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WHICH SOME CALL HERESY
to the clergy and laity of the church of england,
ON CLERICAL SUBSCRIPTION
formerly of trinity college, cambridge; and late curate
of st. john's, hull
"But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and the prophets: and herein do I exercise myself to have a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man." — Acts 24:14, 16.
James Nisbet & Co., 21, Berners Street
TO THE SECOND EDITION.
Nineteen years, very nearly, have elapsed since the publication of the first edition of this Letter,—since, unable any longer to make the subscription required of the clergy, the writer of these pages went forth not knowing whither he went. Often since then has the question been reviewed: many a theory during these years has been roughly tested by experience: views then held on some points have been corrected or enlarged, for the same object necessarily appears differently from different stand-points: but on the question discussed in these pages, of the ex animo subscription required from the clergy to the XXXVIth Canon, all fresh light and all experience have but added other and stronger reasons to the pleadings put forth in this Letter, shewing past all question that subscription as it is at present practised is useless for the purpose alleged, viz., for the avoiding of all ambiguities or difference of doctrine among the clergy, while it is most oppressive to thoughtful and conscientious men, who cannot subscribe as a mere form distinct statements, which, in their ordinary sense at least, appear directly opposed to fact, reason, and Scripture.
But the Letter when first published met with little welcome. The Bishop of Exeter, indeed, reprinted some eight or nine pages of it, in his Charge delivered to the clergy of his diocese at the Triennial Visitation, in June, July, and August, 1848; probably as an argumentum ad hominem to the Evangelical clergy of his diocese, who, disbelieving baptismal regeneration, still gave their "unfeigned assent and consent" to the whole Prayer-book. "One living clergyman," he wrote, "the Rev. Andrew Jukes, has acted as the Puritans did in 1662. He has given up his former position in the Church, and has made public the grounds of his separation, one principal ground being his disbelief in the Church's doctrine of spiritual regeneration in baptism. In his statement, which is marked by much of candour and charity as well as talent, he takes occasion to record the various expedients, by which clergymen, who, like himself, deny that doctrine, do yet, unlike him, endeavour to reconcile their denial with the words of the Baptismal Service." And then come pages 26 and 27, and from page 30 to 38, of this Letter, reprinted by the Bishop for his clergy. But though this notice helped to circulate the Tract, the question of subscription at that time seemed uninteresting to reviewers, and even to the public generally.
Then came the famous Gorham case, the decision of which by the Privy Council gave the Evangelical clergy legal authority, or at least permission, to hold their livings though they denied baptismal regeneration. But though this case settled a point of civil law, it proved nothing in foro conscientiae. For the question in the matter of subscription is, not what the civil law of England allows, but rather what truth and conscience require respecting certain solemn declarations. As far as I know, a man may tell lies, and yet most legally retain possession of his house and lands and property. But would a Christian say, that because no civil penalty attaches to the offence, a falsehood is or can be justifiable? So as to subscription. The question is not, whether, after having declared our "assent and consent" to the Prayer-book, we may hold our livings, while yet we disbelieve certain things we have subscribed to; but whether, disbelieving or at least doubting certain portions of the Prayer-book, we are honest and true in subscribing to "all and everything in the said book," that "there is nothing in it contrary to the Word of God."
The Essays and Reviews have again practically revived this question, and convinced some that this matter of subscription is of vital moment to the Church generally. Clergymen, it is now currently said, give their assent and consent to the whole Prayer-book, and yet deny and contradict the plainest assertions and doctrine which they have so solemnly subscribed to. Men say that whatever else the clergy hold, it is quite certain they will hold their livings. The Athenaeum for last February, (and surely it is a sign that such a Review should write on this question,) in a notice of the Essays and Reviews, which is chiefly occupied with this one question of subscription, after comparing the actual subscription with the explanations generally given by the clergy in justification of it, goes on to speak as follows:—"If this interpretation be the real honesty of subscription, what is its common honesty? It will not do to appeal to the consent of divines about points of latitude. The laymen declare that divines have, from the commencement of subscription downward, fallen into very loose notions about subscription and its meaning. It is no answer to say that liberty of interpretation has been advocated by prelates. We know it has, and we say that those prelates had no right to such liberty. ... The clerical mind is dull and dim upon these points by long use of opiates. ... But there is a universal belief among the laity that the clergy do not accept in the mass the whole of the Articles and Prayer-book, in the unqualified manner which they declare for. The best friends of the existing Establishment are those who urge upon the higher clergy the necessity of bringing the state of subscription and of belief into accordance. Anything rather than a world of evasions and subterfuges. Whatever may be right, this is wrong."
In the same tone, the Edinburgh Review for last month, (April, 1862,) in an article on clerical subscription, after adverting to the effect of this subscription on men, who cannot in conscience make it, thus speaks of its effect on members of the Church:—"It is within the Church itself that this restriction exercises the most baneful influence; deterring (and that in an increasing degree) the nobler hearts and loftier minds among the youth of England from the service of the sanctuary; discrediting the clergy in the eyes of thoughtful laymen; and inflicting on clergymen themselves a lifelong injury, not the less mischievous because it is so commonly denied and so often unsuspected. For is it not a sore injury done to men of such high qualities and endowments as the English clergy generally, that there is one set of subjects on which they are forbidden liberty, not of speech only, or of action, but of thought; one circle of subjects within which they are afraid even to think with fairness,—the charmed circle guarded by the ex animo subscription, by the plenary 'assent and consent,'—in approaching which, truth must no longer be the first object sought, nor light the one thing most desired?"
Surely words like these from such quarters evince that it is time the clergy should do something to set themselves right with the mass of thoughtful and educated laymen. At all events, the question is again raised, and an answer must be given to it,—Does clerical subscription really mean anything? The present year too brings with it memories which cannot sleep, of those Two Thousand, who, under pressure of this same subscription, became strangers to their brethren and aliens to their mother's children. What drove them forth? Calamy, the younger, in his Life and Times of Baxter, (pp. 502-5,) has recorded the grounds of their nonconformity. "They were," he says, and he was himself one of them, "required to declare their unfeigned assent and consent to all and everything contained and prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer, &c. ... In this book they met with several things, which, after the strictest search they could make, appeared to them not agreeable to the Word of God. ... They observed that there must be not 'consent,' but 'assent' too; and that 'to everything' in particular contained in this book. Words could scarcely be devised more full and significant to testify their highest commendation."
"To this book," he proceeds, "they found several exceptions, which appeared to them of great consequence. First, that it teaches the doctrine of real baptismal regeneration;—'We yield Thee hearty thanks that it hath pleased Thee to regenerate this infant with thy Holy Spirit.' The sense of the Church too as to the efficacy of baptism is clear from the Office for Confirmation:—'Almighty God, who hast vouchsafed to regenerate these thy servants by water and the Holy Ghost, and hast given unto them forgiveness of all their sins, &c.' This was a thing that appeared to our ministers of such dangerous consequence, that they durst not concur in it, or any way approve it. For them, under their apprehension, to have gone to declare that there was nothing in the Prayer-book but what they could 'assent' and 'consent' to, and to have subscribed this with their hands, had been doing violence to their consciences, and attempting at once to impose upon God and man."
These points, which Calamy states were "first and chiefest" with the Two Thousand ejected ministers, were those, as the following pages will shew, which forced the writer of this Letter into the same path of Nonconformity. And though the days are changed, and there is now no Five-mile Act, forcing non-conforming clergymen to a distance from those to whom they have ministered in spiritual things,—though the cross is lighter, yet a cross it is to leave old ties and loved associations, to go forth, not knowing whither one goes, or where to find an earthly resting-place. Little do those who judge such a step think what it costs. Suffering always looks somewhat contemptible. Even some of the most famous martyrdoms, it has been said, looked very meanly when they were suffered. It may therefore seem to some a small sacrifice for a man, all whose habits, affections, and worldly interests bind him to the Church, after years of preparation for its ministry, to be thrown adrift, with no other door open for him to enter, an unknown stranger, among persons with other modes of thought, and other habits and associations. Those who have done it, know what it costs. But they have or will have their reward.
Believing that the time is come when this question of clerical subscription must be re-considered, not only for the clergy's sake, but for the Church generally, the writer again commends the facts and reasons of the following Letter to the candid consideration of his brethren still serving in the Church of England. If he speaks evil, let them bear witness of the evil: if truth, let it have its due authority.
Hull, 14th May, 1862.
The following pages, containing a statement of some of the reasons which led to a suspension of my ministry in the Church of England, have for some time been lying by me. The only question in my mind has been whether I ought to publish them. During the period which has elapsed since my suspension, it has been my endeavour by earnest prayer and self-examination to learn the mind of our God and Father, as to the conduct He would have me pursue in this particular. At first I was disposed to leave the whole matter in His hands alone who is the Searcher of hearts, and to suffer it, as far as I was concerned, to pass over in silence. I wished not to distress your consciences, and I felt a shrinking from that controversy and reproach, which I foresaw might be elicited by any statement from me.
