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CONVOCATION. SIR,—No thoughtful person would wish either to see convocation restored to full activity at once, or that the church in England should be permanently deprived of all power of self-regulation. No one would deny, in the abstract, that every church must, for its well-being, have not only an executive, but a judicial and legislative authority existing somewhere within her. Though her great principles and character (when originally right) must remain fixed, yet in the adaptation of these to circumstances, in deciding in “controversies of faith," in pronouncing on any new heresy and providing for any new exigencies, in arranging any unforeseen changes which may have taken place in her property, in ordering her discipline, there will be manifestly occasions, as time goes on, requiring more than her ordinary executive powers. Take the great schism arising in Wesley; in the Romish church, the energies therein manifested had never been wasted, or employed so as to weaken and divide the church; why should they not in ours also have been capable of receiving direction ? Or, to take our modern desultory efforts for good, our thousand scattered societies, intersecting each other at every step, wasting resources, and jostling one another, why should not these objects have been regulated by the whole church? Or, again, the whole church (themselves included) wishes for the restoration of some discipline, (at least among the clergy,) or for a more numerous body of bishops, which should give them the benefit of their more immediate presence, or for some equitable provision whereby the spiritual wants of her great towns might be remedied, and so on. These, and the like cases, occur sufficiently often to cripple and disable any church which should, for a long continuance, have no means of acting in common, or consulting as a whole, for her common wants. The machine, if well constructed originally, will go on for some time; and its irregularities will come on so slowly, that by an unthoughtful observer they will scarcely be perceived ; and then they will increase so gradually, that although every body will see that something is out of place, they will only see that it is relatively a little less regular than it was just before; and then it will be supposed to belong to the nature of the machine; and because people have forgotten when it was otherwise, they will conclude that it must be so; until, at last, the whole becomes so disordered that men turn round and blame the mechanism, and take it to pieces to reconstruct it, and so mar it altogether. Independent of any ques. tion whether convocation be the best form of assembling the body of clergy, and without any special partiality for it, it is manifest that, from time to time, some such assemblies are essential to regulate the affairs of the church “ pro re nata.”
But then, it is as manifest that, at present, the church is not in a state to legislate ; our very wrongs incapacitate us. We have not, for above a century, been allowed the free exercise of our privilege, and now we are cramped and disabled ; scarcely half-a-dozen of us have thought upon half of the subjects which might be brought before us, and perhaps scarcely one with that maturity which would make Vol. XII.--Oct. 1837.
him a fit legislator. It has not been our duty to legislate, and so we have followed out, perhaps, to a certain way, our own notions, but neither with the feeling of responsibility, nor with the precision, nor, perhaps, with the compass necessary, had we to legislate. Why should we? They who have incurred most responsibility, by making their opinions public, still but cast them forth to modify the opinions of others, or to be modified, or as containing principles, but without adverting to details, or that cognizance of them which would be necessary for a legislator. Legislation has not been our province; why should we “ leave our own sweetness”—the duties and gifts which God has assigned us—to prepare ourselves for an office which there seemed, a few years past, no prospect that we should ever be called upon to discharge? What had we to do, to “ go and be lord over the trees ?" It was enough to rough-hew any notions which we thought might hereafter be useful to the church, leaving them to be shaped, under God's good providence, by subsequent times. But if this be the case with the few, what will be that of the many who would have to act in so large a body as convocation? It is not here as in state legislation, where by legislating a person learns to legislate, and through mistakes perhaps corrects his own views. We have not here to do with the coarse texture of worldly policy, which, if it undergo any injury, may readily be patched up again, which only by accident is right, as far as it admits Christian principles, but which is, in the main, selfish, narrow, and sordid, founded on the assumption of human selfishness, bent on the aggrandizement of a particular nation, with scarcely any principles of even international justice, and none of international benevolence or mutual furtherance. A legislator can hardly leave the best of human policy much worse than he found it; but in legislating for the church we have “ the coat” committed to us, “ woven from the top throughout," whole, uniform, all interlaced together, so that we can do no injury to any one part without marring the seemliness of the whole, and when rent, cannot restore it. This is not the place for experiment. Everywhere we are involved in principles, and principles not of our making, but delivered to us by God. From the lowest subject, the property of the church, to the highest, the administration of His sacraments, we might perpetually be exposed to carry with us some ill-digested notions of expediency, which, when acted upon by individuals, involve no extensive mischief, and may die with them, but when sanctioned by the church, commit her, probably, for ever. We risk committing the church in an hundred ways. How few of us have studied what the real bounds of the authority of a particular church arel how far she is bound not to change things which have practically, though not formally, had the sanction of the church universal,—in what way one portion of the church is allowed to interfere with another; or, to take domestic mat. ters, what are the offices of cathedrals,—whether they in any respect vary from those which they had at their foundation, -to what their present comparative inefficiency is to be attributed,--how they might be restored, what is the nature of testamentary property,--has the whole of a particular church the-right to redistribute what has been given her in trust for a particular end, even if she thinks she can dispose better of it? or whether any portion of her property which has incidentally changed its character may be remodelled by any but the church ? and so on; and yet in these, and many other ways, our church might involve itself in the sin of promoting schism, contravening the whole church, or sacrilege, unawares. And they who know what questions have of late been agitated, and might be brought before convocation, will be aware that these are no imaginary cases.
