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in religious matters were to cease, the Christian religion would be lost, and paganism would again prevail.
Mir. Did not the Christian religion extend itself in three hundred years over the Roman empire, so that the pagan priests complained that their temples were deserted, and that there were none to purchase sacrmices? Is not God still able to protect his own cause? Has he not in every age of the church sent faithful labourers to gather in his harvest ?
Mrs. Law. Your objection to the interference of the magistrate in religious matters, appears to me to hold good, only provided he be a Roman Catholic, or merely a nominal Christian. But provided he be a protestant, and a real Christian, may he not then interfere?
Mir. In what manner ?
Mrs. Law. By appointing and supporting Christian mis nisters.
Mir. Of what denomination?
Mir. And what shall we suppose that to be? ! Mrs. Law. You know what denomination of Christians is established in England.
Mir. You do not mean to say, Madam, that a person cannot be a Christian, unless he be a member of the English religious establishment?
Mrs Law. Certainly not.
Mir. Suppose then the supreme magistrate to be a Baptist, what kind of ministers ought he in that case to appoint ?
Mrs. Law. I have not sufficiently considered the subject to be able to answer you.
Mir. Then, Madam, permit me to answer the question myself. I think that a Baptist king ought not to choose ministers for Episcopalian, or Independent, or Presbyterian churches ; and I am confident that a Baptist church would not acknowledge for its minister a person set over them by even a Baptist king.
Mrs. Law. Suppose he leave all congregations to choose their own ministers, may he not establish his own denomi. nation ?
Mir. In what way?
Mrs. Law. By the payment of their ministers out of the public revenue.
Mir. Observe, Madam, we are still supposing the supreme magistrate to be a Baptist. You must therefore suppose the Baptists to be the established sect. But would it not be very hard for all other denominations to maintain their own ministers and Baptist ministers likewise? And would it not be very ungenerous and unchristian for Baptist ministers and congregations to suffer themselves to be thus exalted and favoured above their brethren.
Mrs. Law. Is not this objection removed by the consideration that the established religion is the religion of the majority.
Mir. A great majority of the people of England go to no place of worship at all: therefore it cannot be said that the established religion is the religion of the majority. But if it were, it ought not to claim any thing more than an equal and impartial protection of its professors in their civil and religious rights. I do not see how religious establishments can be defended upon any principle whatever. If the religion of the magistrate must be established, then error and even infidelity may chance to be established. If the religion of the majority must be established, then popery may require to be established, and that even by a protestant king.
Mrs. Law. Suppose one sect of Christians to excel all others in doctrine, discipline, and practice, ought we not to wish that to be established?
Mir. Such a sect, Madam, would not consent to receive temporal benefits at the expense of its brethren. However, if it did, they would be of no use to it. Religion is of such a nature, that it will not bear to be breathed upon by the state : the breath of the state always pollutes it. It is a plant which flourishes more in the shade of poverty and obscurity, than in the sunshine of worldly prosperity. A good king cannot render religion greater service than an equally pious poor man renders it." Worldly power, worldly honour, and worldly riches, enervate, cnfeeble, and corrupt it.
Mrs. Law. If the charch of England be excellent in itself, I do not see what injury it can sustain from being established by law.
Mir. I disapprove of the church of England on many other accounts, such as her constitution, her discipline, her officers, the doctrines generally preached in her, her ceremonies, her set forms of prayer, her fasts and festivals, and other things: but if all these things, and every thing else in her were unexceptionable, yet, being imposed on all her members by the authority of the civil magistrate, I cannot become a member of her without violating that allegiance which I owe to Jesus Christ as the only king and lawgiver of his church. Besides, if there be any thing in the church of England which is scriptural, and which yet is not to be found among dissenters, it is in the power of their churches to adopt it. If they can find archbishops and lordbishops, deans and sub-deans, archdeacons and prebendaries, canons and minor canons, in the New Testament, dissenting churches may have them if they please, and may appoint men who fear God to those offices, which is not so likely to be the case when they are appointed by the state.
Mrs. Law. Is not our liturgy excellent?
