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LONDON CRITICAL JOURNAL.
Art. XII.-The Church in Danger: a Statement of the Cause,
and of the probable Means of averting that Danger, atlempted in a Letter to the Right Honourable Lord Liverpool. By the Rev. Richard Yates, B. D. and F. R. S. Chaplain to his Majesty's Royal College, Chelsea, Rector of Ashen, and alternate Preacher to the Philanthropic Society. London. 1815.
Rivington, Hatchard, &c. A Practical Exposition of the Tendency and Proceedings of the
British and Foreign Bible Society, begun in a Correspondence between the Rev. H. H. Norris and J. W. Freshfield, Esq. relative to the Formation of an Auxiliary Bible Society at Hackney : and completed in an Appendix, containing an entire Series of the public Documents and private Papers which that Measure occasioned ; illustrated with Notes and Observations. Edited by the Rev. H. H. Norris, M. A. Curate of St. John's Chapel, Hackney, and Chaplain to the Earl of Shaftesbury. Second
Edition, with additional Notes. London. 1814. Rivington. A Review of Mr. Norris's Attack upon the British and Foreign
Bible Society. By the Rev. W. Dealtry, B. D. F. R. S. Rector of Clapham, and late Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.
London. 1815. Hatchard. A Letter to the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of Lincoln, on the
Subject of the Attack made by his Lordship upon the British and Foreign Bible Society, in his recent Charge to his Clergy. By a clerical Member of the Society. London. 1815. pp. 62. Baldwin and Co.
VOL. VI. NO. XII.
A Letter to the Right Reverend Lord Bishop of Gloucester, on
the Subject of the British and Foreign Bible Society. By Thomas Gisborne, M. A. London. 1815. pp. 36. Cadell
and Davies. The various views which the several publications above enumerated present of the supposed difficulties with which the Church of England has at this time to struggle, suggest to most of its members matter of very serious consideration, and to some a subject of unquiet reflection. When the extent of our obligations to that system of ecclesiastical discipline, doctrine, and instruction, which has been maintained since the Reformation in this country, are duly appreciated by those who are professedly within its pale, they cannot hear the recital of its numerous, and, as some say, increasing perils, without grief and alarm. That the Church should be surrounded with danger is agreeable to the course of Providence in the dispensation of his best gifts to man, who is never suffered to possess them in security, but as a property which he must live in constant watchfulness to protect--as a tenure for which his ceaseless service is due to the paramount Proprietor of all things.
Nothing is so conducive to safety as a distinct apprehension of the danger. Floating and indeterminate fears serve only to distract the mind and dissipate exertion. To be calculating the probabilities of attack, to be counting the number of the besiegers, to reckon upon support from without, and to trust to the artificial strength of bulwarks, while disorder, disunion, and neglect of discipline, prevail within, has been the cause of ruin to many a fenced city, and may place our Zion at the mercy of its enemies, if we are not urged by the near approach of destruction to have recourse in time to the only substantial means of defence.
It is a question, for the solution of which we have but little appetite, whether a religious establishment, reposing on its ancient foundations, and trusting to authority, prescription, and opulence, can maintain itself against a numerical majority in the nation, who, though divided among themselves, are actuated by a common principle of opposition. If this numerical majority should become a moral majority, comprising the greater part of the middle class of the community, the fate of the ecclesiastical establishment can scarcely remain in ambiguity. That institution must rest, indeed, upon a strong foundation, which in this country can see with unconcern the progress and fluctuation of opinion ;-of that agent which is always in restless activity, shaking, subverting, undermining, strengthening, establishing, creating, and again destroying; sometimes to be dreaded, sometimes to be reverenced, always to be watched and regulated; sometimes with sudden violence and unforeseen aggression, assaulting the securest stations, and surprising the world with its short and subversive fury; sometimes rising in appearance like a cloud of the bigness only of a man's hand, and by degrees enlarging itself into a mighty magazine of storms, till the face of heaven is no more seen, and all things are overwhelmed with its resistless accumulations.
The moral supremacy of opinion in this country puts all its institutions, religious and political, upon their good behaviour; and their safety and durability depend upon their clear recognition of this truth, and the practical result of the conviction. To threaten, denounce, abuse, deplore, or complain of the enemy, will never thin his ranks, or change his disposition; and still more impotent and unavailing to every good purpose will every expedient be found, that forgets what is due to candour, liberality, and justice, in the representation of facts and the imputation of motives. In the case of an individual member of a wellordered society, to live so as not to deserve reproach is the best confutation of malice, and the Church of England must thus act to secure itself amidst the difficulties and hostilities by which it finds itself surrounded.
