[from The Reformed Presbyterian, Vol. XXIV. No. 11./Vol. VI. No. 11. New Series.
November, 1860. pp. 331-332.]
ABOVE twenty years ago, Rev. James Blackwood observed, “We live in an age of quibbles.” In my former communication, I showed that occasional hearing is contrary to the word of God, and our subordinate standards; but it seems this does not settle the controversy. A quibble, which we frequently heard in the time of the New-light defection, begins to be revived, viz. That if going to hear those of a different persuasion preach be, to a certain extent, communion, then preaching to them is holding communion with them to the same extent. Now, I have always thought that preaching and hearing were different things. I never thought that preaching to people implied either approbation or disapprobation of their principles or practice.
I never conceived, that when Hezekiah sent messengers to the ten tribes, saying, Ye children of Israel, turn again unto the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, &c. he was holding communion with the altars of Dan and Bethel. I thought that to return to them was one thing, and to let them return to us was quite another. But, so far as we attend on their ministry, we are returning to them; and, in so far as they attend on our ministry, they return to us. When the publicans and sinners drew near to Christ to hear him, they acknowledged him as a divine teacher; but certainly this does; not imply that he held fellowship with them in their wickedness, as his enemies blasphemously alleged.
This quibble, like all other quibbles. derives its seeming force from the ambiguity of language. In Walker’s and Johnson’s Dictionary, communion is defined—first, Intercourse; last, Union in the common worship of any church. In the first sense, the minister has communion with those hearers who differ from him. He and they meet and interchange looks. He has not communion with them in the latter sense, for he does not join in the worship of their church, nor hear their doctrines exhibited.
It is alleged that to forbid occasional hearing is very uncharitable, as it unchurches all but ourselves. The inference is denied; our withdrawing from others that preach Christ only says that two cannot walk together except they be agreed. The, apostle has made this case very plain, 2 These. 3:14, 15. “And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” See also 6th verse. While we withdraw from them we still acknowledge them as brethren.
Let us examine this a little further: If going to hear those who teach error be, to a certain extent, communion, then our preaching to them is communion to the same extent; be it so.
If I preach the truth, and the people come to hear me, I do my duty in preaching, and they do their duty in coming to hear. On the other hand, if I go to hear a man that teaches error, he does wrong in preaching, and I do wrong in hearing him. Prov. 19:27. Rom. 16:17. John 4:1-6. &c. The difference then is only this: In the first case, we hold communion in duty, in the latter case, we hold communion in sin. That is all the difference.
May the Lord hasten the day when his people shall see eye to eye.