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directly and immediately in very many of the deliberations of Parliament. And there are two features in the present aspect of affairs that seem to us not a little remarkable, as indicating a providential preparation for the work which religious men will have to do, and the testimony they will have to bear.
The first is the practical adjustment of various agitating public questions which, as long as they continued unsettled, must have stood as barriers in the way of any combined or effective action of the kind that we are now contemplating. The important political and economical controversies that have long excited and divided the public mind, are now, in a great measure, at an end. This is felt and owned by men of all parties. No doubt, other questions may be, and probably will be, raised. New knots will present themselves to be untied or cut, as the vessel of the State strains her cordage under press of sail, or shivers it in the storm. Such considerations, however, only serve to render the present interval the more precious, as they show it to be precarious; and the fact remains undeniable, that there is now comparatively a lull in the atmosphere or region of mere secular politics. The opportunity is too good to be lost; and too uncertain to be trifled with.
The second is this, that the great public questions of a religious character which have hitherto divided Christian men, and interfered with their acting together in public affairs, are becoming much more simple than ever they were before. We find them, in fact, narrowing themselves into a point, and taking the form of one brief and weighty principle. Mere secular politicians of all shades of opinions—Conservative, Liberal, Radical—may be regarded as nearly unanimous in maintaining that if the State is to give any of its countenance or support to religion, it must not only be on terms implying civil supremacy in matters spiritual, but also on the footing of all religious sects and opinions being treated with equal favour. In particular, it would seem to be part of a fixed plan, that the continuance of the present religious establishments of the country is to be purchased by concessions to the Church of Rome. Hence, among all classes of religious men, there is a growing agreement of opinion, in regard to the real practical alternative which will soon be presented to the country for its decision. The encroachments of Popery, and its advances towards State countenance and State support, must be withstood. And no effort must be spared, and no sacrifice grudged, for that end. Nor is this all. Existing acts of the Legislature that favour the Church of Rome must be assailed. The Maynooth endowment question must, sooner or later, be revived and agitated. And the law by which the grants for religious purposes in the colonies are regulated must be exposed, with a view to its repeal. That law, at present, sanctions grants of the public money, on the same terms, to all sects alike; and while the Churches that repudiate endowments at home, do not, and cannot, accept of such grants abroad —it is notorious that by far the largest share of them falls to the Puseyites and Papists; and the proportion that goes to the support of Evangelical truth is miserably small. The Colonial office, unhappily, in this and other ways, throws much of its influence into the scale of the High Church and Tractarian clergy, to whom almost all the public appointments are practically restricted; and the agents of Rome swarm, under public countenance, in all our foreign settlements. These facts are plain and palpable; and they force religious men to say, that rather than the present system should continue, it would be infinitely better to have all existing establishments abolished.
Thus, every way, the stage seems to be cleared for some new and most critical turn of affairs, in which Christian men must have a deep stake.
We are no alarmists, nor do we pretend to discern more than others the signs of the times. We acknowledge, with gratitude to Almighty God, the blessings of peace and prosperity which our country so largely enjoys, and we are far from wishing to excite unnecessary apprehensions of change. But none can be blind, either to the elements of evil that are at work in the nation, or to the elements of weakness that seem to be paralyzing its rulers. The masses ofour population are leavened, in a fearful degree, with the principles—not merely of practical ungodliness and speculative Infidelity—but of a sort of desperate Atheism, prepared to defy all power, whether of earth or of heaven. There is a festering spirit of discontent among them, of which Chartism and Socialism are the natural vents; and it is appalling even to think of the extent to which all civil and moral restraints are cast off, and a reckless profligacy of opinion and practice is openly avowed. Again, in other classes of the community, ignorance and superstition so prevail as to make them the ready prey of priestly usurpation. It is impossible to shut our eyes to the advances which Popery is making, with rapid and stealthy steps, in the upper as well as in the lower ranks of society; and when we consider the influence exerted by that large body in the Church of England—including many of our nobility and landed proprietors, both Scotch and English, who are smitten with the love of Romish superstitions, and dream of regenerating the people, not by vital godliness and spiritual religion, but by gorgeous forms and ceremonies, bringing back the mummeries of the middle ages—we can scarcely exaggerate the risk which Evangelical Protestantism runs of being supplanted in the minds of many. We might refer also to the frightful evils connected with the profanation of the Sabbath—the fatal facilities afforded to intemperance by the multiplication of public-houses—the crowding together of people at the making of railways and other public works—together with many other obvious causes of that increase of irreligion and crime which is awakening every where so much anxiety. But we forbear. It is enough to have indicated a state of things loudly calling for some extraordinary effort to stay the plague. And the misery is, that all the counsellors on whom the country usually relies, are helpless, and are almost confessing their helplessness. The common expedients of Government are of no avail. And hence our statesmen are blindly rushing into measures that religious principle condemns, in the vain hope of staving off the evil day. No one can consider the history of the last year, with its cabinet negotiations and various party manæuvres and intrigues-no one can review the recent proceedings in Parliament, or observe the steps by which the strongest Government, perhaps, this generation has seen, has been paralyzed and broken upwithout a deep and solemn conviction that to rule this empire on the principles and tactics hitherto in use, is all but impossible; and that whatever party may hold the reins of power, we have little to look for but uncertainty and change.
