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ON THE LORD BISHOP OF BANGOR'S TREATMENT OF THE
CLERGY AND CONVOCATION.
Turno tempus erit, cum magno optaverit emptum
The Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of Bangor having been pleased, in his Answer to Dr. Snape's Letter, to complain of the unhandsome manner in which he has been treated, not only by the doctor, but by the Lower House of Convocation, or at least by the Committee, as his words are generally understood, and as,
I presume, they will not be denied to mean; I think it proper to acquaint the world how little reason his lordship has to make this complaint with regard to the Lower House of Convocation, or the Committee appointed to draw the Representation ; by showing that the manner his lordship was treated in was in no respect unhandsome ; and supposing the manner to have been other than it was, yet that his lordship has no right to complain, having himself in his late performances used the whole clergy of this realm with the utmost scorn and contempt. Together with this, it will be proper to consider his lordship's candid insinuation, that he suffers in this matter for his affection to the present government; and consequently, that those who have treated him in the unhandsome manner complained of are disaffected to the present establishment, and act on other views.
The work I am now engaged in is so far from being pleasant, that I should not have entered on it but to do justice to the cause to which I am heartily a well-wisher, and which ought not to suffer in the opinion of the world because his lordship has a good talent of complaining, and knows how to inflame the passions of his admirers by persuading them of his own meekness and ill usage. The main complaint is to be found in page 41.
" I have this satisfaction, that you come yourself into this whole condemnation ; and not only you, but indeed all, and every man of the church of England; every man of those themselves who have treated me in the same unhandsome manner on this account.” To know what manner his lordship means, we must have recourse to the words immediately preceding,
expose, vilify, use me as you please.” If this complaint then relates to the Lower House of Convocation or the Committee, which cannot, I think, be disputed, his lordship's charge is, that they have exposed him, vilified him, and used him as they please ; that is, in an arbitrary manner, without any regard to the justice or merit of his cause. That they have exposed his lordship may be true, and I believe it is; for his doctrine is become by this means very public in the world. But whose fault is this ? Is it reasonable that a man should write what he pleases, and advance doctrines contrary to sense and reason,
without control, merely because the calling him to account will expose his weakness or his ill meaning ? If this be the case, his lordship's sermon ought not to have been examined; for the weaker any performance is, the more sacred it ought to be; because if it be meddled with, there is the more danger of exposing the writer.
To expose any man means, even in the language of the provoked, to make known the real weakness, folly, or wickedness, which were before not publicly known; which in private cases is often malicious, and contrary to the rules of honor and conscience; but in matters which affect the well-being of mankind with respect to their civil or religious rights, it is a duty to expose whatever or whoever aims at their destruction. If his lordship is innocent, and has done nothing tending this way, the Convocation has certainly exposed itself, which his lordship will not complain of; if he is not innocent, he may be exposed without any fault chargeable on the Convocation, which his lordship ought not to complain of.
But possibly his lordship may mean that in order to expose him they have misrepresented his sense, and charged him with a meaning of which his words are not capable; and I the rather believe that his lordship has this view in his complaint, because I find him dropping something to this effect: “Sir, it is not only perhaps so, but certainly so'; and this so certainly, that all your zeal and that of all your friends put together, and all your abilities likewise, cannot make the sentence capable of any other sense.”
Who these friends are, I should not perhaps have found out had not his lordship given us a key in the words which follow, “ only your Representation is not wholly just :" where the word representation being printed in italic characters, and not referring to any peculiar use of the word in the doctor's letter, can only be meant to point out the friends who have united their endeavors to make his lordship’s words appear to the world in a sense of which they are not capable. This reflexion is somewhat the harder, because it stands applied in an instance which the Convocation meddled not with expressly; and had not his lordship been in great haste to vent his anger and his disdain at once, he would have waited for an opportunity, till he had come to the points common to the Representation and the doctor's letter. Whether the Convocation is guilty or not in this particular, must be left to be determined by the issue of the controversy : that they took all possible care to do justice to his lordship's meaning is certain from all I have heard of this affair: if they have in any instance mistaken, they are the more excusable, because his lordship was so tender of his notion, so suspicious of the light, that his performance, at least as far as it regards the power of the church, is in itself a night-piece, perpetually shaded with absolutely, properly, indispensably, &c. which are laid on so thick, that it is not easy always to discern what is doing under the veil. But if his lordship is likely to meet with no better success in doing justice to his notions against the misrepresentations of the Convocation than he has had in this instance, to which he has tacked his defiance of all the doctor's friends; if I had the honor to be of his council, I would advise him to sit down by the injury and think no more of it. I shall not meddle with the point in debate between his lordship and the doctor. The doctor wants not the help of all or any of his friends to do justice to himself or his lordship; or if he did, mine is not a proper hand to interpose in deep controversies; and therefore I beg leave only to observe how happily his lordship has stated his own sense in this particular.
