Wednesday, April 25, 2007


I know its been a while since I last blogged. I've been lazy and preoccupied. I recently came across the following article by Robert H. Forrester, who co-edited The Protestant Unionist with Walter Scott in the 1840s. Theirs was a call to unity. They rightly despised the sectarian spirit that existed then and still lives today, although less widespread. Although written 163 years ago, it is probably the best article I have read on the subject. It gives a disturbingly familiar description of a sectarian. I have scaled the article down quite a bit. I have also retained the old style of spelling and punctuation.
. . . A man is usually so identified with his party, that it becomes an appendage of himself, a portion of his own individuality, and therefore, this party spirit is but an enlarged selfishness; his breast swells with pride when he contemplates the greatness of his favorite sect, because his own consequence is thereby enhanced, and he labors for its aggrandizement, from the same motive which prompts him to toil for his own. Party spirit, then, being but a modification of selfishness, has exhibited all the evils which flow from the latter: it has been equally fruitful of injustice, cruelty and all unrighteousness. It has torn society with animosities, strifes and crimes; it has ravaged the earth with merciless wars and persecutions; it has devastated cities and provinces, and drenched the world with human gore.
. . .

'Sectarianism,' like vice, has"only to be seen, to be abhorred!" -- to be seen in its true colors, and native deformity.

The Sectarian is inflated with inordinate conceit in reference to his sect. His church is pure perfect, infallible! She is "rich wanting nothing," has attained the "measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." Surely he thinks, "wisdom must die with her." He is also blind to the defects, the errors and delinquencies of his sect. No breath of censure may sully the brightness of her escutcheon. "Touch not the Ark of God," is ever upon his lips. In his view, improvement is impossible -- reformation an obsolete word. And he,that even hints at such monstrous desecration, incurs his uncompromising hostility -- is a heretic. If such instruments are at his command, the dungeon, the rack or the faggot must check his daring, and quench his imprudent zeal: or, if such means be unfashionable, partizan excommunication, contempt and calumny must overwhelm and crush him.

The Sectarian is equally blind to the merits of all other sects, than his own. He can see nothing in them, that is true or good. Even that, which is in his own creed he has admitted to be truth -- most sacred and saving truth -- is no longer truth when found in theirs. Any truth not contained in his own creed, is allready marked as base coin, is rejected as spurious without examination. In science, different, and even opposing schools avail themselves of each others discoveries: one is glad to learn of another, to examine, and test any new fact, or principle which is propounded, and if satisfied of its truth, to adopt it. Thus is science constantly advanced and enriched by the conjoint labors of all its professors. But religion is denied the benefit of such an interchange of sentiment between different parties, which might result in the removal of errors, and the restoration of truths formerly overlooked. The spirit of Sectarianism imposes an interdict upon all such inter-communications, and presents so insuparable bar to all advancement.

But,while the Sectarian, closes his eyes to the merits of all rivals, he detects with eagle glance, their slightest defects. To his morbid vision, even the truths which they hold are tinged with heresy; he sees heterodoxy, peeping out of every part of their systems; "can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" is a question he is allways asking, and as a constantly answering in the negative. Justice to opponents is a virtue, repudiated by him. He exaggerates, misrepresents and distorts their doctrines and practices. To him, the ninth canon of the Decalogue, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor," is as a rope of sand. This sectarian injustice often aggravates those prejudices too apt to be excited by differences of religious sentiment; and causes parties only separated by a very slight diversity of doctrine or practice, to regard each other with detestation, as "lands divided by a narrow frith, abhor each other.

To complete this picture of a Sectarian, as its last touch: -- he is filled with unsanctified ambition. Convinced, that his own personal consequence is enhanced by the increased greatness of his church, he is fired with the ambition to augment her numbers, her wealth and worldly grandeur and influence. His proselyting zeal, his efforts to make converts, are untiring, but in all this, there is no real desire for the salvation of men -- no love for souls, for if converts do not swell the ranks of his sect, there may be "joy amongst the Angels over sinners that repent," but, in his breast there is none. His mental powers are constantly taxed in forming schemes to increase the power of his sect, and render her more imposing in the view of the world. Measures, utterly without foundation in Primitive Christianity, and destructive of its simplicity, are adopted: the pride and pomp of the world are transferred into the church, that she may be arrayed in meretricious splendor; but, in all this scheming, and restless effort, there is not a single aspiration to promote the glory of God.

In this portrait of a Sectarian, imperfectly drawn as it is, every man, of every sect must recognize some of his own features: the shades may be lighter or darker, but some of these are lineaments of his own character. For Sectarianism is not the sin of any particular sect, but of all sects.

But the question may be asked -- Are we to abandon all associations, to cease to be members of Churches, in order that the evils of Sectarianism may be avoided! Not at all. The Church, the association of christians in congregations;is a Divine institution; one the importance and necessity of which, cannot be overrated. Every christian is bound by the authority of Christ, and by the highest considerations of his own spiritual welfare, to associate himself with a Christian Church,and having done so, to discharge the obligations which he owes to it, with all fidelity and zeal. But it by no means follow, that in doing this, he must become a Sectarian -- imbued with the vain, the arrogant, the vindictive and ambitious spirit of sect. ...
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by Robert H. Forrester, The Protestant Unionist. Vol. 1, No. 4. November 20, 1844, p. 13. Walter Scott and Robert H. Forrester, eds.