« Prev A Discourse upon Galatians ii. 5. Next »

The false methods of governing and establishing the church of England exploded, &c.





To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

IF in the compass of so small a space as from the first entrance of Christianity into the world to the times of the apostle Paul, the church of Galatia (then but newly planted) could pass into so corrupt and degenerate a condition as this epistle represents it in, let none be surprised to find the very grossest errors sometimes got into the very best and purest churches, but wonder rather, that, after so many centuries since passed, there should still be (what our Saviour foretold there should scarce be at his second coming) such a thing as faith upon earth, or indeed any church at all.

As for that of Galatia, the subject of the text before us, and consisting of great numbers both of Jews and Gentiles, just converted to Christianity, there arose a very early and fierce dispute amongst them, whether the Jewish customs and ceremonies were to be joined with and adopted into the Christian profession; and consequently, whether the converted 163Gentiles ought not to be circumcised according to the law of Moses, as well as they had been baptized according to the institution of Christ? The Jewish converts, whose education had made them infinitely fond of the Mosaic rites, and who, though they had the substance, still doted upon the shadow, even after they had given up their names to Christ, eagerly contended for the continuance of circumcision, and that not amongst themselves only, but for obliging the converted Gentiles also to the same. And in this their error they chanced unhappily to be the more confirmed by a temporizing practice of St. Peter himself, the great apostle of the circumcision; who yet, (as great as he was,) by judaizing in some things, and that even contrary to his own judgment, .as well as to the truth of the gospel, (the text itself telling us, in verses 12, 13 of this chapter, that it was indeed no better than downright dissimulation,) he spread and carried the infection much further by the authority of his example; so that, by this his in sincere dealing and compliance, he mightily fixed these half Christian Jews, not only in a confident persistance in their error, but gave them heart also to expostulate the matter very insolently even with St. Paul himself, who, being by divine commission no less the apostle of the Gentiles than St. Peter was of the Jews, with a courage equal to his sincerity, both taught and practised quite otherwise than that his brother apostle. Nay, so high did their judaizing impudence work, that they began to question the very truth of his doctrine, as St. Paul not obscurely intimates in chap. 1 of this epistle, verse 9. To all which they add their no less rude reflections upon his apostleship, extolling St. Peter and others 164 as pillars, but undervaluing St. Paul, as nothing in comparison of them. And lastly, to complete these scurrilities, we have their vilifying reproaches of his person, their ridiculing his bodily presence as mean, and his speech as contemptible; and, in a word, himself also as by no means so gifted a brother, forsooth, so powerful an holderforth, nor of such edifying lungs and loudness, as some of their own schismatical tribe.

This, I say, was the language of a set of schismatics in the church of Corinth, mentioned in 2 Cor. x. 10, and the like, no doubt, of the brotherhood in Galatia; and not of them only, but so long as there shall be governors and government in the church, the same, we may be sure, will be naturally the cry and virulence against them of all schismatics, sectaries, and dissenters whatsoever.

But as to St. Paul’s case now before us, he, in his apostolic circuit or visitation, coming to visit these hopeful converts in Galatia, accompanied with his beloved Titus, (not indeed then circumcised,) finds himself very vehemently pressed by them, and that with an importunity next to compulsion, to have him circumcised also, according to the false persuasion they had conceived of the necessary and perpetual use of circumcision. Nevertheless, as false and confident as this persuasion of theirs was, and as positively as it stood condemned by St. Paul, it wanted not for several arguments, and those, seemingly at least, not inconsiderable, to give colour to the defence of it. As, to instance in some of them, might not these Galatians have pleaded for the continuance of circumcision, that Christ himself declared, that he came not to destroy the law of Moses, but to fulfil it; 165and if so, was not circumcision one of the most considerable parts of that law? and indeed so considerable, as to be the grand obligation to bind men to all the rest? Did not also Christ command his own disciples to hear and to do whatsoever the Scribes taught them out of Moses’s chair? And did those Scribes teach or own any thing as more necessary than circumcision? Moreover, did not St. Peter, who was the, proper apostle of the circumcision, (as we have shewn,) agree and concur with these men in this practice, or, at least, not dissuade them from it? Nay, and did not St. Paul himself cause his beloved Timothy to be circumcised? And if in this matter there should be any difference between these two apostles, would not the advantage be clearly on St. Peter’s side, who, having conversed with Christ in the flesh, might rationally be presumed to know the true sense and design of the gospel more exactly than St. Paul, who had not so conversed with him; and consequently, that it must be much safer to adhere to the former, in this controversy, than to the latter? And, lastly, besides, and above all this, might they not plead themselves extremely scandalized, grieved, and offended at the practice of such brethren as should lay aside circumcision, which they were sure was at first commanded, and never since (for what they could learn) forbidden by Christ; but rather so much the contrary, that to countenance, and, as it were, even christen this ceremony, Christ submitted to be circumcised himself?

Now surely these things could not but carry some more than ordinary shew of reason with them; and I frankly declare, that I cannot but own them for arguments much more forcible against the abrogation 166 of circumcision, than any that I could ever yet find our nonconformists were able to bring for the abrogation of the ceremonies of our church. And yet, as forcible as they were, or seemed to be, they had no other effect upon St. Paul, than that with an in flexible steadiness he rejects both the arguments themselves, and those who urged them; and upon a full cognizance of the merits of the whole cause, he peremptorily withstands those judaizing trimmers, and without the least regard either to the occasional communion which St. Peter himself had lately vouchsafed them, or fear of his depriving power for doing so, (if he had any,) this high-church apostle (as we may worthily call him) resolves neither to give place to him nor them., no, not for an hour.

This historical account of the occasion of the words here pitched upon by me for my text, I thought necessary to premise, for the better clearing and hand ling of them; in order to which I shall consider in them these five particulars.

1. A fierce opposition made by some erroneous Christians in the church of Galatia against St. Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles, and consequently of prime authority in that church.

2. The cause of this opposition; which was their importunate and unreasonable pressing of him to the practice of a thing as necessary, which neither was in itself necessary, nor so accounted by him.

