Images de page
PDF
ePub

So far as this is the cause of their absence from church, no modification of worship will avail to attract them. It is they who must be changed. And this can be expected only as the result of an individual repentance. The ground of comfort in surveying the vast sum of temptation to the grossest vice and sin to which the working-men are exposed, is to be found in the misery that accompanies it. The prodigal bethinks himself of home when he has reached the lowest depth of his suffering. And it is the sufferings and hard labour of the working classes which partly operate in antagonism to their grosser habits, and tend to awaken the desire for a rest in the supernatural realms. To the poor the Gospel is still preached, and those who approach them with a real Gospel, and seek out the wandering sheep, will never lack for willing hearers. But the good Shepherd is he who goes after the wandering sheep until he find it-not he who waits at the door of the fold until the wanderer returns.

Of the THEOLOGICAL objections entertained by the working classes to things as they are in the Churches something was said at the conference, but not nearly so much as was felt, or as is perpetually expressed in the workshops. It is true that this order of objection is restricted chiefly to the clever and thinking men in their ranks, but these are very numerous, and they influence the rest. To disregard objections simply because they are made only by the thinking part of the working class is no wiser than to disregard similar objections because they are made only by the thinking portion of the upper ranks of society. One or two of the artisans expressed pretty broadly that which is present to the minds of nearly all intelligent mechanics, and which forms a frequent theme of ferocious eloquence in their social gatherings—their objection to the character of the Deity, as represented in the creeds of most of the Churches, and in the actual preaching of not a few. The theology of this preaching is very far in advance of the theology of the written standards; but people outside are apt to confound the two. The notion prevails extensively among the artisans that it is held by the ministers, as the doctrine of the Bible, that the human race are born under the curse of damnation, and are naturally heirs from Adam of an endless existence in hell, from which they can be delivered only by a special decree in their favour, exempting them from the direful penalty of their birth. The artisans believe that the doctrine of Exeter Hall is, that all the innumerable multitudes of the heathen, in present and past times, have been born in a moral condition which ensures their descent into endless sufferings in hell, unless they are so happy as to believe the Gospel, which few of them have had the opportunity of hearing, and which, as now presented, few of them believe when they do hear it. If these are not the beliefs of the supporters of the Missionary societies, the sooner the popular opinion on this head is corrected the better. But so long as this either is, or is thought to be, their belief, the intelligent part of the artisans will not cease to hate and revile modern Christianity. They abhor it with a bitterness which leads multitudes of them into infidelity. Infidelity was not represented at this conference. Had it been represented, a far more terrible exhibition of hostility to the Churches would have been made. It behoves us surely to come to some definite theological understanding on these subjects. If the above doctrine, or anything like it, is believed amongst us, it should be clearly stated, and above all, openly and resolutely defended; so that opposition may be quelled by evidence. If it be not believed, as it was undoubtedly believed by our forefathers who framed the Assembly's Catechism, and is stated in our creeds, then the alteration of modern opinion as it should be openly avowed, and the stumbling block taken out of the way of the people. Whatever you exaggerate you weaken. There is an awful element of terror in genuine Christianity, and none need its influence more than the working classes; but the most effectual mode of hindering its influence of that which is terrific in Christianity is to entangle it with indefensible propositions respecting the “non-elect heathen,” for which Scripture itself affords no sufficient foundation. The times of pagan ignorance God “winketh at.”

Another topic which creates much bitterness among the better educated artisans is the Church doctrine on the Lord's Day. They hear the Sunday called the Sabbath. They receive tracts, published by the Religious Tract Society, on the “Sin of Sabbathbreaking.” They are sometimes told that they are profaning the Sabbath if they go a walk to Hampstead Heath on Sunday afternoon. Now they also have been caused to understand that a very large, a very learned, and a very pious body of theological writers, including such men as Dean Alford, Professor Hussey, Archbishop Whately, and others, wholly deny the Sabbatical character of the Christian Lord's-day. They know very well that the New Testament never once commands us to keep the Sabbath, and that all the Apostolic references to it are of the nature of prohibitions. The Sunday League has taught them these things perfectly. Hence they think that the ministers who persist in ordering them to“ keep the Sabbath,"in any Jewish or patriarchal sense, are wilfully trying to impose on them for the sake of getting them to church, and bringing them into subjection to “dishonest parsondom.” We simply state the facts, abstaining from comment; each reader must draw the inference for himself, This only we shall affirm, that the truth is stronger and works better than any “fraud,” however “ pious," and that those who connive at delusion, that "good may come" will always find their foolish policy converted into the most effectual engine of attack on religion itself,

The POLITICAL causes of the alienation of the working classes from church were set forth with great effect at the London Coffee House. That which, perhaps, more than anything else, weighs with the upper sort of artisans, is the class feeling

which is generated by the opposite interests of capital and labour, and which is intensified by the exclusion of the artisans from the franchise. The last few years have seen the rapid development of their intelligence and power of combination, and the habit of acting together against the employers, who belong to the middle ranks, has wrought up to the highest pitch the esprit du corps, which dominates over every other influence, They feel that they have to fight inch by inch for their ground, like the Dutch against the ocean, against the encroachments of capital, which are to them the encroachments of the middle class; and they see that they are excluded from political power by the same interests which depress them economically. It is an illogical inference, but one which it is easy to understand and to pardon, that working men should abstain from mingling with the “religious" performances of those who thus move their envy and dislike. They see that the “religious public” are nearly always on the side of capital, nearly always ready to denounce the trades-unions, which are also benefit societies of the most effectual kind; they see that the local and exceptional instances of violence on the part of trades-unionists are too often treated in the religious, as in the conservative, newspapers, as examples of the reckless and bloodthirsty character of the artisans; and the conclusion they draw from such manifestations of “sympathy with labour” is that they will have nothing to do with it. Their zeal for trades-unions, moreover, seems to exhaust their capacity for combination. Their hearts are there, and since the churches concern themselves, as they suppose, only for “souls,” they think it better at present to care for their own bodies.

