« EdellinenJatka »
REVEREND BRETHREN, 1. When, obediently to the command received from our Lord *, the apostles had begun and pursued their ministry by making converts; still mindful of the solemn charge with which they were commissioned, they prosecuted their work by endeavouring to keep sound in the faith, those converts whom they had made. With a view to the former purpose, they delivered the plain truths of Christianity in their preaching : that they might secure the latter object, they combated errors by their corrective and admonitory writings. Thus the elements of Christian religion, communicated in such manner and in such proportion as their respective audiences were capable of bearing, form the subjects of discourses made by St. Peter and St. Paul, as recorded in the Acts. Against the strong prejudices of Judaizing ; against the multifarious and heterogeneous conceits of philosophising Christians; more particularly against the Docetæ, the Cerinthians, and Nicolaitans, were evidently directed, in greater part, the apostolical epistles.
As the human mind has never ceased to be fertile of invention, through successive periods of the Christian æra have arisen different occasions, which from time to time have called on some of the clergy for mental exertions, superadded to those which they regularly employed in the discharge of congregational and parochial duties. Novel opinions widely diffused were to be met as widely by seasonable confutations, in treatises rather composed for controversy in the world at large, than calculated for the edification of private devotional assemblies. Thence originated many valuable works of the now too much neglected Fathers, who were eminent advocates of our faith in the early centuries : and from the same causes proceeded the noble specimens of erudition, thought, and reasoning, which were produced by equally pious and able divines, in centuries not yet remote from the present.
* St. Matt. 28, 19, 20.
2. Whatever may be the subject under consideration, it is a received axiom that we are not to argue from the misapplication and improper use of any circumstance. On the ground of this maxim, let us proceed to the case of religion. If in its essential nature, in its doctrinal precepts, in its ritual ordinances, a religious system is upon the whole good ; in fairness and in candour no objection can be made to it, although contingently it may have given occasion for some effects confessedly undesirable, but nevertheless extrinsic from its primary design. These remarks are meant as brief answers to persons of a certain communion, who criminate the reformation of religion in the British empire, and charge it with being responsible for that discordance of sentiment, by which Protestants in these dominions are unhappily divided. However such discordance is to be lamented, yet it is not imputable to the Reformation ; for it never was in the view or in the contemplation of our original reformers, that great diversity of religious tenets and of religious worship should exist among reformed Christians in our part of the world. That it does exist, is owing to those who have thought proper to exercise their religious liberty in a manner which
they conceived to be more salutary than adherence to what was intended by the fathers of our English church. The light of reformation in the spiritual world, was like the effulgence of the sun breaking forth from a cloud which had obscured its orb in the physical world. It threw clearness on ways, which, for a long period, had been but dimly discerned ; even the ways by which Christians, with competent guides, might not only proceed, but might see and understand how they proceeded, towards the attainment of truth and salvation. If, in the freedom of their will, some Christians have chosen either to be their own directors, or to adopt guides who would strike into new ways, ways never described nor proposed by our reformers ; the consequences, such as they are, must rest on the persons deviating from the course originally marked out by our Reformation ; and not on our Reformation itself, which never designed such departure.
3. Societies, even of humble condition, prescribe to themselves certain principles on which to act, and certain 'modes by which to proceed. They well know, that unless these preliminaries are settled and recognised for observance by all their members, there could be no security either for general concurrence of sentiment on the outlines of the purpose for which they meet as con. stituted bodies, nor for general uniformity of conduct in transacting the concerns of their respective communities. Following the dictates of ordinary prudence, and guided by the spirit of apostolical instructions, our reformers drew up a rule of faith and worship for the Protestants of this country. The substance of that rule is virtually diffused through the several parts of our Liturgy; the sum of it is systematically arranged and comprised in our articles.
were directed by that sense of the Holy Scriptures, which had been received in the primitive and best days of the Christian æra. It is matter of regret, that deflection from their rule is now carried to the utmost limit which can be admitted consistently with any thing like a religious profession denominating itself Christian. The language and opinions resulting from such decadence cannot escape the observation of the clergy. But it may require some exercise of discretion and judgment to decide on the method in which it may be most proper to notice such language and opinions.
Between the intellectual and material soil, in many respects, there is close analogy.
Quid quæque ferat regio; quid quæque recuset; Nec verò terræ ferre omnes omnia possunt;
will be remarks not less in the consideration of the judicious preacher, than of the experienced husbandman. If every spot of ground will not alike receive, to advantage, every species of grain ; so neither is every audience competent to enter into every subject of divinity. Though by no means on all occasions, yet at seasons by far the more frequent and numerous, you will probably think it most advisable, because most edifying, to oppose error, not by express mention either of the error itself, or of those who maintain it, but by positive and direct assertion of our own doctrines ; by proof of their conformity with Holy Scriptures ; by enforcing observance of them under gospel sanctions. Still, however, though on the one hand you may deem it un. suitable, that your churches should be made places for theological controversy, or that your congregations should be perplexed with subtile enquiries ; yet, on the other hand, neither will your prudence nor your zeal permit you to act with that unaccountable indifference, so marked and reprehensible in the clergy of France, antecedently to the late brutal and sacrilegious revolution. To speak in common phrase, they suffered their cause to be written down, before they put pen to paper. To convey the same remark in terms more ornamental, as men, and as ministers, they allowed their civil and religious existence to stand on the verge of annihilation, before they put forth any of those mental energies, which, if seasonably applied, might have retarded the progress of sceptical faction and of infidel democracy. Not thus supine, for their own perdition, will be the clergy of Great Britain and Ireland. The manifold channels of public communication will not all be left open for the diffusion of wrong opinions. Minds active, enlightened, pious, will avail themselves of all fair and laudable opportunities, by which, to the misconceptions of novelty they may oppose the long received and more just representation of Christian truths; truths, which, if not delivered in express words, are at least collected by unforced and obvious deductions from the books of the New Testament.
* Virg. Geor. i. 53.-ii. 109.
5. When we can apply our attention either to the Holy Scriptures themselves; or to commentaries and books of theology, which in sentiment concur with the explicit * declarations of St. John and St. Paul ; with the strong t confessions of St. Thomas and St. Peter ; with the belief of all the Evangelists and Apostles ; with the practical and devout usage of the earliest Christians, the usage originating in the fullest conviction of our Lord's divinity ; we find employment in the study of such writings to be far more satisfactory than occupation in any pursuit unconnected with religion.
* In St. John, i. 1. - Rom. ix. 5. + St. John, xx, 28.