Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

scriptural in its principles-thus supported, sanctioned, and maintainedthus administered, regulated, and controlled, is designed, and appears calculated to promote and secure, are, first, an open and unequivocal acknowledgment of the only true God; a recognition of the great principles of revealed religion as unfolded in the volume of inspiration, and as centering in Jesus Christ-principles, the reception of which is thus declared, with all the authority and influence which human wisdom is capable of imparting, to be necessary for answering the highest ends of the existence of every individual in the empire. And can we doubt the importance of such an expression of the public sentiment, or the effect which it is calculated to produce upon the feelings and habits of the community? unless indeed we revert to the Monadic system, which regards man in his relation to the concerns of eternity exclusively, as an individual accountable only for his own independent self, and retired into the solitude of his own being, as he will stand on the last great day before the tribunal of the Supreme Judge.

Next to the public and combined acknowledgment of the triune Jehovah as the Ruler, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier of the human race; the object of a national establishment for the support of religion, is the employment of suitable means to bring the whole body of the people under a course of religious instruction. To secure this end to the extent required by the exigencies and habits of the community, it is necessary that places of worship be erected over the whole length and breadth of the land, from its centre to its remotest extremities. It is not enough that a few splendid edifices be fixed in solitary grandeur, in some of the wealthier districts or more crowded marts of human intercourse. To this, and we believe to this only, is the voluntary system adequate. But a national plan, to be at all entitled to the name and adapted to the object, must on a general and comprehensive estimate be coextensive with the wants of the nation. Any thing, which comes grievously and enormously short of this, is but a mockery of a national church-establishment.

But a church is not a mere congeries of brick-work. To convert it into an edifice of living stones, the services of religion, in accordance with a fixed standard of faith immediately drawn from the Scriptures, must be regularly, devotedly, and zealously performed within its walls. To render this possible there must be an order of men educated, enlightened, and-so far as human judgment can discriminate-influenced by the principles which they are bound to profess and teach; men correct in their doctrines and exemplary in their conduct, and wholly devoted to these weighty and important duties. To enable them to devote their time and attention to the work, and to exercise adequate superintendance over the district entrusted to their charge, they must be competently, though not splendidly, supported by resources appropriated for that specific purpose, and distributed, with a due regard to character and circumstances.

This we conceive to be a brief view of what a national establishment ought to be, and of what we are convinced our own church, if duly administered, might be at this moment. But, alas! when we survey its actual condition, who, that has his eyes open to the sad realities of the question, must not perceive and, if he be alive to its vast importance, must not poignantly feel, how deplorably it has fallen below the just standard with reference to almost every one of these requirements. We mean not to underrate the immense good which we are convinced our church establishment, with all its defects and occasional delinquencies of administration, for a period of nearly three centuries has, by the blessing of God, been the means of effecting. We regard it in its early history as the cradle of infant Protestantism within these realms, and in its further progress as the ark in

which the elements of piety and truth were preserved in safety through successive inundations of heresy, blasphemy, and libertinism. Its Articles and Homilies are standards of doctrinal purity and practical holiness, around which its faithful members may rally with confidence, in seasons of the deepest and most wide-spread degeneracy. They are pillars of the truth based upon the Rock of Ages, inscribed with characters transferred from the pages of inspiration, and pledging the nation by which they were recognized as containing a summary of their faith, to an unreserved profession of the principles of the everlasting Gospel. We believe, moreover, that scarcely at any period of her history did the church stand higher in spiritual efficiency than at the present hour; that, with a cheerful acknowledgment of the piety, zeal, and talent, which are found in other communities, she has no reason to be afraid of candid comparison; and that she has within her bosom as large a proportion of the spirit of ardent and unaffected devotion as actuates any other division of the visible church of Christ.

