« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
have subscribed five hundred pounds each, for the express purpose of promoting the established religion, should now authorize the application of their subscriptions to any other purpose. It appears therefore impossible that habitual absence from church on the sabbath day should be authorized or sanctioned by any general rule of the National Society. No other general rule can be adopted without defeating the purposes of the institution, than that the children educated in its schools shall go to church on a Sunday. It is that very condition which is required as the distinguishing mark of the Society's schools; it is the condition, without which no school can be called a Church of England school; and consequently it is a condition which if the Society should formally surrender, it would surrender what it was established to support. For it is not the learning of the Church Catechism, though repeated every day and every hour, which will bring up children to the Established Church, unless they are likewise accustomed to attend divine service at church. It is the place of worship, which they frequent on a Sunday, which will make them churchmen, or dissenters.
But though such must ever be the general rule of the Society, it may be urged, that there is no rule without an exception, and that cases may occur in which an exception would be consistent, not only with humanity, but with sound policy. Suppose, for instance, that a school, in connexion with the National Society, were established in a place in which the poor consisted partly of churchmen, partly of dissenters; that the latter (as will commonly be the case) made no objection to the attendance of their children at church, with the exception of some few, who pleaded conscience as a ground of refusal. Suppose further, that there was no other school in the place or neighbourhood where such poor children could be taught even to read, would the fundamental law of the National Society admit, in such a case, of no relaxation? We make no scruple to say that it would. Though no legislator can authorize a deviation from the law by any express declaration, yet they who execute the law may be entrusted with dispensing powers. In like manner the National Society, though it cannot sanction a departure from its fundamental law, may leave many things to the discretion of those who have the conduct of particular schools, and are best able to judge of the circumstances in which they are placed. It may be silent where it cannot enjoin, and abstain from formally prohibiting what it cannot formally permit. When the general committee therefore, on the 6th of February, 1812, published its plan of union between the diocesan and district committees or schools with the parent society, they required, that the children of each school do constantly attend divine service in their parish church, or other place VOL. VII. NO, XV.
of public worship under the establishment, wherever the same is practicable, on the Lord's day, unless such reasons for their nonattendance be assigned, as shall be satisfactory to the persons having the direction of that school.' But the power of dispensing with the law is one thing, the power of abrogating that law is another. It is one thing to require attendance at church, but to dispense with it in urgent cases; it is another thing not to require it at all, but to leave it as a matter of indifference or option. If the poor apply for the admission of their children at a school which is professedly a Church of England school, (and schools which do not profess to be so, cau never be taken into union with the National Society,) they will naturally expect, unless told to the contrary, that their children must conform to the usage of the school. Parents in general therefore would not solicit a dispensation from the rule, unless they were more rigid in their dissent from the established church than the frequenters of meeting-houses are for the most part found to be. It has already appeared that the numberless class of seceders called Methodists, could have no plea for soliciting a dispensationi, for they all profess themselves churchmen. Of such as frequent the meeting-houses belonging to the Presbyterians and the Independents, the number of those who secede from consideration and conviction, or who have an insuperable objection to our church service, bears but a small proportiou to the general body. There are thousands who frequent the meeting-houses, not from any settled dislike to the established religion, but merely because the service there is more agreeable to theni. Either they prefer the kind of preaching which is more animated than when sernions are read, or they are attracted by the singing; or they tiud the place of worship more comfortable; or they have other reasons not necessarily connected either with doctrine or discipline. There are thousands again who absent themselves from places of worship under the establishment, rather from necessity than choice. In populous parishes with small churches, the chapels which have been built to supply their place have too often been designed only for those who can afford to pay for admission; and in such places the poor are compelled to take refuge in places of worship which they would not otherwise frequent. At other times they are actuated by motives of interest, if not of compulsion. For as dissenters in general give a preference in their dealings to persons of their own body, while churchnen in general make no distinction, the exchange of the church for the meeting-house is attended (as far as worldly motives are concerned) with certain advantages on the one hand, and with no disadvantages on the other. Now in the cases here enumerated, the poor who apply for the admission of their children into a Church of England institution could have no plea of conscience to urge, to obtain a dispensation for their non-attendance at church. And not only the persons who come under the preceding descriptions, but dissenters in general, belonging to the three denominations of Baptists, Presbyterians and Independents, attend without scruple at places of worship under the establishment whenever they find a preacher who is suited to their own taste. But if the parents themselves can go to church with a good conscience, they may let their children do the same. Indeed we know by experience, and could quote examples if it were necessary, that in charitable institutions, where it is known to be an invariable rule that the children should go to church on the sabbath day, as constantly as to school on other days, the parents of the children, whatever place of worship they theinselves may frequent, acquiesce in the rule without complaint.
