Editor's Note 10
God is accustomed to act, in His government of mankind, often by ordinary principles, though He be independent of them; that is, He acts upon men by that which ordinarily influences them, the springs of which are in His power. No person can be insensible to the extremely important crisis in which we are now placed in Ireland, and that there are most important agencies at work in the country. The old system is broken up. The demand for the testimony of the gospel is manifest, and, while it is to an extent which surprises even those most accustomed to desultory labour, has forced itself on the consciences of the most reluctant, upon those who have for years resisted anything out of the established track. That which is to be remarked in it, and which shews the hand of God, is the anxiety, on the part of unconverted people, for ministry of the word and opportunities of religious information. It is manifest this must be from God; and I think experience will shew that it is a common accompanying sign of a work of God; as its suitableness is obvious.
It appears to my mind, that the position and worldliness of the church (i.e. the establishment), when the crisis for that purpose came, disqualified it for being an agent of the gospel in the country, and converting it to the faith of God; and in that crisis they, in point of fact, failed. This is matter of history. Further, the system on which it was established disqualified it for such exertions as were alone competent to meet such a crisis. The system was episcopal and parochial; but the energy which would carry a powerful principle into operation, which forms its agents and cannot find them in the passions of men, cannot be, and never was, parochial. The energy which is competent to work, and because it is competent to work, necessarily overpasses the prescribed limits, and trespasses upon the limits of others, and the system is violated. In the circumstances in which the work of God is placed in this country, this might be proved with stronger reason; but I have purposely confined myself to the general principle. Episcopal and parochial labour, in its sound state, is the supervision of those who have already been brought within the pale of Christian care, as having Christian principles, though it may be accompanied by doing “the work of an evangelist.” Missionary work, in its ordinary sense, assumes a contrary state; that is, the necessity of a general preaching of the gospel, because men are not as yet brought under the influence of Christian principles, and in order, under grace, to their being so brought. The recognition of local episcopal and parochial authority, as such, on the part of the Home Mission, is simply denying its first principle, and destroying itself. It assumes that its objects are not really the subjects of that. It assumes a great deal more; but I am content to rest here for the present.
It has never been carried on, as it never could be, on this principle of episcopal and parochial arrangement. In the detail of practice (which, however, is comparatively immaterial), it would be absolutely prevented from operation in the places where, and, in one sense, where alone, it was really wanted.
I will suppose a diocese where the Home Mission is refused admittance. What is the assumption of the Home Mission? that the state of the diocese is perfect, and does not need its care? Is it not rather, at bottom, that there is the special want of the energy of Christian principle, connected with the sense of the deep necessity of the people, which missionary zeal supposes; that is, a state of things which specially calls for the agency which they are assuming to themselves. If they acknowledge the episcopal and parochial system, it is the only place where they cannot act. In a word, the Home Mission has its existence because the episcopal and parochial system, as at present established, fails for the Christian purposes of the country. It acts, and must act, in defiance of the system which confines the labour of the minister within an allotted sphere, and subjects him to the authority of the bishop 6f the diocese, within which that sphere is situated. It is, in a word, a set of individuals acting on their own authority, if they be right, in undoubted obedience to God—but their own as regards men—in going or sending others to preach and admonish, without reference to the authority of the nominal system into which the country is divided.
Their duty to God in this is admitted; and the admission of the episcopal and parochial system in such a work becomes a dereliction of their duty to God in subservience to men. I do not mean the territorial division, though that will be found to fall before it, but the principle of the system.
Another most important principle developed by the Home Mission is this, that men have their place and agency in the system and the country by virtue, not of their official situations, but of the gifts which God has given them. This is a most important principle in the difference between Babylon and the divine economy. The vehicle of the office may be used as at present, but the principle on which the Missions proceed, and by which, as thus volunteering, they will be judged, is the competency of the individuals, the gifts of God’s Spirit which they may have.
