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1831.] Reasons for not joining the Naval and Military Bible Society. 531
Mosheim) to Biekius's "Triplex In-
REASONS FOR NOT JOINING THE NAVAL
For the Christian Observer. BECAUSE this hitherto excellent Society, while propounding a religious test of membership, and thus forming itself into an institution of spiritual brotherhood, has not endeavoured, as on its own principles it ought to have done, to cast from its pale those abominations of life and doctrine which are incompatible with holy communion; but admits to its membership, to its counsels, to its committees, and to all its offices, idolaters, Neologians, antinomians, self-justiciaries, swearers, drunkards, duellists, adulterers, and innumerable other sinners and heretics not to be countenanced by any faithful member of Jesus Christ.-Because, in the union of this Society, a true believer may be called upon to be present while one of the characters aforesaid offers up unscriptural or
polluted prayers, to the great displeasure of Almighty God, and the serious distress of mind of all who regard his honour and glory.-Because, by excluding only one class of heretics, the Society gives a virtual sanction to all others: thus misleading the ignorant; emboldening the obstinate and impenitent in their evil courses; and leading the wicked to hope, that, because they are not Socinians, they are not far from the kingdom of God.-Because no plan is adopted for carrying into effect even the Society's primary regulation, insufficient as that regulation is: so that a Socinian may, if he sees fit, obtain membership by paying a guinea, and gain injurious influence in the Society; while others, who are sound in the faith and zealous in every good work, but who object to forms and tests in words of man's devising, making Scripture itself their only appeal, will be excluded. Because the Society, being formed neither upon the principles of an open institution, like the Bible Society (in which, there being no test, there is no compromise or necessary spiritual or ecclesiastical union); nor of an exclusive institution, like the Christian Knowledge Society (in which the members exercise brotherly scrutiny into each other's life and doctrines); but upon a principle involving a test, while that test is neither sufficient in extent to be a security from damnable heresies, nor capable of being acted upon even so far as it professes to extend; is fallacious, dangerous, and empirical; calculated neither to unite together the faithful, nor to promote the important objects for which the society was founded.-Lastly, because a rule so restricted, and in practice so unnecessary, may tend alarmingly to promote the Socinian heresy, by adding to the importance of a sect hitherto of little note; exciting them to renewed efforts to inculcate their doctrines; and causing both the proscribed parties and others to view the measure as a hasty ebullition of ill-judged irritating zeal,
rather than the result of the meekness of wisdom, the patience of hope, and an unfeigned desire to bring wanderers to the fold of Christ.
Such are the views of a humble Member of many Societies, some with tests and some without tests, but of none with a half-test. Can any member of the Naval and Military Bible Society, an institution too valuable to be subjected to fanciful experiments, give a manly and Christian reply to the preceding objections? If admitting persons into a Bible Society is bidding them "God speed," how does the Naval and Military Bible Society dare to bid "God speed" to idolaters, and all the other classes above mentioned? If it is not bidding them "God speed," then there was no need of the late regulation.
The foregoing objections proceed on the principles expressed in the Report of the Society; in which it is stated, that the object of the rule adopted at the last meeting was to shew that its members are an association of Christians; and that not merely in the lax statistical use of that term, which includes sects of every name, and sinners of every dye, but in its exclusive spiritual sense, as comprising only persons
held together"--so runs the Report -"by one common bond of union and acting in faith upon the eternal Son of God." What common bond of union and acting in faith can Mr. Melvill, the mover of the Society's new resolution, and Lieutenant Rhind, the seconder, find with the horrible heretics, the ungodly livers, and the profane scoffers, to whom their arms are now open in the Society? Hitherto nothing of this spiritual communion was professed, and therefore the same objections did not apply. So far from the Society being now placed, as the Report says, a firm and scriptural basis," it rests on no basis at all; it literally falls between two stools. Is it a firm and scriptural basis, for a society to admit swearers, drunkards, antinomians, and idolaters, to a bond of religious union and acts of faith?
Let Lieutenant Rhind or Mr. Melvill, as in the sight of God, reply to this serious inquiry.
A MEMBER OF VARIOUS SOCIETIES.
LAWFULNESS OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE BIBLE SOCIETY.
To the Editor of the Christian Observer. For more than a quarter of a century I have derived pleasure, information, and I humbly hope profit, from the monthly perusal of your pages, without once entertaining the desire of appearing in them as a contributor. But you have intimated an intention of taking up the question of the constitution of the British and Foreign Bible Society; and most cordially do I, in common with many of your readers, rejoice in this determination, under a conviction that the duty has become necessary, and that its fulfilment will be highly advantageous. Whether your intimation be intended to invite the expression of opinion by your correspondents, I know not; but as it is a subject on which I feel deeply, and have thought much, allow me to assume and accept the invitation.
