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of Dissent and to raise a considerable ever, as this may appear, and injurious aların within the bosom of the National as it is to the prosperity of the DisChurch. The consequence has been, senting interest, a little acquaintance that the clergy in some places have with mankind will furnish us with put forth more zeal and industry; sufficient reasons to account for it. whilst others, less prudent and less en- Here, let it be remembered, that Dislightened, have betrayed symptoms of senters are made of the same sort of that intolerance which always attaches materials as other people, and that itself to a richly-endowed and lordly there is nothing so peculiar in the hierarchy. Their apprehensions, howe nature of their principles as to detach ever, may be stayed; for the tolerated them from the rest of society, or to sects are too much disunited both in prevent them from taking that station principle and in affection to admit of in it which the accidents of life may any coalition for the purpose of pro- have assigned to them. When Dissencuring the downfal of the Established ters acquire property, their intercourse Church. Whenever such an event with the world most usually becomes may take place, it will be the work of enlarged. If they have children, they society at large.
feel a laudable desire to introduce From the foregoing remarks, it may them into society, and they naturally be inferred that a reference to the select that class of it which is best number of edifices devoted to religious adapted to their improvement. Having worship, and to the crowded congre. received an ornamental as well as a gations that attend them, will afford useful education, they find but few but little clue to the real state of the associates to their taste in dissenting Dissenting interest. If we extract congregations, and are soon disgusted froin the general mass those who con, by the familiarity and rudeness of lowscientiously dissent from the doctrines, bred persons, who presume upon their discipline or constitution of the Church supposed spiritual attainments. This of England, the number of such per- aversion is farther strengthened by sons will probably be found much the unnecessary austerity assumed by smaller than is generally apprehended; many religious persons, especially probably much more so than at the when advanced in years ; so that, upon period of the Revolution. If the ques- the earliest opportunity they throw tion be viewed with reference to the aside the fetters that restricted their increased population of the country, youthful enjoyments. It being the the gain has been decidedly in favour fashion amongst wealthy persons to of the Church of England. But the train their children to learned profesdeclension of Nonconformity has been sions, similar pursuits bring them in most visible in the quality of its adhe- contact with persons belonging to the rents, it having been deserted by almost Establishment; and rising in life they every family of rank or influence in are called to fill stations which are society. It is true, that in cities and incompatible with the profession of large manufacturing towns the cause dissent, or which, at any rate, render is still supported by a few opulent them unfit associates for the bulk of merchants and tradesmen, and here persons who compose dissenting conand there by a professional man; but gregations. Others are brought togeit is undeniable that dissenting congre- ther by the concerns of business, which gations are generally composed of per- occasion the formation of private sons in humble life, and this is almost friendships; and the desire which peowholly the case in small towns and ple usually manifest to form alliances villages.
in the same station of life, only aggraIt has been often remarked as a vates the evil. subject of regret, that when Dissenters A farther obstruction to the profes. grow rich or succeed to an inheritance, sion of Nonconformity may be referred they commonly go over to the Church. to the qualifications of its teachers, to To whatever cause it may be owing, the mode of their teaching, and to the it is certainly a curious fact, that a quality of the religion that is taught wealthy dissenting family is but rarely in many congregations. Upon a subknown to continue stedfast in the ject surrounded by so much combusti. principles of Nonconformity for more ble matter, I shall be very brief; but than two generations. Singular, how- the importance which it bears upon the inquiry will not allow of its being be rolled away. Ignorance is the overlooked altogether. It must be parent both of pride and intolerance; acknowledged, that amongst the Dis- and when clothed in the garb of piety, senters are to be found some men of often passes current in the world for sterling talents, and every way quali- genuine Christianity. But when relified to be the expounders of religion. gion becomes thus debased, as the But it is equally notorious that these profession of it is in too many instances are thinly scattered, and confined amongst Dissenters, we are not to chiefly to large cities; that many of wonder if they are shunned by persons their congregations are served by men of good taste and refined manners. as ignorant as their hearers; and that, Although death levels all distinction of those who have been educated at of ranks, and in the grave the rich and their private academies, a large pro- the poor, the wise and the ignorant, portion come forth into the world meet together; yet whilst we live in with all the defects of half-learned the world, we must submit to the laws pedants, raised into imaginary impor- by which it is governed, and consent tance, which is fostered by the cha- to take the station marked out for us racter of their people. It is a misfor. by Providence. The fences of society tune to the Dissenters, that their richer are not to be broken down by imagi. members but rarely bring up their nary notions of spiritual rank. Let sons to the ministry. The consequence religion be rather employed in the is, that being taken from inferior sta- real amelioration of man in his present tions, they are, in most cases, wholly state, whilst we enlarge the boundadependent upon their people for sup- ries of his hope in another world. port; and this is often very precarious. Another thing that operates to the
Whilst upon the subject of pecuniary disadvantage of the Dissenters is the compensation, it may not be amiss to mode of admission into their churches, observe that, with some few excep- which, amongst the orthodox, is well tions, the Dissenters have been defici- known to be through the door of ent in that liberality to their ministers, an experience; that is, a recital of to which the nature of their services, their opinions, feelings and religious and the station which they occupy in impressions. This is either written society, so justly entitle them. And or verbal, and is submitted to the this may have been one reason that judgment of the whole church at one has deterred many from entering upon of their private meetings. The candi, that profession, or from continuing in date for membership has previously it, who would have been ornaments to passed through the same ordeal at his the Dissenters.