Our wiser course, then, surely, is to prepare ourselves on these subjects; turn our thoughts to them ; discuss them among ourselves in our several dioceses; have more communication with each other; inature our own views, and not ask for the power to legislate before we are fit to exercise it, and “ go with weapons which we have not proved.” The right to legislate for ourselves is so manifest, that it will not be denied us when we all earnestly desire it; but for our good it is probably now denied us, not by politicians who know not what they are doing, but by Him who guideth both us and them. Meantime there are other subjects more immediately pressing, and in which we can act separately, and prepare to act conjointly: such is the disposal of church appointments, which have gradually fallen more and more into the hands of politicians, and been by them more and more used to political ends, in proportion as the secular bribes of places and pensions have been withdrawn from them. Let us begin by the lowest, before we meddle with the highest ; let us ask conjointly, in our several dioceses, that individuals be not selected for the cure of our parishes, with reference to the votes which themselves have given on some secular election, or to the parliamentary interests of their friends, but conscientiously, as men who, in being appointed to serve a church, are being appointed to serve " the spouse and the body of Christ” (Ordinat. Serv.); let us ask that our intermediate dignitaries, the members of our cathedrals, be appointed for their piety and learning, as in the good times of old, when our church was, for her godly learning, famed throughout all Christendom; let us prefer these righteous requests to her who is the temporal, and to Him who is the ruling, Head of the church, and we shall then have men meet for every office, and shall be able to legislate, when legislation shall be needed, soundly and securely. But a hasty legislation, just when we are awakened to the pressure of evils, will be neither sound nor secure.
Be it remembered also, that “convocation” is not the only legitimate mode of legislation for the church. Some valuable hints on this head are contained in the petition of the archdeaconry of Exeter, which was prepared to be presented to his late Majesty, and stopped only by his sudden death. “Diocesan synods," there mentioned, depend not upon the advice of politicians, but upon the will of our respective diocesans. Each visitation is, or may be, such a synod; and if the church wished to legislate for herself—e.g., on the discipline of the clergy, the holding of pluralities, the residence of the clergy,
* This petition was printed among the documents in the July number.
the stipends of curates, &c.,-it would be necessary but to petition our bishops to concert such measures on these heads as to them, collectively, should seem good, and propose them to the adoption of the presbytery and provincial or diocesan synods; and they would become binding upon us; nor need we have the sanction, or the expense, or delays, of courts of law recognised by the state.
