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I am again honoured by your earnest solicitations not to suffer my life to pass away, without leaving behind me some specimen of original composition for the instruction of mankind. My leisure, your Lordship observes, has been almost exclusively devoted to translation ; and the force, the elegance, and the taste, with which I am said to convey the thoughts of others, serve to excite your regret, that I have bestowed so little attention on the task of retailing my own.
Your Lordship remarks, that a spirit of inquiry on religious subjects is afloat in the world; and that with my store of theological and general knowledge, and with my classical attainments, I might do much good, in guiding the inquirer in his search after truth. You represent yourself as attached to the church of England, by law established, from education and from habit; but you add, that your
conviction, whatever might have been its merit or its extent, has certainly been shaken by the events which have taken place during the last twenty
Indeed, my Lord, your attention and your language are extremely flattering ; perhaps it may be said, without any violation of decorum, that in this instance your sentiments, so advantageous to myself, are more decisive proofs of the partiality of your friendship, than of the accuracy of
your judgment. By a peculiar coincidence of circumstances, your Lordship’s request to have additional information on certain religious topics, and particularly on the true nature, and the real and discriminative properties of the church of Christ, has been strengthened and forwarded by an event which has taken place in my own little flock. Some time ago, a family in a neighbouring parish, consisting of a farmer, his wife, and four children, frequented my chapel for the purpose of listening to the religious instructions, which are regularly given on the Lord's day. After an attendance of some months, having acquired sufficient knowledge of the Catholic doctrine, they, apparently from a strong conviction of the truth of what they had learned, requested to be associated as members of the Catholic church, by an open profession of their faith. This circumstance could not be long concealed from the vicar of their parish ; who, though he had never troubled them before, except on the subject of tithes, and had never reproached them for their habitual neglect in attending his service, now seemed to think that the horrors of popery should call forth his most ardent zeal. He accordingly collected together several small tracts, in which the Catholic religion is disfigured, and painted in the most odious colours. With this bundle of ribaldry and falsehood, he
waited on the family, reproached them with desertion from the cause of Protestantism, retailed all that he could recollect of the charges usually urged by the vulgar on such a subject, exhorted them to read the tracts which he produced, and to retrace their steps. To all the objections urged by this gentleman, during his visit, against the Catholic doctrine and worship, a complete and satisfactory reply was given by the farmer's wife ; his statements were proved to be erroneous, his notions on different questions to be vague and unfounded, and his information altogether incorrect, and a wide deviation from the truth. In fact, an uneducated woman, instructed in the principles of the Catholic faith, silenced her clerical adversary in religious disputation. For after answering many vulgar objections usually called arguments, she took the higher ground, and proposed difficulties, of which the honest vicar was unable to find a solution. After a long conference he departed, leaving the tracts for the inspection of the family.
These slender performances were brought to me, and on inspecting them, I thought the whole collection unquestionably entitled to the most profound contempt. One tract, however, consisting of questions and answers on the summary of the Catholic doctrine, contained in the profession of faith published by Pope Pius IV. appeared less exceptionable than the rest ; and on this I have deemed it a duty to write observations at full length, with a distinct reply to each difficulty proposed. The work has increased to a considerable size; and, together with what I intend to address to your Lordship on the subject of the church, the whole, I flatter myself, will form a compact manual of religious controversy.
In bringing this great question before your view, my Lord, it will be necessary to point out the exisience of the church of Christ, as a fact, which no one gifted with reason, and in the possession of his senses, can venture to call in ques-tion; then to establish its authority on the same ground; and lastly, to display the properties and distinctive marks, which it bears in those sacred records, which were consigned to the care of this distinguished society. After this process, it will be extremely easy to discover, where this church is to be found.
Agreeably to the remark of Cicero, every discussion should begin with a definition of the subject under consideration, that the matter in debate may be clearly ascertained, and perfectly understood". The nineteenth of your articles designates the visible church as a society of faithful, in which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments administered agreeably to the in
· Cic. de Offic. lib, i. no. 2. Omnis enim quæ a ratione suscipitur de aliquâ re institutio, debet a definitione proficisci, ut intelligatur quid sit id de quo disputatur.
stitution of Christ. That the pure word of God is preached in the church of Christ, and that the sacraments are administered agreeably to the direction of our Redeemer, can admit no doubt; but this can 'be known by experience to those only, who are already members of the church. This definition must consequently be deemed deficient, as affording no clue to the unlearned and the ignorant, by which they are to discover where the true church is to be found. A more just and comprehensive view of the true church of Christ
may be given, when it is called a society of men, united together by the profession of the same faith, the use of the same sacraments instituted by Christ, and by an orderly submission to the same authority divinely established. This description of the church of Christ, it will be readily admitted, is sufficiently ample to distinguish it from every other society, and to afford to the ignorant and simple an easy means of discovering its existence. The inconveniences and the palpable deficiencies found in the definitions of the reforming doctors, are here avoided; and nothing is wanting to display to public view that visible and spiritual kingdom, which mankind had been taught to expect.
But it is here asked, is it indubitably clear, that independently of the sacred writings, such a society as is here described, can be proved to exist, with authority to teach, to instruct, and to lead mankind to eternal salvation ? Yes, my Lord, it