3. The way of their managing this opposition, which was by bespattering his doctrine, and detracting from the credit and authority of his person, for withstanding these their encroaching demands.

4. The way which the apostle took to deal with 167such violent encroachers, and that was by not yielding, or giving place to them, no, not for an hour.

5. And lastly, the end and design driven at by the apostle in this his method of dealing with them; and that was no less than the very preservation of the gospel itself, in the truth and purity of it, in those words, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

The sum of all which five particulars I shall gather into this one proposition, which shall be the subject of the following discourse; namely, That the best and most apostolical way to establish a church, and secure to it a lasting continuance of the truth and purity of the gospel, is, for the governors and ministers thereof not to give place at all, or yield up the least lawful, received constitution of it, to the demands or pretences of such as dissent or separate from it, though never so urging and importunate.

This, I say, is a most plain, natural, undeniable inference, from the words and practice of St. Paul himself; and that in a case so like ours in the church of England, that a liker can hardly be imagined. And accordingly I shall manage the prosecution of this proposition under these three general heads.

1. I shall examine and consider the pretences alleged by dissenters for our quitting, or yielding up, any of the rites, ceremonies, or orders of our church.

2. I shall shew what are naturally like to be the consequences of such a yielding, or giving them up. And,

3. And lastly, I shall shew what influence and efficacy a strict adherence to the constitutions of our church, and an absolute refusal to part with any of them, is like to have towards a lasting settlement of 168 the same, and of the truth and purity of the gospel amongst us.

But before I enter upon a more particular discussion of any of these, I must premise this observation, as the ground and rule of all that I shall say upon this subject; namely, that the case is altogether the same of requiring, upon the account of conscience, the forbearance of practices in themselves lawful, out of a pretence of their unlawfulness; and of imposing upon the conscience practices in themselves not necessary, upon an allegation and pretence of their necessity: which latter was heretofore the case between St. Paul and those judaizing Galatians, as the former has been, and still is, between the church of England and the nonconformists. Now both of these courses are really and equally superstitious: for though amongst us loudness and ignorance have still carried the charge and cry against the ceremonies of our church, yet (as a very learned divine88   Bishop Sanderson. of our own has fully proved in a sermon of his at a visitation) this charge truly recoils upon our dissenters themselves, in the very point and matter now before us. For, as to urge the practice of a thing in its nature really indifferent, as a part of God’s worship, and for itself necessary to be practised, (which the church of England never did, nor does, in the injunction of any of its ceremonies,) is properly superstitious; so, on the other side, to make it necessary to abstain from practices in themselves lawful and indifferent, (as the dissenters do, by alleging them to be sinful and unlawful, and consequently that to abstain from them is part of our obedience to Almighty God,) this is altogether as superstitious 169as the other, and as diametrically opposite to and destructive of that Christian liberty, which Christ has invested his church with.

Which observation being thus premised, I shall now enter upon the first general thing proposed, to wit, to examine and consider the several pretences alleged by dissenters for our quitting or giving up any of the constitutions or customs of our church: and here I shall not pretend to recount them all in particular, but only at large, and as they are deriveable from, and reducible to, these three particulars.

1. The unlawfulness; 2. the inexpediency; and 3. and lastly, the pretended smallness (as they word it) of the things excepted against by them. Each of which I shall touch very briefly upon. And,

1. For their leading plea of the unlawfulness of our ceremonies, grounded upon that old, baffled argument, drawn from the unlawfulness of will-worship, and the prohibition of adding to or detracting ought from the word or worship of God, no other answer need or can be given to it, than that which has been given over and over, viz. that our ceremonies are not looked upon either as divine worship, or as any necessary essential part of it, but only as circumstances, and external appurtenances, for the more decent performance of that worship: for that men should of their own will impose or use any thing as the necessary worship of God, or add any thing to that worship, as a necessary essential part of it, this questionless (as the forementioned allegations sufficiently prove, and nobody, that I know of, denies) must needs be sinful; but if from hence it be affirmed also, that no circumstance is to be allowed about the divine worship, but what is declared 170 and enjoined by express scripture, the consequence of that is so unsufferably ridiculous, that it will extend to the making it unlawful for the church to appoint any stated place or hour for God’s public worship, that it will reach also to the very taking away of pulpits, reading desks, fonts, and every thing else circumstantially ministering to the discharge of divine service, if not expressly mentioned and commanded in the written word of God; and let these men, upon the foregoing principle, avoid the absurdity of this consequence, if they can. But it has been well remarked, that the truth is, those men do not really believe themselves, while they thus plead against the ceremonies and orders of our church. For when a late act of parliament required all persons in office, or designing to qualify themselves for any office in the state, to receive the sacrament according to the use and order of the church of England, (which we all know was to receive it kneeling,) we find not that those men, in such cases, refused the doing of it, (how idolatrous soever both now and then they pretended it to be,) rather than quit the least office of gain which they actually had, or miss of any which they were in pursuit of; which practice of theirs, had it been unlawful, surely men of such tender consciences, as they own themselves to be of, would never have been brought to; forasmuch as not the least unlawful thing ought to be done for the greatest temporal advantage whatsoever: though it may be quite otherwise, I confess, with those new lights, whose humour is their law, their will their reason, and their interest their whole religion. And so to pass from hence to their

Second plea, to wit, of the inexpedience or inconvenience 171of the said ceremonies in the divine worship: to which I answer these two things.

