Page images

the obligation of subscribing to the Articles; letting them still continue the standard of doctrine, but upholding this standard by censuring those who deserted it, instead of requiring subscription as a previous qualification for the ministry. (Burnet, ut supra, vol. ii. p. 634.) If however it is better to prevent an evil, than to remedy it; if consent touching true religion, and the concord and unity-consequent upon it, are more likely to be secured by allowing those only to teach in the Church, who will conform to one known system of doctrines, than by inflicting punishment on those, who inculcate contrary tenets; it will be acknowledged, that the Bishop's scheme was little calculated to be of real service to the cause of peace or truth.

It does not however appear that this plana was ever entirely matured: some even of those divines who were named upon the commission, soon discontinued their attendance, declaring themselves dissatisfied with the proceedings. "They said that the altering the customs and constitution of our Church to gratify a peevish and obstinate party, was like to have no other effect on them, but to make them more insolent; as if the Church, by offering these alterations, seemed to confess, that she had been hitherto in the wrong. They thought that this attempt would divide us among ourselves, and make our people lose their esteem for the Liturgy, if it appeared that it wanted correction." Burnet's own Times, vol. ii. p. 31. It is probable that some of these divines, had they been their own historians, would have stated their reasons for disliking the comprehension somewhat more forcibly; but at all events, the notorious fact that these proceedings were disagreeable to a large proportion of the clergy, should have induced the projectors to pause before they urged on a scheme, which they knew to be distasteful to the

a It should be mentioned, that the idea of a comprehension did not originate with Bp. Burnet, or the divines who thought and acted with him; it was first proposed by Abp. Sancroft: but by his plan it was intended to provide effectually for the entire preservation of the doctrine, government, and worship of the Church; and could his object have been thus attained, every true friend of religion would have been zealous in its pursuit. See Bp. Wake's Speech at Sacheverell's Trial.

members of the Church, though they were by no means certain that it would satisfy its opponents. It surely could be no safe or expedient measure of union, which created jealousies and divisions within the Church, but did not ensure peace without. Had some portion of the moderate and conciliatory feelings, which the advocates for a comprehension maintained in their dealings with the dissenters, been bestowed upon those of their own brethren, who could not conscientiously give their assent to these proposed concessions, the Church would have been preserved from the evils of internal discord; and they would have escaped the mortification of witnessing the failure of their design.

Burnet himself confesses, that the opposition it excited was too considerable to be overcome. "It soon became very visible, that we were not in a temper cool and calm enough to encourage the further prosecution of such a design." Own Times, vol. ii. p. 33. And another writer, who lies under less suspicion of leaning to either party, draws a melancholy picture of the dissensions which it occasioned. "No misfortune so sensibly afflicted the Church, as this dissension between the clergy. For hitherto our clergy had lived with great concord among themselves, not to be divided by any arts of their adversaries. For in the late times, under their most afflicted condition, when they were turned out of, or sequestered from, their livings; by reason of their good correspondence with one another, they bore their afflictions the more easily. And afterwards, when their condition was bettered, no envy, which is wont to dissolve the friendship of others, was able to interrupt their amity. But now, when all of them, perhaps, in their several ways, were desirous to promote the good of the Church, they unfortunately accused each other for carrying on designs for its ruin." Nichols, Defence of the Church of England, Introduction, p. 123. It is however to be observed, that, while these unhappy differences of opinion prevailed among the clergy, as to the propriety or expediency of these. proposed alterations, as respected the interests of the Church; the conduct of the dissenters was not such, as to encourage an expectation, that they would have been

conciliated by them. "The Nonconformists," says Nichols, "by no public or private writing that I know of, shewed any propension to an union, or signified what alterations in the ecclesiastical constitution would satisfie them, so as to come into the Church." Defence of Church of England, Introduction, p. 141. It is nevertheless plain enough, from the observations of Calamy in his Life of Baxter, published not long after, that they would not have consented to any thing short of an allowance of presbyterian orders, as giving a valid title to the exercise of the ministry in our Church. (See Life of Baxter, vol. i. p. 448, and note. 2d Edition.)


