« PreviousContinue »
of Lardner. Indeed, the Episcopalian Clergy are most undesirable defenders of Christianity, because many of the objections of unbelievers are true of their system, though not of the gospel. They have felt this incumbrance, and accordingly have succeeded best when they have kept that system out of sight, and written as much like Dissenters as possible. They are like David in the armour of Saul, oppressed by its weight, and shackled by its trappings; while the peasant boy, in the freedom of honest zeal and truth, easily brings down the giant of infidelity.
66 Were the book of Scripture,” says Robinson, “ like that of Nature, laid open to universal inspection; were all ideas of temporal rewards and punishments removed from the study of it; that would come to pass in the moral world, which has aetually happened in the world of human science; each capacity would find its own object, and take its own quantum. Newtons will find stars without penalties, Miltons will be poets, and Lardners Christians without rewards. Calvins will contemplate the decrees of God, and Baxters will try to assort them with the spontaneous volitions of men : all, like the celestial bodies, will roll on in the quiet majesty of simple proportion, each in his proper sphere shining to the glory of God the Creator. But alas, we have not so learned Christ !”
Both Protestants and Nonconformists are in
consistent, when they abandon the broad principle of religious liberty. What justifies separation from the Church of Rome, but the truth that the Bible alone is the religion of Christians; the Bible to be interpreted by every man for himself? When once the Reformers saddled it with their own interpretations, they abandoned the great cause for which they had struggled, and the only ground on which they could safely and honourably stand, If an authoritative interpretation must be coupled with it, who would not prefer that of Rome to that of England or Geneva, antiquity to novelty, splendour to poverty, and the fellowship of nations to that of provinces? In like manner, when Dissenters make and impose creeds, we may ask, Why seek ye“ to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear ?” You claim the right of private judgment; allow it then, there, where only you can allow, or prohibit, within your churches. Be not more strenuous for opinions, than for charity and liberty. If their sacrifice be demanded, it is more likely to be on the altar of error than on that of truth. Ye are brethren; “ see that ye fall not out by the way;" prefer the uniformity of love to that of faith, and the diversity of opinions to that of feelings and hearts. It is only thus that a fair reply can be given to the taunts of the enemies of religious liberty. The Catholics have always said to the Protes
tants, “ You deny the authority of our Church,
you subscribe and submit.” And these again say ge
to the congregations, “ You will not own the
they should hold certain doctrines, on peril of hati expulsion.” Where, then, is the difference? This lity'
ean never be repelled but by all churches having
of all to its interpretation. Is,
Charity,” and not faith, " is the bond of perfectness” in Christian Churches. It is melancholy th to recollect what excellent men,
6 of whom the world was not worthy,” have been kept out, or turned out, of the communion, not only of the Established, but of Dissenting Churches, by the use of creeds, to the destruction of liberty. How many of them would never have admitted, or would promptly have expelled, such men as Watts or Doddridge, Lardner, Lindsey, Baxter or Robinson! Our great and good and glorious Milton, the man of whom England has most reason to be proud, was thrust back from that station in her Church which he wished to occupy, and would have adorned so splendidly. In his “ Reason of Church Government urged against Prelaty,” he
: rig whe
adverts to this fact, as a motive to his exertions in the work of Reformation. “Were it the meanest under-service, if God, by his secretary conscience, enjoin it, it were sad for me if I should draw back; for me especially, now when all men offer their aid to help, ease and lighten the difficult labours of the Church, to whose service, by the intentions of my parents and friends, I was destined of child, and in mine own resolutions, till coming to some maturity of years, and perceiving what tyranny had invaded the Church, and that he who would take orders must subscribe slave, and take an oath withal; which, unless he took with a conscience that would retch, he must either strait perjure or split his faith ; I thought it better to prefer a blameless silence, before the sacred office of speaking, bought and begun with servitude and forswearing. Howsoever, thus church-outed by the prelates, hence may appear the right I have to meddle with these matters.”
This exclusive spirit is unwarranted, disgraceful, and pernicious. The rejection of a sincere Christian from Christian fellowship has no foundation in Scripture authority, or primitive example. It degrades a Christian Church into a club of bigots. Were it once destroyed, sectarianism would expire. The hostile names, derived from leaders, or peculiar doctrines, would be disused, or at least would no longer describe churches, which would be only Christian. Much would be lost to the cause of a party; but more would be gained for the cause of truth, peace, and charity.
In renouncing an intolerant system, let us not be uncharitable towards the many excellent persons, both Churchmen and Dissenters, by whom that system is honestly and piously supported, as a necessary protection for pure religion. We spend upon that all our hostility; and leave for them only the hearty affection of countrymen, Christians, and brethren. Especially let us render the well-merited tribute of praise to those illustrious Nonconformists, who, whatever may have been their failings, were the sincere friends and bold champions of religious liberty; for it must not be forgotten that the real principle of Nonconformity is that of the right of private judgment, of universal religious liberty; and the cause of the one has generally been that of the other also. From Nonconformity has sprung Unitarianism, with which religious liberty is essentially connected; which rapidly follows, or produces that liberty, and may therefore be called “the truth, ” which “ shall make you free.” The secession of the two thousand was a glorious protest against spiritual domination. As religious liberty is our noblest heritage, those who have vindicated it are our best benefactors; and amongst these, the English Nonconformists hold a proud pre-emi
Their minds were powerful and enlightened ; their devotion fervent; their sacrifices great