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disputes, there are surely arguments for the authority of Great Britain, which might, at least, suspend a person's judgement; yet in America itself, where all is said on one side, and nothing on the other, they are in no suspense about it. Perhaps there is as little to be said for jacobitism as for any one thing in the world; yet if a man be brought up in a jacobite neighbourhood, or associate much with jacobite acquaintance, ten out of twenty will be drawn into their principles. Now, with regard to religion, in the high and gay scenes of life especially, a man may go through the world, and never hear religion mentioned in company or conversation, but for the sake of a joke, or a gibe, or a scoff, or a sneer. It is rude and unfashionable to introduce religion, in order to defend, or even talk seriously about it; whereas nothing goes down better than strokes of raillery or ridicule against it, which is unfair. Of the same cast is the cry against the clergy, their hypocrisy, their desire to lead mankind in a string; their selfishness and slynesscharges which, whether just or unjust, have little to do with the truth of Christianity; yet when a man has taken them into his head, or hears them bandied about in almost every company he comes into, the religion itself, which comes to him through their hands as it were, is instantly turned out of doors as a juggle, a state trick, a piece of priestcraft.
The tendency of particular Studies.
1. When a man has been long accustomed to absolute certainty and demonstration, moral and probable proofs make less impression upon him.
2. When a man has been long accustomed to rely upon one single argument for each proposition, he feels himself at a loss, and unsatisfied, for the want of such an argument, and is not so sensible of the force of united proofs.
However infidels may pretend to be freethinkers, there are no people under the sun greater slaves to the opinions of others: not one half, nor a third of them, disbelieve Christianity for any reason they can give themselves, but because some acquaintance of theirs, that they have an opinion of, or some noted fort d'esprit, Voltaire, or Hume, or Lord Bolingbroke, disbelieved it.
Now, although it be the weakest and wildest way in the world to trust to other men's judgement in a matter, especially where so many better reasons and solid proofs may be had on one side, and so many prejudices and obstacles subsist on the other; yet to argue with unbelievers in their own way, we can confront them with names and authorities vastly superior to any they can produce.
To say nothing of the bulk of the community, both high and low, rich and poor, learned and simple, which for so many ages, and in so many countries, have believed Christianity;
To say nothing of the many great divines in our own church, dissenting communions, and protestant churches abroad, who have spent whole lives in the study of Christianity, and manifested as much acuteness and freedom in their researches as are to be found in any science whatever ;
Not to mention these, what shall we say to such people as Newton, Locke, and Addison, laymen, under no temptation to dissemble, and who did not take their religion upon trust; but spent, each of them, many years in inquiring into it, and rose up from the inquiry fully and firmly persuaded of its truth?
The Corruption of Christianity
is the cause which has contributed, more than all the rest put together, to the making of infidels.
1. The many absurdities which several national churches have taken into their system, and which have no place nor foundation in the Scriptures; and the universal propensity in mankind to reject a whole system for the folly or falsehood of particular parts of it. This cause alone accounts for the many unbelievers to be found in popish countries. How should you get Voltaire or Rousseau, or people of sense and spirit, to believe Christianity, whilst they regard transubstantiation, the infallibility of the Pope, or the power of absolving sins, as so many parts of it?
2. Several lucrative tenets in some established systems, which induce the suspicion of craft and design in the whole; such as purgatory, prayers for the dead, the efficacy of offerings and donations to the church.
3. The placing Christianity upon wrong foundations. Thus Quakers and Methodists refer you for the proof of Christianity to the motion and witnessing of the Spirit in your own breast. Now a man who hears this, and can feel no such motions or witnessing, has nothing left for it but to turn infidel.
No sect of protestants is to be put upon a footing, as to the number or importance of their errors, with popery, which, first, denies to mankind the right of private judgement, thereby making religion no longer what it really is, a personal thing, but political; secondly, all whose institutions tend to place religion in mechanical performances instead of substantial virtues.
The contest with the presbyterians relates chiefly to church government, and the use of a liturgy.
The dispute concerning church government, i. e. whether it should be with or without bishops; formerly carried on with great heat, as each party would have it that his form was contained in Scripture; that therefore it was a matter of conscience and duty to stick to it.
But now, I believe, both sides are convinced that neither Christ nor his apostles enjoined any particular form of church government, as of universal obligation; but left each church in each country to regulate its government as it found expedient.
This being allowed, it will follow,
1. That that is the best form of church government which is most convenient, i. e. which conduces most to the edification of the people, which pleases them best, and suits with the circumstances and civil constitution of the country.
