« EdellinenJatka »
opposition to government. "If our Jerusalem," he says, "were at unity with herself, if her inhabitants all spake the same thing, if there were no divisions among them, &c., the general interest of Christianity would daily be improved."
Now it requires but little discernment, and a little knowledge of history and of the world, to see that the reverse of this must be true. The Catholics might with the same reason say of their church what Dr. Croft does of the Church of England, and might exclaim against the Reformers in general, as much as he does against the Dissenters of this country. But is not the state of the Catholic Church much improved since the Reformation? And is it not equally evident that the clergy of the Church of England are much more learned, and more exemplary in their conduct, in consequence of there being Dissenters, and those not despicable? Is not an useful emulation excited by this means? What learned works are produced by the divines of Sweden and Denmark, where there are no Dissenters ? †
Sectaries, no doubt, give the divines of the establishment some trouble, as we see in the present controversy; but the Dean of Canterbury allows that the discipline is not without Does not the opposition they meet with make them give greater attention to their principles; and if they be well founded, will they not stand the firmer in consequence of it? It is nothing but error that can finally suffer by discussion. Truth ever seeks the light, and challenges investigation.
Dr. Croft himself when, in his last sermon, he has worked himself up to some degree of courage, appears to entertain no doubt with respect to the issue of any contest, and I dare say, smiles at my grains of gun-powder. "The attempts to
* Sermons, p. 169. (P.)
+ Algernon Sydney, after his public " employment in Denmark and Sweden," thus speaks of their priests in a letter "to his father, Robert Earl of Leicester," dated Sept. 8, 1660:
"In all the countryes that I haue passed through, they are the most ignorant people that euer I met with of that profession, excepting that most of them speake a littell Latine. The most eminent men amongst them, learne to understand English; their libraryes are full of Baxter, Burroughes, and other English Puritane sermon books, and out of them they preach. I was acquainted with one Brokman, in Denmark, who had bin in England; he hath all the books of that kind, that I think haue comme out theis twenty yeares; knowes nothing but what he learnes by rote out of them, and by theire help is grown soe eminent, that about tow moneths since, he was promoted to the best bishoprick in Denmark, next to that of Roskyld." See the Sydney Papers.
In the same letter is the following testimony to the impolicy of an enforced uniformity. "Lubeck decayes dayly, which is by all men attributed to theire stiffejesse in matters of religion, in admitting none to liue amongst them but Lutherans."
overturn our establishment," he says, " have met with no success equal to the sanguine expectations of our adversaries. The numbers of the discontented bear no proportion to the whole ecclesiastic body, many of whom search the Scriptures, peruse the fathers, and consult every source of information with unremitting zeal and industry. The spirit of inquiry ought not to be restrained by human laws, and to that spirit alone we wish to be indebted for the permanence of our church."*
This is the language of courage, and of generosity; but this paragraph is by no means in unison with many other parts of the sermons. In some of them he almost adopts the language of despair. "We are surrounded," he says, "by so numerous an host of adversaries, that we must be cautious how we put on our spiritual armour, and lest we expose to danger the walls of our defenced city. All our vigilance will be scarce sufficient for the conflict." The prayer that follows is that of men who find themselves reduced to the last extremity: "May He who teacheth man knowledge, and giveth strength for the battle, support and assist us! May he give a blessing to the weakest and most imperfect endeavours, and may zeal and sincerity compensate for the weakness of our performances;" that is, may God give to our weak arguments all the effect of strong ones, which I suppose he expects from the infatuation of their opposers. This diffidence, you observe, is expressed in the very opening of his first discourse. And in the course of his work he drops several hints of the propriety of a little human, as well as divine aid. He mentions" a just extent of power," the use of which prudence alone restrains, and that we "should have no reason to complain if we were restrained by the civil magistrate from expressing our sentiments on certain subjects.'
Though one of his texts is Luke xii. 57, " Yea, and why, even of yourselves, judge ye not what is right?" he says, the "principle which has given a sanction to all the wildness and extravagance of enthusiasts and sectaries is this, whatever right any body of men claim to separate from a church once established, the same right every individual may claim to form a system of doctrines and opinions for himself;"§ and also," it was an absurdity reserved for modern days, to imagine that every man was qualified, and authorized, to
Sermons, p. 195. (P.)
