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Ecclesiastical Constitutions to be strictly maintained.
PREACHED AT OXFORD.
To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.
CHRISTIANITY having been now in the world above sixteen hundred years, there is hardly any condition that can befall the church, but may be paralleled, or at least resembled by the condition it has been in, in some place or age before. That which our church labours under at present, is the bold and restless encroachments of many amongst ourselves, upon the bishops and pastors of it.
1st, By an endeavour to cast out of our public worship some ceremonies and usages hitherto received in it; and instead of submitting to their spiritual governors in such matters, they insolently require of their governors to comply with them, though contrary to their own judgment, and that also backed with truth and reason, as well as law and authority. And then (upon their refusal to yield to such innovators) by traducing them as persons of another religion, 494of a different Christianity; and, in a word, as papists and idolaters, for persisting in the use of those ceremonies, which, upon the most serious deliberation had about these things, by such as laid down their lives against popery, have by full authority, both ecclesiastical and civil, been established in our church.
Not much unlike this case of ours, we have one mentioned here, in the church of Galatia, and that as early as the times of the apostles themselves; in which many, both Jews and Gentiles, being converted to Christianity, a great dispute arose, whether the Jewish customs were to be joined with the Christian profession, and consequently, whether the converted Gentiles ought not to have been circumcised according to the law of Moses, as well as baptized according to the religion of Christ. The Jewish converts, who were most infinitely fond of the Mosaical rites, even after their enrolment under Christ’s banner, fiercely contended not only for the continuance of circumcision amongst themselves, but for obliging the proselyte Gentiles to the same custom also. And in this their error they were the more confirmed by the example and practice of St. Peter, the great apostle of the circumcision, (it being the fate of the church then, as well as since, to have some of its chief leaders betray the truth and interest of it, by unworthy and base compliances with its enemies.) St. Peter, I say, thus judaizing in some things, and that even contrary to his own conscience, as well as to the truth of the gospel, (for the text tells us in the 12th and 13th verses, that it was neither better nor worse than downright dissimulation; and such an one is like a contagious pest, which spreads the 495infection on many more besides himself,) did by his example mightily encourage those Jewish Christians, not only to have confidence in their errors, but also to an expostulation with St. Paul himself, who, being an apostle of the Gentiles, both taught and practised quite otherwise; and so far did it carry them, that they questioned the very truth of his doctrine, calling it another gospel, and by no means the same that Christ and the rest of the apostles had taught before, as is intimated in the first chapter and the 9th verse. They reflected also very slightingly on his person and apostleship, extolling St. Peter and others as pillars, but despising St. Paul, as nothing in comparison. Upon which, St. Paul coming to visit these Galatian converts, with Titus his companion, they press him very earnestly, and with an importunity next to compulsion, to have Titus circumcised, according to their false notion of the necessity of circumcision. And yet, as false as this opinion was, it wanted not some colour of arguments; for might not these Galatians plead, in behalf of the continuance of circumcision, that Christ himself declared, he came not to destroy the law of Moses, but to confirm and fulfil it? And was not this circumcision one of the most considerable parts of the law? So considerable indeed, as to be the grand obligation to bind men to all the rest. Did not also Christ command his own disciples to hear and do what the pharisees taught them out of Moses’s chair, and did they teach or own any thing equally necessary, or more necessary than circumcision? As a confirmation of all this, did not St. Peter, who was the proper apostle of the circumcision, agree and concur with them in the practice of it, or at least 496not dissuade them from it; nay, and did not St. Paul himself cause Timothy to be circumcised? And if in this matter there should be any difference between these two apostles, was not the advantage clearly on St. Peter’s side, who, having conversed personally with Christ in the flesh, might rationally be presumed to know the true sense and design of the gospel more than St. Paul, who had not that benefit; and consequently, that it must be much safer for them in that controversy to adhere to the former than to the latter? Lastly, over and above all, might they not plead themselves extremely scandalized, grieved, and offended at the disusage of circumcision, which they were sure was at first instituted by God, and never since (for what they could find) forbidden by Christ, but rather, on the contrary, countenanced by his own practice? These things certainly carry some show of reason in them, and were much more forcible allegations for circumcision, than any that our sectaries bring against our ceremonies; and yet, as forcible as they seemed, they had no other effect on St. Paul, than that with great stiffness he rejects both them and those that urged them; and upon a full hearing of the merits of the whole cause, resolves not to give place to them, no, not for an hour.
This was the occasion of these words; in which are five particulars worth our observation.
