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possible for him to be satisfied with the negations of Agnos-
ticism. Cecil was distinctly one of this type. He had read
much and heard not less of the reasoning of modem scepti-
cism ; he had sought to enter into the philosophy of Herbert
Spencer ; he had followed out the ingenious speculations of
Darwin ; he had been half-amused, half-irritated by the in*
Solent chaff of Matthew Arnold on questions which, of all
others, demand serious treatment, and serious treatment only..
But none of them had made a permanent impression upon
him, because deep down in his heart lay the craving for a
living God, and a secret sense of the value of religion which
nothing could really destroy, but which had been more dis*
turbed by the extravagance and folly and cant of narrow-
minded Christian professors than by all the artillery of un-

Of course this sentiment deepened his own admiration for
Constance, whose piety was of a singularly high type. She
had as little liking for the petty trifles which, in certain sec-
tions of the religious world, take the place of the frivolities of
fashion, as for those frivolities themselves; and as little
sympathy for those who rushed from meeting to meeting, as
though Christian life consisted in the excitement of public
gatherings, as for others who hurry from dance to dance and
drawing-room to drawing-room. By some of these eager
zealots she was thought cold, and supposed to be wanting in
spirituality. But among their many false judgments none
could be more mistaken than this. She hated cant, had
nothing of the unctuous in tone and manner, was not given
to excitement, and had little pleasure in the sensational ex-
periences which some love. But she was ardent and enthu-
siastic, full of energy in all Christian work, and with a clear
and intelligent view of all religious questions. Her character
was thus remarkably free from the faults which are presumed,

VOL. xm. 27

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perhaps too confidently and ^th bat insufficient grounds, to
belong to the religion of women. In the best sense of the
word she might be described as strong-minded, but from the
«Iass to which the name is commonly applied she shrank
with a positive recoil. Nothing would have induced her
io stand on a public platform,* address a miscellaneous
audience, and become the gazing-stock of impertinent eyes
or the subject of a criticism which is most offensive when it
is most patronizing. She had a very lofty conception of the
functions of women, and it was this which led her to cultivate
s, different kind of influence and turn aside from a sph^e in
which, in her view, it was possible for them to succeed only
1)y the sacrifice of some of the noblest qualities of their sex.
She was, as we have already seen, generous in her judgments
and full of a sympathy such as the Master Himself might have
shown for the erring. All this greatly impressed Cecil. He
felt there was one who, even in the simplicity of her own
piefty and the undisturbed calip of her own faith, could still,
should th*e opportunity present itself, enter into his own per-
plexities, and possibly help him to the settlement of some of
the points about which his mind was exercised. Hitherto no
such question had been discussed between them, but occa-
sionally the conversation had drifted on to some of the diffi-
•culties of faiths and he had been as much moved by the broad
charity of her judgments as by the lucidity which was so
marked a characteristic of her views and of the arguments by
which she maintained them.

*' I was pleasantly surprised," he said to her on one occa-
sion, when they had been talking on some' of these topics,
•*to hear you speak so considerately of Woolston. In my
own circle I have been accustomed to hear such men referred
to with a pious horror which seemed afraid almost to utter
their name, and regarded their opinions only as subjects for
anathema ; and I had been taught to believe that in all such
matters Dissenters were more severe and bigoted than Church
people. But you seemed to express more of compassion than
of indignation for this poor young fellow."

** Well," said Constance, " if God is able to bear with him,
why should not I ? Or, rather, if God suffers me, how can I
dare to be intolerant towards my fellow-man ? It has long

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seemed to me a very cheap way of getting a reputation for
piety to be severe towards mibeUevers, and about as valuable
as the liberality of the man of whom Sydney Smith tells, who
was always so deeply moved by the appeals of an eloquent
preacher, that he felt disposed to empty the contents of his
neighbour's pockets into the plate."

" But surely it is intelligible that really pious people should
be wounded by the insolence of unbelief. There are many to
whom the Bible is a personal friend, and to have it attacked
is to them a cause of jTersonal trouble."

