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how matters stood at Abley, after he had been dismissed from his curacy; and one morning, after breakfast, Mr. Worthy being detained at home on some busipess as a magistrate, the three ministers walked around the pleasure grounds, when the following conversation took place.
Loveg. I am anxious to know how matters are at Abley since I left them. Does Mr. Steepleman continue in the curacy, who was sent to succeed me, when I received my dismissal ?
Slapd. Aye, he has been preaching up the Church, till he has driven almost all the people out of the Church; and has been preaching against schism, till they are all turned schismatics, at least in his esteem, throughout the neighbourhood.
Mer. What sort of a character is he?
Slapd. Why, he is half a papist. In some of his high flying notions, he is quite a papist.
Loveg. Hush ! Hush ! my good brother you always speak so vehemently.
Slapd. There is no taking the devil by the nose, but with a pair of tongs :* and I am sure Mr. Steepleman's doctrines is completely popish, and where can that lead to, but to the devil.
Loveg. A heavy charge, brother Slapdash ! Slapd. No more than just, be it ever so beavy. Who can bear the thought, that a set of ruined sinners should have their eyes, and hopes turned from God, to seek for salvation in outward Churches, as they are called, and in the tricks of priests?
Mer. [To Lovegood.] Why, there is a deal of truth in the observation; thousands, in different ways, are deluded by these means : I shall take sides with
* Alluding to a popish legendary story, respecting St. Dunstan; when the devil accosted him as a tempter, the saint took him by the nose with a pair of tongs.
gone too far.
Mr. Slapdash. But do Sir, be more particular about Mr. Steepleman's religion.
Slapd. Sir, salvation with him is just the same as with the papists. He has scarcely any thing to urge, but that "you must keep yourself in the church, and trust in her priesthood.” As to our good old rea formers, while they universally charged the Church of Rome as Antichrist, Mr. Steepleman tells us, she is the true old Christian Church, and the mother of us all; and that though in some things it might have been necessary to reform, yet that in others we have
power of the keys, in his favourite topic, and that Jesus Christ has delegated, all the powers of salvation to the priesthood, who can turn in, and turn out, lock in, and lock out, just as they please. He says the Reformers ruined the Church by giving up confession and absolution.
Mer. It seems, that Mr. Deliberate spent two vears of his time in Ireland, before he came into these parts ; and he gives an awful account, of the horrid evils of priestcraft in that country. He tells us, that thousands of the poor ignorant papists, can live in open violation of the pure and holy laws of God, without the least apparent remorse; but directly as they transgress the laws of their Church, or the directions of their priesthood, they are alarmed at the
consequences, as though certain damnation were just about to overtake them ; and I fear that Mr. Steepleman's religion, is but one shade better.*
Loveg. How many thousands there are, of all quarrelsome sects," who make void the law through their traditions ;” and how terribly are the consciences of sinners, screened from conviction, and har, dened in sin thereby !
Slapd. Now, I said it, and I think I can stand to it, that Mr. Steepleman is quite a papist at least as far as this goes. First, he supposes, should a man live like a devil, yet, if he be of the true Church, it will
* Ser much of this in Sir R, Musgrave's account of the late rebellion in Ireland.
prove a great step towards his salvation; but, on the contrary, should a man live like an Angel, and be what he calls a schismatic, through this damnable sin, the most tremendous consequences are to be expected ; and as to priests, he will have it, that the efficacy of their functions, is in their office, and is not at all affected by their characters ; so that a priest, though as wicked as sin can make him, in himself, has a power, by a sort of spiritual conjuration, to send others to heaven, while he himself, it wickedness can take bim thither, is going fast for bell.-Is not this popery?
Mer. Indeed Mr. Slapdash, it is popery down right.
Loveg. (smiling.) I thought brother Slapdash would soon make you a convert.