There is another point at present of importance. The clergy have taken up the Missions at present. They have taken them up to the exclusion of laymen: their conduct has been marked in this respect. The Missions had been carried on, and were established, through the labours of laymen, while the clergy in a great measure refused to act because it was irregular. I believe those most conversant in them will admit that they could not, in point of fact, have been carried on without. The effect of this exclusion I am not concerned to state now; for I believe the results of what is going on are but in their infancy: but it has this immediate effect. During the working of the laymen, it was merely an unofficial preaching of the Gospel, as God gave men ability where there was necessity and God gave opportunity; and, clergymen being engaged in it too, it merely became a common work of necessity and love. Now that the clergy have excluded them, it becomes a deliberate rejection by them, the clergy, in their official character, of the control of the diocesan over his own diocese; its management in the spiritual energies of Christianity is assumed by other hands. The clergy themselves are setting aside the episcopal constitution, as at present subsisting, and acting not only in independence but in defiance of it. The fact is, the system, as it stands at present, is extinct. I do not mean by this that episcopacy is therefore extinct; but that the authority and control of the present system is gone. The clergy have taken upon themselves the exclusive responsibility of acting in defiance of it. They cannot go back. They have been thrust forward, by the demand which has been raised of God for efficient ministry, to act in defiance of that system. They are now thrown upon this: either to work on in spite of the episcopal parochial system, though using it where it may favour them, and to treat it as non-existent or hostile; or to throw up the character of being the ministry of the country. I regret that there was not sufficient of God’s Spirit among them to own the labours of the laymen, who had in many instances gone before them. I sorrow for it for their own sakes; but I rejoice that they have made themselves the practical actors, in defiance of an authority whose sanction for so acting they would have others seek.
That laymen, as they are called, should have been recognised by the churches as devoted to the work, may be in given instances unobjectionable or desirable; but why they should seek the sanction of an authority in order to preach in defiance or violation of that authority, and for the purpose of doing so, the clergy may but I cannot explain. If they do not purpose to violate it, they are subjecting themselves to the restraint of an authority, the operation of which has been the occasion of the necessity of their so preaching at all; and this, if the responsibility is on them to preach, it is wickedness to do. The clergy, as if they had the residue of the Spirit, are acting themselves in defiance of the authority of the bishops— honourably, no doubt, if they have hindered the preaching of the gospel. That is, they have determined to carry, or are carrying, the Mission through the various parts of Ireland, without reference to, or in spite of, the prohibition of various bishops. But they will not hear of a person, not ordained by those bishops, preaching, or being allowed to go on the Mission. Now I do not see the consistency of receiving authority, or licence to preach, from a bishop, with the view of exercising that privilege in defiance of the authority which gave it. I trust there are many laymen too honest to act so: but one cannot be insensible to the effects, that the clergy, while thus excluding them (unless they can claim for themselves the whole residue of the Spirit), are necessarily raising up a system of dissent—the greatest evil which, I believe, could now affect Ireland. I do not mean dissent from a set of formularies, but the schism, or dissent, in result, of one part of the Christians in the country from the other at a time when God is strongly working in the country. This is the guilt which will be on the heads of the clergy, if they are not careful in their conduct.
If, on the other hand, this anomalous body of the Home Mission refrain from those places where the ordinary authorities forbid them, it is plain their assumption of the evangelisation of the country is in result an idle pretence, and schism is yet more sure. It is quite clear that laymen whom God may call to the office of preaching, as they will not be permitted so, cannot righteously act with such a system; nor will men easily understand the righteousness of a self-instituted body, which, while it assumes to be everything, fails in the most important part of its work, whilst it discredits everything else which God accredits. In fact, I can conceive of nothing more wicked than discrediting, as far as they can, the preaching of laymen and then stopping short from the work of God for fear they should be discredited themselves. Nor can laymen, if they be either righteous or wise, fill up such a gap; that is, with any set purpose. They must do it, either as sanctioning the unrighteousness of the clergy, who perhaps might wish to be done by others what they would not do themselves, or else it must be done in the spirit of an opposition system, which, if the wilfulness of the clergy leave it possible, is altogether to be deprecated. I do trust, as at present constituted, the laymen will hold themselves altogether aloof from the Home Mission. If it act in despite of the bishops, it is acting unrighteously as being made up exclusively of clergy; if it desist wherever the bishops or clergy oppose, it is disgraceful to assume the authority it does. And it becomes clear that the laymen had better employ themselves distinctly without those trammels; and let the clergy of the Home Mission employ themselves in their local circles, building again the things they destroy. In any case, the essential character which the Home Mission has assumed in its clerical shape is schism—acting independently of the bishops, whom it professes to recognise, when they let it pass; and respecting them only when they are doing wrong, in their judgment; and despising and excluding the laity, who may be led of God’s Spirit, where they think they are doing right.
