صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

increase the number of those who prefer a differently constituted church ; and these may in time amount to such a majority, as to render it again a question with those in power, whether the Church of England shall any longer have the support of the state.'-pp. 14 -17.

That the increase of Dissenters, in itself considered, cannot be a pleasing circumstance to a conscientious Churchman, is certain ; and if this is all the author means to say, he talks very idly. The true question evidently is, whether the good accruing from the labors of Dissenters is a proper subject of congratulation, although it may be attended with this incidental consequence, an increased separation from the Established Church. In a word, Is the promotion of genuine Christianity, or the advancement of an external communion, the object primarily to be pursued ? Whatever excellence may be ascribed to our national establishment by its warmest admirers, still it is a human institution ; an institution to which the first ages of the church were strangers, to which Christianity was in no degree indebted for its original success, and the merit of which must be brought to the test of utility. It is in the order of means. As an expedient devised by the wisdom of our ancestors, for promoting true religion, it is entitled to support just so far as it accomplishes its end. This end, however, is found in some instances to be accomplished by means which are of a different description. A fire, which threatens immediate destruction, is happily extinguished before it has had time to extend its ravages ; but it is extinguished by persons who have volunteered their services, without waiting for the engineers, who act under the direction of the police. Here is zeul, but unfortunately accompanied with innovation, at which our author is greatly chagrined. How closely has he copied the example of St. Paul, who rejoiced that Christ was preached, though from envy and contention! With him, the promulgation of divine truth was an object so much at heart, that he was glad to see it accomplished, even from the most criminal motives, and by the most unworthy instruments. With our author, the dissemination of the same truth, by some of the best of men, and from the purest motives, is matter of lamentation and regret. It requires little attention to perceive he has been taught in a different school from the Apostle, and studied under a different master.

The eternal interests of mankind are either mere chimeras, or they are matters of infinite importance ; compared with which, the success of any party, the increase of any external communion whatever, is mere dust in the balance; and for this plain reason, that the promotion of these interests is the very end of Christianity itself. However divided good men may have been with respect to the propriety of legislative interference in the affairs of religion, the arguments by which they have supported their respective opinions, have been uniformly drawn from the supposed tendency of such interference, or the contrary, to advance the moral improvement of mankind; and, supposing this to be ascertained, the superior merit of the system to which that tendency belongs was considered as decided. Viewed in this light, the problem is extensive, affording scope for much investigation ; while the authority of religion remains unimpaired, and the disputants on each side are left at liberty to indulge the most enlarged sentiments of candor towards each other. Such were the principles on which Hooker and the ablest of his successors rested their defence of the Established Church. The High Church Party, of which Mr. Daubeny may be looked upon as the present leader, have taken different grounds. Their system is neither more nor less than Popery, faintly disguised, and adapted to the meridian of England. The writer before us, without avowing the sentiments of Daubeny, displays nearly the same intolerance and bigotry, under this peculiar disadvantage, that his views want the cohesion of system, his bigotry the support of principle. This formal separation of the interests of the church from those of true religion, must inevitably produce the most deplorable consequen

Will the serious and conscientious part of the public be led to form a favorable opinion of a religious community, by hearing it avowed by her champions, that men had better be suffered eternally to perish, than to find salvation out of her pale? Will they not naturally ask what those higher ends can be, in comparison of which the eternal welfare of a large portion of our fellow creatures is deemed a trifle? Could such a spirit be supposed generally prevalent in the clergy of the Established Church, it would at once lose all that is sacred in their eyes, and be looked upon as a mere combination to gain possession of power and emolument under pretence of religion. We are mistaken, if much mischief has not already accrued from the indulgence of this spirit. It has evenomed the ill qualities naturally generated by the denomination of a party. It has produced serious injury to the church, by emboldening men to appear in her defence, who bring nothing into the controversy but overweening pride, ceremonial hypocrisy, and priestly insolence. Haughty, contemptuous airs, a visible disdain of the scruples of tender consciences, and frequently of piety itself, except under one garb and fashion, have been too generally assumed by her champions. These features have given inexpressible disgust to pious and candid minds; hurt, as they well may be, to see a religious community, however numerous or respectable, continually vaunting itself, laying exclusive

ces.

claims to purity and orthodoxy, and seeming to consider it as a piece of condescension to suffer any other denomination to subsist. They cannot dismiss it from their minds, that humility is a virtue proper to a church as well as to an individual, and that ecclesiastical pride may happen to be as offensive to Heaven, as pride of any other kind. In the church of Rome these qualities have been ever conspicuous; but finding nothing of this sort in an equal degree, in any other Protestant communion, and recollecting that "the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of man shall be laid low,” one naturally feels some apprehension that they may not pass unpunished, though they are found in the precincts of a cathedral.

