The Parochial System (Wilberforce, 1838)/Section 4


SECTION IV.


THE DUTY OF EMPLOYING OUR INFLUENCE AND POLITICAL POWER ON BEHALF OF THE CHURCH.




Among those who are bound to exert their influence for the benefit of their benighted countrymen, the clergy of course demand the first place. Their gifts, no doubt, if estimated by the rule of our Lord, already far exceed, as they should, those of all other orders: but the more irksome task of exciting others to a liberal and self-denying bounty, has been comparatively neglected. In pressing the claims of the Church, the clergy cannot but feel the embarrassment of appearing to speak for their own order, if not for their own interest; and their difficulty is in some respects the greater, because in worldly rank and position they are the equals of those whose selfishness they are required to reprove. All these are impediments: but they must be disregarded, and God's word must be spoken without fear and without favour, by him who will discharge his trust. Indeed, when we consider the great and peculiar danger of the rich, and how seldom an unwelcome truth reaches their ears anywhere but in church, it seems the special duty of every pastor, to whose care any of them are committed, to be strenuous in inculcating the snare and deceitfulness of riches, and the great account to be rendered by those to whom much is given. How earnestly does St. Paul exhort his son Timothy, "Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy[1]." He must not content himself with exhorting them to do good, as he adds in the next verse, "richly, readily, willingly," but must solemnly remind them of their peculiar danger—that of trusting in riches. He must "warn, exhort, rebuke them with all authority." May there not be some pastors who have fulfilled their duty to the poor, but who have reason to fear lest, in the day of account, the rich of their flock should rise up against and condemn them, for having left them alone unwarned[2]?

As regards the laity, one most important service, which they can perform at the present moment, is that of ascertaining and making known the actual state of things. Until lately, it was hardly known that any considerable want of churches existed. This is no longer the case: but much still requires to be made known. We want (as has been suggested) accurate statistical reports of our existing churches, and of the needs of our population. A layman who has any leisure, would be most usefully employed in collecting and making public these facts. It is a debt of justice to acknowledge the great service which has been rendered, not to Scotland only but to England, by the labours of one Glasgow layman, Mr. Collins. His pamphlet, called "Statistics of Glasgow Church Accommodation," has done more probably towards making known the dreadful state of irreligion in which the neglected thousands of our town population are actually lying, than any other work. He has refuted the confident assertions, that the dissenters do for the poor what the Church does for the rich; and that the poor are excluded from the house of God only because they will not come: he has laid bare the monstrous features of the case, by a plain statement of facts. Such a book (modified of course in many particulars) is necessary before we can rightly estimate the state of Birmingham or Liverpool, and even of large parts of London. We want to know how many families in each street or district regularly attend any church—how many go sometimes—how many never—and then, how many are in conscious separation from the church? thus we could calculate the actual numbers who are deserted by all men and left to perish without pity and without aid.

In conversation, again, more may often be done by the laity than by those who are naturally suspected of a professional bias. They may make known the actual state of things to those among whom they live; they may assert the duty and blessedness of giving up something for its remedy; in a word, they may confess Christ before men. We too little think how much evil we may do, by checking (perhaps by a thoughtless word) the rising of some good desire, in those especially who respect our judgment. A man begins to observe the wretched state of his dependants; he doubts whether he is not bound to do something for them; he is just at a critical point; a word, a look may incline him to the good or to the evil of himself and of thousands. And in this state, if he hears one whom he justly respects express even a passing feeling, that "the expense of restoring the parochial system puts it out of the question," or that, "under the circumstances, it is useless to think of a new church in such and such a district," he may very likely begin to regard the thought which God has put into his mind as romantic and unreasonable—perhaps to be ashamed of having entertained it: and thus God's Spirit is grieved, and the opportunity passes by, and the world engrosses all that he has, and it becomes useless to press him to do any thing for his Lord, his brethren, and himself.

It is a serious consideration, how much every one of us either raises or lowers the standard of morals and religion, in the society with which we mix; and in consequence how far we are responsible for the errors and faults of our brethren as well as for our own. In some degree it is always so, but in these times more than ever. The form of our government makes the judgment and opinion of every body of men, to a certain degree, influential upon the governing power—upon the nation itself. The politicians of this world may speak of the power and influence thus conferred on every one of us as a political right. To the eye of a Christian, it bears a more high and solemn character—as one of the talents committed to his stewardship. Far better for him to be the subject of an absolute monarch, and have no political power at all, than to possess the privileges of an Englishman, and regard them only as rights to be used as he will, forgetting the solemn account which he must render for them hereafter. The great Hammond was asked, as he lay upon his death-bed, what he considered to be the happiest condition of life? He replied, "Uniform obedience:" by which he was understood to mean, not merely obedience to the direct commands of God (which is not a condition, but a duty), but moreover such a state as subjects us in all things to the will of others, and so lessens our responsibility. There was perhaps in this answer something of an excessive fear of power and responsibility, for which a Christian will not seek, if God has called him to another state, but to which, if he be called, he will there abide with God, and use them as good gifts in themselves, although, like all other good things, liable to abuse through the corruption of man's heart and will. And yet this, if an extreme, was the extreme of a more wise and prudent and Christian feeling, than that into which men fall who eagerly desire political power as a good in itself, not as a talent to be used for God. Let us see then how we may best employ, for His glory and for the benefit of our brethren, the political influence which He has given us.

