Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION IX.: A review of some particular positions of Dr. Balguy' s on the subject of church-authority. - An Essay on the First Principles of Government, and on the Nature of Political, Civil, and Religious Liberty
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SECTION IX.: A review of some particular positions of Dr. Balguy’ s on the subject of church-authority. - Joseph Priestley, An Essay on the First Principles of Government, and on the Nature of Political, Civil, and Religious Liberty 
An Essay on the First Principles of Government, and on the Nature of Political, Civil, and Religious Liberty, including remarks on Dr. Brown’s Code of Education, and on Dr. Balguy’s Sermon on Church Authority. The Second Edition, corrected and enlarged (London: J. Johnson, 1771).
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A review of some particular positions of Dr. Balguy’s on the subject of church-authority.
SEVERAL of the considerations mentioned in the preceding section were suggested by the perusal of Dr. Balguy’s sermon; and, I flatter myself, are sufficient to refute any arguments that he has produced in favour of church-authority. I shall, however, just descant upon a few passages in his performance, where we discover the great hinges on which his whole scheme turns.
“Not only,” says he, p. 8. “must persons be appointed for the performance of religious duties, but the manner also is to be prescribed. The assembly may not unfrequently be deceived in their choice, and the ministers, if subject to no restraint, may introduce principles and practices which the people condemn. Or it may happen that one minister shall pursue a different plan from another, perhaps a contrary plan; which must evidently tend to confound the minds of the people, and weaken the impressions of religion. If the difference be not in form only, but in doctrine, the case will still be worse; for nothing is so apt to root out all religion, both from men’s heads and hearts, as religious controversy. Here then,” says he, “we have the first sketch of what may be called, not improperly, church-authority.”
As the inconveniences arising from the want of church-authority are here referred to, as the reason for ecclesiastical establishments, let us briefly examine whether they are not much exaggerated by this author; and, on the other hand, just point out a few of the inconveniences attending establishments, which he has not so much as hinted at, that the one may be fairly weighed against the other. In this I shall not content myself with mere theory, as Dr. Balguy does, since there are known facts to refer to, as examples in both cases.
Among the Dissenters, if a minister introduce principles and practices which the people condemn, they dismiss him from their service, and chuse another more agreeable to them. If his difference of sentiment occasion any debate, the subject of the debate is thereby more thoroughly understood; and the worst that can happen is, that some of them separate, and form themselves into a new society, or join another in their neighbourhood, that is more to their liking. In this, as in all other contests, some ill blood is produced, the effects of which may remain for some time; but the minds of the people in general are not so much confounded, nor the impressions of religion, as a principle of moral conduct, so much weakened as this writer imagines.
Among Dissenters, church emoluments are not worth contending for, and therefore those fierce contests about places, or in places, but seldom happen. A minister seldom chuses to be connected with a society whose general sentiments are much different from his own, nor do societies often invite a person to officiate among them without having previously sufficient reason to depend upon his being agreeable to them. Upon the whole, I am willing to appeal to any person who is well acquainted with the state of Dissenters in England, whether disagreeable events happy so often, or whether the worst effects are of so much consequence, as to bear being put in the balance with the capital advantages of their situation, for improving in religious knowledge and virtue.
Something of the spirit of controversy seems necessary to keep up men’s attention to religion in general, as well as to other things; and, notwithstanding a fondness for debate may be of some disservice to practical religion, it is far less so than a total inattention to the subject. In theological and scriptural inquiries, the practical truths of christianity must necessarily present themselves to the mind. Besides there is hardly any branch of christian knowledge but is more or less of a practical nature, and suggests considerations that are of use to mend the heart and reform the life. Religious knowledge is, however, itself, as valuable an acquisition as knowledge of any other kind.
Some may think it an unhappiness that the common people should be so knowing in matters of religion. But this complaint is to be considered in the same light with the complaint of statesmen, in free countries, of the common people troubling themselves so much about politics; while the friend of his country and of mankind will not, upon the whole, be displeased with either of these circumstances; being sensible, that the one is some guard against the incroachments of civil, and the other of ecclesiastical tyranny.
As to the confusion that is occasioned in congregations, when they happen to be dissatisfied with their ministers, it is not to be compared, for its pernicious effects, to the almost perpetual squabbles, between the established clergy and their parishioners, about tythes. Few parishes in the country are without disputes upon this subject, which create a standing opposition of interest between the people and their spiritual guides.
