« ElőzőTovább »
(To the Editor of the Christian Observer.) SIR, -As you have devoted fourteen pages of your last number to strictures on a brief letter which I sent to you, reciting some facts at which one of your correspondents had expressed displeasure, may I ask the favour of you to indulge me once more with two or three of your columns, for the purpose of a little farther elucidation of a late transaction, at which you also have taken such strong offence. Permit me also to premise two things. The first relates to the “long-tried friend of orthodox Dissenters." Far be it from me to do injustice to any man. I am happy to read the description which you give of my accuser, and, presuming that it is an accurate delineation of his character, I will only say of it, “ May it abide !" Yet I doubt not that you will concede, that a person who writes anonymously to represent another in an unfavourable light, must necessarily expose himself to a degree of suspicion. My next prefatory remark respects yourself, as the disseminator of the accusation. In replying to the contents of your lengthened remonstrance, you will excuse me if I state, that in some respects I shall not follow your example. I shall not even seem to engage in the invidious effort to place a father and son in hostile attitude, (though you are evidently unacquainted with my venerable parent's opinions in his ripe age,) nor to try and raise a division among christian brethren, who are united in their general principles, however they may differ as to the modes of their exhibition and diffusion. Neither shall I venture, especially in a controversy on religious subjects, even to play with the edge-tools of sarcasm or caustic phraseology, lest I should exasperate those whom I would only attempt to convince. Classed as I may be by you, or by your reviewing circle, among those sectaries who are either " kicking or to be kicked,” I can truly affirm, that I feel no inclination thus offensively to lift up the heel against those who differ from me in opinion, and I am anxious so to discipline my spirit by the law of charity, that I may not deserve to be so contemptuously struck. If, however, I should happen to receive a scornful blow from any who are remarkable for their asinine or vicious propensities, I have not the slightest apprehension of sustaining real injury, whether the wantons be calceated or unshod.
Having already given you the correct statement of the circumstances relative to the part I took in reference to a recent election to the City of London School, it is unnecessary that I should repeat the detail. But there is one part of your comment on my procedure, which requires a faithful notice. You say, that “I avow, where politics are concerned, I prefer an Unitarian minister, though I dislike his creed, to an orthodox man who has the misfortune not to be a radical.” I complain of this as a most inaccurate representation. I knew nothing of the politics of either of the candidates, and all I intended to express was, that the election had assumed a sort of political character, which, in my judgment, had nothing to do with the whole affair. Nor was I ever furnished with the VOL. I. N. s.
testimonials of any other candidate than those of the gentleman whom I recommended. To this day I have never seen those of the successful rival, nor have I been able to ascertain that he underwent any examination as to his religious opinions, though I take it for granted that the Committee were satisfied with both, and therefore appointed him to the mastership. Your “ Remarks" have not broken down or removed those fences which were set up, and which I described, by which I considered that all injurious influence of the defeated candidate's supposed theological creed, must be effectually prevented. Allow me, before I dismiss this topic, to add, that the mere fact of a subscription to articles of faith, would have afforded no absolute security to the Committee, of the soundness of the successful instructor's creed. Do you not know many among the higher and humbler orders of clergymen, who have subscribed, professedly ex animo, the Thirty-nine Articles, and who have denied the essential truths they contain, both from the pulpit and the press? If your memory cannot easily recal their names and publications, I could easily supply them, but that I cautiously abstain from doing so, to avoid the aspect and air of personality. And extensively acquainted as you are with the state of your religious communion, is it not also a fact, that the holy ordinance of the Eucharist is habitually administered by clerical hands, to numbers who are known to entertain sentiments and to display practices at complete variance with the grand doctrines and prominent principles of our common Christianity? You have quoted several proverbial phrases on your pages. Forgive me, if I remind you of a plebeian adage, “ Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”