And first, there are some things which would strengthen and benefit the Church, for which nothing more than a legislative change is required. The repeal, for instance, of the statute of mortmain, as far as it applies to the Church, would do something. At this moment, should the impropriator of any church lands leave them by will to the Church from which they were taken, the bequest would be void; although the same property, if left to the London University, would, by virtue of its charter, be applied according to the intention of the testator. Provision might be made (should it seem needful) for preventing parents from defrauding[3] their children to enrich the Church; but there can be no reason to fear that any serious inconvenience would follow even from the total exemption of the Church from its operation. The time and the causes of danger are gone by.

Again, an augmentation of the number of our bishopricks, is a measure earnestly to be desired, not only for the good of the Church in general, but specially for that of the most neglected districts. The chief impediment to it, has been a jealousy of Churchmen and of Church influence, which opposes any increase in the number of spiritual peers. That this jealousy is most unfounded is obvious from the fact, that our prelates are not now more numerous than in the reign of Henry the Eighth, while the temporal peers have been multiplied nearly eight times. A wholesome influence then exerted on our government might relieve the Church from that external compulsion which has hitherto prevented her from augmenting the number of the highest order of her pastors, in proportion to the increased number of her clergy and people.

Another benefit, of a similar class, which the legislature might at once effect, is the abolition of peculiars. These anomalies are in truth remnants of Popery. Exemptions from episcopal jurisdiction were granted to different orders by the Popes, who thus obtained for themselves an independent empire in the heart of every Church. They are of course inconsistent with Church principles; especially when they assign to the accidental possessor of certain property some of the highest offices of ecclesiastical jurisdiction. They are mentioned here, however, because they are a very important violation of the parochial system[4].

But the case of our poor fellow-subjects requires from the legislature much more than this. The measures hitherto suggested amount but to the removal of certain civil obstacles which impede the exertions of the Church on their behalf. We demand the aid of the legislature; the active, powerful, zealous co-operation of the highest powers of our land. To this point we are in duty bound to address ourselves, and never to remit our exertions until it is effected. Let us ask ourselves, Is the government of our land bound to do any thing to relieve those pressing spiritual necessities which have been shown to exist? It is but to ask, in other words, whether the same men who are bound to do what they can in one place for Christ and their brethren, are bound also to do what they can in another. We may not be Christians in our churches, our closets, and in our studies, and heathens in our council chambers and our senates. If the government refuse to serve God as a government, then do they, as a government, plainly declare that they will not have Him to reign over them; and if the nation suffer them to do so, the nation become partakers of their guilt. So far all is plain.

It is important that every man who has any political power or influence should distinctly and explicitly avow this principle, and enforce it on the attention of our rulers; for it has become a common practice with public men to express a disapprobation of what they are pleased to call "the voluntary system," without explaining what they mean by the words. If their actions are any sufficient comment upon their meaning, it must be marvellously poor and meagre; for these same men are not found so much as to propose any application of the public revenue in aid of those exertions which churchmen have been making, both in societies and as individuals, to extend among our countrymen the blessings of the Gospel. Can they mean, then, any thing more than this, that they approve of the principle of Church endowments, and are opposed to any plan for taking from the English Church those which have not already been plundered? If this be their meaning, they are of course right; but it seems a poor thing, that the chief governors of a Christian land should make it a great matter, and a subject of a distinct and solemn and oft-repeated profession, that they disapprove of the principle of sacrilege. It is high time that statesmen of all parties should learn, that this vaunted disavowal does not satisfy the Christian people of England. We want something more; we wish to be not only negatively but positively religious. We are not content to abstain from sacrilege; rather are we resolved to devote to the glory of our God a portion of our public as well as our private revenues. That we should do so is a national duty; to delay it is a national sin; to refuse it would be a national impiety, such as by God's blessing we hope to prevent.

As Christians, then, we demand the public recognition of this great principle—that God is King of kings and Lord of lords; that nations as well as individuals must serve and honour Him, and that our nation must serve and honour Him at this crisis, by raising houses of prayer to the glory of His name, and must fulfil the promise, that the kings of the earth shall bring their glory and honour into the Church, by offering to her, for her Lord's sake,our earthly treasures, to be employed as her instruments in the discharge of the blessed task imposed on her by Him, the task of bringing the means of grace, and the hope of glory, to the homes of all her children. We may not stoop to lower grounds; we will not assume a false principle, although we could prove, that even on that principle the nation would still be bound to undertake the work. There are many who love to assume that the secular prosperity of the nation is the sole object of government, and that it has accordingly no concern with the questions of religious truth or falsehood, with virtue or vice as such, but only as they bear upon the public interests. They avow, in short, that expediency, and not right, should be the rule of governments; that the law of God is for individuals, and the law of interest for kingdoms and empires. If we would, we might occupy this low ground with the certainty of victory. We might show from experience as well as from Scripture, that "righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people." We might plead, that men fearing God, and daily worshipping His name, will be better subjects, better neighbours, than those who know nothing of Him, or of their own highest interests and duties. But we may not abandon that higher position on which we take our station; and in refusing to do so we act wisely as well as religiously; for by gaining an argumentative victory, we should not convince the hearts of those who, because they love darkness rather than light, will not listen to the voice of duty, except she condescend to urge the arguments of expediency: while by addressing ourselves to unworthy motives and principles, we should compromise our cause, and lose much of that moral power which secures our victory with every good man, when we challenge his co-operation, as the children and servants of Jehovah, resolutely purposed, that come what may, we will bear witness to the truth, will speak for Him without shame, without fear, without compromise, and by His grace will never rest, until not we alone and our house, but our country and its rulers, shall serve the Lord.

And if there ever was a nation bound by every tie of duty and gratitude to serve Him faithfully, it is the people of this land. For what is that nation or people in all the world whom God has honoured and blessed like us? He has given to us the knowledge of His glorious Gospel, and committed unto us His Holy Word. He has laden us with temporal blessings in such abundance, as to go beyond and prevent our desires. He has borne patiently with many provocations: and last of all, since the commencement of the present century. He has brought us, in safety and with victory, through a war more tremendous than any which our forefathers have known. England is the only nation of Europe which, during the course of that war, escaped the ravages of invading armies; London the only capital which was occupied by no hostile force: and shall we, in return for these mercies, leave London any longer an half heathen city, and abandon without a struggle whole districts of England to the great enemy of God and man? then might we indeed fear that the term of our national prosperity, nay, of our very existence, was near, and that, having been long spared, often chastened, and often delivered, our country was after all but a vessel of wrath fitted for destruction.

And still more pressing is the obligation of the people and government of England to provide, at their own cost, for the worship and honour of their God; for there lies upon us the weight of a national sin, for which no restitution has been made, and it is only by restitution that we can cut off the curse entailed on us by the deeds of our fathers. The legislature of England has sacrilegiously deprived the Church of more than half her endowments. From the loss of those endowments alone proceed all our difficulties. We need not then to inquire whether a nation be bound to provide funds for the service of God, clear as the duty is. Individual churchmen have already done all, and more than all that is needed, of their own spontaneous piety, and without any public charge. But the nation has profanely robbed God of their offerings, and has heaped upon a few pampered favourites, that which they gave to alleviate the spiritual famine of thousands. We but claim as a national duty the repair of ravages caused by a national sin. It is vain to reply to this claim, that the property which, on the pretence of reformation, but in spite of the earnest protests of all real reformers, was taken from the Church three centuries ago, had been given and was held only for superstitious purposes, to maintain perpetual masses for the souls of the donors. Were the pretext true, it would not have justified its alienation to secular purposes; and that it was not true can hardly require to be proved.

If indeed it could be shown that all the alienated Church property had been charged with the continual performance of masses, this of course would not prove that the maintenance of them was the donor's sole object: it would prove only that he believed them to be serviceable to departed souls, and therefore desired to reap that benefit from his foundation, in addition to the other objects which he proposed to himself. A pious man among ourselves, who should build and endow a church or a college, might very naturally insert a clause in the deed of conveyance, earnestly requesting that all who might share his bounty would pray for a blessing on himself while he lived, and on his family after his death.

This he might do, although fully persuaded that prayers for departed souls were vain and sinful. But would this clause justify the confiscation of his endowment, if it should chance that his family became extinct a few years after his death? We should see that the first and main object of the foundation was the glory of God and the salvation of men, and that this object might still be fulfilled, although another part of the founder's will had become obsolete. And why should we judge of more ancient foundations by a different rule? Men gave their lands, as they declared in the deed of gift, "for the glory of God," and they charged what they so gave with the maintenance of masses: if reformation had been desired, this condition would have been repealed; but this would not have gorged that fatal covetousness which, by confiscating the endowments, ran headlong into the guilt of sacrilege.