Lastly, What inconvenience can be pointed out, as having actually taken place among Dissenters for want of a standing confession of faith, that can be named with the dreadful mischiefs that have arisen from enforcing subscription in the church of England. This precludes all free inquiry upon subjects of religion, and entails every error and abuse from generation to generation, so that a reformation can hardly take place without violence and blood.
If the emoluments of church livings be considerable, the temptation to prevaricate with conscience is, by this means, made too strong for the generality of those who have been educated for the church, and who are now incapable of getting their bread, at least, of making their fortune, in any other way. Also, what must the people think, to see those who are appointed to instruct them in the principles of religion and morality, solemnly subscribing to articles of faith which they are known to disbelieve and abhor; and who among the clergy, that read and think at all, are supposed to believe one-third of the thirty-nine articles of the church of England? I have so good an opinion of Dr. Balguy’s good sense, notwithstanding the futility of his reasoning in this performance, as to think it is a thousand to one, but that he himself is an unbeliever in many of them.
One would have thought that the shocking abuses of the church of Rome might have served as a standing monument of the danger of church establishments; when that mystery of iniquity stands upon record, as having thereby got so firm a footing, as, for so many ages, to have set all the civil powers of Europe, and all the powers of reason too, at defiance.
Having seen what this author has been able to advance in favour of the necessity of ecclesiastical establishments, and church-authority, I shall follow him a little farther; and observe what he has to alledge for bringing a number of christian societies into one common system, in order to lay a broader and firmer foundation for the power of the church. From this combination he expects, p. 11, 12, more wisdom, and uniformity, a greater variety of candidates for church officers, and a better choice of them. “These societies,” he well observes, “must necessarily act by deputies, so that, at least, either single men, or small bodies of men, must be authorized to govern the church. There is no necessity,” says he, “that the ministers of religion should be appointed by the people, and much expedience in a different method of appointment.”
To me, all this appears mere imagination, and the supposed advantages of this elaborate scheme to be altogether contrary to fact. I should much sooner have imagined there might be much expedience in town officers not being chosen by their townsmen, than in the ministers of a christian church not being chosen by the congregation.
The nomination to church livings, except by the members of the church themselves, is a thing so absurd that the idea of it never occurred for many centuries in the christian world; and we may venture to say, that it never could have entered into the head of any man, had not the revenues of the church grown so considerable, as to become worth the notice of the civil magistrate, who took advantage of them to oblige his creatures and dependents. The fruits of this method of proceeding are such as might have been expected from the manner of its introduction. The people belonging to the established church, are like the vassals of the Polish nobility, or the mere live stock of a farm, delivered over, as parcel of the estate, to every successive incumbent.
As to the wisdom of choice among candidates for the ministry, we see, in fact, that the interest of the people is not at all considered in it. The same interest is openly made for church livings as for places, or emoluments of any other kind; and being procured by the same means, they are enjoyed in the same manner, without any idea of obligation to the people from whom their revenue arises.
What reason there is, or would be, to boast of the happy effects of uniformity in a great number of societies, comprehending a whole kingdom, or the whole christian world, we may judge from the horrible evils, before recited, that attend the necessary methods of enforcing this uniformity in a single society; for these must be multiplied in proportion to the number. We see, in fact, much more good than harm is found to result from the diversities in dissenting congregations. They are extremely favourable to the advancement of religious knowledge, and they afford a fine opportunity for the exercise of christian candour and charity; the very possibility of which would be excluded in, what Dr. Balguy would call, a complete and perfect establishment. Some inconveniences cannot fail to arise from the most favourable situation of things; but in this state of trial, the Divine Being has not provided for the prevention of vice by cutting off all occasions of virtue.
Besides, so wise is the constitution of human nature, that differences of opinion cannot be prevented by any human means. It is labour in vain to attempt it. It is our wisdom, therefore, not to irritate one another by opposition, but to derive every advantage we possibly can from a circumstance that will necessarily take place. There is as much diversity of sentiment, and consequent animosity in the church of England (as far as the members of it think for themselves at all) and even in the church of Rome, (notwithstanding the infallibility they pretend to in the decision of controversies) as among Dissenters, but without the advantage which they derive from their situation, of unconfined freedom of debate, and not having their inquiries restricted within certain limits only.