Prayer was one of the words which his lordship made choice of to instance in, as having been abused to the perverting the true notion of the thing originally intended by it. The true notion he has expressed thus : “ prayer is a calm and undisturbed address to God,” &c. The false notion he has expressed thus : “ the same word, by the help of men and voluminous rules of art, is come to signify heat and flame, in such a manner and to such a degree, that a man may be in the best disposition in the world, and yet not be devout enough to pray.”
The difficulty here is to know what his lordship means by the “ manner’and • degree of heat and · flame,' which he condemns; and what, by the best disposition in the world,' so highly approved. The debate has produced his lordship’s explication; and he tells us, in page 14. of the Answer, his design was “to guard honest Christians against the doctrines of men both in books and sermons; which, under the pretence of recommending fervency of prayer, lead their understandings into a dark and thick cloud, and teach them to raise their passions, till they know not where they are, nor what they are doing.” This degree of flame he expresses by 'perturbation,' by agitation and disorder in the soul.' By 'calm and undisturbed,' his lordship professes to mean, “that calmness and undisturbedness of mind, which is the ornament and defence of human understanding in all the actions in which it is concerned.” And who now can differ with his lordship, who only desires that men may retain the use of their understanding, when they perform their devotions? who has nothing to say against any flame, but what is “perturbation, agitation, and disorder in the soul :” that is in short, who only desires that men may be in their wits, (a very reasonable request,) when they perform their prayers. On this explication his lordship will admit, as proper to devotion, all heat and flame consistent with that calmness and, undisturbedness which is the ornament and defence of human understand
ing;' or if it be too much to expect any allowance to heat and flame directly, yet abate only that, and his lordship will be so good as to make it up another way, by allowing as much to fervency and warmth. His notion then of prayer is now cleared up, and his lordship shall be allowed to be orthodox (if he will pardon the imputation) whether he prints his private devotions or no; which I must own to his lordship is a very surprising method he has hit on to clear this point. The question is, what should be the temper of the mind in prayer ? To clear it, his lordship will print his prayers : but may not different persons use the same words, and yet one pray with devotion and the other without it? And if so, how will this matter be ended by his lordship's printing the words he makes use of in prayer, unless he should print likewise the disposition of his mind in using them? His lordship may then print his prayers if he pleases; but I cannot allow that he has a just occasion for it from any thing that has yet passed in this debate.
But to proceed. His lordship has now explained himself to a sense not to be found fault with in this particular; but the consequence must be, that this instance can have no meaning at all as it stands applied in his sermon. For consider : his lordship’s observation is, p. 1. of his sermon, that “ the signification of a word well known and understood by those who first made use of it, is very insensibly varied by passing through many mouths, and by being taken and given by multitudes in common discourse ; till it often comes to stand for a complication of notions as distant from the original intention of it, nay as contradictory to it as darkness is to light.”
Take notice; the abuse of words here complained of is such as affects · multitudes in common discourses :' of such words his lordship farther observes, “ the very same word remaining, (which at first truly represented one certain thing,) by having multitudes of new inconsistent ideas in every age and every year added to it, becomes itself the greatest hindrance to the true understanding of the nature of the thing first intended by it. For instance, --prayer in all our Lord's directions,” &c. Here you see, prayer is given as an instance of a word taken and given by multitudes in common discourse,'