Printed for James Collins at the Kings-Head in
GIve me leave to let you understand, That I am by a real and unfeigned PROFESSION a true Son of the Church of ENGLAND, one whom God hath blessed with a competent Family, of whose eternal welfare I am equally solicitous. We are seated with many neighbours of the same judgment and desire of future happiness in a Countrey Parish with an ORTHODOX and able MINISTER, whose age and infirmity seem to foretell we shall scarse enjoy him another Winter.
Now, Sir, the various Discourses and CONTRIVANCES in this present juncture, together with the known Inclinations of our PATRON, threaten us with a PASTOR as next Incumbent, who is not a Pastor Canonically ordained, but hath received something which he calls Ordination, either after a Classical or Congregational way.
In this case I apply my self to you, who are rendred a MODERATE DIVINE, desirous to know whether your Moderation hath induced you to promote or comply with that which seems to us so great Confusion; and to declare how you can answer it to that Church of which you are also a Member, and what Satisfaction you can give to our Consciences, who are like to be cast into this Condition.
I Cannot take any delight, as to the Differences in matters of Religion, but in the composure of them onely: and if I understand my self, nothing can ever alter that temper, by which I have been so long enclined to a due Enlargement and Indulgence for such as are ready to afford a rational Compliance. But I hope that no such Facility of nature or opinion shall ever reduce me to that weakness, as to betray the great and everlasting Concerns of the Church, or to give over the indispensable duty of endeavouring that Unity which is necessary to its Conservation.
That the Order of the Ministry is necessary to the Continuation of the Gospel according to the Promises of Christ, as it was to the first Plantation of it according to his Institution, is a Doctrine Indubitable. That this Ministry is derived by a Succession and constant propagation, and that the Unity and Peace of the Church of Christ are to be conserved by a due and legitimate Ordination, no man who considereth the Practice of the Apostles and Ecclesiastical History, can ever doubt. This way of Ordination having continued so many ages one and the same, could never be considerably alter'd, without some great Commotions and Dissentions in the Church, and the manifest breach of Union and Communion in that body; whomsoever we judg guilty of the breach of that Union, which is not necessary now to dispute. And as the first introduction of different Ordinations caus'd a standing and settled Opposition, precluding all ways of Reconciliation: So they cannot be brought into any one Church, but they must make such a division and disparity in the Administrations, as will amount to no less than a Schism.
However in the peculiar and happy condition of our Church, these promiscuous Ordinations, if all allowed by it, are most destructive to that which is the Safety and the Honour of it. We have the greatest felicity which could happen to a Reformation, as being regular and authoritative, that we have so taken away the many mistakes and errors which had been introduc'd by a long Ignorance and Usurpation, as to retain a perfect Compliance with the Ancient Church: and therefore we can boldly and truly affirm, we are the same with the Primitive Christians, even those of Rome: and while we hold and maintain our Ordinations legitimate, we speak the same language with the most Glorious Fathers, Martyrs and Saints of those happy and pious times. But if we once admit a diversity in our Ordinations, we have lost the honour of Succession, we have cast away our weapons of defence, we have betray'd our own cause and laid our selves open to the common Enemy of all Protestants, and we shall at last inevitably fall into the Socinian doctrine, to deny all necessity or use of any Mission or Ordination.
Again though our Discipline be much weakned, and the good effects thereof obstructed by many Scruples and Oppositions rais'd against it, yet they can be no just imputation to that wholsom Institution, it being sufficiently known from whence those Obstructions proceed. But if all sorts of Ordination be any way established by sufficient Authority, if what is so earnestly desired be indulged, That a man once ordained any way be still held and retained for a Labourer in the Harvest, the most legitimate Process in Ecclesiastical affairs will become ineffectual and irrational. Many necessary Articles of Enquiry, founded upon the greatest Justice and Authority, will be put off with such unblameable refusals, and answer'd with so much reason and equity, that His Majesties Ecclesiastical Laws can be with no conscience put in Execution, when they which are to be prosecuted as delinquents according to Law, must be pronounced the most innocent in the opinion and conscience of the Administrators of the same Law. What an uncomfortable and discouraging Confusion is this, whereby Presentments shall be made of those persons who are conscientiously conformable to the Doctrine and Orders of the Church, for actions or omissions proceeding solely out of that Conscience and Conformity, and they who factiously or erroneously dissent from that Doctrine and Order, shall avoid their own and promote the presentment of others, and in this error or faction shall be protected and encouraged by a superinduced Authority Thus by promiscuous Ordinations the Doctrine of the Church will be render'd indefensible, and the Discipline unpracticable.
