Project Canterbury

Hints on Catholic Union.

By a Presbyter of the Protestant Episcopal Church.

New-York: Protestant Episcopal Press, 1836.


The origin of the present little book was the intention of publishing, with a preface, a selection of extracts from Bishop Jeremy Taylor's 'Liberty of Prophesying.’ The opportunity seemed a good one for committing to the press a few thoughts on a subject beginning to gain the attention of the Christian world. It would have been easy to make a volume by quoting authorities in favor of union, and in defence of the principles here maintained, and sustaining the whole by an examination of the primitive Church. But this might-have involved the decision of litigated points. It was therefore thought best simply to take the ground of expediency and the obvious dictates of practical wisdom. Whatever be the worth of the hints, they ought to find a sufficient apology in their object. A mite is acceptable on the altar of peace.




"That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." So prayed the Redeemer, in the solemn intercession immediately before his suffering, and did he pray in vain? Has his earnest and repeated supplication for the unity of his people, thus far been unheard? No: "Father, I thank thee," he cried at the tomb of Lazarus, "that thou hast heard me; and I knew that thou hearest me always." He prayed that all who should believe in him might be one, and they are one. But how are they one I In what does their unity appear? When we look around over the Christian world, and see it broken up into a thousand contending sects, or review the history of the Church, and find it in bitter quarrel and angry conflict, rather an image of the world than a contrast to it, we inquire where is the oneness for which the Redeemer prayed.

[6] There may be unity, when there is not union. Men may be cordially one in great principles, while in the application of those principles, and in the choice of means for their preservation or extension, they may be arrayed in hostile parties. There is too little union among Christians, nevertheless there is unity--the unity of Faith and Spirit; and it was this, rather than any external union, which the Redeemer so importunately entreated of his Father. That such was the nature of the unity in his view, appears from his own words, "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us." The oneness of the Father and Son being wholly spiritual, the oneness of believers being the same in kind, though less in degree, must also be wholly spiritual.

The nature of the union further appears from the consideration that the blessings implored throughout the sacerdotal prayer are ends, and not means for the accomplishment of ends. "Thus the Redeemer prays that the Father would keep those whom he had given him from the evil; that he would sanctify them through the truth; that they might be made perfect in one; that they might be with him, and share the glory which the Father had given him before the foundation of the world. These are ends, sanctification and final glorification; the [6/7] result of the mediation of Christ, and of all the means of grace. Now, union, or external unity, is not an end or a result, but a means, and valuable only as a means, for the preservation of spiritual unity, and therefore we may not suppose it to have been the subject of the Redeemer's prayers.

But how, it may be asked, can spiritual unity, which is an invisible thing, be a sign to the world of the divine mission of Christ, as it ought to be, according to his words, if it be the thing which he implored? "That they all may be one in us, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee: that," he adds, "the world may believe that thou hast sent me." How can the spiritual unity of believers operate in convincing the world that Christ was sent by God? External union, which is a visible thing, and appreciable by the world, might have such an effect, and therefore it would seem to be the thing intended.

I answer: the unity of Christians is sufficiently understood by the world, and moreover is recognised as one of the most convincing proofs of the veracity of their religion. The world notices in all true Christians the same pure worship of the one God, the same elevated and spiritual apprehensions of the Divine character, the same reliance on the one Mediator, the same exalted morality, approving itself to the conscience of [7/8] every man, the same purifying and animating hopes adapted to every condition of the human race; the same divine charity recognising a brother in every individual of mankind; and these it marks as the characteristics of Christianity. Amid all the varieties of external aspect, inits numberless forms, the world observes these unalterable features, and is compelled to reverence them as lineaments of the image of God. To the thinking mind, a religion thus unchanging in its elements, and binding together in one vast and holy brotherhood all the virtuous of men in all ages, countries, and conditions, proves itself to have come from the great Parent of mankind. Union, or unity in outward bonds, could carry no such conviction; for it may exist where there is little harmony of spirit, and distinguishes Popery and Mahomedanism in a much greater degree than genuine Christianity.


The preceding observations were thought necessary, since there are many who maintain that external union is inseparable from Christian discipleship. Such contend that it was the subject of the Redeemer's prayer, and thence again argue, that communion with the one [8/9] visible Church, is the necessary means of union with. Christ. But this is not Protestant doctrine, the grand centre truth of which is the union of believers in Christ through faith alone. Nevertheless, external union is of high importance, and Protestants have greatly erred in undervaluing it. If it was not in itself the immediate burden of the Redeemer's prayers, yet it is one great means of securing that unity for which he did pray, and hence should be regarded by all Christian people as immensely valuable. It is the offspring of unity, and in turn becomes its protector. Unity and union, like soul and body, belong together; and the Church will attain to the “measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ," when the soul of unity animates and harmonizes the action of all the members of a consolidated body.

The Church divided is comparatively weak. Her individual members, scattered through all the sects of Christendom, may be strong in the faith, and enjoy communion with their common Lord, but as the Church militant, widening and maintaining her territories, deprived of union, she is shorn of half her strength. The children of God, in their contest with the world, the flesh, and the devil, shall not fail of their salvation, whether they be bound together, or driven asunder to the four corners of the earth. But as the [9/10] army of the faithful, as the sacramental host of God's elect, there should be union in their ranks, as well as unity in their hearts; and especially in the war which the Church has now begun in good earnest with the powers of darkness in the heathen world, what immense advantage would be gained, what brilliant victories might be expected, were her forces marshalled and appropriated by some directing council acknowledged by the whole. "Surely Christians must lay this more to heart, if they are in earnest in their missions. Surely, if they contemplate the world as the field of their conquests, they have neither time nor strength to waste in controversy or in sectarian conversions at home. Their warrior sons have need to form themselves into one broad and solid phalanx, and hasten forth to plant on the soil of the adversary, not the flag of their division, but the banner of the Lord of Hosts. It is plain that there must be more concentrated action in the missionary operations of the Protestant Churches, before they can hope for the promised results. They must agree to present Christianity with a sameness of aspect to the inquiring Heathen; they must be willing to work side by side, as fellow-laborers, or they will find their success vastly disproportioned to their efforts, and how foolishly they have yielded [10/11] to the archenemy all the advantage of the maxim, "Divide and conquer."


It is tantalizing to dwell on ideal good. Glancing but for a moment on the benefits of union, we immediately ask, Is it practicable? To answer positively in the affirmative, would betray singular presumption, since we may be sure that what is so exceedingly desirable wise and good men would have long ago brought about, had there not been inherent difficulties in the way. Still we may discuss the question--we may be allowed to inquire, with due modesty, whether the inherent difficulties may not be avoided. On so important a subject every one should be encouraged to present his suggestions. Hints should not be despised, and therefore the present writer has ventured to offer these.

The present is a favorable time for any proposition of combination among the Churches, since, probably, there is less mere sectarian zeal, and more concern for the grand interests of Christianity, than at any period since the Reformation. Christians meet more than formerly on common ground, and feel more the necessity of [11/12] uniting against their common enemies. This, however, is not enough the case to warrant the hope that any plan of union would be practicable which required the surrender of their peculiar tenets. Nor would such a surrender be desirable. Bach sect is conscientious in adhering to its own views, and, though no vital points of faith might be touched, yet who should decide which these vital points are? What arbiter should dictate the peculiarities to be given up? Who should settle the terms of the compromise, and judge of the justice of their application. Any attempt of this kind would only make "confusion worse confounded," and require for its success, not genuine charity, but heartless latitudinarianism, and unprincipled indifference to religious truth. No; the several denominations must stand as they are. Their peculiar faith and forms must be untouched. There can be no immediate abolition of sects. Union must proceed on broader ground.

But what need hinder a confederacy among the leading Protestant Churches? and this, perhaps, is the most that could be accomplished, at least in the present state of things. Such a confederacy might be analogous to the civil union of our own country, leaving to the separate Churches all their original independence, but uniting them, if not under one government, yet in the adoption of all the great [12/13] principles which they hold in common. These great principles, together with a few provisions for combined action in certain movements, might form the constitution of the confederacy.

If a union of this kind would not be strong enough for all the important objects that would be desirable, still it would be a rallying ground that might gradually be fortified. It would be, at least, a nucleus of union. It would make the common ground of Protestants a visible and tangible thing. It would be a catholic basis on which, from time to time, might be erected all the superstructure of the visible catholic Church. The essential articles of agreement in a confederacy would relate to doctrine, the ministry, and public worship. Let us see how far there could be union in each of these.


