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MATTERS SPIRITUAL. .
THE recent changes which have taken place in our political constitution are still regarded throughout the country with such strong feelings either of triumph or disapprobation, that it is scarcely possible to utter any opinion about them without calling forth the angry feelings of one party or another; while with more dispassionate persons the whole subject is studiously put aside as one which can no longer lead to any practical good. Yet if the fol. lowing Remarks should be so fortunate as to attract attention, it is hoped that they will on the whole be
1 [Written in 1833. The MSS. are very numerous, and vary a good deal. The greater part has appeared in the British Magazine.]
& [Apparently the beginning of a re-cast of the whole.]
found neither irritating nor unpractical; indeed that their tendency may in some respects prove healing and conciliatory, while at the same time they may be not wholly destitute of importance.
On the political effects of these changes the writer has no intention of expressing any opinion : his hope is that they may prove as beneficial to the country as their most sanguine advocates anticipated; and that all those who, like himself, have felt alarm at the spirit in which they were enacted, may live to recognize in them the favour, not the wrath, of an over-ruling Providence. Their political effects we must leave time to interpret for us : other effects, however, they certainly have had, quite independent of Politics, on which, as they respect not the future, but the past, and turn simply on facts, without involving any questions of opinion, it may be possible to arrive at something, like a general agreement.
The joint effect of three recent and important Acts, (1.) the Repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, (2.) the Concessions to the Roman Catholics, (3.) the late Act for Parliamentary Reform, has most certainly been to efface in at least one branch of our Civil Legislature, that character which, according to our great Authorities, qualified it to be at the same time our Ecclesiastical Legislature, and thus to cancel the conditions on which it has been allowed to interfere in matters spiritual.
This is no subject on which we may lightly dogmatise one way or the other; the interests at stake
are too important to be so dealt with. We must come to it in a serious considerate frame of mind, looking steadily to the result of our determination. On the other hand, we must weigh well the responsibility we incur if in our time we allow a new system to be established, an usurpation to be commenced, affecting an Institution so important as Christ's Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, without taking pains in the first place to assure ourselves that we are not compromising its safety or even dignity; for even the dignity of the Church is not to be lightly disregarded. On the other hand, we must not conceal from ourselves the hazard of the alternative; the more than possibility that a rejection of Parliamentary interference may lose for us Parliamentary protection. On this important question then, the writer of these pages will not take upon himself to dogmatise; he has his own opinion, but he leaves others to form theirs. Of this, however, he is certain, that we are now commencing a new system of Ecclesiastical Polity, the merits of which are yet to be decided ......
The extent to which Parliament has lately pressed its claim to interfere with the internal government of the Church, naturally excites attention in the minds of Churchmen: and many who have been led to canvass the justice of the claim, on what appears to be [its] own merits, have found it difficult to devise any reasonable pretext for [it].
· [This seems to be a new beginning.]
It seems at first sight something short of reasonable, that persons, not necessarily interested in the welfare of the Church, should deliberate for its good; and still less so, that they should be allowed to dictate laws to it, without the consent of those who are necessarily interested ; and least reasonable of all, when we add the consideration, that many of the persons so dictating, are, as a fact, its avowed enemies, and that their dictates are deeply reprobated by the great body of its attached members. And yet that the Parliament of Great Britain and Ireland are not necessarily interested in the welfare of the Church, indeed that many of its members are our avowed enemies, and that the Church, as a body, deeply deplores this interference in its concerns, are, it is supposed, admitted facts. So that persons, who have been led to canvass the question on its own merits, have felt in some degree per
plexed at the recognition of a claim apparently so rill according with common sense.
To such persons a painful doubt is apt to suggest itself, whether there may not be something unsound, and almost unjust, in the system of government which authorises such a claim; whether, after all that has been said and felt about the excellence of the English Constitution, there may not still be something wrong about it; some hollowness or flaw which has hitherto escaped notice fonly because circumstances have kept it hidden :
in short, whether we may not even now have to
revert to first principles, and lay our foundations afresh'.
Such a doubt [may indeed] be resolutely repressed even by shim] to whom it occurs most forcibly, in the full conviction, that, whatever may appear to himself to be just and reasonable, still that the great and good persons who have lived before him, could scarcely have overlooked the anomaly so apparent to himself, nor have passed it uncensured, unless they had been prepared to justify it. Still, however, though the doubt may be suppressed, the perplexity will remain; common sense will persist in obtruding its suggestions, and these are, it may be, more easily silenced than satisfied.
It is with a view to this perplexity that the following considerations are put together. They are addressed to persons who fear to trust their common sense in a matter of such importance, and who, though they cannot justify the system of government under which they live, still feel inclined to acquiesce in it, out of deference to their wiser predecessors. For the satisfaction of such persons, it may be noticed, in the first place, that the inconsistency which they suppose to subsist between the views of their predecessors and their own, is rather apparent than real; for that the system of government which they allowed to pass uncensured, was
1 [This passage may throw light on the Author's meaning in saying, that “the Reformation was a limb badly set.” vid. vol. i. p. 433.]