I therefore allowed week after week to pass without any public declaration from me as to the facts and grounds of my separation from St. John's. But I can do this no longer. In the first place, I feel that I am not justified through any false love of quietness in withholding from my brethren the facts and reasons which led to my suspension; and in the next place, whatever might be my wishes, the attempt at quietness has utterly failed. On the one hand I find that there are not a few among you, who are so far interested in me as to press me for an explanation of my conduct and my principles, and that explanation I feel is your right, while on the other hand there are others, who, ignorantly and unwittingly perhaps, yet not less certainly, are circulating misrepresentations of my motives and of my views, which seem to me to call for, if not a defence, at least a disclaimer on my part. Misconceptions may remain after all, and probably will in some quarters, yet I feel that it is due, not only to you, but also to the truth, to do what in me lies to remove from your minds any unnecessary misunderstanding.
I know indeed by sad experience how difficult it is to speak on a subject like this without either injuring oneself or wounding dear brethren. I know how in writing about error there is constant need of watching our own treacherous hearts, lest we rejoice in iniquity because it proves us in the right; for I feel that we are not fit to speak of evil in the Church unless we can share the burden in humiliation before the Lord. But the Lord knows that in thus coming forward in a course which I foresee will expose me to certain reproach, I do it not for my own, but for the Church's sake. The things which I write, I write "not that we should be approved, but that ye should do that which is honest, though we be as reprobates; for we are glad when we are weak and ye are strong, and this also we wish, even your perfection." I am therefore willing, in obedience to God's Word, to "give a reason of the hope that is in me." May He help me to do it "with meekness and fear."
To do this clearly I must go back a little. In the September before last, Mr. Wanton, of Drypool, having left the town for his usual summer holiday, it was arranged that I should take part of his duty for him, especially the surplice duty, that is the baptisms, marriages, and funerals, until his return. I think it was one of the first baptisms I had at his church which led me seriously to review the question of subscription to the Prayer-book, which is required of all the clergy, and which more than once had somewhat troubled me. If I remember right, there were no sponsors for the child, but some one who happened to be in the church at the time was pressed into the service by the parents, to stand for the child and make the required promises. This case led me to serious reflection. The service for baptism had always to my mind presented certain difficulties; but clergymen whom I had known from childhood told me that they had once felt very much as I did on the subject, but that the difficulty of the language of the service was to be met by taking the statements hypothetically, that is, on the supposition that all is rightly done on the part of those who present the child for baptism. But in the case before me I found, that, let things be rightly done or not, the same service had to be read, and none other; for every clergyman is bound by his ordination vow "to use the form prescribed by the Prayer-book in public prayer and in the administration of the sacraments, and none other."
I therefore determined at once to open my difficulty to my revered friend and rector, Mr. Dykes, whose truth and kindness I had so often proved, and than whom I knew no one more likely to give me good counsel. It was with hesitation, (for I feared in any way to pain him,) that I told him what was my difficulty, viz., that holding my position as a clergyman in virtue of my subscription to the Thirty-sixth Canon,—"that there is nothing in the Prayer-book contrary to the Word of God, and that I will always use it, and none other, in public prayer and in the administration of the sacraments,"—I now found that there were several things in that Prayer-book, which seemed to me at least questionable. Mr. Dykes received this communication most kindly, telling me that many others of the Evangelical clergy had felt more or less the same difficulty; but that there were evils and difficulties everywhere, and less in the Church of England than perhaps in any other communion; that my conscience was probably morbid respecting trifles, the great duty of the clergy being to preach and live Christ, and not to trouble themselves or others with questions of words or outward forms and ceremonies.
Of course I give only the general sense of his remarks, for during many weeks I had several long conversations with him on this subject; but as I made notes at the time of these conversations, I can speak with certainty of the general tenor of the advice which was so kindly given me. Among the points which Mr. Dykes impressed most strongly on me was the fact that providence had placed me where I was, and that I ought seriously to pause before I gave up a post to which the Lord had called me. If His providence should remove me, well and good, but being in a sphere of usefulness, I clearly should not leave it; the rather as I had the example of so many of the best men in England, who did not hesitate at the subscription which I now questioned and objected to.
With this advice from one whom I regarded so highly, I endeavoured for several weeks and months to satisfy my conscience, all the while praying to God, that, if I were wrong, He would instruct me, or providentially lay me aside from work by sickness or otherwise, and so deliver me from what appeared to me to be a false position. For I was greatly perplexed, and uncertain as to what might or might not be God's will; on the one hand seeing the evil of causing doubts, and perhaps division, among Christians; on the other, feeling that I held a false position, my conscience by no means approving the subscription to the Prayer-book, in virtue of which I held my office, by license from the Archbishop, as curate in this diocese. As probably the great majority of the members of the Church of England are wholly in ignorance of what a clergyman has to declare before he can be licensed by the bishop to any church or curacy, I will here quote the declaration in full, and then briefly state how it now presses on my conscience.
The Church of England requires from every clergyman that he shall subscribe the three following articles of the Thirty-sixth Canon. The Canon runs as follows:—"No person shall hereafter be received into the Ministry, nor either by institution or collation admitted to any Ecclesiastical Living, nor suffered to preach, to catechise, or to be a Lecturer or Reader of Divinity in either University, or in any Cathedral or Collegiate Church, City, or Market-town, Parish-church, Chapel, or in any other place within this realm; except he be licensed either by the Archbishop, or by the Bishop of the Diocese, where he is to be placed, under their hands and seals, or by one of the two Universities, under their seal likewise; and except he shall first subscribe to these Three Articles following, in such manner and sort as we have here appointed.
"I. That the King's Majesty, (now the Queen's,) under God, is the only supreme Governor of this realm, and of all other her Highness's dominions and countries, as well in all Spiritual or Ecclesiastical things or causes, as Temporal; and that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state, or potentate, hath, or ought to have, any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence, or authority, Ecclesiastical or Spiritual, within her Majesty's said realms, dominions, and countries.
"II. That the Book of Common Prayer, and of ordering of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, containeth in it nothing contrary to the Word of God, and that it may lawfully so be used: and that he himself will use the form in the said Book prescribed, in public prayer, and in administration of the Sacraments, and none other.
"III. That he alloweth the Book of Articles of Religion agreed upon by the Archbishops and Bishops of both provinces, and the whole Clergy in the Convocation holden at London in the year of our Lord God one thousand five hundred sixty and two; and that he acknowledgeth all and every the Articles therein contained, being in number nine-and-thirty, besides the Ratification, to be agreeable to the Word of God.
"To these three Articles whosoever shall subscribe, he shall, for the avoiding of all ambiguities, subscribe in this order and form of words, setting down both his Christian and Sur-name, viz., I, N. N. do willingly and ex animo subscribe to these three Articles above mentioned, and to all things that are contained in them. And if any Bishop shall ordain, admit, or license any, as is aforesaid, except he first have subscribed in the manner and form as here we have appointed, he shall be suspended from giving of orders and licenses to preach, for the space of twelve months. But if either of the Universities shall offend therein, we leave them to the danger of the law and his Majesty's censure."
Such is the subscription absolutely required from all clergymen, and only in virtue of this subscription can we be admitted to officiate as priests or deacons of the Church of England. And in addition to this, every incumbent has to make the following declaration:—"I, A. B., do here declare my unfeigned assent and consent to all and everything contained and prescribed in and by the book intituled, The Book of Common Prayer." (Note: "With regard to this last expression, of 'assent and consent,' it is often said that nothing more is intended by the formula than assent and consent to the use of all and everything contained and prescribed in and by the Book of Common Prayer. But we cannot forget that the same House of Commons which passed this Act refused to modify the required declaration so as to suit the meaning thus attached to it. Nor can we forget that the words are to this day understood, and must needs be understood, in their plain grammatical sense by the congregations before whom they are uttered, and by the laity in general; and are even so appealed to not unfrequently by the authorities of the Church themselves."—Edinburgh Review, on Clerical Subscription, April,1862.)
I now proceed to shew how this subscription pressed me. One after another, the more I weighed and examined them, these three articles, in virtue of subscription to which I was licensed to my curacy, seemed either contrary to fact, to reason, or to Scripture. The point which first pressed my conscience was the declaration that "the Book of Common Prayer containeth in it nothing contrary to the Word of God;" but the other questions stated in the Canon, as to the Queen's supremacy in things spiritual, and as to the Thirty-nine Articles, seemed the more I weighed them to be more and more objectionable. I need not enter on them all. I say nothing therefore here of the question of the Queen's supremacy "in all spiritual or ecclesiastical things or causes as in temporal," further than that this statement now appears to me, to use the mildest language, very questionable. For is it true that "the Queen's majesty under God is the only supreme governor of this realm as well in all spiritual things and causes as in temporal"? Is it true de jure? (Note: De Lolme, in his famous work, "On the Constitution of England," says,—"The King is the supreme head of the Church. In this capacity he appoints the Bishops and the two Archbishops, and he alone can convene the assembly of the clergy. The assembly is formed on the model of the Parliament; the bishops form the upper house; deputies from the dioceses, and from the several chapters, the lower house: the assent of the King is likewise necessary to the validity of their acts and canons, and the King can prorogue or dissolve the convocation."—p. 70.) Is it true de facto? Is the Queen really by right above the bishops of Christ's Church in spiritual things? Is she in fact supreme in all things ecclesiastical? Look for instance at the bishops of the Church of Rome, with the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster at their head, now settled in this country, whose sees are "things and causes ecclesiastical," but who are, and boast they are, in all spiritual things absolutely independent of the Queen, and wholly beyond her jurisdiction in things ecclesiastical. Is it not simply a fact, directly in opposition to the statement of the Canon, that a foreign prince, person, and prelate, hath power ecclesiastical and spiritual within her Majesty's realms and dominions? How then can we affirm that it is not so? And even respecting the Church of England as by law established, is the Queen in fact supreme in it. Is it she, or even her Privy Council, who determines what shall or shall not be done in any matter, as for instance touching any revision of the Liturgy? Is it not rather the party which happens to be in power in Parliament that in the present day really settles everything respecting the Church of England and its temporalities?