''Perfectly true; but I am not sure that this is the class
which is most bitter against unbelievers. I hope I am not
uncharitable in saying that I fear that with many the hatred of
unbelief is one of the many form^ of self-delusion ; but if I am,
their own mode of action must bear the blame of my mistake.
For, in the first place, almost the only evidence they give of
their own piety is their hatred of the unbeliever, translating
itself often into' some social or political persecution ; and,
what is worse, even in this they draw a distinction between
unbeliever and unbeliever. Matthew Arnold is praised,
flattered, caressed everywhere, and yet the mocking tone and
unbelief which inspires his books is to me more offensive than
the most vulgar diatribes of an avowed atheist."

''I cannot deny it. Indeed^ I know young men whose
faith has been shaken by the banter of Arnold who would
never have been affected by such objections as Tom Paine or
Bradlaugb might suggest, and would have been impervious
to the scientific arguments of the evolutionists. To begin
with, Matthew Arnold gets a hearing which would be denied
to unbelievers of coarser mould. He was clever enough to
make his earliest attacks on Dissent, and they were hailed
by good Churchmen, who did not see that his blows were really
aimed at vital religion. When he assailed the late Bishop
WUberforce with his inimitable persiflage, and still more
when he adopted the shameful illustration of the three Lord
Bhaftesburys, they began to discern his drift. But, after all,
there is a feeling towards him quite different from that with
which other unbelieving teachers, whose influence is actually
less dangerous because less subtle, are regarded."

** Is it surprising, then, that I regard a good deal of this

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outward zeal for ChriBtianity with suspicion, especially when
it takes this questionable shape ? With the unbelief itself I
have not a particle of sympathy. I do not profess to discuss
the scientific value of the discussions of Darwin, but the
marvel to me is how any man can think that they can affect
the faith of any soul which has ever had a true experience of
spiritual life. On the other hand, however, I cannot see how
I am likely to commend the gospel of Christ to a man who
has been drawn away from it, whether by evolutionism or
any of the other ' isms * of the day, by endeavouring to make
him feel the^weight of my indignation."

" Then you would not dissolve a friendship because your
friend had wandered away from the strict paths of orthodoxy ?"

'^ Assuredly not. No doubt where vital differences arise j^
points that touch the deepest springs of spiritual feeling there
cannot be that close and intimate fellowship which friends love.
But instead of separating myself from a friend who had thus
strayed, I should rather seek to win the wanderer back by all
tender sympathy and kindly appeal."

" At least," said Cecil, as they parted, " that seems to me
in harmony with the spirit of Christ."



I FEEL that no apology is needed for the choice of such a
subject. To-day the question is so often raised, and often by
those who are by no means the least thoughtful and earnest,
" Have we a place at all — and if so, what place — among the
Churches? and a part to play in the moulding of the Church of
the future ? " And often these questions are answered in the
negative. We cannot deny that many, especially among the
present generation of old Nonconformist families, have come
to the conclusion that Congregationalism has done its work,
and is now a thing of the past ; that it is as vain and hopeless
a task to attempt to resuscitate its vigour and life as to re-

"^^ Paper read by the Bev. H. M. Stallybrass at the meeting of the third
district of the Derbyshire Congregational Union at Matlock Bank,
October 4, 1883.

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animate a corpse. Looking at the snrface, there may be not
a few appearances that seem to point to this conclusion.
Fifty years ago there was as a rule almost the same contrast
between church and chapel as there is between darkness and
light. Whilst the parish church or chapel-of-ease was cold
and dead as a tomb, and not only Toid of life in itself, but
exerting a paralyzing, withering influence all around, the
meeting-house was a centre of strong spiritual influences.
Not only was there an intensity of life and unction in the
pulpit, but a wave of religious .fervour seemed to enter every
home and pervade every family in the Church. There existed
a high ideal of Christian character and duty, and strong faith
to sustain it. Nor was this confined to pastor and deacons;
it was a characteristic of the many. There were fathers and
mothers in Israel in those days— men and women of decided
Christian character, and robust and vigorous Christian life ;
strong to sympathize, to cheer, to help, to warn, to guide ;
taking a deep and intense interest in the spiritual welfare of
each individual fellow-member. Less work was undertaken
outside, perhaps ; but what was done was efficiently and con-
scientiously performed. Strong personal influences were thus
radiating from many centres, and personal religion was a
power that could be felt, and our Churches were indeed the
salt of the earth in a corrupt age.

