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For JUNE, 1809.
... This Article is written by the Pre Robe Hall posta
Another Baptist Chut at Seicester Art. I. Zeal without Innovation ; or the Present State of Religion and Morals considered ; with a view to the Dispositions and Measures re. quired for its Improvement. To which is subjoined an Address to
Young Clergymen, intended to guard them against some prevalent · Errors. 8vo. pp. 375. Price 78. 6d. Rivingtons. 1808. THERE are some works which require to be viewed only
in a literary light. No important principles are discussed, nor any momentous interests at stake. When this is the case, nothing more is necessary, than for a reviewer to exhibit the author's plan, and to give an impartial judgement on the ability with which it is executed. If the merit of the performance be very conspicuous, it is the less necessary to multiply words in order to shew it; and if it have little or none, it need not be conducted to the land of forgetfulness with the pomp of criticism. For this reason, the utility of periodical criticism may, in a literary view, be fairly ques tioned; as it seems like an attempt to anticipate the decisiou of the public, and prematurely to adjust those pretensions, which, if left to itself, it will be sure to adjust, in time, with the most perfect impartiality. A reviewer may give a momentary popularity to what deserves to be forgotten, but he can neither withhold nor bestow a lasting fame. Cowper, we will venture to say, is not the less admired because the Critical Review, with its usual good taste and discernment, could discover in him no traces of poetic genius. i
There are other works, which owe their importance more to the subjects on which they treat, and their tendency to inflame the prejudices and strike in with the humour of the public, than to any extraordinary ability. Their infection renders them formidable. They are calculated to increase the violence of an epidemic disease. The matter of contagion: ought not to be slighted on account of the meanness of the vehicle by which it is transmitted. We are sorry to be under the necessity of classing the performance before us with VOL. V.
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works of that, nature; but our conviction of its deserving that character must be our apology for bestowing a degree of attention upon it, to which it is not otherwise intitled. The author's professed design is to present a view of the state of religion and morals, and to suggest such remedies as are best adapted to correct the disorders under which they languish. A more noble and important undertaking cannot be conceived. We have only to lament, that, in the pursuit of it, he betrays so many mean partialities and ungenerous prejudices, as utterly disqualify him from doing justice to the subject. While we would wish to give him credit for some portion of good intention, we are firmly convinced, that had his eye been single, his whole body had been more full of light. In an attempt to trace the causes of degeneracy in religion and morals, and to point out the proper correctives, nothing is more requisite than a large and catholic spirit totally emancipated from the shackles of party, joined with extensive knowledge, and a discriminating judgement. In the first of these qualities, the author is lainentably deficient. He looks at every thing so entirely through the medium of party, that, though he cannot be said to be absolutely blind, he is quite incapable of seeing afar off. His remarks are often shrewd ; such as indicate a mind awake, and attentive to the scenes which have passed before him. He is sometimes acute, never comprehensive; accurate in details, with little capacity for
tracing the consequences and unfolding the energy of general · principles. While the title of the work leads us to expect his attention would be entirely directed to the best means of promoting the moral improvement of mankind, the watchful reader will perceive there are subordinate objects which he is at least equally solicitous to advance. There is a complication in his views, a wheel within a wheel, quite incompatible with simplicity of mind, and perfect purity of intention. There appears too much reason to regard him as an artful, bigoted partizan, acting under the disguise of a philanthropist and a reformer. Severe as this censure may seem, we are persuaded our readers will acknowledge its justice, when they are apprized of the leading statements and positions contained in this singular work.
The author sets out with descanting on the state of reli. gion in this country, which he represents as very deplorable; in proof of this, he adduces, among other facts, the viola: tion of the Christian sabbath, and the prevailing neglect of public worship. As these symptoms of degeneracy are not found in an equal degree among Dissenters and Methodists, he is led by the course of his subject to notice the state of religion amongst them, 'where he acknowledges there is no
room to complain of a deficiency of zeal. He does not affect to deny that their teachers exhibit the great truths of Christianity with energy and effect, and that much good has resulted from their labours. We should naturally suppose a pious man would here find ground for satisfaction ; and that, however he might regret the mixture of error with useful efforts, he would rejoice to perceive that real and important good was done any where. It is but justice to him, to let him convey bis feelings on this subject in his own words.
• From the sad state of things represented in the preceding section, many turn with pleasure to what is passing among our Separatists, whose places of worship generally exhibit a very different scene to our parish churches. Here there appears to be some life and effect. The officiating minister has not half-empty pews to harangue, but a crowded auditory
hanging on his lips.” Whether, however, in what is now before us we shall find no cause of uneasiness, when all its circumstances are considered, admits of great doubt:
• It cannot be depied, that with all the fanaticism charged on Separatists (and it is to be feared with great truth in some instances) many a profligate has been reclaimed, and much good in other ways, has been done among the lower orders by the labours of their ministers. From these circumstances, and the known ignorance and dissoluteness of the times, many, without the least degree of adverse intention to our established church, have in the simplicity of their hearts concurred in forwarding the endeavours of the Separatists. And hence it is, that in all
the more populous parts of the country, we see that multitude of dissent. . ing chapels, which of late years has increased, and is still increasing.