But further, it is beyond all controversy that the Bishops have been opposing and oppose the preaching of the gospel out of the system of parochial arrangements. It is equally clear that the efficient agency of the testimony of the word is now carried on on a system independent of, and consequently acting in opposition to, or neglect of, their authority. Of this the clergy have made themselves the exclusive instruments— how righteously others must judge. It is equally clear that, assuming this ministry to be successful, where sufficient local pastorship does not exist, or where the enquiries and spiritual anxieties raised by the reception of the word have cultivated the sense of a necessity for communion which is not met by any existing local provision, the necessity of pastoral care provided by the Mission, and the probable formation of local bodies in whatever shape, at once arises. Hence, we have, either the pastoral care of the Mission districts assumed by the Mission as a necessary obligation, or else the formation of local bodies on principles not contemplated by it at all. The assumption of this pastoral care, further, definitely shews the importance of the position assumed by the members of the Home Mission, and at once shews the total impossibility of its being carried on in subservience to, or consideration of, the subsisting episcopal and parochial arrangements. It is possible that some of its members may think it right to have the sheep of Christ under those who are not really pastors. They may think so; but, to say the least, they will find few to agree with them. But if not, being clergymen tied to a system, they must be as insufficient for the pastoral care as for the evangelical work, if obedient to the system they profess to maintain; or else, while they have rejected the laymen as irregular, prove that it was merely to be more irregular themselves, and assume all the power into their own hands. And, the fact is, very abundant signs have been afforded of such a design on the part of those who call themselves by the odd name of the Subordinate Clergy. I cannot believe this, or anything of the kind, to be of God. That the bishops should stop the course of this testimony is impossible; that they should do it no Christian, who feels the present necessity, could wish. The utmost they could do would be to throw it into others hands in the shape of opposition to the Church, and probably to drive many godly men out of their system. The duty of faithful ministers of the gospel to undertake it, and carry it on, is an obligation which directly flows from their being ministers of the gospel. “To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin” —a duty which may be strengthened, but never can be weakened by the fact of an ungodly man hindering, so that that hindrance should be reckoned a reason for not attempting it. If men were honest they would see the incompatibility of avowedly maintaining an existing system, and assuming a part which, if carried into effect, must make a breach, and in point of fact, does make a breach in that system every step that is effectually taken. But their present position is that they have preferred associations with ungodly pastors who oppose them to associations with godly laymen, the members of Christ, though these laymen were to act simply the part they were acting themselves, and that, indeed, in subservience to them, and unobjectionably as regards their superiors.
I will add, the desire for preaching is by no means the only characteristic of the present day. There are two others equally marked. And they are the desire, the appetite for scriptural information; and the desire amongst Christians for that which is little or not at all found in existing systems, and that is, communion with one another. The extent of the latter is, of course more confined, but not less decided; and, perhaps, its operation more remarkable. Further, I might add, that the necessity for discipline is growingly felt amongst all those who are exercised in Christian service, whether clergy or laity. In scriptural information the laity, and those who sit loose to the system, are by no means behind the clergy. If I were to draw a comparison, I should say they were rather before them in it. It is by no means the whole of Christianity to have extensive scriptural information. But the desire for it exists, and, I repeat, those conversant with the state of things in Ireland will by no means find the clergy the most informed in Scripture. In saying this, I beg most anxiously to be understood not to desire (God forbid that I should) to depreciate what God’s Spirit has done in, and given to, the clergy. I believe God has in many instances much blessed them, looking at them individually. But, in point of fact, it is apparent to many that their extent of scriptural information is by no means such as to make them exclusively the instructors of the laity (if they force the line to be drawn, though I trust the laymen would ever recognise whatever God’s Spirit had given to any, and be ready to learn from any), nor to meet the demand for scriptural information which exists, and which, though liable to abuse, like everything else, is surely of God, and the abuse of which can only be met by greater scriptural depth and knowledge.
