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That an Institution patronised by the leading members of Administration, by the highest personages in the State, and by so considerable a proportion of the bishops of the Church itself, should be charged with a tendency, and its framers with a design, to subvert both Church and State, is so bold a calumny, so outrageous an assertion, that one would have thought it could proceed from no person of common intellect, or of reputable character. But, we are forced, in deference to the names of some of these assailants, to conclude, that there must be some shew of truth, as the foundation for their opinion. The Church endangered! Yes.—
« A collection of pamphlets,' remarks Mr. Bullar in his spirited Reply to Mr. Woodcock, « might be formed with no great difficulty, containing an almost annual outcry of " the Church is in danger," from the days of Sacheverell to the present period. It is my desire to belong to a church which is never in danger, and never can be.'
But, let us examine the matter. Possibly these gentlemen are right The Bible Society, though not the source, may be the occasion of danger to the Established Church. Its opposition to the Bible Society may endanger the Church.
If ever there was a favourable opportunity presented to the Church of England, for consolidating her influence, for strengthening her hold on the habits and feelings of the nation, for acquiring true dignity of character, it was that which was afforded her by the Bible Society, and which she has blindly and proudly rejected. In exactly an inverse ratio to any possible danger which may accrue from it to her secular interests, would have been the advantages she would have derived from a prompt and general adoption of the plans of the Bible Society. Never was it in her power to purchase, at so cheap a rate, the praise of liberality, as she might have done by coalescing with the different bodies of Dissenters, in this great and glorious Institution, the merit of which she would then prominently have enjoyed; while the various parties, that would collectively have formed a minority of the Society, would surely have been incapable individually of exerting any sinister influence in the promotion of their imputed political designs.
But, the Dissenters being by this means balked in their plans, might, perhaps, with more reason than the Church has had for her apprehensions, have taken the alarm at this immense accession oi church influence. Suppose, then, that either from finding their deep-laid scheme of mischief defeated, or from that jealousy of pre-eminence, which they have so uniformly manifested in the Bible Society, or from that sectarian restlessness which is supposed to infest them, they had, as a body, kept aloof from, or deserted the Society; needs it be shewn how vast an advantage the Establishment would have gained by this circumstance? The Dissenters refuse to co-operate with the Church, even in distributing the Bible! What further proof would then have been wanting of their dark enmity to that Church, of their unsocial bigotry, of their fondness for their own systems, and sermons, and catechisms, in preference to the pure Scriptures of inspiration? What would the nation then have thought of these discordant sects? What would Europe have thought of them? What magnificent descriptions should we have had of Mother Church extending in one hand the leaves of the Tree of Life to all nations, and with the other offering the olive-branch of reconciliation to the jarring sects of dissentients from her communion! How, then, would that famous sentence of Chilling worth's, ' The Bible— 'the Bible only,'—have been blazoned upon the banners of the Establishment, and how greatly, how justly would she have triumphed!
But it may be supposed, that the descendants of that longheaded race the Puritans,—if, indeed, modern Dissenters may claim such goodly ancestry,—would have been too wise, if not too consistent, openly to desert the Society, what proportion soever of the Church had become associated with it. We contend, that equally on this supposition, the Church of England has lost an immense advantage. Unless we suppose that, as in some instances of warlike irruption, the weak have in time given laws to the strong, and risen by the buoyancy of mind, to an ascendency over their masters, —unless some similar apprehensions are entertained from Churchmen coming in contact with the Dissenters, we must conclude, that the sort of co-operation of which we speak, would have been a most politic measure;—a co-operation, be it remembered, in which the clergy were not called upon to surrender their precedence, to resign one privilege of their order, to compromise one iota of their attachment to the Church of England. The Dissenters have always manifested a disposition to estimate very highly any approaches, on the part of the Clergy, to a conciliatory deportment. We say this without any fear of contradiction. The superiority of rank or of education which a great proportion of the national clergy must be supposed to possess, gives them a natural ascendency, which is aided by their being invested with a species of authority derived from their connexion with the State; and this is felt especially in the middle and in the lower classes. This political advantage which a clergyman possesses, injurious as it becomes in a too large proportion of cases in which the official character is unsupported by real piety, is one of the strongest pleas that attach many excellent men to the Church, as a sphere for more commanding influence. Add to this, that any indications
of piety and zeal in the clergy, never fail, from circumstances which we need not explain, to excite the highest respect and satisfaction in the minds of Dissenters. Let us then suppose the great mass of the clergy, all at least whose moral character would admit of their actively stepping forward in such a cause without flagrant inconsistency, entering into friendly intercourse with Dissenters for this simple purpose—to concert measures for the universal distribution of the sacred Scriptures: Where would have been the danger of the Church? Would not the danger, if danger there could be, have respected the interests of Dissenterism? Would not the meeting-house have been endangered by this familiarizing, and we will add, endearing intercourse with the clergy? Would there not have been some danger of Dissenters losing sight at least of their prejudices, if not of their principles; of their becoming backward in asserting, if not lax in maintaining, their tenets of nonconformity, and of their insensibly approximating to a more real uniformity than Test Acts and penalties have ever effected?