own house, before the ministers and Dissenting congregations, in most deacons, who report thereon to the places, consisting chiefly of tradesmen, church; and if they think him sound mechanics, and persons in humble in the faith, or, as they express it, life, the management of their tempo. “ in a state of grace,” he is admitted. ral affairs consequently devolves upon Now, if we consider upon what sort them; and the dissensions that so fre- of hands the management of this busiquently arise, may be often traced to ness usually devolves, it inust always this equality of condition between the operate as an exclusion to men of governors and the governed. It is as sense and education. For, admitting unfortunate for the peace as for the that religion is equally adapted to all respectability of Dissenters, that they classes of society, yet it may be fairly have not a few persons of education argued that the inode of administering and influence to take the lead in their it should be such as to give no unne. congregations, and give a tone to the cessary offence, either to good taste manners of the rest. Much discord or to sound discretion. In the present would be thereby prevented; a greater state of society, and particularly of degree of liberality would be thrown the Dissenters, it seems impolitic to over their concerns; the pride of require any farther terms for commuignorance would be repressed; and nion than those in which all Christians much of the reproach that lies at the agree. By narrowing the conditions, door of the professors of religion on we exclude many persons of worth account of their self-importance, would and respectability, and compel them
to seek for religious instruction else- to sink the importance of their cause. where.
If the profession of Nonconformity is The decline of the Dissenting inter- destined again to Aourislı, it must be est may be farther traced to the identified with civil liberty, and then advancement of science and literature, the friends of the latter will be its which has rendered men indifferent to firmest supporters. the forms of religion, and in some A Dissenter, whatever may be his thecases doubtful of its reality altogether. ological opinions, or however strongly This disposition has been encouraged he may feel the supreme importance by enthusiastic pretences which of religion, is eminently a political have been mixed up too much with the character, being made so by the state. profession of Christianity, as well as by It is his duty, therefore, never to lose the little attention that has been paid sight of his situation, nor to forego by Dissenters in general to such sub- any fair opportunity for urging its jects as are calculated to improve the amelioration. In order to inoculate intellectual and political condition of society with just sentiments, he should mankind. By neglecting to take ad- frequently bring forward for discusvantage of the improvements of the sion such topics as the injustice and age, and thus to render the profession impolicy of penal laws upon account of Nonconformity respectable in the of religion; the impropriety of conworld, they have been left with the necting Christianity with the state, and dregs of society, whilst their enemies thereby rendering it subservient 10 have carried away the palm of supe- political purposes; the distinct objects riority,
of religion and of civil government; But, perhaps, nothing tends more the irreligious tendency of test laws; to the disparagement of the Dissenters the incongruity of a lordly hierarchy than their political condition, the pro- with the simplicity of' a Christian fession of Nonconformity rendering church, to which it is an expensive them liable to certain civil disabilities, incumbrance; the inutility, for purfrom which the favoured sect is ex- poses of instruction and pastoral inempt. That they are usually identified spection, of a system that patronizes with the opponents of government is pluralities and non-residences; the not at all surprising, but it ought not hypocrisy of educating men for a to be charged upon thein as a crime; cure of souls, when the real purpose