Page images
PDF
EPUB

but when they were put in mind that the king's commission gave them no power to alter the government of the church, nor to insist upon archbishop Usher's model, nor so much as to claim the concessions of his majesty's late declaration, they were quite heartless; for they were now convinced that all they were to expect was a few amendments in the liturgy and Common Prayerbook. This was concluded beforehand at court, and nothing more intended than to drop the Presbyterians with a show of decency.

The ministers were under this farther hardship, that they were to transact for a body of men from whom they had no power, and therefore could not be obliged to abide by their decisions; they told the king and the prime-minister, that they should be glad to consult their absent brethren, and receive from them a commission in form, but this was denied, and they were required to give in their own sense of things, to which they consented, provided the bishops at the same time would bring in their concessions ; but these being content to abide by the liturgy as it then stood, had nothing to offer, nor would they admit of any alterations but what the Presbyterians should make appear to be necessary. With this dark and melancholy prospect the conference was opened*. It would interrupt the course of this history too much, to insert all the exceptions of the Presbyterians to the present liturgy, and the papers which passed between the commissioners, with the letter of the Presbyterian ministers to the archbishop and bishops, and the report they made of the whole to the king. I shall only take notice in this place, that, instead of drawing up a few supplemental forms, and making some amendments to the old liturgy, Mr. Baxter composed an entire new one in the language of Scripture, which he called the reformed liturgy; not with a design entirely to set aside the old one, but to give men liberty to use either as they approved. It was drawn up in a short compass of time, and after it had been examined, and approved by his brethren, was presented to the bishops in the conference, together with their exceptions to the old liturgy. This gave great offence, as presuming that a liturgy drawn up by a single hand in fourteen days, was to be preferred, or stand in competition with one which had been received in the church for a whole century. Besides, it was inconsistent with the commission and the bishops' declaration of varying no farther from the old standard than should appear to be necessary; and therefore the reformed liturgy, as it was called, was rejected at once without being examined.

When the Presbyterians brought in their exceptions to the liturgy, they presented at the same time a petition for peace,

N. B. All the papers relating to the conference at the Savoy are collected in a book, entitled, “The History of the Nonconformity," as it was argued and stated by commissioners on both sides appointed by his majesty king Charles II. in the year 1661. Octavo, second edit. 1708.

beseeching the bishops to yield to their amendments; to free them from the subscriptions and oaths in his majesty's late declaration, and not to insist upon the reordination of those who had been ordained without a diocesan bishop, nor upon the surpliee, the cross in baptism, and other indifferent ceremonies; for this purpose they make use of various motives and arguments, sufficient, in my judgment, to influence all who had any concern for the honour of God, and the salvation of souls. The bishops gave a particular answer to these exceptions; to which the Presbyterians made such a reply as, in the opinion of their adversaries, shewed them to be men of learning, and well versed in the practice of the ancient church; however, the bishops would indulge nothing to their prejudices; upon which they sent them a large expostulatory letter, wherein, after having repeated their objec. tions, they lay the wounds of the church at their door.

The term for the treaty being almost spun out in a paper controversy *, about ten days before the commission expired, a disputation was agreed on, to argue the necessity of alterations in the present liturgyt: Three of each party were chosen to manage the argument; Dr. Pearson, Gunning, and Sparrow, on one side; and Dr. Bates, Jacomb, and Mr. Baxter, on the other. The rest were at liberty to withdraw if they pleased. Mr. Baxter was opponent, and began to prove the sinfulness of impositions ; but through want of order, frequent interruptions, and personal reflections, the dispute issued in nothing ; a number of young divines interrupting the Presbyterian ministers, and laughing them to scorn. At length bishop Cosins produced a paper £, containing an expedient to shorten the debate, which was, to put the ministers on distinguishing between those things which they charged as sinful, and those which were only inexpedient. The three disputants on the ministers' side were desired to draw up an answer to this paper, which they did, and charged the rubric and injunctions of the church with eight things flatly sinful, and contrary to the word of God $.

