From: Essays on the Principles of Morality, and on the Private and Political Rights and Obligations of Mankind (1834).
Author: Jonathan Dymond
Published: Harper & Brothers 1834 Philadelphia
THE RELIGIOUS ESTABLISHMENT OF ENGLAND AND IRELAND.
IF the conclusions of the last chapter be just, it will now become our business to inquire how far the disadvantages which are incidental to religious establishments actually operate in our own, and whether there subsist any additional disadvantages resulting from the peculiar constitution or circumstances of, the English church.
We have no concern with religious opinions or forms of church-government, but with the church as connected with the state. It is not with an Episcopalian church but with an established church that we are concerned. If there must exist a religious establishment, let it by all means remain in its present hands. The experience which England has had of the elevation of another sect to the supremacy is not such as to make us wish to see another elevated again.1 Nor would any sect which takes a just view of its own religious interests desire the supremacy for itself.
The origin of the English establishment is papal. The political alliance of the church is similar now to what it was in the first years of Henry VIII. When Henry countenanced the preachers of the reformed opinions, when he presented some of them with the benefices which had hitherto been possessed by the Romish clergy, and when at length these benefices and the other privileges of the state religion were bestowed upon the “reformed” only, no essential change was effected in the political constitution of the church. In one point, indeed, the alliance with the state was made more strict, because the supremacy was transferred from the pope to the monarch. So that the same or a kindred political character was put in connexion with other men and new opinions. The church was altered, but the establishment remained nearly the same: or the difference that did obtain made the establishment more of a state religion than before. The origin therefore of the English establishment is papal. It was planted by papal policy and nurtured by pervading superstition: and as to the transfer of the supremacy, but little credit is due to its origin or its motives. No reverence is due to our establishment on account of its parentage. The church is the offspring of the Reformation,—the church establishment is not. It is not a daughter of Protestantism but of the papacy, brought into unnatural alliance with a better faith. Unhappily, but little anxiety was shown by some of the reformers to purify the political character of the church when its privileges came into their own hands. They declaimed against the corruptions of the former church, but were more than sufficiently willing to retain its profits and its power.
The alliance with the state of which we have spoken, as the inseparable attendant of religious establishments, is in this country peculiarly close. “Church and state” is a phrase that is continually employed, and indicates the intimacy of the connexion between them. The question then arises whether those disadvantages which result generally from the alliance result in this country, and whether the peculiar intimacy is attended with peculiar evils.
Bishops are virtually appointed by the prince; and it is manifest that in the present principles of political affairs, regard will be had, in their selection, to the interests of the state. The question will not always be, when a bishopric becomes vacant, Who is the fittest man to take the oversight of the church? but sometimes, What appointment will most effectually strengthen the administration of the day? Bishops are temporal peers, and as such they have an efficient ability to promote the views of the government by their votes in parliament. Bishops in their tum are patrons; and it becomes also manifest that these appointments will sometimes be regulated by kindred views. He who was selected by the cabinet because he would promote their measures, and who cannot hope for advancement if he opposes those measures, is not likely to select clergymen who oppose them. Many ecclesiastical appointments, again, are in the hands of the individual officers of government,—of the prime-minister for example, or the lord-chancellor. That these officers will frequently regard political purposes, or purposes foreign to the worth of men in making these appointments, is plain. Now when we reflect that the highest dignities of the church are in the patronage of the king, and that the influence of their dignitaries upon the inferior clergy is necessarily great, it becomes obvious that there will be diffused through the general whole of the hierarchy a systematic alliance with the ruling power. Nor is it assuming any thing unreasonable to add, that while the ordinary principles that actuate mankind operate, the hierarchy will sometimes postpone the interests of religion to their own.
Upon the practical authority of cabinets over the church, Bishop Warburton makes himself somewhat mirthful:—“The rabbins make the giant Gog or Magog contemporary with Noah, and convinced by his preaching. So that he was disposed to take the benefit of the ark. But here lay the distress—it by no means suited his dimensions. Therefore, as he could not enter in, he contented himself to ride upon it astride. Image now to yourself this illustrious cavalier mounted on his hackney, and see if he does not bring before you the church, bestrid by some lumpish minister of state, who turns and winds it at his pleasure. The only difference is, that Gog believed the preacher of righteousness and religion.”2
If then, to convert a religious establishment into “a means of strengthening or diffusing influence serves only to debase it, and to introduce into it numerous corruptions and abuses,” these debasements, corruptions, and abuses must necessarily subsist in the establishment of England.
And first as to the church itself. It is not too much to believe that the honourable camestness of many of the reformers to purify religion from the corruptions of the papacy was cooled, and eventually almost destroyed by the acquisition of temporal immunities. When they had acquired them the unhappy reasoning began to operate,—Let us well alone: if we encourage further changes our advantages will perhaps pass into other hands. We are safe as we are; and we will not endanger the loss of present benefits by further reformation. What has been the result? That the church has never been fully reformed to the present hour. If any reader is disposed to deny this, I place the proposition, not upon my feeble authority, but upon that of the members of the church and of the reformers themselves. The reader will be pleased to notice that there are few quotations in the present chapter except from members of the Church of England.
