« PreviousContinue »
• of the Committee have not gone out. But the contest is not cover.'
Such was the language held in this Journal in 1826. We now ask, were we not in the right? It proceeded from no random conjecture, nor was it spoken in the oracular spirit of prophecy,-except that experience will sometimes attain
• To something like prophetic strain ;but expressed a firm conviction, grounded on the knowledge of character and facts. Mr. George Clayton, the Author of the
Considerations', does not appear to be fully aware of the filiation of the Sackville Street Committee, or rather of the school from which it has emanated, although he has most truly characterized the main part of these reformers. 'I do', he says, • I must, and ever shall congratulate myself, that the stir and
strife on this lamented occasion have not sprung from the non'conforming members of the British and Foreign Bible Society.' He then adds :
• From clergymen or laymen of the established churches of this kingdom, and, for the most part, from the younger and less matured among these,-men green in judgement and warm in temperament, who, as John Bunyan would say, have the egg-shell still upon their heads,—this unhappy contest has emanated. "Is it to be attributed to the power of prejudice-to the long seclusion within college walls-to an imperfect acquaintance with the principles of religious toleration and of human nature-to the lack of due initiation into those theological studies which ought to precede (and that in preference to all classical and mathematical science) an introduction to the labours of the ministry, -or to what other cause is it to be assigned, that these are the dear brethren who have poured upon us all this confusion?'
Not these only. We could mention individuals whose age and standing might seem to entitle them to be looked up to as leaders and guides, whose zeal and, perhaps, amiableness of character, command veneration, and seduce many an ardent and generous mind into the feelings of discipleship; but whose original feebleness of judgement, indicated by prominent eccentricities, has neither been remedied by sound learning, nor improved by age. We cannot forget whence sprang the epidemic heresy of the years 1817, 18, which was confined entirely to ministers of the Established Church,- for the seceders never blended with the dissenters,'—and which, according to the confession of its leading advocates, derived its seminal principles from the doctrinal instructions of one who has been a loud denouncer of the iniquities of the Bible Society, and
* Eclectic Review, Vol. XXVI. p. 220.
figures in the Provisional Committee. And we are grieved to notice the name of another much esteemed clergyman, who is no green-horn, but whose constitutional vehemence, extending itself to all his opinions, right or wrong, gives an almost fantastical character to sound learning and fervent piety, and disqualifies him as a safe guide in practical matters. The greater part of the clerical subscribers are, however, what Mr. Clayton justly describes them to be,~'green in judgement and warm in * temperament,'-vehement, confident, and intolerant,-strongly reminding us, in their moral physiognomy, of the Cowans, and Bevans, and Barings of the Antinomian secession, although their ultra-orthodoxy assumes a less dangerous character. May we be pardoned if we again cite the language of our own Journal some thirteen years back, in reference to the true cause of these phenomena. The defectiveness or the entire want of a . theological education, we have often remarked to be a conco* mitant, and we believe it to be, in many instances, a direct cause
of the adoption of such sentiments. . . How far even the most * judicious theological education aftords a security, independent • of personal piety, against errors of the sceptical class, is a ques* tion of fact which we need not at present discuss. But we may * with confidence affirm, that it will, generally speaking, obviate the
danger of falling into fantastic incoherencies, similar to those with which we are at present concerned. Where men (whatever may have been their advantages as to general education) * become suddenly acquainted with the first truths of Christ
ianity, and are immediately called upon to commit themselves, ' in the most public manner, upon its several doctrines, and
where vivacity of temper is met by stimulating circumstances, ' -nothing less, we imagine, thian eminent grace, and that, pro• bably, imparted under the pressure of affliction, will preserve
such persons upon the plain, humble path of scriptural sim‘plicity. Perhaps, some one luckless hyperbole, uttered in the • heat of declamation, which is unhappily remembered, admired, • and repeated, may first tempt the feet upon the field of extra• vagance; and this enchanted ground once trodden upon,
how • fearful is the chance that the wanderer may return !'*
Upon the whole, with all due respect for the private worth of the individuals whose names are attached to this Circular, we must say, that they form a class, to whose collective judgement we should not think it safe greatly to defer. Nay, although, while acting separately, or in association with Christians of cooler judgement and less exalted sentiments, they may be useful and valuable members of the body, yet, when compacted
• Eclectic Review, 2d Series, Vol. IX., pp. 539-541. VOL. VI.N.S.
into a sectarian phalanx by the force of moral affinity, they may reasonably be regarded, we think, with suspicion. A very strong presumption would lie against the judiciousness, the Scriptural wisdom, the entire consistency, of any measure or recommendation originating in such a quarter, and backed by such an array; and if we did not even perceive the drift of their proposal, we should feel warranted in entertaining suspicions of what it might introduce, and in adopting the well-known expression of distrust:
1-Timeo Danaos, et dona ferentes.' In the present case, however, there is no ambiguity in their proceeding. The avowed object is, to change the whole constitution, character, and management of the Bible Society, by a system of agitation more worthy of a political faction, than of a small minority of a religious association. We shall dismiss this first resolution with the just remark of Mr. Clayton, that,
• To enter a society you do not cordially approve—to co-operate from year to year with that society, whether as a private member or as a public officer- to invite other men to join you upon the known principles of the society and then, upon the access of some new light to the mind, or from the influence of example and persuasion, to conspire the production of an essential change in such society --yes, and under the mortification incident to defeat, even to labour its subversion--appears to me repugnant to the dictates of sound reason, honourable feeling, and Christian morality. As long as I approve the society, let me remain in it; when I think I discern cause for dissatisfaction, let me remonstrate; if my testimony fail to produce conviction, let me peaceably withdraw myself, and seek another field more congenial to my sentiments and wishes.' -Or, we would add, peaceably acquiesce in the decision of the majority. We now proceed to examine the next resolution.
