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I might be discouraged from taking the duty of its chairman year after year. Fortunately, however, my friends, we are independent of all individual discouragement, seeing that our funds, and with them our means of accomplishing the great good contemplated in the establishment of this Society, are on the most satisfactory increase. Small, then, as our party may happen to be, let us congratulate one another on the increasing stability and efficiency of the London New Church Printing Society, and delight ourselves with the reflection that the good cause needs not the stimulus of mere festivity to make it successful.
There is much, indeed, for us to reflect upon in connexion with the objects and uses of this Society, of a highly interesting and important nature, and which, at this time, I feel myself at liberty to advert to somewhat at length. I allude, more particularly, to the present state of Christianity, as depending on its doctrines on the one hand, and as influencing mankind on the other. That Christianity or the Christian religion has experienced many vicissitudes and changes, must be well known to every one ; also, that in no form of it has it as yet exhibited that unity and consistency which should accompany the profession and assumption of orthodoxy, is equally obvious; and lastly, it is very generally admitted, that it never was threatened with so great a change, or was in so unsettled a state, as it is at the present day.
These are undeniable positions in regard to Christianity, viewed in its widest range, and also in its more prominent subdivisions ; for in no one of these can we discover immutability, or unity, or a settled state of things. Varying doctrine in each division respectively, is assuredly the producing cause of this condition of Christianity; and were there no remedy provided, it is difficult to conjecture to what result it would sooner or later arrive.
Men of observation and discernment appear to be fully sensible of the grounds there are for apprehension on this head; and their chief consolation is derived to them from a trust in a divine providence, which not only the fulfilment of prophecy, but the manifest advancement of knowledge and civilization declares to be operating for some ulterior good.
To the members of the New Church it will ever prove most gratifying to be witnessing the efforts of individuals of exalted station, and eminent for their piety and learning, to suppress the ignoble passions and emotions which are too frequently excited by discussions on matters of Christian doctrine and faith, and which render the war of
opinion more desolating to the Church than that of the sword is to the human race; and I rejoice in being enabled to call your attention to an instance of an effort so directed, which is calculated to produce results of no small importance to the New Church, seeing that the course of reasoning, the example set forth, and the spirit that is inculcated therein, are so many aids towards bringing her superior claims and her intrinsic value into greater notice and more patient examination than they have hitherto met with. The charge of the Bishop of Oxford to the clergy of his diocese, is the instance I refer to ; and I trust I shall be excused for making quotations from it, when I state it to be my opinion that they ought to be regarded, by us, as strong incentives to our persevering in our work of printing and publishing the writings of E. S., with all zeal and diligence.
The worthy bishop confines his charge to the subjects brought forward in the Tracts for the Times, and to the circumstances that appear to be in close connexion with them.
Since the says) I last addressed you collectively from this chair four years have elapsed, and, although it commonly happens that men are disposed to exaggerate the importance of events occurring in their own time, and in which they are themselves more or less the actors, still I cannot but think that those four years will be hereafter looked upon as the commencement of one of the most eventful epochs in the history of the English Catholic church.
The last four years have witnessed the rapid development of those principles, which the world (though untruly, for they are of no locality) has identified with Oxford, and to which I felt it my duty to advert at my last visitation. Those principles have, during this short interval, spread and taken root-not merely in our own neighbourhood, and in other parts of England, but have passed from shore to shore, east and west, north and south, wherever members of our church are to be found, pay, are unquestionably the object to which, whether at home or abroad, the eyes of all are turned who have any interest or care for the concerns of religion. I am not now saying anything about the tendency of those principles : I am simply asserting the fact of their existence and development. There they are, whether for good or evil; and they are forming at this moment the most remarkable movement, which, for three centuries at least, has taken place amongst us.
