Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

Town in particulad, with respected to it by

- The principles, on which establishments in general, and our own in particular, are founded; the tolerating spirit of the Church of England, with respect to Christians of other des nominations'; the jurisdiction assigned to it by the laws of our couniry; the provision made for its clergy; their learning and freedom of inquiry ; our public forms in which they officiate, their duties, and their manners, are the particulars which naturally offer themselves to his consideration.

Mr. Sturges does not enter into a long discussion of the different parts of his subject, and there are some tender points, which he only touches in a very soft and gentle manner ; but it wouit be the hi heft injustice to him, indeed, not to acknowledge, that he writes with great candour and liberality of sentiment, with a spirit of moderation that well becomes his profellion ; in a word, in such a manner as will make those, who may differ from him in loine points, entertain a very favourable opinion of his cemper and disposition.

He introduces his second Letter, wherein he treats of Efa. blishments in general, and that of the Church of England in particular, hy oble: ving, that, with some persons, the word Eftablishment is itself criminal; that they reprobate all human authority, all human opinions, which respect religion, as unlaw. ful; as infringing their own liberty, and derogating from the supremacy of Christ. He proceeds to state the principles on which, according to his conceptions, all religious societies must be founded, and endeavours to shew, that all, which are defigned for any permanency, must in effect admit, whatever they may profess to do, human authority for their regulation; that they must concur in human opinions as a bond of union; and that establishments, as such, are not, on that account, unlaw. ful, inconsistent with our liberty as men, or with our allegiance to Christ as his followers.

Such authority, he says, may be ill employed, such opinions may be ill founded, and improperly imposed; violence may be exerted by the one, in order to inforce the other ; by their abuse they may both become pernicious; but it no more follows from thence, that the principle on which they are used is unlawful, than that, because there are in the world many bad civil laws, therefore all legislation is unjuft. . • If religioo were to fubfilt only in the hearts of individuals, continues he, without the concurrence of others, or any external pro. fefiion of it; if God had not meant, that in this instance, as well as in all others, we thould be Social Creatures, the Truths and Pre. cepts, which we colle&i by our reason, and which are delivered to us by revelation, would then in their naked ftare be sufficient 10 make us in this manner religious; we might certainly think of God as we pleased, and offer to him in what manner we pleased our folitary worship. But if we are not fatisfied with that, if we are

prompted

prompted by our nature to unite with others in the adoration of the Supreme Being, and feel our religion imperfect without doing so, we muft in some respects agree with those others; there must be some mutual compliances ; and certain regulations must be admitted, bosh with respect to the Outward Form of Worthip, and the Opinions conveyed by it.

• Without some regulations of the Outward Form in which the Worshippers are agreed, it is impoflible that Public Worship can fubfitt even in its limpleit shape; and as the reason of this worlhip, the manner of our addressing Gud, and the dusies which we suppose him to require from us, arile from the Opinio's we foron concerning him, concerning his attributes and government, it is plain, that without a certain agreement in these opinions it is imposible for dif. ferent persons to join in the worthip of God, and in giving or re. ceiving Religious Instruction, which usually makes part of it. A Jew or a Christian could not join with an olj Heathen in worshipping his numerous and imaginary deities. A Prorekant cannot concur with a Papilt in offering his prayers to the Virgin Mary, to Angels, and to Saints. The same prayers also, and the same instruction, cannot well suit those Proteflants, who differ about the Object of their worship, or about the Neceflity of good works to salvation.

Every United Set of Worshippers must cherelore agree in certain Forms and Opinions; and they must make such Agreement the condition, on which others may be admitted to their society. They muit prescribe, like all other societies, these conditions for themfelves; and those, who do not chuse to comply with them, muit either not enter into such a society, or retire from it.

But this, it is said, is an infringement of our Liberty, an oppression of Conscience; it is usurping the Supremacy of Christ; and giving Human Opioions that authority, which is only due to Di. vine Revelation."

