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his book seems to entitle him, (of his personal merits we know nothing,) and use the statements he advances, for the purpose of bringing authentically before our readers, matters of high moment, relating to the state and the prospects of the Established Church. On the present occasion, we claim the liberty to speak, not as Dissenters, but as Christians; and less as religionists, than as Englishmen.
To state it in a few words, the Author's object is, to complain of capital and fatal deviations, on the part of those high in office, from the obvious intentions and explicit enactments of the Founders of the Church, authenticated by Parliament; and while he solemnly asserts the guilt of whosoever shares in such abuses, he foretels the ruin that must ere long terminate the course of declension upon which the English Church is, as he thinks, visibly proceeding.
* The deviations,' says Mr. Acaster, in his Dedication to the Archbishops, from the original designs of the Fathers of the Church, which I have ventured to point out, and the abuses which are suffered to prevail in the regulation of her affairs, are so glaring, as to be universally acknowledged ; and tend, more than any thing else, to destroy her usefulness, and to render her unpopular with the great body of the Community.
Should you be induced to consider these matters in the way their importance demands, and to exert that power with which you are invested, to remedy the crying evils of which the nation at large has such great reason to complain ; the church may yet recover the ground she has lost, and again draw back to her the hearts of the people. But should
this opportunity be neglected, and nothing effectually be done to render her efficient for the purpose intended; the day cannot be far distant, when the affections of the people being entirely estranged from her, she must fall ; nor can all the power of the state preserve her from destruction.'
In his first chapter, Mr. Acaster undertakes to shew the • Necessity of a Church Establishment to maintain and per
petuate the Christian Religion through successive generations, ' and to meet the religious wants of the nation. In the second, he endeavours to prove, that 'the Church of England, as by law
established, is, if properly and efficiently administered, pecu• liarly adapted to maintain and perpetuate the Christian religion, and to meet, in every way, the spiritual wants of the
nation. These two chapters we pass over in silence; partly because, if disposed to enter upon the discussion of these difficult points, we should think it fair to look out for some abler statement of the affirmative side of the question than the one we here find; but chiefly because we intend, in the present instance, scrupulously to avoid all disputable topics, -all matters of mere opinion. In truth, the Author's first and second chapters ought
pp. iii, iv.
to be viewed merely as a caveat against the anticipated calumny, that he is a Dissenter at heart, or a man not thoroughly attached to the Church in which he ministers.
His object in the third chapter is to shew, that · Deviations from the adjustments and regulations of the Founders of the • Church, are the cause of her present inefficiency, and of dissent throughout the land.'
The fact of this inefficiency, and of the actual spread of Dissent, will no doubt be thought by many Churchmen-perhaps by most-to be over-stated by Mr. Acaster; and some, while they admit to the full the 'alarming' increase of sectarianism', and methodism', and so forth, will utterly deny that this extensive defection is attributable to the negligence or unfaithfulness of the clergy generally, or of ecclesiastical dignitaries. We need not stay to adjust these differences of opinion. It is enough for all purposes of argumentation, to insist upon the notorious fact, that, though population has rapidly increased, our parish churches are not, with very few exceptions, crowded; and that the great mass of the people, from whatever cause, are not habitual attendants upon public worship as by law established. It is therefore of little consequence to our Author's argument, or to our own, whether or not his calculations are precisely correct, or his inferences invariably just.
Full half of the population,' he affirms, it is calculated, have already left the church, and joined the ranks of dissent. Of the principles, conduct, and character of more than half the remainder, it is not required to give an opinion : but this I will say, that should they depart in the same proportion which the rest have done within the last thirty years,--and there is no reason at present to think that they will not depart in a still more rapid way,—it requires no superior foresight to predict, without pretending to be a prophet, that thirty years from hence, the religious establishment of the country will be totally forsaken, if not completely overthrown; and I will leave those who are wise in politics to say, what will then have become of the civil government and constitution of the land.' pp. 24, 25.