“We have now seen,” says this author, p, 13. “on what principles the authority of a religious community, both over the ministers, and members of particular congregations, may be securely maintained, whether residing in the community at large, or delegated to some certain persons.” We shall now examine in what manner he would join the authority of the civil magistrate to this system of church authority. Here, as he is wandering still farther from the simplicity of the gospel, we may naturally expect more wildness in his suppositions, and greater confusion in his reasoning.
Because we see,” says he, p. 14. “by the history of all ages, that religion, in the hands of selfish and factious men, is a very dangerous instrument; it, therefore, greatly concerns the public peace and safety, that all church authority should be under the control of the civil governor; that religious assemblies, as well as others, should be subject to his inspection, and bound by such rules as he shall see fit to impose. The most effectual method of obtaining this security, is to invest the supreme power, civil and ecclesiastical, in the same person. There are, indeed, good reasons why the offices of religion ought not to be administered by the magistrate. Both the education of his youth, and the attention of his riper years, have been employed on very different objects; and amidst the numberless toils and cares of government, it is impossible he should find leisure for any inferior profession.”
P. 12. “To obtain completely the benefits proposed from this union of civil and ecclesiastical authority, all the members of the same community should be members also of the same church; variety of sects having a natural tendency both to weaken the influence of public religion, and to give disturbance to the public peace. Where this is impracticable, not the best, but the largest sect will naturally demand the protection of the magistrate.
P. 19. “As ministers, while employed by public authority, are not at liberty to depart from established forms, or to assemble separate congregations; so neither are the people at liberty, while they remain in society, to desert at pleasure, their lawful pastors, and flock in crowds to receive instruction from those who have no authority to give it. If they cannot lawfully comply with the terms of communion, let them make an open separation. In vain do men unite in civil or religious communities, if each individual is to retain intire liberty of judging and acting for himself.”
Concerning the impropriety and absurdity of making a civil magistrate the supreme head of a christian church, I think enough has been advanced above. I should, indeed, have thought that the same reasons which this author gives, why the civil magistrate should not be concerned in the offices of religion, might have made him, at least, suspect his qualifications for super-intending the whole business of religion, and directing all the officers in it. According to this maxim, a person might be very fit for the office of a bishop, and especially an archbishop, who was by no means qualified to be a common curate. But to prevent disturbances, the civil magistrate must have security for the good behaviour of all his subjects, whatever be their religious persuasion; and, as he observes, the most effectual method (he does not say the only sufficient method, though it be precisely the thing that his argument requires) of obtaining this security is to invest the supreme power, civil and ecclesiastical, in the same person, be they ever so incompatible, and the same person ever so ill qualified to conduct them both.
But is not this, as I have hinted (in the parenthesis in the last paragraph) giving the civil magistrate much more power than, upon his own premises, is necessary? Is it not possible that all church-authority should be sufficiently under the control of the civil government, and that religious assemblies, as well as others, should be subject to his inspection, and even be bound by many of his rules, so far as was necessary to prevent any breach of the publick peace, without investing him with supreme ecclesiastical power. For my own part, I should have no objection to the presence of an inspector from the civil magistrate in a religious assembly, or the attendance of as many constables, or even soldiers, as might be judged necessary to keep the peace, upon all occasions in which religion is concerned; and, if the civil magistrate be no more concerned in this business than the public peace and safety is concerned (and this writer himself does not so much as hint at any thing more) I should think this might satisfy him. But both he, and the civil magistrate want much more than this, when the latter must needs pass out of his proper character, and insist upon being the supreme head of the church. The avowed object and end of the union of civil and ecclesiastical power will not justify this claim, for it may be compassed at a much less expence. If I want a house that will not be blown down by the wind, and two feet of thickness in the wall will sufficiently answer my purpose, should I make it twenty feet thick, because this would be a more effectual, or the most effectual security? A sufficient security is enough for me.
The Doctor’s reasoning in this case, is of a piece with the obligation which he lays upon the magistrate to countenance the largest sect of his discordant subjects, in preference to the best. This, indeed, might tend to reconcile the Dissenters in his dominions to their situation, by considering that their magistrate himself, the supreme head of the established church, could not command the religion of his choice any more than they could; for though he prescribed to one part of his subjects, the other part of them dictated to him; and that he was under the disagreeable necessity of enacting the articles of a religion which he himself did not believe.
