« PreviousContinue »
FOR JANUARY, 1822.
ART. I. Correlative Claims and Duties; or an Essay on the Necessity of an Ecclesiastical Establishment, and the Means of promoting a Spirit of Devotion and Attachment to the Church among its Members. By the Rev. Samuel Charles Wilks, A.M. Hatchard and Son, London. 1821.
THE name of the "Author of Christian Essays, Christian Missions, the St. David's Prize Essay for 1811, on the Clerical Character," may, for aught we know to the contrary, be familiar to some of our readers. On the former productions of Mr. Wilks's prolific pen which we find thus arrayed in the title page of the publication to which we intend at present to call the reader's attention, we are not now called upon to make any observations. The subjects treated of in the Essay before us must be acknowledged to involve discussions of very great importance; but it is with considerable pain we are compelled to declare that the Essay itself carries with it an air of pretension which its contents in our opinion will hardly justify; when we are told that it is an Essay" to which the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Church Union in the Diocese of St. David's adjudged a premium of 501. in December, 1820," and found it dedicated (by permission) to the Right Hon. the Earl of Liverpool, our anticipations of its merits were naturally raised, and we took it up with expectations which its perusal by no means realized. The author tells us, that " in pursuing the plan which he has laid down for himself it is proposed to devote two chapters to the objects discussed in the essay:" with the intention of shewing in the first," the necessity of a Church Establishment in a Christian country, for the preservation of Christia
VOL. XVII. JANUARY, 1822.
nity among people of all ranks and denominations ;" and in the second," the means of exciting and maintaining among its members a spirit of devotion, together with zeal for the honour, stability, and influence of the Established Church."
For reasons stated in the first chapter, the author passes by all questions of discipline and administration, in the general view which he takes of the importance of a National Establishment. After endeavouring in the first chapter to prove the abstract lawfulness and high importance of a National Establishment, he then proceeds to consider what are the best means of increasing devotion and church principles within its pale. There is therefore a very important link, which it will be necessary for the reader to supply, in order to connect the first and second chapter together:that link is the lawfulness and excellence of the Established Church of England. The author says, that
"This intermediate argument is too wide in its details for the limits of the present essay, as well as irrelevant to its general purpose." He adds, however, that " it deserves to be seriously considered, at least in all its principal branches, by every person who feels interested in religious topics; and the more maturely the subject is contemplated, the less weighty will appear most of the objections currently urged against our national establishment; while many arguments in its favour, which did not particularly strike the mind at first, will be found upon further consideration to merit the utmost attention."
The opponents of the English Establishment may be divided into two classes-one of which acknowledges the neces sity of some regular and established form of ecclesiastical polity, but disapproves of the English Church as faulty in its details:-the other class, we conceive much less numerous than the former, boldly denies the necessity of any legal es tablishment, and contends that the Church of Christ needs no human assistance to prop its bulwarks, and that its Author being its guardian, it requires not the feeble aid of man to assist in its protection. The author before us, however, very forcibly and satisfactorily contends, that the advocates of a religious establishment no less than those who object to its existence, believe that God can and will preserve his Church. It was our Lord's own consolatory promise "that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." But they also believe that the Almighty in his dealings with mankind almost invariably operates by the use of means and second causes; not the least common of which is disposing the hearts of civil rulers and other persons of influence and authority, to devise
and patronize measures which have a tendency to accomplish his all-wise designs, while perhaps they are promoting, as they conceive, their own. The omnipotent Creator, it is true, might effect his plans without the use of these instruments; bat his power to do so is no proof that such is the usual arrangement of his providence. It is quite inconclusive, therefore, to argue that the power and providence of God for the support of his Church under a national establishment is unnecessary, unless it can be also satisfactorily proved that such an institution however pure, cannot in any case further that important end. Indeed, most of the arguments urged against the necessity and utility of any National Ecclesiastical Establishments, followed out into all their bearings would go far towards banishing all human efforts whatever for extending and perpetuating the blessings of the Gospel;-while on the other hand, all the arguments employed to induce any private individual to promote religion in his own sphere, might be applied on a larger scale, to prove it the duty of every Christian legislature to institute and support a National Establishment for the public instruction of the people in the doctrines and duties of Christianity. For if it should be acknowledged neither illegal nor unscriptural that a believer in Christianity should, in his private capacity, make use of the means and efforts which appear to him most likely to extend the influence of bis opinions, it would surely be most absurd to contend that he is doing wrong, when uniting his efforts with those of other men, he uses the same means in his public capacity, under the sanction of law, to effect the same end. Objectors to Church Establishments, however modified in form, often refer to the primitive ages of