« AnteriorContinuar »
FOR JULY, 1841.
Art. I. PUBLICATIONS OF THE EVANGELICAL VOLUNTARY CHURCH Asso
CIATION. 1. The Church of England and the Church of Christ ; a Lecture deli
tered in the Town Hall, Hertford. By JOHN BURNET. Seventh
Thousand. 2. Christianity against Coercion; or Compulsory Churches Unscriptural
and Anti-Christian. A Lecture delivered on Wednesday, March 25,
1840, in Freemasons' Hall. By GEORGE REDFORD, D.D., LL.D. 3. Worldliness engrafted upon the Episcopal Church, through her Con
nexion roith the State : with Remarks on the Voluntary System. By
MATTHEW BRIDGES, Esq. 4. Two Lectures on the Connexion between Church and State, in Reply
to the Reo. Hugh M'Neile, M.A., delivered at the Hanover Square
Rooms. By the Rev. John BURNET. Second Thousand. 5. The True Independence of the Church of Christ : or a Voluntary
Maintenance of the Church essential to its Liberty. By the Rev.
David KING, Minister of Greyfriars Church, Glasgow. 6. Letters to the Rev. Hugh M'Neile, M.A., on some Portions of his
· Lectures on the Church of England. By RALPH WARDLAW, D.D. 7. The Voluntary: a Monthly Publication, under the direction of the
Evangelical Voluntary Church Association. No. 1. to VI. Price
are days of conflict and trial. Discordant elements are at work in religion, as well as in politics; and there is enough of movement and of mystery to awaken solicitude in most men. Some are not only disturbed, but alarmed; doubtful of what may be the result, and how the true interests of religion may be affected. For our part, we entertain very little
apprehension on the subject; and for reasons which we shall proceed to state.
In the first place, the differences of sentiment which at present agitate the Christian church are not, generally speaking, fundamental to Christianity. Some of these differences relate solely to outward forms, and some, with slight exceptions, to opinions which may be admitted or repudiated without prejudice to the eternal salvation of men. Not that we are indifferent to the one or the other. The outward framework and the inward discipline of Christianity are connected with its beauty and with its strength. That which is true may be distorted by the medium through which it is represented, or so cramped and fettered that its progress may be impeded. Its direct effect may not be so powerful, nor its diffusion so rapid as might be, were it exhibited in its strictly primitive character; and every friend of the gospel must deplore any degree of inefficacy superinduced by the errors or fostered by the passions of its advocates ;-still amidst all the chaff there is this consoling fact, that we have the wheat. The Dissenter objects to the Church of England or to the Church of Scotland, or the Churchman of the north becomes dissenter from the established religion when he changes his latitude and passes the Tweed; the Baptist opposes the Pædobaptist, or the Pædobaptist the Baptist, in urging with argumentative vehemence the points on which they respectively stand; the advocate of strict communion contends against the advocate of free communion, and vice versâ; the Arminian and the Calvinist assert their characteristic views with all the warmth of debate, and perhaps, too, not always with all the candor which the love of truth should inspire ;-but these disagreements consist with the holding of the Head,' and with the mutual estimation of each other's character and labors of piety as fellow workers and fellow heirs.
In the next place, although we can have no pleasure in contention itself, yet we cannot help perceiving its direct tendency to elicit truth, to destroy superstition and corruption of every kind, and to send the thoughtless and the prejudiced to their principles and their Bibles. Thousands and tens of thousands take their religion upon trust, without examination. They believe as their fathers and grandfathers did before them. They are not, in fact, believers in Christ, but believers in their ancestors; and on the ground of this faith they hope for heaven. Whatever scatters these delusions must be a good. In an age of controversy, and especially when there is a battle for great principles, the din and the stir, though on some accounts to be deprecated, are on others to be hailed. They wake the sleepy, and force the formalist to think. He can no longer swim on the stream; he is urged out of his inaction and neutrality,
Being driven to his Bible, he will there see what truth is, and in that holy light discover many of his own errors, and the prevalent corruptions that disfigure and defile religion. To this at least we may hope there will be in many minds a rapid approximation.
Again : though we undoubtedly regard the denominational divisions among Christians as an evil, which Christianity will in all probability ultimately exterminate, yet if the condition of society be such as to afford no reasonable prospect of their speedy removal, we may derive some consolation from the fact that there are many things arising out of the evil itself which possess a mitigating power. It cannot be denied that a certain spring and activity in the propagation of the gospel arises from the separate operations of various religious societies, both in this country and in heathen lands. There is often in consequence a concentration of effort within particular limits, a zeal inflamed by rivalship, and the union of parties or persons for consistency's sake or for other reasons, which produce large results, and results not likely to be attained were all parties in the present state of feeling in the Christian community, to make one undivided effort. If we cannot secure the primary and best motive, we may be allowed to rejoice in secondary aims and subordinate purposes, without either sacrificing principle or losing sight of the noblest workings of the soul. This view of the case, however, furnishes no countenance to the notion of many persons, that on account of these incidental benefits it is as well or better for differences and divisions to remain. Paul could rejoice that the gospel was preached, even though it were in the spirit of contention, without sympathizing in the contentious spirit, and without ceasing to aim at the promotion of united effort in the church of Christ.
