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PRESENT POSITION OF ENGLISH CHURCHMEN.
The Discourses which are here collected, all of them, profess and endeavour more or less to take a popular view of certain great ecclesiastical subjects, to which of late years our attention has been providentially drawn. It will not then be out of place, to introduce them with some few remarks on the kind of evidence to which they appeal, and the principles which ought to guide the judgment of such as may be likely to read them, on the points which now unhappily are most debated among us. I do not mean points merely speculative, but practical questions of duty, arising out of our relation, as individual members, to the Body of Christ, which is His Church.
For it is a sad truth, that no one of us is safe from being called on, at any moment, to exercise something like a judgment of his own, on matters which in better times would have been indisputably
settled for him. If we are spared external persecution, and escape trials of our faith and courage, we
, are tempted perhaps more severely than the early Christians on the side of intellectual pride and wilfulness. Our guide is comparatively out of sight, and we are the more tempted to be our own guides ; and all thoughtful persons know how that must end.
Yet it is certain by our Lord's express promise, that if we have but “ a good will to do His Will” unreservedly, we “shall know of the doctrine;" sooner or later, “ God will reveal unto us” that wherein we are “otherwise minded.” Our Saviour spoke it of those who were not yet Christians, St. Paul of Christians whose creed was yet imperfect. The two promises together seem to provide for all
It cannot be imagined that they pass over the very distressing case, now unhappily so frequent among us, of persons believing the Holy Catholic Church, but doubting more or less of their own place within it. Amidst all our care, and perplexity, whether for ourselves, or those dear to us, or entrusted to our care, we are graciously permitted to repose with undoubting faith on this one most merciful assurance, that sincere goodness will in the end find its home in the place from whence it came. The pure in heart shall finally see God.
Having this faith at the bottom of our hearts, in the firm and humble purpose to do and suffer all that He may clearly reveal to be His will, we
St. John vii. 17; Philipp. iii. 15.
may address ourselves calmly, without consternation or amazement, to the inquiry, whether He has clearly revealed the course which He approves in the emergency now imagined. For the conduct of such inquiry, I am now about to suggest a few leading thoughts: not professing to argue out any of the points, but simply to set them down as worthy of grave consideration.
A dutiful person in the English Church, we will suppose, has in some way been made aware of the sayings and feelings of good Roman Catholics concerning her; and with the fact, that some of those sayings meet with more or less countenance in antiquity: or he has come to be greatly impressed with the sanctity and other attractions undeniably existing in the communion of Rome: and the thought begins to haunt him, “What if her exclusive claim be true? What if it should prove, that as yet I have been living without the pale of Christ's Kingdom ?"
How is he to deal with such misgivings ? Shall he suppress them with a strong hand, as he would impure or murderous thoughts ? It would be hard to prove him wrong in doing
It would be hard, very hard, to overbear the claim of something like natural piety, urging on us that it is an undutiful thing to doubt whether she be our real Mother, who has ever professed to be so, and who has done a mother's part by us,
from childhood until now. As in families it would be a wild and unnatural supposition, for any one of the children to begin doubting, whether their reputed parents are their real ones; arguing the point, and requiring demonstration of it:-as it is a thing from which we recoil even in fictitious stories, counting it an extravagant and unreal device :so and much more in so serious an affair as this, by how much it is more shocking to undervalue God's mysterious and heavenly gifts, than those which relate to this world only. And if any, through their own or other's neglect, have grown up among us—(alas, that the case should be so common!)-unconscious of their spiritual Mother's care, and unwarned of their duty towards her, and so should have fallen into grievous sin : how much more miserable to think that they should make this their undutifulness a plea for disloyalty, and say in effect, “You did not keep me in order, therefore I disown you!” Who can deny that there may be, on the one hand, so devout and unwearied an use of the means of grace offered among us, that for the person so favoured to indulge in doubt and misgiving would be simple ingratitude and irreverence, and therefore in such an one not imaginable : on the other hand, such open neglect of them, as to make the very act of comparing and judging profane? In both those cases, then, it seems a plain duty to reject scruples before they be meddled with : and if in these two