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TO A LETTER SENT
TO THE REV. DR. SHERLOCK,
RELATING TO HIS SERMON PREACHED BEFORE THE LORD MAYOR, NOVEMBER 5, 1712.* TO WHICH ARE ADDED, SOME OBSERVATIONS ON THE ACCOUNT THE
LORD BISHOP OF BANGOR HAS GIVEN OF HIS INTENDED
ANSWER TO THE REPRESENTATION.
The necessity I am under of doing justice to myself against no less an imputation than having concurred in condemning a doctrine which I have publicly taught, must be my excuse for troubling the world with an affair which is so wholly concerned with persons and so little with things, as not to be worth their attention.
The design of the letter-writer is expressed by himself, and I shall give it in his own words : “ I do not design to examine the grounds of what his lordship has said in his sermon, nor the grounds of what you have said in your sermon preached before the lord-mayor, November 5, 1712. I shall only point out some passages in your sermon, which are conceived to carry as evil a tendency as those positions of his lordship mentioned in the Report of the Committee of which you were a member, and to which Representation you concurred.”
The charge, you see, is merely personal. The inquiry is not whether the bishop and I are both in the right or both in the wrong, but whether I have not taught the same doctrine which I disapproved when taught by his lordship.
The letter-writer may think it an honor to me to have the world told that I agree with the bishop of Bangor ; but the
* See Biographical Memoir, p. xxxix. and Discourse III. p. 294. Vol. iii.
compliment comes attended with such circumstances at present, that I cannot accept it. And I hope his lordship will pardon the necessity I am under of showing that his doctrines and mine are not the same.
My intention is, not to transgress the bounds prescribed by the letter-writer, nor to examine the tendency of his lordship’s doctrine or my own. The appeal is made to the world, and there let it rest until the examination shall be resumed in
proper time and place. The civilities bestowed on me in the letter are so great, that I must be forced to dismiss them once for all with the answer usually made on such occasions—it is much more than I deserve.
The point of agreement between his lordship and me, as stated in the letter, solely regards the authority of the civil magistrate in matters of religion. To enable the reader then to judge between us, it will be proper to show him how this cause comes to be attended with any difficulties. It will be allowed, I suppose, that as the magistrate derives his power from God, and rules over reasonable creatures, it is his proper
business to see that obedience be paid to the dictates of the law of reason with respect to God as well as men, and that offences against them be punished. In this case civil sanctions do not create the original obligation to the law, but are added in aid of the original obligation, the more effectually to secure the subject's obedience; for the law has its primary force from reason and the light of nature; and the civil sanction is designed, not to persuade men of the principles whereof they are already persuaded, but to deter them from acting against the law which they are under, in virtue of the reason and understanding given them by God.
There wants no human law to make murder, rapine, or injuring one another, to be crimes; they would be crimes were there no civil law in the world : all then that the human law in those cases can do, is to declare the original law for the better instruction of the people; and to ascertain the punishment of - transgression in order to guard the virtue.
I would observe to the reader that these moral laws are a part of religion ; they are the main constituent parts of Christian religion, as his lordship informs us, (p. 17. Sermon.) The
laws of Christ "are almost all general appeals to the will of -God, to his nature known by the common reason of mankind, and to the imitation of that nature, which must be our perfection.” From whence it is plain that whoever excludes the magistrate from adding sanctions to the laws of Christ, must exclude him from adding sanctions to the laws of reason and nature.
But to proceed. Were religion in general, as it relates to the worship and service of God, and to the principles and methods by which men hope to obtain his favor, one plain uniform thing, which there was no more reason to dispute about than there is about the law of reason and nature in moral points; it is plain there would be nothing with respect to religion left to the magistrate but to use his power to inforce obedience in matters of religion as well as of morality; and his right to do so would be undeniable.
This could hurt no man's conscience, because conscience cannot be pleaded for the breach of duties plain and indisputable; and it is evidently the magistrate's duty, as he is the vicegerent of God, to maintain the honor of God and religion.
