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indifference is made to
pass for an accomplish-
authority which they share, or are silent when the validity of their Divine commission is called in
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9 for any, I hope they are few, who hide this weakness of faith, this poverty of
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they are, in my estim
estimation, little better than infidels
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It is not, indeed, to be wondered at, that the opi
nions of the modern clergy should become less
what they know to be a wrong cause.
pears to me, that the three writers above-mentioned
were I a dissenter from the Church, I should seek for no argument to justify my separation, which might not be fairly drawn from their respective writings.
Bishop Hoadley, whilst he allowed that there was a Catholic visible Church, composed of particular visible Churches, which Churches ought to be regular societies; by his loose and unqualified positions in favour of religious liberty, so undermined the foundation of all ecclesiastical authority, as to * Bishop Horsley's Charge to his Clergy, p. 36.
render null and void the concession, which, from a different view of the subject, he found himself constrained to make.* Bishop Warburton, in his Sermons before the Society of Lincoln's Inn, upon the authority of Church government and Church communion, appears to be throwing down his gauntlet, in the hope of calling forth some antagonist into the field, with the view of proving himself a more successful champion in favour of religious liberty, than Bishop Hoadley had been before him. For the principles of these two writers, though perhaps somewhat differently expressed, tend to the establishment of the same point,
Warburton acknowledges the Church to be a society; that " from the command of its Founder, obedience is due to it as such; and that authority 'without obedience and submission is but a mockery." At the same time he tells his readers, that this obedience and submission are to depend entirely upon the will and opinion of the party intended to be governed. Which is to say, that Christ made a law, which as such is obligatory upon the conscience; but which, according to this interpretation annexed to it, man is to obey or not, as he thinks proper. For (in the words of this learned writer)" all the jurisdiction which follows from the authority committed to the Church of Christ is this: that so long as any man continue a member of this society, called the Church, he is to
*To enter at large into a subject which has been so fully treated by a celebrated writer, as to leave nothing to be said upon it, would be to trespass on the reader.-See Law's Letters to the Bishop of Bangor.
be obedient to such laws of his spiritual governors, as concern discipline; but when he chooses to withdraw himself from that society, the rights of conscience (as it is erroneously called) furnish him with a justifiable exemption from his former obligation." So that conscience, in such case, not being governed by the law laid down, but by the judgment from time to time formed upon it, enjoining obedience or justifying disobedience, according to the different disposition of the judging party; it follows, that Church communion, instead of being a matter of Christian obligation, dwindles down into a matter of mere private opinion.
The above mode of stating this subject might have force in it, provided the Church was a human society, of which men were left at liberty to become members, or not. But as the Church is a society of Christ's forming, with the intent that all men should be admitted into it, for the purpose of their being saved in it; and the government of it was established by Christ, with the view to the effectual promotion of that gracious object; every exertion of human liberty, in this case, must be at the peril of the party exerting it; it being exerted in opposition to a positive establishment, and in a matter in which it does not appear that God has left man at liberty to determine for himself. For if the establishment of the Church by Christ be true, the dissenter from it is in an error; if his error be unavoidable, we rejoice to think that he is in the hands of a merciful God; but should he deceive himself, should his separation from the Church be derived from evil causes, be it remembered, that that wise
Being who has established nothing in vain, is not to be mocked.
But to render submission to ecclesiastical autho rity incompatible with the liberty of the rational Christian, recourse has generally been had to arguments drawn from the usurped tyranny of the Church of Rome; which, though well calculated to produce effect upon the mind of the Protestant, do not apply to the subject; unless we consider submission to an authority established by Divine wisdom, and to the corruption of it by human pride, to be the same thing. Widely different, however, as these cases are, the Protestant is not taught to discriminate between them, when he is told (as he is by the author here alluded to) that the principle upon which the Reformation proceeded, was not so much a right of separation from the errors of a corrupt Church, as “that Christian liberty which gives every man a right to worship God according to his conscience." But surely this is making the exertion of what is called Christian liberty, regarded merely as such, rather than the cause in which it is exerted, the object of consideration; upon which principle, separation from a false Church and separation from a true one, become modes of conduct entitled to equal justification. Yet such is the Protestant ground, upon which the Protestant Church of England has been placed by some modern Divines, by whom protestantism is made to consist in the right of separating from a Church, without regard to the cause. "When we left the Popish doctrines, (says Bishop Hoadley) was it because they were actually
corrupt? No; the reason was, because we thought
"The Church of Rome (says he) accuse us of heresy, of separation from the Church and communion of Christ. It is true, we separated, but not as heretics do from the Church of Christ, but as all good men ought to do, from the corrupt society of wicked and hypocritical persons. Neither should we have separated at all, but upon the utmost necessity; and even then it was with all the unwillingness-imaginable." The corruption of the Church of Rome then, (in direct contradiction to what Bishop Hoadley says on this subject) was the ground upon which our separation from it was built; • But supposing this conscience, according to which a man worships God, to be an erroneous one, what then? Should my reader have duly attended to a foregoing chapter on Conscience, he will, I flatter myself, have an answer ready for this question; because he will perceive, that the Bishop, in this case, does not appear to make that necessary distinction between conscience rightly so called, and strong opinion or persuasion.