“If any person will seriously consider the low and superstitious state of the minds of men in general in the time of James I., much more in the reigns of his predecessors, he will not be surprised to find that there are various matters in our ecclesiastical constitution which require some alteration. Our forefathers did great things, and we cannot be sufficiently thankful for their labours, but much more remains to be done.”3 Hartley says of the ecclesiastical powers of the Christian world—“They have all left the true, pure, simple religion, and teach for doctrines the commandments of men. They are all merchants of the earth, and have set up a kingdom of this world, abounding in riches, temporal power, and external pomp.”4 Dr. Henry More (he was zealous for the honour of the church) says of the reformed churches, they have “separated from the great Babylon to build those that are lesser and more tolerable, but yet not to be tolerated for ever.”5
“It pleased God in his unsearchable wisdom to suffer the progress of this great work, the Reformation, to be stopped in the midway, and the effects of it to be greatly weakened by many unhappy divisions among the reformed.”6
“The innovations introduced into our religious establishment at the Reformation were great and glorious for those times: but some further innovations are yet wanting (would to God they may be quietly made!) to bring it to perfection.”7
“I have always had a true zeal for the Church of England, yet, I must say, there are many things in it that have been very uneasy to me.”8
“Cranmer, Bucer, Jewel, and others never considered the Reformation which took place in their own times as complete.”9
Long after Cranmer’s days, some of the brightest ornaments of the church still thought a reformation was needed. Tillotson, Patrick, Tennison, Kidder, Stillingfleet, Burnet, and others10 endeavoured a further reformation, though in vain.
“We have been contented to suffer our religious constitution, our doctrines, and ceremonies, and forms of public worship to remain nearly in the same unpurged, adulterated, and superstitious state in which the original reformers left them.”11
I attribute this want of reformation primarily to the political alliance of the church. Why should those who have the power refuse to effect it unless they feared some ill result? And what ill result could. Arise from religious reformation, if it were not the endangering of temporal advantages?
“I would only ask,” said Lord Bacon, two hundred years ago, “Why the civil state should be purged and restored by good and wholesome laws, made every third or fourth year in parliament assembled, devising remedies as fast as time breedeth mischief: and contrariwise, the ecclesiastical state should still continue upon the dregs of time, and receive no alteration now for these five-and-forty years and more. If St. John were to indite an epistle to the Church of England, as he did to them of Asia, it would sure have the clause habeo adversus te pauca.”12 What would Lord Bacon have said if he had lived to our day, when two hundred years more have passed, and the establishment still continues “upon the dregs of time?” But Lord Bacon’s question should be answered; and though no reason can be given for refusing to reform, a cause can be assigned.
“Whatever truth there may be in the proposition which asserts that the multitude is fond of innovation, I think that the proposition which asserts that the priesthood is averse from reformation, is far more generally truth.”13 This is the cause. They who have the power of reforming are afraid to touch the fabric. They are afraid to remove one stone, however decayed, lest another and another should be loosened, until the fabric, as a political institution, should fall. Let us hear again episcopal evidence; Bishop Porteus informs us that himself with some other clergymen (among whom were Dr. Percy and Dr. Yorke, both subsequently bishops), attempted to induce the bishops to alter some things “which all reasonable persons agreed stood in need of amendment.” The answer given by Archbishop Cornwallis was exactly to the purpose:—”I have consulted, severally, my brethren the bishops; and it is the opinion of the bench in general that nothing can in prudence be done in the matter.”14 Here is no attempt to deny the existence of the evils,—no attempt to show that they ought not to be amended, but only that it would not “be prudent” to amend them. What were these considerations of prudence? Did they respect religion! Is it imprudent to purify religious offices? Or did they respect the temporal privileges of the church? No man surely can doubt, that if the church had been a religious institution only, its heads would have thought it both prudent and right to amend it.
The matters to which Bishop Porteus called the attention of the bench were the “liturgy, but especially the articles.” These articles atrord an extraordinary illustration of that tendency to resist improvement of which we speak.
“The requiring subscription to the thirty-nine articles is a great imposition,”15 “Do the articles of the Church of England want a revisal?—Undoubtedly.”16—In 1772 a clerical petition was presented to the House of Commons for relief upon the subject of subscription: and what were the sentiments of the House respecting the articles? One member said, “I am persuaded they are not warranted by Scripture, and I am sure they cannot be reconciled to common sense.”17 Another,—“They are contradictory, absurd, several of them damnable, not only in a, religious and speculative light, “but also in a moral and practical view.”18 Another,—“The articles, I am sure, want a revisal; because several of them are heterodox and absurd, warranted neither by reason nor by Scripture. Many of them seem calculated for keeping out of the church all but those who will subscribe any thing, and sacrifice every consideration to the mammon of unrighteousness.”19 And a fourth said, “Some of them are in my opinion unfounded in, some of them inconsistent with, reason and Scripture; and some of them subversive of the very genius and design of the gospel.”20 The articles found, it appears, in the House of Commons one, and only one defender; and that one was Sir Roger Newdigate, the member for Oxford.21—And thus a “church of Christ” retains in its bosom that which is confessedly irrational, inconsistent with Scripture, contradictory, absurd, subversive of the very genius and design of the gospel:—for what? Because the church is allied to the state:—because it is a religious establishment.
There is such an interest, an importance, an awfulness in these things, resulting both from their effects and the responsibility which they entail, that I would accumulate upon the general necessity for reformation some additional testimonies.
