« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
these three bodies, owing to the atmosphere in which it was developed, is quite as much political as religious. · The bitter experience of the past might have been counted on to make men wise. But the nation had not yet learnt her lesson. She had not, in spite of all the past, learnt that the minds of men will not be forced into one groove. She had not learnt that in giving liberty of opinion the consequences of that liberty should have been taken into account. We have therefore in some sort to begin again the round of trials which had been passed through before. We see a new Act of Uniformity with more stringent pains and penalties: we see a multitude of devout men alienated from the Church by an attempt to enforce allegiance: we see statute on statute designed to fence in the Establishment, all ending as before in greater disunion. To this is added, both in the restored monarch and his successor, a greater degree of that attachment to the Church of Rome which proved the bane of all their house. Which attachment was at length carried so far, and so seriously threatened not only religion but the national liberty, that sinking for a time their religious antipathies the entire nation united to expel the line that would have rendered England a tributary of Rome.
I would here repeat that the Revolution was far more a political than a religious movement. True piety, all that deserved the name of religion, had in the many struggles and the varied intermixture of interests been nearly choked out of existence. When the hour of toleration came we find the religious world shewing few signs of vitality. It is true that some tokens of revival were for the moment manifested both in the Church of England and in those who had broken away from her. During the fifty years that followed many chapels were built by dissenters, and special means were provided for extending church accommodation in populous places. But it was too late. The heart of the nation was not religious as of old. Political interests had proved a canker to spiritual life. The sacraments had come to be so lightly esteemed, that men scrupled not to receive them as part of the official routine which was to qualify them for duties in the state. This scandal was so gross that it did not long continue, but yearly acts of Indemnity relieved from penalties those who might prefer to break man's laws rather
than slight the Holy Sacrament. When, however, the ordinances of religion fall into such contempt as to be treated as mere symbols of a party, when religious profession has become identified with political creed, it is vain to expect any real earnestness for God.
And what testimony have we of the state of the religious world at the period at which we have arrived? Let us look at the clergy. From them we may infer the character of their congregations. They of all men might be expected to preserve some knowledge, if not zeal, for their Master's service. One bishop speaks thus of his candidates for ordination: “Those who have read some few books, yet never seem to have read the Scriptures.”* And again : “The case is not much better in many, who, having got into orders, come for instruction and cannot make it appear that they have read the Scriptures or any one good book since they were ordained.”+ And once more: “A remiss, unthinking course of life, with little or no application to study, and the bare performing of that which if not done would draw censures when complained of, without even pursuing
* Burnet's Pastoral Care, 3rd Edition. Preface. + Ibid.
the pastoral care in any suitable degree, is but too common as well as too evident."*
With such a course of neglect among the clergy we cannot be surprised, however much we may be shocked, at Bishop Butler's account of the needs of his own time. In the introduction to his famous work he has these saddening words. “It is come, I know not how, to be taken for granted by many persons that Christianity is not so much as a subject of enquiry, but that it is now at length discovered to be fictitious. And accordingly they treat it as if in the present age this were an agreed point among all people of discernment, and nothing remained but to set it up as a principal subject of mirth and ridicule, as it were by way of reprisals, for its having so long interrupted the pleasures of the world.”+ None of you are ignorant of the deplorable picture of religion and her ministers painted in our own day by him I who has so eloquently written the history of part of the half century on which I dwell. And as in the works of Churchmen, so also in those of Nonconformists, you will seek in vain for any evidences of active religious exertion. The only point which one of the most vigorous champions* of Nonconformity can find to dwell on at this period is, that according to his statements their numbers had only not decreased.
* Burnet's Pastoral Care, 3rd Edition. Preface. + Butler's Analogy. Advertisement to the 1st Edition. I Macaulay, vol. i., p. 339.
We have thus passed in hasty review more than a century and a half of the Church History of England. We have seen a lively zeal for religion awakened in the Church, and becoming clogged with political associations die down till it had well-nigh perished out of the land. We have beheld the three most conspicuous bodies of her opponents, by their intermixture in matters more secular than religious, become as stagnant and dead as those whom they had at first opposed. It seems therefore no unfit point at which to pause, and ask what lessons for the present may be drawn from this section of the past.
Happily we cannot in one respect have a similar experience. The days of penal religious statutes are gone from this land for ever. But while congratulating ourselves upon this, we should be wrong if we passed judgment on the period as though those Church
. * Calamy's Life and Times, vol. ii., p. 531.