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and ordinary ministers are not required to take any share, there are regulations and customs more liable to objection; which, as I would not justify, so I do not think it needful at present to particularize. For, as we are not called to concur in them, or by any direct act to sanction them; they do not seem to involve us in the decision which may be made concerning them.
In the days of John the Baptist, many grievous deviations from the Mosaic law had been introduced; and especially the high priesthood, and its dependent dignities and emoluments, were disposed of in the most rapacious, ambitious, and worldly manner imaginable: yet, while John protested against all prevailing iniquities, with the boldness of Elijah; he neither deemed it unlawful for himself to continue in communion with the Jewish church, even as then administered, nor did he exhort others to renounce it. Our Lord himself, also, while he protested against the corruptions which prevailed, and the traditions of the elders; yet continued to adhere to the worship at the temple, and even at the synagogue; and taught his disciples to do the same. Nor is there the least intimation, that they, or other pious worshippers, were answerable for the crimes of the scribes and priests, which they could not prevent, in which they did not concur, and over which they lamented.
It may be said, that the Mosaic law was of divine appointment and authority so long as it was intended to exist; and it must therefore be complied with: but the church of England is not of divine authority. To this it may be answered, that
Christian worship and ordinances, and the work of the Christian ministry, are of divine authority: that it is not possible to join any body of Christians, as to these things, in which some of us at least would not be required either to do, or to witness and bear with, what we decidedly disapproved: that the parallel is not supposed to hold further, than to shew that we are not answerable for the crimes or faults of that whole company to which we belong, provided we be not required to join in them, or by any direct means to sanction them: and that, while this does not prove that we are bound to continue in the church of England, it shews that we may lawfully do so, especially till we know where to mend ourselves: unless indeed the church of England be Babylon, and we cannot continue in her without "partaking" of Babylon's crimes and punishment; which I cannot possibly think to be the case. For it is impossible to worship or exercise the ministry in the church of Rome, without partaking of her idolatries; but, whatever real or supposed faults there may be in some things connected with our establishment, we may continue to worship and to exercise our ministry within it, and not at all partake of them: for they relate chiefly to the ecclesiastical courts, and the patronage of rich preferments, and other things connected with a sphere of life, from which a man, if he please, at least, may keep at a distance.
If it had pleased God that the Christian church should be, in all countries and ages, uniform in its government, discipline, and external administration; we should have had some thing in the New Testament analogous to the book of Leviticus in
the old but it is plain, even from the different opinions contended for on these points, that it is not so. For, as it appears to me, the Lord saw good to leave matters of this kind with only general regulations, to be accommodated to circumstances, in different parts of the church; and under different providential dispensations, as countenanced or opposed by the existing powers.
When I published 'The Force of Truth,' (1779,) I was far from partial to the church of England: but I judged that, as the Lord had met and called me there, I ought to continue in my station, till I had determined, after due deliberation and prayer, whether I ought to remove, and what body of Christians to join: for I have always considered it as a sound maxim, that a man has a good reason for continuing in his present place, except he has a stronger reason for leaving it. I therefore set about inquiring after the most scriptural church, in the same manner as I had before searched for scriptural truth.-In this inquiry, I was retarded a while by the baptists, or antipedobaptists, with many of whom I was acquainted. A few months, however, led me to a satisfactory conclusion, that infant baptism is scriptural, though often attended by unscriptural appendages: and that pouring water is as much baptism, if duly performed " in "the name of the Father, and of the Son, and "of the Holy Ghost," as immersion in water. Sprinkling, though continually spoken of, on both sides in the controversy, is not the term used in our offices.
Connected with this, and after this was for the
present decided, I considered the plan of the Independents respecting church government: but I could not be satisfied that their manner of choosing and treating their pastors was scriptural. I could indeed find scriptural authority, for the people choosing their deacons, or stewards of temporal property; but none for choosing those who were to "watch for their souls, as they that must give "account." It seemed to me to place the minister in too dependent a situation on the very persons to whom he was required" to declare the whole "counsel of God;" and, in case of a departure from the truth, in a great degree to exclude or counteract a revival. For heretical and worldly churches, if wholly and independently left to their own choice, will choose "pastors after their own heart." I was also aware that in these, as well as in other elections, the rich must have undue influence; and they are not always the most spiritual part of a worshipping company: and I had various opportunities of witnessing the divisions which arose from these and similar circumstances. I must, however, acknowledge that the simplicity and piety, the firmness and talent, of many ministers in this part of the universal church; concurring with the prudent and conscientious behaviour of those in their congregations; in various instances prevent greatly these effects and, on the other hand, I must allow that the people ought at least to have a negative, in respect of a pastor being placed over them; provided they can shew any thing in his doctrine, or in his moral and religious character, unsuited to the relation about to be formed. Still, however, the situation of a minister in an inde
pendent congregation appeared to me what I could not conscientiously occupy.
I had not equal opportunities of examining the presbyterian plan: but I could readily discover that many of their arrangements are destitute of foundation in scripture; and that the machine is too cumbrous and complicated for use. On these accounts I was by no means disposed to join that company. Other sects, or companies, have since that time passed under my review; and the result has been, that I am become more and more satisfied with my situation in the establishment. I am decidedly of opinion that it gives a faithful and conscientious minister more advantages for usefulness, at least as the pastor of a congregation, than can be found elsewhere: and that the people, who are placed under such a minister, have more advantages for edification in humble love, than are generally found in other companies; though not so much opportunity of gratifying the natural love of being considered as of some consequence, which does not die even in true converts.
In respect of discipline we are acknowledged to be defective: yet I know by experience, that a conscientious minister, if he will use his influence with humble firmness and impartiality may exclude improper persons from the Lord's table, far beyond what is generally supposed; not by authority indeed, but by firm admonition. Yet, in baptizing the children of all nominal Christians, and in considering all persons who are not excommunicated, or
See the Service for Ash Wednesday.