1. That expedient or inexpedient being words of a genera], indefinite sense or signification, and upon that account determinable chiefly by the several fancies, humours, and apprehensions of men about one and the same thing, (so that what is judged expedient by one man is often judged as inexpedient by another;) the judgment of expedient or inexpedient in matters to be passed into law, ought in all reason to rest wholly in the legislators and governors of any community; and consequently, that no private person whatsoever ought to be looked upon as competent judges of the inexpedience of that which the legislative power has once enacted and established as expedient. But, 2dly, I affirm also, that what is not only in itself lawful, but likewise highly conducible to so great a concern of religion, as % decency and order in divine worship certainly is, and that to such a degree conducible to the same, that without it neither order nor decency could possibly continue or subsist; that surely cannot, ought not to be reckoned inexpedient upon any contrary account, considerable enough to be compared with, and much less to over balance that great one of order and regularity in our addresses to Almighty God; which I affirm the ceremonies used by our church are most properly subservient to. For since the outward acts of divine worship cannot be performed, but with some circumstances and postures of the body, either every man must be left to his own arbitrement to use what circumstances and postures he pleases, or a rule must be fixed to direct these things after one and the same manner: the former of which will of necessity 172 infer great diversity and variety in the discharge of the divine worship; and that, by as great a necessity, will infer such a disorder, undecency, and confusion in the same, as nothing but an uniformity in the behaviour and circumstances of all persons joining in that worship can possibly prevent: an argument, no doubt, worth the consideration of all, who must needs know, that God will not be served by halves, but be honoured by body as well as soul, (the whole man being less than enough, for all our solemn 1 acts of devotion.) And so we come now to the

Third and last of their exceptions, grounded upon the smallness of the things excepted against: to which also my answer is twofold,

1. That these things being in themselves lawful, and not only so, but also determined by sufficient authority, their smallness is so far from being a reason why we should refuse and stand out against the use of them, that it is an unanswerable argument, why they should, without any demur, submit to and comply with authority in matters which they themselves confess to be of no very great moment. For it ought to be a very great and weighty matter indeed, which can warrant a man in his disobedience to the injunctions of lawful authority in any thing whatsoever. And that which is a reason why men should comply with their governors, I am sure can be no reason why their governors should give place to them. But,

2dly, I add further, that nothing actually enjoined by law is or ought to be looked upon as small or little, as to the use or forbearance of it, during the continuance of that law, nor yet as a sufficient reason for the abrogation of that law; since, be the thing 173never so small in itself, yet being by great deliberation first established, and for a long time since received in the church, and contended for with real and great reason on the one side, be the reasons never so plausible (which yet hitherto does not appear) on the other, yet the consequence of a change cannot be accounted small, since it is certainly very hazardous at best, and doubtful what mischief such a change may occasion, how far it may proceed, and where it may end; especially since the experience of all governments has made it evident, that there was hardly ever any thing altered in any settled estate, which was not followed by further and further alterations, and several inconveniences attending those alterations, unforeseen indeed at first, but such as, in the event, made too great impressions upon the public to be accounted either small or in considerable.

These exceptions therefore being thus stript of their plausibility and force too, and returned upon the makers of them, it follows, that notwithstanding all the late harangues concerning our differing in lesser things, (as the phrase still goes,) and our contending about shadows, and the like, made by some amongst us, who would fain be personally popular at the cost of the public, and build themselves a reputation with the rabble upon the ruins of that church, which by all the obligations of oaths and gratitude they are bound to support, as (I am sure) that supports them; it follows, I say, that for the governors of our church to be ready, after all this, to yield up the received constitutions of it, either to the infirmity, or importunity, or the plausible exceptions (as their advocates are pleased to term them) of our clamorous 174 dissenters, is so far from being a part either of the piety or prudence of those governors, (as the same advocates insinuate,) that it is the fear of many, both pious and prudent too, that in the end it is like to prove no other than the letting a thief into the house, only to avoid the noise and trouble of his rapping at the door.

And thus much for the first thing proposed, which was, to examine and consider the pretences alleged by dissenters for our quitting or yielding up any of the constitutions of our church. I come now to the

Second general thing, which is, to shew what are naturally like to be the consequences of such a yieldance.

In order to which, I shall consider these two things.

1. What the temper and disposition of those men, who press for such compliances with them, used to be. And,

2. What the effect and consequence of such compliances has been heretofore. And,

1. For the temper of the men; this certainly should be considered; and if it ought to give any force to their demands, it ought to be extremely peaceable and impartial. But are there any qualities incident to the nature of man, which these persons are further from? For do they treat the governors of the church with any other appellation but that of Baal’s priests, formalists, dumb dogs, proud popish prelates, haters of God and good men, and the like? I say, is not this their usual dialect? And can we imagine that the spirit of Christianity can suggest such language and expressions? Is it possible, that where true religion governs in the heart, it should thus utter itself at the mouth? And to shew yet 175further, that this temper can manifest itself by actions as well as words, did not those who now plead conscience against law, in the year 41, persecute, plunder, kill, and murder those who pleaded and followed conscience according to law? And can any one assure the government that they will not, under the same circumstances, do the same things again?

And for their impartiality, did they ever grant allowance or toleration to any who were dissenters from them? The presbyterian would grant none, and he has given the world so much under his own hand, in those many vehement books wrote by him on this subject; one of which, I well remember long since, was by a kind of sanctified quibble entitled, Intolerable Toleration, pamphlet mean enough, and of little note in the world, but as it served to shew the temper of the presbyterian, and how utterly averse he was to the indulging of any of a different persuasion from himself. And when his younger brother the independent, the abler and more thriving sectarian of the two, had tripped up his heels in the Lord, (a word then much in fashion,) and so brought in his independency, with a kind of toleration along with it; yet still prelacy, no less than papacy itself, stood expressly excepted from any benefit, favour, or toleration, from the one party or the other; that is to say, both of them were ready to tolerate Turks, Jews, infidels, (and even all who will but acknowledge one God,) rather than those of the communion of the church of England. This has been the way and temper of the persons whom we have to deal with. And now is it not pity but the whole government, civil and ecclesiastical, should bend and veil to such patterns of humility and self-denial, and 176 forthwith abrogate and destroy all its laws, only because there is a faction disposed to break through and trample upon them? A faction which nothing can win, nothing oblige, and which will be sure to requite such a favour once done them, by turning it to the utmost reproach and ruin (if possible) of those who did it. And thus having given some short account of the temper and disposition of these men, I come now in the

Second place to consider, what the effect and consequence of such compliances and relaxations has been heretofore. And for this I appeal to the judgment, reading, and experience of all who have in any measure applied themselves to the observation of men and things, whether they ever yet found that any, who pressed for indulgences and forbearances, did it with a real intent to acquiesce, and take up in those forbearances once granted them, without proceeding any further? None, I am sure, ever yet did, but used them only as an art or instrument to get into power, and to make every concession a step to a further demand; since every grant renders the person to whom it is made so much the more considerable, and dangerous to be denied, when he shall take the boldness to ask more. To grant is generally to give ground. And such persons ask some things only, in order to get others without asking; for no encroachers upon, or enemies to any public constitution, ask all at first. Sedition itself is modest in the beginning, and no more than toleration may be petitioned for, when in the issue nothing less than empire and dominion is designed.

