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


[section two]

 | § VIII |

§ VII. The commission to the Apostles to remit or retain sins.

Obj. (a.) ‘They might possibly understand by this the power of laying hands on the sick.’
Ans. "Whomsoever ye shall heal on earth I will heal in heaven," which is absurd.

Obj. (b.) ‘If the Apostles absolved particular persons it was by infallible communication of God’s will. But they did not absolve.’
Ans. They absolved in baptism, and there is no reason to suppose infallibly.

    §  VII.  But to proceed, your Lordship says, "The Apostles might possibly understand the power of [121] remitting and retaining sins, to be that power of laying their hands upon the sick."1

    1.  Is this possible, my Lord? Then it is possible the Apostles might think, that in the power here intended to be given them, nothing at all was intended to be given them. For the power of healing the sick was already conferred upon them. Therefore if no more was intended to be given them in this text, it cannot be interpreted as having entitled them properly to any power at all.

    2.  The power mentioned here, was something that Jesus promised He would give them hereafter: which plainly supposes, they had it not then: but they then had the power of healing; therefore something else must be intended here.

    3.  The power of the keys has always been looked upon as the highest in the Apostolical order. But if it related only to the power of healing, it could not be so: for the Seventy, who were inferior to the Apostles, had this power.

    4.  The very manner of expression in this place, proves that the power here intended to be given, could not relate to healing the sick, or to anything of that nature; but to some spiritual power whose effects should not be visible, but be made good by virtue of God’s promise. Thus, "Whomsoever ye shall heal on earth, I will heal in heaven," borders too near upon an absurdity. There is no occasion to promise to make good such actions as are good already, and have antecedently produced their effects. Persons who were restored to health, to their sight, or the use of their limbs, did not want to be assured that the Apostles, by whom they were restored, had a power to that end, the exercise of which power, proved and confirmed itself. There [122] was no need therefore of a divine assurance, that a person who was healed, was actually healed in virtue of it. But when we consider this promise, as relating to a power whose effects are not visible, the pardon of sins, the terms whereby it is expressed, are most proper: and it is very reasonable to suppose God promising, that the spiritual powers exercised by His ministers on earth, though they do not here produce their visible effects, shall yet be made good and effectual by Him in heaven.

    These reasons, my Lord, I should think, are sufficient to convince any one, that the Apostles could not possibly understand these words in the sense of your Lordship.

    Let us now consider the commission given to Peter. Our Saviour said to him, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it: and I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven."2

    Now, my Lord, how should it enter into the thoughts of Peter, that nothing was here intended or promised by our Saviour, but a power of healing; which he not only had before, but also many other disciples who were not Apostles? "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven;" that is, according to your Lordship, "I will give thee power to heal the sick." Can anything be more contrary to the plain obvious sense of the words? Can any one be said to have the keys of the kingdom of heaven, because he may be the instrument of restoring people to health? Are persons members of Christ’s kingdom, with any regard to [123] health? How then can he have any power in that kingdom, or be said to have the keys of it, who is only empowered to cure distempers? Could any one be said to have the keys of a temporal kingdom, who had no temporal power given him in that kingdom? Must not he therefore who has the keys of a spiritual kingdom, have some spiritual power in that kingdom?

    Christ has told us that His kingdom is not of this world. Your Lordship told us that it is so foreign to everything of this world, that no worldly terrors or allurements, no pains or pleasures of the body, can have anything to do with it.3 Yet here your Lordship teaches us, that he may have the keys of this spiritual kingdom, who has only a power over diseases. My Lord, are not sickness and health, sight and limbs, things of this world? Have they not some relation to bodily pleasures and pains? How then can a power about things wholly confined to this world, be a power in a kingdom that is not of this world? The force of the argument lies here: Our Saviour has assured us that His kingdom is not of this world: your Lordship takes it to be of so spiritual a nature that it ought not, nay, that it cannot be encouraged or established by any worldly powers. Our Saviour gives to His Apostles the keys of this kingdom. Yet you have so far forgotten your own doctrine, and the spirituality of this kingdom, that you tell us, He here gave them a temporal power of diseases; though He says, they were the keys of His kingdom which He gave them. Suppose any successor of the Apostles should from this text pretend to the power of the sword, to make people members of this kingdom: must not the answer be, that he mistakes the power, by not considering that they are only the keys of a spiritual, not of a [124] temporal kingdom, which were here delivered to the Apostles.

    I humbly presume, my Lord, that this would be as good an answer to your Lordship’s doctrine, as to theirs, who claim the right of the sword, till it can be shown that health and sickness, sight and limbs, do not as truly relate to the things of this world as the power of the sword.

    If this power of the keys must be understood, only as a power of inflicting or curing diseases, then the words, in the proper construction of them, must run thus: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church,"—ie., a peculiar society of healthful people; and the gates of hell shall never prevail against it,"—i.e., they shall always be in a state of health; "I will give unto thee, the keys of this kingdom of Heaven,"—i.e., thou shalt have the power of inflicting and curing distempers; "and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven,"—i.e., on whomsoever thou shalt inflict the leprosy on earth, he shall be a leper in heaven; "and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven,"—i.e., whomsoever thou shalt cure of that disease on earth, shall be perfectly cured of it in heaven.

    This, without putting any force upon the words, is your Lordship’s own interpretation; which exposes the honour and authority of Scriptures as much as the greatest enemy to them can wish. If our Saviour could mean by these words only a power of healing distempers; or if the Apostles understood them in that sense, we may as well believe, that when He said, His kingdom was not of this world,"4 that He meant, it was of this world, and that the Apostles so understood Him too.


     (b.) But however, for the benefit and edification of the laity, your Lordship has another interpretation for them: you say, "if they (the Apostles) did apply this power of remitting sins to the certain absolution of particular persons, it is plain they could do it upon no other bottom but this; that God’s will and good pleasure about such particular persons was infallibly communicated to them."5

    Pray, my Lord, how, or where is this so plain? Is it plain that they never baptised persons, till God had "infallibly communicated His good pleasure to them about such particular persons?" Baptism is an institution equally sacred with this other, and puts the person baptised in the same state of grace, that absolution does the penitent. Baptism is designed for the remission of sin. It is an ordinance to which absolution is consequent, but I suppose persons may be baptised without such infallible communication promised, as your Lordship contends for. If therefore it be not necessary for the exercise of absolution by baptism, why must it be necessary for absolution by the imposition of hands?

    Can pastors without infallibility, baptise heathens, and absolve, or be the instruments of absolving them thereby from their sins? Are they not as able to absolve Christian penitents, or restore those who have apostatised? If human knowledge, and the common rules of the Church, be sufficient to direct the priest to whom he ought to administer the sacraments, they are also sufficient for the exercise of this other part of the sacerdotal office.

    But your Lordship proceeds thus: "Not that they themselves absolved any."6

    No, my Lord, no more than water in baptism of itself [126] purifies the soul from sin. This baptismal water is, notwithstanding necessary for the remission of our sins.

    Again you say, "Not that God was obliged to bind and loose the guilt of men, according to their declarations, considered as their own decisions and their own determinations."7 No, my Lord; whoever thought so? God is not obliged to confer grace by the baptismal water, considered only as water; but he is, considered is His own institution for that end and purpose. So, if these declarations are considered only is the declarations of men, God is not obliged by them: but when they are considered as the declarations of men whom he has especially authorised to make such declarations in His name, then they are as effectual with God, as any other of His institutions whatever.

| § VII | § IX |

§ VIII. Remission of sins in our Lord’s case.

Obj. (a.) ‘He meant a power of miraculously releasing man from his afflictions.’
Ans. His words are express: "The Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins." His kingdom was founded for the remission of sins.

Obj. (b). ‘His exppresion was, "Thy sins are forgiven thee;" thus acknowledging that God alone forgiveth sin.’
Ans. 1. The expression does not forbid that it was Christ who forgave.
Ans. 2. Christ claims also other prerogatives peculiar to God.
Ans. 3. The Apostles ascribe to Christ the attributes of God.
Ans. 4. But the Bishop here declares against the divinity of Christ.

    § VIII.  I proceed now to a paragraph that bears as hard upon our Saviour, as some others have done upon His Apostles and their successors; where your Lordship designs to prove, that though Christ claimed a power of remitting sins Himself, or in His own person, yet that He had really no such power.