In the present day we witness a wonderful transformation.
The Established Churches are no longer mere sepulchres of the
dead, nor are the services dull and tedious, nor the sermons
so often vapid and lifeless as they used to be. The clergy,
for the most part, are no longer mere loungers in genteel
society, or place seekers, but zealous and devoted workers,
and include to-day a large body of noble men of consecrated
lives, who are daily making real sacrifices for the glory of God
and the spiritual welfare of their fellow-men; men whose
zeal and devotion would be an ornament to any portion of the
Christian Church. If on the other hand we should let go
that spirit which ennobled our Independent ancestors, and
simply pride ourselves in our traditions ; if ever their single-
ness of aim and devotion should give place to the spirit of
self-seeking, and the love of honour and power for its own
sake ; if ever our churches are degraded to an arena for strife

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and discord, would it be a matter of surprise that some of dtir
number, quiet and devout spirits, who yearn for order and
peace, should turn from such a babel of discord to the quiet
resting-places that the Established Church can offer to her
Totaries; and that they should justify their departure by
saying that the Church of their fathers is not what it used to
be in days of old, not the Church from which their fathers
seceded, what it was at the time of their secession ; that they
should even go further, and assert that what we are now con-
tending for is a mere shadow, not worth the strife, and that
for the sake of an impossible ideal we are sacrificing the sub-
stance and the reality ?

But let us look at the question a little closer. What is the
real basis of our Nonconformity ? what is the rationale of our
existence as Congregationalists ? what is the princ\ple for
which our forefathers contended, cheerfully enduring reproach
and obloquy in the contest ? In the present day the most
popular and most frequently iterated cry is for Disestab-
lishment : only sever the Church from State control, give
her a place among the Free Churches, and the demon
will be exorcised from the Anglican Church. But the
real point at issue, it seems to me, goes down far deeper
than the question of ecclesiastical polity; this has arisen
simply as a means to an end, but is not the ultimate end in
itself. It is not at its root a question of Establishment versus
Disestablishment, but of ecclesiastical despotism versus liberty
of conscience. Upon what are we to fall back as our court of
appeal, our ultimate authority ? what is to be the law of our
life, individual and social, personal and ecclesiastical; the
dictum of an ecclesiastic or body of ecclesiastics, the creed of
a Church or the inward light of God's Holy Spirit illuminating
each ransomed soul, the voice of God speaking to each re-
newed conscience through His Word ? Who is to be our priest ?
what is to be our atoning sacrifice ? It was against the spirit
of priestcraft and religious despotism, which had for centuries,
under the papal supremacy, robbed the Church of its spiritual
manhood, that the early Independents lifted up the most
strenuous voice, striving unto blood. It was for freedom of
conscience and liberty of thought, restrained only by the limits
of God's Word, for the resuscitation of Christ's Church, long

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buried under papal fictions and traditions, that {hey raised
their standard, when for a brief period they swelled the ranks
of the Established Church in the day of the Ck)mmonwealth.
It was against spiritual despotism and priestly assumption
that they so earnestly strove after the Restoration, when, with
a return of the Episcopacy, a torrent of priestism swept over
the land ; and the more recent cry for Disestablishment was
the result of the strong conviction that the bane of priestcraft
could only be eliminated from the Church when raised to the
level of Free Churches.