We have stated these facts, not with the view of justifying that rule, for it requires none. A Church-of-England society, like every other society, has a right to prescribe the terms on which alone its favours shall be conferred; and if such a society does not require attendance at church as a condition of gratuitous education, it is not what it pretends to be. But we have siated them with the view of shewing that its tendency towards exclusion is not such as is reported; that a very large proportion of those who worship apart from the established church, and particularly they who are the most necessitous, can conscientiously permit their children to comply with the condition required. On the other hand, if parents cannot conscientiously comply, the National Society would say,
You have perfect liberty to choose or to reject our terms, we have no desire to impose the smallest restrait on the conscience of any man, but if you cannot accept what alone we can consistently give, you must apply to the rich of your own persuasion, to whom, rather than to us, appertains the care of their poor brethren; you must place your children in a school supported or aided by their subscriptions. Now as such schools are very numerous throughout the kingdom, it will seldom happen that the children of those dissenters, who are too rigid to comply with the fundamental law of the National Society, would be deprived of education altogether. But in such extreme cases as that above stated, where no other means existed of providing them with education, the power of dispensing with the rule is accorded for the sake of humanity.
Let us now consider what would be the consequence, if, instead of requiring a general compliance with the rule, but of silently grauting a dispensation in urgent cases, any school in connexion with the National Society, should declare by a formal regulation, that the parents of the children might use their own pleasure in respect to the place of worship which their children should attend. The consequence of such a formal regulation would be, that habitual absence from church would become a rule of the school, instead of being, as before, an exception to the rule. Instead of being an indulgence to be granted only in extreme cases, it would become a right to be demanded in all cases. And not only those, whose conscience did not permit them to send their children to church, but the methodists, who secede while they profess to be churchmen, and numberless other seceders, who have not the plea of conscience to urge, would uniformly avail themselves of the privilege thus formally conveyed to them. It would operate as an inducement to keep their children from church, when they would otherwise not have thought of it; it would suggest to them the notion that they ought to do so, and thus actually encourage an habitual absence from church, when attendance would otherwise have been given without a murmur. If a school therefore is professedly a Church-of-England school, (and no other can properly come into union with the National Society,) the conductors of it would act more wisely, as well as more consistently, if every thing which must be regarded as a deviation from a Church-of-England school were left to silent discretion, as urgent cases might occur, and not authorized by any general and positive law. Though the National Society was not founded in the spirit of proselytism, but was immediately intended for members of the established church, it excludes no one from the benefits of the education which it provides, who is willing to be educated in those principles for which alone it was established. In all schools therefore, which propose to unite with the National Society, it is better to avoid any positive declaration in respect to the children of dissenters : their admission, on compliance with the terms of the society, is a thing already understood; and if, in some places more than in others, there should be reasons for a relaxation of those terms, such relaxation should be matter of silent indulgence, and not of positive stipulation. If in any of these schools a rule should be made that the children of dissenters are admissible as well as the children of churchmen, the rule.would, to say the least of it, be unnecessary, because it is already implied in the rules of the parent institution. But if it were added, or even if it were meant, that they are admissible without complying with the proper terms of admission, a rule thus positively declared, would be hardly reconcileable with the fundamental law of the National Society. The power of dispensing with the law would be applied to the total abrogation of it. Further, if the attendance of children at divine worship is left entirely to the care of the parents, there can be no security that the children will attend any place of
worship whatever: and if in order to secure their attendance somewhere, the leave of absence from church should be accompanied with the requisition that they go to Meeting—such requisition would not be quite consistent with the principles of an iustitution which was formed for the promotion of the established religion.
But suppose a school were to be formed in a place or district in • which the dissenters constituted a majority of the inhabitants.
Ought not even in this case a rule to be made that the parents should take their children to their respective places of religious worship? If this question be asked, without any reference to the National Society, it is foreign to our present subject. But if it is intended that the school should ever be taken into union with this society, no such rule, even in the case proposed, can consistently be made, for the reasons already assigned. A school avowedly founded on the broad basis of the Lancasterian system, would be incompatible with the fundamental law of the National Society, even if Dr. Bell himself were the conductor of it. Whether the system there adopted were called the British system or the Madras system, the name would make no difference if the things were the
If it be urged that, in a place where the dissenters constitute the majority, they would unite in opposition to a school at which the children were expected to attend the service of the established church, we answer, not only that they are at perfect liberty to form schools of their own upon their own principles, but that the National Society has formally disavowed all intentions of interfering with their just rights and privileges. If it be further objected that, in the event of two schools being established for the district, the one a Church-of-England school in union with the National Society, the other a dissenting school in some other connection, the children of the dissenters in that district will never be brought over to the church, we answer, that the object of the National Society would still be obtained, which is not to draw over persous of other persuasions, but simply to retain in the establishment the children of churchmen, by providing them with an education adapted to its principles. We cannot too frequently repeat, that the avowed object of the National Society is not proselytism, but self-preservation. If the notion should once become general, that the former is their principal object, it might excite a serious alarm among the dissenters; but if nothing more is desired than to retain in the establishment the children of churchmen, no offence can be taken, because the privilege of self-defence is common to all men. That the children in the schools of the National Society are generally expected to go to church, is no proof of its being founded to make proselytes; the chief objects of its care are, and must be, the children of churchmen; but if dissenters are