1. That no minister be admitted to baptize without using the sign of the cross.

2. That no minister be admitted to officiate without wearing a surplice.

3. That none be admitted to the Lord's supper without he receive it kneeling. 4. That ministers be obliged to pronounce all baptized persons

In the course of this controversy many points, connected with the doctrine and manner of baptism, came into discussion : such as, the right of the children of Heathens, or of the excommunicated, to baptism; the efficacy of children's baptism ; the qualifications for this ordinance ; the use of godfathers and godmothers, and of the sign of the cross, and other questions : the debate on which, it is said, contributed much to encourage and promote what was called Anabaptism. Crosby's History of the Baptists, vol. 2. p. 85, 86.-ED. t Baxter's Life, part 2. p. 337.

I Kennet's Chronicle, p. 504. $ Baxter's Life, part 2. p. 341.

regenerated by the Holy Ghost, whether they be the children of Christians or not.

5. That ministers be obliged to deliver the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ to the unfit both in health and sickness, and that, by personal application, putting it into their hands, even those who are forced to receive it against their wills, through consciousness of their impenitency.

6. That ministers are obliged to absolve the unfit, and that in absolute expressions.

7. That ministers are forced to give thanks for all whom they bury, as brethren whom God has taken to himself.

8. That none may be preachers who do not subscribe, that there is nothing in the Common Prayer-book, book of ordination, and the thirty-nine articles, contrary to the word of God.

After a great deal of loose discourse it was agreed to debate the third article, of denying the communion to such as could not kneel. The ministers proved their assertion thus, that it was denying the sacrament to such whom the Holy Ghost commanded us to receive; Rom. xiv. 1-3; “ Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations: one believes he may eat all things; another, that is weak, eateth herbs : let not him that eateth, despise him that eateth not; and let not him that eateth not, judge him that eateth, for God has received him.” The episcopal divines would not understand this of the communion. They also distinguished between things lawful in themselves, and things both lawful in themselves and required by lawful authority. In the former case they admit a liberty, but the latter being enjoined by authority become necessary. The ministers replied, that things about which there is to be a forbearance ought not to be enjoined by authority, and made necessary; and for governors to reject men by this rule is to defeat the apostle's reasoning, and so contradict the law of God. But when Dr. Gunning had read certain citations* and authorities for the other side of the question, bishop Cosins the moderator called out to the rest of the bishops and doctors, and put the question, “ All you that think Dr. Gunning has proved that Romans xiv. speaketh not of receiving the sacrament, say Aye." Upon which there was a general cry among the hearers, Aye, aye; the episcopal divines having great numbers of their party in the hall; whereas the ministers had not above two or three gentlemen and scholars who had the courage to appear with them. Nevertheless they maintained their point, and, as bishop Burnet observes, insisted upon it, that a “law which excludes all from the sacrament who dare not kneel, was unlawful, as it was a limitation in point of communion put upon the laws of Christ, which ought to be the only condition of those that have a right to it.”

* Kennet's Chronicle, p. 506.

At length the episcopal divines became opponents upon the same question, and argued thus: “ That command which enjoins only an act in itself lawful, is not sinful.” Which Mr. Baxter denied. They then added, “ That command which enjoins only an act in itself lawful, and no other act or circumstance unlawful, is not sinful.” This also Mr. Baxter denied. They then advanced farther. « That command which enjoins only an act in itself lawful, and no other act whereby an unjust penalty is enjoined, or any circumstance whence directly or per accidens any sin is consequent which the commander ought to provide against, hath in it all things requisite to the lawfulness of a command, and particularly cannot be charged with enjoining an act per accidens unlawful, nor of commanding an act under an unjust penalty.” This also was denied, because, though it does not command that wbich is sinful, it may restrain from that which is lawful, and it may be applied to undue subjects. Other reasons were assigned* ; but the dispute broke off with noise and confusion, and high reflections upon Mr. Baxter's dark and cloudy imagination, and his perplexed, scholastic, metaphysical manner of distinguishing, which tended rather to confound than to clear up that which was doubtful; and bishop Saunderson being then in the chair, pronounced that Dr. Gunning had the better of the argument.

