Edward Miall.

The British Churches in relation to the British People online

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Miall, Edward, 1809-1881,
The Brit:lsh Churches In
relat:lon "to "bhe Brx-blsh




THE



BRITISH CHURCHES



IN RELATION TO THE



BRITISH PEOPLE.



EDWARD^MIALL.



LONDON :
ARTHUR UALL, VIRTUE AND CO., PATERNOSTER-ROW.

1849.



IContron :






PREFACE



The Congregational Union of England and "Wales
having, some time last year, mooted for discussion
the question of the general indifference of the
working classes to our religious institutions, I
thought it a good opportunity to obtain from
persons belonging to that section of the com-
munity, and, therefore, familiar with their
thoughts and habits, some information which
might aid in conducting us to right conclusions.
With this view I opened the columns of the
Nonconformist, for several weeks in succession,
to letters from working men, in which they were
invited to state such reasons for the assumed
fact, as they might happen to know had force
upon the members of the class. I closed this
series of interesting communications with some



iv PREFACE.

articles from my own pen, in which I endeavoured
to account for the state of things then under inves-
tigation. In preparing those articles, I felt myself
much hampered by the narrowness of the ground
selected for inquiry, and a strong desire sprung
up in my bosom to deal with a far more com-
prehensive question — namely, the comparative
inefficiency of the British Churches in respect
to the British people at large. The urgent
requests of some too partial friends fostered that
desire into determination — and this volume is the
fruit of it.

The substance of the following pages has
already been given to a very small fraction of
the public in a course of lectures, delivered during
the month of November, in the Theatre of the
City of London Literary Listitute. * I may

• I applied for the lesser Exeter Hall— but after having furnished
the Secretary with a prospectus of the lectures, I was informed by
him that the Committee declined acceding to my request. They
probably judged that they would act more in accordance with the
religious and philanthropic objects for which that edifice was erected,
by letting the room for a series of " Dramatic Readings," which I
1( ani from advertisements are about to take place there.



PREFACE.



mention, however, that they were prepared, not
for oral delivery, but for the press.

Such being the case, it may strike the reader
as strange that I have everywhere spoken in
the first person. I have done so advisedly. Taste
would have led me to comply with the usual
custom — for forms of speech which savour of
egotism are not the most graceful. But in a
matter of so much importance, I felt it due to
the public that the opinions given, or the changes
advocated in this volume, should not derive a
factitious value from the style in which they are
set forth — and the reader, therefore, is perpetually
reminded that nothing more than the views of
the individual writer is before him, and that,
consequently, they have no other authority than
their actual conformity with truth may be found
to give them. Whether there was need for this
deviation from the etiquette of authorship may
be fairly disputed — but, assuredly, it has been
dictated by an opposite feeling to that of vanity.



yi PREFACE.

A few passages in the following pages may
be recognised by some as having been addressed
to the public in other productions of the writer.
They are but few — and most of them have
appeared in an ephemeral form merely. I have
not thought it worth while, therefore, to distin-
guish them. They happened to serve my present
purpose — and being my own, I saw no good reason
for rejecting them.

I now submit the volume to the candid attention
of all who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.
It contains matter worthy of serious consideration
by all. The evils I have laboured to depict are
not confined to any denomination. My illustra-
tions of them are of course drawn from those
with which I am best acquainted — but, with few
exceptions, I fancy, the strain of my observations
will be found to hold good in reference to all.
Most emphatically may it be said of this question,
that it is not one of sect or party. The pervading
spirit of the book will best explain my motives —



PREFACE. Vll

the reasonings it contains must be left to explain
themselves. Investigation, the more searching the
better, is all that I court for the matters herein
treated of — where I have erred, correction — where
I am right, corroboration — in any case, an impar-
tial, unimpassioned, conscientious deference to
Truth. May Jesus Christ, the Head of the
Church, the power and extent of whose kingdom
I desire to promote, make this attempt, in some
way, conducive to that happy issue!

E. M.

1], TuFNELL Park, Hollo way.
Decemher 1, 1849.



CONTENTS



CHAPTER I.

RELIGIOUS LIFE, AND HOW IT SHOULD BE TREATED.