Our author derives no satisfaction from the acknowledged success of Dissenters in turning sinners from the error of their way, from an apprehension that their success may eventually prove injurious to the establishment. He pretends to foresee, from this cause, a continual transfer of hearers from the church to the conventicle. We beg leave to ask the writer, how such a consequence can ensue, but from the superior zeal and piety of sectaries ? To suppose that with only an equal share of these qualities they will be able to make successful inroads in the church, is to abandon the defence of the hierarchy altogether; since this is acknowledging a radical defect in the system, which operates as a dead weight on its exertions, and disqualifies it for maintaining its ground against rivals; that in short, instead of being the most efficacious mode of exhibiting and impressing revealed truth, it is intrinsically weak and ineffectual. For that system must surely be acknowledged to be so, which is incapable of interesting the people, and which, by rendering public worship less attractive, produces a general preference of a different mode. To suppose this to be the case, is to suppose something essentially wrong, which should be immediately examined and corrected. On this supposition, the men are acquitted ; the system is arraigned. As this, however, is far from being the opinion of the author, the conclusion returns with irresistible force, that a permanent increase of Dissenters can only arise from their superior piety and zeal. Now these are really, in our opinion, qualities too valuable to be dispensed with, whatever interests they may obstruct. Regretting, deeply as we may, in common with our author, that they should have formed an alliance so unfortunate, we must still think it better, not only for their possessors but for the world at large, for them to be found even here, than to have no existence at all; and it is upon this point we are at issue with this conscientious reformer. For our parts, we are really so old fashioned and puritanical, that we had rather behold men awakened and converted among Dissenters and Methodists, than see them sleep the sleep of death in the arms of an establishment.

But our author, it seems, is filled with pious alarm for the cause of orthodoxy, from the increasing separation from the church. By the sound doctrine its instituted forms express, it will,' he tells us, “ as long as it stands, be a witness to the truth, in periods the most barren of ministerial qualification; a rallying point to all truly Christian pastors; and an accredited voucher for the purity of their instruction,' p. 17. How much were the primitive Christians to be pitied, who were unhappily destitute of any such 'voucher,' and had nothing to secure the permanence of truth, but the promised presence of Christ, the illumination of the Spirit, and the light of the Scriptures-poor substitutes, undoubtedly, for the solid basis of creeds and formularies! We should readily concur with the author in his views of the security derived from the subscription of articles, if we could forget a few stubborn facts which we beg leave humbly to recall to his recollection. Is it not a fact, that the nature and extent of the assent and consent signified by subscription, has been the subject of a very thorny controversy, in which more ill faith and chicane have been displayed than were ever known out of the school of the Jesuits; and that the issue of this controversy has been to establish very generally the doctrine of Paley, that none are excluded by it but Quakers, Papists, and Baptists? Is it not a fact, that the press is teeming every week with publications of the most acrimonious description, written by professed churchmen, against persons who have incurred this acrimony merely by their attachment to these articles ? Is it not a fact, that the doctrines they exhibit are so scorned and detested in this country, that whoever seriously maintains them is stigmatized with the name of Methodist,' and that that part of the clergy who preach them are for that reason alone more insulted and despised by their brethren than even the Dissenters themselves ? It is with peculiar effrontery that this author insists on subscription to articles as a sufficient security for the purity of religious instruction, when it is the professed object of his work to recall his contemporaries to that purity. If he means that the 'voucher' he speaks of answers its purpose because it is credited, he is plainly laughing at the simplicity of the people; if he means to assert it is entitled to credit, we must request him to reflect how he can vindicate himself from the charge of speaking lies in hypocrisy.'

A long course of experience has clearly demonstrated the inefficacy of creeds and confessions to perpetuate religious belief. Of this the only faithful depository is, not that which is written with ink, but on the fleshy tables of the heart. The spirit of er

ror is too subtle and volatile to be held by such chains. Whoever is acquainted with ecclesiastical history must know, that public creeds and confessions have occasioned more controversies than they have composed; and that when they ceased to be the subject of dispute, they have become antiquated and obsolete. A vast majority of the Dissenters of the present day hold precisely the same religious tenets which the Puritans did two centuries ago, because it is the instruction they have uniformly received from their pastors; and for the same reason the articles of the national church are almost effaced from the minds of its members, because they have long been neglected or denied by the majority of those who occupy its pulpits. We have never heard of the church of Geneva altering its confession, but we know that Voltaire boasted there was not in his time a Calvinist in the city ; nor have we heard of any proposed amendment in the creed of the Scotch, yet it is certain the doctrines of that creed are preached by a rapidly decreasing minority of the Scottish clergy. From these and similar facts we may fairly conclude, that the doctrinces of the church, with or without subscription, are sure to perpetuate themselves where they are faithfully preached; but that the mere circumstance of their being subscribed, will neither secure their being preached nor believed.

'Separatism,' (says the author) has no fired or perpetual character ; what it is at present, we may by attentive observation be able to pronounce; but no human foresight can ascertain what it will be hereafter. Though now in its numerous chapels the soundest doctrine should be heard, we have no security that they will not become the schools of heresy. Here if the licentious teacher get a footing, he moulds the whole system of ministration to his views; not a prayer, not a psalm, not a formulary of any kind, but in this case will become the vehicle of error.' pp. 17, 18.

How far, in creatures so liable to mistake, a fixed and perpetual character is an enviable attribute, we shall not stay to inquire ; with what right it is claimed on this occasion, it is not very difficult to determine. The thirty-nine articles will unquestionably always remain the same, that is, they will always be the thirty-nine articles; but it is not quite so certain that they are universally believed, much less that they will always continue to be so; and least of all that, after having ceased to be believed, they will receive the sanction of every successive legislature. For our parts, such is our simplicity, that when we read of a fixed and perpetual character, our attention is always wandering to men, to some mode of thinking, or feeling, to which such perpetuity belongs, instead of resting in the useful contemplation of pen, ink, and paper,

« السابقةمتابعة »