REV. C. N. WODEHOUSE,
CANON OF NORWICH;
Occasioned by his late Pamphlet, entitled
“SUBSCRIPTION THE DISGRACE OF THE ENGLISH CHURCH:”
REV. C. GREEN,
RECTOR OF BURGH-CASTLE,
AND LATE FELLOW OF JESUS COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE.
G. F. AND J. RIVINGTON, ST. PAUL’S.
C. SLOMAN, KING-STREET.
p. 3A LETTER, &c. &c.
In addressing to you the following remarks upon a pamphlet recently put forth by you, under the title of “Subscription the Disgrace of the English Church,” I think it right to explain the reasons which have induced me to give them publication, rather than to communicate them in a private form, and also why I have not taken this step some days earlier.
The fact is, that till within the last three days, I had seen nothing of your pamphlet beyond the title; neither do I think that I should then have been tempted to peruse its contents, so repulsive did its announcement appear, had I not received an intimation that my name was mentioned in connection with your former publication, in such terms as to create some suspicion that I might countenance your opinions and views, and to require from me a declaration how far I might concur in believing Subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles a disgrace. This information could p. 4not fail to excite in me some degree of surprise and curiosity, feeling, as I did, unconscious of having made to you, either publicly or privately, any observation whatever in reference to that or to any other of your publications.
On reading the paragraph in your pamphlet in which my name is introduced, it did not occur to me, that, supposing I had been one of those “clergymen in the diocese of Norwich, who had made comments upon your last publication,” you intended anything more than to speak of me in complimentary terms. Feeling conscious, however, that I could not take to myself that compliment, for the reasons already stated, and that it had been more than hinted to me, that my name being so introduced placed me in an equivocal position, in which some explanation would be expected, I laid the paragraph, together with the fact, before a clerical friend, who gave his opinion, that it certainly did admit of a doubt, how far I might have coincided in, or differed from, your views of Subscription, as stated in your last publication.
Now, if your observations had merely concerned myself personally, I might not have thought this accidental circumstance worthy of notice; at least I should have refrained from drawing public attention to a matter of a private nature. But as I conceive that the character of a clergyman, whether as it regards his flock, or the church, ought not to appear in an ambiguous light, and as I have always, both publicly and privately maintained opinions the directly opposite of those which you have advocated in several p. 5publications, it would justly be considered an abandonment of duty, were I, from an ill-timed silence, to allow it to be suspected that I side with the opinions which you entertain in the matter of Subscription.
Under these circumstances and impressions, I have no course but to sacrifice my natural disinclination to make myself a public character, particularly when, in that character, I must necessarily assume somewhat of a controversialist, and when there is connected with the subject much both of a painful and of a delicate nature: I therefore hesitate not to comply with my duty.
Although such reasons for the course which I am about to take apply only to myself, yet if every clergyman in the diocese chose to dispute your allegations generally, and to repudiate your imputations in particular, it would be quite competent to him, individually, to make his public defence.
Before I enter on the main subject of your pamphlet, one word of further explanation will be necessary upon the personal matter between us.
At page 43, you say—
“I have now only to acknowledge the comments of several clergymen and others in this diocese, upon my last publication. To the Rev. B. Philpot, formerly archdeacon of the Isle of Man, and to the Rev. C. Green, rector of Burgh, I beg to offer my sincere thanks for the candid and christian spirit in which their observations were made. I avail myself also of this opportunity p. 6to acknowledge with respect and gratitude a large number of private communications, both from friends and strangers, which were a valuable testimony at a time when they were most acceptable.”
In answer to what concerns me, I repeat that I neither publicly nor privately to you ever made any comment or observation whatever upon your last publication; and that, if to others I may have alluded to it, it was in terms of disapprobation and with feelings of regret.
I now proceed to a discussion of your pamphlet, which will give me an opportunity of satisfying those, who may wish to know, how far I concur in your opinions and views; and I trust I shall not express myself otherwise, than in that “candid and christian spirit,” for which, by anticipation, you have already given me credit.
The title of the pamphlet is a true index of what may be found within. Indeed, the contents may be reduced to Proposition and Corollary.
Proposition: “Subscription the Disgrace of the English Church.”
Corollary: “Repeal of the present form of Subscription.”