    You go upon these words: "If we look back upon [127] our Saviour Himself, we shall find, that when he declares that the Son of Man had power upon earth to forgive sins, even he himself either meant by it, the power of a miraculous releasing man from his affliction; or if it related to another more spiritual sense of the words, the power of declaring that the man’s sins were forgiven by God."8


The words of our Saviour, which we are to look back upon, are these: "Whether is it easier to say, ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up thy bed and walk’? But that ye may know, the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins."9 As if he had said, "Is not the same divine authority and power required? Is it not a work as peculiar to God, to perform miraculous cures, as to forgive sins? The reason therefore, why I now choose to declare My authority rather by saying, ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee,’ than by saying, ‘Arise and walk,’ was, purely to teach you this truth, that the power of the Son of Man is not confined to bodily cures, but that he has power on earth to forgive sins."

    This, my Lord, is the first obvious sense of the words; and therefore I take it to be the true sense. But your Lordship can look back upon them, till you find that Christ has not this power, though He claims it expressly; but that He only intends a power of doing something or other, which no more imports a power of forgiving sins, than of remitting any temporal debt or penalty.

    If our blessed Saviour had intended to teach the world, that He was invested with this power, I would gladly know how he must have expressed himself, to have satisfied your Lordship that he really had it? He must have told you, that He had not this power; [128] and then possibly, your Lordship would have taught us that He had this power. For no one can discover any reason why you should deny it Him, but because He has in express words claimed and asserted it. I hope your Lordship has not so low an opinion of our Saviour’s person, as to think it unreasonable in the nature of the thing, that He should have this power. Where does it contradict any principle of reason, to say, that a king should be able to pardon his subjects Since there is no absurdity then in the thing itself; and it is so expressly asserted in Scripture; it is just matter of surprise, that your Lordship should carry your reader from that plain consistent sense of the words, to either this or that something or other, the origin whereof is only to be sought for in your Lordship’s own invention; rather than not exclude Christ from a power which He declared He had, and declared He had it for this very reason, that we might know that He had it. Our Saviour has told us, that the way to heaven is narrow. Your Lordship might as reasonably prove from hence, that He meant, it was broad, as that He did not mean He could forgive sins, when He said, "that ye may know, that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins."

    Your Lordship has rejected all Church authority, and despised the pretended powers of the clergy, for this reason; because Christ is the "sole King, sole Lawgiver, and judge in His kingdom."10 But, it seems, your Lordship, notwithstanding, thinks it now time to depose Him: and this sole King in His own kingdom, must not be allowed to be capable of pardoning His own subjects.

    This doctrine, my Lord, is delivered, I suppose, as your other doctrines, out of a hearty concern and [129] Christian zeal for the privileges of the laity; and to show, that your Lordship is not only able to limit as you please the authority of temporal kings; but also to make Christ Himself sole King, and yet no King in His spiritual kingdom. For, my Lord, the kingdom of Christ is a society, founded in order to the reconciliation of sinners to God. If therefore Christ could not pardon sins, to what end could He either erect, or how could He support His kingdom, which is only in the great and last design of it, to consist of absolved sinners? He that cannot forgive sins in a kingdom that is erected for the remission of sins, can no more be sole king in it, than he that has no temporal power, can be sole king in a temporal kingdom. Therefore your Lordship has been thus mighty serviceable to the Christian laity, as to teach them, that Christ is not only sole King, but no King in His kingdom.

    This is not the first contradiction your Lordship has unhappily fallen into, in your attempts upon kingly authority. Nor is it the last; which I shall presume to observe to the common-sense of your laity,.

    Again, in this account of our Blessed Saviour, your Lordship has made no difference between Him and His Apostles, as to this absolving authority. For you say, the great commission given to them, implied either a power of releasing men from their bodily afflictions; or of declaring such to be pardoned, whom God had assured them that he had pardoned: and this is all that you here allow to Christ himself.

    Your Lordship’s calling Him so often King, and sole King, &c., in His kingdom, and yet making Him a mere creature in it, is too like the insult and designed sarcasm of the Jews, who, when they had nailed Him to the cross, wrote over His head, "This is the King of the Jews."


    (b.)  But to proceed: your Lordship proves, that our Saviour had not the power of forgiving sins: because His way of expression was, ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee.’ This was plainly, to acknowledge, and keep up that true notion, that God alone forgiveth sins."11

    1.  Let us therefore put this argument in form. Christ has affirmed, that He had power to forgive sins: but His way was, to say, "Thy sins are forgiven thee:" therefore Christ had not power to forgive sins. Q.E.D.

    It is much, your Lordship did not recommend this to your laity as another invincible demonstration. For by the help of it, my Lord, they may prove, that our Saviour could no more heal diseases, than forgive sins. As thus; Christ indeed pretends to a power of healing diseases; but His usual way of speaking to the diseased person, was, "Thy faith hath made thee whole"; therefore he had not the power of healing diseases. The argument has the same force against one power, as against the other. If He did not forgive sins, because He said, "Thy sins are forgiven thee"; no more did he heal diseases, because He said, "Thy faith hath made thee whole."

    I have a claim of several debts upon a man: I forgive him them all, in these words, "Thy debts are remitted thee." A philosophical wit stands by, and pretends to prove, that I had not the power of remitting these debts, because I said, "Thy debts are remitted thee." What can come up to, or equal such profound philosophy, but the divinity of one who teaches our Saviour could not forgive sins, because He said, "Thy sins are forgiven thee "?

    2. But your Lordship says, the reason why our [131] Saviour thus expressed Himself, "Thy sins are forgiven thee," was plainly to keep up that true notion, that God alone forgiveth sins. Therefore, my Lord, according to this doctrine, our Saviour was obliged not to claim any power that was peculiar or appropriated to God alone. For if this be an argument why He should not forgive sins, it is also an argument that he ought not to claim any other power, any more than this; which is proper to God, and only belongs to Him. But, my Lord, if he did express Himself thus, that he might not lay claim to anything that was peculiar to God, how came he in so many other respects to lay claim to such things as are truly as peculiar to God, as the forgiveness of sins? How came he in so many instances to make himself equal to God? How came He to say, "Ye believe in God, believe also in Me"?12 "And that men should worship the Son, even as the Father"?13 That he was the Son of God; that he was "the Way, the Truth, and the Life"?14

    Are not evangelical faith, worship and trust, duties that are solely due to God? Does he not as much invade the sovereignty of God, who lays claim to these duties, as He that pretends to forgive sins? Did not Christ also give His disciples power and authority over devils and unclean spirits, and power to heal all manner of diseases?

    Now, if Christ did not assume a power to forgive sins, because God alone could forgive sins, it is also as unaccountable, that He should exercise other authorities and powers which are as strictly peculiar to God, as that of forgiving sins. As if a person should disown that Christ is omniscient, because omniscience is an attribute of God alone, and yet confess His omnipotence, which is an attribute equally divine.


    But farther, my Lord: Did our Saviour thus designedly express Himself, lest He should be thought to assume any power which was divine, then it is certain (according to this opinion) that if He had assumed any such power, or pretended to do what was peculiar to God, He had been the occasion of misleading men into error. For if this be a plain reason, why He expressed himself so as to disown this power, it is plain, that if He had owned it, He had been condemned by this argument, as teaching false doctrine.

    3.  Now if this would have been interpretatively false doctrine in Christ, to take upon Himself anything that was peculiar to God, the Apostles were guilty of propagating this false doctrine. For there is scarce any known attribute or power of God, but they ascribe it to our Saviour. They declare Him eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, &c. Is it not a true notion, that God alone can create, and is governor of the universe? Yet the Apostles expressly assure us of Christ, that all things were created by Him,15 and that God hath put all things in subjection under His feet.16 It is very surprising, that your Lordship should exclude Christ from this power of forgiving sins, though He has expressly said He could forgive sins, because such a power belongs to God; when it appears through the whole Scripture, that there is scarce any divine power which our Saviour Himself has not claimed, nor any attribute of God but what His Apostles have ascribed to Him. They have made Him the creator, the preserver, the governor of the universe, the author of eternal salvation to all that obey Him; and yet your Lordship tells us, that He did not pretend to forgive sins, because that was a power peculiar to God.


