« PreviousContinue »
to authority, when the opinions of the supposed mysterious personage are favourable to the prevalept errors or vices of roankind.
Residing in the vicinity of Dr. Hodgson, Mr. Redford had doubtless an opportunity of observing how far the adventitious influence referred to, gave currency to the Dean's opinions; and how far it rendered his discourse, notwithstanding its being wholly destitute of critical or theological merit, an effective instrument of injury to the cause of religion.
Dr. H. commences his discourse, with the following extraordinary assertion.
'There is, I believe, no plea upon the strength of which separation from the church is justified, more frequent than this—that its ministers, to use the common expression, do not preach the gospel.* p. 7.
To this Mr. Redford justly replies:
* There are no real, dissenters from the Church of England, that ever state this as their chief plea, or even as one of the pleas that justify their separation.'—• Our principles would continue unshaken, if the pure gospel, to the satisfaction of the most scrupulous taste, were preached in all the pulpits of the Established Church. It is the system itself, and not the male-administration of it—the whole system of the hierarchy, against which we object; its foul alliance with the civil power; its exclusive and persecuting spirit; its numerous ranks of superior and inferior ministers, unsupported by even the shadow of scriptural sanction; its departure from the simplicity of the primitive mode of worship ; its laxity of discipline, resulting from the overstrained and unscriptural severity of its laws; its indiscriminate administration of Christian privileges; its systematic and official fabrication of Christians; its rigorous enforcement of subscription upon all its ministers, neither securing attachment to the truth, nor promoting real uniformity, but involving the consciences of thousands iu the guilt of the most awful prevarication; its unjust and unscriptural exactions, by which its ministers are supported in luxury, and but too effectually tempted to secularity; and the extraordinary and complicated construction of its ecclesiastical courts and codes of law, &c. These are a few of the pleas on the strength of which the learned Dean would have found separation rested, if he had but troubled himself to consult «* Towgood's Reasons of Dissent," or "Graham on Establishments."' pp. 10—11.
Dr. H. having allowed that the charge ef not preaching the Gospel, would, if true, be a most serious one, makes the following remarks, which, according to the consecutive order of the discourse, constitute his first proof that the ministers of the Establishment do preach the Gospel.
* It is true indeed that speaking generally, we deviate evidently from the course which those who differ from us pursue. We do not with them, address ourselves to God in extemporaneous prayer; nsr do wc trust to the crude and hasty effusions of the moment, in offering idpto Him our praises and thanksgivings: but we use for these purposes a form of sound words, such as the wisdom of the church has thought, upon full and mature deliberation, best adapted to excite and cherish in the soul love, faith, trust, humbleness of mind, penitence, piety, devotion *.'
What connexion all this has with preaching the Gospel, ordinary minds may be at a loss to discover; and unfortunately Dr. H. lias not condescended to inform ihem. The fact is, that the fashion of eulogizing the Prayer-book, has become so very prevalent, that such eulogies are no where esteemed out of place. We look for tliem as matters of course, in all sermons, magazines, and other pamphlets, proceeding from the pens of Churchmen; and sometimes we meet with these eulogies, where a few years since we should not have expected them— in assemblies which are principally composed of those who do not use the established forms. A century ago, ministers of the English Establishment could write considerable volumes, and scarcely let us know that they had a Prayer-book. Their successors have learned wisdom by this remissness, and are determined that if, in the changing course of human affairs, this Prayer-book shall ever cease to be, the important facts that it did exist, and that it was all but divine*, shall not be lost to posterity. .
* It is well known, that, 'so far were the bishops and clergy, from 'having any hand in the first forming our present Established
* Church, or in ordering its rites and articles of faith, that it was done
* not only without, but in actual opposition to them.' 'For, in the
* first of Queen Elizabeth, the parliament alone established the 1 Queen's supremacy, and the Common Prayer Book, in spite of all
* opposition from the bishops in the Mouse of Lords, and the convoca
* tion then sitting were so far from having any hand in those church 'acts for reformation, that they presented to the parliament several 'propositions, in behalf of the tenets of popery, directly contrary to
* the proceedings of the parliament.' Towgood's Dis ent, pp 9—10. It is equally well known, that no alteration can be made in any thing relating to the Church of England, except by that power which constituted it a church,—the Parliament. In the face of these facts, to represent the esiablished form as being • such as the wisdom of 'the church has thought, upon full and mature deliberation, best 'adopted to excite and cherish in the soul,' the various sentiments of devotion, argues more than a common hardihood in the defiance of truth.
