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THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND AND THE DISSENTERS.
Bacon says, “ If St. John were to write an epistle to the Church of England, as he did to that of Asia, it would surely contain the clause :- I have a few things against thee.'”. I am not quite of his opinion. I am afraid the clause would be- I have not a few things against thee.
JORTIN.- Tracts, 8vo. 2, 530.
OUR “ venerable” Church complains that she is no longer venerated; that her oracles are unheeded, and her piety unrewarded ; that the people are insensible to her merits, and ungrateful for her services. Let her look to her conduct, and she will find the cause of this estrangement; let her separate from the State, and she will find the remedy. Time was, when she had abundant credit ; but she has overdrawn, and is now suffering in common with other traders from the distress of the times. She must, therefore, give up a monopoly, which is no longer suited to the present state of intellectual commerce; and retire altogether from business, or admit others to a share of its profits. The period is fast approaching, when every political institution, whether civil or ecclesiastical, will be tried in the balance of justice and utility. Nei. ther professions of innocence, nor abuse of the Judge, will benefit the accused. Prescription and precedent cannot be pleaded in bar of those claims which it is their object to establish. Salus populi suprema lexthere is no appeal from this tribunal. The legislature cannot give a perpetuity to any corporation.* The fee-simple of the estate is in the
No one now maintains the inviolability of corporate rights, when a clear case of public necessity or expediency demands their sacrifice ; and when the first of all du. ties, the most urgent of all necessities, call for an alteration in the application of public property, it would be preposterous to contend that the embryo rights of any number of unappointed or unborn functionaries can legitimately interpose to prevent a just or necessary measure for reform.-Lord Henley's Plan of Church Reform, p. 8. NO, IX.-VOL. II,
nation. It is obvious to every reflecting man, that a great change has already taken place in the public mind on the subject of Church government. The liberality from which it sprung will increase with its extension ; and abstract truths will become practical realities. Exclusive privileges are now as odious as penalties and disabilities. Have they not the same origin and the same object? To punish a man for preaching what he believes to be true, may force him to be silent; but to bribe him to preach what he thinks error, makes him at once a hypocrite and a dissembler. His timidity injures himself alone ; but his venality injures the very cause it was employed to serve. Both methods imply a consciousness of weakness and a hatred of inquiry ; the latter, however, undermines the foundation of virtue, and corrupts society by separating success from merit. The result is the same in both cases, though the process is slower and more degrading to those whose privileges are purchased at the expense of honesty and independence. There must necessarily be some test to distinguish an ecclesiastical establishment from other sects, and professions of faith will be required from its ministers. To “ sign himself slave,” as Locke says, will thus be the condition of appointment to teach that religion which makes us free; and the promul. gation of divine truth will be contingent on an adhesion to the dogmas of fallible men. To presume that we have satisfactorily solved those mysteries and difficulties which have baffled the best and the wisest of mankind, is a degree of arrogance which nothing can equal but the tyranny that exacts such compliance, and the wickedness of closing the mind against further light.
What absurdity can be greater than that of attempting to bind posterity on a subject which cannot concern us, and upon which they have the clearest right of judging freely, and the greatest possible interest in judging correctly ? To claim the respect of those who are to come after us, by shewing our distrust of them, and to expect that they will reverence the wisdom of their ancestors, while we shew our contempt for it; such is the conduct of that legislature which first imposes articles of belief upon the conscience of its subjects. How contemptible and insignificant is that mortal who mounts towards Heaven on the Babel of his own invention, and looks on the past with disdain, and on the future with suspicion! The Reformed Church was a more unkind parent to her children than her predecessor, for she took away from them both the merit of their good works, and the right of forming their own faith. She asserted and denied the liberty of thinking, and punished in others the example of disobedience she had set. Exclusion has now succeeded to persecution ; and toleration is boasted of while equality is demanded. Another Reformation is at hand; and the same fate awaits another church which was dealt to the “old Priest.” To make uniformity of speculative opinions a principle of legislation, a criterion of merit, and a qualification for office, will soon be acknowledged to be unjust, unreasonable, and unnecessary. When disgrace no longer attaches to dissent, and conformity is considered a mark of servility; when the one is indicative of that free judgment of which the other is necessarily destructive; when the honest conviction of the understanding is preferred to the sophistry of self-interest ; when public opinion has learnt to distinguish between the respect which the influence of wealth demands, and the influence which the respect attached to character obtains; when the resentment exclusjon has excited is stronger than the avarice it appeals to, and a change
of the system is more profitable to the many than its continuance to the few; when a coalition of sects has weakened that power which their division had strengthened,—then may it safely be predicted that the reign of ecclesiastical establishments is at an end. The seeds of their destruction will be found to have been planted in the means employed for their preservation; and the passions in which they originated will prove the instruments of their abolition. The aristocracy will lose more by opposing the common sense of the community, than it gained by flattering its prejudices. The same authority which placed one sect above its predecessors, will put it on a level with its rivals, and the latitudes of religious opinion will no longer be referred to the meridian of a creed established by act of Parliament. Toleration is permission, and permission involves the power of refusal. To build religious freedom upon sufferance, is to endanger the superstructure by narrowing the foundation. The temple is profaned by the presence of the civil magistrate ; the staff of authority is thrust between the worshipper and his God; and the Bible is placed below the statute-book.
