« EdellinenJatka »
with freedom, threw themselves into a Church and legal Estab‘lishment that was very strict for full subscription, and left no "room nor scope to those that were intrusted with the care of the • constitution, to make the least allowance for abatements, in • compliance with the difficulties that might be started by such as • were scrupulous and tender-spirited. This was, by many, ap'prehended to have an odd aspect, and not to be very consistent." Odd and apparently unaccountable as it might seem, it is by no means of infrequent occurrence, that individuals who have discovered extreme impatience of any thing approaching to imposition or wholesome restraint among the Dissenters, shall rush into the arms of the Establishment. And it may be accounted for, perhaps, in this way. It costs less to submit to fixed conditions, rigid as they may be, and to an established arrangement invested with the character of law, than it does to brook the slightest assumption of control on the part of individuals, especially our equals. Old abuses are tolerable, in comparison with new encroachments of far lighter pressure; and a mildly administered despotism will command more loyalty, than a popular government that attempts the slightest stretch of salutary prero. gative. In other words, we more easily bring ourselves to submit to things, than to persons. There is another explanation of the seemingly unaccountable circumstance. Persons of ambitious temper are, of course, the first to complain against a spirit of imposition ; but it is to such persons that the Establishment presents the strongest attractions, as opening an avenue to advancement. What will ambition not submit to, sooner than be turned from its course ?
There is nevertheless reason to believe, that these desertions were not altogether unconnected with a state of things among the Dissenters, that could not but have a discouraging and repellent effect upon the minds of young ministers. According to various unimpeachable testimonies, practical religion was generally at a very low ebb in the nation, of which the acknowledged decay of “the Dissenting interest' was no equivocal indication. In the year 1730, various pamphlets appeared, in which the causes of this decay were examined, and suggestions thrown out as to the means of reviving it. Dr. Calamy, alluding to these publications, remarks, that 'some persons thought it a little strange, that they • that, not very long before, were ready enough to boast of their numbers and interest, and the considerableness of their body,
should, on a sudden, change their note, and talk of their decays. "... And among the Dissenters, many thought this method grossly imprudent, if it were true that there was a decay of the
* Calamy, Vol. II. p. 507.
* Dissenting interest, and really questioned whether there was any 'real decay or no, all things being considered; for that whatso' ever decrease may have appeared in some places, there were
sensible advances in others. But at the same time, a real decay of serious religion, both in the Church and out of it, was 'very visible.'*
One principal cause of this declension, was, in the opinion of those who could scarcely be mistaken as to the fact, the deficiency of the most essential qualifications for the ministerial office, in a large proportion of those who were admitted to it among the Dis. senters. This conviction gave rise to the formation, in the year 1730, of a society of Dissenting ministers and lay gentlemen,
who, being deeply affected with the declining state of religion, • and the great want of godly ministers, entered into a subscrip
tion to support, through a course of grammar learning, such as * gave previous satisfactory evidence that they were real Christ‘ians. Such was the origin of the Institution since established at Homerton ; the oldest theological college among the Congregational Dissenters. Previously to its establishment, the education of candidates for the ministry among the Dissenters, had come to be of a very unsatisfactory description. Three and twenty years after the commencement of this Society, the evils to which the decay of the Dissenting Interest were attributed, continued to exist, and to excite the anxiety of the friends of Religion. The following statement, important at least as an historical document, occurs in a pamphlet published under the title of “A Serious Address to all Sober Christians of every Denomination amongst Protestant Dissenters, on the important subject of a Gospel Ministry.” It appeared in 1753, anonymously, but attracted considerable attention : it was afterwards discovered to be from the pen of the Rev. Mr. (afterwards Dr.) Conder, of Cambridge, and led to his being invited to undertake the presidency of the Academy established by the above mentioned Society, on the death of the Rev. Dr. Marryat in 1754.
"It is well known what gave the main rise to the Dissenting
Interest in these lands; the cruel and impolitic exclusion of • such a number of valuable ministers from their parochial cures ‘soon after the Restoration. A set of men these, for their piety, • learning, and usefulness, that deserved much better usage than
they met with ; whose principles and practices make their names still venerable, and their examples as Christians and Pastors most 'worthy of our imitation. It is very remarkable of these great and • good men, that, notwithstanding the great infelicities of the times, • the almost unsupportable difficulties they encountered in fulfilling
* Calamy, Vol. II. pp. 530, 1.
their pastoral charge to their own separate congregations ; yet,
they contented not themselves with labouring for their present • good, but exerted themselves, so far as was in their power, in making provision for succeeding times. This they did (many of
them) by taking a number of religious and promising youths ' under their tuition and direction ; by which means their churches
were happily provided with a succession * of able and worthy ' divines, as they themselves withdrew from off the stage of time. • So great a sense had these worthies of the obligation they were ' under to provide for the time to come ; and herein did their
prudent and well conducted zeal diffuse its generous influence on the generation then unborn.
Now, although adorable Providence has, since that time, more fully established our liberties, and enlarged our capacities
of pursuing their so laudable and necessary plan; though, un• der the mild, the just, and auspicious government of the present
royal house, several considerable funds have been raised, and • large endowments and gifts have been made, professedly with
this design ; yet it is notorious, what a general complaint there ' is among us of the want of ministers,—what a number of con'gregations are destitute,—and with what difficulty many have • been of late supplied with such as have proved duly qualified ' for so important a service; and I must beg leave to add, that * others, too many others, in one place or another, are under most ' visible decays of real and vital religion, through the unsuitable'ness and insufficiency of those that have been recommended to the ministry among them.'
