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this Case, it is very surprising the Apostle should not refer the Divisions and Contentions of all kinds he frequently complains of among his Converts to so obvious an Arbitration, or that he should advise them to prove all Things, to hold fast that which is good, and to examine themselves whether they were in the Faith, by the free Use, and diligent Application of their rational Powers for such Purposes.
The Authority lodged by Christ in his Church then was neither absolute nor infallible; it is not absolute, because it extends not to Matters of Faith and Doctrine, or even of Opinion in Things of an indifferent Nature in themselves, or left so as undeterminable by Authority, wherein all are left to their own Discretion and Conscience: for in respect to Doctrine, if any Man preach any other Gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed; and with regard to Things indifferent, let every Man be fully persuaded in his own Mind. And this Authority is not infallible, as well for the Reasons above given, as because upon the Supposition of a certain and infallible Rule of Decision, there never could have been any such Thing as a Point of Doubt, or Indifference in Religion, which yet, if St. Paul argues justly, there undeniably is. The Romanists indeed absurdly argue for the Reality of such an infallible Rule from the acknowledged Desireableness, or
supposed Necessity of it': but in the first Instance they plainly do not argue at all; and in the second, they as plainly beg the Question. For whether the Holy Scriptures do not contain every thing requisite to be received as an Article of Faith, or are liable to be misunderstood in Things fundamental and essential to Salvation, is the very Point in Dispute; or rather, if any Stress is to be laid upon the foregoing, and many other Considerations, it is a Point that will not admit a Dispute. In a word, a thousand Traditions, a thousand subsequent Testimonies, and Exaggerations of papal Authority can have no Weight in a Matter as to which the Scriptures are totally silent; nay, admitting, in the way of Argument, the Precedence and Superiority of St. Peter, and the direct Succession of the Bishops of Rome from him, it is plain, even to Demonstration, that he never claimed or exercised such a Power as has been since usurped by that Church, or in his Writings inculcated Obedience and Submission to the fame.—But though the Authority with which Christian Governors are invested be neither absolute nor infallible, it is nevertheless both a legal and reasonable Authority; it is legal, because it is undoubtedly derived from the Institution of Christ himself; and it is reasonable, because without Government the Church, as a Society, could not possibly subsist. The only Question is, how far it has a Right to the implicit
Submission of all Christians, or how far it is justly liable to the Opposition and Controul of private Judgment.—We must endeavour then to ascertain and limit the Rights and Privileges of private Judgment in Matters of Religion.
Now if ecclesiastical Authority be of the Nature and Extent above stated, it will follow, that Christians, to the End of the World, are subject to the discretionary Power of their Governors in Matters of Order, Discipline, and political Administration. For if ChristianGovemors have any Power at all, it must be exercised in these Matters; and if any Obedience is due to them, it is actually due to them herein. The very Idea of of Government implied a certain Degree of Power unquestionable by Inferiors; a Power independent on the Consent or Opinion of every Individual of the Community. It is impofble indeed that these should in all Points exactly agree; but where it is impossible for all the Members of tlie fame Community to agree in Opinion, it is both possible and reasonable they should unite in Obedience. In truth, Power and Subjection are the Dispositions of Nature itself; and the Bulk of Mankind have neither Ability nor Inclination to be their own Directors. Without Government they would be, according to the beautiful Comparison of Scripture, as Sheep having no Shepherd. The Ratio then of all Government, whether
temporal temporal or spiritual, is one and the same: and so consequently are the Grounds of Submission to both. But as in temporal, the Rule of Government is not the mere Will and Pleasure of the Governor, so neither is it in spiritual. The Rule of spiritual Government is no doubt the Peace, Order, and Prosperity of the Kingdom, or Church of Christ. These can only be maintained and preserved by a Mode of Government, that is either agreeable to the Will of Christ, where it is known, or consistent therewith, where it is not. Here then is a Test by which human Reason, or private Judgment, has a Right to try all Ordinances, Rules, or Constitutions ecclesiastical; and the proper and obvious Articles of it's Inquiry are such as these.—Is the Church, to which I am required to conform, establislied, as nearly as may be, both in her Discipline and Worship, her Usages, and her Constitutions, upon the Model of the apostolic and primitive Churches? Are her doctrinal Tenets contained in Scripture, or are they evidently deducible from it? Are such of them as are of a contrevers al Nature couched in such general Expressions, that there is Room for a Latitude of Opinion with regard to them? Does she impose Articles of Faith upon her Members purely in virtue of her own Authority, as a Church? Does she allow them the free Use of the Holy Scriptures, and require no blind and implicit Submission to her
Doctrines Doctrines and Ordinances? Are her public Offices, her Rites, and Ceremonies, solemn and proper, orderly and significant? Are they free from Pageantry and Superstition on the one hand, and from Slovenliness and Indecency on the other? In short, is her whole Constitution, as a Society, as perfect as any human Establishment can in the Nature of Things be ?—Such are the Particulars which properly fall under the Cognizance of human Reason; and it was in respect of such as these that the Right of private Judgment in religious Matters was claimed by the pious Reformers of the Church of England. And the happy Consequence of this Claim, under God, was the Reduction of our ecclesiastical State to the apostolic and primitive Standard; the Abolition of spiritual Usurpation, and Tyranny; the Trial of all Doctrines founded on arbitrary Determinations, or precarious Traditions, by the only infallible Rule, the Word of God; and the Restitution of Holy Scripture to that high Esteem and implicit Veneration that is due solely to it, and had been preposterously transferred to Fables, Legends, and the Commandments of Men. But then these Reformers did nothing herein to the Prejudice of Church Government under a due Form, or to the Subversion of legal Authority; there being really as much Reason for the Exercise of Power in the Church, as there is againjl the Abuse of it. Accordingly, the