The Bishop of Gloucester too, Dr. Balguy’s master in the science of defence, says, that “the state must make an alliance with the largest of the religious societies.” I wish that either of these gentlemen, or any person for them, would tell us what ought to be the established religion of Ireland on these principles. Certainly, not that of the church of England; for, if I be rightly informed, there are many parishes in that kingdom, in which the clergy of the established church do no duty at all, because they can find none of their parishioners who would attend their ministrations. Had Constantine the Great been aware of the force of this reasoning, though a christian himself, he would have thought himself obliged to strengthen the establishment of the heathen worship, and to discountenance the profession of christianity in the Roman empire. For the same reason, also, a Protestant king of France would be obliged to continue the revocation of the edict of Nantz. It is really very difficult to animadvert upon such positions as these, and retain one’s gravity at the same time.
There is something one cannot help smiling at in the reasons which Dr. Balguy gives for the legal maintenance of christian ministers. “This provision,” he says, p. 16. “is of great importance to them and the public, as we may easily judge from the wretched and precarious condition of those who want it; a condition which seldom fails to produce a slavish dependence, highly unbecoming a public teacher, and in some measure disqualifying him for the discharge of his office.”
If our Lord had imagined that any real advantage would have accrued to the ministers of his gospel from a legal provision, I do not see why we might not (either in his discourses or parables) have expected some hint of it, and some recommendation of an alliance of his kingdom with those of this world, in order to secure it to them. But no idea of such policy as this can be collected from the New Testament. For my part, I wonder how any man can read it, and retain the idea of any such worldly policy; so far am I from thinking it could have been collected from it.
Upon the whole, when I consider my situation as a minister of the gospel, or a member of a christian society, I do not see what either the state, or myself, could get by an alliance, admitting there was nothing unnatural, and absurd in the idea of such a connection. I want nothing that the state can give me (except to be unmolested by it) for I want neither a legal maintenance, nor power to enforce my admonitions. I look upon both these things as unsuitable to, and destructive of, the proper ends of my ministry. And, without any hire from the civil powers, I shall think it my duty to do all I can towards making my hearers good subjects, by making them good men, and good christians. I shall, therefore, never court any alliance with the state; and should the state be so absurd as to make any proposals of alliance with me, I hope I should have virtue enough to reject them with indignation, as Peter did the not very dissimilar offer of Simon Magus. Let the men of this world, and the powers of this world know, that there are some things that cannot be purchased with money.
In the same spirit are this writer’s reasons for the difference of ranks among the clergy, and for a provision suitable to those ranks. “And will not the same reasons, p. 16. serve peculiarly to recommend those forms of government, in which the clergy, as well as the laity, are distributed into different ranks, and enabled to support those ranks in a becoming manner; that both the lower orders may avoid contempt, and the higher obtain distinction and regard? Were all the ministers placed in low stations of life, it is easy to see with what neglect they would be treated, and with what prejudice their doctrine would be received. Poverty, aukwardness, and ignorance of what is called the world, are disadvantages, for which the highest attainments in learning and virtue could never atone.”
I shall close my remarks on this writer’s method of defending the establishment, with repeating a trite observation, that there is, generally, both a true, and an ostensible reason for men’s conduct, and that these are often very different from one another; because I cannot help thinking, that it is verified in the case before us. The ostensible, and plausible reasons for church establishments, are such as this writer has represented, derived from the imaginary evils attending the want of them; but the true reason with respect to the ministers, may be the scantiness and uncertainty of their provision without them; and, with respect to the civil magistrate, the vast addition of influence he thereby acquires, in consequence, both of having so many benefices at his disposal, and likewise, of retaining in his pay the public instructors of the people; men, who being kept in continual expectation, by the exhibition of higher preferment and greater emolument, will not fail to inculcate maxims the most favourable to the establishment, and increase of that power on which they depend.
But firm as the connection seems to be between the civil and ecclesiastical power, a connection cemented by mutual worldly advantage, this high alliance may yet be broken, and interest divide what interest has united. It has often seemed good to divine wisdom to take the wise in their own craftiness, and to bring about his own designs by the very means that were used to defeat them. Of this we have a recent example in France, in which we have seen the necessities of the state compelling its governors to abolish the richest of the religious orders. Did not the English ministry, who have not so large a standing army as the French, want more dependents of other kinds, so that honours, pensions, and church preserments, are extremely convenient to them, something similar to this might take place in England: and who can tell what may be the case, when some future tyrannical administration shall not be able to ride the storm they have raised, or to struggle, without unusual resources, with the difficulties in which they shall have involved themselves.
