Project Canterbury

William Law's
Defence of Church Principles:
Three Letters to the Bishop of Bangor, 1717-1719.

edited by J. O. Nash and Charles Gore.

[London: Griffith Farran and Co.] 
Transcribed by John D Lewis


| § I | § II |


    THAT your Lordship may be prepared to receive, what I here presume to lay before you, with the greater candour, I sincerely profess, that it does not proceed from any prejudice; but from certain reasons, upon which I find myself invincibly obliged to differ from your Lordship in opinion.

    To prevent all suspicion of my designing anything injurious to your Lordship’s character, in this address, I have prefixed, what otherwise I should have chosen to conceal, my name to it.

    Your Lordship is represented as at the head of a cause, where every adversary is sure to be reproached, either as a furious Jacobite, or popish bigot, as an enemy to the liberty of his country, and the Protestant cause. These hard names are to be expected, my Lord, from a set of men, who dishonour your Lordship with their panegyrics upon your performances, whose praises defile the character they would adorn.

    When Dr Snape represents your Lordship as no friend to the good orders, and necessary institutions of the Church; you complain of the ill arts of an adversary, who sets you out in false colours, perverts your words, on purpose to increase his own imaginary triumphs. But, my Lord, in this, Dr Snape only thinks with those who would be counted your best friends, and would no longer be your friends, but that they conclude, you have declared against the authority of the Church. Does [50] your Lordship suppose, that the T—ds, the H—ks, the B—ts,1 would be at so much expense of time and labour, to justify, commend and enlarge upon your Lordship’s notions, if they did not think you engaged in their cause? There is not a libertine, or loose thinker in England, but he imagines you intend to dissolve the Church as a society, and are ready to offer incense to your Lordship for so meritorious a design. It is not my intention to reproach your Lordship with their esteem, or to involve you in the guilt of their schemes; but to show, that an adversary does not need any malice to make him believe you no friend to the constitution of the Church, as a regular society, since your greatest admirers every day publish it by necessary construction to the world in print.

| Top | § II |

§ I. "The favour of God equally follows every equal degree of sincerity."

Ans. Then sincerity against Christ is as pleasing to God as sincerity for Him.

    § I.

After a word or two concerning a passage in your Lordship’s preservative, 1 shall proceed to consider your answer to Dr Snape. In the 98th page2 you have [51] these words: "But when you are secure of your integrity before God,—this will lead you (as it ought all of us) not to be afraid of the terrors of men, or the vain words of regular, and uninterrupted successions, authoritative benedictions, excommunications,—nullity, or validity of God’s ordinances to the people upon account of niceties and trifles, or any other the like dreams."

    My Lord, thus much must be implied here: Be not afraid of the terrors of men, who would persuade you ,of the danger of being in this, or that communion, and fright you into particular ways of worshipping God, who would make you believe such sacraments, and such clergy, are necessary to recommend you to his favour. But these, your Lordship affirms, we may contemn, if we are but secure of our integrity.

    So that, if a man be not a hypocrite, it matters not what religion he is of. This is a proposition of an unfriendly aspect to Christianity: but that it is entirely your Lordship’s, is plain from what you declare, p. 90.3 "That every one may find it in his own conduct to be true that his title to God’s favour cannot depend upon his actual being, or continuing in any particular method; but upon his real sincerity in the conduct of his conscience." Again, p. 91.4 "The favour of God follows sincerity considered as such, and consequently, equally follows every equal degree of sincerity." So that, I hope, I have not wrested your Lordship’s meaning, by saying, that according to these notions, if a man be not a hypocrite, it matters not what religion he is of. Not only sincere Quakers, Ranters, Muggletonians, and Fifth Monarchy men, are as much in the favour of God as any of the Apostles; but likewise sincere Jews, Turks, and Deists, are upon as good a bottom, and as secure of the favour of God as the sincerest Christian.


    For your Lordship saith, it is sincerity, as such, that procures the favour of God. If it be sincerity, as such, then it is sincerity independent and exclusive of any particular way of worship: and if the favour of God equally follows every equal degree of sincerity, then it is impossible there should be any difference, either as to merit or happiness, between a sincere martyr, and a sincere persecutor; and he that burns the Christian, if he be but in earnest, has the same title to a reward for it, as he that is burnt for believing in Christ.

    Your Lordship saith, you cannot help it, if people will charge you with evil intentions and bad views.5 I intend no such charge: but I wonder, your Lordship should think it hard, that any one should infer from these places, that you are against the interest of the Church of England.6

    For, my Lord, cannot the Quakers, Muggletonians, Deists, Presbyterians, assert you as much in their interest as we can? Have you said anything for us, or done anything for us in this "Preservative," but what you would have equally done for them? Your Lordship is ours, as you fill a bishopric; but we are at a loss to discover from this discourse what other interest we have in your Lordship: for you openly expose our communion, and give up all the advantages of it, by telling all sorts of people, if they are but sincere in their own way, they are as much in God’s favour as anybody else. Is this supporting our interest, my Lord?

    Suppose a friend of King George should declare it to all Britons whatever, that though they were divided into five thousand different parties, to set up different pretenders; yet if they were but sincere in their designs, they would be as much in the favour of God, as those who are most firmly attached to his Majesty. Does [53] your Lordship think such a one would be thought any mighty friend to the Government? And, my Lord, is not this the declaration you made as to the Church of England? Have you not told all parties that their sincerity is enough? Have you said so much as one word in recommendation of our communion? Or, if it was not for your church character in the title pages of this discourse, could any one alive conceive what communion you was of? Nay, a reader that was a stranger, would imagine, that he who will allow no difference between communions, is himself of no communion. Your Lordship, for aught I know, may act according to the strictest sincerity, and may think it your duty to undermine the foundations of the Church. I am only surprised that you should refuse to own the reasonableness of such a charge. Your Lordship hath cancelled all our obligations to any particular communion, upon pretence of sincerity.

