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suffer men should have dominion over their faith, and govern the conscience at discretion; and that such arbitrary and implicit methods are destructive to religion; that notwithstanding this, it does by no means follow, that it is lawful for Christians to take check at discipline, to throw off the yoke of government, and deprive themselves of those assistances which are the consequences of general union; and that such a subordination in the parts of this spiritual society is very serviceable to secure orthodox belief, and regular practice. And lastly, I desire they would consider, that the same reason which makes them insist upon the independence of one congregation upon another, will carry them much further than they desire; and may be made use of to break the union of particular congregations, and make every single person independent of each other. For one congregation has no more right to claim an independency of other congregations, than one single person has to set up himself independent of others in the same congregation. This principle, therefore, must of necessity destroy all discipline; throw the Church, as far as in us lies, into a horrible confusion; and expose the heritage of our Lord to the reproach of the adversaries." "As for those among you," continues this celebrated writer," who are called Presbyterians; though, I persuade myself, they are not unfurnished with knowledge, judgment, and zeal, yet I could wish, with all my heart, they had shown more temper in resenting the scandal, they fancy has formerly been given by the bishops; and that they had distinguished the order from the men. Persons in
public stations are not only liable to miscarriage, but it may happen that the most holy and considerable functions are sometimes managed by ill people; and in this case, both reason and religion will tell us, that the minister and the employment ought not to be intermixt and thrown together. And since at present, by the blessing of God, there is no such pretence for disgust, and that my lords the bishops are remarkable for their piety, their zeal, and constancy to their religion; I hope the advantage of their example will have a good effect upon the generality, compose the minds of those formerly disaffected, and sweeten their disposition. Besides, the Dissenters should please to consider, that if the episcopal government be attended with some inconveniences, as I do not question but it may be; so, on the other side, the Presbyterian constitution is not without very great disadvantages. No order or function, where mortal men have the management of it, is exempt from inconveniences. Equality among the ministry is subject to blemishes and excesses, no less than superiority. The safest and most prudent conduct, therefore, is not to run from one settlement to ano
ther, nor to hazard the shaking the whole frame in hopes of a better constitution, though we had both authority and power to make such an experiment. Prudence, justice, and Christian charity, will by no means give us leave to push the point thus far, and venture on such dangerous extremities, only for a different form of government. The best expedient is to endeavour the drawing towards a temper, and lessen, as much as may be, the
inconveniences we are afraid of, and not to have recourse to violent remedies. My Lord, I make no scruple to call the setting up private meetings, declining the public congregations, and withdrawing themselves from your lordship's government, violent remedies. Such practice is apparently no better than a formal schism; a crime in its own nature hateful to God and men; and for which both those who set it up, and those who encourage it, must expect to give an account at the great day."
There is still one remaining passage in the publication before me, to which, as it puts the unity of the Christian Church quite out of sight, I think it necessary to say a few words.
Among the concluding hints which this author gives for the practical direction of true Christians, we find the following one; which, from the liberal and philanthropic spirit that it breathes, is well calculated to gain credit in a world, uninstructed, as the present is, upon the subject to which it belongs. "Let true Christians," says our author, "cultivate a Catholic spirit of universal good-will, and of amicable fellowship towards all those, of whatever sect or denomination, who, differing from them in non-essentials, agree with them in the grand fundamentals of religion."*
The good contained in this sentence appears in so questionable a shape, that an apprehension of the evil which may be derived from it by the uninformed Christian, leads me to conclude, that the author could not see it, in the light in which it will be seen by many readers. Whilst, therefore, I *Wilberforce, p. 487.
honour the general sentiment, I must beg leave to state my objections to the wording of some part of it, when considered as drawing out a line of practical conduct for the Christian.
There is no fallacy by which common understandings are so readily imposed upon, as that by which a proposition of acknowledged truth, in its proper and restrained sense, is made to minister to a general and unlimited conclusion. In questions of nice discrimination, the far greater part of mankind, whose senses are not exercised to discern between good and evil,* are not possessed of ability sufficient to qualify them to draw the line between what is and what is not to be admitted. Propositions which bring immediate conviction to the mind, from the evident truth contained in them, are readily embraced; whilst at the same time little or no attention is paid to the limitations by which those self-evident propositions are necessarily bounded. Hence it is, that a confusion of judgment, upon the most important subjects, ofttimes prevails in the minds of uninformed people, unfavourable to the cause of truth: when the admission of one proposition in an unlimited sense comprehends under it the rejection of another, which stands upon an equally firm foundation. In this case, they either determine upon a wrong conclusion, which necessarily leads to error; or in consequence of their remaining poised between two apparently opposite positions, which they know not how to reconcile, they are in that state of uncertainty which leads to no conclusion at all. * Heb. v. 14.
In proportion, therefore, to the importance of the CO subject, should be the attention paid to the precise boundaries, within which every position, however incontrovertible in itself, ought to be confined; that no opening may be left for a general conclusion to be drawn, to the proper establishment of which other circumstances may be necessary to be taken into the account.
The proposition here alluded to is that by which a reader may be led to conclude, that provided the faith of the Christian be sound, provided he hold the grand fundamentals of religion, other considerations are not subjects of essential importance to him.
Upon what is to be understood by the grand fundamentals of religion there is no question. Where these are not admitted, there can be no Christianity. This is a position in which all who receive the Gospel must agree. But though there can be no Christianity, where the grand fundamentals of religion are not admitted, it does not follow, that where these are admitted, there remains no other subject of essential importance, to which the Christian need pay attention.
It may be asked, is every thing relating to the Church of Christ to be deemed non-essential, save what respects the profession of its peculiar doctrines? Such a conclusion, it is presumed, will lead the Christian reader further than the author meant. For upon this supposition, that every thing but the grand fundamentals of religion is a matter of no essential importance; the conclusion which the generality of readers will draw from the sentence