HL Deb 27 May 1862 vol 167 cc2-29

Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


(having presented numerous petitions in favour of the Bill) pro- ceeded as follows: My Lords, the question I am about to raise is one of considerable importance, and the state of the House proves that the public regard its solution with interest. Under these circumstances I regret that the subject has not fallen into abler hands; but it is not my fault: I have endeavoured to induce others, whose opinions would have been received with more consideration, especially members of the Episcopal Bench, to take it up, but quite in vain. All that remains for me, therefore, is to endeavour to perform the task to the best of my ability, and, at the outset, to beg at your Lordships' hands a patient and indulgent consideration. Having alluded to the right rev. Bench, I think I ought to say, that whilst I feel sure that the opinions of that right rev, body will weigh much with your Lordships, yet, in truth, this question is rather a lay question than a clerical one; for, as the right rev. Prelate who presides over this diocese truly observed in a recent speech— The ecclesiastical authorities are not to blame for the provisions of the Act of 1662; it was simply and solely the work of Parliament, and Parliament alone is responsible for it. I will commence by explaining why it is that I have adopted the present mode of proceeding, after the very small share of success which attended a Motion which I made two years ago of a description so far similar that it included the question now before the House. Your Lordships will remember that on that occasion I moved, in the very terms which found acceptance in this House in 1687, an address for a Royal Commission (the only method known to the Constitution for such a purpose) to examine and report upon the changes which were demanded, and which the lapse of two centuries had, in the opinion of many, rendered necessary, in the liturgy, canons and formularies of our National Church, including also the Act of Uniformity of Charles II. I was opposed on that occasion by all the speakers but one, not upon the ground that no change was necessary, hut because my Motion was too extensive and indefinite, and contemplated the revision of some portion of our formularies involving disputed doctrine, which was said to be dangerous to the peace of the Church. The most rev. the Primate, whose absence upon this occasion we all in common regret, candidly avowed his preference generally for the alterations made in our Prayer Book by the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States. The right rev. Prelate the Bishop of London went further, and said, that had I confined myself to the terms of subscription, and the rubrics, he thought the result of the Motion would have been different. The noble Lord (Lord Lyttleton), who takes a great and most intelligent interest in these subjects, strongly repudiated the notion of finality. Such being the case, I thought myself justified in taking further counsel on this matter; and, deferring to the views of those distinguished persons, I prepared my measures accordingly. Of two Bills which I have laid before your Lordships this Session, the object of one is to give the officiating minister, in certain defined cases, a discretion in the performance of Divine worship which the rubric at present prevents his exercising. On that Bill (the Public Worship Bill) I shall not offer any observations, as it is for the present virtually withdrawn; but I will proceed as briefly as I can to endeavour to persuade your Lordships favourably to receive the measure which stands for second reading this evening, being a Bill for the relaxation of the terms of subscription imposed by the Act of 1662.

