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• With faith that comes of self-control,
The truths that never can be proved
Until we close with all we loved,
THE BICENTENARY OF 1662.
LETTERS TO A YOUNG CLERGYMAN.
No. IV. MY DEAR GUNNINGSON,— The spring is breaking cheerily, and many things are passing around us at this juncture which suggest matter for meditation and remark. Much earlier than we anticipated the Evangelical clergy and their “ broad ” brethren have commenced their replies to the Bartholomew commemoration of the Dissenters. The religious newspapers of the Church of England already resemble pyramids of live bombshells, dangerous to handle, and going off with a vigour which is truly alarming. The Record vies with the English Churchman in its endeavours to quash the threatened Nonconformist testimony. Every effort is put forth to divert public attention from the real question before us to other questions which are not at present before us. The true subject of discussion, my dear Gunningson, is HONESTY IN SUBSCRIPTION TO CHURCH FORMULARIES, and on this point you will find nothing whatever in your newspapers. The editors of those journals are moving Heaven and earth to represent this bicentenary commemoration as an attack of the Liberation Society upon the position and property of the Established Church, and are thus striving to cover their own retreat from fair discussion under a cloud of smoke.
Now, settle it in your mind that the Liberation Society has no special vocation to deal with your affairs during the present year. The circumstance of the ejection of the two thousand ministers in 1662 having occurred through the operation of an Act of Parliament is an accident, and not the essence, of this event. The Liberation Society restricts its action to the one question of State-establishment of religion, and, therefore, in its capacity as a moral and political association, it is just as much interested in the ejection of the high church clergy at the imposition of the Covenant in 1642 as in the ejection of the Presbyterians in 1662. Just as much does it busy itself in one case as in the other. Blessed as you are with more than common perspicacity, you doubtless perceive that the ejection of the Presbyterians in 1662 might have occurred if the Church of England had not been established. If it had been free from State
control-an independent corporation--possessed of its property, and having a right to regulate its own affairs, it could, and would have ejected these two thousand men from their emoluments, on the ground of their refusal to subscribe to the Prayer book. And it is of the very essence of this commemoration to draw your attention to the grounds of their refusal to subscribe to that Prayer book. I feel persuaded, therefore, that you will not be led away by the Record and the English Churchman on a false scent. Our business with you this year is not primarily to enter upon a political campaign against your Church-establishment, but to draw your attention to the theological and ecclesiastical constitution of the Church of England. We wish to have a twelve-month's religious controversy with you on the morality of non-natural subscription ; and this is a subject so unpleasant to Dr. Miller and your other leaders, that it is scarcely to be wondered at if they are tempted to an unfaithful representation of our designs. They will not, however, be permitted to succeed. Long before the year is out we shall have dissipated all these mists of misrepresentation, and brought the nation to understand the main point at issue, which is, whether the example of the two thousand of 1662 is not an awful condemnation of your system of equivocating subscriptions, and an abundant defence of the grounds of Nonconformity.
So far as the action of the State was accidentally concerned in the ejectment, the Liberation Society may probably and justly employ itself in pointing out the inevitable miseries of a system which subjects religion to the action of successive political bouleversements ; but I repeat, that this is felt by the leaders of that society not to be the main business of this year. They are wishful rather to allow that consideration to stand a little on one side, and to deal with you, not in a parliamentary, but in a Scriptural and moral method, on that matter of honest subscription to Church artieles—a matter which many circumstances invest with urgent interest. Do not permit yourself
, my dear Gunningson, to take false comfort from any supposed divisions existing among the Dissenters themselves on this question. We have nothing to conceal, and I will, therefore, indulge you with a true account of what has happened in London. Some prominent members of the Congregational body, acting on their own responsibility (and not at all as organs of the Congregational Union, which is still uncommitted), very early in this season met in conference, for the purpose of arranging the plan of a Bartholomew Commemoration. So desirous were they of turning the celebration to some practical religious account, that they resolved to contribute towards a fund for building houses of God in the midst of neglected dense populations. You may find it difficult to believe that this scheme was dictated only by a pure
desire to do good on the part of the ministers, and not to advance their party ; but I, who know the laymen, and even differ from their practical judgment, have no such difficulty in their case. I am persuaded that the munificent promises of aid sprang from the noblest motives. It was also, of course, inevitable that these buildings should be Congregational Churches, and so far the movement was denominational." At this juncture another conference was called together at Moorgate-street, by the leaders of the Baptist body, to which the prominent men of the Congregationalists and other bodies were warmly invited, for the purpose of forming a united committee for such celebrations of St. Bartholomew as might not be entangled with denominational action. Many of the fore most men of the Congregational body in London acceded to the invitation, and a conference was held, in which it was resolved to send a deputation to the first conference, with a view to persuade them to join in a united commemoration. The two bodies met; but as the result of the interview, it was determined, on the side of the Congregationalists of the first conference, that they would rather not commit themselves to any organization of which they did not foresee the composition. There was
some fear, lest à united committee might include elements which would partially imperil the success of the whole enterprise. I am telling no secret when I say that some of them, who are even members of the Liberation Society, were a little afraid, lest that useful association should
prove too strong and determining an element on such a united committee, and although this idea was not expressed, they were earnestly desirous that for the present year other and broader ground should be occupied than that taken by them. The Moorgate-street conference was disappointed at this issue ; but, nevertheless, proceeded to form a united committee of such gentlemen of all Evangelical denominations as were not committed to the special action of the Congregational Conference. At their very first meeting it was seen how groundless were the fears, if any such there had been, of those who had shrunk from an imagined political agitation. The leaders of the Liberation Society themselves were foremost in declaring that although desirous of joining with their brethren in the Bartholomew celebration, they had no intention whatever of forcing their special mode of action into a prominence which did not justly and historically on this occasion belong to it, but were completely in agreement with those who thought that the main lesson of the year was honesty in subscription to Church-articles. There is really, therefore, no difference of opinion, and there will be no substantial difference in action, between the Congregational body and the United Committee. I heartily wish that, while the former adhere to their scheme of Church-extension, they may be induced on all other points to join in action with their Baptist and Methodist
brethren, and it is already certain that, to a very great extent, this will be realized.