In 1746 was presented to the convocation, “Free and Candid Disquisitions by dutiful Sons of the Church,” in which they say, “Our duty 1eems as clear as our obligations to it are cogent; and is, in one word, to reform.” Of this book Archdeacon Blackburn tells us that it was treated with much “contempt and scorn by those who ought to have paid the greatest regard to the subject of it;” and that “it caused the forms of the church to be weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, where they have been found greatly wanting.”22
“Our confirmations, and I may add even our ordinations for the sacred ministry, are dwindled into painful and disgusting ceremonies, as they are usually administered.”23
Another archdeacon, who was not only a friend of the church but a public advocate of religious establishments, says, “Reflection, we hope, in some, and time we are sure in all, will reconcile men to alterations established in reason. If there be any danger, it is from some of the clergy, who would rather suffer the vineyard to be overgrown with weeds than stir the ground; or what is worse, call these weeds the fairest flowers in the garden.” This is strong language: that which succeeds is stronger still. “If we are to wait for improvement till the cool, the calm, the discreet part of mankind begin it; till church governors solicit, or ministers of state propose it, I will venture to pronounce that (without His interposition, with whom nothing is impossible) we may remain as we are till the renovation of all things.”24 Why “church governors” and “ministers of state” should be so peculiarly backward to improve, is easily known. Ministers of state are more anxious for the consolidation of their power than for the amendment of churches; and church governors are more anxious to benefit themselves by consolidating that power, than to reform the system of which they are the heads. But let no man anticipate that we shall indeed remain as we are till the renovation of all things. The work will be done, though these may refuse to do it. “If,” says a statesman, “the friends of the church, instead of taking the lead in a mild reform of abuses, contend obstinately for their protection, and treat every man as an enemy who aims at reform, they will certainly be overpowered at last, and the correction applied by those who will apply it with no sparing hand.”25 If these declarations be true (and who will even question their truth?) we may be allowed, without any pretensions to extraordinary sagacity to add another: that to these unsparing correctors the work will assuredly be assigned. How infatuated then the policy of refusing reformation even if policy only were concerned!
The next point in which the effect of the state alliance is injurious to the church itself, is by its effects upon the ministry.
It is manifest that where there are such powerful motives of interest to assume the ministerial office, and where there are such facilities for the admission of unfit men,—unfit men will often be admitted. Human nature is very stationary; and kindred results arose very many centuries ago. “The attainments of the clergy in the first ages of the Anglo Saxon church were very considerable. But a great and total degeneracy took place during the latter years of the Heptarchy, and for two generations after the union of its kingdoms.” And why? Because “mere worldly views operated upon a great proportion of them; no other way of life offered so fair a prospect of power to the ambitious, of security to the prudent, of tranquillity and ease to the easy-minded.”26—Such views still operate, and they still produce kindred effects. It is manifest, that if men undertake the office of Christian teachers not from earnestness in the cause but from the desire of profit, or power, or ease, the office will frequently be ill discharged. Persons who possess little of the Christian minister but the name will undertake to guide the flock; and hence it is inevitable that the ministry, as a body, will become reduced in the scale of religious excellence. So habitual is the system of undertaking the office for the sake of its emoluments, that men have begun to avow the motive and to defend it. “It is no reproach to the church to say, that it is supplied with ministers by the emoluments it affords.”27 Would it not have been a reproach to the first Christian churches, or could it have been said of them at all? Does he who enters the church for the sake of its advantages enter it as of a ready mind?”—But the more lucrative offices of the church are talked of with much familiarity as “prizes,” much in the same manner as we talk of prizes in a lottery. “The same fund produces more effect when distributed into prizes of different value than when divided into equal shares.”28 This “effect” is described as being “both an allurement to men of talents to enter into the church, and as a stimulus to the industry of those who are already in it.” But every man knows that talent and industry are not the only nor the chief things which obtain for a person the prizes of the church. There is more of accuracy in the parallel passage of another moralist. “The medical profession does not possess so many splendid prizes as the church and the bar, and on that account, perhaps, is rarely if ever pursued by young men of noble families.”29 Here is the point: it is rather to noble families than to talent and industry that the prizes are awarded. “There are indeed rich preferments, but these, it is observed, do not usually fall to merit as the reward of it, but are lavished where interest and family connexions put in their irresistible claim.”30 That plain-speaking man Bishop Warburton writes to his friend Hurd, “Reckon upon it, that Durham goes to some noble ecclesiastic. “Tis a morsel only for them.”31 It is manifest that when this language can be appropriate, the office of the ministry must be dishonoured and abused. Respecting the priesthood, it is acknowledged that “the characters of men are formed much more by the temptations than the duties of their profession.”32 Since then the temptations are worldly, what is to be expected but that the character should be worldly too?—Nor would any thing be gained by the dexterous distinction that I have somewhere met with, that although the motive for “taking the oversight of the flock” be indeed “lucre,” yet it does not come under the apostolical definition of “filthy.”
Of the eventual consequences of thus introducing unqualified and perhaps irreligious nobles into the government of the church, Bishop Warburton speaks in strong language. “Our grandees have at last found their way back into the church. I only wonder they have been so long about it. But be assured, that nothing but a new religious revolution, to sweep away the fragments that Harry the VIII. left, after banqueting his courtiers, will drive them out again.”33 When that revolution shall come which will sweep away these prizes, it will prove not only to these but to other things to be a besom of destruction. .
If the fountain be bitter, the current cannot be sweet. The principles which too commonly operate upon the dignitaries of the church descend in some degree to the inferior ranks. I say in some degree; for I do not believe that the degree is the same or so great. Nor is it to be expected. The temptation which forms the character is diminished in its power, and the character therefore may rise.