The following passage from Dr. Barrow, directed by him against the headship of the Pope, if true at all must in some degree be applicable to the temporal headship of the Church of England, respecting which we have to make subscription. "This pretence," he says, "doth thwart the Holy Scripture, by assigning to another the prerogatives and peculiar titles appropriated therein to our Lord. The Scripture asserteth Him to be our only Sovereign, Lord, and King,—speaketh of one Archpastor and Great Shepherd of the sheep, exclusively to any other,—telleth us that we have one High-priest of our profession,—informeth us that there is but one Supreme Doctor, Guide, and Father of Christians. It seemeth therefore a sacrilegious arrogance derogatory from our Lord's honour, for any man to assume or admit those titles of 'Sovereign of the Church,' 'Head of the Church,' &c., upon what pretence or under what distinction soever. ... To decline these allegations of Scripture they have forged distinctions of several kinds of Churches and several sorts of heads; but no such distinctions have any place or ground in Scripture, nor can well consist with it, which simply doth represent the Church as one kingdom, 'a kingdom of heaven,' 'a kingdom not of this world;' all the subjects of which have their citizenship in heaven, or are considered as members of a city there, so that it is vain to seek a sovereign thereof in this world; ... especially considering that our Lord, according to His promise, is ever present with the Church here, governing it by the efficacy of His Spirit and grace, so that no corporeal or visible head of this spiritual body is needful." (Note: Barrow, On the Pope's Supremacy, pp. 118-120.)
But I need not enter on all this. (Note: Those who care to know the views of some of our Reformers on this subject may consult the Zurich Letters, I. and XIV.) The point which first exercised my own mind will be quite sufficient to shew on what grounds I am unable to make the subscription which is required from all clergymen; for if it can be shewn that any of the articles to which subscription is required by the Canon involve doctrines or practices opposed to Christ's gospel, this of itself will sufficiently justify my nonconformity. To one article therefore I alone here confine my remarks.
Observe then what it is that each minister is required to subscribe in the Second Article of the Canon alluded to. Nothing less than this,—that he "willingly and ex animo subscribes that the Book of Common Prayer containeth in it nothing contrary to the Word of God." Now the question is, can it be proved that what this article declares is agreeable to truth, or can the contrary be shewn?
Let us take a single service in that book, beginning, where we should naturally begin, with the initiatory rite of our most holy faith, I mean Baptism. Is it true that the Baptismal Service "containeth in it nothing contrary to the Word of God"?
What do we find in this Service? In the first place the officiating minister, in the midst of a solemn ordinance, and as a test of the candidate's fitness to receive holy baptism, has to put questions respecting faith and obedience to an unconscious and perhaps a sleeping babe. For that the child is the person addressed is plain from the question, "Wilt thou be baptized in this faith?" for the sponsors have been baptized before; and the Service distinctly states, "This Infant must also faithfully for his part promise, &c." Of this question to an unconscious babe every clergyman must say, that there is nothing in it contrary to the Word of God. Our Reformers surely did not think this, nor did they require the subscription which since 1662 has been imperative. On the contrary Bishops Grindal and Horne, writing to their brethren respecting these very questions, say,—"We receive it is true, or rather tolerate, until the Lord shall give us better times, the interrogations to infants, and the sign of the cross in baptism, and kneeling at the Lord's Supper. We publicly profess, and diligently teach, that questions of this kind are not very suitable to be proposed to infants, notwithstanding they seem to be borrowed from Augustine." (Note: Zurich Letters, p. 179. See Note at the end of this Letter.) But suitable or not, the questions must be put by every clergyman, and further he must, if he will now keep his place, say of them "that there is nothing in them contrary to the Word of God."
And as to the system of sponsorship, is it quite clear that there is nothing in it contrary to the Word of God? The Prayer-book distinctly says, "Faith and repentance are required of persons to be baptized." If this be so, can one man promise either faith or repentance for another,—for another whose mind cannot be known, and all this as a test of the fitness of that other to receive one of Christ's sacraments?
What are the reasons assigned for this system? The common answer is, that these questions are justified by, what is called, "the analogy of circumcision;"—that as circumcision was the sign of a spiritual blessing, and yet was administered to children, therefore baptism may be the sign of a spiritual blessing, and yet be administered to children. Suppose I grant this, what does it prove? Simply this, that children may be baptized: but this is not the question. The question here is, not whether the circumcision of infants justifies the baptism of infants, but whether the circumcision of infants justifies us in putting questions respecting faith to infants, and in making one person promise faith for another. Let us suppose it proved, that the circumcision of the male infants of Abraham's family justifies the baptism of all the infants born of professedly Christian parents, how does it follow that therefore we may ask those infants questions, require from them answers, and make one person promise for another what can never be known; and all this in the midst of a solemn ordinance, which, according to the Church of England, (Note: Quest. "What is required of persons to be baptized? Answ. Repentance whereby they forsake sin, and faith whereby they steadfastly believe the promises of God, made to them in this sacrament.") requires faith and repentance in the candidate as a pre-requisite for the rite? The very statement of the argument is sufficient to expose it. If stated, it would run thus:—Birth in Abraham's family entitled the male children of that family to receive a carnal ordinance, in which no questions were put to the child, and no answers required; therefore birth in a professedly Christian land is to entitle all children, both males and females, to receive a spiritual ordinance, in which questions are put, and answers are required: an ordinance, moreover, be it remembered, the right to participate in which depends, according to the Prayer-book, on the possession and profession of faith and repentance.
But does not St. Paul affirm of circumcision that it was "a seal of the righteousness of faith," and does not this teach us that as faith was in some way imputed to children of old, so we too now may suppose faith in our children, and in this way defend the service? Now I simply ask does St. Paul affirm this? What are his words? They may be found [sic] Rom. 4:11, and they form part of the Apostle's argument to shew that Abraham was justified before circumcision. He says,—"And he (Abraham) received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised." The Apostle's object is to shew that men may be justified or righteous without circumcision, and to prove this he cites the case of Abraham, to whom circumcision was only a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he already possessed; "he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had:" but I read not that circumcision was any such thing to his children, nor will this Scripture prove it. For take a similar case to illustrate the passage: what should we think of the man, who, having read that the Author of Waverley received the rank of baronet, as a mark or seal of the talents which he had before receiving the title, should thence conclude that therefore Sir Walter Scott's children also, to whom the title descended, received it in like manner as a seal of their talents? Yet this is exactly analogous.
Do I then deny that the faith of one person can obtain spiritual blessings for another? God forbid. The Gospels clearly shew how the faith of friends and parents can bring blessings upon those for whom they make intercession. The faith of the Canaanitish woman saved her child. The faith of those who let down the palsied man at the feet of Christ brought perfect healing to him. Blessed be God, it is so yet. The faith of parents can still obtain most precious blessings for their unconscious children. But the question here is, not whether Christ accepts the faith of parents, who bring their children to baptism, but whether the practice of putting questions to unconscious babes is or is not according to the Word of God. According to the Church of England, the child is not baptized on the ground here assumed, namely that its friends or parents have faith, but because it professes faith through its sponsors,—a profession made indeed through others, but yet the child's own profession in the eye of the Church. This as I have said before is clear enough, for in answer to the question, "Why are infants baptized?" the Church tells us, it is, not because of the faith of parents or sponsors, but "because they (the infants) promise them both, (i.e. both faith and repentance,) by their sureties." I at least can no longer say of all these questions, that "there is nothing in them contrary to the Word of God;" for I read that our Christian service is "reasonable," and this questioning of unconscious infants to me is not reasonable. I think if reason might be heard, she would speak somewhat as follows:—The child, to whom you put the question "Wilt thou be baptized?" either has the power of assenting and dissenting to the question, or it has not the power. On the one hand, if it has not the power, why put any question to it at all? On the other hand, if it has the power, how can you tell which way it may use it, and whether it may assent or dissent to what you ask it?
But there is more in the same Baptismal Service to which I can no longer "willingly subscribe," that "there is nothing in it contrary to the Word of God." I am required to affirm, and that in an address to God, that every child I may baptize is then and there regenerate with the Holy Ghost; and further I must say of this statement, that "there is nothing in it contrary to the Word of God." Now I am willing to declare that baptism is the sign and seal of the regeneration of man in Christ Jesus,—that man in Him is born again, and in Him has received a new life and the divine nature; but I cannot positively affirm of every individual child, who is brought by others to be baptized, that it is then and there regenerate with the Holy Spirit. It may be want of faith, as some tell me; or it may be that I am too scrupulous as to subscription to words which seem to me at least very equivocal. But I cannot go beyond my faith, "for whatsoever is not of faith is sin;" and to me the statements respecting the regeneration of every child seem far too strong and sweeping. But if I do not make these statements "willingly," I cannot be a minister of the Church of England.