Thus episcopacy agrees better with monarchies, as it keeps up that subordination in the ecclesiastical, which subsists in the civil part of the constitution; and casts the clergy more into the hands of the prince, who, without some influence of that kind, would hardly be safe, or able to maintain his authority. On the other, presbytery, perhaps, is more eligible in a republic, as it favours and falls in with that spirit of equality and dislike of distinction, upon which spirit and dislike the very existence of a republic depends.
2. That a man may join with a church, though he be dissatisfied with and disapprove their form of government; just as a man may live under a state, though its civil constitution he thinks might be altered greatly for the better.
3. That, consequently, this alone is not a sufficient or justifiable cause of separation from any established church.
The two leading tenets of Methodism, and the most serious points of difference betwixt us, are
I. That faith alone saves us.
II. The perceptible operations of the Holy Spirit.
The first is founded upon those passages of St. Paul, especially in the third chapter of the Romans, where he declares expressly, "that by the deeds of the law no flesh shall be justified," v. 20; and "that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law," v. 28.
To which we give this answer, namely, that the justification here spoken of does not mean final salvation, but only what passed at their conversion; i. e. their deliverance from the desperate condition they were in before.
When, instead of being destroyed for their sins, as the old world was, people upon their conversion to Christianity had their former sins all forgiven, were put upon easy and gracious terms for the future, and furnished with new means, lights, and assistances, for the government of their conduct, this was such a favour, such a change for the better in their spiritual condition, that they might properly be said to be delivered or justified, in the same sense that Rahab was justified when she was saved from the destruction of Jericho; that Noah was justified when he was saved from the flood; David when delivered from his enemies; Phinehas when the priesthood was given him; Abraham when his idolatry was pardoned; and he was taken into the covenant: and that, notwithstanding their being thus justified at their conversion, if they relapsed into, or continued in sin, (which St. Paul supposes to be possible, by warning them against it,) they would finally perish.
To the proofs of this interpretation, which we gave in explaining the Epistle to the Romans, we add,
1. That Christ himself always studiously insisted upon works accompanying their belief; and took, as it were, pains to have them understood, that hearing, believing, or calling upon him, would not do any good without keeping his commandments. Matt. vii. 21-29. John v. 29.
2. That the apostles, in all their letters and speeches, (and no one more than St. Paul,) exhort to virtue and sanctity of life.
3. That St. James has expressly combated the notion that faith without works was sufficient. James ii. 14-26.
4. That, above all, St. Paul himself tells the very people whom he had before pronounced "justified by faith," that "if they lived after the flesh, they should die." Rom. viii. 13.
5. That all these strong expressions which have created the doubt, and this great stress which is laid upon faith, would probably have never been heard of, had it not been for the dispute that arose with the Jews, and the engrossing temper of that people, who would not suffer the Gentiles (unless they would first become Jews) to be admitted to an equality, or be set upon a footing with themselves. To beat down this it became necessary to contend that the being admitted to a share of favour at all, or to stand upon any particular footing as God's people, was not on account of any prior merit which the Jews would have laid hold of as peculiar to themselves, but simply and singly by faith, i. e. by believing and receiving the Christian religion.
Thus much ought to be granted to the Methodists—that after all it is a dispute, perhaps, about words rather than things, certainly about an abstract doctrine, and not any practical question; for they do not pretend that a man, who continues all his life a rogue, or a cheat, or a whoremaster, or a drunkard, or in any habitual vice, will go to heaven at last by his faith: they either say it is not a true faith-that it is only in the mouth, not in the heart -that he does not really believe, or have constantly some way of getting off the conclusion. Vide Halifax's Three Sermons on Justification.
II. As to the perceptible operations of the Holy Spirit, we agree with them in believing that the Spirit of God may and does act upon men's minds; but we deny what they pretend, that these operations can be distinguished
from the natural course of our own thoughts. A Methodist will have it that he can perceive the Spirit moving within him, know every impulse, be sure that such or such thoughts are not the workings of his own mind, but come from God-can tell, for instance, the time and place, the very hour and minute when he was illuminated, converted, born again, regenerated, elected, born of God, which is always with them instantaneous-is assured by the Spirit of his final salvation-knows when God accepts him, or hears his prayers-when he has communion or communication with God-when he struggles and wrestles with him.
We, on the contrary, say, that we perceive no such thing; that without some sure sign or token, either external as a miracle, or internal as that which accompanied inspiration, and which we allow the prophets and apostles had, we neither can nor ought to pronounce with confidence what is the acting of the Holy Spirit, and what is not.
That, at any rate, people telling us their feelings, their impulses, and communications, without giving us any proof besides their bare word, can be no ground of assurance to us, whatever evidence of it they may have themselves.
