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Protestant Nonconformity. .


“ We are to be concerned for this interest, not merely as the cause of
a distinct party, but of truth, honour, and liberty; and I will add, in a great
measure, the cause of serious piety too."








The present Work is an attempt to redeem the subject of which it treats, from the disadvantages of fugitive controversy. Hitherto, the principles of Nonconformity have never been fairly and explicitly exhibited, as a coherent system of religious and political truth ; owing, in part, to a circumstance which must be allowed to reflect some credit upon the Dissenters. All, or nearly all, the publications upon the subject have been, on their side, of a defensive nature, originating in some unprovoked polemical aggression on the part of their opponents. This was the case in the controversy between Archbishop Whitgift and Cartwright; it was the case with the “ Melius In“ quirendum,” the “ Mischief of Imposition," by Vincent Alsop, and the other replies to Bishop Stillingfleet, by Richard Baxter, John Howe, and Dr. Owen ; with Pierce's learned « Vindication," in reply to Dr. Nichols, and De Laune's “ Plea ;" with Boyce's Reply to the Bishop of Derry; and lastly, with Towgood's “ Letters to White.” In all of these, consequently, the reader's attention is disproportionately occupied with the business of personal

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vindication and rejoinder, with discussions foreign from the main question, often degenerating into mere logomachy, and with references to matters of temporary interest, which, although rendered necessary by the immediate occasion of the several publications, add but little to their permanent utility. In controversial works of this description, if any thing like an abstract proposition is employed as an argument, it too often assumes the shape of an indefinite dogma, which stands itself in need of being demonstrated, rather than that of an admitted principle, or established conclusion, which might serve as the medium of proof. In some of the writers alluded to, the reasons of Dissent are made to consist of a series of objections, which a scheme of wider comprehension would annihilate; in others, the doctrine of political right occupies too prominent or too exclusive a place among the grounds of Nonconformity. Between moral right indeed, and religious duty, the connexion is indissoluble, and the present question admits of being stated in either form,-in its relation either to right or to duty; but in reference to a practical question, the simplest and in every respect the most advantageous line of argument, is to be deduced from the nature of religion, rather than from the abstract, and more embarrassed ground of personal right. In the following pages, therefore, the chief stress is laid upon considerations arising out of the design and essential character of Christianity.

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