صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

sufficient purity to render the second of any avail. Nor could we find among all the utterances of that remarkable discussion anything that would meet our case.

The simple fact of the matter is, that that Church will have to disappear, to be disintegrated or redintegrated, before unity will be possible. We do not believe in Episcopacy; we do not believe in its establishment, or in that of any Church; we do not believe in its doctrines, or creeds, or methods; we do not believe in any unity enforced by law, whether of a secular or ecclesiastical power; we do not believe in the efficiency of the Church as now administered. The Church will have to change so much and entirely in the direction of assimilation to ourselves, that, when the union takes place, if ever it should, it will be rather the return of the Church to primitive Congregationalism, than the return of Congregationalism to the Episcopal Establishments of later generations. But this union will never happen whilst she is in her present bonds. We prefer walking without anklets, and doing our work without handcuffs. We prefer singing by heart to singing by law. We had rather believe on adequate proof than believe what we are commanded by law to accept. We prefer freedom, and expansiveness, and self-adaptation to all the splendour of a hierarchy and the glory of a national name.

We are fully aware how dangerous it is for purblind mortals to venture to prophesy an event never so little away in the future; and yet we cannot help fancying that we descry, in the present condition of the Church of England, some augury of her not remote future. Every day is making her more conscious of her anomalous position, more sensible of her bonds. She lies dreaming of unity, and talks of it in her sleep, whilst her internal rents are every day widening. She is restlessly casting about for freedom, yet fearing to part with her fetters. Like an

imprisoned bird, she beats her breast against the bars of her | cage, yet were the door open, she would be spell-bound to her

perch. Fevered and restless, she sighs and moans for health, yet steadily refuses the draught from which alone health can

Such a state of things never lasts long. Lethargy may continue for weeks, or may become the chronic trance of years; but this restlessness, betrayed most surely by the events of the past year, cannot long continue without a great change for the better, or the worse. What means this new cry about the re-union, or rather the return of the Dissenters ? To our ears it is a startling one. We have so long been accustomed to the sound of Stand by, for I am holier than thou !' that we wonder intensely at finding ourselves addressed in accents so bland, and

come.

[blocks in formation]

almost wooed as by lover's lips. But we have no difficulty in finding the reason for the curious change. In the lips of one party in the Church, it means simply this— We want your • help to put down a thing which you and we hate in common, ' but which is likely to swamp us if you do not make common

cause with us. We know we have been very uncivil to you, very intolerant, very exclusive, very monopolizing, but let bygones be bygones, and help us to put down Ritualism ; join our army for the sake of fighting that Popery which is our common foe.' In the lips of another section who are wooing us to their fellowship, it means nothing else than this: • We have irritated and persecuted and tabooed you, till you • have become dangerous, and we see that, unless we share our good things with you, we may lose them altogether. We are come upon

critical times; things are in such a state inside * the house, that we cannot afford to have any enemies outside : * so come and be one-on our terms; we will relax as much as

we can (it cannot be much), in order to realize that blessed ' unity, which we did not care for so much till we saw how ' needful it was to our own existence.' But we must be deaf to the voice of these charmers, 'charm they never so wisely;'not wilfully, but perforce.

What, then, must happen in the Church? Will not the cry for revision of the Rubrics grow louder and louder, and be met by the constant cry of 'touch not a letter of the ancient forms; till the fact shall stare the Church in the face that she is helplessly bound by fetters which she dares not ask the State to relax? Will not this hollow talk about 'compromise' and "comprehensiveness' go on, until it shall goad what living conscience there is in the Church to protest against so manifest a dishonour to truth and the Gospel, and burst that bubble for ever ; and will not a great many—all the hearty, earnest lovers of the Church and the Gospel-begin to remember that there is a Bible which was before the Prayer Book; that there are Divine, as well as human voices to which the Church should listen, and begin to look in the direction of that freedom which they have dreaded so long, and like tiinorous swimmers and men, be forced by necessity to launch themselves into an element in which they shall find at once a delicious liberty and a virile vigour, that shall be the joy and the health and the peace after which they have been sighing for years.

About two centuries ago, a great mistake was made by the then rulers of this country, in conjunction with the leading spirits in the Church, which like every other great mistake, has

