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EXAMINATIONS for orders, like qualifications for university degrees, have participated in the general improvements of the nineteenth century. Formerly, to be versed in the English Bible, to construe the Greek Testament, to explain and defend the Thirty-nine Articles, and to have read Paley's Evidences, Tomline’s Theology, and a small number of other elementary books, was, for the most part, deemed sufficient to pass a man under the eyes of an examining chaplain. The present qualifications embrace a critical acquaintance with the best Greek and Latin classics,—a study of Hebrew,-a knowledge of all matters relating to the Jewish and Christian churches and sects,
— together with a comprehensive range over Scripture history and doctrine, and, in short, over all subjects connected with an elucidation of the Bible.
Two small tracts on these subjects of examination have been lately set forth—one at Cambridge, and the other in Dublin-each containing three hundred questions, and exhibiting the requisites in religious knowledge demanded from candidates for the ministry, respectively, in the English and Irish churches. It struck me that an answer to these questions was desirable, and might prove useful, not only as an aid to the divinity-student, but as opening the minds and assisting the researches of general readers, whose attention may be directed to religious inquiries. I hesitated for some time which of the two books I should
take in hand, or whether I should select the least obvious questions in each ; but various considerations determined me at length in favour of the Cambridge questions. I had accomplished half my task, with much labour and early rising, in the midst of a laborious profession, and under a deep domestic calamity, when I learned that the author of the Questions had himself furnished a key for their solution; and I had very nearly completed my plan before I could obtain that little treatise. Without attempting to disparage the writer, I found that his Key consisted of very short responses, and in many instances of simple references to common divinity-books,-Horne, Grotius, Paley, &c., but without giving sufficiently ample information on most of the subjects handled. I accordingly persisted in my original design, which was that of affording comprehensive views, though still under the name of “Sketches," on the various important themes to which these questions had directed my investigation. The desultory and unconnected form in which the subjects are introduced, is owing to the author of the Questions. I have followed my guide; though his course has been erratic. An Under-graduate has likewise published answers to the Questions; but these I have not seen: to neither have I any obligations to acknowledge.
It is obvious that such inquiries, being published without authority, cannot be generally binding in any diocese, and well known that every Bishop circulates his own papers-nay, that fresh questions, for the most part, belong to every ordination. The various subjects, however, here proposed for discussion, may be taken as comprehending the general knowledge in divinity required in candidates for orders: and the object of these “Sketches" is, to assist the memory and to open the understanding of students on all the topics of probable investigation, which may be either committed to paper, or brought forward in oral conference. Although the plan of the writer moves in a wider orbit than that proposed by the author of the Cambridge Key (a duodecimo tract of less than a hundred pages of large and open letter-press), the order of the answers is preserved, and their number registered. The author of the Key has furnished short answers to his own questions: the object of the “Sketches” is to furnish materials for the answer of almost any questions in divinity which an examining chaplain may propose.
That a learned and able clergy should be provided for the church, especially in its present endangered condition, is one of those means to which, under Providence, we must look for its support and existence as the pillar and ground of the truth. That a certain body of divines should be so highly learned as to be ever ready and able to come forth in defence either of the discipline or doctrine of that church, when assailed by scepticism or disturbed by schism, is likewise highly expedient; agreeably to the celebrated image sketched by Mr. Canning, and quoted by Dr. Chalmers, comparing these profound theologians to men-of-war laid up in ordinary, which seem to slumber at present, but rise up in their fury against any hostile attack. At the same time, I may be permitted humbly to doubt whether these high requisites and demands of polemical attainment are not, in most cases, carried too far, or dwelt on too exclusively, in examination. The great majority of persons ordained for the ministry are destined to pass their lives in obscure districts, and amongst simple peasants—a situation in which those intricate questions and difficult attainments can never be brought to bear without pedantry and even unintelligibility.
And this evil is not removed by that course of classical and scientific studies which usually precedes entrance on the ministry, and proficiency in which has little concern with the common functions of a parish-priest. A man is a wrangler, or obtains the honours of a first class, and is forthwith removed to a rural parish, where he has no one idea in common with his people, and has yet to learn their phrases, their manners, their prejudices, and the extent of their capacities. In intercourse even with the better classes, his knowledge of Greek or mathematics is but a poor compensation for his ignorance of country or parish matters; and, with respect to both high and low, though his scholarship begets respect, his profundity goes for nothing.
I should, therefore, have been better pleased, had the questions been less learned or technical, and if some part of the examinations had related, first, to the reading and understanding of the liturgy, and to the Scottish method of mandating-important points, and too much neglected. It would have been further desirable, that the topics of inquiry should have touched more on daily and commonplace occurrences, relating to the practical functions of the clerical profession. I shall offer a specimen of the questions to which I allude, as directing attention to the most useful attainments, and as “shewing (what I conceive to be) a more excellent way.”
1. How would you proceed when called to visit a sick person in a deplorable state of religious ignorance?
2. How would you correct the too prevalent opinion, that, in visiting the sick, you are come to work a charm on an impenitent sinner ?
3. How would you check presumptuous assurance, and reduce it to lively and humble hope?