Imatges de pÓgina
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entertain little anxiety to know in what manner controversialists may terminate their disputations respecting

the former.

It may possibly be said, that the example I have here adduced is so entirely speculative, and so little connected with human conduct, that it ought not to be placed in comparison with a subject of such universal interest as the nature of the Supreme Being. This objection, whether well or ill founded, certainly will not be alleged against the second example which remains to be noticed. I have read the last edition of Dr. Southwood Smith's Illustrations of the Divine Government with attention, and I may add, with much interest, though I do not profess to concur in all his reasonings. He is one of the very few writers even on that side of the question, who ascribes the existence of evil, as well moral as physical, to the will of the Almighty, as its truly efficient cause; and when this admission is traced to its consequences, it involves one of the greatest conceivable mysteries. It is somewhat singular that Jonathan Edwards, the most successful vindicator of the doctrine of philosophical necessity, and whose leading arguments are irrefragable, should yet hesitate in making the same admission, and should adopt the Ar minian distinction, as far as it regards moral evil, that its prevalence is permitted, but not ordained, by the allwise Ruler of the universe. He endeavours to support this distinction by a very inapt illustration taken from the sun, considered as the cause of light and heat, and as the cause of darkness and cold; but, in truth, however unwilling many persons may feel to acknowledge it, that Being who consents to the existence of any effect which he had the power to prevent, and which he has evidently taken no measures to prevent, is to all intents and purposes the cause of that effect. With more consistency, therefore, Dr. S. Smith maintains that the Deity is the cause of moral evil in as real and strict a sense as he is of natural evil, and that "he has appointed both for the same wise and benevolent purpose, namely, because he saw that they would produce the greatest sum of good."

But does not this assertion present

to the reflecting mind a difficulty, I may even say a contradiction, beyond the limits of human comprehension? Is not the free inquirer astounded, when he first perceives, that though the great and benevolent Author of Nature has forbidden, under the severest penalties, the commission of every act which can occasion evil, however remote, either to the agent himself, or to the creatures placed within his sphere of action, yet that the very evil which the Creator has thus prohibited, should in all its revolting forms, be one of the principal instruments in his own hands of producing good? The very notion that pain and sorrow should be the only, or, if not the only, at least the best mode of promoting joy and tranquillity, contains a mystery of which we shall in vain attempt to frame any satisfactory solution. The fact may be true, but how, or why, are questions which it is impossible to answer.

He, however, who professes an ardent attachment to the cause of truth, must not shrink from its consequences; and that man well deserves the appellation of timid, who, when convinced that any doctrine is supported by indisputable argument, dares not follow the results to which it finally leads. There are undoubtedly many persons who, while they admit that evil is adopted by the Divine Being as the most effectual instrument of good, are yet unwilling to view the subject more in detail. But with all their reluctance, there is no escape, unless they voluntarily relinquish their claim to the character of sound reasoners. Be their timidity what it may, they cannot avoid conceding not only that the accumulation of sorrow, affliction and suffering, which we observe in the various gradations of society, is ordained for the purpose of increasing the amount of human happiness, but that all the crimes, the depravities, the atrocities of the worst part of the species, are selected as the best possible means of promoting the ultimate purity and felicity of the delinquents themselves. The most flagitious enormities that ever stained the moral character, must be regarded as the best instruments which could have been chosen for effectuating the designs of infinite benevolence. What

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ever is most revolting in the catalogue of human crimes, adultery and incest and murder, with all their terrific effects, must be viewed as the best modes which unlimited wisdom could devise of leading the perpetrators of these offences to spotless purity and endless peace. All the deeds, cruelty and bloodshed which took place during the existence of the Jewish polity; all the excesses of impurity and profli. gacy prevalent among the most polished nations of sanguinary proceedings of the Inquisition in the darkest period of papal susperstition; and all the enormities and tortures of the African slave trade in more recent times, though in direct contradiction to the laws of God, and the general interest of society, though at variance with the plainest precepts of Christianity, and the best feelings of the human heart, must appear to those who adopt this theory of the origin of evil, to be nothing more than the wisest preparatory measures that could be ordained for the moral improvement of the race of man, and to constitute an essential part of that divine system of education by which the mind is to be trained to perfect virtue and interminable happiness. In short, the worst crimes of the very worst man that ever imbibed the breath of heaven, must, according to this view of things, not only contribute to the permanent prosperity of the world at large, but must be deemed absolutely requisite for the ultimate perfection of his own character, and for the final completion of his own welfare.

