The Errors, which Tempt Men to Leave the Church,
and Make Them Easy when They are Separated from It.
THE means of grace, and the promises of God, being with his Church, they who would be made partakers of them, must apply to the Church: and who would not? Who would not willingly flee from Sodom on fire to take refuge in Zoar? When the storm is abroad, the beasts have sense to fly to a place of shelter: and as the wrath of God is denounced against this world, men must be enemies to themselves, if they refuse to be delivered in the way which God hath appointed. But we know nothing of this world, if we think all men are friends to their own spiritual interest. Many will rather have recourse to their own imaginations: and when pride hath got possession of them, are above being directed.
The example of Naaman is very instructive on this part of our subject. When he was ordered to seek the cure of his leprosy, by washing seven times in Jordan, the proud Syrian refused to comply with the ceremony, because he could not see how it should have any effect. Nevertheless, when he had thought better of it, that ceremony, unaccountable and useless as it might seem to his carnal reason, cured him of his distemper. By the Church and its ordinances, every Christian is put to the same trial; whether he will submit to such things as reason cannot account for? Whether he will look for an effect, to which the cause is not adequate, without the interposition, of an invisible power? The children of God are still exercised by this trial. Some accept the terms proposed; they believe the promises of God, and are saved.--Of the rest, some do not see how they can be saved in this manner; and others spend their lives in vanity, and never think whether they can or cannot. Men are influenced by two principles totally opposite, sight and faith: the Christian walks by faith and not by sight; the disputer of this world believes nothing but what he sees, and so is incapable of the benefits of Christianity. It does not appear to him how power can come from Heaven, and be delivered down in succession by the imposition of hands: how water, which washes the body, can wash away sins; how bread can be made the vehicle of spiritual life; so he lives and dies the dupe of a dead philosophy, which admits of nothing spiritual in a religion whose benefits are all of a spiritual kind.
From the nature of the Church, we see how necessary it is, that men should be taken into it out of this wicked world. We see how the promises of God are confined to the ordinances of the Church; and that there can be no assurance of salvation without them. If we reflect on these things, we cannot but consider it as an inestimable blessing, that God hath appointed such a plain and certain way of leading us through the means of grace to the hope of glory. We may perhaps wonder why men should endeavour to deprive themselves of these benefits; and how Christian people, so called, can satisfy themselves under a causeless departure from, the great law of peace and charity. I will therefore proceed to shew how they deceive themselves. There are three false principles, which, if admitted, would supersede the necessity of any Church.
The first of these is the doctrine of an absolute unconditional election to salvation. For if God, by a mere act of his sovereign will, and according to an irresistible decree, elects men to eternal salvation, without regard to conditions and circumstances; then no visible ordinances are necessary as means of grace; they are all superseded, and we are as safe without them as with them. This doctrine is so convenient to all the irregular classes of Christian people, who have cast off the Church and its authority, that it has been much insisted upon almost from the beginning of the Reformation; and has done infinite mischief. For he who is divided from his brethren, with this doctrine in his mind, is thereby confirmed and fortified in his errors. In vain shall we recommend the benefits of Church communion to him, who is saved in consequence of a decree, made before the Church or the world had a being. God hath elected him, without any regard to outward ordinances; and so the want of those ordinances can never render his election of no effect And supposing his doctrine to be true, who can deny the consequence? But the doctrine is false. Thus much of it is true; that, according to the scripture, man is chosen, or elected, out of the