The dissenters, we are gravely told, have no reasonable ground for complaint, as they are now allowed to worship God in their own way. Is it no hardship to be excluded from the advantage of an academical education; to be shut out from the honours and emoluments which the nation bestows on her religious teachers; to be stigmatised as schismatics, and abused as malcontents; to be denied admittance to our Univer.. sity libraries, to which, if literary men, they are compelled to send their publications? Is it no hardship that a Quaker is disqualified from sitting, though duly elected, in the Commons' House of Parliament, because he can neither profess allegiance to the secular power by an oath, nor abjure hostility to the ecclesiastical power by a declaration in its favour? Is it no hardship that an approval of the union between Church and State is made a condition of a seat in the legislature ; that those who are honestly desirous of its dissolution, should be required to bind themselves to its continuance, and that ecclesiastical legitimacy should seek to perpetuate its privileges, by exacting from non-conformity a pledge, which is inconsistent both with its principles and its duties?—that no dissenter can be elected a fellow of the College of Physicians, because, by refusing his assent to the 39 articles, he cannot graduate at our or. thodox universities? Is it no hardship to a seceder from the kirk, that he cannot be an elder of his parish, however intelligent and useful he may be, unless he sign the Westminster confession? And what has this famous confession done for the Scottish clergy? Cram Socinus down any man's throat, and he comes out Calvin. Why give a bounty upon home production, if foreign goods are neither better nor cheaper? To connect distinction or riches with any set of opinions, is to give to its opposite the benefit of the difference. If you cannot win the game with. out honours, you must have a bad hand, or be a bad player.
Every impediment to the utmost liberty of inquiry or discussion, whether it consists in the fear of punishment, in bodily restraint, in dread of the mischievous effects of new truth, or in the submission of reason to beings of the like frailties with ourselves, always, in proportion to its magnitude, robs a man of some share of his rational and moral nature."Sir J. Mackintosh's Hist. of Eng., I. 131.
There is no longer any pretence for a barrier against Papal ascen. dency. The Pope has no more influence in this country than the Grand Lama : and a tribute to Mecca would be as easily collected in
London as Peter's pence. The predominance, therefore, of no sect should be allowed beyond what the purity of its principles, and the performance of its practical duties, would be sure to obtain from those to whom all sects must appeal, and who have no interest in a wrong decision, Secular advantages and immunities may give currency to error, but can add nothing to the sterling value of truth.
That the separation of Chureh and State would essentially promote the cause of morality, must be apparent to every one who considers how much our sentiments of right and wrong are affected by artificial dis.. tinctions; and how easily both our habits and our judgments are warped by fashion and prejudice. The Churchmen and the dissenters are not tried by the same standard :
Committunt eadem diverso crimina fato. Party feeling is gratified, and corporate power promoted, both by the acquittal of the one and the condemnation of the other. The good effects of a more equitable jurisdiction may be seen in the United States · of North America; where religious equality has diverted theological jealousies into the channel of public usefulness, and made sectarian rivalry the guardian of national purity. The mother country would do well to take a lesson from her Transatlantic children, and receive back that religious liberty which she formerly drove from her shores to seek an asylum in the Western world. It is not there that we see clerical delinquency and clerical incapacity escape punishment and censure, under the shelter of aristocratical influences; the cure of souls converted into a younger brother's portion ; spiritual duties performed by deputy; and the magisterial bench placed side by side with the pulpit. Holmes, in his travels in that country, says, speaking of the Episcopal clergy :“ Most of the ministers hold the Arminian tenets; and, were any of them to live in an immoral manner, they would be discarded. At New York, in 1819, one of the most eloquent preachers there, an Episcopalian, was obliged to resign in consequence of an improper female connexion.” Would this have occurred had the Church been under the protection of the State? Is it likely that a similar offence would be visited with such severity in this country, where ecclesiastical patronage has become private property, and advowsons are openly bought and sold? A man's duty and interest will necessarily coincide, and the public welfare be promoted, where personal respect is the result of personal merit alone, and the predominance of any party is not created and secured by the wealth and honours it distributes.