    I hope, my Lord, there is mercy in store for all sorts of people, however erroneous in their way of worshiping God; but cannot believe, that to be a sincere Christian, is to be no more in the favour of God, than to be a sincere deist, or sincere destroyer of Christians. It will be allowed, that sincerity is a necessary principle of true religion; and that without it all the most specious appearances of virtue are nothing worth: but still, neither common-sense, nor plain Scripture, will suffer me to think, that when our Saviour was on earth, they were as much in the favour of God who sincerely refused to be His disciples, and sincerely called for His crucifixion, as those who sincerely left all and followed Him. If they were, my Lord, where is that blessedness of believing so often mentioned in the Scripture? Or where is the happiness of the Gospel revelation, if they are as well who refuse it sincerely, as those who embrace it with integrity?


    Our Saviour declared, that those who believed, should be saved; but those who believed not, should be damned. Will your Lordship say, that all unbelievers were insincere; or that though they were damned, they were yet in the same favour of God, as those that were saved?

    The Apostle assures us, that "there is no other name under heaven given unto men, whereby they can be saved,"7 but Jesus Christ. But your Lordship hath found out an atonement more universal than that of His blood; and which will even make those blessed and happy who count it an unholy thing. For seeing it is sincerity, as such, that alone recommends us to the favour of God, they who sincerely persecute this Name, are in as good a way as those that sincerely worship it. Has God declared this to be the only way to salvation? How can your Lordship tell the world that sincerity will save them be they in what way they will? Is this all the necessity of Christ’s satisfaction? Is this all the advantage of the Gospel covenant, that those who sincerely contemn it are in as good a state without it as those that embrace it?

    My Lord, here is no aggravation of your meaning. If sincerity, as such, be the only thing that recommends us to God, and every equal degree of it procures an equal degree of favour, it is a demonstration that sincerity against Christ is as pleasing to God, as sincerity for Him. My Lord, this is a doctrine which no words can enough decry. So I shall leave it, to consider, what opinion St Paul had of this kind of sincerity. He did not think, when he persecuted the Church, though he did it ignorantly, and in unbelief, and out of zeal towards God, that he was as much in the favour of God as when he suffered for Christ. "I am the least," saith he, "of the Apostles, not fit to be called an Apostle, [55] because I persecuted the Church of Christ."8 The Apostle does not scruple to charge himself with guilt, notwithstanding his sincerity.

    A little knowledge of human nature will teach us, that our sincerity may be often charged with guilt; not as if we were guilty, because we are sincere; but because it may be our fault that we are hearty and sincere in such or such ill-grounded opinions. It may have been from some ill-conduct of our own, some irregularities or abuse of our faculties, that we conceive things as we do, and are fixed in such or such tenets. And can we think so much owing to a sincerity in opinions, contracted by ill habits and guilty behaviour? There are several faulty ways, by which people may cloud and prejudice their understandings, and throw themselves into a very odd way of thinking; or for some cause or other, "God may send them a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie."9 And will your Lordship say, that those who are thus sunk into errors, it may be, through their own ill-conduct, or as a judgment of God upon them, are as much in His favour as those who love and adhere to the truth? This, my Lord, is a shocking opinion, and has given numbers of Christians great offence, as contradicting common-sense, and plain Scripture; as setting all religion upon the level as to the favour of God.

| Top | § I | § III |

§ II. "Vain words of regular and uninterrupted successions."

Ans. 1. This is disloyal to the Church of England.
Ans. 2. Unless Christ appointed a ministry, all things are common, anyone may officiate.
Ans. 3. If Christ did send ministers with authority to send others, this authority can only pass by regular succession.

    § II.

The next thing, that according to your Lordship, "we ought not to be concerned at, is vain words [56] of regular, and uninterrupted successions, as niceties, trifles and dreams."10 Thus much surely, is implied in these words, that no kind of ordination or mission of the clergy, is of any consequence or moment to us. For, if the ordination need not be regular, or derived from those who had authority from Christ to ordain, it is plain, that no particular kind of ordination can be of any more value than another. For no ordination whatever, can have any worse defects, than as being irregular, and not derived by a succession from Christ. So that if these circumstances are to be looked on as trifles and dreams: all the difference that can be supposed betwixt any ordinations, comes under the same notion of trifles and dreams, and consequently are either good alike, or trifling alike. So that Quakers, Independents, Presbyterians, according to your Lordship, have as much reason to think their teachers as useful to them, and as true ministers of Christ, as those of the Episcopal communion have to think their teachers. For if regularity of ordination, and uninterrupted succession, be mere trifles, and nothing; then all the difference betwixt us and other teachers, must be nothing, for they can differ from us in no other respects. So that, my Lord, if Episcopal ordination, derived from Christ, has been contended for by the Church of England, your Lordship has in this point deserted her: and you not only give up Episcopal ordination, by ridiculing a succession, but likewise by the same argument exclude any ministers on earth from having Christ’s authority. For if there be not a succession of persons authorised from Christ to send others to act in His name, then both Episcopal and Presbyterian teachers are equally usurpers, and as mere laymen as any at all. For there cannot be any other difference between the clergy and laity, but as the [57] one has authority derived from Christ to perform offices, which the other has not. But this authority cannot be otherwise had, than by an uninterrupted succession of men from Christ, empowered to qualify others. For if the succession be once broken, people must either go into the ministry of their own accord, or be sent by such as have no more power to send others, than to go themselves. And, my Lord, can these be called ministers of Christ, or received as His ambassadors? Can they be thought to act in His name, who have no authority from Him? If so, your Lordship’s servant might ordain and baptise to as much purpose as your Lordship: for it could only be objected to such actions, that they had no authority from Christ. And if there be no succession of ordainers from Him, every one is equally qualified to ordain. My Lord, I should think, it might be granted me, that the administering of a sacrament is an action we have no right to perform, considered either as men, gentlemen, or scholars, or members of a civil society: who, then, can have any authority to interpose, but he that has it from Christ? And how that can be had from Him, without a succession of men from Him, is not easily conceived. Should a private person choose a Lord Chancellor, and declare his authority good; would there be anything but absurdity, impudence, and presumption in it? But why he cannot as well commission a person to act, sign, and seal in the king’s name, as in the name of Christ, is unaccountable.

