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THE CHURCH;

ITS INFLUENCE, DUTIES, AND HOPES IN THIS AGE.

PERHAPS nowhere has the course of the Church been more eventful than in our own country during the last three centuries. The history of these bygone times cannot be written either fairly or completely in any register of merely political action and change. A calm review of historic fact will show that the perils, deliverances, and progressions of our nation have invariably been parallel with similar aspect> of the course of its faith.

The assertion and achievement of our world famed liberties, the increase of our weight and influence among the peoples, the growth of our trade and commercial greatness, the development of our national resources,—the diminution of our social grievances,-the progress of beneficent institutions, the advance of popular education, the absence of the murderous fury of revolution,the tranquil settlement of public questions,-and the comparatively elevated moral tone of English society and opinion, have arisen in this land mainly from its religion, and have occurred in chronological coincidence with the greater prevalence of Christian truth.

The influence of the Church on the present can only be

een by a review of the deeds of the Church in the past. We may not carry you back too far, lest we incur a rebuke similar to that which a certain barrister, well known for his habit of dragging the court into antiquarian researches, once received from a Scottish judge:-"Ye needna gang back till the Paradise; suppose ye began somewhere aboot the time of Noah's flood, it might be satisfactory."

We choose for our startpoint the sixteenth century. That was an age remarkable for the marvellous increase of godliness, and the obvious advancement of human weal which took place within it. At that period the light of liberty, religion, and truth, seemed to shine over Europe with a radiance at once widespread and irresistible. The day that then broke over the nations was one of the brightest and most auspicious that ever dawned upon men. From whatever point of view you contemplate that epoch, whether you have regard to matters political, ecclesiastical, philosophical, or literary, you will find it to be the most pregnant of all the centuries. It was an era of great men and of great things: but, of all the varied, multitudinous and important events of that age, the religious revolution was the greatest of all. That was the central, dominant, all-controlling fact of the time. Wherever the Reformation penetrated its invariable results were an efflux of thought, an emancipation of the understanding, and a prodigious advancement of activity and liberty. There is abundant evidence both in the form of proof and counterproof that these things were the offspring of the newborn Protestantism;-that they were results and not mere coincidences. Where Protestantism reached they followed: where, as in Italy, Spain, and some other countries, it either never entered, or was stifled in its birth, there the fetters and darkness and apathy still remain. Nor were these blessed effects largely limited by circumstances, or dependant upon the presence and aid of

any particular form of earthly polity. They alike occurred under the feudal despotisms of Germany, the absolute monarchy of Denmark, the republican institutes of Holland, and the constitutional monarchy of England.

It

The economical advantage of the Reformation to England is incalculable. It set us free from all manner of Romish mulets and charges. It unclenched the thievish grip with which so called "spiritual men," had managed to clutch nearly all the temporals of the kingdom. It dismissed the nuns to their proper places in the homes of the land. dispersed the army of cowled caterpillars, and closed the monastic beggar and pauper manufactories. By restoring wealth to circulation, and by compelling drones to work, it gave an impetus to the industrial character and pursuits of our people that has issued in making England, what she is to-day, the workshop and the bank of the world.

The intellectual results of the Reformation in England cannot easily be overrated. Through the protracted night of Popery, the Bible had been a rare or unknown book. Anative of this land in the thirteenth century could not have obtained a Bible at all in his own tongue, and the price of it in Latin was thirty pounds while labour was rewarded at twopence a-day. Well might our ancestors welcome with rapture the translation of the Word of God. The study of the Scriptures by scholars in the original, and by a more numerous circle in the vernacular, opened the way to unwonted investigations in philology, history, jurisprudence, geography, and archæology. Here was the birth of English literature Nor must you suppose that theological learning only has profited. That same Protestantism which cast off the olden incubus of Antichrist, also emancipated mind from its universal thraldom to mere antiquity, and sent it forth for ever unfettered and free to inquire after truth. It was amid the impulses of that age, and in the spirit of those

principles that science set forth on her career of grand discoveries, and that authorship made incipient advances towards the influence and supremacy which it enjoys in these days in which the Press has become a fourth estate of the realm, the thunder of "The Times" is potent as the artillery of kings,-and Captain Sword is strangely jostled and criticised by Captain Pen.

Before the Reformation religion was an affair of the clergy. The ecclesiastical order alone might enunciate its principles and dispense its consolations. By the affirmation of the right of private judgment the field of faith was reopened to the world of the faithful. The effect of this was at once invigorating and hallowing. Doctrines received after free inquiry, conducted under a sense of personal responsibility, and issuing in deep conviction, naturally exerted an energy operative and elevating. The scene in this country was like the breaking up of icebound seas and the rescue of polar regions from the frost by the beams of the returning sun. The owls and bats of superstition retreated before the brightening dawn; while evangelism in its new apostles flew like a swift-winged seraph through the land, breaking its slumbers, purging its altars, and calling forth its heart to spiritual worship.

The Reformation was the germ of England's greatness. True greatness, whether national or individual, must be based upon principle. Military power and commercial wealth, when the sword is broken and the merchants are outbidden, leave no trace. Time remorselessly expunges from his tablets the ignoble names of men of mere fights and barter. The Jew, the Greek, the Roman, wielded a power more than imperial, and have left a name immortal, because they each had a vocation for human good;-each embodied, impressed and transmitted influences sacred or ameliorative which will never die. The Reformation linked England with

a principle, and in doing so, did more for her than gold could purchase or industry win. It invested her with an immediate grandeur. It gave her political status as first of the Protestant powers, and proclaimed her in a sense the Pope never meant, "Defender of the Faith." It initiated England's mission. It baptized the Anglo-Saxon race for its great work. It inducted the nation to the path in which its manifest destiny is to be achieved. It placed our land in the van of evangelism, and consecrated her as the lampholder of the world.

After the Reformation, the next great ecclesiastical influence is that of Puritanism. Revolt from the authority of Rome was, in England, first publicly proclaimed from the throne. The guidance of the movement, therefore, naturally fell into the hands of its occupant. Government reforms are proverbially cautious in speed, and as small as may be in amount. Impeded by royal caprice, and trammelled with difficulties of state, the reformation in the Anglican Establishment moved too slowly and halted too soon for its Puritan members. It was too reverent of ancient usage, and too conservative of ancient forms, to please them. Earl Strafford's motto, "Thorough," though in a different cause, was theirs.

Rejecting the Pope, they bowed not to the prelate. Hating the Missal, they scrupled the Prayer-book. Detesting the robes of the priest, they could not brook the vestments of the clergy. Despising as mummeries the gorgeous rites of the Church of Rome, they looked with dislike and jealousy upon the ceremonies of the Church of England.

Of course, conduct springing from principles so intense and extreme brought them into frequent and painful collision with the magnates and authorities of their time. We cannot attempt to trace all the vicissitudes of Puritan history, the complaints they made, the sufferings they

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