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their busy day, to their great personal inconvenience, with as much zeal as if they were seeking the greatest worldly honour and emolument, and the dearest interests of themselves and their children's children,--which indeed in the best and highest sense they were doing, with that enlightened spiritual wisdom which the world accounts foolishness. They may be despised or misrepresented, as their Divine Master was; but they have a better reward than human approbation, and I should be ashamed to desecrate their labours by a panegyric.
A defence of the society being thought desirable, it is with eminent propriety that the pleadings should be conducted before your lordship's equitable tribunal. Your lordship, as before remarked, has not only been one of the society's most stedfast advocates on the platform and in print, but you are the oldest of its episcopal patrons; and every guarantee that can be required for the fair conduct of the argument is derived from the character of the judge. The society is charged with countenancing Socinians, and holding unhallowed fellowship with the Church of Rome : if therefore there were the very shadow of a shade of reason for such a suspicion, no prudent advocate would venture to bring the cause into your lordship’s court; for what living man is there who has shewn himself so zealous, so unwearied, so uncompromising in the warfare with these two giant heresies? Who has devoted to it so much time, and learning, and pecuniary sacrifice; and who is so likely to have recoiled from a society which, by any possible construction or misconstruction, could be made to appear to have countenanced either of these unscriptural delusions ?
I may add also, my lord, that my addressing these letters to yourself will be some guarantee against that spirit of virulence, misrepresentation, and personality, which is apt-such is man at his best estate—to deform the discussion of the most solemn questions. I could trust that, under any circumstances, I should endeavour to avoid such a spirit, were it only from seeing its deformity in other quarters; but with your lordship’s example before me I have a double motive for watching over my words: and much cause as there has been for provocation, and ample room as there is for personal retort, I should grieve to let fall any word which could disparage a good cause, or, I may add, could diminish the kindness which for twenty years I have received at your lordship’s hands. The subject wants nothing for its discussion but that the truth should be spoken in love, with the meekness of wisdom and the patience of hope ; and that those who wish to form a just opinion upon it should withhold their assent to vague charges, and decide, as in the sight of God, with fairness and good temper upon the actual facts of the case. May He of his infinite mercy overrule the discussion to his own glory, the diffusion of his holy word, and the eternal welfare of immortal souls.
If, my lord, I were writing only for your own eye, I might cut short much of my intended argument, taking for granted the excellence of the general principle of the Bible Society, which has been so often and ably defended by your own voice and your own pen, and merely addressing myself to those specific objections which have been raised to various particulars in the Society's proceedings. But in the discussions which are now passing on the subject, there is much misunderstanding prevalent respecting both: if we defend our principle, we are pointed to alleged exceptionable details ; and if we argue the details, we are told of the sinfulness of our principle. In all the recent pamphlets and speeches against the Bible Society, I find this two-fold argument blended; for it is urged that the institution is founded on unchristian principles, and that these unchristian principles have of necessity given rise to unchristian practices. I see no method, therefore, of fairly discussing the question but by taking into consideration the matters involved in this two-fold objection. I will, however, endeavour to keep the heads of the argument distinctly apart, so that, by means of a table of contents, your lordship, or any other person, may refer to any particular which may appear important, without perusing more of the argument than is thought desirable.
In stating the objection which is made to the principle of the Bible Society, I feel this difficulty, that those who propose it have not themselves agreed upon its exact character. The original statement was, that it's faultiness consisted in its not expressly excluding Socinians ; but whether from membership, or whether only from its committees, was a point of difference among the objectors. Afterwards, the objection was enlarged, and Roman Catholics were added to Socinians; and other classes of heretics may be, and have been, added to these. But taking the matter according to its newest form, and adopting the last words of the objectors, the main charge against the Bible Society is, that it does not confine its membership to Trinitarians and Protestants; and this first head of accusation is branched out into a second-namely, that this alleged faulty principle has given rise to exceptionable practices, among which I have gleaned from a variety of sources the following, which appear to me to constitute the chief points, as now urged, of accusation.
1. The omission of oral prayer. 2. The circulation of the Apocrypha. 3. Patronizing exceptionable versions. 4. Admitting notes and comments, and these of a nefarious character. 5. Employing improper persons as agents, both at home and abroad.
I think that to one or other of these heads I may reduce all the chief points under discussion.
I am, &c.
My dutiful salutations to your lordship premised, I will make up for the long proemium in my former letter, by commencing this at once with the matters in hand. Of great, and I might say, viewing their issue, of infinite importance are they; and I earnestly pray that the following remarks upon them may be such as shall conduce to the glory of God, by means of the diffusion of his most holy word.
I stated'in my last letter, that the discussion would involve, first, the principle ; and secondly, the details of the Bible Society's proceedings. In considering the former of these two heads, I will endeavour to reply to the following questions:
1. What is the principle of the Bible Society? 2. Is that principle lawful ? 3. If lawful, is it expedient ? 4. What has been its practical working as regards Socinians ? 5. What has been its practical working as regards Roman Catholics ?