    Here is then (to speak in your Lordship’s elegant style) ‘an immovable resting-place’ for your laity to set their feet upon; here is an argument that will last them for ever; they must believe that our Saviour did not forgive sins, because this was a power that belonged to God, though the Scriptures assure us that every other divine power belonged to Christ. That is, they must believe, that though our Saviour claimed all divine powers, yet not this divine power, because it is a divine power. And, my Lord, if they have the common-sense to believe this, they may also believe that though our Saviour took human nature upon Him, yet that He had not a human soul, because it is proper to man. They may believe, that any person who has all kingly power, cannot remit or reprieve a malefactor, because it is an act of kingly power to do it; or that a bishop cannot suspend any offender of his diocese, because it is an act of episcopal power to do it. All these reasons are as strong and demonstrative as that Christ, who claimed all divine powers, could not forgive sins, because it was a divine power.

    4.  Lastly, in this argument your Lordship has plainly declared against the divinity of Christ, and ranked Him in the order of creatures. Your Lordship says, Christ did not forgive sins because it is God "alone Who can forgive sins;" as plain an argument as can be offered, that in your Lordship’s opinion, Christ is not God: for if you believed Him, in a true and proper sense, God, how could you exclude Him from the power of forgiving sins, because God alone can forgive sins? It is inconsistent with sense and reason to deny this power to Christ because it is a divine power, but only because you believe Him not to be a divine Person. If Christ was God, then He might forgive sins, though God alone [134] can forgive sins: but you say, Christ cannot forgive sins, because God alone can forgive sins; therefore it is plain, that according to your Lordship’s doctrine, Christ is not truly, or in a proper sense, God.

    Here, my Lord, I desire again to appeal to the common-sense of your laity; let them judge betwixt the Scriptures and your Lordship. The Scriptures plainly and frequently ascribe all divine attributes to Christ, they, make Him the Creator and governor of the world, God over all, blessed for ever. Yet your Lordship makes Him a creature, and denies him such a power, because it belongs only to God.

    You yourself, my Lord, have allowed Him to be absolute ruler over the consciences of men; to be an arbitrary dispenser of the means of salvation to mankind; than which powers, none call be more divine: and yet you hold, that He cannot forgive sins, because pardon of sin can only be the effect of a divine power.

    Is it not equally a divine power (even according to your Lordship), to rule over the consciences of men, to give laws of salvation, and to act in these affairs with all uncontrollable power, as to forgive sins?

    My Lord, let their common-sense here discover the absurdity (for I must call it so) of your new scheme of government in Christ’s kingdom. Christ is absolute Lord of it (according to yourself), and can make or unmake laws relating to it, can dispense or withhold grace as he pleases in this spiritual kingdom, all which powers are purely divine; yet you say He cannot forgive sins, though every express power which you have allowed Him over the consciences of men, be as truly a divine power as that of forgiving sins. Has not Christ a proper and personal power to give grace to His subjects? Is He not Lord over their consciences? And [135] are not these powers as truly, appropriated to God? And has not your Lordship often taught them to be so, as that of forgiveness of sins? Is it not as much the prerogative of God to have any natural intrinsic power to confer grace, or any spiritual benefit to the souls of men, as to forgive sins? Has not your Lordship despised all the administrations of the clergy, because God’s graces call only come from Himself, and are only to be received from His own hands? The conclusion therefore is this, either Christ has a personal intrinsic power to confer grace in His kingdom, or He has not; if you say He has not, then you are chargeable with the collusion of making Him a king in a spiritual kingdom, where you allow Him no spiritual power: if you say He has, then you fall into this contradiction, that you allow Him to have divine powers, though He cannot have divine powers; that is, you allow Him to give grace, though it is a divine power, and not to forgive sins, because it is a divine power. My Lord, I wish your laity (if there be any to whom you can render it intelligible) much joy of such profound divinity. Or if there are others who are more taken with your Lordship’s sincerity, I desire them not to pass by this following remarkable instance of it: your Lordship has here as plainly declared, as words can consequentially declare anything, that you do not believe Christ to be God, yet profess yourself bishop of a Church, whose liturgy in so many repeated testimonies declares the contrary doctrine, and which obliges you to express your assent and consent to such doctrine. My Lord, I here call upon your sincerity, either declare Christ to be perfect God, and then show why He could not forgive sins; or deny Him to be perfect God, and then show how you can sincerely declare your assent and consent to the doctrines of the Church of England.


    This, my Lord, has an appearance of prevarication, which you cannot, I hope, charge upon any of your adversaries; who if they cannot think that to be sincere is the only thing necessary to recommend men to the favour of God, yet may have as much, or possibly more sincerity, than those who do think so.

| § VII | § IX |

§ IX. "If Church, communion were necessary, conscientious men who cannot accept it are out of God’s favour; but if they joined against their conscience, they would be equally out of His favour; which is absurd.’

Ans. Conscience may be erroneous. Such men must follow their conscience and be left to God’s uncovenanted mercies. But Church communion, as well as Christian truth in general, do not cease to be binding because some do not believe in it.

    § IX.  Before I take leave of your Lordship, I must take notice of ‘a resting-place,’ ‘a strong retreat,’ ‘a lasting foundation’—ie., ‘a demonstration in the strictest sense’ of the words, that all Church communion is unnecessary.

    Your Lordship sets it out in these words—

    "I am not now going to accuse you of a heresy against charity, but of a heresy against the possibility and nature of things." As thus, Mr Nelsono17 (for instance) "thinks himself obliged in conscience to communicate with some of our Church. Upon this you declare he has no title to God’s mercy; and you and all the world allow, that if he communicates with you whilst his conscience tells him it is a sin, he is self-condemned [137] and out of God’s favour. That notion (viz., the necessity of church communion), therefore, which implies this great invincible absurdity, cannot be true."o18

    Pray, my Lord, what is this wondrous curiosity of a demonstration, but the common case of an erroneous conscience?o19 Did the strictest contenders for church communion ever teach, that any terms are to be complied with against conscience? But it is a strange conclusion to infer from thence, that there is no obligation to communion, or that all things are held to be indifferent, because they are not to be complied with against one’s conscience.

    The truths of the Christian religion have the same nature and obligation, whatever our opinions are of them, and those that are necessary to be believed, continue so, whether we can persuade ourselves to believe them or not. I suppose your Lordship will not say, that the articles of faith and necessary institutions of the Christian religion, are no otherways necessary, than because we believe them to be so, that our persuasion is the only cause of the necessity; but if their necessity be not owing merely to our belief of them, then it is certain that our disbelief of them cannot make them less necessary. If the ordinances of Christ and the articles of faith are necessary, because Christ has made them so, that necessity must continue the same, whether we believe and observe them or not.

    So that, my Lord, we may still maintain the necessity of church communion, and the strict observance of Christ’s ordinances, notwithstanding that people have different persuasions in these matters, presuming that our opinions can no more alter the nature or necessity of Christ’s institutions, than we can believe error into truth, God into evil, or light into darkness. I shall [138] think myself no heretic against the nature of things, though I tell a conscientious Socinian, that the divinity of Christ is necessary to be believed, or a conscientious Jew, that it is necessary to be a Christian in order to be saved. But if your Lordship’s demonstration was accepted, we should be obliged to give up the necessity of every doctrine and institution to every disbeliever that pretended conscience. We must not tell any party of people, that they are in any danger for being out of communion with us, if they do but follow their own persuasion.

    Your Lordship’s invincible demonstration proceeds thus—

    "We must not insist upon the necessity of joining with any particular church, because then conscientious persons will be in danger either way; for if there be a necessity of it, then there is a danger if they do not join with it, and if they comply against their consciences, the danger is the same."

    What an inextricable difficulty is here! How shall divinity or logic be able to relieve us!

    Be pleased, my Lord, to accept of this solution in lieu of your demonstration.

    I will suppose the case of a conscientious Jew; I tell him that Christianity is the only covenanted method of salvation, and that he can have no title to the favour of God, until he professes the faith of Christ. "What," replies he, "would you direct me to do? If I embrace Christianity against my conscience, I am out of God’s favour, and if I follow my conscience, and continue a Jew, I am also out of His favour." The answer is this, my Lord; The Jew is to obey his conscience, and to be left to the uncovenanted, unpromised terms of God’s mercy, whilst the conscientious Christian is entitled to the express and promised favours of God.


