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in the unfortunate periods of these mental collisions, to try to
separate the conscientious from the interested ; and to concede • such improvements and reforms as the most dispassioned minds • of both parties, looking only at truth, reason, and utility, and • suspending all personal considerations, would agree to be wise
and necessary! Much that is obsolete, unimportant, offensive, ‘or injurious, becomes progressively attached to all Establish'ments; and might be pruned with advantage both to themselves and to their contemporaries. Such meliorations would
take away the largest portion of the actual grievances and per' nicious evils which, while man exists as he is, will be always
arising from his former errors, present ignorance, and the course • of time; and which no one ought to wish to continue: this con* duct would satisfy and tranquillize the well meaning and the • sincere, who, amid all their mistakes, are ever the great bulwarks
of society, and are those whose countenance and feeling give the greatest danger to public clamour and political opposition. While these are kept steady, the more noisy and boisterous will but fret and fume, without real danger or effective power. To • act otherwise, is to fight the battle against nature and provi. dence, two adversaries but little adverted to, yet against whose ' unceasing agency, although governments, hierarchies, and na* tions have often struggled, it has been but to be defeated with “ irreparable discomfiture and annihilating destruction.' *
The civil wars between the Two Roses, suspended for a while the ecclesiastical debate, and threw back England into comparative barbarism. When the partial spoliation of the Church took place, it came not from the Mendicant Friars or their adherents, but from the Crown, and was the act of the son and successor of that monarch whom the clergy had harassed with repeated conspiracies. The Reformation changed the character of the struggle between the possessioned church' and those who, in the seventeenth century, rose up against its abuses and the tyranny of the prelates. The controversy between the Church of Elizabeth and the Puritans, resembled that which had preceded the Reformation, between the clergy and the Lollards: it was chiefly a polemical or theological warfare, in which the weaker party were stigmatised and persecuted as heretics. The dispute between the advocates of Episcopacy and the Presbyterian party, again, was partly doctrinal, partly political: it was a contest between two rival communities for the ascendancy, neither of whom disclaimed alliance with the State. Whereas the dispute be tween the secular clergy and the mendicant orders involved few points of theological difference, lying between different orders of
• Turner, Vol. III. pp. 231, 2.
thuthority, and a vices of theaternities, as tbduce as good in com
the same Church, each in turn backed and protected by pontifical authority, and related mainly to the usurpations, the wealth, the indolence, and vices of the endowed orders. The members of the upstart and intrusive fraternities, as they were deemed, were as true sons of the Church, and could produce as good an ecclesiastical commission, as those with whom they engaged in competition. But, by casting themselves for support upon the people, and making their appeal to the example of the Saviour and his apostles, they were opening a direct assault upon the Establishment as such. The Carmelites, who had distinguished themselves, in preceding reigns, for their zeal in repelling the doctrines of the Wycliffites, “felt that the property and luxury of
the great English clergy were inconsistent with their Christ'ianity. And some', complains the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Pope, 'were carried to that pitch of infamy as not to fear 'to say, that the possessioned church had apostatized from the 'very time that it became endowed; and that it was a duty that
would be grateful to God, to take from the prelates their riches ' and ample possessions, which they held in contradiction to the ' example of their Lord and his apostles.' * There were doubtless Humes and Cobbetts among the laity of those days; but these opinions respecting the unlawfulness of compulsory tithes and rich endowments, were maintained by regularly ordained clergymen, learned men, benefactors to literature, men who stood deservedly high in the estimation of the people, and above the suspicion of heretical pravity.
Whether they were right or wrong, it is not our present business to inquire. It is possible, that the advocates of 'men* dicity' carried their notions too far; and yet that their notions might be an approximation to the truth. The religious militia' of the present day, however, far from affecting to depend upon precarious alms, and at the same time grasping at wealth, take their stand upon the principle, that the labourer is worthy of his hire, and that the Christian minister is as much entitled to live by his ministry, as the physician or the lawyer by his fees. Far from being ascetics or devoted to celibacy, they are men sustaining all those relations which are the bonds of society and the securities of virtue. Unlike the mendicant orders, they have engaged in no warfare against the temporalities of the possessioned church'; rarely are they found declaiming against the Establishment, or even its abuses, and the conduct of the clergy; and when these subjects are adverted to, it is, nine times out of ten, in self-defence. Still, widely as the Methodists and Dissenters of the nineteenth century differ, in these and other respects, from the Mendicant
* Turner, Vol. III. p. 211.
Orders of the fifteenth, with which they have been compared, they stand in a relation to the Establishment not very dissimilar. They are in the same manner supported by the voluntary contributions of the people * ; they exhibit the same superiority in mental energy as well as religious knowledge; and the palpable and unreformed abuses of the Establishment give them the same advantage that the grosser abuses of darker times furnished to the friars. Angrily discountenanced and bitterly reviled by the established clergy, whose true interest it was to gain them over as auxiliaries, they have in the same manner rapidly increased in popularity and importance; till, at the present moment, they dispute with the Established order, the palm of real efficiency as the religious instructors of the nation. And the parallel may be pursued still further. If the Establishment be destined to fall, or to undergo a second confiscation of any portion of its revenues, it will not be owing to the labours of these dreaded and calumniated competitors. If the hierarchy should persist in fighting the • battle against nature and providence', the Dissenters, as a body, have nothing more that they need do, than to stand by, and watch the result. The Church of England will find another Henry VIII., much sooner than another Charles Stuart.
