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an, independent, anabaptist, nay, even the infidel politician, in his impious and intolerant zeal for the overthrow of the Church,-one and all, triumphantly appeal. If no comment be necessary
where can be the use of preaching? But if a comment be necessary, if it be necessary to instruct men how to deduce from Scriptural facts, wholesome doctrine and practical precepts, why should the right, which is so generously conceded to every unwashed artificer of schism, be only denied to a Society which embraces all the most learned divines of England.
But on this point it is needless to dwell. I believe that many among the foreign protestants, from whom our dissenters claim their descent, acknowledge the right of private interpretation. But however that may be, the right of private interpretation, thanks be to God, never has been, and, I trust never will be, held by the Church of England. Our Reformers,* while they acknowledged the Bible, and the Bible only, to be the rule of faith, invariably sought to in
*"Now we ought to interpret the Scriptures in conformity to the sense of the ancients."
CRANMER, quoted by Collier, vol. ii, p. 56.
terpret the Bible, by the practice of the primitive Catholic Church, and the authenticated tradition of the first ages of Christianity. And, I am bold to say, without fear of contradiction, that this reverend regard for primitive customs and catholic tradition, not as a rule of faith, but for the interpretation of doubtful points, has always distinguished our real Church of England divines, from the commencement of the Reformation to the present hour.
So careful, indeed, were our Reformers, to guard against the errors of private interpretation, that they drew up the thirty nine Articles, to serve as a guide to those who are unable to consult the primitive records; they published two books of Homilies to guard against the ignorant presumption of the unlearned clergy of that age; they permitted no one to preach without a license, and for the direction of such as were licensed, they framed a Canon, which was sanctioned by a full provincial synod, and by which, preachers were forbidden “ to teach ought except that which is agreeable to the doctrine of the Old and New Testaments, and which has been deduced from that doctrine by the Catholic Fathers and ancient Bishops.” ()
Sufficient has surely now been said to shew that the reformed church of England not only recognizes the necessity of some rule for the interpretation of scripture, but also that she does not refer for that rule to the opinions and dicta of the Reformers themselves, still less of the foreign Reformers. And I will just observe before I quit the subject, that she thus tacitly condemns those liberal and latitudinarian divines, who in their appetence for popular applause, foist upon the public their crude conjectures for irrefragable truths, and scruple not to belie the principles of the Church while they hold the preferments of the establishment.
To assist, then, the poor who, a fortiori, must have greater need of assistance, and to enable them to arrive at a right knowledge of scripture doctrine ; what is it that our Society in the first place does ? together with the Bible she distributes our book of Common Prayer; which, at once contains the soundest exposition, and the best practical application of all evangelical facts and catholic verities. There was a time when by “ Mr. Calvin,” (G) the learned and respectable but not very tolerant Reformer of Geneva, our liturgy was denounced as containing many fooleries; and there was a time when by his followers in England those fooleries which he considered as tolerable, were represented partly from factious, and partly, no doubt, from conscientious motives, as intolerable. But those days, blessed be God, are past and gone; and now the Church is praised for her liturgy by those even who will praise her for nothing else. It has, indeed, become so much the fashion and cant of the age to praise the liturgy, that I am frequently inclined to regard an enthusiastic eulogy of the Book of Common Prayer with somewhat of suspicion, lest it be only an apology for some glaring violation of the principles it inculcates.
The fact, however, that such is the case, will render it unnecessary to vindicate our Society on this head.
With respect to the other works and tracts which it circulates, it can be only needful to say, that having received the sanction of the Committee which, of course, like the Society itself, consists wholly of churchmen, they cannot in any material degree, if at all, be at variance with the articles and principles of the Church. We may, I think, safely say of them, as we say on similar grounds, of Queen
Elizabeth's homilies, that on the whole, without pledging ourselves for every particular passage, they contain a godly and wholesome doctrine necessary for these times.*
I might now, my brethren, descant upon the antiquity of our Society, for it existed for more than a century before those institutions were dreamt of, to which party spirit, in conjunction with pious but misdirected zeal, has of late years given rise : or I might tell of its successes : I might inform you, how that in the last year, it has issued above sixty thousand Bibles, and fifty-nine thousand Testaments; above one hundred and forty-five thousand Prayer Books, and fifteen thousand Psalters ; of bound books one hundred and fourteen thousand; and of Tracts, one million, one hundred and thirty-nine thousand, seven hundred and ninety-four, besides two hundred thousand papers gratuitously distributed. But on these points I forbear to dwell; for success is no criterion of merit; if it were so, the Papist might hold good argument with the Protestant, and the Caliphs of Islamism with the Bishops of Christendom. At the
* On the subject of the Homilies see thc Bishop of Limerick's trcatisc in " Practical Theology," vol ii.