Although these evil Consequences be of great moment in the general, and threaten our Bethel with the notion of a Babel, yet because most men are more apprehensive of particular mischiefs, and stronglier moved with Personal Inconveniencies; I shall more earnestly apply my self to that condition which you have represented in reference to your self, your Family and Neighbour of the same persuasion: and even this consideration will be of great latitude and concernment, because it is not confined to you alone, but all of the same judgment will be subject to the same unsettlement, and lie under the same fears and Discouragement.
If a person onely qualified by a Congregational Mission should be set over you authoritatively as your lawful Pastor, to whose Ministerial acts it is expected you should apply your self in all publick matters of Religion: you being of a constant Persuasion that the Validity of such Acts hath a necessary relation to the Legitimacy of Ministery, & of as certain an Opinion that such a Mission cannot amount to a legitimate Ordination. I cannot see what comfort you take in any compliance with such Administrations.
Nay further, if a person be said to have obtained Orders after the Presbyterian way in the late times, when he might have received them from a Bishop, & since the happy restitution of publick Order in the Church, when many of his Brethren have submitted, still obstinately refuses to receive Ordination after the established way of the Church of England: in this case, if you doubt whether his Ordination be valid, or conclude it null. I confess I know no argument to convince you, or to encline you to another Persuasion.
But then I cannot but lament your unquiet and sad Condition, accidentally cast upon you, for reasons which I take no delight to consider: and through the short expression in your Letter, I can easily perceive what Thoughts and Apprehensions may press and discourage you.
For as you render your self a Son of our Church, I conceive you are one who values the Liturgy, thinking it your duty to give God that Setvice, and taking much comfort in the ancient & regular Devotion expressed in those Publick Prayers; which being a mixt Office, and having been soever since the Apostolical times, wherein the Priest, or Presbyter, and the People joyntly & interchangeably concurr, and the Rubrick directing what words belong to the Priest, and can properly in the sense intended (sometimes at least) be used by no other; I confess you cannot but abate of the devotion and comfort of your Prayers, when you think the person appointed to read them is no Priest or Presbyter.
As for the Administration of the Sacrament of Baptism, you cannot regularly but desire to have your Children baptized and received into the Congregation of Christ's Church in that solemn manner, and by such a person as is appointed by the same Church to receive them; and though in case of Necessity this Office may be dispensed with in baptizing for the benefit of the Infant, yet it will be very hard to create any other Necessity than what arises on the Infants part, or to make use of that irregularity when there is no Necessity, which is onely indulged to Necessity.
But as to the other Sacrament, the Supper of the Lord, your case is far worse. For to that you are often invited, nay obliged to receive it thrice a year, and I doubt not but earnestly desire frequently to participate of the body and blood of your SAVIOUR. Whereas if you be resolved that your Pastor established is not a Priest or Presbyter, and consequently hath no power to consecrate the Elements, or render them Sacramental; I cannot see how you can follow him to the Holy Table, or with what Comfort or Conscience you can bring your Family, or concurr with your Neighbours, to receive the Elements from his Hands. And yet abstaining from the Sacrament, you are thereby deprived of the Spiritual strength and comfort which you desire and have cause to expect; and are moreover betrayed to the Censures of the Church, in compliance to whose Doctrine you are rendred disobedient to her Commands.
Lastly, the unfeigned exercize of Religion is undoubtedly, as never more Necessary, so never so Comfortable as upon the Bed of our Sickness, especially upon the approach of Death: wherefore the Church hath taken great care that the Minister shall attend, and how he shall behave himself in the Visitation of the sick, for their comfort and advantage. This Comfort I confess must be taken from you, who are of that persuasion concerning your Pastor, for if upon the apprehension of your later end, you feel your Conscience troubled, and being observant of the method prescribed, desire to make a special Confession, and receive the benefit of Absolution; to which end the Priest is ordered to use these words, By the authority of Christ committed to me I absolve thee of all thy sins: you will never acquiesce in the Absolution, where you acknowledg no Commission, nor can you expect any Efficacy which dependeth uponthe Authority.
These and the like I look upon not as formal Objections, or cavils, but as real and severe complaints rais'd upon Sober and Religious grounds, matter for Christian Zeal, rather than Moderation. And therefore I cannot persuade my self that any person endued with any Kindness or Care of the Religion settled in this Nation, can ever contrive or assent unto so great a discouragement to the consciencious Professors of it, and confusion in the management and administration.