Pardon me also, if, as I proceed to notice your “Remarks," I presume to state, that you err in your supposition of the discrepancy subsisting between the elder and the modern nonconformists on the subject of church government. I will furnish you with extracts from the two eminent men of former days, of whom you made honourable mention. It is true Dr. Watts expresses himself in a note, as you describe, but you have not given the whole of it. It is as follows. “I do not by any means here pretend to vindicate the refusal of tithes and dues to the church in our nation, for they are to be considered as a civil or national law or incumbrance, belonging to every piece of land or house, bought or rented, and so appointed by our laws; and therefore every man knowingly buys or hires his land or house with this incumbrance fixed on it, and belonging to those whom the state appoints to receive and possess it. But," (and this you have omitted, “in the first fixing or erecting a civil government, of which I am speak. ing throughout this Essay, one would not choose to have such laws made, or such taxes and incumbrances established at first, which would afford any colour or occasion for such a refusal or disobedience, in times to come, as may arise from real scruples of conscience.” From the latter part of this note it is plain, that however it be considered as our duty to submit to such arrange
ments, while they form a part of the law of the land, yet we deem them in many respects undesirable, and believe that we are justified in employing constitutional measures to secure exemption from taxes which we conceive to be impolitic and unjust. If you had looked a little higher up the page of the good Doctor's Essay, you would have found the subjoined sentence"I cannot see any sufficient reason why a state should appoint the peculiarities of any revealed religion, or the special rites and ceremonies of any particular worshippers, or the men who celebrate them, to be supported at the public charge. For these peculiarities are not necessary to the preservation of a state, nor to the common outward civil welfare of the people; and I think the power of the magistrate proceeds no further," &c. &c.
I could multiply similar quotations, but will content myself with adding one from the pen of the learned and candid Dr. Doddridge. Commenting on the history of Gallio, as narrated in the book of the Acts, he thus writes, in his " Improvement" of the 18th chapter. “The tumultuous rage of the Jews is nothing surprising, for we have been accustomed often to read of it; but the prudence and moderation of Gallio are truly amiable. That wise Roman well knew the extent of his office as a magistrate, and was aware that it gave him no title, no pretence, to dictate in matters of conscience, or to restrain men's religious liberties, so long as they abstained from injustice and mischievous licentiousness, by which the public peace might be disturbed, and the rights of society invaded. May God give to all the magistrates of the earth such a spirit, and the gospel, under the influences of divine grace, will soon become an universal religion, and show the world how little need it has of being supported by civil penalties, to which those are generally most ready to have recourse, who, like these Jews, are confounded by fair argument.” Now, it is perfectly immaterial to the point in hand, whether I entertain these opinions to their full extent or not; but I merely supply the paragraphs to show, that there is no opposition between the main sentiments of Dissenters of the old and new school; and I need not do more than remind you that these were the opinions of the late Robert Hall, and are those of Dr. Pye Smith, whose names you introduce, as exhibited in the works of the former, and in the late correspondence of the latter with Professor Lee.
You still endeavour to throw serious blame on some of us, because we do not enter into the arena of public controversy, on a few of the passing topics of the day. It is because we judge that the opposing parties have put inferior subjects quite out of their proper level. It is because we have seen how such movements have tended to dim the bright lustre of their Christian profession, to impair their devotional spirit, to bring them into unsuitable associations, and to impede their usefulness by a diversion of their energies from more important objects. It is because we wish to be, what you accuse our body of not being, “ the quiet in the land," and which, I contend, notwithstanding your representations, is the true portrait of the grand bulk of our noncomformist community. Here and there you
may find men (and in what section are they not found?) of restless temperament, of fiery temper, of an ambitious turn, or who have been galled by some act of clerical oppression, who have flamed ont into vehement addresses and appeals, but the mass is of a very different character. In my earlier days, I recollect dining with the late Earl of Buchan, who showed me an autograph letter of the eloquent Burke, and in which, as nearly as I can recollect, were the following observations. “ Loud noise and ostentations publieity are no conclusive proofs, of solid worth, or real importance. One afternoon I was passing over an extensive farm, and heard some ten or twelve querulous rooks and jackdaws, cawing in a high tree. At first I should have imagined that they were the principal inhabitants of the field; but I cast my eye over its verdant space, and there I saw & large herd of noble oxen, browsing and reposing in silence-the ornament of the mead, and the support and strength of the surrounding population.” It is bad policy, on your part, to goad and drive these moderate and quiescent persons, for you may provoke them to turn again, and rend, and trample on the more vulnerable parts of your system, which may endanger all the rest.
