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THE all-engrossing topic of the day is the Tractarian movement: and we are not amongst the number of those who maintain that it is the safest course to suffer it to pass by unheeded and unchecked: as if to expose it were to give it an importance and prominence which it does not deserve; and to oppose were only to strengthen and confirm. Again and again do we hear the warning raised against the evil of controversy; and an evil we believe it to be, but a necessary one. There is a jesuitical wiliness in Tractarianism which makes it indispensible to combat and detect it in all its operations; and if there be any occasion on which it is a duty "earnestly to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints," it is assuredly the present.
And while they who take the lead must be valiant for the truth, all the household of faith may well be upon the watch; and, as a duty, observe the signs of the times, and gather to themselves the benefit and security to which watchfulness alone can lead them.
There can be no good policy in hiding, ostrich-like, our heads in wilful ignorance, while the enemy is pursuing; better, far better, to look the foe fairly in the face, and to prepare for the onset. Watch ye; stand fast in the faith: quit you like men; be strong."
Nor can we be passive spectators of the Tractarian movement from any doubt as to its grievous and extensive mischief. It is a system which strikes at the root of all that is essential to the Christian's welfare, and one which, if suffered to run its uninterrupted course, will be found to supplant the civil as well as religious rights of the laity, by the undue assertion of priestly domination and authority.
Deeply impressed with this conviction, we shall not fail to occupy our pages largely with the subject, endeavouring to warn our readers against the invidious approaches of Antichrist in this, to us, novel form; and at the same time pointing out the line of duty to be pursued towards those who are unhappily caught in the snare, as well as with respect to ourselves; and if we can, in any degree, be instrumental in protecting the faithful, or in reclaiming the wanderers, or in helping those who deprecate the errors of the day to a becoming course of conduct under their excited feelings, we shall indeed enjoy a rich recompence for our effort.
In contemplating the Tractarian movement, the first thing doubtless is to watch the feelings with which we do so. Our first business is with ourselves. Our first desire must be that passing events may not injure us, and then that they may be made conducive to our good. They do inflict a serious injury, if they call into action the workings of wrath, clamour, bitterness, evil-speaking. But why should they? Is there not a distinction to be made between the error and the erring? and while the error is withstood, ought there not to be tender, sympathizing pity towards the erring? Where is our self-knowledge? If it sleeps not, can we fail to bear in mind that there is no evil, either in principle or practice, into which we have not the sad tendency to run ourselves? and what have we that we have not received? If we are enabled to hold on our way in the good old path, who is it that has kept us from falling? Have we no humiliating recollections of our wilful inclinations to turn
either to the right hand or the left? and what restrained us but the still, small voice directing us, and saying, "this is the way, walk ye in it?" Never, never let us proceed to pull out the mote which is in our brother's eye, without thinking of the beam which is in our own eye. This humbling cognizance of our own greater evils, will not lead us to extenuate error elsewhere; but in meddling with it, it will best enable us to convince and reclaim the wanderer, and it will keep us from suffering loss in our own souls by the interference. We owe all of the little that is right in ourselves to the grace and mercy of God in Christ; if deprived of that grace, there is no length of error in doctrine, or viciousness in practice, which we should not ourselves run; we may well, therefore, treat an offending brother with the greatest tenderness, humility, and self-distrust.
Oh! that we may all duly lay this to heart. We may sap the graces of the Spirit in ourselves, and suffer the most serious loss in our own souls, while inveighing against evil in others! And why should we aggravate the prevailing evils? We see the firebrands of discord and disunion let loose on the Christian world. The Church is heaving fearfully upon the billows; her sky is threatening, and all portends the coming tempest. Oh! let there be at least one spot of rest and quiet amidst the general turmoil. Let the faithful cherish and maintain Christ's holy peace amidst the world's tribulation, and see well to it that they are not carried forward along the broad stream of loss and ruin.
So much, then, for the spirit in which we must take our part in resisting the movements of the day.
There cannot be indifference, there must not be passiveness. Suspension of effort or attack is what the enemy wishes for. The truth must be spoken-but it must be spoken "in love." Error must be detected and denounced-but it must be in all humility and self-abasement. We must be zealous for God's glory and our Saviour's honour amongst men— but we must watch the wretched deceitfulness of the heart, and take care that we are not exercising a party spirit, and indulging selfish feelings, while ostensibly very zealous for the Lord of Hosts. At every turn, and amidst the constantly changing duties of life, we are in danger, not so much from others as ourselves; in danger of mistaking the spirit that actuates, and thus in danger of failing to present something duly attractive, and not calculated to win over an erring brother.