Were the clergy acquainted with their real interests, did they but know the best way of disarming the Dissenters, of combating with sectarianism, they would adopt a very different method from any that the opponents of the Bible Society h»ve devised, or that some even of its friends have ventured to employ. They would say very little of the " Claims of "the Church," very little of the Apostolical succession of her priesthood, very little of the rights of her clergy. They would avoid every thing like regular controversy with the Dissenters; they would not provoke them to exhibit their arguments and reasons for Dissent; nor would they put forth Velvet Cushion histories, which might lead to an undue curiosity in examining the annals of the Church. They would be careful not to draw upon themselves, by unfounded charges, any dangerous recrimination; and they would respect by a politic silence on certain topics, the unappeasable shades of Neale, of Calamy, and of Towgood. There is but one way of putting down Dissenters: it is that of living them down. Let the clergy endeavour to excel the dissenting ministers in the exemplary discharge of their sacred functions, in fearless independence of character united with suavity of deportment, in a zeal as expansive as the sphere of Charity, and in an enlightened superiority to the subordinate differences among Christians: let them adopt this method, as the only one that can arrest the progress of the imminent dangers that threaten the Church.— For what are the dangers of the Church? Do those who are so tremblingly alive to its political dangers—for its moral dan
gers excite little alarm in the minds of such persons—do they apprehend that some dark revolutionary conspiracy is to burst forth, like the springing of a mine, and subvert the Establishment from its foundations; that by treasonable violence the Dissenters are about to seize the helm of government, to dissolve the legislative bodies, to purify the Statute-Book, and to make the Prince Regent himself the dupe or the victim of their mad ambition? Undoubtedly; and as a proof of it, they invite the members of the Establishment to unite with them in circulating the Scriptures!—
Mr. Bullar justly calls upon these alarmists, to shew that they at least believe their own assertions.
'Hear us, Sir, as men: treat us as men. We breathe, articulate, rejoice, and weep, as you do. We are no aliens from our kind, no outcasts from our species, although we do not worship between the same walls as you do. We are no strangers to the charities and Byiup ithies of life. We have our altars, our hearths, our wives, our children. We have a country, Sir, as well as you. Large it oni stake in that country, and large our interest in her welfare. Our industry swells her capital, aids her revenues, diminishes her burthens, helps her charities. Her laws, her liberties, her throne, are our attachment no less than they are yours.
'' Nun obtusa adeo gestamus pcctnra Pceni;
"Nee tarn avursus cquos Tyna Sol jungit ab urbe." .
'Barred out, by tenderness of conscience alone, from many of your avenues to power and wealth; banished from the advantages of one of your seats of learning, and from the academic honours of both; we are yet neither strangers nor enemies to the innocent amenities of life, to its social and domestic enjoyments, nor, amidst many disadvantages, to the pursuits of theological, biblical, and classical literature, and the liberal culture of refined and exalted intellect. Public confusion could do us no good. We have far more to lose than to gain in any general scramble. Although firmly attached to our civil and religious rights, and disposed to hold them with our firmest grasp, as a most valuable part of the British constitution, we are, moreover, men of peace; and we deserve to be so esteemed.' p. 21.
What then do we mean, when we confess that the Bible Society may, from the opposition of so large a majority of the eleriry, prove the occasion of danger to the Church? We allude to the probable influence of their conduct on the opinions of the nation, and to the tendency of the will of the nation to become law. In other words, we allude to the possibility of its being at length more generally perceived, that the sort of connexion now subsisting between the State and the Episcopal Churi-h ot England, no longer answers the purpose for which we may presume it was originally designed; and that neither the interests of religion, nor the ends of good government, are benefited by a National Establishment. To what constitutioaal modifications of the present order of things in the Episcopal Church, this conviction in the minds of our representatives and legislators might lead, we presume not to form a conjecture They would certainly be of a nature to leave the civil rights and possessions of the clergy untouched; they would have no influence on the purity of the Episcopal succession; they would not affect the moral claims of the Church j they would divest it only of civil authority in matters of r !i-gion.
Now, if this supposition appear chimerical, as it doubtless will do to many, then let it be remembered, that the dangers of the Church may be deemed chimerical also; and the clergy may repose in peaceful security on their cushions. But Time, that great but bloodless revolutionist, has effected, through the medium of opinion, beneficial changes as unhoped for as this would be. There was a time when legislators thought that penal laws of the most atrocious description, were the best method of propagating the faith, and of promoting the interests of Christianity. Those laws have become obsolete. There was a time when the Star Chamber was thought the most advantageous court of judicature both by the prince and the prelates That time has passed away. There was a time when it was thought useless and unsafe to permit the children of the poor to learn to read. Those days are gone. And the days in which 'the Bible only* is dreaded by certain Churchmen, as fatal to their ascendency, may pass away also.
For it must on all sides be confessed, that the Church of England itself constitutes a provision wholly inadequate, in point of extent of means, to the religious instruction of the increased population of the kingdom; and that how desirable soever it might be, to collect the nation within the walls of the Establishment, they are too narrow to embrace them. This important consideration, which proves at once the necessity, and the vast benefit of a more enlarged and various agency than is provided for by the constitution of the Church, has been set in a proper light by the Rev. Mr. Yates, and ought effectually to silence the complaints of the pious clergy at the increase of the sectaries. Now, without some material legislative innovations in the present ecclesiastical system of the Church, we cannot perceive how this evil is to be removed.
As the provision made through the medium of the Church, is inadequate, it may be made to appear to be no less ineffectual also, in respect of the two essential objects of an establishment. The first of these is, to secure uniformity of belief, or at least of profession, as to the doctrines of the Church. The clergy of this kingdom, are taking all possible means of fully enlightening the Legislature on this point. The terms—