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grant, Sir, that it is highly necessary, they should be known; and I think you have done us a great deal of service by setting them in so easy, and yet in so strong a light. I hope it may be a means of informing and establishing some, who are too busy or too indolent to give themselves the trouble of perusing, what Dr. Calamy, Mr. Peirce, and some others have written so copiously and so judiciously upon the subject.
I farther apprehend, Sir, that nothing can be said upon the case before us, of more certain truth or more solid importance, than, what you have frequently observed, viz. that our interest has received great damage from our acting in a manner directly opposite to our principles, by unscriptural impositions, and uncharitable contentions with each other. I hope, many of us have seen our mistakes here, and shall be careful for the future, to avoid, what has been attended with so many unhappy consequences.
After having thus declared my agreement with you in the greater part of your discourse, I hope, Sir, you will pardon me, if I add, that I cannot think that you have exhausted your subject. To speak freely, I think you have omitted some causes of the decay of our interest, which are at least, as important as those you have handled. It is the design of my present undertaking, to point out some of the most considerable of them, which have occurred to my thoughts: And I persuade myself, Sir, you will be no more offended with me for offering this supplement to your inquiry, than I imagine, I should myself be with any third person, who should fix upon others, which may have escaped us, both.
You will the more readily excuse the freedom, which I take, as I imagine, that the scenes of our lives have been widely different *, and consequently I may have had an opportunity of making some useful observations which have not fallen in your way: Though I question not, but if you, Sir, had been in my circumstances, you would soon have remarked them : and per. haps have communicated them to the public with much greater advantage.
I shall add nothing more by way of introduction, but that I chuse the title, I have prefixed to these papers, rather than that of a farther enquiry into the causes of the decay of the dissent
* As the author, to whom I write, is not certainly known, I take it for granted, he is, what he seems by his manner of writing, a gentleman of the laity; And though I have been told, since I drew up this letter, he is supposed by many to be a young minister in town, I have no evidence of it, which is convincing to me: And as I apprehend it would be ill manners to appear to know him under such a disguise, I thought it not proper to alter what I had writ with regard to the late report,
ing interest ; partly, Sir, as it seemed most respectful to you, but principally, that I may not appear to advance any direct charge against any of my brethren in the process of this dis
I am sensible that would be highly indecent on many acconnts, and particularly, as it is from the example of several amongst them, whom I have most intimately known, that I have learnt many of those particulars of conduct, which I am now going to offer to your consideration, as the happiest expedients for the revival of our common cause.
But before I proceed to particulars, I would observe, what we immediately allow, but too quickly forget, that we are to be concerned for this interest, not merely as the cause of a distinct party, but of truth, honour, and liberty; and I will add, in a great measure, the cause of serious piety too. I would be far from confining all true religion to the members of our own congregations. I am very well aware, that there are a multitude of excellent persons in the establishment, both among the clergy and the laity, who are, in their different stations, burning and shining lights ; such as reflect a glory on the human nature, and the christian profession. Yet I apprehend, some of these are the persons who will most readily allow, that, in proportion to the numbers, there is generally more practical religion to be found in our assemblies, than in theirs. This was surely the original, and this, if I mistake not, must be the support of our cause. It was not merely a generous sense of liberty, which may warm the breast of a deist or an atheist, but a religious reverence for the divine authority, which animated our pious forefathers, to so resolute and so expensive an opposition to the attempts, which were made in their day, to invade the rights of conscience, and the throne of God its only Sovereign. And if the cause be not still maintained on the same principles, I think it will hardly be worth our while to be much concerned about maintaining it at all. It must argue a great defect, or partiality of thought, for any with the Jews of old to boast of their being free from human impositions, when they are the servants of sin *. And all the world will evidently perceive, that it is the temper of a Pharisee, rather than of a Christian, to contend about Mint, anise and cummin, on one side of the question or the other, while there is an apparent indifference about The weightier matters of the law t. We that are ministers, may entertain ourselves and our hearers with fine harangues in defence of liberty ; But I apprehend, that in the near views of death and eternity, we shall have little satisfaction in reflecting on the con
* John viii. 33, 34.
* Mat. xxiii. 23.
verts, we have made to that, unless at the same time, we have some reason to hope, that they are persons of true substantial piety; such as will be our crown in the day of the Lord, and our companions in the glories of the heavenly world. I cannot say, how trifling and contemptible our labours appear to me, when considered in any other view. And therefore, Sir, it will be my concern throughout this whole discourse, to point out those methods for the support of the dissenting interest, which, I imagine, will be most subservient to the cause of practical religion, and vital holiness in all its branches.
It was the observation of Dr. Burnet, almost forty years ago, in his incomparable discourse on the pastoral care *, " That the dissenters had then in a great measure lost that good character for strictness in religion, which had gained them their credit, and made such numbers fall off to them.” Whether that good character has since been recovered, or has not been more and more declining, some others are more capablo of judging ; but I think it calls for our serious reflection. And if we find upon enquiry, that this our glory is departing, it surely deserves to be mentioned, as one cause, at least, of the decay of our interest : And that all, who sincerely wish well to it, should express their affection, by exerting themselves with the utmost zeal for the revival of practical religion amongst us.