Now if we calmly review the condition of the Anglican
Church throughout the land in the present day, we are, I
think, bound to admit that this spirit of priestly assumption,
which returned with Laud's return to the Episcopate, which
hibernated during the arctic zon§ of the eighteenth century,
has of recent years burst forth with renewed vitality and
energy. There is a life and a vigour in the Established Church
of to-day which would have astounded the drowsy church-goers
of a century ago. And in the revival of religious life within
the pale of the Establishment there is a spirit of philanthropy
and active benevolence at which we cannot but most heartily
rejoice, nor would we hesitate to say that the steady aim of
tb^ leaders of this movement has been the spiritual elevation
of the people. But what are the means, the channels through
which this goal is to be approached ? Is it not Church, priest,
confessional, and sacrament? Is there not a tremendous
energy now being put forth to familiarize the mind of the
nation with the idea^ of the Church as the only home of cove-
nanted mercies ; the priest the only authorized dispenser of
Divine grace, and successor of the apostles ; and the sacra-
ments of the Church the only consecrated way ? While men
may turn away from such teaching, is it not laying hold of
many women, and being set before the young alongside with
the most sacred verities of our Christian faith ? And in the
very services of the Church, whilst the eye is fascinated with
the comely and tasteful appointments of a modem Church,
and the ear enchanted with sweet melodies and chaste har-
monies, and the heart, too, often touched with tones which
are the unmistakable utterances of a devout spirit aspiring
after God, is not the poison of priestcraft secretly and in-

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sidibusly insinaating itself until horror gives place to toleration,
indifference, and finally to assent.

We doubt not for a moment the sincerity, the zeal, or the
consecration of the typical Anglican priest; we need not pause
to inquire whether the end contemplated justifies or sanctifies
the means employed, but we do challenge the means. Is it
possible through them to reach to the highest a^d wisest end?
Are they sanctioned or encouraged by the New Testament ?
Have we ever found in any page of the world's history a
nation fettered in thought and oppressed by priestcraft to be
prolific of noble and brave men — men of spiritual grasp and
insight, manifest children of the Most High ? Whenever
exceptional men have appeared has not religion been the mere
appendage of the real life, not the real life moulded and
shaped into the highest form through a perfect fusion of life
and religion ?

What, then, does all this activity mean ? whither does it tend ?
Is it an actual fact that the Augean stables of the Establish-
ment are undergoing a thorough cleansing, and fast becoming
a true home for Christ's people, and therefore that Congrega-
tionalism has accomplished its work and henceforth may
cease to be ? Is it not nearer the truth to say that as a
nation we are gradually drifting into spiritual thraldom, in-
clining to toy with what France has discovered to be a
venomous serpent, and is thrusting from her in horror and

If we at all realize the priceless worth of our inheritance
as Congregationalists; if we really grasp the doctrine of simple
faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the only means of acceptance
with God, and of growth in grace as His sons through the
illumination of His Holy Spirit; if we believe in the possibility
of going on to know the Lord, and of rising to yet higher
platforms of instruction and experience, without the need of
human intervention, we are, I think, bound to admit that
Congregationalism, so far from having completed, has but
begun its work, and that the stumbles and falls, of which so
much has been said, are but those of infancy; that there is
yet an erect youth and a strong manhood before us, if only
we are true to our principles and possess our souls in patience.