It is high time for the sound and stable portion of public opinion to have a voice and to make itself be heard. If there be a wholesome element still working in the community at all, it is almost wholly among that middle order to which the religious electors generally belong. There the heart of Protestant Britain is still, to a great extent, true and warm. Among the Scotch constituencies, in particular, there is a large proportion of the national piety and good sense; and if those to whom we now wish especially to appeal would only do their duty, and know and use their power, we night see in the very next Parliament a body of men, small, perhaps, at first, but strong in their mutual confidence and common attachment to the Evangelical faith, who might raise the standard of Christian principle, and compel attention to the word and will of God.
The effect which might thus be produced is not to be estimated. Let have a dozen, or a score, of such men in the British House of Commons-men untrammelled by party connections, or at least willing unequivocally to subordinate them all to the higher and more sacred interests of vital Christianitymen who will look at every question that arises in the light of Scripture, and of reason sanctified and subdued by Scripture-men who, whenever a religious principle is involved, will act together and speak boldly out, no matter at what expense of party feeling or personal credit-men, in short, who will bring a new and fresh spirit of real Christian philanthropy, and Christian patriotism, into every department of the business of legislation, who will not shrink from the
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duty of declaring what Popery and Jesuitism really are, and who will not hesitate about opposing all concessions to the system of Antichrist. We do not say that they would come into power, or be placed at the helm of affairs But they would soon make their weight felt, or rather the weight of their principles ; and their very presence would have a salutary influence in restraining or repressing much evil Their combined resistance would prevent the utterance of words, and the passing of measures, that otherwise have no check; and their testimony borne in high places would tell on the entire community. It was thus that Wilberforce and his little band of faithful adherents made a decided impression on Parliament and on the country; and matters are evidently ripe for a similar experiment again.
We venture to ask a solemn question or two. Do religious men, possessed of the requisite qualification, make conscience of being registered, so as to be entitled to vote? Do they take care so to register themselves as not to be committed to a blind support of a mere party, or of party men? Do they recognise their obligation to act as Christians, and upon Christian principles, in giving or withholding their votes ? Is it not too general an impression that the region of politics is beyond the range of Evangelical motives, and that men who, in every other department, act upon strictly religious considerations, may set them aside here? Surely these things ought not so to be. Every Christian man is bound, in times like the present, to register ; and to register so as to secure his free and independent right to give effect to his Christian views. And every Christian voter is bound to make his Christianity paramount in determining his vote.
Let this be conscientiously done by all true Christians, and their differences ainong themselves will be no serious hindrance. We do not call for formal co-operation in this matter. Let there be mutual forbearance, and a mutual desire to accommodate one another, and we have no fear of misunderstanding. Only let real Christians act out their own Christian views, and all will be right.
1. Even the knotty Establishment question need not occasion embarrassment.
Thus, on our side, we have no hesitation in avowing that we hold all Establishments, as at present constituted, to be in principle indefensible, and in practice injurious, rather than beneficial, to the cause of Christ. It is true that we do not object to a national establishment of religion, but, on the contrary, maintain the doctrine that it is lawful and right for a nation and its rulers to embrace and own the true religion, and, when it is practicable and expedient, to give it public pecuniary support. We further hold it to be a possible thing, that the existing Establishments of this kingdom might be so reformed as to bring them into accordance with sound Scriptural views of the constitution of a Church of Christ, and its right relation to the kingdoms of this world ; and we can conceive of circumstances in which it might be our duty to aim at their reform, rather than their removal. This, however, could be only on the supposition of a far larger amount of unanimity upon this subject among religious men and Christian Churches than we have now the slightest prospect of witnessing ; and it would, moreover, imply that there was some fair prospect of such consent on the part of these Establishments themselves to the needful reform, as might insure speedy success.
We need scarcely say that, as matters now stand, anything like the favourable case we have now put for a reform of existing Establishments must be regarded as the wildest and most visionary Utopian dream; and to be waiting for, or expecting such a contingency, while so many and so great evils are growing out of the system that now prevails, would be utter madness. It would be truly : “ Rusticus expectat dum defluat amnis.”
The plain fact is,--and it should be proclaimed, -that the so-called principle of Establishments is practically worked, by all parties, in Church