Page images

sperity of the Church, I shall only take the Liberty to leave this general Hint to be supplied and enlarged upon by the Understandings , and Consciences of those, who are immediately concerned in this Matter.

Sect. III.

IN Prosecution of my just-proposed Design, it will, I presume, be sufficient to produce such Arguments as shall invalidate the Pleas, and obviate the main Objections of the Dijfenters in general, without descending to the several Scruples and Difficulties of each particular Sect.—In the first Place then, the Doctrines of the Church of England are (as we have already hinted) either verbally contained in Scripture, or plainly deducible from it. With regard to Articles of Faith, and the more essential Parts of Religion, this is not denied by those whom we are now reasoning with; and for Matters fairly controversial, the Church expresses her Sense in such general Terms as leave Room for considerable Diversity of Sentiment; so that excepting certain extravagant and enthusiastical Conceits, which are as little warranted by Reason or common Sense, as they are by Scripture, there would scarce be any Obstructions from this Quarter to that Unity and Agreement which is so much wimed for among us.—Indeed the Objections of

the the soberer and cooler Part of the Dissenters are rather levelled against the Customs and Usages, the public Offices, the Rites, and the Ceremonies, than the doctrinal Tenets of the Church of England; and therefore it principally concerns us to

clear the former of their several Imputations.

Now to all and every of these the great Heads of Objection must be, that they are either unnecesjary, or unedifying, or superstitious; from the supposed Solidity of which Objections they urge not only the Reasonableness, but even Necessity of Nonconformity. Let us consider then how far each of these Objections may be pleaded to the real Disadvantage of the Church of England.

Now if by Things, Usages, or Customs unnecessary, be meant Things not absolutely essential to Religion, all Churches, Bodies, and Communities of Christians whatsoever, must inevitably be involved in this Charge; for all have some Forms, Customs, and Usages, in which they will not venture to assert that the Essence of Religion consists. The Truth is, in religious as well as all other Matters, Necesstty is one Thing, and Decency or Propriety is another; and he who makes absolute Necessity the Measure of his Proceeding will on course act ridiculously and absurdly upon infinite Occasions.—The Question therefore is, whether the Rites and Usages of the Church be so many in Number, or

so so unsuitable in Kind., as to be prejudicial -to true Piety, and the Essentials of Religion; or whether there is really more true Christian Spirit among the Separatists, merely because there is less Ceremony ?— The extraordinary Purity of their Lives has indeed been frequently boasted; so frequently, that there is Room to apprehend it to be but a Boast; however, all such Pretensions as these (of which we shall by and by take some farther Notice) must fall to the Ground, if we can vindicate the Church from the other Imputations thrown upon her, and representing her Ceremonies, Offices, and Customs as unedifying or superstitious, at least when compared with the divine Service, and other Practices of Dissenters.

Now, in respect of Edification, the great Advantage claimed to the Side of the Separation is, that their Prayers and their Preachings, their Devotions and their Doctrines, are immediately dictated to them by the holy Spirit of God, while our Offices and set Forms are but a lifeless and insipid Letter, having the Form of Godliness, but without the Power thereof; and therefore if we can prove this Advantage to be unjustly claimed, the Merits of the present Cause upon the Article of Edification will be sufficiently ascertained.—For this purpose then, I would ask, whether the Compilers of our Liturgy were not Men of acknowledged Abi

lity, Gravity, and Discretion? Whether they were influenced "or assisted in this Work by the Holy Spirit, or not? If they were, whether the Advantage contended for has real Foundation? If they were not, whether any, and what Set of Men could or can have superior Pretensions to the Divine Assistance that they had? Whether the Suggestions of the Spirit are more incompatible with the Nature of set Forms of Prayer than they are with that of unpremeditated Devotion? Whether a few Inaccuracies and Improprieties can reasonably be produced in Proof of such Incompatibility? If they can, whether unpremeditated Devotions have been, and still are more free from these? Whether all the Prayers, and all the Sermons of Dissenters in general, or of any single Sect, be dictated by the Spirit, or not? If they are, how comes there to be such a manifest Disparity, &c. between them in divers Respects? If all are not, by what Criterion shall we judge which are produced by Inspiration, and which are not? Whether the most ridiculous Extravagancies, and often horrid Blasphemies, have not been vented by Sectaries of all Denominations, which have been most peremptorily ascribed to the Motions of the blessed Spirit? Whether the Venters of these have not ever been most virulent Opposers of Episcopacy, and the Liturgy of the Church of England? Whether, if there be any general Rules

by by which the Spirituality of Devotion or of Doctrine may be tried, the Church cannot at least as safely appeal to those Rules, as any Branch of the Separation whatever? Whether periodical Elevations of Voice, particular Gestures of the Body, or Distortions of the Countenance be infallible Tokens of inward Inspiration? If they are, what Places of Holy Scripture refer us to these Tokens? If they are not, is not a solemn Seriousness of Deportment, and an even Fervour of Devotion a more presumptive Argument of internal and co-operating Grace? Whether such Grace may not be communicated to the Manner of our Devotions, though the Matter of them be before us? Whether the Assistances of the Spirit may not be vouchsafed to studied Compositions, as well as to extemporary Discourses? Whether the common Cause of Christianity has been more effectually served by the latter, than by Reformer? Whether we can with Reason be said to jlint or obstruct the Spirit by exercising our own Talents and Abilities, or whether Talents and Abilities are, as such, Disqualifications in a Minister? Whether the Want of Attention, or Fervour in the Reader (aQuestion, would to God I need not ask) be a Proof of the Carnality, or Insipidity of what he reads? If it be, whether the sacred Writings themselves be in such Cases cleared of this Charge? Lastly, whether, though divine Service itself may be performed to more Edification

« PreviousContinue »