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TO THE EDITOR OF THE MORNING WATCH.
Sie.--I beg to call your attention, and that of your readers, to a discourse on Schism by Edward Polhill, Esq. 1594, in the hope that some publisher will be induced to reprint this small volume, now become rather scarce, as I have not met with any work that treats the subject so well. The aspect of the times, and the present state of the church, require that the question of Schism should be distinguished from Non-conformity; that. Churchmen should neither encourage a spirit of popery in themselves, nor look upon all Dissenters as schismatics; and that orthodox Dissenters should not embrace schismatics merely because they are united to them by the solitary and feeble thread of non-conformity.
The word schism occurs but once in our English version of the Bible, at I Cor. xii. 25, where, by the argument of the Apostle, we find that the error it designates arises from one professor of religion being jealous of the gifts of another. In Rom. xvi. 17, the Apostle
says, “ I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions, and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned ; and avoid them: for they, that are such, serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple: for
obedience is come abroad unto all men. glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.” The context here shews that the Apostle charges all schismatics with serving some worldly and sensual end, whatever the pretext may be which deceives them; and the schism is not on the score of essential truth, but arises from disobedience to the authority of the church. In 1 Cor. i. 10, the members of the church at Corinth had run into schism, by calling themselves after the names of particular preachers; in the same manner as moderns call themselves Calvinists, Lutherans, Wesleyans, &c. The subject is again resumed in iii. 3, where the Apostle once more charges them with being sensual, in consequence of their schismatic spirit ; having evidently the same signification as that which he had intended to the Romans, by saying, serving their own belly. In xi. 18 he rebukes them for divisions on another ground-namely, concerning the method in which the Lord's Supper should be administered—and he further intimates that heresies must be the consequence.
It is clear from all these passages, that schism is a very heinous crime in God's sight; that it is, as well as heresy, a fruit of the flesh; that in whatever community schisms and
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sects abound, so do heresies abound; that their abundance proceeds from want of obedience to the authority of the church : whence it is obvious, that a nation which has arrived at this point is a very irreligious nation ; and that, if the people among whom sects abound think that religion is thriving among them, they are in a state of great self-deception, for that they must be on the very brink of perdition from ecclesiastical insubordination and radicalism.
Since it is as true of a body as it is of an individual, that nemo fuit repente turpissimus, the church must have been long growing into its present condition. I have no hesitation in saying, that the source of the evil is to be traced to the perverted use of the right of private judgment; and that the epoch in which this bitter seed was sown was at the Reformation. When Constantine became converted to Christianity, be provided, as was his duty, the means of spiritual instruction for every part of his dominions : in which godly act he has been most properly followed by every Christian power ; until the rulers of the United States of America tried the awful experiment of attempting to govern a people without reference to their duty to God : an experiment which schismatics of all kinds have been constantly holding up for our imitation ever since, particularly the Independents and Freethinkers. The tares which Satan sowed along with the righteous seed of an ecclesiastical establishment, was the conferring upon the ministers of religion, as such, temporal rank and power; out of which grew his rich harvest of the Popish apostasy. At the time of the Reformation, the right, which every responsible being must possess, of forming his own opinion upon what is true and what is false, was necessarily insisted upon: yet, so careful were the Reformers to avoid the sin of schism, that nothing would induce them to quit, still less to set up a church in opposition to, the Romish communion, until they were perfectly satisfied that that church was no longer a true church, but a church in apostasy. If no persons, but true Christians, had taken advantage of the errors of Popery, and of the right of private judgment, to establish the Protestant churches, it is possible that that right would not have been abused by being carried beyond all just bounds. Unfortunately, however, many others—like the Anabaptists—followed the truth, not for the truth's sake, but for their own selfish ends. Wicked men seized hold of the principle, and by it justified all kinds of absurdity, bringing forward passages from the Scriptures in vindication of their abominations. These set aside the authority of the church in toto, not being able to distinguish between truth and falsehood: sectaries began to abound: and different forms of church government, though in themselves immaterial, paved the way for further encouragement to this offspring and scandal of Protestantism, which was one day or other intended to be its scourge, and ultimately its destruction.
The same selfish spirit which caused the multiplication of schismatics, caused the ministers of that portion of the church which had been established in England to give themselves the airs which they had so lately condemned in the Bishop of Rome; and it was not long before they acted as if, what Jeremy Bentham calls, “ the Sect of the Thirty-nine Articles” was the only true church, out of the pale of which there could be no salvation. This, however, was not the case at first : many members of other Protestant communions held offices in the British universities, and dignities in the Church of England.
By degrees, however, the Church of England excluded from its pale all Protestants except of those churches which had the same form of ecclesiastical government as itself. The state, too, refused to support the ministers of more than one denomination; seeming thereby to think, that, as it was obliged to do something for Christ, it would do as little as possible. The duty of the state was to look upon all persons, who fulfilled the commands of Christ in being baptized in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and who partook of his Supper in remembrance of him, as members of his church, and fit to enjoy all the privileges, rights, and immunities of their fellow-countrymen. Instead of which, the state endeavoured to limit civil rights to the members of the single denomination whose ministers it would pay. If the state had conducted itself properly, the Test Act would have been unobjectionable, because it would have excluded from the right hand of fellowship none but real schismatics and heretics; as, indeed, was the intention of those who framed it: but, by being subsequently made to operate against friends as well aš foes, the state which passed the law was the real schismatic, by cutting off from the visible body of Christ many of its holiest members. It had a good opportunity of recovering itself from this error, and of retracing its steps, at the time of the Union with Scotland, when it was compelled to admit the Presbyterian church to be of paramount authority in one half of the kingdom : but the occasion was lost then, never to be afterwards regained.