Union in doctrine would be easy, or rather it already exists. In nearly all the Protestant Churches, there is sufficient agreement in the leading articles of belief, to make them substantially one. Were it otherwise, proposals for union would be idle. It is because they are really one in the main point--because they have an identical faith in all things pertaining to [13/14] salvation, that we may cherish the hope of their being more completely one in other points, essential to their mutual prosperity. They are one in soul, and may therefore be one in body. Since they have the "inward and spiritual grace, they should exhibit to the world the outward and visible sign." If the Apostles' Creed were thought too general, (and perhaps in these days of radical error it might not be sufficiently definite,) nothing would be easier than to frame a set of articles asserting the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel, to which nine-tenths of the Protestant world would assent. For instance, a creed declaring, beside the nature and attributes of God as acknowledged by all Christians, the divinity and atonement of Jesus Christ, the fallen condition of man, the regeneration and sanctification of the soul by the Holy Spirit, the justification of the sinner by faith in Christ alone, and good works the necessary fruit of faith; and such primary doctrines would be adopted by Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, the United Brethren, and by others, especially if the creed were expressed, as would be desirable, altogether in the language of Scripture.


A mutual acknowledgment among the confederate churches of the full authority of "their respective ministers, and of the validity of their ministrations, would be essential to union. Without this, a confederacy would be an empty name, and unhappily in this lies the chief difficulty of the whole scheme. Different opinions are held by different Churches, as to the proper channel of an external commission to the ministry; some placing it in the presbytery, some in the congregation, and some in the episcopacy. The advocates of each theory defend it on scriptural ground, and therefore it is not likely they would come to any understanding which required the abandonment of their ground. The only possible way of removing the obstacle appears to be this: In a council of representatives from the various churches, assembled to debate the matter, let it be agreed to adopt that form of ordination, or conveyance of the external commission to the ministry, which all believe to be sufficient, and not repugnant to the word of God. In order to accomplish this, the sufficiency, and non-contrariety to the word of God, of the proposed ordination, must be the only question considered. There must be no inquiry which ordination is the most apostolical, or which the most [15/16] like that of the primitive Church, or which the most excellent; for on these questions every one would have his own views, and of course would Contend for them; and thus there would be a repetition of the old and endless controversies with which the Church has long enough been perplexed. The single point to be determined should be, what form of ordination is acknowledged to be valid by all, and may be received by all without any sacrifice of conscience. If no such ordination can be found, union is impossible. If there cannot be a cordial admission of the due authority of one another's ministry, by the several churches, it is evident they must remain asunder. But the requisite ordination, it is believed, may be found. Let Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists, meet harmoniously and compare their views. Let them canvass the question in the spirit of brotherly love, and honestly endeavor to discover some ground of peace and union. Let them consent to substitute, in place of what they now prefer, any form of ordination in which all could conscientiously unite, and they would not be long in coming to a decision. [See page 45.] This appears to be the most equitable, and indeed the only way of arriving at any harmony in the [16/17] essential point of the ministry. [The question of the sufficiency of ordination could not be determined by the plurality of voices in the council. For the conscience of no one must be violated. The majority could not change the minority's views of truth. The problem to be solved is, what is expedient in the exigency, and lawful in the eyes of all. Any arguments of divine origin, or superior antiquity, would only throw the council into interminable discussion.] After an authorized council had decided upon the expedient mode of ordination, (as a measure of peace, be it observed, not what each, would otherwise prefer,) all future ministers of the confederate churches might be ordered according to it. Perhaps it could not be expected that clergymen after having long preached the Gospel, and administered its ordinances, should consent to any new ordination; though in the cause of peace and union, we cannot tell what good men might be willing to do, especially as they could provide for the understanding, that there was no question about the sufficiency of their former commission, and that they submitted to this apparent reordination, only for the sake of harmony and greater good. [Which might be done hypothetically. Thus, "If thou art not ordained, or duly commissioned, we how ordain, &c."] Yet all new candidates for the ministry might be commissioned according to the adopted mode. In a few years there would thus be a large [17/18] number of clergymen, all having received their commission from a common source. These could officiate in any of the confederate churches, for exchanges would be in the spirit of the union, and as charity would lead them, when preaching out of their own sect, to avoid its peculiar tenets, only the happiest effects could follow the arrangement. How would sectarian prejudices be dissipated, when congregations learned to listen, not exclusively to ministers of their own persuasion, but to all who proclaimed in truth the everlasting Gospel. How would their charity expand, when they learned to hail as brethren in Christ, not only the fellow-members of their own society, but all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Then too, at stated festivals of peace, might be seen the delightful spectacle of Christians of different name sitting down together at the table of their common Lord. Now they commune in clans, but then, like children of the same gracious parent, they would gather around his board in love, and anticipate the joy when they shall meet at home, at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Then, further, missionaries of different name would go out hand in hand, wherever it were necessary, and labor together in the vineyard, which so greatly needs a combination of their strength.


Union in public worship might not be deemed expedient; certainly it would not be essential. But to a great extent it might be so easily accomplished, that it were a pity it should be wholly neglected, especially as it would be one of the most powerful means of confirming the union.

The services of public worship consist of reading the holy Scriptures, singing of psalms and hymns, and prayer.

For uniformity in the first, let suitable portions of Scripture be selected and prescribed for every Lord's day in the year; and let these be read regularly in all the confederate churches. What an interesting uniformity would be here, and with what harmonizing effects might it be followed, especially in churches in which the reading of the word of God is not now a stated exercise. All Christians hearing the same portions of the holy Scriptures at the same time, which often would be the theme of their pastors' discourses, how likely would they be to feel their identity in all important respects, and to recognise their membership in the one body of Christ.

As for agreement in certain psalms and [19/20] hymns, nothing more would be wanted, than a selection of those which are already approved in common by all denominations. One of these might be appointed for each Lord's day in the year, not to the exclusion of others; and thus all the confederate churches would be praising God in the same psalm or hymn, as well as listening to the same portion of his word, on the same day. And if, moreover, the psalm or hymn were sung to the same tune, (for although there is sectarianism in music, there are enough catholic melodies,) there would thus be a delightful emblem of the concord begun in the Church on earth, to be perfected in the harmony of the Church in heaven.

Protestant sects are divided in the use of extemporaneous and precomposed prayer, and in this their preference must be indulged. But few, it may be presumed, are so opposed to forms, as to think them incompatible with devotion, or to be unwilling to join in them occasionally. [The Lutheran, Moravian, Dutch Reformed, Methodist, beside the Episcopal Church, have their liturgies. Although the use of them is not binding, the provision shows that their lawfulness and utility are admitted. Forms of family prayer are to be found among almost all denominations.] There are, indeed, the extremes of bigotry.--Some are so wedded to forms, that [20/21] their prejudices will not suffer them to unite in extemporaneous offerings, however appropriate and excellent; and others are so much in the habit of associating formality and superstition with every thought of precomposed prayer, that they can hardly believe it ever comes from the heart; such narrow sentiments it is needless to combat, for those who entertain them would never meet on any ground of union. The majority of enlightened Christians would not object to some appointed prayers. They might be few and short, for every church would adhere to its customary services, only taking one or more of these in addition. For instance, it might be the established custom to use the Lord's Prayer once on every occasion of public worship; and immediately before the sermon some one of the prescribed prayers. But this, as has been already said, is not an essential feature of the plan.

Thus if there be a disposition for union, we see how it might be manifested and cherished by a general concord in prayer, praise, and reading of the holy Scriptures, and this without any compromise of principle, or any material departure from ordinary practice.


The Church has held many councils of war, let her begin to hold a council op peace; for so should be styled the assembled representatives of the confederated churches. These representatives might be a certain number of wise and experienced men, who should be chosen by the respective churches, to represent them in the union. Their powers should be altogether advisory, and exercised not on matters within the jurisdiction of the several churches, but on such only as concerned the interests of the whole. The important duties and happy influence of such a council may easily be imagined.

Thus they would look abroad over the confederate churches, and observing what obstacles are in the way of more perfect harmony between them, might advise in regard to means for their removal.

As occasion required, they might advise the churches touching their intercourse with one another, counselling them to "keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace," It might also be a special object of their attention, to survey the missionary field, and advise, as to [22/23] the best disposition of the forces in the occupation of that field.

They might recommend the observance of thanksgiving-days, fast-days, concert of prayer for the Divine blessing on missionary labors, and other acts favorable to the peace of Christendom, and to the extension of pure and undefiled religion.

Through their representatives in the council, the churches would signify their assent to the articles of peace, which would form the constitution of the union.

What government should be exercised by such a council over the confederate churches, it would require great wisdom to determine. Certainly there should be none which would affect their independence guarantied by the provisions of the constitution.

Surely of all human means, nothing would have a happier influence on the harmony, and consequently the strength of Protestant Christendom, than the opinions and advice of an assembly of fathers in Israel, in such a council of peace.


The articles of union to be subscribed by the churches as the act of confederation, need be [23/24] few and simple, merely stating the objects of the union, the common creed of the confederate churches, the mode of conveying the external commission to the ministry, the prescribed acts, if any, of uniformity in public worship, and also declaring that all the churches composing the union are true parts of the holy Catholic Church.


The subject on which the foregoing hints have been ventured is unquestionably worthy of the deepest consideration. Let Christians lay it to heart, for it approves itself to their affections, as well as to their reason. Indeed it must spring from brotherly love. Charity must begin the work, and wisdom must complete it. If the plan of union suggested is objectionable, let another be devised. Let us ascertain in what way the desideratum is practicable, for it cannot be impossible. When there are the "one heart, and the one mind," as there are in the charity and consent in the fundamentals of the faith of the vast majority of Christians, surely there can also be the one body. Let our religious journals invite an amicable discussion of the subject; and especially let the many venerable [24/25] men among the clergy of the different churches, assist with the counsels of their experience what so eminently commends itself to the wisdom and peaceful spirit of their thoughtful years.

At least this much might be done immediately. A congress of delegates from the principal Protestant denominations might be held, and take the subject of union into serious deliberation. Some rules of charity might be adopted by themselves, before entering upon their debates, which should be considered inviolable. The practicability and terms of union would then be viewed in all their lights, and the decision of the congress would be a fair exhibition of the sentiments of Protestant Christendom. Only good could result from such a meeting of the tribes of Israel, in that spirit of love and harmony, which would bring them together, even if the object desired were not fully attained. It could not fail to promote the peace of Zion. If the congress could not merge their differences in agreement, they would adjourn with new reasons for resolving amicably to differ.

"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem? they shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee; because of the house of [25/26] the Lord our God, I will seek to do thee good." Let us breathe these prayers of the Psalmist, and we shall be able also to say with him, "Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together; whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the Lord." Let us meet as children of the same great household. There is hallowed ground enough where we may walk as brethren, and take sweet counsel together as friends. We sit too much apart in our own synagogues, contented with the light that reaches there. But the windows have been painted to our fancy, and have grown dim with the smoke and dust of years. No wonder that with this obscured and discolored light, we do not see things alike, and are unable to discern the simple majesty of truth. Let us come out of our houses, and converse together on the open hill of Zion. There, in the clear daylight of truth and the pure atmosphere of heaven, the things of the kingdom will appear in their own true and beautiful proportions. We shall discern in one another the lineaments of Christ, and in the smiles of a reconciled Father, shining equally upon us all, we shall be ashamed of any other feelings, than those which unite us in the brotherhood of love.



The foregoing suggestions are humbly submitted to the Protestant denominations in general, in the hope that there is nothing in them at variance with the charitable spirit which is indispensable at every step of the great object in view. We might now go on to consider the aspect in which any such scheme of union would appear in different quarters of the Christian world, and thence take the opportunity of answering objections that might be easily anticipated. But to speak for other sects, would be father a delicate task; the writer, perhaps, will be thought sufficiently presuming, in venturing to speak for his own. This, however, he begs leave to do.

Union on the basis proposed, ought to be acceptable to Episcopalians. They have the elements of it in the constitution of their Church, and possess peculiar requisites for becoming a rallying point among Protestants. Hence the promotion of union might fairly be [27/28] shown to be their peculiar duty. Nor will they, it may be trusted, be backward in acknowledging it. As the exclusive is to be found in every sect, there may indeed be some Episcopalians who look upon their Church as divinely ordered in every particular, and so made, like the tabernacle of old, "after the pattern of things in the mount," that they would regard all union as dangerous amalgamation, except that of a universal adoption, by all Christians, of every tenet, rite, and eeremony of the Protestant Episcopal Church.

There are also many Episcopalians who would hesitate at union, from opposite views. They have a hearty and enlightened attachment to the Church--they will yield to none in esteem for its institutions, or in devotion to its welfare; but they look upon it as rather calculated for the more staid and settled, not to say educated and reflecting, part of the community. While it preaches the Gospel to the poor, and finds many of its worthiest members in the humblest walks of life, they think its calm and elevated spirit, its chaste and sober forms, its broad and liberal principles, its repugnance to enthusiasm, and insuperable barriers to fanaticism, will never be appreciated by the majority, who need stimulants as well as motives, in religion. They are not exclusive in their [28/29] claims for the Church, but very consistently regard other denominations of Christians as fellow-churches, and as likewise peculiarly calculated for their respective spheres. In the Methodists, for example, they see the pioneers of Christianity; and in the Moravian Brethren, they behold so much of the apostolical spirit, that they do not wait to be assured of their apostolical succession, in order to hail them as pre-eminently a Gospel Church. They wish success to all in their labors of love; and, moreover, are thankful that men are found in other sects, who carry the Gospel to places which it would have been slow in reaching, if left wholly with Episcopalians. They are not unfriendly to missions; but their conservative views rather lead them to strengthen the Church where it is already planted. With a philosophic eye they purvey the sisterhood of Christian sects, each doing her allotted share of work; and if they see the Church of their affections rather cautious than quick in some departments of labor, still they love her matron grace, and find pleasure in remembering that if she is not so often on errands of mercy abroad, she always takes excellent care at home; and if she is not so active as some of her younger sisters, neither is she as wild.

These are not irrational views, but it is [29/30] evident that those who entertain them would not be strongly inclined to union. They see sufficient union already. The several churches are carrying on the work of the Gospel in their own way, one doing what another would not, or could not, while the generous rivalry among them produces far more fruit than would ever spring from union. Let us then, they say, continue on in the good old ways, satisfied we are right, and not feeling obliged to tell our neighbors that they are wrong. In all their works of charity, let us bid them Godspeed. In essentials we are united, in non-essentials unity is of no moment.

Besides these, there remain a majority of Episcopalians whose views of the Church would not indispose them to union. These are equally attached with any of their brethren to the Episcopal Church, but they distinguish between the principles and practices of the Church. The principles they consider unalterable, the practices a beautiful and edifying application of those principles, but not in their nature unalterable.

The principles of the Episcopal Church are,

First--The doctrines of the Gospel as taught in the Thirty-nine Articles, including the leading principle, that the Scriptures alone are the rule of faith.

Second--The obligation of adhering to [30/31] Episcopacy as the channel of the ministry, and derived by succession from the Apostles.

Third--The expediency, sanctioned by scriptural precedent, and the earliest usage, of precomposed prayers in some established liturgy. These they consider the substance of their faith as Episcopalians. They believe them to be scriptural and sound. They would impart them to others, and would gladly meet their brethren of every name, on any ground on which these principles could be maintained. But nothing would induce them to surrender them, so evidently coincident, as they believe them to be, with right reason, and the inspired standard of truth. To the order of the Church in all its prescriptions and customs, that is, to its practices, they carefully and conscientiously conform, as consistent members of a society, by the laws and regulations of which they have voluntarily bound themselves; but they see nothing alarming in a variation of these practices, if made by competent authority, and for the purpose of extending their principles. Thus, in relation to the episcopacy. Having received it, as they believe, in a line of unbroken descent from the Saviour and his Apostles, they are not at liberty to recognise the conveyance of the ministry through any other medium. Adherence to episcopal orders is thus one of their [31/32] principles, and to whatever exclusiveness it may seem to lead, ought not to be charged upon them as bigotry. Hence they would feel obliged, in conscience, to decline any proposition of union which required a relinquishment of it; but, if I mistake not, would cheerfully accede to one admitting it, although considerable compromise were demanded in matters not involving a sacrifice of principle.

These Episcopalians are for extending their Church. They have no idea of its acting an aristocracy in the religious world. They believe it is, or may be, adapted to all the conditions of life. They remember that “to the poor the Gospel is preached," and their hearts are in the Gospel as well as in the Church. Nay, they love the Church, as the appointed defence and safeguard of the Gospel, Hence they are for planting it far and wide over the land. They are for multiplying its bishops, and restoring their office to its primitive simplicity. They are ardent in the missionary cause, not devising for the Church merely a conservative duty, but anxious to see her doing her full share of work, as the herald and harbinger of the Cross, and emulating the most zealous of her sisters in carrying the Gospel to the uttermost ends of the earth. As their zeal for the Church is not party spirit, but an enlightened approbation of [32/33] principles, they cannot with consistency shrink from any alliance with their fellow Christians, that would give a deeper root^ and wider range to those principles. They must declare for union, on the basis of "evangelical truth, and apostolic order."


Should a Christian bishop refuse ordination to any one desiring it, whom he believes to be of holy life, sufficient ability, and sound in the essentials of the Christian faith? [The writer earnestly begs that this discussion may not be thought impertinent. It is introduced simply as the readiest way of leading the reader to a conclusion, of obvious importance, in the argument for union with Episcopalians, and applies equally in principle to other Churches.]

To argue this question the more conveniently, let us suppose the following case.

A-- is a young man of holy and exemplary life, believing all the articles of the Christian faith, as they are held by the majority of Protestant Christians, and moreover desirous of preaching the Gospel, to which he trusts he has been called by the Holy Ghost. Deeming an [33/34] external commission also necessary, he applies to a bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church for such commission. The bishop refuses it, because A-- does not see the scriptural warrant for infant baptism, and therefore advertises the bishop that he cannot in conscience administer it. On this account, and not for any private reasons, the bishop refuses ordination.

Does the bishop right or wrong? He does right, as may be easily shown.

The bishop is bound by the most solemn obligations, assumed at the time of his consecration, to maintain the discipline of the Protestant Episcopal Church. This discipline forbids the ordination of any one not promising confofmity to the rites and ceremonies, as well as the doctrines of the Church. He has, therefore, no liberty in the matter. He received his power of ordination not absolutely, but conditionally; and the conditions were, that he would use it for the furtherance of the Gospel, "as this Church hath received the same."

Besides, if he might ordain A--, dissenting from infant baptism, he might ordain B--, objecting to the liturgy, or C--, refusing to subscribe to some of the articles;--and thus uniformity in the Church, whether in doctrine, rites, of worship, would speedily come to an end, The indulgence of A-- would be opening the [34/35] door to endless irregularities, if not to pernicious errors; and under the plea of scruples of conscience, heretics of every description, would be found swarming within her pale. It would therefore be both decidedly unlawful and highly inexpedient to ordain A--, until he renounced his error.

This seems conclusive; but on the other hand, it ma}T be said we must look further into the thing. We must go back to the beginning of the Church. We must examine the original commission, for we suppose it will be granted, that a Christian bishop ought to be willing to ordain on the same conditions as those on which Christ ordained his Apostles. Since the original commission is pleaded as the grant and warrant of the power in question, in that also we must look for the conditions on which the power should be exercised. The commission was, "Go ye, and preach the Gospel to every creature." The conditions were the understood consent and ability of the Apostles to execute the commission, and these, so far as we read, were the only terms of their ordination. Where then is the authority, for imposing new terms, at least, as indispensable? For we are not told that the Apostles added any. There might indeed have been other conditions implied in Christ's knowledge of his Apostles, that [35/36] secured the practice of infant baptism; but these do not appear, and since the commission is pleaded as expressed, the terms must be taken as they are known. The whole then turns upon what it is to preach the Gospel, since it was for this Christ ordained his Apostles, and authorized them and their successors to ordain others to the end of time. Now, if the bishop is conscientiously persuaded that preaching' the Gospel necessarily implies the practice of infant baptism, then he is right in withholding ordination from A--. [The bishop may urge the commission as given in St. Matthew, "Go ye and baptize all nations," and say nations include infants. If A-- refuses to baptize infants, he fails in an expressed item of his commission. But A-- will contend that the believers among all nations must be meant, since in St. Mark the command is thus explained: "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved." The practice of the Apostles would determine the doubt, but this again is also a question. So that whether preaching the Gospel requires pedo-baptism, must be admitted to be a fair subject for latitude of opinion, especially as St. Paul distinguishes the former from baptism of either kind, where he says, "God sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel." The writer trusts he need not caution the reader against inferring from his selection of this particular, point of dissent, that he deems it one of little moment. There is an obvious reason for the choice in the anti-pedo-baptism, of so large a portion of Protestants in the United States. The extension of episcopal ordination to these, if desired, would be an important practical question immediately bearing on that of union.] But can he be so [36/37] persuaded? Keeping before his eyes the grand object of the gospel ministry, and looking upon his office as the appointed means of perpetuating that ministry in the world, can he justify himself in the exclusion of A-- from its service? A-- believes that Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world, and he desires to proclaim that all-sufficient Saviour to that perishing world. "He trusts that he is inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost, to take upon him this office and ministration;" but he wants also the apostolic "laying on of hands," and this he humbly claims of the bishop, as the successor of the Apostles, and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, as the sovereign of the Church. Can the bishop honestly think that A--'s error in the single point referred to, is a sufficient reason for his refusal? Will he say, I believe your zeal is enlightened and sincere--I have no reason to doubt your success in winning souls to Christ, and turning many to righteousness--I believe your faith is scriptural, with the exception of one particular, not affecting materially indeed its integrity; but in that particular you are [37/38] a heretic, and I dare not bid you God-speed. With my consent you should never preach the Gospel, until you conformed to the Church in the baptism of infants.

"And ought not the bishop," it may be asked, "to employ his power for the suppression of all heresy? If he, knowingly, lays hands on any one in error, does he not partake of the sin of propagating error?" This is slippery ground. The episcopal conscience might be morbidly sensitive. In the eyes of the bishop errors might derive consequence from other considerations than their probable mischief, or their contrariety to Gospel truth. Such is human frailty that from prejudice, from schemes of policy, from a thousand oblique associations, a nice distinction in doctrine, conformity with a rubric or canon, or even compliance with mere usage, might, in the ecclesiastical vision, be magnified into the very corner-stone of salvation.

No. It is safer to say--the bishop should use his power for the propagation of truth; and it will then rest with his conscience whether, for the sake of minor conformity, he may hinder the saving truths of the everlasting Gospel.

Love of truth implies confidence in truth. Wherever the great articles of evangelical doctrine are maintained, we should have too much faith in them to fear the admixture of minor [38/39] error; and surely we may mistrust the judgment which would withdraw our zeal from the former to fasten it on the extirpation of the latter. What! shall we doubt the victory of celestial truth, because she may not have all her armor on? Shall we hear no charm in the full tide of her harmony, while a little dissonance grates upon the ear? Shall we not incur the suspicion of loving darkness rather than light, if we can say, while there are spots on its surface, the sun should not shine?

Reasoning thus, we come to the conclusion that the bishop ought to ordain A--. But this, as we have seen, would be attended with evil consequences, and is positively forbidden by law. How then can the same act be right and wrong? It is right as the act of a bishop of the Church Protestant Episcopal. It is wrong as the act of a bishop of the Church catholic and apostolical. He does his duty as the officer of a particular society, partly divine and partly human in its constitution. He fails in his simple character as minister of Jesus Christ and of his universal Church. Now his duties to the Church catholic, as a minister of Jesus, are prior to his duty as the bishop of a particular church. When they come in collision, it is evident which must yield.

This brings us to the solution of our problem. [39/40] Let provision be made for the bishop to exercise his power, both as a bishop of the Church Protestant Episcopal, and as a bishop of the Church catholic. Let him not be restricted in his functions to the former character. Let not his hands be tied as a minister of the Church universal. [Of course it is not meant that the bishop should violate the order of his Church. If he took the views here supposed to be correct, his first step must be to procure legal provisions to meet them. Radicalism is not advocated, but an extension of ecclesiastical liberty.] Let canons and regulations be enacted to meet the case of his complex office, and this could be done without creating confusion, or occasioning any detriment to the Episcopal Church. Candidates for the ministry in that Church would be ordained on the present terms of entire conformity to all its requirements; and this would be an act of the bishop in his double office,--as the minister of Cueist and the chief officer of a particular body. Candidates for the ministry at large, (to be amenable, however, to some ecclesiastical tribunal,) or in other evangelical churches, might be ordained on the single condition of due qualification and soundness in the faith; and this would be an act of the bishop, simply in his office as a bishop of the Church catholic and apostolical. Not more than two or three omissions in the offices of the ordinal for [40/41] the ordering of priests and deacons, as they now stand, would be required by such an arrangement.

And would not such a provision be worthy of the liberal spirit of the Church? Who rather should set the example of breaking down the party-walls that prejudice and bigotry have been building up to heaven? Who ought sooner to take the lead in clearing away space for a common ground in Christendom? Who ought to be the first to reach forth the right hand of fellowship to a distracted family, and bind them together in one, than the eldest of the household?


In order to union, in the essential point of a mutual recognition of their respective ministries by the Protestant Churches, it has been proposed, in these hints, that that form of ordination should be adopted which is universally acknowledged to be valid, and not repugnant to the word of God. Such is episcopal ordination. Its validity none of the Protestant Churches can deny, since, through the Roman Church, it has been the common channel of [41/42] orders to all. And as to its agreement with the Scriptures, the Presbyterian who thinks they require the laying on of the hands of the presbytery, has only to consider the act of the bishop, and his associate bishops or presbyters, in ordaining, (for, except in the ordering of deacons, there are always several present,) as the act of a presbytery; and the Congregationalist may consider it as that of the representatives of the congregation. If any other ordination has these advantages, let it be named; but until then, let it not be set down as sectarianism, that episcopal ordination is proposed as the chain of union in the ministry.

All arguments for or against episcopacy, as a primitive and apostolic institution, may be waived as foreign to the question in hand, and the inquiry confined to the sufficiency and lawfulness of episcopal ordination, and the adoption of it as a measure of peace. Now, apart from sectarian preferences, it may be presumed that candid men will be disposed to give weight to facts like these.

Nine-tenths of all the ministers of Christ, since the foundation of the Church, have had episcopal ordination.

In the early ages, heretics as well as Catholics adhered to episcopal ordination.

[43] All who have it, profess to have received it by transmission from the earliest ages, and the line of succession cannot be shown to end any where below the Apostles.

Supposing the question of episcopacy incapable of decision on the premises of the New Testament alone, (and certainly a plain reader would need some guide in making up his mind,) it can hardly be denied that early ecclesiastical history rather turns the scale in its favor.

Men revered by all parties for their piety, wisdom, learning, and enlightened philosophy, have asserted episcopacy, while comparatively few, equally eminent in these respects, and having equally the confidence of the Church at large, have opposed it, except in the form of a corrupt prelacy, or in alliance with political abuses.

Occasionally, ministers of non-episcopal churches have doubted the sufficiency of their ordination, and received it anew from what they believed, after inquiry, to be apostolical authority; while none among Protestants, as far as is here known, who have received episcopal orders, have ever sought a commission from any other source.

These are not adduced as arguments for [43/44] episcopacy, but simply as reasons, on the principles of human nature, why those who reject it should be disposed to believe that possibly they may be mistaken, and that those who receive it are at least on the safe side of the question. In other words, as to the validity of ordination, that non-episcopalians may be right, but Episcopalians cannot, by common consent, be wrong.

These views ought to exonerate Episcopalians from the charge of either bigotry or presumption, in urging the ordination of their own Church, though a minority in Protestant Christendom, as a bond of union for all. But on the other hand, will they not be justly chargeable with inconsistency and a want of at least ecclesiastical charity, if while they demand episcopal ordination in order to a duly authorized ministry, they refuse to dispense it on any other condition than that of entire conformity to all the prescriptions of their particular sect? If they have a divine treasure in the episcopacy, they must hold it on the common condition of all the gifts of heaven: "Freely ye have received, freely give;" and should be ready bountifully to bestow it wherever it is sincerely desired, for the purposes for which it was originally ordained.


But no preference, however just, need be claimed, for all difficulty in the matter of ordination might be removed simply by making it the joint act of the confederate churches. This could be done in two ways. Either the candidate might be ordained first in one Church and then in another, the Presbyterian and Episcopal, for instance; or there might be ordaining councils, composed of duly authorized ministers of the several Churches. Thus, in each of our large cities, there might be such a council, consisting of two or three presbyters of the Presbyterian Church, the same from the Lutheran, Baptist, and other Churches, together with a bishop and two presbyters of the Episcopal Church. By this method all would meet on a perfect equality, and there would be no compromise of principle. Each Church would consider its own ministers alone as sufficient, but would consent to the assistance of others to give validity to the act in the eyes of all.


Where, among all the creeds of the Protestant Churches, is there one so liberal as that of the thirty-nine articles? Who that receives "the truth as it is in Jesus," will refuse to subscribe to them? while on the mysteries of the Gospel, they give no uncertain sound, but speak out clear and full--they propound no dogmas of school divinity--no subtle theology, and betray no anxiety to be wise above what is written. Hence men dispute about their meaning, just as they do about that of the Scriptures; and it is a remarkable fact, that Calvinists and Arminians have ever appealed to them as expressing their own views of doctrine. Perhaps there is not a, shade or variety of theological opinion, within the circle of evangelical truth, that has not had an advocate among the divines of the Church of England. The articles are thus the very model of a creed for Catholic union.

We see the same enlarged spirit in the liturgy. Not a petition is to be found for the Church Protestant Episcopal in particular; the Church catholic is the burden of her prayers. What expansive charity is breathed in the daily evening service: "More especially we pray thee for [46/47] thy holy church universal; that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians, may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in the unity of spirit, the bond of peace, and righteousness of life." So in the prayer for the Church militant: "Beseeching thee to inspire continually the universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity, and concord; and grant that all those who confess thy holy name may live in unity, and godly love. Give grace, O heavenly Father, to all bishops, and other ministers, &c." Who should be foremost in the work of union, but those who are daily uttering these union prayers? Who should escape the narrow confines of sect, if not they who are daily presenting before God the claims of the holy Church universal? Who should rejoice more in the gathering together in one, of all who name the name of Christ, than they who are so often supplicating for the spirit of truth, unity, and concord?

Let us look also at the definition of the Church, in the nineteenth article:

"The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly administered according to Christ's ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are [47/48] requisite in the same." An admirable specimen this, of the ingenious wisdom with which, on disputed points, the Church determines fundamental principles involved, but leaves their application, and the inferences from them, to private judgment. Thus, to constitute the Church, the pure word of God must be preached, and the sacraments duly administered, according to Christ's ordinance. But what the pure word of God is, and when the sacraments are duly administered, are not declared, but are left with every man's own reason and conscience, under the guidance of the Holt Spirit. It is doubtful whether another definition of the Church could be drawn up, so extensive, and yet so particular, and hence so well calculated for the creed of an evangelical union. The same may be said of the article of ministering in the congregation. "It is not lawful for any man to take upon him the office of public preaching, or ministering in the congregation, before he be lawfully called, and sent to execute the same." None that regard the apostolical canon, "Let all things be done decently and in order," would deny this much. "And those," the article proceeds, "we ought to judge lawfully called and sent"--who? those only who have had episcopal ordination? what a pity some have thought that the article had not asserted this, [48/49] instead of going on so vaguely to say,--"which be chosen and called to this work by men who have public authority given unto them in the congregation, to call and send ministers into the Lord's vineyard." This will be admitted as readily by a Congregationalist or a Presbyterian, as by an Episcopalian. Here, then, is another article for the union, which no doubt was drawn up in this studied latitude, with a view to the Reformed Churches not having Episcopal orders.

So again of the authority of the Church, in the twentieth article, "The Church hath power to decree rites or ceremonies, and authority in controversies of faith; and yet it is not lawful for the Church to contain any thing that is contrary to God's word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and keeper of holy writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same, ought it not to enforce anything to be believed for the necessity of salvation." Another instance of admirable skill in combining antagonist truths. The authority of the Church is declared, but with the fullest reservation of the right of private judgment; for who but the individual members of the Church, judging for themselves, [49/50] are to decide whether her decrees are with or against the holy writ, of which she is the witness and keeper?

These articles (which have been transcribed at length, as possibly they may here meet the eyes of some who might never see them in the Prayer-book,) and others of the same character, while they exhibit the catholic spirit of the Church, are the happiest examples of the art of saying neither too much nor too little on the controverted points of faith and discipline. And this requires something more than the benevolence of liberal temper, even the wisdom of the serpent, with the peacefulness of the dove.

As a striking exemplification of the spirit of the Church, in her zeal for the sacred interests of the Gospel, and forbearance on more doubtful points, we might point to that long list of her divines, who are scarcely dearer to her own sons, than to the friends of Protestantism at large. Who regards an Usher, a Leighton, a Hall, a Hammond, a Barrow, a Tillotson, and their peers, of former days; or a Cecil, a Newton, a Scott, of more recent times, as the divines of a sect? Their works are the property of Christendom. Let the stars of the Church of England be extinguished, and where would be some of the brightest constellations of our common Christianity?

[51] The catholic spirit of the Episcopal Church might be further shown in the enlightened liberality which generally characterizes her members. But on this head the writer forbears, lest he be betrayed into an over estimate of the virtues of his brethren. He thinks he could say much for his Church as a centre of union among Protestants, in several important respects; but he is equally sure much might also be said by others for theirs. The Christian reader of whatever name, he doubts not, will unite with him, at least in one prayer of the liturgy of his Church:--

"O Almighty God, who hast built thy Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the head corner-stone; grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their doctrine, that we may be made a holy temple, acceptable unto thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


[An enlightened spirit of toleration must lie at the foundation of all schemes of Christian union. But on that subject the attention of the reader has been reserved for the eloquent enforcement of it in the following extracts from the "Liberty of Prophesying." As this work of Jeremy Taylor has never been printed in America, the writer is sure that for this part of it, at least, his book is not unworthy of circulation.]


The infinite variety of opinions in matters of religion, as they have troubled Christendom with interests, factions, and partialities, so have they caused great divisions of the heart, and variety of thoughts and designs amongst pious and prudent men. For they all, seeing the inconveniences which the disunion of persuasions and opinions have produced, directly or accidentally, have thought themselves obliged to stop this inundation of mischiefs, and have made attempts accordingly. But it hath happened to most of them, as to a mistaken physician, who gives excellent physic but misapplies it, and so misses of his cure. So have these men: their attempts have, therefore, been ineffectual; for they put their help to a wrong part, or they have endeavored to cure the symptoms, and have let the disease alone till it seemed incurable. Some have endeavored to reunite these fractions, by propounding such a guide which they were all bound to [53/54] follow; hoping that the unity of a guide would have persuaded unity of minds; but who this guide should be, at last became such a question, that it was made part of the fire that was to be quenched, so far was it from extinguishing any part of the flame. Others thought of a rule, and this must be the means of union, or nothing could do it. But supposing all the world had been agreed of this rule, yet the interpretation of it was so full of variety that this also became part of the disease for which the cure was pretended. All men resolved upon this, that though they yet had not hit upon the right, yet some way must be thought upon to reconcile differences in opinion; thinking, so long as this variety should last, Christ's kingdom was not advanced, and the work of the Gospel went on but slowly. Few men in the meantime considered, that so long as men had such variety of principles, such several constitutions, educations, tempers, and distempers, hopes, interests, and weaknesses, degrees of light, and degrees of understanding, it was impossible all should be of one mind. And what is impossible to be done is not necessary it should be done; and, therefore, although variety of opinions was impossible to be cured, (and they who attempted it did like him who claps his shoulder to the ground to stop an earthquake,) yet the inconveniences arising from it might possibly be cured, not by uniting their beliefs,--that was to be despaired of,--but by curing that which caused these mischiefs, and accidental inconveniences of their disagreeings. For although these inconveniences, which every man sees and feels, were consequent to this diversity of persuasions, yet it was but accidentally and by chance; inasmuch as we see that in many things, and they of great concernment, men allow to themselves, [54/55] and to each other, a liberty of disagreeing, and no hurt neither. And, certainly, if diversity of opinions were of itself the cause of mischiefs, it would be so ever, that is, regularly and universally, (but that we see it is not:) for there are disputes in Christendom concerning matters of greater concernment than most of those opinions that distinguish sects and make factions; and yet, because men are permitted to differ in these great matters, such evils are not consequent to such differences as are to the uncharitable managing of smaller and more inconsiderable questions. It is of greater consequence to believe right in the question of the validity or invalidity of a death-bed repentance, than to believe aright in the question of purgatory; and the, consequences of the doctrine of predetermination are of deeper and more material consideration than the products of the belief of the lawfulness or unlawfulness of private masses; and yet these great concernments, where a liberty of prophesying in these questions hath been permitted, hath made no distinct communion, no sects of Christians, and the others have, and so have these too, in those places where they have peremptorily been determined on either side. Since, then, if men are quiet and charitable in some disagreeings, that then and there the inconvenience ceases,--if they were so in all others where lawfully they might, (and they may in most,) Christendom should be no longer rent in pieces, but would be redintegrated in a new Pentecost; and although the Spirit of God did rest upon us in divided tongues, yet so long as those tongues were of fire not to kindle strife, but to warm our affections and inflame our charities, we should find that this variety of opinions in several persons would be looked upon as an argument only of diversity of operations, while the spirit is [55/56] the same; and that another man believes not so well as I, is only an argument that? have a better and a clearer illumination than he, that I have a better gift than he, received a special grace and favor, and excel him in this, and am perhaps excelled by him in many more. And if we all impartially endeavor to find a truth, since this endeavor and search only is in our power, (that we shall find it, being ab extra, a gift and an assistance extrinsical,) I can see no reason why this pious endeavor to find out truth shall not be of more force to unite us in the bonds of charity, than his misery in missing it shall be to disunite us. So that, since a union of persuasion is impossible to he attained, if we would attempt the cure by such remedies as are apt to enkindle and increase charity, I am confident we might see a blessed peace would be the reward and crown of such endeavors.

But men are now-a-days, and, indeed, always have been, since the expiration of the first blessed ages of Christianity, so in love with their own fancies and opinions, as to think faith and all Christendom is concerned in their support and maintenance; and whoever is not so fond, and does not dandle them like themselves, it grows up to a quarrel, which, because it is in material theologiae, is made a quarrel in religion, and God is entitled to it; and then, if you are once thought an enemy to God, it is our duty to persecute you even to death, we do God good service in it; when, if we should examine the matter rightly, the question is either in materia non revelata, or minus evidenti, or non necessaria, either it is not revealed, or not so clearly, but that wise and honest men may be of different minds, or else it is not of the foundation of faith, but a remote superstructure, or else of mere speculation, or perhaps, when [56/57] all comes to all, it is a false opinion, or a matter of human interest, that we have so zealously contended for; for to one of these heads most of the disputes of Christendom may be reduced; so that I believe the present fractions (or the most) are from the same cause which St. Paul observed in the Corinthian schism, "When there are divisions among you, are ye not carnal?" It is not the differing opinions that is the cause of the present ruptures, but want of charity; it is not the variety of understandings, but the disunion of wills and affections; it is not the several principles, but the several ends that cause our miseries; our opinions commence and are upheld according as our turns are served and our interests are preserved, and there is no cure for us but piety and charity. A holy life will make our belief holy, if we consult not humanity and its imperfections in the choice of our religion, but search for truth without designs, save only of acquiring heaven, and then be as careful to preserve charity, as we were to get a point of faith; I am much persuaded we should find out more truth by this means; or, however, (which is the main of all,) we shall be secured though we miss them; and then we are well enough.

For if it be evinced that one heaven shall hold men of several opinions, if the unity of faith be not destroyed by that which men call differing religions, and if a unity of charity be the duty of us all, even toward persons that are not persuaded of every proposition we believe, then I would fain know to what purpose are all those stirs, and great noises in Christendom; those names of faction, the several names of churches not distinguished by the division of kingdoms, the Church obeying the government, which was the primitive rule and canon, but distinguished by names of sects and men. These [57/58] are all become instruments of hatred; thence come schisms and parting of communions, and then persecutions, and then wars and rebellion, and then the dissolutions of all friendships and societies. All these mischiefs proceed not from this, that all men are not of one mind, for that is neither necessary nor possible, but that every opinion is made an article of faith, every article is a ground of a quarrel, every quarrel makes a faction, every faction is zealous, and all zeal pretends for God, and whatsoever is for God cannot be too much. We, by this time, are come to that pass, we think we love not God except we hate our brother; and we have not the virtue of religion, unless we persecute all religions but our own; for lukewarmness is so odious to God and man, that we, proceeding furiously upon these mistakes, by supposing we preserve the body, we destroy the soul of religion; or by being zealous for faith, or, which is all one, for that which we mistake for faith, we are cold in charity, and so lose the reward of both.

All these errors and mischiefs must be discovered and cured, and that is the purpose of this discourse.


[The object of the author seems to be, not so much to describe the nature of faith, as to state the amount of faith, or how much a man need believe to be considered a Christian.]

First, then, it is of great concernment to know the nature and integrity of faith; for there begins our first and great mistake. For faith, although it be of great excellency, yet when it is taken for a habit intellectual, it hath so little room, and so narrow a capacity, that it Cannot lodge thousands of those opinions which pretend to be of her family.

[59] For although it be necessary for us to believe whatsoever we know to be revealed of God,--and so every man does, that believes there is a God,--yet it is not necessary, concerning many things, to know that God hath revealed them; that is, we may be ignorant of, or doubt concerning the propositions, and indifferently maintain either part, when the question is not concerning God's veracity, but whether God hath said so, or no: that which is of the foundation of faith, that only is necessary; and the knowing or not knowing of that, the believing or disbelieving it, is that only which, as to the nature of the thing to be believed, is in immediate and necessary order to salvation or damnation.

Now, all the reason and demonstration of the world convinces us, that this foundation of faith, or the great adequate object of the faith that saves us, is that great mysteriousness of Christianity which Christ taught with so much diligence; for the credibility of which he wrought so many miracles; for the testimony of which the apostles endured persecutions; that which was a folly to the Gentiles, and a scandal to the Jews, this is that which is the object of a Christian's faith: all other things are implicitly in the belief of the articles of God's veracity, and are not necessary in respect of the constitution of faith to be drawn out, but may there lie in the bowels of the great articles, without danger to any thing or any person, unless some other accident or circumstance makes them necessary. Now the great object which I speak of, is Jesus Christ crucified. "I am determined to know nothing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified;" so said St. Paul to the Church of Corinth. This is the article upon the confession of which Christ built his Church, viz. only upon St. Peter's creed, which was no more but this simple [59/60] enunciation, "We believe and are sure that thou art Christ, the Son of the living God; "and to this, salvation particularly is promised, as in the case of Martha's creed, John xi. 27. To this the Scripture gives the greatest testimony, and to all them that confess it; "For every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God:" and, "Whosoever confesseth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, "and he in God:" the believing this article is the end of writing the four gospels: "These things are written, that ye might believe, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God:" and then that this is sufficient follows: "and that believing" viz. this article (for this was only instanced in) "ye might have life through his name." This is that great article which, as to the nature of the things to be believed, is sufficient disposition to prepare a catechumen to baptism, as appears in the case of the Ethiopian eunuch, whose creed was only this, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God," and upon this confession (saith the story) they both went into the water, and the Ethiop was washed, and became as white as snow.

In these particular instances there is no variety of articles, save only that in the annexes of the several expressions, such things ate expressed, as besides that Christ is come, they tell from whence, and to what purpose: and whatsoever is expressed, or is to these purposes implied, is made articulate and explicate, in the short and admirable mysterious creed of St. Paul. Rom. x. 8: "This is the word of faith which we preach, that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." This is the great and entire complexion of a Christian's [60/61] faith; and since salvation is promised to the belief of this creed, either a snare is laid for us, with a purpose to deceive us, or else nothing is of prime and original necessity to be believed, but this, Jesus Christ our Redeemer; and all that which is the necessary parts, means, or main actions of working this redemption for us, and the honor for him is in the bowels and fold of the great article, and claims an explicit belief by the same reason that binds us to the belief of its first complexion, without which neither the thing could be acted, nor the proposition understood.

For the act of believing propositions is not for itself, but in order to certain ends; as sermons are to good life and obedience; for (excepting that it acknowledges God's veracity, and so is a direct act of religion) believing a revealed proposition hath no excellence in itself, but in order to that end for which we are instructed in such revelations. Now God's great purpose being to bring us to him by Jesus Christ, Christ is our medium to God, obedience is the medium to Christ, and faith the medium to obedience, and, therefore, is to have its estimate in proportion to its proper end, and those things are necessary which necessarily promote the end, without which obedience cannot be encouraged or prudently enjoined: so that those articles are necessary, that is, those are fundamental points, upon which we build our obedience; and as the influence of the article is to the persuasion or engagement of obedience, so they have their degrees of necessity. Now all that Christ, when he preached, taught us to believe, and all that the apostles in their sermons propound, all aim at this, that we should acknowledge Christ for our Lawgiver and our Saviour; so that nothing can be necessary, by a prime necessity, to be believed explicitly, but [61/62] such things which are therefore parts of the great article, because they either encourage our services or oblige them, such as declare Christ's greatness in himself, or his goodness to us. So that, although we must neither deny nor doubt of any thing, which we know our great Master hath taught us; yet salvation is in special, and by name, annexed to the belief of those articles only, which have in them the endearments of our services, or the support of our confidence, or the satisfaction of our hopes, such as are--Jesus Christ the Son of the living God, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, forgiveness of sins by his blood, resurrection of the dead, and life eternal; because these propositions qualify Christ for our Saviour and our Lawgiver, the one to engage our services, the other to endear them; for so much is necessary as will make us to be his servants, and his disciples; and what can be required more? This only: salvation is promised to the explicit belief of those articles, and therefore those only are necessary, and those are sufficient; but thus, to us in the formality of Christians, which is a formality superadded to a former capacity, we, before we are Christians, are reasonable creatures, and capable of a blessed eternity; and there is a creed, which is the Gentile's creed, which is so supposed in the Christian creed, as it is supposed in a Christian to be a man, and that is, "He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."

If any man will urge further, that whatsoever is deducible from these articles by necessary consequence, is necessary to be believed explicitly, I answer: It is true, if he sees the deduction and coherence of the parts; but it is not certain that every man shall be able to deduce whatsoever is either immediately, or certainly [62/63] deducible from these premises; and then, since salvation is promised to the explicit belief of these, I see not how any man can justify the making the way to heaven narrower than Jesus Christ hath made it, it being already so narrow that there are few that find it.

In the pursuance of this great truth, the apostles, or the holy men their contemporaries and disciples, composed a creed to be a rule of faith to all Christians, as appears in Irenaeus, Tertullian, St. Cyprian, St. Austin, Rufinus, and divers others; which creed, unless it had contained all the entire object of faith, and the foundation of religion, it cannot be imagined to what purpose it should serve; and that it was so esteemed by the whole Church of God in all ages, appears in this, that since faith is a necessary predisposition to baptism in all persons capable of the use of reason, all catechumens in the Latin Church, coming to baptism, were interrogated concerning their faith, and gave satisfaction in the recitation of this creed. And in the east they professed exactly the same faith, something differing in words, but of the same matter, reason, design, and consequence; and so they did at Jerusalem, so at Aquileia. This was that “correct and blameless faith, proclaimed by the holy catholic and apostolic Church, without any mixture of novelty or innovation." These articles were "the instructions delivered by the holy apostles and their fellow-laborers, to the holy churches of God." Now, since the apostles and apostolical men and churches, in these their symbols, did recite particular articles, to a considerable number, and were so minute in their recitation as to descend to circumstances, it is more than probable that they omitted nothing of necessity; and that these articles are not general principles, in the [63/64] bosom of which many more articles, equally necessary to be believed explicitly and more particular, are infolded: but that it is as minute an explication of those fundamental principles of belief I before reckoned, as is necessary to salvation.

And therefore Tertullian calls the creed, "the rule of faith, by whose guidance, whatever appears ambiguous or obscure in Scripture may be investigated and explained." "The seal of the heart, and the oath of our warfare," St. Ambrose calls it: "The comprehension and perfection of our faith," as it is called by St. Austin, Serm. 115: "The confession, declaration, and rule of faith," generally by the ancients. The profession of this creed was the exposition of that saying of St. Peter, "The answer of a good conscience toward God:" for of the profession and recitation of this creed in baptism is it that Teitullian says, "The soul is not consecrated by the water, but by the truth professed." And of this was the prayer of Hilary, "Regard this expression of my conscience, that I may always hold fast the profession which I made by baptism, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, in token of my regeneration." And according to the rule and reason of this discourse, (that it may appear that the creed hath in it all articles primo et per se, primely and universally necessary,) the creed is just such an explication of that faith which the apostles preached, viz. the creed which St. Paul recites, as contains in it all those things which entitle Christ to us in the capacities of our Lawgiver and our Saviour, such as enable him to the great work of redemption, according to the predictions concerning him, and such as engage and encourage our services. For, taking out the article of Christ's descent into hell, (which was not in the old creed, as appears in some of [64/65] the copies I before referred to, in Tertullian, Ruffinus, and Irenaeus; and, indeed, was omitted in all the confessions of the eastern Churches, in the Church of Rome, and in the Nicene Creed, which, by adoption, came to be the creed of the catholic Church,) all other articles are such as directly constitute the parts and work of our redemption, such as clearly derive the honor to Christ, and enable him with the capacities of our Saviour and Lord. The rest engage our services by proposition of such articles, which are rather promises than propositions; and the whole creed, take it in any of the old foreis, is but an analysis of that which St. Paul calls the word of salvation, whereby we shall be saved; viz. that we confess Jesus to be Lord, and that God raised him from the dead; by the first whereof he became our Lawgiver and, our Guardian; by the second he was our Saviour: the other things are but parts and main actions of those two. Now, what reason there is in the world that can enwrap any thing else within the foundation; that is, in the whole body of articles simply and inseparably necessary, or in the prime original necessity of faith, I cannot possibly imagine. These do the work, and therefore nothing can, upon the true grounds of reason, enlarge the necessity to the inclosure of other articles.

Now, if more were necessary than the articles of the creed, I demand, why was it made the characteristic note of a Christian from a Heretic, or a Jew, or an Infidel? Or to what purpose was it composed? Or, if this was intended as sufficient, did the apostles, or those churches which they founded, know any thing else to be necessary? If they did not, then either nothing more is necessary, (I speak of matters of mere belief,) or they did not know all the will of the Lord, [65/66] and so were unfit dispensers of the mysteries of the kingdom; or if they did know more was necessary, and yet would mot insert it, they did an act of public notice, and consigned it to all ages of the Church, to no purpose, unless to beguile credulous people by making them believe their faith was sufficient, having tried it by that touchstone apostolical, when there was no such matter.

But, if this was sufficient to bring men to heaven then, why not now? If the apostles admitted all to their communion that believed this creed, why shall we exclude any that preserve the same entire? Why is not our faith of these articles of as much efficacy for bringing us to heaven, as it was in the churches apostolical?--who had guides more infallible, that might without error have taught them superstructures enough if they had been necessary. And so they did: but that they did not insert them into the creed, when they might have done it with as much certainty as these articles, makes it clear to my understanding, that other things were not necessary, but these were; that whatever profit and advantages might come from other articles, yet these were sufficient; and however certain persons might accidentally be obliged to believe much more, yet this was the one and only foundation of faith upon which all persons were to build their hopes of heaven; this was therefore necessary to be taught to all, because of necessity to be believed by all. So that although other persons might commit a delinquency in a moral principle, if they did not know, or did not believe, much more because they were obliged to further disquisitions in order to other ends, yet none of these who held the creed entire could perish for want of necessary faith, though possibly he might for supine negligence or [66/67] affected ignorance, or some other fault which had influence upon his opinions and his understanding, he having a new supervening obligation from accidental circum. stances, to know and believe more.

Neither are we obliged to make these articles more particular and minute than the creed. For since the apostles, and indeed our blessed Lord himself, promised heaven to them who believed him to be the Christ that was to come into the world, and that he who believes in him should be partaker of the resurrection and life eternal, he will be as good as his word; yet, because this article was very general, and a complexion, rather than a single proposition, the apostles and others, our fathers in Christ, did make it more explicit; and though they have said no more than what lay entire and ready formed in the bosom of the great article, yet they made their extracts to great purpose and absolute sufficiency, and therefore there needs no more deductions or remoter consequences from the first great article, than the creed of the apostles. For, although whatsoever is certainly deduced from any of these articles, made already so explicit, is as certainly true, and as much to be believed as the article itself, because nothing but what is true can flow from truth, yet, because it is not certain that our deductions from them are certain, and what one calls evident is so obscure to another, that he believes it false; it is the best and only safe course, to rest in that explication the apostles have made; because, if any of these apostolical deductions were nut demonstrable evidently to follow from that great article to which salvation is promised, yet the authority of them who compiled the symbol, the plain, description of the articles from the words of Scripture, the evidence of reason demonstrating these to be the [67/68] whole foundation, are sufficient upon great grounds of reason to ascertain us; but if we go farther, besides the easiness of being deceived, we relying upon our own discourses, (which though they may be true, and then bind us to follow them, but yet no more than when they only seem truest,) yet they cannot make the thing certain to another, much less necessary in itself. And since God would not bind us, upon pain of sin and punishment, to make deductions ourselves, much less would he bind us to follow another man's logic as an article of our faith; I say much less another man's, for our own integrity (for we will certainly he true to ourselves, and do our own business heartily) is as fit and proper to be employed as another man's ability. He cannot secure me that his ability is absolute and the greatest, but I can be more certain that my own purposes and fidelity to myself is such. And since it is necessary to rest somewhere, lest we should run to an infinity, it is hest to rest there where the apostles and the churches apostolical rested; when not only they who are able to judge, but others who are not, are equally ascertained of the certainty and of the sufficiency of that explication.

This I say, not that I believe it unlawful or unsafe for the Church, or any of the ecclesiastical rulers, or any wise man, to extend his own creed to any thing which may certainly follow from any one of the articles; but I say, that no such deduction is fit to be pressed on others as an article of faith; and that every deduction which is so made, unless it be such a thing as is at first evident to all, is but sufficient to make a human faith, nor can it amount to a divine, much less can be obligatory to bind a person of a differing persuasion to subscribe under pain of losing his faith, or being a heretic. [68/69] For it is a demonstration that nothing can be necessary to be believed under pain of damnation, but such propositions of which it is certain that God hath spoken and taught them to us, and of which it is certain that this is their sense and purpose: for if the sense be uncertain, we can no more be obliged to believe it in a certain sense, than we are to believe it at all, if it were not certain that God delivered it. But if it be only certain that God spake it, and not certain to what sense, our faith of it is to be as indeterminate as its sense; and it can be no other in the nature of the thing, nor is' it consonant to God's justice to believe of him that he can or will require more. And this is of the nature of those propositions which Aristotle calls Binus, to which, without any further probation, all wise men will give assent at its first publication. And therefore deductions inevident, from the evident and plain letter of faith, are as great recessions from the obligation, as they are from the simplicity and certainty of the article. And this I also affirm, although the church of any one denomination, or represented in a council, shall make the deduction or declaration. For unless Christ had promised his Spirit to protect every particular church from all errors less material; unless he had promised an absolute, universal infallibility even in the most trifling matters; unless superstructures be of the same necessity with the foundation, and that God's Spirit doth not only preserve his Church, in the being of a church, but in a certainty of not saying any thing that is less certain; (and that whether they will or no, too;) we may be bound to peace and obedience, to silence and to charity, but have not a new article of faith made: and a new proposition, though consequent (as it is said) from an article of faith, becomes not therefore a part of the faith, nor of [69/70] absolute necessity. "What did the Church ever aim at doing by the decrees of her councils, but to make what was believed before believed afterward more firmly?" said Vicentius Lirinensis: whatsoever was of necessary belief before is so still, and hath a new degree added, by reason of a new light or a clear explication; but no propositions can be adopted into the foundation. The Church hath power to intend our faith, but not to extend it; to make our belief more evident, but not more large and comprehensive. For Christ and his apostles concealed nothing that was necessary to the integrity of Christian faith, or salvation of our souls: Christ declared all the will of his Father, and the apostles were stewards and dispensers of the same mysteries, and were faithful in all the house, and therefore concealed nothing, but taught the whole doctrine of Christ; so they said themselves. And, indeed, if they did not teach all the doctrine of faith, an angel or a man might have taught us other things than what they taught, without deserving an anathema, but not without deserving a blessing for making up that faith entire,which the apostles left imperfect. Now, if they taught all the whole body of faith, either the Church, in the following ages, lost part of the faith, (and then where was their infallibility, and the effect of those glorious promises to which she pretends, and hath certain title?--for she may as well introduce a falsehood as lose a truth, it being as much promised to her that the Holt Ghost shall lead her into all truth, as that she shall be preserved from all errors, as appears, John xvi. 13,) or if she retained all the faith which Christ and his apostles consigned and taught, then no age can, by declaring any point, make that to be an article of faith, which was not so in all ages of Christianity before such declaration. And, indeed, if [70/71] the Church, by declaring an article, can make that to be necessary which before was not necessary, I do not see how it can stand with the charity of the Church so to do, (especially after so long experience she hath had, that all men will not believe every such decision or explication,) for by so doing, she makes the narrow way to heaven narrower, and chalks out one path more to the devil than he had before, and yet the way was broad enough when it was at the narrowest. For before, differing persons might be saved in diversity of persuasions; and now, after this declaration, if they cannot, there is no other alteration made, but that some shall be damned, who before, even in the same disposition s and belief, should have been beatified persons. For, therefore, it is well for the fathers of the primitive Church that their errors were not discovered; for if they had been contested, (for that would have been called discovery enough,) either they must have relinquished their errors, or been expelled from the Church. But it is better as it was; they went to heaven by that good fortune, whereas, otherwise they might have gone to the devil. And yet there were some errors, particularly that of St. Cyprian, that was discovered, and he went to heaven, it is thought; possibly they might so too for all this pretence. But suppose it true, yet whether that declaration of an article of which with safety we either might have doubted or been ignorant, do more good than the damning of those many souls occasionally, but yet certainly and foreknowingly, does hurt, I leave it to all wise and good men to determine. And yet, besides this, it cannot enter into my thoughts, that it can possibly consist with God's goodness, to put it into the power of man so palpably and openly to alter the paths and inlets to heaven, and to straiten his [71/72] mercies, unless he had furnished these men with an infallible judgment, and an infallible prudence, and a never-failing charity; that they should never do it but with great necessity, and with great truth, and without ends and human designs, of which I think no arguments can make us certain what the primitive Church hath done in this case: I shall afterward consider and give an account of it, but, for the present, there is no insecurity in ending there where the apostles ended, in building where they built, in resting where they left us, unless the same infallibility which they had, had still continued, which I think I shall hereafter make evident it did not. And therefore those extensions of creed which were made in the first ages of the Church, although for the matter they were most true, yet, because it was not certain that they should he so, and they might have been otherwise, therefore they could not be in the same order of faith, nor in the same degrees of necessity to be believed with the articles apostolical; and, therefore, whether they did well or no in laying the same weight upon them, or whether they did lay the same weight or no, we will afterward consider.

But to return. I consider that a foundation of faith cannot alter; unless a new building be to be made, the foundation is the same still: and this foundation is no other but that which Christ and his apostles laid--which doctrine is like himself, yesterday, and to-day, and the same for ever: so that the articles of necessary belief to all, (which are the only foundation,) they cannot be several in several ages, and to several persons. Nay, the sentence and declaration of the Church cannot lay this foundation, or make any thing of the foundation, because the Church cannot lay her own foundation: we must suppose her to be a building, and that she relies [72/73] upon the foundation, which is therefore supposed to be laid before, because she is built upon it; or (to make it more explicate) because "a cloud may arise from the allegory of building and foundation, it is plainly thus: the Church being a company of men obliged to the duties of faith and obedience, the duty and obligation being of the faculties of will and understanding, to adhere to such an object must presuppose the object made ready for them; for as the object is before the act in order of nature, and therefore not to be produced or increased by the faculty, (which* r is receptive, and cannot be active upon its proper object,): so the object of the Church's faith is, in order of nature, before the Church, or before the act and habit of faith, and therefore cannot be enlarged by the Church, any more than the act of the visive faculty can add visibility to the object. So that, if we have found out what foundation Christ and his apostles did lay--that is, what body and system of articles, simply necessary, they taught and required of us to believe--we need not, we cannot go any further for foundation, we cannot enlarge that system or collection. Now, then, although all that' they said is true, and nothing of it to be doubted or disbelieved, yet as all that they said is neither written nor delivered, (because all was not necessary,) so we know that of those things which are written some things are as far off from the foundation as those things which •were omitted, and therefore, although now accidentally they must be believed by all that know them, yet it is not necessary all should know them; and that all should know them in the same sense and interpretation, is neither probable nor obligatory: but, therefore, since these things are to be distinguished by some differences of necessary and not necessary, whether or no is not the [73/74] declaration of Christ and his apostles, affixing salvation to the belief of some great comprehensive articles, and; the act of the apostles rendering them as explicit as they thought convenient, and consigning that creed, made so explicit, as a tessera of a Christian, as a comprehension of the articles of his belief, as a sufficient disposition, and an express of the faith of a catechumen, in order to baptism,--whether or no, I say, all this be not sufficient probation that these only are of absolute necessity, that this is sufficient for mere belief in order to heaven, and that, therefore, whosoever believes these articles heartily and explicitly, as St. John's expression is, "God dwelleth in him," I leave it to be considered and judged of from the premises: only this, if the old doctors had been made judges in these questions, they would have passed their affirmative: for to instance in one for all, of this it was said by Tertullian: "This symbol is the one sufficient, immoveable, unalterabler and unchangeable rule of faith, that admits no increment or decrement; but if the integrity and unity of this be preserved, in all other things men may take a liberty of enlarging their knowledges and prophesyings, according as they are assisted by the grace of God.”

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