On this, as on every other controverted question in the present day, numerous publications have appeared; no fewer than sixteen being at this moment on my table; five taking the negative, and eleven the affirmative side of the argument: the former labouring to convince me that the Bible Society is virtually a church; and the latter telling me, what I knew very well before, that the Bible Society is the Bible Society, and nothing else. Now, though I feel much obliged to those who have taken all this trouble, and admire the manner in which some of them have handled the argument, I cannot but think that the whole question is very simple; and that the more steadily we keep in view first principles, the sooner we shall come to a right understanding.
The primary point to decide evidently is, What is the Bible Society? And as evidently the answer is found in the first law of the Society, which expressly states, "The sole object shall be to encourage a wider circulation of the Holy Scriptures, without note or comment." All persons, whether friends or enemies to the Society, have for the last twentyseven years accepted this definition; nor do I suppose that the Provisional Committee in Sackville Street have yet agreed on a different reading to the received version of this fundamental law. But they have agreed -if I rightly understand their circular to the virtual abrogation of that law; for the adoption of what they call their "principle," would, in the deliberate judgment of nineteen-twentieths of the members of the Bible Society, discourage a wider circulation of the Holy Scriptures, and attach a note or comment -I allow, in this case a true comment, but still a comment-to every copy distributed.
The next inquiry is, Who are the members of the Bible Society? Again I refer to the original laws of the institution, and find the plain and intelligible answer, Each subscriber of one guinea annually shall be a member;"" and each subscriber of ten guineas at one time shall be a member for life." There is, assuredly, no ambiguity here: every human being is at liberty to subscribe, and every subscriber of the specified amount is a member. "And why not?" is the natural question of every man who now hears, for the first time, a doubt expressed as to the propriety of such a law. "Because," say our friends in Sackville Street, we have discovered that it is contrary to Scripture." And this, Mr. Editor, brings me to the point at issue, on which I would submit a few plain practical considerations to your numerous readers.
In every thing relating to moral duty, the Divine will is clearly and
explicitly revealed in Scripture. We are not left to reason by construction, or from analogy, as to what we are to do, and what we are to leave undone. The commandments of God are express and distinct, and are intelligible to all his rational creatures. "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good: and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" Now, I have carefully referred to every text quoted by the writers and reported speakers on the SackvilleStreet side of the question, and cannot find a single one which justifies me in saying to any human being, Thou shalt not do good, neither shalt thou come in the way of getting good." If any of your readers entertain the slightest doubt of the misapplication of those passages by the writers and speakers to whom I refer, let me beg them to read the whole of the chapters in which they are respectively found. If this will not shew them how grievously Scripture has been wrested from its plain and obvious signification, nothing else will.
But it is said, "We would not refuse the subscription of any man, nor deny him the privilege of purchasing Bibles and Testaments on the lowest terms; we only refuse him membership." And to this specimen of special pleading has recently been added another: “ We do not wish that any test should be put individually to persons proposing to become members, or that any questions whatever should be asked of them." But the man who pays his guinea annually, or his ten guineas at one time, is a member, whether you call him so or not; and were the proposed "principle" to be adopted, and test and question to be kept out of sight, this scheme of purification would look very like an invitation to men to become guilty of hypocrisy. If there be any meaning whatever in the proposition, or in the circular which professes to unfold it, that
meaning must be resolved into the assertion of an abstract principle, which rests its only chance of practical application on the unbending honour and scrupulous integrity of the very persons proposed to be excluded. Besides, nothing can be more unfair than the system of taking men's money and giving them no voice in its disposal, either personally or in the election of a representative committee; and we are now called to introduce this system into voluntary charitable institutions at the very time when its injustice is causing it to be exploded every where else. The meaning of the Sackville-Street Committee, though they do not tell us so in their manifesto, is, I conclude, that, as membership constitutes eligibility to office, they wish to exclude every Socinian, or miscalled Unitarian, from the possibility of being elected an officer or member of the committee of any Bible Society. Now, if this be their object, they may safely disband their forces; for I have the pleasure of telling them, that this object was very nearly attained long ago: and attained it will be, not by, but in spite of, their interference, which has done more, within a few weeks, to nail Unitarians to the Bible Society, and to give notoriety and prominence to their heresy, than the laws or practice of the Society have effected in twenty-seven years: nay, the Committee of the Naval and Military Bible Society, with an experience of nearly twice this period, an experience of more than half a century, acknowledge, in their last Report, that they cannot affirm that any inconvenience or evil consequences have as yet occurred from the indiscriminate admission of members not holding the essential Divinity of the eternal Son of God." This, coming from the very persons who have adopted the Sackville-Street principle, is decisive as to the fact.
