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natural consequence warranted to declare, that no true Church exists; and in that case, the parochial temple becomes a conventicle, and the minister of the Church a schismatic." Page 154.
You will excuse me, Sir, if I do not see any natural consequence in this case; but, on the contrary, a very dangerous consequence that may be drawn from such a position. I mean neither to disparage or offend you, when I take upon me to assert, that you are but a sciolist in theology, if you are yet to learn, that, however bold the position may seem, that may be a true Church, in which the pure word of God is not preached.* The distinctive title true Church, in this case, must be understood as referring simply to the regularity of its constitution, abstracted from the corruption with which the profession of that constitution may be accompanied; and, thus understood, the expression is to be justified. For in this sense that may be constitutionally true, which is at the same time practically false. That may, for instance, be a true Church, so far as the form of its constitution is concerned, in which the pure word of God is not preached. Under such circumstances, it is, indeed a Church in error; and consequently, so far as that error prevails, not what it ought to be. But error in a Church does not destroy its constitution. Error may be reformed, and the Church thereby restored to perfection. If you will turn to the Revelations, you will find the Churches of Asia were accused of gross errors, but their candlestick was not removed; that is, they did not Vindicia, c. iv. p. 203 and 305.
cease to be Churches, till their errors were found to be incorrigible. The Church of Rome, as I have before observed, from great authority, is a true Church, though a Church in which the pure word is not always preached. As such, it is a corrupt Church; but is still suffered to exist, as a very conspicuous branch of the visible Church of Christ. When a Church shall have arrived to that extreme state of corruption, as no longer to be entitled to the distinction of being a Church, it is God's business to determine, not our's; and when this has been determined, the event will prove. At the same time it must be said, that the reader must possess little claim to discrimination of judgment on this subject, who does not clearly distinguish between the constitution of the Church, as a society Divinely instituted, and the corruptions to which such constitution may at times be made subservient.
Indeed, if man be to take upon himself to determine when error in a Church shall take away from it its distinctive character, the remedy in this case will prove worse than the disease. However much to be deprecated error is in any case, yet error in the Church is not so bad as error out of it; for it is under some restraint, and on that account not likely to be carried to such an extent, as when men are left to their own imaginations. But you have found out a short way of settling this matter. You say, where the pure word of God is preached, there is the true Church; and where that word is not preached, there is no true Church. Now as many parts of your publication are expressly calculated
to give the reader to understand, that the pure word of God is preached out of the Church, but not in it; the conclusion follows, in your words, that the Church becomes the conventicle, and the conventicle the Church. To show the weakness as well as danger of such kind of loose argument, especially when it finds its way into the heads of common people, permit me to apply it to another subject.
The House of Commons is considered, if I may so say, as the constitutional mouth-piece of the people; when, through corruption, the voice of the people is not fairly heard, there can be no true House of Commons. Where the voice of the people is fairly heard, as may be said to be the case, when a conventional mob is assembled under their factious leaders, there the true House of Commons exists. In such case the conventional mob is to be looked up to as the true House of Commons, and the House of Commons is degraded into an irregular and unlawful meeting. And the consequences which are likely to follow from such a mode of reasoning, will, I am persuaded, be nearly the same, whether applied to Church or state; under the plausible idea of reformation, they will tend to the destruction of the constitution in both.
I perfectly agree with you, Sir, with respect to the necessity of the pure word of God being preached in the Church. The Church was established for that very purpose; and it must be the wish of every sincere Christian, that such purpose may be most effectually answered. But I am not to take every man's word with respect to the
pure doctrine being not preached in the Church, no more than I ought to form a judgment of the corruption of the House of Commons from the declaration of every noisy demagogue. The Church and the House of Commons are two parts of our constitution. It is not for me, as a good subject, to form a rash and hasty judgment of either; much less to conclude, that error in the one, or corruption in the other, justifies me in attempting their destruction. Whilst men are what they are, there will be a portion of error in the Church, as well as of corruption in the state; and if we have taken up the Utopian idea that nothing shall be established that does not promise absolute perfection, we shall have nothing settled among us to the end of time.
But before I quit this point, let us consider a You give us to understand, that the pure word of God is not preached in the Church. Now this is either a matter of fact or matter of opinion. If it be a matter of fact, let it, in God's name, be rectified. If it be only a matter of opinion, it ought to be proved. You consider the Calvinistic doctrine to be the pure word of God. The Calvinistic doctrine, it will be admitted, is not preached in the Church; and, seeing that doc trine as I see it, I trust it never will. But when you say, that where the Calvinistic doctrine is not preached, the pure word of God is not preached, this I conceive to be begging the question. When you have proved from scripture, that the Calvinistic doctrine is the pure word of God, I shall think myself bound to subscribe to it; and with your
Bishop Babington, shall consider it to be "the duty of all faithful ministers to preach it to the people, as part of the counsel of God." But for this purpose, you must be satisfied that something more is necessary than naked unsupported assertion.
I am not at all surprised to find that a person who has formed so imperfect an idea of the nature and constitution of the Christian Church, should appear to be a perfect stranger to the office and character of the Christian priesthood. Provided the Liturgy of the Church of England be read, and the sacraments are administered, it seems to be a matter of no consideration with you, where or by whom these services are performed. It may be proper, therefore, to remind you, that the words of the Liturgy do not constitute the service of the Church; nor does the form of breaking bread and pouring out wine, and distributing them to an attendant congregation, make it a sacrament of our Church. The complete service of the Church of England can be performed no where without a priest. The prayers may be read, indeed, by any one, and the sacraments administered by any person acquainted with the form; this, however, is not the service of the Church of England, but a prostitution of it; because, according to the doctrine of our Church, no one but a priest has received authority to pronounce absolution, to bless the people in God's name, and to offer up to God the sacrifice of the altar. It is necessary only to consult the rubric, to be satisfied on these points. "It is the office of a priest (says St. Ambrose) to stand between God