, manifest to every thoughtful mind, show the tendency of human schemes. Men were beginning to think they had built the tower of Babylon high enough to reach unto heaven, but, lo! the confusion of tongues! the discord among the builders! they cannot understand each other, and the various sections of the vast condemned structure are disintegrating, settling, falling. As an evidence that this is beginning to be realized, we quote the following from the Chicago Express which is part of an article written by Bishop Foster, of the Methodist Church. While traveling in Europe, he took occasion to speak of those forms of worship there which are supported by law, and the acts that led to such a state of things. He says:
"That there is but little real, vital, personal religion in these lands, is among the most patent facts....I know of nothing more sad than the religious condition of Europe, and the saddest part of it is, that it is chargeable to the Church itself, and therefore the more hopeless. If something is not speedily done, the so-called Christian Church will drive Christianity from these ancient lands, if not from the whole world."
"Did Constantine make the Roman mind Christian by abolishing paganism, and proclaiming the religion of the cross in its stead? and did creating the constituted Roman nation into a church, make the nation a Christian church? or did he not rather paganize Christianity?"
"By a false theory, the Church has been taken from the people, and converted into a priestly and political machine, and has ceased to be a Church of Christ, as much as the papal machine at Rome. ...This condition of things is the sad inheritance of the union of Church and State."
"The Church in America has also very largely become a political machine, and has been used as a means of raising a campaign fund to retain and maintain the party in power, and return men to office, who have betrayed the people, and [R696 : page 2] sold them to the giant corporations of the land....How long, we would ask of Bishop Foster, does he imagine it will be before the Church in America, like the Church of Europe, will be forced to seek an alliance with the State in order to sustain itself, because of the indifference of the people, who perceive its iniquitous practices, and scoff at its pretended Christianity? Already a union of the two is a thing openly spoken of as desirable.
"We have before us at this moment a religious journal, the Sabbath Sentinel, which in its leading editorial warns the Church against the tendency. The rich men within the Church, who have taken shelter there against public condemnation of their crimes of extortion, are ready at any time for the unionmore than ready. They would do with their taxes to the Church as they have done with their taxes to the State: frame the laws in such a way that the poor shall be forced to pay for them. Every one of the causes which produced the union of Church and State in Europe, exists either in full bloom or in embryo in this country; and here, as there, 'if something is not speedily done, the so-called Christian Church will drive Christianity from the land.' Again we say, with the Bishop, 'Let the Church of God come out from the world; let it be made of followers and disciples of Christ; let it represent righteousness and truth; let it cut loose from false and entangling alliances; let its priests be clothed with salvation, and its citizens be a holy communion; let it demonstrate its divine lineage,let this be the watch-cry of Zion, and then it will be a power in the earth, and will silence the taunt of its enemies.'"
What then shall we conclude? Is there to be no union among Christiansshall brother forever stand divided against brother? Shall truth forever be so vaguely comprehended that God's children may not have full confidence in it? Is there no common bond of union?
Yes, assuredly there is a common bond of unionthe spirit of truth promisedwhich is able, through the exercise of our free unbiased judgment in the study of God's word, to lead us into all truth, in its due season. And all thus led are united to each other and to Christ, the great invisible head of the church. And in that union there is strength, which no opposing forces can withstand, and before which all must fall.
Therefore, you who thus stand united to Christ, though you may stand alone among men, be of good cheer, contend nobly for the faith once delivered to the saints, though alone you contend against a host. Greater is he that is for us than all they that be against us. Babylon's massive walls shall crumble into dust, but the mountain (kingdom) of the Lord's house shall be established. Isa. 2:2.
As an example of a strong church system or union, Papacy is head and shoulders above all others. Her principle of teaching the infallibility of decrees of Popes and Bishops, and the utter ignorance of truth and subservience in all others, is the tried and most approved method of having union in error. Because of this, Papacy will probably survive the shock of the coming storm longer than any other section of Babylon. For the same reason limited monarchies will probably fall sooner than absolute monarchies in the same conflict between truth and error. Yet truth is mighty and shall prevail.