    My Lord, it is a plain and obvious truth, that no man, or number of men, considered as such, can any more make a priest, or commission a person to officiate in Christ’s name, as such, than he can enlarge the means of grace or add a new sacrament for the conveyance of spiritual advantages. The ministers of Christ are as much positive ordinances, as the sacraments; and we [58] might as well think, that sacraments not instituted by Him, might be means of grace, as those pass for His ministers who have no authority from Him.

    Once more, all things are either in common in the Church of Christ, or they are not: if they are, then everyone may preach, baptise, ordain, &c. If all things are not thus common, but the administering of the sacrament, and ordination, &c., are offices appropriated to particular persons; then I desire to know how, in this present age, or any other since the Apostles, Christians can know their respective duties, or what they may, or may not do, with respect to the several acts of Church communion, if there be no uninterrupted succession of authorised persons from Christ: for till authority from Christ appears, to make a difference between them, we are all alike, and any one may officiate as well as another. To make a jest, therefore, of the uninterrupted succession, is to make a jest of ordination, to destroy the sacred character, and make all pretenders to it, as good as those that are sent by Christ.

    If there be no uninterrupted succession, then there are no authorised ministers from Christ; if no such ministers, then no Christian sacraments; if no Christian sacraments, then no Christian Covenant, whereof the sacraments are the stated and visible seals.

    My Lord, this is all your own: here are no consequences palmed upon you, but the first, plain, and obvious sense of your Lordship’s words. And yet, after all, your Lordship asks Dr Snape, Why all those outcries against you?11 Indeed, my Lord, you have only taken the main supports of our religion away; you have neither left us priests, nor sacraments, nor Church: or, what is the same thing, you have made them all trifles and dreams. And what has your [59] Lordship given us in the room of all these advantages? Why, only sincerity; this is the great universal atonement for all: this is that, which, according to your Lordship, will help us to the communion of saints hereafter, though we are in communion with anybody, or nobody, here.

 | Top | § II | § IV |

§ III. "Vain words of nullity and validity of God’s ordinances."

Ans. This is to encourage divisions and to declare there is no need of uniting.

    § III.

The next thing we are not to be afraid of, are, "the vain words of nullity and validity of God’s ordinances whether they are administered by a clergyman or a layman. This indeed I have shown, was included in what you said about the trifle of uninterrupted succession. But, for fear we should have overlooked it there, you have given it us in express words in the next line.

    Your Lordship tells Dr Snape, that ‘you know no confusion, glorious, or inglorious, that you have endeavoured to introduce’ into the Church.12

    My Lord, if I may presume to repeat your own words, lay your hand on your heart, and ask yourself whether the encouraging all manner of divisions be not endeavouring to introduce confusion? If there were in England five thousand different sects, has not your Lordship persuaded them to be content with themselves, not to value what they are told by other communions; that if they are but sincere, they need not have regard to anything else? Is not this to introduce confusion? What is confusion, but difference and division? And does not your Lordship plainly declare to the world that there is no need of uniting: that there is no particular way or method that can recommend [60] us more to the favour of God, than another? Has your Lordship so much as given the least hint, that it is better to be in the communion of the Church of England, than not? Have you not exposed her sacraments, and clergy; and as much as lay in you, broke down everything in her, that distinguishes her from fanatical conventicles? What is there in her as a Church, that you left untouched? What have you left in her, that can any way invite others into her communion? Are her clergy authorised more than others? For fear that should be thought, you make a regular succession from Christ a trifle. Are her sacraments more regularly administered? Lest that should recommend her, you slight the nullity, or validity of God’s ordinances. Is there any authority in her laws, which enjoin communion with her? Lest this should be believed, you tell us that our being or continuing in any particular method (or particular communion) cannot recommend us more to the favour of God than another.

    I must observe to your Lordship, that these opinions are very oddly put in a "Preservative from ill principles; or all appeal to the consciences and common-sense of the 1aity." Are they to be persuaded not to join with the Non-jurors, because no particular priests, no particular sacraments, or particular communion is anything but a dream and trifle, and such things as no way recommend us to the favour of God more than others? Are the Non-jurors only thus to be answered? Is the Established Church thus to be defended? Your Lordship indeed has not minced the matter: but, I hope, the Church of England is to be supported upon better principles, or not at all.

    If I should tell a person that put a case of conscience to me, that all cases of conscience are trifles, and signify nothing; it would be plain, that I had given [61] him a direct answer: but if he had either conscience, or common-sense, he would seek out a better confessor.