It will also be apparent that the real point at issue is some-

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thing far deeper and vastly more important than the mere
question of Disestablishment, For the spirit of priestcraft
may prevail as virulently in a Disestablished as in an Es-
tablished Church, as we may actually see in Eomish com-
munions that are not Established. There are many members
of the Established Church who see and mourn with us the
tendency of Anglicanism, and who are stoutly and earnestly
resisting it, but who are convinced that it would prevail yet
more intensely if the Church were disestablished. Though
we may differ from them, let us honour their convictions, and
seek a closer union and more hearty co-operation with such.
It being assumed, then, that we have a place in Christendom,
a protest to utter, and, more than that, a positive truth to attest,
the question yet remains, How are we to gather up our forces,
and make our existence felt, as witnessing to the truth com-
mitted to us? Not simply by asserting the superiority of our
Church system to all other systems, but by stowing it and
proving it. In nature the bare, furrowed rock, which is incap-
able of growth or of life, is a far more lovely object than the
withered flower or the decaying carcase. Yet the blooming
flower and the living creature rank infinitely higher in the order
of creation than the rock or even the precious stone. Whilst
we can conceive of no higher order of Church existence than
our order, when there is vigorous life, when the life of Christ
is dwelling in us, when all the selfishness and littleness, and
bigotry and blindness so natural to us is drawn out of us, and
the love of Christ is shed abroad in our hearts — on the other
hand, we can conceive of no system so rotten, such an utter
abomination, as Congregationalism, when that life has de-
parted from us, when the tissues of our being, fashioned not
as stones, to exist without life, but framed to be filled with
God's life, are rotting and decomposing, and in a process of
resolution into natural elements. Our very capacity for glory,
when animated with the true spirit, involves the completeness
of our degradation when that spirit is driven from us. Mere
assertion is idle and sickening. Bather let us shoiv the
capacity that is in our system. Let it be our aim, not to
patch up a falling house with fresh organization and new
departures, but earnestly to seek and to cultivate that spirit
that shall enable us to manifest the sjxength and beauty of a

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Christian brotherhood, and to show to the world and to the
Church that we can live the life of love, parity, and holiness,
and can co-operate in peace and unity for the extension of t^e
Redeemer's kingdom because He is our King and Guide, and
His spirit is dwelling in us.

How shall we extend our borders and grow in strength for
the coming struggle ? We may see around us in nature two
methods of accumulative growth. The living cell of plant or
animal is ever throwing forth nuclei, which develop into fresh
and self-contained cells, and these, clustering round the parent
cell, form living tissue. There is also another method, for
^t accumulates and rubbish too, rapidly enough, but without
any inherent cohesion. To which method shall we liken the
growth of the Christian Church ? We need not pause to con-
sider, though not unfrequently has growth been expected to
be as rapid as that of the rubbish heap. But let us remember
that the one essential requisite for a living growth is a vigorous^
healthy life ; check that, and the process ends; for what strength
remains is absorbed in the rejection of dead cells — effete

If there is any analogy to be found in the growth of the
living plant, and I think there is, we must not be too eager and
expectant for rapid growth, for sudden spurts of excitement,
for making a noise and a figure in the world ; but rather to
be Christians ourselves, to be Christ-like, to be pure and true
and loyal to our Master, to show forth the fruits of the Spirit —
fruits indigenous to this climate in God's kingdom, fruits that
will not be nipped by the first frost or blighted by the first
east wind, for we all know how cold this world is; to be
Christ's ourselves, to be led of His Spirit. Then shall we give
forth an influence whereby other spirits, whom God shall call,
shall be gathered round us. Even as .Christ in the simple
power of truth and purity drew all men to Him, out of
such accumulations, clustering round the great Head of the
Church, shall the Church of Christ be formed.

In the light of this ideal every Christian home will be &
cluster of living organisms in the garden of the Lord, every
individual an actual unit, an integral part of the whole, which
is His body, the temple of the living God.

Once more it may be asked: Apart from the tendenciea^

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already noted, apart from the great impending straggle for
freedom in the spiritual world, if we could ignore these, would
it still be worth while to contend for a Free Church, seeing that
that contest involves a struggle with the imperfections of
average humanity with what is so patently defective in our
Church life ? Is it worth the effort to endeavour to rear the
standard of Christian purity of life and faith ? When I con-
sider the inestimable value of such a discipline as this effort
involves in one's own spiritual culture ; when I consider that
it was this that was the lifelong struggle of our blessed Be*
deemer, that the standard was the standard which He reared,
His ideal. His creation; when I consider that in Him we
have the elixir of life, the life which must overpower all cor-
ruption and death because it is the life eternal, without
hesitation I say, It is.

# '•«♦



The steamer to Calais, on a bright day in August this year,

Online LibraryRobert Williams DaleThe Congregationalist → online text (page 42 of 110)