It is truly painful to speak or write of inyself, but your attack is so completely personal, (having mentioned my name more than fifty times in the space of a few pages,) that I am compelled to say, as one of my betters did on a memorable occasion, “ Bear with me in my folly," if I venture to advance any thing in support of my just claims. You say, that you are 6 sorry to relinquish hopes" of me. I take leave to ask yon, on what grounds am I to be thus abandoned ? Do I cease to preach Christ and him crucified, as the basis of a sinner's hope, or to enforce good will towards men, or to urge the necessity of practical holiness? Do I not continue to conduct my extensive pastorate in the most peaceable spirit towards all surrounding denominations ? Am I not still a subscribing supporter of the majority of those humane and religious institutions, which aim at promoting the inferior and superior interests of man? Have I not been, without pompous professions, a steadily loyal subject ever since the commencement of my public career? Am I not in habitual and friendly intercourse with my ministerial brethren of every Christian party? Cannot thousands of my fellow citizens, who have long known my manner of life and conversation, attest the facts which these interrogatories imply? Nay, more, associated as we have been in a valuable religious society for many years, I appeal to you, Sir, whether you DO NOT KNOW, that the aspect in which you have endeavoured to exhibit me to the public, is both incorrect and unfair? But if you expect me to “ step forward” as the apologist of that which I deem wrong in the spirit and proceedings of your own, or any other body of professing Christians, then you may “ give up all hopes” of me, and consider me as irretrievably lost.
You coerce me to approach a little closer to yourself, with respect to your own demeanor to the church, of which you are a minister. Have I ever said or written any thing against the Establishment, a thousandth part so keen and violent as you have done? In your
strictures on me, you thrust a side wound at her, for supposed indifference to your temporal welfare, and with seeming ingratitude, you criminate her as your “ Dry nurse,” who has yielded you no nutritive supplies. I have it also in my power to quote many passages from the pages of the Christian Observer, upon the alleged misconduct of the managers and members of your venerable Hierarchy; but I will only furnish one to your recollection, which, in my judgment, contains a more severe and indignant censure on the management of your church, than is to be found in almost any of the writings of the most rigid Independents.
• With respect to the evils resulting from the present administration of patronage, it is impossible to speak in terms of too great regret. We quoted in our last number some remarks of Mr. Southey, which in principle apply as much to the state of the church now as ever they did. It is not even pretended, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, that either a private or an official patron seriously sets himself to look out for the person best qualified for an appointment; it is quite sufficient that the friend whom he wishes to oblige is not legally or scandalously incompetent. Mr. Simeon, we know, and a few other individuals, have been accused of the atrocious crime of expending large sums of money in purchasing advowsons, for the sole object of nominating to the incumbency the best men they could find, without any tie of relationship, or private interest, or friendship. But no one pretends that such crimes are common. The auctioneers who daily knock down advowsons to the best bidder, never suspect that they are bought upon such Utopian principles.
It is enough that the purchaser has a son, a nephen, a friend, whom he wishes to provide for, and who is not disqualified for holding the preferment. And so also in the case of public and official patrons.”
The same writer adds, “ We have not a shadon of doubt that the system which he (Lord Eldon) and others like minded pursued, was most mischievous to the cause of true piety, and the spiritual interests of the Church of England. His lordship, it is said, never failed to enquire very carefully whether the party recommended to him had the misfortune to be a Calvinist or Methodist, or any other strange animal; but did his lordship and others always ask, all other things being to their mind, whether he was a careless shepherd, a clerical sportsman, a non-resident pluralist, or perhaps a man of no theological information whatever, except so far as to compose or copy a tirade against bible societies and evangelicals. We wish that ecclesiastical patrons of all classes could be better instrueted than too many of them are, not only respecting the duty of acting conscientiously, but also of guiding their conscience by a scripturally enlightened understanding. We have so often urged this subject in detail, and particularly in reviewing the chapters No. v. and vi. of Dr. Chalmers' Christian and Civic Economy, in our volume for 1821, that we forbear dwelling upon it at present; but we earnestly wish that all patrons, especially official patrons, would peruse those admirable chapters of Dr. Chalmers' work ; more especially as the high esteem which that pious, zealous, and