1st, A fierce opposition made by some erroneous private Christians in the church of Galatia against St. Paul, a great apostle, and consequently of prime authority in the church of Christ.
2dly, The cause of this opposition, the violent and unreasonable demands made to him, to confirm the 497practice of a thing as necessary, which in itself was not so.
3dly, The methods taken in this opposition, viz. slandering his doctrine, and detracting from the credit and authority of his person, for withstanding these their encroaching demands.
4thly, The wholesome method made use of by the apostle in dealing with these violent encroachers; that was, not to give place to them in the least, no, not for an hour.
5thly and lastly, The end and design intended by the apostle in this his method of dealing with them, viz. the preservation of the gospel in the truth and purity of it, that those sacred truths might have their due regard among them.
The sum of all which particulars I shall connect into this one proposition, which shall be the subject of this following discourse; namely, That the best and most apostolical way to establish a church, and to secure it in a lasting continuance of the truth and purity of the gospel, is, for the governors and ministers of it not to give place at all, or yield up the least received constitution of it, to the demands or pretences of such as dissent or separate from it; all which is a plain, natural, undeniable inference from the practice of St. Paul in a case so like ours, that a liker can hardly be imagined. The prosecution of this proposition I shall endeavour to manage under the following heads.
First, I shall consider and examine the pretences alleged by dissenters for our remitting or yielding up any of our ecclesiastical constitutions.
Secondly, I shall shew you the natural consequences of such a tame resignation.498
Thirdly, I shall 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 likely to have upon the settlement of the church, and purity of the gospel amongst us.
But before I enter upon the discussion of any of these, I must premise this observation, and rule of all I shall say upon this subject, viz. that the case is altogether the same, of requiring upon the account of conscience forbearance of practices in themselves lawful, through a pretence of their unlawfulness, and an imposing upon the conscience practices in themselves not necessary, upon allegation and pretence of their necessity; which latter was the case between St. Paul and these Galatians, as the former is between our church and the sectarists. Now both of these courses are superstitious, and equally so. For though lewdness and ignorance have still carried the cry of superstition against our church ceremonies, yet (as a learned prelate22Bishop Sanderson. hath fully proved in his Visitation sermon) that charge truly recoils upon our dissenters, in the very point and matter before us. For as to urge the practice of a thing indifferent as a part of God’s worship, and for itself necessary to be practised, (which our church never did nor does in the injunction of any of her ceremonies,) is superstitious; so to make it necessary to abstain from practices in themselves lawful, or at least indifferent, alleging that they are sinful, and consequently that an abstinence from them is part of our obedience to God, this is altogether as superstitious, and diametrically opposite to and destructive 499of the Christian liberty that Christ has invested his church with.
This premised, I shall now enter upon the first thing proposed; which was, to consider and examine the pretences alleged by dissenters, for the quitting or yielding up any of the constitutions of the church. And here in a noted discourse so acceptable to such as hate the church, and hope shortly to ruin it, we have their chief pretences already gathered to our hands under very few heads, viz. the infirmity, the importunity, and plausible exceptions of our sectarists: concerning the first of which, the plea of infirmity or weakness, if it be meant of such a weakness (as it must be, if it argues any thing) as in the 14th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, or the 8th chapter of the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul speaks of in those weak brethren, who in his time, being newly converted from Judaism or Gentilism, were for a while to be borne with in some things; it is most evident that the case of these converts then, and of our dissenters now, are so widely different, that where people have from their infancy been brought up in a Christian church, and by Christian parents and teachers, such infirmity or weakness the apostle there mentions, in persons newly converted from other religions, neither is nor can be pleaded; since, after so many opportunities of instruction, there can be no doubting or dissatisfaction in things necessary to be known, practised, or forborne, but what in all persons enjoying those means is very culpable, and in most inexcusable; so that the plea is impertinent.
2dly, And for that other, of importunity, it is so senseless, and withal so shameless a pretence, that it 500may be referred even to the judgment of those that make it; whether, in case this was admitted against things legally established, any laws in the world could possibly subsist or continue, where people were bold and violent enough to oppose and exclaim against them. And since the civil state has found it necessary to arm itself with laws against sturdy beggars, it is, methinks, somewhat hard, that in the ecclesiastical state sturdy beggars should control the laws. In the last place therefore, let us see what is to be ascribed to their phrase of plausible exceptions; where it will concern us, first of all, to inquire into the force and meaning of this word plausible, this high and mighty word, to which the long received constitution of a whole church ought to give place. Now plausible, I conceive, may have one of these two significations.