As to the other point, less extensively and openly developed, scarcely less so indeed now, but equally really existing, and a more powerful principle than any by far, and that is, the desire of the saints for communion, it is obvious that the clergy must be greatly hindered in meeting any such desire. The position in which the laity stand with them is merely as recipients, that is, as clergy and laity. It is obvious that this position, which may have its value in its place, does not meet the desire for communion. These things, moreover, are recognised in the Scriptures, and those scriptures form a warrant in which the mind may rest, perhaps not always wisely in looking for them; and God, having left the record of them there, has proved His will that they should be the order of blessing.
But the clergy have excluded the laity from the office of preaching, that is, they will not preach with them. In the claim of communion and fellowship, which will be found to militate strongly against their official position, the laity, of course, will bear the largest though not the exclusive share; for it is a desire and a principle felt or recognised by many of the clergy. In acquaintance with the Scriptures, as we have said, there is as great an appetite, and, as I have remarked, I believe as much progress, at the least, made by them as by the clergy. As to preaching, the laity have long been occupied with it, and in many instances as successfully at least as any of the clergy. I despise no solemn designation, if the church be competent to it, to any office. But I hold that the Scriptures recognise the laity, if they are to be so called, preaching, and that the Lord was with them in it. And I think the clergy would have very great difficulty in shewing from Scripture any appointment or ordination to such preaching as is contemplated in missionary labour.
“They that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word”; and those who were scattered abroad were all except the apostles. “And the hand of the Lord,” we are told, “was with them, and a great number believed, and turned to the Lord.” I am not, here, one way or other, discussing the value of episcopal ordination; but I regret the unseasonable effort of many to exclude those whose labours Scripture distinctly recognises, and necessarily thereby to induce schism in the church.
One great- evil hitherto has been the dissociation of nominal office from the power of the Spirit. This is denied by no spiritual person. The Spirit has been poured out11 in efficient service on many not officially employed. The clergy are setting themselves to exclude these: they are standing on office against the title and competency to act of those who have the Spirit without office; and this in a service in which they are acting in defiance or disregard of the office and authority of those from whom all their own official distinction flows. For, if not so acting, the official distinction is simply a direct hindrance, so far disqualifying them or the office they have exclusively assumed to themselves. And in thus standing on office against the operation of the Spirit, where there is not nominal office, they identify themselves with ungodliness, refusing to associate themselves with godly men in works, which the majority of them think they are entitled to undertake with godly men, who are working with God’s Spirit. This is an ominous position in which to put the name and character of the clergy.
Let us put a case: here is a parish, in which a person, not sent of God, is, in office, pastor or clergyman; a person whom God has qualified for the service, and called, is there, or goes there, and he works. He cannot be in the office owned by man, because he, who has been put in by those men whom the Home Mission recognise as having authority there, is already in the office. He whom God has sent is irregular: he who, deriving from human authority, excludes the person whom God has sent, is regular. The business of the Home Mission, in its present form, is to meet the case of this ungodly man; but they own him, giving up the place, and disown the layman, who is excluded from office by virtue of the system they uphold, but is acting in the energy of the Spirit virtually in it, to meet the difficulty which the ungodliness of the system has raised. The question has been raised; they have raised it between office and energy; that is, between the most ungodly thing in the world, and the rejected and grieved Spirit; and, as far as they can go in this act, they have associated with the ungodly pastor and rejected the Spirit. If they say, Why not take office? he cannot; first, because some one is in it already; and next, because they have so vitiated the source, that many conscientious men cannot, whatever the clergy may do, identify themselves with it. Under these circumstances, they forcibly draw the question into light; by discrediting the layman as much as possible, who is doing the work of God by His Spirit as well as he can—the work they are doing themselves—and by accrediting the office in the ungodly shape in which it thus presents itself.
