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of England, as laid down by the Statutes of the Reformation, and as expounded in splendid language by its most majestic divine in his ‘Ecclesiastical Polity,' all Englishmen are supposed to belong to it, to have a claim upon its ministrations, a share in its government, an interest in its welfare. In outward form the constitution thus laid down has, no doubt, been greatly modified; but the works just enumerated are some amongst a thousand proofs that the substantial facts which that theory represented remain the same. It is impossible not to see that in their origin the different Nonconforming sects were but so many parties within the National Church. The idea of separation, of dissidence, of dissent for its own sake, was either altogether unknown in their first beginning, or else was secondary to more fundamental doctrines. It was an accident, so to speak Separation -a series of accidents-often disastrous, untoward, deplorable—that in each case prevented the natural development of those sects or parties in the Church itself. Sometimes the separation was occasioned by mere misunderstanding, more often either by the headstrong vehemence of the seceders, or by the still more headstrong obstinacy of Churchmen. And what still more strongly illustrates this characteristic of the Nonconforming portions of the Church is the fact, on which hardly sufficient stress has been laid, that the dominant sections within the Church have been at times as little disposed to conformity, and have had their course marked by an exclusiveness of thought exactly analogous to that of those who have actually separated. There is no doubt that the powerful party, which has represented
the most directly antagonistic element to the various Nonconforming sections, has from first to last borne upon its face the marks of a struggling, aggressive school, which, beginning with a standing-place exceedingly insecure—at times altogether lost—was always in danger of being forced into a hostile and separatist condition, had the rulers of the Church shown as much intolerant energy as the school itself displayed. Nay, on one occasion this separation did actually occur. During the whole of the last century there was a Nonconformist body in England, which contained within itself exactly the corresponding elements to those which exist amongst the sects more commonly so called. Lord Macaulay has in a few powerful pages: delineated their beginning, middle, and end. The Episcopal Non-jurors, leaving the Church at the time of the Revolution, and equalling in acrimony against it the most violent Puritan or Anabaptist, lingered even until our own time, and were last seen by living persons in the town of Shrewsbury in the beginning of this century. Unfortunately, it had hardly died away on the outskirts of the Church when it revived again within its pale, and from 1833 has, with different degrees of success, established itself with an imperious tenacity which has frequently tended to distract the Church from its proper mission of practical usefulness or intellectual inquiry ; and, though with some individual examples of lofty character, and many of devoted zeal, has always shown the true character of its schismatic origin in the desire
1 History of England, vol. iii. pp. 454-467.
to claim for itself the whole field of Christian thought and Christian life. The common ground of antagonism held by all these The coun
the ter theory various sections, with the possible exceptions of the
of Puritans Quakers and the Unitarians, lay in two fixed persuasions : and Non
jurors. first, that they could discover in the New Testament, or at any rate in the apostolical traditions, a complete, rigid, exact system of doctrine, ritual, and constitution ; and, secondly, that it was their paramount duty to impose this system upon the Church of their own country, · if not on all the Churches of Christendom. Unless we grasp this fundamental fallacy through all its different branches, we shall have failed to perceive the true aspect of the questions which then agitated and still agitate the English ecclesiastical mind. There can be no question that Congregationalism for the one, and Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions for the other, were believed to be the very “pattern of the Mount,' and therefore the one immoveable exemplar of Christian society. The Baptists, again, perceiving, and in this instance rightly perceiving, what no modern scholar can possibly dispute, that baptism by immersion was the universal practice, and the baptism of adults, if not the universal, at least the general custom of the apostolic and following periods, equally sprang to the conclusion that this was to be the one unalterable form in all the ages that were to follow. The Roman Catholics also were under the sway of the same illusion. They conceived the hypothesis that the diocesan system, with bishops, metropolitans, and patriarchs, was in existence in the first century, and that a supremacy of jurisdiction was then granted to the
Bishop of Rome over all the other sees of the Roman Empire. They followed out this hypothesis by another no less strange, that the system so established was intended to exist for all perpetuity. It is needless to point out that during the whole of St. Peter's lifetime there never was, nor could have been, a bishop at Rome
—that even if there had been, St. Peter could not have been that bishop, much less the founder of that Church. But even granting, what history absolutely forbids us to grant, that such a patriarchate existed in the Church of the first century, the supposition that it was an indispensable and inalienable part of the Christian religion is merely another phase of the same form of belief that constitutes the essence of the Presbyterian, or the Independent, or the Baptist theory of Church government. The extreme Puritan and the extreme Roman systems equally presuppose the absolutely irrational principle that an external polity existing in times totally different from our own must of necessity be applicable to all subsequent ages ; equally presuppose the exclusively divine and sacred character of institutions in their own nature essentially temporal and secular.
And when from these outlying sections we turn to the leaders of the hierarchical party within the Church itself, it is no less true of them that they had also first created an unhistorical theory of the primitive Church constitution, and, secondly, drawn the unwarrantable inference that such a constitution must be eternal. The Non-jurors, with their predecessors and successors, were as firmly persuaded that bishops, presbyters, and deacons, with liturgical forms, existed in
the times of the New Testament, as the Roman Catholics that St. Peter was the founder and Bishop of the Church of Rome, the Independents that every Church had its own separate government, or the Presbyterians that the platform of the Apostles consisted of presbyters, lay elders, and deacons. And all the vehement contentions of the high Episcopalian party in England against conmunion or fellowship with the Reformed Churches on, the Continent, with the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, or with their Nonconformist brethren in England, arose from the persuasion that what they thus believed themselves to have found in the pages of the New Testament was to be for ever binding on the universal Church.
The whole system of these complicated but homogeneous illusions has been totally set aside by two master principles, one of which was proclaimed at the very outset of the establishment of the Church of England; the other has been worked out by the slow and gradual process of research and criticism. It was proclaimed by Hooker, in answer to the Puritans of his time, that it is alike contrary to the Divine laws which regulate the natural government of the world, and to the fundamental principles of the Christian Revelation, to suppose that positive laws and ordinances, laid down even in the Bible itself, were of necessity to be imposed on all the different generations of mankind through all the different modifications of their existence. To insist on such a perpetuity of merely external forms was, according to that great divine, to confound together the essential and the unessential, the temporal and the eternal, which it had been one main object of the Christian religion to