Still, notwithstanding these warmest feelings entwined around our hearts, we cannot refuse to perceive that there are evils so glaring and palpable attached to our communion, there are imperfections in its mode of working and administration so prominent and undeniable, that we are constrained not only to lament the comparative inefficiency caused by them, but, when we view them in connexion with the prevailing spirit of the age, to tremble for the safety and existence of the whole system to which they are injuriously attached. But shall we therefore abandon the cause and sink into hopeless despondency? Far from it. The Church, notwithstanding her surrounding difficulties, has the means of helping herself. She has resources still at her command, in her revenues-in the powerful hold she retains upon the largest and most influential part of the public mind-in the early and longcontinued associations cherished in her favour-in her immense capabilities of usefulness-in the learning and general respectability of her ministers of every order-and in the fervent piety of a large proportion of her members -and, above all, in the blessing of Him who never fails to favour exertions sincerely directed to his glory, of which she has only to avail herself with honesty and energy, to become yet more deeply rooted in the affections of the people, to be employed as a mighty instrument in the hand of God in the accomplishment of his saving purposes, and to be increasingly a praise in the whole earth. It cannot be denied, however, that owing to a variety of circumstances, such as the prevalence of gross anomalies and abuses, some of them arising from the progress of time and change, and others fostered by prejudice, indolence, and self-interest, and tending to weaken the attachment of friends and to give effect to the opposition of enemies; with the widely-extended spirit of insubordination and of hostility to all established institutions, and the combined assault of Popery, infidelity, and political dissent; the Church is at this moment arrived at a very arduous crisis, and occupies a position of no ordinary danger. At such a juncture, those who regard her, not as a great engine of state policy, an instrument of corrupt patronage, or a source of personal emolument, but as a system of machinery requiring only to be maintained in vigorous and well-directed action to evolve the most important spiritual results, must watch her destiny with feelings of no common solicitude. Under such circumstances the way to be prepared to meet the storm is, assuredly, not to shut our eyes and ears to the intimations of danger; not to wrap ourselves in a mantle of security, and to cry Peace, peace; but rather to rouse ourselves from our slumbers, to alarm our sleeping prophets, and, by prompt and vigorous amendment, preserve this great fabric from the elements of destruction which are about to be let loose upon it.

Not, however, to indulge in general and indefinite statements, there are CHRIST, OBSERV. No. 365.

3 A

three departments of the ecclesiastical economy; each of which, more or less, stands in need of immediate and peremptory reform. The first is that which relates to the revenues of the church, the second to its public services, and the third to the personal character and conduct of its ministers. On each of these we purpose in some future Number to offer a few suggestions. For the present, we must leave the subject to the serious reflections and earnest prayers of our readers.

(To be continued.)

RELIGIOUS INTELLIGENCE.

THE TRINITARIAN" BIBLE and among them the two secretaries,) de

SOCIETY.

THIS Society having split to fragments, the members of its committee having divided against each other, the general meeting against the committee, the auxiliaries against the general meeting and against each other, and almost every officer and member against his neighbour, it would be superfluous in us to argue the question any further. Time, that great teacher of truth, has instructed all parties in those important lessons which they refused to learn without painful experience; and this being effected, it were best that the piety and good sense of our friends should lead them, of their own accord, to abandon an ill-judged and unhappy enterprise, with as little as may be of noise or opposition. Our task therefore on the present occasion, as Christian observers, is merely to state, for the information of those of our readers who may expect some information on the subject, and cannot procure it elsewhere, the chief published facts, leaving them to draw their own inferences.

It is now openly admitted by both parties in the "Trinitarian" Society, that the Christian Observer was perfectly correct (only that its statements were far below the truth), respecting the altercations which from the first formation of the Society have taken place in its committee, in consequence of differences of religious opinion. This altercation at length issued in the resolutions advertised on the cover of our last Number, signed "J. E. Gordon, V. P.," the Secretaries refusing to countenance them. By these resolutions Mr. Gordon's part of the committee taking the whole power into their own hands, and declining to consult their constituents, ejected a large portion of their brethren, as unfit to act with them; Mr. Gordon declaring again and again, that he would go on making new tests, fifty, or more if necessary, till he brought the committee to what he considered the true standard. The dissentient minority, (which comprised, not merely the persons sought to be excluded, but many other members, not by any means addicted to Mr. Irving's views,

termined to appeal to their constituents, and more than fifty signatures being obtained to the requisition for that purpose, the committee were obliged to summon a meeting of the members to consider their conduct. In the mean time, an unbrotherly warfare was proceeding between the two parties, in advertisements and newspaper paragraphs; in which, during their mutual irritation, were disclosed at full length, those distressing scenes of strife and division, those musterings of minorities and majorities, for only distantly alluding to which we had been openly charged with falsehood, some even of our readers, we believe, thinking that we must have exaggerated the matter. But our desire was to promote the cause of truth, which is also that of charity; and many who doubted at the time the propriety of the course we took, now thank us for those discussions, which they are pleased to say prevented their taking a step which they should have bitterly repented.

Though the meeting of the subscribers was so strictly private, that even a few gentlemen who had innocently strayed into the gallery were turned out by the police officers, by order of the committee; it were easy enough to give from various quarters a very full outline of this most unbrotherly and unedifying debate. But it were better passed over in silent sorrow; and we regret that the committee have determined to circulate even an outline of it among their members; we say an outline, because Mr. Harding the short-hand writer's verbatim autograph is not to be printed; but the speeches are being duly "corrected" for that purpose. The public have not forgotten the Society's memorable correction of" it may be said," in Mr. Platt's speech.

