SOME CONSIDERATIONS ABOUT UNION AMONG PROTESTANTS
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PRESERVATION OF THE INTEREST OF THE PROTESTANT RELIGION IN THIS NATION. 1680 PREFATORY NOTE.
THIS tract appears to have been published anonymously in 1680. The excitement prevailing throughout Britain at the time has been described in the prefatory note to the preceding treatise. The precise aim of our author in the tract which follows is not very easily ascertained; nor does it at first sight appear why, in order to strike a blow at Popery, and advance the interests of Protestantism, he should insist so strongly on the fact that the Anglican hierarchy, in its claims and pretensions, was the chief cause of the lamentable divisions among British Protestants, and, consequently, of the weakness of the Protestant interest at this juncture. It was, however, not an unusual plea with the adherents of the English Church, and more especially with the abettors of the high-handed measures adopted by the Court for discountenancing and suppressing dissent, that the Church of England was the bulwark of Protestantism, and that to strengthen it was the wisest course which the nation in the present crisis could pursue, in order to avert the threatened restoration of papal influence in Britain.
Churchmen, accordingly, who were alarmed at the prospect of Popery regaining its ascendency in the land, might, under this consideration dexterously and plausibly urged, be not only confirmed in their attachment to the Established Church, but look with increased jealousy upon Nonconformists, as traitors to the cause of Protestantism; while the latter might be led to abate, in some degree, the strength of their conscientious opposition to the polity of the Established Church.
Our author, on the other hand, shows in this tract that in reality the Church of England — dreaded at the Court of Rome, and respected by Reformed Churches abroad, as the representative of British Protestantism — was not confined within the pale of the Established Church, but consisted of “the body of Christian people professing Protestantism, with a detestation of Popery.” It is next his object to show that the hierarchy of England, or, more generally, “the authoritative national church-state,” was a source of weakness rather than a tower of strength to the Protestant interest, on account of (1.) its encroachment on the civil rights and government of the nation; (2.) the oppression of Nonconformists in order that its claims and dignity might be upheld; and (3.) the spirit it fostered of subserviency to royal aggrandizement, in order to secure a share in the preferment which is under the patronage and at the disposal of the Crown.
So long as the Anglican church was maintained in its claims, it was “vain to expect peace and union among Protestants.” He proceeds farther, and alarms that Popery may seize possession of it, and make use of it for its own purposes, till the whole nation be insensibly “betrayed into Popery, as it were, they know not how.”
In the absence of a National or Established Church, Protestantism would not be dangered, if the State gave civil and public securities for the maintenance of the Protestant religion. He specifies the securities requisite for this purpose: — a national renunciation of, and protest against, the errors of Popery; a confession of faith, to be subscribed by all enjoying a public ministry; and the exercise of magisterial authority to the encouragement of Protestantism, in providing for the support of the gospel, and in protecting the church in the enjoyment of its spiritual power. He contends that the church should be protected in the exercise of its spiritual power by spiritual means only.
His design, accordingly, in this tract, is not so much to enforce the duty of union among Protestants, as to indicate the danger which, in his judgment, threatened the Protestant cause from the “national church-state,” or, to come nearer the modern phrase, the state-church; though, from the view he takes of the duty of the magistrate to support Christian ordinances, his objections to it have not much in common with the opposition now offered to the principle of a state-church. The subject of the tract is continued, and his views in regard to the course which apostasy to Rome might take, are more fully developed, in the succeeding treatise. —ED.