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This book is principally composed of the Bishop's letter, mentioned already, and a minute examination of it by Mr. Binney in reply, embodied in an address delivered before the “Tas'manian Congregational Union,' over which he was invited to preside. These two documents are followed by letters exchanged between the principals in the discussion, and a few supplementary papers, the most remarkable of which is a letter addressed to Mr. Binney by the Governor of South Australia, Sir Richard McDonnell.
The controversy, as we have said, is one of the deepest interest; and it is carried on, not only with very high ability and remarkable clearness of statement, but with a courtesy, a generosity, and a spirit of large-minded charity which it is most agreeable to observe. We speak of the temper of the principal controversialists; for there is not lacking evidence, even in this volume, and doubtless there were many more instances on the spot, of the existence and utterance of very different feelings on either side. But as far as the principals are concerned, the temper and tone maintained throughout is most creditable to both of them; and if we add, especially to the Bishop, this is because the circumstances of his position imposed upon him greater difficulties than those which beset his correspondent. The topics upon which the Bishop enlarges most earnestly, are the advantages, the blessings, and the duty of union between professing Christians — union outward as well as inward; the necessity of mutual concessions to insure this end; and the new and favourable opportunity which a colony presents for effecting it. The terms on which he proposes to conclude the desired union are,
A. The acceptance in common by the Evangelical Churches of the orthodox creed.
B. The use in common of a settled Liturgy, though not to the exclusion of free prayer.
C. An Episcopate freely elected by the United Evangelical Churches.
Mr. Binney, on his side, maintains that, however beautiful such a dream may be, it is a dream only, hopeless of realisation. And, justifying in great measure what he feels to be inevitable, he urges the unsatisfactory nature of the contemplated union, which after all would be a nominal union only, and would involve embarrassments which all parties at present are able to keep clear of. How, for instance, could it be expected that the ministers of other denominations should avow or imply their present status to be unauthorised and schismatical-an avowal which would tacitly be made by accepting their commission, or
a renewal of it, from the hands of a bishop? Or that those denominations should so far waive their own distinctive points of doctrine, as to make themselves, by a formal act of union, responsible for what they believe to be grave and noxious errors in others ? Would it not be at once a more practicable and a more excellent way to accept the present state of things as inevitable, and then proceed to make the best of it? to look upon a diversity of denominations as a necessity following from the imperfect spiritual apprehensions of men, a necessity designed perhaps to minister to the diverse needs which that imperfection produces; while by co-operation in good works, and by acts of joint worship, Christians, whether in their individual or their corporate capacity, recognise the other branches of the universal Church; and wait for time and Providence to evolve the conditions of a more complete union, whenever that shall be possible?
Such are the visions of the Church of the Future, in which the Bishop and the Nonconformist minister respectively indulge; and to the realisation of which, on either side, they show the first steps. Both prospects are delightful to contemplate. Either of them is a cheering contrast to the actual state of things at home or abroad. And the boundary lines of either vista converge perhaps eventually to the same point. But it is obvious that at first starting they are widely divergent. At this divergence the Australian controversy joins issue; and at this issue it is left. Will either vision prove to be prophetic? and if so, which of them will it be?
We cannot but think that in Australia at least the best prospect which the circumstances of the case allow us to entertain is that which is indicated by Mr. Binney. dominance of the Episcopal Church, imperilled even in England, is at present in Australia virtually lost
. When we read the statement of the Governor himself, that of the Protestant denominations in South Australia the Church of England, withi • all its old associations and prestige, only numbered as its mem.bers one-eighth' of the inhabitants in 1858 *; while in one of the sister colonies the result, taken from authentic Government statistics, is shown to be this:-'At a specified time the • Episcopalians are one-fifth of the Protestant population; a • little time after, some of the other bodies are found to have • doubled, while the Church has gone back; and yet, during that
period, the Immigration Reports show that the accessions to it, • according to the tabular classification of arrivals in the colony, exceeded by nearly a hundred per cent. those received by all
* Lights and Shadows, Appendix, p. 80.
"the other evangelical denominations put together;'* when we consider such facts as these, taking place in a country where the Church has already its full organisation, how is it possible to suppose that the sects can be absorbed after the fashion
proposed by the Bishop of Adelaide ? And if, while other religious bodies are drawing closer the bonds of friendly recognition and respect, strengthening themselves and each other by harmonious intercommunion, the Church of England shall stand aloof, relying on its Apostolical constitution, its exclusive traditional claims, and the dignity reflected upon it from the mother country, is it not likely that its influence, instead of growing, will wane at a still decreasing rate; and that it will come to be regarded, like the Roman Catholic Church, not as a possible focus of general union, but rather as a hindrance to that union ? By waiving its exclusive pretensions in some measure, the Church of England may very possibly, through its learning, its social rank, and its venerable associations, preserve the first place of dignity, even in Australia, and make its influence widely felt as the most trustworthy depository of a sober and elevated Christianity; but to expect to be recognised as the controlling centre of the other religious communities, and to begin by imposing upon them its discipline and traditional forms - this is manifestly and utterly impossible.