world, by the free grace of God, without any respect to his own works, (of which he can have none till he is called; being in the state of an unborn infant) and brought into God's Church, where he is in a state of salvation. But he may fall from this state, or be cast out of it by the authority which brought him into it, and forfeit all the privileges of his election; therefore the Apostle gives us this warning: let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall: and St. Peter bids us give diligence to make our calling and election sure. How can that be, if we are elected to salvation, by an irreversible decree? We need take no pains to make that sure, which in its nature is irreversible. Paul was a vessel chosen of God; and yet this same Paul supposes it possible for him to fall from the grace of God, and become a castaway. [Another proof of this argument may be found in I Cor. 8, c. xi. "Through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish for whom Christ died?" The true notion of predestination is to be met with in Eph. i, c. xi. xii. where those are said to be predestinated to the praise of God's glory who trusted in Christ. Our attainment of eternal happiness is the consequence of our belief in Christ, and the irreversible decree of God is, that those that believe in him should not perish, and this is probably the only sense in which the doctrine of predestination and election can be maintained from Scripture.] Election, therefore, as it is spoken of in the Scripture, hath been grossly misunderstood: for there is no such thing there as any election of individuals to final salvation, independent of the ordinances of the Church. Election is an inward and spiritual grace; but there is no such thing administered to man without some outward sign. A man might tell us that he is ordained to preach the gospel: but we know this can never be without the laying on of hands. He may tell us he is one of God's elect j and if the reality of his election were to depend upon his own report, how should we confute him, although he were guilty of all manner of wickedness? If we believe him on his own authority, we may be tempted to be as wicked as he is: and multitudes have, by this doctrine, corrupted one another, and fallen into what is called Antinomianism; a neglect of God's commandments, as not necessary to those who are elected independent of works and sacraments. To secure us from all such delusions, God hath affixed some outward sign or pledge to all his inward gifts, to assure us of their reality, and prevent imposture. Therefore, where there is an inward calling, there is an outward calling with it; where there is regeneration, there is the sacrament of baptism; and the gospel knows of no regeneration without it. I might shew how this doctrine of absolute election is dishonourable to God, and contrary to his most express declarations. How it encourages some to presumption, pride, and ungodly living; [I remember a woman in a country parish, who used to boast much of her own experiences, and insult the people of the church as reprobates; goats who were to be placed on the left hand, at the day of judgment; while she and her party were the true elect, the sheep who were to be placed on the right hand. Such was the usual strain of her conversation. But after a time, I heard that this elect lady was gone off with the husband of another woman. She was a severe critic on the Clergyman of the parish, as one who had many Popish actions, because he made a practise of turning to the East when he repeated the Creed; and though he was much attended to as a preacher, she said it all signified no more than the barking of a dog.] and how it drives others to despair and distraction, who have not, nor can bring themselves to an assurance of their own personal election to the favour of God: but my business in this place is only to remark, how convenient this doctrine is to all those who do not come to God in the ordinary way of his institutions, nor can prove themselves to be members of his Church. [When Dr. Sparrow was Bishop of Exeter, there rarely passed a day without a note or notes brought to Priest, Vicar, or Reader, for the prayers of the congregation, for persons troubled in mind or possessed; which, as some judicious persons conjectured, was occasioned by the frequent preaching up of the rigid Predestination doctrines in some places in that city. Preface to the View of the Times.]
