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when obtained at the expense of another dissenting cause.
It were folly to expect charity, where all the elements of professional rivalry are thus in constant and full operation.
A far more serious evil is, the very low importance dissenters attach to principle. It is a maxim with them that every one should attend the ministry of that preacher under whom he experiences the greatest benefit ; in other words, that taste, not conscience, should dictate the choice ; for they act upon this opinion so far, that it is common for them to tolerate doctrines which they condemn, for the sake of a preacher whom they admire.* The practice is most injurious, even to the political prosperity of Dissent, for it makes the success of a chapel dependent upon the popularity of the minister. The favourite who attracts a very large congregation, obtains it, in a great measure, at the expense of other chapels; which are thus enfeebled, not only by desertion, but also by the dissatisfaction felt towards their less talented pastor by the individuals who remain. A chapel which has once seriously declined, seldom regains its former prosperity ; indeed, its poverty would prevent it from commanding a sufficiently talented minister. Nor is the prosperity of its rival without danger; for a popular preacher makes a fastidious congregation : and whenever he may be removed, the most fatal dissensions usually arise at the appointment of his successor.
The system is not less injurious personally. It converts congregations into an audience, who, unconsciously perhaps, seek gratification rather than instruction. There are chapels indeed, which, like theatres, are built and supported for the profit of shareholders; who secure full houses by providing a succession of popular pulpit-actors. It were mockery to apply the name of religion to such services; yet the principle, whose destructive character is so apparent, when thus carried to its full extent, is vindicated and acted upon by all dissenters.
Nor is this indifference to principle confined to the minor points of doctrine which form the distinction between orthodox sects. It extends even to the fundamental truths of Christianity. The ministers of the three denominations in and around London, admit the Socinians to their fellowship. Their place of meeting, where their common library is kept, and the births of their children are registered, is managed by a board of Socinians. The committee for the protection of their religious privileges have a Socinian for their chairman. Hostility to the Church appears to be with them an all-sufficient passport. Even the notorious O'Connell was admitted upon this ground to take a prominent part, the caressed and applauded orator, at one of their
The following case is of very recent occurrence. A member in a small chapel, dissatisfied with his minister, and disappointed in his attempts to remove him, became himself a rival preacher, and drew off as many of the congregation as he could influence. The seceders, finding that their numbers continued small, at length broke up their establishment; but instead of returning to the fold they had deserted, they joined the methodists. Thus turning their back upon their principles as Calvinists, Baptists, and Congregationalists, they gave a public sanction to arminianism, pædo-baptism, and psendo-episcopacy. Where such sacrifices are lightly made, it cannot be conscience that dictates a separation from the Church.
public meetings. Is it possible that ministers can have a proper sense of the great doctrines of the faith which they profess, while they unite as brother-dissenters with persons who labour to overthrow these doctrines from the very foundation? And is it probable that they will seriously and zealously enforce the truths which they thus practically undervalue ?
When the London University was founded, the board of dissenting ministers took ten shares, the presentations
which were to be given in preference to students for the ministry. It would be amusing were it not so lamentable, to see heresy and orthodoxy thus amicably united in promoting each other's views.
In the Life of Toller, by the late Robert Hall, it is stated that the academy at which he was educated for the ministry, was divided between Orthodoxy and Socinianism, the Principal encouraging the inexperienced young men to discuss the dangerous question freely, and maintaining a strict impartiality between the systems. Pass the mischief of sending out a number of young men with their faith shaken, or their principles corrupted, and overlook the unworthiness of the Principal; but what apology can be offered for the apathy of the great body of dissenters, who permitted the continuance of an evil which they had the power to correct; an evil so notorious at the time, as to attract the public commendation of Priestley ?
Dissenters are not more contaminated by this familiar intercourse with heresy, than they are bewildered with their own doctrines. The creed they profess is Calvinism. What this creed really is, may be learnt from the Lambeth Articles, which the nonconformist divines proposed at the Hampton Court conference, to add to the articles of the Church.
“ I. God from eternity hath predestinated some to life; some He hath reprobated to death.
“II. The moving or efficient cause of predestination to life, is not the foreseeing of faith, or of perseverance, or of good works, or of any merit which is in the persons predestinated, but only the will of a reconciled God.