At home, however, we think that the case is widely different. Not that here, either, the National Church can look to absorb the other denominations, still less to suppress them. Every year that passes is raising the position of some of these denominations in their social and ecclesiastical status, as well as in political importance; and this process will be accelerated by the reflex influence of the British colonies, even as it has been and still is by the influence of the great kindred American nation. Still there is far more hope, we are persuaded, that in some measure the Church of the Future may follow the course which the Bishop indicates, in our own land, than in the dioceses over which he and his colonial brothers preside. And this for two obvious reasons.
First, because in the British colonies the claim of the Church of England to be considered the National Church is (as we
* Appendix, p. 120. This, no doubt, is given as an extreme instance; and there is another side to the case. We observe that in a lecture on The Church of England in Australia,' delivered at Melbourne in July last, by the Bishop of Sydney, that prelate estimates the churchmen of the diocese of Melbourne at from one third to one half of the population, while in Tasmania he claims nearly two thirds.
must remind our southern fellow-countrymen) á divided claim. Anglicans must not be allowed to forget that in the eye of the law, and in the eye of all who have not prejudged the case, the Church of Scotland stands upon precisely the same footing as the Church of England in those new communities which own a common parentage. Every claim to consideration and deference which can be urged by the one Church belongs by exactly the same title to the other also.
And secondly, because, apart from this conflict of claims, the position of a National Church in the old country is one which does not and cannot reproduce itself in a colony. So far are we from recognising with the Bishop of Adelaide the greater advantages accruing to the Episcopal Church from its colonial independence, that for the practical purposes of comprehensive attraction, we unhesitatingly maintain the very contrary. An ancient established ecclesiastical system has unparalleled opportunities for exerting such attraction, if it will but use them wisely, frankly, and generously. Granted that its position exposes it to some odium, bringing it into direct contact with those who object on principle to any alliance between Church and State, yet in the eyes of the vast majority it has claims on their respect and veneration which they cannot fail to admit. Untroubled by the theories of Separationists on the one side, or of the maintainers of Apostolical succession on the other, the great mass of educated men regard a National Church as an inheritance transmitted to them from past ages, an instrument well adapted for effecting a sacred and useful end. They feel that they are not left to decide an open question. Whether theoretically right or not, the Church is at any rate a deeply-rooted and cherished institution, which it would be mischievous to subvert, and which every consideration of justice and good policy persuades them to turn to the best possible account. Originated and preserved by the providence of God, bound up with the whole course of the national history, intertwined with the laws and habits and language of the people, associated with every territorial division, actively present in every locality, and connected more or less with the personal experience of every individual, it is a mighty power existing in the land, the removal of which would amount to a disastrous revolution. The sternest champion of Anti-State-Church theories would be cautious how he destroyed at once so large a portion of our social and political framework; while the great majority of statesmen and citizens see in it a beneficent and invaluable instrument of good; for all the faults of which, as set forth by its bitterest opponents, the remedy is not abolition, but reform.
But then, on the part of the Church itself, there must be a corresponding readiness to accept and discharge the duties of its vocation, generously as well as faithfully. If it refuses to be expansive, it ceases to be national. If it be unable or unwilling to obey the organic laws of the nation's spiritual development, the confession of such inability (on whatever plea it is excused or even justified) is at any rate an abdication of its national character, -an admission that its claims can be no longer maintained, or no longer at least in their exclusiveness.
That the National Churches of England and Scotland have fallen far short in actual fact of what they profess to be, is a matter patent and confessed. Still that is no reason for giving up the hope or the effort to bring them nearer to so desirable an end. We shall confine the observations which we now propose to make to the prospects of the Church of England; both because it is the more hopeful subject of the two, since the lamentable disruption of the Scottish Kirk, and also because it is in England more especially that the topic is now engaging the serious attention of the community.
Nearly fifty years have passed since we raised our voice to warn the Church of England of the unnecessary disadvantages she exposed herself to.* Independently of the removal of scandals and abuses, it was then predicted in this journal, that unless the Church consented to adapt itself more to the wants and necessities of the public, the Establishment would not live out another half century. If the fears which were then expressed have not been realised, it is because such remonstrances have in large measure been attended to. The Church has assumed far more of that popular character which was required of her. But is it possible to look forward to another half century without somewhat similar apprehensions? If the warning signs of the times were neglected, we should be forced to repeat our prophecy. We are deeply convinced that a measure of reform will be needed to avert the danger a second time. And if we look forward now with greater hope, it is only because we see a far greater willingness to proceed with the indispensable measures of improvement.
In endeavouring to form an estimate of the defects and requirements of the Established Church, no reflective man will overlook the aid to be derived from the complaints and representations of the Dissenters. Not of course that those complaints are always just, nor those representations always true : but at the very least they are always indicative of facts which call for careful
* See Ed. Rev., No. xxxiv. Feb. 1811.