That Absolute Liberty is inconsittent with every species of rociety, whether civil or religious, is moll certain; it can only belong to detached, insulated individuals. The moment we begin to act in concert with any of our fellow.creatures, this liberty is narrowed; we must submit to some rules, and be content to lie under certain reftraints with relpect to others, which it is necessary for our own good that they should lie under with respe& co ourselves. The Liberty of the Freelt Stales never was and never can be more than this; it can only be a Qualified Liberty, as great as is confiflent, not with the good of any one ci:izen, but of all taken together. And when in any fort of society this is pofseffed in such a degree, every wise man knows, that he possesses all which can from the nature of things be had. If there be any, who chose to prefer to it the Absolucé Liberty of a solitary State of nature, with them I will not reason; but leave them to find in that stare an equivalent for all the bleflings of Society.

" But Conscience is oppressed by such conditions." What, if it be in the power of him, who dillikes them, not to oblige himself io the observance of them ? if he be at liberty not to make part of that society, which requires it? Can any injury be done ; can the conscience of any be wounded, where the contract is voluntary ; where this alternative is offered, either enter inco such a society and

accept

Y

3

accept the conditions of it; or abstain from the one, and be exempt from the other?

“ The interposition also of Human Authority in matters of Religion is usurping the Supremacy of Chrift.” But without certain Re. gulations no Societies can exist ; as the Societies are Human, the re. gulations made for them must be by Human Authority. We find in the Scriptures the doctrines and precepts of our religion; they are there offered to the reader, who may make what use of them he pleases; who will understand them in that sense, which shall approve itself to his mind. But if many persons chuse to join in an external Profession of this religion, this profession must be administered in a certain form, and by certain persons; the naked Doctrines and Precepts will not administer themselves any more, than the abstract Idea of Justice will be sufficient to answer the purposes of a State, without applying it, making it effectual, and giving as it were a body to it, by laws.

• Whatever Regulacions are made for Christian Churches, are Supposed and professed by those who make them, to be agreeable to the commands of Christ, to be the means of carrying those commands into execution. Is chis ufurping Christ's authority? We all, I presume, acknowledge God to be the Supreme Governor of the world. We are all I suppose ready to allow, that it is from him we derive our notions of Justice; that it is his will we should exercise this virtue towards our fellow.creatures. But did any reason. able man ever conclude from hence, that making Laws for the pur. poses of Practical Justice amongst men was impious with respect to God, was intrenching on his sovereignty? The truth is, that without the interposition of Human Authority, in its different degrees, Public Religion and Public Justice could not fubfift.

• There remains another charge on Etablishments, that they impose on men Human Opinions, and give them an Authority, which is only due to Divine Revelation.” It has been said before, and is indisputable, that a certain Agreement of Opinions with respect to God is necessary for those, who would join in religious wor. ship. Now, who is to be judge for any given Society, what those opinions shall be? The Society mult undoubtedly judge for itself. The warmest advocates for Religious Liberty plead for the right of Private Judgement; that men should be permitted to judge for themselves. Notbing is more incontestible. And shall not a Society have the same right of judging for itself? Is this commendable in an individual, and unlawful in a Society? They may both be mifiaken in forming their opinions; this is the consequence of human iofirmity ; but they are both the only and the proper judges for them. selves.

. And this Judgment on Religious Subjects' must be exercised ; i for men will differ about them, and the Scriptures, which we all allow to be the Revelation of God, will no more interpret them. selves, than the doctrines contained, teach; or the duties prescribed in them, execute themselves. Each 'Society therefore will adopt those Opinions, which seem to them true; and they will be, like all other conclufions of our minds on the subjects proposed to them, Human Opinions ; they must and can be no other.'

Mr.

Mr. Sturges goes on to observe, that without toleration no establishment can be lawful or defensible. But as the tolerating spirit of our Church is a matter of great importance in the present inquiry, and as toleration has been enjoyed in this country lo completely in the present age, he makes it the subject of a separate letter, and goes on, towards the clofe of his second, to give us his sentiments concerning the forms, ceremonies, and opinions of our Church.

It is undoubted, he thinks, that the members, and especially the ministers of a Church, must, to a certain degree, concur in their opinions; but a public collection of these opinions, for the purpose of uniformity fhould be as fhort, he says, as plain, and as comprehensive, as the end proposed will admit; that the members of a Church may not be loaded with unnecersary conditions, or others be unnecessarily excluded from it. What he advances on this important subject appears to us so sensible, candid, and judicious, that we cannot deny ourselves the pleasure of inserting, or our Readers that of perufing it.

