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“ the law of his God, and the law of the king ;” yet Ezra said, “ Blessed be the Lord God of our "Fathers, who hath put such a thing into the heart “ of the king, to beautify the house of the Lord, “ which is at Jerusalem."
It is pleaded against establishments in general, that there was none in the primitive church during the three first centuries : and this indeed proves that Christianity can subsist and flourish without an establishment, and even that it can subsist and flourish under persecution : but this does not imply, that such a state of things is necessary to the subsistence and flourishing of the church. In like manner there was no temple for above 400 years after Israel entered Canaan; yet at length Solomon was chosen to build one. There could be no establishment as long as there were no Christian kings or rulers : as none of Christ's servants were intrusted with authority, none could improve it as a talent. The first establishment under Constantine and his successors was in various ways very faulty : yet the triumphs of Christianity over idolatry throughout the Roman empire, by means of it, were, if I mistake not, deemed worthy of a place in prophecy, as marking an era in which Satan suffered a very signal defeat : though, alas ! it was not of very long duration; for an idolatrous, antichristian, persecuting empire was in a short time substituted in the stead of the pagan empire.
Christianity is not so poor or feeble, as to be dependent for existence or success either on the wealthy or the potent: nay, she could maintain her ground, and make new victories, when all the rich and the mighty opposed her: but neither does she haughtily disdain the assistance and countenance of either the one or the other, if afforded without interference in those things which are peculiar to her true prosperity and glory. Yet many, who readily accept the assistance of the wealthy, and glory in the concurrence of the ingenious, and learned, and noble, in accomplishing plans of Christian benevolence, seem decided against receiving the most unexceptionable aid from the powerful of the earth.
If it was, as I suppose, the design of Providence, to leave Christianity so unencumbered, that it might be capable of accommodating itself to outward circumstances, whatever they might be, in every land in which it was propagated : it cannot be expected that an establishment, arranged under a variety of particulars, as under the Mosaic dispensation, should be found in the New Testament; but are we thence to conclude that Christian kings ought not to do any thing to promote the religion of Christ among the inhabitants of the countries which they govern ? Must they alone, of all men,
care for none of these things,” and merely confine themselves to temporal matters?
But we read in prophecy, that "kings shall “ be nursing fathers, and their queens nursing “ mothers ” to the church. Now, in what manner shall this prophecy, and others to a similar effect, be accomplished, if Gallio be indeed, as some appear to think he was, the model even of a Christian magistrate ? Should it please God to raise up
i Is. xlix. 23.
kings, like Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah ; who should, according to the genius of the new dispensation, imitate their example, as it has been above stated, the way in which the prophecies would be fulfilled must then be plain to every one. But I will not absolutely decide, whether what is now called an establishment would be one part of their plan, or not: perhaps nothing could give them so great advantage, in providing instruction and the means of grace for the population of any country, and a Christian education for the lower orders in the community, as something of this nature would do. Nor can I think it altogether impracticable, for the broad ground of the New Testament to be proceeded on, in nearly the same manner as pious kings of Judah proceeded upon the broad ground of the Old Testament: nothing required, as a term of communion, but what wise and pious men in general allowed to be scriptural; things indifferent left so; and much latitude allowed in respect of expressions, forms, postures, and all such things, as evidently conscientious pious persons may be supposed to view differently.
In countries professing Christianity, the places appropriated for public worship, and the funds devoted to the cause of religion, might, in such a case, come greatly in aid of the design of thus giving to all parts of a nation the means of grace.' Those funds are incumbrances under which estates have been bought, sold, and inherited for ages, and are a kind of public property ; and, if not employed for religious, will be seized on for secular purposes, and never given to those who possess the estates, which they inherited or purchased as liable to this deduction. Nor, indeed, ought they to be so given; for the tithes and other similar imposts on estates, having existed from time immemorial, no more belong to the owner of the estate, than the rent belongs to the farmer, instead of the landlord. If the plan in countries now professing Christianity, or in countries hereafter to be evangelized, require other funds; these, if raised by general taxation of any kind, ought, no doubt, to be impartially administered. And, even if the establishment should be rendered as comprehensive as can well be conceived, some may be supposed to dissent from it: and, I own it as my opinion, not only that all such persons as act peaceably in dissenting should have full toleration; but also that, with some limitations perhaps, (as idolatry in worship, or grossly immoral principles, or heresy subversive of the great mystery “ of godliness," or principles subversive of civil government,) the funds raised by general taxation, at least, should be applied to support in part the quietly dissenting, as well as the established worship.
These are indeed Utopian thoughts of a possibly existing establishment: and I only adduce them to shew that establishments are not antiscriptural in themselves; and that we may lawfully worship, and officiate as ministers, in an establishment; provided that establishment does not require of us things in other respects contrary to our consciences.
Whatever we determine of the right and duty of kings in this respect: popish, Mohammedan, and pagan kings will establish their several religions, as far as policy or bigotry dictate ; notwithstanding our speculations. But shall we, on that account, use all our influence with a Hezekiah, or a Josiah, that we may induce him to “bury his “ talent in the earth ?” Or shall we, with the prophets of old, encourage him to go on and prosper; only keeping close to the oracles of God, as the rule and standard of all his measures?
I therefore am of opinion that, in the approaching happy days, something like establishments will take place : but how far they may accord to, or differ from, our establishment, I would not presume to determine. In the mean time, I would be thankful for our present advantages, and counsel my younger brethren not to be induced on slight grounds to forego them, but to endeayour to improve them to the utmost of their ability. I remain, dear Sir,