« PrécédentContinuer »
would be the most culpable folly and neglect. It must never be forgotten by us that we are responsible for all these poor wanderers in the by-paths of schismatic error. Ours (do we not both assert and believe it) is the true Church—the one undivided Catholic and Apostolic Church of England; to which has been committed, alike by Divine Providence and by the wisdom of Henry VIII. and his pious successors, not only the duty, but the right of teaching to this nation the truth of the Gospel, and of administering to the whole people those blessed sacraments without which no man can be saved. Can we think for one moment, reverend fathers and beloved brethren, of the awful and lamentable condition of these five millions of precious souls, resolutely living outside the pale within which is salvation, and dependent for their everlasting condition upon the uncovenanted mercies of a jealous God; most of them never having received that holy baptism whereby they become “regenerate, and grafted into the body of Christ's Church,” as our sacred Prayer-book hath it; or, as the Catechism truly expresses it, "wherein they are made members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven;" thousands of them never having passed under the holy and scriptural rite of confirmation, in which they receive the priestly assurance that they are “regenerate,” and have received “the forgiveness of all their sins”: seeing, too, that many of them are married at strange altars, and without the covenanted blessing of the Church on their union, and that they die without the comforting words of the priest, “I absolve thee from all thy sins”-can we think, I say, of the fearful condition of these five millions of wandering sheep, and not have our hearts filled with sadness, and our minds moved to a most resolute endeavour by every lawful means to win them back to the true Catholic Apostolic fold. Allow one, then, who has been unfortunate enough to have his lot cast amongst these poor "Dissenters," as they call themselves, and who has much acquaintance with their opinions and ways, to offer a few suggestions the adoption of which would greatly facilitate their re-union with the tender mother from whose authority and care they have foolishly removed themselves.
It cannot be a thing unknown to many of us that a very conriderable section of these unhappy wanderers—"pious variers," as our laureate happily and charitably terms them-entertain a sincere, deep, and conscientious (so they avow) conviction that our connection with the secular power is altogether sinful and wrong, and a thing with which they can have nothing to do. Unhappily, these are amongst the more intelligent and active of the “ pious variers ”; and their number has been greatly augmented of late by the action of a mischievous society with a most offensive name; so that, if something be not speedily done, they are likely to inoculate the whole dissenting mind with their free and voluntary principles, and will be encouraged by their strength to maintain their separateness from us at all costs. May I then venture, very humbly and almost timidly, to suggest (full well I know how the mere suggestion of such a thing must cause many a pious heart among us to swell with indignation) whether it is worth while for us any longer to maintain that honourable connection at so great a cost ? Should we lose so much in the way of prestige, of power—aye, even that more sordid thing, money, as we now lose by the absence of half the nation from our fold? But I see I must not press for another moment so unwelcome a point.
Well, then, it is not to be doubted that a very large number of these poor wanderers are outside of us, because they object altogether to our constitution, and resolutely deny our apostolicity; unhappily, they do not seem capable of understanding the worth of our Catholicity, and are always talking of some shadowy undefinable Catholic Church, of which they are members as well as we. With regard to our direct descent in unbroken line of bishops from St. Peter, they laugh it to scorn ; and they affirm most confidently (as ignorance is prone to do) that we cannot find the shadow of our episcopal system in the apostolic times ; indeed, some of their facetious and unscrupulous teachers have tickled their hearers' ears by drawing pictures of St. Peter in those pure vestments of the finest linen which so well become those honoured fathers in God whom we all revere. They hold up their New Testament, ignoring the traditions of the Church, and ask us where we read of archdeacons and rural deans, and canons, and rectors and vicars, and advowsons, and next presentations, and, in short, the whole of that beautifully graduated hierarchy, and complex simplicity of system, which is the distinguishing excellence of our Church. Certain it is that the obstinacy of the Dissenters is such on these points, that, as long as we maintain our present constitution intact, they will never return to our bosom. May I venture to suggest then, since to us undoubtedly it belongs to restore the unity of this distracted land, whether it would not be possible, by reducing ourselves once again to something like that primitive apostolic simplicity which our dear dissenting brethren so much insist on, to pave the way for their return?
But we must not imagine that when this is done, we have accomplished our task. For I grieve to add that a vast number of them steadfastly refuse to allow that our teaching, as comprised in the various services and offices of our Church, is accordant with that Holy Scripture on which we all profess to base our Christian faith. They charge us (I pray you to bear with me in the pain which I know it must inflict to hear such things repeated) with teaching that man can be regenerated by a priest in baptism, confirmed in his regeneration by the bishop at confirmation, and absolved from all his sins at death by the priest, however wicked a life he may have led. The beautifully mystic interpretations which we put before them of the somewhat bold words of our services, they seem to be unable to understand. And as long as these services are what they are, it were as hopeful a task to attempt to win all the Dissenters to Mohammedanism or Buddhism, or to make them pass under the rite of circumcision and keep all the Jewish feasts, as to attempt to include them again in our pale. Could we not, without lowering at all the value of our holy priesthood in the eyes of the children of the true Church, so modify our services on all these points as to leave them an open and welcome door of return?