for, setting aside reasons of con- is to amass wealth, and to obtain science, it would be absurd to suppose political influence; the oppressive nathey can entertain any kind feeling for ture of tithes, and their injurious effect a set of men who first trample upon upon the clerical character; the absurd their political rights, and then charge mixture of Jewish, Popish and Prothem with disaffection. The oppres- testant worship in the English ritual ; sion to which they have been so long the sectarian nature and unchristian subject in this respect, has so far spirit of the publicly-authorized creeds; tinctured the prejudices of society, as together with such other points as to occasion an artificial circle to be may suggest themselves, in order to drawn around them, excluding them new the inefficacy of the present very much from the intercourse of ecclesiastical system for the purposes life with persons of a similar station for which it is so amply endowed. in the Established Church. Having The examples of Greece and Rome, no political influence, they are an and other ancient nations, have been object of contempt with the govern- cited as precedents to justify the civil ment, any farther than they can be. patronage of religion, and the prosecome the instruments of its own pur- cution of opposite opinions. But, not pose. It is to be lamented that the to take notice of the impropriety of orthodox Dissenters have never been the parallel drawn between Pagan and sufficiently alive to their political rights. Christian institutions, it would be diffiThe apathy they have discovered upon cult to shew any warrant for the thing such subjects, from the ridiculous in either case, beyond that of statenotion that they are to be occupied policy. The existence of religion does only by concerns of a religious nature, not require it; for, supposing it to be has tended to debase the quality, and of divine origin, and under the protec
tion of the same Being who governs dable the opposition, when it is made the world by his providence, it may sufficiently palpable to the interests of he safely intrusted to him for security. the people, it must secure a rational Besides, man has been often called a triumph. With the warmest wishes religious animal, which implies either for so useful a consummation, I now the adaptation of religion to his nature take my leave of the subject. and condition, or a certain pre-dispo
W. W. sition in his mind to connect himself with its concerns; so that, as soon as
Bristol, he becomes convinced of its impor
July 7, 1823. tance, he will require recompulsion Yestil so I am current given me day!
A political religion is equally that no one who is acquainted with our inefficient as the guardian of public valuable Missionary, Mr. Wright, and morals. For the proof of this, a refe- with his inany excellent and useful rence may be made to the state of works, can hold either him or them in society, high and low, in large towns a higher degree of estimation than and cities, and also in country vil- myself: and such is my opinion of his lages. In nuinberless parishes, there candour, that I think he will be far is no resident minister to inspect the from disapproving my wish of telling conduct of the people, who see nothing him, through the inedium of your of their legal instructor but when he pages, that I have always been disvisits them to collect his tithes. It is posed to view the character of the notorious that the tolerated sects, Elder Brother, in the beautiful parawhich are no expense to the public, ble of the Prodigal Son, in a light are the most efficient instruments in directly opposite to that in which it is reforming the inanners of the com- represented in No. 46, the last publimon people, and that this is effected cation of the Christian Tract Society. solely by the arts of persuasion. With Taking the parable as a plain relathe higher orders they have nothing tion of facts, simply as they are told, to do, but whatever excesses are com- are not the feelings and conduct of the mitted by them, these lie at the door Elder Brother such as might naturally of the Established Clergy.