I believe that (reverently be it spoken), through the goodness of God, there has been produced since the age of Hartley a considerable improvement in the general character (at least of the inferior orders) of the English clergy. In observing the character which he exhibited, let it be remembered that that character was the legitimate offspring of the state religion. The subsequent amendment is the offspring of another and a very different and a purer parentage. “The superior clergy are in general ambitious and eager in the pursuit of riches; flatterers of the great, and subservient to party interest; negligent of their own immediate charges, and also of the inferior clergy and their immediate charges. The inferior clergy imitate their superiors, and in general take little more care of their parishes than barely what is necessary to avoid the censures of the law.—I say this is the general case; that is, far the greater part of the clergy of all ranks in this kingdom are of this kind.”34 These miserable effects upon the character of the clergy are the effects of a religious establishment. If any man is unwilling to admit the truth, let him adduce the instance of an unestablished church, in the past eighteen hundred years, in which such a state of things has existed. Of the times of Gregory Nazianzen, Bishop Burnet says,—“The best men of that age, instead of pressing into orders or aspiring to them, fled from them. excused themselves, and judging themselves unworthy of so holy a character and so high a trust, were not without difficulty prevailed upon to submit to that which, in degenerate ages, men run to as a subsistence or the means of procuring it.”35
It might almost be imagined that the right of private patronage was allowed for the express purpose of deteriorating the character of ministers of religion, because it can hardly be supposed that any church would allow such a system without a perfect consciousness of its effects. To allow any man or woman, good or bad, who has money to spend, to purchase the power of assigning a Christian minister to a Christian flock, is one of those desperate follies and enormities which should never be spoken of but in the language of detestation and horror.36 A man buys an advowson as he buys an estate, and for the same motives. He cares perhaps nothing for the religious consequences of his purchase, or for the religious assiduity of the person to whom he presents it. Nay, the case is worse than that of buying as you buy an estate; for land will not repay the occupier unless he cultivates it,—but the living is just as profitable whether he exerts himself zealously or not. He who is unfit for the estate by want of industry or of talent, is nevertheless fit for the living! These are dreadful and detestable abuses. Christianity is not to be brought into juxtaposition with such things. It were almost a shame to allow a comparison. “Who is not aware that in consequence of the prevalence of such a system, the holy things of God are often miserably profaned?”37—“It is our firm persuasion, that the present system of bestowing church patronage is hastening the decay of morals, the progress of insubordination, and the downfall of the establishment itself.” Morality and subordination have happily other supports:—the fate of the establishment is sealed. I say sealed. It cannot perpetually stand without thorough reformation; and it cannot be reformed while it remains an establishment.
Another mode in which the state of religion of England is injurious to the character of its ministers, is by its allowance and practical encouragement of non-residence and pluralities. These are the natural effects of the principles of the system. It is very possible that there should be a state of religion without them, but if the alliance with the state is close,—if a principal motive in the dispensation of benefices is the promotion of political purposes,—if the prizes of the church are given where interest and family connexions put in their claim,—it becomes extremely natural that several preferments should be bestowed upon one person. And when once this is countenanced, or done by the state itself, inferior patrons will as naturally follow the example. The prelate who receives from the state three or four preferments naturally gives to his son or his nephew three or four if he can.
Pluralities and non-residence, whatever may be said in their favour by politicians or divines, will always shock the common sense and the virtue of mankind. Unhappily, they are evils which seem to have increased. “Theodore, the seventh archbishop of Canterbury, restricted the bishops and secular clergy to their own diocesses;” and no longer ago than the reign of James I., “when pluralities were allowed, which was to be as seldom as possible, the livings were to be near each other.”38 But now we hear of one dignitary who possesses ten different preferments, and of another who, with an annual ecclesiastical revenue of fifteen thousand pounds, did not see his diocess for many years together.39 And as to that proximity of livings which was directed in James’s time, they are now held in plurality not only at a distance from each other, but so as that the duties cannot be performed by one person.
Of the moral character of this deplorable custom it is not necessary that we should speak. “I do not enter,” says an eminent prelate, “into the scandalous practices of non-residence and pluralities. This is so shameful a profanation of holy things that it ought to be treated with detestation and horror.”40 Another friend if the church says, “He who grasps at the revenue of a benefice, and studies to evade the personal discharge of the various functions which that revenue is intended to reward, and the performance of those momentous duties to God and man which, by accepting the living, he has undertaken, evinces either a most reprehensible neglect of proper consideration, or a callous depravity of heart.”41 It may be believed that all are not thus depraved who accept pluralities without residence. Custom, although it does not alter the nature of actions, affects the character of the agent; and although I hold no man innocent in the sight of God who supports, in his example, this vicious practice, yet some may do it now with a less measure of guilt than that which would have attached to him who first, for the sake of money, introduced the scandal into the church.
The public has now the means of knowing, by the returns to parliament, the extent in which these scandalous customs exist—an extent which, when it was first communicated to the Earl of Harrowby, “struck me,” says he, “with surprise, I could almost say with horror.” Alas, when temporal peers are horror-struck by the scandals that are tolerated and practised by their spiritual teachers!
By one of these returns it appears that the whole number of places42 is ten thousand two hundred and sixty-one. Of the possessors of these livings, more than one half were non-resident. The number of residents was only four thousand four hundred and twenty-one.—But the reader will perhaps say? What matters the residence of him who receives the money, so that a curate resides! Unfortunately, the proportion of absentee curates is still greater than that of incumbents. Out of three thousand six hundred and ninety-four who are employed, only one thousand five hundred and eighty-seven live in the parishes they serve; so that two thousand one hundred and seven parishes are left without even the residence of a curate. Besides this, there are nine hundred and seventy incumbents who neither live in their parishes themselves nor employ any curate at all! What is the result? That above one-half of those who receive the stipends of the church live away from their flocks; and that there are in this country three thousand and seventy-seven flocks among whom no shepherd is to be found!—When it is considered that all this is a gratuitous addition to the necessary evils of state religions, that there may be established churches without it, it speaks aloud of those mischiefs of our establishment which are peculiarly its own.
