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• yourselves ?' A very candid and honest confession indeed : of the greatest use in leading us into the scope and ultimate aim of the Rational Dissenting ministers, with whom it is apparen that the contribution of a considerable hearer, is of more weight than the most Rational sentiment, seeing rather than lose the one they will disguise the other. Do not you think, Sir, that people of less penetration than yourself may in some measure be justified in preferring an honest enthusiast, who preaches to the extent of his knowledge and belief, to a Rational Dissenter, who for fear of losing the contributions of his hearers, keeps his own sentiments as much as possible out of view? I really wonder that a gentleman of your known integrity and philosophic turn of mind should be persuaded to associate with such an herd of dissemblers; whom you and I have convicted of the most heinous crime of concealing the truth from their hearers for fear of losing their subscriptions.
This leads us to account for that contempt in which they are held by the people, who as you tell us, page 41, Ess. on Disc. have in some societies expressly forbidden the ministers their
houses except they come by special invitation.* If this be your own particular case, indeed I pity you, Doctor; and I think your people are very much obliged to your ingenuity, in so gently covering their shame even when you rebuke their folly. This prohibition laid upon the Rational ministers by their hearers, would naturally lead us to suppose that the conversation of the ministers was too grave and serious for the taste of their people, if you had not all along discovered such disgust at grave and serious religion ; for which they can by no means be blamed. We have therefore but one way left to account for it, and that is, by supposing that the people received but very little profit by the company of their ministers; otherwise they never would have forbidden them their houses. This seems very likely to be the case, as certainly a man who can conceal the truth in the pulpit, will make but little scruple of doing it in private. We have quite the advantage of you here, for it would be thought a very strange thing among the Orthodox, if a minister was denied the liberty of eating a bit of pudding with any of his hearers whenever he was in the humour so to do. Yea more, Doctor, one of the principal complaints that you shall hear from the Orthodox against their ministers, is, that they do not visit their
people often enough ;' which at least shews that they are not tired of their company.
It would require uncommon talents indeed for a minister, how cautious soever he may be, so absolutely to keep his real sentiments out of view, but that they will peep from behind the curtain sometimes; the devil himself, as some people say, is not • The passage is thus, I am informed there are societies among us in which the ministers are expressly forbidden to visit their hearers except by particular jRyitatiou.'
such an absolute master of dissimulation, but he is found out occasionally. Well, this dissimulation being detected, and the cause of it easily guessed at, it is no wonder that the Rational ministers are held in such contempt, that a word of admonition ' from them in the pulpit would give unpardonable offence.'* Seeing while the minister is telling them of their sins, they would be thinking of his dissembling his sentiments; and as it is natural for us to favour ourselves most, they would be apt to conclude that his hypocrisy is altogether as heinous as their drunkenness and whoredom. To be sure, Sir, a minister can never admonish with a becoming authority either in the pulpit or out of it, whilst it is in the power of the admonished party to retort upon him, Physician heal thyself; therefore the strictest integrity is necessary to that minister who would admonish profitably, let him be Orthodox or Rational. You tell us that, in many places the congregations of the most Rational ministers are dwindled away to nothing, notwithstanding the excellency of their compositions; and if you would know the reason of that, Sir, you may consider that one grain of honest zeal is of more esteem with the generality of hearers, than the greatest ingenuity that can discover itself in sermonical compositions. All are not judges of that Rational ingenuity which you so much applaud, but most people are intelligent enough to discern when the minister really aims at their everlasting welfare and does what he can for its advancement. It is observable enough that this dwindling away has always been most discernible, in those congregations where the minister has been most remarkable for
keeping his sentiments out of view,' and cautious of admonishing for fear of losing the affections and contributions of « his most considerable hearers.' On the other hand it is equally observable that among the Orthodox those ministers are most loved and followed who are most faithful in reproving and admonishing sinners both when in the pulpit and out of it, without any regard had to what may, or may not be the consequences of such admonition. And those places of worship are best filled where the minister warmly and zealously declareth the whole counsel of God so far as he himself has learned it. How can those congregations prosper where they are entertained with a disguised and deceitful ministry? For my own part I would rather choose to sit under such a ministry as that of tinker Bunyan or cobler Howe, where I should be sure to be sincerely dealt with, than that of a learned, ingenious, Rational Dissenting minister, who strives as much as possible to keep his sentiments out of view. It must indeed be very mortifying to gentlemen who have engrossed the whole of Rationality to themselves to see the Orthodox ministers loved, esteemed, and followed, whilst they with all their pretensions, are considered as persons who
Ess. on Dise. page 41.
