Imágenes de páginas

injurious degree, if some emergent question call the Voluntary ranks to the field about which they differ among themselves. This, if we mistake not, is the unpropitious position in which we now stand. It is in vain to conceal it. Better try to mend matters by a candid acknowledgment of existing difficulties, and an honest effort to remove them.

To accomplish this, we know nothing more necessary than a lesson of forbearance, wherever there is room for honest difference of opinion. This is a lesson which perhaps some of us have yet to learn, and of which the best of us need to be reminded. The charge of compromise of principle, and everything approaching to it, ought to be avoided, when there is no other ground for the imputation than a disagreement with respect to the best way of promoting what all parties recognise as the cause of justice and of truth. As there is nothing easier than to fling the reproach of inconsistency, so there is none which fellow-workers in a good cause should be more slow to advance. It is sometimes done wantonly and without excuse, and oftener still is it done without consideration of its import. The moment one man differs from another in a single point, which may affect nothing more than means of measures, some are ready to cry for principle, as if it were going to be sacrified, and others are as hasty to echo back the cry.

Every man is bound to avow his principles. He is not otherwise a confessor of the truth, and of the faithful and true witness as his Master and Lord. Confession is made in word and deed. To say that I am of this or of that belief, is to be followed up by conduct corresponding with such belief, and by suitable endeavours to promote what is held and acknowledged to be the truth of God. There is plain dereliction of principle when a man, who is inwardly persuaded of the soundness of a creed or opinion, gives no response to the call to declare it, and who casts in his lot with men, and yields his support to measures, that are hostile to his real conviction.

Now, how a man shall best recommend and promote his principles, is plainly a very wide question, and one about which the practical judgment of individuals may greatly differ. One point which we assume to be certain is, that as truth advances by degrees, and as evils can seldom be removed instantaneously, consistency of principle does not forbid that our measures be accommodated to this law of progression. When we cannot do all we would, our duty is to do our utmost now, and to form our plans for doing more and better. Opposed to the principle which we hold, and would see finally successful, are many antagonist evils—a world of errors to be corrected, a world of grievances to be redressed. How shall we deal with them? Honesty requires that we denounce as sinful whatever is so in our conviction. Consistency with this belief, and with the avowal of it, also demand that we endeavour the subversion of the evil against which we protest. Does principle farther demand that our measures of redress be commensurate with our conviction ? Certainly; if so extended a line of action be in our power. If we cannot effect the immediate removal of the evil, does consistency forbid our seeking to abate the grievance ? All that consistency in this case seems to require, is a frank declaration of our principle, how far it goes, and what on the ground of it we consider ourselves entitled to claim; while we show a readiness to accept of reform till public opinion is prepared to concede a full measure of justice. If, on the other hand, a partial change for the better were obtained in a manner that should lead opposing parties to suppose that we wish no more, and virtually pledge ourselves to accept of it, as satisfactory and final; such conduct would be a dereliction of principle, aggravated by dishonest policy. To take what we can get, and to tell what we are entitled to, would seem to us a description as true as it is homely of a prudent and well-principled course.

Few probably will disagree with us in this. But admitting the soundness of the maxim, it may be found, on applying it, that the acceptance of an instalment would have the effect of deferring, if not of defeating, the concession of our legitimate claim. Whatever could be shown to have this tendency, a due respect of principle would lead us to avoid. But such a tendency may be apprehended where it cannot be proved to exist. When a step is made in advance, a farther movement in the same direction would appear to be the natural course of things. So obvious is this, that nothing but a very strong case of counterproof could make the opposite at all likely or feasible. We allow, however, that such an improbability may happen. Nor is it difficult to imagine how. May not the supporters of a particular opinion be lulled into indolent forgetfulness of its value, when they have achieved the subversion of some practical hardship to which it subjected them, or when they see the removal of some hindrance to its success against which their exertions have been long turned ? May there not be the dropping off of friends whose zeal was provoked and sustained, not so much by the importance of the principle, as by the particular grievance which grew out of its rejection ? If, in achieving such temporary advantage, there should be, through eagerness and inadvertency, the admission of some principle at variance with that which we mean to vindicate, will not the oversight be laid hold of with damaging effect to the good cause, just as a battalion in their haste to carry a position may forget the dispositions of the battlefield, and, separating themselves from the main body, find that their partial triumph is the cause of a general defeat? These are at once nice and troublesome questions. But they should be put and answered. And because they are troublesome, we may expect them to be answered variously. hensions are groundless," exclaims one zealous friend of the cause. "Nothing more probable,” says another equally zealous advocate of the principle which both are struggling to maintain. Speaking as to wise men, we ask if, on points of this nature, there is not large room for honest difference ? We ask, if brethren should not at once see, and frankly acknowledge, that in discussing these difficulties it is their duty mutually to forbear? If we should so far forget ourselves as to deny this, whether in word or deed, we would ask, if to make such differences the ground of crimination be not injuriously and unjustifiably to narrow that freedom of opinion and of action which the disciples of an enlightened Voluntaryism should be the most zealous to maintain ? Can anything be more fitted to prejudice onlookers and opponents against a cause, than to see its supporters so little disposed to allow the right of private judgment as to call one another sharply to account for differing on some secondary point, or on the mere expediency of some particular measure? Is there anything more likely to weaken our hands, and to spread distrust through our ranks, than an unnatural quickness to espy assailable points in a brother's position, when we should be fixing a steady eye on the face of the enemy, and cheering every man his neighbour to do his best?