General Design stated — The task undertaken not agreeable — in the
view of some, not wise — Evils incident to the inquiry — not conclusive
against it — Duty to be gathered from the dispensation under which we
live — This the object of the present chapter — Christianity a life — Sup-
poses assimilation — The nature of religious life — Growth — Mode of
Divine manifestation — Demands self-action or effort — Effort necessary
to a sense of proprietorship — God's arrangements with a view to this life
— Aim at the increase of its power — The sharpening of its senses — The
multiplying of its manifestations — The Church an aggregate embodi-
ment of the same spiritual life. Hence our duty to it should be
deduced — Not to be petted into delicacy — Educated by free utterance
of opinion, correct and incorrect — No occasion for " the doctrine of
reserve." Bearing of these observations on the present inquiry —
Unsound state of the Church — Evil of silence on the subject. Use-
lessness — Conclusion Page 1 — 59

CHAPTER n.

THE PROPER OBJECT AND MEANS OF THE CHURCH.

Design of the chapter stated — Moral deterioration of human
nature — How accounted for — Consists in want of sympathy with
God's moral government — Aggravated and confirmed by guilt —
Devoid of all power of self-restoration — God's jilan for overcoming
this evil — His mind conveyed to us in a series of historical facts — all
in keeping with his purpose to attract man's symj^athy to moral laAv —
The purport of those facts and their adaptation to win man to hearty
subjection — Supreme authority working out our deliverance — at the



X CONTENTS.

cost of extreme suffering — resulting in our elevation to a status of
moral freedom. The exhibition of this scheme of reconciliation
fitly assigned to men — to men who appreciate it — to men in organized
associations or Churches— Main end for which Churches have been
instituted— Harmony of spirit with that end requisite to success —
will show itself in sympathy with God's rights — Interest in man's
welfare— Faith in the gospel as a means to secure both — Conclusion

63—115

CHAPTER III.

RELIGION OF THE BRITISH CHURCHES.

Reasonable anticipations of the Churches' success — Not realized in
existing facts — Feebleness of spiritual life in the British Churches —
Plan adopted for exhibiting it — God's rights the main end of the
gospel — Importance of so regarding them — Commonly considered
secondary to man's safety and happiness — Practical fruits of the
error seen in the treatment of religion as a distinct branch of human
duty — in the arbitrary manner in which obligation is recognised — in
the vicarious discharge of important responsibilities — and in the
failing ])ower of gospel truth over the popular mind — Substitution of
law for love as the Spirit of Christianity — Etiects of the error —
Constraint — Compromise — War with irreligion in its external modi-
fications — Letter exalted above spirit — Consequent sectarianism and
its attendant evils— Concluding remarks .... 119 — 174

CHAPTER IV.

THE ARISTOCRATIC SENTIMENT.

Causes of weakness reviewed in the foregoing chapter — Indigenous
— Show the want of a higher style of religion — Amongst extraneous
causes tlie aristocratic sentiment is prominent — Plan of the chapter —
Sense in which tlie phrase is employed— Spirit of caste — Man valued
according to worldly position— Not in harmony with the spirit of the
gosi)el— with its sjjiiitual purport — with the life of Christ— with
j)receptivc directions— with Church fellowship — Aristocratic sentiment
in the British Churches— Caution against mistakes— Its evil action
upon tlie sympathies of the Churches— upon their enterprises— upon
their ])ractical methods of usefulness— Pernicious consequences attri-
butable to it — Loss of moral infiuence — Bitterness of unbelief
anii)iig.st the poor. Popular iiiditference— Neglected capabilities

177-228



CONTENTS. XI

CHAPTER V.

THE PKOFESSIONAL SENTIMENT.

Moral power evolved by organized association— Organization pre-
supposes government. " The ministry," comparatively little said about
it in the New Testament. "Oversight" and "teaching" clearly
distinct functions. " Teaching" classed by the New Testament with
other " gifts." Modern notions of a "ministerial order" not scriptural.
Chm-ch machinery in apostolic times — The professional sentiment
founded on mistaken views of the ministry. Fed by ministerial
education — ordination — Limitation of eldership in each Chm-ch to
one person — Renunciation of secular pursuits — Clerical titles, dress,
&c. Evils entailed on the Churches by the professional sentiment —
Fosters the multiplication of " interests" — Transfers responsibility
from the Church to the minister — Represses lay talent and enterprise
— Nourishes ministerial esprit de corps — Exposes the proclamation of
the Gospel to serious disadvantages — Conclusion . . 231 — 288

CHAPTER VI.

THE TRADE SPIRIT.