Now, this state of feeling is susceptible of alteration and improvement; but it is on this condition,-that the “religious public,” as the most influential part of the middle class can be made to see two things ; first, that without abandoning their own just claims to a powerful political position, it is their duty to insist on a suffrage which shall at least place all intelligent artisans on the roll of the franchise, and thus unite them with the intelligence, the wealth, the power of the upper classes; and next. that the influence of the Churches shall be earnestly brought to bear on the mitigation and just settlement of the frightful and dangerous conflicts between capital and labour. Let the Churches come forward as the friends of the honest and able workmen in political affairs ; let them show some little concern, in an age of such enormous wealth, that the labourer shall participate in the fruit of his toil, that "the ox shall not be muzzled, who treadeth out the corn;" above all, let the teachers of Christianity be foremost in promoting courts of arbitration, and systems of cooperative labour, in which either the rivalries of capital and labour shall be composed by equitable decisions, or a common interest be established between the master and his men; and then the working classes will be won to believe that Christianity, genuine Christianity, influences the ministry. But so long as we care for nothing beyond theological phrases and metaphysical systems, and the formal peculiarities of our little sects and parties, there is no hope whatever that the millions will be persuaded to adhere to us.

The true Catholic Church of Christ alone can command the sympathy of nations.

Among the political excuses for inattention to religion among the workmen must be reckoned all that is most offensive in the constitution of the Established Church. It was the earnest desire of the promoters of the conference that in this attempt to moderate between the non-churchgoing people and the Churches, no ecclesiastical party-capital on any side should be made out of the proceedings. It was well understood that many hard things would be said of both Church and Dissent, and some of them not unjustly said. Those which bore hardest upon Nonconformity, such as the charge of the hard commercial spirit of the financial administration, we hope will be well considered by those whom they may especially concern. We may perhaps be permitted to wish the same thing in relation to the charges made against the Established Church. The state of things in the Church of Eng. land, it must be feared, is producing indifference to religion, and a tendency to infidelity on the widest scale, throughout the nation. It is not Romanism of which we have so much cause to be afraid, as of the scepticism which is the aliment of Romanism, and which is caused by the spectacle of three wholly distinct and contradictory schools of clergy, solemnly signing and using the same standards and formularies. There are grave evils arising from the mere Establishment of the Church ; legal authority warranting the employment of force in the last resort, powerfully tends to conceal the gracious and tender aspects of Christianity, wherein resides its chief effacacy in the salvation of mankind. Grave evils, too, exist in the excessively unequal distribution of the revenues, in the pomp of bishops, and in their exaltation to seats in the upper House of Parliament. But the most dangerous of all the causes now in action to alienate the population from Christianity is found in the internal theological condition of the national Church; and this danger cannot be averted even by all the learning, orthodoxy, and piety which that Church still contains. Mr. Nevile's published opinion that the Church of England, as at present constituted, creates through the nation, more of unbelief than of faith, is deserving of the consideration of all who have at heart the conversion and salvation of their fellowcountrymen.

us.

The SOCIAL hinderances placed in the way of the approach of the multitude to the Churches are especially amenable to immediate effort on the part of all who desire to win these wandering sheep. It is true of many church-goers, " Them that were entering in ye hindered." It was affecting to the last degree to hear at this conference the repeated complaints of those who described their fellows as “sheep scattered abroad having no shepherd.” Again and again the men appealed for visitation to those very parsons,” of whom they had nevertheless such hard things to declare. “Let them come amongst us.

Let them learn to know Let them get acquainted with our daily life, with our homes, with our sorrows, with our labours.” This was the cry. It is too true that the political and economical conflicts between the middle and working classes have consigned the latter to a remarkable isolation. How few of the London ministers and church-members—with all reverence be it spoken-seem really to know anything of the non-church-going artisan-of his opinions, of his tastes, of his feelings. The Churches seem to have cared chiefly for cadgers and cabmen, for unskilled labourers and very small shopkeepers. That mighty body of skilled workmen, who, though somewhat too boastful of their superior wits, really are too intelligent to be fed upon evangelical milk-andwater and namby-pamby tracts and fly-sheets, seem to have been allowed to go astray into a far country, and there to waste their substance in riotous living—the men of the building trades, the hosts of engineers, the printers, the musical and surgical instrument makers, the workers in ornament and in jewellery, how few of these are known to the “ denominations.” They live in quite different worlds, and know not the ways of each other's life. Yet they invite our approach. The young lions roar-but they şuffer hunger. They say, Come to us with a Gospel which cmbraces both worlds come to us with primitive Christianity; come to us without the Creeds, and the Articles, or St. Athanasius' curses, or the Assembly's Catechism; come to us with an open face and an honest tongue; and we will receive you. Come to

« PrécédentContinuer »