The nature of man acts the same way, whether in matters civil or ecclesiastical. And can we so soon 177forget the methods by which that violent faction grew upon the throne between the years forty and sixty? Did not the facility and goodness of king Charles I. embolden their impudence, instead of satisfying their desires? Was not every condescension, every concession, every remission of his own right so far from allaying the fury of their greedy appetites, that, like a breakfast, it rather called up the stomach, and fitted it the more for a dinner? Did not craving still grow upon granting, till nothing remained to be asked on one side, or given on the other, but the life of the giver?

Thus it was with the state; and I would fain hear any solid reason to prove that it will not fare alike with the church. For how has the papacy grown to that enormous height, and assumed such an extravagant power over sovereign princes, but by taking advantage from their own grants and favours to that rapacious and ungrateful see? which still took occasion from thence to raise itself gradually to further and further pretensions; till courtesy quickly passed into claim; and what was got by petition, was held by prerogative; so that at length insolence, grown big and bold with success, knew no bounds, but trampled upon the neck of emperors, controlled the sceptre with the crosier, and in the face of the world openly avowed a superiority and preeminence over crowned heads. Thus grew the papacy, and by the same ways will also grow other sects; for there is a papacy in every sect or faction; they all design the very same height or greatness, though the pope alone hitherto has had the wit and fortune to compass it.

And thus having shewn what have been the effects 178 of such concessions heretofore, as well as described the temper of the persons who now press for them; I suppose it will not be very difficult for us to judge, what are like to be the future effects and consequences of the same amongst ourselves. Concerning which I shall lay down this assertion; That what effects and consequences any thing has had formerly and usually, and what in its own nature it tends to, and is apt to produce, it is infinitely sottish and irrational to imagine or suppose that it will not produce and cause in the world for the future. And I believe hardly any nation or government, but ours, would suffer the same cheat to be trumped upon it twice immediately together. Every society in the world stands in the strength of certain laws, customs, and received usages, uniting the several parts of it into one body; and accordingly the parting with any one of those laws or customs is a real dissolution of the continuity, and consequently a partial destruction of the whole. It certainly shakes and weakens all the fabric; and weakness is but destruction begun; it tends to it, and naturally ends in it.

But to pass from argumentations founded upon the general nature of things, to the same made evident to sense by particular instances; let us here first of all suppose our dissenters to be dealt with upon terms of comprehension, (as they call it,) and took into the communion of the church, without submitting to the present conditions of its communion, or any necessary obligation to obey the established rules of it, then these things must follow; first, that men shall come into the national ministry of the church of England full of the Scotch 179covenant, and all those rebellious principles fresh and keen upon their spirits, which raised and carried on the late fatal war. Then will it also follow, that in the same diocese, and sometimes in the very same town, some shall use the surplice, and some shall not; and each shall have their parties prosecuting one another with the bitterest hatreds and animosities. Some in the same church, and at the same time, shall receive the sacrament kneeling, some standing, and others possibly sitting; some shall use the cross in baptism, and others shall not only not use it themselves, but shall also inveigh and preach against those who do. Some shall read this part of the common prayer, some that, and some perhaps none at all. And where (as in cathedrals) they cannot avoid the having it read by others, they shall come into the church when it is done, and stepping up into the pulpit, (with great gravity no doubt,) shall conceive a long, crude, extemporary prayer, in reproach of all the prayers which the church, with such admirable prudence and devotion, had been making before. Nay, in the same cathedral you shall see one prebendary in a surplice, another in a long cloak, another in a short coat, or jacket; and in the performance of the public service some standing up at the Creed, the Gloria Patri, and the reading of the gospel; and others sitting, and perhaps laughing, and winking upon their fellow schismatics, in scoff of those who practise these decent orders of the church. And from hence the mischief shall pass from priest to people, dividing them also into irreconcileable parties and factions; so that some shall come to church when such an one preaches, and absent themselves when another does. 180 I will not hear this formalist, says one; and I will not hear that schismatic, (with better reason,) says another. But in the mean while the church, by these horrible disorders, is torn in pieces, and the common enemies of it, the papists, and some (who hate it as much) gratified. These, I say, are some of the certain, unavoidable effects of comprehension; nor indeed could any other, or better, be expected by those who knew, that their surest way to ruin the church would be to get into the preferments of it. So that I dare avouch, that to bring in comprehension, is nothing else but, in plain terms, to establish a schism in the church by law, and so bring a plague into the very bowels of it, which is more than sufficiently endangered already, by having one in its neighbourhood; a plague which shall eat out the very heart and soul, and consume the vitals and spirits of it, and this to such a degree, that in the compass of a few years it shall scarce have any, visible being or subsistence, or so much as the face of a national church to be known by.