These in turn shall have my best consideration. The Proposition you attempt to establish by various suppositions and allegations. A grave charge, which strikes at the very foundation of our church establishment, like that involved in this proposition, should not be grounded on suppositions, the force of which must depend on their degree of probability, which is always questionable, but should rest p. 7solely upon proven and admitted facts. Indeed, in a matter of such moment as that, which you appear extremely anxious to substantiate, all other reasoning but from facts alone must be excluded. I therefore humbly submit, that the opinions which you appear to have collected from “Newspapers, Periodicals,” and “Commercial Travellers’ Rooms,” must be rejected as inadmissible in the present consideration; for the articles in newspapers and periodicals, of a controversial nature especially, being generally got up to serve some party purpose, are too often limited to a partial and one-sided view of things; and I have yet to learn that commercial travellers’ rooms, however proverbial for practical information and good sense, have become schools of sound theology. For the same reason, we must pass by the suppositious questions of “youthful profligates, led on by some ingenious sceptic;” also, “the obvious reasoning of the dissenting part of our population,” and the notions of “a still larger class, who, amidst the din of controversy, pick up a few popular reports, which help to confirm their indifference to religion.” We must likewise dismiss from our consideration your analogical reasoning, from the case of the Officers of the Army and Navy to that of the Clergy, and from the “Articles of War” to the “Confession of our Faith.” For reasoning of this sort, to be valid, must be founded upon cases analogous; and what analogy exists between the “Articles of War,” which depend on ever-varying expediency and annual revision, and the “Confession of our Faith,” which is based on the p. 8never-changing word of truth?  Some analogy there may be between Officers of the Army and Navy, who for dishonorable conduct are dismissed the service by court-martial, and the Clergy who hold opinions contrary to their Subscription. But I forbear to animadvert on that comparison.
Therefore I think you must allow that, in a demonstration of such moment, as that “Subscription is the Disgrace of the English Church,” we cannot admit suppositions, assertions, and notions, but that we must have stern facts.
Is it then the fact, that “while we perceive the variety of opinion prevailing amongst these several sections (of the clergy,) we see also that from all of them, more or less, Subscription is requiring that which, in the ordinary affairs of life, high-minded men would abstain from; viz. the necessity for qualifying the plain and straight-forward use of language?”
If you succeed in establishing this position, then I shall be ready to acknowledge that there is treachery within the pale of our Church—widely-extended treachery, and that you will have gone far towards maintaining that “Subscription is the Disgrace of the English Church;” or, to put the p. 9proposition more logically, that the Clergy thus subscribing and acting are the disgrace of the English Church.
It will now be necessary to extract in full from your pamphlet those allegations upon which alone your position depends, in order that the truth of them may be canvassed, and the foundation of your charge made perfectly clear to my readers.
In pages 11 to 14, you say—
(1) “Subscription alone is now in view; and while that remains as it is, and English words retain their meaning, and an English history of facts can be found, and any clear apprehension of the meaning of truth remains with us, the perversion of our Form of Subscription, and the misrepresentation of our Articles, attempted by any who argue that they were not intended to condemn Romanism, whether as held before or after the Council of Trent, ought to excite, in every honest mind, an indignation which it is a virtue to feel and a duty to express. If it be questioned where such views have been advanced, it is sufficient to refer to Tract No. 90, now before the writer of these pages, though other instances might be cited from authors who have subscribed the Articles.
(2) “If we turn to another section of the English clergy, that most opposed to the views of the tractarians, however they command our respect from their piety, and zeal, and hearty attachment to Scriptural truth and sound doctrine; yet some of them cannot be esteemed clear of all blame on the question now considered. The writer can here speak from personal knowledge. In their views as to baptismal regeneration, certainly opposed to the strict language of our formularies; in their dislike of other p. 10parts of our services, and sometimes in the disuse or change of certain terms, is to be found a proof that to them Subscription is not altogether satisfactory; and the often-avowed concession, that the excellence of our system of doctrine and worship, as a whole, reconciles their minds to some imperfections, is enough to show that, in subscribing, some violence is done to simple truth. They argue, and justly, that no human work can literally demand an unqualified approbation, but our Subscription does require it. Such arguments, then, cannot be altogether satisfactory to him who uses them, or to many to whom they may be offered; and truth, it cannot be denied, is to some extent dishonored and damaged in their use.
(3) “In that section again of subscribers who embrace Calvinistic doctrines, though the writer considers that some of the Articles are more unequivocally favorable to them than their opponents, yet it cannot be forgotten how frequently and decidedly it has been declared, ex cathedrâ, that theirs are not the doctrines of the Church of England.