    Your Lordship tells Dr Snape, that he saith and unsaith, to the great diversion of the Roman Catholics.13 But if your Lordship would unsay some things you have said, it would be a greater mortification to them, than all that ever you said, or wrote in your life. To deny the necessity of any particular communion, to expose the validity of sacraments, and rally upon the uninterrupted succession of priests, and pull down every pillar in the Church of Christ, is an errand on which Rome hath sent many messengers. And the Papists are no more provoked with your Lordship for these discourses, than they were angry at William Penn the Jesuit for preaching up Quakerism. So long as they rejoice in our divisions, or are glad to see the city of God made a mere babel, they can no more be angry at your Lordship than at your advocates.

| Top | § III | § V |

§ IV. Of authority in the kingdom of Christ.

"As to the affairs of conscience and eternal salvation, Christ hath left no visible human authority behind him."

Ans. 1. The Bishop’s arguments conclude not only against absolute but against all degrees of authority.
Ans. 2. Church authority though it is not absolute yet is a real authority.

    § IV.

Dr Snape says, you represent the Church of Christ as a kingdom in which Christ neither acts Himself nor hath invested any one else with authority to act for Him. At this your lordship cries, p. 22: "Lay, your hand upon your heart, and ask, Is this a Christian, human, honest representation of what your own eyes read in my sermon."14

    My lord, I have dealt as sincerely with my heart as [62] it is possible, and I must confess, I take the doctor’s representation to be Christian and honest. For though you sometimes contend against absolute and indispensable authority, yet it is plain, that you strike at all authority; and assert, as the Doctor says, that Christ has not invested any one on earth with an authority to act for Him.

    Page 21: You expressly say, "That as to the affairs of conscience and eternal salvation, Christ hath left no visible, human authority behind Him."15

    Now, my Lord, is not this saying, that He has left no authority at all? For Christ came with no other authority Himself: but as to conscience and salvation, He erected a kingdom, which related to nothing but conscience and salvation; and therefore they who have no authority as to conscience and salvation, have no authority at all in His kingdom. Conscience and salvation are the only affairs of that kingdom.

    Your Lordship denies that any one has authority in these affairs; and yet you take it ill to be charged with asserting, that Christ hath not invested any one with authority for Him. How can any one act for Him but in His kingdom? How can they act in His kingdom if they have nothing to do with conscience and salvation, when His kingdom is concerned with nothing else?

    Again, p. 16, your Lordship says, that not one of them (Christians) "any more than another, hath authority either to make new laws for Christ’s subjects, or to impose a sense upon the old ones; or to judge, censure, or punish the servants of another master, in matters, purely relating to conscience."16

    I can meet with no divine, my Lord, either juror [63] or non-juror, high or low, churchman, or dissenter, that does not think your Lordship has plainly asserted in these passages, what the Doctor has laid to your charge, that no one is invested with authority from Christ to act for Him.17

    1.  Your Lordship thinks this is sufficiently answered, by saying you contend against an absolute authority. You do indeed sometimes join absolute with that authority you disclaim. But, my Lord, it is still true, that you have taken all authority from the Church: for the reasons you everywhere give against this authority, conclude as strongly against any degrees of authority, as that which is truly absolute.


You disown the authority of any Christians over other Christians; because they are the "servants of another master" (p. 16). Now this concludes as strongly against any authority, as that which is absolute: for no one can have the least authority over those that are entirely under another’s jurisdiction. A small authority over another’s servant is as inconsistent as the greatest.


You reject this authority, because of the objects it is exercised upon—ie., matters purely relating to conscience and salvation. Here this authority is rejected, because it relates to conscience and salvation; which does as well exclude every degree of authority, as that which is absolute. For if authority and conscience cannot suit together, conscience rejects authority, as such, and not because there is this or that degree of it. So that this argument banishes all authority.


Your Lordship denies any Church authority; because Christ doth not "interpose to convey infallibility, or assert the true interpretation of His own laws."18 Now this reason concludes as full against all [64] authority, as that which is absolute. For if infallibility is necessary to found an obedience upon in Christ’s kingdom, it is plain that nobody in Christ’s kingdom has any right to any obedience from others, nor consequently any authority to command it, no members, or number of members of it being infallible.


Another reason your Lordship gives against Church authority is this, "That it is the taking Christ’s kingdom out of His hands, and placing it in their own" (p. 14).19 Now this reason proves as much against authority in general, or any degrees of it, as that which is absolute. For if the authority of others is inconsistent with Christ’s being King of His own kingdom, then every degree of authority, so far as it extends, is an invasion of so much of Christ’s authority, and usurping upon His right.

    The reason likewise which your Lordship gives to prove the Apostles not usurpers of Christ’s authority, plainly condemns every degree of authority which any Church can now pretend to. "They were no usurpers; because He then interposed to convey infallibility; and was in all that they ordained: so that the authority was His in the strictest sense."20 So that where He does not interpose to convey infallibility, there every degree of authority is a degree of usurpation; and consequently, the present Church having no infallibility, has no right to exercise the least degree of authority without robbing Christ of His prerogative.

    Thus it plainly appears, that every reason you have offered against Church authority, concludes with as much strength against all authority, as that which is absolute. And therefore Dr Snape has done you no injury in charging you with the denial of all authority.

