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SEVERAL PLEAS AND EXCUSES FOR IT PARTICULARLY
EXAMINED AND CONFUTED.
The occasion and design of these papers. REMARKS have been lately published against a clause contained in a bill which had been brought into the House of Lords, for the more effectual suppressing of vlasphemy and profaneness. It has been observed, among other things, that the clause, being intended as a test against Arianism, would be of little use or significancy as to the end designed by it; because those who are now understood to be Arians, are ready to subscribe any test of that kind, containing nothing more than is already contained in the XXXIX Articles. The Remarker takes notice, that those gentlemen make no scruple of subscribing to our Church's forms: it is their avowed principle that they may lawfully do it in their own sense, agreeably to what they call Scripture. This he proves from their declared sentiments, not only in common conversation, but in print; and from their constant practice of late years, since the year 1712.
If this be matter of fact, (as I am afraid it is,) it may be
high time to inquire, somewhat more particularly than hath been yet done, into the case of subscription. If instead of excusing a fraudulent subscription on the foot of human infirmity, (which yet is much too soft a name for it,) endeavours be used to defend it upon principle, and to support it by rules of art, it concerns every honest man to look about him. For what is there so vile or shameful, but may be set off with false colours, and have a plausible turn given it, by the help of quirks and subtilties? Many, without doubt, have been guilty of prevaricating with state-oaths; but nobody has been yet found sanguine enough to undertake the defence of it in print. Only Church-subscriptions, though of much the same sacred nature with the other, may be securely played with: and the plainest breach of sincerity and trust, in this case, shall find its advocates and defenders. It must indeed be owned, that the pretences for it have not been particularly confuted or examined. The reason is, because they looked more like a wanton exercise of wit and fancy, (though it is dangerous playing with sacred things,) than any serious design to convince the world of the justice of it. Besides that the foundations of moral honesty were thought so deeply rooted in the hearts of men, that every attempt against them must soon fall, and die of itself. However, because the pretences for what I call a fraudulent 'subscription had been recommended by a person of some character in the learned world; and might possibly gain 'ground among such as take things implicitly, upon the credit of any great name; I had once prepared a formal Answer to what had been advanced on that head : and I designed to publish it by way of introduction to my Defence. But, before my papers were quite wrought off, there appeared a second edition of Scripture Doctrine, &c. upon perusal whereof, I observed that the most offensive passage of the Introduction, relating to subscription, was left out: and besides that, all those strange and unaccountable interpretations of the Athanasian Creed, &c. (which had appeared in the first edition,) were also pru
dently omitted; though those were all the author had to depend on for the justifying his subscription. Upon this, I was willing to hope that the learned Doctor had given, or was giving up his former principles, relating to subscription: and I thought it would be ungenerous now to attack him in his weakest hold, after he had himself betrayed a suspicion, at least, that he could no longer maintain it. Wherefore I contented myself with a short remark in my Preface, entering a caveat only, against any one's abusing the Doctor's name hereafter, or mispleading his authority, in the case of subscription. It was not long before a nameless writer of the party took me up for the charitable suggestion I had made in favour of the learned Doctor. That writer persisting in the Doctor's first sentiments, and being very unwilling to part with so valuable an authority, was pleased to oppose the conjecture I bad made upon the Doctor's leaving out the passage in his Introduction. “I know not,” says he, “ for what reason “ Dr. Clarke omitted those words; but, I believe, I may
say, it was not for the reason Dr. Waterland insinuates, “ viz. «that such subscription is not justifiable; because the “ same thing is still asserted five or six times, at least, in " the Introduction as corrected in the new edition a." I am not of that gentleman's mind, in this particular. Nay, if it might not look vain, I would presume, after a competent acquaintance with the Doctor's books, to have seen a little farther into the turn of his thoughts, than perhaps that writer has done: and, with his good leave, I will still retain the same opinion of the Doctor's good sense and integrity so far, which I had when I wrote my Preface. I think I could give a tolerable account of the Doctor's not striking out every passage in his Introduction that looked that way: and likewise of his great reserve and caution, in not telling the world, plainly, that he had changed his mind. However, if I mistake, I am sure it is on the candid and charitable side; and on that
a Account of Pamphlets, &c. p. 17.
which must appear much more for the Doctor's honour, (with all men of sense,) than persisting in an error ever can be. That it is an error, and a very great one,
I to show in these papers : and though I must, in appearance, carry on a dispute against the learned Doctor, because the objections, for the most part, must be produced in his words; yet I would be understood, in reality, to be rather disputing this point with the Doctor's disciples, who lay a greater stress upon what he has said, than himself now seems to do; thereby making his first thoughts theirs, after they have (as I charitably conceive) ceased to be his. I shall have no occasion to say any thing in defence of our excellent Church, as to her requiring subscription ; and requiring it according to her own sense of holy Scripture. This part of the controversy has been judiciously cleared and settled by two very ingenious writers; Mr. Stebbing in his Rational Enquiry, and Mr. Rogers in his Discourse, and Review. My business is only to begin where they end, and to show that, as the Church requires subscription to her own interpretation of Scripture, so the subscriber is bound, in virtue of his subscription, to that, and that only: and if he knowingly subscribes in any sense contrary to, or different from, the sense of the imposers; he prevaricates, and commits a fraud in so doing. This is a cause of some moment: it is the cause of plainness and sincerity, in opposition to wiles and subtleties. It is in defence, not so much of revealed, as of natural religion; not of the fundamentals of faith, but of the principles of moral honesty: and every heresy in morality is of more pernicious consequence than heresies in points of positive religion. The security and honour of our Church are deeply concerned in this question. As to its security, every body sees what I mean : and as to the honour or reputation of our Church abroad, whenever we have been charged with Socinianism or Popery, or any other monstrous doctrines, we had no defence so ready at hand, or so just and satisfactory, as this; that our subscriptions were sufficient to wipe off all
slander and calumny. The good of the State, as well as of the Church, is likewise concerned in this question: because there can be no security against men's putting their own private senses upon the public laws, oaths, injunc-. tions, &c. in contradiction to the sense of the imposers, if these principles about Church subscription should ever prevail amongst us.
But of this, more will be said in the sequel. I designed only, at present, briefly to intimate the
I importance of the cause I am inquiring into; to invite the readers to the more careful examination of it. And I shall enter into the merits of it, as soon as I have laid down the principles of the men I am now concerned with, in order to let us into the true state of the question.
The general principles or sentiments of the modern Arians
(some of them at least) concerning subscription to our public forms.
THE author of the Remarks observes, that " it is an “ avowed principle among them, that these Articles” (the XXXIX Articles) “ may lawfully and conscientiously be “ subscribed in any sense in which they themselves, by “ their own interpretation, can reconcile them to Scrip“ ture,” (i. e. what they call Scripture; or their own sense of Scripture,) “ without regard to the meaning and in“tention, either of the persons who first compiled them, “ or who now impose them.” He says farther, that “ this latitude was expressly asserted in the year 1712,
by a learned Doctor of divinity, in a book entitled, The “ Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity; and was advanced on
purpose to justify their subscribing.” It is very well that the doctrine can be dated no higher than the year 1712; as indeed it cannot; being entirely new: never heard of among sober casuists, at least, before that time. Now, the principal words of the author of Scripture Doctrine (as they stand in the Introduction to the first edition) are these: “ It is plain that every person may reasonably