These facts being, as the Author deems, unquestionable, he is certainly right in affirming it to be a matter of the highest moment, to trace the evil to its source, and to devise, if
possible, a remedy. The infinite importance of the question, he thinks, and justly thinks, should be held to excuse the boldness he uses.
And he complains, not less justly, of the pusillanimity or selfish caution of some individuals, who, though their private sentiments on these matters are pretty clearly ascertained to be in unison with his own, yet, ' to screen themselves from
the odium of disclosing the real facts of the case, shrewdly • disguise their sentiments, by pointing only at the effects; judg*ing it easy for those whom it most concerns, if so disposed, by
• tracing these effects, to find out the cause. But this,' he says, ' is only trifling; and to trifle on such a subject, and when the
danger is so imminent, and stares us in the face, is a sad indication, if not of want of principle, yet, of making light of that which, if left without a remedy, will soon make the heart of • the stoutest sad. Entertaining these views, the Author thinks it behooves him to speak out, regardless of the consequences which may affect his personal interests, and which may destroy
every prospect he might have any reason to form'. Every honest man will applaud his determination; nor do we perceive that this approval can be with held on the ground of any apparent acrimony of spirit, or sinister intention, which might be imagined to have prompted the Author's accusations against the rulers of the church. Of the facts of his private history we know nothing; but assuredly, he does not write like a man irritated by neglect and disappointment.
Mr. A. begins by complaining of the obstructions which lie in the way of those who would fain employ faithfully the high powers entrusted to them, arising from laws enacted in bad times', and, as he fears also, for bad ends'.
• But whatever hindrances of this description may have been thrown in the way of that authority which was originally conferred on the bishops, for the due administration of their important and responsible office,—there is one part, the power of ordination, still left free and unfettered by any restrictions whatever. This being the case, it behooves them with all seriousness, diligence, and care, as they regard the favour of God, the salvation of men, and the safety of the church, to make that improvement in it which its vast importance demands, and to take heed that they lay hands suddenly on no man. Carelessly to ordain, or, under the influence of fear, favour, friendship, rank, or a misdirected kindness, to admit ignorant, worldly, inefficient, and unworthy persons, (who, instead of being moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon them the holy office of a minister, have no higher end in view than to seek a piece of bread,) will be found, not only a sad perversion of their sacred office and authority, but a partaking of other men's sins. Nay, more ; it is to become responsible for all the mischief they may do, and for the ruin of all those who, through their negligence or false teaching, may die in their sins. That there has been in every age a great and fearful laxity in this respect, is beyond dispute.
Had not this been the case, the church would never have groaned under such a swarm of insufficient and worthless creatures, as Hooker quaintly observes ; and who, besides endangering the souls of millions, 'have brought the priestly office into much contempt, and tended more than any thing else to alienate the minds of men from the ecclesiastical estaớlishments of the land.' Pp. 31, 32.
Here is our Author's strong ground; and he insists, that the laws of the land, not less than the requirements of Christianity, and the dictates of sound sense and good policy, make it imperative upon the bishop personally, and with the assistance of Those whom the Church names as his assessors, to examine every candidate for holy orders, both as to his faith and life, and his qualification for the special business of teaching; and sternly to refuse ordination to all such as cannot inake good their pretensions to the character of a Christian minister,-one, sound in the faith, pure in life, apt to teach, and moved to take upon hin the sacred office by no motives of a worldly kind.
• They (the bishops) have a duty to perform, and on the neglecting or faithful performance of it depends the rising or falling of the churcř. Let them, then, as men of God, consider this, and constantly remember their fearful responsibility. The right of receiving or rejecting is entirely in their hands. No writ or prohibition from civil courts can either restrain them in the due exercise of their duty, or fetter them in the objects of their choice. Let them, en, in the fear of God, exercise, unfettered either by prejudice, favour, fear, or friendship, an honest and impartial judgement ; and receive none, high or low, rich or poor, who do not bring with them all the qualifications which the church demands; else there can be no hope of regaining the ground which we have lost; so that in a very short time the church will certainly fall.
