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To Mr Baxter
Sir, — The continuance of my cold, which yet holds me, with the severity of the weather, have hitherto hindered me from answering my purpose of coming unto you at Acton; but yet I hope, ere long, to obtain the advantage of enjoying your company there for a season. In the meantime, I return you my thanks for the communication of your papers; and shall on every occasion manifest that you have no occasion to question whether I were in earnest in what I proposed, in reference to the concord you design. For the desire of it is continually upon my heart; and to express that desire on all occasion, I esteem one part of that profession of the Gospel which I am called unto. Could I contribute any thing towards CXXthe accomplishment of so holy, so necessary a work, I should willingly spend myself and be spent in it. For what you design concerning your present essay, I like it very well, both upon the reasons you mention in your letter, as also that all those who may be willing and desirous to promote so blessed a work may have copies by them, to prepare their thoughts in reference to the whole.
For the present, upon the liberty granted in your letter (if I remember it aright), I shall tender you a few queries, which, if they are useless or needless, deal with them accordingly.
As, — 1. Are not the several proposed or insisted on too many for this first attempt? The general heads, I conceive, are not; but under them very many particulars are not only included, which is unavoidable, but expressed also which may too much dilate the original consideration of the whole.
2. You expressly exclude the Papists, who will also sure enough exclude themselves, and do, from any such agreement; but have you done the same as to the Socinians, who are numerous, and ready to include themselves upon our communion? The Creed, as expounded in the four first councils, will do it.
3. Whether some expressions suited to prevent future divisions and separations, after a concord is obtained, may not at present, to avoid all exasperation, be omitted, as seeming reflective on former actings, when there was no such agreement among us as is now aimed at?
4. Whether insisting in particular on the power of the magistrate, especially as under civil coercion and punishment in cases of error or heresy, be necessary in this first attempt? These generals occurred to my thoughts upon my first reading of your proposals. I will now read them again, and set down, as I pass on, such apprehensions in particular as I have of the several of them.
To the first answer, under the first question, I assent; so also to the first proposal, and the explanation; likewise to the second and third. I thought to have proceeded thus throughout, but I foresee my so doing would be tedious and useless; I shall therefore mention only what at present may seem to require second thoughts. As, —
1. To propos. 9, by those instances [what words to use in preaching, in what words to pray, in what decent habit] do you intend homilies, prescribed forms of prayer, and habits superadded to those of vulgar decent use? Present controversies will suggest an especial sense under general expressions.
2. Under pos. 13, do you think a man may not leave a church and join himself to another, unless it be for such a cause or reason as he supposes sufficient to destroy the being of the church? I meet with this now answered in your 18th propos., and so shall forbear farther particular remarks, and pass on.
In your answer to the second question, your 10th position hath in it somewhat that will admit of farther consideration, as I think. In your answer to the third question, have you sufficiently expressed the accountableness of churches mutually, in case of offence from maladministration and church censures? This also I now see in part answered, — proposition fifth. I shall forbear to add any thing as under your answer to the last question, about the power of the magistrate, because I fear that in that matter of punishing I shall somewhat dissent from you, though as to mere coercion I shall in some cases agree.
Upon the whole matter, I judge your proposals worthy of great consideration, and the most probable medium for the attaining of the end aimed at that yet I have perused. If God give not a heart and mind to desire peace and union, every expression will be disputed, under pretence of truth and accuracy; but if these things have a place in us answerable to that which they enjoy in the Gospel, I see no reason why all the true disciples of Christ might not, upon these and the like principles, condescend in love unto the practical concord and agreement, which CXXInot one of them dare deny to be their duty to aim at. Sir, I shall pray that the Lord would guide and prosper you in all studies and endeavours for the service of Christ in the world, especially in this your desire and study for the introducing of the peace and love promised amongst them that believe, and do beg your prayers. — Your truly affectionate brother, and unworthy fellow-servant,
Jan. 26, 1668.
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