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certainly the results of the Exeter Injunctions are most noticeable. That they have, in a sense, failed, is precisely what some, and they anything but Puritans, must have wished : because, by compliance with them, the Church would have assumed a most unreal appearance.
A very different inquiry remains as to the duty of an individual clergyman, in reviving or retaining the lapsed observances. On this point we shall say something in the sequel. Whether he is bound scrupulously to follow the letter of the Prayer-book, under every possible condition of his congregation, and with such degree of historical knowledge on every disputed point as falls to the lot of an ordinary parish priest, must, as it seems, depend very much upon the individual conscience. If we are ignorant of a law, we cannot be said, except by an abuse of terms, to violate its legal obligations: technically, we may err and offend the law, but, morally, we do no sin. This distinction must go far to exonerate the past generation. To us, fresh from the study of Articles of Inquiry, Injunctions, Canons, Rubrics, Advertisements, Conferences, and Collations, it may be quite incredible that our fathers knew nothing of these things. Yet the fact remains that they were ignorant of them, and, for whatever cause being ignorant, we are loath to charge them with wilful, that is, sinful disobedience to Church authority. It is a very serious thing to lay against the whole Church of a century and a half, the accusation of deliberate treachery to their solemn oaths. The State in all cases of written law, cannot, it is true, entertain the question of positive and total ignorance of its enactments: it is compelled to assume that every man, woman, and child, in England, is acquainted with the whole body of the Statutes at Large: it is forced never to recognise the plea of ignorance. But the Church is not bound by this rigid canon of punishment. In moral questions, invincible ignorance is a fair extenuation for neglect. Of course, it is quite true that the state of the Church must have been debased in the extreme, when ignorance of its positive laws was so general: we are not apologizing for such a condition of things. But still it was a fact. We will venture to state it as an incontrovertible truth that there was not one clergyman in a thousand, twenty years ago, who ever dreamed that it was his duty to say, daily and without intermission, the offices of Matins and Evensong: or that, by his ordination vows, he had tied himself to this palpable obligation. And much may be urged in extenuation of the existence of such ignorance; though this is not our present inquiry.
Now, however, the case is altered : ignorance no longer exists; the conscience is enlightened; the law has made its formal appeal
and claim for obedience. Every clergyman now knows his legal responsibilities: can he, any longer, refuse compliance ? Certainly not on the plea of ignorance, nor on the absence of a legitimate injunction from the proper authority. It must be admitted that when the Bishops have once solemnly declared, ' that we are no more at liberty to vary the mode of performing
ANY part of public worship, than we are to preach doctrines at • variance with the Articles of Religion,' a very serious responsibility indeed is laid upon our consciences. With an interpretation so strict, it seems, at first, that the abatements of time, and prudence, and measure, are quite beside the question. Ritual nonconformity and heresy are placed in the very same category. To disobey a rubric is announced to be of the same nature as a deadly sin. If this be so, we have no sympathy whatever with Mr. Benson, who deplores the waste of time, 'the study, the legal inquiries, and antiquarian researches, ' which the rubrical controversy entails upon the whole body of
the Clergy.' In a subject of such vast importance there is no expenditure of industry which is not a positive duty. Either then the alternative is not so fatal to the individual conscience, or the Church is bound, now that it has spoken, to compel instant and complete obedience. At the
very first announcement of this strict duty of unswerving obedience, however, certain limitations were announced, which, to most minds, must have neutralized its apparent harshness; or, indeed, must have done more, must have left things exactly where they stood. The question was put on grounds of policy rather than obedience; it moved out of the region of passionless law into that of practical expediency. The voice of the law to convicted offenders is,-You are a thief, but I cannot ask you to eradicate evil habits by a course of moral training. I will not prescribe to you to cure drunkenness by gradual forbearance, but I must act once and for all. I must punish for the past, and for the very first slip, however trifling, I must punish again. Rubrical obedience might have been enforced by similar sanctions. The Bishops might have instituted proceedings for the most minute variation in ritual. Every one will agree that it is very well that they did not. But, certainly, by adopting a more Christian and politic line of duty, the question is no longer one of positive obedience. To combine policy with strict obedience abates much of the austere duty towards the latter.
As soon as the Bishop of London coupled with the former assertion of a strict principle
, the duty in particular cases of exercising a sound discretion as to the time and mode of bringing • about an entire conformity to the strict letter of the law;' directly the Bishop of Exeter admitted that the cope was the
proper legal vestment for the sermon, (we are not assenting to this dictum,) and yet on grounds of policy enjoined the surplice, the dispute was practically at an end, as regarded legal and formal obligation. Henceforth it must range upon a lower base, and must involve more perplexing personal responsibilities; just as questions of casuistry are more difficult than those of statutory prohibitions. There can, we think, be little doubt, that for all practical purposes, the rubrical dispute cannot be argued out to a decision upon any broad and general principles : each case of difficulty must be settled upon its own contingent merits. It does not seem that they all have a common subjectmatter. Or if any individual clergyman is prepared to rest his accurate conformity, in this instance, upon the other and higher motive, let him bear in mind to what he ties himself, by announcing and acceding to this duty of inflexible obedience to written Church-law. He cannot stand still with rubrical obedience. Acting upon this line he must ascertain, if he can, in the most minute particulars the law of the Church in every thing: in doctrine, in discipline, in its various relations to his brethren, to the State, to himself, to other Churches, and
Unless he is prepared to do this consistently and thoroughly, it seems almost nugatory to profess legal obedience in one class of duties, and to refuse its claims equally stringent in another.
