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through the wide and dusty champain of the councils; but I shall take counsel of that which counselled them-reason! And though I know there is an obsolete reprehension now at your tongue's end, yet I shall be bold to say, that reason is the gift of God in one man as well as a thousand. By that which we have tasted already of their cisterns, we may find that reason was the only thing, and not any divine command, that moved them to enjoin the set forms of a liturgy First, lest any thing in general might be missed in their public prayers, through ignorance or want of care, contrary to the faith ;--and next, lest the Arians and Pelagians, in particular, should infect the people by their hymns and forms of prayer. But, by the good leave of these ancient fathers, this was no solid prevention of spreading heresy, to debar the ministers of God of their noblest talent-prayer in their congregations; unless they had forbid the use of all sermons and lectures too, but such as was ready-made to their hands, like our homilies: or else, he that was heretically disposed, had as fair an opportunity of infecting in his discourse as in his prayer or hymn. As insufficiently, and to say truth, as imprudently, did they provide, by their contrived liturgies, lest any thing should be prayed through ignorance or want of care in the ministers; for if they were careless and ignorant in their prayers, certainly they would be more careless in watching over their flock; and what prescription could reach to bound them in both these? What if reason, now illustrated by the Word of God, shall be able to produce a better preventive than these councils have left us against heresy, ignorance, or want of care in the ministry, to wit, that such wisdom and diligence be used in the education of those that would be ministers, and such a spirit and serious examination to be undergone before their admission, as St. Paul to Timothy sets down at large; and then they need not carry such an unworthy suspicion over the preachers of God's word, as to tutor their unsoundness with the a, b, c, of a liturgy, or to diet their ignorance and want of care with the limited draught of a matin and evening-song drink.”
He gives another hard hit at the contents of the liturgy:"To contend that it is fantastical, if not senseless, in some places, were a copious argument, especially in the responses. For such alternatives as are there used, must be by several persons; but the minister and the people cannot so, sever their interests as to sustain several
persons, he being the only mouth of the whole body which he represents. And if the people pray, he being silent, or they ask one thing, and he another, it either changes the property, making the priest the people, and the people the priest by
turns, or else makes two persons representative where there should be but one; which, if there were nothing else, must be a strange quaintness in ordinary prayer.
It has, indeed, been pretended to be more ancient than the mass, but so little proved, that whereas other corrupt liturgies have had such a seeming antiquity that their publishers have ventured to ascribe them either to Sr. PETER, ST. JAMES, ST. MARK, or at least to CHRYSOSTOME or BASIL, ours has been never able to find either age or author allowable, on whom to father those things which therein is least offensive, except the two creeds.”
Considering that Constantine corrupted religion, he says:—“Of his Arianism we heard; and for the rest, a pretty scantling of his knowledge may be taken, by his deferring to be baptized so many years, a thing not unusual, and repugnant to the tenor of Scripture, Philip knowing nothing that should hinder the Eunuch to be baptized [immediately] after the profession of his belief." He quotes Dante, in his 19th Canto of Inferna, to prove that even men professing the Roman faith, had charged Constantine with having marred every thing in the church:
“Ah! Constantine, of how much ill the cause,
titled, “Reason of Church Government urged against Prelaty;" which he commences, by proving, that “the Church Government is prescribed in the Gospel, and that to say otherwise is unsound.” He takes up the hackneyed argument of churchmen, who contend that “church discipline is not platformed in the Bible, but is left to the discretion of men.” To the first of these statements he answers: “If we could imagine that he [Christ] left it at random, without his providence and gracious ordering, who is he so arrogant, so presumptuous, that durst dispose and guide the living ark of the Holy Ghost, though he should find it wandering in the fields of Bethshemish, without the constant warrant of some high calling? But no profane insolence can parallel that which our prelates dare avouch, to drive outrageously, and shelter the holy ark of the church, not borne upon their shoulders with pains and labour in the word, but drawn with rude oxen, their officials and their own brute inventions. Let them make shews of reforming while they will, so long as the church is mounted upon the prelatical cart, and not as it ought, between the hands of the ministers, it will but shake and totter; and he that sets to his hand, though with a good intent, to hinder the shogging of it, in this unlawful waggonry wherein he rides, let him beware it be not fatal to him as it was to Uzza."
In reply to quotations from the Fathers, he speaks most contemptuously. He calls them, “ those more ancient than trusty Fathers, whose custom and fond opinion, weak principles, and the neglect of sounder knowledge, have exalted so high, as to have gained them a blind reverence, whose books in bigness and number are endless and immeasurable ; I cannot think that either God or nature, either divine or human wisdom, did mean they should ever be a rule or reliance to us, in the decision of any weighty or positive doctrines; for certainly every rule and instrument of necessary knowledge that God has given us, ought to be so in proportion as may be wielded and managed by the life of man, without penning him up from the duties of human society. But he that shall bind himself to make antiquity his rule, if he reads but part, (besides the difficulty of the choice,) his rule is deficient and utterly unsatisfying. For there may be other writers of another mind, which he has not seen; and if he undertakes all, the length of man's life cannot extend to give him a full and requisite knowledge of what was done in antiquity. Go, therefore, and use all your art, apply your sledges, your levers, and your iron crows, to heave your mighty Polyphemus of antiquity, to the delusion of novices and unexperienced Christians.”