« PreviousContinue »
that conveyance; and therefore
rites we have, as they are not without some hints from Scripture, so we pretend not to become any way acceptable to God by them.
Further, we teach no irrational nor unconceivable doctrine. It is true, there are mysteries in our faith, and even reason itself teacheth that these must be unconceivable; but for all our other persuasions, they are such as may be well made out to the rational faculties of man; therefore we do not betake ourselves to that sanctuary, that we must be believed, assert what we please ; but we assert nothing but what we offer to evince by the clearest proofs. And, in fine, we add nothing to the burthensomeness of the laws of Christ, but teach and propose them as we have them from his Gospel, without adding, changing, or altering a tittle from the first institution.
And so far have I considered the doctrine and worship of our Church : wherein, if I could justify all our practices, as well as I can do our principles, there were no grounds to fear hurt from all the cavils of mortals. But for bad practices, whatsoever matter of regret they may furnish us with, they afford none for separation. Therefore there is no ground that can justify a separation from our Church, much less warrant the turning.over from us to the communion of Rome. And thus far have I pursued my designed enquiry; which was, if with a safe conscience any might adjoin themselves to the Popish religion, or if communion with our Church was to be kept and continued in ; and have found great grounds to assert the evident hazards of the former, so that no man to whom his salvation and welfare is dear, can or ought to join himself to that Church. On the other hand, without renting the body of Christ, none can or ought to depart from our churches. But I leave the perusal and considering of these things to the serious reader, to whom I hope they may give some satisfaction, if he bring with him to the enquiry an attentive, serious, and unbiassed mind. And I leave the success of this, and every other attempt of this nature, for the clearing of divine truth with Him who is the only fountain of blessings, who is over all, God blessed for evermore. Amen.
THE REFORMATION VINDICATED FROM THE CHARGE OF
DISCOURSE CONCERNING THE UNITY OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH MAINTAINED IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND.
WHOSOEVER, with an impartial eye, and a truly religious concern for the honour of God, the credit of the Gospel
, and the salvation of men, looks into the estate of Christendom, he will scarce find any greater cause of sorrowful reflections, than from the many divisions and animosities which have distracted and separated its parts.
These have opened the mouths, and whetted the tongues of professed enemies to reviling invectives and profane scoffs against our blessed Lord himself, and his holy religion, and stifled the first thoughts of admitting the most convincing truths to a debate among Jews, Turks, or Pagans, and stopped their ears against the wisest charms. To no one cause can we more reas
asonably impute the small progress which Christianity hath made in the world for a thousand years past. The same contests have as pernicious influence at home, upon the faith or manners of those within the pale of the Church.
Men are hereby too soon tempted into some degree of scepticism about many material points of Christian doctrine, in which they observe so many to differ among themselves. Others are the more easily seduced to seek and make much of all arguments, whereby to baffle or weaken the clearest evidences for their conviction; and they seldom continue long in the same persuasion with those, with whom they will not maintain the same communion. Thus schisms have generally ended in heresies. As mischievous are the effects of these distractions upon
the manners of Christians. There are many vicious and disorderly passions, such as anger, hatred, revenge, pride, censoriousness,
&c. which take sanctuary therein, and under that shelter put in their claim for the height of Christian graces, and the most holy zeal for God and his cause. Every where they break, or loosen the discipline of the Church, which should guard its children from doing amiss, or restore them after it, when the last and most capital punishment of being thrust out of its communion is likely to be little dreaded, where many voluntarily desert it with the highest pretences of better advantage elsewhere.
Now though this matter of fact, confirmed by woful experience, be a subject too sad for a long meditation, or passionate enlargement, yet it is no more than what might have been foreseen without a spirit of prophecy, to follow from the corrupt nature and depraved estate of mankind not otherwise rectified. Wherefore we must suppose that our ever blessed Saviour, in the foundations of his holy institution, made all needful provision to prevent these fatal miscarriages.
By the sufficient revelation of all fundamental articles of belief; by the as full declaration of all the necessary precepts of good life; by inculcating frequently, and pressing most emphatically those commands concerning love, peace, unity, good order, humility, meekness, patience, &c., directly opposed to those contentions in every page of the New Testament. These it may suffice but to name.
It will soon be granted, after the best provision of rules, and most convincing arguments and motives to strengthen them, that there will be need of some government to encourage all in their performance, to restrain some from offering violence to them, and to provide for many emergencies.
