TO THE MEMBERS
THE ESTABLISHED CHURCH
In Norwich and in Norfolk,
AND OCCASIONED BY
THE PROPOSED EXCLUSIVE SYSTEM
BY JOHN ALEXANDER,
MINISTER OF PRINCE’S STREET CHAPEL, NORWICH.
“There are still some who wish to confine the element of water to their own well, and
to find the full ripe corn only in their own fields. With them, I confess, I have
SOLD BY J. FLETCHER; JARROLD & SONS;
AND THE OTHER BOOKSELLERS.
It would have been most agreeable to the author of the following letter to have published it anonymously; but he thought that, however insignificant a writer might be, it was more respectful to the parties addressed to affix his name to his publication. His object, in writing it, he can truly say, has not been to offend, but to convince; and, though he feels deeply on the subject of the letter, it would have been highly unbecoming, when addressing a respectable and influential body of persons, to convey his remonstrance in any other language than that of affectionate fidelity and firmness. He has never yet come forward, on any occasion, to widen the distance which may exist between any denominations of Christians; and he feels, increasingly, the importance of employing his single talent in promoting the salvation of sinners, and the holiness and peace of the Christian Church.
Norwich, March 28th, 1836.
An advertisement has appeared in the Norwich papers of the 26th instant, announcing that “a public meeting of members of the Established Church will be held in the Hall in the Market, Norwich, on Thursday, 7th of April, for the purpose of forming a Society to promote the extension of the Infant School system in the County and City.” It is somewhat remarkable that a notice of such importance, and addressed to a large and respectable body of Christians, should have been inserted in the public papers anonymously, and that you should be called upon to assemble in the Hall, without knowing by whose authority such an assembly is convened, and without even knowing who is to preside on the occasion. Believing, however, that the advertisement does proceed from some competent authority, and perceiving, from the terms in which p. 6it is expressed, that all the inhabitants of this City, except “the members of the Established Church,” are prohibited from attending the meeting, I take the liberty, as one of the excluded party, of addressing you from the press—and my object in so doing, is to explain to you the principles on which the Infant schools in Norwich have hitherto been conducted, and to recommend those principles to your adoption at the approaching meeting.
You are probably aware that several friends to the education of children, and especially to their moral and religious education, have originated, and, for some years, supported Infant schools in this neighbourhood, the principal of which are to be found in Lakenham, in Crook’s Place, and in the parish of St. Miles. These schools have hitherto been conducted not on sectarian, but on catholic and Christian principles. Children of all classes have been admitted as scholars, and, besides imparting to them the elements of general knowledge, they have been taught, according to their capacities, the facts and histories recorded in the Holy Scriptures, and the great doctrines relative to the sinfulness of man, and to the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, on which the majority of Christians are agreed. The committees of these schools are composed of members of the Establishment and of other Christian churches, p. 7all of whom, without the slightest degree of jealousy, or of difficulty, have cordially united in carrying into effect both the intellectual and the religious parts of the system. The committee of the Lakenham school, though it, as well as the other schools, is, I believe, chiefly supported by Dissenters, has, I am informed, regularly invited the respected clergyman of the parish to attend its meetings; and my connexion with the school in St. Miles’, enables me to declare, most confidently, that repeated efforts have been made to induce members of the Established church to afford greater help in directing its concerns, as well as in defraying its expenses. I have no doubt that in the other schools, equally liberal measures have been adopted.
The children of these schools composed the principal part of the interesting group which filled the platform in St. Andrew’s Hall, on Tuesday the 22nd instant, when the mode of teaching in Infant Schools, and the kind and degree of useful knowledge acquired in them, were illustrated by the examination, which Mr. Wilderspin conducted, in the presence of perhaps two thousand spectators; and the satisfaction which he expressed, both publicly and privately, with the manner in which the schools had been trained, imperfect as they confessedly are, was in no small degree p. 8gratifying to those who have hitherto supported them amidst many difficulties and discouragements.
Hitherto, the labourers in the cause of Infant education, in this city, have been principally Dissenters; but it is well known that they have always desired, and that they would have gladly received, a greater number of their brethren in the Establishment as coadjutors. Whatever degree of influence they may have had in the schools which have been referred to, they have never formed any rules or adopted any principles or plans of education, against which the most scrupulous Episcopalian need object; and, during the recent visit of Mr. Wilderspin, they had their full share in contributing to his introduction to this city, to the support of his Lectures, and to the attendance in St. Andrew’s Hall. The very first meeting that was held, to make arrangements with Mr. Wilderspin, was summoned by a member of the Society of Friends, who, without partiality, invited both Churchmen and Dissenters to meet Mr. W. in the Lakenham school. The Lectures, which Mr. W. delivered in the Guildhall, were attended by at least as many Dissenters as Episcopalians. When, after those lectures, a meeting of Clergy and members of the Establishment, to which no Dissenter was invited, resolved “that p. 9there should be an examination of children now receiving instruction in the Infant schools of this city,” the committees of those schools, whose concurrence with the resolution was I believe never asked, kindly assented to it, and suffered their teachers and children to assemble on the platform in St. Andrew’s Hall. The Dissenters in this city, gladly and gratuitously, sent forms from their chapels, on which the spectators might be seated. They purchased tickets, and attended the examination in very considerable numbers. They beheld clergymen, and other churchmen, beginning to manifest an interest in Infant schools, by conducting the little children to the platform. And after having, in these various ways, received assistance from your dissenting fellow citizens, as well as from others—after having borrowed our schools for a public examination—after having received our money towards defraying the expenses of that examination—after having told us that “such an exhibition of Infant schools would afford a most agreeable testimony of their efficacy, and be a means of enlisting both the feelings and the judgment of the audience in their favour”—we were not prepared to expect that such friendly proceedings on our part would ultimately be used against ourselves, and that they were to be rewarded by p. 10our utter exclusion from all future participation with you in the system of Infant education.
