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Many will be surprised, and look upon it as a novelty to be told (what yet is the old and true doctrine,) that to that sound and catholic part of Christ's Church, which is established in the country where he was born, or where the providence of God has fixed him, he is bound to adhere,— that to all its ordinances in indifferent matters, all those rules which it has directed to be observed for the purpose of edification, it is his duty to conform, that he who separates from such a particular church, does it at his peril,—that he is committing an act for which he must be seriously and deeply accountable at the day of judgment,—that, in short, Schism, independently of all considerations of doctrine, though it should be no part of its object to work any express corruption of the truth, is in itself a grievous and heinous sin, hurtful in the greatest degree to the general interests of christianity, and big with the most serious consequences to the individual.
Custom indeed, the loose writing of some of the clergy, and the general silence of the body upon the constitution of the christian church, have so far reconciled us to the divisions that have taken place among christians, that they are no longer seen in the light in which they were seen in the primitive days of the church; whilst charity, forbidding us to speak harshly of the spiritual condition of our brethren, has in a manner tended to efface the sin of schism from our minds. In the liturgy of the church we pray against schism; if, by their writings or conduct, the clergy at the same
time give encouragement to it,-will they not, by so doing, be thought to be acting in contradiction to the profession which they have made? this, it is to be feared, is the case with all those who, instead of pointing out to the laity the danger attendant upon their officiously meddling with the ministerial office, and the duty of submitting to those teachers, who by authority are set over them, by their loose writing or irregular practice lead them to the very opposite conclusion. And what reasonable hope can be entertained, that the unity ofthe church will, in any degree, be preserved, whilst those whose office it is to preserve it, become the instruments of its dissolution?
When, therefore, such loose opinions as these prevail, entirely destructive of the unity of the christian church,-when every one must perceive the increasing defection from the communion and authority of this church; silence on the part of its friends, whether clergy or laity, becomes criminal, and a cold neutrality is inexcusable. To use the the words (with the alteration of a single word) of Archdeacon Daubeny: When I see so many apparently idle and unconcerned, whilst the enemy is digging and undermining the very ground on which they stand; and at the same time consider, that they who help not to support the church when she is in distress, do in reality contribute to pull her down; in writing as an honest lay-member of that church ought to write on her subject, I feel that satisfaction which must ever accompany a conscientious discharge of duty.
I am sensible that the doctrines maintained in the following pages are become unpopular in this age of boasted illumination; that they are too contracted for the expansive liberality, or (to speak more justly) the religious indifference of the times, and that the maintainers of them are branded with the name of bigots. Professing myself to be one of those bigots, and being perfectly satisfied with the company in which I am placed, my only hope is, that I may be thought worthy to continue in it.
To this important subject, the attention of the English and Scotch clergy has been turned for some years past, and by them the world has been favoured with some excellent treatises. I shall mention three in particular: 1. A Guide to the Church, by the Rev. C. Daubeny, Archdeacon of Sarum, 2d edit. 1804, strongly recommended by the Bishops of Gloucester and Lincoln. 2. Primitive Order Vindicated, in answer to Campbell's Lectures, by the Right Rev. Dr Skinner, Bishop of Aberdeen, 1803. 3. The Nature and Guilt of Schism, &c. in eight sermons, preached before the University of Oxford, by the Rev. T. Le Mesurier, 1808. It is to be lamented, that few indeed of these, or of similar publications have been imported into this country.
The following treatise, the reader will perceive, is almost entirely compiled from the writings of our celebrated divines. This method of compilation I preferred, not only on account of the success which appears to have attended some late compilations of a similar nature, particularly Bishop
Huntingford's Call to English Protestants,-but, to use the words of Dr Wake, "I hoped that quotations from departed writers of great and deserved fame, would find a more general and unprejudiced acceptance with all sorts of men, than any thing that could be written by any one now living, who, if esteemed by some, is yet in danger of being despised by more." Accordingly, as it is in general collected from authors, many of whom flourished above a hundred years since, the reader is to expect, not elegance of style, but a plain and correct statement of facts, accompanied, I hope, with correspondent reasoning. At the same time, although I have managed this dispute in a manner somewhat different from other authors, and have endeavoured to reduce the tedious and intricate disputes about schism, church authority, church establishments, &c. into a clear, regular, and consistent method; yet it will easily be perceived, that my principles are the very same, that have been constantly received and maintained, .with very few exceptions, by all the learned divines of our church*.
*The opinions mantained in this treatise are absurdly described as belonging to the high church school, as if there were now such parties in the church as high church and low church. The latter, as every one knows, has for many years disappeared; it did not flourish greatly even in the days of Hoadley, and seems to have expired with Archdeacon Blackburne. It could never in fact have been in high repute,—for it must always have borne the appearance of hollowness and treachery. See Le Mesurier's Bampt. Lect. p.431. -Even papists themselves acknowledge that, at present, "both learned and unlearned doctors condemn the Hoadleyan theory on
If any of our Romanists will be pleased to consider what I have said with respect to the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome, with that attention and impartiality which is due to religious subjects, I presume to think he will perceive, that the christian religion does not oblige him to acknowledge the Bishop of Rome's authority in this kingdom. It will plainly appear, that such universal authority has no foundation in the scriptures, and that it was unknown to the primitive Fathers, who conceived themselves obliged to hold communion with him (or any other Bishop,) only so long as he continued catholic and orthodox; but when he became an heretic, we find that the Bishops of those pure ages anathematized him, and refused to have any communication with him. How much more excusable, then, are our Reformed Churches for rejecting his communion, since he not only invades the primitive rights of Bishops, but attempts to obtrude on us, as articles of faith, his decrees, which are contrary to reason, scripture, and the primitive Fathers *.
the nature of church government. Protestant Apology, &c. 1809, p. 36.
* Those men must surely be very ignorant of the nature and spirit of Popery, who suppose that there is no necessity, at present, of exposing the pernicious errors of the Romish Church, and of guarding our people against being infected by them. Let such men consider well the following words of Bishop Stillingfleet:"While we have such restless adversaries (as the Romish priests) to deal with, part of our danger lies in being too secure of the goodness of our cause." Dedication to Anthony, Earl of Shaftsbury,
Vol. V. 117.