• are paid by their hearers for haranguing them once a week.' Contemptible, however, as this estimation of their ministers is; it is certainly very just; and what they have brought upon themselves by their silent connivances at sin, and their concealment of truth from their hearers for fear of losing their subscriptions
Young Samuel's message from God to Eli the priest, concludes with a passage very applicable to the present case of the Rational Dissenting ministers, and which may be very instructive if attended to with seriousness, for them that honour me I will 'honour; and them that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.' That the Rational Dissenting ministers are lightly esteemed, you and I have sufficiently shewn; it is therefore not unworthy of themselves to enquire into the reasons why they are so lightly esteemed even by their own people? To assist in this enquiry, be it observed, that here is an express promise, that all who aim at the honour and glory of God shall be honoured by him, among his people; but they (the Rational Dissenting ministers) are despised among their people and are even forbidden their houses, instead of being beloved, honoured, and obeyed; which supposeth that they have been too much like the sons of Eli, who sought their own gratification and not the glory of God; for God who has promised is faithful and will not deny bimself. Do not you think now, that if, instead of concealing their sentiments, and shamefully conniving at the sins of their people, without daring to admonish them, the Rational Dissenting ministers had studied to maintain consciences void of offence towards God and man, by being faithful in reproving sin wherever it was found, and honestly declaring the whole counsel of God as far as they knew it that they would in all probability have been more respectable in the eyes of the very people, who, as things are, have forbidden them their houses? But having dishonoured God he hath brought them into that contempt which you complain of. God Sath said," he that hath my word, let him speak my word faitha • fully; for what is the chaff to the wheat, saith the Lord ?' Jer sxiii. 28. But instead of obeying, having got the word of the Lord, as they think, more perfectly than their neighbours, they conceal it in their hearts, and keep it as much as possible out of view for fear of losing their most considerable subscribers. This is a dishonouring of God by preferring their own temporal emolument to the success of that which they take to be the truth,
* In short, a Dissenting minister among those who are usually callel the Rational Dissenters begins now to be considered as a person who is paid by his hearers for liaranguing them once a week; and the people attend the place of divine worship, it not from mere unthinking habit, with the same views with which they would attend the lectures of any other person from whom they expected instruction or entertainment. Ess, on Disc. page 41.
If I understand this passage aright, the Doctor means that the people attena the weckly harangues of Rational ministers with the same views with those who attend the lectures on philosophy by Mr. Ferguson and other gentlemen for instruction; and the giddy multitude who gape at the entertaining lectures on heads by George Alexander Sierens.
