« EdellinenJatka »
good men, made so necessary. He heartily wished and prayed for a greater union among protestants; and longed for the happy time, when, to use his own words, "The question would be, not how much may we lawfully impose, and how much may we lawfully dispute? but on the one side, what may we wave, and on the other, what may we acquiesce in? from a principle of mutual tenderness and respect, without displeasing our common Lord, and injuring that great cause of original christianity, which he hath appointed us to guard." Having mentioned to one of his friends a candid letter he had received from a bishop, he adds, "O that God would open a way to a stricter union among protestants of every denomination! But the darkness of our minds, the narrowness of our hearts, and our attachment to private interest make it, I fear, in a great measure, impracticable." "I greatly rejoice," saith he on another occasion," when I see in those, whom upon other accounts I most highly esteem, as the excellent of the earth, that their prejudices against their brethren of any denomination are subdued, as mine against the writers of the establishment early were, and that we are coming nearer to the harmony, in which I hope we shall ever be one in Christ Jesus."
One of his correspondents had informed him of a report spread in London, in 1750, that he was about to conform to the church of England, to which he thus answereth; "Assure those, who may have heard of the report, that though my growing acquaintance with many excellent persons, some of them of great eminence, in the establishment increases those candid, respectful sentiments of that body of christians, which I had long entertained; yet I am so thorougly persuaded of the reasonableness of nonconformity, and find many of the terms of ministerial conformity so contrary to the dictates of my conscience in the sight of God, that I never was less inclined to submit to them; and hope I shall not be willing to buy my liberty or my life at that price. But I think it my duty to do my part towards promoting that mutual peace and good will, which I think more likely than any thing else, either to reform the church, or at least to promote true christianity, both in the establishment and separation; to strengthen the protestant cause, and defeat the designs of our common enemies. And, conscious that I speak and act from these principles, and that I am approved of God in it, I do not fear the resentments of any narrow-spirited persons. I would not be a knight-errant in the cause of candour itself; nor would I so fear the imputation of mean and unworthy de
signs, as to be deterred, by the apprehension of it, from what is in itself right. For at that rate, from what may we not be deterred? I am much more solicitous to deserve well of the public, than about the returns I may meet with for doing it."
But his catholic sentiments on this head will more fully ap pear from a passage in his preface to Archbishop Leighton's expository works, which I think must give great pleasure to every benevolent mind. "It is truly my grief, that any thing should divide me from the fullest communion with those, to whom I am united in the bonds of as tender affection as I bear to any of my fellow-christians. And it is my daily prayer, that God would, by his gentle but powerful influence on our minds, mutually dispose us more and more for such an union, as may most effectually consolidate the protestant cause, establish the throne of our gracious sovereign, remove the scandal our divisions have occasioned, and strengthen our hands in those efforts, by which we are attempting, and might then I hope more successfully attempt the service of our common christianity. In the mean time, I desire most heartily to bless God for any advances that are made towards it:" He illustrates and confirms his thoughts and hopes on this head, by the words of a familiar letter he had received, from a worthy member of the church of England, well known in the learned world. "I am glad, saith his correspondent, that christianity begins so well to be understood and taught by so many men of parts and learning in all sects; the fruits of which appear in a candour and charity, unknown to all ages of the church, except the primitive, I had almost said, the apostolic age. Doth not this give you a prospect, though perhaps still very distant, of the completion of the famous prophecy, that speaks of the lion and the lamb lying down together in the kingdom of the Messiah? Lions there have been in all churches; but too many fierce, greedy and bloodthirsty lions, though often disguised like lambs; and some lambs there have been simple enough, to think it expedient for the flock to assume the habit and terror of lions. But I hope they now begin to undeceive themselves, and to consider christianity, as intended to bring back the world to that state of innocence, which it enjoyed before the fall. To attain this happy state, all christians should unite their amiable endeavours: And instead of looking out for, and insisting upon, points of difference and distinction, seek for those only, in which they do or may agree. They may at least sow the seeds of peace and unity, though they should not live to reap
the fruit of it in this world. Blessed are the peace-makers, saith the Prince of peace, for they shall be called the children of God: An appellation infinitely more honourable than that of pastor, bishop, archbishop, patriarch, cardinal or pope; and attended with a recompence infinitely surpassing the richest revenues of the highest ecclesiastical dignities." "I join," adds the Doctor, "my hearty wish and prayer with those of my much esteemed friend, that we may all more and more deserve this character, and attain its reward."
I am persuaded, that nothing ever appeared, in his lectures, correspondence or private discourse, inconsistent with these sentiments, which he hath publicly avowed; especially in his sermon on christian candour and unanimity. He laboured to promote a like candid and friendly spirit in his pupils. He exhorted them to treat their brethren of the establishment with respect; never to utter any invectives against the constitution or forms of the church of England; and if providence should fix them near humble, peaceable, pious clergymen, to honour and love them, to cultivate a friendship with them, to study to serve them and promote their reputation and interest. These were the advices of the lectureroom: And I have the pleasure to know, that those of his pupils, with whom I am acquainted, have acted upon these catholic instructions, and been remarkable for their candour and moderation, in consequence of the pains he took, by his instructions and example, to instill these virtues into them, and his laying before them the arguments on both sides of contested questions.