\ In a sermon preached.we presume, because published, in the jear 1816, for the author has omitted the date of the delivery, we meet with the following extraordinary remarks. 'If ever tlit Spirit « of God promised in the text could be expected to assist or would ■* deign to assist in any human deliberation, it would be on an occa
* sion (the author is speaking of the composition of the Prayer-book)
Were'we not so much accustomed to this modern style of jelf eulogy, it would appear perfectly ridiculous; and we have sometimes thought, that it must appear so to any sensible foreigner, who, unused to our modes and follies, should read our theological productions.
We most cheerfully express our conviction, that the Prayerbook contains many admirable specimens of simple and pathetic devotion. We believe that Christians of every class, would be materially benefited by a familiar acquaintance with a large portion of our established forms. But yet we must protest against a fashionable idolatry of the book; and we remind our readers, that the fact of its general excellency, has no connexion with the questions on the propriety of using the Prayer-book as it is now used in our churches, and on the propriety of using forms of prayer at all. We are the more desirous of fixing the attention of our readers on these distinctions, because the generality of modern defenders of the Church of England totnlly forget them. The excellency of the Liturgy is asserted. Some foreign Protestant, as (Jrotius, or some English Dissenter, as Mr. Robert Hall, is ' subpoenaed to prove 'it,' and then .the matter is supposed to be settled, and a full' proof made out, that the whole body of Dissenters ought to shut up their meeting-houses and go to church. But still, two important points are left untouphed. Admitting, might the obstinate Dissenter reply, that your Liturgy is on the whole a very good book, is it, as used in your churches, adapted to edification? And then comes a more unmanageable question still: Ought a Liturgy to be used at all?
But it is time that we allow Mr. 11. an opportunity of speaking on these subjects.
'Liturgies are wholly unknown to the New Testament; there is not a vestige to be found in scripture of any used, prepared, or imposed by Christ, or his apostles, or any of their successors * in the purest and most devotional ages of Christianity.'—' I am aware that the advocates for forms of prayer, attempt to ground their practice
'pregnant with the happiness or misery of myriads of the human « race. If this was not an occasion worthy of divine interposition, « no human occasion can be so.' See a Sermon preached at Kelvedon, before the Archdeacon of Colchester, and the clergy of the Witham Deanery, and published at their request. By the Rev. W. Potchett, Hector of Fairsted.—What fine sport would it make for that class of men who pride themselves on account of their prowess in hunting down enthusiasm, could similar effusions of folly and extravagance be found, in regard to the Westminster Confession, or the Confession of the Congregational Churches!
* We presume Mr. R. does not mean successors in office to the Apostles, but merely successors in point of time.
on one solitary case, which they must be conscious yields a very feeble and reluctant support to their opinion. The existence of the Lord's Prayer is thought quite sufficient to justify the use of forms.' pp. 19—20.
After assigning the reasons for considering what is usually styled the Lord's prayer, rather as a ' specimen of the simplicity 'and fervour which should distinguish' our prayers, than as a 'prayer to be verbally imitated,' Mr. 11. subjoins the following pertinent remarks.
* It may merit consideration, moreover, how far it (the Lord's prayer) is a suitable form of prayer, under that dispensation which was not fully come, when the prayer was uttered. However susceptible it may be of a Christian explanation, yet certainly prayers strictly formed on that model, would be considered by all orthodox Christians, as extremely deficient. It was not intended to anticipate" the light of the dispensation of the Spirit, and, strictly speaking, it is a Jewish prayer adapted to the time, and the circumstances, but by no means an adequate exhibition of the principles of Christian devotion. It does not contain one recognition of the medium of acceptance, nor, in short, of any doctrine peculiarly Christian. It is materially deficient as a Christian prayer on the doctrine of the Spirit's influence, which is one of the chief and distinguishing tenets of the gospel dispensation.' p. 21.
