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· From Miss Barnwell to Mrs. Worthington.
MY DEAR AUNT,
I HAVE been to visit Mrs. Law. She was at our house last week, and made me promise to come to see her, for that she had something of importance to say to ine. I suspected that she wanted me to return to the church ; nor was I mistaken.
Mrs. Law, as you well know, was the daughter of an independent minister. She is of a mild and affable disposition, and is very religious. I believe that what she did was by Mr. Law's desire ; for he cannot bear the thought that any of his parishioners should go to meeting.
Mrs. Law began with saying, tliat she was exceedingly sorry to see my place at church empty ; that she believed me to be a well-disposed young lady ; and that such ought to stay in the church to benefit others by their example. I, continued she, who was brought up a dissenter, am persuaded that there is nothing in the church of England but what the pious and well-disposed may conscientiously submit to, and that in some things the church is even supe. rior to the meeting. For instance : dissenting ministers are dependant on their hearers for their stipend, poor as it generally is. This is a snare, and tends to warp their judgment, and to make them preach such doctrine as they know will be agreeable to their hearers. Besides, it is really degrading to, and beneath a man who has received a liberal education, and is indeed a gentleman, at least in that respect, to live on the alms of his hearers ; for I can call their contributions by no better a name. I have heard my father regret that the terms of communion in the church of England were such as he could not conscientiously submit to as a minister. But this obstacle does
not lie in the way of private Christians ; for they are not called to subscribe to any thing,
There are many dissenters, Madam, replied I, who think with your father that it would be possible to form a national church upon a Scriptural plan : but I must dissent from those disenters. The apostolical churches were assemblies of Christians, separated from the world, and maintaining no religious connexion with it. They were not of the world, even as their Lord and Master was not of the world. And if any unbelievers crept in among them, they were commanded to purge out the old leaven, that they might be a new lump. Churches, therefore, instead of being national, ought to consist of the servants of God, selected out of a nation.
Alrs. Law But if the chief magistrate be a Christian, ought he not to provide able and religious ministers ?
-Mir. What kind of ministers, Madam, ought he to provide, if he be a Roman Catholic ? What kind will he then be likely to provide ; or though a protestant, if he be merely a nominal Christian? Or what kind is likely to be provided by that description of men to whom the right of presentation to church living's in general belongs?
Mrs. Law. If the maintenance of the clergy depended upon voluntary subscription, many would sooner part with their Christianity than with their money. It is the opinion of some wise men, that if the interference of government in religious matters were to cease, the Christian religion would be lost, and paganism would again prevail.
Mir. Did not the Christian religion extend itself in three hundred years over the Roman empire, so that the pagan priests complained that their temples were deserted, and that there were none to purchase sacrifices ? Is not God still able to protect his own cause ? Has he not in every age of the church sent faithful labourers to gather in his harvest ?
Mrs. Law. Your objection to the interference of the magistrate in religious matters, appears to me to hold good, only provided he be a Roman catholic, or merely a
nominal. Christian. But provided he be a protestant, and a real Christian, may he not then interfere ?
Mir. In what manner?
Mrs. Law. By appointing and supporting Christian mi. nisters.
Mir. Of what denomination ?
Mrs. Law. You know what denomination of Christians is established in England.
Mir. You do not mean to say, Madam, that a person cannot be a Christian, unless he be a member of the English religious establishment?
Mrs. Law. Certainly not.
Mrs. Law. I have not sufficiently considered the subject to be able to answer you.
Mir. Then, Madam, permit me to answer the question myself. I think that a Baptist king ought not to choose ministers for Episcopalian, or Independent, or Presbyterian churches; and I am confident that a Baptist church would not acknowledge for its minister a person set over them by even a Baptist king.
Mrs. Law. Suppose he leave all congregations to choose their own ministers, may he not establish his own denomi. nation ?
Mir. In what way?
Mrs. Law. By the payment of their ministers out of the public revenue.
Mir, Observe, Madam, we are still supposing the su. preme magistrate to be a Baptist. You must therefore suppose the Baptists to be the established sect. But would it not be very hard for all other denominations to maintain their own ministers and Baptist ministers likewise? And would it not be very ungenerous and unchristian for Baptist ministers and congregations to suffer themselves to be thus exalted and favoured above their brethren,
Mrs. Law. Is not this objection removed by the consideration that the established religion is the religion of the inajority.
Mir. A great majority of the people of England go to no place of worship at all: therefore it cannot be said that the established religion is the religion of the majority. But if it were, it ought not to claim any thing more than an equal and impartial protection of its professors in their civil and religious rights. I do not see how religious es. tablishments can be defended upon any principle whatever. If the religion of the magistrate must be established, then error and even infidelity may chance to be established. If the religion of the majority must be established, then popery may require to be established, and that even by a protestant king. · Mrs. Law. Suppose one sect of Christians to excel all others in doctrine, discipline, and practice, ought we not to wish that to be established ?
Mir. Such a sect, Madam, would not consent to receive temporal benefits at the expense of its brethren. However, if it did, they would be of no use to it. Religion is of such a nature, that it will not bear to be breathed upon by the state : the breath of the state always pollutes it. It is a plant which flourishes more in the shade of poverty and obscurity, than in the sunshine of worldly prosperity. A good king cannot render religion greater service than an equally pious poor man renders it. Worldly power, worldly honour, and worldly riches, enervate, enfeeble, and corrupt it.
Mrs. Law. If the church of England be excellent in itself, I do not see what injury it can sustain from being es. tablished by law. . · Mir. I disapprove of the church of England on many other accounts, such as her constitution, her discipline, her officers, the doctrines generally preached in her, her ceremonies, her set forms of prayer, her fasts and festivals, and other things : but if all these things, and every thing else in her were unexceptionable, yet, being imposed on all her
members by the authority of the civil magistrate, I camot become a member of her without violating that allegiance which I owe to Jesus Christ as the only king and law-giver of his church. Besides, if there be any thing in the church of England which is scriptural, and which yet is not to be found among dissenters, it is in the power of their churches to adopt it. If they can find archbishops and Jordbishops, deans and sub-deans, archdeacons and prebendaries, canons and minor canons, in the New Testament, dissenting churches may have them if they please, and may appoint men who fear God to those offices, which is not so likely to be the case when they are appointed by the state.
Mrs. Law. Is not our liturgy excellent? · Mir. I disapprove of the reading of prayers. The liturgy contains many excellent things : it would however, have been more free from faults, if the old popish prayer book had been less closely adhered to. But if it were more excellent than it is, it is in the power of our churches to adopt it, or they can adopt its excellencies and leave behind its imperfections. We read nothing, however, concerning forms of prayer, in the New Testament; and I believe they did not come into use till Christianity was greatly corrupted, and till the spirit of prayer had declined in its mi. nisters. ,
Mrs. Law. What do you think of our ceremonies?
Mir. If there be any thing valuable in them, our church. es have it in their power to adopt it. But they can find neither precept nor example in the word of God for bow. ing toward the east, for signing with the cross in baptism, for the baptizing of bells, for sprinkling holy water, and for the other ceremonies of the churches of England and Rome. They esteem it their duty to obey the commandments of God; but they dare not introduce will-worship into religion, nor become subject to ordinances after the commandments and doctrines of men. .
Mrs. Law. Surely, Miss Barnwell, you are prejudiced against the church of England.