We put another case, one not so uncommon. A large tract of country is destitute of the gospel. A layman goes, preaches there, and is blessed—gathers out of darkness into light many souls. The district is already full of clergy, who are not shepherds. What is the layman to do? leave them for Socinians or enthusiasts to catch, or unheeded altogether? There is no godly righteousness in this. But the man is made, if he be faithful, a schismatic in spite of himself by a system which sanctions, or has sanctioned, the idle shepherds by whom he is surrounded. Which would the Home Mission recognise? It would recognise those idle shepherds, and it would not recognise the faithful man of God. But it has placed itself in a position in which it must be wrong either way; for if it did not own those shepherds, it would be acting in dereliction of its own responsibilities as churchmen; and the truth is, that, while they assume to be lords over God’s heritage, or, as the original is, over God’s clergy, they are in a position in which, though individually blessed in preaching, they must act unrighteously. They have assumed evangelism, and, obeying the prohibitions of the bishops and clergy, they turn aside from the most important points of their duty. They are clergy, and, persisting against these prohibitions, they are acting unrighteously, and in disobedience, in inconsistency with the character they are specifically assuming to maintain; while they reject the laymen, who, if it was right for them to preach at all, were violating no authority, breaking through no prescribed limits. Own the Spirit, and there was no unrighteousness, but blessing. Hold by the office distinctively, and they are inconsistent and irregular, or inefficient. Personal duty they might have pleaded: official regularity it is monstrous to allege.
There is in nothing human such a concatenation of liberty and authority, as the work of God exhibits—by individual competency and general subjection, all flowing from the presence and work of the Spirit. The contrast of these things, which God had so harmonisedly blended—of the office and the Spirit—has made the office dead and imperious (a missionary acts by the Spirit, not by office), and puts the actings of the Spirit out of the association of subjection, unless by individual wisdom, and has done more to disunite than any other possible step. But there are those, I trust, of larger hearts and more anxious thoughts, than those who would exclude others by their official dignity; and who will recognise that which is of God, though despising12 themselves, with more liberty and faithfulness than some who would pull down the restraint of offices in their own estimation higher, that they might have liberty for themselves, but hold to the importance of their own, and deny that liberty to those they count below them. But we are told that the Church will be reformed. But what is that reform they ostentatiously speak of? Simply human arrangements—the assumption of power of the visible Church into their own hands. It is not a reference to the Spirit; it is not a call to prayer; it is not a looking to the Holy Ghost, however we may have grieved it, to set Christ’s house in order; but a petition to the State, that it may throw them off, confessing they are controlled by and under its authority, and still dependent upon its choice whether they should be or not; not as a question of their sin and righteousness: declaring the evil, but sanctioning in principle its continuance. If they are bound to Christ, why look to the State to free them, unless they love it still? Why not act on the principle of separation, as responsible to Him?
Proposing next that they should have the election of bishops themselves, willing, perhaps, some of them, to divide it with the Crown, by naming three, that the Crown may choose one, thereby thrusting out the principle of the Spirit’s guidance, while they assume control to themselves. Proposing that each diocese should meet, arrange each its own plans, and then bring them together to a common meeting, to settle how it should be. Settle for whom? The Crown, laity, Christians, and all: the holding of the present bishops made untenable, and their own created ones uncertain! Such would be the result of their plans differing in various circumstances, but all having this character of throwing the elective power into their own hands, as those capable of managing it, and excluding others, save as coalescing with them, but none of them referring or looking to the presence, power, and operation of the Spirit of God. Let any one only examine the plans of church reform, which have been circulated from time to time latterly, in Cork, in the “Christian Journal,” in Dublin, and see if they are not all of the character I have stated; if they are not all based upon the proposed competency of those who are included in them, and, not caring for others, not referring it to the Holy Ghost as the only competent Spirit of energy to the church; and, in fact, resulting in the assumption of power, by those who hold the middle offices of the Established church, and nothing else: a mere human plan and arrangement.
And the clergy and Home Mission are greatly mistaken if they think that it is only laymen or disinterested persons who feel these things. Many of the most spiritual and upright of the clergy, as well as some of those called high churchmen, are just as decided on the point. They may be individually better than their superiors; but I do not see what great liberty of the Spirit or comfort of the faith there would be. I do not see the righteousness of the effort on the part of the “subordinate clergy.”
The Spirit of God is at work in the country. The clergy feel that there has been long a hindrance in the higher offices of the established system, and in the lower in association with them.
This Spirit shews itself, as so working, in three great channels: the necessity of preaching, the desire for scriptural information, and the desire for fellowship and communion.
The attempt to confine it to the middle officers of the church, who yet throw aside the upper, is futile, a resisting of the Spirit of God, a Babel work. It is working in other channels; and those who hold the middle offices are acting by virtue of those principles which would throw down their own exclusiveness of system. Pride is shewn in non-subjection to the Spirit, which is God acting whether in office or in testimony.