1st, It may be taken for that which carries with it more appearance and show of reason than its opposite, in the judgment or opinion of the multitude: or,
2dly, For that which carries a greater appearance and show of reason in the judgment of the more sensible part of mankind. In either of these senses, I shall shew that it makes nothing for them, and that from the following considerations.
1st, Because there is actually a church, a greater number of persons in the nation, that practise and conform to the use of those things now in debate between us, than there is of those who stand off, and abstain from them. This being so, unless we will judge those men gross hypocrites, we are bound in reason and Christian charity to believe, that there appears to them a greater ground of reason why 501they should so conform, than why they should not; and consequently the first signification of plausibility fails our dissenters, since the number of those to whom conformity appears more rational is much larger than the number of those to whom the exceptions against it appear to be so. In this sense therefore the exceptions cannot be allowed to be so much as plausible; but then,
2dly, Admitting (which as they cannot prove, so neither do we grant) that there were this kind of plausibility in their exceptions brought against conformity, yet I deny that which is plausible in this sense, that it appears reasonable to the opinion and vogue of the multitude, ought to take place of that which is deemed to have greater reason for it in the sense and judgment of the more knowing, though much inferior to the other in number: which is the other sense in which I shewed the word plausible may be taken.
3dly, The third consideration is, that since the governing part of the church and state have declared for conformity, by making laws to enjoin it; and since in all governments the advantage of wisdom and knowledge, in making or changing, must in reason be presumed to be rather on the side of those that govern, than of those that are to be governed; it follows that, according to the other sense of plausibility, conformity and the reasons for it are more plausible, than the exceptions and arguments alleged against it.
4thly, The fourth and last consideration, which eradicates the foregoing pretence, is, that the ground of passing a thing into a law, and of retaining that law when once made, is not the plausibility of the thing 502or law to the sense of the vulgar, but the real conducibility of it to the good of the multitude; and that accords to the sense and judgment of those who are to govern and make laws for it. To which I add further, that a thing may be really and practicably conducing to the good of the multitude, though neither suitable to the opinion or humour of it, and consequently no ways plausible to it.
Now from these four consequences it being manifest how insignificant that pretence, taken from the plausibility of the nonconformists’ exceptions against the constitutions of our church, proves to be, since they are neither plausible, as proceeding from the wise and governing part of the nation, nor yet as from the greater or more numerous part of it; nor lastly, ought to have any control upon the laws, though they were never so plausible upon this last account: I shall pass from the plausibility to the force of the exceptions, and see whether we can meet with any strength of reason, where we have not yet found the show. And here I shall not pretend to recount them all in particular, but only take them as reducible to, and derivable from, the following three heads.
First, The unlawfulness, or,
Secondly, The inexpediency, or,
Thirdly and lastly, The smallness of the things excepted against. I shall only touch briefly upon each of them, for the compass of this discourse will allow no more.
1st, For their leading plea of the unlawfulness of our ceremonies, grounded upon the old, baffled argument drawn from the illegality of will-worship, and the prohibition of adding to and detracting from the 503word and worship of God: no other answer can or need be given to it, but that which has been given over and over; that our ceremonies are not esteemed by our church 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 the worship. For that man should of his own will impose on us any thing as the necessary worship of God, or add any thing to the worship as a necessary essential part of it, this questionless, as the aforementioned allegations sufficiently prove, must needs be sinful. But if from hence it be affirmed also, that no circumstance is to be allowed in divine worship, but what is declared and enjoined by express scripture, the consequence of this is so insufferably ridiculous, that it will extend to the making it unlawful for the church to appoint any place or house for God’s worship; nay, it will lead also to the very taking down 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 word of God. And let them, upon the foregoing principle, avow the absurdity of the consequence if they can. But it has been well remarked, that these men do not indeed believe themselves, when they plead our rites unlawful. For when an act of parliament enjoined all persons in office to take the sacrament according to the use of the church of England, (and that, we know, is to take it kneeling,) we find none of them refusing, how idolatrous soever at other times they esteemed it, rather than turn out of the least office of gain they were possessed of; which, had it been unlawful, surely men of such tender consciences, 504as they own themselves to be, would never have been brought to do, since not the least unlawful thing ought to be committed for the greatest temporal advantage whatsoever. But since these men have, by so many other instances, manifested to the world that they look upon their own will as their law, they would do well hereafter to allege no other argument for the unlawfulness of our ceremonies; and therefore to pass to their second plea of inexpedience, or inconveniency of them; to which I shall give the two following answers.
