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It will not, we suppose, be controverted, that the lay-members who attend the services of the Church of England. hold the opinions which are set forth in its Creeds and Liturgy.
They believe, for instance, the Divinity of our Saviour to be a point indisputably established by the express declarations of God in bis word. There are, it is well known, other men, wbo, renouncing the communion of the Church, maintain that this notion is founded on a misconception of the meaning of the Sacred Writings-who assert that this is a claim which was never advanced either by himself or by his immediate disciples ; and who, therefore, reject it as a modern excrescence which destroys the simplicity of the Gospel.
In upholding subscriptions to articles of faith, the laymembers of the Church of England require, that those who are admitted into ecclesiastical offices should, on this and a few other important subjects, hold opinions similar to their own profession. And nothing appears to us to be more reasonable. They do not wish to hold dominion over the faith of others; but they consider it indispensable for the purpose of securing the harmony of public worship that the ministers of the establishment should on fundamental doctrines, entertain sentiments in unison with those of the congregations in which they officiate.
The advocates of subscription to articles of faith, sometimes attempt to shew its expediency by endeavouring to prove that their sentiments are more consonant to Scripture, than the opinions of their opponents. But it cannot be denied that this mode of arguing is, to say the least of it, inconclusive. In considering the necessity of subscription to human articles of faith the question is not whether the opinions of one party be founded on better authority and more agreeable to the tenor of Scripture than the sentiments of another ; but the point to be decided in such an enquiry is whether it be expedient that a minister should obtain an appointment from which he cannot be removed, who holds opinions on important points, different from those of the congregation in which he officiates. The object of such a discussion is not to decide whether the opinions, for instance, of the Unitarian or those of the Trinitarian be the most scriptural; but whether an Unitarian minister should be allowed to officiate in a congregation of Trinitarians. In an assembly holding opinions similar to his own, bis ministry may be useful; but among those who hold sentiments diametrically opposite, it must be productive of an injurious effect.
Those who describe themselves exclusively“ pullius' addictos jurare in verba magistri," would persuade us, that,
were subscription to the articles of the Established Church abolished, disunion would be cut up by the roots. To us, on the contrary, it appears perfectly clear, that the abolition of religious tests would not remove dissent; but would aggravate, in a high degree, the evils which arise from this cause at present. Let us take the case of a single parish containing one hundred inhabitants ; and assume that ninety of them coincide in maintaining the doctrine of the Trinity, and that the remaining ten individuals regard this doctrine as the invention of man. The majority adopt a public and formal declaration of their sentiments on this subject, which tbus virtually excludes from their assemblies the minority who dissent from them in opinion. No man, we presume, will maintain that, in this case, the formal test established hy the majority had caused or introduced a diversity of sentiment. This disagreement of opinion is totally independent of the declaration made use of by the majority; which evidently does not produce it, but merely ascertains its existence. Were the whole hundred individuals, which we have assumed as the inhabitants of one parish, to meet in one body for the purpose of religious worship, the diversity of their sentiments, on a subject so important, would inevitably engender strife and produce confusion. But the establishment of articles of faith separates them into two parties, each retaining its own peculiar opinions; and thus, far from being the occasion of dispute and disunion, this test evidently becomes the source of harmony and peace. As one assembly composed of one hundred members entertaining different sentiments, no harmony could have existed among them-but an established declaration, dividing them into two parties, prevents a constant and unnecessary collision of dissimilar opinions.
Human articles of faith are not then adopted with the vain and visionary hape of producing an uniformity of sentiment among all the members of a civil community, but with a view of discovering those who entertain similar notions on important religious doctrines, and of forming them into one society, not liable to be perpetually disturbed by the disputes of men advocating dissimilar systems. Were subscription to articles of faith, at this moment, abolishedwere the Trinitarian and the Unitarian to meet in the same Temple, it shoqld be described as any thing rather than the Temple of Concord. The doctrines which had the hearty concurrence of the one, would excite disapprobation, and perhaps disgust, in the breast of the other. Such an unnatural junction of heterogeneous parties could never be du
rable were it, what it is not, in any respect desireable. And it would not require the intervention of creeds and articles of faith to effect its dissolution. It is, in the very nature of things, impossible that the believer in Christ's Divinity, and the Unitarian, could long occupy the same seat, and listen to the same teacher with satisfaction and improvement. They would soon cease to frequent the same place of worship and join assemblies holding sentiments congenial to their own. This fact is placed beyond dispute by instances which perpetually occur in dissenting congregations. When any important diversity of sentiment shews itself, the assembly becomes divided into two factions : an end is put to this dissention by the cession of one of the parties : and thus, as two distinct bodies, they enjoy that harmony and peace which had been constantly interrupted had they continued to form one assembly.
When the lay members of the Church of England, therefore, require, that those who are admitted to the ministry should subscribe articles of faith containing the leading doctrines, which they consider as the fair inductions of reason from the declarations of Scripture, they are by no means guilty of the dogmatical and intolerant bigotry which the illdisposed or the ignorant sometimes lay to their charge : they do not maintain that they alone are right, and that all the rest of the world must be wrong; nor do they assume the right or entertain the wish of domineering over the faith of others. Candidates for ecclesiastical offices they may be said to address in words to the following effect.
