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trifles. But the clergy carry matters still farther. They suppose they have authority to enjoin things which, in their own nature, are indifferent; and have, accordingly, imposed a great number of this description. All who are kept out of the church by a doubt whether our spiritual lords can alter the nature of things, by making that important which of itself is indifferent, are sent to the devil out of mere wantonness. “ If thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat for whom Christ died."
But imposing indifferent things, it seems, was not sufficient; our subscription is required to contradictions. We must subscribe to general redemption in the communion service, and to predestination in the 17th article. We must affirm, with the office for confirmation, that the laying on of the bishops' hands is a sign of God's gracious goodness towards us, and, with the 25th article, that " confirmation has not any visible sign, or ceremony ordained of God;" that is, that the bishops' hands are invisible at the time of confirmation. But this difficulty, with many others, may be got over by shutting our eyes ; for then the laying on of hands, and all absurdities, will be literally invisible. We must believe two creeds, one of which curses all who deny the Son to be of the same hypostasis with the Father, though the other declares that they shall without doubt perish everlastingly, who do not hold that there is one hypostasis of the Father and another of the Son. If we believe either of these creeds, we are cursed by the other; if we believe both of them, we are doubly cursed, that is, by each of them for believing the other; and, if we believe neither of them, we are trebly cursed, that is, by the two creeds, and the church which has imposed them. The church of England was never, perhaps, more justly characterised, than by the late Lord Chatham, when he said in the house of peers, “We, my lords, have a Calvinistic creed, a popish liturgy, and an Arminian clergy.
Strict as the church is with respect to the oaths and subscriptions she exacts from her ministers, it is a fact that there is as great a diversity of opinions among the clergy, as among the dissenters. In the church are to be found Calvinists and Arminians, Arians and Socinians, New-Jerusalemites, etc. The contentions between the rational and evangelical clergy, are much more fierce than any that are witnessed between the different denominations of dissenters. In proportion to the strictness of the terms of communion in an established church, will be the depravity of its ministers. The reason is plain. Many conscientious men will be kept out by their scruples; but the large emoluments attached to a state religion will operate as an irresistable temptation to the unprincipled. Hypocrites, whose godliness is gain, will, without hesitation, signify their unfeigned assent and consent to everything that may be exacted. Hence it is, that the most rigorously constituted establishments will always contain the largest proportion of hypocritical, profligate, and heretical clergy.
These observations will receive a practical illustration, by a reference to the period when our church was settled upon its present plan. According to the act of uniformity, all who did not subscribe their unfeigned assent and consent, to all and every particular contained in the prayer-book, by August 24th, 1662, were to be deprived of their ecclesiastical benefices. When the day arrived, very few copies were printed off, and thousands of the clergy subscribed more fully to a book they had never seen, than any conscientious man could do even to the Bible. About two thousand worthies, whose religion consisted in something else than loaves and fishes, nobly refused to set their hands to this monument of the wisdom and piety of Charles's bishops, and were in consequence turned out of their livings; the rest demonstrated by their conduct, that they were ready to subscribe to the Koran, or anything else, for a piece of bread.
From the great difference in men's education, opportunities, and intellect, it is unreasonable to expect that all men will see alike in all the minor points of religion; and therefore, no friend to christian charity and peace, will make a number of unmeaning and unimportant articles and ceremonies, terms of communion. There is as much difference in the size of men's souls as bodies, and as much difference in their taste about religious ceremonies as their dress. What would be thought of the legislature which should enact, that all the members of the political society should be of the same size, shape, complexion and features, and should all wear clothing of the same sort, colour, quality and make? Yet this would be as wise as the attempt to establish uniformity of religion by law. There never were two men who believed exactly alike on all religious subjects. Suppose they subscribe to the same doctrine, they will explain it differently. For instance, several men subscribe to the doctrine of atonement: one believes that Christ actually suffered all that the human race had merited of the wrath of God; another limits his sufferings to a select number; a third supposes there is virtue enough in his death to atone for devils, though devils have no interest in it; a fourth believes that devils may be saved through his death; and a fifth that they actually will. Some suppose
that God made some abatement to Christ from the quantum of suffering which was due to our sins, on account of the dignity of his person; while others hold that no abatement was made, but being sustained by the Godhead, he survived that stroke of divine wrath, which was sufficient to crush the human race for ever. One believes that the pardon of sin, promised through the atonement, is conditional; another, that it is unconditional. Some hold, that the pardon is only of sins that are past; others extend it to sins to come; some say we are forgiven at the time of believing; others that we were forgiven from all eternity, etc.