But again, was all the confiscated property of the nature above described? Our daily experience can answer. Were the tithes (now impropriated) of much more than half the parishes of England given to superstitious uses? Were the glebe lands and glebe houses of our poor vicarages (now in the hands of laymen) superstitious and unholy things? This part at least of the spoil was taken strictly from the parochial clergy. It is no answer to say, that these endowments were first impropriated to religious houses, and then went with the rest of their property to the Crown. The fact was not always so; nor was the wrong of the Pope, in alienating the parochial endowments to the religious houses, any justification of the wrong of the King and nation, who diverted them thence to court favourites. Great as the first evil was, it was to the parishes plundered most trifling, when compared with the latter. When the impropriation was made, the parishioners paid their tithes to a clerical body, frequently resident among them, and always obliged to provide for their spiritual care. On the suppression of the monastery they were delivered over to some great man, who glittered at court in gold and silver, the spoils of God's house, and left to the vicar, now burdened with a wife and family, a pittance of fifty, twenty, ten, in some cases four pounds yearly, out of thousands exacted from the parish. No one acquainted with the state and history of our country towns will think this is an exaggerated picture; and in many instances it is in these very parishes that some huge population has arisen, without the means of grace.

Moreover much of the property which was taken from the Church had never belonged to the monasteries at all. The history of Hatton Garden is well known: it was the London residence of the Bishops of Ely, and being wrested from them many years after the Reformation[5], by the gross and violent threats of Queen Elizabeth, it was conferred on her favourite, whose name it perpetuates among us, although his family has long ago perished, like so many others which have arisen by the plunder of God's heritage. Similar acts of violence, committed either on the dignitaries or parochial clergy, sometimes with and sometimes without the pretext of an exchange, were habitual; insomuch that Hume is guilty of no exaggeration when he says, that "it was usual with her, when she promoted a Bishop, to take the opportunity of pillaging the see of some of its manors[6]."

Surely we do but mock God, and make ourselves partakers in the sin which we justify, if we deny that these deeds brought on their perpetrators the guilt of the foulest sacrilege. And this guilt was aggravated, not diminished, by those great abuses, of which in God's righteous judgment their crime was in many cases the just punishment. The confiscation, although a deserved vengeance on those who were abusing the gifts of pious founders, was but an increase of guilt in the King and Parliament, who, by not preventing the abuse, had made themselves partners in the sin. Their duty was to correct, not to destroy; to have restored to the parishes their endowments; to have annexed some of the richer abbeys to the new bishopricks, to which, in the preamble of the act of parliament for their suppression, they were solemnly promised; and, finally, to have introduced into all monasteries such wholesome regulations as would have made them schools of theology, nurseries of sound learning, a glory and blessing to our land. And this duty was not overlooked from inadvertence: they were solemnly reminded of it, by the same divines by the authority of whose names they defended the Reformation itself; they acknowledged it in public acts; but covetousness was too Strong for them: they chose the wages of unrighteousness, and incurred the guilt of sacrilege.

But admitting the guilt of our forefathers, which can hardly be seriously questioned except through ignorance, let us consider the more practical question, whether we have reason to hope that that guilt is buried with them, or whether it stands recorded against our country, in the book of God's remembrance? Surely the answer which Scripture enables us to make does not flatter us with the expectation of impunity. The destruction of Amalek by Saul was more than four hundred years later than the national sin which it avenged. The seventy years of the captivity of Judah was measured out to answer to the sabbaths which the people had profaned in their land[7]. They went on long in their sin, and thought that God had forgotten it; but while He kept silence. He remembered both His command and their breach of it. The length of time was no bar to His judgment. And the words of our Lord[8] imply, that the accumulated vengeance of the Most High, against the murderers of all the martyred prophets, from righteous Abel downwards, was poured forth upon the guilty city and nation of the Jews, by the sword of Titus. Certain it is, therefore, that the sins of a nation are no more effaced by the mere lapse of time, than those of an individual; that as the sins of youth often find out the sinner, even here, in his age, and will find out every unrepenting sinner in the world to come; so too whatever nation sins against God, their sin remains written against them, until wiped out by a national repentance.

