Laicus.—Will you listen to a few free questions from one who has not known you long enough to be familiar with you without apology? I am struck by many things I have heard you say, which show me that, somehow or other, my religious system is incomplete: yet at the same time the world accuses you of Popery, and there are seasons when I have misgivings whither you are carrying me.
Clericus.—I trust I am prepared, most willing I certainly am, to meet any objections you have to bring against doctrines which you have heard me maintain. Say more definitely what the charge against me is.
L. That your religious system, which I have heard some persons style the Apostolical, and which I so name by way of designation, is like that against which our forefathers protested at the Reformation.
C. I will admit it, i.e. if I may reverse your statement, and say, that the Popish system resembles the Apostolical. Indeed, how could it be otherwise, seeing that all corruptions of the truth must be like the truth which they corrupt, else they would not persuade mankind to take them instead of it?
L. A bold thing to say, surely; to make the earlier system an imitation of the later!
C. A bolder, surely, to assume that mine is the later, and the Popish the earlier. When think you that my system (so to call it) arose?—not with myself?
L. Of course not; but whatever individuals have held it in our Church since the Reformation, it must be acknowledged that they have been but few, though some of them doubtless eminent men.
C. Perhaps you would say (i.e. the persons whose views you are representing), that at the Reformation, the stain of the old theology was left among us, and has shown itself in its measure ever since, as in the poor, so again in the educated classes;—that the peasantry still use and transmit their Popish rhymes, and the minds of students still linger among the early Fathers; but that the genius and principles of our Church have ever been what is commonly called Protestant.
L. This is a fair general account of what would be maintained.
C. You would consider that the Protestant principles and doctrines of this day were those of our Reformers in the sixteenth century; and that what is called Popery now, is what was called Popery then.
L. On the whole: there are indeed extravagances now, as is obvious. I would not defend extremes; but I suppose our Reformers would agree with moderate Protestants of this day, in what they meant by Protestantism and by Popery.
C. This is an important question, of course; much depends on the correctness of the answer you have made to it. Do you make it as a matter of history, from knowing the opinions of our Reformers, or from what you consider probable?
L. I am no divine. I judge from a general knowledge of history, and from the obvious probabilities of the case, which no one can gainsay.
C. Let us then go by probabilities, since you lead the way. Is it not according to probabilities that opinions and principles should not be the same now as they were three hundred years since? that though our professions are the same, yet we should not mean by them what the Reformers meant? Can you point to any period of Church history, during which doctrine remained for any time uncorrupted? Three hundred years is a long time. Are you quite sure we do not need a SECOND REFORMATION?