(4) “Another large section of the English clergy may be now comprised under the name of old-fashioned high-churchmen; and of that title, it is believed, they will not themselves complain. Many of them would gladly extract the honey from the tractarian school, without sufficiently considering how poisonous the plant whose growth they are to some extent fostering. They insist often on an exact compliance with Rubrics, and must forgive me for saying that few amongst them have fulfilled these in their own practice. Till very lately, it would indeed be difficult to find many clergymen, or one bishop, within the last fifty years, who have strictly observed the Rubrics—still less the Canons. Some of them speak also of a literal Subscription; but here again p. 11the writer can of his own knowledge state, that numbers claim and use a considerable latitude in subscribing, and are satisfied with asserting their general attachment to the Formularies of the Church. Of their Arminian views as to doctrine, it is hardly necessary to call to mind how much they are opposed to others amongst their brethren, and, in the writer’s judgment, to the Articles themselves.
(5) “In another section may be comprised those who desire improvement in many things relating to the spiritual affairs of our Church. Some have openly expressed this desire; a far larger number cherish it in silence. They who have spoken out have strongly stated their conviction, that a Church, without the means of even entering upon deliberation as to one general improvement in its spiritual concerns, is in a false and unscriptural position. With respect to the Forms of Subscription and the interpretation of the Articles, some have formally requested a change, or rather an authoritative solution of the many doubts and uncertainties which now embarrass the question.”
Having adduced these allegations in support of your position, in which you endeavor to implicate every section (as your term is) of the English clergy, in a culpable act in the matter of Subscription; you then draw the inference, that by far the greater portion of the clergy in the several “sections,” have tampered with their ordination vow; and finally, you come to the conclusion, or rather, as if doubting, whether you had so far succeeded as to arrive at a legitimate conclusion, you put the question, whether the affirmation is too strong, that “Subscription is the Disgrace of the English Church.”
p. 12“Thus while we perceive the variety of opinion prevailing amongst these several sections—a variety which, were it not impeded by Subscription, would find a harmless or beneficial vent in a free inquiry after Scriptural truth—we see also that from all of them, more or less, Subscription is requiring that which, in the ordinary affairs of life, high-minded men would abstain from; namely, the necessity for qualifying the plain and straight-forward use of language. Is this a condition favorable to the reputation of teachers of truth; and is it too strong a conclusion, at least from some parts of the above account, to affirm, that Subscription is the disgrace of the English Church?”
I shall now proceed to examine and discuss your allegations seriatim, and see how far they are founded in fact; after which I shall adduce evidence of a counter tendency, arising from a personal knowledge of facts, and an intimate acquaintance with the opinions of individual clergy.
(1) In the first paragraph, you alledge that our form of Subscription has been perverted and our Articles misrepresented by persons “who argue that they were not intended to condemn Romanism;” and, in proof of this, you “think it sufficient to refer to Tract No. 90, though,” as you state, “other instances might be cited from authors who have subscribed the Articles.”
Now, as “one swallow does not make a summer,” so neither does one individual, nor several, (and I believe they are not many altogether, who hold with Tract No. 90,) constitute in that particular, a general “perversion of our p. 13Form of Subscription,” or a general “misrepresentation of our Articles.” I am not ignorant that it has been the common prejudice to stamp as a tractarian every man who avows that he upholds generally the Apostolical Succession, and Baptismal Regeneration, has lately seen it right to have divine service in his church during Lent, and at other times appointed by the Rubric, and especially if he preach in a surplice, although he may differ from Tract No. 90, and its principles, as widely as possible. And I cannot help thinking that you have been carried away by this mistaken notion. But look calmly and impartially around, and say from your own knowledge how many are the clergy in the diocese of Norwich, who countenance the principles of Tract Nos. 90, or 85, or 80, or indeed other tracts, which may be repugnant to the doctrines of our church: are there three? are there two? or one? But if I grant you that there are half-a-dozen, (and except in argument I would not allow so many,) considering that in the diocese there are upwards of eight hundred clergy, it will little avail you.
(2) In the next paragraph, which embraces that “section of the clergy most opposed to the views of the Tractarians, you speak from personal knowledge;” and you say, “in their views as to Baptismal Regeneration, certainly opposed to the strict language of our Formularies; in their dislike of other parts of our services, and sometimes in their disuse of certain terms, is to be found a proof that to them Subscription is not altogether satisfactory.” I do not deny that there may be among that body of the clergy some who do not p. 14admit Baptismal Regeneration, according to the strict language of our Formularies: but I believe they are by no means so numerous as you would have it inferred. I can affirm, from personal knowledge, that some of that party do hold that doctrine strictly in accordance with the church, and that I scarcely know one who does not admit it, at least in a modified sense. You are aware that the word “regeneration,” instead of being restricted to Baptism, as it is in our Articles and Liturgy, and, as I believe, also in the New Testament, has, by many divines as well as others, long been used in a looser signification, to denote “conversion,” “renovation,” &c., which may be necessary after Baptism. Hence there is reason to think that frequently the difference is more in name than in reality. I can also state positively that, upon this point, within very few years, the views of many amongst this party have undergone considerable change, and closely approximated to those of the church. If, however, upon one of the most difficult and abstruse doctrines of Christianity there should be shades of opinion, it is only to be expected; considering that all have not equally faith to receive, or the capacity to comprehend the “things hard to be understood.” Neither do I think it quite charitable to set down this circumstance to their “disgrace,” or to that of the church of which they are ministers. “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth.”  Moreover, in this neighborhood, I am acquainted with several of the clergy, who would probably rank themselves under p. 15this “section,” who are not behind any of their neighbors in the exact observance of the Liturgy.