I repeat the assertion, that the exclusion of self-styled Unitarians from the agency of local Bible So
cieties-for never has one been officially connected with the parent institution-has been silently, but surely, proceeding for several years; and that simply by the force of public opinion, without any rule, test, or question, and without the necessity for any effort on the part of the orthodox members of those societies. In many instances Unitarians have excluded themselves, by withdrawing their subscriptions; and in others, when a vacancy has occurred, no one has proposed a Unitarian to fill it.
The total number of Bible Societies in Great Britain, under all the designations of Auxiliary or Branch Societies and Associations, exceeds 2,500. We may safely average the number of officers at four for each, giving a total of 10,000; and the average number of members of committees, including collectors, cannot be less than fifteen, which gives a total of 37,500. Now, of these numbers respectively, how many are professed Unitarians? I have taken much pains to obtain correct information, and fully believe it may be confidently asserted, first, that of the 10,000 officebearers there are but three-one of whom, indeed, denies that he is a Unitarian-and, secondly, that of the 37,500 members of committees there are but thirty-two. It is more difficult to ascertain the total number of subscribers to the societies, but we shall not, probably, exaggerate in taking forty as the average, making a total of 100,000, of whom I have every reason to believe not one hundred are Unitarians. I do not mean to intimate, that, if the principle of the Bible Society were wrong, the smallness of the number of Socinians who have availed themselves of it would make it right: no, if it be unscriptural, we must rather break up the Society than admit it, even though no one individual should ever act upon it: but to those whose alarms are rather derived from a supposed fact than from an abstract principle, the foregoing statement
will have just weight. It will be seen with how little reason such exaggerated notions have gone forth relative to the numbers of Socinians in the Society.
But," say the Sackville-Street Committee," We wish a declaration against Socinianism."-In this I heartily concur with them; for, blessed be God! I abjure Socinianism as much as any of these gentlemen; and one of my many reasons for loving the Bible Society, as it is, to my very heart, is, that I believe it to be the most powerful enemy of Socinianism on the face of the earth. But the declaration has been issued; and a far better one, too, than can be concocted by the Sackville-Street Committee, or any other; and of this full, explicit, and irrefragable declaration not fewer than 7,024,727 copies have been circulated already. The Bible is a Trinitarian Bible, and will do more, under the influences of the Holy Spirit, to cut up Socinianism, and every other heresy, root and branch, than all the testacts made or repealed from the days of Julian the Apostate to the present hour.
It is, I conceive, impossible that any reflecting mind should be astonished at the constant decrease of Socinian members of the Bible Society. That many benevolent individuals of this denomination, viewing the Society simply as a work of mercy, should have joined it at the outset, is only what might have been expected; but that they should cheerfully continue their support after witnessing the effects of its operations, would indeed have been extraordinary. I have watched these effects from the commencement of the institution; and neither personal observation in a tolerably large circle, nor the result of extensive and long-continued inquiry, has yet discovered to me one solitary individual who has imbibed Socinian views in consequence of a connexion with the Bible Society; while, on the other hand, I have the pleasure of knowing several persons, formerly
entertaining those opinions, to whom that connexion has been a blessing, by being made the instrument of opening to them a more excellent way," and leading them to the knowledge of Him whom to know is life eternal." There are such, Mr. Editor, among the circle of your own readers, who daily bless God that they can understand this reference; and perhaps I may hereafter trouble you with a few particulars in illustration of this interesting point.Now, as it is impossible but that these facts must be known to the immediate relatives and friends of the parties, the only subject of wonder would be an increase of Socinian members. I confess, that, with those views of the blessed Bible which, through the unmerited mercy of God in Christ Jesus, I am graciously enabled to cherish, a Socinian member of the Bible Society has always appeared to me one of the most inconsistent of mortals. But I am not answerable for his inconsistency: he comes to me, I do not go to him: the sacrifice is his, not mine. Certain I am that he will do good by circulating the Holy Scriptures, and equally certain I am that he will also be more in the way of receiving good than he was before: and till I can find in the Bible a prohibition infinitely stronger than the forced constructions and analogies hitherto adduced, I dare not refuse to any human being the privilege of distributing the words of eternal life, nor consent to the adoption of any measure by which the exercise of that privilege would be impeded.
To the twenty-one Reverend gentlemen, whose names are attached to the Sackville Street circular, I would respectfully submit the inquiry, Whether they should not enjoin their pew-openers never to admit a Socinian into their churches; since to unite with such a man in the sacred exercise of prayer and praise must surely be more opposed to their views, than admitting him to unite with them in distributing the