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THE BISHOP OF EXETER; THE REVD: DR. CROLY, DR. HOLLOWAY,
AND E. NANGLE:
ESQ.; M. T. SADLER, ESQ., M.P.; AND G. H. WOODWARD, ESQ., A.B.
Printed by A. Macintosh, 20, Great New-street.
PUBLISHED FOR THE PROTESTANT ASSOCIATION:
BY MESSRS. SEELEY, 169, FLEET STREET ; AND SOLD BY HATCHARDS; RIVINGTONS ;
NISBET; DALTON; BAISLER ; SHAW ; AND FORBES & JACKSON.
E. J. COOPER, M.P. RIGHT HON. EARL DALHOUSIE.
ALEXANDER GORDON. RIGHT HON. VISCOUNT LORTON.
J. E. GORDON. RIGHT HON. LORD FARNHAM.
JOHN HARDY. RIGHT HON. LORD REDESDALE.
SERGEANT JACKSON, M.P. VISCOUNT MAIDSTONE, M.P.
DONALD MACLEAN, M.P. VISCOUNT BERNARD.
J. P. PLUMPTRE, M.P. RIGHT HON. SIR GEORGE ROSE, M.P.
HENRY POWNALL. SIR DIGBY MACKWORTH, BART.
ALEXANDER PRINGLE, M.P. CAPTAIN ALSAGER, M.P.
W. H. TRANT.
REV. THOS. MORTIMER.
JAMES NISBET, ESQ.
LIEUT. ROGERS, R.N.
R. B. SEELEY, ESQ.
H. S. SELFE, ESQ.
G. J. P. SMITH, ESQ.
J. HAMILTON STORY, ESQ.
REV. A. S. THELWALL.
REV. EDW. THOMPSON.
G. H. WOODWARD, ESQ.
MACLEOD WYLIE, ESQ.
STATEMENT OF VIEWS AND OBJECTS. The history of the Government and constitution of England, through all the centuries of which we have any record, and amidst various changes of dynasty, and even of form, presents one feature, one governing principle, which, till of late years, has never been openly brought into question. That principle is the acknowledge ment of the Christian faith, as the unquestioned religion of the land, and the recognition of its dictates, as constituting the fundamental basis of all Christian legislation.
To this ruling principle, the governors and the governed, whether under the Monarchy of the middle ages, the Republic, the Protectorate, or the free Constitution which has so happily endured for more than a century past, have ever yielded an unhesitating assent. From the very earliest days of which we have any record, a definite system of belief was established in the nation, and for several centuries a scriptural standard being sedulously adhered to, a purer faith prevailed in England than in most of the other countries of Europe. Subsequently the dominion of Rome, though not without many struggles, was gradually imposed upon this as well as upon the other divisions of the Western empire. But when, at the era of the blessed Reformation, the Word of God itself was opened to the nation's view, and the people came to see that Protestantism was in truth the religion of the Bible, they immediately, and with all earnestness, adopted the Protestant religion, and reformed the National Church by its principles. Thus, from first to last, at all periods, under all forms of Government, and amidst all changes of belief, the fundamental policy of the British Constitution has ever been a policy avowedly and essentially Christian.
In our own days, however, a theory heretofore scarcely heard of, has been started, which wholly repudiates these principles and this policy. It assumes that the State does not, and cannot know, which is the true religion, or whether there be any such
thing as truth or certainty in religious matters. Planting the Government and the Legislature on this ground of passive infidelity--that is, of not believing any one religion to be really founded on immutable truth, it very naturally, and on this hypothesis very justly argues, that it is improper and intolerable for the State to express, or to entertain, any kind of opinion or preference in these questions : that religion ought to be left to every man's private feelings, to regard or disregard it as he may think fit; but that the only safe course to be taken by the Legislature, is, either to yield an impartial and indifferent support to all religions, as a matter of public convenience, or to give support and countenance to none whatever. Of this theory it is only necessary here to observe, that it must at least be admitted to be wholly strange to the British Constitution—to be most entirely at variance, both with its letter and its spirit; and also, that,—whether it may suit the purposes of its advocates, at the present moment, to draw that inference or not,-it manifestly leaves no basis whatever on which to ground or to maintain a national provision for the worship of God or the religious instruction of the people.
This theory is strenuously advocated at the present moment by two very different parties, but two parties whose individual views and interests, however at variance in their ultimate character and tendency, will yet each be equally advanced by the prevalence of this doctrine at the present moment.
The Infidel party, or, to speak, as leniently as may be, the party consisting of those who have no religious faith, or any religious preference of their own, is the natural parent of this theory. Not having taken the trouble to learn for themselves that the Bible is the Word of God, but having chosen to leave the whole question of the truth of Christianity uninvestigated and undecided, they are very naturally, though not very justly, apt to resent, and to dislike, the assumption by any other persons, that this most important certainty, this most valuable of all kinds of knowledge, is theirs. Disbelief being their chosen creed, uncertainty the rest which they have taken up, wilful ignorance their refuge, and, in some degree, their pride; they demand, as we have already said, unjustly, but not unnaturally, that ignorance, uncertainty, and disbelief shall be the declared creed of the nation. Refusing to open their own eyes to the rays of the sun, they require, in the name of justice and equality, that darkness shall reign throughout the realm. “ What is truth? and who can tell?” is their demand; and if the State replies, “ Here is God's own Word, and that will inform you,” they declare that the State violates their natural rights, and assumes an office for which it is wholly unqualified !