I cannot satisfactorily perform the duty I have undertaken without entering a little into the history of that well-known, but often not-very-well-understood Act. It is neither the first, nor the second, nor the third Act of Uniformity which has been passed by Parliament, nor is it the only one now in force; that enacted a hundred years previously (1st Elizabeth) being in full vigour, with all those tremendous penalties with which the Legislature of those days was wont to enforce its provisions. Even should my present Bill fail, it would be as well that these two Acts of Uniformity should be reviewed, with the object of making them somewhat more intelligible than they are at present, and bringing them into harmony with the more temperate legislation of the present times. Two Acts of Uniformity succeeded each other within two years in the reign of Edward VI. They were repealed by Mary. Then came the Act of Elizabeth, to which I have alluded; and, lastly, that of Charles II., which it is the object of the present measure to amend. It is quite true that all these Acts pass equally under the name of Acts of Uniformity. They all declare that a particular Book of Common Prayer, and no other, should be uniformly used in public worship; and with such portion of the Act of 1662 the Bill your Lordships are now asked to consider in no way interferes; but the essential difference between the Act of 1662 and all its predecessors is this:—Not satisfied with enjoining the use of the altered Prayer Book, it makes that book a "test," and prescribes two different forms of subscription—one of a general nature, the other a form of absolute and unconditional assent, not to the use only, but to everything contained in and prescribed by the Prayer Book,—in short, to every line and letter which belongs to it. Even after all the allowances—the most ample that can be made for the temper of those times—it is difficult to understand the state of public opinion which could have witnessed—I will not say with complacency, but absolutely with applause, the insertion of such provisions. That the tide should have set strongly against the regicides, against the Independents, against the violent sectaries of Cromwell's army, was natural enough; but that all this vengeance should have been discharged upon the Puritans, who were strongly attached to the Established Church, who had always belonged to it, who had remonstrated bravely against the trial and condemnation of the King, who had resisted the imposition of the Covenant, and, above all, who had been foremost in promoting the restoration of the exiled dynasty, does appear difficult to account for. We must not, however, be too hasty in casting indiscriminate censure upon those who framed this Act of Uniformity. It is easy enough to judge their conduct by the light we have now to guide us. It is not so easy to put ourselves in their places, and to feel quite certain we should have acted differently. At that time, it is to be recollected, the true principles of religious liberty had scarcely dawned, even upon Protestant communities; and when we find traces of this intolerant spirit still upon the statute-book, —above all, when we see that this most disastrous enactment still remains unrepealed, we should feel thankful that our lot has been cast in happier times, and should endeavour, as far we can, to undo some of those mischiefs which past legislation has entailed upon us. The effect of the Act of Uniformity was quite as severe upon Puritan ministers as the authors of it could have desired; but it had another effect, which in their blindness they could not foresee, and which fearfully verifies the Roman poet's maxim,— Nee lex hâc justior ulla est, Quam neeis artifices arte perire suâ. It dealt so deadly a blow to the Church, that for a century and a half her arm was literally palsied, and to this hour she has not recovered from it. The injury inflicted on their nonconforming brethren was a mere nothing to that inflicted on their Church and country. To use the language of Archdeacon Hare— So terribly is the sin of our forefathers, who framed the Act of Uniformity, visited upon England to this day; nor can any human foresight discern how or when those evils are likely to terminate. From that day we date the origin of that constituted dissent and schism, which is the peculiar opprobrium and calamity of our Church. And then he concludes with this curious observation— The age which enacted this rigid ecclesiastical uniformity was addicted, as might he imagined, to the practice of uniformalizing all things. It tried to uniformalize men's heads by dressing them out in full-bottomed wigs; it tried to uniformalize trees, by cutting them into regular shapes. It could not bear the free growth and luxuriance of nature. Yet even trees, if they have life, disregard their Act of Uniformity, and put forth leaves and branches according to their kinds, so that the shears have constant work to clip their excrescences. None submit quietly except the dead. Even the Episcopal Bench was unable to escape from the rage for uniformity thus described by the venerable Archdeacon. Formerly they wore a kind of cap, with which the portraits of Jeremy Taylor and other worthies of that age have made us familiar; and those who have the misfortune to be as old as myself will recollect that curious headpiece, the episcopal wig, which formerly made it so difficult to distinguish one right rev. Prelate from another, but which the innovations of the present age have so far affected, that, however uniform may be the votes of the Bench this evening, there is no visible uniformity in their heads. It is not very easy to discover what can be said in favour of the continuance of such an enactment at the present day. I have made search in histories, biographies, annals, charges, tracts, to find — I will not say a eulogy, but any vindication of this Act; but all in vain. Nothing is to be met with but one universal condemnation. In most cases the pro-pounder of a measure, however confident in the superiority of his own arguments, is obliged to arm himself beforehand to meet well-known objections, which may be urged against him; but hero it is next to impossible to anticipate a reply, whilst the arguments in disparagement of the Act of Uniformity, drawn from all sources—history, philosophy, and the genius of our religion—are so overwhelming, that it is difficult to make a selection. Although the present proposal was made by me on the first night of this Session, I find but one petition against it, whilst there are many in its favour. If I consult the press, I find that the organs of the two great parties in the Church—the Record and the Guardian—which do not often agree, have both spoken more or less favourably of my proposal. In truth, this matter exactly resembles the case of the passport system, of which, when it was abolished, The Times newspaper justly observed— That we never know the folly of a bad habit until we get rid of it, and find how easily we can get on without it. It was the peculiarity of the passport system, that whilst it wrought an infinity of mischief, which was never contemplated, it proved utterly useless for the object it was presumed to have in view. And so with the Act of Uniformity. We know that this test was intended to make a schism in the Church of Christ in this country, and that it was eminently successful. We know that it was intended to drive out of the Church hundreds of men who would have been its pride and ornament; and that it did drive them out. We know, also, by lamentable experience, that it has kept out thousands of pious men of a like stamp ever since. We know that it has created a permanent Nonconformist institution, which is taking gigantic proportions. But where are we to discover any advantages which the Act of Uniformity has conferred upon us? Has it even within our own restricted pale secured unity or orthodoxy, or even uniformity? Has it in any way contributed to the piety, the wisdom, the learning, the usefulness of the clergy, or the extension of our own Church system? I listen in vain for an answer in the affirmative. This, however, we know it has done: It has exposed our clergy to an imputation not only, or chiefly, from Nonconformists, but principally from their own brethren, of making a solemn declaration before God and the congregation in a "non-natural" sense, and with mental reservation; and I must say more—that, in reference to the whole of our subscription, glosses have been put forth, modes of interpretation resorted to, by men of every party in the Church, in order to justify these subscriptions, which, were they introduced into the transactions of private life, would put an end to all confidence between man and man.

What, then, are the arguments which are to be brought forward to induce your Lordships to reject this Bill? What is it that has inflamed the zeal of my noble Friend the noble Viscount opposite to such a pitch, as to have brought him to the conviction, even before I had opened my mouth in defence of it, that the Bill I propose should be cast out at once? With some industry I have collected that, in the opinion of some persons, the National Church is in such a state of weakness and peril, that these subjects ought not even to be broached at all in Parliament; whilst others, not sharing this opinion, have yet conjured up some phantom of danger likely to happen, should this test, after existing a couple of centuries, be withdrawn. "We would be no parties," they say, "to its enactment; but we dread the effect of abandoning it;" and, lastly, there are some who think that this test is the only security a layman has for the orthodoxy of his minister. I will apply myself to these objections in the order in which I have stated them. First, I am sure that your Lordships will agree with me that our National Church, so far from being in a state of weakness and peril, was never in a greater state of activity and vigour; and that all she wants is to be freed from some of those trammels which alone prevent her being, in reality, what she is in name— the Church of the Nation. Then, as to the danger to be apprehended if we abandon, as an evil practice, this ecclesiastical passport system. What, then, do those fear who cannot bring themselves to get rid of an evil, because of its having been in existence a couple of centuries? for they admit that it is an evil, saying that they would not have consented to it. Are such persons apprehensive that an alteration would let in a flood of heretical teachers— Socinians, Universalists, Essayists, Brownists, and God knows what? I pray them to calm their fears. This Bill in no way alters, nor does it interfere in the smallest degree with, the standards of our Church. Should any minister, after this Bill passes, teach false doctrines, he must be tried by the same rules, and judged by the same tribunals, as before. Besides that, if any one places any confidence in the value of these subscriptions, there are enough left to satisfy the most exacting and timorous mind. Independent of tests of character and examination at or previous to taking orders, every one before ordination must declare his assent to the Thirty-nine Articles in the terms of the 13th Elizabeth, and must then subscribe to the three articles of the Thirty-sixth Canon: the first of which is the Oath of Supremacy; the second, an affirmation that the Book of Common Prayer containeth nothing contrary to the Word of God, that it may he lawfully used, and that he will use the same and none other in his public ministrations; and the third, another subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles. Then, on being admitted to a benefice, he has again to declare his conformity to the Liturgy, and his assent, for the third time, to the Thirty-nine Articles. Surely in all these subscriptions there is sufficient (if such defences are of any real value) to keep out everything except a wolf in sheep's clothing, against which, as Dr. Vaughan truly observes, nothing will avail. And these facts I would also recommend to the third class of objectors—those who are of opinion that without this stringent subscription the laity would not have sufficient security. To these I may further observe, that a great many livings are solely intrusted to curates, and that some remain curates all their lives. No one ever heard that these rev. gentlemen are particularly heterodox, and yet they do not make this declaration at all. Happily, we are not without a very valuable example, which may safely guide us in this matter, and which I hope will entirely allay any alarms which may be felt on the subject. In a Church which received orders from us, which uses our Prayer Book (only sensibly revised, as I had the happiness to think in unison with the most rev. the Primate), which is in full communion with us, and one of whose Bishops is at this moment doing episcopal duty in Paris for the Bishop of London—I refer to the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States, where no such subscription as that I seek to abolish is to be found. When our North American colonies separated from Great Britain, and their Church had to reconsider its whole position, after very much deliberation and careful consideration they did away with the whole of their former code of subscriptions, and substituted in lieu of them this very simple and sensible form; it, is very like a form proposed by Lord Nottingham and Tillotson at the end of the seventeenth century, which is to be found in the records of your Lordships' House, but is an improvement even on that— I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do sincerely engage to conform to the doctrines and worship of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. I hope your Lordships will consider that I have established my position, that there is nothing to fear from the abrogation of this test, whilst there is much of good to be hoped for from it; and that the Church of England is far too strong to fear any such discussions as these.