Mir. I disapprove of the reading of prayers. The liturgy contains many excellent things: it would however, have been more free from faults, if the old popish prayer book had been less closely adhered to. But if it were more excellent than it is, it is in the power of our churches to adopt it, or they can adoptits excellencies and leave behind its imperfections. We read nothing, however, concerning forms of prayer, in the New Testament; and I believe they did not come into use till Christianity was greatly corrupted, and till the spirit of prayer had declined in its ministers.
Mrs. Law. What do you think of our ceremonies?
Mir. If there be any thing valuable in them, our churches have it in their power to adopt it. But they can find neither precept nor example in the word of God for bowing toward the east, for signing with the cross in baptism, for the baptizing of bells, for sprinkling holy water, and for the other ceremonies of the churches of England and Rome. They esteem it their duty to obey the command. ments of God; but they dare not introduce will worship into religion, nor become subject to ordinances after the commandments and doctrines of men.
Mrs. Law. Surely, Miss Barnwell, you are prejudiced against the church of England.
Mir. Indeed, Madam, I am not ; nor is that the case with the Christians with whom I associate.
Only show to
us from Scripture, that we practise any thing which we ought not to practise, or that we reject any thing which we ought not to reject, and we will return you our sincere thanks. We are not only open to conviction, but we are willing and able to make the proposed alteration. You cannot say the same to us: I pity you on this account. Your church admits of no improvement: none of its errors can be rectified; none of its imperfections removed; none of its defects supplied. All the congregations in a diocese, with the clergy and bishop at their head, cannot make a single alteration; no, nor yet all the congregations, and clergymen, and bishops in a province, with the archbishop at their head. The sun might as well never shine for you ; the parish clock must never be set by it; it must always go as it does. Tous, on the contrary, the word of God is. a constant directory; and we are at liberty to obey every one of the divine commands.
Mrs. Law. There is, however, one jewel of which I think
you cannot deprive us; and that is, the piety of those great men by whom the church of England was founded.
Mir. Their memory I shall ever revere. They performed a great deal, considering the darkness of the time in which they lived, and the short space they had to do it in. But they were reformers, rather than founders. The church of England is not a new church built, but an old one mended..We also can boast of thousands of worthies from almost the morning of the Reformation to the present time; we can boast of two thousand ministers who joined us from the church in one day, because they would not worship God according to the commandments of men. We can tell of thousands who died in prison, merely because they were dissenters, of others who had trial of cruel mockings; and of others who were destitute, afflicted, tormented, of whom the world was not worthy. Scon after the Reformers had begun their work, they were called to lay down their lives; and they were succeeded by men of another spirit, The Nonconformists were their true descendants, and carried on that reformation which they had only begun. Were Latimer and Ridley now upon earth, (to say nothing of bishop Hooper, who might even then be called a dissenter,) I believe that they would associate with us. The Pharisees venerated the memory of Moses, and the scribes sat in his seat: but when Moses and Elijah yi.. sited our world, they associated not with them, but with men of a new sect, upon which the Jewish priests looked with contempt.
Mrs. Law concluded with saying, that she had not sufficiently considered the controversy ; but that, although she could say nothing more in defence of national churches, it would be wrong for her to infer that nothing more could be said. She wished me every blessing, and desired me to do nothing contrary to my conscience. This kind treatment was all I could either expect or wish; and I should be glad if all religious people would terminate their disputes in as amiable a manner.
I attend on the ministry of Mr. Lowe, a worthy Baptist minister who preaches at Barnwell : but my father is very angry, and my mother treats me with contempt for associating with beggars, as she terms a poor but decent people who compose the greatest part of his congregation. I shall not defile my paper with her ill-natured speeches ;' for what better could be expected from a proud and irreligious woman.
As a Christian should live as nearly as possible by rule, and as, unless this be done, we cannot hope to make any considerable progress in the divine life, it will greatly oblige my dear friend and myself, if you will favour ús with your thoughts on this subject.
I ever remain, my dear aunt,
Your affectionate niece,
From Miss Eusebia Neville to Mrs. Worthington
SINCE I wrote to you last, I have had many trials. In reading the Scriptures, such unbelieving and sometimes blasphemous thoughts have intruded themselves, that I have started, and shuddered with horror, I have also been tempted to think that after all I might deceive my. self, and be nothing but a hypocrite.