Nor do the explanations which are offered of this part of the service, (for it is confessed by Evangelical men that it requires explanation,) satisfy me that it is right to use it. Perhaps it may not be unprofitable to detail these various explanations. The following skeleton of the opinions stated at a clerical meeting held last year, may do this as well or better than anything I can say. It will also be valuable in another light, as exhibiting the not trifling difference of opinion which exists upon the subject of baptism among the clergy of the Church of England.
At the Annual Clerical Meeting, held at the Rev. D. Wilson's, Islington, January 5th, 1842, Archdeacon Hoare in the Chair, and nearly a hundred clergymen present, the subject for discussion being the Baptismal Service, and the doctrine of Regeneration as connected with that rite, the following speakers stated their opinions in effect as follows:—
Mr. Cunningham (of Harrow) said, his opinion was, that in baptism some positive, clear, distinct, intelligible blessing and benefit, called by the name of "regeneration," was conveyed to the infant. This benefit is reconciliation to God: a change of state, but not necessarily a change of nature. Not an alteration of the moral condition of the child, but simply a change by which the child is brought into the outward communion of the Church: and this is the state which in the Service is called "regeneration." This view is very nearly that of Bishop Hopkins, of Derry.
Mr. Burgess spoke next. He said he could not agree to this view. His opinion was, that in baptism the infant receives the remission of original sin, and a principle of Divine life imparted by the Holy Ghost; a seed given to fructify or die, but always given. He considered that a repenting, believing, converted adult was not pardoned, nor received regeneration until baptism.
Mr. C. Bridges differed from each of the preceding speakers. His view of the question was, that in baptism, where the prayers are offered in faith, as contemplated by the framers of our Services, those prayers which we put up for the child's regeneration are heard and answered, and the gift of regeneration is granted to prayer. But in other cases, i.e., where there is no really faithful prayer, there is no work of the Holy Ghost, who works not without exerting an energetic power, producing visible effects.
Mr. Venn could not agree with any of these interpretations. He said he believed that in the Baptismal Service regeneration is said to be bestowed conditionally or hypothetically, on the hypothesis that the infant really professes faith. For it is on this ground only,—that is on the sponsors answering for this faith in the infant,—that the ordinance is administered.
Such is a brief but exact sketch of the views advocated at this meeting. I have copied it from notes taken at the time.
Let us take these different theories in detail. First there are those, who, like Mr. Burgess, affirm that a principle of divine life is always imparted, wherever baptism is rightly received and duly administered. To this statement little could be objected, if the candidates for baptism had the faith and repentance which are required in the Catechism; for "whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God," and baptism, if it be anything, is surely the sacrament of regeneration. Baptism is our initiation into Christ's Church, and an unregenerate Church of Christ seems to me a contradiction. The only question is, whether the profession of sponsors, who are often unconverted, is really accepted by God instead of the faith of the infant who is brought to baptism. To me baptism appears exactly like the ring which is given and received in marriage, the reception of which, under certain circumstances and with a certain profession, puts the recipient at once into a wholly different relationship, of which it is also the outward seal and token. But does a ring make a marriage in every case? May not a common harlot steal and wear one? Are we justified therefore, when no profession is made, or when the profession is only by sponsors, whose promises of faith and repentance are confessedly without New Testament sanction, in declaring that every infant so baptized, with no faith but that of the sponsors, and sometimes without this, is then and there truly regenerate? I at least do not feel free to do so, and simply because I see no warrant for it, either in Apostolic precept or example.
To me the case is encompassed with greater difficulties, when I hear the published avowal of both parties in the Church of England, that the practice of infant baptism rests wholly on tradition. High Church and Low Church both declare this. Hear first the Evangelical party. The Record newspaper of October 20, 1842, (I unhesitatingly refer to it as the well-known and well-written organ of the anti-Oxford school,) in an elaborate article on the Bishop of London's charge, which the editor and his friends thought of sufficient value to reprint as a tract for general circulation, makes the following confession upon the subject:—"The practice of infant baptism does rest exclusively on tradition; and it is a safe and legitimate use of tradition to bear witness to the fact that the practice came down from the apostolic age, and is therefore rightly maintained by the Church." Again, in the same article;—"Far from the doctrine being contained in Scripture of baptism invariably communicating to infants the new birth, there is no instance of baptism being imparted to infants, there is no clear direction to baptize infants, and of necessity and in fact there is no statement that they are made partakers of the new birth in baptism." And what say the Oxford school? Hear how they plead the case in the Tracts for the Times:—"There is not a single text in the Scriptures enjoining infant baptism. How is it that St. Paul does not in his epistles remind parents of so great a duty, if it is a duty?" (Note: Tracts for the Times, No. 85.)
Now though this admission of High Church and Low Church writers does not disprove the existence of infant baptism in apostolic ages, it shews how we may err if we apply to infants expressions respecting baptism in the New Testament epistles, which clearly speak of the results of its reception by believers. And feeling this, I cannot say of every child brought to the baptismal font that it is then and there "regenerate with the Holy Spirit."
Let us now look at the three interpretations by which the Evangelical party endeavour to reconcile themselves to the statements of the Service, and to their declaration, that, in saying of every baptized child that it is regenerate, there is nothing contrary to the Word of God.
1. The first method is that, which, at the clerical meeting I have spoken of, was urged by Mr. Bridges as the true key to the interpretation of the service, viz., that in baptism, when the prayers are offered in faith, as contemplated by the framers of our services, those prayers which are put up for the child's regeneration are heard and answered, and the gift of regeneration is granted to prayer. A supporter of this system of interpretation would answer thus:—"You ask in what way I explain this statement of our Church, and how I reconcile myself to say of every child I baptize, that it is then and there 'regenerate with the Holy Ghost.' I do so on these grounds:—Our Saviour says, 'Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you. ... If ye being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, much more shall your heavenly Father give His Holy Spirit to them that ask him.' In the belief of this, I ask for the regeneration of the child, and I conclude that according to Christ's words I have that which I ask for. The matter is simply a matter of prayer. I pray for regeneration by the Spirit, and I believe I obtain it, because God has said, 'Ask and ye shall have.'"
Now I ask, is this a satisfactory explanation, and does this passage of Scripture, on which it professes to rest, justify the conclusion which is drawn from it? Let us look at the verse more closely, and I think that we shall see that the promise of the Spirit is very obviously limited to the person who asks:—"Much more will your heavenly Father give His Holy Spirit to them that ask Him." But the children in the Service do not ask Him: how then does this Scripture apply?
"But," says the advocate of this system, "another Scripture is still stronger in support of my views:—'This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us; and if He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we desired of Him.'"
Now here again I answer the promise is limited; "If we ask anything according to His will He heareth us:" but where are we told that it is according to God's will that every infant who is brought to the baptismal font should be then and there immediately regenerate. Take a parallel case. Suppose that on the strength of this Scripture, taken in connexion with others, such as, "God will have all men to be saved," and "The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea," a body of Christians were to meet together to ask God to regenerate the world, and then, having asked, should within ten minutes, thank Him for having done so, and speak of the world as already regenerate, and of the Millennium as being already come; should we call such conduct credulity or faith? (Note: The following language is taken from an article in the Christian Observer for 1836. It there occurs in reference to the writers of the Oxford Tracts: how far it applies in the question we are considering let the reader judge:—"The absurdity, the irrational fanaticism, the intellectual drivelling under the abused name of faith, which dictates such sentiments ... must disgust every intelligent man, and make him an infidel, if he is really led to believe that Christianity is a system so utterly opposed to common sense." I quote this also in the hope that Evangelical Churchmen, when they see how they themselves have written of others, will excuse any unbecoming warmth of expression into which I may have fallen against my will.) Yet as far as this promise to prayer is concerned, the one would be just as Scriptural as the other.
And in point of fact one simple question is all that is needed to expose this system as insufficient and untenable. For instance, I would ask the supporters of it to answer me one question:—Do you believe that every child you pray for is then and there regenerate? Yes or no? If you do not believe it, why do you say it, as in the Service? On the contrary, if you do believe it, why do you not regenerate every town at once? Souls are perishing; judgment is coming; your prayers, you say, can regenerate all you pray for; you are bound then to do it: why have you not caused the regeneration of all in your family and in your land?