It is a comfort, at any rate, to laymen that, while their ministry was simply of willing unpretending service, of spiritual service in either case, the missionary ministry of the clergy is in despite of the authority of those whom they recognise as having it; and the trying and odious though necessary office of resisting that authority has been assumed by those who have been so long strenuously maintaining it, and the laity are free.
While the clergy were content, the laymen acted (I rejoice that they did) as willing and unpretending assistants to those who had the service for them to do, as well as preached by themselves. There was no jealousy of the clergy. They owned the gift that was in them, men from habit disposed to count them their superiors, more practised, and those around them accustomed for the most part to honour the office, so that they came in but as assistants; though the opportunity was given for the exercise of their gifts, so that there should be no schism in the body. The work would have been one. The clergy have thought right to reject them and disown their gifts. In them the evil that results must now rest.
I will add here a very few remarks on a subject connected with this, though not nominally yet immediately in the practical question, as all who are conversant in the working of principles in the country must know. Attention has been frequently drawn to changes in the liturgy. The effort, I am convinced, is a mistake. Any objection to the liturgy is not, in the mass of Christian people who feel it, from cavils at particular objectionable circumstances in it. It is, though there are many things doubtless which offend the knowledge or distress the consciences of many children of God, a much deeper principle; the desire of communion—not objecting to the liturgy, but the want of a communion in something flowing from the Spirit of God present and acting among those engaged in such common service.
It is a mistake in the origin of distaste for the liturgy, in the great body of those who throw it up now, to suppose that it would be in the slightest degree affected by any particular changes in its structure. I do confess that I doubt whether there be in the church a competency to make any beneficial change. I believe the notion of what a church is to be very much lower than at the time the present prayer-book was compiled. I doubt that there is equal piety in the church; and I am sure too, it would be opening the door to alterations whose sole object was to pander to the infidelity of the day. But that which is now working is the desire of something else, a desire shewing itself in other ways than that. Men who do not feel this are mostly content with the liturgy as it is. They like it. They are used to it. A few of the clergy may be glad of change in services which affect them particularly, but the change will be unperceived by the mass of churchgoers, while their reverence for it will be gone. As to the others it will merely come to the mind as evidence that those who have made the change do not understand the real thing they seek. Such a change will be wholly short of the principle which is at work upon the subject. On the whole the great point is that the Spirit of God is at work. It is the presence and power of the Spirit which will have power: and the only wisdom of the believer is such a recognition of the Spirit—wherever and however it is working in the service of God and the gospel, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and evidencing therein love to Him, His gospel, God and His grace, more than to anything else, as shall not raise questions which all the wisdom of the clergy in Ireland never could answer, but, on the contrary, will enable them to resist (and be borne out by God in it, because by integrity of purpose they shall be enabled to detect and be justified in resisting) that which is the will of the flesh, and not the unity of grace and the Spirit. The clergy have refused so to recognise it in the laity. Let the layman, as I would beseech them in the Lord’s name—no man ever lost in God’s work anything by humbling himself, or dealing gently with a brother —be wiser. Let them own whatever of God’s Spirit there is in the clergy, and let the rest pass. The clergy may feel assured that these are times in which he who acts with the simplest purpose, and with most of the Spirit, will in result carry the work of God with him; for it is a day in which God is separating realities from forms, as that which can alone stand the universal dislocation which every institution is undergoing, and which the Spirit of God shall and can alone go through unscathed, and those that are led by it unmarred and unhurt.
