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subjects, that the mind of an undesigning reasoner will sometimes slide from one to another, without being sensible of it: but an artful man will rarely fail to be shifting about to all the adjuncts and relatives within his reach, till he can fix upon such as will enable him to make a plausible appearance. He that is in wrath with another, of whom he knows no evil, will asperse his character indirectly, by railing at his connexions, his friends, his family, his ancestors, his children, or even his country itself; all of which are but little to the purpose, and can only shew, that the accuser is equally irritated and unprovided.
In the accusation lately revived against our forms and doctrines by the Author of The Confessional, the real grounds of his discontent are comprehended in two short arguments: and I hope I shall be pardoned for throwing them into a logical form, because I do it merely for the sake of brevity, that I may save trouble to the Reader as well as to the Writer. The first of these arguments stands thus:
The Church of Rome hath established false doctrine; The Church of England hath established false doc
trine; Therefore the Church of England wants reforma
tion as much as the Church of Rome. That the Church of Rome hath established false doctrine, and doth stand in need of reformation, is readily allowed by all Protestants, because it hath been demonstrated for these two hundred years: But the second proposition, on which the conclusion depends, is not true; and the Author, as we shall see presently, waves the proof of it, supposing that we shall take it upon his bare word. Where this second proposition is assumed, as by the Arians, Socinians, and the most corrupt part of the Dissenters, the conclusion will be admitted.
The second argument may be expressed as follows:
The Church of Rome opposes the reformation of her doctrines;
The Church of England opposes the reformation of her doctrines;
Therefore the Church of England is as obstinate as the Church of Rome.
This conclusion is no better than the former, because the word doctrines is equivocal in the premises. In the first member of the argument, it signifies such doctrines as we know to be false ; in the second, such as we can prove to be true; though this Author is no admirer of them.
Every son of the Church of England hath a right to insist upon seeing a refutation of her doctrines as a first step; without which all popular harangues upon the expediency of a reformation, either not at all defined, or amounting to an utter abolition of the establishment, are but so many experiments upon his understanding, and ought to have no more influence than the flourishing of a pen in the air.
When the authority of the Church is called in question, this supposition, that her doctrines are false, is always at the bottom of the dispute, though not always visible: for no Protestant, under the character of a believer, could ever think of refusing to the Church of Christ an authority to secure what the Gospel itself hath already imposed upon all Christians, Nor was the authority of the Church ever questioned with any pious design, till it was evident to all men who would but open their eyes, that the Church had invented what she had power only to receive and pre
the Protestant Church of England, her governors, it is to be hoped, will consider of it, and correct it: but then, indefinite accusations, expressed in the most loose and general terms, are not to be admitted for legal evidence. “ Certain particulars,” says this Author, “are equally proved to want reformation among Protestants"* as among the Papists. If be under any concern to know what these particulars are, and should ask a question which is of the last importance, and occurs naturally, instead of any direct answer you will meet with this evasion; “I forbear to give instances, though there are more than one at handt:” as if that would have been a digression, which is the first step in the controversy. In another place it is affirmed, that the public is grossly and notoriously wrong I: how and where, the reader is left to conjecture as well as he can. Sometimes it is suggested to the populace, that many of superior character in the Church are as much convinced of the falsehood of our doctrines as the Author himself, if they would but as freely declare their minds. What they believe, and what they deny, we are still left to find out as before; but may suppose it to be somewhat not fit to be owned all at once. In the 56th page of his Preface, he takes some pains to raise the expectation of his readers, and threatens us with some great matter, which at last all vanishes in a smoke. He tells us of a certain private party, in which it was his hap to mention a glaring inconsistency in the case of subscription to our established articles of Religion, at which some respectable persons in the company expressed the utmost surprize. If it was his desire to be understood, and he really did think
* Pref. p. 13. Ed. 1.
I P. 2.
this matter capable of making any remarkable impression, he would have directed us how to find some explanation of his meaning; yet we are not given to know any thing farther of this glaring inconsistency, than that it makes a part of his folloding work, though placed at some distance from the beginning. In a book, of 354 pages, 200 of them, at least, are at some distance from the beginning; so that we are still in the dark as before : for how glaring soever this inconsistency might appear in the Author's eyes, it is not bright enough to betray itself to others by its own light; neither do I know at this moment where to find it, unless he alludes to that remarkable and notorious deviation (as he calls it) from the Athanasian maxim, which is introduced at p. 319; the injustice and futility of which criticism hath been taken notice of upon another occasion * At this distance from the beginning he 'ventures to open his design; declaring himself neither afraid, nor ashamed to call for a review of our Trinitarian forms ; and, in the course of his work, he refers to and recommends as oracular, though a professed enemy to all impositions, the opinions of Clarke, Hoadley, Sykes, Clayton, and some others of lesser note. But these things are spoken in such general terms, and with so small an appearance of argument, that the Author himself seems to be sensible how much he hath been wanting in this part of his undertaking; and observes, toward the end of his book, that "it may possibly be expected he should descend to particulars, and point out some of the principal objects of the reform he solicits t." In this he judges rightly: for it would
* See a Letter to the Common People, published with the third edition of the Catholic Doctrine of the Trinity, $X.
+ P. 336.
not only be a dangerous but a ridiculous step, to enter on the important work of reformation, without first being sure of what is amiss. But his subject, he tells us,“ leads him only to one particular, the case of subscription to human Creeds and Confessions, and other ecclesiastical forms, which are required to be assented to, as being agreeable to the word of God.” Subscription is indeed but one particular circumstance of our ecclesiastical discipline, and is good, bad, or indifferent, according to its object; but the Creeds, Articles, and ecclesiastical forms of worship to which it extends, do comprehend the whole system of our faith and religion, out of which he ought to have selected the obnoxious articles, and have shewed us plainly how far they disagree with the word of God. But in doing this, he must have exposed his own set of doctrines to be seen and examined by the public; a task neither promising nor agreeable, if we may judge by a certain shyness which hath produced those ambiguities and dodgings already mentioned. Therefore, he proceeds, as before, in general terms ; observing, that “ undoubtedly such of these" (Creeds and Confessions) “ as have not this agreement with holy writ, ought not to be retained in the Church *.” So we all say; though indeed we never heard of
any Christian Creed or Confession which disagreed with the word of God in every article, as this observation supposes them to do. If any one article is unscriptural, that article ought to be reformed; but it will not thence follow, that the remaining thirty-eight which are scriptural should be all thrown aside in the lump, and subscription itself abolished. A political orator might as well have argued from the inexpe
* P. 336.