One other consideration upon this subject remains. An internal discipline in a church, both over its ministers and members, appears essential to the proper exercise of Christian duty. From what cause does it happen that there is little exercise of discipline, or none, in the church of England? The reader will perhaps answer the question to himself: “The exercise of efficient discipline in the church is impossible;” and he would answer truly. It is impossible. Who shall exercise it? The first lord of the treasury? He will not, and he cannot. The bench of bishops! Alas! there is the origin of a great portion of the delinquency. If they were to establish a discipline, the first persons upon whom they must exercise it would be themselves. Who ever heard of persons so situated instituting or re-establishing a discipline in the church! Who then shall exercise it? The subordinate clergy? If they have the will, they have not the power; and if they had the power, who can hope they would use it? Who can hope that while above half of these clergy are non-residents they will erect a discipline by which residence shall be enforced?—I say, discipline, efficient discipline is impossible; and I submit it to the reader whether any establishment in which Christian discipline is impossible is not essentially bad.
From the contemplation of these effects of the English establishment upon its formularies, its ministers, and its discipline, we must tum to its effects generally upon the religious welfare of the people. This welfare is so involved with the general character of the establishment and its ministers, that to exhibit an evil in one is to illustrate an injury to the other. If the operation of the state of religion prevents ministers from inculcating some portions of divine truth, its operation must indeed be bad. And how stands the fact? “Aspiring clergymen, wishing to avoid every doctrine which would retain their advancement, were very little inclined to preach the reality or necessity of divine influence.”43 The evil which this indicates is twofold: first, the vicious state of the heads of the church; for why else should “advancement” be refused to those who preached the doctrine of the gospel; and next, the injury to religion; for religion must needs be injured if a portion of its truths are concealed. Another quotation gives a similar account: “Regular divines, of great virtue, learning, and apparent piety, feared to preach the Holy Ghost and his operations, the main doctrines of the gospel, lest they should countenance the Puritan, the Quaker, or the Methodist, and lose the esteem of their own order or the higher powers.”44 Did Paul or Barnabas ever “fear to preach the main doctrines of the gospel” from considerations like these, or from any considerations whatever? Did our Lord approve or tolerate such fear when he threatened with punishment any man who should take away from the words of his book? But why again should the clerical order or the higher powers disesteem the man who preached the main doctrines of the gospel, unless it were from motives of interest founded in the establishment?
And thus it is, that they who are assumed to be the religious leaders of the people, who ought, so far as is in their power, to guide the people into all truth, conceal a portion of that truth from motives of interest! If this concealment is practised by men of great virtue, learning, and apparent piety, what are we to expect in the indifferent or the bad! We are to expect that not one but many doctrines of the gospel will be concealed. We are to expect that discourses not very different from those which Socrates might have delivered will be dispensed, instead of the whole counsel of God. What has been the fact? Of “moral preaching,” Bishop Lavington says, “We have long been attempting the reformation of the nation by discourses of this kind. With what success? None at all. On the contrary, we have dexterously preached the people into downright infidelity,” Will any man affirm that this has not been the consequence of the state religion? Will any man, knowing this, affirm that a state religion is right or useful to Christianity?
But as to the tendency of the system to diffuse infidelity, we are not possessed of the testimony of Bishop Lavington alone. “It is evident that the worldly-mindedness and neglect of duty in the clergy is a great scandal to religion, and cause of infidelity.”45 Again: “Who is to blame for the spread of infidelity? The bishops and clergy of the land more than any other people in it. We, as a body of men, are almost solely and exclusively culpable.”46 Ostervald, in his “Treatise concerning the Causes of the present corruption of Christians,” makes the same remark of the clergy of other churches;—“The cause of the corruption of Christians is chiefly to be found in the clergy.” Now, supposing this to be the language of exaggeration,—supposing that they corrupt Christians only as much as men who make no peculiar pretensions to religion, —how can such a fact be accounted for, but by the conclusion that there is something corrupting in the clerical system?
The refusal to amend the constitution or formularies of the church is another powerful cause of injury to religion. Of one particular article, the Athanasian creed, a friend of the church, and one who mixed with the world, says, “I really believe that creed has made more Deists than all the writings of all the oppugners of Christianity since it was first unfortunately adopted in our liturgy.”47 Would this Deist—making document have been retained till now if the church were not allied to the state?—Bishop Watson uses language so unsparing, that, just and true as it is, I know not whether I would cite it from any other pen than a bishop’s:—“A motley monster of bigotry and superstition, a scarecrow of shreds and patches, dressed up of old by philosophers and popes, to amuse the speculative and to affright the ignorant;”—do I quote this because it is the unsparing language of truth! No, but because of that which succeeds it,—“now,” says the bishop, “a butt of scorn, against which every unfledged witling of the age essays his wanton efforts, and before he has learned his catechism, is fixed an infidel for life! This, I am persuaded, is too frequently the case, for I have had too frequent opportunities to observe it.”48 If by the church as it subsists many are fixed infidels for life, how diffusively must be spread that minor but yet practical disrespect for religion which, though it amounts not to infidelity, makes religion an unoperative thing,—unoperative upon the conduct and the heart,—unoperative in animating the love and hope of the Christian,—unoperative in supporting under affliction, and in smoothing and brightening the pathway to the grave!