The great question of the present times relates to the union of Church and State as the means of propagating religion; in other words, whether religion is to depend on the voluntary efforts of its agents and the strength of its own moral power, or whether it can only be established by the decrees of ruling authorities in a nation, and upheld by taxation. Those who are emphatically denominated voluntaries, affirm that truth is to be supported and propagated by love; the advocates of national establishments maintain that the civil magistrate has a right to interfere,and that it is the duty of a government to provide'a religion for the people. It comes, moreover, to this, that a government is empowered to enforce--not Christianity-but their view of Christianity. It may be an orthodox Christianity, if orthodox men hold the reins of political authority; but it may also be a heterodox Christianity-a popish-a socinian Christianity, if others bear rule. The objection of the Dis
senters is, that religion should be made to depend on the fluctuating opinions of men incorporated as self-constituted judges of it, and judges for others; and not upon its own moral energy, directed and sanctified by the sovereign Lord of the church himself. Either Christ can or cannot take care of his own religion: if he can, then there is no need of state establishments; if the contrary, then his supremacy is denied and his authority displaced. In this case we may have the form of Protestantism, but its spirit is wholly wanting.
We have just been greeted with the following most edifying example of self-complacency. It occurs in the preface to a volume of Lectures on the Headship of Christ,' by no fewer than seven ministers of the established Church of Scotland. "The grand ' religious controversy of the present age,' say they, 'concerns
the union of Church and state. This controversy has two parts—the one of which respects the lawfulness, the other the conditions of such union. Of the former it may without offence or presumption be said, that it is already determined. After five or six years of keen and able discussion, on every arena open to the combatants-on the platform, in the senate, and through the press—the supporters of the lawfulness of national establishments of religion have not only kept their ground, but have made a decided movement in advance. The public mind has been confirmed in its attachment to a principle which, after the most searching investigation, has been found to be so manifestly consonant to right reason and to the word of God. And as the natural result, not only have those ' open and avowed attempts to overthrow the existing national • churches of the empire, which in the earlier stages of the con' troversy were presented with so much vigor, been almost • abandoned; but these churches have greatly extended their
resources and influence, and at this moment undoubtedly ' possess a much larger share of the people's sympathy and • esteem than when they were first assailed. It is the latter 'branch of the controversy with which we have now to deal. • The lawfulness of a union between Church and state being * decided, the conditions of that union are what remain to be • tried.'
All this is doubtless very plausible and very imposing ; but we should be inclined to treat it as a mere flourish of trumpets, if the good men did not bring it forward with a solemnity that indicated their conviction of its truth, and were it not that seven ministers of the Church of Scotland, thus concurring and thus writing, might induce many of the common people to follow their masters. These worthy advocates of a hierarchy think it may be said without offence or presumption, that the lawfulness of the union of Church and state has been already
determined! But when and by whom? That this question has been so determined ages before these excellent advocates were in being we admit. Every hierarchy, papist or Protestant, has so determined it-Constantine so determined it-Hildebrand so determined it-even our reforming Henry so determined itthe members of the Church of England and the ministers of the established Church of Scotland have determined it, and hare nobly resolved that their assertion, so clear, so simple, so calculated to settle all controversies, should be taken as the quod erat demonstrandum in the matter. Happily the press can speak as well as the pulpit; and to this we shall presently advert.
"After six years of discussion the supporters of the lawfulness • of national establishments of religion have not only kept their
ground, but have made a decided movement in advance.' How does this appear? The seven worthy divines can scarcely refer to their own country, where the public demonstrations proclaim something very much of the nature of defeat. The debates which have of late occurred show that the supporters of the lawfulness of national establishments are anything but supported by the general voice and concurrence in their notions of high Church prerogatives; and the movements within the Church itself prove that the non-resistance and passive obedience doetrines incident to the principle of the lawfulness of the union of Church and state, have at least now no power to preclude divisions or suppress the independent energy of thought and action. If the reference, however, be to the mission of Dr. Chalmers to the metropolis to plead the cause of establishments--this was in one sense a movement in advance; but such a movement that we verily believe even those reverend and distinguished persons who regard it as a triumph are ready, in walking over the field, to exclaim with Epaminondas, ‘Such another victory and we are * ruined.' Nor are they, one would imagine, much disposed to boast of Mr. M'Neile's attempt to cover the retreat. As it respects England, indeed, there are symptoms of 'advance' on the part of the supporters of national establishments : but advance in what, and towards what results? An advance in bigotry, intolerance, and oppression. Of these we have ample specimens in the imprisonments for the resistance of churchrates on the one hand, and in the progress of Puseyism on the high road to Rome on the other. But do our brethren of the north imagine that the exactions of churchwardens, the tyranny of magistrates in clerical robes, and the persevering despotism of ecclesiastical courts amidst the execrations of the people, and even the denunciation of parliament itself, possess any moral power or bespeak the advance of righteousness and truth? So far as we have been enabled to ascertain from the pages of