1st, That inexpedience being a word of a general, indefinite sense, and so determinable by the several fancies, humours, apprehensions, and interests of men about the same thing, so that what is judged expedient by one man is thought inexpedient by another; the judgment of the expediency or inexpediency of matters formed into laws ought in all reason to rest wholly in the legislators and governors, and consequently no private persons ought to be looked upon as competent judges of the inexpediency of that which the legislative power has once enacted and established as expedient.
2dly, I affirm also, that that which is not only in itself lawful, but highly conducible to so great a concern of religion, as decency and order in divine worship; and this to that degree, that without it such order and decency could not subsist or continue; this cannot otherwise be inexpedient upon any considerable account whatsoever. But then all these considerations of inexpediency will be abundantly overbalanced by this one great expediency: for since the outward acts of divine worship cannot be performed but with some circumstances and posture of body, either 505every man must be left to his own arbitration, or use what circumstances and postures he pleases, or a rule must be laid down to direct these things after one and the same manner. The former of necessity infers diversity and variety in the discharge of the same worship, and that by the same necessity infers disorder and indecency; which by nothing but an uniformity in the behaviour and circumstances of persons joining in one and the same worship can be prevented. This argument, I confess, concurs directly for the necessity of ceremonies in general about divine service; but so far as ours are argued against upon a general account, and till they are proved particularly unfit for the general end, the same may be also a defence of ours in particular. Come we now to the
3d and last exception, grounded upon the smallness of the things excepted against; to which also my answer is twofold: (1st,) That these things being in themselves lawful, and not only so, but also determined by sufficient authority, the smallness is so far from being a reason why men should refuse and stand out against the use of them, that it is an unanswerable argument why they should, without any demur, submit 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 that can warrant a man in his disobedience to the injunctions of any lawful authority; 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 506to the use or forbearance of it, during the continuance of that law, nor yet as sufficient reason for the abrogation of that law, since, be the thing never 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 its 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 it 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 any thing altered in a settled state, that was not followed by more alterations, and several inconveniences attending these alterations; not indeed at first foreseen, but such as in the event made too great impressions on the public to be accounted either small or inconsiderable. These exceptions being therefore stripped of their plausibility and force too, and retorted upon the patrons of them, it follows, that notwithstanding all our harangues concerning our difference in smaller things, as the phrase now is, and our contending about shadows and the like, made by some amongst us, who would fain be personally popular at the public cost, and build themselves a reputation with the rabble upon the ruins of the church, that 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, after all this, to be ready to yield up the received constitutions of it, either to the infirmity, or importunity, or plausible exceptions, (as their advocates are pleased to 507term them,) of our clamorous dissenters, is so far from being a part either of the piety or prudence of those governors, that it is the fear of many both pious and prudent too, that in the end it will be like to prove no other than the permitting of a thief to come into the house, only to avoid the noise and trouble of his knocking at the door. And thus much for the first thing proposed; which was to consider and examine the pretences alleged by dissenters for our quitting or yielding up any of our ecclesiastical constitutions. I come to shew now the second thing, which is, what are naturally like to be the consequences of such a tame resignation. In order to which, I shall consider these two things.
1st, What the temper and dispositions of those men who press so much for compliances have usually been.
2dly, What the effects and consequences of such compliances or relaxations have been formerly.