The controversy respecting occasional conformity was continued at intervals during nine years; from A. D. 1702, when a bill to prevent it was first brought into Parliament; until the end of the year 1711, when the practice was at last restrained by a law. The reasoning urged on both sides, in the debates on the different bills which were successively introduced into the two houses of Parliament during this period, may be found briefly stated in Burnet's History of his own Times, vol. ii.; and more at length by Čalamy, in his Life of Baxter, vol. i. ch. 19. The practice itself was defended by some of the more violent Dissenters; who even appealed to the conduct of our Saviour and his Apostles in its support; and asserted, that the principles of the occasional conformists were truly Christian and Catholic. (See Calamy's Baxter, vol. i. p. 650.) They took advantage also of the observations which had fallen from some of the adversaries of the bills in the House of Lords; and suggested, as they had done, that occasional conformity would be an advantage to the Church, and would weaken the Dissenters. But it was so evident, that, had the Dissenters really expected this to be the result, they would never have thought themselves aggrieved by an act for its prevention; that such remarks could have had little weight with men of any reflection. Occasional conformity seemed indeed so plainly indefensible, upon any ground, on which the Nonconformists had hitherto attempted to justify their

separation; that the wiser and more moderate of their party spoke in very cautious and qualified terms upon the subject. "It is not indeed to be thought," said one of their writers, "that the judgment and practice of such men (the occasional conformists) can be throughout approved by our reverend fathers and brethren of the Established Church: as neither can we pretend it to be so universally by ourselves. But we are remote from any, the least suspicion, that persons of so excellent worth and Christian temper, as now preside over the Established Church, can suffer themselves to judge or censure men of this sentiment, as being, for this single reason, men of hypocritical and insincere minds; but that they will rather think it possible their understandings may be imposed upon, so as this may be the judgment, in the whole, of a sincere though misinformed conscience." See Mr. Howe's Letter, Calamy's Life of Baxter, vol. i. p. 580. It could not however be concealed, that, although the more rigid separatists were probably influenced by conscientious motives, they who conformed occasionally were for the most part actuated by views of interest or ambition; and however they attempted to disguise their real object, by professions of enlarged and liberal views, and a desire not to confine their communion to any one sect or party of Christians, but to have an universal and comprehensive charity towards all that belong to that mystical body, (see Moderation a Virtue, by James Owen, as cited by Calamy, Life of Baxter, vol. Ï. p. 650.) it was evident, that a desire to share in political power led to the practice, and that it was, what the author above referred to would willingly have disclaimed, "a crafty invention to get into place.

The observations of Calamy on the passing of the bill will set the real cause of the dissatisfaction with which they viewed its provisions in too clear a light to be mistaken. "Thus after fifty years exclusion from the public churches, by the act of uniformity, during the one half of which they were exposed to great rigours and severities, though during the other half they have had more liberty, are the poor Dissenters excluded the service of the State. So far are we from any hopes

of a coalition, which has been so often talked of, that nothing will do but an entire submission. Consciences truly scrupulous may indeed still have their liberty: but they that would be capable of any places of profit or trust, must quit the meetings after March 25, 1712." Calamy's Life of Baxter, vol. i. p. 725.



Whatever might have been the intention of the learned Prelate (Burnet) himself, the language, which he tells us that he ventured to use in opposition to the bill, was certainly capable of this construction. was language, which might be appealed to for the defence of any latitude of practice, with respect to churchcommunion, in which the waywardness of a man might incline him to indulge. The speaker should have been aware, that the case of an occasional conformist in this country was not analogous to that of a member of the Church of England attending the worship of a Protestant church during his residence in a foreign nation. "I ventured to say, that a man might lawfully communicate with a Church, that he thought had a worship and a doctrine uncorrupted, and yet communicate more frequently with a Church, that he thought more perfect: I myself had communicated with the churches of Geneva and Holland; and yet at the same time communicated with the Church of England: so, though the Dissenters were in a mistake, as to their opinion, which was the more perfect Church, yet allowing them a toleration in that error, this practice might be justified." Burnet's own Times, vol. ii. p. 364. See also the arguments used by the managers for the lords, at the Conference of the two Houses respecting the bill.

It is presumed that by these words, " at the same time," &c. the Bishop only meant that he continued a member of the Church of England, and as such in communion with it. For if he designed to say, that, when in Holland or Geneva he had the same opportunities of attending the public service of his own Church, as when in England; and yet occasionally left it to communicate with the churches of those countries; his case certainly bears a nearer analogy than was at first imagined to that of those persons, whose conduct the best men of their own party seareely ventured to justify.

« PreviousContinue »