A second doctrine, on the ground of which men place themselves above the Church, is that of immediate inspiration. For if men are now receiving new direction from Heaven, and God speaks in them as he did in Moses, and the Prophets, and the Apostles, they have no need to consult either the Scriptures or the Church: for they are independent of both, and have an higher rule. This is the reason why no impression can ever be made upon a Quaker, by arguments from the Scripture. He answers, that the Scriptures (as applied by us who do not understand them) cannot be brought in evidence against him; because (to speak in the Quaker language) he has within himself the same spirit that gave forth the Scriptures; and the Revelation which has past must give place to that which is present. Nothing blinds the eyes of men so effectually as pride; whence he who is vain enough to believe, that he is under the direction of immediate inspiration, must believe many other strange things. Such people therefore never fail to despise the ministry and worship of the Church, and make light of all its institutions. The Apostles of Jesus Christ foreseeing by a true revelation, that there would be false pretentions to inspiration in the Christian Church, as there were false prophets among the people of the Jews, give us warning not to believe every spirit, (that is, not to believe all those who pretend to speak by the spirit) but to try them whether they speak by the spirit of truth, or the spirit of error. There are many good rules to direct us on this occasion: but there is one which every body can understand. The spirit of truth is the spirit of love, and peace, and unity: the spirit of error is the spirit of hatred, and contention, and discord. The former tends to unite men into one body; the latter sets them at variance, and divides them into parties. Beloved, saith St. John, let us love one another, for every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God. When the great rule of Charity is broken, and men lay claim to the spirit of God while they have no title to it, then they are open to the delusions of evil spirits: and accordingly many have uttered hideous blasphemies, under a persuasion that they are speaking by the spirit of God. Some have proceeded so fat as to personate God himself. [In the beginning of this century, there was a sect of Camisar Quakers in London, in whose assemblies persons of both sexes, particularly young girls, pretended to deliver prophecies, with strange screamings and distortions. One of these people, (horrible to relate) was seen to take another by the arm, and looking him broad in the face, said, Do you not acknowledge me to be the eternal and unchangeable God? To which the other, falling down and trembling, answered, I do acknowledge thee, &c. Many fine people from the court-end of the town, who would have paid but little respect to the benediction of a Bishop, were seen bending their knees, for a blessing, to these frantic females. See View of the Times, vol. 4, p. 235.] Certain it is, that the sect who have departed farthest from the Church and its ordinances, are the most forward in their pretensions to immediate inspiration; and even where this is pretended to in a lesser degree, a contempt for the Church and its ministry seldom or never fails to attend upon it in the same proportion. [The author of the Snake in the Grass prefixed a most excellent preface to that work, on the Enthusiasm of Antonia Bourignon: shewing the original and tendency of hers and every other delusion of the same kind; which preface the leader will do well to consult.]
A third doctrine which makes the Church of no effect, is the sufficiency of moral virtue, and a perilous doctrine it is. It comes forward with a more sober face, but it hath less of the Gospel than of Enthusiasm or Predestination. For on this ground, a man need be of no Church, of no sect, nor even a Christian believer; because moral honesty, which forbears thieving and cheating, may be found in a Turk or an Heathen. When people would appear to be what they are not, and endeavour to supply their defects by fine words and plausible pretences, we call them hypocrites: and I will assure the Reader, there is a great deal of cant in the world, beside that of fanaticism and affected devotion. Impiety can act the hypocrite upon occasion, and magnify moral virtue when it is set in opposition to the love of God, It is not unusual for persons to praise a man's character; not because they love his virtues, but because they hate his rival. So do some bad men praise morality, because they hate devotion. This is too frequently the case with those who make a false estimate of what they call a good life; leaving out the duties most essential to the life of a good Christian; and these are a very large party. Heresy and schism, till they turn into profligacy, never fail to descant upon the sufficiency of moral duties; and in this they are joined by the whole tribe of Deists, Infidels, and Moral Philosophers, who are glad to hear of a rule of morality, (such, by the way, as themselves are to define and determine) which will serve them as a substitute for the Christian life, and all the forms of Church devotion. Here also we find those Christians, who live in the habitual neglect of the means of grace. I have heard people who never were at the altar, and perhaps never intended it, comforting themselves with this consideration, that they never did any harm to any body: when they should rather have asked themselves, what good they ever did to themselves, or to any body else, for the love of God? Without which, all the virtues of man are nothing; and if he places any dependence upon them, they are worse than nothing. If a man is to be saved by the Christian religion, he must be a Christian in his life; but simple morality is not Christianity: it has neither faith, hope, charity, prayer, fasting, nor alms, which are the duties of the Christian life. If we mean to serve God, we must serve him in his Church, and conform to its ordinances. If we do good to our neighbours, we must do it on a principal of faith; and a cup of cold water given on this principle, is of more value in the sight of God, than all the treasures of the Indies, if they are distributed from the proud heart of unbelief: and he is certainly in unbelief, who doth not direct himself by the rules, and act upon the principles, which God hath delivered to the Church.