At the meeting, a statement of seven closely printed pages was read, being the manifesto of the requisitionists against the decision of Mr. Gordon's portion of the committee. (We use this gentleman's name, merely for intelligibility, it being the only signature affixed to the

resolutions.) In this remarkable paper (the production of the minority of the committee, with the two secretaries, and some other officers, and now sanctioned in its principles by the decision of the general meeting), the conduct of Mr. Gordon's side is argued to have been most unfair, uncalled for, unconstitutional, and intolerant; an act of ingratitude and treachery towards the gentlemen sought to be expelled, and who had laboured most earnestly in the formation of the society, never suspecting that two secret tests, or, if necessary, "fifty tests" were in reserve to expel them from the committee. In short, the whole document is an illustration of Mr. Melvill's statement, that the committee, instead of minding their business and distributing the word of God, had been employed, from their formation to that hour, in quarrelling and picking holes in private character. We quote the following passages, just to shew the sort of evils which must necessarily arise in a Bible Society, fenced round by tests. Would that these evils had been duly considered before the enterprise was so rashly embarked in! Would that now being so clearly seen and felt by the parties themselves in one case, they would take warning and give up the whole scheme, before they become entangled in new labyrinths.

[ocr errors]

By the third resolution," (namely, the resolutions signed J. E. Gordon, V. P.) "the committee constitute themselves not only the judges of men's conduct, which is open to inspection-not only of men's practice, which may always be compared with the standard of Gospel precept, but a right to judge of men's religious principles, irrespective of the limits defined in the laws of the society, is now assumed by the committee; which right, if conceded, renders all the present regulations of the society wholly nugatory. The constituents have no guarantee whatever for the religious principles of the persons whom the committee may select as members of their own body, except the discretion of the committee, which to judge from past circumstances, is not over-abounding *. Viewed, therefore, simply on these grounds, the resolutions are most unconstitutional; but, if we advance, it will be found that they have taken the society wholly out of its course. The institution was formed for the circulation of the Holy Scriptures, on scriptural principles, but now it is converted into a theological association. It was founded to uphold the doctrine of the Trinity, but now it is become a tribunal before which heresy is to be arraigned and condemned. Nor is it to be supposed, that its labours in this new department may be few and rare; it has

* We always thought and said so; but it was not quite handsome of our friends, the moment they fell out, to say so of each other.

In

been unequivocally asserted, that if fifty heresies arise, fifty new laws to meet them must be formed! The committee, therefore, to judge of its past discussions, will have abundant employment for the future, without attempting the circulation of Bibles. a day famed for novelties, there is little doubt occasions for new laws, new interpretations, and new definitions, will be continually presented. The discharge, therefore, of its legal functions, the impartial administration of its concerns, or the work of superintending the distribution and translation of the Scriptures, may now be considered as wholly superseded by its ecclesiastical office. But is the committee really qualified for such a duty? Have such powers really been vested in it? Does it possess the authority of an ecclesiastical tribunal? Have the constituents of this society any right to confer such an office?

"In every point of view, the resolutions are objectionable, as militating against the constitution, and altogether unjusti fiable in their practical tendency, and on this latter point one observation may suffice. The persons whom this interpretation is intended to exclude, (as has been proved by the rejection of some to whom this heresy was imputed,) these very persons assisted to frame the laws *-laboured assiduously in the formation of the societyand were foremost in upholding the doctrine of the Trinity. It is obvious they never contemplated their own exclusion, of which those who have framed the new law are aware, and therefore it has been added to exclude the framers of the old law.

"The committee, by their own publication, have exposed their weakness and their incapacity, weakness in listening to idle reports, and incapacity in publishing their weakness to the whole community. For ascribing the publication of these resolutions merely to policy, some strong ground has been given by the conduct of the committee, which it is not necessary here to state+.

"The resolutions, therefore, we maintain, the circumstances of the society did not require; and from the very facts above mentioned, there is ground of apprehension, that this glorious institution has thus

And yet when we stated that this was the case, how were we vituperated by Mr. Gordon's friends, and particularly by the Record newspaper, which told its readers, from week to week, that it was false and calumnious to represent the institution as infected with "Regent-street leaven?"