"III. Of the predestinated, there is a pre-ordained and fixed number, which can neither be increased nor diminished.
"IV. Those who are not predestinated to salvation, of necessity, on account of their offences, will be condemned.
"V. A true, a living, and a justifying faith, and the Spirit of the God who justifies, is not extinguished, nor cut off, nor fails in the elect, either finally, or totally.
“VI. A man truly faithful, i.e. endowed with the faith which justifies, is certain, from the full clearness of faith, of the remission of his sins, and of his everlasting salvation through Christ.
“VII. A saving grace is not distributed, nor communicated, nor granted to all men, by which they may be saved if they will.
“VIII. No man can come to Christ, except it shall have been given to him, and except the Father shall have drawn him : and all men are not drawn by the Father that they may come to the Son.
“IX. It is not placed in the will or power of any man whatever to be saved."
The mind recoils from doctrines which thus represent the sinner as a helpless victim, created for inevitable perdition, while the Deity mocks him with offers of salvation, which it is made impossible for him to accept. And can it be necessary to trace the evils connected with the profession of a creed, which even its followers shrink from defending ? - a creed from which no practical good can be drawn, while its tendency is to the most awful practical error ? ---a creed, which tasks its advocates to the vain attempt to reconcile with laboured sophistry the most palpable contradictions, and to give plausibility to the worst absurdities ?-a creed, which must be laid aside whenever practical duties are to be enforced ?-a creed, which makes love to God a feeling impossible, even to the objects of his capricious choice,-as the favourites of an earthly tyrant, however they may exult in their own security, and rejoice in the advantages they derive from his favour, never can regard him with affection? This is no speculative question. Sound religious principles are the foundation of religious practice. But when principles are maintained which cannot be reconciled with the loveliest attributes of the Deity, homage will be offered only to His power. When incredible dogmas can be received, because they are the creed of a sect, the faith of the Bible may be admitted with as little examination, and held as lightly. When doctrines and duties cannot be reconciled, the Christian is left upon the most favourable supposition, without the support, the encouragement, and the energy, to be obtained from a true and living faith. Thus the Calvinist can derive no assistance from his creed, and must be good in spite of it. Like the blind man in the fable, he grasps a frozen serpent for a staff; and trusts to a support, useless in its torpor, and deadly in its activity.
The danger of mistaking profession for principle, is common to all Christians; but it applies with peculiar force to Dissenters. The condition of almost every chapel being a struggle for existence, all are required to exert themselves for its support; and this official attention to the interests of the cause, is very liable to be mistaken for personal religion. The extent of this mistake can be estimated only by those who have observed the general tone of conversation among Dissenters. Religion is scarcely ever introduced, except in connexion with the secular interests of the sect.
Another great source of self-deception is found in the personal consequence derived from admission to the privileges of church membership. A religious profession among Dissenters is the reverse of a cross. While the congregation are regarded as a distinct and inferior class, who are not allowed even a voice in the concerns of the chapel, the members assume exclusive power and importance; and the individual, whose youth, or station, could give him no claim to notice, acquires consequence by his admission into the privileged body. A religious profession will too often be made upon very questionable grounds, when it exacts no self-denial, and even ministers to the gratification of vanity.
Nor will the professor experience much difficulty in preserving his character for consistency, and his place in the "church,” even though his religious feelings should decline. The technicals of a party, and
a speculative acquaintance with the doctrines of religion, are easily acquired in a degree sufficient for all the purposes of conversation, and even for assisting at a prayer-meeting, and occasionally filling a pulpit. The zeal of the partizan may be a satisfactory substitute for that of the Christian : and, if he abstain from the grosser sins which are discreditable even in the world, he may effectually conceal all inward rottenness under a whited exterior.