Interest in the present increased by interest in the future — Chris-
tianity does not unfit men for secular pursuits — Trade, the handmaid
of religion — The trade spirit defined and described — Stimulants to it
in this country — Somewhat moderated by the power of religious life —
but, to a greater extent, injurious to it — Illustrations — Choice of
employment— Speculation — Truthfulness — Honesty — Consideration of
the good of others — Treatment of dependents — As it regards those
received into the household — Such as work merely for stipulated
wages — Evil influence of the tracle spirit upon the character and
entei'prise of our Churches — Conclusion .... 291 — 341



CHAPTER VII.

SOCIAL AND POLITICAL HINDRANCES TO THE SUCCESS OF THE CHURCHES.

The Churches' failure accounted for in the main by the Churches'
character — Partly to be ascribed to external hindrances — Extreme
poverty obstructive of religious efi'ort — Cannot be evangelized —
Radiates through all classes an immoral influence — Excessive total an
obstacle to the success of the Churches — Not removed by the inter-



Xll CONTENTS.

vention of the Sabbath — Popular ignorance a barrier to the progress
of Divine truth — Political religionism as developed in Church
Establishments — Essential idea embodied in State Churches — They
encroach upon the prerogatives of Christ — Attract men to the
ministiy from worldly motives — Who jealously oppose the labours of
others — Shut out large classes from the benefit of voluntary Christian
effort — Substitute ritualism for spiritual life — This position illustrated
by a glance at the religious character of the aristocracy, the middle-
classes, and the working-men — Paralyze the sympathies of the
Churches — Misrepresent the object and spirit of the Gospel — General
observations, applying to all the foregoing hindi'ances — How far the
Churches are responsible for their existence — The obstruction they
offer not to be overcome by direct religious means . . 345 — 399

CHAPTER VIII.

KEMEDIAL SUGGESTIONS AND CONCLUSION.

The vis medicatrix of vital Christianity — Our duty to remove
obstructions to its action — What practical changes does such duty
involve ? Those affecting the spiritual life itself — Divine influence not
to be expected but in conformity with Divine principles of adminis-
tration — Study of God's character necessary to disinterested sympathy
— Recognition of the grace of the Gospel necessary to free service —
Christianity received as a master-principle necessary to the univer-
sality of religious life — Changes affecting the machinery of the
Churches — To be introduced cautiously — Buildings for public
worship — Free disputations — Gradual preparation for a more general
employment of the gift of teaching — Futiu-e amalgamation of
" interests " and denominations — Suggestions affecting the moral
influence of Churches — Maintenance by the Churches of their own
poor — Exertions for the benefit of the neighbourhood — Public spirit
in relation to men's temporal and spiritual welfare — Use of the Press
— Closing observations 403—458



ERTIATA.



Pago 27, line fi, /or "marks," read " works."

Page 73, lino G, /or "unutterable," irad "unalterable."

Page 88, line 3 from bottom, for "ingenious," read "ingenuous."



CHAPTER I.

RELIGIOUS LIFE, AND HOW IT SHOULD BE TREATED.



CONTENTS.

GENERAL DESIGN STATED. THE TASK UNDERTAKEN NOT AGREE-
ABLE — IN THE VIEW OF SOME, NOT WISE — EVILS INCIDENT TO THE
INQUIRY— NOT CONCLUSIVE AGAINST IT — DUTY TO BE GATHERED FROM
THE DISPENSATION UNDER WHICH WE LIVE — THIS THE OBJECT OF
THE PRESENT CHAPTER — CHRISTIANITY, A LIFE — SUPPOSES ASSIMILA*
TION — THE NATURE OF RELIGIOUS LIFE — GROWTH — MODE OF DIVINE
MANIFESTATION — DEMANDS SELF-ACTION OR EFFORT — EFFORT NECES-
SARY TO A SENSE OF PROPRIETORSHIP — ^OD'S ARRANGEMENTS WITH
A VIEW TO THIS LIFE — AIM AT THE INCREASE OF ITS POWER — THE
SHARPENING OF ITS SENSES — THE MULTIPLYING OF ITS MANIFESTA-
TIONS—THE CHURCH AN AGGREGATE EMBODIMENT OF THE SAME
SPIRITUAL LIFE. HENCE OUR DUTY TO IT SHOULD BE DEDUCED —
NOT TO BE PETTED INTO DELICACY— EDUCATED BY FREE UTTERANCE
OF OPINION, CORRECT AND INCORRECT— NO OCCASION FOR "THE
DOCTRINE OF RESERVE." BEARING OF THESE OBSERVATIONS ON THE
PRESENT INQUIRY — UNSOUND STATE OF THE CHURCH — EVIL OF
SILENCE ON THE SUBJECT. USELESSNESS — CONCLUSION.



