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joins in singing verses, which express the desire and petitions of his heart, to the Lord, he prays; and if he uses verses with which he was before acquainted, he prays by a form; he does the very thing for which we are condemned; unless it can be proved that the fault and evil, which is essential to a form in prose, is entirely removed if the substance of the obnoxious form be expressed in metre and chime.
Crito freely will rehearse
Forms of pray'r and praise in verse;
I have heard of a minister who used to compose hymns in the pulpit. It was his custom to give out one line; and by the time the congregation had sung the first, he had a second ready for them, and so on, as long as he thought proper to sing. These were not forms; they were composed pro re nata. he had finished a second stanza, the former, (as to the verse and cadence,) was in a manner forgotten, and the same hymn was never heard twice. I know not what these unpremeditated pieces were in point of composition; but were I persuaded of the unlawfulness of forms of prayer, and at the same time approved of the practice of singing in public worship, I should extremely covet the talent of extempore hymn-making, as one of the most necessary gifts a minister could possess, in order to maintain a consistency in his whole service.
I here close what I intended by way of introduction. In my subsequent letters 1 propose to acquaint you more directly with the reasons which determined my own choice, and which still satisfy me, that in receiving episcopal ordination, and exercising my ministry in the established church, I have not acted wrong. At present, I shall relieve your attention, by subscribing myself, Your affectionate Friend and Brother.
MY DEAR FRIEND AND BROTHER,
As such I address you; as such, notwithstanding our dif ferent views of church-government, you acknowledge me. have confirmed your love to me by many repeated proofs; and it is the desire of my heart, that nothing may take place on either VOL. III.
side to weaken the exercise of that friendship which, having the faith and hope of the Gospel for its basis, is calculated to subsist and flourish in a better world. With this thought upon my mind, it is impossible that I should write a single line with an intention of grieving or offending you; and I am persuaded the same consideration on your part will dispose you to a candid perusal of what I offer. I had rather be silent than plead, even for truth, in an angry, contentious spirit; for every year of my life strengthens my conviction of the importance of that Divine aphorism, "The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God."
How far what I have suggested in favour of establishments and liturgies may appear conclusive to you, I know not. I depend much upon your candour; but I make allowances for the unavoidable influence of education, connexion, and habit, both in you and in myself. We generally ascribe the dissent of those who differ from us, in part at least, to prejudice of this kind; but as it is very natural to think favourably of ourselves, we almost take it for granted that we have either escaped or outgrown every bias. Though some of the principles we maintain have been instilled into us from our childhood, and we have been confirmed in what we say is right, by the instruction, advice, and example of friends, exactly as others have been confirmed in what we call wrong : yet that positiveness, which in them is the effect of ignorant prejudice, is in us a very different thing-a just attachment to truth, and the result of impartial examination and full conviction. For my own part, I dare not say that I am free from all bias and prepossession; but I desire and endeavour to guard against their influence.
But though I have ventured to defend the propriety of a national establishment, and, upon that ground, the expediency of a liturgy, I need not tell you that I had no hand in forming either the one or the other. By the allotment of Divine providence, I was born in a nation where these things had taken place long before I came into the world; therefore, when the Lord gave me a desire to preach his Gospel, and it became necessary to determine under what character I should exercise my ministry, the qustion before me was not, What form of church-government I might propose as the most Scriptural, if all parties amongst us were willing to refer themselves to my decision? but my inquiry was rather directed to this point, What would be my path of duty, rebus sic stantibus, living as I did in the island of Great-Britain, and in that part of it named England? At first, indeed, I saw but little room for deliberation. For about six years after I was awakened to some concern for my soul, my situation in life had seclu
ded me equally from every religious party. During this period, in which I walked alone, the Lord was pleased to show me the way to the throne of grace, and to lead me to study and prize his holy word. By his blessing, I made some advances in knowledge, though slowly under such discouragements and disadvantages, as they, who from the beginning of their inquiries, are favoured with public ordinances and the help of Christian conference, can have no proper conception of. At length I became acquainted with some of his people, and had frequent opportunities of hearing the Gospel. My first connexions of this sort were chiefly with Dissenters, and brought me as it were, into a new world; for till then I had hardly an idea of the different names and modes by which professing Christians were distinguished and subdivided, nor of the animosity with which their various disputes were carried on. But, as I received benefit and pleasure from my intercourse with my new friends, it is no wonder that, while my heart was warm, and my experience and judgement unformed, I should enter with readiness into all their views. Thus, together with the real advantages I obtained among them, I imbibed at the same time a strong prejudice against the established church; and hastily concluded that, though I might occasionally communicate with it as a private person, it would be impossible to officiate in it as a minister, without violating my conscience. Accordingly, my first overtures were to Dissenters; and, had not the Providence of God remarkably interposed to prevent it, I should probably have been a brother with you in every sense. But my designs were over-ruled. A variety of doors by which I sought entrance (for I did not give up upon the first disappointment) were successively shut against me. These repeated delays afforded me more time to think and judge for myself; and the more I considered the point, the more my scruples against conformity gave way. Reasons increased upon me, which not only satisfied me that I might conform without sin, but that the preference (as to my own concern) was plainly on that side. Accordingly, in the Lord's due time, after several years' waiting to know his will, I sought and obtained episcopal ordination: and I seriously assure you, that, though I took this step with a firm persuasion that it was right, I did not at that time see so many reasons to justify my choice, nor perhaps any one reason in so strong a light, as I have since. Far from having regretted this interesting part of my conduct for a single hour, I have been more satisfied with it from year to year. You will please, therefore, to accept what I am about to offer, not merely as an account of the motives which influenced me twenty years ago, but rather as the considerations which, at this minute, call upon me to
be heartily thankful to the Lord for leading me by a way which I knew not, to labour in that part of his vineyard, which experience has proved to be most suitable for maintaining my personal peace and comfort, and (I verily believe likewise) for promoting my usefulness as a minister.
