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“ have heard of, venerable or not, all agree in this, and “ not so much as one dissentient voice can be found
This therefore is the tradition you “ should have raised your principal battery against, and “ not jumbled it into the confused heap of dissimilar
nonsense, thereby to load it, in cumulo, with the con
tempt commonly cast upon all such. “ have thought, that many of your readers would not, “ or could not see through the artifice, and would rea
dily swallow the plausible bait of making the law of “ God void by men's traditions.' How honest such a " method is, I submit to that candour by which you
wish to be judged."
After inquiring into what he called the “ Rights of Conscience and private Judgment," and advancing many strange, incoherent notions on this subject, Mr Gordon proceeded to his chapters “ Of the Church,-Of Apostolic Succession - Of Ordination,—and Of Sacraments;" in which last we find a wipe " at the whole body of nonjurors and highfyers of every denomination, as maintaining the necessity of priesily ordination to give validity to these institutions;" as if this necessity was any way hurt or set aside by giving nicknames to the maintainers of it. It was not indeed the nature of these insti. tutions, or the virtue supposed to be in them, that was so much the object of Mr Gordon's dislike, as the claim of an exclusive right to dispense them. To combat this claim, was the avowed design of his whole “ Inquiry into the Powers of Ecclesiastics," and therefore, after treating of “ the Consecration of the Elements" in the Lord's Supper, an expression which must have been very offensive to one, whose favourite maxim appears to have been, that no one thing is more sacred than another; he then started what he called “ a question of the greatest importance,” viz. “ the Right to dispense the positive Institutions of Christianity,” and a very important question it surely is.' Yet one would not think so, from the manner in which he affects to decide it, by affirming that
no order of priests have an exclusive right of admi" nistration, but that these institutions, that is, the ad. “ ministration of them, is a part of the common privi
leges of christianity." This he attempts to shew, by producing some instances from scripture, which he explains in his own way, and twists to the purpose for which he had brought them forward; drawing this conclusion from the whole of his reasoning on the subject :“ To suppose a thing necessary to my happiness, which 6c is not in my own power, or wholly depends on the “ good pleasure of another, over whom I have no au. “ thority, and concerning whose intentions or disposi“ tions, I can have no security, is to suppose a constitution “ the most foolish and ill-natured, utterly inconsistent 66 with our ideas of a wise and good agent.
To such an arrogant objection, rendered still more presumptuous by the sophistical way of stating it, Mr. Skinner thought it enough to mention two plain and positive institutions of divine appointment, absolutely neces. sary, while they remained in force, to the safety and happiness of God's people, yet “ wholly depending on the good pleasure,” that is, on the care and attention of others; and then added another case, applicable to our own times, which he thus stated :-“ Nay further, by
your own concession, our happiness depends upon believing. Is believing absolutely and originally in our
own power? What says the Apostle ? How shall " they believe in him of whom they have not heard, and “ how shall they hear without a preacher ? Believing in " Christ, you see, is connected with, and depends upon
preaching, and preaching is not in our own power. « Preachers may refuse, as well as priests; and your “ own teachers may be negligent and erroneous. Is it “consistent with our ideas of a wise and good agent'
to suppose our happiness restricted,' as you say, 'to 6 their instrumentality, or immediate offices?' Yet you “ have thought proper to add, 'Where our gracious 66 Lord hath made no limitation; where he hath left the “ blessings of the Gospel free from every restraint, it is “ the highest presumption and impiety in poor mortals “ to pretend to assume peculiar privileges, and to narrow " the path.' You still take the main point for granted, 6 and then flourish away upon that assumption as you “ please. Whereas, modesty, and the common forms “ of controversy might have taught you to have put
your consequential charge in the hypothetic style. 5 And in that style, it can be, much in your own language,
retorted back upon you thus,- If our gracious “ Lord hath made any limitation; if he hath left the “ blessings of the Gospel under the restraint of positive “ institution, it is the highest presumption and impiety “ in arrogant teachers, to break through these restraints, " and to pretend to widen the path. The wide path,
you know, is, at least, as dangerous, and much more “ alluring than the narrow one; and I leave you to take
The only remaining parts of Mr Gordon's “ Inquiry" were the chapters in which he treated “of Church Discipline and Absolution," on which he scarcely said any thing worthy of animadversion; and last of all, “ Of Christian Teachers.” This indeed seems to have been the grand design of his whole “ Inquiry ;" on which, among many others, Mr Skinner made the following just and pertinent remarks :-“ After what has been already “ said in answer to it, I think it necessary only to ob“ serve upon this head, that there is no benefit redound“ ing to society from your teachers, but what may be “'had by priests ; no danger impending from priests, “ but what there is risk of from teachers. Your fine « piece of oratory (p. 256) upon the religion of nature, " and the ministers of it, I do not meddle with, as it “ is but an idle volunteering at best, and no way connect" ed with your proposed subject. Who these ministers of “ natural religion were, or when, and where they lived, you
have not told us ;-Ecclesiastics they could not “ be, because natural religion required none; and there.
you had no business with them. Allowing them “ to have been teachers, and their writings to have been,
of great service in preserving a sense of duty and morals,' it was incumbent upon you to have “ proved, that they were chosen and set apart by the “ community for that purpose. Something like this “ might have brought them within your plan; though 6 still there would have been a material defect in the
men whom I suppose you have in your eye, unless you could have said, that they preached Christ crucified. All your mighty encomiums, therefore, on the " office of public teaching, I readily admit: and yet I
" as you say,
or can considered
can see no reason, from all you have said in praise of “ it, but what it may be as effectually and advanta
geously performed by pretenders to, or possessors of
Apostolic Succession, as by your idols of common con“ sent: I might have said more advantageously, as the “ teaching of the former is thought to be attended with « sacramental privileges, which you have, in name of “ the latter, absolutely discarded.
Had your attempt “ been to vindicate the purity of the christian faith, or " to settle the practice of virtue upon a christian foun“ dation, the piety of the design might have atoned for “ any particularity of sentiment, or uncommonness of “ expression. But thus, without cause, to inflame the “ passions of mankind, already running mad upon civil “ and religious liberty, and that at the expence of the most “ sacred and solemn things of religion, added to the “ most abusive and contemptuous language that could
possibly be imagined, against all that differ from you, “ and some of whom never molested you,* is a piece “ of rashness that no sober person can well justify, and « which can be attributed to nothing but a bewitching
spirit of singularity, and the expectation with which
you have probably flattered yourself, as times go, of “ popular approbation.”
It has been thought proper to give this pretty full account of the Answer to Mr Gordon's “ Inquiry," written in Mr Skinner's usual lively and animated manner, because, having been published above thirty years ago, when a considerable impression was sold, it may now be
* This probably alludes to his malevolent sneer at the Nonjurors and Highflyers.