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THE RIGHT REV. DR. JOHN KAYE,
LORD BISHOP OF BRISTOL,
PRIMARY VISITATION OF THAT DIOCESE,
IN AUGUST, 1821.
I am convinced, my reverend brethren, that, when you engaged in the work of the ministry, you engaged in it with a just sense of the weighty obligations which it would impose on you. You felt that you were enrolling yourselves under the banners, not of a triumphant, but of a militant church; of a church, which is exposed to continual danger from the attacks of watchful and indefatigable enemies; and which cannot, therefore, allow even a momentary relaxation of vigilance and zeal on the part of its defenders. Persuaded that the office, to which you were called, was one, not of inactivity and ease, but of unremitting exertion and anxiety, you determined thenceforward to devote every energy of body and of mind to the faithful discharge of your professional duties.
Such, I am convinced, were the feelings and resolutions by which you were animated when you entered upon the work of the ministry ; feelings and resolutions, which your subsequent experience must have tended to confirm and strengthen. If I thus advert to them, it is not because I suspect your bosoms to be strangers to their influence; but because I think that, if there were ever a time when the circumstances of the church peculiarly required that such principles should actuate the conduct of its ministers, that time is the present. I am not insensible to the existence of a disposition in the minds of men to exaggerate the magnitude of the transactions in which they are themselves engaged, and to imagine that no age of the world has produced events of equal mo
ment and interest with those which it has been their lot to wit. ness. Yet after we have made every possible allowance for the effect which this disposition may have in biassing our judgments, we shall still be justified in affirming that the state of the visible church of Christ, and especially of that part of it to which we belong, is such as to excite the deepest anxiety and apprehension in all, who duly appreciate the importance of religion, as well to the temporal, as to the eternal interests of mankind. Permit me then on this occasion, when for the first time I address you as your Diocesan, to offer a few suggestions upon certain points connected with the discharge of your ministerial functions, which appear to me more particularly to deserve your attention.
The subject to which I shall in the first instance allude is one, that concerns not only the members of our own church, but all who profess to believe in the divine origin of the gospel; I mean the wide dissemination of infidel opinions in the present day. Infidelity, it is true, is not an evil of modern growth ; but it' has of late assumed a very different form from that under which it long displayed itself to the world. Formerly its disciples were to be found only amongst the higher ranks of society; either amongst the rich and powerful, who, dissatisfied with the uncompromising purity of the gospel precepts, were disposed in consequence to deny their divine authority; or amongst the disputers of this world, who, desirous of acquiring a reputation for superior talent and sagacity, thought that they could not better attain their object than by calling in question truths, in which the great majority of mankind had long acquiesced with undoubting confidence ; and who received at length the appropriate punishment of their presumption, being themselves entangled in the web of their own sophistry. But now the baneful influence of scepticism is no longer confined within the same narrow limits; it extends to all classes of the community; men in the obscurest walks of life have caught the contagion, and have learned to think and to speak of the gospel as a mere imposture, as a scheme devised by crafty men for the purpose of holding their fellow-creatures in a state of subjection.
Although the intrinsic criminality of infidel opinions must remain the same, whatever be the rank or station of those by whom they are professed, yet when viewed with reference to their effects upon civil society, the lower the condition of the persons among whom they prevail, the more formidable are the dangers which may be justly apprehended from their operation. The possessor of wealth and greatness inay find it convenient to persuade himself that a religion is false, which forbids the indulgence of many of his favorite propensities ; but he wishes to retain the
worldly splendor and enjoyments by which he is surrounded, and is sensible of the powerful tendency of Christianity to render men peaceable and contented with their condition. While, therefore, he himself rejects the authority of the gospel, he is desirous that it should retain its influence over the minds of others. in the inferior ranks of life have not the same motives to induce them to desire the permanence of the existing fabric of society; they are disposed rather to imagine that every change must turn to their advantage, and if they once cast off the restraints of religion, will be easily persuaded to engage in any undertaking by which a change may be accomplished.
With respect to the precise degree in which infidelity has been diffused amongst the lower classes of the community, I am aware that there exists a considerable difference of opinion. Yet that man must, I think, be strangely blinded by prejudice, who can in the present day deny that it prevails to an alarming extent. To the Christian minister, who feels that it is peculiarly his duty to watch over the spiritual interests of his
spiritual interests of his poorer and less instructed brethren, this must be a subject of frequent and painful meditation; and his thoughts will be anxiously directed to the consideration of the most effectual means, as well of bringing back those members of his flock who may have been led astray by the specious arguments of the infidel, as of firmly establishing the faith of those who have hitherto been preserved from the contagion. Could these desirable objects be attained by the force of reasoning alone, the task of the advocate of the gospel would be comparatively easy. So long as the labors of the great luminaries of our church remain, he can never be at a loss for weapons
with which to repel the most formidable attacks of the adversary. In their writings he will find a probable solution of every doubt and a satisfactory answer to every cavil which sceptical ingenuity has yet been able to urge. But if I may without presumption hazard a remark on this subject in the presence of men, whose long experience in the work of the ministry must render them much better qualified than myself to decide upon the most effectual mode of influencing the minds of their hearers, it is my persuasion that disquisitions on the evidences of Christianity, however ingenious and profound, when addressed to persons in the lower stations of life, will seldom answer the end proposed. Such persons are for the most part unaccustomed to close and accurate reasoning, and are consequently incapable of following us in our argument and of perceiving the connexion between our premises and our conclusions. Our appeals must be addressed to the heart rather than the head. We must dwell upon the peculiar doctrines of the gospel, upon those doctrines which, proceeding as they did
from him who' knew what was in man,” cannot but be best calculated to command the assent, and to influence the practice of man. Speak to your congregations of the general corruption of human nature and of their own particular transgressions, topics on which their own consciences will bear testimony to the truth of your representations; bid them review their past lives and see how infinitely short their practice has fallen even of their own imperfect notions of duty: having thus brought them to a just sense of the need in which the whole human race must stand both of pardon for their sins and of support for their weakness, proceed to convince them how impossible it is for man by his own unassisted efforts to procure that pardon and support; then turn to the sacred volume, and show them that all their wants are abundantly supplied in the gracious provisions which God has been pleased to make for the redemption and sanctification of his fallen creatures. It is not by dwelling in our discourses on the nature of the evidence which is necessary to establish the truth of a divine revelation, that we can hope effectually to secure our less educated brethren against the insidious attacks of infidelity; but by making them feel the exquisite adaptation of the promises and precepts of the gospel to the actual condition of man, and thus affording them as it were an experimental proof that it proceeded from the same Almighty Being who called man into existence and best knows what his condition requires.
The point, to which I wish in the second place to call your attention, regards the relation in which you stand to those who dissent from the established church. In this country the state concedes to christians of every denomination perfect liberty to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience. Let it not for a moment be supposed that I entertain the most remote design of questioning the wisdom of this concession.Independently of all considerations of natural justice, I am convinced that a liberal toleration of religious opinions affords the best security to a national establishment. Yet it must, I think, be admitted that the full toleration enjoyed by dissenters in these kingdoms has given birth to very erroneous notions respecting the nature of the sin of schism. Men are too much in the habit of overlooking the distinction between legal and moral guilt, and of imagining that every act which the law permits may be performed with a safe conscience. They see that the state attaches no penalty to a secession from the established church, and they persuade themselves that, where there is no legal penalty, there can be no violation of duty. Thus by degrees it has come to pass that, by a large portion of the community, the Church of England is re