I am unwilling to trespass on your time unnecessarily; but, at the same time, I must not leave my case in any part incomplete. Some persons have imagined, doubtless from not having the facts brought specially to their notice, that this test has not been productive of so much evil as has been said. I do not like to trouble the House with too much documentary evidence, but I can assure your Lordships I have in my possession numerous letters from clergymen, giving very touching accounts of their having been compelled to give up their cures, where they were otherwise happy and useful, on account of the stringency of these terms of subscription. They have told me of others who, within their knowledge, have gone through the same ordeal —of many who, on the same account, were compelled to abandon their cherished desire of dedicating themselves to the service of the ministry—of still more, who are Dissenters, who long to join the Establishment, having no essential differences with her. Of such documents I have selected the following, which I thought were worthy of your Lordships' attention:—

Extract of a letter from a Dissenting minister— I am a Dissenting minister, much against my wish. My forefathers were ejected in 1662, and I remain excluded for the same reasons for which they resigned large livings. Formerly I was connected (as I was bred) with the Unitarian body, but was obliged to relinquish the pulpit of one of the old Presbyterian chapels founded by the compeers of my forefathers, because I could not preach the peculiar negative doctrines of the sect that has got possession of many of those places. Willingly would I have rejoined the Church to which all my sympathies inclined me, and from which I have no doctrinal difference, but I could not 'assent to all and everything,' as required. Extract from a charge of the Venerable Archdeacon of Northampton, delivered May 5th, 1862— What may be the effects of an alteration in the terms of subscription it is not given me to foresee. For myself, I would, not unwillingly, admit any good man into the ministry who would subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles, and declare that he approved of the Liturgy more than of any other book of public prayers, and that he would consent to use it, and no other, in the public services of the Church. Nor would evil follow in these times, I think, if the declaration we are now required to make, 'I will conform to the Liturgy of the Church of England and Ireland,' were the only one; we should not then have to regret the departure of so many good men from the Church To this class, that of political Dissenters, the really conscientious Nonconformists do not belong; and of these there is a very considerable body who do not disapprove of the doctrines of our Church, and who have been deterred from joining our communion only by some stringent portions of the Act of Uniformity. Extract from speech of Mr. E. Ball, M.P., in the House of Commons, on Mr. Bouverie's Clergy Relief Bill, April 9th, 1862— Though not himself a member of the Established Church, he recognised its great importance, and would be the last man to impair its stability. He hoped that the Select Committee would inquire, not only how clergymen were to be permitted to leave the Church, but how the obstacles which now prevented many valuable young men from entering its service could best be removed. The latter of these questions was much more important than the former. Hundreds, and even thousands, of young men were excluded from the ministry of the Established Church because the oath and the other requirements were so stringent that they could not conscientiously subscribe them. I have now brought my case to a close. I have endeavoured not to leave out anything essential to it, and at the same time to avoid overlaying it with extraneous matter. I am, however, painfully conscious how imperfect has been the performance of my task. Would that I had the abilities and the influence of many I see before and around me! Then I could not have failed to impress upon the House the immense importance of the decision they are about to arrive at. The vote they are about to give will decide whether your Lordships will promote that best of all things—religious unity, or whether you will continue to foment that worst of all evils, and greatest of hinderances to the spread of the Gospel— religious discord. Whether you will assist in enlarging the bounds, in lengthening the cords, and strengthening the stakes, of our National Church—or, whether you will continue to wall her up within the narrow limits to which, by ill-starred legislation, she has been hitherto confined? Will you maintain in all its deformities an Act which has no defender; or will you expunge from your statute-book a provision, the suggestion of intolerance and persecution, and the offspring of the worst period of our Parliamentary history? My voice may fail to persuade your Lordships, but you will not, I hope, turn a deaf ear to one of our greatest philosophers and orators, who, although he has passed away, yet lives and speaks amongst us by the imperishable works of his genius.