Nearly related to the sufficiency of moral virtue, is the principle of sincerity, which was set up in the last age, as sufficient of itself to justify man in the sight of God, independent of the authority and benefits of his Church: so that if a man be not a hypocrite, it matters not what religion he is of. If sincerity, as such, independent of any particular way of worship, can recommend man to the favour of God, then there can be no difference as to merit between a sincere martyr, and a sincere persecutor: and he that burns a Christian, if he be but in earnest, hath the same title to God's favour, as he that is burnt for believing in Jesus Christ. This position, (in the sense of it) absurd and monstrous as it must appear, was the support of a controversy in this kingdom, in which a Bishop led the way, and was followed and applauded by all the libertines and loose thinkers of the nation, who foresaw that the argument would end in the dissolution of the Church as a society: and therefore they made him a thousand compliments. [Thus did the famous Bishop Hoadley comfort all the Sectaries and Enthusiasts of his time: "When you are secure of your integrity before God--this will lead you not to be afraid of the terrors of men, or the vain words of regular and uninterrupted succession, authoritative benedictions, excommunications--nullity or validity of ordinances to the people on account of niceties and trifles, or any other the like dreams." I can venture to say, there never was a cause more effectually battled and exposed upon earth, than this of Bishop Hoadley, against the Church, and Church Communion, in the Two Letters and the Reply of Mr. William Law, which every Clergyman of the Church of England ought to read, that he may know what ground he stands upon, and against what enemies he may be called forth to maintain it.]
If we consider how the mind of man is influenced by custom and education, and that his conscience and self-approbation will be according to his principles; then we shall see that sincerity, if admitted, would sanctify all the wickedness under Heaven. St. Paul, as a zealous Jew, verily thought (that is, he was sincerely of opinion) that he ought to do many (kings contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth; so he persecuted the Christians furiously, and breathed out threatenings and slaughter. Now as he had a good meaning in all he did, to what end was he converted, when his sincerity would have saved him in his former way? After his mind was better enlightened, he pronounced himself to have been the greatest of sinners, for what he had done in the sincerity of his heart.
Thus it would be in all other cases; he that acts sincerely upon bad principles, must be a bad man; a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit: and, not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth. Upon the whole, he that will be saved, must be saved in the way which God hath appointed, and not in any way of his own We shall be judged at last according to God's word, not according to any persuasions we may have taken up, through the prejudices of education, or the perverseness of our own hearts; all of which are indeed no better than dreams, having no foundation but. on that loose bottom of human imagination, on which are built all the visions of the night, and all the heresies in the world.
If these doctrines of absolute election, immediate inspiration, the sufficiency of moral virtue, and justification from sincerity, were true; it would follow, that God is unwise, inconsistent, and improvident. For if he appoints a visible Church and its ordinances, as necessary to make us members of the kingdom of Heaven; and if he began the way of salvation by adding to the Church such as were to be saved; and yet, with all this, has another private way of saving men by a secret decree which has no regard to any outward means; he is inconsistent in ordaining them. And also, as the doctrine of immediate Inspiration, or new Revelation, without any signs or credentials from Heaven, opens a way to, every possible delusion of the mind, either from its own vain conceits, or the suggestions of evil spirits; God must be improvident, in not securing us against such dangerous impositions, which may introduce all kinds, of wickedness into the world, under the sanction of a divine authority: an impostor haying nothing to do, but to persuade himself, as any madman may do, that he acts by immediate inspiration. With this persuasion, men have butchered; one another to make bloody baptisms; have set themselves up as kings and rulers of the new Jerusalem; have taken plurality of wives, and blasphemously personated God himself. [See Ross's View of all Religions; particularly the count of the Anabaptists of Germany.] All the disorders of the last century were committed by fanatics, who assumed a privilege of seeking the Lord, and consulting, and receiving answers from him; while their minds were bent upon the most horrible crimes of rebellion, robbery, sacrilege, persecution, and murder.
