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Art. I.-The Interest of the Priesthood considered. Is it expedient, or not, that there should exist in the Church of Christ at this day an established Ceremonial Priesthood—such an office as is derived by succession from antecedent priests pretending to Apostolical authority, and conferred by the hands of a superior of tliat description ? The majority of thinking persons concerned for the religious welfare of themselves and families, in England and Scotland, seem to have decided this question in their own behalf, in the negative. It appears to be a principal reason why they dissent from the Establishment; that they have an interest, in respect of Religion, distinct from and even opposed to the interest of the Priesthood.
It may seem a strange assertion, but it is nevertheless true, that such an officer as has been here described has a strong inducement to wish for his neighbour's being more or less in the practice of sin, and under the habitual uneasiness of a guilty conscience ! or, let us suppose (what may at a future time be the case) that all the members of a Religious society were once so trained in the nurture and admonition of the LORD"-so taught and watched over and prayed for by believing parents, and by the church in the house of Priscilla and Aquila (or wherever it might assemble) as to grow up orderly well instructed Christians-where would be the place and what the service of a Priest among them? “I have more understanding (saith the Psalmist) than all my teachers : for thy Testimonies are my meditation.” Ps. cxix, 99.
“What arrogance, what spiritual pride is here” cry the advocates for an Hierarchy! Nay, my friends! These are sentiments which you force upon us by concluding us all under sin and in unbelief, when you come, in your priestly capacity, supported by compulsory Acts and sent forth by the State (or by those who represent it) to insist on an absolute spiritual rule over us; both collectively at Church,' and in our houses and families. You make us all heathens, in idea, that you may be in idea (for it is nothing more the first bringers of the Gospel message to us, thus claiming an Apostolical authority among us. It seems to me that it is not only not any arrogance, but on the contrary a due and becoming assertion of our Gospel liberties, already acquired, we thank God, at his hands, and not of your bestowing, to say in such circumstances, “I know in whom I have believed; and am persuaded he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him (my Eternal interest] against that day [when the great decision shall be made, and it shall appear to what and to whom we belong] 2 Tim. i, 12. The Lord [then] will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever : forsake not the works of thine own hands !" What reply could a parish priest make, who had no worldly or sinister interest in the work, to such a speech of such a Catechumen? I believe, only this that, should it happen at any time, to him or her to fall under the trouble of a guilty conscience, he would be ready to discharge toward the party the duties of his office.
This is the state of mind which, in the Church of Rome, secures to
the priest, seated in the Confessional, the confidence and submission of the laity. They are forced, when they have been trespassing wilfully against God and man, and have come under the burthen of sin in the conscience, either to drag on life in miserable anxiety, or to relieve their minds by imparting the secret to this officer: who, if not spiritual enough in his views to direct them at once to the true and primary source of forgiveness (the Comforter within them, the same who both convinces of sin, and reproves for it, John xvi, 8) can at least, by encouraging their penitence, and by an official act of pardon in which they have faith, quiet in a certain measure and for the present the uneasiness under which they labour.
The matter is here placed in the point of view most favourable to the pretensions of the priest. I have said nothing of outward acts enjoined by way of penance (as if bodily exercise and outward mortifications could renew the spirit)—or of indulgences which serve as a licence to the penitent, to do that hereafter of which he may persuade himself he has thus paid the penalty beforehand—
or of money given and taken freely, as the price of a supposed sacred spiritual power and influence, in these matters.
It is pretended, I know, that the censures of the Church, and the outward privations and sufferings consequent thereon, are the only objects in view in granting dispensations and pardons. The party is released, it is said, not from a certain and inevitable responsibility and judgment hereafter, but merely from the lash of discipline here! And this for money! Well! Or, it may be, not so well upon the great scale of Eternity, as both priest and penitent may be ready to persuade themselves. But grant me this, and there is an end with me, at once, of the controversy with those who uphold this office. Let him sell his wares to such as stand in need of them, and are disposed to buy—while I pursue for myself, and point out to my friend a shorter road to peace and blessedness, free of all tax or tribute save his best affections: and these to be surrendered, not to me his present guide in a way open and common to us all, but solely to the Gracious God whom I serve, in thus serving and assisting my friend and companion in the journey.
