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true. The church of Rome refuses the scriptures to the people; some protestant churches grant the sight of the book, but retain the meaning. Can you see any difference ? Search or not search, read or not read, the sense is fixed, it is at the peril of your preferment to vary.
Whence church governors pretend to derive this right does not signify. It can neither be derived from the nature of christianity, the doctrine or practice of Christ or his apostles, the condition of man in a state of nature, his condition as a member of society subject to magistracy, nor indeed in England from any thing but the act of supremacy; an act which transferred a power over mens' consciences from the pope to the king. His Majesty Henry the VIIIth, by a master stroke in politics, preferred an indictment against the whole body of the clergy in Westminster Hall, and obtained judgment upon the statute of præmunire, whereby they were all declared to be out of the king's protection, and to have forfeited all their goods and chattels; and then pardoned them on two conditions; first that they should pay into the exchequer 1188401. Secondly that they should yield his majesty the title of sole and supreme head of the church of England; a title which by subsequent declarations was so explained as to annihilate the right of private judgment, and yet private judgment gave birth to this very act.
Suppose his majesty Harry the VIIIth. exercising the authority allowed by the act of supremacy; and among other things forming a creed for his subjects; suppose him a man of shallow capacity; would not his creed have been too lean and poor for many of his subjects? And on the contrary, suppose himn a man of an exalted genius, of a prodigious stretch of thought; would not his creed have been too rich and full for many more? But the impossibility of exercising such a power was discussed in the last letter; this is to canvass the legality of it.
No mean can be lawful in itself which destroys the end for which it is appointed. Now the end to be obtained is the establishment of christianity. But how can the depriving men of the right of private judgment be a lawful mean of obtaining that end, seeing christianity is a personal obedience to the laws of Christ arising from a conviction of their excellency, and their connection with certain facts of whose certainty evidence is given, which evidence to be received must be examined ? Christianity proposes truths of speculation and truths of practice: if men can examine and ascertain the first by proxy, why not obey the last in the same manner? But who can love or fear, believe or hope by substitution ?
If to deny the right of private judgment be destructive of the nature of christianity in general, it is more remarkably so of the christianity of the reformed churches. The right of private judgment is the very foundation of the reformation, and without establishing the former in the fullest sense, the latter can be nothing but a faction in the state, a schism in the church. The language of the refor
mers must be something like this when they proposed subscription. " Gentlemen, the right of private judgment allowed of God, and supported by all kinds of argument, hath been challenged and exercised by men for upwards of five thousand five hundred years; we ourselves have recovered it from the pope, who had unlawfully usurped this right, and as God, sat in the temple of God. In virtue of this right, we have examined the holy : scriptures, fixed their meaning, and engaged the king to support a creed which by delegation we have composed for his majesty, and for all his subjects. In us the right of private judgment ceases, and should England continue five thousand five hundred years longer, no man shall exercise this right without suffering all the penalties we can inflict. Indeed all Europe is but just emerging from barbarity, learning is but in its infancy, and England is torn and rent with civil dissentions. In all probability, peace may succeed war, learning may diffuse itself, and invigorate to maturity; and a hundred years hence mén may arise infinitely more capable than we are: but let succeeding ages improve as they will, all men shall leave the minster where they find it.” How say you Sir ? Cranmer stained his archiepiscopal hands with blood; but could even Cranmer have opened the convocation with such a speech as this? Yet speak it or no, it is all fact.
The reformers were not to blame for exercising the right of private judgment themselves; their fault was a denial of the same right to others. They
had the highest authority for what they did, deriving it from the doctrine and example of Christ and his apostles. is
Take one, two, or more of our Saviour's doctrines, and ask, what magic can there be in subscribing them without examination? Himself never proposed such a thing, but on the contrary, exhorted his hearers to search the scriptures ; a strange impertinence unless the right of private judgment be allowed ! Nor did he only exhort the people to judge for themselves, but he also warned his disciples not to usurp that right. CALL no man your father upon the earth, neither BE YE CALLED masters. Neither impose your opinions upon others, nor suffer them to impose theirs upon you.
Had Jesus Christ considered the right of private judgment in an unlawful light, he would first have instructed Herod, or Caiaphas, or some of the principal rabbies, and by them he would have converted the nation. But instead of that, he condemns the doctrines of the church governors, addresses his sermons ad populum,* gives it as a proof of his mission that the gospel was preached to the poor, and constantly protects his followers in the exercise of the right of private judgment. When the disciples plucked and ate the ears of corn, they broke two canons of the established church. - It was on a sabbath-day; and probably before morning service was over; and the church had deter
* To the common people.
mined the illegality of what they did. Used to judge for themselves, they thought the church mistaken in this case, ventured to think for themselves, and acted accordingly. Did not Jesus Christ protect them in their claim?
The apostles, worthy followers of such a master, went into all nations preaching a doctrine which no church governors upon earth believed. Did they deny the right of private judgment? If they had, their expeditions would have been in the Quixotic style. Did St. Paul write to Corinth? I speak as to wise men : JUDGE YE what I say. Did he write to Rome? Let EVERY MAN be fully persuaded in his own mind. Every body understood this. The populace at Berea, men and women, searched the scriptures daily whether these things were so. The students at Athens desired to know what the new doctrine was, of which the apostle spake; for the purpose of search no doubt. The magistrates, as Gallio, declared themselves No JUDGES IN SUCH MATTERS. And hence the amazing success of his preaching: for what himself calls preaching with demonstration of the spirit, and power, St. Luke calls reasoning in the synagogue every sabbath-day. Compare Acts xviii. 4. with 1 Cor. ii. 4, 5. Who can account for all this without the right of private judgment?
Consider the condition of man in a state of nature; and you will readily grant either that a right of determining for himself is no man's, or every man's right. Vindicate the right to one, and you do it to two, to two hundred, to two thousand, to