Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

to prevail in this country, of which, probably, no previous suspi. cion could have been entertained, and which might seem to justify the strong language that represents the English to have become at this era, “the most irreligious people upon earth. As to the condition of the lower classes, the far greater part, Mr. Foster remarks, were as perfectly estranged from the page of know‘ledge as if printing, or even letters, had never been invented ; the younger part finding their supreme delight in rough frolic and savage sports; the old sinking down into impenetrable stupefaction with the decline of the vital principle.'* The people were perishing · for lack of knowledge' in the most enlightened, wealthy, free, and favoured nation in the world!

When we contrast with the dark features of those times of lethargy, the present wide diffusion of education,-revival of religious zeal,-increase of exemplary and efficient religious instructors, – and universal circulation of the Scriptures,—we cannot but feel that a reformation in this country has indeed taken place, scarcely inferior in national importance, however devoid of historic interest, to that which first planted in England the Protestant faith, and watered it with the blood of our martyrs. What is called the Dissenting Interest, has shared, as it could not fail to do, in the general revival: we dare not say that it originated it. To how low a number of congregations the Dissenters were reduced, we are unable to ascertain; but, of their great increase during the present century, we have undoubted evidence. In a valuable statistical summary which appeared in the Congregational Magazine for 1829, and on the substantial accuracy of which we are disposed to rely, the reported numbers of the three denominations in England are thus stated.

Pres. Indep. Bapt. Total.
In 1812. 252 799 532 1583
In 1827. 204 1205 805 2212
In 1829. 258 1289

888

2435 The apparent increase is, no doubt, attributable, in part, to the greater completeness of the more recent returns; and there is obviously some mistake in the number assigned to the Presbyterian congregations in 1827. The increase of the Independent denomination has been, moreover, facilitated by the conversion of decayed Presbyterian Interests into Congregational Churches; and a few of the chapels of the Whitfieldian Methodists have also

* Essay on Pop. Ignorance. Southey, in his Life of Wesley (vol. i. c. 9.) gives a similar representation ; and admits, that the founder of Methodism aimed only at leading the way to the performance of • duties which the State had blindly overlooked, and the Church had scandalously neglected.'

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 t'e • introduction of a new religion ; and the hostility it excited us « less sanguinary, but scarcely less virulent, than that which so 'nalised the first publication of Christianity.'+ 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 suply the scandalous deficiencies, and to counteract the prejudicial nfluence of the secularised clergy. So it was, that a degree of itter 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 energetic 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 maxims 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 Innovation. Hall's Works, Vol. IV. p. 86.

to prevail in this country, of which, probably, no previous suspicion could have been entertained, and which might seem to justify the strong language that represents the English to have become at this era, 'the most irreligious people upon earth. As to the condition of the lower classes, the far greater part, Mr. Foster remarks, were 'as perfectly estranged from the page of know' ledge as if printing, or even letters, had never been invented ;

the younger part finding their supreme delight in rough frolic ' and savage sports; the old sinking down into impenetrable

stupefaction with the decline of the vital principle.'* The people were perishing 'for lack of knowledge' in the most enlightened, wealthy, free, and favoured nation in the world! ·

When we contrast with the dark features of those times of lethargy, the present wide diffusion of education,-revival of religious zeal,-increase of exemplary and efficient religious instructors, – and universal circulation of the Scriptures,—we cannot but feel that a reformation in this country has indeed taken place, scarcely inferior in national importance, however devoid of historic interest, to that which first planted in England the Protestant faith, and watered it with the blood of our martyrs. What is called the Dissenting Interest, has shared, as it could not fail to do, in the general revival: we dare not say that it originated it. To how low a number of congregations the Dissenters were reduced, we are unable to ascertain ; but, of their great increase during the present century, we have undoubted evidence. In a valuable statistical summary which appeared in the Congregational Magazine for 1829, and on the substantial accuracy of which we are disposed to rely, the reported numbers of the three denominations in England are thus stated.

Pres.
Indep.

Bapt. Total.
In 1812. 252 799 532

1583
In 1827. 204 1205 805 2212
In 1829. 258 1289

2435 The apparent increase is, no doubt, attributable, in part, to the greater completeness of the more recent returns; and there is obviously some mistake in the number assigned to the Presbyterian congregations in 1827. The increase of the Independent denomination has been, moreover, facilitated by the conversion of decayed Presbyterian Interests into Congregational Churches; and a few of the chapels of the Whitfieldian Methodists have also

888

* Essay on Pop. Ignorance. Southey, in his Life of Wesley (vol. i. c. 9.) gives a similar representation ; and admits, that the founder of Methodism aimed only at leading the way to the performance of • duties which the State had blindly overlooked, and the Church had scandalously neglected.'