It is no idle speculation then, whether our national sin has been repented of: and surely, we cannot but answer that as restitution is in this instance possible, without restitution there can be no true repentance[9]. The very nature of our present difficulties, moreover, strengthens the conclusion. For in the common order of God's providence the punishment is more or less connected with the sin, and bears some analogy to it. If Eli is guilty of honouring his sons above God; both his sons must be cut off in the flower of their age, and his house accursed for ever. If David has slain Uriah with the sword, and taken his wife for himself; his wives too must be taken from him by another, and the sword must never depart from his house. And what is our national punishment, the great evil under which our nation labours? It is that hundreds of thousands of Englishmen are growing up without any instruction in their duties, without any one to sound in their ears the solemn words, "Righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come;" without any knowledge of Him who came to save His people from their sins; without hope, and without God in the world. And this evil we are told cannot be remedied, for want of funds. Our sin then has found us out. Where are the tithes dedicated to God for ever, for His glory and the salvation of men? why not apply them to meet this evil? They are impropriated: they are dissipated long ago. Already has our sin brought forth for us misery. "Unto us belong shame and confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, to our fathers, because we have sinned against the Lord[10];" and He is righteous in all that He has brought upon us. Yea, even of His long-suffering and compassion, may we trace much in the nature of that punishment which has overtaken us. It cannot but remind us of our sin, and invite us to a national repentance. For how can we help remembering, that if the Church lands of our metropolis had been retained, we should not now have had to seek the means of providing churches for a half heathen population; and that if the tithes and Church lands of the country at large had been spared, we should not be wanting new parochial endowments. Thus does our punishment bring our sin to our remembrance, and it invites us moreover to a sincere and hearty national repentance, (a repentance not in word, but in act,) for we cannot begin to show any sign of it, by restoring anything to God, without alleviating the evil, and any worthy and adequate act of national repentance and restitution would wholly remove it.

God grant that His mercy may not be thrown away upon us. May we repent and make restitution to Him as a nation. Otherwise, if in spite of every warning and invitation, we will continue to withhold from Him His own; if we will not repent; what can remain for us but ruin? "Sin when it is perfected bringeth forth death." Are nations and churches exempt from this rule?

Let experience decide. Where are those of Asia, and of Greece, once so illustrious? where is the glory of Antioch where the disciples were first called Christians? where is the church and city of Tyre, whither the ships of all the earth flocked with their burdens, and where the blessed Apostle found brethren to refresh his heart seven days on his martyr voyage? where is the church of Alexandria, the seat of the great Athanasius? where is Hippo, and Carthage, and Nicæa once the centre of Christendom, whence shone a light that has reached even to us? Their candlesticks are removed. "Their lamp is put out in obscure darkness." And shall we Christians think that such things as these have happened by chance, or some blind necessity? The world is governed by no inanimate system, by no dark inflexible destiny; but by His power and love who "waiteth to be gracious unto us," but yet, who "will bend His bow, if we will not turn, and will whet His sword, and make it ready;" and even far earlier He had given us another similar example in the history of the patriarchal Church, the church of Abimelech, and probably of Melchisedec; and that history too written by inspiration: "because when they knew God they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; therefore God gave them over to a reprobate mind[11]."

Such have been God's judgments upon others; and shall we escape? we have sinned greatly as a nation: we have never repented of our sin: we are now tried with a great national evil, which we may as yet remedy, by God's blessing, if we retrace our steps; but if not, ruin lies before us, ruin self-sought and self-invited. What then shall be our choice? Shall we leave to our children a Christian or a heathen land, God's blessing or His curse? Here is a noble opportunity of exercising all our influence for the good of our country, for the salvation of our brethren, for the honour of our God. Blessed surely will that man be, above all other Englishmen, who shall be the honoured instrument of calling his country to repent of this her sin, and shall thus turn away from her the fierce anger of Almighty God. Neither let us think the task hopeless; hopeless it appears at present, because no earnest effort has yet been made; but let the voice of the Christian people of England be raised, demanding that large grants be immediately voted from the public resources, to supply churches, and ministers, and Christian education, to the poor of our land; and that voice will quickly be obeyed. God has given us our political power and influence, for God and for our country let us employ it. It is not for the sake of economy, nor even from hatred to the Church, that nothing has yet been done by the parliament of England, for those of our poor who are destitute of all things needful for their souls. That parliament has granted twenty millions for the emancipation of the West Indian slaves; at this hour it is voting an indefinite sum, without enquiring into its amount, to indemnify those who lost by a Danish war; and in like manner will it vote sums as large or larger, to rescue our land from becoming heathen, when the voice of the nation shall require them. Nothing has yet been done; because such is our condition, that every important movement must begin among the middle classes, and move upward to legislature; in a word, because if done at all it must be done by ourselves.

The specific form in which the national resources may most advantageously co-operate in the work, may perhaps be questionable. On the whole it would probably be most expedient that a certain sum (perhaps a million or more) should be annually voted, and dispensed like the funds of the church building societies, in aid of the erection and endowment of churches, rather than in erecting any. Thus the nation might pledge itself to undertake half, or two thirds, of the requisite expense, wherever it is proved that a new church is required.

Surely if we zealously employ our influence among our neighbours, with our representatives, with all whom we can affect, we must in the end succeed. For God will grant His blessing to labours undertaken for the love of Christ, and for His glory. Meanwhile, the path to ultimate success is plain; if we would ever see the nation do her part, we must begin by personal self-denying liberality. We must begin thus, because thus alone we cannot fail to draw down the promised blessing from God, on ourselves and our work. We must begin thus, because thus, much more than by our words, shall we convince others that we warn them in earnest of our national sin and danger. We must begin thus again, because every new church makes the remaining work easier; for in proportion to our success in Christianizing our land, will be the power and prevalence of Christian principles and motives upon our legislature. We must begin thus lastly, because the more we do, the more others will be stirred up to do, when they see that the work is not, as they are inclined to think, hopeless from its magnitude.