    There happens, my Lord, to be only this difference [65] between your sermon and the defence of it, that that is so many pages against Church authority, as such; and this a confutation of the Pope’s infallibility. It is very strange, that so clear a writer, who has been so long enquiring into the nature of government, should not be able to make himself be understood upon it: that your Lordship should be only preaching against the Pope, and yet all the Lower House of Convocation should unanimously conceive, that your doctrine therein delivered, tended to subvert all government and discipline in the Church of Christ.21

    And, my Lord, it will appear from what follows, that your Lordship is even of the same opinion yourself; and that you imagined you had banished all authority, as such, out of the Church, by those arguments you had offered against an absolute authority. This is plain from the following passage, where you ridicule that which Dr Snape took to be an authority, though not absolute. When Dr Snape said, that no Church authority was to be obeyed in anything contrary to the revealed Will of God, your Lordship triumphs thus: "Glorious absolute authority indeed, in your own account, to which Christ’s subjects owe no obedience, till they have examined into His own declarations; and then they obey not this authority, but Him."22

    Here you make nothing of that authority which is not absolute; and yet you think it hard to be told, that you have taken away all Church authority. That which is absolute, you expressly deny: and here you say, that which is not absolute is nothing at all. Where then is the authority you have left? Or how is it that Christ has empowered any one to act in His Name?

    Your Lordship fights safe under the protection of the [66] word absolute; but your aim is at all Church power. And your Lordship makes too hasty an inference, that because it is not absolute it is none at all. If you ask, where you have made this inference, it is on occasion of the above mentioned triumph; where your Lordship, makes it an insignificant authority, which is only to be obeyed so long as it is not contrary to Scripture.

    2.  Your Lordship seems to think, all is lost as to Church power, because the Doctor does not claim an absolute one, but allows it to be subject to Scripture; as if all authority was absolute, or else nothing at all. I shall therefore consider the nature of this Church power, and show, that though it is not absolute, yet it is a real authority, and is not such a mere nothing as your Lordship makes it.

    An absolute authority, according to your Lordship, is, what is to be always obeyed by every individual that is subject to it, in all circumstances. This is an authority that we utterly deny to the Church. But, I presume, there may be an authority inferior to this, which is nevertheless a real authority, and is to be esteemed as such; and that for these reasons:


I hope, it will be allowed me, that our Saviour came into the world with authority. But it was not lawful for the Jews to receive Him, if they thought His appearance not agreable to those marks and characters they had of Him in their Scriptures. May I not here say, my Lord, "Glorious authority of Christ indeed, to which the Jews owed no obedience, till they had examined their Scriptures; and then they obey, not Him but them!"

    Again, the Apostles were sent into the world with authority: but yet, those who thought their doctrine unworthy of God, and unsuitable to the principles of natural religion, were obliged not to obey them. [67] "Glorious authority indeed, of the Apostles, to whom mankind owed no obedience, till they had, first, examined their own notions of God and religion; and then they obeyed, not the Apostles, but them!"

    I hope, my Lord, it may be allowed, that the sacraments are real means of grace: but it is certain, they are only conditionally so, if those that partake of them, are endowed with suitable dispositions of piety and virtue. "Glorious means of grace of the sacraments, which is only obtained by such pious dispositions; and then it is owing to the dispositions, and not the sacraments." Now, my Lord, if there can be such a thing as instituted real means of grace, which are only conditionally applied, I cannot see, why there may not be an instituted real authority in the Church, which is only to be conditionally obeyed.

    Your Lordship has written a great many elaborate pages to prove the English Government limited; and that no obedience is due to it, but whilst it preserves our fundamentals; and, I suppose, the people are to judge for themselves, whether these are safe, or not. "Glorious authority of the English Government, which is to be obeyed no longer, than the people think it their interest to obey it!"

    Will your Lordship say there is no authority in the English Government, because only a conditional obedience is due to it, whilst we think it supports our fundamentals? Why then must the Church authority be reckoned nothing at all, because only a rational conditional obedience is to be paid, whilst we think it not contrary to Scripture? Is a limited, conditional government in the State, such a wise, excellent, and glorious constitution? And is the same authority in the Church, such absurdity, nonsense, and nothing at all, as to any actual power?


    If there be such a thing as obedience upon rational motives, there must be such a thing as authority that is not absolute, or that does not require a blind, implicit obedience. Indeed, rational creatures can obey no other authority, they must have reasons for what they do. And yet because the Church claims only this rational obedience, your Lordship explodes such authority as none at all.

    Yet it must be granted, that no other obedience was due to the prophets, or our Saviour and His apostles: they were only to be obeyed by those who thought their doctrines worthy of God. So that if the Church has no authority, because we must first consult the Scriptures, before we obey it; neither our Saviour nor His apostles had any authority, because the Jews were first to consult their Scriptures, and the heathen their reason, before they obeyed them. And yet this is all that is said against Church authority; that because they are to judge of the lawfulness of its injunctions, therefore they owe it no obedience. Which false conclusion, I hope, is enough exposed.

    If we think it unlawful to do anything that the Church requires of us, we must not obey its authority. So, if we think it unlawful to submit to any temporal Government, we are not to comply. But, I hope, it will not follow that the Government has no authority, because some think it unlawful to comply with it. If we are so unhappy as to judge wrong in any matter of duty, we must nevertheless act according to our judgments; and the guilt of disobedience either in Church or State is more or less, according as our error is more or less voluntary, and occasioned by our own mismanagement.

    I believe, I have shown, Firstly, that all your Lordship’s arguments against Church authority conclude [69] with the same force against all degrees of authority. Secondly, That though Church authority be not absolute in a certain sense, yet if our Saviour and His Apostles had any authority, the Church may have a real authority: for neither He nor His Apostles had such an absolute authority, as excludes all consideration and examination, which is your notion of absolute authority.