This must be our common care, according to the various stations, in which providence has placed us : And as for ministers, nothing can be more evident, than that they, by virtue of their office, are under peculiar obligations to it. And, in order to pursue it with the greater advantage, I cannot but think that it should be their concern, to study the character and temper of their people ; that, so far as they can do it with conscience and honour, they may render themselves agreeable to them, both in their public ministrations, and their private converse.
This, Sir, is so obvious a thought, that one would ima. gine, it could not be overlooked or disputed ; yet it is certain, our interest has received considerable damage for want of a becoming regard to it, especially in those, who have been setting out in the ministry amongst us. It was therefore, sir, with great surprise, that I found you had entirely omitted it in your late enquiry, and bad dropt some hints, which, though to be sure, you did not intend it, may very probably lead young preachers into a different and contrary way of thinking, than which hardly any thing can be more prejudicial, either to them, or to the cause, in which they are embarked.
* Cap. viii. p. 204.
The passage of yours, to which I principally refer, is in the 33 and 34th pages of your enquiry. Where, amongst other things, you observe, that “ a great many of those things that please the people, have often a very bad tendency in general.” And you add, “ the being pleased, which they so much insist upon, seldom arises from any thing, but some oddness that hits their peculiar humour, and is not from any view to edification at all, and therefore too mean to be worthy any one's study. The people do not usually know, wherein oratory, strength of speech, the art of persuasion, &c. consist; and therefore it is vanity in such to pretend to be judges of them. I wish I could deny, that amongst us, they generally fall into the falsest and lowest taste imaginable.”
There is, no doubt, Sir, a mixture of truth and good sense in some of these remarks ; but for want of being sufficiently guarded, they seem liable to the most fatal abuse. I frankly confess, that when I began to preach, I should have read such a passage with transport, and should very briskly have concluded from it, as many of us are ready enough to conclude without it, that, with regard to our public discourses, we had nothing to do, but to take care that our reasoning were conclusive, our method natural, our language elegant, and our delivery decent; and after all this, if the people did not give us a favourable reception, the fault was to be charged on a perverseness of humour, which they should learn to sacrifice to good sense, and the taste of those, who were more judicious than themselves; and in the mean time, were the proper object of contempt, rather than regard.
I say not, Sir, that what I have now been quoting from your letter, would lay a just foundation for such a wild conclusion ; but I apprehend that a rash young man, ignorant of the world, and full of himself, might probably draw such a conclusion from it. And if such a conclusion were to be universally received and acted upon, by the rising generation of ministers, it must, in a few years, be the destruction of our interest, unless the taste of our people should be miraculously changed.
I am not so absurd and perverse as to assert*, that learning and politeness will be the ruin of our cause, nor have I ever met with any, that maintained so extravagant an opinion. But surely, Sir, a cause may be ruined by learned and polite men, if, with their other furniture, they have not religion and prudence too: And I hardly conceive how a minister, who is possessed of both these, can be unconcerned about the acceptance he meets with from the populace, or can ever imagine, that the dissenting interest is generally to be supported in the contempt or neglect of them.
* Eng. p. 36.
I cannot believe, Sir, that a gentleman of your good sense intended to teach us, such a contempt. Had religion, and the souls of men been entirely out of the question, and had you considered us only as persons, whose business it is to speak in public, you well know that such a thought had been directly contrary to the plainest principles of reason, and the rules of those amongst the ancients, as well as the moderns, who were the greatest masters in that profession. You will readily allow, what no thinking man can dispute, that a true, skilful, unpopular orator is a direct contradiction in terins. And I question not, Sir, but that you could, in a few hours, throw together whole pages of quotations, from Aristotle, Quintilian, Longinus, and especially from Tully, not to mention Rapin, Gisbert, Fenelon, and bishop Burnet, which all speak the same language. You know that Tully in particular, declares, not only " That he desired his own eloquence might be approved by the people," but that his friends might accommodate their discourse to them; and therefore says to Brutus, “ Speak to me and to the peoplet.” And this he carries so far, as to say,
" That what. ever the people approve, must also be approved by the learned and judicioust;” and “That men of sense never differed from the populace in their judgment of oratoryß.” And that, “ To speak in a manner not adapted to their capacity and the common sense of mankind, is the greatest fault an orator can commit.l." These were the sentiments of Tully on a subject peculiarly his own. And few that have ever heard of Longinus, are strangers to that celebrated passage, in which he makes it the test of the true sublime, that it strikes persons of all tastes and educations, the meanest as well as the greatest .
* Eloquentiam autem meam POPULO probari velim. Cic. Orationes, quas nos multitudinis judicio probari volebamus; POPULARIS enim est illa facultas, & effectus eloquentiæ est audientium adprobatio. Tusc. Disp. Lib. II. sub init. + Mihi cane & populo, mi Brute, dixerim. Ibid. I Quod probat multitudo, boc idem doctis probandum est. Ibid. f-Nunquam fuit populo cum doctis intelligentibusque dissensio. || In dicendo, vitium vel maximum est a vulgari genere orationis atque a consuetudine communis sensus abhorrere. Cic.
ST Oλως δε καλα νομιζε Υψη και αληθινα τα διαπανος αρεσκοντα και x. 7.a.
Dion. cap. VI. ad fin.