« Prev Prefatory note. Next »

Prefatory note.

The preceding treatise was too important to pass without a reply. Dr Hammond, engaged at the time in another controversy with Owen, respecting the orthodoxy of Grotius, appended to one of his pamphlets “A Reply to some Passages of the Reviewer,” (Owen), “in his late Book on Schism.” Giles Firmin, a Nonconformist divine and physician, much respected for his personal worth and attainments, published, in 1658, a work entitled, “Of Schism, Parochial Congregations, and Ordination by Imposition of Hands; wherein Dr Owen’s Discovery of the True Nature of Schism is briefly and friendly examined.” Dr Owen did not feel it necessary to offer any reply to these reviews of his work. Mr Daniel Cawdrey, however, a Presbyterian minister at Great Billing, in Northamptonshire, in a pamphlet entitled “Independency a Great Schism,” assailed both the principles and the character of Dr Owen in no very measured terms. Much would not have been lost to the world if Cawdrey also had been left without an answer; for he does not seem to have managed the discussion to any good purpose. Owen very conclusively repels the charge of inconsistency with which Cawdrey had reproached him, and urges some additional considerations in support of the general argument contained in his first treatise on schism. He earnestly disclaims the sentiment imputed to him, that he held no church except his own to be a true church of Christ, and closes in a strain of calm and dignified rebuke to the petty and offensive spirit in which his opponent had discussed his statements.

In the beginning of the second chapter there will be found, what Owen very rarely gives us, — an allusion to his personal history. So far as it goes, it is a piece of autobiography replete with interest; for it narrates the circumstances in which he was led to embrace Congregational views. In the midst of a keen dispute and the heavy cares of public life, the heart of our author seems to open to us under the remembrances of his youth, and there is some tenderness of feeling in the allusion to his father, whom he describes as “a Nonconformist all his days, and a painful labourer in the vineyard of the Lord.”

In all his treatises on schism, Owen adheres with steadiness and decision to his profession as an Independent. He makes, however, in the beginning of the ninth chapter, a statement that deserves some attention: “For my part, so we could once agree in the matter of our churches, I am under some apprehension that it were no impossible thing to reconcile the whole difference as to a Presbyterian church or a single congregation,’’ p. 258. He intimates that he would “offer, ere long, to the consideration of godly men, something that may provoke others of better abilities and more leisure to endeavour to carry on so good a work.” A purpose announced in these terms can hardly be restricted to the mere difference in regard to the eldership, of which he has been speaking, but must include the whole difference between Presbytery and Independency. To have reconciled these two systems, or rather the Christians respectively attached to them, would certainly have been “a good work,” though many will doubt its practicability. The sentiment shows, at least, the generous and catholic spirit Owen breathed, so superior to the tendency with which weak minds, on such a change as he made, are apt to adopt the extreme position in their new views. Are those works he published long afterwards, “The Inquiry into Evangelical Churches,” and “The True Nature of a Gospel Church,” in which Presbyterians think they find a confirmation of their views on some points, a fulfillment of the promise quoted above? Some difficulties in understanding them would be explained if they were. — Ed.

« Prev Prefatory note. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection