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read with applauding avidity by many, and was never censured, as it ought to have been, by the heads of the University; though it abounds with such maxims and reasonings, as ought to be reprobated as nuisances in every free country, or where there is the least regard for truth and integrity. For your instruction, gentlemen, I shall animadvert upon a few passages in that performance, and especially on those in which the author defends your subscription to the Thirtynine Articles of the Church of England, at the time of matriculation; a thing so manifestly absurd, that the very mention of it is sufficient to expose it.
“To make an oral profession, amounts," he says, "to the same thing with setting our hands to a paper which contains it. But who, from the beginning, was ever admitted into the Christian church without first having made such a profession?"*
But, he is greatly mistaken, if he imagine that any persons were admitted to the profession of Christianity, in the primitive ages, without allowing time to be instructed in the principles of it, and without giving some evidence that they saw reason for making the profession. Supposing that any person had come to an apostle and said, "I hear you teach a religion which is called the Christian. I am entirely ignorant of it, or of the reasons by which it is supported; but if you will please to baptize me, I may learn these particulars afterwards." Do you think that any apostle would have baptized such a person? Did not the Christian church, in the early ages, always keep persons a considerable time in the class of catechumens, in which they were regularly instructed in the principles of Christianity, before they were admitted to baptism.
Now, is any thing like this done at your universities? Do the persons who admit students, and receive their subscriptions, tell them that, before they can be admitted to the privileges of the place, they must signify their assent to a certain number of articles of faith, and that it behoves them to consider whether they can admit them or not? Do they give you proper time for this consideration, and refuse to receive your subscriptions unless you can give an account of the articles to be subscribed, and of your reasons for assenting to them? Indeed, I fear that the conduct of the heads of your universities is very different from that of any ministers in the Christian church for a long period of time.
* Letter, p, 25. (P.)
This young gentleman makes another objection to the abolition of subscription which I should never have thought of, when he says, "I cannot renounce Paganism and embrace Christianity, might a Heathen have said; for though I now think the former to be false, and the latter to be true, I will not pretend to say when my creed will be fixed: I may, on farther examination, think exactly the reverse."* With this, those who receive a man's present confession of faith have nothing to do. The apostles did not refuse to admit a person to baptism because he might afterwards apostatize, though they knew this to be a possible case, because it often happened. happened. When you subscribe your Thirty-nine Articles, you do not, I imagine, engage never to think otherwise. This would be curious indeed. However, not having been educated in your universities, I may be ignorant of their constitution; and if this be the case, it is an objection to your subscriptions with which I was not acquainted.
Another sentiment in his letter is even more extraordinary than would be the practice of subscribing for life; as it implies a degree of obsequiousness and abjectness of mind, at which I should have thought that the spirit of any man, and especially that of a young man, and an Englishman, must have revolted. "If," says he, "the compilers were mistaken in an article, it is incumbent on our governors, when convinced of such mistake, to alter or expunge that article."† Nothing, then, it seems, is incumbent on yourselves. You must receive whatever your governors are pleased to prescribe; and should they think proper to give you the articles of a Popish, a Presbyterian, or a Mahometan creed, you have nothing to do but to sign them. You do not even claim the
* Letter, p. 6. (P.) With reference to the sneer on Dr. Priestley's creed not being fixed, (see supra, p. 414,) upon which "Dr. Horne runs divisions without end," Mr. Lindsey has the following remarks:
"In the sense in which Dr. Priestley declares this, you will find that good man, Archbishop Tillotson, agreeing with him, as will also every person of good sense and calm reflection, and that is under no wrong bias. For that worthy prelate, in his funeral sermon for Dr. Whichcot, having mentioned it as customary with learned men, at a certain age, 'to make their understandings,' as he expresses it, and to fix and settle their judgments on important points, from which they were not to recede,' he commends his deceased friend, that he was so wise as to be willing to learn to the last; i. e. he had never any fixed creed." Vind. Priestl. pp. 77, 78. See Mem. of Lindsey, p. 199.
Of Luther's three requisites for a Christian minister, the last was to be always a learner. “Tria verbi ministro facienda, evolvere biblia, orare serio, et semper discipulum manere." See Melch. Adam, quoted in Robinson's Claude, 1779, p. 22. + Letter, p. 27. (P.)
liberty of expostulating with your governors. Every thing they do must be from their own motion.
The same servile disposition appears in another passage of his letter: "You exhort us to associate and pray relief from subscription to the articles of the Church of England. Why? That we may be free to change as you have changed. But, Sir, we desire not to do so." That is, he does not wish to have the power of changing, not even of getting right, if he were ever so far wrong. Here he discovers plain marks of the chain, which the wolf discovered on the neck of the wellfed dog in the fable, and of its having been worn a considerable time. Let me range at large, and have, at least, the power of going where I please, though I may sometimes go where I should not. For the same reason for which this Under-graduate contemptuously rejects his religious liberty, he would, no doubt, reject civil liberty also; and I suppose he would be equally proud of both his chains.