Even Elihu in the book of Job could set forth this friendly office of a spiritual guide, and the fruits of his direction to the true source of forgiveness. The “ interpreter” (who is, there,* one of a thousand) does merely that which the Christian should be able and willing to do for his brother. And surely among a thousand of these there cannot be wanting, in these more enlightened times, one on whom the task may fitly devolve. Who may also do it freely, even as the qualification came to him; and thus supersede the necessity of a priest, forced upon
• Better rendered, I believe in the Latin Vulgate than in our version; from whence I therefore subjoin the passage : Si fuerit pro eo angelus loquens, upus de (similibus vel) militibus ut annunciet hominis equitatem miserebitur ei et dicet, Libera eum ut non descendat in corruptionem. Inveni in quo ei propitier. Consumpta est caro ejus a suppliciis : revertatur ad dies adolescentiæ suæ. Deprecabitur Deus et placabilis ei erit, et videbit faciem ejus in jubilo et reddet homini justitiam suam. Respiciet homines et dicet, Peccavi et vere deliqui, et ut dignus eram non recipi. Liberabit animam suam ne pergeret in interitum, sed vivens lucem videret. Ecce hæc omnia operatur Deus tribus vicibus per singulos, ut revocet animas eorum a corruptione, et illuminet lucem viventium. Job, cap. xxxiii. v. 23-30.
the parties by the state, and maintained at their expense. And if we take out of the question the opus operatum, the mere outward official act, the most that we have to expect from the Catholic priest is, that he should be able in a suitable manner to direct the penitent sinner to Christ.
To come back now to the Establishment, it is this state of mind, again, which in the weekly confession of being miserable sinners, of doing what they ought not to have done, and of leaving undone what they ought to have done, keeps so many in habitual dependence on ceremonial acts and a form of words, and on the minister under whose direction they go through them : thinking (it may be very sincerely) that the purpose of Christ's coming is thus answered to them, however low their moral standard, and lax their practice. It is for this, I conceive, principally, that the priest is upheld by the state, and provided with a ceremonial to go through, and a forced maintenance, that the laity may have some one on whom (with whatever hazard in the final result) to cast, or seem to cast the present burden of their sins—too often, as is manifest by the general tenour of their lives, that they may go immediately and score up a new reckoning !
Adınitting this as the effect, whether the cause be acknowledged or not, we are forced to conclude that it is the interest of the mere priest that men should go on committing sin, and having guilt on their consciences--should still have need of his absolution, and be still buying it : and, as manifestly, the interest of a sound church to do without him.
Let us now turn our views to the free minister of Christ's gospel, the messenger, the interpreter, the “one among a thousand” of believers who can scarcely fail to be found for the office. In possession, himself, of the free gift of God by Jesus Christ, of that which is to him the Supreme good, and an earnest of that fulness of good to be enjoyed hereafter, feeling in himself that he is made whole of that plague which sin brought upon us, and having full faith in the same gift, that it shall work the like effect in all who willingly receive and diligently apply it, he is naturally in earnest to have it given to all. It matters not that such an one has had at some time the hands of a bishop laid on him—this is not his qualification—he could have done what he does as well, ordained (as Timothy was) by a Presbytery. And with regard to the outward provision for his wants, such an one will be found content with Christ's allowance and Paul's maintenance, with “ things honest in the sight of all men.” There will be no need of a Statute to compel any church to discharge its duty towards him-nor will he choose to accept a living, which is to be extorted by such methods from the hands of the unwilling.
It is the interest and desire of such an one that every member of the church, of which he may be entrusted with the oversight, should be so trained and instructed, so admonished of his duty by whomsoever it may concern (he who serves and helps me is my neighbour, Luke x, 29: he who does me these spiritual offices is a minister to me) as that,
LETTER TO THE MEETING FOR SUFFERINGS,
practising the Scriptural confession of sins * and depending on Christ alone for forgiveness, he together with his friend, the interpreter of God's will to him, may be found doing that will here, and departing hence in the good hope that he shall dwell with Him hereafter!
Before I dismiss the subject (that justice may be done to all parties) I must deprecate in like manner the authority and rule (out of the life and power of Truth) out of the mere presbyter—which is a thing more difficult to deal with and, when unsound, to get from under: because it is commonly exercised by many in concert, who thus carry with them a semblance of the rule of the church according to Scripture. And the method such employ to keep men under them, and advance their worldly interests by them, is more specious indeed, but not less ungrateful to the sincere-hearted, than force itself. They preach the doctrine of human depravity, and the inevitable necessity of subjection to sin so long as we are in this mortal state, until by dint of such inculcation of error, their hearers forget that they are called to newness of life and to the liberty of the children of God; and continue under these blind (or wilfully erring and selfish) guides in slavish subjection, ever learning and neier arriving at the knowledge of the Truth : a state of things equally to be deplored and testified against with the derived and arbitrary power and authority before treated. Ed.
