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principally, belong to them.—This division has continued till our time. I have no wish to charge all the blame of it on one party; or to plead the divine right of the established church, or of episcopacy; or to be severe upon dissenters; or on men who join them, especially where no adequate means of instruction can be obtained elsewhere. I should act unfairly, if, in what I urge for the lawfulness and expediency of continuing in the established church, by those Christians or ministers who now belong to it, I should, even by silence, leave it to be concluded that such were my views. I respect and love many dissenters, both ministers and people ;. I. do not wish to proselyte them; but yet I think, ceteris paribus, Christians and ministers belonging to the establishment will do well to continue in it; and that in our days they have no sufficient reason for leaving it; at least when edifying means of grace, and fair opportunities of exercising the ministry are afforded them under its banner.
This premised, to prevent misconstruction, I proceed more particularly to your question—' Is 'the church of England unscriptural?' From the connexion in which the question is placed, I supposed it to be asked by a disciple of the Haldanes. I am grieved that these innovators have found access to your people: not because I think their arguments formidable; but because they address the self-sufficiency of some, who are excited to set up for judges of things which they do not understand; and the scrupulous conscientiousness of others, who are so afraid of being
wrong, that they can never be satisfied they are right; and are thus liable "to be tossed to and "fro by every wind of doctrine." But, when persons of any description ask this question, do they mean to insinuate, that the church of England is altogether unscriptural? or only that some things in that church are unscriptural? for these are widely different questions. And do they distinguish between what is unscriptural, and what is antiscriptural 9 For instance it may be unscriptural to wear a surplice; for that is not prescribed in scripture: but it is antiscriptural to worship images, or the host.
They will hardly say, that the church of England is antiscriptural, or wholly unscriptural, in doctrine, as well as worship and external administration. And can they find any company of professed Christians, among whom there is nothing unscriptural? I own I have looked far around, and read many books, and thought very deeply on the subject, for a long course of years; but I have not yet met with such a company; or heard of such a company, except from the zealots belonging to it. These, in all churches, popish and protestant, episcopal, presbyterian, independent, or what not, see every thing right among themselves, and every thing wrong in those who differ from them: but, if I loved controversy, and were somewhat younger, I should feel a confidence that I could go through them all, one by one, and undeniably prove that there are some things right in all, and some things wrong in all; at least, if that is wrong which has no express warrant in scripture. Every impartial and diligent student of these subjects
must allow, that the eager disputants on all sides are like the heathen philosophers of different schools, Gladium habent scutum non habent; and are therefore more successful in assailing their opponents, than in defending themselves. What then is to be done? Must we renounce Christianity? or decline all public worship, and the exercise of the ministry, till these disputes be settled? Or, must we form each a new sect, perfectly scriptural, at least in our own judgment or fancy? To say nothing of the immense mischief, beyond all calculation, of thus multiplying sects and rending the church; where is that man, possessed of even the least degree of humility, who will dare to think that his new modelled church is not in some points assailable; as all others hitherto have been? The very presumption that this is the case is antichristian: it is papal infallibility, which resides in many other places besides with the Pope at Rome, or in the church of Rome.
Ought we then to continue in communion with a church in which we perceive some things to be unscriptural? To this I would answer; if some things are unscriptural in each church or sect, nothing but heedlessness or prejudice can prevent our perceiving them: and a man of enlarged mind, of impartiality, and competent knowledge, cannot be supposed to be ignorant of them. He then has no alternative; but either to continue where some things are unscriptural, or to join another company in which he perceives the case to be the same.— But let it be remembered that things unscriptural are not always, nor generally, antiscriptural. When indeed even indifferent things are imposed on the mass of inhabitants in any country, and enforced by penal statutes; and when they are considered as paramount1 to God's commandments, they become antiscriptural. "Full well ye reject the "commandments of God, that ye may keep your "own traditions." But, when considered merely as circumstances; when required of none but those who voluntarily belong to that part of the church, while others have unrestricted toleration; and while kept in entire subordination to the commands and doctrines of scripture; they may be unscriptural and yet not antiscriptural. This will appear as we proceed.
What then ought the question to be? It may be put in this manner: Ought we to continue in a church, or among a company of worshippers, where we individually are required to do what we judge antiscriptural; or where things indifferent are imposed in an antiscriptural manner?
Even the regulations adopted in Mr. Haldane's societies, which are not expressly contained in the words of scripture, are as really unscriptural as the forms and ceremonies of our church; and are imposed, or required, in the very same manner; namely, You must comply with them, if you choose to belong to our company ;7 but you are at liberty to go elsewhere.
We ought by no means to join in worship, which after careful examination, made with modesty and fervent prayer, and with deference to the judgment of wise and good men, we are con-'Qu. Equivalent.—J. S,
vinced requires of us things antiscriptural. On this ground, I must separate from the church of Rome; and I own, on this ground I should think it right to separate from any church, which imposed even unscriptural observances, or any observances, by the antiscriptural weapon of persecution. But I cannot for a moment, concede, that in present circumstances the same reason exists for leaving the church of England.
There seems to be no difficulty as to private worshippers, and what is individually required of them: unless a liturgy, or our liturgy, be antiscriptural.—In the subscriptions, and engagements required of ministers, at ordination, and institution, and on other occasions, there may be some particulars rather more difficult to conscientious or scrupulous persons: yet nothing, so far as I can see, which can render it needful to leave the church, unless we could find a company in which all things were perfectly right. Much is often spoken with great confidence, as if acknowledged and undoubted facts were referred to, concerning the oaths required of us: but, except subscriptions as in the presence of God, and ' assent and consent,' be considered as oaths, (I would they were more generally regarded as such;) no oath is, I think, required at any time, to which a peaceable subject and a steady protestant can well object; and I would challenge those who persevere in asserting the contrary, to prove the assertion by any quotation from our authorized books, or any other authentic document.
In some of the higher stations of the church indeed, and in matters in which private Christians