But mark, my dear Gunningson, the causes, and the only causes, of this seeming, but not real, diversity of action. They were, first, a desire to do some practical good to the neglected multitudes, at the cost of an immense sum of money (no very signal mark of a crusade of fanaticism); and, secondly, there was an idea, now removed, that the action of the Liberation Society might impede the moral effect of the commemoration by drawing attention exclusively to secular considerations. This will be no ground of objection to a churchman. The judicious action of Mr. Miall, and others, on the united committee, has removed all grounds of apprehension on this head. After this exposition you will see how false are the allegations of the English Churchman, that this year's agitation is simply an assault on the temporalities of the Church of England. So far as any feeling has existed among us, on all sides it has been in favour, not of making this year the time for a special political attack on you, but, on the contrary, in favour of disentangling our endeavours to arouse your consciences from all considerations affecting your interests. We are quite as well aware as you can be that the ejected ministers were State-churchmen in theory ; but we wish just now, above all things, to make you understand and acknowledge that they were too honest to affix their signatures to your Prayer book.
There is one difficulty which besets our work this year, which is, indeed, of a most painful character. The chief moral of this agitation is, undoubtedly, to hold up to public condemnation the dishonesty of the Evangelical clergy of the present day. You Broad and High-church clergymen are, we think, fearfully mistaken ; but we know full well your errors, as we regard them, to be identical with those maintained by Luther and all the reformers. Your High-sacramentalism, and your love of State-alliances are the legacies of another age. But as it was possible for Luther to hold the true Gospel along with his high-sacramentalism, so is it possible for you. Far different is the case of the Evangelical clergy. They deny the doctrines which are taught by the plain grammatical sense of the formularies which they have solemnly subscribed and habitually employ in divine service. And this, let men disguise it by explanations and precedents as they may, is falsehood. Every such act is what is vulgularly termed a 'lie,' and this vulgar expression is, at the same time, the Scriptural, the divine name of the sin. Every man who is guilty of a falsehood is a liar. No definition of a lie can be framed which shall exclude the act of the man who habitually recites words before God which he does not believe in the sense in which his hearers take them, that is in the plain grammatical sense,' for it is the meaning which the hearer, the plain and
popular employer of language, puts upon a term, and not some private theory of the utterer, which determines the responsibility of a speaker. Now, it is nothing less than dreadful to have to stand up and declare openly, or by implication, concerning 7,000, more or less, accomplished and amiable Evangelical clergymen, that they are living in habits of falsehood. Yet this is the work of 1862. And it is an awful work which must be done—done with undaunted resolution—withstanding them to the face, because they are to be blamed.'
This work of testimony, if done unto God,' will be one of the severest cross-bearings ever known. It will be no gala of nonconformity, but a hard and bitter task, in which a man's tongue will cleave to the roof of his mouth with consternation and sorrow. None but hard and bad men can possibly take pleasure in it.
Many have accustomed themselves to speak of all the Evangelical clergy as 'very pious men,' so confidently, that at length it has become quite established in usage, that a very pious man’ may repeat ecclesiastical falsehoods hundreds of times per annum. It is one leading characteristic of the spurious piety of our day, that a man who possesses a sort of heavenly devotionalism may dispense with exact honesty. Honesty is reckoned only a 'moral virtue,' which may, or may not, be possessed by a saint,' who is 'accepted' in Jesus Christ
, and who only professes to be partially sanctified by the Spirit. You will agree with me that there is nothing more false, dangerous, and damnable than this kind of antinomianism. There is nothing like it in the New Testament. A man who tells lies with satisfaction to himself, and especially a man who tells them as part of his religion, does not understand Christianity, let his knowledge of doctrines be what it may. No man has a higher sense than I have of the fine personal qualities possessed by many of the Evangelical clergy. No man is more willing and thankful than I am to make every allowance in judgment for the great difference between being born in the Church of England, and being born out of it—between the facility of warning men of their wickedness, and the difficulty of sacrificing everything for conscience-sake; --but, my dear Gunningson, it is high time that the English nation should regulate their religion by the plain demands of conscience, and not by the necessities and special pleadings of a false clerical position. The giddy multitude are ever ready to judge principles by persons, rather than persons by principles. It is, however, far easier to determine correctly what is right and wrong in morals, than it is to be sure, on safe grounds, that any particular person is a good man.' It is quite easy to see, for example, that a man who uses a prayer in baptism which, in its plain sense he does not believe is guilty of a “lie unto God. It is by means, either easy or safe to determine, that the men who do this are 'good men.'