Page images
PDF
EPUB

ART. VII.-1. Church Matters in MDCCCL. No. 1.-Trial of

Doctrine. By the Rev. JOHN KEBLE, M.A. London: J. H.

Parker. 2. A First Letter on the present Position of the High Church

Party in the Church of England. By the Rev. W. MASKELL.

London : Pickering. 3. The present Crisis in the Church of England : illustrated by

a brief Inquiry as to the Royal Supremacy. By the Rev.

W. J. IRONS, B.D. London: Masters. 4. A Letter to the Rev. W. Maskell. By the Rev. MAYOW

WYNELL MAYOW, A.M. London: Pickering. 5. The Church, the Crown, and the State. Two Sermons, by the

Rev. W. J. E. BENNETT, M.A. London: Cleaver. 6. A few Words of Hope on the present Crisis of the English

Church. By the Rev. J. M. NEALE, M.A. London: Masters. The pamphlets, the titles of which we have here quoted, are sufficient evidence that matters of no ordinary interest and anxiety are occupying the thoughts of Churchmen. It would be superfluous to draw attention to them; they are sure to be read. We trust that we shall not be thought wanting in respect due to their writers, if, instead of commenting directly upon them, we make use, in our own way, of the facts and thoughts for which we are indebted to them.

The present are days of reform, and claiming of rights. The principle is universally acknowledged, that every real interest and substantial power in England may justly ask, in its due place, and according to its importance, for whatever is necessary to enable it to do its own proper work. If it is allowed to exist, it ought to be allowed to perform its functions; it is a contradiction in a well-ordered State, that a body, or a class, or a religion should be recognised, and yet hindered from realizing the objects of its existence. The State may ignore or disallow it, but not impede what it owns. Further, interests

. clash and powers conflict; and in reconciling these, the general power of the State is not bound to accept in their full extent the claims of either party; but though both may over-state their claims, none can judge as well as themselves what they require for their own efficiency. And accordingly, one after another, various interests have submitted their claims to the arbitrage of the general power of the State, have gained a hearing, and further have gained, if not all they wished for, yet much that was necessary or important to them. Roman Catholics, Dis

senters, the great towns, the manufacturing interests, have asked and obtained, not privileges, but release from disabilities and impediments; such a fair field as was due to them as important elements and real powers in England.

There is no reason why the Church of England should not have her reform, and claim her rights, as well as the dissenting, or the manufacturing, or the colonial interest. Church reform, indeed, has been long talked about; and some specimens of it we have already seen. We are not now going to complain of the way in which Parliament has dealt with Church property or Church privileges. It may have had reason for thinking the one ill-administered or ill-applied, and the other out of date and inconsistent with the present state of things; and may have wished in each case to apply a just remedy, and at the same time to deal fairly and honourably with the Church. But though it be very proper to prevent the Church from wasting her money, or bearing hard on the social and political position of other Englishmen, this is not the same thing as removing the possible hindrances to her efficiency, much less it is restoring or strengthening her powers according to her own constitutional system. She has objects and wants, she has also difficulties and embarrassments, to her of the most real and serious kind, which are impalpable and intangible to the most benevolent Parliament. There are innumerable things which she may wish to do and put right, for which no one is competent but herself. There is no reason why she should be considered tied to an obsolete state of things, more than the nation at large, or separate interests of it. There is no reason why Parliament should consider itself capable of discharging all necessary functions of Church administration or legislation, any more than administering or legislating for the internal affairs of the Great Western Railway Company, or the Baptist body. There is no reason why the Church should find more difficulty in gaining Parliamentary sanction to the exercise in a restored form of her own intrinsic and constitutional powers, or even of new and hitherto unknown ones, than other religious or secular bodies. There is no reason why she should not be allowed, under Parliamentary sanction and guarantee, to carry on reforms of her own, to adjust her position to altered circumstances, to administer her own laws, to take counsel for her own interests. There is no reason why in her case all these important matters should be kept out of her own hands, and left in those which are not her own. There is no reason why Parliament should be strictjustly and rightly strict—with her in the use of her revenues, and look with jealousy, not merely on her exemptions, but on her influence on general legislation; and should insist, on the

other hand, on keeping up a formal system of which the reality has passed away, and which shackles without protecting her. The State, which has granted the Reform Bill and Free Trade, has no ground to deny the Church a more free and consistent position.

There never has been a reason why the Church alone should not be listened to in the universal cry for rights. But the event which has happened during the past month, has changed the state of the question, and made it imperative on her to claim at once, and labour without remission for, that which it would have been prudent and wise in her to have claimed long ago. If it was right always that she should have a distinct voice in her own concerns, it is indispensable now, at whatever cost, and whatever inconvenience;—and the cost may be great, the inconveniences certainly will be many.