fallen to the Independents. The number of new chapels and meeting-houses opened in different parts of the country, must, however, be very considerable. Very few indeed of these have owed their erection to Presbyterian zeal. The places of Unitarian worship have been reckoned, in very round numbers, by parties anxious not to underrate them, at 'some three hundred.' They are, we are well persuaded, much below that number. In the preceding Table, the Presbyterian congregations in the North of England are included, many of which have not declined from orthodoxy. Striking off 235 Presbyterian congregations as Unitarian, we may safely estimate the total number of orthodox Dissenting congregations of the three denominations in England at 2200. The number of those who are actually members or communicants of Dissenting societies, would not shew well by the side of the aggregate which Wesleyanism exhibits, the proportion of communicants to stated attendants or auditors being, in many of our churches, deplorably small. But the number of those to whom instruction is regularly communicated on the Lord's Day, by the pastors of Dissenting congregations, cannot be less, we imagine, than between 8 and 900,000, in England alone. In Wales, the number of congregational (independent) churches is stated at 374; in Scotland at 84; in Ireland, 28: Total 486. The estimated number of Baptist churches in Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, exceeds 500; which, added to that of the Independents, produces a total of about 1000 congregations, and a provi. sion for the instruction of something like 400,000 more. Including, then, our Home Missionaries, village readers, and other local teachers, we may safely assume that instruction is communicated by the ministry of the Congregational Dissenters to much above a million of British subjects, in more than 3000 places of worship :- which calculation makes them exceed the numbers of the Wesleyan Methodists, as stated by Mr. Vevers.

We are not at all anxious, however, to make it appear that the Congregational Dissenters outvie the Methodists in numbers, although we should have presumed such to be the fact. Nor would it be with any invidious view that we should take other means of estimating their comparative resources and national importance. A hundred years ago, there was no such thing as a Protestant Dissenting College, a Protestant Missionary Society for sending the Gospel to the Heathen, a Bible Society, a Tract Society, a British and Foreign School Society, or even a Sunday School. The amount now raised by voluntary subscription for these evangelical and patriotic objects, is little short of half a million sterling annually. The congregational Dissenters of the Independent denomination have now public theological acade mies at Homerton, (founded in 1730,) at Highbury, (1778,) Hackney, Wymondley, Newport Pagnel, Rotherham, (1756,

Blackburn, Undercliffe near Bradford, Exeter, and New-Town, Montgomeryshire. The Baptists have academies at Bristol, Stepney near London, Bradford, and Abergavenny. Most of these institutions are in part supported by endowments ; but by far the greater portion of the expense of conducting them, is defrayed by annual subscriptions and donations. The London Missionary Society received in the year previous to their last Anniversary, 41,5901.; the Baptist Missionary Society, 12,7201.; and the Wesleyan Missionary Society, 50,0171. The aggregate of these sums subscribed by the Protestant Dissenters of Great Britain for the propagation of the Gospel abroad, will be found considerably to exceed the total subscribed by the members of the Church of England for the same object *, But besides these, there are societies supported jointly by Churchmen and Dissenters, to which the latter are not unequal contributors. The sums raised by the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Religious Tract Society, the British and Foreign School Society, and the Hibernian Society, during the year last reported, formed an aggregate of 132,6501. ; of which, we may assume that a moiety is contributed by the several denominations of Dissenters. There are other smaller societies, such as the Sunday School Union, (about 70001.,) the Home Missionary Societies, (10,0001.,) the Book Society for promoting religious Knowledge, &c. which are supported either entirely or chiefly by Dissenters. Taking these into account, we shall have a total of between 180,0001. and 200,0001. annually subscribed by orthodox Protestant Dissenters and Methodists for these public Institutions ; in addition to what they raise for the support of their own Ministers. In relation to this last point, we shall transcribe the following statements and remarks from the Congregational Magazine for 1830.

The Wesleyan Methodist Connexion provide for their preachers, upon a system peculiarly their own. The ambulatory character of their ministry has led the circuits usually to provide preachers' houses, which are furnished at the Society's expense. The allowances for their ministers are on a graduated scale, proportionate to the size of their families. The quarter-rate allowed to the preacher for himself, his wife, and his servant, appears but small, 211. each per annum. But then there is “ Board Money", allowances for children, postage, travelling, and many other items, which go to make up a considerable sum, as the aggregate income of a married Methodist preacher. It would, perhaps, not be candid towards that Society, implicitly to credit the statements of “ The Circular to Wesleyan Methodists,a monthly paper published in Liverpool, and generally op

• The Church Missionary Society received 47,8401. ; the Jews' Society about 14,0001. ; the Christian Knowledge Society, for foreign objects, (1828, 9,) 9,2001.; the Gospel Propagation Society, 6,2501.

« EdellinenJatka »