But this system of explanation labours under still another difficulty, the difficulty namely of being in open opposition to the declarations of the Service. The Service says:—"Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren, that this child is by baptism regenerate," and, "is now by the laver of regeneration in baptism received into the number of the children of God, and heirs of everlasting life," &c. Now I simply ask, does the Church when she says "by baptism" mean by prayer? Again, does she when she says "by the laver of regeneration in baptism" mean by prayer? A writer upon this subject fairly confesses, that, "if we give this sentence its full force," it is beyond the power of "explanation." (Note: The Baptism of Jesus Christ, p. 38.) Surely if in selecting these expressions the Church does not mean to teach us that children are, what she says they are, "regenerate by baptism," there is an end of all certainty in the meaning and use of words; for with equal ease and in like manner may it be proved that transubstantiation means nothing but the truth of Scripture, and that purgatory is in accordance with the Word of God. I cannot, therefore, shelter myself under a system of interpretation which does such violence to plain language, and consequently cannot upon this ground consent to say of every child I baptize, that it is "then and there regenerate," and further, that in saying this "there is nothing contrary to the Word of God."
2. The second method, now almost generally exploded as untenable, which however was advocated by Mr. Cunningham at the meeting alluded to, by which the Evangelical clergy have attempted to escape the plain letter of the Service, and have endeavoured to prove that "there is nothing in it contrary to the Word of God," is stated as follows:—"The office for baptism declares of every infant who is baptized in the Church of England, that it is then and there 'regenerate;' and we allow that every infant who thus partakes of that ordinance is at once regenerate; but then—what do we mean by the word 'regenerate'? Simply a change of state, not a change of nature. In applying this word therefore to infants, we do not mean that there is any alteration in the moral condition of the child, but simply that in some way, which we cannot very definitely explain, the child is brought into the outward communion of the Church."
Now what does this explanation amount to? Is it not, when reduced to plain English, simply this,—that when we say "regenerate with the Holy Spirit," we do not mean "regenerate with the Holy Spirit," but something else which cannot exactly be defined, of which the only certain point is that it is not that which is commonly called "regeneration."
But neither does this explanation meet the case: for observe, the Church does not simply say that the child is "regenerate;" she clearly shews that when she says "regenerate," she means really "regenerate," by expressly declaring that the infant is "regenerate with the Holy Spirit." Besides, the child is required, and promises, to "renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil," "to believe in God," and "to walk in His ways,"—things which cannot be done without "a change of nature," as well as "a change of state." For "he that believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (1 John 5:1). If however a doubt remain with any as to the meaning which the Church attaches to the word "regenerate," I refer them to the three following passages from the Prayer-book, which seem quite conclusive upon the subject.
First, in the Baptismal Service, we find the congregation saying,—"We yield thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased thee to regenerate this infant with thy Holy Spirit, and to receive him for thine own child by adoption:" Again, in the Confirmation Service, we find the Bishop praying thus,—"Almighty God, who hast vouchsafed to regenerate these thy servants by water and the Holy Ghost, and hast given them forgiveness of all their sins, strengthen them," &c.: and lastly, in the Catechism, we find the child instructed to say, "My baptism wherein I was made a member of Christ, the [sic] child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven."
But according to the method of interpretation which we are now examining, all these expressions do not describe "a change of nature." According to this view of the Service, a person may be "regenerate with the Holy Spirit," without discerning or possessing that Spirit, and "God's own child by adoption," a "member of Christ," and an "inheritor of the kingdom of heaven," without holiness, without love, without understanding; in a word, without a single grace which characterizes and accompanies salvation.
Such is the principle of interpretation by which many of the clergy satisfy their consciences. Well if they can be thus satisfied, let them remain: I hinder them not. I only say, I cannot be thus satisfied, and consequently I cannot say of the Service that "there is nothing in it contrary to the Word of God."
3. The third system by which the Evangelical clergy explain what is called "the difficulty" of the Service, is that which was advocated by Mr. Venn at the Clerical Meeting I have already alluded to. This is commonly called "the hypothetical system;" and could the assumptions which it involves be proved agreeable to Scripture, (viz., could it be proved that children really possessed faith, and that it was right for their sponsors to promise it for them,) would perhaps be tolerably satisfactory. It may be stated as follows:—
"The Church declares that faith and repentance are pre-requisites for Baptism; agreeably to this she expects the profession of these from every candidate for the ordinance. Now the adult, or the child, who is baptized, does make this profession; the adult for himself, the child by the lips of others; and it is upon this profession of faith that the Church pronounces him 'regenerate,' grounding her declaration on those Scriptures which declare, that, 'Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,' and, 'No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.' Now the child professes that Jesus is the Christ; and the Church, hearing this profession of faith, says of all who make it that they too are 'born of God,' 'regenerate with the Spirit.' To this exactly agrees the XXVIIth Article, which runs thus—'Baptism is not only a sign of profession, ... but is also a sign of regeneration or new birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive baptism rightly,' (that is, they who receive it possessing the requisites of faith and repentance,) 'are grafted into the Church; the promises of forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed; faith is confirmed, (not given; its prior existence is assumed;) and grace is increased, (not bestowed,) by virtue of prayer to God.'" Such is the hypothetical system, a system from first to last proceeding upon the assumption that the vicarious profession made through the sponsors is to be taken for faith and repentance in the child.
Now observe on what this system proceeds: on nothing less than these assumptions,—first, that an infant can possess such faith as entitles it to be called "regenerate;" and secondly, that a sponsor's profession for a child is equivalent to the child's own profession. But are these points so clearly established that they may be thus readily assumed, or are they not rather a part of the very question in dispute? And yet the whole hypothesis rests on these assumptions, assumptions for which I believe not a shadow of proof can be produced either from reason or Scripture.
But "charity hopeth all things." Surely. If therefore you hope the regeneration of the child, say you hope it. Charity will defend you in this, but never in saying what is not the case. In truth to a simple mind the matter is very simple. The only question is, Do we when we say these words, believe that the child is then and there "regenerate," or do we not? If not, why do we say it? I cannot but feel that to have the least feeling of insincerity on such an occasion,—to have the least approach to professing what we doubt in such connexion as this,—to tell God what we do not believe,—this is nothing less than to carry the works of darkness into the very presence of the God of light, and thrillingly brings to mind the solemn charge which was laid against Ananias,—"Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God."
And now, to exchange all this cloud of hypothesis and assumption for the simple daylight of fact and truth, let me put one single question to the advocates of this method of interpreting the Prayer-book. It is this:—Do you, or do you not, say of every child you baptize that it is then and there "regenerate with the Holy Ghost"?—Yes or no?—Your answer must be, Yes.—Do you then believe of every child you baptize that it is then and there, "regenerate with the Holy Ghost"?—Yes or no?—Your answer must be, No.—You cannot, and by your own confession you do not, believe that every baptized infant is so regenerate. Then can any explanation, hypothetical or otherwise, justify you in telling God what you do not believe? One would have thought not; and yet in a solemn religious ordinance you say more than once of every child you baptize that it is "regenerate," and all the while you do not believe the fact which you assert so positively.
Such are the systems by which the statements of the Prayer-book are defended by the Evangelical clergy, systems which I believe only require to be examined to be proved untenable. These systems I have stated as fairly as I have been able, and, as far as in me lay, have brought every thing to support them which has appeared to the purpose. If, however, I have omitted or overlooked anything which may be truly urged in their defence, I shall be thankful to have it shewn me. The Lord is my witness that if I err, I err seeking the truth; and if it can be shewn from the Scripture that I am in error, the Lord being my helper, I will leave it and return. He knows how earnestly I sought to find some system of interpretation which would satisfy my conscience, and which would suffer me to remain where I was; and others know how I have read and thought and conversed with those from whom I hoped to get instruction. For awhile, by leaning more upon man's teaching than upon God's, I believed I had found a principle which would suffer me to remain in the communion where all my interests and affections and habits would have kept me. But I can do so no longer: my way therefore is clear; henceforth I must take up my cross, and go forth not knowing whither I go, but only that by God's grace I have the witness of a good conscience.
While however I thus express my dissatisfaction with the systems of interpretation by which so many of my brethren yet justify their subscription to the whole Prayer-book, far be it from me to judge individuals. Yet this I may say, for it is confessedly the case, that in order to find a sense for the expressions we have been examining, which will be in accordance with the truth of Scripture, we must descend to such a mode of interpreting plain words, we must make such admissions, have such reservations, and use such special pleading, as would never for a moment be tolerated in the ordinary intercourse between man and man. "Never," says Mr. Riland, himself a clergyman, "have the arts of evasion, sophistry, palliation, and management, been more notoriously developed than in attempts to explain away the strictness of subscription to the Liturgy, Articles, and Homilies." (Note: Church Reform, p. 226.) Nor is this all; those who deny baptismal regeneration must say one thing at the font, another in the pulpit. At the one they must declare that every child who is baptized in infancy is then and there regenerate. From the other I know they often declare that many of the baptized yet need regeneration. How often have I heard the words, "Ye must be born again," pressed on the consciences of those for whose regeneration the very same preacher had already thanked God publicly.
