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From the preceding general remarks, the usefulness of which must at all times depend on the propriety of their. application, but which the circumstances of the times in which we live seem to recommend to more immediate attention, I pass on to the subject which the present meeting brings more immediately before us.
Assembled, as we professedly are on this occasion, to commemorate the establishment of a connection in this place with that singularly excellent institution, which has long been judiciously employed in the great cause of Christianity, under the appropriate title of “ The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge,” it may be expected that we should have some reasons to produce for that marked predilection, to which, in our judgment, as members of the Church of England, we consider this society to be unquestionably entitled. And though it is not my design to institute an unfair comparison between that Society to which we are on principle attached, and that other Association of religious persons for the same professed purpose, which carries with it the popular voice of the day; much less to speak disrespectfully of its members; disdaining all such little modes of maintaining a good cause; and though for reasons, strong to my own mind, I decline connection with this novel Institution; still it is by no means my wish to provoke hostility with it. For on this occasion I consider myself as acting on the defensive ; being desirous only of maintaining the ground which I have taken by those reasons and argu.. ments, which have long appeared, to my mind at least, decidedly conclusive. I stop only to observe, that these reasons and arguments are not addressed to Dissenters from the Church of England, who are acting consistently, and must with every candid mind be given credit for the undertaking in which they are engaged on this occasion ; but they are respectfully submitted to the consideration of those members of that Church, who have thought it expedient to connect hemselves with Dissenters in the prosecution of an object,
which they certainly may prosecute, in my judgment at least, with greater advantage to the cause of Christianity, as well as greater safety to the Establishment of their country unfettered by such a connection.
When then it is considered that extravagant pretensions have not been more generally made, than uncharitable censures denounced by distinguished members of the Association in question, against those whose unhappiness it may be to differ from them in opinion, with respect to the best mode of promoting the same professed object, I should be wanting to the cause in hand, did I not, however unequal I feel myself to the subject, attempt to say something in justification'of the part, which we, my brethren, have deliberately, and I trust, wisely taken.
That man must indeed have been very inattentive to the progress of this very plausible, and on that account popular scheme, for bringing the whole world to the knowledge and obedience of Christ, who has not observed, and with no small degree of disapprobation, the Association, which has been entered into for this charitable purpose, profusely decorated by its sanguine advocates with scriptural phylacteries, to which its anomalous and equivocal character has no legitimate claim : whilst those who cannot see reason to persuade themselves, that the result of the undertaking in question will be what sound members of the Church must wish, and on that account withhold their countenance from it, have, in unguarded moments, been indiscriminately represented as enemies to the cross of Christ, hinderers of his Gospel, and advocates for perpetuating among us (if such a thing were in these days possible) the darkness of popish ignorance, by withholding the circulation of that best of books, to the unrestrained and judicious use of which this nation has, under God, been indebted for that more than common degree of religious light, by which it has been distinguished beyond every other nation in the world.
To this calumny, for such it most undoubtedly must be in the sober judgment even of those by whom it has been inconsiderately adopted, it were a waste of time to return an answer. Indeed I feel more disposed to lament, that for the support of an apparently good cause, recourse should at any time be had to uncharitable means, than to dwell on the particular impropriety of them in the present instance. For certainly the Churchmen who are embarked in the same ship with many of those, by whom they have been inconsiderately traduced ; who acknowledge the same standard of apostolical truth with themselves; and may therefore be presumed to be equally desirous with themselves to promote it ; who have, moreover, a countless number of them at least, been for a length of time actually employed, not only through the medium of that excellent Society to which they belong, but also as individuals, in profusely circulating that very book, which they are now represented as desirous to withhold; must have become downright apostates from the great cause to which they are professedly pledged, to justify in any degree the language that has, indirectly at least, been applied to them on this occasion.
But it is with pleasure that I quit this part of my subject, from an apprehension that, if more strongly urged, it might tend to generate, what is far from my design, unpleasant feelings in the minds of those, with whom on every occasion, in which genuine Religion and the welfare of our Establishment are concerned, we could wish, as Churchmen, to be in perfect unison.
Still it must be observed, however great the difference of opinion between those of the same household of faith on this occasion may be, censure on either side is much out of place; because each party, on the principle of that charity, which is a characteristic of the true Church, ought to be given credit for the best motives ; unless there should be just reason for suspecting the contrary. Indeed to me a plan for the
general propagation of Christianity in the world appears to be more particularly a subject for sound judgment and discretion. As it therefore remains to be determined by the chapter of events, on which side, in the case before us, the greatest portion of judgment and discretion has been dis. played, it ought not to give offence on either side, whilst it may tend to the advantage of both, that each party should freely give their reasons for the conduct which they have respectively adopted.
Those who have felt themselves called upon by principle to act in strict concord with that excellent Society which hath long proved itself to be a faithful guardian of the Christian faith, and the strongest bulwark of our Establishment, may have to say for themselves; that their object on this occasion is to preserve the divine grace of Christion charity entire in all its branches. That whilst they refrain from pronouncing harsh judgment on others, they may be permitted, without harsh judgment being passed on themselves, to act as consistent Churchmen; remembering, that whilst Christian charity teaches them “ to bear all things, to believe all things, and to hope all things it at the same time teaches them to “rejoice in the truth. ” Christian charity consequently does not manifest itself in giving indiscriminate countenance to religious persuasions of every description, thereby exhibiting a cold indifference to a subject of most essential consideration; but it is manifested in a cordial, conscientious, and exclusive adherence to the revealed word of God, and to that one true faith, which was once delivered to the saints.” And they cannot persuade themselves, that as sound members of the Church, they ought to be given credit for that Christian charity which rejoiceth in the truth, but in proportion only as they exhibit an earnestness to adopt the means in their judgment best calculated to promote it. This then appears to be the point at issue; the only point on which a difference of opinion
between Churchmen equally zealous, it is presumed, for the promotion of genuine Christianity, can be supposed to exist. But whilst both parties, professing to have the same great object in view, are equally given credit for the best motives, each party pursues its object in a different way. Laying aside then every degree of prejudice, let it be coolly con. sidered in this important case, on which side the scale of . unbiassed reason appears to turn.
The Society to which we have the honor to belong, considering that the Bible was never intended to teach itself, and that there 6 were some things in it," as the Apostle long since observed, “ hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest to their own destruction;" has been constantly employed in providing and circulating those forms of sound doctrine and scriptural explanations, best calculated to put the ignorant in possession of the true sense of the revealed word; and to guard them against the manifold errors of those who lie in wait to deceive, by pointing out to them that old and sure way of the Lord, which leadeth to salvation. And in this judicious mode of pro. ceeding, the Society in question has, it must be allowed, the example both of the Apostles and of our Reformers for its sanction. Whilst that novel Association for a comprehensively religious purpose, which carries with it the voice of present popularity, and of which, if words were things, every true Christian ought to be a member, has established its important undertaking on the principle, that the Bible is of itself sufficient to do the work for which it was intended ; and to suppose that it stands in need of collateral aid for the
"At the first preaching of the Gospel a summary of fundamental truths was drawn up, and put into the hands of the new converts, before any canon of Scripture was settled. And the first attention of our judicious Reformers, as preparatory to the restoration of primitive Christianity in this country, was notoriously directed to the same. important object.