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Aston Sandford, Nov. 23, 1815.
Before I received your note, I had thought of writing to you, with a view to a second edition of your pamphlet, a few additional remarks on establishments in general, and on the advantages of our establishment; which are not, as it appears to me and to some others, sufficiently valued, or their value sufficiently appreciated in the general argument. I would, however, introduce them with a few previous remarks.
They who oppose all establishments aver, that they plead for primitive Christianity: but this assumes, as if indisputable, the very point about which the controversy is maintained. None, I hope, who love our holy, religion, mean to deviate from primitive Christianity; we only would have it stated in what this consists, with conclusive proofs to establish the point.
Even in respect of the external form and government of the primitive church, to this hour sub judice lis est, whether it were episcopal, presbyterian, or independent; or something different from all of them, and combining some parts of each system. And, as we have long been in full possession of all the evidence which we are ever likely to have, it is clear that something beyond outward evidence is needful to produce coincidence of opinion, amidst the contenders for different systems; even, "the pouring out of the "Spirit" of truth and love upon us all. One thing indeed is certain, that in the primitive Church there was no establishment: for as there was no emperor or king so much as calling himself Christian, even an establishment like that of Jeroboam was impracticable.
There are some who, in vindicating their attempts to draw off pious and conscientious ministers from the establishment, plead that they 'have 'to do only with those of whom the establishment '• is ashamed, and of whom it labours to get rid.' Yet they at the same time own, that these are the very persons whose preaching and labours most accord to the liturgy and articles of the church? Now what do they dignify in this argument as the establishment, but that party of its rulers and ministers, or members, whom they consider as most opposed in doctrine and living to the authorized writings of the church of England: Whether they be so or not, they ai'e so by this concession or statement. But, however the fact may be in this respect, were all the archbishops, bishops, and clergy unanimous, they are not the establishment: even if they were all sound in doctrine and holy in life, and exemplary in labour, they would not be the establishment; but merely the officers and administrators of the establishment. Even the king, lords spiritual and temporal, and commons, assembled in parliament; though possessed of authority, to make alterations which all the bishops and clergy combined have not; are nevertheless not the establishment: any more than they are the British constitution, or Magna Charta.— The books of the church of England, as authorized by act of parliament, and administered by the executive power, so to speak, are the establishment. So long as these are for us, the establishment is for us, how many soever of the officers or administrators are against us: and, were all the rest of the whole company against half a dozen ministers, as decidedly and unanimously as Caiaphas and the chief priests and rulers were against Christ and his apostles; the establishment would be no more against that half dozen, provided these books were for them, than the Mosaic establishment was against Christ and his apostles. Nay, should the parliament interfere materially to alter these books, and make them to be against that hah0 dozen, it would, in fact, make a new establishment, quite different from that under which they entered and continued as members or ministers in the church of England; and they would then be warranted and required to withdraw from it: so far are things from being left to the mere arbitrary will of any rulers of the church, as many seem to think, or are willing to state, that they are.—It does not appear, however, that there is at present any disposition in our parliament to alter the establishment; and it is far from the truth, that its administrators are all ashamed of us, and desirous to get rid of us. But on the supposition that the party, of which some are ashamed and wish to get rid, do live, labour, and preach according to the liturgy, articles, and homilies of the church; to draw them off from it would be the ruin of the establishment, beyond all else that could possibly be done: and Ichabod might be written on the remaining caput mortuum.
In the argument concerning the people's choosing their own ministers: in support of this practice some disputants introduce the word Xf'poTw*, as if decidedly in favour of it. Now, in fact, the word occurs only twice in all the New Testament. In the first instance,l ^pora^a-avrei, as well as the other participles in the context, refers, exclusively and undeniably, to what Paul and Barnabas did for the churches; and not to what the churches did for themselves. In the second instance,2 x.e'f*t°"i$us refers to the brother, whom the churches had chosen to take charge of their money, not of their souls: and it is most certain that men may be far more safely trusted in the former case than the latter. The word also occurs in composition:3 rifwf-xftpotw^vtis M ra 0ea, "chosen before of God." The scriptural use therefore of this word gives not the smallest countenance to the opinion of the people's electing their spiritual pastors; and I aver, that no proof of it can be adduced from the New Testament: for be it again noticed, that the deacons were chosen to take care of the pecuniary concerns, not of the souls of those who elected them; and no instance of such an election has hitherto been produced in the latter case: nay, the supposition
'Acts xiv. 23. '2 Cor. viii. 19. ,* Acts x. 41. VOL. IX. 2 O
of it cannot be made consistent with the language of the sacred writers.
It is stated that establishments do, and must, substitute comprehension instead of selection, and secularity instead of spirituality. Now, it does not appear to me that this is fact, even as to our establishment; much less that it is necessary to an establishment merely as such. Toleration is now a part of our establishment, and so essential a part, that it is on that ground alone that I could fully plead for continuance in it. Toleration, in its enlarged sense, is not consistent with that comprehension which many suppose essential to an establishment: nor can the intimations that a wholesome discipline is a thing much to be desired comport with it. It is not the wish of its best friends that all the population of the country should be of its communion, except on the supposition, either that they were already true Christians, or would be thus put into the best way of becoming such. I own I decidedly think the friends of full toleration the best friends of the church: and I cannot but entertain the opinion, that its best friends grieve exceedingly because such members are allowed, in some sense, to form a part of it, as ought not to belong to any Christian church, but to the visible kingdom of Satan. But, however that may be, an establishment may easily be conceived of, which has not in any degree this, if such it be, antiscriptural mark. Suppose a truly Christian prince, surrounded by a select number of pious counsellors, and able ministers of Christianity—as Isaiah was a counsellor of Hezekiah. Suppose that half of this king's