It should teach forbearance with one another, to keep in mind, that all that has been bitherto gained to the Dissenting and Voluntary cause, has been in the way of instalments. Was not the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts an example of this ? May we not also assign to the same category the defeat of the endowment scheme of the Church of Scotland? Are not the annual agitation in England for the abolition of church rates, and the pre

66 Your appre

sent plan for modifying the Edinburgh annuity tax, special instances of the kind? If, without letting alone the system, to concentrate attack on a particular abuse be a compromise of principle, the aforesaid measures are of an unprincipled character. Undoubtedly the charge would be well-founded, if the redress of grievances were demanded in terms which imply that the specific evils sought to be removed were all that Dissenters had to complain of. But when was this done? The fact which must be familiar to every one who knows the history of Dissent—that abuses have been attacked in detail, and that much good has resulted from this policy, should make us shy to bring charges of inconsistency against brethren who, on particular questions, think it their duty to aim at a specific object, instead of pressing the alternative-all or nothing.

The greatest advantage which of late years the efforts of Voluntaryism have achieved, was the defeat of the attempt to extend the Church of Scotland at the national expense. Had the resistance to this measure taken the shape of a demand for the subversion of church establishments, what would have been the result of the agitation? How different in all probability from what it proved? And what, in consequence, might have been the issue of kindred and contemporary questions that were destined to leave an impress on the mind and movements of the age ?

From experience, then, we learn, that to attack a specific feature or form of an objectionable system, may often prove a likely method of gaining our object, and that to do so has not usually been considered a dereliction of principle, when circumstances have been so urgent as to constrain individuals to forego minor scruples and to act together.

In the existing state of things, there is great room for a wise improvement of the lessons of experience. What should be done for education ? what on the subject of popish endowments ? are questions on which Voluntaries should

agree in making up their minds. We think the Dissenters of Edinburgh have set a good example of unanimity and forbearance in the management of the proposed annuity-tax bill. We say this with the greater title to be heard, that we ourselves are scrupulous respecting some of its provisions. It is not, therefore, as supporters of the measure, that we express satisfaction with the manner in which parties have acted.

As might have been expected, it gives rise to difference of opinion. By some it has been, and continues to be, regarded as involving concessions at variance with a consistent opposition to the Establishment principle, though the great body of our metropolitan Voluntaries consider that, in promoting the measure, they commit themselves no farther than to the abatement of a grievance which they protest against, but cannot remove. Divided in their views of the extent to which the measure affects fundamental principles, a minority withdraw from co-operation in carrying the bill, but bring no railing accusation against its supporters. Credit for good intentions is mutually given. It is seen that the case admits of honest difference, and that crimination of each other would be unjustifiable, and only give enemies oceasion to glory in the intolerance of Dissent. Is not such conduct just the procedure which wise and good men should follow? We augur favourably from so worthy an example.

It would be to the honour of the Voluntary body, and contribute not a little to their growing strength, if a similar spirit were manifested on the other questions of state-education and state-popery. We do not insinuate a hope that all shall see alike with respect to the most eligible course of action. Nor do we plead that those who differ in their views should sacrifice their scruples to expediency. But we do earnestly plead for this, that where there is room for differing with candour, mutual credit should be frankly given for integrity of purpose. So far as brethren can walk together, let them keep in

company ; and when they come to a point when they must part for a time, let it be but for a time, and in a brotherly spirit. Unless a compact of this kind be universally understood and adhered to, we may, for aught we can see to the contrary, go on debating about national education till all difficulties are ended without either our help or our leave. In the same category, is the agitation against popish endowments, and for the withdrawal of the annual grant to Maynooth. We can join in no such movement, say one section of good Voluntaries, for our principle is equally opposed to all stateendowments of religion, and we cannot pull down one and spare the rest. We do not propose, say another class of good Voluntaries, to spare any; but we see no inconsistency in assailing a point that is peculiarly offensive and vulnerable ; it is what we have been doing all along, and not without advantage. Now, we do not say, Why should not these parties agree? but we do say, Why should they not agree to differ? Why should a charge or insinuation pass between them of inconsistency and dereliction of principle ? Differing somewhat in opinion, they cannot go heartily together in all practical measures ; but why should not the tactics be steadily adhered to, of marching into the field in parallel columns-the one concentrating present efforts on a bastion which they expect to carry by storm-the other extending their operations and opening their fire on the whole line of the enemy?