Henry Martyn found that he could say what he chose to others, without giving offence, if it came out of a heart overflowing with love and tenderness. Oh! for more of that dear man's spirit in our dealings with each other.
And now in coming to the consideration of this unhappy movement in our Church, I have been much impressed with the importance of distinguishing between the two distinct parties which constitute it. It is one uniform system of undue and excessive adherence to forms and ceremonies and ordinances, but it is not one uniform object and spirit with which it is adopted. For there are those who adopt it as the sum and substance and ultimatum of religion; while there are those who have a far higher aim, and are only led to the selection of this course in the hope that they will find it the best adapted for the attainment of the object they have in view. And if we would effectually combat the error of Tractarianism, I know nothing more essential than the due recognition of this distinction. Many, no doubt, enter more or less into the Tractarian system under a
variety of inferior motives and objects. In a diocese where the Bishop unhappily leans to this school, it may seem to be the most probable road to preferment. Or, with the younger clergy, especially, it may be tempting, as feeding the self-conceit of human nature by advancing the consequence and authority of the priesthood; while both with priests and people there is much that meets the predispositions and desires of the human heart. If Popery is truly said to be the religion of human nature, Puseyism bears marks of the same original; leading men to place their religion in the observance of a certain round of external duties, and leaving them to be as worldly as they please, provided that their worldly pursuits do not encroach on the calls and ordinances of the Church. No wonder that such a system should, to a certain extent, be fashionable. Its seeming strictness has the relief of fancied merit, which is very agreeable to the feelings of human nature; while that very strictness gives a zest for the world, abstinence forming the best appetite for the enjoyment of the world, and conformity to its doings, over which the system takes no control.
Now there can be no difficulty in determining how this class of persons must be dealt with. There is so much in the system which has characterized God's professing people in all ages; that under both dispensations, from the prophets as well as the apostles, we may easily learn how to refute its vain and unscriptural pretensions.
But the other class of Tractarians deserve and need more careful and patient attention. There are many, I believe, who, however dim and indistinct their religious notions may be, are, nevertheless, sincerely and conscientiously desirous to overcome sin, and live near to God. They have made their honest efforts, but, alas! little to their satisfaction. Again and again are they foiled in their attempts; and life has become almost insufferably wearisome-little better than a course of sinning and repenting, and repenting and sinning. The thought suggests itself—is the system right? And, as a sick man on his bed, when racked with pain, turns first to one side and then the other, in the hope of relieving his sufferings; so many, I believe, thus circumstanced, are disposed to do anything and everything in order effectually to overcome sin, and lead a holy, godly life.
Or, the sorrows of life press heavily, and the world is felt to be a blank, and the mourner asks, Who will shew us any good? A religious life looks tempting; and if Popery is at hand, all the busy opus operatum of its system seems to present that tangible and substantial reality of a religious life, which has failed to present itself elsewhere. And under such circumstances, what wonder if Popery wins the day? The heart big with sorrow; the world, all its light extinguished in the removal of that one object of endearment which constituted its only sun of happiness ; Protestant friends and connexions, lay and clerical, presenting little of a religious aspect, and all found to be miserable comforters: what wonder if the bosom of Rome, thrown gladly open, should seem to offer to the desolate and wandering mourner his long coveted, but never discovered, rest. We have known such cases.
Ah! how many have only to do with our beloved Church under false colours! They may associate even with her dignitaries, and never hear one single sentiment uttered of a devout or religious character; and thus never come to the conclusion that religion has any hold upon the Clergy beyond what is by law enacted, and what concerns the loaves and fishes.
They may attend church, but only to find the Scriptural and salutary influences of the Reading-desk checked and counteracted by all that issues from the Pulpit. Religion is never presented as a practical and all-controlling principle; but rather as that easy, pliant, and accommodating appendage, which must never intrude, nor fail to give way to more welcome influences. This may do in the heyday of worldly prosperity, but it meets not the wants of the disappointed and the miserable. And what wonder, if, in such cases, our Church be judged of by the aspect of her unworthy members, and her incompetency to succour be determined by the emptiness of her wells, and the dryness of her channels? And we know the consequences that have resulted from the contrasts drawn between these unfaithful and unworthy representatives of the Church of England, and the busy, and apparently abstracted devotedness of the Romish priesthood. We could tell of those who in pursuit of peace, and rest, and hope, have abandoned our own communion, so treacherously betraying them, and have thrown themselves into the arms of Rome.