40. But do the bishops generally acquit themselves faithfully, and as 'men of God', of their serious responsibility as holders of the keys of the Church? Mr. A. thinks, not.
" How far this is attended to in general practice, every one knows, who has been examined for the sacred office, either of deacon, or of priest. The examinations are generally by the chaplain alone ; not by the ordinary, as the canon and the law directs. There is therefore a total, or nearly total deviation from the intention both of the church and the state; and that man in my opinion must possess a more than common hardihood, who can undertake alone to examine and decide on so grave a question, as whether the persons called before him for about an hour, have all the qualifications for the sacred office which the church designed and the word of God demands. But that it was not the design of the church to intrust so weighty a matter to the decision of any individual, however high his rank, or great his attainments, is beyond dispute. The 35th canon, and which is entitled “ The Examination of such as are to be made Ministers”, positively says, " That the bishop, before he admit any person to holy orders, shall diligently examine him in the presence of those ministers that shall assist him at the imposition of hands; and if the said bishop have any lawful impediment, he shall cause the said ministers carefully to examine every such person to be ordained. Provided, that they who shall assist the bishop in examining and laying on of hands, shall be of his cathedral church, if they may conveniently be had, or other sufficient preachers of the same diocese, to the number of three at the least: and if any bishop or suffragan shall admit any to sacred orders, who is not so qualified and examined, as before we have ordained, the archbishop of Iris
province, having notice thereof, and being assisted therein by one bishop, shall suspend the said bishop or suffragan so offending, from making either deacons or priests for the space of two years." To ask how many of the bishops, from their non-compliance with the injunctions here contained, are liable on information to the penalty denounced, might be considered a strange, though a grave and important question. Some there may be who strictly comply with the direction of the canon : but having never heard of such, and I have made some enquiry, I shall leave it to those whom it most concerns, to investigate a matter in which the interests of the church are so deeply concerned. I am aware that it is attempted to be understood, that the examination enjoined in the canon, applies only to the questions put to the candidates, in the presence of the assisting ministers, in the ordination service. But the canon itself entirely confutes this supposition, positively stating, “ that the bishop shall admit none to sacred orders, who are not qualified and examined as we have before directed.” And what was before directed ? why, that every man must be able to answer, and render in latin unto the ordinary, an account of his faith, according to the thirty-nine Articles, and to confirm the same out of the Holy Scriptures.' This, I take it, not only confutes the previous supposition, but also distinctly defines the line of examination which must be followed, in regard to the candidate's belief in, and understanding of all the doctrines contained in the thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England. But which of the bishops, or which of the examining chaplains, conducts his examination according to the directions here contained ?' I do most solemnly declare that I was never asked one single question about the thirty-nine Articles. I have questioned others at different times and from different dioceses, and they have distinctly stated the same, excepting, in one or two instances, some ensnaring question about the 17th Article. I will not say with some, that the examinations are in all cases trifling. In many, they are close and difficult. But I will venture to say, that they are not generally in the way and order which the church designed.' This, I take it, is such a sad and fatal circumstance to the candidates themselves, and so deeply affecting the interest of true religion and the church, that it cannot be justified, nor ought it to be persisted in by the bishops, or tolerated by the state. Enough, and more than enough of mischief has resulted from this sad deviation from the declared design and order of the church. To this, more than to any other thing, must be ascribed that great difference of opinion which exists among her ministers, on some of the most important doctrines of religion, dangerous to the souls of men, and inimical to her peace and stability. Nor can this be remedied or prevented, but by a speedy return, and a steady and faithful adherence to her declared and original intentions.'
pp. 41-44. On these important and delicate matters of fact, it is better that we should employ our Author's language, than advance the same statements in our own: and we presume that whatever particular exceptions may be made to his strong and appalling allegations, it will not be attempted to maintain that they