    Before I leave this head, I must observe, that in this very answer to Dr Snape, where you would be thought to have exposed this absolute authority alone, you exclude all authority along with it. You ask the Doctor: "Is this the whole you can make of it, after all your boasted zeal for mere authority?"23 You then say, "Why may not I be allowed to say, no man on earth has an absolute authority, as well as you?" My Lord there can be no understanding of this, unless mere authority and absolute authority be taken for the same thing by your Lordship.

    But, my Lord, is not the smallest particle of matter, mere matter? And is it therefore the same as the whole mass of matter? Is an inch of space, because -it is mere space, the same as infinite space? How comes it then, that mere authority is the same as absolute authority? My Lord, mere authority implies only authority, as a mere man implies only a man. But your Lordship makes no difference between this, and absolute authority; and therefore has left no authority in the Church, unless there can be authority, that is, not mere authority—ie., matter, that is not mere matter; or space, that is not mere space.

    When the Church enjoins matters of indifference, is she obeyed for any reason, but for her mere authority? But your Lordship allows no obedience to mere [70] authority; and therefore no obedience even in indifferent matters.

    Thus do these arguments of yours lay all waste in the Church. And I must not omit one, my Lord, which falls as heavy upon the State, and makes all civil government unlawful. Your words are these: "As the church of Christ is the kingdom of Christ, He Himself is king; and in this it is implied that He is the sole lawgiver to His subjects, and Himself the sole judge of their behaviour in the affairs of conscience and salvation."24 If there be any truth or force in this argument, it concludes with the same truth and force against all authority in the kingdoms of this world. In Scripture we are told, "The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men;"25 "that the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king."26 Now, if because Christ is king of the Church, it must be in this implied, that He is sole lawgiver to His subjects; it is plain to a demonstration, that because God is king and lawgiver to the whole earth, that therefore He is sole lawgiver to His subjects; and consequently, that all civil authority, all human laws, are mere invasions and usurpations upon God’s authority, as king of the whole earth.

    Is nobody to have any jurisdiction in Christ’s kingdom, because He is king of it? How then comes any one to have any authority in the kingdoms of this world, when God has declared himself the lawgiver, and king of the whole world? Will your Lordship say that Christ has left us the Scriptures, as the statute laws of His kingdom, to prevent the necessity of after laws? It may be answered, That God has given us reason for our constant guide; which, if it were as duly attended to, would as certainly answer the ends of civil [71] life, as the observance of the Scriptures would make us good Christians.

    But, my Lord, as human nature, if left to itself, would neither answer the ends of a spiritual or civil society, so a constant visible government in both is equally necessary: and, I believe, it appears to all unprejudiced eyes that, in this argument at least, your Lordship has declared both equally unlawful.

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§ V. "The exclusion of the Papists from the throne was not on account of their religion as such, but of its fatal effects."

Ans. This distinction is prodigious deep.

    § V.  

Your Lordship says, "The exclusion of the Papists from the throne, was not upon the account of their religion."27 Three lines after, you say, "I have contended, indeed, elsewhere, that it was their unhappy religion which alone made them incapable in themselves of governing this Protestant nation by the laws of the land." My Lord, I cannot reconcile these two passages. Popery alone, you say, was their incapacity. From which it may be inferred they had no other incapacity. Yet your Lordship says they were not excluded upon the account of their religion. A little after, you say, "The ground of their exclusion was not their religion, considered, as such; but the fatal, natural, certain effect of it upon themselves to our destruction."

    As, for instance, your Lordship may mean thus: If a man of great estate dies, he loses his right to his estate; not upon the account of death, considered, as such; but for the certain, fatal, natural effect of it upon himself. Or, suppose a person is excluded for being an idiot, it is not for his idiocy, considered as such; but for the certain, fatal, natural effect of it upon himself to our destruction.

    My Lord, this is prodigious deep: I wish it be clear, [72] or that it be not too refined a notion for common use on this subject. Likewise I do not conceive, my Lord, what you can call the fatal, natural, certain effects of any one’s religion. I am sure, amongst Protestants, there are no natural, certain effects of their religion upon them; that their practices do not fatally follow their principles neither is there any demonstrative certainty that a bishop cannot be against Episcopacy.

    If the Papists are so unalterably sincere in their religion, that we can prove their certain observation of it, it is a pity but they had our principles, and we had their practice. I have not that good opinion of the Papists, which your Lordship has; I believe several of them sit as loose to their religion as other folks. Does your Lordship think, that all Papists are alike? That natural temper, ambition, and education, do not make as much difference amongst them, as the same things do amongst us? Are all Protestants loose and libertine alike? Why should all Papists be the same zealots? If not, my Lord, then these effects you call fatal, natural, and certain, may be not to be depended upon.

    Your Lordship knows, that it was generally believed, that King Charles the Second was a Papist: but I never heard of any fatal, natural, and certain effects of his religion upon him. All that one hears of it is, that he lived like a Protestant, and died like a Papist. I suppose, your Lordship will allow, that several who were lately Papists, are now true Protestants. I desire therefore to know, what is become of the fatal, natural, and certain effects of their religion?

    My Lord, I beg of you to lay your hand again upon your heart, and ask, whether this be strict reasoning? Whether it is possible, in the very nature of the thing, that such fatal, natural, and certain effects should [73] follow such a giddy, whimsical, uncertain thing, as human and free choice? My Lord, is it neither possible for Papists to change or conceal their religion for interest, or leave it through a conscientious conviction? If the former is impossible, then, according to your Lordship, it is the safest religion in the world; because they are all sure of being sincere, and consequently the first favourites of God. If the latter is impossible, then a great many fine sermons and discourses have been written to as wise purposes, as if they had been directed to the wind.