“ The articles which you are required to subscribe contain doctrines which we consider important, and believe to be true: you, perhaps, hold a different opinion and believe them to be false : Now although your sentiments on these points should be really more correct than ours, yet while we continue to believe the doctrines which you reject, you are, whether right or wrong in your potions, evidently disqualified for the station to which you aspire. It is not necessary for us to prove our sentiments to be true and yours false. We conceive it to be sufficient ground for excluding you from offices of power in our church, that your opinions on these important subjects differ from our own. You claim the right of beiieving that alone which your reason points out to you as the meaning of Revelation-your claim is just and reasonablebut you must grant us the same liberty-join those who hold opinions similar to your own. We have no wish to disturb the har. mony of your societies, nor shall we allow you to interrupt the peace of our assemblies."
There is surely in all this neither intolerance nor bigotry
It is difficult to comprehend on what grounds unreasonable dogmatism can be impated to any church, which requires candidates for admission to ecclesiastical offices, to declare their assent to articles of faith. The members of the Church of England by no means wish to dictate to any man what opinions he should form on any doctrinal points which may ad, mit of dispute. They never arrogate to themselves, either individually or collectively, the attribute of infallibility ; they do not deny but that the sentiments of those who difier from them may be more correct and scriptural than the opipiops which they advocate. But having made this conces. sion—they contend, that as long as they are honest and sincere in believing any doctrines, even should these doctrines be false, no man has a right or pretence to disturb them. Unitarian or Catholic congregations would not for a moment tolerate a minister entertaining and inculcating opinions wbich they believe unscriptural and incorrect: nor is it reasonable that they should do this. Then why should not the members of the English Establishment enjoy and exercise the power of excluding from their pulpits individuals who dissent from them on important doctrines? They grant to all other sects and parties the free and undisturbed liberty of electing teachers holding opinions congenial to those of the assemblies in which they are to officiate, and merely claim, in their turn, a right to exercise similar power.
It is rather too much, therefore, that those who dissent from the English Church, should impute intolerance and dogmatism to its members, because they will not permit individuals entertaining sentiments dissimilar to their own, to be appointed ministers of the establishment. If a body of Trinitarians should require all other assemblies-assemblies of Unitarians, for instance, to admit Trinitarians as their religious instructors, the charge of intolerance would, in such a case, be just. But as the motto stands at present, we really think that dogmatism and bigotry may, with more justice and fairness, be imputed to those who declaim against subscription to articles of faith, than against the members of the Church of England who defend its expediency. They who renounce the communion of the Church of England do not appear satisfied with enjoying an undisturbed liberty of appointing and removing at pleasure their own teachers; under the pretence of opposing dogmatism, they seem to us to indulge the intolerant wish of thrusting into the pulpits of the establishment individuals, who entertain religious notions diametrically opposite to those of the congregations in which they are to officiate. Dissenters of all denominations possess, and in all cases exercise the power of removing ministers who hold opinions on important points different from their own; and the members of the Church of England cannot acknowledge that dogmatism and intolerance can, with a shadow of justice, be imputed to them when they exercise a right of a similar nature.
Subscription to buman articles of faith is the only means then which the lay members of the Church of England can make use of, to restrain the patrons of livings from placing in the pulpits of the establishment individuals, who might feel it even their duty to impugn and vilify doctrines, which they regard and venerate as the essential features of Christianity. And, viewing the subject in this light, we are persuaded that our readers will ackvowledge, that we are correct in maintaining, that the propriety of subscribing human articles of faith, involves a question more immediately interesting to the lay members of the Church of England, than it is to ecclesiastics themselves.
Many who are loud in reprobating subscription to human articles of faith would fain persuade us that no Christian Church ought to require any confession of faith beyond a doclaration of belief in the Scriptures, as containing a revelation of the will of God. But this substitute for subscription to the articles of our church is utterly inefficient as to the purposes for which it is offered. All the parties into which the religious world is divided acknowledge the Scriptures, as containing the revealed will of God. The Trinitarian, the Arian, and the Unitarian: the member of the Church of England, the Catholic, and the Presbyterian, all maintain, and we are persuaded, firmly believe their respective systems and opinions to be most consonant and agreeable to the word of God. Each appeals with confidence to the Scriptures as the source from which he derives arguments, which appear to him conclusive and unanswerable in support of his own opinions. All these parties, therefore, agree with respect to the authority-and all differ as to the meaning of the sacred writings. It is demonstrably evident, then, that were the clergy of the national establishment required merely to make a declaration of belief in the Scriptures, the advocates of any of these discordant systems would be admissible to all ecclesiastical offices in the English Church. Let us, for a moment, advert to the blessed results wbich might be anticipated from this “ liberal plan." We should enjoy, in perfection, that delightful variety and discord which seem so grateful to the sticklers for this “ liberty.” The incumbent of one parish would be found a Trinitarian, of the next