    There is still the same absolute necessity of believing in Christ, Christianity is still the only method of salvation, though the sincere Jew cannot so persuade himself; and we ought to declare it to all Jews and unbelievers whatsoever, that they can only be saved by embracing Christianity. That a false religion, does not become a true one, nor a true one false, in consequence of their opinions; but that if they are so unhappy, as to refuse the covenant of grace, they must be left to such mercy as is without any covenant. And now, my Lord, what is become of this mighty demonstration? Does it prove that Christianity is not necessary, because the conscientious Jew may think it is not so? It may as well prove that the moon is no larger than a man’s head, because an honest ignorant countryman may think it no larger.

    Is there any person of ‘common-sense,’ who would think it a demonstration, that he is not obliged to go to Church, because a conscientious Dissenter will not? Could he think it less necessary to be a Christian, because a sincere Jew cannot embrace Christianity? Could he take it to be an indifferent matter, whether he believed the divinity of Christ, because a conscientious Socinian cannot? Yet this is your Lordship’s invincible demonstration, that we ought not to insist upon the necessity of church communion, because a conscientious disbeliever cannot comply with it.

    A small degree of common-sense, would teach a man that true religion, and the terms of salvation must have the same obligatory force, whether we reason rightly about them or not; and that they who believe and practise according to them, are in express covenant with God, which entitles them to His favour; whilst those who are sincerely erroneous, have nothing but the sincerity of their errors to plead, and are left to such [140] mercy of God as is without any promise. Here, my Lord, is nothing frightful or absurd in this doctrine, they who are in the Church which Christ has founded, are upon terms which entitles them to God’s favour; they who are out of it, fall to His mercy.

    But your Lordship is not content with the terms of the Gospel, or a doctrine that only saves a particular sort of people; this is a narrow view, not wide enough for your notions of liberty. Particular religions, and particular covenants, are demonstrated to be absurd, because particular persons may disbelieve, or not submit to them.

    Your Lordship must have doctrines that will save all people alike, in every way that their persuasion leads them to take: but, my Lord, there needs be no greater demonstration against your Lordship’s doctrine, than that it equally favours every way of worship; for all argument which equally proves everything, has been generally thought to prove nothing; which happens to be the case of your Lordship’s important demonstration.

    Your Lordship indeed only instances in a particular person, Mr Nelson; but your demonstration is as serviceable to any other person who has left any other church whatever. The conscientious Quaker, Muggletonian, Independent, or Socinian, &c., have the same right to obey conscience, and blame any church that assumes a power of censuring them, as Mr Nelson had; and if they are censured by any church, that church is as guilty of the same ‘heresy against the nature of things,’ as that church which censured Mr Nelson, or any church that should pretend to censure any other person whatever.

    I am not at all surprised, that your Lordship should teach this doctrine, but it is something strange, that such [141] an argument should be obtruded upon the world as an unheard-of demonstration, and that in ‘an appeal to common-sense.’ Suppose some body or other in defence of your Lordship, should take upon him to demonstrate to the world, that there is no such thing as colour, because there are some people who cannot see it; or sounds, because there are some who do not hear them; he would have found out the only demonstrations in the world that could equal your Lordship’s, and would have as much reason to call those heretics against the nature of things, who should disbelieve him, and insist up on the reality of sounds, as your Lordship has to call your adversaries so.

    For, is there no necessity of church communion, because there are some who do not conceive it? Then there are no sounds, because there are some who do not near them; for it is certainly as easy to believe away the truth and reality, as the necessity of things.

    Some people have only taught us the innocency of error, and been content with setting forth its harmless qualities; but your Lordship has been a more hearty advocate, and given it a power over every truth and institution of Christianity. If we have but an erroneous conscience, the whole Christian dispensation is cancelled; all the truth and doctrines in the Bible are demonstrated to be unnecessary, if we do not believe them.

    How unhappily have the several parties of Christians been disputing for many ages, who if they could but have found out this intelligible demonstration (from the case of an erroneous conscience), would have seen the absurdity of pretending to necessary doctrines, and insisting upon church communion; but it must be acknowledged your Lordship’s new invented engine for the destruction of churches; and it may be expected [142] the good Christians of no church will return your Lordship their thanks for it.

§ X. His Lordship’s nine propositions, which make it impossible to convert any Quaker, Socinian, or Jew.

    Your Lordship has thought it a mighty objection to some doctrines in the Church of England, that the Papists might make some advantage of them: but yet your own doctrine defends all communions alike, and serves the Jew and Socinian, &c., as much as any other sort of people. Though this sufficiently appears from what has been already said, yet that it may be still more obvious to the common-sense of every one, I shall reduce these doctrines to practice; and suppose for once, that your Lordship intends to convert a Jew, a Quaker, or Socinian.

    Now in order to make a convert of any of them, these preliminary propositions are to be first laid down according to your Lordship’s doctrine.

Some Propositions for the Improvement of True Religion.

    Proposition I.

That we are neither more or less in the favour of God, for living in any particular method or way of worship, but purely as we are sincere.—Preserv., p. 90.o20

    Proposition II.

That no church ought to unchurch another, or declare it out of God’s favour.—Preserv., p. 85.o21

    Proposition III.

That nothing loses us the favour of God, but a wicked insincerity.—Ibid.

    Proposition IV.

That a conscientious person can be in no danger for being out of any particular church. Preserv., p. 90.o22

    Proposition V.

That there is no such thing as any real [143] perfection or excellency in any religion, that can justify our adhering to it, but that all is founded in our personal persuasion. Which your Lordship thus proves, When we left the Popish doctrines, was it because they were actually corrupt? No; the reason was, because we thought them so. Therefore if we might leave the Church of Rome, not because her doctrines were corrupt, but because we thought them so, then the same reason will justify any one else in leaving any church, how true soever its doctrines are; and consequently there is no such thing as any real perfection or excellency in any religion considered in itself, but it is right or wrong according to our persuasions about it.—Preserv., p. 85.o23

    Proposition VI.

That Christ is sole king and law-giver in His kingdom, that no men have any power of legislation in it; that if we would be good members of it, we must show ourselves subjects of Christ alone, without any regard to man’s judgment.o24

    Proposition VII.

That as Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, so when worldly encouragements are annexed to it, these are so many divisions against Christ and His own express word.—Sermon, p. 20.o25

    Proposition VIII.

That to pretend to know the hearts and sincerity of men, is nonsense and absurdity.o26

    Proposition IX.

That God’s graces are only to be received immediately from Himself.—Preserv., p. 89.o27

    These, my Lord, are your Lordship’s own propositions, expressed in your own terms without any exaggeration.

    And now, my Lord, begin as soon as you please, either with a Quaker, Socinian, or Jew; use any argument whatsoever to convert them, and you shall have a sufficient answer from your own propositions.


    Will you tell the Jew that Christianity is necessary to salvation? He will answer from Proposition 1. "That we are neither more or less in the favour of God, for living in any particular method or way of worship, but purely as we are sincere."

    Will your Lordship tell him, that the truth of Christianity is so well asserted, that there is no excuse left for unbelievers? He will answer from Proposition V. "That all religion is founded in personal persuasion; that as your Lordship does not believe that Christ is come, because He is actually come, but because you think He is come; so he does not disbelieve Christ because He is not actually come, but because he thinks he is not come." So that here, my Lord, the Jew gives as good a reason why he is not a Christian, as your Lordship does why you are not a Papist.

    If your Lordship should turn the discourse to a Quaker, and offer him any reasons for embracing the doctrine of the Church of England, you cannot possibly have any better success; anyone may see from your propositions, that no argument can be urged but what your Lordship has there fully answered. For since you allow nothing to the truth of doctrines, or the excellency of any communion as such, it is demonstrable that no church or communion can have any advantage above another, which is absolutely necessary in order to persuade any sensible man to exchange any communion for another.

    Will your Lordship tell a Quaker that there is any danger in that particular way that he is in?

    He can answer from Propositions I., Ill., and IV. "That a conscientious person cannot be in any danger for being out of any particular church."

    Will your Lordship tell him that his religion is condemned by the universal Church?


    He can answer from Proposition II., "That no church ought to unchurch another, or declare it out of God’s favour."

    Will you tell him that Christ has instituted sacraments as necessary means of grace, which he neglects to observe?

