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THE SAVOY CONFERENCE, 1661.
LETTERS TO A YOUNG CLERGYMAN.
No. III. MY DEAR GUNNINGSON,— We have at length reached that famous Bicentenary to which I have drawn your attention in preceding letters. Happy will it be for us all if
, as the result of the flood of ecclesiastical writing which is certain to be poured forth in 1862, some good practical results should accrue, in the reformation of your Church-standards, and in the moral elevation of our non-conformist communities. Believe me that multitudes of us Dissenters are as conscious of the evils prevailing among ourselves as of those which afflict the Church of England, and are at least as anxious for our own improvement as we can possibly be for yours. Indeed, it is a law of the moral world that no man can commit an error without provoking another person to commit the opposite error. Every sinner is guilty, not only of his own fault, but of the reaction which is certain to follow from some other direction. The faults of the Church of England have produced some of the very chief faults of Nonconformity, and our faults in turn aggra
I fear there is not much expectation of that radical reconstruction of church life which is needed in England. That which we really require is the total destruction of both Church and Dissent, so as to leave the ground clear for a new creation. This, however, is utterly beyond anticipation, and hence it remains only for each party to make the best of its own fundamental position. There might be signal advances made on both sides, and I doubt not that any improvement in one will be accompanied or followed by an equal improvement in the other. On the side of the dissenters, we have almost reached the endurable limits of congregational democracy. The whole system of the appointment of our ministers is becoming so indefensible, that it must soon attract public attention. The false doctrine of the absolute 'equality of church members, the youngest and the eldest, the most ignorant and the most wise, cannot fail to fall before the attacks with which it must speedily be assailed. The habit of settling everything in church-meetings, and leaving nothing to the discretion of church governors, renders official responsibility a delusion and a snare. The totally unscriptural position of the Nonconformist deacons' is creating a feeling in many quarters, which will soon drive Bible-loving men out of the pastorate, abandoning it to an inferior class, who are not above submission to the dictation of wealthy masters. The wbole question of the in
fluence of our ignorant rich men, whose fathers were nobodies, and whose sons will be churchmen,' requires resolute examination. These matters are 'a continual sorrow of heart' to all among us who desire to see others than second and third-rate lads installed in the ministerial office. We have, indeed, numbers of 'deacons' who are the 'glory of Christ ;' active, humble, unpretentious men, whose life is the mainstay of the churches which they adorn; but it is also incontrovertible, that we have numbers of other distinguished laymen,' whose character and claims render our churches the laughingstock of Christendom, and frighten gentlemen and scholars away from our communion. If a good number of you would come out from the Church of England, and bring your people with you, we should soon put an end to the reign of these monied magnates, and enjoy a freedom, ruled by wisdom and worth ; a freedom, my dear Gunningson, which is by no means synonymous with licence. True Independəncy, by which I understand the association in one church of all the Christians dwelling in a neighbourhood, so as to include all the godly, high and low, rich and poor, would work very well.
well. A church would then possess oftentimes several buildings for worship; it would be presided over by a plurality, more than two, or four, 'bishops,' and it would be served in its temporalities, and subordinate spiritual offices, by a considerable body of deacons,' that is, assistants to the pastors; one of the bishops' would, from age or experience, be naturally the chief ruler' or president of the governing body ; the offerings of the ‘multitude 'would be amply sufficient for the suitable maintenance of the labourers in word and doctrine, according to the demands of their families ; the new appointments to the eldership’, would not be determined only, or chiefly, by a 'preaching-match,' but would be influenced, to a great degree, by the report of a qualified body of ministers on the attainments, the character, and the tendencies of the new candidate for a' bishoprick ;' the people would enjoy a veto on every appointment, but their judge ment would be generally guided by those who look for other qualities besides brilliant eloquence; and the young, the ignorant, and the inexperienced, would be trained to vote willingly in the track of the public opinion formed by the wiser and elder. Churches would not then be distracted and rent asunder at the death or removal of a single pastor. The vacancy caused by the lapse of one life would be more easily filled up. In small country towns, such an 'independent church as this would be a power for acting on the surrounding villages, without the aid of a Home Missionary Society' in London, with fresh patronage and influence for distinguished laymen.' And in great cities, many such churches would form centres of influence, that would act upon the population with a force wholly unknown under the existing dispensation. College tutors, also, would be relieved of much of their patronage; and
deacons, of course, would retire to the comparatively humble sphere allotted to them in the New Testament.
Now our deacons see this as plainly as possible, and hence many of them resist these manifestly scriptural reforms, and instinctively keep up the cry of Independency and the One Mar System for ever, because they know that its overthrow would be fatal to their reign. But so long as our churches consist only of shop-keepers, book-keepers, and servants, with sprinkling of rich trade people and manufacturers in the place of an aristocracy, we shall never succeed in overthrowing the sevenheaded and ten-horned dominion of the plutocratic sovereignty. We want pious educated gentlemen, pious literary men, pious professional men, pious scholars, and a much larger body of all ranks converted and united together, and then all would work well. Now, my dear Gunningson, you have nearly all these orders in your church, and since God has made all classes to live together, we shall never thoroughly prosper until we are united with the pious people amongst you. Well then, you will say, why do you not join us?