Having thus briefly sketched the principles and the proceedings which have been hitherto adopted by the conductors of Infant schools in Norwich, I now proceed to direct your attention to the advertisement, by which this letter was more particularly occasioned. That advertisement calls upon you, as “members of the Established Church,” to form “a society to promote the extension of the Infant school system in the county and city”—and I understand it to mean that the members of no other Christian church shall be allowed to participate with you in the formation of the society, or in its committee, or in its operations. This mode of proceeding, you perceive at once, is the very reverse of that which has hitherto been adopted; it is contrary even to the bill which has been passed for the emancipation of the slaves in the West Indies, which provides that even black infants shall be educated “on liberal and enlightened principles;” and I ask you, what would have been your thoughts and feelings, if any other Christian, and Protestant church, in this city, besides your own, had ventured to suggest a society for the education of little children so utterly exclusive and illiberal?
p. 11Whatever may have been the condition of other parts of the kingdom, this city has been lamentably deficient in public unity and cooperation in the accomplishment of that which is good—and a different state of things is not to be expected from the mere politician, or from any of “the men of the world which have their portion in this life.” It is to the religious only that we must look for the desired reformation; and if mankind are ever taught to dwell together in love, it must be by those who have imbibed and who exemplify the spirit of Christianity. But if the religious—if those who profess to have “the same mind that was in Christ,” refuse to associate with those who love the same Redeemer, and are regenerated by the same Spirit, merely because they differ respecting some points of discipline in the church—if they thus “set at nought their brother”—if they thus practically declare that “Christ is divided,” and so divided that his members cannot unite even in the education of infants—will not such conduct bring religion itself into dishonour, and will it not “cause the enemies of God to blaspheme?” “For if these things be done in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?”
Had the system of Infant schools been the offspring of the Church of England—could it p. 12be shewn that no infants, but such as have been baptized at its font, had the capacity to receive instruction—or if the Dissenters of this city had set an example of exclusiveness in infant education, then indeed some apology or even justification might be offered for the course which is advertised for adoption. But it is well known that the system of infant education is quite independent of any form of ecclesiastical polity. It is as much the property of the nonconformist as of the conformist. It has nothing to do with the peculiarities of either; but it asks, and has hitherto cordially received the cooperation of both. And the attempt to make it the appendage of a particular church, and “a great gulph” of separation between Christians—to enlist infants, just “weaned from the breast,” as parties in ecclesiastical strife, must be productive of a lamentable influence on the minds both of infants and adults, and must be highly offensive to Him who rebuked his disciples and said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
The Church of England—established by the authority of parliament—having dissented from the pale of popery, whose intolerance and exclusiveness she professes to abhor—declaring that she is emphatically and eminently the church of p. 13Christ—and praying, as she does, not only for “all sorts and conditions of men,” but “more especially for the good estate of the catholic church, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may hold the faith in unity of spirit, and in the bond of peace”—ought, most assuredly, of all churches, to be the most comprehensive in her charity, and to set “all sorts and conditions of men,” and the whole “catholic church,” an example of meekness and conciliation. But when an opportunity presents itself, the most favourable for exhibiting these graces, without the slightest compromise of principle, are all these professions and all these prayers to be forgotten; and must the unestablished and self-supported churches of our land be the only sanctuaries where charity can take refuge, and the only societies whose members add practice to profession and to prayer? I hope not, my brethren; and devoutly as I am attached to the great principles of nonconformity, because I consider them to be in harmony with Christianity, yet I should strongly suspect their character if I found that they prevented me from cooperating with my fellow Christians in any “work of faith or labour of love.”