Et si mihi non datis arma, Huic date. It was in the year 1773, that Mr. Burke, speaking on the Dissenters' Relief Bill, made use of the following remarkable language:— I would respect all conscience—all conscience that is really such, and which, perhaps, its very tenderness proves to be sincere. I wish to see the established Church of England great and powerful; I wish to see her foundations laid low and deep, that she may crush the giant powers of rebellious darkness. I would have her head raised up to that heaven to which she conducts us; I would have her open wide her hospitable gates by a noble and liberal comprehension; I would have her give a lesson of peace to mankind, that a vexed and wandering generation might be taught to seek for repose and toleration in the maternal bosom of Christianity, and not in the harlot lap of infidelity and indifference. Nothing has driven people more into that house of seduction, than the mutual hatred of Christian congregations. The hon. Gentleman would have us fight this confederacy of the powers of darkness with the single arm of the Church of England,—would have us fight, not only against infidelity, but fight, at the same time, with all other denominations except our own. In the moment we make a front against the common enemy we have to combat with all those who are the natural friends of our cause. Strong as we are, we are not equal to this. The cause of the Church of England is included in that of religion, not that of religion in the Church of England. With a grateful sense of your Lordships' kindness and patience, I beg now to move the second reading of the Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.


said, he appealed to the House not to agree to the second reading of this Bill on two grounds; first, on account of the encouragement it afforded to latitudinarianism; and secondly', because ha was convinced that it would open the way to other and still greater innovations. By the law as it now stood it was required that every clergyman should subscribe to the Articles of the Church, and that he should sign a declaration that he assented to the Form of Common Prayer. Another declaration made by a newly-inducted minister was, that he would act in conformity with the rubric in reading the services on Sundays, and on certain other days. Now, ! it was perfectly possible for a clergyman to act formally in accordance with that pledge without really believing or in his doctrine upholding the Book of Common Prayer. The real question involved in the noble Lord's statement appeared to him to be, Whether any profession of faith on the part of the clergy of the Established Church was necessary or not? That a profession and declaration of faith was considered necessary was evidenced by the history of the early Church, and they also had in the Holy Scriptures the declaration that such a profession was required. With these precedents, it was unnecessary for him to say more on this point. The objection urged against this profession seemed to be this, that it fettered the ministers of the Church, and imposed a chain on Christian labour. But surely it would be admitted that society could not be carried on without certain restrictions being placed upon its members; and how could the Church continue, unless the duties of her ministers and their obligations were defined and limited by some such rules as these? It appeared to him that the question resolved itself into this—was it right, or not right, that the people at large should know in what manner the ministers of religion were restricted in respect of the doctrines which they promulgated? Was it necessary, or not, that the congregations should know that the clergyman had acknowledged his belief in the doctrines which he formally taught? Undoubtedly, if it were supposed that the minister did not believe in the doctrines he taught, and did not in his heart confirm the Prayer Book he read to them, his influence with his congregation would be very greatly diminished. If their Lordships looked at the state of the German Protestant Church, they would find that the latitude allowed in it had given rise to serious and never-ending dissensions. Was this, he would ask, the time when the Church ought to relax in its rules and discipline? For, although he believed that the Church reigned pre-eminent in the affections of the country, there were reasons why they should be careful not to do anything tending to impair its efficiency. Moreover, no one was compelled to enter into holy orders; therefore, when a man did so of his own free will, there could be no possible hardship in calling upon him to declare his adherence to the doctrines which it was one of the duties of his profession to inculcate. The noble Lord had three times brought the question of a reform in our liturgy before their Lordships, and, on the last occasion, had almost stood alone. Since then the noble Lord had placed two Bills on their Lordships' table, with regard to one of which, he had no hesitation in saying, had it become the law of the land, it would have produced nothing but schism in every parish in the kingdom. For this reason bethought their Lordships were bound to look with great care at the measure which the noble Lord proposed. he could not but hope that their Lordships would reject the Bill. He looked on it as one productive of nothing but evil, and the forerunner of greater and even more dangerous innovations. He felt, as a Churchman, that he was bound to oppose this measure, believing conscientiously that some restriction ought to be put on those who sought to become members of the Established Church as ministers of the Gospel. He could not allow to those gentlemen that latitude which he did not begrudge to the Dissenters; and so long as he was spared, and had a seat in their Lordships' House, he would resist any attempt at innovation on the rules and ordinances of the Church. It was perfectly idle to say, that because the Church was strong in the affections of the people these restrictions should be withdrawn. That the Church was strong was owing to the fact that her bishops and her clergy had done their duty; and it must be remembered that this declaration of faith had been made by the greatest ornaments that ever existed within its pale. But, strong as the Church was in the affections of the people, it had yet insidious enemies within it—witness the Essays and Reviews, the publication of which, emanating as they did from ordained ministers of our Church, those moreover intrusted with the education of the youth of the country, afforded no unreasonable ground for alarm; and it was, on that very ground, more incumbent on their Lordships not to admit any innovations which might give an advantage to their attacks. For these reasons he must give his strenuous opposition to the Bill now before the House. he gave the noble Lord credit for the most pure and conscientious intentions, but believed his views on this matter were fear- fully erroneous and mistaken. If such innovations were to be allowed, there would soon be an end to the Established Church in this country, for how could it flourish without discipline and without government? Such a measure as the present would annihilate Church discipline and Church government; and without them how was it possible that the Established Church could continue to be, as it now was, a visible society? He hoped their Lordships would on this, as they had on other occasions, prove themselves the true guardians of the interests of the Church, and of its liturgy and admirable formulas. He would move, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment moved, to leave out "now," and insert "this day six months."


