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respecting those particulars in which your brethren think you are much to blame.
But, before we point out those particulars, we wish you to reflect seriously upon the nature of your past connection with us, as preparatory to an inquiry into the duties of that relation. We are, you know, a voluntary society: you were not born in communion with us, nor forced into it by others; but it was entirely your own act and deed, when, by mutual consent, you became a fellow member with us. At the same time we profess to be a religious society, formed, according to the best of our judgment, upon the model of the primitive churches, as described in the new testament. We are associated for spiritual purposes, in obedience to the laws of Christ, with a view to the glory of our divine Lord, and to our own spiritual benefit. We are professedly separate from the world; united in hearty love to each other; and have solemnly covenanted to walk together in the profession of all gospel doctrines, in an attendance on all gospel ordinances, and in the practice and discharge of all relative duties; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. To this covenant you assented, by lifting up your hand towards heaven, and by voluntary subscribing your name.
We consider mutual love as the very bond and essence of all church fellowship. We conceive the ordinance of the Lord's supper as designed, not only to commemorate the dying love of Christ, but also to cement our love to each other. As, we suppose, it would be a profanation of that ordinance to approach the table without an habitual sense of the greatness of Christ's love, and a correspondent attachment to him; so we consider it as very sinful to attend together on that sacred institution, without sincere and special love to each other. We conceive that, when we surround the table of the Lord, our actions, which should speak louder than words, declare, in the most solemn manner, we are all brethren, children of the same Father, who have a peculiar affection for each other, and have bound ourselves to seek each other's welfare. Yea, we are fellow members of one body, of which Christ is the head; and if one member be injured, all the rest suffer with it. If, therefore, any schism be made in such a body; if a spirit of disaffection be indulged, and especially if it be openly discovered, and carried to such an height that the world around may perceive an evident antipathy has taken place; Christ is hereby dishonoured; and it were far better to have no gathered church at all, than one whose members were allowed to act in evident contradiction to the most solemn profession of unity that can be made.
Moreover, we account it one special privilege enjoyed by congregational churches, that every church has a right to chuse their own pastor, as well as other officers and members. In that case, , indeed, as in all others, the minority must submit to the majority, or no voluntary society can long subsist. If the person chosen by the general voice is so disagreeable to any individuals, that they cannot acquiesce in the choice, they must apply for a dismission, and peaceably remove their communion to another society. But when our present pastor was chosen, no apparent opposition was made to the choice by any individual; and we had had the trial of his ministry for ten years before his election to that office. You appeared at the time to unite in our unanimous choice: nor do we know of any alteration of his sentiments that has taken place since that time. He then avowed expressly his opinion on that single question, on which he had once thought differently, at his first beginning to preach: a question which you had then never heard debated, nor did you know any thing of it for a considerable time afterwards; nor have we any room to believe you have impartially examined it to this day, though you have been disposed to make a great handle of his altering his ideas concerning it. We cannot pretend to trace back your
disaffection to its first rise: but we sincerely wish you would endeavour to do so yourself. And though some things we shall mention are conjectural, and not what we can undertake to prove; yet, as we shall only mean by them to assist your own conscience in the work of self-examination, and do
not assign them as the ground of our church censure, we hope you will keep in mind this distinction.
We have now ground to believe that your prejudice began long before it was first suspected by the minister, or the generality of the people. And as we are sure that our minister has ever been far from opposing or from omitting the peculiar doctrines of grace, we are greatly of opinion that it was owing, not to his leaving out certain truths to which you profess an attachment, but to his bringing in other truths of importance, which you did not wish to be insisted upon.
When we consider how little you have attended our private meetings for prayer and religious conversation, for several years back, with certain other circumstances, we cannot but fear that a worldly spirit has increased upon you; and that you
have wanted more unguarded comfort to be administered, and less duty to be insisted upon; and, therefore, we fear that you have indulged a growing dislike to our minister, and to his brethren, because they have so much exposed worldly-mindedness, and other sins incident to professors, and have insisted so much upon the obligations of believers to universal holiness.
For a time this prejudice was indulged more secretly, because you knew not how to justify it, Till a few years ago, when a neighbouring minister published a treatise on the duty of sinners respecting faith in Christ, you found that he and your own minister, with some others, had once thought differently on that subject; and that they now considered the duty of the unconverted as extending farther than they once conceived. We can scarcely doubt that it was on this occasion that you wrote your Lamentation, in which
you throw out many slanderous charges against them, as if they had renounced the great doctrines of grace, which
we, and their other hearers, can testify that they maintain as strenuously as ever.
A more favourable opportunity offering, you published these accusations, which all the country understood as designed against the ministers of our association, and which were justly and almost universally considered as glaring falsehoods, printed by a member of the church in College Lane.
On this head our pastor long ago expostulated with you by letter; and afterwards readily agreed to the proposal you made, by one of our deacons, to meet you, and converse in a free and friendly manner upon this subject, before some other minister of your own chusing; but from that proposal you presently flew back. It was consequently wholly your own fault, if at that time things were only patched up, as you lately asserted. However, our minister then wrote you word, that he was 50 far satisfied with having told you his mind on the subject in his first letter, as to be willing to let the affair drop, so long as you should continue peaceable and friendly in future.
You had since then, for above twelve months