    He will answer you from Proposition IX. "That God’s graces are only to be received immediately from Himself." And to think that bread and wine, or the sprinkling of water is necessary to salvation, is as absurd, as to think any order of the clergy, is necessary to recommend us to God.

    Will your Lordship tell him that he displeases God, by not holding several articles of faith which Christ has required us to believe?

    He can reply from Proposition III. "That nothing loses us the favour of God but a wicked insincerity." And from Proposition V. "That as your Lordship believes such things, not because they are actually to be believed, but because you think so; so he disbelieves them, not because they are actually false, but because he thinks so."

    Will your Lordship tell him he is insincere?

    He can reply from Proposition VI. "That to assume to know the hearts and sincerity of men, is nonsense and blasphemy."

    Will your Lordship tell him that he ought to conform to a church established by the laws of the land?

    He can answer from Proposition VIII. "That this very establishment is an argument against conformity, for as Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, so when worldly encouragements are annexed to it, they are so many decisions against Christ, and His own express words." And from Proposition VII. "That seeing Christ is sole king and lawgiver in His own kingdom, [146] and no men have any power of legislation in it, they who would be good members of it, must show themselves subjects to Christ alone, without any regard to man’s judgment."

    I am inclined to think, my Lord, that it is now demonstrated to the common-sense of the laity, that your Lordship cannot urge any argument, either from the truth, the advantage, or necessity of embracing the doctrines of the Church of England, to either Jew, heretic, or schismatic, but you have helped him to a full answer to any such argument, from your own principles.

    Are we, my Lord, to be treated as Popishly affected for asserting some truths, which the Papists join with us in asserting? Is it a crime in us not to drop some necessary doctrines, because the Papists have not dropped them? If this is to be Popishly affected, we own the charge, and are not for being such true Protestants as to give up the Apostle’s Creed, or lay aside the sacraments, because they are received by the Church of Rome. I cannot indeed charge your Lordship with being well affected to the Church of Rome or of England, to the Jews, the Quakers, or Socinians, but this I have demonstrated, and will undertake the defence of it, that your Lordship’s principles equally serve them all alike, and do not give the least advantage to one church above another, as has sufficiently appeared from your principles.

    I will no more say your Lordship is in the interest of the Quakers, or Socinians, or Papists, than I would charge you with being in the interest of the Church of England, for as your doctrines equally support them all, he ought to ask your Lordship’s pardon, who should declare you more a friend to one than the other.


| § VII | § IX |

§ XI. The obligation to church communion and the powers of the ministry no more infringe the rights of the laity than do the claims of the Ten Commandments, the Sacraments, or the Scriptures.

    § XI. I intended, my Lord, to have considered another very obnoxious article in your Lordship’s doctrines, concerning the "Repugnancy of temporal encouragements to the nature of Christ’s kingdom"; but the consistency and reasonableness of guarding this spiritual kingdom with human laws, has been defended with so much perspicuity and strength of argument, and your Lordship’s objections so fully confuted by the judicious and learned Dean of Chichester,o28 that I presume this part of the controversy is finally determined.

    I hope, my Lord, that I have delivered nothing here, that needs any excuse or apology to the laity, that they will not be persuaded, through any vain pretence of liberty, to make themselves parties against the first principles of Christianity; or imagine, that whilst we contend for the positive institutions of the Gospel, the necessity of church communion, or the excellency of our own, we are robbing them of their natural rights, or interfering with their privileges. Whilst we appear in the defence of any part of Christianity, we arc engaged for them in the common cause of Christians, and I am persuaded better things of the laity, than to believe that such labours will render either our persons or professions hateful to them. Your Lordship has indeed endeavoured to give an invidious turn to the controversy, by calling upon the laity to assert their liberties, as if they were in danger from the principles of Christianity.—But, my Lord, what liberty does any layman lose, by our asserting that church communion is necessary? What privilege is taken from them by our [148] teaching the danger of certain ways and methods of religion? Is a man made a slave because he is cautioned against the principles of the Quakers, against fanaticism, Popery, or Socinianism? Is he in a state of bondage, because the sacraments are necessary, and none but Episcopal clergy ought to administer them? Is his freedom destroyed because there is a particular order of men appointed by God to minister in holy things, and be serviceable to him in recommending him to the favour of God? Can any persons, my Lord, think these things breaches upon their liberty, except such as think the commandments a burden? Is there any more hardship in saying, thou shalt keep to an Episcopal Church, than thou shalt be baptised? Or in requiring people to receive particular sacraments, than to believe particular books of Scripture to be the Word of God? If some other advocate for the laity, should, out of zeal for their rights, declare that they need not believe one half of the Articles in the Creed; if they would but assert their liberty, he would be as true a friend, and deserve the same applause, as he who should assert the necessity of church communion is inconsistent with the natural rights and liberties of mankind.—I am, my Lord, your Lordship’s most humble servant,


| § VII | § IX |


I HOPE your Lordship will not think it unnatural or impertinent, to offer here a word or two in answer to some objections against my former letter.

    To begin with the doctrine of the uninterrupted succession of the clergy.


    I have, as I think, proved that there is a divine commission required to qualify any one to exercise the priestly office, and that seeing this divine commission can only be had from such particular persons as God has appointed to give it, therefore it is necessary that there should be a continual succession of such persons, in order to keep up a commissioned order of the clergy. For if the commission itself be to descend through ages, and distinguish the clergy from the laity, it is certain the persons who alone can give this commission, must descend through the same ages; and consequently an uninterrupted succession is as necessary, as that the clergy have a divine commission. Take away this succession, and the clergy may as well be ordained by one person as another; a number of women may as well give them a divine commission, as a congregation of any men; they may indeed appoint persons to officiate in holy orders, for the sake of decency and order, but then there is no more in it, than an external decency and order; they are no more the priests of God, than those that pretended to make them so. If we had lost the Scriptures, it would be very well to make as good books as we could, and come as near them as possible; but then it would be not only folly, but presumption, to call them the Word of God. But I proceed to the objections against the doctrine of an uninterrupted succession.


It is said, that there is no mention made of it in Scripture, as having any relation to the being of a Church.


That it is subject to so great uncertainty, that if it be necessary, we cannot now be sure we are in the Church.


, That it is a Popish doctrine, and gives them great advantage over us.


| § VII | § IX |

§ I. ‘That the uninterrupted succession of the clergy is not mentioned in Scripture as necessary.’

Ans. Neither is the Bible expressly mentioned in Scripture as the permanent rule of faith, nor the Sacraments expressly declared to be generally necessary and perpetual means of grace, nor any government at all as essential. But these truths and the doctrine of the order of clergy also, with its three degrees and constant succession, may be gathered from Scripture and confirmed by the universal practice of the Church in all ages.

§ I.

  I begin with the first objection, that there is no mention made of it in the Scriptures, which though I think I have sufficiently answered in this letter, I shall here farther consider.

    Pray, my Lord, is it not a true doctrine, that "the Scriptures contain all things necessary to salvation"?o29 But, my Lord, it is nowhere expressly said, that "the Scriptures contain all things necessary to salvation." It is nowhere said, that no other articles of faith need be believed. Where does it appear in Scripture, that the Scriptures were written by any divine command? Have any of the gospels or epistles this authority to recommend them? Are they necessary to be believed, because there is any law of Christ concerning the necessity of believing them?

    May I reject this uninterrupted succession, because it is not mentioned in Scripture? And may I not as well reject all the gospels? Produce your authority, my Lord, mention your texts of Scripture, where Christ has hung the salvation of men upon their believing, that St Matthew or St John wrote such a book seventeen hundred years ago. These, my Lord, are niceties and trifles which are not to be found in Scripture, and consequently have nothing to do with the salvation of men.

    Now if nothing be to be held as necessary, but what [151] is expressly required in so many words in Scripture, then it can never be proved that the Scriptures themselves are a standing rule of faith in all ages, since it is now here expressly asserted, nor is it anywhere said, that the Scriptures should be continued as a rule of faith in all ages. Is it an objection against the necessity of a perpetual succession of the clergy, that it is not mentioned in the Scriptures? And is it not as good a one against the necessity of making Scripture the standing rule of faith in all ages, since it is never said, that they were to be continued as a standing rule in all ages? If things are only necessary, for being said to be so in Scripture, then all that are not thus taught are equally unnecessary; and consequently it is no more necessary, that the Scripture should be a fixed rule of faith in all ages, than that there should be bishops to ordain in all ages.