said, he ventured to present himself to their Lordships, because in this matter he felt that he, in some respects, differed from many of those with whom on all matters of importance he should desire always to concur. He confessed himself obliged to the noble Lord the proposer of the Bill, not only for the temperate way in which he had introduced it to their Lordships, but for the distinct form in which his propositions were stated. The noble Lord had reduced his attempts on this subject to very simple points; but these points, however small and simple they might appear, were of very great and grave importance. He thought it a very serious thing, to tamper with an Act of Parliament which had existed now for 200 years, notwithstanding the attempts made at different times to subvert it. An attempt of that kind was made only twenty-five years after the time when it was originally adopted; but it passed safely through the epoch of the Great Revolution, when many were desirous to conciliate as much as possible the Protestant Dissenters. He considered, likewise, that it was a very grave matter indeed, when they regarded this Act as not only a time-honoured Act, but as partaking of the character of a charter by which the Church and State were united. Therefore he felt gratitude, he repeated, for the plain and distinct manner in which the proposed alterations had been introduced to their Lordships, and it was with great pain and hesitation that he differed from several of those whom in a matter of this kind he should desire always to follow. So great was the gravity of the subject that he ventured to urge the noble Lord not to divide the House on the present occasion. The noble Lord had said that no petitions had been presented against his proposal; but that might be accounted for by the fact that it was not known throughout the country, for it was only a week ago that he (the Bishop of London) had been able to obtain a copy of the Bill. Two other Bills, which professed to have a similar object, had been introduced in the course of the Session; but this Bill was of a very different character—it was very important because it had much in it that was good, and at the same time it touched on very delicate ground. He did not think, therefore, that during the week which had elapsed since the Bill was printed the country had had a sufficient opportunity of considering what would be its probable effects. It seemed to him that their Lordships and the country should have more time for consideration before they pledged themselves to a decision on so important a matter. A few petitions had been presented on the other side, but they were from persons with whom the noble Lord co-operated. There was one very important principle which seemed to be embodied in the remarks of the noble Lord—namely, that persons ought not to make solemn declarations which did not perfectly express in their plain and obvious sense the sentiments of those who were called upon to make them. No doubt, when they received old forms of subscription prepared in days of controversy long past, they must take them in their general sense as honest men rather than in their strict grammatical sense; but still they were always glad when there was not a single syllable which did not exactly express the conscientious views of the men who were to be bound by them. Far be it from him to say that there were any clergymen in the Church of England who did not unfeignedly assent to the Book of Common Prayer. He was convinced that those who found a difficulty in signing that declaration would very generally find an equal difficulty in using the prayers which that declaration prescribed. But they were not to judge of men's consciences as if all were alike, and he had no doubt of the truth of what the noble Lord had stated, that there were many excellent men who had been tormented by scruples with regard to the words of the existing declaration—men whom they would desire to retain in the Church of England, but who, from what appeared to him unnecessary scruples, had felt obliged to withdraw from her communion. He called those scruples unnecessary, because he thought that there was in this matter a fallacy into which the noble Lord and persons who had written on the subject had fallen. They were told that that declaration had been inserted in the Act of Uniformity for the distinct purpose of causing the Puritans to give up their livings; and no doubt it had that effect. But there was another clause in that Act which grated far more against their consciences—a clause which was removed in 1688—a clause to which he believed not one of their Lordships would have subscribed—that under no pretence whatsoever was it lawful for a Christian man to take up arms in defence of his liberty against the civil power. He believed that when Baxter and others gave up their livings they were influenced to some extent by the clause in question; but they were influenced to a far greater extent by the latter clause, which acquiesced in would have made all their previous lives a lie. He thought that any man who calmly studied the history of the times would arrive at the conclusion that it was the two clauses united which had driven those men from their livings. It was generally stated that the proposal of the noble Lord would altogether change the subscription made by clergymen at their ordination. But one reason why he was disposed to give his approval to the proposal was that it would do nothing of the kind. He himself for twelve years had had to discharge responsible duties in the University of Oxford, and during that time he had never made this declaration. He believed there were instances of other right rev. Prelates who had never made it. Why, then, was every man instituted into a living called upon to make it? His approval of the proposal was grounded on this, that it put an end to a partial and foolish arrangement. The fact was, the declaration was not to be made at ordination, nor by persons in the Universities who were intrusted with grave duties; it was simply to be made by a man when taking possession of a benefice; and the distinction was probably accounted for by the fact that the persons who framed the Uniformity Act had principally in view to turn obnoxious persons out of their livings. The noble Lord, therefore, would scarcely relieve as many as he expected; and he either meant a great deal more than he said, or he wished for something which was scarcely worth taking. There were numerous other declarations, and why should a man who made them hesitate to make this one also? The Bill of the noble Lord, therefore, was chiefly important as enunciating an important principle — that these declarations should be made as simple and as plain as possible. He had also enunciated the principle that their forms should be divested as speedily as possible of everything which would remind men of departed and painful controversy. Now, it was only two Sessions ago that their Lordships had agreed to expunge certain services which were painful to the feelings, because they reminded men of bitter discussions and controversies long past. It would therefore only be following up the same principle which had induced their Lordships to do away with those services, if they were to agree that this clause, so far as it was a memorial of a departed controversy, should also be abolished. He had heard it said that there was now more difficulty than formerly in inducing young men of talent to enter on holy orders. This was a more thoughtful age than many which had preceded it, and he was glad that young men took more time to consider before they made the declaration required. He should rejoice to simplify the forms of declaration in respect to such men; but they must not magnify the principle involved. His experience would not lead him to suppose that there was a gradual deterioration in the qualifications of the persons taking orders. His experience was that the young men whom he ordained this year and last year were superior in learning and attainments to those whom he had ordained five years ago. For his own part, he believed there never was a time when the Church of England held a more important place in the estimation of the country. The clergy were zealous in the discharge of their peculiar duties, and he doubted also whether there ever were more men of literary taste and sound thought who sought to enter the ministry than now. He believed that the same complaint was made in other professions. It was said the young men who entered the profession of the law, or gave themselves to political life, were not equal to their predecessors; and there was a general fear lest if those honoured names which had long been before the country were removed, they would find no worthy successors. He had no such fears as to the clergy. Tie did not doubt, that if himself and all his right rev. Brethren were removed to-morrow, there would be no want of properly-qualified men to fill their places. He saw nothing of this gradual deterioration, and he would advise the noble Lord not to lay too much stress on this argument. Whilst, therefore, it was quite right that they should endeavour to conciliate the scruples of young men who were desirous of entering into holy orders, at the same time they ought not to magnify the importance of the change now under consideration. With respect to the effect of removing these declarations on the Dissenters, he believed, that if not only the declarations but also the Liturgy were swept away, a good many Dissenters would be just as far from the Church of England as at present, because they announced that the one vital question was the separation of Church and State; and they would continue to hold aloof from the Church so long as the clergy of the Establishment accepted the hire and pay of the State. It was hopeless, therefore, to suppose that by any concession of the kind now contemplated it would be possible to conciliate these persons. They, however, formed only a small fraction of those who separated from the Church of England, and he was hopeful enough to believe that a day would come when a large portion of those who now dissented from the Church of England would return to it, and be gathered within its pale. He believed, that if the Church acted not hastily, but on mature consideration, it might, without any sacrifice of principle, gradually conciliate many who now kept at a distance from its services. The day might come when that great mistake which sent the whole Wesleyan body adrift from the Church of England might be remedied, and that this body, whose great founder and leader was a minister of the Church, would return to strengthen the hands of the clergy. It might be said that he had spoken on both sides; but, as he had been forced to express his opinion at so short a notice, their Lordships would, he trusted, forgive him for the manner in which he had spoken. With regard to the Bill, he trusted that his noble Friend would wait until the country had had an opportunity of fairly considering this question.