And now, in the next place, I would advert to the manner of their growth. Certainly they have been fostered with no friendly hand. No adscititious aid of powerful patronage has helped them forward; no gale of popular applause has urged them on. On the contrary, they seem to have been the single exception, which an age of latitudinarian liberality could discover, against the rule of tolerating any form of belief. And while many, whose motives are above all suspicion, and whose honoured names need no praise of mine, have unhesitatingly and utterly condemned them,while many more have looked on with caution and mistrust, while many in authority (myself among the number) have felt it their duty to warn those committed to their trust of the possible tendencies of the doctrines in question, they have likewise been exposed to a storm of abuse as violent as it has been unceasing, to calumnies
and misrepresentations of the most wanton and cruel description, and to attacks from the dissenting, democratic, and infidel portions of the public press, clothed in language which I will not trust myself to characterise, but which, for the sake of our common humanity (I say nothing of Christian charity) it behoves us, as with one voice, to reprobate and condemn. I am not now saying whether these principles deserved the chilling reception they have met with ; I am only stating an admitted fact that such has been their reception.
Again, let us look at the character of the doctrines brought before the public. What has been their attraction? What have they to recommend them to general adoption ? The system in question, instead of being an easy comfortable form of religion, adapting itself to modern habits and luxurious tastes, is uncompromisingly stern and severe,-laying the greatest stress upon self-discipline and self-denial, encouraging fasting, and alms-deeds, and prayer, to an extent of which the present generation, at least, knows nothing,—and inculcating a deference to authority which is wholly opposed to the spirit of the age, and uniformly upholding that minute attention to external religion, which our formularies, indeed, prescribe, but which the world has mostly cast aside as superfluous, or as shackling and interfering with the freedom which it loves.
Now, such being the character of the religious movement which has forced itself upon our notice, it must be obvious to every one who thinks at all on the subject, that it has peculiarities about it which render it quite unlike any thing which has hitherto been observed among us; and, if this be the case, it is no less obvious that a system, which has grown up under such disadvantages, and which professes, at least, to be that of the ancient Catholic church, deserves, at any rate, to be treated with as much of prudence and circumspection as Gamaliel prescribed in a not very dissimilar instance.
But this is a sort of forbearance of which I have seen no signs whatsoever. I do not mean, God forbid ! that, if the doctrines of which I am speaking are erroneous, they are not to be exposed and condemned – that high and low, rich and poor, are not in their several stations to be warned against adopting them ; but what I say is this, that error is to be met with argument, not with clamour, and to be answered with painful care, and grave reverence, and firm (though kind) remonstrance ;-not to be made the subject of rancorous declamation, not to be treated with the rude, coarse abuse, which party spirit is sure to elicit from ill-conditioned minds, and which is as opposite to the tone of Christian condemnation as darkness is to light. Persecution never has, never will, answer its object. There is something in the very constitution of our common nature which inclines men to side with those whom they think unfairly treated. And such, I am disposed to think, has been the case with respect to the opinions of which I am speaking. Whether those opinions are right or wrong, I verily believe that the temper in which their advocates have been attacked has gained them more adherents than, perhaps, any other cause.
What can have been more lamentable than the tone which (of course I am speaking generally) has been adopted by those who have set themselves (I hope conscientiously) to oppose the opinions in question-what can be more offensive to Christian charity than to hear men of blameless lives held up to public execration in the news. papers of the day, as “a synagogue of Satan," and branded as “heretics" by persons who yet hold back the grounds on which they make their charges ? Above all and
I cannot notice without grave reprehension the conduet of these individuals—what can be more offensive than to see clergymen, ministers of the Gospel of peace, so far forgetting themselves, their duties, and their position, as to appear at public meetings as speakers, or in the daily journals as correspondents, whose tone is rather that of personal opposition than of grave objection to error, and who thereby almost compel us to think that they are lamentably deficient in that spirit which is “pure, and peaceable, and gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits,'“thinking no evil,"_" rejoicing not in iniquity, but rejoicing in the truth."
And, seeing the grievous want of charity which has prevailed among us, I have felt it my duty to condemn those who have set themselves forward as gratuitous agitators and unbidden accusers of their brethren.