What he farther says on the subject of authority, (which has no meaning at all, if it do not mean authority in matters of religion, or receiving a creed imposed by others,) is in the highest degree disgraceful in any place of liberal education, which ought to be devoted to inquiry after truth, and the use of our reason and best judgment in the inquiry. "You are an enemy," he says, " to authority; but when all is said, in many instances it must take place. Some things we must at first receive on the authority of our parents, others on that of our tutors, and others on that of our governors, ecclesiastical and civil. In all, or any of these, it is possible we may afterwards discover, or think we discover, errors."† Indeed, gentlemen, if errors should not be found, or, which is the same thing with respect to ourselves, be supposed to be found, in a creed consisting of thirty-nine complex articles, composed above two hundred years ago, in the very dawn of the reformation from Popery, by persons who now exercise their own reason on the subject, it would be very extraordinary indeed. But of these acknowledged errors, and the consequence of requiring a subscription to them, this Undergraduate makes very light.
"We pity," he adds, "with all our hearts, the poor old gentleman of sixty, who lamented with so many tears to you, his confessor, (having, perhaps, unfortunately first taken you for his tutor,) that he had subscribed to the doc
* Letter, p. 25. (P.
↑ Ibid. p. 28. (P.)
trine of the Trinity and the incarnation of the Son of God. Inconveniences may follow in every possible case; but of inconveniences we must choose the least; and it is better that a few individuals suffer temporal loss, than that the church should profess no faith, through fear of professing a false one. All this, you cannot deny, might have been said, and even with more plausibility than at present, before the Reformation. The adversaries of Luther might have said to him, "We must have a creed, and this creed may contain errors. But it is better that it should be so, than that we should have no creed at all; and as to those who cannot subscribe to it, let them leave the church, and the emoluments of it, to those who can." But who, then, gentlemen, would be left in it? Not the inquisitive, or the conscientious, but as many of the unthinking, the dishonest, and unbelievers, as could get into it; and when once you have admitted such characters as these, you have no means of getting them out. They will promise and subscribe any thing.
The maxim that "authority once established must be submitted to," which is shamelessly avowed by Dr. Balguy,† is wonderfully convenient for this writer's purpose. It may be compared to a coat that equally suits heat or cold, wet or dry, and will carry you through the world; for, go where you will, among Papists, Mahometans, or Pagans, you will find authority; and to this, of whatever kind it be, and in what manner soever it has been established, this tame Undergraduate will make no difficulty of submitting.
I cannot sufficiently express my indignation at such profligate maxims; and I must say, that the seminaries in which they are taught are nothing less than nuisances in a free country. But I trust there is a prospect of better things even in Oxford. This Under-graduate, however, I perceive, has no idea of any other Christian churches than such as are framed on such maxims as these. "As to a church without
⚫ Letter, p. 28. (P.)
+ In his "Sermon on Church-Authority, preached at Lambeth Chapel, [1768,] and published by order of the Archbishop." "Dr. Balguy's Positions," are examined in Sect. ix. of Dr. Priestley's "Essay on the First Principles of Government,"
"Dr. Balguy," says Archdeacon Blackburne, "speaks of the folly of going to the Scriptures for what is not to be found in them;' meaning, the foundation of church-authority, or, in other words, of national establishments. The consequence is, that those national establishments will bid the fairest for permanency, which have their greatest supports from human power, aud the least countenance from the Scriptures. But, then, these are the establishments against which the cries of the Christian reformer are the loudest. Ergo, the Christian reformer is a wronghead, the whitewasher of a Negro." Confessional, Ed. 3, 1770, Advertisement, pp. ix. x.
any confession," he says, "which should receive into its bosom all the different sects and discordant opinions now roaming about the world, we have no conception of such a church; nor, if such a one could be framed, or when framed, subsist for a twelvemonth, do we desire to be members of it!"*
In this case, then, he would not have been a member of the church that was established by the apostles; for they required nothing besides faith in the divine mission of Christ, as the term of communion with them; and this is the only article of faith that is properly essential to Christianity. This is the maxim of Unitarian churches, which have subsisted many twelvemonths, and which, I doubt not, will subsist when the Church of England, as by law established, shall be forgotten.
So much more liberal are even the modern Catholics than this Under-graduate of Oxford, that I lately heard a most respectable priest of that communion say, that he would have nothing in any public liturgy, or confession of faith, but what all Christians, in all ages, and at all times, could agree in. Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus, was his language; which I am informed was also that of the excellent Hales of Eton, a member of the Church of England. Where, Sirs, must this Under-graduate have lived to have got so contracted and so dark a mind; when the sunshine of liberality has reached even the Church of Rome? Must it be said, that the very last footsteps of bigotry shall be in Oxford?
Before he can be authorized to pronounce, as he now takes upon himself to do, what may, and what may not exist, and exist with advantage, in the world at large, he must look beyond the precincts of your University. man who has never seen or heard of any animals besides those of England, would say, that the elephant and rhinoceros were mere chimeras.
Go upon the Continent, and you will see what you cannot in England, many Catholic and many Protestant states admitting to offices of the highest trust and power, persons of all religions indiscriminately. And go to North America, you will see a large country, of greater extent than the whole of Europe, in many parts of which there is a strong, general sense of religion, without the civil establishment of any particular mode of it; and yet the people live at peace, and
* Letter, p. 27. (P.)