« PreviousContinue »
at least, without wishing to be uncharitable, shall very much doubt the professed disinterestedness of such outrageous defences of existing establishments as the Rev. W. Sewell's. Our doubt is in exact proportion to the quantity of unnecessary abuse and ostentatious presumption with which the Thoughts' of this Oxford Fellow and Tutor are so largely mixed up, to the injury of his argument and the detriment of his character. Pompous phrases, bold assertions, and harsh invectives gain an advocate but little credit with those who love simplicity, charity and truth: neither can they be considered becoming in one who assumes to himself, in common with his brethren, the post of guardian and instructor, and warner and spiritual guide, and constituted intercessor for this nation.' It would, however, be very presumptuous in us to address any thing like admonition to one who holds so exalted an office, and is invested with such infallible attributes, as this holy advocate of an immaculate Church Establishment, We shall, therefore, content ourselves with the humble hope, that he may not in future abuse his high prerogatives, to the injury of his fellow-creatures, or so far forget the weakness of the mortal in the exaltation of the saint, as to seize the bolts of the thunderer, and hurl the fires of heaven:
'Snatch from His hand the balance and the rod,
It is enough to have once committed the folly of impotence vainly grasping at power, without hazarding the longer possession of a little brief authority,' by madly attempting to play
as, if they do not wise men laugh. the risk of its own
- such fantastic tricks before high heaven;'
make the angels weep,' are sure to make all An angry ape,' trying to be mischievous, at personal safety, puts all gravity out of coun
It does not require the eye of prophecy to see that the great question which is to absorb, for a time, all minds, is that of Religious Establishments. The public is preparing for the discussion. Events are urging it forward. Nay, already it has commenced, and, with many, convictions are formed of the most decided character. We do not refer to the veterans of Nonconformity. It is an old and a long-since-settled question with the bulk of them. We think of the mass of the nation. Of these, no few have come to a decision for the most part unfavourable to religious establishments, caused mainly, it may be,
in many instances, rather by the presence of existing corrup tions, than any well-drawn general principles. And though great practical questions are ordinarily settled by decisions thus formed, it cannot fail to be desirable that the public mind should be enlightened as much as possible, that on this-as on all points its judgment should be formed on principle rather than on feeling. Reason, not passion, should be the arbiter in great social questions. At the same time, it is neither undesirable, with a view to obtain a patient hearing, to blend with the discussion of abstract principles the feelings of aversion which existing corruptions justify, nor improper in argument to exemplify the tendency of error, by exhibiting the evils to which it has in any case led. We shall, therefore, in speaking somewhat at length on the question of religious establishments, deal rather with what they are and have been, than what the imagination of the social philosopher may, in the dreams of his fancy, picture them forth. And while we declare at once, that we ourselves are hostile to them in every shape, we feel no doubt that the Christian Teacher will not be indisposed, in order to have the question discussed in all its bearings, readily to admit a defence from any one who may have the chivalry to undertake it.*
There seem to be only three principles on which a religious establishment in alliance with the state can be defended:
1. That it has been prescribed by Divine authority, or institution; or,
2. That the religion established is the true religion, and ought, therefore, to be protected by the state; or,
3. That such an establishment is highly useful both to religion and the state.
1. That a religious establishment in alliance with the state has been prescribed by Divine authority may, perhaps, be argued from the institution of the Jewish religion: but before such an argument can be admitted as valid, it must be shown that the religious establishments which have been formed in other countries were framed exactly upon the model of this; otherwise, not being similarly constituted, they can plead no Divine authority or prescription, from the existence of the Jewish establishment, for their own. This establishment, however, differed equally from all that preceded and all that have succeeded it, being, as is well known, a theocracy in which the Deity was both God and Monarch. Nor was this institution altered by the election of judges and kings, for both were elected by His authority, and not by the general voice of the people acting on their own, being chosen and appointed by His messengers and prophets, and filling, therefore, the situa
*Our correspondent has rightly interpreted our feelings.-ED.
tion only of prime ministers or viceroys, to whom certain powers were delegated and entrusted by the Supreme Head of the government. Hence, under this establishment, the religious and civil laws were the same, being incorporated into one system by Divine prescription, and the church and state were not merely allied, but identified, constituting one and the same body but in all other religious establishments they have formed two distinct bodies, possessing separate rights and interests, though, by a conventional alliance, united for mutual defence. From this most important difference existing between the Jewish establishment and all others, it is evident none have been formed upon the exact model of it, and it was impossible they should, unless the Almighty had condescended to place Himself at the head of them, in the double capacity of Supreme Magistrate and Deity. No just argument, then, can be adduced in support of a political alliance between church and state from the establishment of the Jewish religion, differing so widely as it did from all other establishments, and being, moreover, a Divine institution.
