ePub 版

the people which it once did, is it therefore to be abandoned without inquiry into the cause ? Suppose it should appear that Dissenters are made, for the most part, not by scruples but by circumstances, might it not be well to ascertain whether those circumstances do not admit of remedy before we condemn the Church as unsatisfactory to the country? For instance, when the present Church Establishment was formed, the county of Lancaster was thinly peopled-its wilds and moors were divided into sixty-two parishes; but, in the lapse of time, Lancashire becomes the very focus of our manufacturing system, and gathers within its borders: a million and a half of inhabitants. Meanwhile, the parochial divisions and the churches, until quite lately, remained just what they were ; and, accordingly, twenty thousand souls on the average fell to the lot of every parish priest. What wonder that there should be some two or three hundred thousand Dissenters generated in that county? There the people were sheep without fold or shepherd-surely it was not conscientious objections to our ecclesiastical constitution, or to our liturgy, that withdrew from us these multitudes, but a mere want of accommodation within the Church walls, and personal knowledge of a Church minister ? And were churches and ministers provided now on an ample scale, we should not despair of seeing crowds of these stragglers broughtback, without the need of any sacrifice whatever on the part of the Church, either of discipline or doctrine ; and until this experiment has been tried, no such sacrifice should be made. The fashionable remedies of these days do not meet the case. The Dissenter, so made by accident, wants a seat in a church, and you tell him you have no seat in church for him, to be sure, but you will make your articles more comprehensive. The Dissenter upon principle wants the abolition of episcopacy and the dissolution of the alliance between Church and State-and you tell him, you cannot consent to part with your bishops or to divorce yourselves from your government, but you will new model the prayer-book. This is to give stones when the cry is for bread. To know the real amount of secession, founded on scrupulosity of conscience, you must let the Church have fair play-provide it with the means of asserting itself-put on fresh shafts to its engine-adapt it not to the whims of the times, but to the substantial wants of a population that has overgrown, more than deserted, it. It is not that our people like living in a tabernacle best, but they have pitched for themselves tents, rather than lie out of doors. If greater legal encouragement to individuals to build and endow churches is wanted, let it be supplied: if the facilities afforded by the law, as it stands, are not sufficiently known (which we believe to be the case), let a clear and succinct manual of Church Acts be drawn


up by some man who has built a church himself, and applied those acts practically, and let it be freely circulated. If the Society for the Building and Enlarging of Churches is not supported so universally as it ought to be, let its claims be enforced by the clergy, both by official charges and recommendations in private. If the erection of galleries and side-aisles is impeded by the expense of obtaining faculties (which is sometimes the case in small parishes), let the impediment be examined, with a view to its removal. If any periodical review of pew's could be made, in order to accommodate them better to the fluctuating population of a parish, let it be attempted. Only give the Church, by some method or other, more 'power of expansion-present it bodily to the multitude-let them be brought into contact with it, as it was intended they should be and, if it woo them in vain, then, and not till then, despair.

But it is not desired that any form of Dissent should supersede the Establishment, and rise upon its ruins. The wish is, that there should be no Establishment whatever--that every man should be left free to choose for himself to join what congregation he will, or gather one of his own. The experiment has been tried in our history—when Charles I., in the year 1642, gave consent to the exclusion of the bishops from the House of Lords which was in fact the moment when the Church of England fellthe great bulk of the people were Presbyterians. But look at the country again at the end of four short years, and observe what was the practical effect of the suppression of that Establishment; the land was by this time flooded with Independents, Manifestarians, Brownists, Millenarians, Libertines, Fanatics, Antinomians, Anabaptists, Seekers, Perfectists, Enthusiasts, Socinians, Arians, Antitrinitarians, Anti-scripturists, Sceptics, and Questionists : each of these sects again, by subdivisions and interlacements, ringing changes with one another, till, according to the author of the Gangræna, no less than a hundred and seventy-sis distinct churches were the issue.* Meanwhile, the creed of the country, which, for the sake of the peace of mind of millions, and especially of the poor and ill-informed, should be rendered as stable as may be, was set upon a seat as vertiginous as a windmill-sail; and the charities of life were wrecked in the hurricane of unprofitable dogmas that were let loose,

Moreover, when it is proposed that there shall be no Established Church at all—that the State shall make no provision for the religious wants of the people--it is assumed, that the people will. assuredly provide for their own wants : their zeal being sufficiently manifested, it is pretended, by the voluntary churches they already * Edward's Gangræna, p. 18.

uphold :

uphold : otherwise, the Dissenters, we suppose, fierce as is their hatred of the Establishment, would scarcely pull it down in order to make heathens of their countrymen. Let us try, then, this question by the test of experience. Now it appears from Mr. Yates's calculations, in a valuable and well-timed Letter addressed to Lord Liverpool, and published in the year 1815, that the population of the Tower Hamlets division of London, of the Ossulston hundred, the Finsbury division, Holborn, Kensington, and Westminster divisions, together with Southwark and the adjoining parishes, amounted to 905,715 souls; that the number of churches, for the supply of this population, was forty-five-so that, allowing 2000 persons to a church-(which is much too large an allowance-more than 800,000 would still be left without the means of enjoying the public ordinances of religion. Here, therefore, was ample scope for the operation of the voluntary system, in order to supply so monstrous a defect; a defect which was obvious to the eyes of every one who dwelt in those quarters. Did it prove

effective ?- Take the account of the Dissenters themselves. The Congregational Magazine, for December, 1832, makes the total number of Dissenting chapels in that district, including the meeting-houses of Quakers, Roman Catholics, and every description of seceders, amount to one hundred and eighty-six. The same authority reckons 400 persons to each, making 74,400 in the whole; so that there still remains 700,000 outcasts, to furnish recruits to the Rotunda. "So much,' says the author of the Essays of which we have already spoken, for the assumption, that if the State does not provide a religion for the people, the people will be sure to provide one for themselves.'*

It will be contended, however, perhaps, that the Church Establishment actually existing stands in the way of the voluntary system. It embarrasses its natural progress—the people not caring to possess themselves of ground which has the appearance, at least, of being already occupied; and then America is pointed to with triumph—where religion has been left to itself. We are not yet thoroughly acquainted with the religious condition of the United States : recent events, however, have led to some investigation of the subject ; and the result is not so favourable to the efficiency of the system of voluntary churches as some might imagine. In the first place, then, we should remember, that many of the original colonists of the United States were men who expatriated themselves on religious grounds: they were a devout and zealous race, and the impulse of their character was likely to make itself felt for many generations after them ; so that, had America been in fact all that its friends represent it to be, it might be still a question * Essays on the Church, p. 36.


whether there were not peculiar circumstances in the character of its population which were propitious to the growth of a religious spirit.

But, next—it is not true that religion has been hitherto left to itself in America. In several parts of the Union the maintenance of religion is, or rather was, compulsory—though the sect to which any individual would attach himself was at his own option; and wherever the compulsory system has given place to the voluntary, religion has rapidly declined. Indeed, nothing can be more satisfactory to the friends of an Establishment, than the example of America, if candidly considered. Dr. Dwight's authority stands high with the Dissenters in this country. In his · Travels in New England and New York,' he explains the nature of the ecclesiastical establishment which then existed in Connecticut, (it has since been destroyed,) and contrasts the condition of religion in that province with its condition in the more southern provinces, where there was no establishment at all.* The result is, in a few words, this :—That in a state in which Christianity was established by law, the Presbyterian ministers—for they were the great body of the clergy-supported and settled, were in the proportion of one to

every thirteen hundred and twenty-eight inhabitants ; whilst in the States where the voluntary system prevailed, the proportion was one to every sixteen thousand six hundred and sixty-eight. Nay more-– -for we are anxious to give the enemies of the Establishment the full benefit of their favourite example—whilst, in the former state, out of 209 congregations—for so many it countedthere were 20 vacancies, i. e., about one-tenth without ministers

; in the latter states, out of 430 congregations—which was their whole number—there were 160 vacant, or considerably more than one-thirdthe inhabitants being to this extent too poor or too supine to support a minister ;-and of the rest 81 were served by pluralists ; and yet the advocates of voluntary churches,' adds our Essayist, are perpetually referring us to America for proof, conclusive proof, of the excellency and efficiency of their scheme !

-to America! one glance at which ought to close their mouths for ever! But they know not what they say, nor whereof they affirm.'

Moreover, though in the large towns of America there is much Christian profession-such as it is—a great part of it is believed to be of the Socinian school-a corruption not unusually engendered by the want of a fixed scriptural standard of faith, by which aberrations might be early felt and corrected-a corruption, therefore, which in this country derives its chief supplies from the decomposition and decay of the Independents. In like manner, we do not * Vol. iv. p. 397.


deny that the populous towns in England would probably maintain, even without any extrinsic help, a body of ministers of one kind or other; but, in the meanwhile, what would become of the country?-how would voluntary churches be furnished to our agricultural communities, consisting, as they often do, of one or two gentlemen, eight or ten farmers, and a few scores of cottagers ? How, in fact, does this district, composing the chief surface of every kingdom, fare in the favoured land across the Atlantic? We see no reason to doubt the correctness of the picture drawn by a late traveller in the United States-certainly no enthusiast :

A stranger taking up his residence in any city in America, must think the natives the most religious nation upon earth ; but if chance lead him among her western villages, he will rarely find either churches or chapels, prayer or preacher; except, indeed, at that most terrific Saturnalia—a camp-meeting. I was much struck with the answer of a poor woman whom I saw ironing on a Sunday. 'Do you make no difference in your occupations on a Sunday ?' I said. • I be'ant a Christian, ma'am ; we have got no opportunity,' --was the reply. It occurred to me that the government would be guilty of no crime, did it so far interfere, as to give them all an opportunity of becoming Christians, if they wished it.**

But, if exceptions be taken against this testimony, as coming from a witness under passion or prejudice, hear the account given of the matter by an American himself-a minister, toothe Rev. Samuel J. Mills, who thus describes what he had seen with his own eyes :

• Never will the impression be erased from our hearts, by beholding those scenes of wide-spreading desolation. The whole country, from Lake Erie to the Gulf of Mexico, is as the valley of the shadow of death. Darkness rests upon it. Only here and there a few rays of gospel light pierce through the awful gloom. This vast country contains more than a million of inhabitants. Their number is every year increased by a mighty flood of emigration. Soon will they be as the sands on the sea shore for multitude; yet there are at present only a little more than one hundred Protestant or congregational ministers in it. Were these ministers equally distributed throughout the country, there would be only one to every ten thousand people. But now, there are districts of country containing from twenty to fifty thousand inhabitants, entirely destitute; "and how shall they hear without a preacher?”

Such is the fate of an agricultural district where religion is to be maintained by a system of voluntary churches.

There is, however, another view of this question to be taken, * Domestic Manners of the Americans, vol. i.

† Narrative of a Tour, by the Rev. S. J. Mills; quoted by Dr. Chalmers On En. dowments,' p. 189.

p. 155.

« 上一頁繼續 »