To resume the whole. The Spirit of God is poured out13 on laymen and on the clergy. The clergy, by virtue of their office, exclude laymen from any portion of the work which they are carrying on, while their work at the same time sets aside episcopal control. What can we think of this? It is not the first time that the clergy have sought to confine, to their own narrow channels, the working of the Spirit of God, and so grieved and hindered the work. And, since they have thus raised the question, What is a clergyman? there are fifty-six persons ordained at once, as we have known instances. For what? Elders? No, not one probably of the number having any one qualification for the office. Indeed, though God may raise them up, in the arrangements of the church (that is, the Establishment), there could not be any such thing as ordinary elders, nor is there indeed of deacons, in the scriptural sense of the word. No. What then? All alike are ordained. Some, perhaps, ungodly men, it may be, without any call into the church of God at all, not Christians—whose only office is to make it wrong for any one who has the Spirit to work where they are at all; some godly men, and so to be honoured, but who have no gift for any special office; others who, we will suppose, may be eminently gifted as evangelists, but who, very likely, are sent where there is no opportunity for the exercise of their gift at all, or subject to one who would restrain it. But all are alike and equally clergymen. And what is that, then? What office is it in the church? The great secret of wisdom, in such a time as this, nay, always, is to recognise the Spirit, by its moral evidence, wherever it is found—office, practically when you can. This will set aside the semblance of the flesh, take away its false claim of liberty, and give might to the controlling power of the Spirit, as well as liberty to its energy.
The spiritual clergy are conscious that resistance of nominal office to the Spirit of God is a sin; that it is their duty to act in spite of it. They act by their spirituality, not by their official character. Ought not laymen to do the same? If they say, Let them; then are they the willing authors of schism, maintaining, within a certain limit, their own importance. This is the thing to be dreaded. The authority of the bishops they cannot set up; they neglect it. They know that they are a hindrance; their estimate of them is that they are a difficulty to be got over. And what do we see? A minister of state, a layman—God forbid that I should justify the act—saying that he has anxiously considered the necessities of the Irish Church, and he thinks that it can spare twelve bishops. Is it not ridiculous to talk after this of the importance and necessity, the heavenly-derived character of episcopal control? I speak of it as it at present exists. If the Irish bishops had immediately consecrated bishops to the vacant sees, then one might have marvelled at the coolness of the wrong, but the system would have been, so far, however inconsistent, morally if not secularly independent. But they have not done so: and what can we think? I cannot say what I think. They are not in power and strength; and if God has laid His hand upon them, I will not now lay mine. This fact is the evidence, not the principle, of their system; and if they are in sorrow by it, one need not meddle with them there. The clergy may take occasion, by their depression, to set themselves up, perhaps to coin new rivals, and discredit their old masters; but do they think there are none who can judge them in this? I speak not of them all. But I repeat it, I rejoice that the conflict with authority is exclusively assumed by the clergy. Be it the laymen’s part to keep clear, to obey what they own, and to act for the Lord as God shall give them opportunity.
Let the clergy do their duty in the work of the Mission, if the Lord lead them to it; but certainly they are doing it in the way most obnoxious to the authority set over them on one side, and carefully rejecting the work of the Spirit in others, upon the assumption of their office, whereby alone they can act effectually the part they are assuming exclusively to themselves. I pray God they may not so grieve the Spirit as to drive Him away, as they have often done before. I persuade myself fully they cannot now; yea, they shall not. There is one only remedy for their conduct, that I know; and that is not minding it. While, as I trust, every layman will fully honour whatever the Lord has given them of His Spirit, be it pastoral or evangelical, in practical authority, or in witness of the truth; for surely shall His offices for the church be brought out in substance for the profit of the church. I could add much more, as to the special circumstances of the country, both of present good, and probable evil; but I refrain. May the Lord pour down His Spirit14 abundantly in this country, to bring out the good in the holy order, that shall give all His people just refreshing, and perfect them for that which it is His portion to give them, and give it them for His name and glory’s sake, with their blessing; and to Him shall be all the glory.
[I have been struck with this paper as applicable to the present time, as many an one will see. The result of the course the clergy took at that time, through the intervention of Mr. Frederick Fitzwilliam Trench, was that the Home Mission came to an end. When I recently answered his pamphlet, I had totally forgotten the existence of this paper. Thirty-three years have not altered the principles it contains, though it has ripened many an one then at work, and I may detect some inaccuracies of expression. I have not altered a word in the tract, save two which were merely grammatical errors or errors of the press.]
10 Dublin, 1833.
11 This expression I should not now use; but I prefer leaving the tract as it is, as a memorial of what was passing more than thirty years ago, and has so much stronger an application now. Certainly moderation was not wanting.
12 That is, I apprehend, owning the Mission-work of the clergy, though these, by reason of their official position, despise them.
13 I again notice this traditional expression which is incorrect. The Spirit of God works especially in given times and places; it was poured out at Pentecost.
14 See previous notes.