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3. However just this may be, and however plain it is that all men must chuse the least evil, yet many seem as if they would not allow it without some reluctance in matters of religion: it does indeed, when assenting in form to things, which do not satisfy us, is a consequence, wear the appearance of prevarication, and men are much to be commended, who examine all such appearances with the greatest nicety.
But the chief thing, which would obstruct the reception of our, maxim, chuse the least evil, is, that it implies great imperfection in religious societies; it implies, that a man inay find imperfection in his own church: and, if he attempts to quit it on that account, he may find, that other churches are still more imperfect than his own: whereas, we are habituated to look up to our church with the utmost veneration. We are brought up to hear nothing but good of the religion to which we belong; its doctrines, its regulations, nay its ceremonies and habits, are recommended to us, and strongly inculcated, without any distinction being made between them and Religion in the strictest sense; between them and that which is most substantial, essential, indispensible. And this is found necessary for maintaining religious sentiments in the minds of the generality of people. Such commendations may sometimes make us have more respect for Religion ; but they may also give us some wrong notions and prejudices; and prevent our doing what is best upon the whole.
4. And some men increase this veneration for religious Society in general, by considering, that the Catholic Church, or society of Christians, was founded by Christ himself. From whence also this conclusion may seem deducible, that, if any particular Church has any material imperfection, it cannot be a part of the Church of Christ.-Let us then inquire first, how far Christian churches are of human institution; and then we can more freely speak of their imperfections.
That Christ might be said to form his Disciples into a Church, has been mentioned in the first Book; but, if a great number of Christians were to assemble, and set themselves to reduce into a practical form all that he has said, and act upon it, they would find themselves much at a loss, if they added nothing; they would be scarce able to stir a step: the obstruction would be of the same sort, though in a less degree, if they selected all passages relating to the ecclesiastical government of the Apostles :- they would find societies instituted, and conducted, officers or magistrates named, their qualities mentioned; but all incidentally, without system ; and they would be in danger of misinterpreting ancient names or terms, by affixing to them modern ideas.-Some have thought, that the Apostles' accommodated the form of ecclesiastical government, in any place, to the form of civil government prevailing there, as falling in best with habitual notions ;-without proving this, we may say, that no church could be carried on, without more rules than the Apostles have laid down; and that new rules or laws ought to depend upon particular circumstances. --Baptism and the Lord's Supper Christ himself has appointed ; besides these, and preaching the Gospel to all men, requiring them to act on Christian principles, and labouring to make them " careful to maintain good works, nothing at this moment occurs to me, which is so essential to a Christian church as to admit of no
variation ; · Chap. xix. Sect. 16. • Bingham, beginning of Book 9.
< Chap. ix. Sect. 1. d Mark xvi. 15. ¢ Tit. iii. 8. Vol. II.
variation: nay these, though invariable in themselves, allow of variety in the modes of executing and encouraging them. As far as these things go, a person, in deliberating about a removal from one church to another, may conceive himself as going upon divine authority ;-farther, all is human. About the rest then, we may reason freely, and compare one human institution with another. Men used, in former times, to deduce the particulars of civil society from the Scriptures; that is now given up; but Scripture being about Religion, a prejudice still remains for recurring to Scripture about ecclesiastical society ; this however is not supported by reason, except as far as we can reason by analogy from one situation to another, according to the principles of Book I. Chap. xi.--If an architect was to consult Scripture, in order to determine whether he should build a Church of brick or stone, he would not be more unreasonable than some men have been in their consultations.
5. As, then, we may compare one human institution with another, and a Church is, in many respects, an human institution, let us suppose a society to meet, which had been instituted for effecting an inland navigation: it is debated, whether certain sluices shall be made in certain places? you are a member, and you have your opinion, grounded on reasons : you hear, in the course of the debate, notions, or doctrines, from which you dissent, and these are ratified by the majority: do you refuse to act after them, or to continue a member of this Society ? a Church is a corporation or society contriving human means of answering a good end: though you disapprove of some of the means (and what are professions of doctrines but means ?) you have no more reason to quit it, merely
a See Dr. Balguy, Discourse 6. near beginning.
on that account, than you have to quit the other. -When an order is made by a Society, sometimes persons, members of that Society, who have voted against it, hesitate to sign it; but this is esteemed weakness; for signature does not, in such a case, imply private opinion.
6. If it is once properly felt, that Churches are, in most things, human institutions; to consider their imperfections will give no offence, and to act upon them will occasion no difficulty.-Nay, we may go one step farther; human means of answering the ends of religious society, must needs be more imperfect than any human means, because religion is the most difficult of subjects
. -In most cases, we make attempts to improve things, and gain a greater good than we at present possess; they are but rude attempts in general; we know so little of the internal nature of things, that we are obliged to grope our way in the dark, and take what knowledge we can get from experience; though that experience sometimes costs us dear. If this be the case, what can be expected in our pursuits of improvement in Religion? where we know our way so little ; where almost every thing is above our comprehension !—Those, who find it difficult to allow of uncertainties in Religion, might perhaps assist themselves, by imagining two contending parties to refer their disputes to superior beings: they might by that means get an idea, that, in all probability, superior beings would determine (according to the ludicrous story before mentioned) that neither party was right: and that, which party was the nearest to being right, could not very easily be determined.
7. Notwithstanding our reasoning may thought not unjust, it may be thought better omitted. If men's religious conduct depends on their veneration for their
b Balguy, Charge 5. p. 258.
religion, is it not imprudent to lessen that veneration ?- We may answer, that sometimes it is necessary to enter into the grounds of all duties, though, while we are considering them, we have less sentiment than accompanies the performance of them at other times, when every thing is in its settled state : when a servant is contracting with his master, or negotiating about quitting his service, he does not feel the sentiments of a servant; and so in other cases; but, when things recover their usual train, the sentiments recover their usual strength. In the present case, when quitting a church is in question, considering its imperfections is absolutely necessary ; in order to prevent taking a greater evil instead of a less ; and in order to comfort those, who comply without a clear insight into the grounds of their compliance ; -- but, when questions and doubts are at an end, veneration for the church regains its wonted strength and efficacy: that which is fallible may be the best we can attain; and, though the forms of any church should be in some things exceptionable, yet they may be exceedingly edifying upon the whole : nay, we can even admire that, which our reason tells us is in 'some respects imperfect. How noble, 'how beautiful, we say, is such a thing! what a pity that it has such an imperfection !' —No Poet is more admired than Shakspeare, even by those, who think him faulty in several respects.
8. It follows from these considerations, that continuing members of a Church whose Doctrines seem imperfect, when that appears to be the least evil, cannot interfere with our Duty to God or man.-As far as we can enter into the views of the Supreme Being, we must conceive, that he cannot