HL Deb 28 May 1857 vol 145 cc900-4

said, he wished to put a question on a subject of very great importance to the right rev. Prelate who presided over the diocese of London. A paragraph had appeared in the public papers which stated that certain evening discourses were being delivered in Exeter Hall on successive Sunday evenings by right rev. Prelates and other dignitaries of the Church of England, and that the first of these services began on Sunday evening last. Paragraphs had also appeared containing announcements which he could not but consider offensive to churchmen. In some cases these paragraphs were headed, "Extraordinary movement in the Church." "Spurgeonism in the Church of England," and so on. Some persons were of opinion that this was not for the interests of the Church, and that it was calculated to introduce a sort of Spurgeonism into the Church of England. That hall was very much used for public religious meetings, and for secular matters also, but he was not aware that it had ever been consecrated or set apart for Divine worship. The case was a new and singular one, and he must say, such as he had never heard of before in connection with our Church. He should be glad to hear from the right rev. Prelate, whether these meetings take place with his sanction, and whether they are in strict conformity with the practice and discipline of the Church. No doubt the right rev. Prelate was better informed on such matters than he could possibly be; but, considering that these services take place in an unconsecrated building, he could not help calling his attention to them, and should wait for his reply with some anxiety. The question he had to put was, whether these proceedings had the approval of the right rev. Prelate, and whether he considered them to be strictly in conformity with the rules and discipline of the Church?


I am not aware that the noble Lord is exactly in order in putting this question, but at the same time I am quite ready to give whatever information is in my power to the noble Lord. I may state to the House that I believe there is no doubt whatever that such a meeting as he has described did take place in Exeter Hall last Sunday evening, and also that it is the intention that such meetings shall be continued for several successive Sundays. I am not aware what paragraphs the noble Lord alludes to as having appeared in the newspapers on this subject, and therefore it is impossible for me to say how far the statements in those paragraphs are, or are not, strictly in accordance with fact. I must say, however, that I believe the request which was made to me, that two right rev. Prelates of the Church, two learned and reverend Deans, and several other clergy should on successive Sunday evenings address the assembled people in Exeter Hall, is strictly in accordance with the Act which I hold in my hand, and which is entitled "An Act for the better securing of the liberty of religious worship," in which it is provided that among the cases in which such addresses may be made, are meetings similar to those now taking place in Exeter Hall. The Act provides that assemblies for religious worship held in any building or place not usually appropriated to religious worship are legal. That Bill was brought in by my noble Friend (the Earl of Shaftesbury), and it was the very intention of the Bill that such addresses and such meetings as the noble Lord has referred to should be allowed. I will also, if permitted, state that not only do I consider these meetings to be strictly legal, but that they are in the highest degree expedient. I believe from my heart, that there are thousands upon thousands of people in this metropolis and other large towns, of whose condition your Lordships are pained to hear, who have not entered a place of worship for many years. I believe that some such persons were attracted to the meeting to which the noble Lord has alluded, and I fondly trust they were not brought there without receiving benefit. I believe that those who are conducting these meetings have most earnestly at heart the welfare of the labouring classes of this country; and there is every reason to hope that by bringing those classes together where they will hear the Word of God and the sacred services of our Church in such places as these, it will ultimately make them—what at present they are not—habitual worshippers within the walls of our churches.


said, although the question put to the right rev. Prelate was an unusual one, he was not sorry it had been put, as it had elicited such an expression of opinion with regard to the meetings in question as their Lordships had just heard. He was most glad to hear that these meetings had not only his sanction, but his cordial approval. He could confirm what the right rev. Prelate had said with regard to the necessity for such meetings. There were thousands in the metropolis, and indeed in almost every large town in the country, who never entered the house of God from year's end to year's end; and such persons could only be approached by means of domiciliary visits from missionaries and Scripture readers, and of meetings such as that held in Exeter Hall on Sunday last. He thought it a matter greatly to be regretted that while they had seen year after year crowded gatherings of working men in Exeter Hall and other large buildings listening to the sound of the Gospel from the lips of ministers who did not belong to the Church of England, that the Church of England, in which there were ministers as eloquent, and as earnest, and as capable of impressing a crowded assembly as any to be found out of its pale, had not come for- ward for the same purpose. To his mind it appeared a subject for rejoicing to the members of the Established Church, that these meetings in Exeter Hall had been commenced. He was himself present last Sunday, and saw assembled not less than 4,000 persons; and, whereas many meetings of that sort were composed, to a great extent, of the female sex, he was happy to say that on that occasion fully one-half of those present appeared to be working men. Many men of that description did not like, on account of the inferiority of their dress, to attend well-filled and luxurious churches; but on this occasion numbers of them were present. All of them, as they entered the hall, had a copy of the beautiful liturgy of the Church placed in their hands, and that they duly appreciated it was evident from the earnest manner in which they joined in the responses. Never did he witness a more striking scene than when, after having listened most attentively to a heart-stirring address from the right rev. Prelate who addressed the meeting, the whole assembly rose at the conclusion of the service and joined in a hymn of praise to their Creator. A similar movement to this had been commenced in Scotland, and had been attended with excellent results. He must again express the pleasure with which he had witnessed the commencement of this movement; and now that such eminent members of the Church of England had taken the matter up, he sincerely hoped it would lead to a good and happy result, and he would congratulate the country on having a Prelate to preside over this diocese, who felt it his duty to countenance the movement.


rose, and was proceeding to address the House, when


, who had risen at the same time, began to state the prayer of a petition which he was about to present, amid loud cries of "Order!" and calls for the most rev. Primate.


then moved that leave be given to the Archbishop of Canterbury to address the House.


, as a matter of order, objected that there was no question before the House upon which such a Motion could be based.


submitted to their Lordships that the right rev. Prelate should be allowed to speak upon a subject so interesting to himself.


said, he thought the question put by the noble Viscount (Viscount Dungannon) had been fully and completely answered by his right rev. Brother; and he therefore merely wished to say, that he entirely concurred that it was for the good of the Church that such meetings should be held. He would only just ask the noble Viscount, who was, he was certain, anxious for the welfare of the Church, whether it would be wise, even were it possible, to check what he called these innovations? He could not imagine that any greater reproach or disparagement could be cast upon the Church, than to suppose it was incapable of accommodating itself to the changing necessities of the age, or allowed its dignity to interfere with its usefulness?


then presented his petition.

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