But now from comprehension it may be natural and proper enough for us to pass to toleration. Concerning which latter, since it has had the fortune to get a law (or something like a law) made in its be half, I think there cannot be a matter of greater moment or truer charity, than to inform men’s consciences how far this new law will warrant them in their separation from the church. For the vulgar and less knowing part of the nation do verily reckon, that this, as an act for toleration, has utterly cancel led all former obligations, which did or might lie upon them, to join with the church in the public worship of God, But this is a very great and dangerous 181mistake, and may, if persisted in, cost them no less than their souls; for certain it is, that there are laws extant amongst us, enjoining conformity to, and communion with, the established church, as likewise obedience to the pastors thereof, legally set over it and the respective members of the same: and consequently, that as long as the obligation of these laws continues, conformity to it must be a duty, and non conformity a sin: and lastly, that the obligation of these laws does and must continue till the said laws are actually repealed; which as yet, I am sure, they are not, and I hope never will. Thus therefore stands our case. But what effect then, will some say, has this act for toleration? Why, truly, none at all, as to the nature and quality of the actions commanded or prohibited by the preceding positive laws of the church; but as to the penalties annexed to those laws against the violators of them, these indeed are taken off and rescinded by this toleration, (or indulgence rather, for strictly it is no more.) So that it may, I confess, give temporal impunity to such as transgress upon this account, but for all that, it can never by so doing warrant the transgression itself; it may indeed indemnify the person, but cannot take away the guilt, which, resulting from the very nature of the action, is inseparable from it. Nor is it able to take off all sorts of penalties neither; forasmuch as those enacted by the divine law can never be remitted or abrogated by any human law or temporal authority whatsoever. And therefore our separatists will do well to consider, that the laws of our church, (admitting them to be but human laws, yet) so long as they neither require any thing false in belief nor immoral in practice, stand ratified by that general 182 law of God, commanding obedience to all lawful, though but civil and temporal authorities; and consequently oblige the conscience, in the strength of that general divine law, to an obedience to all that shall be enacted and enjoined by the said authorities. So that when God shall come to pass sentence upon men for their disobedience to the same, whether in this world or the next, I fear that no plea of toleration will be able to ward off the execution.

Most true it is, both from principles of philosophy and divinity, that the abrogation of the positive declared penalties of a law is no abrogation or repeal of the law itself. And accordingly upon this occasion I must declare, that penalties and rewards are not of the essence of a law, but extrinsic to it; nor does any law owe its obliging power to them, but solely to the sovereign will of the legislators: so that the taking away the penalties of any law does but leave the obliging power of the law as it was before; law being properly nothing else, but the will of the supreme power to the persons subject to it, concerning something to be done or not done, possessed or not possessed by, or any ways belonging to, the said persons. This, I affirm, comprehends the whole nature of a law precisely considered; and as for the annexion of punishments to the violation, or of rewards to the performance of it, they are not of the precise intrinsic nature and obligation of a law, but are added only as appendages to strengthen it, and procure a more certain awe to it and performance of it: forasmuch as man will be more likely not to transgress a law, being under the fear of a declared punishment for so doing, and to perform it upon a persuasion of a sure promised reward for such a performance, 183than if neither of these were added to it. Nevertheless, had God said to mankind, I command you to do this, and my will is that you forbear that, without expressing any reward for doing the former, or penalty for not doing the latter; it had been as duly and essentially a law, and the obligation thereof as real, as if the reward and penalty had been by an express sanction declared to either. And if any one should here object, How then could God punish for any neglect of his law, or reward for the doing of it, had there been no sanction of a punishment for the former, nor of reward for the latter? I answer, that the sovereignty and justice of God, together with the nature and merit of every action of the creature, will sufficiently account for this, without recurring to any positive sanction of penalties or rewards; it being unquestionably just with God (and natural conscience, with the τὸ γνωστὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ, is sufficient to teach every man that it is so) to punish an action in the nature of it worthy of punishment, though he should not declare by any positive sanction before hand, that he would punish it; and in like manner he may freely reward any good action, though he should never oblige himself by any precedent promise so to do. And upon this account it seems to me very remarkable, that in the ten commandments (which are so many particular laws of God) there are seven of the ten without either reward or penalty in the decalogue annexed to them; and no doubt, though God had never expressed either of them elsewhere in the writings of Moses, they had, notwithstanding, been as essentially laws, and as really obliging, as they were afterwards upon the clearest and most express declaration of the said rewards and penalties. 184 And here. 1 confess. I look upon God’s declaring the addition of penalties and regards to his laws. rather as an effect of his goodness than of his strict justice; nothing, that I know of, obliging him thereunto upon that account. Not but that I acknowledge also, that such a declaration adds great strength to his laws; as to their prevalence upon men to observe them. But for all that, to prevail with men actually to do their duty, and to oblige them to it, are very different things, and proceed upon very different grounds. The laws of men, I own, are extremely lame and defective without these two great props to support them, and very hardly able (especially since the corruption of man’s nature by sin) to compass the proper ends of laws upon men barely by the sense of precise duty. So that if there were no rewards or punishments proposed, there would hardly be any actual obedience. However, a law will still be truly and properly a law, so long as it obliges men, though it may be unable to bring them actually to obey it. As a cripple, though never so lame and weak, and even with his legs cut off too, is a man still, and as essentially, though not as integrally so, as he was before.

This I thought fit to discourse about the nature and obligation of laws, penalties, and rewards, upon this occasion. But to return to the high and mighty piece of policy sublimate, (as I may call it,} toleration. 1 am far from grudging our dissenters the benefit of the law they have obtained, (if it be such.) and further from soliciting a repeal of it; but being providentially engaged in the subject I am now upon, 1 cannot but. as a divine, discharge my conscience both to God and the world, by declaring what I 185judge, according to the best of my reason, will, and unavoidably must, be the consequences of a thing, which this church and kingdom, ever since they were a church and kingdom, have been wholly strangers to. And because such consequences, if drawn out to the utmost, would be innumerable, I shall only mention one instead of all the rest, as being certain, obvious, and undeniable; and that is, the vast increase; of sects and heresies amongst us, which, where all restraint is taken off, must of necessity grow to the highest pitch that the Devil himself can raise such a Babel to; so that there shall not be one bold ringleading knave or fool, who shall have the confidence to set up a new sect, but shall find proselytes enough to wear his name, and list themselves under his banner; of which the Quakers99   George Fox, an illiterate cobbler, first beginner and head of them. are a demonstration past all dispute. And then what a vast part of this poor deluded people must of necessity be drawn after these impostors! So that as number and novelty generally run down truth and paucity for a while; the church, and orthodox part of the nation in communion with it, will probably in a short space be overborne and swallowed up by the spreading mischief. And moreover, since it is impossible for government or society to subsist long, where there is no national bond or cement of religion to hold it together, it must quickly dissolve into confusion: and since confusion cannot last always, but that it must in the issue settle into something or other; that [something] here no doubt will and must be popery, popery infallibly and irresistibly: for the church of England being once suppressed, no other church or 186 sect amongst us (for all besides it are no better) has any bottom or foundation, or indeed any tolerable pretence to set up and settle itself upon.