And first for the temper of these 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, that these persons are further from? For did they treat the governors of the church with any other appellation but that of priests of Baal, idolaters, persecuting Nimrods, formalists, dumb dogs, proud popish prelates, haters of God and good men, &c.? 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 by the mouth? And to shew yet further that this temper 508can manifest itself by actions as well as words, did not these who now plead conscience against law, 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 again the same things? And for their impartiality, did they ever grant allowance or toleration to any that were dissenters from them? The presbyter would grant none; and so much has he given the world under his own hand, in those many clamorous libels, and that spawn of pamphlets composed on that subject. And when his younger brother, the more able and more successful sectarist of the two, had undermined him, and introduced toleration, yet still episcopacy as well as popery stood expressly excepted from any benefit by it, or part in it. This is the way and temper of the persons we have to deal with; and what pity is it that the whole government, both ecclesiastical and civil, should not lean to and bear with them! A faction that will be sure to requite such a favour once done them, by using it to the reproach and ruin of them that did it. And thus having given some short account of the temper and disposition of these men, the next thing is to consider,
2dly, What the effect and consequences of such compliances or relaxations have 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 ever pressed for indulgencies and forbearances rested in them once granted, without proceeding any further? None ever yet did, but used them only as an act and instrument 509to get into power, and 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, when he thinks fit to ask more. To grant, is to give ground; and such persons ask some things only in order to their getting others without asking; for no other encroachers upon or enemies to any public constitution ask all at first: sedition itself is modest in the dawn, and only toleration may be petitioned, where nothing less than empire is designed. The nature of man acts the same way, whether in matters civil or ecclesiastical; and can we easily forget the methods by which that violent faction grew upon the throne? Did not the facility and too fatal mercy of a late prince embolden their impudence, instead of satisfying their desires? Was not 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 their stomachs, and fitted them 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 owner? Thus it was with the state; and I would fain hear any solid reason to prove that it will not happen alike to the church: for how has the papacy grown to that surprising height, and assumed such an extravagant power over sovereign princes, but by taking advantages from their own grants and favours to that see? Which still took occasion from them to raise herself gradually to further pretences, till courtesy quickly passed into claim, and what was gotten by petition was held by prerogative; so that at length insolence, grown big and bold with success, knew no bounds, but trampled upon the necks of 510emperors, 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 way will also grow other sects; for there is a papacy in every sect or faction; for they all design the same height and grandeur, though the pope alone has had the fortune to compass it. And thus having shewn what have been the effects 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 had formerly, 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 but ours would suffer the same cheat to be trumped upon it twice immediately together. Every society in the world subsists 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 of these 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; as every disease of the body will be death, and no mischief cures itself. But to pass by arguments deduced from the general nature of things, to the same made evident to sense in particular instances, let us first of all suppose our dissenters 511to 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 full of their covenanting rebellious principles, even keen upon their spirits, and such as raised and carried on the late fatal war. Then it will also follow, that in the same diocese, sometimes in the very same town, some shall use the surplice, and others not; each shall have their parties prosecuting one another with the bitterest hatred and animosities; some in the same church, and at the same time, shall receive the sacrament kneeling, some standing, and others probably sitting; some shall make use of the cross in baptism, and others shall not only not use it themselves, but also inveigh and preach against those who do; some shall preach this part, others that, and some none at all. And where, as in cathedrals, they cannot avoid the hearing of it read by others, they shall come into the church when it is done, and stepping into the pulpit, conceive a long, crude, extemporary prayer, in reproach of all those excellent ones just offered up before. Nay, in the same cathedral you shall see one prebend in a surplice, another in a long coat or tunic, and in performance of the service, some standing up at the creed, the doxology, or the reading of the gospel, others sitting, and perhaps laughing and winking upon their fellow schismatics in contempt of those who practise the decent order of the church: and from hence the mischief shall pass to the people, dividing them into parties and factions, 512so that some shall come to the assembly of the saints only to hear a favourite preacher, and for ever after be sure to be absent. I will “give no countenance, says one, to the formalist; nor will I, says another, with much better reason, give ear to the schismatic: all this while the church is rent in pieces, and the common enemy gratified. And these are some of the effects of comprehension; nor indeed could any other be expected from a project so nearly allied to fatal forty-one; so that I dare avow, that to bring in comprehension is, in plain terms, nothing less than to establish a schism in the church by law, and settle a plague in the bowels of it, that shall eat out the very heart and soul; so far consume the vitals and spirits of it, that in the compass of a very few years, it shall scarce have any visible being or subsistence, or so much as the face of a national church to shew.