The remainder of the largest quotation I lately made from this writer, plainly respects the Methodists, at whose conduct he seems to have taken great offence. I agree with him, that ministers, while they are employed by public authority, are not at liberty to depart from established forms; but I can see no reason in the world why, in a country that admits of toleration, the people may not desert their usual places of public worship, and return to them whenever they please. Have the laity subscribed to any articles of faith, or formulary of religious worship? If not, they are clearly at liberty to act as they shall think most convenient, and to dissent partially or totally, secretly or openly, as they like best. But it is probable, that this author may not mean being at liberty with respect to the laws of this country, but with respect to conscience; so that though the law allows a man to quit the worship of the church of England, either occasionally or entirely, his conscience should dictate to him to do it intirely and wholly, if at all; which, to me, sounds strange and paradoxical enough.
The situation of conscientious laymen in the church of England, according to the casuistry of Dr. Balguy, is truly remarkable, and such as, I dare say, few, or none of them are aware of. If they were, easily as the common people are generally led by the priests, I think the spirit of an Englishman would revolt at it. For this writer absolutely declares, that “the union of civil and ecclesiastical powers in the establishment is in vain, if each individual is to retain entire liberty of judging and acting for himself.” Certainly a churchman ought to insist upon receiving some very great advantage in the establishment, as an equivalent for the surrender of this great and important natural right, to judge and act for himself. Upon the principles of this writer, a professed churchman is not at liberty so much as to hear a single sermon by those who have no legal authority to preach, i. e. Dissenters and Methodists (or, as he chuses to call them, sectaries, and enthusiasts;) so that he is cut off from the very means of judging for himself: for certainly this writer cannot have less objection to his parishioners reading the discourses of sectaries and Methodists, than to their hearing them.
This writer, indeed, is inconsistent enough to allow the members of the established church to make an open separation from it, if they cannot lawfully comply with the terms of communion. But were the terms ever so unlawful, what chance has any person for coming at the knowledge of it? Can it be supposed that a man should at once, of himself, and without any means of information, become so dissatisfied with the service of the church, that he should think it unlawful to join in it? I dare say the Doctor imagined no such event. But, in point of conscience, why may not a person think himself at liberty to leave the communion of the church, though he should not think it unlawful. May it not be sufficient that he thinks another form of religion preferable to it?
Take the whole paragraph that I have quoted, and I really think it a curiosity both in point of sentiment and reasoning; but, withal, one of the greatest insults that I have yet seen offered to the understandings and spirit of men. And yet this is from an Englishman, to Englishmen.
The Dissenters are obliged to this writer for the good-will he seems to bear them, in being an advocate for toleration in general; but I cannot help saying, I think him a very aukward, and inconsistent advocate in the case, and that intolerance would be much more agreeable to his general principles. If it be true, as he says, p. 17. that “a variety of sects has a natural tendency both to weaken the influence of public religion, and to give disturbance to the public peace,” how is the magistrate “unqualified, or uncommissioned, to persecute for conscience sake?” Is he not constituted the guardian of the public peace, and must he not use the most effectual means to prevent the disturbance of it? If, “in order to obtain completely the benefits proposed from the union of civil and ecclesiastical authority, all the members of the same common-wealth should be members also of the same church,” a conscientious civil magistrate might think it his duty, and well worth his while, to hazard something, with a prospect of insuring so great an advantage; especially as, according to this writer, it is only when the union of all the members of the commonwealth in one church is impracticable, that toleration is necessary. I own I should be very sorry to trust the civil magistrate with Dr. Balguy’s general maxims of civil and ecclesiastical policy. I would not even trust Dr. Balguy himself in certain circumstances, when his principles give me so uncertain a hold of him. But toleration, very fortunately, happens to be the fashionable doctrine at present; and it must be incorporated into every system, how ill soever it may connect with it.
An example of one of the mischiefs attending establishments Dr. Balguy has given in himself, in the conclusion of this sermon, in which he reflects very severely upon the author of the Confessional, and his friends; for I think it is very evident, that his censures respect nobody else. “There is,” says this writer, p. 20. “one class of men, to whom this plea for compassion” (due to Methodists, as out of the reach of rational conviction) “will not extend. Those I mean who, without any pretence to inspiration, live in open war with the national church; with that very church of which they profess themselves ministers, and whose wages they continue to take, though in actual service against her. Whether this conduct proceed from a dislike to all establishments, or from a desire of erecting a new one, on the ruins of that which subsists at present, in either case, it is contrary to the most evident principles of justice and honour.”