'The remarks I have made here, by no means tend to depreciate the value, or discountenance the right use of the Lord's prayer. The only object I had in view was to show, that it was not intended to be used as a form under the dispensation of the Spirit.'
Mr. R. having disposed of this solitary argument from the New Testament, for the use of forms, proceeds to remark:
* History lends as little countenance to the principle, as scripture. It is a fact admitted by all ecclesiastical writers, that in the first and purest ages of Christianity, not merely the Apostolic, or the age of miraculous influences, but down to the end of the third century, there were no written liturgies; and there is no doubt but the devotions of the churches continued upon the Apostolic model, as long as sufficient virtue and simplicity remained, to prize the superiority of such a model*. No liturgies were framed or even thought of, while the men who could have drawn them up, with the fewest errors, with the purest devotion, and enforced them with the highest authority, were continued in the service of the Church. But as soon as secular honours began to be conferred by princes, so soon prelates began to flatter princes, by admitting their interference; and by degrees the spirit of* domination, both in ecclesiastical and civil rulers, aimed at that verbal uniformity, which many have piously, but weakly mistaken for trie unity of the faith.' pp. 23, 24.
Mr. R. exhibits a striking contrast between prayer-meetipgs
* See Campbell's Lectures on Ecclesiastical History, Vol. II.
p. 241. Rees's Cyclopedia: Articles-Liturgies.
in the Establishment, and meetings of the same description among the Protestant Dissenters.
• When the congregation is assembled only for devotion, the Dissenters have an undeniable superiority of numbers. The congregation come more readily, more cordially to extempore devotions, than to the forms. I have entered St. Paul's Cathedral, and other Cathedrals in different parts of the kingdom, when the business of the assembly was only devotion, or what was in pi tin words, a prayer-meeting, in the church mode. And yet, notwithstanding the attractions of the place, the charms of sculpture and painting, the e ichantments of music, both vocal and instrumental, in spite of the imposing contour which prayer assumed in these circumstances, I have seen out of a large parish or city, sometimes only half a dozen paupers, about as many strangers who had strolled in to gaze at the building and listen to the music: once or twice I have seen a few more worshippers, perhaps to the number of twenty or thirty exclusive of the performers. Where, thought I, are those secret springs of devotion in the hearts of men, which nothing can so effectually touch as the liturgy of the church! Is this liturgy really of all things the most powerful charm to devotion? Is this the love the people have for their forms ?—It is not so with us. We can uniformly shew a better externa] attendance. In congregations of a moderate size we usually have Om, or two, or even three hundred, and in many instances the ordinary attendance at the prayer-meetings is even much larger.' pp. 30, 31.
The present day has been rather fruitful in objections to extemporaneous prayer. But we would ask the impugners of our mode of worship, why, if it is in itself an evil, it is encouraged or permitted by every reformed church, not excepting that of England? The ministers of this Church may pray extempore before and after the sermon; in their own houses; and in the houses of their people. It is well known, that many of these ministers indulge themselves in a tolerably free use of the deprecated mode of worship; and happily for themselves and their connexions, by this means cultivate a talent for conducting the exercises of devotion, without a form; a talent which all who think seriously on religion, must allow to be a very important qualification for a minister of the Gospel; a talent which otherwise the use of forms would destroy. Do not the permissionswe have mentioned, constitute a sufficient evidence that the founders of the English Church were persuaded that all the variety of cases, which are necessary to be introduced into public and private devotion, cannot be met by any forms? Are not such permissions a demonstration that our reformers esteemed that despised thing which is called (perhaps somewhat improperly) the gift of prayer, an important part of the qualifications of a Christian teacher? Is there not reason to believe that the founders of the Church of England would not have furnished