An awful proof of the low spirituality of Dissent, is found in the systematic exclusion of religion from its public establishments for education. The London University, upon which the curse of democracy and irreligion has rested from its foundation, affords, through its whole history, a memorable example and warning; and the same principle is acted upon, where the omission is far more injurious, in their schools for the education of the poor. When religion must be sacrificed for the sake of peace, the inference is inevitable, that the attention is habitually fixed, not upon the great truths which unite all Christians, but
upon the petty distinctions of sect. In considering the mode of public worship among Dissenters, we are at once struck with a fatal defect; the exclusion of the Scriptures. In their full services, only one psalm or chapter is read; in their prayer-meetings, not any. Do they imagine that a quarter of an hour cannot be advantageously spared for this purpose from a sermon of three times the length? Can they suppose the eloquence of man to be more powerful than the word of God? Is the minister averse to a plan which interferes with the display of his own talent; or would the people tire of the protracted reading? Is it consistent in those who profess to be more especially guided by the Scriptures, to exclude them from their public services ? And dare they claim the character of superior spirituality for services thus essentially defective?
The long extempore prayer which forms so considerable a part of a dissenting service, is open to great objections. Deriving its character entirely from the minister, it makes him the chief object of attention; and whether his common-place be endured, or his eloquence respected, devotion is equally liable to be sunk in criticism or admiration. Being for the most part altogether unpremeditated, and necessarily comprehending a great variety of objects, it wants the arrangement and unity so indispensable for sustaining the attention, and aiding the memory.
If the mind of the hearer remain quite passive, and prepared to assent to each successive petition, the effect will be too feeble to deserve the name of an impression : or, if it rouse itself to enter into the spirit of the prayer, the ideas awakened by association in the hearer, will constantly differ from those of the minister ; and the two opposing trains of thought will thus act like central forces to carry him round in a circle that leaves him where he begun.
From these objections the Liturgy is altogether free. Its unrivalled excellencies secure it from tiring by repetition, while it is too familiar to divert the attention from its object to its beauties. It throws the minister out of view, for the congregation quickly become accustomed to his merits or defects as a reader. The smallest effort sustains the
attention, where the ideas follow in a known train; where the prayers have each its unity of character; where they are never so lengthened as to fatigue; where the different parts of the service are so disposed as to quicken by a pleasing variety; and where a large portion of it is assigned to the people themselves. And it includes a reading of the Scriptures, so extensive and well chosen, that hearers unable to read, may acquire from this source alone, a model for their devotions, and a competent knowledge of the truths of religion. It is an excellency peculiar to the Church, that she leads her flock to drink abundantly at the very source of the river of the waters of life.
There is a class, always a very numerous one, to whom the Liturgy is of peculiar value ; those who are prevented by unavoidable causes from attending public worship. When the morning and evening services are read in the sick chamber, in a foreign land, or in the solitude of the great ocean, it is delightful still to feel bound to home, and to the sanctuary, by the holiest of ties. We feel that we are not solitary worshippers, while the lessons we read, and the prayers we offer up, are the same which on that day are an instruction and a blessing to millions.
In a published controversy at Manchester, a few years since, it was stated that the great majority of Socinian chapels in England, were originally orthodox endowments. No wonder! for Dissent has no practical standard of sound doctrine like the Liturgy; and the transition is not so difficult from scorning the festivals which commemorate the great truths of Christianity, to undervaluing the truths themselves.
If these remarks should be ascribed to an uncandid and bigoted spirit, the writer can affirm, that against such a spirit, he has striven earnestly and watchfully. Educated in all the prejudices of Dissent, and for many years a member of a dissenting "church,” he has stated the evils which forced themselves upon his attention, and at length, notwithstanding every motive to be derived from personal feeling and worldly interest, drove him from its communion. His observations on the condition of Dissent, were made during a long series of years and upon a number of chapels, situated in different and distant parts of the kingdom. Such observations have a value for every one. From them, the Churchman may learn to prize his blessings; and the Dissenter may be taught a lesson of humility, charity, and forbearance, when he unexpectedly discovers material defects in those parts of his system which he had judged the most unassailable.
A CHURCHMAN FROM Conviction.
LAST WORDS OF THE DYING. BISHOP JEWELL.-Overhearing one of his weeping friends praying that he might be restored to his former health, this admirable prelate addressed him in the following words of St. Ambrose, and shortly after expired:-"I have not so lived, that I am ashamed to live longer; neither do I fear to die, because we have a merciful Lord. A crown of righteousness is laid up for me: Christ is my Righteousness. Father, let thy will be done ; Thy will, I say, and not my will, which