« AnteriorContinua »
[We publish the following Article because, although we do not concur in some of its particular views, we confess its general principles.-ED.]
"Down with Establishments" is, and, for a long time past, has been, the watchword of discontent; and has been echoed by many who little reflect on the awful consequences that would inevitably follow its accomplishment.
We have heard much of the Established Church, as being an incubus brooding over the destinies of the land, and gloating its insatiate eye with the victims on whose vitals it has fed. And all that is gross in sentiment and exciting in language, has been exhausted, to draw the popular odium on this, yclept, grievous and overgrown evil.
It may be worth while, therefore, calmly, and apart from all idle declamation and party cant, to consider the merits of this grave question, viz., whether a national church is a national blessing or a national evil.
And first, if our opinions are in any measure to be influenced by the sentiments of others; and if, in estimating those sentiments, we are to take in, as elements of calculation, the characters of those who hold them, candour must admit that it would be won to the former of these conclusions. For whilst it must be admitted that many pious and worthy individuals have been misled from various causes on this subject, and not least from that specious show of disinterested benevolence made, not, indeed, in the acts, but in the speeches of those empty declaimers of the day, many of whom, fed merely by vanity, wreak all the vengeance of a heated and ill-digested ignorance on whatever object is most likely to bring them into public notice, it must be allowed on the other hand, that by far the majority of those who are loudest in the outcry against Establishments, are persons from whose lips truth could scarcely come unsullied. Little weight, therefore, can be attached to the sentiments of such characters, save a strong
presumption that truth and righteousness lie against them. And assuredly religion must deplore the unhallowed alloy to which many of her sincere friends have exposed themselves, by associating with those who really disregard or hate her.
1. In religious publications, politics should, as much as possible, be avoided; and in the discussion of the subject under consideration, no unnecessary allusion shall be made to them. This may be asserted, however, as self-evident, that the two great ends of every well-organized state are, first, to secure its subjects from external enemies; and second, to promote the internal prosperity of the community. This internal prosperity is of a two-fold character, viz., temporal and moral; and these two are, in a great measure, mutually dependent on each other. No state has ever continued long in the enjoyment of temporal prosperity where the standard of morals was, low; and again, poverty and temporal distress have not long continued wherever the moral habits of the people were improved.
We conclude, therefore, that every civil state is bound to provide for the moral interests of the community. And as no moral scheme ever has existed, or ever can exist, without being based upon the belief, in a future state, of rewards and punishments; and as we call that moral scheme, whose influence arises from the belief, in a future state, of rewards and punishments, religion, so it is the duty of every civil constitution to provide for the interests of religion. So convinced of this were those sages of antiquity, whose legislation forms the basis, if not the model, of succeeding ages, that we always find in their various codes provision made for the religion of the people. 'Tis true their systems were generally idolatrous; of this no one can suspect us of approving, when it is asserted, that the experience of thousands of years and the example of the wisest men, prove the necessity of a religion, recognised by and identified with the state. If Solon, Lycurgus, and others did sanction what they knew to be superstitious, this we blame and deplore-'tis sufficient to the present purpose to show the necessity of a form of religion sanctioned and supported by the state. Doubtless these sages acted according to the light they had, which at best, was but a feeble per's gleam; but since God has revealed his will to us, and left us no longer to wander amid the mazes of idolatrous delusión, and, in his holy word, given to be "a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path," containing "all things which pertain to life and godliness," developed a perfect moral code, exactly suited to the condition of man as a fallen creature and imper
fect moral agent, and calculated to exert a beneficial influence on his whole character; and which, not confining its results merely to the external actings of the man, lays its imperious mandate on the affections of the heart, controlling the rebellious, purifying the corrupt, restraining the violent, strengthening the weak, and diffusing over the whole energies of the mind and heart the hallowed and benign influence of an all-pervading and a life-giving principle, is it not an axiom in politics, that it is at once the duty and interest of a state which acknowledges this religion, to support and defend it ?