And that this fatal consequence thus drawn is neither false nor precarious, we may be assured from the papists themselves. For did not their late agent,1010   Coleman. who lost his life in their service, and whose letters are so well known, tell us in one of them, “that the way, by which he intended to have popery brought in, was by toleration; and that if an act for general liberty of conscience could be obtained, it would give the greatest blow to the protestant religion here, that ever it received from its birth?” And did he not also complain, “that all their disappointments, miseries, and hazards, were owing to that fatal revocation (as he calls it) of the king’s declaration for liberty of conscience?” And lastly, does he not affirm, that all the advantages they expected to make, was by the help of the nonconformists, as presbyterians, independents, and other sects? (I transcribe his own words.) And shall we not here believe, that the papists themselves best knew what were the properest and most efficacious ways for the prosecuting their own interest? Nay, and did not king James II. with great ostentation as well as earnestness, often declare, that he would have a kind of magna charta, (forsooth,) or standing law for liberty of conscience, in this nation for ever? And can we believe, that his design was to keep out popery by this project? No, surely; for such as believe even transubstantiation itself cannot believe this. So that let all our separatists and dissenters know, that they are the pope’s journeymen, to carry 187on his work, (and for ought I know, were but king James amongst us, might be treated, together with his nuncio, at Guildhall.) They are, I say, his tools, to do that for him which he cannot do for himself; (as a carpenter cannot be an hatchet, how effectually soever he may use it.) In a word, they are his harbingers and forerunners to prepare and make plain a way for him to come amongst us; and consequently they, even they, who are the loudest criers out against popery, are the surest and most industrious factors for it. For it is evident to the whole world, that it is their weakening the church of England by their separation from it, and their unsufferable virulent invectives against it, which makes old Renard the pope, with his wolves about him, presume, that he may attack it now (being thus weakened by our encouraged dissenters to his hands) with victory and success. The thief first breaks the hedge and mounds of the vineyard, to fetch away a few clusters; but the wild boar enters by the same breach, and makes havoc of all. But let us in the mean time with all Christian submission wait the good pleasure of Al mighty God, and our governors, for one seven years, and by that time I question not but we shall see what this new project tends to, and is like to end in; while, at present, we have but too great reason to believe, that the chief design of some of the busiest contrivers, and most indefatigable promoters of it, was, and is, by such a promiscuous toleration of so many sects and heresies amongst us, to bring the church of England at length to need a toleration itself, and not to have it, when it needs it.

As to which truly primitive church, (whatsoever fate may attend it,) this may and must be said of it, 188 that it is a church which claims nothing of secular power to itself, but, like a poor orphan exposed naked and friendless to the world, pretends to no other helps but the goodness of God, the piety of its principles, and the justness of its own cause, to maintain it; a church not born into the world with teeth and talons, like popery and presbytery, but like a lamb, innocent, and defenceless, and silent, not only under the shearer, but under the butcher too; a church, which as it is obedient to the civil power, without any treacherous distinctions or reserves, so would be glad to have the countenance and protection of that power in return for her hearty obedience to it; though after all, if it cannot be protected by it, it is yet resolved to be peaceable and quiet under it, and while it parts with every thing else, to hold fast its integrity.

And now if Almighty God should, for the nation’s unworthy and ungrateful usage of so excellent a church, so pure and peaceable a religion, bereave us of it, by letting in upon us the tyranny and superstition of another, it is pity but it should come in its full force and power; and then, I hope, that such as have betrayed and enslaved their country will consider, that there is a temporal, as well as an ecclesiastical interest concerned in the case, and that there are lands to be converted, as well as heretics; and that those who pretend, that they can with a word speaking change the substance of some things, can with as much ease alter the property of others. God’s will be done in all things; but if popery ever comes in by English hands, (as I see not how it can come in by any other,) I doubt not but it will fully pay the scores of those who brought it in. But,


3. I come now to the third and last general thing at first proposed, which was to shew, what influence and efficacy a strict adherence to the constitutions of the church, and an absolute refusal to part with any of them, is like to have upon the settlement of the church, and the purity of the gospel amongst us.

As for this I shall shew three ways, by which it tends effectually to procure such a settlement. As,

1. By being the grand and most sovereign means to cause and preserve unity in the church. The psalmist mentions this as one of the noblest and greatest excellencies of the Jewish church, Psalm cxxii. 3, that it was built as a city which is at unity in itself. Unity gives strength, and strength duration. The papists abroad frequently tell the English, that if we could but once be united amongst ourselves, we should be a formidable church indeed. And for this reason, there was none whom they so mortally hated (I speak upon certain information) as that late renowned archbishop and martyr, whose whole endeavour was to establish a settled uniformity in all the British churches; for his zeal and activity in which glorious attempt the presbyterians cut him off, according to the papists hearts desire.

Now a resolution to keep all the constitutions of the church, the parts of its service, and the conditions of its communion entire, without lopping off any one of them, must needs unite all the ministers and members of it, while it engages them, as the apostle so passionately exhorts the Corinthians, 1 Cor. i. 10, to speak all the same thing. Not that I think that the apostle’s meaning is, that all should speak the same thing in the very same words, (though I cannot disprove this neither, as to a considerable 190 part of the divine service.) But this I affirm, that the using the same words (still allowing for the diversity of languages) is the readiest, the surest, and most effectual way to speak the same things of any other way whatsoever: and it is sufficiently known, that the laws of this national church, by the liturgy it has provided and prescribed, enjoins the whole nation so to do. But, on the contrary, if any one be indulged in the omission of the least thing there enjoined, they cannot be said to speak all the same thing. In which case, besides the deformity of the thing itself, so much exploded by St. Paul in the whole fourteenth chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians, viz. that where the worship of God was the same, the manner of performing it should be with so much diversity, as the apostle there tells us it was; I say, besides the undecency of it, such a difference of practice, even in any Christian congregation, must and will certainly produce an irreconcileable division of minds, since the said diversity cannot be imagined to proceed from any thing else but an opinion that one man understands and does his duty after a better and more spiritual manner than another; and consequently has got the start of his neighbour or fellow-minister, either in point of judgment or devotion; in neither of which is any man apt to give precedency to another, especially when it comes once to be contested: unity without uniformity being much like essence without existence; a mere word and a notion, and no where to be found in nature.

