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society, abstractedly. considered, and the establishment of that Church, politically considered, that the sciolists of the present day stand indebted for such a palpable confusion of ideas on this subject. Whether the political establishment of the Church stand or fall, the Church itself, so long as God shall think fit to preserve it in any country, will remain, as to its conftitution, what it originally was, firm on its own Divine foundation. When those who are now separated from the Church shall be disposed, from conviction, to return into her bosom, the Church, as a tender mother, must with joy receive them, as strayed sheep returning to “ the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls." But in such case, the receives them to a conformity with her doctrine, and a due obedience to her discipline. To receive them on any other plan, would be to attempt to form an uniform society out of heterogeneous and discordant parts; a society, which, on the supposition that it could be brought together, and by whatever political establishment it might be secured, must, from the nature of its composition, necessarily crumble into early diffolution, for want of that principle of unity, which is the cement of the Christian Church, namely, a stedfast continuance “ in the Apostles' doĉtrine and fellow. ship.” Whereas this unity, on which the very existence of the Church, as a divinely-constituted society, depends, according to the loose and genera, lizing notions of some modern interpreters, (with the
view of accommodating the word to those multifa. rious separations from the Church, which they appear interested to support) “ consists . not in the visible union of members in one comntuniły, but in that great unity of the members of Christ's. body, dispersed over all parts of the earth, visibly united to communities of different persuasions."* Now, though we do not take upon ourselves to explain, how the members of Christ's body, the Church, which is described “ as a city that is at unity in itself,” can be visibly united to “ communities of different persuafions," and still remain members of a community united in itself; because we have always regarded the union and division of the same body as conditions impossible, in the nature of things, to co-exist; yet we may be considered as discharging a part of our duty to the reader, in thus furnishing him with a specimen of that confusion of ideas, and misconstruction of meaning, by which so many sincere tho’ unsuspecting Christians are continually led away from the plain unfophisticated language of their bibles, which, if suffered to speak for itself, would rarely fail to preserve them sound members of the Church.
Impressed by a deep and repeated attention to the principles of the present times, and looking almost with an eye of despondency to that destruction of establishments, which such principles, if not timely counteracted, must ultimately effect, I feel myself, as a Minister of the Church, justified in bringing forward to the consideration of every serious and thinking man the important subject of the following work.
* Critical Review, March 1799, on the “ Guide to the Church.”
In this mind, opposing patient investigation, Christian firmness and charity,'to hastiness of decision, to ignorance and flander; I have taken the ground on which a Minister of the Church of England ought to stand; and on which, provided he be not wanting to himself, he may ever stand firm; by defending our Ecclesiastical government on the high ground of Apostolical Institution. The language made use of for the purpose has been that, which I have for the most part
learned from my mother, the Church; a language, which were I, in times like the present, to withhold from fear of giving offence, I should be unworthy the character in which I glory, that of being her dutiful fon. In stating the authority derived from the Apostles to those facred persons to whom the ministry of reconciliation has been committed, my object has been to press on the minds of my readers the importance of the enquiry heretofore suggested by the judicious HOOKER: “ Whether, as we are to believe for ever the articles of Evangelical Doctrine, so the precepts of Discipline we are not in like sort bound for ever to observe?”
It is not, I will venture to say, from an improper prejudice in favour of names and distinctions, nor from a narrow notion that the affairs of Christ's kingdom may not be administered under any government different from that which has been actually estan blished, that my conclusion on this subject has been drawn; but from the settled conviction, that what Divine Wisdom ordains mast, in this as in every other case, be best calculated to promote the object which Divine Goodness has in view. It being therefore, in our judgment at least, a matter capable of demonstration, that the Apostolic constitution of the Church was the provision made, under the Christian dispensation, for the preservation of true religion in the world; for this reason it is, that we look up to the circumstantials of order and government, as they exist in the Episcopal Church of this country, (confidered as a branch of the Catholic Church of Christ) as to means divinely appointed for the purpose of conducing to that important end. And it is to be deeply lamented, that Christians of the present day feem, for the most part, not to be acquainted with the fundamental constitution of the Church, nor sufficiently to have attended to the consequences of rebellion against it, to be duly sensible of its value. It is, however, incumbent on us to remark, what the testimony of almost three centuries has now proved ; that to the Establishment of the Apostolic constitution of the Church in this country, we are, under Providence, indebted for the maintenance of primitive truth among us, affailed as it has been by every mode of attack, and by every diversity of sect. And it is to the possession of this Establishment, provided the
glory. And when it is considered, that that consti: tution of the Christian Church, for which we manifest our reverence, and in defence of which we have ventured to commit ourselves to the public, has been acknowledged even by those who are least disposed to commend it, to “ have been from the beginning favourable to peace and good order, and submiffion to the Sovereign; and never been the occasion of any civil commotion in any country in which it has been once established;"* a principled attachment to such a Church will, it is presumed, by every well-wisher to the community, be regarded as a more fit subject for respect and commendation, than for obloquy and reproach.
But it is said, and the present liberal modeof thinking as it is falsely called) sanctions the idea, that to infift on the Apostolic form, as the only Divine institution of Church government, is to pronounce an uncharitable fentence on all those who do not conform to it; on the ground, that those Christians who are not in the Church, must necessarily be out of it; and as such, unpossessed of a covenanted title to the promises made to the Church by its Divine Head. Now, admitting the consequence in this case, it is certainly a confequence for which the Clergy of the Church of England are not answerable. To be consistent ministers of that Church, they must argue consistently from the premises which that Church has laid down.
* SMITH's “Wealth of Nations,” b. vüi. C. I.