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And it is a melancholy consideration, that the writings of some persons, who, from their office, were bound to understand the constitution of the Christian Church, and to manifest a due zeal for its preservation; by loosening, as it were, what God designed to consolidate into a regular and well connected form, have thereby contributed to furnish mankind with the most plausible reasons for their various deviations from it.
The produce of the seeds of liberty, sown at the révolution, has, we are sorry to say, in these days, assumed a wildness of growth, not to be reconciled with any regular mode of cultivation. Nor can we be surprised at the circumstance, when we consider the little influence which the Christian religion now possesses on the public mind.
The natural man, it is well known, is indisposed to restraint of every kind. The sacred right of independence, as it is called in modern language, is the idol which he worships. Unfortunately for him, considered as a moral agent, there have been distinguished characters in every age, whose talents have stamped a credit upon principles, which tend to favour his natural disposition, by counteracting those modifications of liberty necessary to its becoming a useful quality in society. Forgetting, or not admitting, the actual condition of fallen man, they have proceeded upon the idea, that the chief danger to social happiness was to be apprehended from the side of government; and provided man was but left free enough, he was sure to be what his Creator designed he should be. These distinguished characters have, perhaps, gained the
title which they coveted, that of being esteemed liberal men; but they have gained it for the most part at the expence of reason and revelation; and neither Church nor state owe them any acknowledgment for their services. For he must be very little acquainted with human nature, and very unobservant of the present progress of licentious opinions, who does not know, that the principles of independence now propagating in the world are absolutely incompatible with all regular order and government.
It has been urged, in reference to the subject immediately before us, than in proportion as the human mind has advanced in knowledge by the progressive discoveries which have from time to time been made in the various branches of science, it has been more qualified to establish a rule of judgment for itself, independent of the authority of former ages. And so far as this position ought to apply, we may reason with Lactantius in support of it. "Deus dedit pro virili portione sapientiam -nec quia nos illi temporibus antecesserunt, sapientiâ quoque antecesserunt. Quæ si omnibus æqualiter datur, occupari ab antecedentibus non potest. Sapientiam sibi adimunt qui sine ullo judicio inventa majorum probant, et aliis pecudum more ducuntur. Sed hoc eos fallit, quod majorum nomine posito, non putant fieri posse ut aut illi plus sapiant, quia minores vocantur, aut illi desipuerint, quia majores nominantur."-Lact. Div. Inst. ii. 7.
But whilst the argument is thus strong in favour of the freedom of human judgment, and against all
implicit submission to authority, it is necessary to discriminate in its application.
Subjects of speculation and experiment open to man a boundless field for enquiry and improvement, and were designed to exercise his faculties, and enlarge his understanding. Upon these subjects, he may be expected to grow in wisdom, in consequence of its being in his power to profit by the experience of those who have gone before him. His knowledge, therefore, upon these subjects, becomes confirmed in proportion to its advancement.
But in matters of revelation and fact, the conviction of his understanding decreases in propor tion as he is removed from the time in which that revelation and fact took place; and depends less upon the exertion of his rational powers, than upon the credibility of the testimony with which they are respectively accompanied. There is a reason, therefore, for deference to authority being paid in the one case, which does not exist in the other; and so long as that deference is paid with judgment, the cause of truth and knowledge cannot fail to be advanced by it. For the idea of a progressive faith and progressive history is attended with equal absurdity; because no exertion of the mental powers can produce an alteration in either Revelation being the declared, not the imagined, will of God, must, what misrepresentations soever it may be liable to, continue to be what it was at its original delivery; and facts which once actually took place, can never cease to be facts, whatever attempts may be made to misstate or suppress them.
The fact to which our attention is now directed, is the establishment of the Church by Christ, the founder of it. That such a fact did take place, is generally admitted. Indeed, to disallow it would be to renounce all faith in history. The difference of opinion that has unfortunately prevailed with respect to the form of its government, it is not my present purpose to reconcile, for I am now addressing myself to those who are supposed to entertain no difference of opinion on that subject. What is required of the clergy of the Church, therefore, is that their language and conduct should correspond with the judgment which they have formed. Persuaded as they must, or at least ought to be, that the Church, of which they are ministers, is built upon the foundation of the Apostles; that its ordinances are of Divine appointment; and that, consequently, it is that visible society to which Christians ought to be gathered, for the purpose of carrying on the work of salvation; it cannot be a matter of indifference to them, whether communion with this Church be preserved, or not. Whatever those who have unhappily separated from it may think, or persuade themselves upon the subject, they who have undertaken a commission in it, can, it is presumed, have but one opinion upon it; they must think with Ignatius, that "without the bishop, it is neither lawful to baptize, nor to consecrate the feast of love;" and that "that eucharist only was in the primitive Church accounted firm and good, which was consecrated by the bishop, or one whom he appointed."* *. IGNAT. Epist. ad Smyr. cap.
Εκείνη βεβαια ευχαρισία
In the liturgy of the Church we pray against schism. If, by their writing or conduct, the clergy at the same time give encouragement to it, will they not, in so doing, be thought to be acting in contradiction to the profession which they have made? But this, it is to be feared, is the case with all those, who, instead of pointing out to the laity the danger attendant upon their officiously meddling with the ministerial office, and the duty of their submitting to those teachers who by authority are set over them, by their loose writing or irregular practice lead them to the very opposite conclusion. And what reasonable hope can d be entertained, that the unity of the Church will be in any degree preserved, whilst those whose office it is to preserve it, become the instruments of its dissolution.
Much charitable allowance" (a learned bishop of the present day has well observed)" is to be made for the errors of the laity, upon points to which it is hardly to be expected they should turn their attention of their own accord, and upon which, for some time past, they have been very imperfectly instructed. Dissenters are to be judged with much candour, and with every possible allowance for the prejudices of education. But for those who have been nurtured in the bosom of the Church, and have gained admission to the ministry; if, from a mean compliance with the humour of the age, or ambitious of the fame of liberality of sentiment, (for under that specious name a profane
ηγείσθαι, η υπό τον επίσκοπον υσα, η ω αν AUTOS EWITPE↓n.—Ibid. Ουκ εξον εστιν χάρις τις επισκόπου είτε βαπτίζειν, στε αγαπην ποιειν,