Christianity, as a conclusive proof that Church Establishments are not necessary. But the parallel is inapplicable in almost all its parts. The gift of miracles in that early age, secured many of the most important objects which in the present day we look for from the ordinary operations of an Established Church, and therefore rendered such an institution the less necessary. But, even were this circumstance out of the question, the cases would still be destitute of the requisite analogy; for while the number of the disciples was small, and before kings and nations were converted to the faith, a National Establishment was of course unattainable; so that the idea of choice on the part of the Apostles and primitive Christians, with respect to this point, is at once superseded by an obvious impossibility. We ought not therefore to be told that the primitive Church did not think National Establishments necessary, till it can be shewn that they were within their reach,
but were rejected on account of their unscriptural cha
Among other forcible testimonies adduced from experience to prove the necessity of permanent national formularies, Mr. Wilks very pertinently alludes to the case of Calvin's own Church, the modern Church of Geneva. That Church, as every reader knows, was almost the cradle of the Reformation: and, whatever may be thought of the peculiar and exclusive parts either of the doctrines or discipline of its celebrated founder, it was certainly long distinguished for its general orthodoxy on the essential points on which all protestants are agreed. In the time of Turretin, however, the subscription of candidates for orders to the Helvetic confession, and to the decrees of the synod of Dort, was abolished. Since that period the Liturgy has been altered, and the ancient catechism, which inculcated the divinity of Jesus Christ and other essential doctrines, has been withdrawn, and its place supplied by another of a very different tendency. In 1805, the company of Pastors introduced into the Churches of Geneva a reformed version of the Bible; in the publication of which they not only omitted the authorized confession of faith of the reformed Churches of France and Geneva, which had ben prefixed to all their former Bibles, but made many alterations in the translation itself in passages relating to the Divinity of Christ, to original sin, and to the personality and offices of the Holy Ghost. This version is still used in their Churches; and it is credibly stated, that of the twenty-five persons who constitute the "company of Pastors," very few hold the orthodox faith; while the majority unite in actively opposing it. Surely, then, national formularies are necessary, were it only to prevent effects like these; for it should be remembered, that the first step in this downward progress was abolishing subscription to articles and tests.
As an active and clamorous party in this country are eager to prevail upou the English Clergy to solicit a deliverance from the slavish bonds in which their minds are said to be held by their subscription to human articles of faith, our readers will, we trust, perceive the necessity and importance , of combating such pretensions in the outset; and we are willing to hope that they will excuse us, if we enter into some detail in stating the reasons, which appear to us to render it highly dangerous and inexpedient that the Clergy of the Establishment should ever acquire this "liberty."
Such a "liberty," if conceded to the Clergy, could not fail to undermine the very foundation of our Ecclesiastical
Institutions and should any portion of the Clergy, however limited in number, be ever seduced by their own enemies and those of the Church of which they are ministers, to renew their solicitations for this "freedom," we have no hesitation in declaring it to be our firm conviction, that the laymembers of the Church of England ought to meet such illadvised demands with a steady and unqualified refusal.
Our readers will perhaps feel some surprise that we should point out resistance to these claims as the duty of the laymembers of the English Church. We are fully sensible that subscription to articles of faith has been usually considered as affecting the ministers of the Establishment exclusively; as a question involving only the authority and control with which the higher Clergy should be invested over the faith of their inferior brethren and a question with which the laity have therefore no concern. This, however, we conceive to be a very erroneous view of this subject; and we shall attempt to shew, that the Laity of this realm are interested even more immediately than the Clergy themselves, in closing the offices of the Church against individuals who decline subscribing to "human articles of faith."
Much idle and useless declamation has been lavished upon this subject by those who arrogate to themselves exclusively the praise of liberality. They exclaim in measured and solemn tones, that it is impossible for all men to think alike upon subjects which do not admit of absolute demonstration:-that it is unreasonable to expect that the opinions of one man should be changed or modelled upon the sentiments of another; and that it is impossible for any man or body of men to prove their speculative opinions to be exclusively correct. Now all these are mere truisms which have absolutely nothing to do with the point at issue. Although it be vain to expect that all men should entertain similar sentiments upon points which are not self-evident or capable of mathematical demonstration, we conceive that even the "very liberal" will not contend that it is therefore impossible that many individuals should hold congenial opinions upon many such points: and they will, we presume, concede to us farther, that the end and object of Divine Worship render it at least desirable, if not absolutely necessary, that the minister and the congregation in which he officiates, should entertain similar notions on what may be considered by both as important and fundamental points of doctrine. And it appears to us impossible that this unanimity of sentiment can be secured, except by the adoption of articles of faith embracing the doctrines which they mutually believe.