But from comprehension let us pass to toleration, that is, from a plague within the church to a plague round about it. And is it possible for the church to continue sound, or indeed so much as to breathe, in either of these cases? Toleration is the very pulling up the floodgates, and breaking open the fountains of the great deep, to pour in a deluge of wickedness, heresy, and blasphemy upon the church. The law of God commands men to profess and practise the Christian religion; the law of man, in this case, will bear you out, though of none, or of one of your own choice. Therefore, an hundred different religions at least shall, with a bare face and a high hand, bid defiance to the Christian; some of which, perhaps, shall deny the Godhead of Christ, some the reality of his manhood, some the resurrection, and others the torments of hell. Some shall assert the eternity of the world, 513and the like, and all this by authentic allowance of law. Upon this footing, it shall be safe for every broacher of new heresy to gain as many proselytes to it as he can; and there is none of them all, though never so absurd, impious, and blasphemous, but shall have proselytes and professors more or less; and what a large part of the nation must this necessarily draw in! So that as number and novelty easily run down truth and paucity for a while, the orthodox part of the nation, the church, will quickly be borne down, and swallowed up. And since it is impossible for government or society to subsist where there is no bond or cement of religion to hold it together, confusion must needs follow. And since it is equally impossible for confusion to last long, but that it must at last settle into something, that will and must be popery, infallibly, irresistibly; for the church of England being once extinct, no other sect or church has any bottom or foundation, or indeed any tolerable pretence to set up upon, but that. And that this deduction of things is neither inconsequent nor precarious, we may be assured from the papists themselves; for did not their late agent, 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 a general liberty of conscience could be obtained, it would give the greatest blow to the protestant religion here that ever it received since its birth? Did he not also complain, that all their disappointments, miseries, and hazards were owing to the fatal revocation, (as he calls it,) of the king’s declaration for liberty of conscience?” And lastly, does he not affirm, “that all the advantage they 514expected to make was by the help of the nonconformists, presbyterians, independents, and other sects?” I purposely use his own words; and shall we not think that the papists themselves knew what were the properest and most effectual means for the prosecution of their own interests? So that let all our separatists and dissenters know that they themselves are the pope’s artificers, to carry on his work, and do that for him, which he cannot do for himself. They are his harbingers and forerunners, to prepare and make plain a way for him to come amongst us. Thus they, even they, who are the most clamorous declaimers against popery, are the surest and most industrious factors for it. It is the weakening the church of England by their separation from it, and their invectives against it, which gives Rome a handle to attack it, thus weakened to her hands, with victory and success. The thief first breaks the hedge of the vineyard, to filch away, perhaps, but a few clusters, but the wild boar enters the same breach, and makes havock of all.
As for the church of England, whatsoever fate may attend it, this may and must be said of it, that it is a church which claims no independent secular power, but, like a poor orphan, exposed naked and friendless to the world, pretends to no other help but the goodness of God, the piety of its principles, and the justice 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 powers, without any treacherous distinctions or reserves, so would be glad to have 515the countenance and protection of that power; and though it cannot be protected by it, is yet resolved to be peaceable and quiet under it; and while it parts with all, to hold fast its integrity. And if God should, for the nation’s unworthy and ungrateful usage of so excellent a church, so pure, so peaceable a religion, bereave us of it, by letting in 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 ecclesiastical interest concerned in the case; that there are lands to be converted as well as heretics; and those who pretend they can with a word’s speaking change the substance of some things, can with as much ease alter the properties of others. God’s will be done in all things; but if popery ever comes in by English hands, we need not doubt but it will fully pay the score of those who bring it in.
3dly. I come now to the third and last thing 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; and for this I shall point out three ways, by which it tends effectually to procure such a settlement.
First, 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 that is at unity in itself. Unity gives strength, and strength continuance. The catholics abroad frequently tell us, 516that if we could be united amongst ourselves, we should be a formidable church indeed; and for this reason there was none they so mortally hated, as the 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 society, and conditions of its communion, entire, without lopping any of them, must needs unite all the ministers and members of it, while it engages them (as the apostle so passionately exhorts his Corinthians, 1 Cor. i. 10) to speak all the same thing: but if any one is indulged in the omission of the least thing enjoined, they cannot be said to speak all the same thing. In which case, besides the deformity of the thing itself, that where the worship is the same, the manner of performing it should be so different; this difference of practice will also certainly produce an irreconcileable division of minds, since such diversity cannot be imagined to proceed from any other thing than an opinion that one man understands and does his duty after a better and more spiritual manner than another, and consequently has the start of his neighbour or fellow-minister, either in point of judgment or devotion, in neither of which are men to allow precedency, especially when it comes once to be contested. Unity without uniformity, is like essence without existence, a mere word and a notion, and no where to be found in nature.
