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Church ; but this, however it may weaken the political importance of Dissent, would not so materially diminish its numbers. Methodism has been its grand adversary; gathering in multitudes of those who otherwise would have been dissenters, and receiving a large portion of its seceders. The discipline of Methodism, moulded closely after that of the Church, secures it from ruinous quarrels : its excitement is agreeable to the lower classes, and its preachers far surpass dissenting ministers in active and every-day zeal. The contest between the two parties is therefore in all points unequal; and wherever they are fairly brought into the field, Dissent gradually yields to the advance of its rival: Methodism now considerably outnumbers Dissent.
Wales, indeed, offers a great exception to this remark; but the case is peculiar. The Welsh language is still generally spoken by the lower classes, and the Methodists have very few Welsh preachers. Besides, Methodism itself is tame, when conipared with Welsh dissent; and the doctrines of Calvinism are maintained almost universally among the lower classes in Wales, who are thus naturally prejudiced against a sect whose leading tenets they condenin as a heresy.
The Society which has recently organized itself as the champion of a cause whose unsatisfactory condition it thus virtually admits, has mistaken at once the nature of the evil, and the mode of counteracting it. A Christian body, which can flourish only as its principles and conduct accord with the Gospel, will receive no advantage from having the worst feelings of our nature arrayed in its behalf. The intemperate speeches and violent publications which delight the bigot, will disgust the moderate partisan, and repel the candid inquirer.
In truth, Dissent is a human institution, whose leading feature is republicanism, as its model was Geneva; and which, containing within itself the principles of mortality, even now displays the querulous infirmity of age. Its mortal evils are identified with itself; and the very points which it displays most proudly in ostentatious contrast to the corresponding feattires of the Establishment, are those most fatal to its prosperity.
The government of a dissenting chapel is a pure democracy, in which all questions are decided by vote, and every one has an equal voice. Its officers, subjected in all things to the will of the multitude, sustain the responsibility of office, but are allowed none of its authority; while the individuals to whose dictation they must submit, are chiefly of the lower and uneducated classes, the great majority being females. Persons who are required to obey in every other situation will be especially jealous of the petty authority they possess in chapel conclave : and, as they visit almost exclusively with persons of their own sect, every facility is afforded by their tea-table coteries to form cabals which may destroy the peace of a chapel, or harass a minister into resignation.
Since there is no controlling power (for no one is allowed the authority, which at their meetings would enable him to act as moderator), the most trifling dispute may become a party question. A secession, therefore, commonly follows a serious dispute ; and, where the question involves the appointment or dismissal of a minister, a numerous minority will sometimes endeavour to establish a rival chapel.
The friendly interference of other chapels would be contrary to the principles of Dissent. Every congregation is entirely independent even of the body to which it belongs; the whole sect, like each individual chapel, being composed of disunited members, without a head." When, therefore, a chapel falls into difficulties, it continues to decline, until the prospect of utter ruin unites the contending parties, or the appointment of a popular minister restores a temporary prosperity.
The advocate of republican principles in church government, naturally extends them to civil institutions; and thus every consistent dissenter becomes a democrat in politics. A reference to the standard works of Dissent, as well periodical as others, and to the recorded opinions of its leading characters, will fully substantiate this charge. Indeed, we too often see its ministers commit, unreproved, the indecency of taking a leading part in public political meetings. No monarchical government could long subsist in a country where the principles of Dissent possessed a decided supremacy. Happily, its politics estrange from it the most intelligent of its adherents; for the advocate of a conscientious obedience to constituted authorities, though he may continue nominally a Dissenter, will have relinquished the fundamental principles of Dissent.
Whatever authorities may be cited, or texts wrested, in support of congregational discipline, it requires no argument to prove that a system, whose natural tendency is to insubordination and contention, cannot be of Divine appointment. Nor is liberty of conscience a principle of Dissent, however dissenters may be startled at the assertion. It was emphatically disclaimed, when a successful rebellion had given them a temporary supremacy; and if Dissent were again invested with power, there is little reason to hope from its principles, or conduct, for greater liberality. Democracy is always intolerant when invested with power; and the liberty it offers, like the conge d'elire to a Dean and Chapter, is only permission to make the choice it prescribes. Even now, the seceder from a dissenting congregation receives very little charity; and in the only place where Dissent enjoys political influence,the South Sea Islands, -we see its ministers exercising a despotic control over their followers; while they sanction, according to the testimony of their own historian, the punishment of idolatry by the law, and its suppression by the sword.
Dissenters are not less inconsistent with their own practice, when they condemn the endowments of the Church. Many of their own chapels are endowed; and the principle which they admit for a part, they cannot condemn for the whole. They retained for themselves the endowments of the Establishment during the Rebellion ; and it is one of their heaviest complaints that they were deprived of them after the Restoration. Party objections will seldom bear examination. The professed principle of Dissent,--that the emoluments of a minister should be derived from the voluntary contributions of his followers, would provide religious instruction only for towns; and it presumes that the multitude are already so far enlightened, as to appreciate its value, and to tax themselves for its support. Upon this principle, more than half the population of the country would be consigned to heathen barbarism.
Nor do we find in the conduct of dissenting ministers the apostolic disinterestedness which they demand from the Clergy. Their poor chapels are either declined, or accepted from necessity, but as steppingstones to better; and when a rich congregation wish for a minister ever so usefully settled, no considerations of delicacy prevent them from giving him “a call.” In the report of an “ Association," or meeting of deputies from all the congregations of a district, given in one of their magazines about two years since, it was stated that nearly half the chapels in the district were destitute of settled ministers! Is this a system upon which the country may safely depend for its religious instruction ?
It is the boast of Dissenters, that while the Church exacts from her followers every qualification but religion, they require unexceptionable piety as the first great essential. Their practice is to select those young men who have given satisfactory proof, as well of their piety, as of a competent talent for preaching ; and to qualify them to become the stated heads of congregations by a course of study varying from one to four years, either in one of their academies, or under the roof of a superior minister. It requires but a little knowledge of the influence of circumstances upon character, to discover such serious defects in this plan, as to forbid all surprise that the result should be unsatisfactory. Most of the students are exposed to a formidable ordeal at the commencement of their career, in being taken from the lower walks of life, and placed at once in the station of gentlemen; and of the few who relinquish advantageous prospects for the pulpit, it is not uncharitable to ask if the motive be most frequently supplied by the imprudence of vanity, or the zeal of religion. A complete change of situation,-a hazardous experiment in every case,—is peculiarly fatal to young men; for religious feelings, not grounded upon religious principles, nor confirmed by religious habits, quickly vanish, or subside to a formal profession, when the attention is strongly directed to a new object. The nature of their studies affords no protection : they are taken from the practice of religion to study its theory; and in the science of divinity, as such, there is no more religion than in natural philosophy.
The late Mr. Fuller, Secretary to the Baptist Mission, wrote on this subject to Dr. Newman, afterwards Principal of the Baptist Academy at Stepney, who has given his sanction to Mr. F.'s sentiments by publishing the letter. The following are extracts :
“I am glad that the Committee have unanimously invited you to the tutorship at Stepney, and that you have been led to accede to their invitation .... I know something of Bristol, and Olney, and Bradford ;
... but though I am acquainted with these places, yet I know but little of their interior concerns, unless it be what is common to all institutions of this kind, that young men who come to them are seldom overloaded with self-knowledge. I know brother S. of 0. has sometimes put " Mason on Self-Knowledge” into a young man's hand to read, and which has operated so powerfully, that the party has been upon the point of leaving him, and returning to his former occupation.
You will find some of doubtful religion ; others, inveterately dull ; others, destitute of ministerial gifts as a ground to work upon. In either case, the party should be dismissed, though in as tender a way as possible. ....