have been expected from a correct and Viewing the present state of public virtuous character? Returning from feeling, it is scarcely to be expected the field, where, we may presume, he that the dissolution of National Church had been employed in overlooking and Establishments is very near at band; directing the concerns of his father's but the progressive improvements that farm, he hears music and dancing, are taking place in society, by means of and calling one of the servants, ineducation and the circulation of know- quires what these things meant. He ledge, give us reason to expect that is informed that his brother, that bromuch may be done towards their ame- ther who, after having demanded his lioration. The Church of England, full share of the family possessions, supported as it is by legal sanctions, departed into a distant country, and in addition to the force of prescription, there wasted it in riotous living, was and defended by a numerous body of returned home, and that his father had well-paid advocates, will always be killed the fatted calf, because he had opposed to the reformation of abuses received hiin safe and sound. either in Church or State. But the Observe here, that no mention was Church is dependent on the civil made of the deeply-humbled and penipower, and the latter must be guided tent state in which he came back, upon so important a subject by public therefore the rejoicing which he heard, opinion. It must be the wish, there and the feast which he finds is prefore, of every enlightened friend to paring to celebrate the return of a religion and liberty, to see such a sys- profligate young man, might well tem
of instruction brought forward as excite a degree of virtuous indignawould be less objectionable in its con- tion in his breast-might well cause struction, and more efficient in its him to be angry, and refuse to go in. result. In furtherance of this object, Then came the father out and entreated it is in the power of every one to con- him; but before he could explain the tribute his inite; and however forini- grounds upon which alone his conduct
could be justified, with the impetuo. good and excellent; and the heavenly sity which in youth frequently attends Parent, the Searcher of hearts, could the worthiest characters, the son thus not have been deceived by outward gives vent to the strong feelings of appearances, nor is a shadow of suspihis heart : "Lo, these many years do cion respecting the sincerity of the elder I serve thee, neither at any time trans- brother even hinted at. Indeed, the gressed I thy commandment, and yet father's address to him, upon wbich I thou never gavest me a kid, that I must still further dwell, precludes all might make merry with my friends ; possibility of hypocrisy in his characbut as soon as this thy son was come, ter. The hope of the hypocrite which hath devoured thy living with shall perish,” but the Lord of heaharlots, thou hast killed for him the ven and earth says to the man who fatted calf.”
transgresseth not his commandments, What now is the reply of the good “ All that I have is thine.” “Well and wise father? What is the dis- done, good and faithful servant, enter pleasure that he expresses in return thou into the joy of thy Lord.” for this hasty remonstrance ?
With respect to the Jews and Genthou art ever with me, and all that Í tiles being figured by the two brothers, I have is thine !” Can language convey cannot perceive the most distant ground a more decided testimony of entire of affinity between them. The Jews approbation? “ All that I have is were throughout their whole course thine !" Does it not say, thou shalt “a rebellious and stiff-necked peothyself apportion the share that is be- ple”—a people whose hearts no blessstowed upon this deeply humbled pe- ings could melt and soften into gratenitent? “ All that I have is thine;" ful obedience ; into whose unfeeling but “it is meet that we should make bosoms, a series of the most astonishmerry and be glad; for this thy bro- ing miracles wrought before their eyes, ther was dead, and is alive again, and and for their immediate benefit, could was lost, and is found.”
inspire no steady faith, no abiding conThe whole of this relation appears fidence, in the mighty arm so manito me beautifully to display the kind festly stretched out for their guidance and merciful disposition of the father, and protection. What point of rewithout throwing the slightest imputa- semblance can be found between this tion of blame upon the son, who had people and the elder son in the paranever departed from the path of recti- ble? Nor can I discover more betude, never transgressed his father's tween the Gentiles and his younger commandment; and to represent it brother. The prodigal is supposed to in any other light, seems to encourage have shared equally with his elder son the false, dangerous and demoralizing in all the advantages which a wise and opinion which is already too prevalent good father naturally bestows upon with inany of our orthodox brethren, his children. But were the Gentiles that a returning sinner is more accept- favoured with a revelation inferior only able, inore precious in the sight of the to the Christian ; and did they despise benevolent Father of all, than the man and throw it from them? And, afterwho, as far as our frail nature will wards, when in consequence of this permit, has from his youth up, been rejection they were reduced to the perfect and holy before him.
lowest state of misery, repent and If, as is most apparent, our great return to God? No shadow of likeTeacher intends to represent the Al. ness appears, and surely none can have mighty under the character of the been intended. father in the parable, can the son, who The plain and single object of the
never at any time transgressed his parable seems to me to be a just and commandment,” be other than the beautiful display of the feelings of the most excellent of human beings ? Almighty Maker towards his creatures, “ Therefore,” says our Lord," there- and of his gracious dealings with them. fore doth my Father love me, because To those « who seek him early," who I do always such things as please him.” “ keep innocency and take heed unto To obey the commands of God, we the thing that is right,” who like must be well aware, not only includes “ Noah, Daniel and Job,” have been an abstinence from every kind of evil, perfect and upright before him, he but the regular practice of all that is gives the glorious fiat of his full ap