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§ VI. Of prayer "as a calm and undisturbed address to God."

Ans. Calmness may simply mean indifference.

    § VI.

  I come now to your Lordship’s definition of "Prayer, a calm and undisturbed address to God."28 It seems very strange, that so great a master of words, as your Lordship, should pick out two so very exceptionable, that all your Lordship’s skill could not defend them, but by leaving their first and obvious sense. Who would not take "calm and undisturbed" to be very like "quiet and unmoved"? Yet your Lordship dislikes those expressions. But if these do not give us a true idea of prayer, you have made a very narrow escape, and have given us a definition of prayer, as near to a wrong one as possible.

    Prayer chiefly consists of confession and petition. Now, to be calm, and free from worldly passions, is a necessary temper to the right discharge of such duties: but why our confession must be so calm and free from all perturbation of spirit, why our petitions may not have all that fervour and warmth with which either nature or grace can supply, is very surprising.

    My Lord, we are advised to be dead to the world; and I humbly suppose, no more is implied in it, than to [74] keep our affections from being too much engaged in it; and that a calm undisturbed—ie., dispassionate use of the world is very consistent with our being dead to it. If so, then this calm undisturbed address to heaven, is a kind of prayer that is very consistent with our being dead to heaven.

    We are forbid to love the world; and yet no greater abstraction from it is required, than to use it calm and undisturbed. We are commanded to set our affections on things above; and yet, according to your Lordship, the same calm, undisturbed temper is enough. According to this therefore, we are to be affected, or rather unaffected alike, with this, and the next world, since we are to be calm and undisturbed with respect to both.

    The reason your Lordship offers for this definition of prayer, is this; because you "look upon calmness and undisturbedness to be the ornament and defence of human understanding in all its actions."29 My Lord, this plainly supposes, there is no such thing as the right use of our passions: for if we could ever use them to any advantage, then it could not be the ornament of our nature, to be dispassionate alike in all its actions. It is as much the ornament and defence of our nature, to be differently affected with according to their respective differences, as it is to understand or conceive different things according to their real difference. It would be no ornament or credit to us to conceive no difference betwixt a mountain and a molehill: and our rational nature is as much disgraced when we are no more affected with great things than with small. It is the essential ornament of our nature, to be as sensibly affected in a different manner with the different degrees of goodness of things, as it is to perceive exactly the [75] different natures or relations of things. Passion is no more a crime, as such, than the understanding is, as such: it is nothing but mistaking the value of objects, that makes it criminal. An infinite good cannot be too passionately desired; nor a real evil too vehemently abhorred. Mere philosophy, my Lord, would teach us, that the dignity of human nature is best declared by a pungent uneasiness for the misery of sin, and a passionate warm application to heaven for assistance. Let us now consult the Scripture. S. Paul describes a godly sorrow something different from your Lordship’s calm and undisturbed temper, in these words: "When ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you! yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge!"30 My Lord, I suppose, these are not so many other words for calm and undisturbed. Yet as different as they are, the Apostle makes them the qualities of a godly sorrow. And all this at the expense of that calmness which your Lordship terms the ornament of human nature. Dr Snape pleads for the fervency and ardour of our devotions, from our Saviour’s praying more earnestly before His passion.

    Your Lordship replies, that this can give no direction as to our daily prayers; because it was what our Saviour Himself knew nothing of, but this once. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews knew nothing of this way of reasoning. For as an argument for daily patience, he bids us look unto Jesus, who endured the cross, because He died for us, leaving us an example.

    Our Saviour, my Lord, suffered and died but once yet is it made a reason for our daily patience, and proposed as an example for us to imitate.

    If therefore, my Lord, His passion, so extraordinary [76] in itself, and as much above the power of human nature to bear, as the intenseness of His devotions exceeded our capacities for prayer, be yet proposed as an example to us in the ordinary calamities of life; how comes it, that His devotion at that time should have no manner of use or direction in it as to our devotions, especially in our distress? How comes it, that His suffering should have so much of example in it, so much to be imitated; but the manner of His devotion then have nothing of instruction, nothing that need be imitated by us? All the reason that is offered, is the singularity and extraordinariness of it, when the same may be said of His passion; yet that is allowed to be an example.

    Your Lordship is pleased, for the information of your unwary readers, to reason thus upon the place: If this be the example of our Saviour, to assure us of His will about the temper necessary to prayer; "it will follow, that our blessed Lord Himself never truly prayed before this time: and yet again, if He prayed more earnestly, it will follow, that He had prayed before; and consequently, that this temper in which He now was, was not necessary to prayer."31

    My Lord, one would think this elaborate proof was against something asserted. Here you have indeed a thorough conquest; but it is over nobody. For did anyone ever assert, that such extraordinary earnestness was necessary to prayer? Does Dr Snape, or any divines allow of no prayers, except we sweat drops of blood? Will your Lordship say, that the necessity of this temper is implied in the quotation of this text, as a direction for prayer? I answer, just as much, as we are all obliged to die upon the cross, because His sufferings there are proposed to us as an example.