Meanwhile our influence can hardly be more usefully exerted than in opposing every scheme for supplying the spiritual wants of the nation by inequitable, unjust, or irreligious expedients;—by diverting the bounty of our ancestors from the purposes to which they consecrated it. Such schemes, as we have already seen, spring from a principle directly opposite to those which our Lord has sanctioned and blessed. This alone might suffice to condemn them: for what good can we hope without His blessing;—or how expect any blessing from Him, on measures unjustifiable in themselves, and adopted to prevent the necessity of self-denial, and enable us to serve God without sacrifice or expense? But if men have not the faith to receive this saying; if they must look only to immediate results; still, even on their own most miserable principles, such plans should be eschewed; for while they pull down that which is already set up, they tend, above all other things, to prevent new foundations. The project for applying the property of the cathedrals to parochial purposes, has already operated thus: it prevents personal sacrifice and exertion on behalf of the Church, as the legal provision for the poor checks the stream of private bounty. It is easier to say to a poor man, "Depart in peace; go to the parish; be thou warmed and filled," than to give him the things needful for the body: and in like manner, when an urgent case of spiritual destitution is described, men satisfy themselves with saying[12], "Apply to the Church Commissioners;" or, "That is a case to which the revenue of some of the suppressed stalls should be applied;" and so are content to do nothing themselves. Like other evil measures, it springs from an evil principle, and in return encourages and fosters that principle, and extends it more widely than before.

And again, such projects impress upon all ecclesiastical property a character of insecurity, which beyond all other causes checks the streams of Christian liberality. Men are not willing to deny themselves for the furtherance of an object which they deem important, only that as soon as they are laid in their graves, their bounty may be voted public property, and applied to some other purpose, however good, which may require funds. How many good deeds have already been thus prevented, it is impossible to conjecture. Before the Reformation, endowments were yearly offered for foundations of every class, both charitable and religious. How few have adorned the three hundred years which have followed it! And to what shall we attribute the change? Let it be left to Papists to trace it to the Reformation. Let us not say, that, of old, men gave from motives of superstition, that they might purchase absolution and masses, and that the fountain of liberality was dried up by the Reformation; for if we say this, we must maintain that the word of God is less powerful than the inventions of men, the love of Christ a less prevailing motive than the desire of propitiating a priest—that treasure in heaven, secured by the promise of Jehovah, is less likely to influence men's minds than the hope of masses after their death. Surely the true explanation is, not the Reformation, but the Church robbery which marred it. And accordingly the same cause has produced a like effect in formed countries. Wherever Church property has been confiscated, there the people have ceased to give to the Church, let the doctrines of Rome maintain ever so firmly their credit and authority. Sacrilege not only absorbs the offerings of devout men of old, but prevents those of devout men in future.

Let us not be deterred then, by any fear of obloquy, or by respect for any name however venerable, from opposing with our whole power and influence measures so hateful to the God of truth and equity, and so fatal to the very object which they are intended to promote. If we keep silence when they are proposed and maintained, then do we no doubt bring upon ourselves a portion of that awful responsibility which belongs chiefly to their authors. And whoever manfully avows his deep and settled abhorrence of them, will commonly be surprised to find how many there are who feel with him, but who from hopelessness, the desire of peace, or the dread of odium, have withheld their sentiments till called forth by sympathy. To offer such an occasion, by which men are determined and encouraged to act on their conscientious judgment, is no trifling mode of employing our influence for the Church. But should the event be otherwise; should we be deemed narrow-minded and illiberal, and should our protest be unavailing, we shall have done what we could; we shall at least have discharged our own consciences of the guilt of a national sin; and surely "it is better to be called narrow-minded by men, than to be called presumptuous by God: it is happier to be thought over-scrupulous, so that we obtain His praise, than to have the world's praise for liberality without it."