Some of our dissenting brethren, who, I hope, are willing to think as well of the awakened clergy as they can, kindly allow us to be well-meaning people. They believe we desire to be useful, and think it not impossible but that, in some instances, we may be so; but they pity us, either for not having more light, or for not having courage to follow that light which, they suppose, must force itself upon us, if we did not wilfully shut it out. From what they hear of us they are staggered. They are loath to deny that the Lord is with us at all; but then, if the Lord be with us indeed why are we thus ? It is almost unaccountable to them, upon this supposition, how we can remain where we are. They are expecting from day to day, that if we are enlightened, as we profess, and honest men, as they wish to find us, we shall surely come out from Babylon, renounce our slavery and will-worship, and openly attach ourselves to the Dissenting Interest. Could we do this, and persuade our people to follow us, they would, probably, no longer doubt whether the Lord had wrought by our ministry
I could wish you not to think of me while you read the paragraph I am now beginning. You know many of our ministers, and you know that there are amongst them men of sound sense, solid judgment; and extensive reading; men whom the Lord has been pleased to favour with an eminency in gifts and spiritual knowledge; in a word able ininisters of the New Testament: men who, though in the sight of the Lord, they lie low in the dust, conscious of inherent defilement, and that their best services need forgiveness; yet, with regard to their fellow-creatures, can in the integrity of their hearts, appeal to all around them, that their conversation is not unbecoming the Gospel which they preach. Some of these men, at least, have carefully studied the subjectmatter of debate between us and Dissenters; have read the books, and considered the arguments which are supposed sufficient to convert and reform us; but, after all their endeavours to obtain information, though they agree with the evangelical Dissenters in their views of the Gospel, (which yet they received not from them, but from the holy Scripture,) they are still constrained to differ on the question of church form and order. Now, why should this be imputed to their ignorance and blindness? Does it require a sharper eye to perceive the precise delineation of a Gospel church in the New Testament, if it be really there, than to
apprehend and embrace what the Scripture teaches concerning the person and character of the Redeemer, the way of a sinner's acceptance, or the nature of the life of faith? These things, we are assured by the apostle, the natural man, however qualified, cannot discern. Surely the external form of a Gospel church cannot be equally mysterious with these doctrines; especially as it is professedly seen with the glance of an eye, by some persons who declare themselves enemies to mysteries of any kind. Or why should their not acceding to you be imputed to interested motives? There are with us men whose integrity and ingenuousness are in every other respect unimpeachable; and it is hard that, without sufficient evidence, they should be charged with prevarication in a business which concerns the honour of their Saviour, and the uprightness of their consciences in his sight. Besides, what can be the powerful motives for such hypocrisy? Do they, by remaining in the establishment, avoid the offence of the cross, and find a shelter from that opprobrium and opposition which must be their lot if they had the fortitude to unite with the Dissenters? Here, at least, however, we may be mistaken. I apprehend the Lord has assigned to us the post of honour; and that in the treatment we meet with from an unbelieving world, our lot rather resembles that of the Dissenters in the last century than of the present. It is true, we are no more exposed to fines and imprisonment than you are; but if it be an honour to suffer shame for his name's sake, I think we have the pre-eminence. As to money-matters, I could name several of our clergy who are not so plentifully provided for in the establishment, but that if they were to leave us, and go over to your side, it is very probable the manner in which converts of such characters and abilities would be received amongst you, might prove considerably to their emolument. Nor can it upon better grounds be ascribed to obstinate prejudice and incurable bigotry, that your arguments do not prevail. For it is well known that many of our ministers show a cordial and liberal spirit to the Dissenters, receive them gladly into their houses, attend occasionally upon their preaching, recommend and encourage applications for the support of their ministers or places of worship, and are ready to concur with them in every plan of usefulness. And I believe this disposition would be more general, had not experience shown that the candour of some clergymen, in these respects, has been too often improperly requited, by ungenerous attempts to prejudice and perplex our people, and to weaken our hands.
Yet one or other, or all these charges, must be insinuated against us, rather than fallible men will suppose themselves any thing less than infallible, even in points of a circumstantial nature;