« VorigeDoorgaan »
authority beyond (or as I would rather say, so great as) that we accord to the commentaries of such men as Scott or Henry.
1. Who are the FathersIn a matter of such importance, as fixing who those men are, whose writings, or part of whose writings, form the supplement of Scripture, surely extreme caution and judgment are required; and where is that authority existing which is to give the stamp of currency to these names?
2. Suppose this settled, I ask next, what are the works we are to receive? Interpolations by authority are known to have been made. Have we assuredly weeded all this? In such a case as Tertullian, we must know the exact date of his writing, that we may distinguish the orthodox Father from the heretical Montanist. In fact we never can be safe unless each Father, like the noble honest St. Augustine, had added a “ liber retractationum” to his writings.
3. Next come all the difficulties of verbal criticisms. Language is surely not more plain when it flows from an uninspired than from an inspired pen; and the critical acumen which enables us to understand the writings of Origen, Athanasius, or Chrysostom, could also avail (I speak of human aids) for the explanation of St. Paul or St. John : and unless there is large leisure-aye and large means too-would be more profitably employed on the latter than the former. He who expends his skill on the inspired writings, knows this at least, that infalible truth-and all truth necessary to salvation-is before him. How knows he, when he takes the Fathers in his hands, that after he has mastered his author, he is not, after all, the’victim of playful deceit ?
4. Again: Is it always quite clear, whether a text quoted is in the way of exposition or of application? And who shall reconcile the Fathers one with another, or any one with himself ?
This paper has grown to greater length than I intended. I would conclude with demanding from the upholders of tradition, first, a de. finition of that very ambiguous word, a word capable of at least three meanings ; then, a declaration of what traditions are contended for; and lastly, some distinct description of the species of authority demanded for them.
W.S. H. * We remarked several years ago, when the Oxford Tracts began to obtain notice, that the unjust assumptions put forth in behalf of the Fathers would lead, in the end, to the lowering instead of elevating them in the eyes of the church; and we lament to say that this unhappy result is in progress : nor do we see how it is to be prevented; for while their writings were little studied, they were held in the reverence due to the faith, the piety, the zeal, the sufferings, the constancy of those holy men; but when they become known, they are found to contain, with much that is devout, edifying, and admirable, 80 much that is incorrect, jejune, superstitious, and unsound in doctrine, that the pendulum is likely to oscillate towards the one side in the proportion in which it had been rashly impelled towards the other. The undue claims set up for them, naturally lead to counter-statements, and thus their faults are exhibited with too little relief from their excellencies.
With regard to the " British Critic's" wish for " an ounce of civet" to sweeten Mr. Osborn's imagination, we would suggest a remark on both sides. In the work of Daillé, or the recent publications of Mr. Osborn, of Mr. Taylor, (in his “ Ancient Christianity), Mr. B. Noel, and other writers on the defects of the old writers, there are of necessity passages and allusions which are not particularly flagrant; but it is unjust to the Fathers to suppose that they indulged in wilful grossness; and to their censors that they wish unnecessarily to accumulate feculence. As we understand the argument, it is not that the Fathers meant to write what was unseemly, but that their writings abound in so much that in modern estimation is justly so accounted, that they are not to be resorted to as wise and well-judging writers. If Mr. Osburn's book required civet, it was because he wished to warn his readers from being enticed by the Oxford Tract writers to take up their abode in deleterious regions. This sort of charge has been very lavishly thrown out against all those writers who have replied to the unwise, because not duly measured, eulogies of those who are putting forth the Fathers as authorities. Thus the Rev. G. Poole, the incumbent of St. James's church, Leeds, thinks fit to say of the author of “Ancient Christianity and the Oxford Tracts”- ?-a man, whose purity of mind is no more doubtful than his extraordinary talents and extensive learning :
“Really judging from the character of this work, which none but a man of impure thoughts would have taken in hand, Mr. Taylor may really be longing for the Paradise of Mahomet. We had thought that theological controversy inight at least have been free from the sin of indecency, however many faults of temper it is too apt to engender. Alas! that we were inistaken! Perhaps however it is a stroke of policy in Mr. Taylor to enclose himself in his impurities, unapproachable by a delicate mind, as some animals, when closely pursued, drive away their enemies by the stench which they emit. At least I know of one person who was prevented from replying to Mr. Taylor's work in part by the obscenity through which he must have followed him.'
If the defenders of the Oxford Tracts could adduce sound argument they would not need to descend to the ribaldry of accusing their opponents of “impure thoughts,” “ longing for the Paradise of Mahomet," and requiring civet to sweeten their imaginations.