And allowing that the matter could be got over by the learned with the help of assumptions, reservations, and special pleadings, what, I ask, must be the effects of such dangerous sophistry upon the ignorant?—what must be the impression which the statements of the Church, if not explained away, are calculated to produce? Take the case of our Archdeacon Wilberforce, who is judged by many of the clergy of this town to be a misguided, perhaps an unenlightened man, because he fully believes baptismal regeneration. But who has misguided him? The late Mr. Wilberforce was of the school of Venn, and Scott, and Simeon. Of all these famous ministers there was not one who hesitated to subscribe his "unfeigned assent and consent to all and everything in the Prayer-book." All declared "there was nothing in it contrary to the Word of God." What is the result? The pupil believes what he is taught. He takes for his guide this book, of which Evangelical men certify him that "there is nothing in it contrary to the Word of God." There he finds thanks given for the spiritual regeneration of every baptized child; there he finds children taught to say that they have "in baptism been made members of Christ;" there he finds the bishop declaring that all such baptized children have "forgiveness of all their sins." And he believes what he is taught. Who is to blame here? Let us assume it to be true, as some of our clergy say, that the Arch-deacon is all wrong, because he believes that all baptized children are regenerate. Who taught him to believe this? Has the Book, of which Evangelical men have said, that "there is nothing in it contrary to the Word of God," had no effect to make him what he is?
Hear what Mr. Melvill says upon this point. "That the Church of England does hold and teach baptismal regeneration, would never, we must venture to think, have been disputed, had not men been anxious to remain in her communion, and yet to make her formularies square with their own private notions. We really think that no fair, no straightforward dealing, can get rid of the conclusion that the Church holds what is called baptismal regeneration. You may dislike the doctrine, you may wish it expunged from the Prayer-book; but so long as I subscribe to that Prayer-book, and so long as I officiate according to the forms of the Prayer-book, I do not see how I can be commonly honest, and yet deny that every baptized person is on that account regenerate." (Note: Melvill's Sermons, Vol. II., Sermon 8.)
On these grounds then, dear brethren, were there no others, I cannot say of the Prayer-book that "there is nothing in it contrary to the Word of God," and thus I cannot fulfil the test which the Church of England requires of all her ministers. If I remain in her communion, I must say, that, in putting questions respecting faith and repentance to an unconscious and perhaps sleeping babe, and this in the midst of a solemn religious ordinance, and as a test of the infant's fitness to receive the rite,—there is "nothing contrary to the Word of God": this I cannot say. Again, if I serve in her communion, I must say, that, in making one person promise faith for another,—another, too, whose mind cannot be known,—there is, "nothing contrary to the Word of God": this I cannot say. Again, if I remain a minister in the Church of England, I must say of every infant I baptize, that it is then and there "regenerate with the Holy Ghost;" and of all this, that there is "nothing in it contrary to the Word of God": I cannot say it, for I do not believe it. But unless I declare this, the Church will not have me for her minister. I cannot therefore any longer hold my place as a clergyman in the Church of England.
And here let me not be misunderstood. I resign my post, not so much because, as here in the Baptismal Service, the Church of England has what seems to me evil connected with her, but because she will not allow me to minister in her communion, unless I profess of all this evil "that there is nothing in it contrary to the Word of God." I repeat it, I do not give up my place simply because the Church or the Prayer-book contains evil; but because the Church absolutely requires of me, as long as I am connected with her, to recognize this evil to be good, and will not permit me to be her minister but on these conditions.
Let this be clearly understood, for it is the turning-point of the question. God knows I seek not separation from any Christian, or any body of Christians, simply because they err;—this shall not divide me from my brethren;—but if they oblige me either by words or conduct, directly or indirectly, to declare that their error is no error; or if my uniting with them, through some requirement on their part, necessarily involves my virtual assent to their error; then I am forced to give up their communion. "If," as Chillingworth argues, "there were any society of Christians that held there were no antipodes, notwithstanding this error I might communicate with them: but if I could not do so without professing myself of their belief in this matter, then I suppose I should be excused from schism, if I should forsake their communion rather than profess myself to believe that which I do not believe." (Note: Chillingworth, Religion of Protestants, chap. v., sec. 59.) So here: if a Christian or a body of Christians say they can use the Baptismal Service of the Church of England with a good conscience, then let them; I hinder them not, nor will I separate from them for using it: but if they further require of me assent to that Service as the absolute test of my communion with them, and will only receive me on these grounds, they virtually drive me from their communion and force me to secede. And who is answerable, and who is to blame for this scandal and schism?
My reader, I desire not to justify myself before man, for God is my judge, and to me it is a very small thing to be judged of you, or of man's judgment, yet, for the sake of those who have not considered this point, let me press home this question, Who is to blame here? Who is to blame for this scandal and schism? Let those who wish to have the true answer to this question weigh well the decision of one usually quoted as a model of reasoning and of Scriptural truth, I mean Chillingworth. He says,—"If a Church, supposed to want nothing necessary, require me to profess against my conscience that I believe some error, though never so small and innocent, which I do not believe, and will not allow me communion but upon this condition, in this case the Church for requiring this condition is schismatical, and not I for separating from the Church." (Note: Chillingworth's Religion of Protestants. Preface, sec. 44.) Again, "If you require the belief of any error among the conditions of your communion, our obligation to communicate with you ceaseth, and so the imputation of schism to us vanisheth into nothing, but lies heavily upon you for making our separation from you just and necessary, by requiring unnecessary and unlawful conditions of your communion." (Note: Answer to Preface, sec. 22.)
I allow indeed with the author from whom I have just quoted, that "neither for sin nor errors ought a church to be forsaken, if she does not impose them or enjoin them: but if she do, then we must forsake men rather than God, leave the church's communion rather than commit sin, or profess known errors to be divine truths: for the prophet Ezekiel hath assured us that to say 'the Lord hath said so, when the Lord hath not said so,' is a great sin, and a high presumption, be the matter never so small."
Jeremy Taylor speaks precisely in the same strain. "Few churches," he says, "that have framed bodies of confession and articles will endure any person that is not of the same confession; which is a plain demonstration that such bodies of confession and articles do much hurt, by becoming instruments of separating and dividing communions, and making unnecessary or uncertain propositions a certain means of schism and disunion. But then men would do well to consider whether or no such proceedings do not derive the guilt of schism upon them who least think it; and whether of the two is the schismatic, he that makes unnecessary and (supposing the state of things) inconvenient impositions, or he that disobeys them, because he cannot, without doing violence to his conscience, believe them: he that parts communion because without sin he could not entertain it, or they that have made it necessary for him to separate by requiring such conditions, which to no man are simply necessary, and to him in particular are either sinful or impossible." (Note: Liberty of Prophesying, sec. xxii. 1. In like manner Chillingworth, arguing against the Church of Rome, says, in words equally applicable to the Church of England,—"The true reason (for separation) is not so much because you mention errors and corruptions, as because you impose them, ... and have so ordered your communion that either we must communicate with you in these things or nothing."—Relig. of Prot., chap. v., sec. 40, p. 357.)
It is in this way that the Church of England forces me to secede from her ministry. Vain is it for me to say,—Propose any test you will out of the Scriptures, or demand from me what assent you will, which can be proved by the Scriptures, and I will at once subscribe it with heart and hand.—No: this is not enough. The Church requires from me, beside this, subscription to a book, whose language (by the confession of some of the best of her sons,) is "to be regretted," (Note: Fawcett, "Baptism considered in connexion with Regeneration," p. 29.) and is "inconsistent," (Note: Scott's Essay on Regeneration.) and "exceptionably expressed;" (Note: Scott's Letters, &c., p. 219.) and of this I must declare from first to last that "there is nothing in it contrary to the Word of God." Men of pleasure and men of the world may "willingly" do this, and doing it be esteemed true ministers of the Church: but zeal, and knowledge, and love, all these are useless, all are in vain, as far as ministry in the Church of England is concerned, without an accompanying subscription to the Prayer-book. It is, perhaps, a startling assertion, but no less true, that could Paul return to earth, nay, more, could it be that Paul's Master might return in the flesh again to preach and labour among men, He could not teach or minister in the Church of England unless He would subscribe to the Queen's supremacy in spiritual things, and say of the Baptismal Service, "that there is nothing in it contrary to the Word of God."
And the avowals of not a few of the clergy show how ill at ease their consciences are on this subject. For why, if the Prayer-book really be according to God's Word, should good men discover so much uneasiness as to the required subscription. Why, to take but a single example, did one of the Church's very brightest ornaments say of the Baptismal Service that it was "exceptionably expressed"? (Note: Scott's Letters and Papers. Ed. 1826, p. 219.)—Why did he say of the 'assent and consent' to the Prayer-book,—"I can only be reconciled to it by the consideration that it by no means is supposed to imply putting the Prayer-book on the footing of the Bible: and by reflecting that many things are wrong everywhere; but I wish it were done with"? Why again, while referring to his apology for the Burial Service, does the same writer say, "I am not prepared to say so much of the objections to some expressions in the Baptismal Service or in the Office for Confirmation;" (Note: Scott's Letters and Papers, Edit. 1826, pp. 265, 268.)—meaning that such expressions were less defensible? How after his subscription could he say, "Our pious Reformers, from an undue regard to the Fathers and to the circumstances of the times, have retained a few expressions in the Liturgy, which not only are inconsistent with their other doctrine, but tend also to confuse men's minds, and mislead their judgments on this important subject"? (Note: Scott's Essay on Regeneration.) Do not these hints and avowals of dissatisfaction respecting the Burial, Baptismal, and Confirmation offices betray a state of conscience somewhat at variance with "unfeigned assent and consent to all and every thing contained in and prescribed by the Prayer-book"? (Note: The Bishop of Exeter, in his Charge to the clergy, June, 1848, gives still stronger examples of the language used by some of the Evangelical clergy, respecting the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration. He says,—"After such plain testimony of the Church herself, what shall we say of those of her clergy, who not only pertinaciously but contemptuously decry her doctrine. One of them, who is now gone to his account, declared, 'that the doctrine of baptismal regeneration has destroyed more souls than any one single error which has been branded on the black list of heresy.' Another, who still lives, states in a sermon, which only last year was largely circulated in some of your own parishes, that 'baptismal regeneration is a Popish figment, flatly contradicts the Word of God, ... is at issue with universal experience, and in the highest degree unmerciful, immoral, and delusive.' A third minister of our Church, bound by his office to preach in the very highest place,—he is chaplain in ordinary to her Majesty,—has put forth a tract, entitled, The First Five Centuries of the Church; or, The Early Fathers no Safe Guides, in which, after exulting in the great advance of religious knowledge made by the present very enlightened age, he states, as a signal instance of this improvement, that 'few serious persons now believe in baptismal regeneration.'" p. 47. Yet all these men had repeatedly subscribed the Prayer-book, with its express statements respecting the regeneration of every baptized infant.)