To these minor consequences also we have unambiguous testimony. “Where there is not this open and shameless disavowal of religion, few traces of it are to be found. Improving in every other branch of knowledge, we have become less and less acquainted with Christianity.”49 “Two-thirds of the lower order of people in London,” says Sir Thomas Bernard, “live as utterly ignorant of the doctrines and duties of Christianity, and are as errant and unconverted pagans, as if they had existed in the wildest part of Africa.”—“The case,” continues the Quarterly Review, “is the same in Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, Sheffield, and in all our large towns; the greatest part of the manufacturing populace, of the miners, and colliers are in the same condition; and if they are not universally so, it is more owing to the zeal of the Methodists than to any other cause.”50 How is it accounted for that in a country in which a teacher is appointed to diffuse Christianity in every parish, a considerable part of the population are confessed to be absolute pagans? How, especially, is it accounted for that the few who are reclaimed from paganism are reclaimed, not by the established, but by an unestablished church? It is not difficult to account for all this, if the condition of the established church is such as to make what follows the flippant language of a clergyman who afterward was a bishop: “The person I engaged in the summer,” as a curate, “is run away; as you will think natural enough, when I tell you he was let out of jail to be promoted to this service.”51
The ill effect of non-residence upon the general interests of religion is necessarily great. A conscientious clergyman finds that the offices of his pulpit are not the half of his business: he finds that he can often do more in promoting the religious welfare of his parishioners out of his pulpit than in it. It is out of his pulpit that he evinces and exercises the most unequivocal affection for his charge; that he encourages or warns as individuals have need; that he animates by the presence of his constant example; that he consoles them in their troubles; that he adjusts their disagreements; that he assists them by his advice. It is by living among them, and by that alone, that he can be “instant in season and out of season,” or that he can fulfil the duties which his station involves. How prodigious then must be the sum of mischief which the non-residence of three thousand clergymen inflicts upon religion! How yet more prodigious must be the sum of mischief which results from that negligence of duty of which non-residence is but one effect! Yet all this is occasioned by our religious establishment. “The total absence of non-residence and pluralities in the church of Scotland, and the annual examination of all the inhabitants of the parish by its minister, are circumstances highly advantageous to religion.”52
The minister in the English church is under peculiar disadvantages in enforcing the truths or the duties of religion upon irreligious or skeptical men. Many of the topics which such men urge are directed, not against Christianity, but against that exhibition of Christianity which is afforded by the church. It has been seen that this is the cause of infidelity. How then shall the established clergyman efficiently defend our religion? He may indeed confine himself to the vindication of Christianity without reference to a church: but then he does not defend that exhibition of Christianity which his own church affords. The skeptic presses him with those things which it is confessed are wrong. He must either defend them, or give them up as indefensible. If he defends them, he confirms the skeptic in his unbelief: if he gives them up, he declares, not only that the church is in the wrong, but that himself is in the wrong too: and, in either case, his fitness for an advocate of our religion is impaired.
Hitherto, I have enforced the observations of this chapter by the authority of others. Now I have to appeal for confirmation to the experience of the reader himself. That peculiar mode of injury to the cause of virtue of which I speak has received its most extensive illustrations during the present century; and it has hitherto perhaps been the subject rather of private remark than of public disquisition. I refer to a sort of instinctive recoil from new measures that are designed to promote the intellectual, the moral, or the religious improvement of the public. I appeal to the experience of those philanthropic men who spend their time either in their own neighbourhoods, or in “going about doing good,” whether they do not meet with a greater degree of this recoil from works of philanthropy among the teachers and members of the state religion than among other men,—and whether this recoil is not the strongest among that portion who are reputed to be the most zealous friends of the church. Has not this been your experience with respect to the slave-trade and to slavery,—with respect to the education of the people,—with respect to scientific or literary institutions for the labouring ranks,—with respect to sending preachers to pagan countries,—with respect to the Bible Society? Is it not familiar to you to be in doubt and apprehension respecting the assistance of these members of the establishment, when you have no fear and no doubt of the assistance of other Christians? Do you not call upon others and invite their co-operation with confidence? Do you not call upon these with distrust, and is not that distrust the result of your previous experience?
Take, for example, that very simple institution, the Bible Society,—simple, because its only object is to distribute the authorized records of the dispensations of God. It is an institution upon which it may be almost said that but one opinion is entertained,—that of its great utility; but one desire is felt,—that of co-operation, except by the members of established churches. From this institution the most zealous advocates of the English church stand aloof. While Christians of other names are friendly almost to a man, the proportion is very large of those churchmen who show no friendliness. It were to no purpose to say that they have claims peculiarly upon themselves, for so have other Christians,—claims which generally are complied with to a greater extent. Besides, it is obvious that these claims are not the grounds of the conduct that we deplore. If they were, we should still possess the cordial approbation of these persons,—their personal, if not their pecuniary, support. From such persons silence and absence are positive discouragement. How then are we to account for the phenomenon? By the operation of a state religion. For when our philanthropist applies to the members of another church, their only question perhaps is, Will the projected institution be useful to mankind? But when he applies to such a member of the state religion, he considers,—How will it affect the establishment? Will it increase the influence of dissenters? May it not endanger the immunities of the church? Is it countenanced by our superiors? Is it agreeable to the administration? And when all these considerations have been pursued, he very commonly finds something that persuades him that it is most “prudent” not to encourage the proposition. It should be remarked, too, as an additional indication of the cause of this recoil from works of goodness, that where the genius of the state religion is most influential, there is commonly the greatest backwardness in works of mental and religious philanthropy. The places of peculiar frigidity are the places in which there are the greatest number of the dignitaries of the church.
Thus it is that the melioration of mankind is continually and greatly impeded, by the workings of an institution of which the express design is to extend the influence of religion and morality. Greatly impeded: for England is one of the principal sources of the current of human improvement, and in England the influence of this institution is great. These are fruits which are not home by good and healthy trees. How can the tree be good of which these are the fruits? Are these fruits the result of episcopacy? No, but of episcopacy wedded to the state. Were this union dissolved (and the parties are not of that number whom God hath joined), not only would human reformation go forward with an accelerated pace, but episcopalianism itself would in some degree arise and shake herself, as from the dust of the earth, She would find that her political alliance has bound around her glittering but yet enslaving chains,—chains which, hugged and cherished as they are, have ever fixed her, and ever will fix her, to the earth, and make her earthly.
