Page images

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

to have met with it only in conversational fragments. These we shall put together with what skill we possess-and shall deeply regret if, through any misapprehension or mismanagement of our materials, we should unconsciously do an injustice to the opinions of our differing friends.

The case, then, may be thus stated.

The objectors, whom we have in our eye, admit the principle of a state-support of christianity to be unscriptural. They acknowledge, that in all known instances it has powerfully tended, when reduced to practice, to corrupt the church, to dim the light of divine truth, to foster a general spirit of nominalism, and greatly to impede the progress of the spiritual kingdom of Christ. Upon these points they declare, with a devoutness which puts their sincerity beyond a doubt, that their opinions. are as decided, and their feelings as warm, as those of the heartiest advocates of the recent movement. It is not from any sympathy with establishments that they withhold from it their concurrence and support. Their difference with us relates to the means which enlightened dissenters should employ to put a termination to the evil. They believe that the shortest and most effectual method for overthrowing all error, and that which is most in unison with the mind of Christ, is, in all simplicity and earnestness, to preach the gospel. 'Elevate,' say they, 'the tone of piety in the land, and increase its amount by a faithful and affectionate proclamation of the virtues of the cross, and you will thereby aim the deadliest blow at state religionism. The controversy into which you are so indiscreetly plunging, will serve but to stir up slumbering prejudices, and array against the 'word of life' the angry passions of human nature. Make men christians, and the church will soon emancipate itself from civil bondage. Attempt to make them dissenters, by any direct and overt agency, and if you succeed, your gain is comparatively worthless, while if you fail, you place evangelical truth at a serious disadvantage. Nor should it be forgotten that there are, within the pale of the national church, thousands of devout and holy men who, as the disciples of our common Lord, can sympathise with every effort to augment the number, and to promote the purity of his subjects. In all the aims proper to a christian, they are in spirit one with us. Open warfare against state churches as such, will but sever them from us, and render communion in good works utterly impossible. Dissent has succeeded in gaining its present standing, not by preaching itself, but by preaching Christ crucified.' Would it conquer, it must pursue the same course. It should be determined to know nothing else among men. 'In hoc signo vinces.' Uplift it to an expiring world-uplift it manfully, perseveringly,

in faith, with untiring determination, in season and out of season. This is your mission-and in the prosecution of it your own spiritual energies will be sustained and strengthened by exercise. Divert not men's attention, nor distract your own minds, by meddling with controversial topics, partly political and partly religious. These times demand the promulgation of other truths than those which you would have us agitate. Irreligion and immorality abound-why should we quarrel about externals until the plague is stayed? Why, when our difficulties are already all but insurmountable, should we raise up a host of others, by a pertinacious utterance of minor truths? Look at the present state of parties in this country. Is it not deplorable? And what will you do but throw other ingredients of dissension into the cauldron. No, no! Let but the real followers of Christ be true to him, and he will take care of his church. Let them preach his gospel, and he will make it the instrument of overturning antichrist. We desire the end at which you aim. aim. We long to see the church of the Redeemer loosed from her unholy bands. We deplore the mischiefs which an unhallowed inattention to his laws, and a presumptuous intermeddling with his authority, are producing in the world. But we have no faith in your system of means. We object to any direct movement against the establishment. We see in it nothing but danger. We predict from it nothing but defeat. We cannot prevent you from following what you regard as the path of duty, but neither can we join you. We shall rejoice in your success, should success be accorded to you,-but meanwhile, we shall content ourselves with preaching the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.'

We have endeavoured to put the objections to which we are about to reply, fairly, fully, and forcibly. We are not conscious of having resorted to a single expression, the substantial import or the precise shade of which might, in our judgment, weaken the case with which we have to deal. We take no credit to ourselves on this account. Infinitely more grateful would it be to us, more pleasing to our self-respect, more satisfactory to our conscience, to lay down our arms at the feet of all-conquering truth, and to proclaim ourselves vanquished, than by means of a controversial sleight-of-hand, to seem to other minds triumphant, when, by our own, we could be viewed no otherwise than as dexterous tricksters. It is a comparatively easy thing to stagger an opponent-it is not so easy to take his understanding captive. To convince, rather than to silence him-to take him alive, rather than to leave him mangled and expiring upon the field of debate-to gain a new adherent to what we believe to be the cause of truth, and therefore of God, rather than to

drive him back into the ranks of error, bruised and bleeding, but not overcome-this is our object. And with a view to this, we have been scrupulously careful, so to state the argument against us, as to secure from the parties entertaining it an unreluctant, unhesitating admission-That is our ground-upon that we take our stand-and if at length our judgment is compelled to surrender it, with it also we will surrender ourselves, for we have no stronger position in which to intrench ourselves.' We shall therefore take it for granted, that upon the field already marked out, both parties are willing to join issue. Nor can we forbear, impressed as we are with the magnitude of the question, and with the awful extent of those interests which are involved in its settlement, glancing an eye of fervent supplication to the Spirit of truth, that, in harmony with his own beneficent work on earth, and in mercy to the ruined family of man, He may 'speed the right.'

We make bold, then, in the first place to suggest, what may profitably be borne in mind in other controversies than the present, that we are not warranted in isolating any portion, however confessedly important, of God's revelation to the world, and in calling that portion of it 'the Gospel.' The arch must have a key-stone, but the key-stone is not the arch; moreover, severed from its relationship to the rest of the structure, it ceases to be what it was designed to be, the centre and stay of the whole. No single doctrine of the New Testament is complete in itself. Each is linked and interwoven inseparably with all the others, is illustrated by them, derives much of its pertinence from them, and, in turn, adds its own share of efficiency to them. The whole system of revealed truth is of a piece,not merely are its parts homogeneous, but they are all requisite to its integrity and oneness. The eye torn from its socket is an eye no longer. The limb cut from the trunk, is no more a limb. The brain, the lungs, the heart, are brain, lungs, and heart, in connexion with, not in disjunction from, the whole corporeal frame. The gospel which God gave to a benighted world, and by the power of which He intends to redeem it to himself, is an unique system of truths, not one of which can be spared, not one of which can be fully understood, save in its appropriate relation to others. Nothing which he has deemed it necessary to communicate can, without a serious impeachment of his wisdom, be dispensed with as superfluous. He knew, far better than we can, what parts were necessary to constitute a perfect whole-and He gave it, in its entireness, and not pieced out into separate divisions, as his appointed instrument for subjecting the nations to the government of his Son Jesus Christ.

« PreviousContinue »