+ We have some particulars of this statement in our possession, but we forbear to mention them. They allude to two points, theological and pecuniary. In all our notices of the society we have abstained from such allusions-little credit as we gained by our forbearance.

been made to subserve a purpose, very different from that which it was originally designed to accomplish. We fear that these resolutions are rather intended as an ecclesiastical censure upon heresy, for which we consider the committee wholly disqualified, than as a shield against the imputation of being identified with a particular heresy, which we affirm to be needless; because, as we have said, it can only be identified with the constitution and operations of the society. The interests of the institution have thus been sacrificed; and instead of being an asylum for the disciples of Christ to meet in peace, it has been converted into an engine of controversy and a weapon of offence against particular individuals; an act, no less subversive of the principles of the institution, than contrary to the dictates of Christian feeling and Gospel precept. Covert aggression has thus been practised under the plausible profession of self-defence."

This document (the manifesto, be it remembered, not only of the secretaries and the present committee, but of the general meeting which concurred in its reasonings), argues the matter of tests where their own society is concerned, much as other persons argued them in regard to the Bible Society. With us it was "carnal reasoning;" "None of your reasonings," it was said; "give us Scripture:" but our friends now begin to find that merely stringing texts is no proof that they are well applied. The Gordon test, it is remarked, "is too much, if it excludes any not expressly excluded by the law, for then it is a new law too little, if it does not exclude all whom it virtually excludes, for then it leaves the door open to innumerable heretics, whom it is just as desirable to exclude, as those specified in the resolutions. Valentinians, Monophysites, Monothelites, Eutychians, with a host, whose subtleties many folios would neither explain nor correct, should be denounced as ineligible, otherwise the naming one is a tacit admission of the eligibility of all the others not named." It proceeds,

"If the law, therefore, does not exclude such persons, these resolutions are an addition. If it does, these resolutions are needless. They certainly are, therefore, nugatory. The heresy denounced involves points the most subtle and perplexing, and the persons supposed to hold it must be tried by some fixed test. By what standard, then, are these persons to be convicted? Will the Thirtynine Articles, the Athanasian Creed, the Westminster Confession, or any other authorized creeds be deemed efficient? Obviously not. The persons supposed to be infected acknowledge all these. A NEW CREED, therefore, must be drawn up for them to subscribe. But who is to draw it up? In what terms? In the words of Scripture, or by the power of human intellect? No church ever pretended to judge the heart; a profession of faith is

all that can be required. God searches the heart, the church demands only a confession. A creed, therefore, in the way of test, must be submitted; otherwise the tribunal erected by the committee would throw into comparative moderation the acts of a Spanish Inquisition. No standard of judgment, but the decision of the majority. No appeal, but to their fluctuating opinions. So that when pique or prejudice may cloud the judgment of these persons, holy, devoted, sincere Christians, may become hereafter the victims of mental aberration, and that under a motive of zeal for the glory of Christ. In vain may Christians then appeal to orthodox creeds-in vain, to the language of Scripture-in vain, to the fact of there being communicants of Christian churches-in vain, to their own consistency of character or Christian practice— in vain, declare themselves willing to be tried by any accredited test, as the fiat of the committee at once supersedes creeds, churches, profession, practice, and principles. The Spanish Inquisition did adopt the form of hiring accusers; but the committee in future will be tribunal, law, judge, expounders, and executioners, without fixed law, accusers, proofs, charges, or grounds, for any of these offices.

"The practical consequence of these resolutions must, therefore, be very detrimental.

The confidence of the public is already shaken. The platform of controversy is perceived not to be the station of the Bible Society. The introduction of a new test into the institution so immediately after its formation, gives but too plausible ground for supposing the predictions of its opponents will be verified, and that new tests at every moment will be introduced. process of detecting and denouncing all heresies that may arise is seen to be neverending, and the interminable field of polemics once entered, the work of the Society is decidedly and effectually set aside."

The

Such is the manifesto of the requisitionists of the Trinitarian Society, in the sentiments of which the majority of the members concurring, the society is to go on as originally constituted, Mr. Gordon and his friends who wished to impose the new tests having resigned, and the secretaries who had resigned having re-accepted office. The auxiliaries are splitting in like manner, and Mr. Gordon and his friends have formed a new provisional committee, and are acting towards their Trinitarian friends as they did towards the Bible Society last year; in short, the whole is in confusion, and one truth alone seems clear, that the Bible Society's plan of having no religious test, but leaving the management of its affairs to the piety and good sense of the great body of its members and the committee elected by them, is the only practicable manner of conducting such an institution.

We have declined, as above stated, the

« VorigeDoorgaan »