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England at this critical period of her history, it may be expedient again to notice the much misunderstood question of 'ecclesiastical establishments as à part of the ordinances of a state, and the objects which such institutions áre, or ought to be, designed to promote. The current of a considerable portion of public opinion-the innovating and latitudinarian spirit of the age—the bitter hostility which has recently been displayed in quarters where we might have hoped and expected to witness at least more candid, if not more accurate sentiments, the objections directed against the church-not merely as corrupt, as bigotted, as prelatical, as unscriptural, but as an esta, blishment connected with the state, require that this particular should not be left untouched.
In reference to this question we need not argue the admitted facts, that God has been pleased to reveal in his word a constitution of mercy and grace, combined with a law of duty and obedience, with which it is supremely important that all mankind should become acquainted; or that men require persevering and zealous instruction in order to become, by the Divine blessing, adequately impressed by the great truths of religion; or that God has appointed an order of persons expressly for this end as ambassadors of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Yet from these few simple data we may derive every thing which is essential to an ecclesiastical establishment in a professedly Christian community. When it is granted that Christianity is the power of God unto salvation, and the only effective medium of peace, holiness, and happiness, what is the next step, but that those in whom is vested the ruling authority in a state, and who are preeminently bound to provide for the exigences of those whose welfare they are appointed to superintend, should adopt such methods as, by the Divine blessing, may assist in bringing every member of the community under its influence? The only means which appears adequate to conduct a permanent system of spiritual instruction upon so extensive a scale, is that the members of society generally should contribute their share to its support. This is the grand principle, the fundamental theory, of an ecclesiastical establishment. Every thing else is matter of detail, and susceptible of endless modification according to the varying circumstances of human affairs. That a Christian state which professes to receive the Bible as a revelation from God, and to guide its movements by the light of that volume, is bound to make provision for the spiritual instruction of the community, is' to us one of the clearest and most unquestionable truths in the whole range of moral reasoning. It is no argument to the contrary, even should it be admitted that we have no direct authority in the New Testament on the question ; since no case there recorded is strictly parallel to that of a nation of professed Christians. We have, however, most striking analogies to such a system in the forms of patriarchal and antediluvian administration, and a precedent in the whole system and mechanism of the Jewish economy. Should it be alleged that the former of these methods of
promoting the cause of religion was peculiar to an age destitute of the advantage of a written revelation, and that the latter dispensation was a pure theocracy, and therefore unfit to be taken as a model of a Christian economy; we may reply, that for the same reason the condition of the apostolical churches as recorded in the New Testament, will not in any degree support the argument of those who oppose national church-establishments in Christian countries, on account of the manifest disparity of the cases. It is true that we no where read in the New Testament of a church united to the state ; but no state at that period had been brought to embrace the Gospel. It is, however, equally true, that in no part of the Scriptures do we find the least intimation that it would not be one of the first duties of a Christian government to provide by means of the collective resources of the country, for the instruction of the people in the true faith.
The reasonings and representations of the modern opponents of religious establishments involve a total forgetfulness of the circumstances under which the faith was first propagated. The Apostles proceeded, at the risk of all that they held dear in their earthly relations--nay, of life itself,—to deliver the high commission entrusted to them, in the face of opposition the most powerful and implacable. They planted churches, not amidst the serenity and quietude of enlightened and tolerant governments; much less in the sunshine of the patronage of princes and authorities pledged to them by a common faith; but amidst the rage of persecution and the sounds of discord and alarm; amidst the virulence of the magistracy and the fury of the populace ; amidst reproaches, imprisonment, chains, and death. They reared isolated temples of purity, holiness, and truth, in a waste howling wilderness ; on a soil from which idolatry, prejudice, and priestcraft united their efforts to uproot them, and, in many instances, with materials cemented by the blood of martyrs. The only relation in which spiritual communities thus situated could stand to the powers of the state was either that of direct resistance or patient submission. Incorporation or support, however just and legitimate in itself, was impracticable. An alliance more intimate than that of mere toleration and protection from direct violence, it was impossible to establish. The writings of the Apostles were addressed to churches either in a condition of actual persecution or bare endurance, and not in that of public recognition by the existing authorities; and their directions are obviously adapted to communities not in union with the state, for the state was not then Christian, but subject to the ordinances of the state, wherever those ordinances were not directly at variance with the commands of God. To look, therefore, into the New Testament for a practical model of the official government and constitution of a national Christian community and of the precise relation in which Christianity is to be adopted by the civil authorities of a country which professes to embrace it, is to search for what could not there exist. It is no more to be there expected than is any one of the forms of secular government which different communities at various periods of their history have chosen to establish; no more than a perfect scheme of Episcopacy or Independentism is to be found among the results of the labours of a few scattered missionaries, amidst the deep fastnesses of idolatry and superstition.