said, that if he could accept what had been said by his right rev. Brother as a full expression) of his own sentiments, he should have abstained from addressing their Lordships on the present occasion. But although he fully agreed that more time ought to be allowed, in order that public attention should be drawn to this subject, still he must own his mind was not in that state of suspense and fluctuation with regard to the merits of the question which appeared to be the case with his right rev. Brother. He therefore asked their Lordships' permission to state how far he was prepared to go along with the noble Lord who brought forward the measure, and at what precise turning-point he felt compelled to part company with him. He would first say that he not only gave the noble Lord the fullest credit for the purity and excellence of his intentions, but that he sympathized with him in the general tenor of his observations. He sincerely deplored, in common with the noble Lord and the majority of the Christian world, the character of the times which gave birth to the Act of Uniformity, and the spirit in which that act was framed. It must not, however, be forgotten that it was enacted at a period of very great excitement and reaction. Still, he would remind their Lordships that it was not the substance of the declaration to which objection was made, but its phraseology and form, which might possibly offend some tender consciences. -Undoubtedly, if their Lordships were now for the first time considering the form of declaration, he should oppose the introduction of the declaration now imposed. But this Bill was grounded on a proposition to which he for one could not assent. He was required by the Bill to assert that of the two declarations cited in the present Bill one was sufficient. It would thus be enough if a clergyman, on taking possession of any benefice, promised to conform to the Liturgy of the Church, instead of, as now, being obliged to declare his assent and consent to everything contained in the Prayer Book. This declaration was a quite different one from that required to be made on admission to holy orders; and though, if the declaration had to he prepared over again, he should not frame it in the same way, he could not admit that on such an occasion as a clergyman taking charge of a parish he should not be required to make some profession of his adhesion to the Common Prayer book. If he were not required to make some such declaration, an external and mechanical conformity with the terms of the Liturgy would be all that would be obtained. He could not but think that the effect would be to give a Parliamentary authority to men conforming to rites and doctrines which did not correspond with their inward convictions. Therefore, however much he might disapprove the terms of the declaration, and might desire to see some modification introduced, he could not assent to the proposition of the noble Lord, which he thought would deal a heavy blow to the Church of England. He concurred in the wish that had been expressed by his right rev. Brother, that the noble Lord would upon this occasion withdraw his Bill; but in giving utterance to that desire he wished it to be understood that he did so, not because he did not sympathize with the object, but because he believed that the form in which it was proposed to attain it would completely defeat that object.


said, that while he felt bound to oppose the Bill, he did not wish to be understood as holding that the present declaration might not be modified with advantage to the Church; for he was inclined to think that it was drawn up in terms somewhat too stringent. He might remark, in reference to that point, that the Royal declaration prefixed to the Articles of Religion in the Prayer Book required that all who accepted that import-nut portion of the book should accept them in their usual and literal sense. But it was a fallacy to suppose that the usual was always the literal sense. No one could be bound to accept in every case the words of the Scriptures in their literal sense. He thought the Clergy ought not to be bound to adhere to the Prayer Book in any such way as to prevent them from considering any amendment in its terms, the substance being adhered to; and therefore he was willing to consider whether a declaration from the clergy that they adhered to the substance of the Prayer Book would not be sufficient. But there was a wide gulf between those views and the views which had been advocated by the noble Lord who moved the second reading. The noble Lord proposed, not a revision of the Act of Uniformity, but the abolition of all securities to congregations that their clergy adhered to the Prayer Book. It might be said that a clergyman conforming outwardly to the Prayer Book might be assumed to agree with it in substance; but such a matter was not to be dealt with in the abstract, but according to the light of experience. Some years ago a reverend gentleman claimed the right of remaining a minister of the Church of England while he held all Roman doctrine; and there were other similar cases in that and in the opposite direction. It was true these cases were exceptional; but if all securities were abolished, they might cease to be exceptional. He also deprecated the initiation by Parliament of measures directly or indirectly affecting the doctrines of the Church of England, and he thought that the present measure did indirectly affect those doctrines. The Church had never been looked upon as liable to be dealt with by the civil Legislature without any voice on the part of the Church itself. In former times the voice of the clergy was heard in Convocation, and the voice of the laity in Parliament; but Parliament could not be said now in any sense to represent the laity of the Church of England. He did not mean to say that Convocation was a satisfactory representation; but such as it was, it was the only representative, not only of the clergy, but of the Church. He did not desire to give that body greater executive power; but he thought that before any measure affecting the doctrines of the Church of England was proposed, it ought to be referred by the Crown to Convocation for their opinion, which opinion must necessarily carry much weight in the ultimate decision of Parliament.


