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BRITISH MAGAZINE, .
JANUARY 1, 1833.
THE PRINCIPLES OF THE ESTABLISHED CHURCH
WITH REGARD TO THE EXERCISE OF FREE INQUIRY AND THE RIGHTS OF
PRIVATE JUDGMENT. I PROCEED to use the privilege which I claimed in a former number, of not being considered as engaged in a systematic dissertation on the well-known and oft-debated subjects to which I now think it necessary to direct the attention of churchmen. My object is, rather to detect fallacies, and to disclose the maneuvres of our opponents, than to give a regular treatise. I wish the questions at issue to be put upon their fair merits, and argued without any juggle or mystification. And the subjects which I have mentioned in the title to this paper are among those on which sophistry and maneuvre have been played off with no small success, and which have induced many well-meaning friends to take most erroneous views both of the Established Church, and of the pretensions of her enemies.
One prominent charge which I find insinuated by the assailants of the Church is, that she is hostile to freedom of inquiry and the right of private judgment; and that for the enjoyment of these privileges this nation is principally, if not entirely, indebted to the dissenters. I say that this is insinuated, for the charge is frequently not put forth all at once and broadly. A publication levelled at the Church commences with a dissertation upon the use and the rights of free inquiry and of private judgment. These rights are very pompously maintained, as though there were some powerful and venomous foe always plotting or struggling against them, and as though it were a matter of notoriety that the Church of England denied them, in both theory and practice. A great deal of argument is expended in proving the natural title of man to these privileges, with occasional wise saws and reflections upon the tyranny of refusing men the enjoyment of them. The reader is gravely asked, whether “we
VOL. III.-Jan. 1833.
are to adopt the religion of our country, because it is so" (as though there were no other reasons); or “whether we are to embrace the religion of Jesus Christ in its pure simplicity of doctrine and discipline (who disputes it?) whether it may happen to be the religion of our country or not ?”—whether we ought to receive our religion from our ancestors, or to impose it " upon posterity by legal enactments ?”— whether “ the Bible is to be our text book ; whether every man has “the right by nature of private judgment;" and whether “religion is a matter of personal, individual, and exclusive concern between him and his Maker ?” Then the use of reason is mentioned—the example of the Bereans duly commended as a weighty proof, and the reader is cleverly led away from the real point at issue to the desired inferences—to a state of prejudice against the Church, and prepossession in favour of the Dissenters. He is quite satisfied, after weighing the important catechism of truisms which has been brought before him, that he really has the right of private judgment, and may actually use his senses and his bible in free inquiry. The Dissenters have, by arguments, not certainly very recondite, however advantageously displayed, quite convinced him of what he knew perfectly well before. He jumps then to the conclusion to which he was to be brought,--that the Church, which denies him the privileges of free inquiry, and of using his own judgment, is oppressive, and not founded on truth; and that the Dissenters, the champions of these privileges, who have taken such pains, and have used such cogent arguments, to convince him that he is entitled to them, must be every thing that Dissenters wish to be thought.
This is all in the very best style, and according to the most approved rules: the sellers do not alarm the customer, and excite his suspicions of interested motives, by direct invitation to purchase, but allure his attention and engage his favour by the display of a marvellous solicitude for his interest and privileges, and at the same time indirectly raise the value of their commodity, and intimate that no other persons can possess it but themselves by a grave caution, “ Beware of counterfeits !” The good bonest man thus eagerly and thankfully receives from them, under a new name, and perhaps mixed up with pernicious ingredients, that which he already possessed in a plainer and better form.
The reader of the above-mentioned dissertations in favour of the privilege of private judgment and free inquiry is in like manner deluded. "While he is so well satisfied that his rights are clearly proved, he has overlooked the important fact that the Established Church does not allempt to deprive her members, or any other persons, of those rights; and that the Dissenters are neither the sole dispensers nor vindicators of them, nor the best practical guardians to whose care they may be committed.
Let the Churchman be carefully reminded to keep his eye fixed on these points. I shall now examine them a little, and take leave to suggest a few hints upon them.
The Dissenters, and particularly the Independents, claim to be the offspring of the old Puritans, and the often-cited authority of Hume is brought forward to establish the title of the Puritans to be considered as the founders and assertors of civil and religious liberty.
“Mr. Hume," (observes a writer of a Dissenting Society, combined for the purpose of depreciating the Established Church in the estimation of the country)“ whom no one will accuse of partiality to the sentiments of these reformers, has remarked, that
the precious spark of liberty had been kindled and was preserved by the Puritans alone; and it was to this sect that the English owe the whole freedom of their constitution.”
Now, it is expected that the reader of this passage is to receive as indisputable inferences that the principles of the modern Dissenters are congenial with those of the ancient Puritans; and that, as Mr. Hume affirms that the Puritans have been the founders and assertors of our religious liberties, therefore the Dissenters are the offspring of Puritanism, and are entitled to their proportion of the honour and gratitude of the nation. I am, however, rather a perverse pupil in these matters. I shall take upon myself first to doubt Mr. Hume's authority as to the effect of Puritanism upon civil and religious freedom ; secondly, to remark, that if civil and religious freedom were really a part of their plan, they certainly regarded them in a very different point of view from that in which the Dissenters represent them now; and, thirdly, to question whether they or the Dissenters, whenever power has fallen into their hands, were disposed to form their practice according to any such principles.
