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THE PRESENT STATE OF RELIGIOUS PARTIES IN ENGLAND.
The following account of the present state of religious parties in England, has been sent us for publication by a respected friend, extracted from a sermon of the Rev. Mr. Belsham of London. It will be found to have been written with great candour, and is no doubt accurate in its statements, as it is interesting.
"The two great classes of religious professors in this country are those who adhere to the discipline and worship of the established church, and those who secede from it; or in other words, CHURCHMEN and DISSENTERS.
"The frequenters and supporters of the established worship are, together, far more numerous than any class of nonconformists separately considered, but perhaps inferior to the whole collectively. And in the judgment of many impartial persons this disparity is continually augmenting.
"The ESTABLISHED CHURCH is at this time divided into two great parties.
"The FIRST and by far the most powerful party consists of those who adhere to the church upon the ground of political expedience; because they think, and perhaps justly, that an establishment of religion is of great importance to the security of government and of good morals, and are persuaded that the existing establishment is best adapted to the British constitution, and ought to be supported, unless very grave and important reasons can be assigned to show the necessity of a change.
"A SECOND, and a very numerous, respectable, and increasing body of members of the established church, are those who are commonly called evangelical, who seriously believe the doctrines of the articles, and who publicly profess and teach them. They are generally pious in their conversation, and exemplary in their morals; and are very zealous, active, and liberal, in propagating what they conceive to be the doctrines of the gospel and those of the established church. These greatly prefer the discipline of the church and its modes of worship to those of any class of nonconformists, and cultivate a popular strain of preaching, which commonly fills the churches, wherever they are settled. One would naturally suppose that this description of churchmen must be in high estimation with the ruling powers, and with those who profess the warmest zeal for the prosperity of the church. But the fact is otherwise: and the reason is this. The evangelical churchmen, though they are true and ardent friends to the order and discipline of the church, justly lay a still greater stress upon purity of faith and seriousness of spirit; and these qualities they love and honour wherever they are found, whether among churchmen or New Series-vol. I.
dissenters. They are therefore ready to join cordially with nonconformists in every scheme the object of which is to promote what they believe to be the truth and spirit of their common christianity, whether within or without the pale of the establishment, and whether immediately conducive or not to its separate interest. This highly meritorious and truly christian liberality is exceedingly offensive to those who prize the interest of the church as paramount to all other considerations; and for this reason the evangelical clergy and laity of the established religion are held in greater aversion by what are called the high church party, than even the most obnoxious of the nonconforming sects.
"I shall now give a brief and cursory view of the present state of the NONCONFORMIST CHURCHES.
"PRESBYTERIANISM has for many years been lost in Eng. land and though here and there the name of Assemblies, and even of Presbyteries, may be retained, the authority of these bodies is totally gone. The general assembly of the church of Scotland, which is essentially presbyterian, and which originally acknowledged and held communion with the Presbyterians of England, bas within these few years abandoned them altoge ther, and prohibited their ministers from officiating in the esta blished churches in that part of the United Kingdom, to which they formerly obtained easy access. There are, however, still many congregations which choose to retain the name of presbyterian. They are chiefly such as indulge a greater latitude of thinking upon religious subjects than their Independent brethren; and who do not wholly adopt the mode of independent discipline The INDEPENDENTS generally adhere to Calvinistic principles, and to their original plan of church government but upon the latter they appear to lay less stress than in former times; and if their brethren agree with them in doctrine and in spirit, they make considerable allowance for a difference of judgment and practice in things now allowed to be indifferent.
"A third denomination of christians are THE BAPTISTS, Or those christians who defer the baptism of the descendants of baptized persons till they come to years of discretion.
"The Baptists are distinguished into general and particular. The General Baptists are of the Arminian persuasion. They believe in free-will and general redemption. They maintain that Christ died for all men ; and that all may be saved if they will; that the offer of salvation is made to all mankind, and that none are excluded from final happiness by an absolute and irreversible decree.
"The Particular Baptists are strict Calvinists. They believe that from all eternity God elected a certain number to everlasting life and they maintain that the benefits of the death of Christ extend to the elect only for that if Christ had died for all mankind, with regard to the majority he would have died in vain.
"It is a remarkable fact, that the General Baptists, though not a numerous, have usually distinguished themselves as an inquisitive and an enlightened body of christians and that some of the most learned and most liberal theologians of modern times, both at home and in foreign countries, have been members of this communion. Probably, as the principle of their dissent from their Calvinistic brethren was a desire to vindicate the divine character, which they considered as inculpated by the gloomy system of the reformer of Geneva, the same principle led them to examine other doctrines with greater freedom; and consequently to reject more of the popular errors which have prevailed in the world, and to embrace a purer and a more liberal system of faith.
"Another party has lately appeared in the christian world which has hitherto been embraced by comparatively a very small number, and is not likely ever to make many proselytes; because it contravenes the uniform practice of the christian church from the age of the apostles; I mean the party of those who deny the permanency of the institution of baptism, and who conceive of it as a rite which was limited to proselytes from another religion. The advocates of this doctrine, though few in number, have commonly been persons of considerable respectability, and some of them of great learning. Their error, for such I conceive it to be, arises from the unfounded assumption that christianity is of a nature too spiritual and refined to admit of positive institutions, and from neglecting to inquire into, or duly to appreciate, the historical evidence of what Christ and his apostles actually thought fit to practise and to enjoin.