It cannot be pleaded by way of objection to this assertion, that, though there is, and can be, no exact resemblance between other religious establishments and the Jewish, the principle on which they are formed is authorized by the example of the Deity in the union of the Jewish church and state: because that union seems to have been formed for especial purposes which have been accomplished, viz. the preserving the knowledge of the true God on the earth, and the preparing mankind for a fuller revelation of Himself and His will, which has already been made. Besides, the Jewish establishment is characterized by many features which seem to indicate that it was intended only for a particular people and period, which its dissolution, also, appears to confirm: especially as in the whole code of the Mosaic law there is not a single precept enjoining the adoption of a religious establishment on other nations, or recommending the principle of such an establishment. Taking these circumstances into consideration, in addition to the peculiar constitution of the Jewish establishment, differing most essentially from all others, how can this establishment be regarded as justifying the principle of an alliance between church and state? No injunction can be brought from the Scriptures of the Old Testament in support of such an alliance, and no strict analogy exists between it and the Mosaic economy: all such alliances being, moreover, of human, whereas this was of Divine institution.
Not to insist further on the generally acknowledged fact, that the Jewish establishment was exclusive in its nature, and not intended for general adoption, it is a very serious and important question, whether, independent of this consideration, the con
duct of the Deity, in his extraordinary communications with mankind, ought to become the object of imitation to his creatures in the common affairs of life; and that it ought not, unless expressly enjoined as such, we may reasonably conclude from this consideration, that, as our finite understandings cannot comprehend the plans of Infinite Wisdom, whose thoughts are as far above the reach of our thoughts as the heavens are above the earth, we might very probably misunderstand their design, and commit the most egregious errors in attempting to act conformably to it. Hence it appears, that so far from the establishment of the Jewish religion authorising an alliance between church and state, were that alliance, which it is not, strictly analagous to it, notwithstanding the closest resemblance, it might be neither safe nor justifiable. The argument will admit of the following illustration. It is recorded in the history connected with the establishment of the Jewish religion, that the Deity expressly ordered the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites, lest they should be corrupted in their sins and become idolaters; but should we be justified, without as express a command from the Deity, in taking away the lives of our fellow-creatures, however wicked might be their conduct or erroneous their faith? Yet the same principle, carried to its legitimate extent, on which an alliance between church and state is defended, viz. the ordination of the Deity in the establishment of the Jewish religion, would equally authorise the members of such an alliance, to commit the most cruel acts of religious persecution against all persons whose opinions, or conduct, were considered dangerous to their religious welfare. The example of the Deity might, on this principle, be pleaded equally in support of a religious establishment and in vindication of religious persecution: so that this must be considered a very unsatisfactory and unsafe mode of reasoning. All inferences, indeed, as to the excellence of institutions, or the propriety of conduct, drawn from the recorded communications, or acts of the Deity, unless supported by His direct injunctions, must be very dangerous, as well as inconclusive.
If no argument can be drawn from the particular institution of the Jewish religion, to show that religious establishments in general are supported by Divine authority, or prescription, much less can any such argument be derived from the institution of Christianity. An alliance of his church with the state seems never to have entered the contemplation of Christ; he not only did not expressly enjoin such an alliance as calculated in any way to serve the purposes of his religion-he never made even the remotest allusion to it. From his perfect silence on the subject, he appears not to have once anticipated any such alliance as about to exist at any future period: at all events he
gave no sanction to it. Had it formed any part of his mission to connect the religion he came to teach with the state, a fine opportunity of his doing this presented itself at that popular period of his ministry when he was conducted into Jerusalem in triumph by the Jewish populace, who, with shouts of unanimous applause, acknowledged him as the expected Messiah, whom his countrymen, under the mistaken influence of prejudice, anticipated as about to come in the character of a temporal prince: availing himself of this prejudice, he might easily have incorporated his religion with the Jewish establishment, and have ascended the throne of David in the double capacity of prophet and king. How, then, can we account for his not, at this favourable moment, uniting the Christian church with the state, but by conceding that the formation of such an alliance constituted no part of his Divine commission-that his religion, not being political either in its nature or design, was not to owe its establishment to political power, and therefore, neither required nor sought a connexion with the civil government of the Jewish, or any other kingdom. He himself, indeed, declared that his kingdom was not of this world' from which, in connexion with the general character of his whole conduct and teaching, we may safely infer, that the dominion his religion was intended to exercise was purely spiritual.
It has, however, been asserted by the most learned advocate of a religious establishment, such as exists in this country, as a circumstance favourable to such an establishment, if not authorising it, that the Author and Finisher of our Faith,' in 'revealing the will of his Heavenly Father to mankind, actually formed our holy religion into a society, on a common policy, with public rites, proper officers, and a subordination of the ministry.' This assertion can be founded only on what Christ himself instituted, or what was instituted on his authority by his apostles the best mode, therefore, of ascertaining how far it is correct, will be an examination of the institutions that were really formed by the sacred founder of our religion, and by those whom he commissioned and empowered to teach it.
The only rites which Christ appointed to be practised in his Church were those of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, and the only officers he ordained were the twelve Apostles, whom he commissioned to preach the Gospel. To these rites the apostles added no others, and the only additional officers they created were Deacons and Elders, the business of the former being apparently to superintend the distribution of the money collected for the relief of the poor (Acts vi. 1—6.), and probably to visit the sick, that of the latter to exercise several ecclesias
* Warburton's Alliance between Church and State, book i, § 5, p. 39. Ed. 2.