As to the Christian institution particularly, were the church every where what it ought to be, one and the same, teaching the same doctrines which Christ and his Apostles published, and no other; so that Christians had no reason to dispute which were true doctrines and which not; it would be very proper for the magistrate, nay, it would be his duty to add the sanctions of this world to keep the people steadfast to the duty which they acknowleged to be incumbent on them in virtue of the principles and doctrines universally received. For since the laws of Christ are, as his lordship informs us, “ declarations of conditions to be performed in this world,” (p. 17. Sermon,) and do most of them, as I will venture to add, affect the happiness as well of public societies as of private men; how could the magistrate of this world better employ that portion of power intrusted to him than by applying it to those very points to which God has applied the sanctions of the other world? Can he have a better example to follow than that of God himself in using the power intrusted to him by God? or are those points not fit to be promoted by rewards and punishments, to which
God himself has annexed rewards and punishments ? For it ought to be remembered that all rewards and punishments, whether of this world or of the next, operate on the mind in the same way: one may be stronger than the other, and influence more, as it may happen; but still they are rewards and punishments, and operate as such.
But the case in fact is, that the magistrate may possibly misapply his rewards and punishments when he interposes in matters of a religious nature; since many points of mere speculation, or such at least as have no direct influence on practical duties, have by degrees been brought into religion ; and churches have divided on those points. Thus between us and the church of Rome there are many controversies of this sort; about the number and nature of sacraments; about the power of the pope; about auricular confession, penance, and the like. In these points the power of the sword is applied in popish countries to make men believe as the church believes, whether they can or no; that is, not to secure obedience to a plain law, but to force a belief of a doubtful or perhaps a false opinion. And this, it will appear, was the only point before me in the sermon referred to by the letter-writer; as will be easily admitted by those who will call to mind the occasion of it. The 5th of November was the day on which it was preached; and the methods. used by the church of Rome to propagate her opinions were, as they ought to be, in the preacher's view.
Now with regard to the question before us, here lies, as far as I can judge, the true point : so to preserve the authority of the magistrate in matters of religion, as not to set him up 'to be a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart,' or to give him a right to force on men opinions and doctrines which their reason and understanding cannot admit; so to exclude him from meddling in these points, as not to destroy his authority to support true religion and the honor of God in the world.
There may be difficulties in adjusting the exact bounds of the magistrate's power
in these cases ;
but I am no more concerned with them at present than the letter-writer is. I have stated this point only to enable the reader to judge whether the doctrines I have published on this article are consistent with . themselves, or agreeable to the bishop's.
I have been no great writer, and yet in the few things which I have been called on to publish, I have fully declared myself on this argument; and I will show the reader,
1. That in a sermon* published before that of the 5th of: November, and in one published after it,t I have asserted and maintained the magistrate's authority to preserve true religion and the honor of God in the world.
2. That in the 5th of November sermon I did, as the occasion led me, consider how far the magistrate's power extended, in points of opinion and speculation, with respect to the consciences of men; and that I have so asserted his authority as not to subject him and his government to all the extravagant efforts of what men call conscience; so confined it, as not to give him a right to hurt men for mere opinions and speculations in matters of religion.
But that we may not lose sight of the main point, the agreement with the bishop, I shall show his lordship’s opinion from the sense which his words seem to me to carry; not intending hereby to preclude his lordship from any other sense or meaning which he shall think fit to insist on.
And as to the particular passages
of my sermon, confronted with passages from his lordship’s by the letter-writer, they shall be considered in the close of this paper.
The first passage I shall produce out of his lordship's sermon will be found in p. 13. and 14. octavo edition.
It is the same thing, as to rewards and punishments, to carry forward the great end of his kingdom. If any men on. earth have a right to add to the sanctions of his laws; that is, to increase the number or alter the nature of the rewards and punishments of his subjects in matters of conscience or salvation; they are so far kings in his stead, and reign in their own kingdom, and not in his."
This passage has been controverted between the bishop and Dr. Snape ; and it is but fair to consider his lordship’s explication.
* The one preached before the Queen, Jan. 30, 1704. See Vol. iii. p. 258.
+ The one preached before the House of Commons, March 8, 17 14. See Vol. iii. p. 309.