« AnteriorContinua »
ances of puritanism, men frequently ran into the most avowed licentiousness. Piety became ridiculous, if not suspected of disloyalty: And it became an odd test of orthodoxy among many people to vie in drinking bumpers to church and state; as if drunkenness and debauchery were just criteria of loyalty, or could properly shew that men had found out the right way of salvation. All methods were used to decry vital and experimental religion. The inimitable wit and scurrility of Hudibras gave point to the malice of the dull, and (under pretence of exposing some undeniable hypocrisies) furished the irreligious and the ignorant with many an arrow likewise against that, which their interest might make them wish to be untrue. Thus godliness, abused by hypocrisy, was condemned altogether for hypocrisy itself. About this time also arose a set of learned and specula, tive theologists, who adopted a vague new method of inculcating the Christian religion. They would be neither Calvinists nor Arminians, positively; but churchmen they were, though they rather dictated to than followed the church upon the most essential doctrines. Burnet, who admired them, has given us an account of their plan in the history of his own time."* They were rationalists more than humble disciples of Christ, and, from the great laxness of their principles, received the wild, long title of latitudinarians. In order to understand the Scriptures, they recommended the study of Plato, Tully, and Plotin, who either never heard of those Scriptures, or were enemies to their truths. This self-taught sect, therefore, instead of insisting upon the necessity of the Holy Spirit's influence to know the things of GoD, urged the powers of a corrupted, blinded, and fallen reason, which deserved no other name from the apostle than that of the carnal mind, and which can neither know GoD aright, nor truly desire to know him. On the other hand, they treated all the operations of grace as mere cant and enthusiasm; or those among them who softened their language upon this subject, represented those operations as so inscrutably secret, as to be entirely unknown. They should have considered, in their pretended reasonings, that an unknown operation in heart and life amounts to none at all. From this spring, much of our present modern divinity (and it is justly enough so called) took its rise-a divinity, which boasts of corrupted reason for its au
*Vol. i. p. 319.
thor, and which leads to a listless undevout practice as its end. But I need not dwell upon this unhappy topic: A learned and pious author, hath considered it before me*. Suffice it to say, that, between this unscriptural profession on the one hand, and the encouraged licentiousness of the times on the other, religion received a blow in England, which it hath not recovered to this day. Arminianism began the attack, and this rational and hypothetical system, introducing as auxiliaries many other bold and specious theories, carried it on, till there was scarce a decent appearance of godliness throughout the land. From this epoch, we may trace almost all our current heterodoxies and corruptions; insomuch, that we are noted for infidelity and immoralities all over Europe, to the derision of our popish neighbours, and to the scandal of the reformation itself. Family-religion began to be laid aside, especially among the higher ranks, for fear of suspicions and nicknames; and hence the chapels of our nobility, raised by pious ancestors as the most august apartments in their houses, became the repositories of lumber, or were turned into places of convivial entertainment. Many of the old country seats throughout England can shew these melancholy monuments of departed piety.
8. Nor were the dissenters themselves without blame. It is an unpleasant task, in writing of these times, that one cannot utter truth without censure. They also had their differences; and those who were angry with churchmen for discord and persecution, found it difficult to be at peace among themselves. Dr. Owen and Mr. Baxter had suffered so much by disputes, that it gave their enemies an advantage, when they could not heal them among their friends. Upon the accession of King James the Second to the throne, his bigotted violences brought the churchmen and dissenters somewhat nearer together, but rather more as politicians than as Christians; for when the political occasion was removed, their Christian affections abated too easily towards each other. In short, no salutary use was made of that crisis for a more cordial union.
9. The dissenters, tolerated and favoured by the Revolution, grew at length indifferent to, or despaired of this union. It must be allowed, that the motives to it were rather lessened than increased, not only from the old dis
* See "Gibbon's Account of Christianity considered," by the Rev. Mr. Milner, p. 238, &c.
pute of a powerful hierarchy, but from the inundation of Arminianism, which with the rationalism above-mentioned, naturally bearing along a vast colluvies of corrupt opinions with them, almost overspread the establishment. The ignorance and irreligion also of many of the established clergy, gave great and just cause of offence. The dissenters were, besides, too much taken up with their own particular differences, about this time, to think of more extensive agreements; and this afforded very great grief to the most excellent men among them. Nor was concord at all prevalent under this reign in the church. The Revolution had given birth to a distinction between "High Church" and "Low Church," in which there was scarce a grain of real godliness, but an immense harvest of political and ecclesiastical controversy.-It is to be wished, that matters of this kind could be consigned to everlasting oblivion. It is right to know them only as the rocks, on which so many persons have suffered the shipwreck, if not of their faith, yet certainly of brotherly affection and Christian concord.