• To some good men, free from all prejudice against the Church of England, it is matter of no regret, that the number of Separatists in. crease, provided there be with this circumstance an increasing regard to Christianity. With such persons all consideration of forms, and modes of worship, is sunk in the greater importance of genuine faith and piety. But it enters not into the thoughts of such persons, that “tares may spring up with the wheat ;” and that what at present has a good effect, may operate to the production of something hereafter of a very different nature. Now such we conceive to be the nature of the case before us. We have reason to apprehend ill consequences from increasing separatism; whatever zeal for important truths, and with whatever success in propa. gating them, it be at present accompanied.
• And first, it may be observed, that it goes to the annihilation of the established church as a national institution. The bulk of every newly. raised congregation of Separatists is composed of persons educated with. in the pale of the church of England. Of these many are heads of families, or likely to become so. By commencing Dissenters, they, and their posterity, however multiplied, are broken off from the national church. These detachments from the establishment, going on as they have done of late years, must consequently increase the number of those who prefer a differently constituted church; and these may in time amount to such a majority, as to render it again a question with those in power, whether the church of England shall any longer have the support of the state.' pp. 14-17.
That the increase of Dissenters, in itself considered, cannot be a pleasing circumstance to a conscientious churchman, is certain ; and if this is all the author means to say, he talks very idly. The true question evidently is, whether the good accruing from the labours of Dissenters is 'ą proper subject of congratulation, although it may be attended with this incidental consequence, an increased separation from the es tablished church. In a word, is the promotion of genuine Christianity, or the advancement of an external communion, the object primarily to be pursued? Whatever excellence may be ascribed to our national establishment by its warmest admirers, still it is a human institution; an institution to which the first ages of the church were strangers, to which Chris. tianity was in no degree indebted for its original success, and the merit of which must be brought to the test of utility. It is in the order of means. As an expedient devised by the wisdom of our ancestors, for promoting true religion, it is intitled to support just as far as it accomplishes its end. This end, however, is found in some instances to be accomplished by means which are of a different description. A fire, which threatens immediate destruction, is happily extinguished be. fore it has had time to extend its ravages; but it is extin. guished by persons who have volunteered their services, without waiting for the engineers who act under the direction of the police. Here is geal, but unfortunately accompanied with innovation ; at wbich our author is greatly chagrined. How closely has he copied the example of St. Paul, who rejoiced that Christ was preached, though from envy and contention! With him, the promulgation of divine truth was an object so much at heart, that he was glad to see it accomplished, even from the most criminal motives, and by the most unworthy instruments. With our author, the dissemination of the same truth, by some of the best of men, and from the purest motives, is matter of lamentation and regret. It requires little attention to perceive he has been taught in a different school from the apostle, and studied under a different master.
The eternal interests of mankind are either mere chimæras, ; or they are matters of infinite importance : compared with which, the success of any party, the increase of any external commuvion whatever, is mere dust in the balance, and for this plain reason, that the promotion of these interests is the yery end of Christianity itself. However divided good men nay, have been with respect to the propriety of legis. lative interference in the affairs of religion, the arguments, by which they have supported their respective opinions, have been uniformly drawn from the supposed tendency of such
interference, or the contrary, to advance the moral improvement of mankind; and, supposing this to be ascertained, the superior merit of the system to which that tendency belongs was considered as decided. Viewed in this light, the problem is extensive, affording scope for much investigation ; while the authority of religion remains unimpaired, and the disputants on each side are left at liberty to indulge the most. enlarged sentinents of candour toward each other. Such were the principles on which Hooker and the ablest of his successors rested their defence of the established church. The High Church Party, of which Mr. Daubeny may be looked upon as the present leader, have taken different grounds. Their system is neither more nor less than popery, faintly disguised, and adapted to the meridian of England. The writer before us, without avowing the sentiments of Dau. i beny, displays nearly the same intolerance and bigotry,--Una der this peculiar disadvantage, that his views want the co. hesion of system, his bigotry the support of principle. This formal separation of the interests of the church from those of true religion, must inevitably produce the most deplorable consequences. Will the serious and conscientious part of the public be led to form a favourable opinion of a religious community, by hearing it avowed, by her champions, that men had better be suffered eternally to perish, than to find salvation out of her pale? Will they not naturally ask what those higher ends can be, in comparison of which the eternal welfare of a large portion of our fellow creatures is deemed a trifle? Could such a spirit be supposed generally prevalent in the clergy of the established church, it would at once lose all that is sacred in their eyes, and be looked upon as a mere combination to gain possession of power and emolument under pretence of religion. We are mistaken, if much mischief has not already accrued from the indulgence of this spirit. It has envenomed the ill qualities naturally generated by the domination of a party. It has produced serious injury to the church, by emboldening men to appear in her defence, who bring nothing into the controversy but overweening pride, ceremonial hypocrisy, and priestly insolence. Haughty, contemptuous airs, a visible disdain of the scruples of tender consciences, and frequently of piety itself, except under one garb and fashion, have been too generally assumed by her champions. These features have given inexpressible disgust' to pious and candid minds; hurt, as they well may be, to see a religious conmmunity, however numerous or respectable, continually vaunting itself, laying exclusive claims to purity and orthodoxy, and seeming to consider it