A WESLEYAN LAYMAN ON METHODISM, IN REPLY TO
“ VIGIL.” (We cheerfully insert the following letter, which does honour to the picty and candid and Christian temper of the writer. It does not however set at rest the ultimate question of the bearings of the system of Methodism upon the Anglican church.]
To the Editor of the Christian Observer, In your Number for last month, I have read the remarks of “ Vigil" upon the present position of the Wesleyans, and also the late Mr. Scott's letter appended to your own Editorial note, with some surprise and pain. Will you allow me the liberty of offering a few observations on the subjects referred to, in which, with all possible brevity, I shall endeavour to avoid anything that might lead to angry controversy.
"Vigil" allows that the Wesleyans have recently exerted a powerful influence for good, in favour of conservative principles, in Church and State: but it appears that this very fact alarms him; for he immediately forebodes that the same powerful influence may be exerted for evil, and that therefore the existence of such a body as the Wesleyans has become dangerous to the well-being of the community. Now, after making every allowance for his very imperfect knowledge of Wes. leyan Methodism, I cannot help thinking it ungenerous to suspect that
Curist. Observ. No. 28, 2 F
those who have just rendered a positive and undeniable service, are likely to act for the future in direct contradiction to their recently avowed convictions, and endeavour to pull down the edifice they have so zealously assisted in defending from the attacks of its enemies. The most ingenious and malicious opponent of Methodism cannot discover in the support she has recently given to the Established Church in this country, that she has been actuated by selfish and in. terested motives. I think with you, my dear Sir, that is not wise, and, I must add, that it is not charitable, to enter upon such speculations: they cannot do any good, they may do serious mischief. But there are a few points in Vigil's letter and in Mr. Scott's, which I should like to touch upon, because I think on these subjects the public is greatly misinformed.
Vigil" states his conviction—and many, I believe, entertain the same opinion--that it is entirely owing to the influence of a few leading individuals, that the Wesleyans at present rank themselves on the right side in Church and State politics. Now, without for one moment detracting from the praise justly due to those who by their weight of character and eminent talents have become the leaders of the body (and what body politic can be without leaders ?) I must declare my decided conviction that there is not a more united community in the kingdom than the Wesleyans. The same spirit influences every rank of which it is composed; nay more, the genius of Wesleyan Methodism is in itself so essentially conservative, that could the valued men who now stand in its foremost ranks desert their present principles, and apply all their power to the support of “ Voluntaryism and “ Liberalism," they would very shortly lose all the influence they have so legitimately obtained, and which at present they so benefi.
ially exert. The existence of democratic principles to any extent would completely dissolve the body; and indeed it is too well known to require further proof, that the fractional separations from the connexion which have occasionally taken place, and which“Vigil" evidently conceives to have been much more important than they really were, have been caused by a few men, whose principles were decidedly those of dissent, having separately obtained admission in the Society. These persons, where their members had become at all important, inevitably occasioned a rupture in consequence of the total dissimi. larity between their private opinions and the sentiments of the body at large ; which opinions were also opposed to the well-known constitution of the connexion itself.
The power of the preachers, and especially of the Conference, is another subject on which a thousand errors prevail. It is imagined that they have the unchecked control of all the funds of the connexion ; whereas any person who would take the slightest trouble to inform himself on the subject, would find that the various committees to which the management of these funds is entrusted, consist of laymen as well as ministers; and as these funds are all raised for the sole and direct purpose of spreading “Scriptural holiness" at home and abroad, surely our venerable church and our country have nothing to fear from the application of these resources. These funds, perhaps, are not so large as many persons imagine. The Wesleyans are by no means a wealthy body, and if the sums given by them for the spread of the Gospel equal or exceed those contributed by other so
cieties, it is because they have learned that it is a privilege to give more largely in proportion to their means.