Then as to moral virtue, if that can save those who are not added to the Church, it must follow, that man never was lost, and that Christ need not have come into the world. If sincerity in any persuasion, good or bad, will recommend us to the favor of God; then will lies, if we do but believe them, answer all the purposes of truth: then is there no difference between good and evil; and it cannot be worth while to convert Jews, Turks, or Heathens, to the gospel, because they are as safe in their own way. Such are the pleas, by which some men of necessity, and some of malignity, seek to justify themselves, when they leave the Church, or despise or neglect its ordinances. But the foundation of God standeth sure.
After what hath been said, few words will be wanting to convince any thinking person of the dangers and evil consequences which must attend the sin of causeless separation.
If men for salvation are brought out of the World into the Church, they cannot possibly forsake it, without hazard to their salvation.--If the promises of God, and the means of grace, are committed to the Church, we lose them when we leave the Church: at least it will be very hard to prove that we carry them away with us: and who would chuse to be under any uncertainty in a case of such importance?
Another evil is that of breaking the great rule of charity in our worship. We are commanded to glorify God with one mind and one mouth, and all to speak the same thing. How contrary to this is the practice of following different way of worship, some totally disagreeing with others; and some not deserving the name of any worship at all; for in some of our assemblies, people meet for no purpose but to hear one another talk. There is no praying, no confession of sins, no absolution, no thanksgiving, no litany, no sacraments? We read, that the Apostles, when the Holy Ghost descended, were all with one accord in one place; and so ought Christians to be, if they would preserve the presence of the spirit amongst them, who is the spirit of unity. And as the spirit of unity in worship disposes men to a more peaceable and charitable temper; so the spirit of division and fanaticism is attended with violence and bitterness of language, and an intolerant persecuting humour toward all who are not fanatics; especially toward the members of the Church of England, which is deservedly placed at the head, of the Protestant Reformation.
There is also great hazard of losing the doctrines when we leave the worship of the Church. When the ten tribes revolted from the worship at Jerusalem, they soon lost the truth of their law, and fell into an idolatrous worshipping of the calves they had set up in Dan and Bethel. Their government was troubled with great disorders, and their confusion ended in their utter dispersion. When men leave the worship of the Church, it is very natural for them to become disaffected to its doctrines: and they, who hate the Christian Faith, will take part with those who are against the Church; because they foresee, that if the Church be destroyed, the faith will be lost; as the light goes out when the lamp is broken. One of the most blasphemous books that ever was written in this country against the Christian Faith, was all of it apparently directed against the Church: on which consideration, many, who then believed the Christian doctrines, were drawn in by a disaffection to the Church, to take part with an infidel.
2. I am to remark farther, that with those who are ignorant and ill-instructed in the nature and use of the Church, there is a perverse prejudice in favour of preaching; and consequently a shocking neglect of those duties which belong to the people. It is a fine easy way for people with itching years, to hear a preacher talk them into Heaven; while they neglect all the more essential parts of divine worship. Many hear a Sermon with the same vain curiosity as people hear a speech upon a stage, and consult nothing but their own amusement. And while the whole of the ministerial duty is supposed to consist in preaching, a man who can bawl and rant is tempted to take himself for a minister of Jesus Christy without any regular mission; of which sort we have multitudes in this kingdom at this time: and it is to be feared they are increasing. It is no uncommon thing for persons of all persuasions to meet in the same Church to hear the same preacher; many of whom have no communion with one another at any time: how is a preacher to please such a mixt multitude of hearers, but by leaving the Church of Christ out of the question, and preaching a loose sort of Christianity, which will fit them all? Perhaps, if he were to speak the plain truth, and, from a sincere regard to their souls, give them such information as they stand in need of, many of them would leave him with indignation: as there were those who would walk no longer with Jesus Christ, because they were not able to bear the things that were spoken by him. There is a fashion of inviting people to come to Christ, without telling them where and how he is to be found. Besides, it is a great mistake to suppose, that the whole of religion consists in our taking of Christ; it is beginning at the wrong end: for Christ is to take us, as he took the little children in his arms and gave them his blessing. He said to his disciples, ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you. There is a covenant between us and God, into which God, of his infinite grace, takes us; we do not take him, neither can we: and this confines us to the ordinances of the Church, which are not of us, but are the gifts of God's free grace to us miserable sinners: and Christians are united to God, and to one another, by the services of prayer, and the participation of the sacraments, more than by the hearing of the word of God without them; which many hear for reasons of vanity and uncharitableness. Who are the best friends every minister hath in his parish? They who attend the prayers and sacraments with him: who are edified by his priesthood as well as by his preaching; and are active in the great work of their own salvation.