This thought will account for the general success which at first attended the raising of the question of ceremonial conformity. Like all other principles, that of obedience to positive law was very taking when promulgated, as it would be, boldly and definitely. It seemed so simple ; it cut through a world of conflicting doubts and hesitations, and reluctances, and scruples. It was grand and striking from its massive plainness; it stood out clear and sharp in outline against the clouds and fogs of indecision, and wavering, and compromise. It was a good answer to silence awkward objections. Say that a clergyman found it needful to revive this or that observance; such, for example, as making the oblation of the sacramental elements himself. What reply so easy to the charge of innovation as “ “ To the law and to the testimony.” I act upon rubric and vows?'—Then apply this to every other obligation,' was the natural rejoinder.— So I will,' adds the clergyman. Hence the confident appeal to authority, which is not to be violated nor exceeded, neither added to nor diminished in the slightest particular.
Now, God forbid that we should seek to disparage, or to cast a slight upon this high moral tone. We have lived so long without any recognition of conscience and duty, and the sacredness of law, and the awful majesty of authority, and the duty of individual obedience at whatever cost of peace and popularity, that we cannot but augur well from the bare enunciation of a principle so lofty, if we will but be true to it. Men cannot assume this dignity without rising in the scale of morality; that is, if we be sincere in declaring our earnest conviction of such a duty as obedience like this. Ceremonial conformity is not quite the sort of subject, however, to which, could we have ruled the matter, we should, in the first instance, have wished a reference to be made to the great abstract duty of ecclesiastical obedience; ritual being in its own nature indifferent, and only binding because of positive and variable injunction, we should have liked the first appeal to obedience in matters of eternal and immutable obligation—the sacred truths, and higher mysteries, and great Catholic dogmas and verities of the Faith. Besides, in many cases this appeal to authority looks rather like a make-weight and second thought. Love of imposing and solemn formalities for their own sake-skill in archæological inquiries— taste in propriety and order,-these may have been the first, though not avowed, motives, to which succeeded the perilous invocation of authority on all matters of prescription.
We must not be misunderstood : personally, we hold very strong views, indeed, of the value of ritual observances; but, in treating their attempted revival as, what it also is, a question of history, we are bound to examine the latent causes which have checked it. What the Church of England wants is a revival of spiritual authority; unquestionably. Rubrical uniformity is a subject of authority,- it is no indifferent thing because enjoined, --we admit this to the full. The problem then, the thing to be done, is to compel obedience to such authority. Was the ritual question the most likely ground upon which to enforce a successful claim? We own our doubts ; not because the experiment has failed ; not because one great event in our own history, the Caroline struggle, clouded the prospect with an inauspicious precedent; but from the nature of the thing itself. It seems like beginning at the wrong end to prefer external uniformity to internal unity. Truly the Church should be arrayed in raiment of needlework, in a vesture of gold wrought about with divers colours,' but she must first be all glorious within.' Purity of doctrine is a condition and prerequisite of external symmetry. If we could hazard, under present circumstances, to take our stand on the instant duty of reclaiming any treasure once committed to us, which we had lost, or buried unprofitably, we should, in the spirit of faith, have counted upon success, if a Bishop had announced his formal injunctions to compel the doctrine of baptismal regeneration to be preached, rather than a surplice to be worn, in every pulpit of
his diocese. Not that we would venture to cast the slightest reflection on the high-minded Bishop of Exeter,—the single fact that he took the synodical advice and judgment of his Chapter before issuing his advertisements, alone is an undying testimony to the soundness of his judgment, and the vigour of his principles ;—but it is the application of authority to this particular subject of difference that we hold to have been premature. The people of England have been tried : in the words of Mr. Henry Drummond
• It was known that the Evangelical clergy had departed from much truth, which had survived the shock of the Reformation, and had adopted the errors of the Presbyterians and Independents; but the attempt by the Tractarians to return to • Church principles has been the cause of showing into what a
mass of error the English clergy have fallen, denying the • foundation of the Church, priesthood, Sacraments, and every • holy rite, as things ordained by God, and resolving the whole • into a question of the extent that each one in his own private
judgment considers to be appropriate; so that Bishops counsel • the Clergy to practise things, not according to what is right, • but according to what the Laity will tolerate. This witness • is probably the last, for now the Laity have risen up in a body • against their Clergy and Bishops; and, as is seen in Devonshire, • whilst, on the one hand, with hypocritical mockery, they peti* tion the Bishops to settle the questions which they cannot comprehend-such as a black or white gown to preach in, a stone or wooden altar or table, a weekly or monthly collection for
the poor,—they peremptorily refuse on the other to be ruled . by their Bishop, who, with infinite pains and ability, has • analyzed all these topics for them . ... No sooner had the Bishop of Exeter done so, than their asserted deference for episcopal regulation was proved to be a false pretence, and the • soi-disant zealous churchmen were shown to have as fixed a
contempt for a Bishop's decision as the most acrimonious dis* senter. Thus an irrefragable proof has been afforded that the • Church of England, as a system ruled by Bishops, is at an end: an anonymous newspaper has more weight with any Church of England congregation than both their pastor and Bishop together: the congregation judge and excommunicate their minister and Bishop ; raise a riot in God's house, as indecent as when Cromwell stabled his horses there, and create a mob in the streets to insult their pastor . . The more trivial the occasion, the more fully does it establish the point here con‘tended for, which is, that obedience to authority, the first • element of corporate existence, has departed from the Church of England, and that it has become, in essence, though not in