Removed to the greatest possible distance, as to doctrine, is the Roman Catholic, in this question. With him it is a fundamental principle, that the highest possible certainty of truth and safety is with his Church, and the highest possible certainty of error and eternal loss with all who are not within its pale. But the grand object with the Roman Catholic in all parts of these islands, at the present moment, is the destruction of the Established Church, which forms the chief, if not the only obstacle to the re-establishment of Popery. With this view, therefore, he readily lays aside, for the moment, all the high pretensions of his Church to infallibility and sole dominion over the consciences of men, and joins with the professor of liberality, or rather of unbelief, in contending that the State, in maintaining a certain form of Christianity, and giving a preference to a certain mode of belief, does violence to the rights of conscience, and pretends to a knowledge which it cannot possess. The object of this strange coalition, so far as the Romanist is concerned, is abundantly clear. He knows that Infidelity, whether active or passive, has never been the natural tendency of the people of this country; and he wisely calculates that if, under the garb of liberality, he can sap the foundations of that Establishment, which has always been the main bulwark of Protestantism, he may well expect that from amidst the general wreck and confusion of all creeds, multitudes will flock to his own Church, decked as it is with all the pretensions of antiquity, and all the graces of meretricious ornament. He sees, also, that the main attack of modern Infidelity or Liberalism, is levelled against the Divine authority of the Holy Scriptures-those Scriptures which it has ever been the main object of his Church to withdraw from the sight of the people. In either view, therefore, whether as opposed to the Established Churches, or to that Bible on which those Churches are founded, and with the free circulation of which Popery can never co-exist–in either of these views, the Romanists justly calculate on making their advantage by aiding in the assaults of the
But it must be admitted that the hypothesis against which we are contending, reckons among its supporters many who are neither Infidels nor Papists. Even
some whose personal character stands deservedly high, have been so far led away by this delusive but specious system of “liberality,” as seriously to argue that the adoption of false opinions in religion, or even the rejection of every description of religious faith, involves no moral guilt in the individual; or at least, no such moral guilt, as to warrant the least withdrawal of confidence or privilege on the part of the State. This view appears to arise from a forgetfulness of the main fact of the case, namely, that God has given to man a revelation of his mind and will; that this revelation is accessible to all, and its certainty and authenticity ascertainable by every man; and that the principle on which the State has ever acted has been, that this revelation was the only safe and real standard of truth and falsehood, of moral good and moral evil.
If this principle be true, then infidelity or indifference to the truth cannot be harmless or unblameable; if it be false, then its falsehood must consist in this, that the Bible is not what it is assumed to be the Word of God given as a guide to man.
Such is the real character of the contest now waging. The “ Liberal” demands a public declaration that the State knows no difference between one religion and another, because, in his eyes, all religions are equally either matters of indifference or of positive dislike. The Papist joins in the demand, in the well founded expecta-, tion that out of the general confusion thus produced, his Church cannot but reap a rich harvest of proselytes. The question is, whether the people of England will concede their faith to the demands or designs of either the Liberal or the Papist. With those who have not yet entirely assured themselves of the truth of Holy Scripture, and who do not know with any certainty whether Christianity is a revelation from God, or a cunningly devised fable, this controversy may seem of trivial consequence, and may excite little interest. But with those who feel assured that the Bible is God's best gift to man, not only as regards the world to come, but also as regards the present state and prosperity of kingdoms as well as of individuals,--the question now stated is one of the deepest and most exciting interest. It is felt to be so by the enemy himself. Efforts hitherto unknown are making in every quarter. Popery announces its periodical lectures, prepares and distributes its tracts, and forms the closest alliance with the infidel on the one hand, and the mistaken and deluded nonconformist on the other. Meanwhile, in Parliament, and through a large division of the press, the doctrine is perpetually and earnestly promulgated, that it is an infraction of man's natural rights, for the State to espouse any particular creed, inasmuch as the State cannot judge of religious controversies, or pretend to decide which is truth and which falsehood.
In direct opposition to this doctrine, and in the bold and unhesitating assertion that the State ought to know, and always up to this period has professed that it did know, what was truth, and where it was to be found ;-in support, in short, of the Word of God, as the only standard of immutable truth, the PROTESTANT AssociaTION now comes forward, without regard to any party in the State, or any denomination in the Church, simply to assert its allegiance to the Holy Scriptures, and to claim for that gracious gift of God the homage and obedience which is universally due.
To this end, it proposes to embody in one Association, all who assert these principles ; to maintain and to furnish explanations of these views in tracts; to hold Meetings for their enforcement and justification; and in every way that can be devised, consistently with the duty of good subjects and good Christians, to uphold the supremacy of the Bible as a national standard, and of Protestantism as being essentially the religion of the Bible. It desires to include in its ranks all sincere Protestants in the three United Kingdoms. It calls anxious attention to those principles which actuated our Protestant Reformers and the framers of our Constitution, and to the grievous departure from them which has lately been exhibited. It will aim to revive the spirit which actuated those who obtained these national benefits; which spirit it believes to be dormant, not extinct; and while it endeavours to arouse Protestants to the imminent dangers which surround them, as it claims for itself that liberty of conscience which Englishmen have ever valued, so, under the guidance of Scriptural principle, it will freely and equally accord it to others.
The Association was constituted at a Meeting held at Exeter Hall, in the month of June, 1835. The individuals who were concerned in its formation were afterwards enabled, by Meetings held in various parts of England, and still more especially in Scotland, to diffuse an amount of information, and to excite a just and sound Protestant feeling, which could in no other way have been created or directed. All that is now desired, is its augmentation to a force capable of maintaining and of increasing this feeling, and of losing no opportunity of enforcing, both on the Legis.