Whoever considers how numerous the protestant dissenters in this kingdom are; that they claim a liberty of chusing their own ministers, of judging for themselves of the sense of scripture, and what rites and modes of worship that enjoins; and where there is no particular rule, of determining for themselves what is most subservient to christian edification; whoever considers this, will not wonder that there have been, and are, different sentiments among them; that they are ranged under different denominations, and that there are sometimes divisions and contentions among them. These Dr. Doddridge saw and lamented; and was as careful, as he could be, consistently with keeping a good conscience, to be upon friendly terms with them all, to shew a candid temper to those of a different persuasion, and promote the like in them. "He was very little inclined to contend about technical phrases of human invention, which have, with equal frailty, been idolized by some and anathematized
by others." A rigid spirit, and a stiffness about indifferent things, he very much disliked; especially when attended with uncharitableness. He thought "there was always reason to suspect those persons and principles, that would alienate our hearts from any of the faithful servants of Christ, because they do not agree with our sentiments about the circumstantials of religion; and that christians had great need to be cautious, lest they abuse their liberty to gratify those irregular passions, which, to whatever high original they may pretend, were indeed to be traced no higher than a carnal principle, and to be numbered among the works of the flesh." It grieved him to see impositions upon conscience any where; especially among dissenters, as they were so evidently contrary to their own principles. "Our interest, saith he, hath received great damage by unscriptural impositions and uncharitable contentions with each other."
It appears from what was said above of his behaviour to his pupils, that he thought it unjust in itself, and very injurious to the interest of religion, to be rigorous with young ministers and students about their particular sentiments, and to tye them down to profess their assent to formularies, containing points of a very abstruse or a very doubtful nature: He thought it also foolish in the imposers, as being likely to prejudice them against those points, and drive them into the opposite, and perhaps worse extreme. When therefore the author of "Christianity not founded on Argument" had derided this practice, he left others to defend it, who were chargeable with it, or approved it. It was an inviolable maxim with him, never to condemn his brethren as having forfeited all title to the name of christians, because their creeds or confessions of faith did not come up to the standard of his own; yea, he thought that if it were a matter that seemed of so great importance, as to give some room to suspect, that the mistake was fatal (which surely nothing can be, which does not greatly affect men's temper towards God and each other) even that consideration should engage us to gentleness and tenderness, rather than severity, if peradventure we may remove their prejudices."*
He thought separations in churches very seldom happened, but there were errors and faults on both sides. In some instances of this kind, both parties made their appeal to him; and, upon the most impartial survey of the grounds of the difference, he sometimes saw reason to blame, and therefore often displeased
* Sermon on Candour.
both. In some of those, which came to his knowledge, and which arose from the people's dislike to their ministers, he found them owing to the departure of those ministers, from what their people apprehended the most weighty truths of the gospel; to their want of a more serious spirit, and a due sense of the importance of their work; to their not addressing their hearers in a plain, lively manner; or to their neglecting pastoral inspection, and complying too much with fashionable diversions and follies; and then shewing too warm a resentment, if their people expressed any dissatisfaction on these accounts. In some letters on such occasions, he thus expresseth himself; "The edification and comfort of souls does not depend on those niceties of sentiment and expression, which too often divide wise and good men; but on something common to them all, which, because we forget, we quarrel with one another about other things. It is for want of going so far, as they reasonably might, and in duty ought, even upon their own principles, that so many rash young men ruin their reputation and usefulness and the congregations under their care. I have seen some instances of divisions, which have been owing to the over-bearing temper of some wealthy men, and despising the poorer sort. No pains have been taken, by meekness and condescension, to lessen their prejudices; though some of them are, in other respects, most excellent persons; and their zeal, though carried perhaps to an extreme, ariseth from a deep conviction of the importance of religion and the gospel; while a great deal of what is called charity in others, is either ignorance of religion or indifference to it. I have seen many bigots for liberty, and a remarkable want of candour in some great pretenders to it. I have known some leaders in that cause, which declares most for charity, who have not been very ready to put a charitable construction upon the conduct of those, who were not in the same sentiments; but have imputed their zeal to the love of money or power. The boasted patrons of liberty would have exclaimed, if all the good things they have done were to be charged to some such low motive. We should then have heard much of its being the prerogative of God to judge hearts, and the like. Such reasoning is no less true and applicable in one case, than in the other. What pity is it we should be so inconsistent with ourselves!-I think persons have a right to judge for themselves in the choice of their ministers, and that it is a very unwarrantable infringement of christian liberty to deny that right, or shew any resentment towards those who make use of it; and in protestant dissenters, quite inexcus P