How far the political functions of this “ Holy Alliance” are in accordance with the national will, and conducive to the national welfare, may be seen in the line of conduct which its great organs, the Universities, thought fit to follow on a recent occasion. Their opposition to a reform in the legislature, which spared their peculiar privileges, has for ever loosened the little hold they had upon the affections of this great empire. Had the establishments of Oxford and Cambridge not been sectarian, a wish to promote the public good would have as honourably distinguished them as their hostility to it has disgraced them; they would have discovered neither an enemy in political liberty, nor a friend in political corruption.
It was no spirit of independence that actuated the Church on this oceasion. She struck work, because she was afraid that her wages would be reduced. She was consistent in her inconsistency, and loyal in her
rebellion. She was a friend to bad government, in opposing the promise of a better. She hoped that the former might still be restored, and supported the minister de jure by fighting against the minister de facto. Her allegiance was in abeyance, and she proved her obedience when she refused homage to the usurper. When the To. ries required it, she has even been liberal towards the Catholics, and treated those as Christians whose doctrines she calls damnable.
6. The persons,” says Bishop Horsley, in a letter to his clergy, " for whom, in the name of God, we implore their aid, however they may differ from us in certain points of doctrine, discipline, and external rites, are, nevertheless, our brethren, members of Christ, and children of God, heirs of the same promise ; adhering, indeed, to the communion of the church of Rome, in which they have been educated; but more endeared to us by the example they exhibit of patient suffering, for conscience-sake, than estranged by what we deem their corruptions; more near and dear to us, in truth, by far, than those, who, affecting to be called our Protestant brethren, have no other title to Protestant than a Jew or a Pagan; who, not being a Christian, is, for that reason only, not a Papist.” This was written in favour of the exiled French priests. The bitter. ness of the polemic might have been spared in the cause of kindness, and the opponent of Priestly forgotten in the advocate of charity. The odium theologicum has now resumed its natural form. The sister churches are again rivals, and the relationship is dissolved. It is to be remembered, that when the letter from which the above extract is taken, was written, the Catholic clergy were suffering in de.. fence of arbitrary principles. Hence their affinity to the Anglican church. They are now (in Ireland) suffering from them. They are, therefore, according to Magee, a church without a religion, while the poor Irish Protestant establishment is a religion without a church. It is thus that Papacy varies, though said by her adversaries to be al. ways the same ; and our venerable Church, as by law established, is always the same, however her sentiments and conduct may vary according to the varying circumstances of that law, or the changing policy of those who administer it.
Attacks upon the Church of England are no longer confined to dissenters from its doctrine and discipline. Many of those who retain their attachment to its ritual are loud in demanding the removal or correction of abuses, the existence of which is either denied by some of its advocates, or attributed to very inadequate causes.
There is in the British Critic for October, 1831, (a high-church publication,) an attempt to show that the duties of the established clergy have increased with the increasing population of their parishes, and that this circumstance will account for the imperfect manner in which they are fulfilled. How far the statement thus made is borne out by the real facts of the case, may be inferred from the very singular assumption, that practice is not conducive to improvement. “ It must be allowed,” says the Reviewer, “ that the great increase of parish duty, incident both on the augmented numbers, and altered comforts and morals of our population, necessarily keep down a large body of our ministry to the very lowest level of theology which their station can admit of; and the much more frequent occasions of preaching have produced the effect, so prevalent now in every department of knowledge and manufacture, of lowering the value and durability of the material.” This is rather an unfortunate illustration. There is not the slightest analogy between silk goods and