To each of these particulars, with your lordship's kind permission, I will devote a letter, longer or shorter as the subject may appear to require. The present will be an answer to the inquiry,
What is the Bible Society's principle ? It may seem late in the day to argue this preliminary: but we live in a fickle and contentious world, and so it is, that even a matter so plain as this has come to be disputed. We need, however, but turn to the rules which are always prefixed to the Society's Reports, as well as to various local Reports, for an answer : but without disparaging these interesting records, my reply shall be copied from a yet more venerable though inchoate document; for I have in my hands at this moment a copy, worthy
envy, of the original paper issued at the formation of the society, which happens to have escaped the ordinary fate of fugitive circulars, and which I contemplate with far higher reverence than Bruce did the unpretending source of the mighty Nile. It contains, first, a brief, but most powerful and convincing appeal, under the title of “The Importance of a further Distribution of the Holy Scripture *;" then the plan of the intended society,then the announcement of its formation March 7, 1804, (twenty-eight years since, this very day),--and then a column and a half of names of subscribers; the honoured germ from which sprang that mighty tree, whose boughs have overshadowed the world, and whose fruits have been for the healing of the nations.
In this interesting paper
it is stated, that “the sole object of the society shall be to encourage a wider dispersion of the Holy Scriptures ;” that “presenting nothing but the inspired volume, it would be sure to circulate truth, and truth alone, thereby avoiding the occasions of controversy, and opening a channel into which Christians of every name might without scruple pour their charitable contributions ; ” in a word, that as the very constitution of this society will stand aloof from party views, it is hoped that Christians of every denomination will cheerfully come forward with a liberality in some measure worthy the object.” In the latter part of this anticipation, the founders were right, for Christians have come forward, if not in a manner worthy of the cause, for what can be worthy of it? at least with more of affectionate liberality than was ever before elicited by any other institution ; but they
I must copy a passage of this appeal, as a specimen of the spirit in which it was couched. I should not do justice to a beloved and much respected name, not, my lord, of our own ecclesiastical communion, though joined with us in that universal spiritual fellowship of which Christ himself is the Head, if I did not add, that this energetic and effective appeal was extracted from an essay which had recently been published by Mr. Hughes, whose name will go down with veneration to posterity with those of Mr. Owen and Dr. Steinkopff, as the first secretaries of this cosmopolitan institution; though I ought not to forget that it was Mr. Pratt, and not Mr. Owen, who was in truth the original clerical secretary. There is so much of gratitude due under God to all these individuals, and to some others connected with the early his. tory of the society, that I would not be guilty of attempting to disentangle the flowerets of their common chaplet: they never tried to separate them; but without prejudice to others, Mr. Hughes may justly be considered the originator of this great work of Christian mercy. In the appeal extracted from his Essay, after speaking of the infinite value of the Holy Scriptures, the lamentable destitution of them, and the duty of imparting them, it is added, "What though, to all human appearance, many of those islands and empires will continue for ages inaccessible_into some we may penetrate; millions of mankind, at this time deplorably ignorant, may, in a few years, by exertions to which our countrymen alone are equal, possess the Scriptures, and be made capable of using them.
“Seems it a small thing to give millions such an opportunity of knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent? A vast majority may still remain beyond the reach of our pious endeavours; but it should be remembered, that to shine like stars for ever and ever is the promised reward of those who turn many to righte
The Scriptures were, probably, never introduced into any country without being beneficial to some: in each case, the advantage to the grateful receiver is infinite, and therefore, in each case, more good is effected than you can trace in the temporal prosperity of a thousand kingdoms. Who would not be on the list of benefactors? But where is the Christian who has laid these things sufficiently to heart ? Are there not multitudes, who having derived all their pleasing expectations from the Scriptures, have strangely overlooked the great duty of dispersing them ? Whereas there ought not to exist one Christian of but moderate property, who is not in the habit of expending a part in the sacred cause.
“ If the present period is not the most auspicious to such undertakings, neither is there any danger of its being fatal to them. The wall of Jerusalem,' it is written,
shall be built in troublous times.' In fact, how many successful efforts for the promotion of human happiness have been made amidst the clouds and tempests of national calamity! It should also be remembered, that the present is the only period of which we are sure. Our days of service are both few and uncertain; whatsoever therefore our hands find to do, let us do with our might.”
had not duly estimated the devices of Satan and the waywardness of the human heart, when they predicted that the simplicity and paramount excellence of the object could take away “occasion of controversy” from those at least who seek occasion ; or that the Society's “ circulating truth alone,” standing “aloof from party views,” and embracing “Christians of every denomination,” would recommend it to those to whom party is every thing, and who would extinguish the sun in the firmament that gladdens worlds, if amidst the darkness men might repair with greater reverence to their twinkling taper for illumination.