A similar mistake is committed, when persons undertake to shew the necessary incongruity of the rank, titles, and other appendages of the modern functionaries of the Christian church, by contrasting them with the names, habits, and pursuits of the first promulgators of the Gospel. It is right, indeed, to refer to the poverty, the humility, and the selfdenying labours of those illustrious worthies, in order to condemn indo, lence, to stimulate indifference, to check rapacity, and to bear down lordliness, in whatever garb, and in connexion with whatever functions these unchristian qualities may appear. But judging from the comparisons which some persons draw as criminative of the present system, we might be led to think that no man can properly sustain the office, or perform the duties, of a bishop or presbyter of the Christian church, unless, like St. Paul, he has suffered the loss of all things—is, like his Divine Master, without a place to lay his head and has been an object of persecution, outrage, and contempt. This superabundance of indignation at the alleged ease and vain-glory of the ministers and dignitaries of a church incorporated into the state, as contrasted with the fatigues, privations, and self-renunciation of the primitive preachers of Christianity, is sometimes carried to such an extent that we might suppose that external destitution, in addition to other unquestionable requirements, is essentially a part of the Christian character; nay, that to rise to the level of the true standard, to complete the idea of what ought to be the condition of a modern bishop or priest, it is necessary to visit him at least with a certain measure of spoliation and personal violence; and that it is the duty of a Christian government not merely to withdraw its protection from religion, but also to persecute it. We are not apologists for accumulated wealth, or pampered indulgence, or gorgeous equipage, in the functionaries of the church; but we merely mean to shew' to what length the demand of too close an assimilation in external circumstances between the ministers of religion in a land professedly Christian, and the first promulgators of the truth under governments leagued against it, would inevitably lead.
At present, however, we are not discussing the limits which should be fixed to the wealth and power of the church, nor the abuses to which its revenues and dignities are liable. We are now only concerned to shew, that a national establishment for the instruction of the people in the doctrines and duties of religion is a system legitimate, necessary, and important. It is, we conceive, legitimate, because in entire accordance with every dictate of reason, and with the whole spirit of Scripture. It is necessary, because no other means equally efficient can be devised for the spiritual instruction of all the members of the community. It is important, because calculated by the Divine blessing to be a source of unspeakable benefit to those among whom it is supported and duly administered.
We are aware of the objections that have been advanced against national ecclesiastical establishments.' It has been alleged that they are an encroachment upon the right of private judgment and conscience. True, if they are accompanied by a system of intolerance; by attempts to coerce the mind by penal enactments and political disabilities, to adopt a given set of religious opinions. Religion, as an affair of the heart and of the conscience, is unquestionably a matter between the individual and his God. Into the chamber of retired thought, whatever deformities of sentiment it may include, no human power has a right, except through the peaceful channel of persuasion and instruction, to thrust its interference. So long as it does not pour forth its brood of blasphemy and sedition, to harass or corrupt the rest of the community, the legislature is not called upon to. mark it out with the stigma of infamy, much less arbitrarily to consign it to the flames. It may be doubted indeed whether the utmost rational extension of religious liberty, requires that, if a man chooses to station himself on Westminster Bridge for the purpose of preaching against the being of a God, the law has no right to interrupt him. The opinion of Robert Hall may perhaps be nearer the truth, and not more at variance with the spirit and maxims of Christianity, That blasphemy is a crime which no state should tolerate. Milton, the mightiest antagonist to “prelaty" and ecclesiastical establishments in all their forms and gradations, contracted the sphere of political indulgence to a still narrower compass, and held that Popery, as well as idolatry, is unworthy of being tolerated in a Christian country.
But while we hold the doctrines of religious liberty, and the right of private judgment in the interpretation of the Scriptures, we are at a loss to understand how the mere provision of means, in the form of ecclesiastical endowments, for the general instruction of the people in the great truths of Christianity, should be regarded as at variance with these principles. It is allowed, that for his own views and habits, so far as they do not affect the interests of society, every individual is accountable solely to God. Let it be granted, that after a diligent and impartial examination of the Scriptures, he has come to the conclusion that an existing system of religious or ecclesiastical arrangements is wrong, or at best inefficient, Still, is the state to enact and enforce, by means of the collective and indiscriminate resources of the empire, no measures directed to the public good, but such as may commend themselves to the private judgment of every individual in the realm ? Is it any violation of conscience or Christian liberty, in any rational sense of these terms, that each individual of a community should be required to contribute his share towards the support of such national objects as the legal and constitutional authorities of the land consider requisite for the common welfare? To place the question of church establishments upon the ground of individual conscience, a principle far too solemn and sacred to be entangled with the technicalities of legislative enactment, is to thrust it into a position which it cannot for a moment maintain. An existing form may be in itself unscriptural and ill-judged ; and yet while it continues in force as a component part of the system of government, it may not always contravene the voice of con science to contribute to its support; otherwise how are we to explain the constant directions of the Saviour and his Apostles, respecting the cheerful payment of tribute under an economy which expended a very large proportion of its revenues in the support of idolatry and superstition in some of their most malignant forms ? It is the duty of a Christian indeed to use his exertions, by every just and legitimate means, to