2dly, A strict adherence to the constitutions of the church is a direct way to settle it, by begetting 517in her enemies themselves an opinion of the goodness and requisiteness of those ways, for which they see the government and ministry of the church so concerned, that they can by no means be brought to recede from them. Let factious persons pretend what they will outwardly, yet they cannot but reason with themselves inwardly, that certainly there must be something more than ordinary in those things, that men of parts, reason, and good lives so strenuously contend for, and so tenaciously adhere to. For it is not natural to suppose that serious men will or can be resolute for trifles, fight for straws, and encounter the fiercest opposition for such things, as all the interests of piety and religion may be equally provided for, whether the church retains or parts with them. This is unnatural and impious: and on the other side, let none think the people will have any reverence for that, for which the pastors of the church themselves shew an indifference. And here let me mention a great, but sad truth, not so fit to be spoke, as to be sighed out by every true son and lover of the church, that the wounds the church of England now bleeds by, she has received in the house of her friends, her false, undermining friends; and that nonconformity, and a separation from it, and a contempt of the excellent constitution of it, have proceeded from nothing more than from the partial, treacherous, half-conformity of many of its own ministers; the surplice sometimes worn, and oftener laid aside; the liturgy so read, as if they were ashamed of it; the service so curtailed, as if the people were to have but the tenths of that for which they paid their own tenths; the ecclesiastical habit neglected, the sacrament 518indecently administered, the furniture of the altar abused, and the table of the Lord profaned. These and the like vile passages have made many nonconformists to the church, by their conformity to their minister. It was an observation of a judicious prelate, that of all the sorts of enemies that the church had, there were none so devilish and pernicious, and likely to prove so fatal to it, as the conforming puritan. It was a great truth, and not long after ratified by dreadful experience; for if you would know what the conforming puritan is, he is one that lives by the altar, and turns his back upon it; one that catches at the preferments of the church, but hates the discipline and orders of it. One that practices conformity as popery, takes oaths and tests 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 fanatical brotherhood. One that still declines reading the church-service himself, leaving the work to curates and readers, thereby to keep up an advantageous interest with thriving, seditious tradesmen, and groaning, ignorant, but rich widows; one that in the midst of conformity thinks of a turn, and is careful to behave himself as not to outshoot his home, but to stand right and fair, in case a revolution should bring fanaticism again into fashion, which it is more than possible he secretly wishes for.
These and the like are the principles that act and govern the conforming puritan; who, in a word, is nothing else but ambition, avarice, and hypocrisy, 519serving all the real interests of schism and faction in the church’s livery.
Now if there be any such here, (as I hope there are none,) however he may sooth up and flatter himself, yet when he hears of such and such of his neighbours, parishioners, or acquaintance running to conventicles, such and such turned quakers, others fallen off to popery; and lastly, when the noise of the dreadful national disturbances and dangers shall ring about his ears, let him lay his hand upon his heart and say, “It is I, that by conforming by halves, and by treacherously prevaricating with my duty, so solemnly sworn to; I, that by bringing a contempt upon the service and order of the purest and best constituted church in the world, slabbering over the one, and slighting the other, have scandalized and tossed a stumblingblock before the neighbourhood, and have been the cause of this man’s faction, that man’s quakerism, the other’s popery, and thereby have in my proportion contributed to those convulsions that now so terribly shake and threaten both church and state.” I say, let him take his share of this horrid guilt, for God and man must lay it at his door; it is the genuine result of his actions; it is his own; and will stick faster and closer to him, than to be thrown off by him like his surplice.
Thirdly and lastly, a strict adherence to the rules of the church, without yielding to any abatement in favour of the dissenters, is the way to settle and establish it, by possessing its enemies with an awful esteem of the conscience and courage of the governors and ministers of it. For if the things under 520debate be given up to the adversary, it must be upon one of these two accounts; either,
1st, That the persons who thus yield them up judge them unfit to be retained; or,
2dly, That they find themselves not able to retain them. One or both of these of necessity must be implied in such a yieldance. In the first case then our dissenters will cry out, Where has been the conscience of our church-governors for so many years in imposing and insisting on 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 the nonconformists have been so long pursuing our church with? Is not this to fling dirt upon the government of it, ever since the reformation? Nay, does not the same dirt fall upon the very reformers themselves, who first put our church into that 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 cession all along. The truth is, it will do a great deal towards the removal of the charge of schism from their doors 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 little compass; that either the church of England enjoins something 521unlawful as the condition of her communion, and then she is schismatical; or there is nothing unlawful enjoined by her, and then those that separate from her are schismatics: and till they prove that the church of England requires of such as communicate with her, either the belief of something false, or the practice of something impious, it is impossible to prove the unlawfulness of those things that she makes the condition of her communion, and consequently to free those that separate from the charge of schism.