Bishop Morley said, that Mr. Baxter's denying that plain proposition, was destructive of all authority human and divine; that it struck the church out of all its claims for making canons, and for settling order and discipline; nay, that it took away all legislative power from the king and parliament, and even from God himself; for no act can be so good in itself, but may lead to a sin by accident; and if to command such an act be a sin, then every command must be a sin.

Bishop Burnet addst, “ that Baxter and Gunning spent several days in logical arguing, to the diversion of the town, who looked upon them as a couple of fencers engaged in a dispute that could not be brought to any end. The bishops insisted upon the laws being still in force; to which they would admit of no exception, unless it was proved that the matter of them was sinful. They charged the Presbyterians with making a schism for that which they could not prove to be sinful. They said there was no reason to gratify such men; that one demand granted would draw on many more; that all authority in church and state was struck at by the position they had insisted on, namely, that it was not lawful to impose things indifferent, since these seemed to be the only matters in which authority could interfere.”—Thus ended the disputation.

From arguments the ministers descended to entreaties, and prayed the bishops to have compassion on scrupulous minds, and

* Kennet's Chronicle, p. 505.

+ Vol. I. p. 264.

not despise their weaker brethren. If the Nonconformists should be ejected, they urged, that there would not be clergymen enough to fill the vacant pulpits; they put them in mind of their peaceable behaviour in the late times; what they had suffered for the royal cause, and the great share they had in restoring the king; they pleaded his majesty's late declaration, and the design of the present conference. 'To all which the bishops replied, that they were only commissioned to make such alterations in the liturgy as should be necessary, and such as should be agreed upon. The ministers replied, that the word necessary must refer to the satisfying tender consciences; but the bishops insisted, that they saw no alterations necessary, and therefore were not obliged to make any till they could prove them so. The ministers prayed them to consider the ill consequence that might follow upon a separation. But all was to no purpose, their lordships were in the saddle, and, if we may believe Mr. Baxter, would not abate the smallest ceremony, nor correct the grossest error, for the peace of the church. Thus the king's commission expired July 25, and the conferences ended without any prospect of accommodation.

It was agreed at the conclusion, that each party might represent to his majesty, that they were all agreed upon the ends of the conference, which were the church's welfare, unity, and peace, but still disagreed as to the means of procuring them. The bishops thought they had no occasion to represent their case in writing; but the Presbyterian commissioners met by themselves, and drew up an account of their proceedings, with a petition for that relief which they could not obtain from the bishops*. They presented it to the king by bishop Reynolds, Dr. Bates, Dr. Manton, and Mr. Baxtert; but received no answer. * Mr. Crosby says,

" he had been informed, that when the Presbyterians were pleading hard for such concessions from his majesty as they thought would bring about a union, the lord-chancellor told them, his majesty had received petitions from the Anabaptists, who desired nothing more than to have liberty to worship God according to their consciences. At which they were all struck dumb, and remained in a long silence.” Mr. Baxter places this matter in another light: that petitions having been received from the Independents and Anabaptists, the chancellor proposed to add a clause to the king's declaration, permitting others, besides the Presbyterians, to meet, if they did it peaceably, for religious worship, secure from molestation by any civil officer. On this the bishops and the Presbyte. rians, seeing it would operate in favour of the Papists, were silent : till Mr. Baxter, judging that consenting to it would bring on them the charge of speaking for the toleration of Papists and sectaries, and that opposing it would draw on them the resentment of all sects and parties as the causes of their sufferings, said " that as they humbly thanked his majesty for his indulgence to themselves, so they must distinguish the tolerable parties from the intolerable: that for the former they craved favour and lenity ; but that they could not request the toleration of the latter, such as the Papists and Socinians, whom Dr. Gunning, speaking against the sects, had then named.” To this his majesty said, “ that there were laws enough against the Papists." Mr. Baxter replied, “ they understood the question to be, whether those laws should be executed on them or not.” And so his majesty broke up the meeting of that day. Crosby's History of the Baptists, vol. 2. p. 87-89. Baxter's Life, part 2. p. 277.-ED.

+ Baxter's Life, part 2. p. 366.

« PreviousContinue »