    Again, where shall we find it in Scripture, that the sacraments are to be continued in every age of the Church? Where is it said, that they shall always be the ordinary means of grace necessary to be observed? Is there any law of Christ, any text of Scripture, that expressly asserts, that if we leave the use of the sacraments, we are out of covenant with God? Is it anywhere directly said, that we must never lay them aside, or that they will be perpetually necessary? No, my Lord, this is a nicety and trifle not to be found in Scripture: "There is no stress laid upon this matter, but upon things of a quite different nature."o30

    I now presume, my Lord, that every one who has common-sense plainly sees, that if this succession of the clergy be to be despised, because it is not expressly required in Scripture, it undeniably follows, that we may reject the Scriptures, as not being a standing rule [152] of faith in all ages; we may disuse the sacraments, as not the ordinary means of grace in all ages; since this is no more mentioned in the Scriptures, or expressly required, than this uninterrupted succession.

    If it be a good argument against the necessity of Episcopal ordainers, that it is never said in Scripture, that there shall always be such ordainers; it is certainly as conclusive against the use of the sacraments in every age, that it is nowhere said in Scripture they shall be used in all ages.

    If no government or order of the clergy be to be held as necessary, because no such necessity is asserted in Scripture; it is certain this concludes as strongly against government, and the order itself, as against any particular order. For it is no more said in Scripture, that there shall be an order of clergy, than that there shall be any particular order; therefore if this silence proves against any particular order of clergy, it proves as much against order itself.

    Should therefore any of your Lordship’s friends have so much church zeal as to contend for the necessity of some order, though of no particular order; he must fall under your Lordship’s displeasure, and be proved as mere a dreamer and trifler, as those who assert the necessity of Episcopal ordination. For if it be plain, that there need be no Episcopal clergy, because it is not said there shall always be Episcopal clergy; it is undeniably plain, that there need be no order of the clergy, since it is nowhere said, there shall be an order of clergy: therefore whoever shall contend for an order of clergy, will be as much condemned by your Lordship’s doctrine, as he that declares for the Episcopal clergy.

    The truth of the matter is this, if nothing is to be .esteemed of any moment, but counted as mere trifle [153] and nicety among Christians, which is not expressly required in the Scriptures; then it is a trifle and nicety, whether we believe the Scripture to be a standing rule of faith in all ages, whether we use the sacraments in all ages, whether we have any clergy at all, whether we observe the Lord’s Day, whether we baptise our children, or whether we go [to] public worship; for none of these things are expressly required in so many words in Scripture. But if your Lordship, with the rest of the Christian world, take these things to be of moment and well proved, because they are founded in Scripture, though not in express terms, or under plain commands; if you will acknowledge these matters to be well asserted, because they may be gathered. from Scripture, and are confirmed by the universal practice of the Church in all ages (which is all the proof that they are capable of), I do not doubt but it will appear, that this successive order of the clergy is founded on the same evidence, and supported by as great authority, so that it must be thought of the same moment with these things, by all unprejudiced persons.

    For, my Lord, though it be not expressly said, that there shall always be a succession of Episcopal clergy, yet it is a truth founded in Scripture itself, and asserted by the universal voice of tradition in the first and succeeding ages of the Church.

    It is thus founded in Scripture: there we are taught that the priesthood is a positive institution; that no man can take this office unto himself;o31 that neither our Saviour Himself, nor His Apostles, nor any other person, however extraordinarily endowed with gifts from God, could, as such, exercise the priestly office, till they had God’s express commission for that purpose. Now how does it appear, that the sacraments are [154] positive institutions, but that they are consecrated to such ends and effects, as of themselves they were no way qualified to perform? Now as it appears from Scripture, that men, as such, however endowed, were not qualified to take this office upon them without God’s appointment; it is demonstratively certain, that men so called are as much to be esteemed a positive institution, as elements so chosen can be called a positive institution. All the personal abilities of men conferring no more authority to exercise the office of a clergyman, than the natural qualities of water to make a sacrament: so that the one institution is as truly positive as the other.

    Again, the order of the clergy is not only a positive order instituted by God, but the different degrees in this order is of the same nature. For we find in Scripture, that some persons could perform some offices in the priesthood, which neither deacons nor priests could do, though those deacons and priests were inspired persons, and workers of miracles. Thus Timothy was sent to ordain elders,o32 because none below his order, who was a bishop, could perform that office. Peter and John laid their hands on baptised persons,o33 because neither priests nor deacons, though workers of miracles, could execute that part of the sacerdotal office.

    Now can we imagine that the Apostles and bishops thus distinguished themselves for nothing? That there was the same power in deacons and priests to execute those offices, though they took them to themselves? No, my Lord; if three degrees in the ministry are instituted in Scripture, we are obliged to think them as truly distinct in their powers, as we are to think that the priesthood itself contains powers that are distinct from those of the laity. It is no more consistent with [155] Scripture, to say that deacons or priests may ordain, than that the laity are priests or deacons. The same divine institution making as truly a difference betwixt the clergy, as it does betwixt clergy and laity.

    Now if the order of the clergy be a divine positive institution, in which there are different degrees of power, where some alone can ordain, &c., whilst others can only perform other parts of the sacred office; if this (as it plainly appears) be a doctrine of Scripture, then it is a doctrine of Scripture, that there is a necessity of such a succession of men as have power to ordain. For do the Scriptures make it necessary that Timothy (or some bishop) should be sent to Ephesus to ordain priests, because the priests who were there could not ordain? And do not the same Scriptures make it as necessary, that Timothy’s successor be the only ordainer, as well as he was in his time? Will not priests in the next age be as destitute of the power of ordaining, as when Timothy was alive? So that since the Scriptures teach, that Timothy, or persons of his order, could alone ordain in that age; they as plainly teach, that the successors of that order can alone ordain in any age, and consequently the Scriptures plainly teach a necessity of an Episcopal succession.

    The Scriptures declare there is a necessity of a divine commission to execute the office of a priest; they also teach, that this commission can only be had from particular persons: therefore the Scriptures plainly teach, there is a necessity of a succession of such particular persons, in order to keep up a truly commissioned clergy.

    Suppose when Timothy was sent to Ephesus to ordain elders, the Church had told him, We have chose elders already, and laid our hands upon them: that if he alone was allowed to exercise this power, it might seem as if he alone had it or that ministers were the [156] better for being ordained by his particular hands; and that some persons might imagine they could have no clergy, except they were ordained by him, or some of his order; and that seeing Christ had nowhere made an express law, that such persons should be necessary to the ordination of the clergy, therefore they rejected this authority of Timothy, lest they should subject themselves to niceties and trifles.

    Will your Lordship say, that such a practice would have been allowed of in the Ephesians? Or that ministers so ordained, would have been received as the ministers of Christ? If not, why must such practice or such ministers be allowed of in any after ages? Would not the same proceeding against any of Timothy’s successors, have deserved the same censure, as being equally unlawful. If therefore the Scripture condemns all ordination but what is Episcopal; the Scriptures make a succession of Episcopal ordainers necessary. So that I hope, my Lord, we shall be no more told that this is a doctrine not mentioned in Scripture, or without any foundation in it.

| § VII | § IX |

§ II. ‘The Episcopal order of clergy is only an apostolic practice; but not all apostolic practices bind us.’

Ans. 1. Not all apostolic practices are necessary; yet some may be. Which these are we distinguish by the nature of the things, by the tenor of Scripture, and by the testimony of antiquity.
Ans. 2. The divine right of Episcopacy is not founded merely on apostolic practice. A positive Christian institution, such as the priesthood, can only be continued by the method God appointed. Apostolic practice tells that Episcopacy is the divine method, but the obligation is God’s command.

    §·II.  The great objection to this doctrine is, that this Episcopal order of the clergy is only an apostolical practice; and seeing all apostolical practices are not binding to us, sure this need not.o34


    In answer to this, my Lord, I shall first show, that though all apostolical practices are not necessary, yet some may be necessary. Secondly, That the divine unalterable right of Episcopacy is not founded merely on apostolical practice.