↑ Ibid. p. 2. (P.)
frame a system of belief for himself."* Now does not his text sufficiently authorize any man to do this, and did not Luther act upon that authority? Did not Calvin form a system of belief for himself, before any state adopted it?
Dr. Croft speaks with particular caution on the doctrine of the Trinity, and considers all attempts to explain it as one of the abuses of reason. "That every person," he says, "in the ever-blessed Trinity is God, and Lord, no one denies, who believes in the Trinity; but to speak of them collectively, as three Gods and three Lords, has an air of polytheism." But surely it would be no abuse of reason, but a capital use of it, to shew that this is nothing more than an air of polytheism, and not the reality. For, after saying that the Father is God, the Son equally God, and the Holy Ghost God also, it is very natural to count them up, and say that then there must be three Gods, since 1+1+1=3. It must certainly be a very laudable use of reason to extricate men from this great difficulty respecting revelation.
It is always deemed a great advantage to be able to devise familiar illustrations of abstract propositions. Few of them can be proved to satisfaction that are incapable of it. had this doctrine been likely to receive any advantage from attempts to explain it, it can hardly be doubted but that Dr. Croft would have recommended, rather than have discouraged them.
This writer enumerates several other abuses of reason; but if you consider them all, you will find that they agree in this one circumstance, viz. that the discussion of the articles he specifies would probably be attended with some inconvenience to the established system.
He says, "Nor can we forbear wondering that, after the Defensio Fidei Nicana, published by an eminent prelate, and after a late abstract of the opinions of the fathers of the three first centuries, the author of which received from this place a just tribute of gratitude, the unlearned should be told that the divinity of the Son and Holy Ghost was a doctrine of a later date." +
In my turn, I may be allowed to express my surprise, that any person, who has given the least attention to the present controversy, should hold this language. I allow all that Bishop Bull and Dr. Burgh ascribe to the fathers of the second and third century; I allow that they held the doctrine of the divinity of the Son, at least; but it was in a Ibid. p. 78. (P.)
Sermons, p. 76. (P.) ↑ Ibid. p. 126. (P.)
qualified sense, and by no means the same that was maintained after the Council of Nice. I have also distinctly shewn whence the notion of these fathers was borrowed; but what I maintain, and by evidence drawn from their own writings, is, that while the learned Christians were Trinitarians, the common people, who had no knowledge of Platonism, were simply Unitarians; and that therefore the probability is, that such was the faith of the apostles. Let Dr. Croft, or any future Bampton Lecturer, examine and refute my arguments if he can. In my opinion they cannot choose a more important, or a more seasonable topic. What signifies thundering from a distant bastion, when the enemy is breaking open a gate, where the artillery cannot reach him? Let the most strenuous efforts be made where the danger is most pressing.
I observe that one of the subjects particularly specified by Mr. Bampton is, "the authority of the writings of the primitive fathers, as to the faith and practice of the primitive church." Let the heads of colleges, then, (who, I find, have the nomination of the preacher,) appoint a person the most eminent for his acquaintance with ecclesiastical history; and let him be directed to prove, in opposition to what I have advanced, in my "History of Early Opinions concerning Christ," that the great body of unlearned Christians in the primitive times were Trinitarians. You have every advantage for these researches at Oxford, whereas we, who are not permitted to study at either of your Universities, can only be said to gather the crumbs that fall from your table.
Rejoicing that you enjoy noble advantages for which I have often sighed, and hoping that they will not be lost upon you,
I am, Gentlemen,
Your sincere well-wisher,
P.S. I shall take this opportunity of acknowledging mistake I made in my former Letters; having been since informed that, at Cambridge, the Thirty-nine Articles are not subscribed at matriculation, but only on admission to the degree of Master of Arts; though the students there are obliged to attend the service of the Church of England from the first, and to declare that they are bona fide members of it when they commence Bachelors. I hope that the attempt which the members of that University are now  making to relieve themselves still more, will be attended with success.