We see then, that when religion has once been established, all the ministers of it are to be considered as servants in her pay, and bound to fight for her and support her. The very proposal of a reformation by any member of an establishment, is contrary to the most evident principles of justice and honour; a maxim that shuts the door against all reformations that may not be called violent ones. Every disorder, how flagrant soever, must be winked at, so long as a person continues in the church; and in order to put himself into a situation to propose an amendment, he must quit his preferments, and declare war as an alien. This sufficiently justifies the common complaint against establishments, that they never reform themselves, but that all reformations have ever been forced upon them ab extra. This has, hitherto, been matter of surprise to many persons, and some (among whom, I think, is the Bishop of Gloucester) have pretended to deny the charge, but now it appears to be rather a matter of boasting; for it would have been contrary to the most evident principles of justice and honour, for the clergy to have made the attempt.
It is not improbable, but that Dr. Balguy and his friends, if they would explain themselves freely, might carry this point of honour a little farther, and say, that no person who has ever eaten the bread, or tasted the salt of the church, should lift up his heel against her; nor perhaps the man whose father, or grandfather had eaten of it.
I should think the most scrupulous casuist might allow a clergyman, who is dissatisfied with the church, to make a fair attempt to procure the reformation of those abuses that are intolerable to him; and, consequently, to wait a proper time, to see the effect of his endeavours, before he absolutely quitted his station in the church. For if his endeavours succeed, he will have no occasion to quit it at all; and, in the mean time, the remonstrances of a person who is a member of the church, may be expected to have a more favourable hearing, than those of one who has no connection with it.
So far am I from joining with Dr Balguy, in his harsh censures of the author of the Confessional, that I rather think that every principle of justice and honour should prompt a man to use his best endeavours for the benefit of any community of which he is a member, and of whose privileges he partakes. If, therefore, there be any thing wrong in the constitution of it, those principles require him to promote a reformation of the abuse; and it would be manifestly contrary to the principles of justice and honour, to be an unconcerned spectator of so great a misfortune to it. I cannot help comparing the author of the Confessional to a man who would endeavour to stop a leak he perceived in the vessel in which he was embarked, and Dr. Balguy to a man who would run the risque of its sinking all at once, rather than insinuate that there was any thing amiss with it.
Strange as this author’s declamation against the friends of the Confessional is, it follows directly from his avowed principle, that authority once established must be obeyed. Speaking of “the founders of our holy religion,” he says, p. 18. “They established a form of church government; for the church must be governed in some form, or there could be no government. But their directions to us are, for the most part, very general. Even their example must be cautiously urged, in different times, and under different circumstances. In this one point they are clear and explicit, that authority once established must be obeyed.”
But was not popery once established in this island? How then is it possible, upon these principles of passive obedience and non-resistance, to vindicate the reformation? Whatever it be that is once established, and in whatever manner it is once established, it must, it seems, be submitted to. If this principle be applied without restriction, it will vindicate the continuance of every system, the most absurd and mischievous in the world; and if it do admit of restriction and limitation, it could signify nothing to this author’s purpose to alledge it.
It might have been expected, that a writer who is so extremely severe upon those who propose a reformation in the church, while they continue in it, should have expressed some degree of indignation against those who intrude themselves into it by false oaths and pretences, subscribing the articles and canons, &c. when they disbelieve and ridicule them. But I fancy that I can put my reader into possession of the secret reason, why nothing of this kind occurs in the writings of the friends of church authority. Men who have come this way into the church have always proved its firmest friends. Having made no bones of their own scruples, they pay no regard to the scruples of others. A conscientious bigot to the church is not half so much to be depended upon, as the man who believes not a single word of the matter, nor is he so fit to be admitted into the cabinet council of church-power.
Such, my gentle reader, are the maxims, and such the reasoning with which this writer stands forth to support the declining cause of church-authority. For he justly complains, p. 5. that “notwithstanding the members of the church of England have, from its foundation, been carefully instructed in these points, by its ablest defenders, yet, so capricious is the public taste, that these great writers have gradually fallen into neglect. Their doctrines are now, in a manner, forgotten, and enthusiasts and sectaries revive the same follies, and defend them by the same arguments, which were once effectually overthrown.” In this deplorable situation of things, this great champion has judged it “not to be improper to resume the beaten subject, and to explain, on rational principles, the foundation of church authority.”