The above-mentioned principles were subsequently explained and protected by additional regulations, to the effect that the copies of the word of God, issued by the Society, should be without note or comment; that those in the languages of the United Kingdom should be the authorised version, and that half of the lay members of the committee (after deducting the six foreigners) shall be of the Church of England, “and the other half members of other denominations of Christians.”. No regulations could be more plain, liberal, or efficient; the book to be circulated was the Word of God, and the committee appointed to manage its circulation was to be taken, without ecclesiastical limitations, from the great body of persons who acknowledged the Christian religion, and professed themselves anxious to promote the diffusion of this pure and unadulterated record without human note or comment. The object being so simple and incapable of perversion, no restriction was thought necessary as to mere membership, though in forming the committee the subscribers would of course, out of the general mass of members, vote for those whom they considered most suitable to conduct the affairs of the institution, with the sole restriction, that half of them must belong to the Church of England, and the other half be Dissenters, or rather non-churchmen, in order that there might be no ground for jealousy or suspicion : and to this hour so well-judged was this regulation, that never has there been any such feeling either in the parent committee or among the friends and members of the society. May the thanks for so great a benefit be paid, where alone they are due, to Him who maketh men to be of one mind in a house, and cements brethren together in godly unity.
I have alluded, my lord, to these fundamental laws, because, to hear the floating charges against this invaluable institution, one might suppose,-and not a few persons, carried away by ill-understood party declamations, I believe actually do suppose,—that there is a specific regulation on the society's books, in which one heretical class of persons in particular is mentioned by name as consisting of proper persons to be on committees. It is needful therefore to reiterate the simple fact, that there is not a word said of who are to compose the fifteen lay non-churchmen, to select whom is the business of the society, at its annual meeting, aided by the advice and experience of the retiring committee. If the society, in public meeting assembled, do not think any particular class of persons Christians, they are not obliged, or even at liberty, to select them as members of the board of management: the subscribers have a clean sheet given them, to fill up as they think most suitable ; and if any person were proposed who in their opinion was not a Christian, it would only be for them to reject him. Really this is so plain, palpable, and free from objection, that I cannot see how any conscience, however tender, unless hoodwinked also, can find any difficulty in the matter.
I feel unwilling to allude to the name of any particular sect or party in this discussion, because I find no such allusion in the society's rules, with the single exception of Churchmen and Dissenters; and I consider the introduction of this extraneous element into the question an unfair and CHRIST. OBSERV. No. 363.
invidious mode of warfare. But I must, I suppose, follow where the objector leads, otherwise I shall be said to elude his objections; and he tells me that the objects of his opposition are Socinians and Roman Catholics. Now I find nothing about either of these parties in the rules of the society; and I may also add, that I find nothing concerning them, which affects the present argument, in the practice of the society. What then have I to do with them? Why am I, as a member of the Bible Society, to give any opinion in regard to them, any more than in regard to earls and viscounts, Baptists and Quakers, moralists or miscreants? The Society's rule is, that all guinea subscribers are members; and that out of these members are to be chosen for the management of the Society's affairs fifteen Churchmen and fifteen Dissenters; of course, the best that can be procured. The Dissenters are called“ members of other”—that is, not Church-of-England—" denominations of Christians.” The word Christians was evidently used in the common statistical manner in which it is currently employed, and not in its true and spiritual sense. But every member, in holding up his hand for committee men, is to choose those whom he thinks suitable; that is, Christians indeed. Thieves and drunkards are not Christians in a spiritual sense, though so called in the baptismal register ; and they would be justly rejected as unfit, on account of their character, from being members of such a society, whatever might be their name. And so of any other class of exceptionable persons.
The Society's rule then includes no test of membership or eligibility to committeeship, (eligibility is not election,) as regards the different classes of baptised persons; it mentions no class of them by name ; it does not even allude to any : it does not profess to be a Scripture-interpreting society, or to erect a pale of spiritual communion ; it is simply and solely a Bible society : its object is to circulate Bibles, allowing its members the right of private judgment in interpreting them ; excluding none (for I will not blink the question with all its alleged difficulties) who do not exclude themselves; admitting every man on his own certificate, only with the important and perfectly sufficient safeguard, that if he aspires to any power, office, or influence in the society, the members are at liberty and are bound to scrutinize his claims, and to act accordingly.
I have said that the Society has no test: this in fact is true; and yet in a practical sense I might say that it has a test, and one quite adequate, in the character of the book itself which it distributes. Its object is its guarantee ; and to all actual purposes it has been found perfectly sufficient. For who rally round it ? and who oppose it? Who indeed are likely to rally round, and who to oppose, a society whose sole object is to promote the circulation of the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible? If I am a member of a musical society, limited by two fundamental rules, that no instrument shall be used but the church organ, and no compositions but the sacred pieces of Handel, is it necessary with superfluity of caution to add that no street ballad-singer shall preside at our festival ? Not being specifically excluded, some member more sharp, flat, or crotchetty than his neighbours, may say that they are eligible, and that there is much danger in this latitude; but I can, with perfect confidence, trust the society to say whether they shall be elected without any formal rule of exclusion.
The Bible Society decides nothing about doctrines: it avoids the Popery, for Popery it is, of saying what is essential and what unessential in the allperfect word of God; what is to be insisted upon, and what pretermitted : it takes that word as it finds it, and those who profess to believe it are received within its outer pale as believing it; only reserving to itself the necessary right of choosing from this general body, for the conduct of its business, such as give reasonable evidence that their profession is honest, and that they are able and willing to promote the sacred objects of the in