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For JANUARY, 1845.
Art. I. Tracts of the British Anti-state Church Association. 1. History of the circumstances which led to the Conference. By Dr.
2. The principles of Voluntaryism. By Dr. Wardlaw. 3. Practical Evils of the Union between Church and State. By Mr. E.
Miall. 4. External Forms of the State-church principle. By Rev. J. W. Massie. 5. What is meant by a separation of the Church from the State. By a
Barrister-at-law. 6. Means by which the Establishment should be assailed, etc. By the
Rev. J. P. Mursell. These tracts consist of the several papers read at the Anti-statechurch Conference, held in London, in the spring of last year. Their re-publication in a separate form is indicative of a fact,and it is upon that fact, rather than upon the merits of this series of essays, that we wish to found a few observations.
Cuvier, the prince of naturalists, is said to have been able, from the inspection of a single bone, to infer with unfailing accuracy, the structure and habits of the animal to which it once belonged. Were other evidence wanting, these tracts would at once suggest, the constitution, objects, and spirit of that organized body known by the name of the British Anti-state Church Association. They suffice, at all events, to give the world assurance of the existence of a society pledged to concentrate its energies upon the separation of the church from the state. They
show that its efforts are to be direct, unremitting, earnest, peaceable, and in thorough harmony with the genius of the gospel. They are at once a record and a pledge—a record of what has been done—a pledge of what is to be done hereafter. They indicate embodied life, and of what sort it is. In short, their appearance not only apprises dissenters of a fact, but enforces upon them a duty. They are the first-born of a new movement--and wherever they go they will be sure, in some form or other, to push home the inquiry—How do you, as a professed repudiator of establishments, stand affected towards it?'
The question, at first glance, would seem to be superfluous. A priori we might have regarded ourselves safe in coming to the conclusion, that a direct and combined effort, especially if animated by a christian spirit, to assail error, must needs have the sanction of those who believe that it is error, and that the particular form of it aimed at is potent for evil. Experience only could avail to convince us that religious men holding the alliance between church and state to be plainly opposed to the mind of God, could view with disapprobation a serious enterprise set on foot to work out its dissolution. There is so obvious a contrariety between an avowed conviction that state-churches involve an usurpation of the Saviour's prerogative, and a disposition to regret, if not to resent, any peaceful attempt to subvert them, that conjecture would never, probably, have associated the one with the other. More or less, we all of us feel the force of moral instinct binding upon our consciences, the obligation to make known to others the truths we have ourselves received. And, assuredly, when those truths constitute a portion of the revealed will of God, and when a practical and systematic repudiation of them necessarily obstructs the march of spiritual christianity, it is strangely anomalous, that they who profess to prize them the most highly, should be most conscientiously averse to take measures for their promulgation. The position, at all events, is not a natural one for the disciples of our Lord. It is one, the justification of which would not be suggested to us by the ordinary course of things. Neither, we verily believe, would it be found the most congenial one for those impressions which the study of God's word usually leaves upon the heart.
We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard, "Yea, woe is me if I preach not the gospel,' more appropriately express the bias of will which intimate acquaintance with revelation invariably imparts. And, if facts demonstrate a very strong repugnance among serious dissenters to urge their distinctive principles upon their fellow countrymen-if it be really the case, that attempts like those made by the association, whose tracts we have placed as a frontispiece to this article, are denounced by pious nonconformists as mischievous, and are somewhat bitterly reprehended as the results of a political phrensy—there must be some special reason for it of more than common power-for so striking a suspension of an universal moral law can be justified only by unanswerable arguments.
Now, unhappily, as we think, facts do demonstrate this. For although, that movement among dissenters which has resulted in the establishment of the British Anti-state-Church Association, exhibited and still continues to exhibit a vitality which augurs well for its growing efficiency and ultimate success, it is not to be concealed that it is very far from having absorbed the strength of the great body of nonconformists in this empire. Our churches too generally view it with indifference, if not with hostility. Vast numbers of men who have given the world a sufficient pledge of the sincerity of their christian discipleship, stand aloof with an air of decision, which fully translated into language would thus express itself—'O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly mine honour be not thou united! It is clear enough that there prevails in what is usually designated the religious world, a vague notion, that a deep and practical interest in the state-church question, is altogether incompatible with spirituality of heart. There are not wanting, it is true, some bright and conspicuous examples of the possibility of combining the two-examples so conspicuous and so bright that one wonders how it is that the mist does not take up and roll away. They, however, are looked upon as exceptions to the rule—and the prevailing sentiment appears to be, that earnest activity for the separation of the church from the state betokens a low tone of religious sentiment and feeling. What will account for this? What is in this case, the disturbing force which separates the belief of a divinely communicated truth, from the obligation of enforcing it upon public attention? What is the nature of that objection which would prevent, were it possible, any direct assault upon the false principle embodied in all national religious establishments ? The reason, as we have before stated, ought to be a strong one, which thus contravenes the natural order of things. We shall first state it-and, afterwards, as we are able, demonstrate its fallaciousness. And we shall endeavour to do both in a spirit of christian candour, and with a direct eye to truth.
We should have been well pleased, had we been able to state the argument against us, in the precise words of those who rely upon its validity. We know not, however, where to put our hands upon any exact and studied form of it. That it exists somewhere in an authentic shape, is not unlikely—we happen