• In a large collection of Speculative Opinions, says he, obscure and disputable by their nature, it is impoflible, that great numbers of perfons can perfectly agree ; agree I mean after full inquiry and examination ; some will acquiesce without making such inquiry, others will diffemble, and all perhaps will think themselves entiiled to use a latitude, that is not so much authorised by the terms in which cheir Affent is expressed, as by the general principles of our nature and the conftitution of our mind. In the mean time the end proposed will not be answered ; and it is probably unnecessary that it Mould : unanimity in that degree will never in fact be prodaced.

• As Christianity also hould be made as much as possible in the public profefion of it, what it is in itself, a Religion of benevolence and concord, Christians should be invited by every conciliacing, every accommodating measure to join in one profession; all invi. dious diftinctions, all unnecessary impediments should be removed ; smaller differences should be dropped by all parties, provided that in greater things they can be made to agree. Now to multiply the Public Opinions, by which one Church is distinguished from others, on those subjects especially which are difficult and disputable, is to multiply the conditions required from those who would accede to it, and to make their union with it less practicable.'

• I confess, my Lord, that our Articles appear liable to these objections ; the particulars of them are too nuinerous ; the subjects of some of thein of a moft obfcure and disputable kind, where it may feem unnecessary and perhaps improper to go so far in defining; on both these accounts the Affent required from our Clergy may appear too ftrict, and other Chriftians may be discouraged from joining in communion with us.

· That fuch Objections should now lie to our Articles, is what might reasonably have been expected, notwithltanding all the abili. Lies of the persons who compiled them, notwithitanding all their meY 4

its

rits in the common cause of Protestant Chriftianity. Men were at that time in rome measure new to the subject of Church Eitablish: ments; they had not formed just notions of Religious Liberty; and Toleration was neither understood or practised. These topics have been since discussed with freedom and ability ; religious prejudices bave worn off, and the present modes of thinking are become more liberal and tolerant. They did as much as could be expected from them ; and if their System be compared with those of other Reformers in the fame age, the comparison would probably turo out much to their advantage ; but this is no reason, why iheir work

should not be corrected and improved at a subsequent period, when we are possessed of great advantages, and furnished with considerable means of improvement.

! Such a Revision, my Lord, both of our Articles and Forms, undertaken at a proper time, when the public fituation of our country will admit of attention to these internal concerns of it, onder the authority of the State, by the Governors of our Church, the Successors of these yenerable Reformers, and conducted as it would then be with fobriety and good sense, would much contribute to her interests and honour; the ease of her own Ministers would be con. sulied by it, many obje&ions removed, and the good opinion of reasonable and moderate men of all parties conciliated.

• Might I presume, my Lord, to statę, what appears to me the proper ground for forming a Confession of Faith, for drawing the jine of Separation between one Christian Society and another? Every Church will, as she has a right, judge for herself with respect to her own Opinions. But whatever those Opinions are, the leading and most important only, what the judges effential to True Chriftianity, should be selected and brought forth for Public Use; where to dir. tinguish and subdivide is unfit and pernicious. Speculative men in private may do this as they please ; in public it only marks out and multiplies differences. The Basis of every Establishment should be made as broad as possible, that all, who agree in great points, may be comprehended in it. These striking features, these leading principles of our Religion are all that should be expressed in Forms of Public Worship; they comprise all the necessary Subjects of Public Instruction.

. Now as the reason of requiring from Ministers an approbation of the Opinions of their Church, is to obtain assurance from them, of their being qualified to officiate in the prescribed Forms of Public Worship, and of their conforming to those Opinions in their Public Instruction ; whatever makes no part either of the one or the ocher, Should also make no part of a Confeflion of Faith; it has nothing to do with the object of it. The Forms indeed of Public Worship will necessarily contain in them, either expressed or implied, all the Doctrines, which are meant to be the subjects of Public Instruction, The Confession of Faith cherefore and the Liturgy of a Church should be Counter-parts to each other; their relation is mutual; if the former contain less than the latter, it is deficient; if more, it is redundant; and it is from this redundancy, that reasonable objections are most likely to arise,

« VorigeDoorgaan »