Hear how Mr. Riland, himself a clergyman, comments on these avowals of Mr. Scott's. "It will not," he says, "I trust be considered as an unfair attempt to sustain my own cause by the concessions of a man whose memory we all venerate, and whose writings and life it becomes us exceedingly to value, when I add that the circumstance of equalizing the claims of the Bible and Liturgy is very far from being the actual question at issue; and that the wish that subscription to the Prayer-book were abolished, is an evident and formal expression of dissatisfaction, painful doubt, and earnest desire to be released from a cause of great disquietude. The question still returns, How would all this hesitation, reserve, variableness of assent and consent, equivocal phraseology, and half-told diversity of opinion, be borne in the common transactions between man and man? If for example, to recur to a former illustration, the managers of a Friendly Society were to admit members as subscribers, what would be said if one of the subscribing members were to urge, 'My written assent to the rules by no means implies that they are to be put on the footing of the provisions by which the Bank of England is governed; and I wish my subscription were done with?'—Would the managers felicitate themselves on the subscriber's faithfulness and power of analogy?" (Note: Riland's Church Reform, pp. 270, 271.)
The fact is, if we wish for Truth, we may never argue that an error is not an error, or a contradiction not a contradiction, simply because this man or that, this body of men or that, have not seen, or have submitted to it. In this way any error may be canonized. As Chillingworth forcibly remarks,—in words strikingly applicable to the supporters of the various systems which are now current in defence of the Baptismal Service,—"Though perhaps it may be very difficult for a man in his right wits to believe a contradiction expressed in terms, especially if he believe it to be a contradiction; yet for men being cowed and awed by superstition, (or by any other circumstances,) to persuade themselves upon slight and trivial grounds that these or these, though they seem contradictions, yet indeed are not so, and so to believe them; or if the plain repugnance of them be veiled or disguised a little with some empty, unintelligible, nonsensical distinction, or if it be not expressed but implied, not direct but by consequence, so that the parties to whose faith the propositions are offered are either innocently, or perhaps affectedly ignorant of the contrariety of them; for men in such cases easily to swallow and digest contradictions, he that denies it possible must be a mere stranger in the world." (Note: Chillingworth's Religion of Protestants, vol. i., chap. iv., sec. 47.) Most true. The fact is that the Church of England holds out so many advantages and allurements to the flesh that if "the plain repugnance" of her contradictions and errors can be veiled or disguised a little with what Chillingworth calls, "some empty, unintelligible, nonsensical distinction," it is hard, oh! how hard, to escape the snare. For surely it does not help impartial judgment to have everything in the world to lose, and nothing but reproaches to gain. In cases like this a man's impartial examination is the impartiality of a man, who, according as his examination turns out, must eat or starve, be respected or reviled, be loved or hated. I do not say that these considerations ought to influence the children of God. I do not even say they do so. I only say that if they do not, my brethren have hearts far firmer and better than mine is.
Such then, dear brethren, are some of the grounds on which the subscription required by the Prayer-book seemed to my mind to pledge me to a falsehood. And feeling that the points referred to, if not directly unscriptural, were to say the least very questionable, I felt I could no longer "willingly" subscribe, that "there is nothing in them contrary to the Word of God;" and therefore I could no longer honestly occupy a post, which is only held in virtue of this subscription.
I therefore determined to see the Archbishop, and to lay before him fully all my difficulty. Accordingly last April I went up to town, and, a day or two after, on Saturday the 29th, I called on the Archbishop. He was engaged when I sent in my card; but I was desired to wait, and after some minutes he came into the room which I had been shewn into. As soon as he was seated, I said, that "I had called to speak with him on a subject which was very painful to me." Before I could say another word, the Archbishop to my surprise replied, "Yes, I know, it is indeed a painful subject, and it has reached me from another quarter." I was astonished at this interruption, for I felt sure that Mr. Dykes had not in any way communicated to the Archbishop my difficulties respecting subscription. But the Archbishop, not noticing my surprise, went on to say, that on the preceding Thursday he had received a letter from the East Riding, complaining of certain statements of mine in a sermon I had preached five months before on Christian union, which seemed to the Archbishop's informant so unsound, that he, the Archbishop, was requested to look into it. The Archbishop said, that in consequence of this charge it would be his duty to require from me some explanation of the passages in my sermon which were so much objected to,—that he would desire his chaplain to send some questions on the subject,—that meanwhile, until this was settled, I had better not preach at St. John's, nor should he allow me to preach the next ordination sermon at Bishopthorpe, as had been arranged, if my views were such as they were represented.
The result was, that, though I called on the Archbishop to speak with him on the question of subscription, I left his house without a word upon the subject; for I thought under the circumstances, and being charged with heresy, it would be well to wait till the question of doctrine should be first disposed of.
Accordingly I returned to Hull, and told Mr. Dykes what I had done, and of the charge which had been brought against me. He also had heard from the Archbishop on the subject. And on the Tuesday after this, the 2nd of May, the four following questions on the subject of my sermon were submitted to me by the Archbishop's chaplain, and answered by me in writing as follows. I print them here without comment.Q. 1.—Do you really think that the several points in dispute between the members of the Established Church and the various denominations of Dissenters are "non-essentials," and not worth contending for?
A. 1.—To this I answer that I do not regard the several points in dispute between the members of the Established Church and the various denominations of Dissenters as non-essentials. The points of difference between Socinians, Quakers, &c., and the Church of England are not non-essentials. But when I speak in my sermon of the points in dispute among Christians, I distinctly limit it to points in dispute between "those who are united in Christ;" (p. 17.) by which I mean those who by faith are truly made members of His mystical body. Of these there are some in every sect. I need hardly say, therefore, that I do not refer to the points in dispute between Dissenters generally and the Church, but between those Dissenters who are really Christians, and those Churchmen who are really Christians; and I hold that the several points of difference between these are not of such a nature as to justify disunion of heart.
Q. 2.—Do you see no reason why we should not communicate with them, and they with us?
A. 2.—I see no reason why we should not. I would lay stress on the word reason. There is much authority in the example of good men, which might perhaps influence me in some degree; but I cannot say that I see any reason for this. As far as I am concerned individually, I should be willing to communicate with any true Christians who meet in the name and spirit of their Lord.
Q. 3.—What is the meaning you would assign to your own expression, "Being born into Christ's family"?
A. 3.—By this expression I mean that which in Scripture is called "being born again," "being born of God," "being born of the Spirit;" in a word that new and spiritual life in which we partake through union with Christ.
Q. 4.—What importance do you attach to Episcopal Ordination as to the efficacy of the administration of the Holy Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper?
A. 4.—I believe that the sacraments are just as truly given and received at the hands of Christians not episcopally ordained, as at the hands of ministers of the Church of England; and that it is the faith of the recipient, and not the succession of the minister, which makes them efficacious.
The Answers to the first three of the above Questions not being considered sufficiently explicit, the Archbishop's chaplain, Mr. Creyke, then added the following supplementary queries, which I answered as follows:—Q. 1.—As to the first question I would particularize belief of our Articles, obedience to the Canons, conformity to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, use of the Liturgy, maintenance of the three Orders of Ministers,—
A. 1.—I answer, my belief is that there are no points in dispute between those who are "united in Christ," which are so essential as to justify disunion; not even episcopacy, or ceremonies, or rites; for love is before knowledge. Those whom Christ has received as sons of God, and made one with Him, (and there are such in almost every sect,) those I must also receive as brothers and sisters in Christ. Of such Christians, wherever they are, and by whatever name they are called, I would say what St. Peter said of those, whom some in his day wished to exclude,—"God who knoweth the hearts hath borne them witness, giving unto them the Holy Ghost, even as to us, and hath put no difference between them and us, purifying their hearts by faith; and we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus, we shall be saved even as they."
Q. 2.—On the second point, by "communicating with them," I meant rather the receiving the Communion at their hands, and in their places of worship, and uniting in the service of their mode of worship?
