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method of securing the universal and regular performance of public worship, in a suitable manner, throughout the kingdom, imposed and continues for its support a tax on land, to be paid by the owner, whoever he may may happen to be. With the conscience of the owner it interferes not. To interfere with it would be persecution. But he is left completely at liberty to attend either the national church, or any other church which he may prefer. The temptations to pretended dissent, the complicated and endless collusions, which must ensue, were the legislature to exempt any man from tythes who should profess not to belong to the national church, would render such a plan subversive both of the national church and of sincerity.
In the preceding brief discussion respecting tythes, I have spoken of the system as it now exists. But I rejoice in the anticipation, justified by the state of public opinion, as expressed both in parliament and elsewhere, that a desirable substitution for that system will shortly become the law of the land.
But why is the national church hedged round with creeds and articles ? Because otherwise it either could not exist at all, or could not exist with public utility. Would you have a pulpit open to be filled in the morning by a Protestant, in the afternoon by a Catholic; to-day by a follower of Socinus ; next week by a disciple of Swedenborg? Would a congregation be edified and confirmed in 6 the truth as it is in Jesus," by hearing the fundamental doctrines of Christianity alternately asserted, questioned, denied ? In primitive times, when a variety of doctrines sprang up among Christians, particular churches perceived the necessity of manifesting their opinions by drawing up creeds and confessions of their faith. At the Reformation, the Church of England, like other Protestant churches, added to the creeds adopted in its congregations a summary of its faith, contained in thirty-nine articles ; and directed them to be presented for the assent of any person who should apply to be admitted to the office of minister in the church, as a test by which it might be known whether his sentiments accorded with the doctrines of the church. If they did not, he was of course an unfit person to be appointed one of its public teachers.
The same practice is continued for the same reason.
Is the ecclesiastical establishment then, it will finally be said, free from attendant imperfections and misconduct? It is free from neither. Shall I express the answer in other words? It is a human institution administered by men. Every work of man is tinctured with imperfection ; every proceeding of man with misconduct. But what is the rational line of argument? Take the most obvious of examples, civil government, and apply it. A king may be oppressive. Is a republic likely to be less oppressive ? An hereditary crown may devolve into unworthy hands. Did the condition of Poland before its downfall recommend an elective monarchy ? A parliament may be misguided or corrupted. Would you be ruled, without a parliament, by the despotism of an individual or of a mob? The utmost to be expected in a human institution is ; that the advantages should greatly preponderate, and that disadvantages should always be open to consideration and remedy. Try the ecclesiastical establishment, and the administration of it, by this rule. Expect not perfection in the framework or in the administration of this or of any other human institution. Look with leniency on minor defects in both : yet not without a temperate and steady desire that they may be amended. It is as vain to expect
that any human machinery, from a watch to a steamengine, should go on correctly in its movements without the frequent recurrence of examination, cleansing, and repair, as to cherish similar hopes respecting any public institution. To examine and to correct is in every such case to befriend. A church-establishment is not religion: it is merely legislative machinery for aiding the diffusion of religion. Be grateful to Heaven, that you live under the legislature of a free country; a legislature empowered in its day to apply a remedy conformable to its judgement to any of those defects which, according to the common fate of all things below, may be found to have been originally incorporated, or in process of time to have arisen, in any of the works of itself or of its defunct predecessors.
If the summary accounts, which the preceding chapters furnish concerning the several subjects of which they treat, have tended to evince the goodness and the providence of God; to establish the truth of Christianity, and of the Protestant faith ; and to explain the nature and the utility of our ecclesiastical establishment: the conviction thus produced may justly derive additional confirmation from every enquiry into the detail of those topics, of which only the leading features have been sketched. The prosecution of such enquiries, as the source of most important knowledge, and of stedfast, rational, and uncontaminated faith, it is difficult to recommend with adequate soliictude. May the reader prosecute them, under the Divine blessing, with the attention which they deserve, and with a disposition adapted to the discovery and to the love of truth! In the mean time, he will receive, I trust, with candour some concluding, and, perhaps, not unnecessary observations relative to Christian faith and to Christian practice.
I. Young persons who, though little if at all instructed in the evidences and ground-work of Christianity, have been accustomed during their education to the society, the language, and the public worship of Christians; usually come forth into active life not only
with full persuasion of the truth of their religion, but with scarcely a suspicion that there can be many persons in this country who doubt or disbelieve it. An avowed sceptic, or unbeliever, is in their eyes a phenomenon like a comet. And every one who is not a notorious sceptic or unbeliever they regard as, in faith at least, though perhaps not in practice, a good Christian. It may be well for them to know, without waiting until the lesson be inculcated by longer experience of the world, that they have formed a scanty conception of the number of those, who take little pains to conceal their scepticism or their unbelief; and that there exists in the middle and higher classes of society a large description of persons, who, without openly rejecting Christianity, can by no means be said to believe it. That the number of those who do not embrace the Gospel affords no argument either against the truth of the religion or the goodness of God, is a fact which I have already had occasion to explain. 1 The evidence which God has supplied on behalf of the religion of his Son is wisely adapted to the situation of moral agents, of beings in a state of trial. It is not instantaneously overpowering, irresistibly bearing before it alike the assent of the prejudiced and of the candid, of the careless and of the considerate. It solicits examination ; it demands fair enquiry: and the fair enquirer it rewards with conviction. They who will not enquire, or who enquire not humbly and devoutly, rationally and fairly, deservedly remain in their blindness. The observation belongs to the persons recently described as not openly rejecting
1 In the concluding pages of ch. vi. It may perhaps be proper to add that the same subject is farther noticed in the Enquiry into the Duties of Men, &c. 5th ed. vol. ii. pp. 515-520.