Another supposed cause of alarm is, that the Chapels are the pro. perty of the Conference. This is quite a mistake; they are the property of the Connexion, and are vested in trustees, laymen, who manage all the financial concerns of the several trusts ; and so far are the preachers from having any pecuniary interest in these chapels, that they do not derive from them any portion of their income. The income of a Wesleyan minister arises entirely from the contributions of the members of the Society in the classes, and a quarterly collection in the chapels : that income is a very limited one, and varies very little in amount, in whatever part of the kingdom the minister may labour; and certainly the hope of pecuniary emolument can never be the motive for entering the Wesleyan ministry. Nor are they ambitious of great authority over their people; their respective flocks do indeed "esteem them very highly in love for their works' sake;" but they do not possess or assume any rights beyond those which every minister of Christ ought to have over the people committed to his charge— those of teaching, of reproving, and, if needs be, of expelling, an unworthy member. Their highest ambition, whether as individuals or as constituting the Conference, is to bring sinners to the knowledge of the truth : and for this end alone chapels are built and funds are raised. The organization of this body, and the high state of discipline which is maintained in it, seem to excite alarm. Ought not the efficiency of its constitution in these respects to be admired
and imitated ? Is it not this which gives it so weighty an influence at the present juncture ? Did the Church only possess an organization so complete, she would at once bear down all the opposition which has been raised against her by Papists, Dissenters, and Infidels. The Dissenters have been not a little chagrined to see the Wesleyans arrayed on the side of the Church, and they, in their indignation and spleen, try to find out some unworthy motive which may have prompted them to take this position. But that the clergy should turn round upon their allies, and tell them that they expect they will soon desert them, or that even while they continue allies they are drawing the very life blood of the Church from her veins, would be almost incredible, did we not find that it is the constant theme of many such excellent but misinformed clergymen as your correspondent“Vigil." If anything could do so, surely the constant iteration of such suspicions as these would in some degree alienate the affections of the Wesleyans from the venerable establishment, of which it will ever be their boast that their revered founder lived and died a highly honoured Presbyter : and it cannot be a very prudent course to be thus speculating upon the possible future hostility of a body, which has just rendered the establishment such invaluable, because disinterested, support.
"Vigil" seems desirous to know how he ought to act, in reference to those of his parishioners who belong to this body of Christians, and to their pastor. If he will permit a layman with great deference to answer the question, I would only say, that a forbearing and kind disposition towards them, as to all others, is all that is needful to produce in them the corresponding feelings of quiet, unobtrusive civility and sincere respect. They have been, ever since they were a people, a sect every where spoken against, and but a modicum of Christian forbearance and cuurtesy will suffice to make them very peaceable and inoffensive parishioners.
One word about “ zealous proselytism !" If it is meant by this term that strenuous efforts are made to draw over from the Church into the Wesleyan Society pious and enlightened communicants of the Church, no one would more strongly deprecate such a proceeding than myself; but I think I never heard of one such attempt having been made. But if it means the effort to do good to those who, though perhaps attending occasionally (or even with great regularity) the ser. vices of the Church, are still careless about their immortal interests ; and if by these labours such persons are converted from their evil ways, and, naturally enough, unite themselves to this people ; I am sure the Editor of the Christian Observer is not so bigoted as to consider such labours either injurious to the Church, or painful to the mind of the most zealous and laborious parochial minister.
In conclusion: I feel confident that the grand question as to the Church Establishment is settled, happily settled, notwithstanding all the efforts of the political Dissenters and their allies; and that the Church is now more deeply rooted in the affections of the intelligent part of the community than she ever was. How much of this effect is attributable to the influence of Wesleyan Methodism, I will not attempt to calculate : but (and on this subject I feel strongly) there is another and a far more arduous conflict before us.
The rapid strides with which popery is advancing in this country now begin to alarm the most secure ; and the only antagonist powers that can be brought with effect against this fearful Antichrist, are the Establishment and Wesleyan Methodism. Are they to enter into the conflict single-handed, or as allies? Perhaps the issue may depend upon this. Our crafty foe well knows how to take advantage of our jealousies and schisms; and moving as he does with all his furces in mighty phalanx, could he not crush our bands if opposed to each other or divided ? Does it not, then, become" Vigil," and indeed all who are concerned for the interests of the Protestant Church in these realms, to overlook all petty differences, and cordially to unite against the common enemy? Allow me to express the hope that your pages, no longer occupied with surmises as to the possible bearings of Methodism upon the interests of the Church at some future time, will sound an alarm to every Protestant heart, and summon all, under their respective leaders, to prepare for the approaching conflict, and, while breathing only brotherly love towards each other, bind themselves in a perpetual league to repel the aggressions of the Papal church.
ON THE BURIAL OF PERSONS NOT BAPTIZED BY AN
To the Editor of the Christian Observer. I am glad that you have at last permitted the subject of Methodism to be broached in your magazine, and trust that it will open the way to an investigation of its anomalous position. There are few of the clergy, I conceive-especially of those that are stationed in rural districts - who have not felt similar difficulties to those complained of by