2. A strict adherence to the constitutions and orders of the church, is another way to settle it, by begetting in the church’s enemies themselves an opinion 191of the requisiteness and fitness of those usages, for which they see the governors and ministers of the church (men of unexceptionable learning and integrity) so concerned, that they can by no means be brought to recede from them. Let factious biased people pretend what they will outwardly, yet they cannot but reason the matter with themselves inwardly, that certainly there must be something more than ordinary in those things, which men of parts, judgment, and good lives so heartily contend for, and so tenaciously adhere to. For it is not natural to suppose, that serious men can or will be resolute for trifles, fight for straws, and encounter the fiercest oppositions for such small things, as all the interests of piety, order, and religion may be equally provided for, whether the church retains or parts with them. This certainly is unnatural, and morally impossible. And, on the other side, let none think that the people will have any reverence for that, for which the pastors of the church themselves shew an indifference.

And here let me utter a great, but sad truth; a truth not so fit to be spoke, as to be sighed out by every true son and lover of the church, viz. that the wounds which the church of England now bleeds by, she received in the house of her friends, (if they may be called so,) viz. her treacherous undermining friends, and that most of the nonconformity to her, and separation from her, together with a contempt of her excellent constitutions, have proceeded from nothing more than from the false, partial, half conformity of too many of her ministers. The surplice sometime worn, and oftener laid aside; the liturgy so read, and mangled in the reading, as if they were ashamed of it; the divine service so curtailed, as if 192 the people were to have but the tenths of it from the priest, for the tenths he had received from them; the clerical habit neglected by such in orders as frequently travel the road clothed like farmers or graziers, to the unspeakable shame and scandal of their profession; the holy sacrament undecently and slovenly administered; the furniture of the altar abused and embezzled; and the table of the Lord profaned. These and the like vile passages have made some schismatics, and confirmed others; and, in a word, have made so many nonconformists to the church, by their conforming to their minister.

It was an observation and saying of a judicious prelate, that of all the sorts of enemies which our church had, there was none so deadly, so pernicious, and likely to prove so fatal to it, as the conforming puritan. It was a great truth, and not very many years after ratified by direful experience. For if you would have the conforming puritan described to you, as to what he is,

He is one who lives by the altar, and turns his back upon it; one who catches at the preferments of the church, but hates the discipline and orders of it; one who practises conformity, as papists take oaths and tests, that is, with an inward abhorrence of what he does for the present, and a resolution to act quite contrary when occasion serves; one who, during his conformity, will be sure to be known by such a distinguishing badge, as shall point him out to, and secure his credit with, the dissenting brotherhood; one, who still declines reading the church service himself, leaving that work to curates or readers, thereby to keep up a profitable interest with thriving seditious tradesmen, and groaning, ignorant, 193but rich widows; one who, in the midst of his conformity, thinks of a turn of state, which may draw on one in the church too; and accordingly is very careful to behave himself so as not to overshoot his game, but to stand right and fair in case a wished for change should bring fanaticism again into fashion; which it is more than possible that he secretly desires, and does the utmost he can to promote and bring about.

These, and the like, are the principles which act and govern the conforming puritan; who, in a word, is nothing else but ambition, avarice, and hypocrisy, serving all the real interests of schism and faction in the church’s livery. And therefore, if there be any one who has the front to own himself a minister of our church, to whom the foregoing character may be justly applied, (as I fear there are but too many,) howsoever such an one may for some time soothe up and flatter himself in his detestable dissimulation, yet when he shall hear of such and such of his neighbours, his parishioners, or acquaintance, gone over from the church to conventicles, of several turned quakers, and of others fallen off to popery; and lastly, when the noise of those national dangers and disturbances, which are every day threatening us, shall ring about his ears, let him then lay his hand upon his false heart, and with all seriousness of remorse accusing himself to God and his own conscience, say, I am the person, who, by my conforming by halves, and by my treacherous prevaricating with the duty of my profession, so sacredly promised, and so solemnly sworn to, have brought a reproach upon the purest and best constituted church in the Christian world; it is I, who, by slighting and slubbering 194 over her holy service and sacraments, have scandalized and cast a stumblingblock before all the neighbourhood, to the great danger of their souls; I, who have been the occasion of this man’s faction, that man’s quakerism, and another’s popery; and thereby, to the utmost of my power, contributed to those dismal convulsions which have so terribly shook and weakened both church and state. Let such a mocker of God and man, I say, take his share of all this horrid guilt; for both heaven and earth will lay it at his door, as the general result of his actions: it is all absolutely his own, and will stick faster and closer to him, than to be thrown off and laid aside by him as easily as his surplice.