CHAPTER I.



i



It is my purpose, in the following pages, to call
attention to the character of British churches, as
instruments for preserving and extending Chris-
tianity amongst the British people. With this
view, I shall attempt to convey a clear notion of
the spiritual power given them to wield, and con-
trast with it the meagre and unsatisfactory results
which by means of it they have achieved. I shall
endeavour to detect those subtle influences which,
in this country, and in these times, mingle with
the religious spirit and enervate it — to point out
those methods of practically expressing it which
cumber its action — and to survey the more im-
portant of those social obstructions which prevent
its success. With greater diffidence, but in the
hope of prompting other minds to pursue the
subject, I shall glance at some remedial measures
adapted to lessen the evils which will be brought
under notice, and shall enforce a prudent applica-

B 2



4 RELIGIOUS LIFE, AND HOW

tion of them by those arguments and appeals the
persuasiveness or pungency of which have prevailed
^vith my own conscience and heart.

The region of observation over which such an
inquiry, if faithfully pursued, will necessarily lead
us, is far from attractive. The kindliest tone
cannot convert matters of lamentation into ministers
of pleasure — nor can we listen with satisfaction to
a description of our own defects or faults, even
from the lips of the tenderest and purest love. I
do not, therefore, indulge a hope of leaving upon
the mind of the reader an agreeable impression.
The task undertaken may be necessary, timely,
serviceable, — but can hardly be grateful to a
rightly constituted nature. " Comparisons are "
proverbially " odious " — and it is natural that we
should shrink from comparing what we are and do,
as the friends of Christ, with what we might be
and do, if thoroughly imbued with his spirit. The
interval between the actual and the possible which
it will be my chief business to measure and account
for, in oVder to lessen, cannot be passed over de-
liberately and wakefully, without exciting feelings
of shame and pain. My conviction of this wovdd
arrest me at starting, were the object I have in
view one terminating upon myself. But, fully
persuaded that the further progress of Christianity
as modified by the spirit of the age cannot reason-
ably be anticipated, and that religion must get



IT SHOULD BE TREATED.



clear of much that now impedes it before it can
advance to large conquests, I am willing to en-
counter some impatience, and, if it must be so, to
risk the little stock of good-will I am happy to
enjoy, in pointing the way to those changes which,
in my judgment, must precede any extensive

Rpirit.iml tvnimph in this ronnf.ry.

I am aware, too, that my undertaking will be
objected to by a graver and more trustworthy
authority than that of mere feeling. By some men
it will be looked upon as not more unpleasant than
it is unwise. They doubt the useful tendency of
any investigation which may end in weakening
their own, or others', reverence for existing reli-
gious institutions. The injury done to truth, by
awakening suspicion as to the strict propriety of
the common methods of proclaiming it, will more
than outweigh, they fear, the advantage likely to
accrue from a detection of mistakes. They hesitate
to unsettle even with a view to mend. They would
rather veil than expose weakness — and deem it
much more prudent to keep up comely appearances,
than, by proving them to be unreal, to lay open
Christianity itself to false inferences. If it be true,
they argue, that the religion of the present day is
somewhat defective, and that the pure metal is
mixed up with a much larger portion than we
could desire of base alloy, is it equally certain that
in the attempt to separate the one from the other,



6 RELIGIOUS LIFE, AND HOW

you will not lose gold as well as dross '? Whilst
opening men's eyes to what is unsound in our
churches, may you not imperil the influence of those
churches altogether'? The good which they ac-
complish may not be of the liighest kind — ^but
an untimely reference to their faults might possibly
destroy their competence for even that. AVhcre we
are not sure of improving, common sense tells us
it were best not to meddle — for there is scarcely
a sphere of human action in which experience has
not proved that the mischief incident to great
changes may far outweigh the amount of good fore-
gone by permitting things to remain as they are.

