Page images
PDF
EPUB
[graphic]

ö « The Liberty of Prophecying.” was written in behalf of the clergy of the Church of England; who at the time were generally excluded from their benefices, and forbidden to minister according to her liturgy.website

isolaieitel) Harassed by the repeated failures of the royal cause, driven to seek an asylum in a remote part of the island, and feeling deeply the miseries of the church, (for “ it grieved him to see her in the dust," he stood forth to plead the cause of her injured ministry. And knowing that he had to contend with adversaries who would not patiently bear to hear of the superiority of her pretensions in form and doctrine to any they could produce, he rests his question upon a broader basis, and contends for her liberty, by insisting upon the freedom of all Christians to exercise their worship, who do not offend in the principles already stated. How far, in his zeal for his injured brethren, he may have overstepped those bounds which are necessary for the preservation of spiritual government and unity in the church, (as was imputed to him at the time) is best left to the judgment of the church itself to determine ; at present it may be desirable to have the leading features of this treatise concentrated and brought into one view.

Having stated in the Introduction the errors and mischiefs which were the cause of the disunion among Christians, at the time he was writing, he proceeds to shew how they must be discovered and removed. First, he treats of the nature of faith, and that its duty is completed in believing the articles of the Apostle's Creed: he contends, that this symbol is the only sufficient, immoveable, unalterable, and unchangeable rule of faith, that admits no increase nor diminution ; but if the integrity and unity of this be preserved, in all other things men may take a liberty of enlarging their knowledge and preaching, according as they are assisted by the grace of God. 2

See Liberty of Prophecying, i sect.

Next, he considers heresy and its nature, and that it is to be accounted according to the strict capacity of Christian faith, and not in opinions speculative, nor ever to pious persons; and concludes, “ whatsoever is either “ opposite to an article of creed, or teaches « ill life, that's heresy ; but all those propo“ sitions which are extrinsical to these two “ considerations, be they true or false, make “ not heresy, nor the man an heretick.”

He then proceeds to observe the difficulty, and uncertainty of arguments from scripture, in questions not simply necessary, nor literally determined; the same remark he applies to the expounding of scripture, and observes the insufficiency of traditions, and councils, and of the Pope, for that purpose. An: 090

He points out the disability of fathers, or writers ecclesiastical, to determine questions with certainty and truth; the incompetency of the church in its diffusive capacity to be judge of controversies, and the impertinency of that pretence of the spirit. He asserts the authority of reason, and that it, proceeding upon the best grounds, is the best judge ; and

points out some causes of error in the exercise
of reason, which are inculpate in themselves. '

Next he observes the innocence of error in
a pious person; the deportment to be used
towards those who disagree; and when per-
secution first commenced. After this, follow
observations on the extent to which the church
or government may act towards restraining
false or differing opinions; whether it be law-
ful for a prince to give toleration to several
religions; and, on compliance with disagree-
ing persons, or weak consciences in general.

The opinions of the Anabaptists fall next
under review, and he fully answers every par-
ticular of their pretensions and arguments,
and contends that there may be no toleration
of doctrines inconsistent with piety or the
publick good. Then he considers how far the
religion of the church of Rome is tolerable,
and what is the duty of particular churches
in allowing communion; he asserts that par-
ticular men may communicate with churches
of different persuasions, and concludes by
shewing how far they may do it.

Such are the contents of “ The Liberty of

Prophecying,” and there are few writings in which learning and modesty, charity and ar, gument, are more happily blended.

As the government of England has subse. quently acted upon the same principles as are here maintained, any observation upon them would at present bę superfluous. It may not, however, be improper to remark, that readers unskilled in controversial writings, in perusing this celebrated treatise, would do well to bear in mind, that there is a wide difference between toleration and approbation of tenets; and that this great author is only pleading for lenity towards the persons of those who differ from one another, and not proposing their several opinions to our choice as matters of indifference. He himself rejoiced in being a member of the church of Christ, as it is established in England, whose tenets and ordinances he ad. mired above those of any church on earth.

But, whilst such were his sentiments, he would not deny toleration to any persons that differed from him, except to such as held doctrines against the foundation of faith, or contrary to good life and the laws of obedience, or destructive to human society, and

« PreviousContinue »