It is not too much to say, that nearly all the most pious and spiritually-minded persons in Elizabeth's reign were against the ceremonies which she, and not the church, imposed upon Christian men as equally binding with the ordinances of Christ : for not only did the whole body of Non-conformists refuse to submit to them, but the best bishops reinonstrated with the queen ; and those sent by her to enforce them, only urged them on the people as harmless, and as what on that account might be safely re
ceived. Thus the argument of Hooker and of his followers, that a church may impose ceremonies upon its members, though perfectly true, is wholly inapplicable to the present case: for the church never did impose them, nor was convened to discuss them; but the civil power alone enacted them. The clergy had full warning of the sin of schism which they were committing by adopting them; in which, however, they persisted notwithstanding
The members of the church thus established in England, enjoying a complete monopoly of the wealth, power, and honours which ought to have been spread equally over the Christian community, became corrupted; neglected to preach the Gospel to the poor; relapsed into the popish heresy of justification by human merit; enforced no discipline amongst their members; and ultimately persecuted those who fearlessly and effectively proclaimed salvation by the alone righteousness and merits of the Lord Jesus Christ. All this time, however, the sectaries were increasing in numbers. The poor, driven from the parish churches by the newly introduced custom of dividing them into pews, to which the rich alone were able to gain access, could not worship God any where but in the chapels of the Non-conformists: and into their own houses the clergy never entered, to see after them. Mr. Southey very properly observes, that, so great has been the neglect of the people by the clergy, that had it not been for the Dissenters, of various classes, the nation would have relapsed into the condition of savages. He says, “We have a numerous class of people, bred in the filth and corruption of large towns and manufacturing districts, and allowed to grow up in that corruption, as much neglected, and consequently becoming as depraved, as the vagrants of former times, against which so many and such severe laws were enacted. These people are unbelievers ; just as savages are, (shame to us that they should be so !) because, so far as regards all moral culture, all needful instruction, all humanizing and redeeming influences, they are like savages in the very midst of cultivated society. But, fearful as the consequences of this most culpable omission on the part of government have been, and continue to be, they must have been far more hideous and appalling, if Methodism had not intervened, and carried with it humanity and civilization as far as it has spread among the poor perishing creatures."
The knowledge of the salvation which is in Christ Jesus, is the one talent with which every human being who bears the name of Christian is entrusted. In proportion as he values this, so will he be anxious to disseminate it, and which it is his bounden duty to do. This is as applicable to a church as to an individual: and I doubt if the ministers of any church were ever so remiss, certainly none ever more so, than the hierarchy
of England, in neglecting to diffuse the knowledge of the Saviour's name. The great mass of the poorest inhabitants of our towns ; all that portion of the Irish population, probably at no time less than two-fifths of the whole, who could only understand the Irish language; all our colonies in every quarter of the globe, East and West Indies, have been as much abandoned as if they did not belong to us. Nay, what is more still, not only would the clergy of the Established Church not enter on the field themselves, but they positively and effectually opposed those who would gladly have gone. Among many instances, I select one, wbich places the church and the state in the least possibly excusable point of view, in that the offer which was made would not have caused the smallest expense to either. In the year 1795, Mr. R. Haldane informs us in his “ Address to the Public,” pp. 12—46) that he sold his paternal property, and applied to the proper authorities for permission to proceed to India, in company with Mr. Innes, a minister at Stirling; willing to devote himself and his fortune to labour among the Heathen and Mohammedans there, who are in fact our fellow-subjects. This proposition was peremptorily refused. And here, be it remembered, not one of the usual pretexts, of undermining the church, &c. could be used : the refusal could proceed from nothing but a most criminal apathy to their duty in all concerned.
But I must return to an earlier period of our history.—Time would fail me to do ample justice to this subject during the period from the English Revolution of 1688, down to the French Revolution of 1792, but there are materials for a good history of the church in this particular, and it has been treated hitherto in a very superficial and unsatisfactory manner. The first thirty years of the eighteenth century were probably the darkest spiritual epoch which England has seen within the last thousand years. Whatever vital religion was in the land, was almost exclusively confined to the descendants of the Non-conformists. The best divinity which the hierarchy of England could produce, was, even when not heretical, little better than heathen ethics; although I am not insensible to the labours of many of its dignitaries in philology, and the lower department of positive theology.
At length a new era broke out, from the labours of Whitefield and Wesley. They were admirably gifted for performing the office to which they were called-namely, that of being heralds, in the fields and in the market-places, of the grace of God. Here too they ought to have stopped : in thus much the bishops and clergy ought to have afforded them every encouragement and assistance. But they went further: they set up other