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This small Tract was drawn up solely for the use of a Country-Parish; and never intended to go beyond it. But the kind reception it met with ¡ there, from an affectionate and grateful people, and their entering so entirely
nto the cause and subject of it; added to the suggestion of serious friends that it might be of some general use, has been an inducement to make it more public.
MY BRETHREN AND FELLOW CHRISTIANS,
IT will be natural for you to inquire, how it should come to pass, that a minister, with whom you have lived on the best terms, should leave you and a situation, many ways agreeable and beneficial to him, not only without any prospect of preferment, the usual motive for such changes, but the contrary.
As far as I can judge of myself, since I came among you, no preferment would have tempted me to a change; and I have assuredly never sought any other: but here I thought quietly to have ended my days.
· It hath pleased God in his providence to order it otherwise. And his commands are to be obeyed, and his will preferred, before every earthly consideration or advantage.
You are many of you no strangers to the cause of my short absences from you at different times, these two or three years past. You have heard that there was a design set on foot to move our governors, to lighten some burdens that are laid upon clergymen, when they enter upon a cure of souls, in requiring them to subscribe to the XXXIX Articles of our Church, and declare their approbation of every thing in the
Common-prayer Book as being agrecable to the word of God.
The request humbly made to Parliament was, that we might be required to subscribe to nothing but the Bible, the word of God; and not to the articles, or any form of prayer or worship drawn up by fallible
And I have no doubt but you of yourselves would think this sufficient, and that, as your ministers are to teach you nothing but the pure word of God, they ought not to be put upon subscribing to any thing else.
But you are farther to know, that some engaged in this Petition to Parliament, and myself among the l'est, in hope that it would lead also to an amendment of many things in our Liturgy or Common-prayer Book.
You will carefully distinguish here, that our holy religion itself, the religion of Christ, can never be amended. That is always invariably the same; always most perfect and compleat, and is contained in the inspired writings of the New Testament.
But the religion which men have made out of it, whether contained in the Common-prayer Book, or any other book, this will be liable to errors, and imperfertions, and often want amendment.
And thus at the reforination from popery, when our forefathers asserted the sufficiency of holy scripture unto salvation, and their right of interpreting it for themselves; they purged out of their liturgy or common-prayer book many idolatrous and superstitious practices, such as praying to saints, viz. dead men and women; praying to the mass-god, or the bread in the sacrament; praying in latin; the use of
oil and spittle in baptism; extreme unction, or anointing dying persons with oil; lighting up candles, on Candlemas-day; marking the forehead with ashes, on Ash-Wednesday; with many of the like idle fopperies and trumpery, which are still retained among the papists, who are in no small number in your own parish; against whose seducing arts I beg you to be continually upon your guard.
Endeavours have been used, under several of our princes since, to render our Common-prayer Book more strictly agreeable to the holy scriptures, than it could be all at once at its first composing. And particularly about fourscore years ago, at the Revolution, with the countenance of those pious princes, King William and Queen Mary, many great and excellent men, Archbishop Tillotson, Bishops Patrick, Burnet, and others, begun the good work, and made great progress in it; but through the violent opposition of some factious persons, it came to nothing. From that time to this, no attempts have been made, nor any thing done by public authority; through fear, perhaps, of creating disturbances in the state. Although, whenever the experiment is made, I doubt not, but it will be found, that an improved liturgy, brought nearer to the standard of holy scripture, would be generally acceptable to the nation, and contribute to the public peace, as well as to the promotion of true religion.
In the mean time, the errors that call for amende ment in the Common-prayer Book, give great pain to serious considerate inen, zealous for the purity of God's worship. Lesser mistakes and faults in human things ought surely to be borne with; for there is nothing
perfect here below. But where a man esteems any thing contrary to God's word, and sinful, though others may not so esteem it, he cannot, consistently with integrity, comply with it.
In this sinful light all those prayers appear to me, which are addressed to the Trinity, (as, O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity,) to Christ, to the Holy Ghost, or to any other person, but God himself.
For our blessed Saviour always offered up prayer himself to God, his Father and our Father, his God and our God, John xx. 17. and he also enjoined us to pray to the Father only; Luke xi. 2. When ye pray, say, “Our Father, &c.” Many of the prayers in the Liturgy are truly excellent, and quite agreeable to this rule and example of holy scripture. There are also many which are not so; particularly in the Litany; which are immediately directed to Christ, and not to God. I cannot approve, or offer up such prayers myself; or authorize them to be offered up by another for me. The case may be different with regard to you, who are only hearers, and do not lead the devotions of others; and who have no opportunity of attending a purer worship. If you should disapprove of any part of the service which you hear, you may pass it over, and so far not join in it; but your minister, by reading it, makes it more his own.
I cannot, therefore, continue in the use of such forms of worship which I believe to be sinful, without the guilt of continual insincerity before God, and endangering the loss of his favour for ever. For he requireth truth in the inward parts, Psalm. li. 6. an entire rectitude of heart. He will in no case dispense