Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

THE MONTHLY REPOSITORY

AND

REVIEW.

NEW SERIES, No. I.

JANUARY, 1827.

ON THE STATE OF RELIGIOUS PARTIES IN ENGLAND. PARTIES in the religious world, as in the political, are, at the present moment, exceedingly confused. Prejudices and even principles have been melted down, and have run into one another. As yet they are scarcely amalgamated; but when the heated and disturbed mass has cooled, settled into consistency and assumed its last form, may we not hope that public opinion, like the Corinthian Brass, will be of more intrinsic value than any or all of the separate materials of which it shall be compounded ?

From the era of the Reformation downwards, there has been a constant, though unequal, ferment in the minds of the English people. Religion has not always been the avowed object of thought and zeal, but has commonly been mingled with all other objects. At one time Puritanism, at another Romanism, now high-church, now low-church feeling, has been, in the rotation of Government, the sign either of political loyalty or of disaffection. An undefined thirst of civil freedom whetted the early zeal for religious reforms. The “ Grand Rebellion,” as it has been called, with more propriety and significancy than they who coined the phrase imagined, was occasioned at least as much by ecclesiastical as by political discontents; and fears for the Church more than for the State produced the Revolution of 1688, in which Englishmen overleaped the prejudices of centuries, and welcomed maxims and principles, which, as soon as they were established, were surveyed by many who had been instrumental in their establishment, with surprise and alarm.

All the subsequent national events have been nearly or remotely connected with religious opinions and feelings, and have exercised no small influence upon the temper of religious parties. The American and French Revolutions, in particular, led men to look at first principles, and excited novel speculations with regard to the origin of power and the utility of social institutions. These explosions of opinion and feeling separated Englishmen for a time into two great parties; the one desirous of change in the hope of improvement, the other frightened at innovation as the sure road to anarchy. Both parties have at length given way and intermixed; there is no interval between them; and on each side may now be seen at work the opposite influences of former states of mind. The classification of the religious world is thus become a work of no little

VOL. I.

B

difficulty; but we may, perhaps, by a careful analysis catch the spirit of the several prominent parties of which it is composed.

The Church of England, considered either numerically or politically, is entitled to the first place in our estimate. We mean, however, the Church as it exists in the minds of its members, not as it is “ by law established.” Its legal and political form has been nearly the same from the period of the Restoration; but under an uniform outward exterior it has been inwardly changing, and is now perhaps in its actual state at a greater distance from its condition in 1662, than from that of any one of the present denominations of seceders from its communion. Only here and there an individual can now be found entertaining the notions of ecclesiastical policy which a century and a half ago were common. The “divine right” of both kings and bishops, and the mortal sin of schism, must be sought after to be discovered as matters of actual faith : they may be detected occasionally in some dignitary who has grown grey upon a country benefice, some rural esquire who learned sixty years ago, as the traditional belief of his family, that the disturbers of a neighbourhood are poachers and sectaries, or some venerable lady in the condition of “ single blessedness,” who abhors schismatics, because she has heard vicar after vicar give them hard names, and has always understood that they are enemies to whist, without which she has no idea that winter evenings can be endured. These are rare specimens of a race hastening to extinction, and valuable to the speculator on human nature for their rarity. They are individuals, and not representatives of a class, like Addison's Foxhunter, who shuddered as he surveyed from the Monument the roofs of the warehouses in London, believing them to be the coverings of conventicles, and whose highest eulogium, in his kindest moments, on a favourite dog was, that the cur had once worried a Presbyterian parson.

Formerly, the Church and the Mob were in alliance, and during the reigns of the two first Georges this alliance was more strict, and of greater influence upon the public peace, than that between Church and State. It was only for ecclesiastics and petty magistrates to give the signal, and the streets were no longer safe

to Nonconformists, and meeting-houses were razed to the ground. The Birmingham Riots were the last act of this long and disgusting tragedy. Whitfield and Wesley, Joseph Lancaster and the French Revolution, have changed the character of the populace. They have ceased to be the Leviathan, the wild beast which Hobbes described them, prone to violence and capable of being wrought up to fury at the will of a master. They are no longer, as others were wont to represent them, blind puppets, to be moved exactly as some ghostly finger pulls the wires. They ask for reasons before they act. They suspect that they have been hitherto used for other ends than their own and the general good. Reason begins to sway them more than passion Many ecclesiastical abuses have been exposed before their eyes, and some religious errors have been refuted to their satisfaction, and they scorn to be “part and parcel" of the Church, as retainers to a patron or vassals to a lord. "The mass of the people that are not avowed Dissenters can scarcely be said to be of the Church. They care little for its services, except as connected with certain holidays, and with christenings, marriages and burials. Their sympathies, as far as they testify any, are with reformers. Their reading, narrow as is its range, teaches them some of the great principles of truth and justice, and they have obtained knowledge from other sources than reading. They have learned that religion subsists and Aourishes in countries where one-fifth of the surface of the earth is not fenced off for the support of its ministers; and they see by daily observation that men may

respond to widely different prayers on one day of the week, and be equally trust-worthy, useful and amiable the other six. They are, in short, no more a mob, a standing army ready to take the field whenever it is judged expedient to raise the cry of “ The Church in Danger," and to undertake a crusade against misbelievers.

The real members of the Church of England are divided into three parties; the High-Church or Tory party; the Low-Church or Whig party; and the Evangelical or Methodist party.

