Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

same; and they already go as far in reciprocating acts of brotherly fellowship as the anti-christian rigour of their church, as a political and exclusive system, will permit them.

The obstacles to a more ostensible union are much less in the case of the other evangelical denominations than in that of the Church of England; which, indeed, admits of no other union than the incorporation of others with itself. The remaining denominations have no such theoretical impediment. We are not aware that any one of them claims a Divine right in regard to church government, which of course would be fatal to union with those holding other forms. We trust that there are no Congregationalists who are such dull students of the apostolic times and writings as ever to dream of getting up this selfcomplacent claim.

If, then, we are one in doctrine, and if each denomination can find something in favour of its particular system, in different usages of apostolic churches, resulting, we presume, from diversified circumstances, surely it might be supposed that some mutual accommodations might be made without compromising conscience, and that some platform of the church, which might be tolerable to all, might be adopted, for the sake of that ostensible unity which the world now fails to see in the church. This, however, we fear, is a Utopian imagination, and not destined, for ages at least, to be realised.

We are, moreover, of opinion that against such a consolidation of the evangelical denominations as we have hinted at, pecuniary considerations would form a barrier as formidable as any other; and this obstacle is, of course, increasing every day, in consequence of the additional rise of property in chapels and other denominational interests. No one, therefore, so far as we can learn, ventures to contemplate the possibility of a formal consolidation of the several denominations; and any one who should propose it would be treated as a mere well-meaning visionary.

We cannot, however, refrain from the remark, that a recent opportunity has occurred in which something might, with few obstacles, have been done to promote a union which, though not precisely ecclesiastical, might have had a very powerful moral effect. We allude to the present state of public education. There were here, we think, the foundations which might have been made available for a practical superstructure of unity. On the platform of scriptural, but not denominational education, all evangelical Christians might have met. Already the principle has been recognised, and numerous examples have occurred in which members of the several denominations have shown themselves satisfied with giving to the people a religious education, based on the leading principles of Christian doctrine and practice, without accompanying it with inculcating the ecclesiastical views of the denomination as distinguished from those of the remaining denominations. This opportunity is now lost. New properties in schools, the properties of the several denominations, not of one great Protestant Evangelical School Society, will now be created; and there will be an additional guarantee for the perpetuation of party names and denominational distinctions. There is, we fear, in the Christian world, an incurable tendency to regard the maintenance of these distinctions, unessential as they are mutually allowed to be, as either now inevitable or as more important than the moral power which a general ostensible union would confer.

In the present world, inferior motives and circumstances often produce a powerful effect, even on the minds of Christians, in determining their course of conduct. We suppose it will hardly be denied, that the denomination to which Christians belong is often very much determined by the accidents of parentage, place, or other equally casual circumstances; and a change from one of the nonconforming denominations to another would rarely, we imagine, be regarded as a matter affecting conscience. The popular principle lies essentially at the basis of them all; and in all, the church, that is, its members, are the source of power, for they are the source of contribution by which the system is supported. Whatever the community allows, either tacitly or by vote, stands and is practised ; and they have only to determine, and any real or supposed abuses must be rectified. It is not, then, we think, so much the bare circumstance of the somewhat diversified forms in which the popular will allows itself to be expressed, that opposes an ostensible coalescence of the divided church ; a difficulty still greater is probably to be found in the private interests, associations, and feelings, which have grown up, and are still strengthening themselves, in the several denomi. nations.

While we fear that there is little hope of the bonds of denominational division being relaxed among the Nonconformists of England, surely the next best and only remaining) method of showing that they are all really one, is that which is advocated in the pamphlet at the head of this article. The meeting to which it refers was attended by ministers and members of the Church of England, and of the Congregational, Presbyterian, Baptist, Moravian, Wesleyan and Calvinistic Methodist churches, and was formally approved by those of the Free Church of Scotland who were unable to attend. It was such a meeting as could not but deeply gratify all hearts interested in promoting the observance of the Saviour's great command to “love one another;" for it was distinguished by devout, holy, and harmonious feeling. All seemed raised above the differences which separated them, and to forget that there was any other bond than the common Christianity. The impression, we trust, was lasting. It was followed up, on the first of January, 1844, by a united celebration of the Lord's supper, at Surrey Chapel

5 Q

N. S. VOL. VIII.

The speech of Mr. Isaac Taylor, at Exeter Hall, evidently contained hints of further hopes than such as would merely terminate in the fact of a public meeting, though no detail is introduced.