“The Evangelical Clergy go to college irreligious; they acquire their learning in that state. Being called of God before they leave college, or soon after it, religion sanctifies their learning, and makes the last impression. On the other hand, a youth with us goes to an Academy, as we suppose, religious, and, it may be, really so; but having had nothing like a previous education, he has every thing to learn. Learning is a new world to him, and is in danger of greatly effacing his religion, and of leaving an impression of self-conceit on his future character. It were much better, if we might allude to a compost of lime and earth for manure, that there should be first a layer of learning, and then of religion to sanctify it, than of religion, and then of learning to model
The last impression too is of consequence through life.” The attainments which these young men acquire at the academy are, with few exceptions, below mediocrity. Two, three, or even four years, can effect but little for a person, who, at the age of manhood, goes to school, with a mind undisciplined by former habits of study ; ignorant of the lowest rudiments of the classics, and for the most part even of the principles of his own language ; whose attention is directed less to literary superiority, than to pulpit excellence ; and who loses the most valuable portion of his time from being generally much engaged towards the close of his residence in preaching in the neighbouring villages, or in supplying destitute congregations.t
Following the Dissenting minister from the Academy to the pulpit, we find him exposed to all the snares of his calling, yet deprived of its most important advantages. This will appear evident, when we consider the dangers to be apprehended, and the benefits to be obtained, from ministerial and pastoral duties. The first, highly important as they are to the congregation, require the most jealous vigilance on the part of the minister, lest they become a snare to his own soul. Very few, it is to be feared, escape altogether from that professional feeling, whose tendency is to make them lecturers, instead of apostles, in the pulpit ; and critics, instead of disciples, in the pew. A still more serious danger arises from the talent necessarily displayed in the public services of religion; which, commanding admiration, will too often be exerted for no higher motive. The minister who allows his views to rest upon any object short of the great end of his calling, will be likely to experience an awful decline in his own spirituality.
The Dissenter is peculiarly exposed to these dangers. An almost exclusive importance is attached to his public duties, and nearly the whole service is his own composition. He depends, moreover, so entirely upon his pulpit abilities for his credit, and, consequently, for his very subsistence, that no ordinary motives will prevent him from cultivating, in some degree, the arts of display.
Yet in every such instance, the young man had given proofs of talent and piety, quite satisfactory to the “Church” which sent him to the Academy.
+ The writer of the above was educated by a dissenting minister, whose character as a scholar stood so high that he was occasionally intrusted with the education of students for the ministry. He generally required a lexicon or dictionary, when the upper classes translated their lessons; and in arithmetic he employed a key.
But the faithful discharge of pastoral duties, affords great and unqualified advantage. Fastidiousness may shrink from witnessing the sufferings of the poor, and thoughtlessness may overlook them; but when these sufferings are forced upon the attention, few can withhold their sympathy." He that giveth to the poor, lendeth to the Lord," who repays the debt with unalloyed blessings ; for the consciousness of duties performed, and the spectacle of the happiness we have conferred, produce an elevated serenity, which, though not strictly, a religious feeling, is yet closely allied to it, and eminently calculated to produce it : while the cost of real charity is too small to allow vanity to rest a boast upon it; and the pleasure it affords, too pure to admit the intrusion of self-complacency.
Dissenting ministers would be disposed equally with the clergy to perform these duties, but their situation does not call for them ;unlike the clergyman, who is interested in the welfare of all his parish, and whose office, while it places him above the hostility, or caprice of the highest parishioner, makes him the friend of the lowest. Their sphere is very circumscribed; they are expected to visit occasionally the members of their “ church," i. e. those in whom alone authority is vested; and prudence dictates a proper attention to the respectable part of their congregations. But the purest motives would be tainted by the policy which exacts these official visits ; and the influence of a minister is too seriously weakened by a sense of dependence on bis part, and of power on that of his people, ever to allow him the feelings and character of the independent and disinterested benefactor. Thus, instead of watching and ruling his flock, he is conciliating his masters : instead of unmasking self-delusion, and enforcing the practice of religion with the faithfulness of an apostle, he is prudently securing his professional connexion. His pastoral visits become morning calls. Such is THE NATURAL CURSE OF A DEPENDENT MINISTRY.
A reputation for piety is far more certainly obtained by ostentatious profession, than by the quiet and regular performance of Christian duties, “God looketh at the heart," but man, judging only from outward appearances, is often deceived in his estimate of individual character. Yet, in reasoning upon classes, general premises will authorize general conclusions ; and when circumstances unfavourable to religion are found to be identified with the system of Dissent, it is to be expected that, however individuals may escape their influence, they will operate injuriously on the general body.
The first of these is the practice so universal among dissenters of associating almost exclusively with persons of their own persuasion ; a practice which, enabling them to estimate themselves by a flattered portrait, while they display their rivals in exaggerated caricature, has an almost inevitable tendency to substitute the prejudices and selfsufficiency of a sect, for the catholic and humble spirit of religion. Indeed, Christian liberality is a plant to which the soil of Dissent is eminently unfavourable. In all, except the few endowed chapels, the emoluments of the minister, and the credit of the cause, depend upon the number and respectability of the congregation. Hence, though accessions may be the most welcome, when gathered in from the world or from the Established Charch, they are not unacceptable,