Art. II.-Letter from George Harrison to the Meeting for Sufferings
in 1812, respecting Christopher Wyvill's Measures for doing anay Intolerance.
It is now one and twenty years since a Friend, of well known talent and philanthrophy, addressed to the Meeting for Sufferings, as advocates of universal liberty of conscience the following letter, to which I believe that body then granted the favour of a perusal. Perhaps it may now obtain (as to the subject matter) some consideration also. Ed.
To the Meeting of Sufferings to be held the 1st of 5th Mo. 1812.
Dear Friends, I do not wish to obtrude upon your attention a matter of slight moment, but there is a subject, now before the Commons' House of Parliament, and likely soon to come before the Upper House, by way of Petition, which attaches most closely to the principles of the Society, as they were zealously professed and acted upon by our ancient Friends. I mean the subject of universal Toleration, or perfect liberty of conscience in matters of religion, for which our ancestors, almost exclusively among the people of these Realms, and under the heaviest temporal discouragements, contended.
• On the subject of a burdened conscience I may remark, here, that the Apostle's advice was, Confess your sins one to another, and pray one for another (that they may be forgiven) Jam. v, 16. Let this be understood (as it may be) of the personal trespasses of brother against brother, as in Luke xvii, 3, still
the priest who takes to self exclusive rule and power to forgive, but the members who exercise it towards each other: and the forgiving of the sins of the sick is, in this passage also made immediate, as from the Lord himself, and in answer to the prayers (not consequent on any derived authority) of “ the elders of the church."
No Friend, acquainted with the Statute Books, will say, that there are not many Acts trenching upon the rights of conscience, and formed in times of darkness and bigotry, which ought not to exist in the Code of a Christian country, and the force of which is only repressed by the leniency of the times; but whilst they do exist, the monster of persecution may be rather said to lie dormant than be defunct. Many Friends doubtless
may be disposed to make their minds easy on the subject, if no new enactments affecting the society, and of an oppressive nature take place, but such Friends must have read the history of the society with very little attention, if they have not perceived that our predecessors were zealously affected, not only for the Interests of the Society particularly, but also for the Interests of Christianity generally, by being the undaunted advocates of religious liberty: and it is for such Friends to consider how far they are discharging their duty, by confining their views to present ease and accommodation, at a juncture when the exertions of all those who are on the side of virtue and truth are peculiarly called for.
The worthy and respectable character, who has taken the most active part in bringing this subject before the view of Parliament, ] mean Christopher Wyvill, is anxious to obtain the co-operation of sincere hearted Christians of every denomination, and from the known principles of the Society is willing to reckon upon that of Friends. In one of the communications lately received from him, he expresses himself thus, “ Your predecessors in past times were long the only avowed advocates for liberty of conscience in these countries. At least the honourable exceptions in other classes of Christians were few indeed. Their doctrine in this respect is now avowed, and pressed upon Parliament by Christians of every other denomination. It is not the time, I think, when your benevolent Sect will perseveringly refuse their concurrence. Other considerations will give way to the sense of duty; and the example of one virtuous supporter of the rights of conscience, after a few equally virtuous, equally consistent Friends have joined him, will be followed by the rest of his Christian community." What an honourable testimony this, in these more enlightened times, to the principles and conduct of our ancient Friends! Such is the solicitude of this good man, that our Society should not give away their crown, or desert the standard which our early friends so consistently set up; and a corresponding solicitude attends my mind that his expectation may not be disappointed.
Having now relieved my mind by discharging what I have conceived to be a duty on the subject in this department, a subject which I deem of higher moment to the civil and religious well-being of the inhabitants of this Country, and of human society in general, than any that has engaged the public attention in modern times, I refer it to your serious and deliberate consideration, and in so doing I have no motive, I can have no motive, but what respects general and universal good, to promote which is the sincere wish of Your respectful friend, Geo. Harrison. West-Hill, Wandsworth, 27th 4th Mo. 1812.