“ This present assemblage, and the movement whence it has resulted, I solemnly believe to be of God, and I will confess that I tremble lest, while desiring to promote the sacred end in view, I should in any way impede it. This feeling is stronger, inasmuch as the very subject now before us—the union of evangelic communionsis the one that has occupied the meditations of my life. The practicability of such a union, and the means by which it might possibly be brought about, I have loog and anxiously considered ; and thence, as is natural, have resulted decisive and fra convictions on most of the questions that stand connected with the subject. In undertaking, therefore, any of the topics that present themselves on this occasion, I might not improbably—nay, should almost inevitably be led to advance, I will not say principles, but some practical conclusions, with which this meeting might not concur. And far better would it be to be silent than to touch a dissonant string at a moment when the harmony of Christian love is universally enjoyed. I would, however, willingly suppose myself warranted to exchange a pledge between those who occupy the body of the hall and those around me on the platform. If, then, I might address the latter, as in the name of the former, I would say, “Fathers of the evangelic communions of this country, you have convened us on this occasion, and we have obeyed your summons. Are you satisfied with our appearance? We are here to receive guidance from you....

...... we have met you to-day, and we pledge ourselves to meet you again for the promotion of the same happy object at some future time; but we expect that in the interval you will have maturely considered, and be prepared to propose to us, SOME PRACTICAL MEASURES, to which we may then assent, and to which we may lend our aid in giving them effect.'

“We know that formidable difficulties will present themselves in the path on which you are entering ; but we hold the present auspicious meeting to be an omen of success, notwithstanding any difficulties that may arise on that path ; and we promise you a calm attention to your proposals, in the spirit of Christian humility and docility. Well convinced we are, that unless consolidated in some PRACTICAL RESULT, the present movement will pass away as a mere excitement, leaving our adversaries, if we have any, to exult in our disappointment.

“What we need, what is now urgently needed for the maintenance of biblical Christianity in this country-what is imperatively needed for its effective propagation through the world—what we need for the consolidation and perpetuation of Chris. tian union, is ORDER, SUPERINDUCED

SYSTEMS OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT. If at this time we fail to organise evangelical Christianity, men after a little while will, and by a moral necessity, be driven to seek that repose within narrow circles which they will have learned to despair of as attainable within the wider circle; and thus the abortive endeavour to promote Christian union will have reinstated sectarianism.

“ But the evangelical Christianity of this country, if compacted, organised, blessed with truth, love, and order, will exhibit a spectacle never before seen on earth, of a church coherent, without despotism ; free, without confusion; free, not as an incorporation sus ng itself irrespectively of other bodies, but fraught in each of its members with that liberty wherewith the Lord makes his people free'the liberty of virtue ; a church proving its apostolicity, not by aid of ambiguous genealogies, but by the living document of a practical submission to the plainest apostolical injunctions. I say, the plainest apostolical precepts; and is it not so:that the movement of to-day turns, altogether, upon a conviction now pervading the

UPON

EXISTING

Christian mass, that the time is at length come when, for the sake of that in our holy religion which is unquestioned, we shall remit our zeal concerning that which is doubtful; and when, whatever may be the fate of controversies, endless, thorny, and obscure, we should obediently do honour to that which is clear as day, bright as noon, glorious as heaven?"

A part only of Mr. Bickersteth’s volume is devoted to the subject of “ The Growing Union of all the People of Christ.” We are glad to find, as our readers are aware, that the respected rector of Watton is no Puseyite. Sincerely and ardently as he is attached to Episcopacy, he freely admits that episcopal succession, though “a fact and a privilege, is by no means of the essence of the church.” This is clearly an abandonment of the figment of Divine right, and we honour the clergyman of the Church of England who in these times will, in the face of his less liberal brethren, utter such a sentiment, and in such terms. IIe quotes with approbation from Bishop Hall's “Peacemaker,” in which he says

“Blessed be God, there is no difference in any especial matter betwixt the Church of England and her sister churches of the Reformation. We accord in every point of Christian doctrine, without the least variation. The only difference is the outward form of administration; wherein also we are so far agreed that we all profess this form not to be essential to the being of a church.”