3. And lastly, a strict adherence to the rules of the church, without yielding to any abatements in favour of our separatists, is the way to settle and establish it, by possessing its enemies with an awful esteem of the conscience and constancy of the governors and ministers of it. For if the things under debate be given up to the adversary, it must be upon one of these two accounts; either, 1. That the persons who thus yield them up judge them unfit to be retained; or, 2. That they find themselves unable to retain them: one or both of these must of necessity be implied in such a yieldance. If the first, then will our dissenters cry out, Where has been the conscience of our church governors for so many years, in imposing and insisting upon those things which they themselves now acknowledge and confess not fit to be insisted upon? And is not this at once to own all the libellous charges and invectives which our nonconformists have been so long pursuing our church with? Is not this to fling dirt upon the government 195of it ever since the reformation? Nay, and does not the same dirt light upon the reformers themselves, who first put the church into the order it is in at present, and died for it when they had done? Such, therefore, as are disposed to humour these dissenters, by giving up any of the constitutions of our church, should do well to consider what and how much is imported by such an act; and this they shall find to be no less than a tacit acknowledgment of the truth and justice of all those pleas, by which our adversaries have been contending for such a yieldance to them all along. The truth is, it will do a great deal towards the removal of the charge of schism from their own door to ours, by representing the grounds of their separation from us hitherto lawful at the least. For the whole state of the matter between us lies in a very narrow compass, viz. that either the church of England enjoins something unlawful, as the condition of her communion, and then she is schismatical; or there is no unlawful thing thus enjoined by her, and then those who separate from her are and must be the schismatics: and till they prove that the church of England requires of such as do or would communicate with her either the belief or profession of something false, or the practice of something impious or immoral, it will be impossible to prove the unlawfulness of those things which she has made the conditions of her communion; and consequently to free those who separate from her from the charge of schism. Now so long as this is the persuasion of the governors of our church concerning these things, the world can not but look upon them, in their immovable adherence to them, as acting like men of conscience, and, 196 which is next to it, like men of courage. The reputation of which two great qualities in our bishops will do more to the daunting of the church’s enemies, than all their concessions can do to the gaining them; for that is impossible. In the mean time, courage awes an enemy, and, backed with conscience, confounds him. He who, having the law on his side, and justice too, (for they are not always the same,) resolves not to yield, takes the directest way to be yielded to; for where an enemy sees resolution, he supposes strength, and upon trial generally finds it; but to yield, is to confess weakness, and consequently to embolden opposition. And I believe it will be one day found, that nothing has contributed more to make the dissenting nonconforming party consider able, than their being thought so. It has been our courting them, and treating with them, which has made them stand upon their own terms, instead of coming over to ours.

And here I shall shut up this consideration with one remark, and it is about the council of Trent; the design of calling which council, in all the princes who were at all for the calling one, was to humble and reduce the power of the papacy; and great and fierce opposition was made against that power all along by the prelates and ambassadors of those princes; but so far were they from prevailing, that the papacy weathered out the storm, and fixed itself deeper and stronger than ever it was before. But what method did it take thus to settle itself? Why, in a word, no other but a positive resolution not to yield or part with any thing, nor to give way either to the importunity or plausible exceptions, nor, which is yet more, to the power of those princes. 197So that, as the renowned writer of the history of that council observes, notwithstanding all those violent blusters and assaults made on every side against the papal power, “yet in the end,” (I give you the very words of the historian,) “the patience and resolution of the legates overcame all.”

Now what may we gather from hence? Why, surely, this very naturally; that if courage and resolution could be of such force as to support a bad cause, it cannot be of less to maintain and carry on a good one; and if it could thus long prop up a rot ten building, which has no foundation, why may it not only strengthen, but even perpetuate that which has so firm an one as the church of England now stands upon?

And here to sum up all: could St. Paul find it necessary to take such a course with those erroneous, judaizing dissenters in the church of Galatia, as not to give place to them, no, not for an hour? and is it not more necessary for us, where the pretences for the schism are less plausible, and the persons likely to be perverted by it much more numerous? Let us therefore, by way of close, briefly recapitulate and lay together the forealleged reasons and arguments, why we should by all means deal with our separatists and dissenters as St. Paul (a most authentic example) did with those judaizing hybrid Christians, viz. not give place to them at all. And that because,

1. By our yielding or giving place to them, we have no rational ground to conclude that we shall gain them, but rather encourage them to encroach upon us by further demands; forasmuch as the experience of all governments has found concessions so far from 198 quieting dissenters, that they have only animated them to greater and fiercer contentions.

2. By our yielding or giving place to them, we make the established laws, in which these men can neither prove injustice nor inexpedience, submit to them, who, in duty, reason, and conscience, ought to obey and submit to those laws.

3. By our yielding or giving place to them, we grant that to those, who, being themselves in power, never thought it reasonable to grant the same to others in the like case.

4. By our yielding or giving place to them, we bring a pernicious, incurable schism into the church, if it be by a comprehension; though it is hoped that the wisdom of the government will prevent the equal danger which some fear from an unlimited toleration.

5. By our yielding to these men in a way of comprehension, we bring such men into the church, as once destroyed and pulled it down as unlawful and antichristian, and never yet renounced those principles upon which they did so, nor (as it is rationally to be thought) will.

6. By such a comprehension we endeavour to satisfy those persons, who could never yet agree amongst themselves about any one thing or constitution in which they would all rest satisfied.

7. By indulging them this way, we act partially, in gratifying one sect, who can pretend to no more favour than what others may as justly claim, who are not comprehended; and withal imprudently, by indulging one party, who will do us no good, to the exasperation of many more, who have a greater power to do us hurt.


8. By such a concession we sacrifice the constitutions of our church to the will and humour of those whom the church has no need of; neither their abilities, parts, piety, interest, nor any thing else belonging to them, considered.

9. And lastly, by such a course we open the mouths of the Romish party against us, who will be still reproaching us for going off from their church to a constitution, which we ourselves now think fit to relinquish and surrender up, by altering her discipline and the terms of her communion; and may justly ask of us, where, and in what kind of church constitution, we intend finally to fix?

These, I say, amongst many more that might be named, are the reasons why we contend that our dissenters are by no means to be given place to in the least. And after all, may not this concluding question be likewise asked, viz. Whether, supposing that this yielding or giving up the things so long and earnestly disputed both for and against amongst us had been done in a parliamentary way, and seconded by the clergy’s own solemn act and deed in convocation, it would be now imagined by any one of solid sense, reason, and experience, that the church of England should ever have seen the same rites, rules, and constitutions restored to it again; nay, even at that grand and glorious restoration of king Charles II. and of the whole nation with him, in the year sixteen hundred and sixty? No certainly, no; and I, for my own part, neither do nor can believe it; and let any one else (of a faith less than able to remove mountains) believe it, if he can.

And therefore what remains now, but that we implore the continued protection of the Almighty upon 200 a church by such a miracle restored to us, and (all things considered) by no less a miracle hitherto preserved amongst us, powerfully to defeat her enemies and increase her friends, and so settle her upon the best and surest foundations of purity, peace, and order, that neither the gates of hell, nor all the arts of those within them, may ever prevail against her.

Which he, the most sovereign Lord and Patron of our church, and Defender of our faith, of his infinite goodness effect. To whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.

« Prev A Discourse upon Galatians ii. 5. Next »


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |