« AnteriorContinua »
answer has in effect been this: We do not desire to modify existing arrangements, but, even if we did, the terms proposed could not be accepted by us. We deem our ordination to be valid. It was conferred in the first instance by a validly ordained presbyter; and as we deem that in circumstances and cases of necessity (and such were ours) a presbyter can validly confer the grace which he himself has received, so we do not doubt that we ourselves have received valid ordination. To accept, then, any proposal that implies, however hypothetically, any doubt of the validity of our orders, is impossible.' Now, as those who make the overtures never could, with any loyalty to their own principles, accept such a statement as one of the implied conditions of reunion, it must be perfectly obvious that these overtures, however well meant, however consistent with Mr. Wesley's own declarations, can never be accepted, and so, in the sequel, will only irritate and even antagonise. And what is true of Wesleyanism applies with still greater force to other religious communities. There is much we may do in concert; there are many causes in which we may successfully cooperate; there are many ways in which we may on each side learn the great lesson of Christian toleration; but corporate reunion is a Churchman's dream, which, on this side of the millennium, will apparently never have its fulfilment.
One word here may be added on an exhibition of so-called toleration which certainly has not done much to advance that toleration which alone properly bears that name. We allude to the fidgety attempts that have been made from time to time to bring about interchange of pulpits with Dissenters. The whole matter, in our judgment, is very hollow, and we suspect our Dissenting friends are for the most part quite of the same opinion. If there is to be this happy interchange of pulpits, why not also, in all fairness, of the emoluments that are associated with them? Our endowed sympathisers with Nonconformity have this sometimes delicately hinted to them, but they commonly fail to see the pertinence of the suggestion. It is probable that we shall not hear much more of this movement; at any rate, it is not unfair to say that it has done very little either in happily manifesting or hopefully furthering that sober and loyal toleration which it is the true interest of both parties to maintain in their dealings one with another. The time probably will come when we shall have to face the question whether laymen, under certain conditions and with due regard to the rights of congregations, are to be admitted to the pulpits of our parish churches. There is really now in mission rooms and school chapels a considerable amount of lay preaching. To extend it may not be found wholly impracticable; and, if so, one side of the interchange movement will have been practically disposed of.
We claim then for the Church of England at the present time the characteristic of increased toleration, and we may now perhaps con
sider the claim as in some degree substantiated. Individuals unhappily have supplied instances and examples, especially of late, which might seem to point quite in a contrary direction; but when it is remembered how few these cases are, and how much is always made of them, not only by the various exponents of public opinion that are opposed to the Church, but by the whole press of the country -for there is nothing more stimulative than alleged clerical intolerance we may really wonder, and thankfully wonder, that the cases are comparatively so few. It may be added, too, that a large percentage of these cases, when carefully investigated, are not found to be real instances of an intolerant spirit, but belong to that wide zone of friction which must always be expected to exist between a body of men of the general habits and position of clergymen of the Church of England, and the very varied specimens of the spiritualty of Dissent that are to be found scattered over the country districts of our island. In all our larger towns the relations between the clergy and Nonconformist ministers are, as a rule, good and even amicable. Both parties are involved in work more or less hard, and work is an excellent sedative. Both parties take their share in the philanthropic institutions of the place, and are thus frequently brought into that personal contact which all experience shows to be especially ameliorative in ecclesiastical and theological warfare. The local Hospital Sunday gives both a common work, and often afterwards gathers them round a common table; and even the local mission is not unfrequently made the subject of common prayers. It is the country that mostly supplies the alleged phenomena of intolerance. These travel from platform to platform, are exaggerated, acidulated, and embittered by party speakers, until the petty local incident which only too often was a mere matter of self-assertion on one side and social discourtesy on the other-the social question has much to do with these charges-acquires a general notoriety, and is publicly discussed and commented on as if it were the normal manifestation of the relations between Church and Dissent. We do not at all intend hereby to palliate such cases as the Owston Ferry case; but this we do stoutly maintain, that such cases are few, and that when we pause for a moment to consider the sort of position which the country clergyman, from the very facts of his habits and education, finds himself occupying towards those around him, the very paucity of the instances of intolerance does prove our general contention to be true.
II. Such are the three more noticeable characteristics of the Church of England at the present time. If we were to dwell exclusively upon these, our judgment upon the present state of the Church could not be otherwise than favourable, and our anticipations of the future of the Church full of hope and encouragement. Each one of the three characteristics we have named has a tendency to develope; and as each one is a characteristic in harmony with the spirit of the
times in which we are living, it would seem to follow that the National Church is consciously or unconsciously adapting itself to the circumstances in which it finds itself placed, and so is likely to preserve its present relations to the nation without any greater changes or modifications than it may itself introduce from time to time in its own organisation.
But here two or three very serious questions present themselves to our thoughts, to which we must endeavour to find some sort of general answers.
The questions would seem to be these. First, assuming that the present general characteristics of the National Church have been fairly stated, and that there are these favourable aspects and implied auguries of permanence, are there still any such inherent defects which, so far as we can judge, it will not be ultimately able to surmount? Secondly, is there now any prevailing spirit or temper in the Church which must fairly be regarded as opposed to the sort of progressive and adaptive spirit which we have seemed to recognise; and, if so, is the present position of parties in the Church favourable to its development or the contrary? Thirdly, is there anything in the very fact of the existence of such a Church as the Established Church of this country so clearly anachronistic that time itself and the force of public opinion must bring about and force upon us a change? These questions, it will be observed, go to the very root of the matter, and really include all the minor questions that from time to time emerge from the general current of our contemporary history. They may be roughly summed up in this one question: Are the defects, reactionary movements, and inner antagonisms of the Church of England such that its self-preserving forces will be overcome by the forces that are everywhere tending to break up the union between the Church and the State? It is the theory, if we remember rightly, of Mr. Gladstone, that when, in a nation, self-government reaches a certain point, and, in a Church, sectarian separation has also reached a certain point, then the two factors united bring about the dissolution of the union of the Church and the State. Has such a time now nearly arrived?