The mode in which the legal provision for the ministry is made in this country contains, like many other parts of the institution, evils superadded to those which are necessarily incidental to a state religion. If there be any one thing which, more than another, ought to prevail between a Christian minister and those whom he teaches, it is harmony and kindliness of feeling: and this kindliness and harmony is peculiarly diminished by the system of tithes. “There is no circumstance which so often disturbs the harmony that should ever subsist between a clergyman and his parishioners as contentions respecting tithes.”53 Vicessimus Knox goes further: “One great cause of the clergy’s losing their influence is, that the laity in this age of skepticism grudge them their tithe—. The decay of religion and the contempt of the clergy arise in a great measure from this source.”54 What advantages can compensate for the contempt of Christian ministers and the decay of religion? Or who does not perceive this a legal provision might be made ,which would be productive, so far as the new system of itself was concerned, of fewer evils?—Of the political ill consequences of the tithe system I say nothing here. If they were much less than they are, or if they did not exist at all, there is sufficient evidence against the system in its moral effects.
It is well known, and the fact is very creditable, that the clergy exact tithes with much less rigour, and consequently occasion far fewer heart-burnings, than lay claimants. The want of cordiality often results too from the cupidity of the payers, who invent vexatious excuses to avoid payment of tile whole claim, and are on the alert to take disreputable advantages
But to the conclusions of the Christian moralist it matters little of what agency a bad system operates. The principal point of his attention is the system itself. If it be bad, it will be sure to find agents by whom its pernicious principles will be elicited and brought into practical operation. It is therefore no extenuation of the system that the clergy frequently do not disagree with their parishioners: while it is a part of the system that tithes are sold, and sold to him, of whatever character, who will give most for them—he will endeavour to make the most of them again. So that the evils which result from the tithe system, although they are not chargeable upon religious establishments, are chargeable upon our own, and are an evidence against it. The animosities which tithe-farmers occasion are attributable to the tithe system. Ordinary men do not make nice discriminations. He who is angry with the tithe-farmer is angry with the rector who puts the power of vexation into his hands, and he who is out of temper with the teacher of religion loses some of his complacency in religion itself. You cannot then prevent the loss of harmony between the shepherd and his flock, the loss of his influence over their affections, the contempt of the clergy, and the decay of religion, from tithes. You must amend the civil institution, or you cannot prevent the religious mischief.
Reviewing then the propositions and arguments which have been delivered in the present chapter—propositions which rest upon the authority of the parties concerned, what is the general conclusion? If religious establishments are constitutionally injurious to Christianity, is not our establishment productive of superadded and accumulated injury?—Let not the writer of these pages be charged with enmity to religion because he thus speaks. Ah! they are the best friends of the church who endeavor its amendment. I may be one of those who, in the language of Lord Bexley, shall be regarded as an enemy, because, in the exhibition of its evils, I have used great plainness of speech. But I cannot help it. I have other motives than those which are affected by these censures of men; and shall be content to bear my portion, if I can promote that purification of a Christian church of which none but the prejudiced or the interested deny the need.—They who endeavour to conceal the need may be the advocates, but they are not the friends, of the church. The wound of the daughter of my people may not be slightly healed. It is vain to cry Peace, peace, when there is no peace. What then will the reader who has noticed the testimonies which have been offered in this chapter think of the propriety of such statements as these? The “establishment is the firmest support and noblest ornament of Christianity.55 It “presents the best security’ under heaven for the preservation of the true apostolical faith in this country.”56 “Manifold as are the blessings for which Englishmen are beholden to the institutions of their country, there is no part of those institutions from which they derive more important advantages than from its church establishment.”57—Especially, what will the reader think of the language of Hannah More?—Hannah More says of the established church, “Here Christianity presents herself neither dishonoured, degraded, nor disfigured;” Bishop Watson says of its creed, that it is “a motley monster of bigotry and superstition.” Hannah More says, “Here Christianity is set before us in all her original purity;” Archdeacon Blackburn says that “the forms of the church, having been weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, are found greatly wanting.” Hannah More says, “She has been completely rescued from that encumbering load under which she had so long groaned, and delivered from her heavy bondage by the labours of our blessed reformers;”58 Dr. Lowth says that the reformation from popery “stopped in the midway.” Hannah More says, We here see Christianity “in her whole consistent character, in all her fair and just proportions, as she came from the hands of her Divine author;” Dr. Watson calls her creed “a scarecrow, dressed up of old by philosophers and popes.” To say that the language of this good woman is imprudent and improper is to say very little. Yet I would say more. Her own language is her severest censurer. When will it be sufficiently remembered that the evils of a system can neither be veiled nor defended by praise? When will it be remembered, that if we “contend for abuses,” the hour will arrive when “correction will be applied with no sparing hand?”