    1.  To begin with the first; the objection runs thus, "All apostolical practices, are not unalterable or obligatory to us, therefore no apostolical practices are." This, my Lord, is just as theological, as if I should say all Scripture truths are not articles of faith, or fundamentals of religion, therefore no Scripture truths are: is not the argument full as just and solid in one case as the other? May there not be that same difference between some practices of the Apostles and others, that there is betwixt some Scripture truths and others? Are all truths equally important that are to be found in the Bible? Why must all practices be of the same moment that were apostolical? Now if there be any way, either divine or human, of knowing an article of faith from the smallest truth or most indifferent matter in Scripture, they will equally assist us in distinguishing what apostolical practices are of perpetual obligation, and what are not. But it is a strange way of reasoning that some people are fallen into, who seem to know nothing of moderation, but jump as constantly out of one extreme into another, as if there was no such thing as a middle way, or any such virtue as moderation. Thus either the Church must have an absolute uncontrollable authority, or none at all; we must either hold all apostolical practices necessary, or none at all.

    Again, if no apostolical practices can be unalterable, because all are not, then no apostolical doctrines are necessary to be taught in all ages, because all [158] apostolical doctrines are not; and we are no more obliged to teach the death, satisfaction and resurrection of Jesus Christ, than we are obliged to forbid the "eating of blood and things strangled." If we must thus blindly follow them in all their practices, or else be at liberty to leave them in all, we must for the same reason implicitly teach all their doctrines, or else have a power of receding from them all.

    For if there be anything in the nature of doctrines, in the tenor of Scripture, or the sense of antiquity, whereby we clan know the difference of some doctrines from others, that some were occasional temporary determinations, suited to particular states and conditions in the Church, whilst others were such general doctrines as would concern the Church in all states and circumstances; if there can be this difference betwixt apostolical doctrines, there must necessarily, be the same difference betwixt apostolical practices, unless we will say, that their practices were not suited to their doctrines. For occasional doctrines must produce occasional practices.

    Now may not we be obliged by some practices of the Apostles, where the nature of the thing, and the consent of antiquity show it to be equally necessary and important in all ages and conditions of the Church, without being tied down to the strict observance of everything which the Apostles did, though it plainly appears, that it was done upon accidental and mutable reasons. Can we not be obliged to observe the Lord’s Day from apostolical practice, without being equally obliged to lock the doors where we are met, because in the Apostles’ times they locked them for fear of their enemies.

    My Lord, we are to follow the practices of the Apostles, as we ought to follow everything else, with [159] discretion and judgment, and not run headlong into everything they did, because they were Apostles, or yet think that because we need not practise after them in everything, we need do it in nothing. We best imitate them, when we act upon such reasons as they acted upon, and neither make their occasional practices perpetual laws, nor break through such general rules as will always have the same reason to be observed.

    If it be asked, how we can know what practices must be observed, and what may be laid aside? I answer, as we know articles of faith from lesser truths; as we know occasional doctrines from perpetual doctrines; that is, from the nature of the things, from the tenor of Scripture, and the testimony of antiquity.

    2.  Secondly, It is not true, that the divine unalterable right of Episcopacy is founded merely upon apostolical practice.

    We do not say that Episcopacy cannot be changed, merely because we have apostolical practice for it; but because such is the nature of the Christian priesthood, that it can only be continued in that method, which God has appointed for its continuance. Thus, Episcopacy is the only instituted method of continuing the priesthood; therefore Episcopacy is unchangeable, not because it is an apostolical practice, but because the nature of the thing requires it: a positive institution being only to be continued in that method which God has appointed; so that it is the nature of the priesthood, and not the apostolical practice alone, that makes it necessary to be continued. The apostolical practice indeed shows that Episcopacy is the order that is appointed, but it is the nature of the priesthood that assures us that it is the unalterable: and that because [160] an office which is of no significance, but as it is of divine appointment, and instituted by God, can not otherwise be continued, but in that way of continuance which God has appointed.

    The argument proceeds thus; The Christian priesthood is a divine positive institution, which as it could only begin by the divine appointment, so it can only descend to after ages in such a method as God has been pleased to appoint.

    The Apostles (and your Lordship owns, Christ was in all that they did)o35 instituted Episcopacy alone, therefore this method of Episcopacy is unalterable, not because an apostolical practice cannot be laid aside, but because the priesthood can only descend to after ages in such a method as is of divine appointment.

    So that the question is not fairly stated, when it is asked whether Episcopacy, being an apostolical practice, may be laid aside? But it should be asked, whether an instituted particular method of continuing the priesthood be not necessary to be continued? Whether all appointed order of receiving a commission from God be not necessary to be observed, in order to receive a commission from Him? If the case was thus stated, as it ought to be fairly stated, anyone would soon perceive, that we can no more lay aside Episcopacy, and yet continue the Christian priesthood, than we can alter the terms of salvation, and yet be in covenant with God.

| § VII | § IX |

§ 111. ‘That this uninterrupted succession is so uncertain that we could not be sure we are in the Church.’

Ans. 1. It rests on historical evidence, as do the canon of Scripture and Christianity itself, and is never known to have been broken.
Ans. 2. A break is morally impossible owing to the belief in all ages of the Church that only Episcopal ordination is valid.
Ans. 3. The Bishop allows the succession to have been preserved in the Church of Rome.

    § III.  I come now, my Lord, to the second objection, "That this uninterrupted succession is subject to so great uncertainty, that if it be necessary, we can never say that we are in the Church."o36

    1.  I know no reason, my Lord, why it is so uncertain, but because it is founded upon historical evidence. Let it therefore be considered, my Lord, that Christianity, itself, is a matter of fact, only conveyed to us by historical evidence.

     That the canon of Scripture is only made known to us by historical evidence; that we have no other way of knowing what writings are the Word of God; and yet the truth of our faith, and every other means of grace depends upon our knowledge and belief of the Scriptures. Must we not declare the necessity of this succession of bishops, because it can only be proved by historical evidence, and that for such a long tract of time?

    Why then do we declare the belief of the Scriptures necessary to salvation? Is not this equally putting the salvation of men upon a matter of fact, supported only by historical evidence, and making it depend upon things done seventeen hundred years ago? Cannot historical evidence satisfy us in one point, as well as in the other? Is there anything in [162] the nature of this succession, that it cannot be as well asserted by historical evidence, as the truth of the Scriptures? Is there not the same bare possibility in the thing itself, that the Scriptures may in some important points be corrupted, as that this succession may be broken? But is this any just reason why we should believe, or fear, that the Scriptures are corrupted, because there is a physical possibility of it, though there is all the proof that can be required of the contrary? Why then must we set aside the necessity of this succession from a bare possibility of error, though there is all the proof that can be required, that it never was broken, but strictly kept up?

    And though your Lordship has told the world so much of the improbability, nonsense, and absurdity of this succession, yet I promise your Lordship an answer whenever you shall think fit to show, when, or how, or where this succession broke, or seemed to break, or was likely to break.

    2.  And till then, I shall content myself with offering this reason to your Lordship, why it is morally impossible it ever should have broken in all that term of years, from the Apostles to the present times.

    The reason is this; it has been a received doctrine in every age of the Church, that no ordination was valid but that of bishops: This doctrine, my Lord, has been a constant guard upon the Episcopal succession; for seeing it was universally believed that bishops alone could ordain, it was morally impossible that any persons could be received as bishops, who had not been so ordained.

    Now is it not morally in impossible that in our Church any one should be made a bishop without Episcopal ordination? Is there any possibility of forging orders, [163] or stealing a bishopric by any other stratagem? No, it is morally impossible, because it is an acknowledged doctrine amongst us, that a bishop can only be ordained by bishops? Now as this doctrine must necessarily prevent any one being a bishop without Episcopal ordination in our age, so it must have the same effect in every other age as well as ours; and consequently it is as reasonable to believe that the succession of bishops was not broken in any age since the Apostles, as that it was not broken in our own kingdom within these forty years. For the same doctrine which preserves it forty years, may as well preserve it forty hundred years, if it was equally believed in all this space of time. That this has been the constant doctrine of the Church, I presume your Lordship will not deny; I have not here entered into the historical defence of it, this, and indeed every other institution of the Christian Church having been lately so well defended from the ecclesiastical records by a very excellent and judicious writer.o37

    We believe the Scriptures are not corrupted, because it was always a received doctrine in the Church, that they were the standing rule of faith, and because the providence of God may well be supposed to preserve such books as were to convey to every age the means of salvation. The same reasons prove the great improbability that this succession should ever be broken, both because it was always against a received doctrine [164] to break it, and because we may justly hope the providence of God would keep up His own institution.

