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The completion of the First Volume of the New Series of the CHRISTIAN REFORMER, gives us an opportunity of addressing a few words to our friends and the Unitarian public generally on the claims which our Magazine has on their support.
Our first duty, however, is publicly to express to those friends who have made our work the means of communicating their thoughts to the public, our gratitude for the confidence placed in us, and for the many able and interesting papers entrusted to our use. By their invaluable and ever-ready aid, the CHRISTIAN REFORMER has attained a rank in the religious periodical literature of England, at least equal to that of any other work depending chiefly on voluntary literary contributions. The promises of assistance freely offered to us enable us confidently to state our expectation that the future volumes of the Magazine will not be inferior in interest and value to that now presented complete to the public. The various questions of vital importance at present in agitation amongst English Unitarians, and the momentous struggle now going on in Germany, promise for the coming year, as they have afforded during the past, many subjects of general interest. The friend who has supplied the CHRISTIAN RFORMER with details of the progress of the New German Reformation (the most complete, we believe, which have appeared in any English journal), will, we trust, notwithstanding his own important literary and other engagements, continue from time to time his much-valued communications. In future volumes we propose, at intervals, to insert a series of Congregational Histories. The time has happily come when English Presbyterians may safely investigate the early history of their religious foundations. In this department of Nonconformist history and biography, we have received the promise of help from several persons well versed in the subject. From the pen of the “ English Presbyterian Minister" we are enabled to promise a series of papers, of great interest, on Switzerland. The admirable series on the History of Unitarianism will be continued. Articles are in preparation for us by the able writers who reviewed the Lives of Arnold and of Blanco White. Edward Taylor, Esq., the Gresham Professor of Music, has kindly prepared for our work an article elucidating a portion of the life and character of Milton. This, together with a Defence of the Parliamentary Grant to Dissenting Ministers, prepared by another friend, will appear in the First Number of our Second Volume.
To the Unitarian public generally we are, we think, entitled to appeal for encouragement and support. We neither ask nor expect to derive any personal advantage from the work. If we can be the means of upholding Christian Truth, and of ministering, in any degree, to the improvement and pleasure of that religious denomination with which (apart from all sectarian narrowness) we must be permitted to think the interests of both Christian Truth and Religious Liberty are identified, our labour and talents, such as they are, will be freely given. We need make no special reference to difficulties and obstacles. They have not discouraged us, nor have they deterred the Unitarian public from giving us a liberal and an increasing share of their support. Our circulation is yet far short of what it might be, and of what it ought to be, to enable us to carry out our plans for the improvement of the Magazine, and we ask the aid of our friends generally, and especially we ask the help of our brethren in the ministry, in extending it. cannot expect always to succeed in expressing their opinions on each important subject discussed in our pages, nor do we delude ourselves with the idea that we shall always escape error. We ask only, what we are prepared to give, a candid acceptance to whatever appears to be offered from a desire to promote truth, liberty or virtue. While we earnestly hope to be serviceable to the Unitarian body, we affect not to have received any authority to express their opinions, and are content to bear the undivided responsibility of any error into which, in the performance of our editorial duty, we may inadvertently fall. But we send forth this volume, not without the hope that it will prové an useful addition to theological literature, and that, like its predecessors, the MONTHLY REPOSITORY and the earlier Series of the CHRISTIAN REFORMER, it may “ be hereafter ranked amongst the works which have promoted the cause of Learning, Truth and Charity."
DUKINFIELD, Nov. 25, 1845.
RETROSPECT OF PROCEEDINGS ON THE DISSENTERS' CHAPELS
December 2, 1844. Returning Justice lifts aloft her scale. POPE. In the anticipation of a coming year, it is natural to look back on events which marked its precursor; and a few pages of this Number of the CHRISTIAN REFORMER may be seasonably employed in a review of matters pertaining to the Dissenters' Chapels Bill.
TOLERATION, in its technical sense, is, “permission by Law;" in its large and proper meaning, it is, “ mutual forbearance ;” which distinctions I intimate, only that I may not be misapprehended. Now the Toleration Act* was, as to both, signally defective; impugners of the doctrine of the Trinity being excepted from its equitable and benignant provisions-and, soon afterwards, made liable, under the Blasphemy Act, to additional and very grievous penalties.
