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ART. IV. THE BRITISH CHURCHES IN RELATION TO THE BRITISH PEOPLE.
The British Churches in Relation to the British People. By Edward Miall. London, 1819. 8vo. pp. 458.
THIS is a great inquiry,-the condition of Religion in this Land, the feebleness of its spirit and administration, with the causes of this poverty. And Mr. Miall for the most part has brought a worthy spirit to so great a subject, large, earnest, reverent, and peculiarly free from thraldom to traditions and unreal notions. We have, however, to qualify this praise. In a work on the British Churches, the great English Church, the Establishment, is not even recognised. Mr. Miall ignores its existence. Because of its political constitution and worldly elements, he cannot admit it to be a Church at all. Nor is it eliminated from the inquiry, simply as a cipher. When spoken of at all, it is as a negative quantity of fearful magnitude, destroying more souls than it saves. And Mr. Miall must have maintained this scornful repudiation at some expense. The Establishment must have offered him many tempting illustrations of the prevailing evil qualities which he ascribes to the British Churches,-of the Aristocratic spirit, the Trade spirit, and the Professional bias, yet for all his examples of Aristocratic Pride, of Clerical Frippery and Pomp, and of mercenary Motive, he passes by the Worldly Church, and resorts to the obscurer recesses of Congregational life. Nor in this investigation into the condition and action of the British Churches is anything said of the Roman Catholic Church, nor of any heretical or Anti-Dogmatic Church,—so that, in fact, the title of the book ought to have been, "The Orthodox Congregational Churches in Great Britain, in their Relations to the British people,"-though even this title would be too wide for the ground the investigation covers, inasmuch as all that portion of the British people which vitally belongs to the other Churches is tacitly excluded. In this Mr. Miall has indulged himself in a
sort of perverse consistency in external logic, for his own conception of Religion and its work is thoroughly spiritual, generous, and comprehensive. He has a Gospel idea of the spiritual constitution of a Church, and he passes by whatever is logically excluded by that Idea as though it had no existence. But surely, though he might not choose to call them Christian Churches, it would be but a simple concession to facts to acknowledge that the English Church, and the Roman Catholic Church in England, and the Anti-Dogmatic Church, which by its constitution is not logically excluded from his range of vision, are at least British Churches. We lament this limitation chiefly because we find ourselves in very full agreement with Mr. Miall's conceptions of the nature of religious Life, and of the means by which it may be promoted, and we are sorry that any Church should have escaped the inquisition of so pure an eye, and lost the practical lessons that must have resulted, the special applications of his leading tests that must have instructively presented themselves, from an analysis of its state and workings conducted under the direction of his guiding principles.
We think it of importance to exhibit at some length the harmony that prevails between our Author and ourselves in regard to the essence of Religion, and the proper character of religious Instruments and Institutions. We accept his definitions, his objects, and his criteria. With the exception of some half dozen sentences on the transmission of Adam's sin, we could substantially adopt the whole book. In the present disgraceful altercations and hair-splittings of the Established clergy about speculative figments,-fighting, in the midst of neglected sins, vices, sufferings, popular ignorance and social wrongs, the palpable foes of God and man, " about something," says Mr. Carlyle," that they call prevenient Grace," it is refreshing to find any encouragement for the hope, however far distant its accomplishment, of a Catholic Christianity, in a substantial agreement as to essential objects and sympathies between those who are not dogmatically united, and in a resolute subordination of all instrumental and intellectual things to that religious life which consists in keeping the derived spirit in constant intercourse and fellowship with Him who is its source. There are passages
in Mr. Miall's work which we have talked, written, and preached—and which if we were now to print, in our own version of them, might subject us to the charge of having stolen them, so close is the resemblance even in illustration and expression. This feeds our hopes that even in the most dissimilar Churches there are spiritual sympathies which underlie all dogmatic differences, where God truly meets the human soul, which Christ touches as an instrument of divine attraction, and which will one day break forth in pure and constant flame from under the crushing weight of external things, and consume by their living fire the word, and hay, and stubble of the Churches.
We accept our author's view of the nature of religious Life.
"The simplest notion, perhaps, which we can conceive of religious life, is that of a sympathizing consciousness of the spiritual Supreme -the original, independent, perfect LIFE-of whose excellence created being, in all its variety, gives but a dim reflection; and whom to know, to trust, to love, must be to derived intelligence the fulfilment of its blissful destiny.-In all the works of God's hands, in all the movements of his government, both general and special, in Providence and in the Gospel, there is more or less of Himself— shadowings forth of what he is, and of what he designs-footmarks of his attributes in some, illustrations of the ends to which he is employing them in others,-and in all together such a display of his Infinite mind, so full an exhibition of his character, so accurate an outline of his purposes and plans, as to warrant the assertion, that in giving us these, he has given to his intelligent creatures all that can be communicated of himself. And whatever there is of God in these things, apprehended by a sympathizing mind, is spiritual life. We are made partakers of the Divine nature,' by possessing ourselves of that which is divine in his acts and truths. He who recognizes God's Wisdom, has within himself the Wisdom of God, to the whole extent of that recognition. He who sympathizes with God's purity, has within himself the purity of God, to the whole extent of that sympathy. The life of which we speak is God in the soul up to the measure of the soul's present capacity-and hence our Lord speaks not figuratively but literally when he declares, And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.' In the nature of religious life, as thus understood, we shall find, without difficulty, guidance to a vivid apprehension of its growth, to foster which all Christian institutions are maintained. More of God made the property of the soul is the radical idea-more of God both as its regards the breadth
of our acquaintance with him by increased knowledge, and its intimacy by intenser sympathy."