It has frequently been said that “the church is in danger.” What is meant by the church? Or what is it that is endangered? Is it meant that the episcopal form of church government is endangered—that some religious revolution is likely to take place, by which a Christian community shall be precluded from adopting that internal constitution which it thinks best? This surely cannot be feared. The day is gone by, in England at least, when the abolition of prelacy could become a measure of state. One community has its conference, and another its annual assembly, and another its independency, without any molestation. Who then would molest the English church because it prefers the government of bishops and deacons to any other? Is it meant that the doctrines of the church are endangered, or that its liturgy will be prohibited! Surely no. While every other church is allowed to preach what doctrines it pleases, and to use what formularies it pleases, the liberty will not surely be denied to the episcopal church. If the doctrines and government of that church be Christian and true, there is no reason to fear for their stability. Its members have superabundant ability to defend the truth. What then is it that is endangered? Of what are those who complain of danger afraid? Is it meant that its civil immunities are endangered that its revenues are endangered? Is it meant that its members will hereafter have to support their ministers without assistance from other churches? Is it feared that there will cease to be such things as rich deaneries and bishoprics? Is it feared that the members of other churches will become eligible to the legislature, and that the heads of this church will not be temporal peers? In brief, is it feared that this church will become merely one among the many, with no privileges but such as are common to good citizens and good Christians?—These surely are the things of which they are afraid. It is not for religious truth, but for civil immunities: it is not for forms of church government, but for political pre-eminence: it is not for the church, but for the church establishment. Let a man, then, when he joins in the exclamation, The church is in danger, present to his mind distinct ideas of his meaning, and of the object of his fears. If his alarm and his sorrow are occasioned, not for religion, but for politics—not for the purity and usefulness of the church, but for its immunities—not for the offices of its ministers, but for their splendours—let him be at peace. There is nothing in all this for which the Christian needs to be in sorrow or in fear.
And why? Because all that constitutes a church as a Christian community, may remain when these things are swept away. There may be prelates without nobility; there may be deans and archdeacons without benefices and patronage; there may be pastors without a legal provision; there may be a liturgy without a test.
In the sense in which it is manifest that the phrase, “the church is in danger,” is ordinarily to be understood, that is—“the establishment is in danger”—the fears are undoubtedly well founded: the danger is real and imminent. It may not be immediate perhaps; perhaps it may not be near at hand; but it is real, imminent, inevitable. The establishment is indeed in danger; and I believe that no advocacy however zealous, that no support however determined, that no power however great, will preserve it from destruction. If the declarations which have been cited in this chapter be true—if the reasonings which have been offered in this and in the last be just, who is the man that, as a Christian, regrets its danger, or would delay its fall? He may wish to delay it as a politician; he may regret it as an expectant of temporal advantages, but as a Christian he will rejoice.
Supposing the doctrines and government of the church to be sound, it is probable that its stability would be increased by what is called its destruction. It would then only be detached from that alliance with the state which encumbers it, and weighs it down, and despoils its beauty, and obscures its brightness, Contention for this alliance will eventually be found to illustrate the proposition, that a man’s greatest enemies are those of his own household. He is the practical enemy of the church who endeavours the continuance of its connexion with the state: except indeed that the more zealous. the endeavour the more quickly, it is probable, the connexion will be dissolved; and therefore, though such penal “mean not so, neither do their hearts think so,” yet they may thus be the agents in the hand of God of hastening the day in which she shall be purified from every evil thing; in which she shall arise and shine, became her light is come, and because the glory of the Lord is risen upon her.
Let him, then, who can discriminate between the church and its alliances consider these things. Let him purify and exalt his attachment. If his love to the church be the love of a Christian, let him avert his eye from every thing that is political; let his hopes and fears be excited only by religion: and let his exertions be directed to that which alone ought to concern a Christian church, its purity and its usefulness.
In concluding a discussion in which it has been needful to utter, with plainness, unwelcome truths, and to adduce testimonies which some readers may wish to be concealed, I am solicitous to add the conviction, with respect to the ministers of the English church, that there is happily a diminished ground of complaint and reprehension—the conviction that while the liturgy is unamended and unrevised, the number of ministers is increased to whom temporal things are secondary motives, and who endeavour to be faithful ministers of one common Lord: the conviction too, with respect to other members of the church, that they are collectively advancing in the Christian path, and that there is an “evident extension of religion within her borders.” Many of these, both of the teachers and of the taught, are persona with whom the writer of these pages makes no pretensions of Christian equality—yet even to these he would offer one monitory suggestion:—They are critically situated with reference to the political alliance of the church. Let them beware that they mingle not with their good works and faith unfeigned, any confederacy with that alliance which will assuredly be laid in the dust. That confederacy has ever had one invariable effect—to diminish the Christian brightness of those who are its partisans. It will have the same effect upon them. If they are desirous of superadding to their Christianity the privileges and emoluments of a state religion—if they endeavour to retain in the church the interest of both worlds—if, together with their desire to serve God with a pure heart, they still cling to the advantages which this unholy alliance brings,—and, contending for the faith contend also for the establishment—the effect will be bad as the endeavour will be vain: bad, for it will obstruct their own progress and the progress of others in the Christian path; and vain, for the fate of that establishment is sealed.
In making these joyful acknowledgments of the increase of Christianity within the borders of the church, one truth however must be added; and it is a solemn truth—The increase is not attributable to the state religion, but has taken place notwithstanding it is a state religion. I appeal to the experience of good men: has the amendment been the effect of the establishment as such? Has the political connexion of the church occasioned the amendment, or promoted it? Nay—Has the amendment been encouraged by those on whom the political connexion had the greatest influence? No: the reader, if he be an observer of religion affairs, knows that the state alliance is so far from having effected a reforms on, that it does not even regard the instruments of that reformation with complacency.
See Footnotes here.
All Sub-Works of Essays on the Principles of Morality, and on the Private and Political Rights and Obligations of Mankind (1834).:
PDF Sub-Works open in a new tab. Close the tab when done viewing to return here.
- Preface to the American Edition.
- Introductory Notices.
- Moral Obligations.
- Standard of Right and Wrong.
- Subordinate Standards of Right and Wrong.
- Standard of Right and Wrong Footnotes.
- Collateral Observations.
- Immediate Communication of the Will of God.
- Immediate Communication of the Will of God Footnotes.