Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

much truth, scattered up and down these Letters, which Christians of all denominations may read with profit. They are however chiefly directed, as the title shows, against the continued existence in the Christian Church of a Priesthood, whether under the name of Clergy or Ministry. And accordingly the author bears down as hardly upon the Dissenters and their pastors, as upon the Establishment and its Priests. He says,

“ We must show, first, that believers have a close access to God; second, in the Christian body there is no gradation in the privilege of proximity, so that one portion of believers may approach nearer to God than their brethren. If the first point can be proved, then it will be established that the faithful are priests, because a close access to God is the whole object of a priesthood: the sacerdotal office has no other design, than, by an allowed proximity to the Divinity, to exercise functions, and enjoy privileges of communion, in which others may not par. ticipate.”—Letters, p. 23.

And these points, as may be supposed, at least by Protestants, the author has no difficulty in proving. His objection seems to affect only the doctrine of the Church of Rome, and the Romish part of the Church of England. But he himself thinks that it affects Protestants, and Protestant Dissenters even. He thinks that the system adopted among them countenances the idea that the minister is nearer the mercy-seat than those whose devotions he leads—that he is offering prayer for them.

"The truth nevertheless,” he says, “must be plainly stated, that the established order of worship in the dissenting churches is not scriptural ; a plurality of ministers is not there tolerated; the brethren who may have the gift, are neither desired nor allowed to address the Church; the whole task of instruction is consigned to one individual, regularly educated and salaried for the work, and no attempt is made to encourage the expression of that spiritual condition, which assuredly is possessed by many a pious dissenter, who, through the instructions of divine grace, has hived up a store of profitable doctrine and wholesome experience, but which he carries with him to the grave, locked and sealed up in his own bosom, unknown and unappreciated by his brethren, because it has been the traditional etiquette of the Sect, that the lips of one priest alone should keep knowledge, and that the people should seek the law at his mouth.'”—p. 27.

Again

“ Great and numerous are the duties expected of a minister, and large are the ideas entertained of the limits of his office : and yet if he does not fill up the complement of all the impossible toil imposed upon him, he too often falls into discredit with his people, for not doing that which cannot be done. The study and preparation expected for the pulpit; the pastoral visits ; the attention to the spiritual cases of particular indivi.

duals; the schools; the prayer meetings; the Church meetings; the public meetings; and all the rest of the complicated machinery of operative religion, impose a weight and multiplicity of cares on the shoulders of some pastors, which none but Atlantean shoulders could sustain; and yet if the minister neglects any part of these enormous duties, which a mis. taken theory has apportioned to him, he is in jeopardy of forfeiting the esteem of some of his flock, as he too often discovers, to his no small discomfort and sorrow. To use a curious expression of a deep thinker, • he is a system and not a man ;' circumstances have given him a character which rightly belongs to a society and not to an individual ; but neither he nor the Church understands the difficulty of the case, the hidden cause of the difficulty, nor its only possible remedy. The theory of the parish-priest perplexes the views, and confuses the judgments both of pastor and people, and as each party argues on an erroneous axiom, it is no wonder that the deduction of each should be faulty. The people too often think their pastor careless and inattentive; the pastor not unfrequently considers his people unjust and unreasonable.”—Letters, p. 30.

These two passages contain the gist at once of the doctrine and the argument which Mr. Beverley advances : perhaps there never was a time in the religious history of our country when they were advanced with less chance of producing any effect. All denominations seem to be most resolutely pressing on exactly in the direction which the author deprecates, and they have no doubt their own reasons for it. The Church insists with freshened zeal on the necessity and sanctity of holy orders; and rudely denies all fellowship with those pretenders to clerisy who possess not the true “ virus." The old English Presbyterians cling as tenaciously as ever to the necessity of a class of men educated expressly for the purpose of the ministry. The Congregationalists or Independents have more of this distinction now than they ever had. More colleges are established among them, and the so-called laity take less and less part in their public religious services. The Methodists, it is notorious, now that they are being elevated into wealth, and comparative mental culture themselves, are demanding an educated ministry, and founding colleges.

The Friends are perhaps the only considerable body of any long standing, who apparently do not fall into the line of this march ; but they are fast breaking up, partly from lack of this very thing, and they, it must be remembered, have virtually a ministry as much as any other sect: for it is a standing custom with them, that any aspirant to the office of " minister," must be approved by a committee or other authorized body, before he can be allowed to be a regular preacher in their meetings; and a society of Friends has its one, two, three, or four recognized

Vol. III. No. 12,--New Series.

“ 'ministers, as much as any other dissenting society has its one or two.

We feel persuaded, therefore, that Mr. Beverley's book is but a pellet flung against the irresistible progress of the social stream. Nevertheless, as it has had a large secret circulation, has encountered a good deal of dislike among those for whose benefit it was especially designed, as it contains some criticisms that may be useful to all parties, and some information that will be particularly acceptable to our own readers, we have felt anxious to bring it under consideration.