A work is set before us, sufficient to engross our time, our talents, our influence, our worldly substance; and that which is devoted to it we shall not lose, but receive it, invested with a new glory, returned to us an hundredfold by our God and Saviour. Meanwhile let us maintain a jealous guard over ourselves. It has been observed, that "those who, either by station or temper, feel themselves most deeply interested in the cause of the Church, cannot be too careful in reminding themselves, that one chief danger, in times of change and excitement, arises from their tendency to engross the whole mind. Public concerns, ecclesiastical or civil, will indeed prove ruinous to those who permit them to occupy all their care and thoughts, neglecting or undervaluing ordinary duties, more especially those of a devotional kind." And to this caution must be added another; that even liberal offerings of our worldly substance will be baneful, if they beget in us self-complacency in the sight of God, or vanity and ostentation before men. But for both these dangers a sure remedy is at hand. The love of Christ, and the desire of His promises, must be the motive both of our labours and our gifts. And this love we must of course maintain, by seeking continually His presence in every devotional exercise, in public ordinances, in private prayers, in heavenly meditations, in the study of Holy Scripture, and more especially in contemplating the perfect example of our Lord and Master, set before us in the Gospels. In these things is our hidden strength; in them is the source and spring, though not the whole course of a Christian life. To action, indeed, they must continually lead, or they will degenerate into a morbid, dreaming religion, transplanting to holy ground the sickly plants of a romantic imagination. Our love to our Lord, if it be untried and unpractical, will become as unreal as our interest in some imaginary character of poetical fiction. Yet the active part of a Christian life is not less dangerous, if we neglect to feed the flame of devotion, by frequent retirement into the immediate presence of our God and Saviour. The society and the praise of men may tempt us to compare ourselves with others, and to regard with complacency our offerings to the service of God; but vanity, which shoots up with a rapid growth in the glare and sunshine of the world, is checked and blighted by the still shade of retirement and solitude. We can hardly think much of our sacrifices for Christ's sake, when we are fresh from our closets, from meditating on His sufferings, and tracing His sacred steps from Galilee to Bethany, from Bethany to the Temple, from thence to the Paschal chamber, to the garden, the judgment-hall, the cross, and the sepulchre. In the same exercises, too, we shall find our best security against that engrossing power which belongs to every great interest. A restless activity is to some men an easy task, the excitement affording the motive. To guard against this danger, "the primitive bishops had places of retirement near their cities, that they might separate themselves from the world, lest teaching others, they should forget themselves; lest they should lose the spirit of piety themselves, while they were endeavouring to fix it in others[13]." And assuredly, in our day as in theirs, the antidote to all the dangers which must ever attend a Christian, even in that intercourse with the world to which his duty calls him, will be found in communion with his own heart and with his Lord. Thus fortified, and pursuing the path of duty, he may brave the infected air, in confident reliance on that protection which of old gave to those who went forth from the immediate presence and society of Christ, "power to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, so that nothing could by any means harm them[14]." Tempering the eagerness of our active service with seasons of contemplation, of "solitude, silence, and the strait keeping of the heart, those great springs of the spiritual life[15]," we shall return to the cares and turmoil of the world, and encounter the wilfulness and selfishness of men, with something of heaven within us; as the face of Moses still shone with the brightness of that glory whence he came, when he returned from the mount of God to the stiff-necked generation, among whom his lot was cast. For to these heights there is but one path—the path of humiliation and self-denial; the way of prayer and fasting and meditation in private; of labour and service in public; and he who would attain to them must resolve—"Lord, I will dwell in Thy temple and in Thy service; religion shall be my employment, and alms shall be my recreation, and patience shall be my rest, and to do Thy will shall be my meat and drink, and to live shall be Christ, and then to die shall be gain[16]."

    from any abbey or other religious house. I likewise promise for hereafter to hold them from the Church, under such reasonable fines and rents as shall be set down by some conscientious persons whom I propose to choose with all uprightness of heart to direct me in this particular. And I humbly beseech God, to accept of this my vow, and to bless me in the design I have now in hand, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

    CHARLES R.

    Oxford, April 13, 1646.

    This is a true copy of the King's vow, which was preserved thirteen years under ground by me, Gilbert Sheldon.
    August 21. 1660.

    (Biographia Britannica. Art. Sheldon.)

    Let it be observed that, by the civil list agreement, the nation are now in the enjoyment of all the lands and tithes, which were the subject of this vow; for the restoration was a season when unhappily such matters were little regarded; although Sheldon, by bringing forward the vow at the moment, seems to have hoped for better things. Let us remember the solemn words of God. (Malachi iii. 8, &c.) "Will a man rob God? yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed Thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse, for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in my house; and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough; and all nations shall call you blessed, for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts." And can we think that we should be poorer as a nation, for fulfilling, although thus tardily, the vow?

    It is worth while to observe, that while at this moment (Jan. 1838,) Parliament is depriving the Isle of Man, of a bishopric, which has lasted thirteen hundred years, to augment the

