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sembly, that I receive, approve, and embrace all the doctrine taught and decided by the national synod of Dort.—I swear and promise that I will persevere in it all my life long, and defend it with all my power, and never depart from it in my sermons, college lectures, writings, or conversation, or in any other manner, public or private. I declare also and protest, that I reject and condemn the doctrine of the Arminians, because, &c. So help me God, as I swear all this without equivocation or mental reservation *.” How these good men could bring themselves either to take or require so extravagant an oath, I shall not examine; certainly they must have been free-willers of no ordinary quality, notwithstanding all their zeal against the Arminians, ever to have dreamt of such an engagement. There are few however, who can be supposed willing to undertake to such an extent, or who, if thus rashly engaged, would be able, with all their efforts, entirely
* See preface to Jortin's Remarks on Ecclesiastical History.
to avoid that embarrassment which must be felt by an honest subscriber, upon such a change in his opinions as will not strictly stand with the terms of his engagement. When this, together with the preceding observations, is considered by the reader, he will the less wonder to hear Bishop Burnet express himself in the following manner: -“ The requiring subscription to the thirty-nine articles is a great imposition: I believe them myself; but as those about original sin and predestination might be expressed more unexceptionably, so I think it is a better way, to let such matters continue to be still the standard of doctrine, with some few corrections, and to censure those who teach any contrary tenets, than to oblige all that serve in the church to subscribe them. The greater part subscribe without ever examining them; and others do it because they must do it, though they can hardly satisfy their consciences about some things in them. Churches and societies are much better secured by laws than by subscriptions; it is a more reasonable,
as well as a more easy method of government*.”
5. The bishop's concluding remark, on the substitution of laws in the place of subscriptions, appears solid and important. But should it still be thought expedient to retain the latter, it would seem not very difficult to devise some form of subscription much less exceptionable than those which are at present in use, and which would as effectually answer every good end proposed by such a measure. Why might not the following, or some equivalent form, be thought generally sufficient ?
“ I believe that the holy scriptures, as they are commonly received among protestants, contain all things necessary to salvation ; sa that, whatsoever is not read therein, nor proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of faith, or.be thought requisite or necessary to salvation t. And I declare my sincere intention, seriously to study the sacred scriptures, and to instruct the people in the same, according to my best abilities.”
* Bishop Burnet's conclusion to the History of his own Times.
+ The words in italics are from the sixth article of the church of England.
Should the question respect an admission to minister in the church of England in particular, why might not the following, or some similar declaration, be thought satisfactory? “I am persuaded that the doctrine of the church of England is so pure and orthodox, that whosoever believes it, and lives according to it, shall be saved; and that there is no error in it; which may necessitate any man to disturb the peace, or renounce the communion of it *.” When Bishop Sanderson, who was a good man, and a skilful casuist, was consulted upon this formula by some divines who proposed it, as one, to which they were willing to agree, he answered, “I never subscribed in any other sense myself.” Or why might not Chillingworth's form of subscription be admitted, as expressed in these words ? “ I do verily believe the church of England a
* Life of Chillingworth, by Des Maizeaux.
true member of the church (universal); that she wants nothing necessary to salvation, and holds nothing repugnant to it *.” Either of these forms might be thought sufficiently high for any church that makes no claim to infallibility, and might help to relieve the scruples of some wise and good men.
As what has been advanced under this head is so easily applicable to those points of clerical subscription, which relate either to forms of prayer, or to other offices of religion, I forbear to enter upon them; and shall hasten to close this section, after a word or two on lay-communion.
Though our established clergy may have cause to complain of the hard terms imposed upon them, this is not the case with the adult among the laity, who are almost indiscriminately admitted to the most solemn ordinance of christianity, upon the easy condition of compliance with one indifferent ceremony. Whatever be their faith or practice, their principles or conduct, they are
* Life of Chillingworth, by Des Maizeaux.