In spite, however, of these consequences, it is strenuously maintained, that without this explanation of the existence and tendency of evil, it would be impossible to vindicate the Divine character; for if benevolent at all, it must be infinitely so; and nothing can be more truly preposterous than the attempt to reconcile the boundless benevolence of the Creator with a preponderance of misery among his intelligent creatures.

While the preceding doctrines, therefore, involved as they are in difficulty and contradiction, are advocated by Unitarian writers of eminence, they must, in my apprehension, be destructive of the argument, advanced by the

party to which they belong, against the mysterious nature of some of the orthodox opinions of the National Church. CLERICUS CAntabrigiensis.

The Nonconformist.
No. XXVII.

An Essay on the Causes of the Decline of Nonconformity.

HERE are few subjects that appeal with a stronger interest to man than those which stand connected with religion. Whether it be viewed in a moral or in a speculative light, or presented as a matter of history, it affords ample scope for interesting reflection. No sooner does the attention become awakened to its importance, than the mind seeks relief in an external profession, and it then obviously becomes a question of some interest, Under what form has the teaching of it been best administered?

From the period of the Reformation, and indeed long before, there have been various religious bodies in the nation, contending for supremacy, and all upon the reasonable presumption, that the scheme they proposed approached the nearest to scripture and to antiquity. If the means adopted for deciding their pretensions had been equally rational, truth would have stood some chance in the contest, and good sense would not have been offended. But the current of history goes to prove that nothing is so arbitrary and unnatural as the ascendancy of religious sects. From the reign of Henry the VIII. to that of Elizabeth, and within the short space of twenty years, the national religion underwent four or five several changes, to suit the temper of the sovereign; and, at each change, the foregoing profession was proscribed as false and impious. When James I. ascended the throne, the ecclesiastical fabric, reared by Elizabeth, was thought to be in jeopardy, the new king having been trained in the hot-bed of Presbyterianism. That it was not then overturned, was owing more to the humour of James, than to any want of pliability in the Parliament or the nation; for it is pretty evident that the bishops and courtiers were looking forward to such

an event. Its subsequent overthrow, in the reign of Charles I. was owing to the power of the sword; and in the course of a few years parties became so equally balanced, that, at the Restoration, it fell to the monarch to decide their pretensions, by throwing his own weight into the favoured

scale.

The reign of Charles II. was eminently the triumph of Episcopacy: For, notwithstanding there was a considerable party in opposition to it, yet, it then became more entirely identified with our political institutions; and the powerful circumstances of interest, education and habit, gradually rendered it the predominant religion. The power thus acquired, enabled the party to make its own terms at the Revolution, and to counteract the liberal principles of the new king, whose influence extended no further than to curb the passions of the more violent, and to restrain their talent for doing mischief. From this time, the interest of the sovereign became closely identified with that of the church-established, and has continued so to the present day.

It would throw some light upon the subject of this inquiry, if we were to search into the reasons that may be supposed to have operated upon our former sovereigns in retaining the present hierarchy. But the space allotted to me will not allow of a detailed narrative. At the time of the Reformation, the world was governed by arbitrary monarchs, who had eman cipated themselves from the trammels of the feudal system, and, by a train of circumstances, were enabled to consolidate, in their own persons, the power that had been before divided between the aristocracy and the clergy. England then possessed the same constitutional forms as at present; but the legislative branches were without vigour, and betrayed a passive submission to the nod of the monarch.

As the Reformers were divided in their notions upon church-government, if they had been left to themselves, each party would have followed its inclinations in the selection of a discipline, and the different forms of religion, in common with other institutions, would have reaped the benefit of improvement afforded by increased

knowledge and experience. But so enlightened a procedure squared as little with the policy of the sovereign as with the temper of the age. The arm of improvement was to be paralyzed by a dull monotonous uniformity, and the rights of thousands sacrificed to a state-policy veiled under the name of religion.