    The plain truth of the matter, my Lord, I take to be this: our Saviour’s sufferings on the cross were such as no mortal can undergo; yet they are justly proposed as an example to us to bear with patience such sufferings as are within the compass of human nature. His earnest devotion before this passion far exceeded any fervours which the devoutest of mankind can attain to: yet it is justly proposed to us as an example, to excite us to be fervent as we can; and may be justly alleged in our defence, when our warm and passionate addresses to God in our calamities, are condemned as superstitious folly. My Lord, must nothing be an example but what we can exactly come up to? How then can the life of our Saviour, which was entirely free from sin, be an example to us? How could it be said in Scripture, "Be ye holy, for I am holy"?32 Can any one be holy as God is?

    My Lord, one might properly urge the practice of the primitive Christians, who parted with all they had for the support of their indigent brethren, as an argument for charity, without designing to oblige people to part with all they have; and he that should in answer to such an argument, tell the world, that charity is only a calm undisturbed good-will to all mankind, would just as much set forth the true doctrine of charity, as he that defines prayer to be a calm and undisturbed address to heaven, for no other reason, but because no certain degrees of fervour or affection are necessarily required to constitute devotion. My Lord, has charity nothing to do with the distribution of alms, because no certain allowance is fixed? Why then must prayer have nothing to do with heat and fervency, because no fixed degrees of it are necessary?

    Therefore, my Lord, as I would define charity to be [78] a pious distribution of so much of our goods to the poor, as is suitable to our circumstance; so I would define prayer, an address to heaven, enlivened with such degrees of fervour and intenseness as our natural temper, influenced with a true sense of God, could beget in us.

    Your Lordship says, you only desire to strike at the root of superstitious folly, and establish prayer in its room;33 and this is to be effected by making our addresses calm and undisturbed; by which we are to understand, a freedom from heat and passion, as your Lordship explains it by an application to yourself.

    If therefore, any one should happen to be so disturbed at his sins, as to offer a broken and contrite heart to God, instead of one calm and undisturbed; or, like holy David, his soul should be athirst for God, or pant after Him, as the hart panteth after the water-brooks, this would not be prayer, but superstitious folly.

    My Lord, calmness of temper, as it signifies a power over our passions, is a happy circumstance of a rational nature, but no further: when the object is well chosen, there is no danger in the pursuit.

    The calmness your Lordship has described is fit for a philosopher in his study who is solving mathematical problems. But if he should come abroad into the world, thus entirely empty of all passion, he would live to as much purpose as if he had left his understanding behind him.

    What a fine subject, my Lord, would such an one make, who, when he heard of "plots, invasions, and rebellions," would continue as calm and undisturbed as when he was comparing lines and figures: such a calm subject would scarce be taken for any great loyalist.

    Your Lordship in other places, hath recommended [79] an "open and undisguised zeal,"34 and told us such things as ought to "alarm the coldest heart." Sure, my Lord, this is something more than calm avid undisturbed: and will your Lordship, who hath expressed so much concern for this ornament and defence of human understanding, persuade us to part with the least degree of it upon any account? I am, my Lord (with all the respect that is due to your Lordship’s station and character),

Your most humble and obedient servant,


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1 T—d is no doubt Toland, who wrote the Deistical work, "Christianity not Mysterious," 1699. B—t would probably stand for Burnet, Bishop of Sarum. He was specially severe against the Non-jurors and his latitudinarian principles got him called in "profession a prelate, a dissenter in sentiment." He died in 1715, and this might possibly mean his son, another Gilbert Burnet, who wrote against Law in this controversy. As to H—k, Mr C. J. Abbey has kindly pointed out to me Dr John Hancock, Boyle Lecturer in 1706, author of "The Low Churchmen Vindicated." In 1710, during the uproar over Dr Sacheverell, "an artful address was presented by the Bishop and clergy of London" in his favour. But "Dr Kennet, Dr Bradford, Dr Hancock, and Mr Hoadly refused to answer the Bishop’s summons" ("Life of Dr Calamy," ii. p. 229, ed. 1830).

2 Hoadly, Works, vol. i. p. 595. The references hereafter given enclosed in brackets [ ]are to the edition in three folio vols. London, 1773, put out by Hoadly’s son.

3 [i. p. 592.]

4 [i. p. 593.]

5 Answer to Dr Snape’s Letter, p. 46 [ii. p. 426.]

6 [ii. p. 427.]

7 Acts iv. 12.

8 I Cor. xv. 9.

9 2 Thess. i. 11.

10 Preserv. [i. 595].

11 Answer p. 40 [ii. 424].

12 Answer p. 47 [ii. 426].

13 Answer p. 26 [ii. 418].

14 [ii. 417.]

15 Answer [ii. 416.]

16 "Sermon on the Nature of the Kingdom of Christ" [ii. p. 405].

17 "Answer to Dr Snape" [ii. 417].

18 "Sermon," p. 15 [ii. 405].

19 "Sermon" [ii. 405].

20 Answer, p. 38 [ii. 423].

21 Represent. of Clergy of Lower House, p. 3, 1717.

22 Answer, p. 27 [ii. 419].

23 Answer, p. 26 [ii. 418].

24 Sermon [ii. 404]. Answer to Dr Snape [ii. 416].

25 Dan. iv. 17.

26 Isa. xxxiii. 22.

27 Answer to Dr S., p. 25 [ii. 422].

28 Sermon [ii. 403].

29 Answer to Dr. S., p. 11 [ii. 413].

30 2 Cor. vii. 11.

31 Answer to Dr. S. [ii. 413].

32 1 Pet. i. 16; Lev. xi. 45.

33 Answer, [ii. 410].

34 Sermon preached at S. Peter’s Poor before the Lord Mayor, Nov. 5, 1715 [iii. 631 and 626]. The quotations are not exact.

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