There is, however, one office now for convocation to do—although, if the clergy are wise, they should not seek to legislate—and that is, to seek to prevent, what they would themselves abstain from, hasty legislation; to protest against their office being superseded, although they do not at once petition for its restoration. Is a body—the majority of whom are laymen, and they nominees of the ministers of the day-is such a body as this to change the bounds of dioceses or to dissolve them, to annihilate the most ancient bishopric in our islands, to destroy foundations which the piety of our forefathers endowed for specific ends, to take upon them the title and authority of the collective church, and supersede its legitimate organs? And now, in the very beginning of things, the lay portion of it is unhesitatingly stated to have carried their point against the small fragment of the clergy admitted, and this proportion has been increased, and their dependence on politicians now secured. This is the beginning, and “ what will ye do in the end thereof?” Convocation will ill have done its duty if now, on this its first meeting since this invasion of its rights, it fail to protest against it, to deliver the bishops involved in the unhappy commission from their thraldom, and to demand that the clergy should not be legislated for, or rather against, by a body which have, of necessity, no interest in the church, and may more frequently have an interest against her; that " no powers, properly belonging to convo. cation, be confided to any mixed body of laymen and ecclesiastics, and that in every future commission which her Majesty may be pleased to issue for objects relating to the church, a due proportion of the inferior orders of the clergy may be associated with the bishops, as in the Commission for inquiring into Ecclesiastical Revenues ;"* or that not a portion only, but the whole body of bishops advise thereon.
Convocation has received from its forefathers a suspended, indeed, but an unmutilated right; if the present pass by this occasion, they will betray the church, bound hand and foot, into the power of the state, to do with her as she will, until her day also shall come, and “she be recompensed according to her deeds, and according to the work of her hands,” (Jer. xxv. 14.) But let the convocation be content, for the present, in that which seems her plain duty—to protest, and not seek her own, her own power or authority, but bide her time; " though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry." We cannot hasten the fitting time, except by rendering ourselves fit for it; and any other who would hasten ?
• Petition of the Archdeaconry of Exeter.
NOTICES AND REVIEWS.
The principal objections against the Doctrine of the Trinity, and a portion of
the Evidence on which that Doctrine is received by the Catholic Church, Reviewed. In Eight Sermons, preached before the University of Oxford, in the year 1837, at the Lecture founded by the Rev. John Bampton, M.A., Canon of Salisbury, by the Rev. Thos. S. L. Vogan, M.A., of St. Edmund Hall, Vicar of Potter Heigham, and Curate of Weston Longville, Norfolk.
Oxford. pp. 416. LUTHER used to say, that, amidst all his theological studies, he never could get beyond the theology of the creed, the ten commandments, and the Lord's prayer; and it is most cheering to every lover of his church and country to remember that, whatever Luther's countrymen may have done, the majority of English divines exhibit a practical agreement with that sentiment of the great reformer. The lovers of novelty may rejoice in the annual systems of theology and criticism furnished by foreign theologians, and reproach the church of England for adhering to the dull monotony of eternal truth; but all thoughtful Christians will consider it as a signal token of the divine mercy, that our universities still take their stand upon the fundamental articles of the catholic faith-that they have not learned to treat Christian doctrines as Jewish or scholastic speculations, nor to regard the gospel, narrative of the Saviour's life, death, miracles, and resurrection, as a collection of Jewish legends. It is particularly gratifying to know that the university pulpit is occupied by men whose glory it is to proclaim the truths of the gospel-not the private opinions of any man or set of men, but those great principles which the catholic church has ever acknowledged as essential. Of this, Mr. Vogan's Bampton Lectures for this year furnish another satisfactory proof. The subject is, as the title imports, the Doctrine of the Trinity; of the evidence for which Mr. Vogan here gives a most perspicuous and powerful recapitulation. The particular object which he has in view is thus announced in the advertisement :
“The mystery of the Holy Trinity I have not presumed either to illustrate or to explain; but it has been my endeavour to render the doctrine as intelligible as may be to the most ordinary capacities.
It will be perceived, that I do not profess to give all the evidence of scripture for the doctrine of the Trinity, but only an outline or general review of it.
Many lengthened disquisitions might, indeed, have been added on various points touched on in the sermons; but the volume would have been, perhaps, both too much increased and less acceptable to general readers.”
The first lecture answers the objections,—“That the doctrine of the Trinity is mysterious and incomprehensible--that the fact which it states, of there being three Persons in one God, is impossible--that its very expression in words is self-contradictory." In the course of his reply, he illustrates very happily the use of the word “Person,” as applied to the Divine Being. The second lecture is occupied with the objection that the doctrine of the Trinity “is opposed to the first principles of natural and revealed religion. Mr. V. investigates the