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Our readers are already aware of an association, patronized by the Bishops of London and Winchester, for supplying lay readers to the various populous parishes in London and its vicinity, within their lordships' dioceses. The principle of lay agency is one to which, except under peculiar circumstances, we have a most decided objection. In almost every case its adoption has led to innumerable evils. We make an exception, however, in favour of this society. Usually the lay agents are entirely under the control of a lay committee. Were they even under the direction and management of the clergy we should object, because we hold that the clergy cannot lawfully and properly act in such matters on their own responsibility, irrespective of their bishop. In the present case no such unlawful authority is exercised. The bishops in whose dioceses the lay agents are to be employed are the sole directors of the scheme; and under such circumstances our objections do not hold good. We are sure that the Bishops of London and Winchester will break up the society and abolish the agency, if, on trial, it should be found that confusion or mischief should ensue. Under such control, however, we do not anticipate any evil, and we heartily wish success to the efforts of the society. Of course it will be necessary for the bishops to act, and sometimes they may find it difficult to please the committee; but still we are convinced that they will act with firmness and decision. That something must be done for the populous parishes of this metropolis and its vicinity is obvious, unless the people are to relapse into Dissent or indifference; since it is utterly impossible for the clergy to superintend their overburdened parishes.
The office of these Scripture readers will, we conceive, be defined. They will be instructed in what they are to do, and also in what they are to avoid. Their duties, indeed, are implied in the very designation—Scripture readers. They are not to expound the Bible—not to preach—not to assume the ministerial office—but simply to read the written word to those who are destitute of saving knowledge. They will be useful to the clergy also, for they will be able to get statistical accounts of their various districts, and to point out those cases which especially need ministerial assistance.
Though, therefore, we object to lay agency in general, disapproving, as we do, of much of the working of certain societies by which it is employed, yet we cannot but wish success to the present undertaking The character of the two prelates is a sufficient guarantee that no irregular proceedings will be permitted; while the constitution of the society, which vests all authority in the bishops, is free from those objections to which we have previously alluded, and which mark the actions of some other institutions, to which even some clergymen, inconsistently as we think, lend their support.
THE BISHOP OF LONDON'S PASTORAL LETTER. We rejoice to find that the call of the Bishop of London has been so liberally answered by the clergy and laity of this populous diocese, so that thirty-eight new churches are either already consecrated or are advancing towards consecration, while ten others will be commenced as soon as proper sites can be conveyed for the purpose. This is a glorious commencement of a great undertaking, which we trust may be completed by his lordship. Last year the call was responded to by the diocese in general
. We have not yet heard the amount contributed this year; but we do not doubt that it will equal the expectations of the bishop. The collection was made on the 9th of June, and we conclude that it was made in every church. Last year the mode of collecting was cavilled at by some of those persons who “strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel," and who are always ready to exult molehills into mountains. They could not endure that the money should be collected as the rubric directs.' And why were they so sensitive on such a point? The only reason assigned was, that the Tracts for the Times commended the practice. On this sole ground some of the clergy, aided by certain of the laity, who oppose everything which does not coincide with their own party views, were inclined to condemn the mode as an innovation. The Bishop of London recommended the practice as a restoration. His lordship would sanction no innovations; yet much reproach was heaped upon him for his previous letter; and we are not sure that certain unbecoming remonstrances were not addressed to him by persons who had no right whatever to interfere in such matters.
Knowing what had occurred last year, and wishing that his lordship might not be deterred from his course by clamour, we were much gratified to find him, in his recent letter, adhering to his former recommendation, and directing the people to the reasons there assigned for the restoration of a practice which never ought to have been permitted to fall into disuse. His lordship refers to his previous letter, without specifying particulars; but he distinctly states that he sees no reason whatever for altering his opinions. Nay, he states that he is confirmed in his previously expressed views, and he hopes that both clergy and laity will see the propriety of the plan which he recommends. When we consider that the practice is that of the Church; that it had fallen into disuse through the neglect of the clergy of a former age, and not in consequence of their zeal against Popery, or any other erroneous system; that its revival, so far from being an innovation, is only a restoration, we cannot imagine that any Churchman can possibly raise objections to the mode of making the collection. Surely there are many things practised by the Tractarians which are good and lawful, and which may be adopted by all persons indiscriminately, without subjecting themselves to the charge of reviving Popish practices. The Tractarians wore shoes, like other men; shall we, therefore, discard them as useless, or as Popish ? This would not be more absurd, than to object to the mode of collection recommended by the Bishop of London. We trust, therefore, that we shall hear no more of the silly talk of the impropriety of resorting to a practice because it has been adopted by the Tractarians. If these gentlemen revive the practices of the Church, let us be thankful, and follow the example. At all events, let us not be deterred by the clamours of a few disaffected Churchmen from complying with the practices of the Church-practices to which all the clergy have solemnly pledged themselves.