It is, indeed, truly deplorable, that these great authors should have fallen into neglect, and that their excellent doctrines should be, in a manner, forgotten; but this misfortune has been owing, chiefly, to themselves. The truth is, that these great writers have been very inconsistent with one another, which is a very unfavourable and suspicious circumstance for the cause they are so zealously labouring to support. While each of them is busily pursuing his own separate scheme, and they are applying their very different methods to gain the same end, they only obstruct and embarrass one another.
In reality, the principles of the Dissenters are not more opposite, either to those of Hooker or Warburton, than those of these two great champions for church-authority are to one another; and other writers have proposed other schemes of church power quite different from them both. Now if three persons be building a house, and one of them will have it of brick, another of stone, and the third of wood; and if each be so obstinate, that he will pull down what the others build, how can it be expected that the edifice should be completed? or how can the spectators refrain from laughing to see them so laboriously employed? If I may be indulged another comparison, I would say, that when the schemes of the different writers, in defence of ecclesiastical establishments, are considered together, they make such kind of harmony, as would result from a number of persons singing the same words, each to his own favourite tune, at the same time.
In these circumstances, I cannot help thinking that Dr. Balguy is unreasonably severe upon the members of his own church, and expects too much from them, when he says, p. 4. “It might well have been expected, that the members of the English church should have seen farther, and judged better (than to consult the scriptures for what is not to be found in it, with respect to church government) because this church, even from its foundation, has been carefully instructed on these very points by some of its ablest defenders. But so capricious is the public taste,” &c. Had these ablest defenders of the church defended her upon the same principles, and upon the same general maxims of church power, this writer’s censures might have been just; for, by a proper degree of attention and deference to such instructors, they might have been long ago well grounded in this important branch of knowledge. But he only says that some of the ablest defenders of the church, not all of them have instructed her so carefully. And were the members of the church ever so desirous of receiving instruction, either for their own benefit, or that of their teachers, what proficiency could they be expected to make, when their ablest masters did not teach the same general doctrines?
If this hath been the case, even from the foundation of this church (which, in proportion to its occasions, has been blest with so many able defenders) how much more embarrassed must her members have been since the publication of the Confessional, when (if I be rightly informed, for I have not yet read any of them myself) almost every oppugner of that excellent work has adopted a different system of church-authority; so that, as the controversy proceeds, we may expect to be entertained with the exhibition of as many crude systems of church power, as there are said to have been unformed animals in Egypt, after an inundation of the Nile. I do not know what we should do after such another inundation, but that these half-formed beings generally perish as soon as they have shewn any signs of life.
Since, however, the ablest defenders of the church will, each, go their own way to work, suppose that, in order to make the best of this unfavourable circumstance, those who are to be instructed by these able masters be distributed into distinct classes, and that care be taken, that they do not intermix with one another. Provided the same end be answered, and the church be supported, what doth it signify how different, or inconsistent are the means by which it is effected? When this experiment has been made, that mode of instruction may be adopted, in exclusion of the rest, which shall be found in fact, to make the most zealous churchmen. In the issue, I suspect, that though the modern improvements in the science of church government may appear to be the best for the politer and more free-thinking part of the nation, nothing will be found to answer so well with the common people, who do not easily enter into refinements, as the old-fashioned jure divino doctrines. I am afraid Dr. Warburton has been rather impolitic in decrying those old supports of the cause, rotten as he thinks them to be. They have been of excellent service in their day.
To conclude this section with perfect seriousness. I congratulate my reader, and the age in which we live, that the great writers (as Dr. Balguy calls them) in defence of church power, have fallen into neglect, and that their doctrines are, in a manner, forgotten. To account for this remarkable fact, in an age, in which knowledge of all other kinds (and especially the knowledge of government and laws, and I think the knowledge of religion too) has been so greatly advanced, may surprise the Doctor and his friends, and therefore they may resolve it into caprice or chance; but it is no surprise to me, or my friends. Magna est veritas, &c. the translation of which saying I shall give my reader in the words of this author, p. 9. “Truth can never suffer from a free inquiry. The combat may be sharp, but she is sure to conquer in the end.” And though the performance I am animadverting upon be an attempt to revive the memory of some of the arguments in defence of church-authority, I trust it will only serve to hold them forth once more to the generous contempt and detestation of men of sense and reflection; and accelerate their being finally consigned to everlasting oblivion, as the disgrace of human reason, and human nature.