Our blessed Lord and master therefore, for the better security of his truth, and the safer conduct of those which adhere to it, established a society or church in the world, which he purchased with the most inestimable price, dignified with the highest privileges, encouraged with the largest promises, backed with the most ample authority, and will always defend with the strongest guard, against all power or policy on earth, or under the earth, so that, as he hath told us,
“ the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
But now where this Church is to be found, and what are the measures of our obligation to it, hath been a long and great debate, especially between us and the Romanists. In most of their late controversial books they have seemed ready to waive disputes about particular points, in hopes of greater advan
tage, which they promise themselves from this venerable name, and that bold, though most false and presumptuous claim which they lay to the thing itself, even exclusive to all others, which will appear from the true, but short and plain state of the case between us, the chief design of this attempt.
Now that we may not charge them, nor they us falsely or rashly;
I.-It may be convenient, first, to lay down some principles concerning this Church, in which they and we seem mostly agreed, though all our writers express not themselves alike clearly herein.
II.-To propound the chief bands of unity within this Church.
III.-To mark out the most obvious defections from them by the Romanists.
IV.-To shew the reformation in the Church of England proceeded, and was framed with all due regard to the preservation of them.
V.-To clear it of the most common objections.
VI.-To consider the strong obligations from hence upon all sorts of dissenters among us to embrace, and continue in its communion.
I.- The former will soon be despatched, which I reduce to the following particulars.
1. That our blessed Saviour always had, and always will have a Church in the world, in which his doctrine hath been, and shall be so far professed, and his sacraments so effectually administered, that they who rightly improve them, may not want necessary supplies for their present spiritual life, or future hopes of salvation ; though the extent of the Church, as to its boundaries, and the perfection of it in degrees, may be vastly different at one time, and in one place, from another. This, many prophecies in the Old Testament, and promises from our Saviour in the New, give abundant ground for our faith to rely upon, and the experience of all ages hitherto hath confirmed.
2. That this Church is a distinct society within itself, furnished with sufficient authority in some to govern, and obligations in others to be subject, necessary to every society ; which the
power of the keys given by our Lord to receive in, or shut out, and the exercise of discipline from divine precept, and Scripture examples, evince beyond all exception. But then this ecclesiastical power, in whomsoever placed, or strained to
what height soever, can never extend to vacate, or change the express institutions of Christ, or take away our obligation to his revealed truth, and direct commands.
In case of any competition, the Apostle's defence may be ours, “We must obey God rather than men.” And St. Paul's profession, "We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.” And again, “ If we, or an angel from heaven preach any other Gospel, &c., let him be accursed,” Gal. i. 8.
3. This Church must be visible, as every society is more or less, whose parts are so, and whose profession must be so. Our entrance into it is in a visible manner by baptismal initiation. Our obliged communion with it is in divers outward sensible acts, which the representation of it by a body or building might prove. More clearly it is likened to a "city on a hill, which cannot be hid,” Matt. v. 14, set up as the “light of the world,” an ensign to the Gentiles, which all nations should flee unto, or else it would witness against them; wherein its followers should take sanctuary, and find a refuge.
4. Within these boundaries we have the only hopes of safety here, and happiness hereafter. What God may do by his supereminent unaccountable power, in an extraordinary case, is presumption for us but to inquire into. Out of this ark there is no prospect given to us of any escape from the universal deluge.* All the spiritual promises concerning this life or a better, are made to this Church, the member of his body, who is the head. Therefore the Apostles preach to Jews and Gentiles the necessity of receiving this character, “Seeing there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved,” as St. Peter attests, Acts iv. 12.
* S. Cyprian, Ep. 60. p. 143. [1682.] Ed. Qx. Si aliquis ex talibus fuerit apprehensus, non est quod sibi quasi in confessione Nominis blandiatur, cum constet si occisi ejus modi extra Ecclesiam fuerint, Fidei coronam non esse, sed poenam potius esse perfidiæ. Nec in Domo Dei inter unanimos habitaturos esse, quos videmus de pacifica et Divina Domo furore discordiæ recessisse. S. August. et cæteri in Conc. Cirtensi adv. Donatistas. Ep. 152. t. 2. p. 696. Edit. Prob. 556. [1679, vol. 2. Ed. Ben. Epist. 141. n. 5.) Quisquis ergo ab hac Ecclesia Catholica fuerit separatus, quantumlibet laudabiliter se vivere existimet, hoc solo scelere quod a Christi unitate disjunctus est, non habebit vitam, sed ira Dei manet super eum. Quisquis autem in hoc Ecclesia bene vixerit, nihil ei præjudicant aliena peccata. Idem, Ep. 204. ad Donatum Presbyterum Donatist. t. 2. p. 834. (Id. Ep. 173. n. 6.] Foris autem ab Ecclesia constitutus, et separatus a compage unitatis, et vinculo Charitatis, æterno supplicio punireris, etiamsi pro Christi nomine vivus incendereris.