2. If this position be granted, then the only question is, what is the most effectual mode? If the religion of Jesus presented itself but under one external form to the eye of the legislature, there would be no difficulty in answering the question. But as Christianity, or that body of principles which constitute real religion, it is acknowledged, may exist, as doubtless it does, and has existed, under various external forms; and as all these forms can not be adopted by the state as the vehicle of moral instruction, it is evident that the election of one must of necessity reflect on the merits of the rest, unless they are willing to adopt its code of doctrine and discipline; and thence originate unhappily envy and ill will. In the choice of a national ecclesiastical establishment, a conscientious government, which had the good of the subjects really at heart, would adopt that form which would impart the greatest amount of moral influence; and it is the wisdom of the rulers alone which can determine this. For though it be supposed that each particular sect did contain all the essential doctrines of Christianity, it would not follow that each was equally eligible for a plan of national instruction. It follows, therefore, that the national church should be that sect most in unison with the sentiments of the community, and best calculated for the diffusion of religious knowledge. This reasoning applies, it may be objected, to these sects which are agreed, as to a common rule of faith and practice, viz. Protestants, who acknowledge the Bible as the unerring standard; but what is to be said of those who do not acknowledge the Bible to be the only rule, viz., Unitarians and Papists, the former denying its plenary inspiration, the latter its sole and paramount authority. Is no concession to be made to their consciences? Yes, conscience is to be respected in all things; but the opinion of the majority is ever entitled to rule the minority, provided always that it does not involve a breach of divine law; and, therefore, this
principle can never justify the majority in enacting what is morally wrong. In a state like Britain, however, where every man is permitted to worship God according to the dictates of conscience, none daring to make him afraid, it never can be shown to be injustice to the rest, that one sect is preferred and supported by the state, as the vehicle of religious instruction. Is it not unjust and oppressive to tax other denominations to support this favoured one? By no means. The Church, so far as it is upheld by the state, is a civil institute-a moral machine, intended to impart a salutary influence to the whole tone of society and as such, the same obligation is on every subject, even though dissenting from, to support its revenue as that of any other civil department of the commonwealth, holding at the same time the inalienable right of appeal and petition against her abuses. We are not now contending for the right of any one sect, but simply for a general principle, viz., that the government of a free state, like Britain, whose decision is or should be a duplicate of that of the majority of subjects, has a right, and is under an obligation to provide for the religious instruction of the people; using, of course, no compulsion, but leaving every member as free as though no such provision had been made. Abuses and errors will ever attach to the most perfect and most benevolent human institutions; nor are even the divine dispensations free from abuse yet this does not furnish any argument against their existence. Abuses do exist in the establishments of Britain, in some cases, to an awful extent. Even the Church of Scotland, the purest on earth, and the farthest removed from ambition and emolument, has to deplore its patronage,* by which the franchise of the soul is wrested from many of her members, a right for the loss of which, even the devoted piety and gigantic talents of a Chalmers are no adequate compensation. Still she has the principle of regeneration within herself, as long as that bulwark of her liberty remains, viz., the representation of her laity by ruling elders. She has the principle of regeneration within her frame, and we rejoice to see her shaking from her plumage the dust which cumulative ages alone could have rendered palpable there, and putting on her beautiful garments. We behold her arising, not indeed like the Phoenix from the ashes of the urn, for she never was entombed, but like a dove, whose wings are covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold, (Ps. lxviii. 13.) If
* Patronage was unknown in the Church of Scotland till 1711.
that hour should ever come, when the pall of spiritual death should enshroud thy lifeless form, church. of my sires, the very magic of the name of Knox evoked over thy still remains, would again recall from the shades of night thy absent spirit, and inspire his vital glow of truth, fidelity, and zeal.
Notwithstanding our conscientious dissent from prelacy, yet we contend that her revenue, if equitably appropriated, could not be applied in any secular way from which so much national benefit could accrue. We speak not of abuses, which even her veriest partisans acknowledge require redress, but we again repeat it, that the same amount of moral influence could not be produced through any other than a religious channel. The service and laws of the Established Church, as the accredited standard of religious worship, impart a moral tone to those even who are not within her pale. Popery, in the presence of a purer standard of religious worship which reflects upon her own, hides her abashed face from many of those senseless mummeries so daringly blasphemous in other continental countries, whilst Protestant dissent has a continual stimulus given to its zeal and unpretending simplicity. We wish to see the English Church reformed, not destroyed; nor perhaps could there be found a Presbyterian, who really regards the interests of evangelical religion, who would recklessly stretch forth his hand to pull down that venerable pile, whose basis was cemented by the blood of a Ridley, a Latimer, and a Cranmer; and many others whose genius and piety have shed a lustre on the cause of Christ, which even the flame that carried their martyred spirits to the realms of peace could not extinguish.
Take away the Establishment, and by what will you replace it? A public lazar-house for monastic abomination to riot uncontrolled, and spread the contagion of its spiritual leprosy over every member of the victim body of the state! How distribute its revenue? In conferring a bounty on poverty, laziness, and vice! The very acknowledgment of the Divine Being, in our legislative assemblies, communicates to both Houses of Parliament a moral influence which represses blasphemy, and causes even infidelity to blush. But take away the Establishment, and from that hour you blot the sacred name of Jehovah from out the decretals of our senate, and his presence will no longer be felt, once it ceases to be publicly recognized. For unless there be an established form, there can be no public prayer or thanksgiving in such a mixed assembly as either the House of Lords or Commons. For if