Now while this is the persuasion of the governors of our church concerning these things, the world cannot but look upon them in their unmoveable adherence to them, as acting like men of conscience, and, which is next to it, like men of courage. The reputation of which two qualities in our bishops will do more to the daunting the church’s enemies, than all their concessions can do to the reconciling of them. Courage awes an enemy, and backed with conscience, confounds him. He that has law on his side, and resolves not to yield, takes the directest way to be yielded to. For where an enemy sees resolution, he supposes strength; 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 considerable, than their being thought so. It has been our courting and treating with them, that 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. 522The design of which council, in all the princes that were so earnest for the calling it, was to humble and reduce the power of the papacy; and great and fierce opposition was made against it 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 than a positive resolution not to yield or part with any thing; not to give way either to the importunity or plausible exceptions, nor, which is more, to the power of those princes. So that (as the writer of the history of the council observes) notwithstanding all those violent blusters and assaults made on every side against the papal power, yet in the end 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 should be of such force to support a bad cause, it cannot be of less to maintain and carry on a good one; and if this could long prop up a rotten building, that had no foundation, why may it not only strengthen, but even perpetuate that which has so firm an one as the church of England stands upon? And now, to sum up all, could St. Paul find it necessary to take such a peremptory course with those erroneous 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 schism are less plausible, and the persons perverted by it more numerous? Let us briefly lay 523together the reasons and arguments why we should deal with our dissenters as St. Paul did with those, not to give them place at all, because,
1st, By our yielding, or giving place to them, we have no rational ground to conclude we shall gain them, but rather encourage them to encroach upon us by further demands; since the experience of all governments have found concessions so far from quieting dissenters, that they have only animated them to greater and fiercer contentions.
2dly, 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, are bound to obey those laws.
3dly, By our yielding or giving place to them, we grant to those, who being themselves in power, never thought it reasonable to grant the same to others in the same case.
4thly, By our yielding or giving place to them, we bring a pernicious, incurable evil into the church, if it be by a comprehension; or spread a fatal contagion round about it, if it be by toleration.
5thly, By our yielding to these men in a way of comprehension, we bring those into the church who once destroyed and pulled it down as unlawful and unchristian, and never yet renounced the principles by which they did so; nor (is it to be feared) ever will.
6thly, By such a comprehension we endeavour to satisfy those persons who could never yet agree among themselves about any one thing or constitution in which they would all rest satisfied.
7thly, By indulging them this way we act partially, 524in gratifying one sect, who can pretend to no favour, but what others may as justly claim who are not comprehended; and withal imprudently, in indulging one party who will do us no good, to the exasperation of many more who have a greater power to do us hurt.
8thly, 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, or interest, nor any thing else belonging to them considered.
9thly and lastly, By such a course we open the mouths of the Romish party against us; who will still be reproaching us for going from their church to a constitution that we ourselves now think fit to relinquish, by altering her discipline and the terms of her communion; and may justly ask us where, and in what kind of church or constitution we intend finally to fix.
These, among many more, are the reasons why we contend, that our dissenters are not to be given place to.
But after all this, may it not be asked, whether it were not better to submit to the aforementioned inconveniences, rather than the church should be utterly ruined? To this I answer, that the case is fallaciously put, and supposes that if these things were submitted to, the church will not be ruined, which I deny; and upon the foregoing grounds affirm it to be much more probable that it will. To which I add, that of the two, it is much better that the church should be run down by a rude violence overpowering it, than be given up by our own act and consent. For the first can only take away 525its revenues, and discourage or suppress the public exercise of its discipline, but cannot destroy its constitutions; the latter does. The former will be our calamity; but the latter, being the effect of our own consent, will render us inexcusable to all, both our friends and enemies, and ourselves too; and in the midst of our desolation, leave us not so much as the conscience of a good cause to comfort us.
To explain which by instance: Suppose the land overrun by a foreign invasion, yet still the body of the laws of England may be said to remain entire, though the execution of them be superseded: but if they be cancelled by act of parliament, they cease to be, or to be called any longer, the laws of England. In like manner, if our church-governors and the clergy concur not to the disannulling of the canons, rules, and orders of the church, the constitution of it will still remain, though the condition of it be obscured by persecution, and perhaps disabled from shewing itself in a national body; just as it fared with it in the late rebellion: and who knows, but if force and rapine should again bring it into the same condition, the goodness of God may again give it the like resurrection: but if we surrender it up ourselves, to us it is dead, and past all recovery.
And therefore what remains now, but that we implore the continued protection of the Almighty upon a church, by such a miracle restored to us, and (all things considered) by as great a miracle preserved hitherto amongst us, that he would defeat its enemies, and increase its friends; and settle it upon such foundations of purity, peace, and order, that the gates of hell may not prevail against it.526
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