  1. 1 Timothy vi. 17.
  2. It is instructive to observe how strongly and keenly the rich are warned of their peculiar danger in the authorized English homily "Of Alms-deeds," and yet more in those of St. Chrysostom.
  3. St. Augustine being censured for refusing the inheritance of one Januarius, who had made the Church his heir, explained his motives in a sermon (No. 355), in which he says, "I am ready to receive good and holy offerings; but if any one disinherits his son in anger, would it not be my duty to appease him, and reconcile him to his son, if he were living? And how can I wish him to be reconciled to his son, if I am desiring his inheritance? What I have often advised is this: if a man has one son, let him put Christ in the place of a second; if two, in the place of a third; if ten, in the place of an eleventh; and that I will receive."
  4. It would of course be easy to enumerate other legislative improvements, by which the Church might be benefited. Our attention, however, is confined to those regulations which are needful for the perfecting of our diocesan and parochial system.
  5. In 1579, twenty-one years after the accession of Elizabeth.
  6. History of England, ch. xliv., Appendix. Some extracts from "Heylin's History of the Reformation" will show the manner in which sacred things were abused during the minority of King Edward VI. He mentions (p. 50) that an act had been passed giving to King Henry VIII. for his own life "the disposal of all chantries, colleges, free chapels, and hospitals," which grant of course expired at his death; but "the great ones of the court not being willing to lose so rich a booty, it was set on foot again, and carried through this present parliament" This grant conveyed to the king ninety colleges (the hospitals and the colleges in the universities not being included), "and no fewer than 2374 free chapels and chantries, the lands whereof were thus conferred upon the king by name, but not intended to be kept together for his benefit only. In which respect it was very stoutly insisted on by Archbishop Cranmer, that the dissolving of these colleges, free chapels, and chantries should be deferred, until the king should be of age," &c. The courtiers having thus enriched themselves we find, in page 61, that "our gentry, possessed of patronages, considering how much the lords and great men of the court had improved their fortunes by the suppression of those chantries and other foundations which had been granted to the king, conceived themselves in a capacity to do the like, by taking into their hands the yearly profits of those benefices of which by law they were only intrusted with the presentations. Of which abuse complaint is made by Bishop Latimer in his printed sermons; in which we find, that 'the gentry at that time invaded the profits of the Church, leaving the title only to the incumbent; and that chantry priests were put by them into several cures to save their pensions' (page 38); that 'many benefices were laid out in fee farms (page 71), or given unto servants for keeping of hounds, hawks, and horses, and for making of gardens' (pages 91—114); and finally, that 'the poor clergy being kept to some sorry pittance, were forced to put themselves into gentlemen's houses, and there to serve as clerks of the kitchen, surveyors, receivers,' &c. (page 241). All which enormities, though tending so apparently to the dishonour of God, the disservice of the Church, and the disgrace of religion, were generally connived at by the lords and others, who only had the power to reform the same, because they could not question those who had so miserably invaded the Church's patrimony, without condemning of themselves." The result f the whole he describes in page 134: "Insomuch that many private men's parlours were hung with altar cloths, their tables and beds covered with copes instead of carpets and coverlids, and many carousing cups of the sacred chalices, as once Belshazzar celebrated his drunken feast in the sanctified vessels of the temple. It was a sorry house, and not worth the naming, which had not somewhat of this furniture in it; though it were only a fair cushion made of a cope or altar-cloth to adorn their windows, or make their chairs appear to have somewhat in them of a chair of state. Yet how contemptible were these trappings in comparison of those vast sums of money which were made of jewels, plate, and cloth of tissue, either conveyed beyond the seas or sold at home, and good lands purchased with the money, nothing the more blessed to the posterity of them that bought them, for being purchased with the consecrated treasures of so many temples." Surely it was nothing less than a national sin which thus tainted almost every house, whether rich or poor.
  7. 2 Chron. xxxvi. 21. Compare also Levit xxvi. 34, 35. 43.
  8. St. Matt, xxiii. 35.
  9. It would be easy to show that this is no new opinion; perhaps indeed there are few of our great divines who have not expressed the same judgment. We are told that in a critical period of the great Rebellion King Charles the First, reviewing his own sins and those of his people, while he prayed "forgive I beseech thee my personal and my people's sins, which are so far mine as I have not improved the power Thou gavest me for Thy glory and my people's good;" bound himself by a written promise to a solemn act of repentance, first, for the legal murder of Strafford; which as restitution was impossible, could only be done by penance: next, for the sacrilege in question, for which, as restitution was possible, repentance could be shown no otherwise. The words of his vow with regard to the latter are remarkable.

    "I do here promise and solemnly vow, in the presence and for the service of Almighty God, that if it shall please the Divine majesty of His infinite goodness, to restore me to my just kingly rights, and to re-establish me in my throne; I will wholly give back to His Church, all those impropriations which are now held by the crown; and what lands soever I do now, or should enjoy, which have been taken away either from any episcopal see, or any cathedral or collegiate church, revenues of the poor vicars, the impropriations, the loss of which has impoverished them, are actually applied by the same parliament as part of the national revenue.

  10. Dan. ix. 8.
  11. 1 Romans i. 28.
  12. The writer is detailing the result of his own experience.
  13. Wilson, Sacra Privata.
  14. St. Luke x. 19.
  15. Leighton.
  16. Jer. Taylor, Holy Living.