In 1813, Parliament gave relief. It supplied the omissions, and rescinded the penal clauses, which I have glanced at: and this measure was understood to have placed Antitrinitarians in a state of complete legal toleration. In that light they themselves regarded it: nor was any thing then said or done which could disabuse them of their confidence. Little did they suppose that they were liable to ejectment, or even the threat of ejectment, from spots and buildings where their fathers worshiped, and where the mortal remains of those fathers are deposited; spots whither, in childhood and youth, they had gone up with their parents, and on which a part of their own substance had been gladly expended, and with which many of their best remembrances are linked.
The illusion soon passed away. In 1817, Benjamin Mander, of Wolverhampton, instituted a suit in Equity against some of his neighbours, with the view of removing them from the possession of a meeting-house in that town. Mr. Mander and his coadjutors alleged that the building had been erected for Trinitarian worship. The suit “ dragged its slow length,” and was indeed for some time dormant: it revived, nevertheless, in 1835, and was ultimately decided in favour of the Relators.
There can be no doubt of the Wolverhampton case f having been
1 Wm. and Mary, Ch. xviii. + Wm. and Mary, ann. 9, 10, Ch. xxxii.
I purposely refrain from detailing its circumstances : they are already before the public; and I am unwilling to extend the limits of this paper.—The following pamphlets may be consulted : “Religious Liberty, &c., by James Robertson,” 1818; “ Appeal to the Public [in answer to the above], by Nine Ministers,” &c., 1819; " Infringements of Religious Liberty, &c., by t. Robertson,” 1819 (being his Reply to the Appeal].
selected and carried on as valuable precedent:" for the Trustees were set aside on the ground of their religious faith; in contemplation of which result, there appears to have been an understanding that similar attacks should be made on property of the like description.
In the history of the transactions which preceded and accompanied this suit, perhaps nothing is so memorable as a circular letter signed by nine ministers of the Independent persuasion. The design of the subscribers was to call forth the zeal and bounty of their friends in the new crusade. But the document will be remembered chiefly for the well-merited rebuke which these Letter-writers met with from the pen of an enlightened minister*-himself a Trinitarian and Congregationalist.
The “valuable precedent” was not lost sight of. To follow the Lady-Hewley case, through its stages in the Equity Courts, until it was finally disposed of in the House of Lords, does not come within my scope. These things are fresh in the recollection of my readers : and it can least of all be forgotten that the Dissenters' Chapels Bill arose out of the admitted defectiveness of the Law, as it lately stood. Legislative aid was sought and granted, for the very purpose of obviating the recurrence and the evils of certain judicial determinations.
Accordingly, it may be useful to consider the enactments of the Bill; the support which it received; the quarters whence it was opposed; the grounds of that hostility; the passing of the Bill; the benefits which it affords; and the conduct to be maintained by those who avail themselves of its provisions.
If we look into this Bill, we shall find that it contemplates the full security of Dissenters' Chapels, under given circumstances. Recent adjudications had brought many of them into danger; had, in effect, proclaimed that the present occupiers could not legally retain them; had left this sort of property to the mercy of informers and relators, without saying to whom the possession shall be transferred. The Judges had declared the Law, but could not alter it. To quiet the anxieties thus produced, and to prevent ruinous litigation, the Act was framed.
It assigns a reasonable limitation of time, as to chapels which are not holden by virtue of the teaching of a specific creed.
Where express conditions of tenure have been laid down, the matter remains as it was: “Fulfil the terms, or forego the occupation." In other instances, the
* The late Rev. James Robertson, then residing at Stretton-under-Fosse, from one of whose masterly Tracts in the controversy I subjoin a few sentences:
"Our own party,' say these nine ministers.' Who or what is their party? I had understood that they professed to be Independent Ministers, the Pastors of Congregational Societies, who are chosen by their respective churches as their fellow-helpers. But I must be mistaken. Ministers who meet together in council to inspect and meddle with the affairs of other societies cannot be Congregational Pastors. Every person at all conversant with ecclesiastical history knows that it was by priestly cabals, by meetings of ecclesiastics in councils, that the first inroads were made upon Christian liberty. There are wise persons in our own times who imagine that they perceive in but too many of the Ministers of the Dissenting churches of the present day a spirit not becoming their station, nor favourable to Christian freedom. Whatever have been the errors and the evils which have afflicted Christian societies and the interests of religion, they have been, very generally, if not entirely, connected with the Ministers."Infringements of Religious Liberty, &c., p. 42.