You know the answer. We cannot join your State Church, we cannot join your Prelatical Church, we cannot join your Romanizing Church. Vast multitudes of us would I believe give up nearly the whole fabric of our existing unworkable Congregationalism, if you would give us the opportunity of joining you in communities such as I have described, such in fact as Archbishop Whately describes to be Apostolic Churches. Now will you? You know you will not! Nothing remains for us then except to groan over your obstinacy, and to make the best we can of our truncated nonconformity. Meantime you will see that at all events some of us are resolved not to hinder the possibility of union by any false representations or recommendations of things as they are amongst ourselves. We yearn for union with you—we need you, we are bitterly suffering in our isolation. But we believe also that there are principles and qualities amongst our people which would be at least an equal gain for you. Alas that old feuds, class-interests, social position, should render your party so obstinate, so blind, so resolutely unchangeable, as to cut off all hope of fusing together into one life the scattered elements and members of the body of Christ.
Let these words of mine sipk down into your heart. I shall suffer many things from the distinguished laymen' for talking to you in this unreserved manner; but, at all events, you shall not be able to say that all the dissenters have resolved in 1862, to pour out the accumulated spite of two centuries upon the Church of England.
Having spoken of our faults, let me say a good word for the Nonconformists. Your men seldom, I think, do us as much justice as we do to you. For example-a proposition has been made among
the Independents to celebrate this year by a large collection of money to be expended in building Independent Chapels, or, as they are now often termed, 'Congregational Churches. It was well intended. The idea was, that the people should be prevented from running off into self-glorification by being directed to some practical effort for the benefit of the masses. But no sooner was the scheme announced, than a vigorous opposition to it was offered, on the ground that 1862 was not a time for any special denominational action, or for the building of Independent chapels, but for a testimony to a great principle in morals, worth more than all chapels, all sects, and all collections—the principle of truthfulness before God in matters ecclesiastical. It was feared that a great thing might become a small one, if this exclusive turn should be given to the celebration. It was said that the question in hand should be not money subscriptions to a party chapel fund, but a testimony against false written subscriptions to party-church-articles. I think this opposition, led by Mr. Binney, and others of similar worth, and warmly responded to by the Baptist Union Conference, much to their honour, shows at least that we are capable of something better than material partizanship. Go you and do likewise.
Let me now ask you, my dear Gunningson, to take out your pocket-book and write down the following title of a recently published book; Joseph Alleine, his Companions and Times; a memorial of Black Bartholomew, 1662, by CHARLES STANFORD. Jackson, Walford, and Hodder, 18, St. Paul's Churchyard : 1861.' Mr. Stanford is a specimen of a Nonconformist minister of the present day, of which I wish the type were multiplied a thousand-fold -a grave, good man, ‘furnished with ability,' as the son of Sirach expresses it; and just the sort of person whose inability to sign your articles, and be a clergyman, ought to make you consider seriously the reason why. He has written this book partly to let you see the sort of man who was silenced by the Act of Uniformity, and who would be silenced still, so far as your Church would allow, since the Act of Toleration, which permits a Joseph Alleine to exist and preach now, is not church law, but state law, to which your church was forced to submit by the intelligence of the nation, and the determination of the dissenters. Let me assure you that this book is well deserving of clerical study this year of 1862. It is beautifully written. There breathes throughout it the spirit of a Christian and a gentleman, the sanctity and the calmness of a man who has no party objects to serve, and the good taste of a writer who has learned wisdom at the Everlasting Fountain. Here, then, you may contemplate the full-length portrait of an ejected minister of 1662, one of those who could not do, what you can do, subscribe the three articles of the 36th canon, which pledge you before God and man to the exclusive use of the prayer-book services, and to an
outrageous statement that all the contents of that book are in accordance with the word of God. If you are a member of the Liturgical Reform Association, I should think that, burning with shame from head to foot, and remembering that your church is unchanged since 1662, you will never rest till you have achieved the revision of the prayer book. If you succeed, be assured that though we shall not join a state church, we shall most heartily congratulate you, and meanwhile we will in every way assist you. You will find in another part of this magazine a few extracts from Mr. Stanford's book, sufficiently tempting, I hope, my dear Gunningson, to induce you to spend your next surplice-fee in purchasing it the next fee that you obtain for ‘spiritually regenerating in baptism an infant in the parish of Hocus-cum-Pocus, or for burying a drunkard in sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life."
Meantime, here follows the remainder of the ‘Petition for Peace,' presented to the Bishops at the Savoy Conference by their Presbyterian coadjutors, of which I gave you the former portion in December.—Yours truly, My dear Gunningson,
Continuation of the ‘Petition for Peace' presented to the
Bishops at the Savoy Conference. 14. We beseech you also to consider, that Men have not their Understandings at their own Command, much less can they be commanded by others, if they were never so willing to believe all that is imposed on them to be Lawful; they cannot therefore believe it, because they would, the Intellect being not free. And to Dissemble, and to Say, and Swear, and Do the things which they believe not, is such an Aggravated Hypocrisie (being in the matters of God, and joyned with Perfidiousness) as we may suppose, cannot render them acceptable to any that have not renounc'd Religion and Humanity, much less should they be constrained to it. And when it is known that Mens Judgments are against the things imposed, and that Penalties are no means adapted to the Informing and Changing of Judgment; but to force Men to do the things they know, we conceive they should not be used, and so used in the case of things Indifferent, where they are not necessary to the common good, and where the Sufferers have never had sufficient Means to change their Judge
If it be said, that it is their own Fault, that their judgments are not changed, and that the means have been sufficient.
We answer, That it is their Fault, is the Point in question, which the Sword can easilier take for granted, than the Tongue or Pen can prove : But, if it be so, it is their Fault, as it is that they are the Sons of Adam, partakers of the common Corruption of Humane Nature; and as it is their Fault that they are not all of the highest Form in the School of Christ, above the common Ignorance and Frailties of Believers; and that they are not all the most Judicious Divines of the most subtile Wits,