Slapd. Why cannot you remember, when you were curate at Abley, that you preached in my Church, at a meeting of Ministers ; and what a sermon you gave us on that text, “ Having the form of godliness, but denying the power :” and how you explained to us, that excellent definition of a sacrament we have in the Church catechism, that, in itself it was only
an outward and visible sign, of an inward and spiritual grace;" and was only meant as a pledge, or token of the divine mercies? Don't you recollect, how you ript up all the lying hopes of those who trusted in these outward signs, and formal Churches, instead of seeking for the inward and spiritual grace? and the absurdity that some have fallen into, who supposé that the outward ceremony of baptism, creates the inward regeneration of the heart?-I think you were Slapdash on that occasion.
Mer. Well, well, we must áll give up the point. The consequences are really awful, when such wretched substitutes are permitted to occupy the mind, instead of the realities of the gospel. Just so far as a vain confidence in Churches and priests prevails, the need of that which is inward, and spiritual, will sink in our esteem. “The kingdom of God is within you."
Slapd. Yes, and one evil is almost sure to beget another. When you (to Mr. Lovegood,] were curate of Abley, what were the grand objects the poor people were directed to seek after? What you felt, you immediately began to preach, that you and all your congregation were a set of ruined 'sinners : so that if you had not bad Christ to set before them, in his justifying blood, and righteousness, and sanctifying spirit, you had all been in despair together; and this you know was the top and bottom of all your preaching; and you remember in what a loving, uniting spirit, you were then all kept as one, having nothing in view “ but the one thing needful.” But when Mr. Steepleman came with his chaf, no wonder that such as felt any thing like a spiritual appetite, were constrained to seek after something better; and I wish with all my heart, that they could have found what they sought after. But here from one extreme, they were hurried into another ; for, while they were driven from the Church by the disgustful trumpery of Mr. Steepleman, they unfortunately hit upon a Mr. Stiff, who it seems, first made an unsuccessful attempt to get into the established Church, though afterwards he put himself under the tuition of a Dr. Buckram, and then turned out one of the most narrow-minded, rigid dissenters, I ever met with in all my life. Having procured a license, he preaches in the farm house where Mrs. Goodworth lived ; and while Mr. Steepleman keeps railing at separatists, and schismatics, Mr. Stiff will be casting out his invectives against the church, and all establishments ; and conceitedly insists upon it, that their church government is the only one exactly modelled according to the word of God, and the practice of the primitive Christians ; and it is said, that at some of their dissenting ordinations, he has been most abominably abusive.
Mar. Oh, the terrible consequences of these con. troversies about mere empty forms! For after all, who are the people that constitute the real church in.
the sight of God? Why penitent believers, when convened together, of every party. How dreadful, when any, who are thus saved, and blessed, are found to anathematize, and condemn each other!
Loveg. How much it is to be lamented, that a man of a meek and mild turn of mind, could not have been found to instruct the poor people, when they were under the necessity of seeking for instruction from another quarter. For although it may appear, how well designed the established Church is in itself, for the conveyance of general instruction; yet still, in a variety of instances, through the badness of her patronage, and prevalence of corruption, every candid clergyman must acknowledge the end designed thereby, is by no means accomplished. Were then the work of public instruction confined, merely to any establishment, however good, the evil complained of would be necessarily increased. It is therefore evident, that something is needful to be done, which after all, cannot be done by the members of any established church. Therefore what an impediment it is to the advancement of the general good, when people are contending about outward forms, while none of these things are precisely settled in the word of God!
Slapd. Mr. Stiff would have given you a good trimming, if he had heard you advance that doctrine.
Loveg. I suppose he would, and almost every exclusive sect, on the most ill-grounded pretensions, has claimed the same ; but as for my part, I can find nothing more in the Bible respecting these matters, than that the primitive Christians lived in connected harmony, and friendship with each other; that elders, or overseers, or bishops,* if you please to call them so, were ordained, or appointed in different cities, to govern the juniors; and sometimes we hear of many of these elders, who presided over one and the same congregation, which happens to be the plain
* These words in scripture, are evidently of the same import.