Such is the general question, but it will obviously be easier and more intelligible to answer it under the three heads which we have already formulated.
1. Let us deal with the first question, which relates to the more patent defects in the National Church system and our presumed inability to overcome them by any existing machinery. If we set aside minor matters, the three great defects in the present complex system of the Church of England are, (1) the sale of benefices and the acquisition by money of a spiritual sphere of labour; (2) the complete absence of any power whatever in congregations to regulate or restrain the choice of those who for a lifetime may minister to them; (3) the similar absence of power in congregations, or in the bishop to whom
they might appeal, of dealing with cases of neglect of spiritual duties on the part of an incumbent. All three run up into a common principle, but are more conveniently treated separately.
In regard of the sale of benefices, and especially of next presentations, it must be admitted that we are in the greatest possible difficulty, and perhaps farther from any satisfactory solution than ever. Five or six years ago there seemed to be very good reason for hoping that the sale of next presentations would be prohibited by statute. It was proposed, strongly supported, and only postponed owing to the advanced period of the session. The last two or three years have, however, entirely dissipated that hope. Though the principle that livings are trusts, and that the rights of holders and donors ought alike to be considered as subject to such a principle, was over and over again asserted in recent debates, and cheered every time it was asserted, yet what was the humiliating upshot? That patrons were strong enough to prevent any measure becoming law that would efficiently deal even with the sale of next presentations, and that no one is very likely to try the question again for years to come. We are often wise after events, and we may think we now see how the last attack on these defects in our system and abuses (for abuses they are) might have been conducted in a more hopeful manner. Still, the fact remains that an elaborate attempt, supported by the general assent of the episcopate, has practically failed. There was a willingness to do away with a few minor abuses, but the key of the whole position was always stoutly maintained. On the subject of the sale of patronage there was no wavering. Patrons and others interested in the matter were too strong for any fiduciary theories, and have effectually hindered the removal from our Church system of a blot and defect on which not only Mr. Bright, but every speaker of intelligence, when discussing Church matters, instantly places his finger. It is painful to be forced to say so, but we fear it must be said, frankly and fairly, that there is now no likelihood that this evil will ever be effectually remedied. This good, however, has resulted from the recent attempt, that it is highly probable that patrons will act with increasing circumspection, and that whoever buys will buy with the feeling that he will not find it so easy to his own as it may have been in days gone by. Public opinion is now exercising a moral restraint in these matters which there is every reason for thinking will increase, and perhaps largely increase, as time goes onward. We are thus not left without hope in regard of the vital question of the disposal, by sale or otherwise, of spiritual spheres of labour.
do what he likes with
The second great defect in our system, the absence of any power in congregations to prevent the appointment of an unfitting minister, is not beyond the hope of remedy. At present there has been very little legislative movement in this direction, except so far as it was
necessarily included in the patronage question. And so much the better. The public mind is not at present quite prepared for any definite legislative action in this direction. But there seems good · reason for thinking that it will be. Though Church matters in England and Scotland are widely different, yet the recent legislation in reference to the latter country may supply some hope that a congregation in this country may at last find itself with some qualified power of veto in reference to an absolutely unfitting minister. The aggrieved parishioner is now in the ascendant, and is likely to remain So. If we have invested him with powers of statutory complaint in reference to rites and rubrics, we can hardly reject him, if he asks with befitting modesty, in reference to matters so much more vital and momentous. The wisdom of Churchmen in this matter will be to let public opinion ripen, and as far as possible to prevent abortive legislation on a question which requires the most delicate manipulation and the most sagacious tactics. In this matter patrons will not be found to be hopelessly obdurate, but they must be handled very carefully and wisely. Their rights are, of course, implicated in the general question, and, to a certain extent, pecuniary interests may be said also to be involved. Still, in this matter we feel persuaded that if the good sense of the Church and the country be only allowed time fairly to consider the question, the remedy will soon be allowed to emerge. The rights of parishioners in this matter are so obvious and so reasonable that we cannot entertain any serious doubt as to the removal of this defect in our system.
We feel also equally hopeful as to the third defect, the present inability to deal properly with the case of an incumbent who just complies with the letter of the law in reference to the services of the Church, but neglects his spiritual duties to his parishioners. In reference to this defect many of our readers will remember that there actually is a clause in a well-known Act of Parliament 2 which was intended to meet this case; but unhappily the clause involves such ambiguous expressions, and has been found in practice so difficult to work, that it has practically become wholly inoperative. The subject was brought before a committee of the House of Commons which was appointed to consider a bill in reference to providing further facilities of public worship, but up to the present time no definite attempt has been made to remedy this most serious defect in our system. Happily cases that need the application of such a clause are few, and tending to become fewer; still, under the circumstances of publicity which now, not wholly to the detriment of the Church, are sure to attend upon all serious shortcomings in matters ecclesiastical, the few cases that may exist and become the subject of public complaint do inflict serious injury on the Church; and this in more ways than one. Independently of all the spiritual evil which such minis
2 1 & 2 Vict. cap. 106, § 77.