From the ever-shifting forms in which public questions are coming before us, it is the more necessary that we base our tactics on well-considered and safe grounds. To draw the line between a sound expediency and a surrender of principle, is one of the first requisites to a free and united, to a consistent and efficient, course of action. In all the intricacies which may arise when we reduce the theoretical to the practical, aud amidst all the dangers of being too scrupulous on the one hand, and too complaisant on the other, our motto must ever be—“Liberty of action to every honest man, and mutual forbearance among brethren"-if we would prefer the interests of truth to wounding a brother, and playing into the hands of the enemy. A.


Man, in society, cannot long remain in a state of inertia. If the momentum of constant transition and progress—which is the true law of his natureis intercepted and broken for a certain period, by any of those external causes which we denominate history, or by agencies less visible on the surface, and which, therefore, have frequently escaped the notice of the historian and philosopher, he will retrograde for a time and times; but there lurk within him, in apparently the darkest hours of his moral and social depression, salient powers and instincts which force for themselves a vent through the gaping crevices of the very rottenness in which he appears to be hopelessly imbedded. In the world of ancient art and civilisation, empires rose and fell, and at times it appeared as if the arts and sciences, to which they owed their power and grandeur, and with them the mental faculties of man, were finally submerged under a flood of superinduced barbarism. But though man forgot his Maker, he never was deserted by Him, and his interests were cared for, and a stop was put to the operation of those foul agencies, which otherwise would have thoroughly imbruted his whole nature, and ruined the moral universe; and light and power came to him from agencies the least promising in their first appearance.

The student of history, ancient as well as modern, will have had occasion to remark various of these crises in human annals. For our general purpose, it will be sufficient to cite the dark passage in European history, which may be said to extend from the eighth century to the fourteenth. Pure religion, and along with it the arts and sciences, with learning, the handmaid to truth, and civil liberty, its chief minister and support, appeared to be irrecoverably sunk in the weltering waves of a gloomy and withering monastic superstition. And yet, within a century and a half, the light of the glorious reformation “stood jocund on the misty mountain tops” of the European world. Learning came forth from her cowled retreats, the arts of poetry, painting, and sculpture leapt into sudden life and brilliancy, and all the vigorous agencies of reviving civilisation, mental and material, issued successively from the dark recesses in which they had so long been immured.

Truly, the finger of God was to be seen in this wondrous revival of the dry bones of collapsed truth and civilisation. Deus aflavit et dissipantur. The shadows before which the soul of man had so long cowered in abject submission, fled before the light and liberty of a revived and renewed Gospel, and to a large extent, man seemed everywhere to be on the point of recovering the ground he had lost by the gross impostures practised upon him under the name of Christianity. But though scotched, the snake of Popery was not destroyed. Well did it battle for its ancient hold over man's soul and body. Now, by seeming to yield on some minor matters ; next, by pressing its prescriptive rights where they were not strongly opposed ; again, by the most refined duplicity, as by adapting itself to popular movements, and adopting, for the nonce, popular principles, it has retained much of its former power, and even latterly regained some important ground lost at the Reformation. Witness, for instance, its revived assumptions in England ! and its recent restoration to more than its former supremacy in republican France, where the parti-pretre, thoroughly organised by the Jesuits, has monopolised all the great educational establishments, and dictates at the Tuileries as well as at the Sorbonne. The unprincipled man who is at the head of a nominal republic there, it is well known, has sold himself to the agents of the rankest ultra-montane Popery, for the support which they profess to lend him in his civil government; and from Paris, as from a common centre, Jesuit intrigues are everywhere ramifying, and adding fuel to Irish agitation, and priestly arrogance and assumption all over our native land.

The vitality of Popery is, of course, the boast of its supporters, but to christian and thoughtful men, the secret of its wounds being again healed, and a vain and godless world a-wondering again after the Beast, is but a realisation of inspired prophecy, a new phase of the successful craft of the old serpent, another and final trial for the followers of his ultimate Conqueror.

We have been led into these somewhat general and discursive remarks, by the perusal of one of the most seasonable and well-constructed volumes recently published,* and which presents the most vivid and condensed panoramic outline of Popery that we have met with, of its origin, history, successive characteristics, and modern objects and operations. It ought to be in the hands of every thinking man, embracing as it does objects of the most

* The Papacy ; its History, Dogmas, Genius, and Prospects. Being the Evangelical Alliance First Prize Essay on Popery. By the Rev. J. Ā. Wylie. Octavo. Pp. 558. Johnstone and Hunter, Edinburgh.

« AnteriorContinuar »