    3.  I must here observe, that though your Lordship often exposes the impossibility of this succession, yet at other times, even you yourself and your advocates assert it. Thus you tell us, "That the Papists have one regular appointment or uninterrupted succession of bishops undefiled with the touch of lay hands."o38

    Is this succession then such an improbable, impossible thing, and yet can your Lordship assure us that it is at Rome; and though it be seventeen hundred years old there, yet that it is a true one? Is it such absurdity, and nonsense, and everything that is ridiculous when we lay claim to it; and yet can your Lordship assure us that it is not only possible to be, but actually is in being in the Church of Rome? What arguments or authority can your Lordship produce to show that there is a succession there, that will not equally prove it to be here?

    You assert expressly, that there is a true succession there; you deny that we have it here; therefore your Lordship must mean, that we had not Episcopal ordination when we separated from the Church of Rome. And here the controversy must rest betwixt you and your adversaries, whether we had Episcopal ordination then; for as your Lordship has expressly affirmed, that there is this uninterrupted succession in the Church of Rome, it is impossible that we should want it, unless we had not Episcopal ordination at the Reformation.

    Whenever your Lordship shall please to appear in defence of the "Nagg’s-head Story," or any other pretence against our Episcopal ordination when we departed from Rome, we shall beg leave to show ourselves [165] so far true Protestants as to answer any Popish arguments your Lordship can produce.

    Here let the common-sense of the laity be once more appealed to; your Lordship tells them that an uninterrupted succession is improbable, absurd, and, morally speaking, impossible, and, for this reason, they need not trouble their heads about it; yet in another place you positively affirm, that this true uninterrupted succession is actually in the Church of Rome: that is, they are to despise this succession, because it never was, or ever can be, yet are to believe that it really is in the Romish Church. My Lord, this comes very near "saying and unsaying, to the great diversion of the Papists." Must they not laugh at your Lordship’s Protestant zeal, which might be much better called the spirit of Popery? Must they not be highly pleased with all your banter and ridicule upon an uninterrupted succession, when they see you so kindly except theirs, and think it only nonsense and absurdity, when claimed by any other church? Surely, my Lord, they must conceive great hopes of your Lordship, since you have here rather chose to contradict yourself, than not vouch for their succession: for you have said it is morally impossible, yet affirm that it is with them.

| § VII | § IX |

§ IV. ‘That it is a Popish doctrine, and gives Papists an advantage over us.’

Ans. There is the same degree of Popery in asserting the necessity of Christianity and a right faith.

    § IV.  

The third objection against this uninterrupted succession, is this, that it is "a Popish doctrine, and gives Papists advantage over us."o39

    The objection proceeds thus, we must not assert the necessity of this succession, because the Papists say it [166] is only to be found with them. I might add, because some mighty zealous Protestants say so too.

    But if this be good argumentation, we ought not to tell the Jews, or Deists, &c., that there is any necessity of embracing Christianity, because the Papists say Christians can only be saved in their Church.

    Again we ought not to insist upon a true faith, because the Papists say, that a true faith is only in their communion. So that there is just as much Popery in teaching this doctrine, as in asserting the necessity of Christianity to a Jew, or the necessity of a right faith to a Socinian, &c.

§ V. Additional remarks upon the Bishop’s doctrine of ‘Sincerity.’

    § V.  I shall only trouble your Lordship with a word or two concerning another point in my former letter. I there proved that your Lordship has put the whole of our title to God’s flavour upon sincerity, as such, independent of everything else. That no purity of worship, no excellence of order, no truth of faith, no sort of sacraments, no kind of institutions, or any church, as such, can help us to the least degree of God’s favour, or give us the smallest advantage above any other communion. And consequently that your Lordship has set sincere Jews, Quakers, Socinians, Muggletonians, and all heretics and schismatics upon the same bottom, as to the favour of God, with sincere Christians.

    Upon this, my Lord, I am called upon to prove that these several sorts of people can be sincere in your account of sincerity. To which, my Lord, I make this answer, either there are some sincere persons amongst Jews, Quakers, Socinians, or any kind of heretics and schismatics, or there are not; if there are, your [167] Lordship has given them the same title to God’s favour, that you have to the sincerest Christians; if you will say, there are no sincere persons amongst any of them, then your Lordship damns them all in the gross, for surely corruptions in religion, professed with insincerity, will never save people.

    I have nothing to do to prove the sincerity of any of them; if they are sincere, what I have said is true; if you will not allow them to be sincere, you condemn them all at once.

    Again, I humbly supposed a man might be sincere in his religions opinions, though it might be owing to some ill habits, or something criminal in himself, that he was fallen into such or such a way of thinking. But it seems this is all contradiction; and no man can be sincere who has any faults, or whose faults have any influence upon his way of thinking.

    Your Lordship tells all the Dissenters, that they may be easy, if they are sincere; and that it is the only ground for peace and satisfaction. But pray, my Lord, if none are to be esteemed sincere, but those who have no faults, or whose faults have no influence upon their persuasions, who can be assured that he is sincere, but he that has the least pretence to it, the proud Pharisee? If your Lordship or your advocates were desired to prove your sincerity either before God or man, it must be for these reasons, because you have no ill passions or habits, no faulty prejudices, no past or present vices that can have an effect upon your minds. My Lord, as this is the only proof that any of you could give of your own sincerity in this meaning of it, so the very pretence to it would prove the want of it.

 | § VII | § IX |

1 [i. 594]; John xx. 23; Matt. xviii. 18.

2 Matt. xvi. 18, 19.

3 Sermon, " Nature of Christ’s Kingdom " [i. 486-7].

4 John xviii. 36.

5 [i. 594].

6 [i. 595].

7 Ibid.

8 "Preservative," p. 94 [i. 594].

9 Mark ii. 9, 10.

10 Sermon, "Nature, &c." [ii. 409].

11 [i. 594].

12 John xiv. 1.

13 Ibid. v. 23.

14 Ibid. xiv. 6


15 I Col. 1. 16.

16 I Cor. xv. 27.

17 A Non-juror, author of the famous "Festivals and Fasts." He agreed with Dodwell, who in his "Case in View," 1705, had contended that in the event of the resignation or death of the deprived bishops, the Non-jurors ought to recognise the bishops in possession and close the schism. At last two only survived; Bishop Ken resigned, and in 1710 Bishop Lloyd died, upon which Dodwell, Nelson, Brokesby, and others returned to their parish churches. But the majority of the Non-jurors was against re-union, and gave their allegiance to Hickes and Wagstaffe, who had been consecrated by non-juring bishops.

18 [i. 592].

19 Cf. "Repres. of Convocation," p. 7, 8.

20 [i. 592.]

21 [i. 591.]

22 [i. 593.]

23 [i. 590.]

24 Sermon, "Christ’s Kingdom," [ii. 408].

25 [ii. 407.]

26 Preserv. [i. 593]; Sermon, p. 14.

27 [ii. 595.]

28 "Considerations occasioned by a Postscript from Rt. Rev. The Bishop of Bangor to the Dean of Chichester," by Thomas Sherlock, D.D., 1717.

29 XXXIX. Art. No. 6.

30 Preserv. [i. 592].

31 Heb. v. 4.

32 I Tim. v. 22, &c.

33 Acts viii. 5-18.

34 "Preservative" [i. 594].

35 "Answer to Dr Snape."

36 "Preservative" [i. 588.592].

37 "Original Draught of the Primitive Church, in answer to a discourse intituled ‘An inquiry into the constitution, discipline, &., of the Primitive Church.’" This is the answer by Sclater, a Non-juror, in 1717, to King’s "Enquiry," published in 1691. King, afterwards Lord Chancellor, tries to show that a definite government is not part of the Christian tradition, and appears to have influenced John Wesley amongst others. But Lord King himself was convinced by Sclater’s answer, and changed his position. Lathbury, "Hist. Non-jurors," p. 303, ed. 1845.

38 "Preservative" p. 80 [i. 589].

39 "Preservative" [i. 588].

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