It would be really ludicrous, and almost amusing, if every thing that touches the interests of religion were not too solemn and affecting for such impressions, to see the Parish Priest start from his couch at the sound of a Bible Association in his neighbourhood, and begin to fret and fume at the invasion of his territory; to hear Bishops and Archdeacons at their charges and visitations, instead of ascertaining and correcting the practical state of the ministry in the diocese; instead of supplying the defects, reproving the negligence, and animating the zeal of their own clergy; instead of inquiring into the means afforded to the poor of attending with convenience the service of God, and the opportunities afforded them of receiving spiritual instruction, first complimenting their auditors into a satisfied state of feeling in regard to their own orthodoxy and correct discharge of their duty, and then exhorting them to be on their guard against the restless and intrusive activity of those who venture to sound the alarum to sleeping consciences within their peaceful limits, or to stimulate the appetite for the bread of life beyond what it may suit their convenience to satisfy.
It would indeed be amusing, if it were not, as before observed, for its bearing upon things of such tremendous concern, to remark the anxiety with which men of good meaning, and much attached to our church establishment, regard every fancied encroachment upon its ministry, without at all adverting to the defects and decays of its interior condition. These worthy persons to whom we allude, appear to us to be vainly disquieted with visionary fears, while the real peril is strangely disregarded. Mistaking the signs of the times, they see danger only in the quarters of fanaticism, zeal, and schism, while all seems safe in the department of indolent orthodoxy and official supineness. In their alarms at innovation, they forget the only means by which, in an age in which prescription has lost too much of its authority, innovation is to be resisted and controuled: they forget, that in an age in which education is cheapened down to the very dregs of the people, and all are taught, encouraged, and stimulated to think and reason, (whether the system be right or wrong in the extent to which it is carried, or in the mode in which it may be liere or there conducted, we do not now inquire), habit must necessarily have lost much of its influence; that the Church cannot now bold together, more than other things, by that noble cement by which its original structure was consolidated : that the beauty of its internal frame, its high derivative claims, its pure form of doctrine, and the close relation in which it stands to our liberties, our laws, and constitution, are general truths (and truths the most important they undoubtedly are, which will not at a period of such universal inquiry, particularly directed towards official conduct, stop the mouths of gainsayers, and of that immense majority to whose perceptions the merit of every institution is embodied in its official agents, and by whom things are appreciated according to the use which is made of them.
These respectable champions of the Church will not sufficiently disengage themselves from prejudice, to understand that the Church must keep pace with the general progression of mind, or inevitably decline in its credit. To oppose inquiry is now impracticable, if it were justifiable; and we see no reason why the Church, instead of an opposition that can only create a suspicion which it ill deserves, may not move foremost in the march of opinion; why it may not safely challenge the utmost scrutiny of this inquisitive era; and why, if nothing is now to be taken upon the credit of mere human authority, so long as the authority of Scripture is decisive, she may not safely forego her prescriptive title to veneration, and that which has been sealed to her by the martyrdom of her saints, and stand alone “ without fear or reproach” upon that Scriptural ground on which truth has planted her immoveable standard.
Entertaining these general views of the state and interests of the Established Church, and entertaining a very respectful opinion of the Rev. Mr. Norris, the author or editor of the work which stands second in our list at the head of this article, we cannot help being greatly surprised at the sentiments and reasonings contained in this production. Nor can we understand what he means by a “ Practical Exposition of the Tendency and Proceedings of the British and Foreign Bible Society,” in his application of that title to a work which scarcely attempts to exhibit one particle of actual mischief which has yet resulted from that portentous Institution. But we will venture to tell Mr. Norris, we proclaim it also with great reverence to the Bishops and Pastors of our truly Christian Church, and we venture with great respect to suggest to our legislators, that there is one way in which the Church of England may be brought into the greatest danger by the British and Foreign Bible Society and its appendages. And thus we deduce the proposition:
Until the catholic dispersion of the Bible by this Society, an immense portion of the people of this land were in a neutral state as to religion. They knew nothing, they cared nothing about creeds or communions; the Sunday was known only to them as a day of vacation from labour, and the Church and the conventicle were held by them in equal contempt. Can we suppose
that the universal diffusion of the Scriptures among the poor, among whom there is now scarcely a family without one at least of its number capable of reading them, has produced no change in this respect, has provoked no curiosity, has excited no inclination to worship the Creator ? Very great unquestionably has been the change wrought in the disposition of the poor on these subjects: they cannot read the Scriptures and retain this unholy indifference; they cannot peruse the word of life without feeling some desire to bear it expounded; they cannot rend what God has done for his creatures and continue to pass the house of prayer without some misgivings of conscience, without some disposition to draw nearer to the Author of their being, and Disposer of their immortal souls. In short the Bible has raised, and must continue to raise, a great proportion of these neutral beings into a state of positive religion. In that woeful state of nothingness, that brutal apathy of soul in which the Bible first found them, had they been asked to what church they belonged, if they had understood the question, they would have answered, to the Church of England; because there probably they were christened, or married, and within its precincts they expected to be buried; and for the same reasons perhaps they have been counted by the Church, by a sort of promiscuous reckoning, among the number of its people; a straggling portion of its flock to be sure, but still bearing about them some badge of ownership, something to denote them to be not entirely feræ naturæ, unreclaimed and unregarded,
“ And of whose doings God takes no account.”