"The last century was memorable for giving birth to two numerous sects, which from very small beginnings have advanced to great notoriety and importance. These are the two sects of METHODISTS, the Arminian and the Calvinistic.
The founders of these sects were contemporary students at the university of Oxford; who being themselves of a pious and enthusiastic disposition, prevailed upon some others of their fellow collegians to join with them in their religious exercises. When they quitted the university they travelled up and down the country, preaching sometimes in churches, sometimes in dissenting chapels, and sometimes in the streets and fields, with a view to convert and to reform the people. Soon after
these leaders of the sect had left the university, they differed apon the question of general and particular redemption, after which they separated; Mr. Whitfield becoming the founder of the Calvinistic, and Mr. Westley of the Arminian, Methodist.*
"The existence of these two theological parties, both numerous, and both active and zealous in making proselytes, has produced a considerable effect upon the manners of the country, and particularly in the lower classes of society. Many regard the Methodists of both descriptions as, generally speaking, immoral and dishonest, as wolves in sheeps' clothing, who have done and are doing much to corrupt and to deteriorate the morals of the inferior orders. And it cannot but happen in a sect so numerous that many will be hypocritical, and many immoral. And the more severe the profession, and the more zeal and bitterness there is in judgments passed upon others, the more en
*George Whitfield was a man of uncommon eloquence and fervour of spirit. He preached with great success both in England and America; and many congregations were formed under his inspeetion, and took their name from him. But he was a man of great simplicity of mind and artlessness of manners: he had no desire to set himself up as the head of a sect, and he framed no system of discipline to distinguish his followers from other denominations of christians. The consequence is that the Calvinistic Methodists are now very much confounded with the regular Independents. There are, however, some shades of difference. The Methodists do not adopt the rigorous discipline of the independent churches; and they are less attached to a learned ministry. On account of these differences they are called by some the fourth denomination of dissenters; and in London these have been computed to out number all the other denomi nations taken together.
"John Wesley was a man of a very strong and comprehensive mind, of very insinuating address, and a very mild and engaging speaker. His great ambition was to be the founder of a sect; and to this end he retained in his own hands during his life all the property which was collected from his followers for ecclesiastical purposes, and the whole discipline of the sect. He erected chapels, he educated and ordained ministers, he appointed them their respective stations, and removed them at pleasure; be divided the country into circuits, and his disciples into classes, appointing to each their proper officers, and superintending the whole himself. In this way the original Methodists (for that is the title which, though at first applied by way of reproach, they choose to retain,) formed a united and well-disciplined body under the direction of one head. After Mr. Wesley's death, the property and the ecclesiastical authority devolved by his will upon a large body of ministers nominated by him as trustees, with power to supply their own vacancies. This body takes the name of the Conference, and acting usually with the policy for which aristocracies are celebrated, the sect of Methodists under their direction remains embodied, annually increasing its numbers and extending its influence, till it has at length become a compact and numerous party, of no small political consideration and consequence. This fact was abundantly evident in the resistance made to Lord Sidmouth's bill, in which the Wesleyan Methodists took a leading part.
emies they will create to themselves; and the more will every miscarriage and every fault of the members, and especially the prominent members, of the Society, be watched, and blazoned, and exaggerated, and imputed to the whole body. But upon the whole, much as I differ from the Methodists of both parties in their speculative creed, I am decidedly of opinion that they have done unspeakable good among the lower orders of society; and have contributed beyond all calculation to reform and regenerate certain descriptions of men to whom no regular minister would have extended his notice. I particularly refer to the colliers, miners, and others, in various parts of England, who from a state of ignorance and barbarism little better than that of savages, are now become sober, honest, and industrious; and instead of being the pests and terror of the districts which they inhabit, are transformed into regular, peaceable, and useful members of society. This is a benefit of the noblest kind, the praise of which cannot without the greatest injustice be denied to the Methodists: and it is an honour which they have dearly purchased amidst innumerable hardships, injuries, and insults; and often even at the peril of their lives.
"The society commonly called QUAKERS, but who choose to distinguish themselves by the title of FRIENDS, with respect to numbers, is supposed to remain nearly stationary, the members not being much animated with a spirit of proselytism. It is to be lamented that this respectable Society bas of late departed in any degree from their original liberality with regard to speculative opinions; and, with a violence bordering upon persecution, has disowned some persons of great worth and piety, for avowing opinions which a century ago would probably have passed unnoticed, if not even approved. But the merits of this distinguished and highly useful body of christians have far exceeded and amply atoned for their occasional failings. Excluded by their principle from fashionable luxuries and fashionable diversions, they have devoted much of their time and wealth and talents to the purposes of philanthropy. To their active and persevering efforts the country is in a considerable degree indebted for the abolition of the slave-trade; and to their strenuous exertion it has been principally owing, that the establishment of schools for the education of the poor was not suffered to sink in its infant state, under the vehement opposition which it encountered from very powerful adversaries. Of late this wise and benevolent Society have directed their attention towards alleviating the miseries and correcting the morals of those sinks and nurseries of every thing that is bad in the human character, the common prisons; and have undertaken the apparently hopeless task of reforming the lives of their wretched inhabitants: in