Such, then, is the relative position in which the great increase of the Dissenters and the revival of religion in this country during the last hundred years, have placed the Established and the non-established Churches. A century ago, the Establishment was every where predominant, and the energies of Dissent seemed to be fast decaying; religion was at the same time visibly on the decline, and infidelity rapidly gaining ground. A comparatively small proportion of the population received the ministrations of religion at their own charge; for the old Presbyterian places of worship were for the most part maintained chiefly by endowments, or by the contributions of a few opulent citizens; and though the Protestant Dissenters were, as a body, possessed of considerable wealth, most of the great manufactures of the kingdom being in their hands, as well as no small share of the commercial capital, still, the total amount raised by the several communities for the support of the ministry and propagation of the Gospel, was, we apprehend, comparatively small. The change that has taken place, whether viewed as indicating an increase of national wealth,
* Nor was he (Wesley) long before he discovered what St. Francis and his followers and imitators had demonstrated long before, that they who profess poverty for conscience sake, and trust for daily bread to the religious sympathy which they excite, will find it as surely as Elijah in the wilderness, and without a miracle. Southey's Wesley, Vol. I. p. 334.
or referred to the operation of the new spirit that has re-animated the sluggish masses of society, is surprisingly great, and, to a Christian philanthropist, a source of high satisfaction. Let it be referred in any degree to sectarian envy and strife'; the Churchman who has imbibed the spirit of St. Paul, will not hesitate to adopt his noble sentiment: . What then, notwithstand‘ing every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is
preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. So it is, that the Gospel is preached in seven or eight thousand places of worship not erected by the Establishment, or supported out of its ample revenues; that at least a third, probably not far short of half of those who attend any place of worship, are receiving the ministrations of religion at their own cost, and supporting a body of efficient teachers who receive nothing out of the State provision ; and that all this additional apparatus of Scriptural instruction has been spontaneously furnished to meet the religious wants of a nation that was fast relapsing into heathen ignorance. All this, let it be remembered, the Establishment ought to have done. Scarcely a place of Dissenting worship has been erected where there was not a previous deficiency of what is called churchroom, supposing the church to have been frequented by all the inhabitants of the parish; or, if there was room in the Church, the inefficiency of the instructor equally called for a remedy. But add the whole number of Dissenting teachers, of all denominations and all classes, to the thousands of the endowed order, whatever proportion of them may be idle, unacceptable, incapable, or otherwise unfit for their office or profession, it cannot be truly said, that, as measured by the wants of the population, there is one supernumerary. Could the Establishment undertake to employ and maintain them all ?
But if, in this point of view, the multiplication of Dissenting teachers affords ground for satisfaction, there is another consideration, too generally lost sight of, which tends powerfully to allay any feelings bordering upon triumph, and which ought at once to suspend either the boastings or the animosities of party zeal. The progress of Methodism assumes, in the imposing statement of Mr. Vevers, the character of a magnificent phenomenon. In less than a century, one man has become a thousand, and the spiritual family of John Wesley has swelled to a quarter of a million. One million of British subjects have been provided with the means of religious instruction by his scheme; and more than another million may be assigned to the Congregational Dissenters. But what is this, when brought into comparison with the growth of society during the same interval ? In the year 1730, the population of England and Wales was under six millions : what is it now ? Upwards of sixteen millions and a half; while that of the united kingdom is more than twenty-four millions ; so that a small proportion only of the actual increase that has taken place in the population of this country, has been appropriated, as it were, and provided for, by Methodism and Dissent. Supposing the religious wants of the people to have been adequately attended to by the established clergy prior to the appearance of Wesley and Whitfield, the stationary character of the parochial system would have rendered it wholly incapable of keeping pace with the rapid advance of population. But when we reflect on the actual state of the people, and of the Established Church, at the beginning of the last century,—the greater part of the nation • totally uneducated, Christians no further than the mere cere'mony of baptism could make them, being for the most part in ' a state of heathen, or worse than heathen ignorance '*; it would seem that all that has been achieved by the new orders of labourers, all the additional provision and exertion, would not more than suffice to meet the exigencies of the case, had the numbers of the population remained the same. Even then, the nation had outgrown its institutions, and a mass of ignorance and irreligion had been suffered to accumulate, which threatened the dissolution of society. If this was the case with a population of six millions, and the moral wants of the nation, at that period, would have absorbed the total amount of the provision now created, we have still the whole increase of the population to provide for. That is to say, there remain upwards of ten millions who are growing up in ignorance and irreligion for want of a sufficient supply of the means of instruction. We do not suppose this to be literally the fact. To relieve the dark conclusion, we have to set down on the contra side, the reformation which has taken place within the Established Church, in the character of the clergy, and the quality of the instruction communicated from the pulpit, the additional churches and chapels of ease, and still more, the increased zeal and activity which multiply the force of the same numbers, and the universal distribution of the Scriptures ;-all referrible, indeed, to the impulse which the preaching of the Methodists imparted to the public mind, but rendering the deficiency left to be supplied less overwhelming. Yet, upon the most favourable calculation, we can scarcely assign to the Established Church, as that portion of the population which is actually receiving its instructions, and united to its communion, more than between four and five millions. We shall be thought, by some readers, to have even over-rated the numbers belonging to the Church.