Uniformity is unnatural. There never were two men, whose persons, tempers, or dispositions were exactly alike. . Animals, vegetables, and, in short, all the productions of nature, differ one from another; so that it is doubtful whether, since the creation, the world has produced two blades of grass exactly similar to each other. If uniformity were attained, it would not exist a moment, because every substance in nature is continually undergoing some change. Our bodies are not two moments the same; some matter is continually going off by insensible perspiration. The same observation applies to all animals. The whole face of nature is perpetually changing.
These two characteristics of all natural productions, an infinite variety and perpetual change, are destructive of all uniformity. The deceptious appearances of uniformity are disgusting. The mind becomes weary with being employed for a length of time upon any one subject; hence the necessity of relaxation, and the pleasure derived from the contemplation of new objects. It is owing to this disposition of mind, that we admire the grandeur and glory of God as displayed in the infinite diversity and continual revolutions of his works. And it is owing to the same disposition of mind, that we are fatigued with sameness, and gratified with variety in religion. Nothing has contributed more to that general indifference to the national religion, which is so feelingly deplored by many of its adherents, than a want of variety : it is over and over and over again, the same minister, the same tone of voice, the same creeds and prayers, and an annual return of the same sermons.
Let it not be supposed, however, that the diversity here pleaded for in religious matters is a diversity of
Two creeds may differ in their phraseology, and yet agree in substance. How many of our religious disputes have turned out at last, after the contending parties have mutually explained themselves, to be merely disputes about words, and not things. And as two persons may hold the same truth, but, by wording it differently, may misunderstand each other; so the same form of words may convey truth to one mind, and error to another. Though the clergy all subscribe to the same words, they do not all understand them in the same sense. One says, the church of England is decidedly Calvinistic; another, that she is Arminian; and a third, that she is neither exclusively, but opens her arms to embrace both; only one of them, if any, can possibly be right. So liturgies may be differently worded, and yet each contain a service that, when used by devout minds, will be acceptable to God; and the extempore effusions of others may not be less agreeable; but an undevout mind will spoil the best form in the world. Most sects hold the essentials of christianity; no one creed contains every truth. The subordinate truths are divided among them; each probably contains a few which are not to be found in any of the others, and it is doubtful whether every truth be contained in the whole of them.
Admitting there are some errors in each of the sects, the cure is not to be found in acts of uniformity : for suppose the established religion to be as true as the Bible, it is equally liable to be misunderstood, so that there will always be as great a diversity of religious opinions in an establishment, as out of it.
The best way to banish error out of the religious world, is to let the pulpit be open to all. Upon this plan every religious opinion will be fully discussed
; and as truth will shine out with a clearness and lustre which no abilities can give to error, she will finally illuminate the world.* Thus it is in politics. Before any measure is publicly canvassed, there is generally a great diversity of opinion upon it; but after it has been fully and freely discussed by the splendid abilities of our senators, the nation at large, except a few interested individuals, and their partisans, generally agree in one sentiment.
This plan, also, would afford the best security against the introduction of heresy. In places where the ministry is restricted to a distinct order of men, as
* This certainly is a very unguarded position, and cannot have the suffrage of the majority of those most competent to judge of its merits. - EDIT.