« PreviousContinue »
gentleman in the vicinity being requested to act as chairman, as is customary on similar public occasions. The plan of the Society has then been explained, an Association formed in its support, officers to conduct it chosen, and subscriptions raised.
In this manner the Society has been advancing with increasing rapidity, maintaining always a charitable and prudent line of conduct, interfering with no other Societies, violating no usages of ecclesiastical discipline, making no reflections on those who might decline to support it“, but relying on the purity of its intentions and the blessing of God for that degree of patronage among distinguished persons in church and state, which it might please Divine Providence to grant. Already had the Society ob- · tained the favour of two venerable prelates and other dignitaries of our church, of many eminent noblemen, and of a great body of the clergy; and the time seemed approaching when the attention of our fellow-countrymen would be more generally directed to our great cause, when the extraordinary event occurred which has made the present defence of the Society necessary; but which, we cannot doubt, will, in its consequences, serve only to bring the great
4 The reader is referred to the official documents of the Society, contained in Seventeen Reports, from 1801 to 1817; which, with the Annual Sermons, now form five volumes
question of missions still more fully before the British nation.
At the meeting, called by advertisement, of the friends to a proposed Bath Association, the Rev. Josiah Thomas, the Archdeacon of Bath, appeared; and before the Secretary of the Society could explain the nature of the projected undertaking, delivered an Address and Protest, which he has since published, and which has appeared in most of the London and many of the country newspapers. This proceeding has, of course, attracted much public attention; but the reasons by which it is supported are, as I trust will appear, utterly insufficient to justify so unprecedented a measure.
The objections urged by the Archdeacon are of two sorts: the first regards the AUTHORITY BY WHICH THE PROPOSED ASSOCIATION WAS FORMED; the second, the NATURE AND DESIGNS OF THE CHURCH MISSIONARY SOCIETY, with which it was to be united.
On the subject of authority, the reverend speaker states, that he came to the meeting officially; that, in delivering the Address which he has now published, under the name of a Protest, he was executing his office; that the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of the Diocese, and the vast majority of the clergy in his jurisdiction, disclaimed the Society; and that the Institution was an irregular association, tending to the subversion of ecclesiastical order. He charges the right reverend prelate who took the chair at the meeting, with invading the province of his venerable brother, and thrusting his sickle into another man's harvest. He pointedly intimates, that the Society assumed a title to which it had no right. He expresses his conviction, that the formation of the proposed association at Bath would be pernicious, and would render that city a hot-bed of heresy and schism. As Archdeacon, therefore, of Bath, in the name of his diocesan, in his own name, in the names of the rectors of Bath, and in the names of nineteen-twentieths of the clergy of his jurisdiction, the reverend speaker protested against the formation of the proposed Society.
The tendency of this language, as well as of the whole Address delivered by the Archdeacon, was, to represent the formation of the Bath Missionary Association as an irregular, unauthorized, and uncanonical act—as an act so irregular, that it became at once his right and duty to interpose; and, by a personal and solemn Protest, to effect either the suppression of the design, or at least the secession of all its clerical promoters.
The question, then, is, in what respect was this meeting irregular or uncanonical? What were the circumstances, and what the laws applicable to those circumstances, that warranted
the Archdeacon in a measure of interference, which, if not justified on the grounds claimed for it, he himself must allow to have been an outrage on the rights of private judgment, and a flagrant departure from the decorum ordinarily observed in civilized society.
1. The Archdeacon appears to found his claim of jurisdiction over the meeting, on the circumstance of our Missionary Society being a Church of England Society. He will not, indeed, allow, what he states to be its pretensions to the title; but he obviously assumes his right of interference on that ground. Now it is manifest, that the Society never affected or pretended to represent the Church of England; still less to act by any commission or delegation from that veuerable authority. It neither is, nor ever assumed to be, any other than a voluntary institution, supported by the free contributions of individuals, in conformity with the doctrine and discipline of the church. No mistake could arise, on this head, to any one at all acquainted with its design, principles, or proceedings. All misapprehension was effectually precluded, by the publicity with which the Society has uniformly acted. The title, The Church Missionary Society, never meant-it was never intended to mean—a Society supported by the collective authority of the Church of England; but simply, a society conducted by members of that church, and by members of that church only. It merely imports that the individuals who compose the Society are attached, not to the Lutheran, or Calvinistic, or Presbyterian, or Baptist, or Moravian, or Methodist religious communities, but to the English Establishment; and that it is the Christian religion, as taught by that Establishment, which they wish to diffuse among mankind. For many years, the title was, “ The Society for Missions to Africa and the East, conducted by Members of the Established Church.”. When the rise and progress of other missionary institutions, and the extending labours of its own, made a shorter and more definite name desirable, The Church Missionary Society for Africa and the East, was gradually, and almost imperceptibly substituted. Thus the familiar title, The Bartlett's Buildings' Society, is sometimes used for the longer and less convenient appellation, The Society for promoting Christian Knowledge, meeting in Bartlett's Buildings. In short, the Church Missionary Society is a voluntary association, formed for a lawful object, but not pretending to be established by law-conducted with a due respect to constituted authorities, but preferring no claims, as of right, to their countenance or patronage. In all points which fall within the province of ecclesiastical enactment, its members conscien