• 2. That a Society, whose object is to circulate the pure Word of God, and upon which devolves the responsibility of preparing and issuing new translations of it, must be considered decidedly a religious society, and ought pre-eminently to be conducted on Scriptural principles.'
We have no objection to make against this proposition as it stands. We would say, with Clericus,' that we consider the • Bible Society as both a religious and a charitable institution
in the highest possible degree. It has been, as he remarks, from its commencement, a religious society in the most exalted sense of the term.
• It has always been known and recognized as such, under specified limitations, by every department of the community. It was originated by religious men for a religious object, but these devout and excellent individualsmen who loved prayer, and whose whole character was redolent of communion with God--these sainted and in many instances now departed spirits-saw that there was a vast number of persons, who would have no objection to aid in the circulation of the Bible, from which, with whatever inconsistency, they professed to draw the principles of their belief and conduct, but could not be prevailed upon to contribute to the promotion of the cause of religion in any more definite and specific form. They therefore wisely abstained from establishing any other terms of communion than that of an avowed attachment to the Scriptures--from any religious exercise, which would of necessity operate as an exclusionary barrier against those who, whatever might be their errors or their peculiarities, were willing to be efficient labourers in the promotion of the general object. In this, they saw no compromise beyond the exercise of a wise and Christian forbearance--no expediency beyond that which stands accredited in the clearest records of the Christian law-no prudence beyond that which is vindicated by Apostolic example in becoming all things to all men, in order, if possible, to save some.
• Thus was the basis of the Society laid in the most comprehensive wisdom combined with the most fervent piety. And, its great object and general principles of action being defined, it soon became the rallying point to almost all that was liberal in sentiment, fervent in zeal, and genuine in devotion throughout the land, and speedily spread its ramifications to the remotest extremities of the earth. Its treasury became a reservoir, into which persons of all classes and denominations unanimously and cheerfully poured their contributions. Innumerable sluices were opened, by which Christian eloquence, burdened with the treasures of eternal truth, was enabled to diffuse its rich and mellifluous streams. Amidst all this flow of Christian sentiment and Christian exertion, not a syllable was heard from Socinians or Infidels of any compact being violated. Here and there, indeed, a fiery spirit, who possibly mistaking the impulses of pride for the dictates of conscience, might think it his duty to avail himself of such an opportunity to utter his loud and ill-judged protestation against the specific errors of any class of religionists, might be called to order as travelling beyond the record. But excepting a few instances of individual indiscretion being not improperly checked, I have heard of no complaint from any body of professors, as if the great principles of the Society had been violated. For a series of years, the attacks directed against it proceeded almost uniformly and exclusively from members of our own Church, who mistakenly imagined that, in the combination of which it was formed, they saw an element of destruction to the Establishment. Contrary to their expectations and predictions, however, the interests of the Church have gone hand in hand with those of the Society; and in respect of spiritual efficiency and zeal, it stands infinitely higher at this moment than when the Institution first drew its breath.
* And was there nothing in all this, I would ask, to command the approbation and to rouse the sympathies of the Christian, because all the members and officers of the Society were not orthodox, pious, and devoted men? Is it nothing to see a field of corn, waving in rich and
golden promise, because there may be a greater or less proportion of tares mingled with the pure and solid grain? Is it nothing to behold the leaves of the tree of sacred knowledge scattered in such copious supplies over the troubled waters of human ignorance and error, because the hands of some of those by whom they are diffused, are not so pure from the taint of heresy, as all agree in desiring that they were? I would form no extravagant expectations from the operations of the Bible Society. In many instances, this, doubtless, has been done. I would not calculate the benefit as bearing a necessary proportion to the number of volumes which it circulates, but I must relinquish all my ideas of the efficiency of appointed means-of the established connexion between cause and effect in the general administration of the Divine government,-before I can lightly esteem the mighty machinery, which this Institution brings to bear upon the spiritual illumination of the human race. Clericus, pp. 23–26.
If it has been contended that the Bible Society is not, in erery sense, a religious society, no one has ever denied it to be a religious institution. But a religious society conveys to some persons, the notion of a closer religious fellowship, a more strictly ecclesiastical communion, than the Bible Society either professedly or really involves. In fact, though loosely termed a society, and supposed, as such, to comprehend all who, by subscribing to it, become its supporters, it can hardly be considered as in strict propriety a society at all. The only actual association is limited to its officers and the members of committees. It is specifically an institution, rather than a community; restricted in its object, unrestricted in the cooperation which it invites; wholly religious in the character of its management and agency, but taking no cognizance of the character of those who are willing to combine in giving the word of God to every nation under heaven; the principle of combination, with a view to the accomplishment of this object upon the greatest possible scale, being made ' as broad and comprehensive as the boundaries of ' professed Christianity.' The true character of the Society is seen in its object, its history, its operations, and its beneficent results; and as to its principles, what can be more scriptural ? For they are summed up in the two propositions, that the Bible is the Word of God, revealing the only way of salvation, and that as the Scriptures alike concern all, are addressed to all, and are needed by all, it is the duty of all who believe them to be the word of God, to unite in placing them, so far as possible, within the reach of
every creature. * 3. That, considering the British and Foreign Bible Society to be an Institution of the character above described, it is our opinion that those who do not acknowledge the Scriptural doctrine of the Holy Trinity cannot consistently be admitted Members of the Society.'
And it is our opinion that they can, for reasons again and