Pardon me again if I here venture to insert a practical suggestion, with the utmost possible diffidence. Could not a committee be at once appointed, consisting of the Right Rev. Primate, the Bishop of Oxford, the Bishop of the Metropolitan see of London, together with some representative of the Church's Missionary action—perhaps Dr. Colenso—who might easily agree upon such modifications of the Prayer-book as would effectually remove the stumbling-block out of the Dissenter's way? Or perhaps Convocation would undertake the graceful task.
But supposing all this were done, it must be added that there are a few other things remaining which would be required to complete the work. All this
would only be like smoothing the way and opening the door. We should still have some means to adopt by which to fulfil the command, “ Compel them to come in.” No doubt but, on the whole, ignorance of all sorts is generally to be deplored; but I cannot help saying that, in view of this grand scheme of the re-union of all the people of England in the National Church, I could wish that the Dissenters had a little less knowledge of history. Their pulpits and lecturerooms still ring, now and then, with the tales of the Pilgrim Fathers, and the “Two Thousand,” and John Bunyan, and the Five-mile Act, and the Conventicle Act. They are, moreover, very sore upon what they call their grievances. They complain that for centuries they have been socially snubbed and tabooed ; that we have excluded them from the seats of learning; insulted them in the hour of their sorrow at the burying of their dead; that we have persecuted them with unjust rates and taxes; that we have robbed them, ousted them from
farm and cottage, shut them out from Christmas benefits ; that we have been haughty, and proud, and tyrannical with them ; that they have had to fight long and hard to wrench out of our grip what they thought to be their rights; and so they have come to think more of destroying our splendid position of supremacy, and of reducing us to their own level in the eye of the law, than of coming back to our communion. Now, if these things be so, it surely behoves us at once to set about the removal of these unjust impressions. We must be extremely conciliatory and fraternal; we must not wound this avowed susceptibility by the slightest seeming assumption; we must err on the side of charity rather than of justice; we must never press
own claims as adverse to theirs ; socially we must stoop to their level, and so raise them to ours; we must freely accord them unstinted access to all the good things that are in our possession, and so tempt them to long for the rightful possession of the whole. In a word, we must cease to treat them as our enemies, or even as prodigal children; but, like the father in the parable, must run to meet them when they are a long way off, put our rings and best robes upon them, and kill for them often and again the fatted calf,
Then, who can doubt it, the jubilee of re-union shall in a century or so be held. For see! are they not longing for the splendour of our rites—yearning after the solemn beauty and congregational fervour of our cathedral services are they not compelled by the spirit of the age to sigh for freedom from the ugliness and barrenness and tameness of their own surroundings and appliances ? are they not weary of the monotony of their services ? are they not ashamed, vexed, wearied of the endless division that comes of their boasted freedom, and pining for the beautiful authority of ecclesiastical rule? Do they not look with mingled delight at our internal unity and peace? Are they not beginning to feel that this experiment of three centuries is a failure, and that the only way to realize the unity of the body of Christ is to come into a Church where everything must be as one, because all is prescribed by law, and every member in the most solemn way accepts the authority of the Church as binding upon his lips and his heart? Let me only add, that if these few suggestions of mine can be speedily adopted, we may hope by-and-by to see the Liberation Society peacefully dissolved, the leading Dissenting ministers officiating in our cathedrals, or snugly reposing in our ivy-covered rectories; many a score of Methodist and Baptist chapels converted into appropriate warehouses and barns; all the more modern and ecclesiastical buildings purified and sanctified by Episcopal consecration; and the great working masses of the people in all the large towns crowding our sacred edifices, and humbly suing for those regenerating offices of our priesthood which they have till now despised.
G. W. C.
I PROPOSE in this paper to state with all frankness and fulness my views and impressions concerning the Church. My ministerial brethren of the congregational order are associated in the government of the Church, and on us, therefore, devolves the responsibility of so counselling and leading its members as to promote their mutual fellowship and general well-being. I will not ask them whether they are satisfied with things as they are. At our last Church meeting there were twenty members present, the absence of the majority showing that the many take no interest in such meetings, at which I am not surprised, seeing their only speciality consists in the transaction of routine business, and the admission of new members. This cannot be the embodiment of the Divine ideal of a Christian church. And it is questionable how far an ecclesiastical organization which accomplishes so little, is in reality a Church at all.
In offering to you my thoughts about the Church-alike the ideal Church, such as I should wish to see our Church, and the real, such as the Church is—I do not for a moment entertain the supposition that at once and without difficulty the evils I deplore can be remedied, and the good I desiderate realized. In Churches as in nations, reforms can only be effected by years of patient toil-progress towards perfection is necessarily gradual. There must be an intelligent conviction of the rightness and expediency of a change, otherwise the change will not and cannot issue in any permanent benefit. The practicable, equally with the desirable, should be considered; and if we intend to do abiding work, we must be careful not to outrun, or to run counter to, the beliefs and wishes of the Church. I tell you in this paper all that is in my heart; we should propose to the Church only such measures as appear to us to be expedient and practicable in our present circumstances.
If the New Testament prescribed a form of Church government and a set of rules to be observed by the members, our duty would be very simple; we should then accept that form and act upon those rules. But the New Testament does no such