The pastoral letter of the Bishop of London proves—if, indeed, any one could entertain a doubt on the subject—that Dissent is in as low a state in the metropolis as in the provinces. Sometimes we are told that Churchmen are a minority of the country; yet we find that churches are raised in every quarter --that large sums are readily procured for their erection-and still further, that, as soon as they are opened for public worship, they are attended by crowded congregations. Until the Church roused herself, many persons were inclined to credit the assertions of Dissenters; and we verily believe that the falsehoods so unblushingly put forth respecting numbers were the very cause of those exertions which, during the last ten or fifteen years, have been so successfully made in every part of the kingdom. So that we have reason to be thankful that the infatuation of Dissenters led them to imagine that they could overawe and put down the Church of England.
THE ECCLESIASTICAL COURTS BILL. Mr. Thomas Slingsby Duncombe has prophesied the entire destruction of the ecclesiastical courts! The prophecy may indeed be accomplished, but certainly the honourable member will not live to see the verification of his prediction. Mr. Roebuck objects to the phraseology employed by these courts
in their formal documents, especially does he object to the expression, “the health of the soul.” The honourable gentleman seems to have a special objection to this expression. He cannot endure to think that his soul should be cared for by any
We hope that the honourable member may commit the keeping of his soul to that gracious Being who alone can care for it; but we cannot refrain from reminding him that language not dissimilar is used by the criminal law in its formal documents. Why, then, should an objection be raised to words? In all our old forms, whether legal, or parliamentary, or ecclesiastical, language is employed which in modern times would not have been adopted; but we really cannot see why any objection should be raised, since no evil, or even inconvenience, is experienced by any person. At any rate, the ecclesiastical forms are not more singular than the others to which we have referred; and surely the one may be permitted to remain as well as the rest. We see, indeed, no substantial objection to an alteration in the phraseology employed, beyond that which we entertain against any change for the mere sake of change ; but we must protest against the application of a principle to ecclesiastical courts which is not to be applied to our courts of criminal and common law. It is clear, however, that Mr. Duncombe and Mr. Roebuck are opposed to the ecclesiastical courts because of their connexion with the Church of England, which is so much the object of their hatred. They would abolish the ecclesiastical courts—they would also abolish the Church of England. In neither case will their desires be accomplished.
We have, on previous occasions, expressed our decided opposition to change for the mere sake of change; but to certain improvements in the administration of the ecclesiastical law no sound Churchman can object. The former bill was far too sweeping in its enactments: the present is free from this evil, and therefore we regard it as an improvement. Some changes are indeed made; but still we cannot but view the measure as beneficial.
It was remarked, in the course of the debate in the House of Commons, that the business of these courts could not be transacted in the courts of common law. We are certain that the evils of such a transfer would be far greater than any which exist under the present system. The business of these courts is peculiar, and the judges and the advocates are trained in such a manner as to qualify them for its due and proper discharge. We should, therefore, regard the abolition of these courts as an evil of no small magnitude--an evil, the consequences of which would be experienced in future generations. Notwithstanding the sneers of Mr. Duncombe and Mr. Roebuck, we feel assured that a British Parliament will not hastily and heedlessly destroy a structure reared by our forefathers, and which has operated, through a succession of ages, for the benefit of the country.
The bill need not be analyzed. Its enactments are simple and calculated to be productive of good. Churchmen appear in general to be satisfied: and Dissenters are not concerned in the matter. They have no right to complain of a measure which does not concern them; yet they will not abstain from interference. It is singular, too, that all the opponents of the Church unite on such questions. Papists, Dissenters, Radicals, Infidels, with all sorts of schismatics, unite in one common bond against the Church, and all measures by which her interests are affected.
The various societies connected with the Church of England are in a flourishing condition, as the reports recently published testify. We do not, however, intend to enter into particulars respecting these societies: we shall merely allude to one, and that only
for the sake of noticing a statement which has again and again been made, respecting the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. It was stated, in a quarter not remarkable for acknowledging errors, that improper persons were employed by the Society in India ; that the Society ought not to be supported in consequence; and that the Colonial Church Society, as it chooses to designate itself, was rather entitled to the con-fidence of those who had a regard for the truth. These things were put forth on the authority of persons in India— laymen, who, as is now proved, were disposed to view everything as Tractarian which was merely in conformity with the rubrics and canons, if it happened not to suit the inclinations of these unauthorized and self-constituted judges. We stated at the time that a little space would explain all-we affirmed our conviction that there was no truth in the statement. The event proved the correctness of our views; for the Bishop of Calcutta, speaking of one of the parties so unjustly traduced, assured the public that a more zealous and excellent man could not be found in India. His lordship alluded to the evil rumours which had been communicated from that country for circulation in this; yet the propagators of the reports never uttered one word in acknowledgment of their error. From the time when the false reports originated, to the present moment, no retraction has been made. In our opinion, it is not only the part of