It cannot be dissembled that Churchmen must now take a new and a very important position ; a very important one, both to themselves personally, to their own consciences and their peace, to the Church, and to the English State and nation. Reform has long been going on within the Church, in such ways as individuals and private efforts could carry it on; changes for the better, spontaneous and self-originated, in matters of private competence, though of the highest public interest. But Churchmen must become reformers in another and far less agreeable and safe way. They must take up the position of reformers towards the State. There is no help for it that we can see, except by allowing the insensible but most important political alterations of the last half-century to alter the hitherto recognised basis of the Church, and to control and extinguish the ideas which the majority of her members have hitherto held of her constitution and organic laws. The English Church of George III., Charles II., Charles I., James, Elizabeth, and even of Henry VIII., however closely connected with the State,—or rather with the Crown,-however far it admitted its control, never for a moment lost sight of the principle, that if it held one set of powers from the Crown, it held another set of powers which no Crown or State on earth could, or pretended to, confer; powers which it held as a Church, powers which it inherited through a line distinct from that of a royal or a national succession. It never, we say, for a moment forgot that, however connected with the State, it was still a self-subsistent, even if not independent body, which would exist to-morrow, if the State broke up into anarchy, or cast off the Church. Unless this basis is changed, and the Church, once co-extensive with the nation, but now no longer so, is nevertheless, in consequence of her union with the Crown, to share, so to speak, the neutrality of the Crown, and to lose all her distinctive characters of tradition, of doctrine, of maxims, and practice, in order to fit her once more, if that were possible, for comprehending the nation, ---unless she has passed from being a Church with an origin and powers of her own, into a great organ of the national government, to be disposed of at the discretion of the national government, -she may rightfully claim, not as an institution issuing out of the State, but as a contracting party with the State, to be secured from whatever endangers her organic basis, and threatens to fuse her with the State. And such a case has distinctly arisen. Much as she has trusted the Crown, and indisposed as she has been to be jealous of Governments, they never asked of her, and she never gave them, the sole and final interpretation of her articles of faith. And to allow them to have it, to consent that officers of State and judgment, simply as such, may by a side wind settle a fundamental question of theology, which the Church herself has not yet interfered in, and that without her having an opportunity of authoritatively expressing her dissent or concurrence, would certainly be to abdicate the distinct existence which she has hitherto claimed and been supposed to possess.

She has a good and reasonable case; she has power more than she knows of—more, probably, than her opponents, who know more of her power than she does herself, suspect; and she must be determined, steady, and unflinching. It is thus that victories are gained in England. Nor is there any reason why her position should be one of hostility, because it is one of determination. The Dissenters did not affront the State, but they pressed their grievances resolutely, and made themselves heard. The Roman Catholics did not quarrel with it, though they had to meet strong opposition from it, and to push their claims in spite of it. The reformers of representation, and of commercial and colonial policy, have taken the offensive in the most unremitting and uncompromising manner, yet without showing themselves hostile to the State. No cause, however clear and reasonable, will succeed in England without steadiness and without temper; and few causes, even if wanting in reason, will fail with them.

On the eve of a great struggle, to which we stand committed, and from which we see no escape, it behoves us to recollect ourselves. The issues are not in our hands; yet we shall be deeply responsible for them, for in part they depend upon us. We shall be responsible for indecision, for carelessness, for ignorance, for mismanagement, for all that sows the seeds of future difficulty and endangers future perseverance and steadiness, as well as for indifference and want of zeal. We are called to

battle, to battle in a name not our own; but to battle, not merely as brave men, but as wise. We have to do with an age of cool heads, of large knowledge, of practised dexterity, of resolution and firmness—with an age of strong and deeply-rooted law, an age incredulous of what is extreme, shocked by what is violent, jealous of what is one-sided, impatient of what is unfair,-an age hard to persuade, yet hard from its wish to be reasonable,an age in which boldness and courage are more than ever indispensable, and perhaps more than ever respected ; yet in which they are too ordinarily found in different parties, and too equally opposed, to be of avail by themselves. We must not look to succeed, humanly speaking, by other means than success is ordinarily gained by, in our own time. The daring, and main strength of will and arm which won Crecy and Agincourt, were but elements, in that concourse of power and wisdom, which triumphed in the Peninsula.

We must know our ground, and our difficulties; and if we are wise, we shall take account, not merely of the peculiar difficulties of our own case, but of those which surround and seem inherent in the general question of the relations between the Church and the Civil Government. For if we may speak our minds freely, we cannot look back with much satisfaction, either to the conduct, or the issue of most Church contests. It is hard to find one in which the Church was ultimately and really successful; harder still, in which the ground taken by her advocates was altogether unexceptionable and clear. They show off individual virtues, rather than command our full sympathy for a cause, or our admiration of the wisdom with which it was maintained. We have to make the same reserves that we make in political history; reserves where we least wish to make them, yet reserves which nothing but a deliberate ignoring of facts will dispense us from. And so with the results. What is represented as a triumph, is often but a varnishing over of concession; the

; maintenance of a principle ends in the guarantee of a salvo; what can no longer be retained in reality, is surrendered under the form of a grant of privilege; compromise is content to save what it can ; what is called policy is at best but management; a struggle for important rights expires in a Concordat. We are not speaking now of the intrinsic power and action of the Church on her members and mankind; for these set contests are no measure or trustworthy criterion of her true efficiency and strength. But in these set contests, unless we read history entirely wrong, she has not been fortunate, except in the occasional example she has thereby gained of saintly or heroic fortitude; and, with the great lesson have ordinarily come warnings equally great.

« PreviousContinue »