3. As the latter times of the Jewish Church were very corrupt, and the doctrines of God were rendered of none effect by the inventions of men: it is agreeable to the prophecies of the New Testament, that offences must come amongst us; that men must arise, out of the Church, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them: also that many will not endure sound doctrine, but heap up to themselves teachers (of their own appointing) having itching ears.
These and many other like passages give us notice, that there must be a falling off from the faith, with confusion and disagreement in the Christian society. If we look at our own Church, we have but a melancholy prospect; and cannot help observing, that it approaches too near to the state of the Jewish Church before its destruction? As they had corrupted the doctrines of Moses and the Prophets, and in consequence of it were divided into sects (for as truth unites, error always divides men) so have we corrupted the doctrines of the Gospel, and are miserably divided in consequence of it. I could name some doctrines, which if our Saviour were now to deliver in the metropolis of London, with the same freedom and authority as he did at Jerusalem, I verily believe he would be persecuted and put to death by people called Christians, as he was of old by those who were called Jews. The Church of Jerusalem was infested with temporising and philosophising Jews, who were farthest of all others from the faith, while they affected to be wiser than all the rest of the people. The Sadducees believed neither Angel nor Spirit, and. said there was no Resurrection. The Herodians were politicians and men of the world, who flattered Herod that he was the Messiah. The Pharisees were a proud sanctified sect, very godly in outward shew, but full of hypocrisy within. They justified themselves and despised others, as not good enough to stand near them, or belong to the same Church with them. Of the sect of the Essenes we have no particular account in the New Testament; but from all we can learn, I take them to have been the Quakers of that time, who had thrown off all external rights of worship, and affected a religion perfectly pure and philosophical. The Sadducees were the Socinians of Judaism; who had nothing spiritual belonging to them, and had reduced their law to an empty form. The venality and avarice of the Jews of our Saviour's time, was notorious, and provoked his indignation. Their temple, filled with buyers and sellers, was turned into a den of thieves: and, God knows, there is too much of a worldly traffic amongst us; which is too far gone to be reformed, and too bold to be censured--venduntur omnia!
"Two thousand pounds ready for the next Presentation to a Rectory of adequate value, with immediate resignation.--The Advertiser is sixty-five years of age. Apply to Mr.--------, Attorney, Holborn."
Perjury, which is now in a very growing state, may, in time come to market with as much boldness as her sister hath done for many years past.]
4. But whatever abuses there may be in the Church, it is our duty to make the best of it. The Church is our spiritual mothers and we may apply those words of the wise man, despise not thy mother when she is old; not even if she should be in rags and dotage. The doctrine of the Church of England is, by profession, still pure and apostolical; and, whatever faults it may have contracted, it cannot be worse than the Church which our Saviour found in Jerusalem: yet he still recommended to the congregation, the duty of obedience to their spiritual Rulers. The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat; all, therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do. Bad as the Church then was, our Saviour never forsook it, but taught daily in the Temple: and his Apostles attended upon his worship at the hours of prayer; and probably continued so to do, till they were dispersed. Neither Christ nor his disciples ever considered the doctrines of Church-authority, and Succession, and Conformity, as vain words and idle dreams, as our Socinians have done of late years; and after what hath been said, their views want no explanation.