A. 2.—With regard to this question I may say, that as far as I am concerned individually, I would be willing to receive the Sacrament both with and from non-episcopally ordained Christians.
Q. 3.—Upon the third point, I looked for some expression of the time and manner in which we may be said to be "born into Christ's family," or, as you justly explain it, "being born again," "born of the Spirit," &c.
A. 3—I answer, with regard to the time, it may be any time between our birth and our death that the Lord chooses. With regard to the manner, it is various, but generally and usually by the Word of God; as St. James says, (James 1:18,) "Of His own will begat He us by the Word of truth;" and as St. Peter says, (1 Peter 1:23,) "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God."
For these answers I was suspended from my curacy; and thus by the hands of others was unexpectedly assisted into the place of at least temporary cessation from ministry in the Church of England, which under God I had determined to take, even had I not been suspended by the Archbishop. But the providential interference of others struck me very much. Since then I have calmly reviewed again the grounds on which I feel the required subscription to be intolerable. And now after some months I publish these reasons in submission to the wish of those who ask an explanation. Here are the facts of my suspension. Here are the grounds on which I cannot honestly make the subscription which is required of all clergymen. As to the suspension, it might easily be met, for there are dioceses which I have reason to know would still be open to me. But the subscription I cannot make. I therefore must give up my place at the altar of the Church of England; not because she contains error, but because she will not let me minister within her pale unless I assent to that error, and unless moreover I say of it, that "there is nothing in it contrary to the Word of God." As a minister therefore I have no choice left me: either I must resign a post which requires these tests, or suffer the burden of a bad conscience. I choose a good conscience at all cost; for if I neglect conscience, I may also perhaps of faith make shipwreck (1 Tim. 1:9).
Why, then, say some, should you minister at all? Let me ask, Do you not think that I am called to minister? I at least have strong convictions on this point. At my ordination when I professed before the Church, that I believed I was inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon me the ministration of the Word, (Note: See the Ordination Service.) I professed that to the truth of which my inmost soul bore heartfelt testimony. I did feel, and still feel the same, that I had a message committed to me for the Church and for the world, a message which was given me by God; and I see nothing in the circumstances which have happened to me to cancel that call. On the contrary, I feel that what the Lord has shewn me of his will, and what He has so graciously wrought on my behalf, only demands from me more diligence and devotedness in preaching and declaring His truth. But this I am necessarily shut out from as a layman in the Church of England.
And here may I say one word as to a mode of answering me, which, by pretending to charity, has been much more availing to blind the eyes of some to the true state of the case, than the reproach and misrepresentation I have above alluded to,—I refer to the way in which some who cannot answer my reasons, are pleased to speak of and to write to me as their "poor deluded brother," their "infatuated brother." Now to this sympathy I have only this to say, that when these brethren will be kind enough to exchange their pathetic lamentations over my "sad delusion," for scriptural and rational conclusions against the foregoing arguments;—when, instead of pitying me generally for my errors they will point out wherein lies the actual error of refusing to say of the Prayer-book as a whole that "there is nothing in it contrary to the Word of God;"—when they will not only negatively shew the mistakes in my conclusions, but positively also the true catholicity of the Church of England in proposing as terms of ministerial conformity such declarations as are required by the XXXVIth Canon;—when they will give up refuting what I have never advanced, and, instead of with goodnatured pity prejudging the whole question, come to it openly and fairly on the ground of the Bible;—then, I shall have greater reason to thank them for their sincerity, whatever I may think of the wisdom of the attempt.
But this will hardly be the case. Affected pity is much easier. To call me an "erring brother," to sigh over my "sad delusion," costs but little, and has this great advantage that not coming as an argument it escapes the answer which readily might be made, while the apparent charity wins sympathy from all. In saying this I doubt not some may really think me in error. To such I say, point out by the standard of Scripture in what the error lies of refusing to subscribe to the Prayer-book, and God helping me by His Spirit, I will leave it: but, as you wish for truth, be not deceived either by false reproaches or false pity to suppose that truth is not truth simply because it is unfashionable.
I cannot close without one passing word on a subject which I feel most deeply, I mean the pain which I have caused to some, for whom I entertain the sincerest feelings of regard. I can truly say that it has not been the lightest part of my cross to find that a clear sense of duty should ever have forced me into a course involving pain to others. I had, however, no choice left me. Staggering as the thought was, how can those so far my superiors in spiritual attainments remain where I cannot? the simple answer came home to my heart with irresistible power,—"Whatsoever is not of faith is sin." "Happy is he who condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth."
And now, dear brethren, I commend you to God, and to the Word of his grace which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among them that are sanctified. May He give you to know more of Christ Jesus, of His cross, of His resurrection, and of His coming; to know your place in Him, that "as He is, so are you in this world." And if you find that your present communion with the Church of England forces you to judge Christ's members while it unites you with the world, ask yourselves how it comes to pass that the disciple is so separated from what the Master has received. The ground where all God's children may meet upon earth, and where all must meet at last in heaven is, not on the condition of their receiving certain articles as tests of communion, not on the condition of saying of the Baptismal Service that "there is nothing in it contrary to the Word of God," but on the ground of their union with the Lord, in His death, His resurrection, and His glory. God helping me, henceforth I take no other standing. On this no Christian need leave me. And if it must be that in separating from evil, I am forsaken by my brethren who are united to the world, be ye judges who is to blame.
In conclusion let me say,—If anything hasty or intemperate be found in these pages,—if the doctrines I have preached among you, either before or since my suspension by the Archbishop, or if the life I have led, or now am leading, are unchristian, point out the failing kindly as brethren, and, God and your prayers helping me, I will amend it. This at least I know:—"If I make you sorry, who is he that maketh me glad but the same which is made sorry by me: for out of much affliction and sorrow of heart I have written unto you, not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you." I trust indeed that in the preceding pages I have said nothing to grieve any Christian unnecessarily; and yet I do not so flatter myself as to suppose I have said nothing which in some cases may cause sorrow. The deep seated wound cannot be touched even by the kindest hand without inflicting pain; and if in the preceding pages I have probed a wound which I believe is weakening many of my brethren, the Lord is witness both as to my motive and object, and, whether it has been for my sake only or for theirs also.
I am, dear brethren,
Your servant and brother in Christ Jesus,
Hull, 15th December, 1843.
The quotation given above (p. 31), from the Zurich Letters, shews the judgment of some of our reformers respecting the Questions to Infants in the Baptismal Service. The following extracts from Tyndall, Frith, Coverdale, and Hooper, will further shew their views respecting Baptism generally.
1. Tyndall.—"The worke of baptisme, that outwarde washing, which is the visible sacrament or signe, justifieth us not. ... Faith doth receive it, (that promise and that righteousness,) and God doth geve it and impute it to faith, and not to the washing. And the washing doth testifie it, and certifie us of it, as the Pope's letters do certifie the belevers of the Pope's pardons. Now the letters helpe not nor hinder, but the pardons were as goode without them, save only to stablishe weake soules that could not beleve except they reade the letters, and saw the print of Saint Peter's keyes."—Expos. of Matt. iv.
2. Frith.—"Baptisme bryngeth not grace, but doth testifie unto the congregacion, that he which is baptized had such grace given hym before; it is a sacrament, that is, a signe of an holy thyng, even a token of the grace and free mercy whiche was before given hym."—A Declaration of Baptisme, p. 92.
3. Coverdale.—"Though the water in baptisme be an outward thing, and cannot cleanse the soule from sin, yet the faithful will not contemn, nor leave unexercised, the ordinance of their Head, to whom they as members are incorporated by faith. For they know that Christ, with those outward tokens, thought to couple and knit together the members of His Holy Church, in obedience and love one towards another; whereby they, knowing one another among themselves, might by such exterior things stir and provoke one another to love and godliness."—Fruitful Lessons, chap. v.
4. Hooper, in his Declaration of Christ and His Offices, published by him at the end of the year 1547, two years before the first Prayer-book, writes thus: "This new life cometh not until Christ be known and received. Now, to put on Christ is to lead a new life. Such as be baptized must remember that penance and faith preceded this external sign, and in Christ the purgation was inwardly obtained before the external sign was given. So that there are two kinds of baptism, and both necessary; the one interior, which is the cleansing of the heart, the drawing of the Father, the operation of the Holy Ghost; and this baptism is in man when he believeth and trusteth that Christ is the only author of his salvation. Thus be the infants examined concerning repentance and faith, before they be baptized with water, at the contemplation of which faith God purgeth the soul. Then is the exterior sign added, not to purge the heart, but to confirm, manifest, and open to the world, that this child is God's. Like as the king's majesty, that now is, immediately after the death of his father was the true and legitimate king of England, right heir unto the crown, and received his coronation, not to make himself thereby king, but to manifest that the kingdom pertained unto him before. Though this ceremony confirm and manifest a king in his kingdom, yet it maketh not a king, but the laws of God and of the land. So is it in the Church of Christ: man is made the brother of Christ, and heir of eternal life by God's only mercy received by faith, before he receive any ceremony to confirm and manifest openly his right and title."—Declaration of Christ, &c., chap. x.
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