Yet it was not to find peace and rest there! and happily, when our Church was seen under a fairer and truer aspect, and her Clergy were known who proclaim her real doctrines, and are not ashamed of their religion in the circles in which they move, Rome was abandoned under the consciousness of her powerlessness to meet the wants of a fallen sinner, and our Church was re-entered, under its new discoveries, with a heartier love than ever.
In like manner, we give many credit for the most conscientious motives in adopting the system of Puseyism. It is not that they can rest, like the other class of devotees, in the opus operatum as all that they have to do; but it is that they are really wishing for a holier and more devoted life; and, failing to realize their wishes elsewhere, they turn to this proffered course. And we must believe that many amongst the Clergy have yielded to the influence of ultra High Churchmanship, not because they place their salvation in even the most rigid adherence to forms, but because they verily believe that they shall thus most effectually render their Church subservient to the promotion of the best interests of genuine godliness. Such persons are not to be treated with levity and sarcasm; or run down as blind and senseless bigots. Perhaps we have the same aim, the same desires, and the same hopes; though we take very different courses to attain them. But if we have found a more excellent way, let us not bring railing accusation against those who walk not with us towards the same object; rather let us tenderly and humbly seek to convince them of their error, and, above all, present to their view an example that may be calculated to win them over. And here is a point to which we intend specially to devote the pages of the CHRISTIAN GUARDIAN. It has been truly said, with reference to the dangers of the Church, from those who dissent from her communion, that the best weapons are included in these few words, 'outlive, outpreach, outpray." And we have no hesitation in saying, that we have nothing to fear from Tractarianism, if we can only exhibit the highest degree of godly, self-denying, holy practice, as resulting from the purest and largest influence of Evangelical principle.
How much of practical import is there in that single text, "by their fruits ye shall know them.” How much of the mischief arising from the Baptismal controversy would be spared, if this
truth were but fully recognized! What a test does it afford of the soundness of the Tractarian system! We hesitate not to add, how conclusively does it bring to light its fallacy! We should be much more afraid of Tractarianism, if it really exhibited a comprehensive and consistent influence over all the grand interests of religion and morality; but when we see that it hesitates not to admit of chicanery and falsehood as occasion may seem to require; when we see that it is importing from Rome the allowance of Sabbath desecration, apart from the wonted hours of Church service; and when we see that it allows its followers to be as much conformed to the world as they please: we are led to judge of the nature of the tree by the fruits produced. Now, while we wish to be urgent with our readers to be upon their guard against this grievous infection which is desolating our poor, distracted Church, we would be equally urgent with them to seek to learn all the lessons which it is calculated to teach them; to regard this movement as a call from heaven, not only to value more and more their privileged condition as believers in him, "who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption;" but as a call to increasing faithfulness, that they may show to others the power of high principles, and produce extensive practice; and that they may have no misgivings touching their own system, from their failure in practice. If "faith working by love," and love leading us to keep his commandments, be not only our motto but our experience, we are invulnerable. On this point, then, we shall specially have our eye. We shall make it our business to enter into the details of social, and relative, and personal duties. We are persuaded that many sincere Christians come short in holy, self-denying practice, from ignorance. We must therefore
give line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little."
Nor can we forget that the standard of duty cannot be stationary. Though in one sense uniform and ever the same, in another sense it must vary with the circumstances of the times. The same degree of energy will not suffice when a great and effectual door of usefulness is opened for us, as when the door is shut against us; nor the same degree of energy when the enemy is coming in like a flood, as when all is peaceful and quiet.
Moreover, as life ebbs and our days advance to their close, our responsibilities, and, consequently, our duties, advance likewise.
By every consideration, then, of our highest interests, we shall not
fail to urge upon our readers to be " stedfast, unmoveable, always
abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord." And we earnestly beg their prayers, that God the Holy Spirit may be pleased to give us a right judgment in all things; and to bless our feeble efforts to keep the sheep of Christ's flock safe and peaceful in the green pastures, under their Shepherd's care and shelter.