In the principle of the “ Letters" we cordially agree. There is no distinction in the Church of Christ, such as is sometimes implied in the expressions, “ lay” and “ clerical.” The distinction is entirely one of expediency and convenience. This is our only ground of difference with the Author. That all “ have equal access to God,” and that there is no real and necessary religious distinction between “ priest” and “ people," we maintain as firmly and as eagerly as he does. But he further asserts, that the devotion of a few men more particularly to the office of Religious Instructors, the allotment of a particular kind of education to them, and the securing of them from contact with the common cares of business, by appointing them some other ineans of support, are moreover inexpedient. We heartily wish that we could think so too. For the assembling of a society together, in which the words of prayer, and the music of praise, the lessons of wisdom and of truth, could be mutually imparted and received with propriety and advantage to all-instead of having one man to talk, and all the rest to listen, would be a sight cheering to all good men. But, unless Churches were under the immediate guidance of the Spirit, that this would be the result, we much question. Let us ask Mr. Beverley, who he thinks (setting aside all those whose profession and duty render it imperative) would be most likely, if all were free to speak in a Church, to address the assembled brethren ? Would it be usually the most modest, the best-informed, the most serious, and the most thoughtful ? or would it be the most confident and vain, the most self-satisfied and ignorant ?

Suppose it should be allowed, as is found to be requisite even among the Quakers, that not everybody that would should be permitted to speak, but only such as were thought competent and qualified by their brethren. Then we have got a virtual ministry, or priesthood. If there be no limitation or selection of the speakers, there is a certainty of a plentiful admixture of ignorance and offensive presumption in the Church-meetings, and a probability of debate, dispute, and recrimination; and, if

there be a limitation and selection, then you have order and propriety indeed, but at the expense of an authorized ministry, or clergy. We believe that our author would incline to the latter alternative, though he would not admit our inference; for though he likes the idea of a Church where every brother may have his gift, and communicate it, he still seems practically to be content with insisting upon a “ plurality” of ministers.

Let us suppose ourselves, then, in possession of our select band of preachers, constituted from the ablest, the best-informed, the most pious and virtuous members of the Church. We frankly confess that there is to us an indescribable charm in the very contemplation of such a thing. Especially if these brethren apportioned their respective departments according to their respective gifts; conscientiously devoted much of their time to the pursuit of religious knowledge, and the cultivation of devotional habits ; kept themselves unspotted from the world; were able each week to look around them and say in their hearts® depths with the Apostle, “ receive us, we have wronged no man, we have defrauded no man, we have deceived no man.” By this arrangement, and by the co-operation which would be yielded to each of the elders in his own department by the other members of the Church, would be avoided that state of things which is but too justly deplored in the Letters as frequently existing among us now.

“The tendency of the actual arrangement (i. e. of one minister) is, of necessity, to create inactivity amongst the people, when they feel that they have a spiritual delegate, in whose hands are placed those large and res. ponsible duties which are supposed to attach to the ministerial office. Many there are, who can thus find a ready excuse for their own lack of zeal; they think their Pastor carries the keys of the church, and to him therefore they consign their spiritual energies, as if he were a general proxy for all the people in their works of faith and labours of love. What multitudes of Church members might be numbered, who take no personal interest in the operations of the Church! How many there are who content themselves with the external acts of worship and a formal attendance on ordinances, leaving all the rest to the minister, or to any one that chooses to undertake that which they will not touch with one of their little fingers.”—p. 30.

Feeling the beauty of the results which would flow from such a combined spiritual machinery in Christian Societies, could it be kept in pure and active operation, we state our impression of the difficulty of its attainment with sincere and unfeigned regret. Could it be put into execution, many are the minds and hearts that would rejoice in the alleviation of the responsibility and con

Shall bave the pecligious Truths in and that mindse

sequent anxiety which it would bring, and many the hands that would be upraised with joy, as though at the real coming of the Lord amongst us. But we observe the tendency so strongly in Christian societies to condemn what is only on a par with themselves ; to look for something purer in its code, and higher in its illustration of that code; more extended in its knowledge, and more comprehensive in its spirit, than what is prevalent among themselves; we observe so few men, to whose united piety, benignity, intelligence, knowledge, and (as we must add) powers of language and general views, all would yield the tribute of sufficient respect, that we fear that what we know, as a matter of history, to have hitherto commonly been, as a matter of expectation, we must regard as likely to be, namely, that as men themselves grow in mental and moral culture, they demand persons who shall have the peculiar knowledge and the peculiar powers requisite to present religious Truths in a varied and yet a commanding and attractive form, and they find that minds engaged in the harrassing cares of the world, fresh from the barterings and bickerings of a business life, with no peculiar preparation either of discipline or of study for the work, are not best fitted, as the weekly returning day of solemn thought comes back, to impress them with the elevated view of truth, or the pure, unsullied, and extended view of Christian duty which they want to have restored within them. They feel therefore anxious, for the very solemnizing of their spirits, and progress of their characters, that at any rate one of their number shall have time and opportunity secured him to study and aptly to enforce the great truths of religion ; that he shall come among them with the message of Christ fresh written in his heart, with its traces obliterated, we say not, by no cares, (for these may often but tend to deepen them,) but by no unworthy cares, no heart filled with the dread, and yet at times degrading, anxieties of a changing world, no disputes or differences with fellow-worshippers and fellow-men. That he shall come among them as from an etherial atmosphere, in which he has been breathing since they met before; from that converse with his Master, and that converse with his God; from that sharing in their cares and sorrows, their joys and gladnesses; from that kneeling by the sick-bed, that rite of welcome to the newly-born, or that rite of parting to the newly-dead, all of which are the natural duties of the Christian Minister. That he shall come, a spiritual being, to them spiritual beings; a child of earth to them children of earth; that he shall be able to look around on all, with heart of peace and eye of kindness, and feel not the trace of a single jealousy or heart-burning in his breast. We venture to say, and we say it sadly and unwillingly, that it

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »