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THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND, PRESENT AND FUTURE.
THERE must be few sober and cultivated persons at the present time, of whatever sect or persuasion they may be, who do not regard the present and future of the Church of England with a deep and even sympathetic interest. A great and historical body, intimately connected with the national life of the country, under one aspect putting forth new manifestations of life and energy, and under another disclosing seriously increased indications of discord and antagonism, cannot but arrest the attention not merely of the Churchman or of the opponent of the Church, but of all serious and reasonable persons who, however else they may differ, are united in desiring the maintenance of the religious life of this kingdom and people.
It is to such sober and reasonable persons that we now address ourselves; and it is to supply to them some passing help in forming a right judgment on the present and future of the National Church that we shall place before them the comments and considerations that will follow. Our object in this article is not to undertake the office of apologists or defenders, but simply to set forth with candour and impartiality the plain circumstances and position of the Church of England at the present time, to point out as far as we are able the direction of the stream of tendencies, and so lastly to endeavour to form some estimate of that veiled future towards which all these tendencies are now rapidly bearing us. We do not therefore intend to weary the reader with statistics or details, but simply to place before him those broad outlines of the contemporary history of the National Church which will best enable him to give some answer to the varied and complicated questions in connection with the Church of England which each passing year is now silently bringing before us. Disguise it as we may, the most hopeful among us are not without our anxieties. Forces seem now at work which point with increasing steadiness in one direction; and yet the more carefully we consider the actual and present phenomena of Church life around us, the more distinct does the persuasion seem to be that the ultimate line of tendency of the varied forces and influences that are now bearing on the National Church does not after all point in the direction which, it is popularly assumed, must be the direction of the forces of the future. No doubt hopes and desires in all such estimates greatly modify our
judgments on either side; still this certainly may be said, that with the manifestations of fresh life and energy in the Church of England which every year's experience brings before us, no religious person of competent judgment could possibly be led to conceive any other future than one of increased efficiency. That modifications will be introduced in the relations between the Church and the State it may be perfectly reasonable to anticipate; that changes in the current of several popular theological opinions may silently develope themselves seems also certainly to be looked for; that some alteration in the present lines of demarcation between Church and Dissent may take place under the modifying influences of love and adoration of a common Lord is perfectly conceivable; but that any serious organic change injurious to its well-being can ever happen to the Church of England is a thought which each year of present Church life renders now less and less conceivable.
But let us not anticipate. Let us rather take into consideration some of those facts, phenomena, and general circumstances connected with the Church of England which must be the real bases for any sound and intelligent judgment on its present or on its future.
I. We may begin by noticing those general characteristics of the Church of England which seem now more distinctly to be recognised. In specifying some of these, are we not fully justified in giving prominence to three, which during the last few years have marked the general course of Church development in this country? Is it not the language of truth and fact, and not of mere panegyric, to say that those three characteristics are life, increased elasticity, and increased toleration?
That there is now life in the Church, new energy, and fuller earnestness, no one can fairly deny. It may be ascribed by different thinkers to very different influences, but that there is life, and that that life is shown not only in the public services of the Church, but in the various details of its local ministrations, will, we may fairly suppose, be conceded even by our most determined opponents. Into the details of the very varied manifestations of that life we do not propose to enter, but it does seem perfectly just, and fair, and consistent with fact, to say generally that a clear sense of responsibility and a clear consciousness of duty have of late shown themselves in the National Church in the form of new life and activity. It is to be observed quite as much in the laity as in the clergy, in women if not more than in men-so much so indeed that woman's work in the Church of England is now one of our most practical and constantly recurrent questions. Whence this life has come, as we have already said, may be very differently defined. That it showed itself, in its later outpouring, first in the High Church, and as a sort of sequel of the Oxford movement of forty years ago, may perhaps be generally admitted; but to assert (as is now often asserted) that it is principally if not entirely
confined to that party is utterly inconsistent with the fact. The same life which, twice forty years ago, potently displayed itself in the preaching and missionary energy of the Evangelical party has within the last few years shown itself in the descendants of that party in general Church work as potently as in days gone by. Whether in missions, Bible classes, young men's associations, or in the earnest support of missionary work abroad, the Evangelical party must now be considered quite as fully and as efficiently sharers as their High Church brethren. To both parties it has come from one and the same fountain. The Spirit of life has again vouchsafed to breathe upon the Church of England; and in all these energies and activities and developments those that have eyes to see reverently behold the mysterious workings of the Holy Ghost, and an illustration of the certain truth that Churches, as well as individuals, have their revivals and renewals, and that such a revival and renewal has of late been vouchsafed to the Church of England.
If this be so, we may look forward hopefully, and contemplate with serenity and even cheerfulness much that is now disquieting us. If there is life, there ever must be, in the present constitution of things, that strife which is one form of its working and manifestation. It was so in the earliest days of the Gospel, and it must be so to the very end.
If there be life, there is also as clearly some increase in elasticity. The new life has, as it were, forced for itself a way, and has modified the rigidity of our system and its formularies. We see this very plainly in some recent relaxations of the Act of Uniformity, and still more in the many silent concessions that are regularly made to the spiritual necessities of local missions. Let any one who can look back half a century contrast the now normal circumstances of an earnest mission-service, its addresses, meditations, after-meeting, and variedly interspersed singings and prayers, with the warmest services that he can remember in the past, and he will at once appreciate the extent to which elasticity has found its way into a system from which it had been carefully and even jealously excluded. When we remember that we are now working under rubrics that are not only at least 200 years old, but bear in many of their details the studiously formulated results of many bitter controversies, we may marvel that anything short of a miracle could have brought into our services and the general work of the Church the elasticity-though still modest in its amount-by which we are now all spiritually profiting. Whether it is desirable that this amount should be increased, either legislatively or by a sort of tacit consent and connivance, may be considered very opinionable. It may be reasonably urged that any large amount of freedom is inconsistent with the spirit of uniformity which has pervaded all the services and ordinances of the Church of England, and it may be quite truly said that even in the details to
which we have alluded it would not be always easy to specify any distinct infraction of a rubric. However, be this as it may, this novel element of elasticity has found its way into the ministrations of the Church, and, up to the present time, with certainly the most beneficial results. It is to a certain extent an answer to the charge that is perpetually brought against the Church of England as being both unable and unwilling to adapt itself to the spiritual necessities of the changing times in which we are living. The Church is certainly not unwilling, and it has also of late shown that it is by no means so hindered and hampered in its formularies as the opponents of the Church are perpetually asserting. Even those who are fairly our well-wishers frequently indulge in language which shows how very imperfectly this element of elasticity is taken into consideration. When, for example, in one of our best and most cultivated weekly periodicals, we read that in the inability of the Church of England to reform her rubrics, and still more in her tacit declaration that such a reform is not urgent y necessary, we are to recognise the marks of a decay which must end in dissolution,' we seem at once justified in saying that the writer of such a paragraph has shut his eyes to the adaptive forces now at work in the Church, and to the quiet success that has attended their recent developments.
The third characteristic that we have named-increased toleration-will perhaps be called into question by many of our readers. Whether it be so or not, let us, at any rate, make perfectly plain what we mean. We do not mean that spurious and self-defeating liberalism that is always seeking to dilute the essential principles of the community to which it professedly belongs, and to efface those plain lines of demarcation which it is truest charity as well as truest unity to adhere to and maintain. We do not mean mere sporadic fraternising with Dissenters; still less do we include under the term those patronising overtures which are often made to them, but which probably do more to irritate and alienate than any course of proceeding which could be named. We do not so misapply the honourable word toleration. We mean by it that sober and charitable consideration for the opinions of others, even for those who may very widely differ from us, which shows itself in seeking common ground on which servants of the same Lord may honestly cooperate, and, without sacrificing or even minimising a principle, may yet unitedly
To take an instance. There has been nothing more neglected in the service of the Church of England than meditation in the house of God, especially when in connection with some after-service. This neglect is now remedied in many churches by the simple and perfectly legal expedient of fixing a certain hour for the Litany, and arranging that the church will be open half an hour before for private prayer and meditation. It may be here noticed in passing that the practice of leaving churches all day open for private prayer is gradually increasing, and so a great reproach is gradually becoming wiped away from the usages of our Protestant Church.
labour in the furtherance of his kingdom. This feeling and principle is comparatively of recent development in its true and genuine form, but it would certainly seem to be increasing, and is a factor in the future progress of the Church of England of the greatest possible importance. Toleration, in its true form, is something more than the humour and fashion of the day. It is not only a popular virtue, but is becoming by degrees a sort of test of the real public worth and, so to say, workable character of a community. Just then in proportion as we find it in the Church of England will that Church be likely to remain the Church of the kingdom and people.
But, it will be said, what indications really are there that there is this toleration? Between the two extreme parties within the Church there is apparently very little at the present time, and there may be for a certain period still less as time goes on. But between the broad central body of the Church and the chief Nonconformist communities there are many signs that an improved feeling is silently springing up. Common ground has in several cases been found for common labours. We have, for example, the fact before us that for seven years Churchmen and Nonconformists have been cooperating in what might beforehand have been deemed the almost impossible work of a joint revision of the authorised version of the Holy Scriptures. And we have also this further fact before us that the movement had its origin in resolutions of the thoroughly conservative Convocation of Canterbury. We have further instances of the same feelings and principles in some of the movements against modern unbelief. Not only are Churchmen willing to work on equal terms with Dissenters in such societies as, for example, the Christian Evidence Society; not only do they appear together on the same platform, but even in the same publication and between the boards of the same volume the essays of bishops and presbyters are found in juxtaposition with those of modern divines whose fathers and forefathers have belonged to the ranks of Nonconformity. As a last illustration we might mention that even in the historical hall of Lambeth Palace, and under the very frown of the Lollard's Tower, an archbishop and six or seven of his suffragans spent, only last year, a profitable summer day with some twenty eminent Nonconformists in discussion on the best mode of meeting the present tendencies to infidelity. Toleration of a true and thoroughly loyal character is certainly developing in the Church of England, and will greatly modify the future of that Church in its relations to the nation at large.
The only hindrances that we can foresee to the continuance of this development are to be found in the unwise attempts, as we deem them, to bring about corporate reunion. Our Wesleyan brethren, as being nearest to the National Church, have frequently received these overtures, and have always answered them in the same way. The