Believe me, what most we need is peace : peace, in order that the church may “ lengthen her cords and strengthen her stakes," and provide spiritual sustenance for her population, rapidly heathenizing through want of religious instruction; peace, in order that her parochial system may be once more made adequate to the wants of her people ; peace, in order that she may calmly prepare, not merely for any crisis of opinions among her own children, but for that tremendous, final contest between good and evil, to which all things seem hastening with rapidity. Let us, then, avoiding the strifes of men, and keeping ourselves pure, seek the church's peace, and ensure it: and let our daily prayer be that of one who died a martyr in her cause,
and whose blood was not shed in vain,--that God would "fill her with all truth, in all truth, with all peace ;' that where she is corrupt, her HEAVENLY FATHER would vouchsafe to "purify her," " where in error, to direct her ; where superstitious, to rectify her ; where anything is amiss in her, to reform it; where it is right, to strengthen and confirm her ; where she is in want of anything, to furnish it; where she is divided and rent asunder, to make up the breaches of it."
And then, my brethren, be the end what it may, we shall not be unprepared to meet it; we shall, perhaps, even be made worthy to suffer for His sake, who is the church's head and lord; and, when the doubts and strifes of this present world are ended, shall through His alone merits be admitted to those mansions which have been prepared from the foundation of the world for the peace-makers-the poor in spirit--the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart.
From these extracts it is very evident that the orthodox Church, so called, is not agreeing upon its orthodoxy ; that one of its chief ministers finds it necessary to address his clergy in terms of kindness, of remonstrance, and of advice: of kindness to conciliate them, with a view to remove their differences; of remonstrance, to induce them to forbear from exhibiting a spirit of calumny and persecution ; and of advice, to persuade them to meet their opponents' arguments with fairness, temper, and discretion. He pleads for a party in his church, with which he cannot identify himself; he commends their conduct, and even sets it forth as a pattern and example for his own side of the question to follow ; he confesses his ignorance of the tendency, and is at a loss to conceive the final issue, of the new views, which, emanating from his see, are spreading far and wide throughout Christendom. In former times such a growth from the parent stock, and under such extraordinary circumstances, would have sprung a flood of anathemas, and called forth the jarring sounds of war to overpower those of religious dissension: now, however, things are wonderfully altered ; Rome looks complacently but vainly on in expectation of a return of her ascendency over the good things of England, fancying, that if priesthood leads and teaches the subjection of the understanding in matters of faith, the laity will join in questioning the legitimacy of the claims of Protestantism. The multifarious ranks of Dissenters are beginning to partake of the common commotion; the Scotch Presbytery are sustaining shocks which threaten to hurl down the pillars of their church from their influence and dominion; and I have only to vary a little the words of the Oxonian bishop, to declare, “that one of the most eventful epochs in the history of the Catholic Church has commenced.”
Such being the present state of Christianity, and such the result of the diversity of the doctrines promulgated by its numerous subdvisions respectively, there is, doubtless, a wise and good providence superintending the whole, and carefully preparing the world for the reception of a light that dissipates all error, and of a love that comforts all that mourn.
A very few years sweep away the agitation and the agitated; generations of mankind, swayed as they may be by old traditions, or by blandishing novelties, are succeeded by others who venture to call the authority of their predecessors, alike with their sentiments, into question. The force of fallacy being thereby diminished, the understanding is so far released from the fetters of erroneous principle, and the mind, as to its will as well as to its understanding, comes into a condition more fitted for the apprehension and appreciation of pure truth.
That such a preparation of the human mind is going on under divine auspices, we, my friends, are, above all other men, well assured. We can, on all grounds, whether of philosophy, right reason, common sense, or sound religion, testify hereunto. We are here on this occasion, to declare this our belief, in all soberness and honesty of conviction. We are sure that God, even our Lord, hath not forsaken his people; but that he is again come to his own, and that he will, as the spirit of truth, abide with them for ever; for he will be rejected of men no more, nor will they again merit the reproach that they received him not.
No, my friends, the New Church writings, addressed, as they are, to the understandings of men, commit them not to mysteries and para