and shews them to be lovers of the world more than of the word of God. The word of God chargeth expressly that we shall not suffer sin to rest upon a brother, but that we shall in any wise reprove him for it; but they admonish not, because as you say, • the least hint of an admonition from the pulpit would give
unpardonable offence. How is it possible, Doctor, that such men should be otherwise than lightly esteemed? I assure you, Sis, if this account of the Rational ministers had not come from one who cannot be suspected of doing them injustice, I could not have believed that such a contemptible race of mere scholars existed among us. If a minister is faithful to the light he hath received, God will make him as a brazen wall and as an iron pillar among the people, who if they fight against him shall not prevail ; but if he is afraid of losing their contributions, the same God will confound him before them, and bring him into contempt. I really wish that you, Sir, and your brethren, might seriously and attentively consider these things without prejudice : for if it should in the end appear that you are now fighting against God, 2 retrospective view of your present conduct will then yielé neither profit nor pleasure. I hope you will bear with me, if I express it as my opinion that you have not weighed the great and important truths of Christianity with that impartiality and attention which the nature of the subject required; but upon detecting some things which you took to be absurd among the people called Orthodox, you have too precipitately fled absolutely to the utmost limits of the opposite extreme. But remember this, Sir, that the middle path of judgment will be always found to lie between the two extremes; therefore to avoid what we take to be an error on one hand, we ought to be very careful lest we plunge into a greater on the other, and so the remedy prove worse than the disease.
Being informed, that with the generality of those who are now called Presbyterians in England, the whole government of 'the society, with respect to murals, is in the hands of the
minister,'* that the Rational Presbyterian ministers' found it necessary to dissemble their sentiments by keeping them as much as possible out of view because their people would not ' have borne with them,'t that they' find themselves restrained ' from doing their duty for fear of losing the affections and con*tributions of their most considerable hearers,'t so that they dare
not give a word of admonition from the pulpit. $ It is not at all marvellous that the very idea of ancient church discipline • should be lost among you, and your system be found so very
imperfect,'|| that if it were possible for a primitive Christian to see the order of your churches, he would hardly think there was the appearance of your professing yourserves Christians,'t # Page 40. + Page 55. Page 47. s age 42. N Page 45, | Page 41.
especially as those who do not believe in Christianity do almost every thing that ye do.'* After such an humbling view o. the effects of Rational Religion in the entire loss of church discipline among your friends, one would hardly have expected to hear you declare that ' in your opinion it is better to have no • church discipline at all, than that of the Independents.'t Yet even here it is much if you are perfectly agreed with yourself, seeing you give it, elsewhere, as your opinion that it is better
to have the power of discipline in the hands of the minister of !
any other body than to bave no discipline at all. To this I should however object, unless it should appear that the minister is a man of integrity, who dares openly avow the truth, and who will rather choose to lose the affections and contributions ever. of his richest hearers than keep out of view any truth the knowledge of which may be useful to the souls of men.
To do evil with a design to promote the cause of truth, and to pull down the church of God with a view to build up the gospel in its simplicity, is a conduct so absurd that, from your account of the Orthodox, it could only be expected to be found in their tabernacles. But to hear the Rev. Dr. Priestley represent it as the conduct of Rational Dissenting ministers, is indeed astonishing! I think, Sir, that these same gentlemen must be Antinomians, seeing their conduct, according to your account of it, says, 'let us do evil, and good shall follow, page 55. “Finding
themselves more particularly incommoded and embarrassed • with the extra duties of their office, they laid hold of every
opportunity of abolishing them.' Of all men, surely none so unfit to stir up others to the practice of Christianity as those gentlemen who laid hold on every opportunity of abolishing the duties of their own office, finding themselves incommoded and embarrassed by them : it is therefore natural to suppose that admonition from them must give unpardonable offence to every intelligent hearer, who had opportunity of seeing their own endeavours to abolish the extra duties of the pastoral office. The abolition of the duties of their own office was not thought sufficient for the promulgation of Rational Religion, but every other office of power within the Rational churches must be abolished also, for we are told that as the ministers found the bulk of the
people, and especially the church officers, who were generally • The more serious and zealous of their members, continuing “strongly attached to the opinions in which they had been edu• cated,' (i.e. Orthodox opinions), ' the ministers found them
selves greatly incommoded by them.---In this disagreeable • situation the ministers purposely neglected to fill up vacancies
in church offices, and were in general heartily glad when they . became entirely extinct.'1 If this was not practical Antinomitism, certainly there is no such thing in existence. However, Page 43. + Page 39,