« ElőzőTovább »
had written to the Pope, to inform him that he had advocated his cause in the various courts which he had visited, and that he found them ready to “grant him a position worthy of the vicegerent of Christ.” There is something startling in the announcement, and it has too its amusing side—the kings of the earth setting themselves, and the rulers taking counsel together, to see that the vicegerent of Christ had suitable status in the world. At least, it would be amusing, but for the blood and treasure which such schemes have cost mankind. One has a suspicion that the courts of Europe might be puzzled to settle what position in the world a vicegerent of Christ should occupy; that a person so august should himself be able to make his place and power conspicuous to all men; and that, to take the lowest view, the courts might easily mar more than they could mend if they were to attempt to meddle in the matter. It is the latent conviction that something of this kind, of the same essence, though of milder quality, is behind all the attempts of nations acting politically, by such instruments as rulers can employ, to establish and to maintain the influence of Christ's Gospel, which makes us Nonconformists so coldly indifferent to the efforts which generous and largeminded Churchmen put forth in these days to include our ministries within the bosom of the Established Church.
The two things seem very widely different. The Vicar of Christ has pretensions which are without parallel in our Protestant Establishment. But the more closely we consider it, the more, I imagine, shall we find that the two enterprises have but one root, and that is the effort, no doubt most honest and earnest in the main, to lend to Christian truth by certain modes of political action an authority and influence which, were it left to its own forces, it is supposed that it would fail to command. The Roman position is but the full development of the idea of the relation of the Church to political society, which was a ruling principle at the time of the organization of our own Establishment. And this bald telegraphic statement, strange as it appears in its nakedness, might, we think, be profitably considered by English Churchmen, as revealing in an extreme form what lies behind the Establishment principle—a desire to secure for Christ, and for the life and the light of His Gospel, a position which their native forces would never win.
But it is quite easy for us Nonconformists to take a narrow and shallow view of the grounds on which such an action of the political powers is to be judged. We are prone as religionists to fall into a tone, when speaking of the State, of those whom we call “ the kings and rulers of this world,” which reproduces in modern society the tone in which of old the Jew spoke of the Gentile, or the Pharisee of the mere common Jew. It is a great source of our weakness, and it paralyzes to a large extent the hand of power with which otherwise we might touch the world. We talk and act as if we were the spiritual caste; as if all handling of religious questions by what we call the world outside were an intrusion on our domain ; nay, on a yet higher domain, the custody of which is in our charge. And this caste-consciousness dries up all power of ministry at the very springs.
It is a fundamental dogma with us that the political ruler usurps Christ's authority, when he attempts to legislate for the support of religious truth. We have a latent conviction that all political action belongs to a lower and more earthly sphere than that which the Church inhabits; and that the two have to work out their separate vocations in separate though by no means discordant ways. bound by our principles to denounce all State support of Christianity, from the days of its establishment by law until now, as unauthorized and detrimental; the care of the religious life of the people belonging exclusively to the disciples or saints--those who profess to believe the Gospel and to make it the guiding light of their career. To this principle I very earnestly demur. I have no right in this matter to speak for Nonconformists. I mix but little with the religious action of any ecclesiastical body, dreading rather the tendency to a
large, shall I say gross, corporeity which spiritual communities manifest in these days ; so that in the views which I express I must 'be held to speak only for myself. But it seems to me that we very much underrate the intelligence and earnestness with which, in the present day, the representative assembly of a Christian nation would address itself to religious discussions; while we quite undervalue the profound anxiety to handle religious questions wisely, which political persons and bodies have manifested through all the ages of the Christian culture of the world. There is a great sense in which the constituted authorities of a Christian State have the amplest right to attempt to promote by legislation the religious welfare of the community ; in which, indeed, they are vicegerents of Christ by a title of which the Pope's is but a parody. Students of history find it hard to question the duty of rulers during the great Middle Age, and during the formative period of our own Establishment, to take some charge of the religious estate of these realms.
There is no more fruitful source of error in judgment on politics, secular or ecclesiastical, than that which arises from misfitting the principles and methods which are adapted to one age to the needs of another. Communities advanced in culture and intelligence demand quite different treatment from those which are yet in the earlier and more helpless stages of their growth. We reverse the apostolic method in one way. We feed the infant with the strong meat which suits the man. Our opponents reverse it in another: they feed the man with the pap which suits the babes. It is the same in politics. We have reached the Free Trade Millennium, and we misjudge the generations in which Protection was the nurse of industries yet "in the gristle.” Something may be said from this point of view even for monopolies. The monopolies which were granted in the infancy of commerce and colonization to companies of “merchant adventurers, were the condition of the opening of important tracks of trade. We are perhaps for the same reason prone to judge somewhat hardly the protectionist proclivities of young peoples, conscious of a vigorous political life. It is hard to judge with justice methods of action suited to conditions above which our progress has raised us. It seems equally hard to persuade communities grown to manhood to wean themselves from the milk which nourished their infant years.