procure the abolition of what is evil; but conscience is an arbiter, that ought not to be need lessly forced down from its lofty eminence, as holding immediate in. tercourse with God, in order to mingle on the low arena of civil and ecclesiastical debate. As members of society, men are not to be regarded as so many monads, each turning as it were upon its own axis, without any relation of influence or dependence upon those around it. Neither are they to be considered as the atoms of Epicurean philosophy thrown together at random, and by some species of inherent and inexplicable clinamen falling into such forms of moral and religious combination, as will engage them to move in harmony with the great law of the universe. Unhappily, the clinamen of human atoms is naturally to wander to a greater distance from Him who is the centre of all good, the fountain of all purity, holiness, and blessedness. To unite them to Him, to bring them back from these devi. ations, and to preserve them within the sphere of his light and influence, is one of the primary objects which should engage the attention of those who have been appointed to regulate the arrangements of the social system. As a member of such a community, as one of the elements forming such a combination, every man must consent to be controlled by the collective strength and wisdom exerted through its authoritative and appropriate organs. And when the ruling power of the state has deemed it right to establish a scheme of religious instruction, founded in its general principles upon Scripture, and designed to be universal in its bearing and influence, we see not how any individual can feel his conscience aggrieved in being required to contribute his quota to its support, any more than it is an encroachment upon his right of private judgment, that he is obliged to bear his share in the expense of a system of compulsory provision for the poor, because he is not allowed to select the objects of his bounty, or even of a scheme of educational, judicial, or military administration, of which he may not altogether approve. Nor in fact is the necessity of relinquishing to a eertain extent the exercise of individual judgment, and of contributing to the support of what may be an objectionable ministry, confined to the economy of a national church-establishment. This is an evil, if evil it be, which in a measure is inseparable from all combinations of effort to promote the cause of religion. To yield to the voice of the majority, however contrary to his own views and interests, is in reality the only condition upon which any man can associate himself with a community, whether public or private, in the election of a religious instructor or in the conduct of Divine worship The maintenance of an individuality of sentiment or conscience superior to this, would inevitably result in every man's becoming, like Milton in his
latter years, his own minister-a result than which we can scarcely conceive any better calculated to banish the spirit as well as the form of Christianity altogether from the land.
If then these considerations shall be thought to render invalid the ob. jection to an establishment for the maintenance of Divine worship and the religious instruction of the people, on the ground of its alleged violation of the principles of liberty and conscience, the only remaining available ground upon which it can be assailed, is its supposed inefficiency and liability to abuse. Now we do not mean for a moment to deny, that every ecelesiastical institution ever yet established has been far less successful in its results than could have been wished; or that the administration of such systems has been too frequently attended with grievous perversions and abuses. Neither do we intend to maintain that the cause of religion has not in some instances flourished upon a magnificent scale, without any such auxiliary support. With reference to palpable and immediate consequences it may perhaps be conceded, that there was some truth in the voice which ecclesiastical tradition records to have issued from heaven, on the day that Constantine made his great donations to the church : is poison poured into the church.” It may also be allowed that there was some ground for the remark, that before that period the church had wooden chalices and golden priests, but afterwards wooden priests and golden chalices. But prior to that time the church can hardly be said to have existed under a system of ordinary dispensations. As it walked through the successive furnaces of persecution into which it was cast, it was doubtless purified from its dross, and the fire had only the effect of consuming the bands which tyrants had fastened upon its champions. Sustained by the presence and attendant energy of the Son of Man, they walked through the flames as through an atmosphere of perfumes, and went forth conquering and to conquer. And although the era of the church's corruption was almost simultaneous with its adoption by the Roman Emperor into union with the state, yet surely no candid or intelligent person will deem the atrocious abuses of the middle ages the necessary or usual appendages of an ecclesiastical establishment, subject to that constant action of free institutions, and rivalry of sects, which cannot fail to be called into being by a system of liberal and unshackled toleration.
What we desire therefore to ascertain, is, how we may obtain the advantages of an establishment upon the largest possible scale, without its incidental evils; and what modifications, if any, the present Church of England requires in its constitution and administration, in order to secure these benefits. The great objects of a national system of religion, are not the possession of a vast state engine, which the secular ruler may employ to carry into effect the projects of ambition, and to subordinate an abject population to his will not the erection of a rich and gorgeous pavilion, where ecclesiastical tyranny may sit enthroned, while it issues its mandates and thunders forth its anathemas. These effects, indeed, in some ages and countries have stood connected with a measure of inordinate power and affluence deposited in the church; and they are portentous phenomena, which have shed disastrous lustre over its firmament at different periods of its history, But they are in no degree the legitimate designs, nor in any case the necessary accompaniments, of a system of religious instruction and observance, sanctioned by the collective wisdom and piety of a Christian nation, limited in its power and resources, watched by the purifying jealousy of vigilant and contending interests, and repressed in every attempt at arbitrary domination and encroachment, by the overpowering force of information and intelligence consolidated into public opinion.
The objects which an economy of ecclesiastical arrangements sound and