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posing themselves to such vexatious and expensive suits at law, as very few of the clergy would be either able or willing to undertake.
And, if in any other case, the priest denies the sacrament to the most infamous sinner dwelling in his parish, if the man, upon an appeal to the ecclesiastical court, can secure the favour of the lay-chancellor, he may securely defy both the minister and bishop, to keep him from the Lord's table. The chancellor's determination shall stand in law, though contrary to the bishop's; and the minister be liable to a suspension for refusing compliance, and even to excommunication itself if he be contumacious, and will not give the man the sacrament. How, Sir, do you reconcile this with your affirming," that your parish priest has " as much power as any presbyterian, or con
gregational minister, to repel open and scan“ dalous sinners from the Lord's table ?"* Or, how with your“ representing the lay-chancellor,
as a person only assumed by the bishop, not to “ do any act that is purely spiritual, but only to “ be his assistant in his ecclesiastical and judicial " proceedings?”+
Is not the chancellor surpreme and uncontroled in his court, not liable to be restrained, or directed by the bishop in his judicial proceed,
Does he not finally and absolutely determine on cases of excommunication, sovereignly direct who shall be received to, and who cast out from christian fellowship and worship, at the table of the Lord? And is not this an act as purely spiritual as important and momentous, as any done in the church? Must not his sentence take place without control, and is the minister, in publishing it, any other than his servant, appointed by law to put it in execution?
Will you please to bear, Sir, the sentiments of
• Letter III. p. 34.
+ Ibid. p. 03.
a great prelate,* of your own church, upon the point in debate? “ If there be any thing in the « office of a bishop, to be challenged peculiar to “themselves, certainly it should be this; (speak“ing of excommunication ;) yet this is in a " manner quite relinquished to their chancel“ lors : laymen who have no more capacity to
sentence or absolve a sinner, than to dissolve “ the heavens or the earth. And this pretended “ power of the chancellor, is sometimes pur« chased with a sum of money.
money “ perish with them! Good God! what a horrid "abuse is this of the divine authority? But this “ notorious transgression is excused, as they " think by this, that a minister, called the bi“shop's surrogate, but who is indeed the chan“ cellor's servant, chosen, called, and placed there
by him to be his crier, no better; that, when " he hath examined, heard, and sentenced the “ cause, then the minister forsooth, pronounces " the sentence. Just as if the rector of a parish “ church should exclude any of his congrega" tion, and lock him out of the church; then
comes the clerk, shews and jingles the keys, “ that all may take notice that he is excluded. “ And, by this his authority, the chancellor takes
upon him to sentence not only laymen, but “ elergymen also, brought into his court, for " any delinquency: and, in the courts of Arches, “ sentence even bishops themselves.
“ I remember when the bishop of Wells, hear“ing of a cause corruptly managed, and coming “ into court to rectify it, the chancellor, Dr. “ Duck, fairly and mannerly bid him be gone, “ for he had no power there to act any thing; " and therewithal pulled out his patent, sealed
by this bishop's predecessor, which frightened " the poor bishop out of the court." Behold! this is the person, Sir, whom you have the courage to represent as only assumed by the bishop, not to do any act that is purely spiritual, but only to be his assistant in his judicial proceedings.
* Dr. Crofts, Bishop of Hereford. Naked Truth, &c. p. 58.
But, as we are now upon the head of discipline, and the law called the Test, is a battery which has beat down all its fences around your church, and you are a zealous advocate for that law, you will permit me here, Sir, to enlarge a little upon that point, and to ask, how can you bear to see the terrible desolation it has made of your godly discipline without resentment and grief? Can you be jealous, Sir, for the prosperity and honour of your church, and yet patiently view it lying in this polluted and common state ? its enclosures broken up, and a way opened, by law, for the most flagitious of men, for atheists, professed deists, and the most open and avowed sinners, to lie securely in its bosom, to be numbered and cherished amongst its holiest and most beloved children, and to be acknowledged before the world as honest and good christians, by being suffered to come boldly to the table of the Lord?
But why do I say suffered does not this church, by the force of this law, even compel them to come in? Many of the unhappy persons, conscious of their unfitness, would gladly draw back. Knowing themselves, perhaps, either to disbelieve the truth, or else to live in open violation of the laws of christianity, they are loath to add to their other crimes this prevarication with Almighty God, this affront to Jesus Christ, and thereby to run a dreadful risk of eating and drinking judgment to themselves. But their all lies at stake: they must qualify, or be given up to beggary and want. Away therefore with scruples ! They rush to the Lord's table, and partake of the sacred elements with consciences and characters all covered with guilt.
You will say, perhaps, it is their own fault: they might have refused to come. They might, indeed, if they would have lost their post, their subsistence, their bread. But can the church reasonably expect such sacrifices as these from men of corrupt minds? Is she then in no fault, in laying men under such strong, almost invincible temptations to this odious hypocrisy, and profanation of holy things ? Is she not highly culpable for opening her bosom to receive men of impure characters, to all the sacred privileges, liberties, and honours, which belong only to sincere christians ? Yea, for owning before the world, as worthy and good christians, persons whom the world sees, and whom the church herself cannot but see, to blaspheme the name of Christ, and to live in avowed contempt of his authority and laws ?
And what relief, Sir, bas the unhappy minister, of whom, as steward in God's house it is required that he be found faithful, and who is hereafter to answer for his conduct to his great master? What relief, I ask, has he, when the veteran debauchee shall come and demand from him these pledges of christian fellowship, and of God's paternal love ? Truly, none at all. He must receive him, as a child of God, and a dearly beloved brother, to the table of Christ, or have an action commenced against him, and be liable to damages amounting, perhaps, to much more than he is worth.
As much therefore, as you are concerned for the honour of the church, and for the interest, reputation, and comfort of its clergy, so much you ought to wish, and zealously, promote the repeal of this law; a law which, whatever was its original intention, hath, in its application, let in, like a floodgate, upon your church, the dregs of the human race: a law, which, though at first designed only the more effectually to prevent all
danger to the constitution from papists, hath, by an unnatural perversion of it, actually broken down all distinctions established by divine authority, between sacred and profane; has thrust infidels and profligates into the most holy places. of your temple, and brings deists and debauchees to eat at the Lord's table amongst the children of his house. Let me ask you, Sir, in the name of Christ, our common master and judge, doth not this law, as now enforced, occasion the most notorious prostitution of a holy sacrament of his religion? Is not its avowed and open tendency and use to pervert an institution of our Saviour 10 ends not only quite different from, but even opposite to those for which he appointed it? Is it not making that a political instrument to divide christians, which Christ instituted as a religious instrument to coalesce and unite them? Must it not be bighly odious and offensive to Almighty God, to see a holy sacrament, which his wisdom baih ordained for spiritual and religious purposes only, thus prostituted, perverted, made an engine and tool of state, employed to strengthen and perpetuate differences amongst good christians, and thereby debased, not to worldJy only, but to much worse than worldly ends?
As to myself, Sir, I assure you, though I think this law to be a most unrighteous restraint upon us, and an undoubted violation of our natural rights, yet I am far from being persuaded that its repeal would be of the least service to our interest as disseuters. I have often doubted whether there be not too much truth in what you say, " that high trusts, public offices, and court “ employments, would be extremely apt to cor
rupt us, and to make practical religion more
visibly decay;" and that it would really rather injure than strengthen our interest. I have never therefore as a dissenter, been at all solicitous for the repeal. No, Sir, so far from this, that could