I cannot deny the full competency of a Christian nation to deal by its legislation with its religious affairs. Nor can I see how, in the sixteenth century, the Government of England could help making some provision for the religious culture of the community. But it seems equally clear that in these days it is bound to withdraw what
must be a clumsy hand from the regulation of matters which the community, through other and more spiritual organs, can now manage in a far more excellent
way. Those who hold that the English Government at the Reformation intruded sinfully into a sacred sphere, and laid profane hands on a holy ark, little appreciate how the opposite course would have denied every principle which men believed in and lived by during the mediæval period which the Reformation rounded; while they fail to realize the frightful state of ignorance and moral destitution in which it would have left the country. Had the Government, after the suppression of the religious houses, stood aloof from the subject, and left the people to struggle on as they could, the Puritans would have been the first to cry shame upon it; as
shame upon our Government if, isolating its soldiers and sailors from the influences of civil and domestic life, it made no sort of provision for their spiritual needs. The Government, in the nature of things, could not help making provision for the spiritual oversight of the people. How much more nobly they might have managed the matter we can see sadly enough. We have the strongest right to condemn them on the ground of the rough, coarse, and brutal methods which they employed, the fruit of which is to be seen in the pomp, the wealth, the intolerance, the arrogance, which in successive ages have characterized the Anglican Church. But the State handled the matter by the rough hand of law, simply because in those days it was the only practicable instrument; the only extrication from the enormous evils which would else have wasted the land.
It is deeply to be lamented that the State Church in those days was so miserably destitute of the spirit of comprehension which distinguishes her now. Had the Church of England been wise enough and good enough to take in the elements which were working in Puritanism, and working themselves out into Independency, she might have had a far nobler and more beautiful history. But we must remember in justice how profoundly in those days the religious and the political questions were connected; and that if, on the one hand, the ruler claimed the right to keep a strong hand on the religionist, the religionist, on the other, aimed at the conduct of political affairs, and at length, under Cromwell, seized it—creating the purest and the proudest era in our national history. This consideration explains much of the persecuting action of Elizabeth; and further back it is the key to the treatment which the Lollards met with under a ruler so wise and clement as Henry V. But the thing was not to be.
There seems to be a fatal fault, not mainly due to wilful wrong in rulers, in all State management of religious affairs. The highest element in the matter seems always to be let slip. Again
and again at critical moments the thing has been miserably mismanaged, as Churchmen now see with sorrow and shame.
One hears much, and with no small amazement, of the toleration of the Church of England. Thrice she has deliberately purged herself of her purest and strongest life. In the sixteenth century she began that harrying out of the Puritans which King James completed early in the seventeenth. Later in the seventeenth she cast out the Nonconformists, and in the eighteenth she shut her doors against the Methodists; leaving herself—what the Church history of the eighteenth century records. Is it the native ingrained vice of Establishments to find no room for burning zeal and glowing life? In our own days the Kirk of Scotland has repeated the process, with kindred results. The revival of the Church of England is due purely to the measure in which she has been able to reassimilate the elements which she then expelled. The State enterprise seems, in the light of experience, to be a hopeless one. Still, Nonconformist as I am, I cannot see how the State could refuse to attempt the religious organization of the nation on the Reformed basis in the sixteenth century, though one can see easily how very much more nobly the work might have been done.
The State seems, then, as by some natural infirmity, to let all the higher elements of the religious question slip. But Heaven does not let them slip, and makes provision for their maintenance in a far older and more effectual way.
From the first days of the Reformation men were raised up to bear witness for the higher and purer functions of the Church, which the politicians failed to grasp. The Puritans had an eye for that in Christianity which no political constitution of the Church, can include within its scheme; and they devoted themselves to its vindication with a loyalty which made light of bonds and death. Their strong point at first was not the denial of the right of the State to interfere in such matters, but the miserably unchristian settlement which had actually been made. But as the pressure went on, Puritanism crystallized, and took form in Independency, in which the old Church type reappeared. The Independents laid down clearly the principle that the government of Churches belongs to the spiritual persons who compose them; and all they asked of the civil magistrate, all that they regarded as his duty, was, to protect them in the free development of their religious convictions and the free activity of their religious life. They were, in truth, the idealists of the seventeenth century. They were lonely witnesses in the wilderness; but they found means of making the world listen to their words. right, no doubt, that after his fashion the civil magistrate should do his best for the religious culture of the people. It was right by a