5. In our behaviour toward those who have departed from us, let not us, who honour the Church, fall into the error of those who despise it. Let us not betray any symptoms of pride in censuring with severity, but rather, with hearts full of sorrow and compassion, lament the differences and divisions which expose the Christian religion to the scorn of its enemies. Infidels are delighted to see that Christians cannot understand one another; for thence they are ready to report, that there is no sense amongst them all, nor any reason in their religion; for that, if there were, they would agree about it. In this also the Papists triumph; they boast of their advantage over the Reformed, in that they are preserved in peace and unity, while we are torn to pieces with factions and divisions. [But see Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History: where he proves by incontrovertible evidence, that the Romish Church has not always maintained her boasted unanimity.] Hence they reflect upon the whole Reformation, as a natural source of confusion; that they belong to Jerusalem, and we to Babel; that when we leave their Church, the city upon the hill, we never know where to stop, till we get to the bottom: that is, till we have run either into the madness of enthusiasm, or the profaneness of infidelity. How shall we stop this wide mouth of scandal, while appearances are so much against us? However, this reproach doth not teach us of the Church of England; who, in doctrine and profession, are where we were two hundred years ago. Let those who have left us try if they can answer the Papists upon this head: it is their business to account for the confusion which they only have introduced. [It is too much the fashion of the times to divide the Christian Religion only into two classes, one including the Papists, and the other comprehending the motley herd who are disunited from the Church of Rome, and who are all distinguished by the general name of Protestants,--Whereas the Sectarians are many of them as widely removed from us of the Church of England, as we are front the Papists.]
If the Clergy of this Church have any desire to preserve it, they must consider for what end the Church is appointed. A Christian Church is a candlestick, to hold forth the Light of the Gospel! When it ceases to answer that end, it is of no use as a Church; and the world may do as well without it. Great things have been attributed of late times to moral preaching: but there is no such thing as telling people what they are to do, without telling them what they are to believe; because the Christian morality is built upon the Christian faith, and is totally different from the morality of Heathens. Deism, so called, is a Religion without Christianity; it has neither the Father, the Son, nor the Holy Ghost, into whose name Christians are baptized. It has no Sacraments, no Redemption, no Atonement, no Church Communion, and consequently no Charity; for Charity is the love and unity of Christians as such. Natural Religion is but another name for Deism; it is the same thing in all respects; and I may challenge all the philosophers in Europe to shew the difference. Therefore to recommend moral duties on the ground of natural religion, is to preach Deism from a pulpit: and we should ask ourselves, whether God, who upholds his Church, to declare salvation by Jesus Christ alone, will preserve a Church, when it has left the Gospel, and holds forth the light of Deism in the candlestick which was made, and is supported in the world, only to hold forth the light of Christianity? What else is it that hath made way, for the enthusiastic rant of the Tabernacle? When the wise forsake the Gospel, then is the time for the unwise to take it up; but with such a mixture of error and indiscretion, as gives the world a pretence for never returning to it any more: and then the case is desperate.
'Deism, properly so called,' (said a certain writer) 'is the religion essential to man, the true original religion of reason and nature.--It is in Deism, properly so called, that our more discerning and rational divines have constantly placed the alone excellency and true glory of the Christian institution------The Gospel (says Dr. Sherlock) was a republication of the Law of Nature, and its precepts declarative of that original religion, which was as old as the creation.--If natural religion (says Mr. Chandler) be not a part of the religion of Christ, 'tis scarce worth while to enquire at all, what his religion is: from whence it seems very natural to infer, that the other parts of the religion of Christ are scarce worth any thing at all of our notice' [Deism fairly stated by a moral Philosopher: p. 5, 6, 7.] See the whole book, which proceeds on this principle; that natural religion being admitted, it must be a perfect scheme a compleat structure) and that Christianity, as a superstructure, is unnecessary: and it is lamentable to see what advantage this author takes of the unguarded concessions of some celebrated Christian preachers and controversialists of the Church of England, who did not foresee, or did not consider, the consequences of their doctrines.