Now it is admitted frankly and cheerfully that
the objection is well mounted; but it remains to
be seen whether it rides to a right conclusion. It
is true that the detection of previously lurking but
unnoticed error, the dragging it to light, and the
effort to destroy it, or, at least, to drive it from our
midst, usually, perhaps necessarily, occasion some
results which to our limited views appear un-
desirable or disastrous. It is true that transition
from a diseased to a healthier condition can rarely
be effected without an increase for the time, of
personal inconvenience and suffering, and, in
severe cases, local derangement or partial ener-
vation, of a permanent character. It is true, that
the application of every grand discovery in science
to the business of life, plucks up a system to which



IT SHOULD BE TREATED.



men's habits have accommodated themselves, snaps
not a few jEibres which ministered to its growth,
leaving them to perish in the soil in which they
are imbedded and to which they still tenaciously
cling, and, in regard to both persons and things,
bruises and shakes off much that, whilst perform-
ing appropriate functions, was necessary to its
completeness and heightened its grace. It is true,
that every revolution of kingdoms, like the hur-
ricane of the tropics, glorious and grateful as may
be the political ameliorations which it bequeaths
to after ages, is accompanied by excesses which
humanity must deplore, lets loose fiery passions
which long afterward will continue to waste and
destroy, tears to shreds with indiscriminate fury
good as well as evil, and leaves upon the nation
over which it passes indelible marks of its tre-
mendous power. And it is equally true, that
any novel direction or intenser action, of moral
force, calculated, whether suddenly or gradually,
to sweep before it deep-rooted prejudices, wide-
spread misapprehensions, ancient customs, and all
the dead and decaying matter which accumulates
about the prostrate trunks of once noble because
living forms of spiritual action, will shake faith
where it is crazy, and give a sort of excuse to
depraved tendencies, and, with the rubbish and
the impurity which it carries down to the ocean
of oblivion, will carry also some things, in their



8 RELIGIOUS LIFE, AND HOW

own nature, beautifiil and true, not likely to be
cast up again upon the shore of human knowledge
and practice, until after the lapse of many ages.

Nor can any solid advantage to religion be
gained by underratmg the evils which may pos-
sibly follow the raising of that veil which partially
conceals the true character of our religious insti-
tutions and spirit, and the removal of which will
expose to the gaze of all so much to gratify
malignity on the one hand, and to shock reverent
and affectionate esteem on the other. If, m order
to future improvement, we must closely and sternly
scrutinize past and present defects, a thorough
appreciation of the hazards wliich beset our task,
will be no mean preparation for performing it with
skill. Let it be fully recognised, then,- that a rigid
examination of modern Christianity as embodied
in the churches of most, if not all denominations,
with a view to separate the true in sentiment from
the spurious, and in practice, the unmeaning and
pernicious from the reasonable and the comely,
will probably occasion incidental mischief which
thoughtful and generous minds cannot but deplore
— that it will confirm in some quarters a suspicion
that all religion is delusive, that it will favour in
others the belief that all forms for preserving and
displaying it are useless and therefore inexpedient
— that it wUl sever in some cases the only tie which
connects spiritual hopes with the conscientious use



IT SHOULD BE TREATED. if

of appointed means — that it will give an impulse
in others to a censorious and impracticable temper
— ^that it will suggest many a distressing doubt —
that it will nip and perhaps cut off many a budding
affection from which wholesome fruit might here-
after have been gathered — and that it will bring
spiritual enterprise to a temporary pause, by over-
shadowing its main pathways by a cloud of per-
plexities and misgivings — let all this be granted as
possible, nay ! likely — and it still remains an open
question whether such an examination may not be
profitably made. We are not shut up by the
admission to an acquiescence in things as they are.
We are only bound over by it to a watchful care
that we proceed to the task upon good grounds and
with heedful steps. It may be that necessity is laid
upon us. A comprehensive view of the whole case
may force upon us the conviction that freedom of
choice, in this and similar matters is not offered to
us, and that the duty of every man is determined
for him, not by a balance of opposite contingencies
in computing which we are almost sure to err, but
by the unchangeable laws of the dispensation under
which we live, and which cannot, under any pretext,
be violated with impunity.

We can hardly be wrong in concluding, that if
any such laws there be, if any clear obligation can
be deduced from the nature and objects of divine
revelation, a calm survey of them will go far to



10 RELIGIOUS LIFE, AND HOW

reconcile us to the task we contemplate. It may
even serve a larger purpose than that of soothmg
ruffled temper, and breathmg courage into trem-
bling spirits. Few sources, perhaps, have poured