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doctrine; and if the latter is not, there is no authority left to which they can appeal. The Protestant Churches have laid it down as á principle, that all Christians are bound by the word of God; consequently, by what is agreeable to the word of God: and they have always imagined, that if this agreement were once allowed them, nothing could supersede the obligation of submitting to it, but the super-prophetical light of the Quakers, or the interposition of an infallible judge, such as they have at Rome.
Every Englishman, as a member of civil society, is bound by the law of the land; therefore, we say he is bound by the same law when applied to particular cases, and administered in the sentence of a magistrate: otherwise, he is bound and not bound at the same time. If it should be objected, that the sentence may deviate from the law, this is foreign to the case in hand; because we argue at present upon the proviso, that it is agreeable to the law.
The erring members of the Christian Church shew themselves to be what they are, by a misapplication of the word of God; which St. Peter tells lis, they who are unlearned and unstable wrest unto their own destruction*. How is the Church to provide against their errors, but by another application of it? If not, we invest the enemies of the Church with a privilege which we deny to the Church herself, who hath at least as good, if not a better right to it. Neither the law of God, nor the law of the land; can administer themselves: and if they are not to be applied and interpreted, then they were made, not to condemn what is wrong, or justify what is right, but only to be looked at, and contradicted, in the way of prix
* 2 Pet. iii. 16.
vate judgment.-But let us hear how he reasons in his own words.
“ Established confessions” (agreeable to the word of God) “ being human compositions, must either be subject to examination, by the private judgment of those who profess to make the written word of God the only rule of their religion, or else the Church must claim a right of interpreting the Scriptures* (i. e. of making ordinances agreeable to the word of God) “ for all her members, exclusive of the rights of private judgment *.”
If established confessions, notwithstanding their agreement with the word of God, may be over-ruled by private judgment, it must follow, that the Scripture itself may be over-ruled upon the same principle; unless it can be proved, that the word of God is changed into the word of man, by being transplanted into an established confession.
The Author supposes private judgment entitled to this prerogative, by making the written word the rule of its religiont; and as the Church certainly does the same, so far as her confession is agreeable to the word of God, there will arise, upon the same ground, a right of public judgment to society: which judgment, if it can be controlled by the judgment of an individual, the right here mentioned will be no right, and society will be no society. Unless this right, thus defined, is allowed to the Church, we must suppose the Scripture contrary to itself in respect of the same doctrines; for here we shall have
* P. 23.
† “ The Purit on would be judged by the word of God. If he would speak clearly, he means himself, but is ashamed to say so; and he would have me believe him before a whole Church, that has read the word of God as well as he." Selden. T. T. p. 111, 3d edit,
private judgment, with the word of God in its hand, pleading against an agreement with the word of God; which is nonsense.
And what will be the issue? Why, the Church cannot give us a rule of doctrine from the Scripture, because an individual is entitled to make his own use of it; and, as a society cannot receive a rule of doctrine from the private judgment of a single person, unless it be that of the pope, we are to have no public rule at all; consequently, that precept of the Apostle,-let us all walk by the same rule—was unnecessary and groundless. · But he will say, the written word is a rule; meaning, as I presume, the Scripture in its own terms. Now, to say nothing against the bulk of the Seripture, as improper for a Creed or Confession, it is a rule which hath been applied with equal assurance to the heresy of Arius, the novel inventions of Popery, the antichristian philosophy of Socinus, the outrageous practices of the Anabaptists, and the absurd enthusiasm of the Quakers. That it may not be so applied by the teachers of this Church, the Articles are a system, in which the Scripture, as the only rule of religion, is particularly pointed against these and other errors. The rule is still the same as before; only the articles contain an application of it to some particular and necessary cases; without attending to which, this Church must actually be what the Papists represent it to be, a Babel of confusion; and Christianity itself would sink into a chaos. Experience teaches us, that without such an application the Scripture becomes no Scripture, when those men have the handling of it, whose heads are filled with the conceits of some heretical leader, and their hearts inflamed with an enthusiastic zeal of infusing them into others. This Author can play with it as he pleases upon his own
principles. If the Church ascertains a scriptural doctrine in short by some equivalent terms of her own, he can oppose to it the Scripture at large in its own terms: If the Scriptures are so express as to require no interpretation, he can have recourse to different senses, leaving the written word for private exposition. Thus he hath the advantage of the Church
He hath the merit of setting up the pure word of God against human inventions, and the convenience of adapting it at pleasure to other inventions of himself or his friends.
If a right of determining for all her members is allowed to the Church, he supposes this must exclude the rights of private judgment. But this doth by no means follow: for the Church hath a right of determining, so far only as she determines agreeable to the word of God. An individual can have no rights but what are grounded upon the same agreement with the word of God; therefore, it is absurd to set up one of these rights exclusive of the other, because they coincide, and are in effect but one and the same thing; though always with this difference, that the judgment of society is a judgment of authority, while private judgment is no more than a judgment of discretion or opinion. If this latter is what the Author contends for, it cannot be excluded by the decisions of any authorily upon earth: for thoughts are free; and if they are absurd or injurious, they must be accounted for at last to the Searcher of all hearts.. It will always be impossible, in the nature of things, to exclude such private judgment from examining aid determining as it pleases, against all authority, divine as well as human. But then such private judgment will not be authoritative, or binding to others, but will and must be over-ruled in this world by the
acts of the society to which it hath joined itself: else there can be no such thing as government or society in the world.
This, indeed, is the genuine consequence of our Author's principle: for he makes private judgment not private but authoritative; asserting, that it “ precludes the right of the Church to establish any thing without the previous consent of all her members *. Whence it follows, that society cannot stop the
proceedings of an individual, but an individual may stop the proceedings of society, and that all the members of society are in a state of equality : whereas the very idea of a society implies a subordination in bodies corporate as in the body natural; and the Apostle, in the earliest state of the Christian Church, argues at large from one of these to the other, in the 12th chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians. If this plan of the Author were to take place, and men should arise speuking perverse things, as Hymeneus and Philetus, to overthrow the faith of weak Christians, they must be admitted as judges in their own cause; and have it in their power to put a negative upon all their brethren, to prevent the establishment of any such regulations as might affect the well-being of their own perverse opinions: that direction too of the Apostle to the ministers of the Church, -A man that is an'heretic, reject t; and that other to the people, Obey them that have the rule over you, whose faith follow I, might be blotted out of the Scripture; for the latter would be useless, and the former impracticable.
This plan, however, will hardly consist with what the Author allows (or seems to allow) upon another occasion. Single men,” he
may be called
+ Tit. iii, 10.
Heb. xiii. 17