As Elizabeth and her successors governed with an absolute sway, the retention of the supremacy was with them a matter of first-rate importance, not only as it increased their power and patronage, but as it furnished them with a numerous body of auxiliaries, whose interests were closely connected with their own. Another reason that may be supposed to have influenced them was, the consonance of this form of ecclesiastical government with that of the state. The hierarchy contained within its bosom a vast variety of official personages of different degrees, including a wealthy aristocracy, whose revenues enabled them to vie with the nobles, with whom they held equal rank; and, being expectants of preferments, they swelled the troop of courtiers, and gave éclat to the splendour of royalty. A third consideration was the lax discipline of Episcopal Churches, which put fewer restraints upon the indulgencies of the court than were consistent with the more rigid forms of Presbyterianism. Far be it from me to insinuate that Episcopalians are necessarily less strict in their morals than other people. Human nature is pretty much the same under every profession of religion; and when temptations are thrown in the way, unless checks are provided, the bad passions will find a vent. I speak merely of the effect of the system under the comprehensive denomination of a national church.

The long reign of Elizabeth had a powerful tendency to consolidate the interests of Church and State. This union was farther strengthened in the reign of her pedantic successor James I., whose absurd notions of government found numerous abettors amongst an order of men, to whose religion he became an easy convert. The vexations which he suffered them to inflict upon the Puritans, drove them still farther from the Church, and, com

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bined with his practice of kingcraft, in which he prided himself, laid the foundation of those troubles which produced an explosion in the next reign. The tyrannical government of Charles I. occasioned a greater intermixture of religion and politics, the Episcopal party siding generally with the Court, and the friends of liberty with the Puritans. In the conflict that ensued, the King and the Church fell victims to one common cause, and a Presbyterian Establishment arose upon the ruins. This new order of things, however, was but short-lived, being replaced at the Restoration by the former Episcopacy. King Charles II. had long decided with his grandfather, that Presbyterianism was not a fit religion for a gentleman, although he had formerly sworn to maintain it: so that, dismissing with his characteristic politeness the friends who had brought him back, he at once threw himself into the arms of an order of men who gave him but little disturbance in his pleasures, and administered to all the political vices of his reign. Thus Episcopacy became established upon a more permanent footing than ever; and the laws which were enacted for its protection in this and some following reigns, together with other circumstances, such as a monopoly of privilege, the decreased power of the crown, and the sentiment of society in its favour, have given to it a stability which is not likely to be shaken, excepting by some sudden national convulsion that shall involve both Church and State.

alterations have not been in its favour; but by what means they have been brought about, must be a subject of anxious inquiry to all those who feel any concern for its welfare.

In the discussion of this question, it will be necessary to refer back to the reign of King Charles II., when the relative condition of the two parties became essentially changed, and in a manner finally decided. At the period of the Restoration, the Nonconformists probably outnumbered their adversaries; but the favour and patronage of the monarch soon reversed the balance. The religion of the Court will always influence that of the people, and draw within its vortex the majority who never think, as well as numbers who have private interests to gratify. Whatever stimulates the ambition, feeds the avarice, or dazzles the senses, comes with too powerful a recommendation to be resisted by persons who are not under the influence of religious motives; and these always constitute the bulk of mankind. The Episcopalians now obtained a position in the state which they had never before known, whilst the Presbyterians were subjected to penalties equally new and monstrous. Oaths and tests were invented to exclude them not only from the churches, but also from the universities, the magistracy, and in general from all offices, civil, ecclesiastical and military. The monopoly thus given the favoured sect had an important influence upon the cause of Nonconformity, the effect of which continues to the present day.

