« PreviousContinue »
diency of the American stamp-act, to the repealing of all the English laws, and in favour of anarchy.
With this foundation the writer of the Confessional frames his conclusions, raises his exhortations, and proposes his conditions; allowing, with a pious sort of casuistry, which he may explain at some other opportunity, that although our forms do disagree with the word of God,“ nevertheless, as something is due to the ignorance and prejudices of well-meaning peo
may not be expedient to discontinue the use of them all at once, provided proper endeavours are used to prepare the people for their removal át a seasonable time, by informing them wherein their disagreement with the Christian Scripture consists *.” We thank him for this indulgence; but are of opinion, that this disagreement is what ought now to have been pointed out to us in the Confessional; because we shall make but an indifferent figure, if we have it to look for when our fences are all pulled down. And certainly it hath not appeared to us as yet, though we have read Clarke's Doctrine of the Trinity, Sykes's Case of Subscription, the Free and Candid Disquisitions, together with the Essay on Spirit, to whose old objections this Author hath added nothing but new calumnies, of which some account will be given in another place.
Our Church, as he would have it believed, now is, and always hath been, an enemy to reformation. She hath had many opportunities of improvement, and never been wise enough to embrace any one of them. It may, therefore, be worth our while to consider briefly how the Church is circumstanced, and what obligations she is under to such reforming claimants as the Author of the Confessional.
* P. 336.
The Church having the oracles of truth committed to her, and being bound to provide in the best manner she can, as well for the edification of all her children as for her own peace and security as a society, extracts and recommends such articles of doctrine as she finds revealed to her in the holy Scripture: and in the course of her work expressly disclaims her own authority, as insufficient of itself to bind any article of faith upon the consciences of her members.
These doctrines then, thus extracied and recommended by the Church, as the witness and keeper of holy writ, either have the authority of the Scripture, or they have not. If they have, then her members are bound to receive them, not as the doctrines of the Church, but of the Scripture. And in this no man will say that the Church departs from her principle, or that the principle itself is unscriptural,
But on the other hand, if any doctrine so proposed by the Church has not the authority of the Scripture to support it, and the falsehood óf it can plainly be proved by the same authority; then the Church, by her own principles, is obliged to attend to all such remonstrances as are made in a proper manner, and supported by proper evidence; as the remonstrances of learned, and pious, and reasonable men, will never fail to be In several instances the Church hath actually submitted to do this. The invocation of saints, the doctrine of transubstantiation, the redemption of souls out of Purgatory by masses, the worship of images, which had been allowed and practised for niany ages, were objected to, as contrary to the Scripture; and are now not only removed but protested against in the articles, as so many errors: which protestation (by the way) would fall with the articles,
and we should no longer be Protestants, unless it were by accident; at least we must be taken for such upon trust.
The Church of Rome, as her conduct hath unhappily proved, thought it more eligible to preserve her corruptions than recede from her infallibility: But the Church of England, since the reformation, never did, nor doth now think it any reflection upon her wisdom and authority, that these errors were corrected upon her own principle; and she will without question, as she safely may, be ready to follow her own example in other cases, provided there shall appear to be as sufficient reason for so doing as for reforming the corruptions above-mentioned.
But if any of her doctrines should be rescinded without reason, and her members released from their obligation to such things as are revealed in the Scripture, she would exceed her commission as dangerously by detracting from, as by adding to the articles of the Christian faith. The Church cannot bind where God hath loosed; and it must be equally true, that where God hath bound us, the Church can have no authority to set us free. Were she to be guilty of such weak compliances, her true children would have as just a cause of complaint against her then, as her opponents, the Arians, Dissenters, and Freethinkers pretend to have now; and the Papists would object it to us, with great appearance of reason, that religion can have no firm footing when separated from the authority of the apostolical chair,
On the right of Protestant Churches to establish
Confessions of Faith.
The author's observations are ushered in, and the right of Protestant Churches is prejudged, by the following reflection,—that “there never yet was any instance of a prosperous usurpation destitute of advocates to lay in for it a claim of right and justice*.” Perhaps not; yet right and usurpation are two different things. "If the claim of the Church of England is to be suspected only because it hath met with advocates to defend it, the Gospel itself ought to have been suspected upon the same account ever since it was published. But let us answer this reflection with another, equally true and more to the purpose; that “ there never yet was an instance of any establishment, how just and reasonable soever, which some men have not thought it their interest to assault with weak reasonings and false accusations.”
When we are pleading in defence of established Confessions, our fundamental position, as he very justly allows, is this: “Every particular Church, considered as a society, has a right, as other societies have, to secure its own peace and welfare by all lawful means t:” This position he would overthrow, by pretending that it proves too much; being sufficient, if admitted, to justify all the persecutions of the Heathens against the Christians, and even the Popish Inquisition 1. But in this answer he is too much in haste to recollect the terms of his own position; which affirms no more, than that the Church may secure its own peace and welfare by lawful means. Inquisitions and persecutions are unlawful means; therefore his consequence is not a just one. If it were, self-preservation would be such a very bad principle, that mankind should inyent some way of providing against it (if any such provision can be made when self-preservation is given up;) and a society, if opposed, would have nothing to do but to be ruined, by resigning itself quietly to the will of its enemies.
* P. 21.
+ P. 22.
There are no means but lawful and unlawful. The unlawful; by their own nature, are not to be made use of; nor the lawful, because the other will thereby be justified: and so we are to do nothing; but suffer from men of active spirits, who will never lay themselves under that restraint which they would impose upon others. When this writer hath in view the
propagation of his own opinions, he is florid and copious in defence of liberty; but in this answer he hath laid an ax to the root of it; for there can be no such thing as liberty, if societies are deprived of the benefit of self-preservation.
The use of lawful means hath been pleaded for, not to secure unlawful ordinances, but such only as are agreeable to the word of God. This, however, in his way of reasoning makes no difference: for " the proviso, that Church-ordinances be agreeable to the word of God, will not help the Protestant Churches at all *.” If this is true, all Protestant Churches are in a very woful condition: for there are but two sorts of authority, buman and divine. The former is not sufficient of itself to authenticate articles of faith and
* P. 23.