said, he should deeply regret if this Motion were pressed to a division, because he knew the extreme delicacy and difficulty of this subject, and how little the clergy and the public were yet prepared for its decision. At the same time, it was impossible to have mixed much with the clerical, and what was called the religious world, without seeing that principles and feelings were now at work which threatened, sooner or later, to issue in something very serious to the Church of England. It was perfectly true that for a very long time past there never was a period when that Church stood so well as it did now with the country, or in which it showed itself so active or was so safe. Nevertheless, there were springing up around her dangers of great intensity and force, and which were pushed forward by persons of great zeal and intelligence. One of the greatest of those dangers, in his mind, was the demand for what was known by the name of liturgical revision; and unless something analogous to this proposal—he would not say precisely this Bill—were adopted to satisfy tender consciences, he was con- vinced that the integrity of the Church would be very much compromised. It was very desirable that the attention of the clergy and the country at large should be directed to this subject, and he felt satisfied that in no long space of time the great body of the clergy and a considerable proportion of the Episcopal Bench would acquiesce in some measure of this kind for affording relief to tender consciences. No doubt, the young men who now offered themselves for ordination were well qualified for the office they sought; but it should be remembered that those who had scruples against subscription did not offer themselves at all for ordination. Hundreds—he might say thousands—of young men, who would make highly competent ministers of the Church, never presented themselves to the Bishop, because they knew that they would sooner or latter be compelled to take this subscription, and it was an undoubted fact that a vast number of them went over to the various Dissenting denominations. He was not at all anxious to bring into the Church of England the great body of Nonconformists. He knew the good that those bodies were doing in their respective spheres, and he had no wish to disturb or interfere with them in the good they were working out; but he was very desirious to secure for the service of the Church those hundreds of energetic, pious, and zealous young-men who were now deterred by the stringency of the present terms of subscription from presenting themselves for ordination. He trusted the noble Lord would not press the Bill at that time, but that further time would be given for the consideration of so important a subject.


said, he could not allow this discussion to close without expressing to his noble Friend, who had had to encounter many objections, his belief that he had rendered a public service by calling the attention of their Lordships and of the country to this important subject, because the question was really one of growing and pressing importance. He might be mistaken in his view of the present times; but, as it appeared to him, these were times remarkable for individual learning, individual inquiry, and for individual and independent judgment. It was not so in the century when this test was created. That was a period when, on the one side, many men were banded together in order to obtain the emoluments and rewards of the Established Church, and when, on the other, a number of men banded themselves together resolutely to encounter suffering and even persecution rather than subscribe to religious doctrines to which they could not conscientiously assent. We were now, however, happily living at a totally different epoch. No one was now subjected to any privation or hardship on account of his religious faith; while, at the same time, men were not ready to give up their conscientious belief for any advantages which they might obtain by joining a Church to which they did not in their hearts adhere. But, if that were so, certain inconveniences must arise from such a state of things. They had the testimony of his right rev. Friend (the Bishop of London) to the fact that there were many men sincerely attached to the Established Church who suffered great distress of mind from being unable to reconcile their consciences fully to the declarations which his noble Friend proposed to modify. That of itself was a very considerable evil. Having a national Church and wishing to support it, it was a misfortune if many men, from the number or the ambiguity of those declarations, should feel pained in their consciences. But there was another very important matter to which his noble Friend who spoke last (the Earl of Shaftesbury) had called attention. The Church was not threatened externally. Nothing proved that more than the little progress made by those who advocated the separation of the Church from the State. They were a small minority; their views might, indeed, be maintained by men of talent and energy, but the great majority of the country was opposed to them. But there was an internal and perhaps a growing danger, such as his noble Friend had pointed out, arising from the independence of mind and the spirit of inquiry to which he had referred. There were many young men of Christian piety, of Christian zeal, and of talents which, if devoted to the Church of England, might produce works of learning and earnest exhortation to the people, and which would strengthen the Church in the affections of the country. But these persons had certain scruples which prevented their joining the Established Church as clergymen, though they might still, perhaps, be ready to conform to her ordinances. It was, he thought, a great disadvantage, not to the Church alone, but to the Church and the State together, that the former should be deprived of the ser- vices of men who might he among her brightest ornaments. These were considerations, then, worthy of their Lordships' attention, and worthy of the attention of the Church itself—although he quite agreed that it was not at all desirable that they should now come to a decision on that question. There was one point which lay at the bottom of the subject, in respect to which their Lordships had given opinions much differing from each other. Indeed, the noble Lord who proposed the rejection of this Bill (Viscount Dungannon) had himself expressed in the course of his speech two entirely discrepant views upon it; because he stated, first, that the measure would leave no standard whatever in the Church, but would give the clergy complete freedom and latitude of opinion, without any test to mark them off from any species of dissent; while he further on expressed quite a contradictory view in replying to an argument of his noble Friend. There was much force in what the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of London) had said as to their not being able to see what would be the effect of the Bill upon the declaration made by the clergy at their ordination. That was a point which required grave consideration before any satisfactory decision could he come to on a matter of that kind; but if the grievances to which he had adverted existed, the question was one which must excite further discussion, not only among the clergy, but in the Universities and all the other places where men took an interest in the well-being of the Church. To that future discussion he thought the question ought for the present to be left, and he trusted that his noble Friend would not now press his Motion. The subject was one of growing importance, and it was desirable that the House should not be divided at once into two opposite parties upon it; but that, if the question were hereafter to be revived, it should come before them in a shape that might facilitate a settlement conducive to the advantage of the Church, and which should not afford an unseemly triumph to her enemies.


