« AnteriorContinuar »
subjects continued idolaters, or even a much larger proportion. Suppose also that he should form an establishment, with the consent of his counsellors and senators, by which places of worship should be built at proper distances throughout his dominions, and a decent maintenance allotted to officiating ministers, left in many things to their own discretion, but with certain general rules and principles, to which their voluntary consent is required ; and, on the supposition of episcopacy, some bishops, with rather larger allowance, to superintend the other pastors, to ordain, and under certain limitations to appoint to cures, &c. Suppose, again, schools annexed to these places of Worship, and Christian schoolmasters decently maintained, to teach the elements of learning and the principles of Christianity to all the children in the vicinity, whom their parents should voluntarily, or influenced merely by argument and persuasion, send. Suppose all the population were invited and exhorted to attend the public service and instruction; but none compelled or hired. Suppose, also, that none were admitted as members of this established church, but such as had been baptized on a credible profession of Christianity ; with those of their children who were too young to choose for themselves; all the rest remaining at the highest as catechumens. Suppose all those, and none else, who had been thus baptized, were admitted to the Lord's supper; and their children, when they, after proper instruction, themselves had made a credible profession of Christianity. Suppose that none but these persons were so considered as a part of the church, as to
have their infants baptized. Suppose all who evidently acted inconsistently with their profession, or renounced the faith, or its leading truths, were excluded by an easy process, and no other harm whatever attempted against them, but a continual watchfulness exercised over them to bring them to repentance, and restore them if penitent, with all temporal kindness, which did not imply approbation. Suppose that, some professed Christians still objecting to this arrangement, a full toleration should be granted them; and, under certain limitations, an allowance made to them for their places of worship, and maintenance of ministers. And, finally, suppose the rest of the community were ruled with equity and lenity, and no advantage, except spiritual advantages, granted to the members of the church above others. Would, I say, this church imply comprehension instead of selection ? And would it not tend to make Christianity known to the whole population in a degree not easily to be calculated?
It does not indeed appear, that any thing of a secular nature (unless the decent maintenance of ministers be secularity,) would be at all connected with such an establishment. In fact, the political effect of our establishment, though probably considerable in the higher circles, is scarcely at al felt by the lower orders even of the clergy: and I have certainly been taught to understand the source, nature, and effects of that political tendency, far more from the writings of dissenters, than either from my own experience, or the discourse and conduct, or writings of my brethren in the church of England. I do not think,
kings, like Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah ; who should, according to the genius of the new dispensation, imitate their example, as it has been above stated, the way in which the prophecies would be fulfilled must then be plain to every one. But I will not absolutely decide, whether what is now called an establishment would be one part of their plan, or not: perhaps nothing could give them so great advantage, in providing instruction and the means of grace for the population of any country, and a Christian education for the lower orders in the community, as something of this nature would do. Nor can I think it altogether impracticable, for the broad ground of the New Testament to be proceeded on, in nearly the same manner as pious kings of Judah proceeded upon the broad ground of the Old Testament: nothing required, as a term of communion, but what wise and pious men in general allowed to be scriptural ; things indifferent left so; and much latitude allowed in respect of expressions, forms, postures, and all such things, as evidently conscientious pious persons may be supposed to view differently.
In countries professing Christianity, the places appropriated for public worship, and the funds devoted to the cause of religion, might, in such a case, come greatly in aid of the design of thus giving to all parts of a nation the means of grace.' Those funds are incumbrances under which estates have been bought, sold, and inherited for ages, and are a kind of public property ; and, if not employed for religious, will be seized on for secular purposes, and never given to those who possess the estates, which they inherited or purchased as liable to this deduction. Nor, indeed, ought they to be so given; for the tithes and other similar imposts on estates, having existed from time immemorial, no more belong to the owner of the estate, than the rent belongs to the farmer, instead of the landlord. If the plan in countries now professing Christianity, or in countries hereafter to be evangelized, require other funds; these, if raised by general taxation of any kind, ought, no doubt, to be impartially administered. And, even if the establishment should be rendered as comprehensive as can well be conceived, some may be supposed to dissent from it: and, I own it as my opinion, not only that all such persons as act peaceably in dissenting should have full toleration; but also that, with some limitations perhaps, (as idolatry in worship, or grossly immoral principles, or heresy subversive of the great mystery “of godliness,” or principles subversive of civil government,) the funds raised by general taxation, at least, should be applied to support in part the quietly dissenting, as well as the established worship.
These are indeed Utopian thoughts of a possibly existing establishment: and I only adduce them to shew that establishments are not antiscriptural in themselves; and that we may lawfully worship, and officiate as ministers, in an establishment; provided that establishment does not require of us things in other respects contrary to our consciences.
Whatever we determine of the right and duty of kings in this respect: popish, Mohammedan, and pagan kings will establish their several religions, as far as policy or bigotry dictate ; notwithstanding our speculations. But shall we, on that account, use all our influence with a Hezekiah, or a Josiah, that we may induce him to “bury his “ talent in the earth ? " Or shall we, with the prophets of old, encourage him to go on and prosper; only keeping close to the oracles of God, as the rule and standard of all his measures?
I therefore am of opinion that, in the approaching happy days, something like establishments will take place : but how far they may accord to, or differ from, our establishment, I would not presume to determine. In the mean time, I would be thankful for our present advantages, and counsel my younger brethren not to be induced on slight grounds to forego them, but to endeayour to improve them to the utmost of their ability. I remain, dear Sir,