Dr. Taylor, some time since a dissenting teacher at Norwich, a man of considerable learning, was the author of certain Theological Lectures, which I have reason to think have met with a more favourable reception than they deserved among some of the Clergy of our own Church, and have been even recommended as elementary tracts to young Students in Divinity. In the first chapter of these Lectures, I find a rule of interpretation repugnant to the rule given us by the Scripture itself, which directs us to compare spiritual things with spiritual, that is, to compare the Scripture with the Scripture, that we may keep to the true sense of it. But here it is laid down as a fundamental rule, that we should always interpret the Scripture, in a sense consistent with the laws of natural religion; for that the law of nature, as it is founded in the unchangeable nature of things, must be the basis and ground-work of every constitution of religion which God hath erected. This rule of Dr. Taylor prejudges the Scripture before we come to it, and inculcates into inexperienced Students of Divinity the very principle that hath ruined us, and given us Up as a prey to the Deists; it allows them the advantage they have contended for against the peculiar doctrines of Revelation, as scarce worth any thing at all of our notice, in comparison of natural religion. For here, I say, before we descend to the Scripture, we are possessed of a system, founded in the unchangeable nature of things; from which, whatsoever the bible may seem to reveal, we are never to depart. Let us then suppose, that our Christian baptism teaches us to believe in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: what have we to do? Natural Religion hath already determined, from the unchangeable nature of things, that God is but one person. ["This (says Dr. Clarke) is the first principle of Natural Religion" See Mr. Jones's Catholic Doctrine of the Trinity; p. 15, of the sixth Edition; where this is considered more at large.] Therefore we must interpret the form of Baptism to such a sense, as will still leave this doctrine of nature in possession; either by teaching that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are, in reality, but one person; or that Jesus Christ is no person in the Godhead, but a mere man, like ourselves; or, that Christianity is not true, &c. So in like manner, by another anticipation, natural religion makes every man his own Priest and his own Temple: therefore it cannot possibly admit the true and proper Priesthood of Jesus Christ; but must reject the whole doctrine of atonement, and the corruption of man's nature; for this is incompatible with the idea of a natural religion; inasmuch as corrupt nature must produce a corrupt religion. If we say that nature is not corrupt, we overturn the foundations of the Gospel; which teaches us, that the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them.--Man, it seems, is so far from knowing the spiritual things revealed to him in the Scripture, that, as he now is by nature, he is not in a condition to receive them (they will be foolishness to him) till he is enabled so to do by a new faculty of discernment, which is supernatural and spiritual. It is therefore easy to foresee what must be the consequence, when Dr. Taylor's rule is admitted; and the younger Clergy of this Church take him for their guide. They will take the doctrines of nature, and work them up with the doctrines of the Scripture: that is, they will throw natural Religion into the Scripture, as Aaron threw the gold of Egypt into the fire: and, what will come out? Not the Christian Religion, but the philosophical calf of Socinus.
Mr. Locke's Reasonableness of Christianity may be read with safety, by those who are already well learned in the Scripture: but what a perilous situation must that poor young man be in, who, perhaps, when he can but just construe the Greek Testament, or before, is turned over to be handled and tutored by this renowned veteran; who, with a shew of reasonableness, and some occasional sneers at orthodoxy, and affecting the piety and power of inspiration itself, has partly overlooked, and partly explained away, the first and greatest principles of Christianity, and reduced it to a single proposition, consistent with Heresy, Schism, Arianism, Socinianism, and Quakerism.