If, my brethren, you seize the present occasion for the purpose of widening the distance between p. 14Christians of other communions and of your own—if you render the Infant school system, which has hitherto been made a bond of union, a “wall of separation” between yourselves and others, the sin will lie at your own door, and you alone will be answerable for the consequences. I know well that such an exclusive system is not the desire of you all. There are some among you who wish to see the Church of England “national” in her feelings and in her philanthropy, as well as in her name; and who would be glad to cooperate with other Christians in educating and in evangelizing the people, but who at the same time deem it desirable on the whole, to submit to other parties in the church whose patronage and support are valued. Permit me to say, however, that such policy is of a very questionable character; and the course of conduct, which your acquiescence sanctions, appears to me not likely either to promote the interests of true religion, or to increase any feelings of respect for that Establishment which you conscientiously support. For if, in the nineteenth century, you legislate as if you were in the dark ages—if you try to revive again the spirit of “the five mile act,” which denounced the nonconformist as “incapable of teaching any public or private schools”—depend upon it that you will find the current of feeling p. 15in the present times to be decidedly against you; and not only so, but you will sin against the spirit of that religion whose essential doctrines and whose hallowed influences ought to be far dearer to us all than any forms of ecclesiastical government. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
In many parts of Great Britain, where Infant schools have been established, the population generally have been united in their support; and Mr. Wilderspin, in his book entitled “Early Discipline Illustrated,” furnishes many facts, in addition to his own opinion, to shew that such schools always succeed well when various Christians are associated in their committees and in their operations. “I proceeded to Durham,” says he in page 45, “where a committee was formed of Churchmen and Dissenters.” When speaking of Ireland, in page 76, he says, “it may be well to shew that wherever Infant schools have been established in that country, and properly conducted, they have been found to be real blessings by all parties, as the following circular will shew.” That “circular” was an address of the parish of Booterstown to the Rev. A. Sillery, from which I extract the following sentence: “That invaluable institution, the Infant school, which in this p. 16parish owes its origin to you—and the many other excellent arrangements for promoting education and religious instruction, bear ample testimony to the talent, zeal, and piety, which characterize their exemplary founder and promoter; whilst the impartiality with which you administered to the wants of all, without distinction of sect or party, manifest the unbiassed liberality of your truly Christian mind.” “I distributed many circulars and papers at Leicester,” says he, page 87, “but hostility was threatened from one of the pulpits of the Establishment;” and he then quotes what he justly calls “an admirable speech, by M. Babington, Esq.” a member of the Church of England, from which I extract the following sentences. “I proceed to that objection on which the greatest stress will probably be laid, that we are forming an unnatural and improper union of individuals of different denominations; and that we are undermining the influence and doctrines of the Church of England. It seems to me that those who thus argue shew some distrust of the excellence of that church. The extension of knowledge can hardly fail to be favourable to the cause of truth; and as a member of that church, I am of opinion that its doctrines will be more fully established by such intercourse. But it has ceased to be a question, whether a mixed committee can p. 17succeed satisfactorily in such an object; for the experiment has been tried extensively in other towns for nearly seven years, and has lived down the opposition which was first raised against it.—Really such arguments are too trifling even for ridicule, if it were not, as it appears to me, a suicidal act, on the part of our church, to urge a system so repugnant to the feelings of mankind.” After relating some interesting occurrences at Taunton, Mr. Wilderspin says in page 118, that “a committee of various denominations proceeded with great encouragement, intimating, by their union, that their object was the general good, and that no party apprehended the occurrence of injury.” Injury was however inflicted by unhallowed hands, and a school was set up “on opposite principles.” In page 202, when speaking of Joseph Lancaster, Mr. Wilderspin says, “with one part of his system I was always charmed, and, so far from the feeling diminishing, it is even now increasing in vigour,—I mean its freedom from all shackles—its entire exemption from sectarianism—its benevolent and catholic spirit, which urges not merely to the establishment of schools, but ‘SCHOOLS FOR ALL.’ Often have I regretted that this is not universally discoverable. There are still some who wish to confine the element of water to their own well, and to find the full ripe corn only p. 18in their fields:—with them I confess I have no sympathy; on the broadest principle I have hitherto labored; and on that, and that alone I propose to act through the remainder of my life.” But I must conclude these testimonies, which might be greatly multiplied, by recording a sentence or two from page 259, respecting Sheffield. “Five Schools,” says Mr. Wilderspin, “containing little short of one thousand infants, are now in full and efficient operation. The harmony of Churchmen and Dissenters in the work is here most delightful; and as a specimen of the generosity displayed, it may be stated, that one gentleman built a school, at his own expense, which cost £1000.” These quotations abundantly prove that “the originator of Infant schools,” who has visited many of the towns in the three kingdoms, and who is perhaps better qualified than any other person to form an opinion as to the best mode of conducting them, is decidedly opposed to the exclusive system advertised for Norwich. He has “no sympathy” with it—and he declares, as the result of his extensive observation and experience, that “the union between Churchmen and Dissenters is delightful.”
Should the decision of the approaching meeting be in opposition to this delightful union, and should the ministers and members of the Established p. 19Church determine to prevent the Dissenters from cooperating with them in this interesting work, the parties thus excluded will not, I trust, be instigated to pursue a similar course, and to form a society for themselves alone, to the exclusion of Churchmen. No.—Let them proceed on other and better principles. Let them call a public meeting of all denominations of Christians who can conscientiously unite in pursuing the same system of Infant education, which has been hitherto adopted in this city. Let them cordially and earnestly invite the cooperation of liberal and religious Churchmen. And let them determine that neither conformity nor nonconformity shall be taught to babes in an Infant school, but that they shall receive only “the sincere milk of the word, that they may grow thereby.” “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”#ENGLISH