That the spirit of free inquiry and of claiming the right of judgment originated with the Puritans, is contrary to the known facts of history. Luther surely preceded them, and even Luther's efforts and success were effects as well as instruments of that power which had been set in motion, and urged on by a variety of causes, gradually operating before Luther's time. Those causes had impelled the spirit of inquiry, and the exercise of freedom of judgment, with an impetus which was steadily and irresistibly increasing, and which, humanly speaking, could never have been arrested, though it might have been retarded, had Puritanism never have been heard of. To what extent the Puritans may have promoted or have impeded the cause of civil or religious liberty, cannot easily be determined. We see but one side of the picture: what would have taken place if the captious and vexatious squabbles about garments had never occurred, or if the atrocities of the successful rebellion had never been acted, can be only the subject of conjecture. Whe
members of the Established Church, as well as others, were not all at once able to emancipate themselves from the thraldom of former prejudices, but advanced only gradually with the times, will not be disputed. But I do contend, that her practice has in the main corresponded with the principle of respecting the rights of private judgment and free inquiry—the intent of any seeming restrictions has been purely defensive (whether they were calculated to effect the object in view, is another question)-she has been revered in foreign churches as a model of religious discipline and liberality, and looked up to as the bulwark of religious freedom. She has thus maintained her character and integrity under the temptation of power; while those who reviled her under the same trial of their integrity and wisdom, displayed to the world a signal failure—one of the most conspicuous exhibitions of intolerance, and folly, and cruelty, that ever marked the working of human depravity and delusion.
The church does not deny the right of private judgment. She claims authority in matters of faith, but not infallibility. And with a plainness, which nothing but the most perverse misinterpretation can obscure, she limits her authority to those doctrines, and those doctrines only, which may be proved from Scripture. This is clearly put by the writer of a tract entitled, “ The Church of England defended from the Attacks of Modern Dissenters," &c.
“The authority which we ascribe to the rulers of the church being no more than is derived to them from the commission of Christ, must be consistent with the liberty which he has left to the rest of his subjects. For in whatever instances he has given another power to preside over us, to direct or command us, in those, it must be owned, he has not left us free; and, consequently, whatever liberty they take from us, while they act within the limits of their commission, can be no part of that liberty which Christ has left us. Now, those limits would seem to be-1st, That no person can lawfully exercise his authority in obliging us to believe any doctrine which Christ has not obliged us to believe. “2dly, That no person can lawfully exercise his authority in obliging us to perform any action which Christ has forbidden. 3dly, That no person can lawfully exercise his authority in imposing on us any indifferentt action which Christ has not empowered him to impose. These are the limits within which the authority of the Church of England is upheld, and they are limits which she imposes upon herself. With regard to the first two : Every precaution that is possible, in the laying down of her creeds and articles, has been taken to make her in perfect agreement with Scripture, both in the doctrines
* This little pamphlet, published in 1830,by Seeley, has never attracted the attention it deserves. It contains in a small compass a very able vindication of the Church. I shall be glad if this notice should introduce it to the friends of the church generally. The author is, I have reason to believe, a very talented layman in the medical profession, brought up in connection with dissent, consequently possessing many facilities for judging of its practical tendency and results.
+ As the explanation of this assertion is not given, it is not fair to judge. But it surely is not meant that a Church may not require compliance in indifferent matters. -ED.
she inculcates, and in the heresies she condemns, the very words of Scripture being used in every case that was possible. And, for fear that ignorance, or the spirit of insubordination, should reject her authority upon the plea, or even the suspicion, that she wished to propose anything for belief that was antiscriptural
, one of her articles (the twentieth) states expressly that nothing contrary to the Holy Scripture intended or required. It is not lawful for the church to ordain anything that is contrary to God's word written ; neither may it so expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another (a rule we earnestly recommend to our Dissenting brethren, whose whole system is built with this error). Wherefore, although the church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree anything against the same, so, besides the same, ought it not to enforce anything to be believed for necessity of salvation. The sixth article is to the same effect : ‘Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. The sixth article is to the same effect : *Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation, so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.' What possible excuse, then, can be imagined for the part the Dissenters are taking ? She intends to enjoin nothing but what Scripture enjoins, and forbid nothing but what Scripture forbids ; and if in any instance any one can shew that her commands are anti-scriptural, she tells him that in such instance she is not to be obeyed. What should we think of any member of the civil government, or any child under family law, who should do as our Dissenting brethren do to the church under which God has placed them ? Surely her authority is entitled to as much consideration as that of the civil or the parental. The authority of civil governors and of parents has no higher sanction than the word of God, and the word of God also as plainly enjoins obedience to the church."
These remarks appear to me well worthy of the deep consideration of those Dissenters who have lately displayed such inveterate and rancorous hostility against the Established Church, or who endeavour to represent her as wishing to curtail the right of private judgment, or to repress free inquiry.
As a visible society, she claims authority to propose the terms of communion. It is essential to any society to do so. The principle, however modified or applied, is virtually recognized and acted upon in every Dissenting Society as well as in the Established Church. It regulates the appointment of a minister in Essex Street, not less than the admission of a candidate for orders at Lambeth. It is kept in view no less tenaciously at Highbury and Homerton, than at Oxford and Cambridge. The authority of the church is binding on its members, but no farther than as her decisions are consistent with Scripture. She invites men to search the Scriptures ;—to assert their supremacy over tradition was one grand point on which she separated from the Church of Rome. She does not, indeed, tell every man that he is to disregard altogether the authority of the church-that any man, however unsuitable his qualifications, or insufficient his opportunities and leisure, is to be sent to his bible, disregarding all