We accept his view of the manner in which God reveals himself to the human spirit in Nature, in Providence, and in Christianity, by presenting images, symbols, and living expressions of Himself to kindred faculties in Man.
"What the Supreme Mind would have us to know respecting himself, and our relation and obligations to him, he has expressed, not in an orderly series of propositions, the full meaning of which it would require ages to evolve, but variously, incidentally, diffusively, in a vast world of facts, laws, and relationships. This earth, for instance, is an embodiment of Infinite thought-Eternal mind made visible. Much, however, as physical nature has to tell, she tells nothing formally. Marvellous and heart-stirring as are the tales she can unfold, she unfolds them not in systematic order. Deep as may be the impressions she has it in her power to make, she makes them not by preceptive directions. She is full of wisdom, but it is not didactic of argument, but it is not methodical—of eloquence, but it takes no artificial shape. No voice-no language-her speech is not heard'—and yet for those who lovingly commune with her, she has and she produces ample materials for the exercise and satisfaction of every intellectual and moral faculty with which man is endowed. She speaks only to listeners. She writes in hieroglyphics, but they are such as sympathizing inquiry may decipherand all the illustrations she offers of the Great Unknown, she offers under conditions which tend to elicit and strengthen the powers to which they are addressed. It is precisely the same with the word of God, as with his works. The same inexhaustible fulness, the same illimitable variety, the same absence of technical order, the same unobtrusiveness in its method of teaching, is found to distinguish the first equally with the last. Moral lessons of highest import are embodied, not in formulas but in facts-not in creeds, but in history. There is the most exquisite order, without any apparent system. All strikes one as having grown up by chance, yet all results in the completest harmony. Biography, history, poetry, prophecy, symbol, allegory, argument, exhortation-dry records of names, and touching effusions of feeling-the mysterious and the palpable-the temporal aud the eternal-are thrown into a form so inartificial, and are woven into an entire piece with so wonderful, but so evasive a skill, as to contrast most pointedly with all human methods of disclosing mind to mind. In such forms of skill and loveliness, the eternal Soul has chosen to enwrap itself in order to become visible to the souls of men. The riches of know
ledge lie not upon the surface-the beauty is beauty only to the eye of sympathy-the spirit is only to be discerned by spirit. Throughout, there is a hiding of power,' -a veiling of loveliness from the gaze of the careless and profane. The oracles are delivered in accents audible only to a reverent listener. The secrets are concealed from all but such as will be at earnest pains to discover them. Over this world of mountain and river,-of rich champaigns and arid wilderness, of quiet glades and desolate rocks, of softly purling streams and roaring cataracts, of sunshine and of storms, of light and darkness, man's mind may wander almost carelessly, and miss altogether the deep significance of what it sees. And to the indolent and unreflective, it may prove scarcely more instructive than a wearisome tale of regions they have never seen, and of acts in which they feel no interest.
"This mode of imparting himself to the soul of man, and of giving fulness and vigour to spiritual life, imposes upon that life the necessity of constant self-action-of continuous and persevering effort from within. Here as elsewhere the sentence is operative, 'In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat thy bread.' He who would gaze upon the beauty must first be at the pains to raise the veil. He who would transfer to his own mind the Divine thought, must acquire the language in which it is written-must master the symbols in which it is expressed. Life in the spirit can only appropriate to itself life in the works, and ways, and word of God,can only mingle and identify itself with that in them which is essentially divine, by penetrating by an active exertion of its own powers the exterior and palpable forms in which it is enshrined. In our present state spirit looks not upon spirit, but through an intervening medium-and to pass through that medium, in order to communion, man's soul must gird itself for continual effort."
We accept also Mr. Miall's view of the method by which God through the peculiar agency of Christianity aims to overcome the evil that is in the world, and to win over all alien and rebellious spirits to intelligent sympathy and loving obedience. Mr. Miall does not separate from us, nor we from him, on those points where difference of view and feeling is most apt to show itself, on the remedial operation of Christianity regarded as a special manifestation of God for the redemption and salvation of Man. We do not know where we should look for a nobler, truer, or more reasonable picture of the natural elements of power in Christ than the following passages contain. Whatever more of unexpressed doctrine they may convey to their