10. Upon these complications of principle, our affairs seemed to subside; the dissenters maintaining the most distinguishing doctrines of the church, and too many churchmen preaching, living, and acting against them, yet subscribing, swearing to, and reading them, as the necessary passports to preferment. Free grace sounded from the desk, and free will from the pulpit; and both within the space of an hour. Thus hath the matter continued, more or less, till this very day, with respect to the two parties; or, if there be any alteration, we are sorry to say, that it is not for the better. If dryness has increased among them who held the truth, certainly darkness has not lessened among those who departed from it. We have had men of great learning indeed; yet learning is not grace, but most commonly, when it is not in subjection to grace, renders the possessors more proud and selfish, and less dependent upon the divine blessing, than they probably would have been without it. In this view, therefore, it loses its best advantage.
11. About the year 1740, or rather before, it pleased GOD to revive his own work in the midst of the land, and, by the instrumentality of a few obscure and despised men, to effect a surprising alteration in sentiment and practice. As the prevalent heterodoxy in the establishment took its rise at Cambridge, so this lively promulgation of the old truths and ancient principles of the
church of England, with all its happy consequences, began in the University of Oxford. It is an honour, which (notwithstanding some poor proceedings that I wish to bury in silence) she ought never to be ashamed of. She owns, with pleasure, the spreading of the Gospel from her quarters formerly under the name of Wickliffe; and Heaven has owned, with its power, the renewed declarations of its truths, within her learned seat, in these our days. Since the date just mentioned, many ministers have appeared in the establishment, who have been enabled to shew the life and influence of that Divinity which deserves to be called old; because its fabric is almost as ancient as time itself, and because it derives its plan from the very councils of eternity. Some of their names adorn the present volume. Multitudes have been awakened by their ministrations to a life of faith and holiness; while it remains to be proved, that ever one soul was brought to the knowledge of GoD and the love of Christ, by all the philosophical, ethic, or rational argumentations of our speculative reasoners, since their first attempt in the reign of Charles the Second to the present time. On the contrary, it were to be wished, that our people had not been reasoned out of the plain scriptural system of their religion into the very practices of the grossest infidelity. This fact will, however, abundantly prove, that all true understanding in divine things is only to be attained through the Holy Scriptures, which were revealed for the express purpose of making men wise unto salvation, because they could not be made wise to that end in any other way. Blessed be GoD, this work of grace is yet going on; and the power of religion has also had its revival among many of our dissenting brethren. May we ever contend with them upon this ground, viz. who shall seek most the honour of Christ our Master, and who shall work with the most zeal and industry for the salvation of souls. This is a dispute which may be carried on with affection, and which may happily terminate in our mutual profit and pleasure.
It might seem invidious in me to notice any irregularities now existing in the religious world; but it cannot be improper to observe the present lenity and moderation of government both in church and state, for which as men and as Christians we cannot be too thankful, and which as real patriots and believers we should be careful not to abuse. If we are wise protestants, not only we, but even the sound dissenters among us, must rejoice in the preser
vation of our establishment, which is the acknowledged bulwark of protestantism, and whose articles are (as Dr. Hammond himself asserted) "the hedge between us and the papacy." May all attempts to pull down either be perpetually defeated; for it is to be feared, that a new compilation of articles, and a new arrangement of our theological system, would no more speak the language of true protestantism, than the decrees of the Council of Trent exhibit the doctrines of JESUS CHRIST. If, in the judgment of GOD, so great a curse should ever befal us as an Arian or Arminian set of articles for subscription, it will become the indispensable duty of every real Christian to abhor such an establishment, and to increase the number of dissenters,
12. Blessed be GOD: however men and constitutions may vary, His Truth shall stand to the end of the world, and His Gospel till the last of the redeemed is ready for glory. There is a SPIRITUAL CHURCH, consisting of Christ's faithful people, and of them only, gathered perhaps out of all denominations; and this church, founded on the everlasting Rock, is impregnable to every assault of its enemies. No weapon formed against it, can prosper. This consideration should afford every true believer great consolation, under all dark appearances, either in visible churches or in the world. It is God's cause, and not man's: The arm, therefore, which supports it, is omnipotent and divine. The LORD of Hosts is with us (may this church of the first-born triumph!) the God of Jacob is our refuge!
And may God, whose goodness extends from age to age, and whose favour is the life of souls, bless and unite this HOLY CHURCH at all times in Spirit and in Truth, that it may be established and prosper upon earth, and that many of all nations may flow unto it. May discord and every work of the flesh be far removed from among brethren; and may they love, and study to love more and more, all of all denominations, who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. May the salvation of the Redeemer spread farther and wider by all manner of holy means, till the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of the LORD and of his Christ, and till every tongue & fess with joy, THE LORD GOD OMNIPOTENT RE Amen. ソ