The High-Church party consists of the old nobility, the land-owners, the upper clergy, country corporations, and the persons in lower ranks who are under their immediate influence. They are high, however, only because many of their contemporaries are lower; they themselves are low compared with Churchmen of former times. Their bond of union is more a political than a religious principle. Numbers of them are known to disapprove of some points of both faith and discipline in the Establishment; but they hold that to acquiesce in a certain degree of error is a less evil than schism. The first object with these persons is to keep the Church entire,-her emoluments and dignities seeming in their view to be inseparably linked with her doctrine and worship. By age, the whole structure, say they, has settled into one firm mass, and the removal of but one stone might unpin the edifice and prepare the way for its downfal. “ No further reformation” is therefore inscribed upon their standard-Nolumus leges mutari. At the same time, they are not persecutors. They would not abridge, though they are unwilling to extend toleration. They are, indeed, habitual believers in the wisdom of government, (at least, when the government appears, from symptoms which custom has enabled them to interpret with a sort of instinctive sagacity and accuracy, likely to be permanent,) and may not oppose or may grudgingly support a prime-minister when he is induced, for whatever reasons, to lessen the number or mitigate the severity of penal laws relating to conscience. The more zealous and consistent of this party shout in the same breath, “ No Popery,” and “ No Dissent;" but a considerable number of them indulge the natural Tory predilection for the Roman Catholics, and have lately joined with the liberal Churchmen in their votes on the Catholic Question. This measure has introduced a principle of division in the party which may finally work its dissolution. Amongst this section of the Church are to be found the thorough-going believers who hold with equal faith the Thirtynine Articles and the four Gospels, the Creed of St. Athanasius and the Apostles' Belief: but, as was before intimated, a high-churchman may trust himself with certain liberal notions that do not affect the ritual, the discipline and the temporal authority of the Church, as one of the Estates of the realm, and may be careless of heresy, provided there be no schism. Archbishop Laud was the uniform patron of the Latitudinarian divines of his day, such as Chillingworth, Hales and Jasper Mayne ; and some living prelates might be named who are quoted in support both of doctrinal heterodoxy

The writer believes that in no circumstances whatever could a religious mob be bow raised in England. The cry of “No Popery' was set up in vain at the late Election ; or if it had any influence it was upon well-dressed voters, distinguished either for political subserviency or for religious fanaticism. On no occasion, indeed, is violence the order of the day with the multitude. Their discontents escape through the safety-valve of the press. The patience with which in some districts they have borne the unexampled privations of the last twelve months, is decisive and afecting evidence of their improved temper and character.

and of rigid ecclesiastical government and unyielding ecclesiastical ascendancy.

The “ British Critic" and the “ Christian Remembrancer" are the journals of this party : the “Gentleman's Magazine" is on the same side, as far as it is theological ; but we apprehend that the more intelligent highchurchmen do not think their cause much served by the oracular and proverbial folly and inanity of the religious articles of Review in this antiquated journal. These periodicals assume the Arminian sense of the Articles and Liturgy of the Church of England, and are in a state of declared war with Calvinism, especially within the pale of the Church.

The Low-Church party embraces nearly all the Whigs (there are some exceptions), many of the novi homines amongst the country gentlemen, a very few prelates, some scores of ecclesiastical dignitaries, many of the clergy who from rank or obscurity, from wealth or poverty, are independent of preferment, and the bulk of merchants and manufacturers, officers of the army and navy, professional men, and generally the middle ranks of society. These again may be distinguished, as believers in the doctrine of the Church upon

the whole, or as conformists from habit and for the sake of convenience.— The former class disavow all faith in the infallibility of the Church. They claim no more for her than that she is nearer to truth and perfection than any other church ; they value her because she is a reformed church they admit that further reformation is desirable if it were practicable, and that reformation wisely planned, temperately pursued and generally approved, would tend to her own permanence and popularity; and they plead with the present noble-minded and truly Christian Bishop of Norwich, that the excellence of the English Church is her mild and tolerant spirit, and that in proportion as she manifests this spirit she establishes a rightful claim to the strengthened attachment of her own members and to the respect and forbearance of conscientious seceders. Of these persons almost all are friends of the most unqualified religious liberty that is consistent with the safety of the existing establishment.* Their voices have been raised with equal firmness and in equal eloquence on behalf of the Roman Catholics and the Unitarians : and they have ever protested against the Corporation and Test Acts, not only as a political blunder, injurious to the interests of the whole community, and as a violation of all the sound principles of the best statesmen and wisest philosophers, but also as a degradation and profane abuse of the most solemn and holy ordinance of the Christian religion.t-The latter class, or the mere

[ocr errors]

* In one particular these praiseworthy politicians have not gone so far as might have been expected—they have not generally admitted the right of unbelievers to complete toleration, by which is meant total exemption from disabilities as well as penalties. The Petition to the two Houses of Parliament from certain declared Christians on this subject in the year 1823, though respectful in its language, argumentative in its form and modest in its prayer, (see Mon. Repos. 0. S. Vol. XVIII. p. 362,] was supported by very few, and was known to be offensive to some of this respectable party. The late Lord Erskine, never to be mentioned by an Englishman without honour, as the champion of constitutional liberty at a feverish period when its existence was endangered, had strong prejudices on this matter, and at one time avowed his purpose of writing a pamphlet in answer to the Petition. It were to have been wished that he had accomplished the design ; for the question requires only to be understood to be settled for ever, and on paper every one would see the inconsistency of an argument for the punishment of unbelief with every argument for the liberty of faith.

+ A flagrant instance occurred not long ago of the nullity, not to say wickedness, of the sacramental test. An avowed and zealous Atheist was heard to boast, with

« ПредишнаНапред »