been bringing forth its appropriate fruits ever since. It was a very pleasant mistake for those who made it, and to a large number of individuals during the whole term of those centuries, has produced no small amount of a certain kind of good. But to the country as a whole and to the religion of the country, it has been a great disaster. It has conferred honours of no mean degree, and emoluments of no slight value, and very precious monopolies of privilege and power upon all who were ready to accept certain religious formulæ, and to fall in with their accompanying and consequent refutations. But inasmuch as in no country in the world can unanimity of judgment be produced upon any matter by any kind of machinery-political or ecclesiastical,- least of all by punitive laws, this very thing has been the source of great injustice and tyranny towards all those who could not accept the prescribed creed. Consequently the religious life of this country has had an element of strife infused into it, which has seriously retarded and distorted its development and drained it of its force. At this moment, the legislation of the country is impeded and hampered by ecclesiastical matters, with which Parliament ought to have nothing to do, and for which it has no special competency, but the reverse. The force which might have gone to the Evangelization of the masses at home, and the myriads of heathen abroad, has been wasted in inevitable mutual conflict. One half of the Church has regarded the other half as rebellious ; whilst these in turn have accounted the others as tyrants. Instead of carrying the Gospel of Christ to men with united hands, we have been compelled to snatch at it, and almost tear it in twain; and all in consequence of that grievous blunder, the Act of Uniformity, and the establishment of the Church thereby. A mistake more ludicrous and at the same time more disastrous, it would not be easy to make. Can water be held in a sieve? Can oxygen be picked up by the point of a needle ? Can the law of gravitation be held by forceps ? Can a mathematical problem be wrought out by a barrel organ ? Can a metaphysical difficulty be solved by nitric acid? or zeal stirred up by a kitchen poker ? or the Alps ascended in a steam packet? The attempt at any one of these feats would not be one whit more idiotic than the attempt to settle the religious convictions of a nation by law. Law cannot make truth. Law cannot find truth. Law cannot secure truth. And so, conscience intuitively resents and resists the interference of law in the matter. Conscience is a great Divine force in humanity, whose function is to receive and apply Divine truth to individual human lives. It is like the wind, but mightier

[blocks in formation]

than the rushing mighty wind. It is like the tide, but fiercer than the fiercest tempest-tide. Conscience must be free. Rear the most solid wall of law against the wind, and how it puffs it into ruin. Build the hugest breakwater in mid Atlantic, and how it laughs it into wreck. And so conscience must be free. It laughs at human enactments. It may be awed into silence, compelled into submission, into conformity, but never into faith. It must be free or it must die.

Men have been foolish enough to think that they could supplement God's work in the matter of revelation, and have attempted to make the Christian faith more definite and determined. They have shaped it into creeds, and put the Government stamp upon them, and said to men, .This is truth, and nothing

else than this. You must believe this, or take the consequences ;' 'the consequences' being in England, in times past, very disagreeable ones, even to burning at the stake; and being to-day anything but agreeable. But with what result ? Why, only the creation of endless schism, and a constantly widening area of Dissent. The attempt has failed egregiously, miserably. It has failed within the pale of the Church, as well as without. Because some men can no longer subscribe them honestly, they are demanding the alteration of the creeds; whilst others are treating them as obsolete, and using them as dead forms of words. How long this state of things is to last depends simply upon how long Churchmen will shut their eyes to this manifest failure of the principle of establishing a religion by law. Unless some new and more startling events should occur in the Church to compel Churchmen thus to look on unwelcome truths, it would seem as if it must be a long while ere many of them will perceive what to us is so plain, There are numbers of them, sensible and astute on all other topics and subjects, who seem to lay aside their ordinary reason and sense when they think or speak of this. Honestly, and in the teeth of all the history of the Church of England, they declare that the disendowment of the Church would be her destruction; that it would drive her clergy from her altars, leave her laity to the dangers of atheism or irreligion, deprive the country of all Christian teaching, and causing thus the fall of the Church, shake the very foundations of the throne. Surely it is pertinent to ask why this must happen. The Nonconformist portion of the Church Catholic in England has no help or subsidy from the law, and yet its ministry does not fail, and its laity are not more atheistic or irreligious than others, and its care for the spiritual weal of the nation is not destroyed, nor its loyalty one whit less hearty and sincere than that of the National Church. They talk

of a nation without an established Church as being without a religion. Why? Is a nation without protective duties a nation without commerce? What else does the law give to a nation ? And why should it alone be depended upon to give us the Gospel ? They say, and no doubt sincerely, that they fear that the relaxation of the law would let loose a flood of schism within the Church. The flood is there already, and is breaking loose. There is not half such serious doctrinal diversity between the orthodox Nonconforming sects as between the sects now comprised in the Church. Our divisions, unhappily, and yet happily also, are all about comparatively small points; theirs are about the fundamentals of the Gospel. Is a man saved by rites or his faith? Is the Bible God's book, or is it not? Manifestly, the closer such schisms as these are bound together, the fiercer and more intense they are made. The nearer such litigants are compelled to dwell to each other, the wider their hearts are put apart. The very best healer of such divisions, if there be any possible healing, is to let them go apart and labour apart; differing, but not hostile, because no longer forced into unnatural strife. If, however, there be no possible healing; if one side hold error, and the other truth, and the battle must be fought out to victory and defeat, nothing is more certain than this, that truth must win, if the conditions of the fight be just; and that for truth to win any battle, her champion must fight with no weapons but her own, and above all must not fight in chains.

CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE.

2

HISTORY, BIOGRAPHY, AND TRAVELS.
History of the United Netherlands : from the death of William

the Silent to the Twelve Years' Truce-1609. By JOHN
LOTHROP MOTLEY, D.C.L. In four volumes. Vols. III. and

IV., 1590-1609. With Portraits. The first two volumes of this work were published under another title, describing the argument as extending from the death of William the Silent to the Synod of Dort. The subject has evidently grown under the author's treatment, so that he has been compelled to contract its limits. He now causes his narrative to pause at the point of time when the Republic was formally admitted into the family of nations by the treaty of the twelve years' truce. The subsequent history Dr. Motley means to make the theme of a separate work, which will include the history of the Thirty Years' War, with which the renewed conflict between the

« السابقةمتابعة »