The triumph of the Church of England was the signal for the ruin of her opponents; but it was accomplished gradually, and by other methods than those she had prepared for the purpose. That religious sects participate in the general fluctuations of society, is a matter rather of history than of speculation. The causes which produce them being less obvious, are liable to be mistaken; and, as greater tenacity is usually brought to bear upon religion than upon other subjects, the avenues to truth are narrowed accordingly. A slight glance at the history of Nonconformity must convince any one that it has undergone material changes, both in its internal œconomy and in its political attitude. It is also equally evident that these

If we look at the relative character of the two parties, there is no reason to suppose that the Nonconformists were at all inferior to their adversaries. The ministers generally had received a liberal education at one of the universities, and were not only good scholars, but well versed in ancient and modern literature. They were also pre-eminently distinguished for an attention to their official duties, and cultivated habits of personal piety.

As for the people who attended upon their ministry, they were not not only irreproachable in their moral conduct, but remarkable for their punctual observance of religious duties; and they patiently suffered the reproach of Christ rather than conform to a church which they consi

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dered as nothing better than a worldly sanctuary. Notwithstanding the frowns of the Court, their cause was still patronized by many persons of wealth and consequence, who frequented their private meetings, and cheerfully paid the fines that were levied upon them for so doing. As a farther testimony of their affection for the cause, many of them received their ministers as inmates in their houses, either in their official character as chaplains, or as tutors to their children. But others, who were not so fortunate, "had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonments; they wandered in desarts and in mountains, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; of whom the world was not worthy." Many of them were compelled to seek refuge in a foreign land, whilst others, who staid at home, could, like former confessors, declare themselves "strangers and pilgrims upon earth, seeking a better country, that is, an heavenly." That these excellent men were sincere in the cause they espoused, no man can for a moment doubt who contemplates their sufferings, and the noble sacrifice of temporal good which they made upon the altar of conscience.

The reign of Charles II. was eminently that of science and of literature. In the production of this character, the Nonconformists are entitled to no inconsiderable share, having, in the course of their residence at the universities, superintended the education of many of the great men of the period; and in other respects they contributed largely to the general stock. Many of them were not at all inferior in critical learning and in polite literature; but in their contributions to theology, and to those branches of knowledge that pertained more immediately to their profession, they far outstripped their adversaries. In the number, extent and value of their writings, the Nonconformists of this period may be safely compared with the writers of any age or nation, and are entitled to rank amongst the fathers of the church. If they paid less regard to the ornaments of style than some of their opponents, they abundantly made up for it in the matter of their writings, which contain a mine of theological wealth, not easily to be exhausted. Upon controversial sub

jects, they argued with the skill of practised polemics; and their devotional books discover a manliness of piety, with a fervour of affection, suited to any age of the Christian Church. The writings of Owen, Baxter, Bates, Charnock, Poole, Flavel, Gale, Man ton, Goodwin, Jacomb, Alsop, Clarkson and Howe, besides a multitude more that might be named, have outlived their own and the succeeding age; and will probably survive as durable monuments of their own fame, and of the cause which they espoused. Upon the whole, if this is to be regarded as the period of triumph to the Church of England, so it was, in many respects, the golden age of Nonconformity.

In the course of this reign, the terms of Conformity underwent a material change from the requisitions of its former standard. By the Act of Uiformity, passed at its commencement, those who were to officiate as ministers, were not only to declare their belief in the Thirty-nine Articles, and to swear canonical obedience, but also to avow their unfeigned assent and consent to all and every thing contained in the Book of Common Prayer, which, had it been more free from error than it is, was a most absurd and tyrannical requisition. By subsequent Acts, all persons who undertook office, either in Church or State, were enjoined certain political oaths, calculated only to bind fast the chains of slavery, and to tie up the consciences of men from that free exercise which is the prerogative of their nature.

During the same period, the controversy with the Church of England underwent some important changes. Most of the Nonconformists objected not only to the ceremonial part of her worship, in common with the early Puritans, but also to the existence of the episcopal order as distinct from the pastoral; and there was a considerable number who began to question the propriety of connecting religion with the state. Encompassed with the chains of slavery, as the nation was at this time, it is pleasant to find a noble spirit here and there bursting its fetters, and proclaiming the political rights of mankind. The writings of Milton and Owen, and Marvel and Locke, were, in this re

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