Much, however, as we would hail and honour every indication of brotherly liberality in a clergyman of the English church, we must candidly say, that we should like to see our clerical brother go a little farther ; for, on citing the remainder of the passage from Bishop Hall, in which that good man, with a simplicity that was peculiarly his own, goes on to say that nothing hinders a closer union among the above churches, if all “resolve to meet in that primitive government (Episcopacy) whereby we should be regulated, universally agreed on by all antiquity ;” Mr. Bickersteth adds, “ Would that we could see this suggestion two hundred years old, and to which steps seem taking in the recent measures of the King of Prussia, more and more realised."*

Now, we are persuaded that Mr. Bickersteth is too good a man to approve of persecution for conscience sake; we therefore conclude at once that, in common with many others in this country, he is not acquainted with certain facts which have transpired in Prussia, or he could hardly have named the King of Prussia without pausing for a moment to condemn the acts of the government of that country in reference to religious legislation. The new attempt to set up a kind of episcopacy seems to be only part and parcel of the general plan of the Prussian government, for twenty years past, to harmonise the ecclesiastical with the civil polity, by destroying religious freedom. We think it would be quite enough to sicken any candid person of

* Page 42 and note.

attempts to force on changes in the forms of religion in Prussia, if he were to read a little volume, published in 1840, entitled “Persecution of the Lutheran Church in Prussia, from the year 1831 to the present time, chiefly translated by J. D. Löwenburg." If the measures detailed in this book were intended to pave the way for merging the Lutheran and Reformed churches in one uniform episcopacy, we can only say that no right-minded man can rejoice in a result brought about by such means. These persecutions, indeed, did not relate to episcopacy, which, after all, is regarded by Germans as a plant not very likely to thrive in a German soil; they related to the formation of the Evangelische Kirche, over which, we understand, such general superintendents as have been constituted under the name of bishops, are placed. We are sure that Mr. Bickersteth would deprecate as much as we do the facts, which are a lasting disgrace to the Prussian government-heavy fines, imprisonment for years, distraint on goods, absolute destitution. For what? For not consenting to renounce, at the dictation of a monarch, the Lutheranism of their forefathers! Churches were taken possession of by policemen; a mercenary soldiery, always ready, like all standing armies, to commit the most flagrant atrocities at the bidding of authority, dispersed congregations at the point of the bayonet, by the trampling of dragoons, and the firing of loaded musketry. But we must not be diverted from our object by the shameful conduct detailed in this most heart-rending narrative, as perpetrated by the government of one of the most civilised states of Europe within these last few years ! We have much greater pleasure in quoting the following words of the reverend gentleman whom we have named above :

“I rejoice that many of my brethren of different denominations, after meeting together, have issued resolutions as grounds on which they think all real Christians may unite together.”—p. 398. “Many excellent publications to promote Christian union have been issued in later years; and an important meeting for the same object was held in Exeter Hall, on June 1st, 1843. May each effort of this kind be increasingly successful! The difficulty that I have observed in such efforts is this: our practice should, if possible, rise to our profession, and our conduct be uniformly consistent. If Christians cannot, when pleading for their more distinctive peculiarities, feel for those who differ from them, such a real love and union as will keep them from speaking harshly even against their supposed defects, the union is not the full union of love, and does not rise to the direction, . Let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth.' I fear our Lord's rebuke, • Ye knoxe not what manner of spirit ye are of,' applies very largely to us. While we are each magnifying the excellence of our own system, and depreciating one to which we are hostile, it is really utterly in vain to make any call to union. More is done for union by forbearance, and kind constructions, and silence on the faults of others, and willingness to take the lowest seat, than by the loudest commendations, each of our own church, or the most earnest professions of the value of union, and the most eloquent addresses to urge it upon others, if there be no corresponding spirit of self

« AnteriorContinuar »