In endeavouring to account for this state of things, the Writer refers to three or four facts. First, there had been of late but a small number of divines whose health, abilities, situation, leisure, and inclination had concurred to enable them to take upon themselves the additional fatigue and care of tutors. Secondly, he proceeds, “the exceeding great latitude in principles which many of our young divines have of late years set out with, further ac
counts for this matter. And by the latitude of principles which ' is here complained of, I would not be understood to mean every
departure from generally received articles of the Christian faith,
* It may deserve inquiry, whether the true episcopal succession, referred to by St. Paul, 2 Tim. ii. 2., is not that which such a system seems best adapted to secure; and whether education, rather than or. dination, is not the apostolic mode of committing the sacred depositum. • St. Paul, by inspiration, ordered the ministers of the Gospel in every age, to instruct a number of capable men in the true Gospel doctrine, who were to preach this doctrine faithfully to others, who, in like manner, were to deliver it in purity to their successors. Such is the judicious note on the passage in Valpy's Greek Testament.
‘in less momentous and extra-essential matters, but that general 'disrelish and disuse of the several great doctrines of Scripture
and the Reformation, which our judicious and pious forefathers 'maintained to the hazard of their lives,—which it is now become fashionable and polite to oppose and 'run down as enthusiastic, irrational, and absurd. By such, the sacred volume is ‘ respected only as a system of moral philosophy; and their
pulpit performances are little else than ethical harangues. Under such instructors, it is no uncommon case to see once large * and flourishing congregations languish and decline. Individuals ' are dissatisfied and discouraged, till the most serious and under• standing of them, wearied out with the intolerable defects of
their present teachers, think themselves under a necessity of ' withdrawing for better instruction wherever it can be had ; and where there is the assistance of numbers or friends, the next step that is taken, is the setting up of a separate interest and place for worship. Thus, the community is divided, and, being divided, is weakened; commonly so weakened, that neither of the parties are any longer capable of affording a comfortable naintenance to the ministers without an exhibition from the 'inds. Thus, by the continual swell of this kind of applications, ‘: is to be feared, the generous and wealthy citizens will at 'ngth grow weary of so burthensome a tax upon their libe‘lity. But, however this be, the want of ministers is in this ‘Hy not a little increased.'
ther causes are adverted to; but the grand defect'is stated to l, the receiving and encouraging of such youth for academic insuction, as do not appear to be possessed of the most essential quafications for the ministerial office. It is our invaluable pri
vilge as Dissenters', continues the Writer, 'to have the free
chice of our spiritual guides ; but the privilege subsides, where 'no andidates are ready that are worthy our choice. Things * are lready at such a pass with us, that, in instances not a few, ‘our:ongregations have been necessitated to take up with such 'as they could obtain, rather than such as in their judgement 'theycan cordially approve.'* Under such circumstances, the declincof the Dissenting Interest could not but be rapid and extensive It is, indeed, sufficiently conspicuous in the blank which the relrious literature of this period presents. After the death of Dr. Doddridge in 1751, and of Dr. Lardner in 1768, we look in vain or names of any lustre to light up the dreary interval
* In the Annual Statement put forth by the Society for educating Young Men for the work of the Ministry,' for 1781, nearly thirty years after, “a great want of Godly evangelical ministers' is still complained of.
between the period at which Dr. Calamy's Memoir breaks off, and the close of the century; except, indeed, a few which shed a baleful gleam. The most eminent Dissenter of the reign of George the Third, was Dr. Priestley!
Such, then, was the state of the Dissenting Interest,—that of the Establishment was confessedly still more deplorable, *when Whitfield and Wesley burst from the cloister; who, to use the language of Robert Hall, (in the former series of this Journal,)' whatever failings the severest criticism can discover ' in their character, will be hailed by posterity as the second Re“ formers of England. Nothing was further from the views of • these excellent men, than to innovate in the Established reli‘gion of their country: their sole aim was to recall the people to 'the good old way, and to imprint the doctrine of the Articles
and Homilies on the spirits of men. But this doctrine had been * confined so long to a dead letter, and so completely obliterated * from the mind by contrary instruction, that the attempt to re • vive it, met with all the opposition which innovation is sure t • encounter, in addition to what naturally results from the natur
of the doctrine itself, which has to contend with the whole fore
of human corruption. The revival of the old, appeared like the • introduction of a new religion ; and the hostility it excited w.s ' less sanguinary, but scarcely less virulent, than that which sä'nalised the first publication of Christianity.' f The preachig of the Methodists became a test of what the people had ben taught, or not taught, under the tuition of their great religius • guardian, the National Church ;' and to a certain extent we fear it must be admitted, it reflected the character of inefficiacy upon either the system of instruction, or the character of the instruction, by which the Dissenters were attempting to supply the scandalous deficiencies, and to counteract the prejudicial nfluence of the secularised clergy. So it was, that a degree of atter heathenism was, by the labours of the Methodists, ascertined
* Mr. Vevers cites from Mr. Middelton's " Ecclesiastical Mmoir” (See Eclect. Rev. 2d Series, vol. xx. p. 54,) a portraiture of the state of the clergy about the middle of the last century, drawn by an evangelical clergyman, which amply bears out the eiergetic language of Mr. Hall. Speaking of a numerous class of the clergy, . Mr. M. says: Strangers to the life and power of godliness, imperfectly acquainted with the religious truths of which they vere appointed heralds, and better versed in the maximis of pagan ethics than the principles of Christian morality, they afforded a subject of animadversion to Dissenters, grieved the souls of the righteous in their own communion, and bartered the lasting esteem of the wise and good for the precarious friendship of the idle or the dissolute.'
+ Rev. of Zeal without Inuovation. Hall's Works, Vol. IV. p. 86.