That Christ did not call upon mankind to believe him, because he felt or thought himself inspired-because he was conscious of communication and intercourse with God, but for his "works' sake," on account of the outward, visible, and public proofs he gave, the signs and wonders that he wrought before their eyes. Vide Rotherham on Faith.
That it is enough, and all we have to do, to pray for the assistance of God's holy Spirit, to encourage and avail ourselves of good resolutions and desires when we feel them; that we be extremely afraid and cautious of counteracting or putting them off, lest they should proceed, as they certainly may do, and frequently in fact do, from God's Spirit; and so we be found fighting against God, and quenching and stifling and grieving his holy Spirit.
we find fault with principally for
I. Laying aside the Sacrament;
II. Misunderstanding the agency of the Spirit;
III. Having no clergy, or order of men set apart for the service of religion. I. It is inconceivable how men, who believe the Scriptures, and profess obedience to Christ, should think the Sacrament may be dispensed with; for,
1. It appears that Christ instituted this rite, and commanded it to be repeated. Luke xxii. 19.
2. That the apostles and first Christians, in pursuance of this command, did repeat it; which shows how they understood it. Acts ii. 42; xx. 7. Still more expressly, 1 Cor. xi.
3. Lest it should be thought to be a temporary institution, intended only for the first ages of Christianity, St. Paul adds, 1 Cor. xi. 26, i. e. to the end of the world.
This being so, it is no longer a matter of discretion but of duty, of propriety but of obligation, to observe it; nor are we at liberty to lay it aside because we think we can do as well without it, or that it is of no use, or has been misunderstood or misapplied, or abused to foolish and superstitious purposes, or has outlived the reason of the institution.
II. Misunderstanding the agency of the Spirit. The Quakers contend, with the Methodists, for the perceptible operation of the Spirit, and therefore the same answer and observation will, in a good measure, serve for both. In two respects, however, they go beyond the Methodists, as—
1. That the proof and evidence of our religion consists in the witnessing of the Spirit within us, and that religious faith is produced, not as conviction in
other matters, by argument, reason, or probability, but is shed through the heart by the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Which is contrary, as well to common sense and experience, as to the whole tenor of Scripture, and the constant conduct of Christ and his apostles; who did not rest the faith of their converts in any inward illumination, but addressed themselves to the understanding, used arguments, produced proofs, appealed continually to the evidence of prophecy or miracles. John xiii, 37, 38.
2. That the Holy Ghost inspires their speakers in their meetings.
Now though we allow that this might ofttimes have been the case in the apostolical ages, 1 Cor. xiv. 29-33, yet it was miraculous, and ceased with other miracles; and at this day it gives occasion to great wildness and indecency, as it can no longer be distinguished whether it be the Spirit of God that moves them or the spirit of folly.
III. Their having no clergy.
To say nothing of the odds there are against a person who has never been used or prepared to speak in public acquitting himself with tolerable propriety;
To say nothing of the practice of every age and sect of Christianity besides the Quakers;
To lay these considerations out of the question, now that the Scriptures are written in a dead language, remote age, and distant country, it requires the aid of human learning to understand and explain them;-the very evidence moreover of Christianity being historical, depending upon records and researches, it is absolutely necessary for the keeping up a knowledge of those Scriptures in the world, for collecting, preserving, and perpetuating the proofs of the religion, that a number of people should be set apart, with leisure and opportunity, for the purpose; and whose only office and business it should be to cultivate those studies.
The Quakers may do well enough where they are but a few, and while they subsist in countries where such an order is established, of whose labours they have in the main the benefit; but it is a very different question what would have become of Christianity if no such order had ever been founded or continued in the church-possibly the very language in which the Scriptures are written might have been lost; the helps we have for interpreting them by contemporary authors, travels into the country, knowledge of customs, manners, &c., would have been wanting; and above all, the very evidence upon which it stands, for want of a succession of writers and people to consult and preserve these writings, might have decayed to nothing.
The Quaker meetings and discipline may possibly enough resemble the meetings of the first Christians, where many were under the immediate and extraordinary guidance of the Holy Spirit, and yet be very unsuitable for these times, when that extraordinary inspiration is withdrawn.
As to their other fancies, their affectation of singularity in dress, speech, and behaviour, their allowing women to speak in their churches, in opposition to 1 Cor. xiv. 34, their not going into mourning for the dead, their refusing to pay tithes, take up arms, or take an oath, they have either been considered elsewhere, or do not deserve consideration.
Only as to paying tithes, if they would consider it not as a divine right, which we no longer pretend to, but a civil institution, they would soon see hat the law and parliament had as good a right to lay on that tax as any other, and that there is the same reason for paying it.