said, their Lordships were much indebted to the noble Earl who had just sat down for having brought this matter to the real point on which, whenever they should be called upon to decide such a question, they must deal with it. The noble Earl had observed that in the present state of men's minds there was great readiness for each man to assert his own particular opinion, and for all to reject the authority of others. He pointed to the difficulties which such a state of things must necessarily cause for maintaining any Church which should be the Church of the nation, requiring its ministers to make any declaration of faith whatever. He begged their Lordships to look that matter in the face. The arguments of his noble Friend who introduced the Bill seemed to him entirely wide of his proposition, for this reason—they went against all subscription, while his Bill went to that most minute, perplexing, insignificant, useless, and therefore mischievous relaxation of one particular subscription to which he was opposed. The noble Lord was quite wrong in his facts. He supposed that it was only every beneficed clergyman who had to take this test; but the 31st canon said "none licensed to read, preach, lecture, or catechize, shall be admitted to do so unless he first consent and subscribe to the three articles in the 36th canon," which stated that the Book of Common Prayer contained in it nothing contrary to the word of God. By what possible ingenuity could it be said that a person called on to make the declaration that he assented to the whole Book of Common Prayer as containing nothing contrary to the word of God, was to get a great relief to his agitated conscience by saying he assented and consented to what he really meant? It came to this, that for the sake of including all who were willing to serve in a national establishment they should allow men to believe anything they liked, provided they consented to the noble Lord's formula. The noble Lord promised the effect of such a system would be harmony; but there was something better than harmony, and that was truth—truth objective in what we hold—truth subjective in what we believe as we teach it—and the whole tenour of what the noble Lord said was, that provided men were willing to use the appointed service, they might attach any meaning they liked to the words they subscribed. For his own part, he believed that no injury could be more deadly to the Church than that such a practice should gain currency, and that the people should believe this to be the meaning of the language used by the clergy. He believed the great power and prosperity of the Church was, under God's blessing, owing to this—that her ministers had laboured diligently, held the truth sternly, and taught what they believed distinctly. The noble Earl (Earl Russell) hail done great service by bringing them face to face with the difficulties of the question. The question before them was this—Did they mean, in a day which, as he thought, the noble Earl had rightly described as one of unexampled boldness, not to say audacity, of individual belief, to withdraw all declarations on the part of those who were to be the teachers of the people that they held any amount of truth whatever? The question came to this—Was there such a thing as truth? Was truth that which every man thought, or was it that which the Word of God taught, and that which the Reformed Church of England held? If there were such a thing as truth, then he said it would be a most dangerous thing to teach a number of young men in training for the ministry that provided they consented to use certain formularies no one cared what sense they attached to them. He was astonished at the exaggerated statements which had been made of hundreds and thousands of young men who became Dissenting ministers rather than remain in the Church, because some day or other they might have to make the dreadful declaration that they believed what they said. The men at the Universities did not fall off under the unaccountable dread of this declaration. So far from it, during the seventeen years he had been connected with the great University of Oxford, having had hundreds of conscientious young men coming to him perpetually for assistance in the resolution of their doubts, he could say he had never found one who, in the midst of his scruples, scrupled about this; and when, on a recent occasion, a number of the Prelates in town met together for the purpose of considering the noble Lord's proposal, he took the liberty of asking them whether, in their varied experience, they ever found such a case. The answer of every Bishop was that he knew of none. He ventured, therefore, to think that this was one of those chimerical creations of "men in buckram," who were always ready to be called on the stage to represent a mighty army by flitting to and fro across the vision, but who, if they could really be seen at once, would turn out to be a very paltry assortment of country actors. He would frankly confess that he could not agree in the compliments which had been paid to his noble Friend for introducing this subject. If his noble Friend had been driven by a very strong sense of conscience to propound to their Lordships, gravely and deliberately, some conclusion which he had come to after full inquiry, and was determined, even at any risk, to let their Lordships decide, he should not blame him for the course he had taken; but he thought his noble Friend was only trifling with a very great subject in laying on the table two Bills, one so extravagantly ridiculous that it was thought by most people to be a practical joke, and which he withdrew without daring to ask for it a second reading; and the other, having minimized the alterations he proposed, being now brought forward, he did not dare to take a division on it. To thus stir the entire minds of the people and Church of England, to call on their Lordships to alter the whole standing-place of the ministry of that Church, and having made his speech, and introduced those fabulous numbers of men under the deep conflict of conscience, to set them free from all discomfort by such a declaration as he had proposed, he did say was trifling. Nothing was more calculated to do harm than stirring such questions, unless with the resolute determination on conscientious grounds to go through with them to the very utmost, till they were brought to a final settlement. He believed their Lordships were not prepared to give up the principle of subscription; and unless they were so prepared, they could not entertain such a measure as this. What was wanted was that they should have the guarantee which honest men would consider binding on them—not that they would not hereafter alter their opinions—that was not the meaning of subscription—no man ever said he would not alter his opinion on any point; but what he said was, he now held certain definite and intelligible views of the truth, which he proposed to teach, that he took his teacher's office on condition of teaching them, and as an honest man, if he changed those views, he was prepared to lay down the office which he held on the condition of maintaining them.


briefly replied. He regretted the speech which had just been addressed to their Lordships; for the right rev. Prelate had indulged in ridicule and sarcasm rather than in argument, and had misrepresented the nature and object of the present Bill. His only motive in introducing the measure was to promote Christian union and harmony, but after what had passed he would not ask their Lordships to divide.


said, he believed it was not desirable to make any change, unless it was made for some really great object, and he did not think that such an object could be gained by the adoption of this measure. He felt persuaded that no real relief could be given to tender consciences by any other means than by the abolition of all subscriptions.


said, that as the Bill was withdrawn, he should not, of course, press his Amendment.

Amendment and Original Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

Then the said Bill, on Motion, was (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

House adjourned at Eight o'clock, to Friday next, Ten o'clock.