With regard to those “Subscribers who embrace Calvinistic doctrines,” any comment of mine would be superfluous, as it is clear, from the tenor of your observations, that you are ready to defend their view of the Articles.
We now come to a section of the clergy whom you denominate “old-fashioned high-churchmen.” Your main charge against these is, that whilst “they insist often on an exact compliance with Rubrics,” few amongst them have fulfilled these in their own practice. The supposition of error attaching to them in their “Arminian views of doctrine,” being matter of private opinion, may be dismissed as irrelevant. The charge, then, may be regarded as a default in Rubrical practice. This accusation, however, is of the less importance, as it is not contended, neither indeed can be, that there exists in the clergy a conscientious objection to a compliance with any of the Rubrical directions—only that “few amongst them have fulfilled these in their own practice.” And thus much is fully conceded.
If it were material to the point, it would be no difficult task, in extenuation of those who deviate from the strict letter of the Rubric, to prove that the Rubrics are not always definite, and frequently admit of a variety of construction—that to a certain extent the church accords to its ministers a discretionary judgment in this as in all other things—that at the present time there exists a prevailing p. 16disposition to revive much which has fallen into desuetude, and an earnest desire to carry out the Rubrics in all their practical utility—and consequently, that there is notwithstanding a great deal of honest and upright practice. But your charge affects not the clergy, but Subscription. It will therefore be a sufficient answer, to refer you to Article 34, in which it is stated—that “every particular or national church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish ceremonies or rites of the church, ordained only by man’s authority,” in order to remind you that, without having recourse to that measure, which in the sequel you propound, the church does possess a provision to abrogate or enact, whenever it may be deemed by the legislature expedient to direct the Convocation to proceed with that business.
(5) In the last “section” of the clergy, whose views you notice, I see nothing in the slightest degree inconsistent with their Subscription. Surely, according to Article 20, which states that “the church hath power to decree rites and ceremonies, and authority in controversies of faith,” it is quite competent for any clergyman to state strongly his conviction, that a church, without even the power of entering upon the means of deliberation as to one general improvement in its spiritual concerns, is in a false and unscriptural position. The summoning of convocation rests with the legislature, and not with the church, and is a matter of expediency upon which every individual clergyman may entertain his own opinion.
p. 17I have now carefully, and for my readers I fear too tediously, gone through your allegations; but as I conceived that your proposition depended solely upon their being supported and established by facts, I trust I shall be excused if I have made a point of examining them with that patience and candor, which I thought their importance demanded.
I find then, that, because an indefinitely small number of the clergy in every diocese may agree with the author of Tract No. 90,—because a portion of a certain “section” of the clergy possibly do not hold Baptismal Regeneration in strict accordance with the Articles and Liturgy—because some incline to Calvinistic, some to Arminian views of doctrine—because, in practice, an exact conformity to the Rubrics does not obtain, notwithstanding that in the 34th article express provision is made to meet this case in all its bearings, and because, in accordance with the 20th article, certain persons avow that a church, without the means of deliberation, is in a false and unscriptural position—Therefore “Subscription is the Disgrace of the English Church.”
Such is the conclusion at which you arrive from your premises—a conclusion, in my humble opinion, so slightly supported by fact, that I can hardly bring myself to think, but that, if there had not existed a strong propension, a predetermination to come at this result, your judgment would have rejected the evidence as totally insufficient to support it.
p. 18I now proceed to adduce evidence of a counter-tendency, arising from a personal knowledge of facts, and an intimate acquaintance with the opinions of individual clergy.
In 1838 I preached at Yarmouth before the Lord Bishop of Norwich, yourself, and a numerous body of the Clergy residing in the two adjoining Deaneries, a Sermon, in which I delivered the following sentences, viz.—
“By God’s providence, my Reverend Brethren, we have been ordained ministers ‘of that pure and reformed part of Christ’s church established in this kingdom,’ which, from the deepest conviction, we believe to be ‘built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone;’ and in obedience to her authority, and in conformity with her Articles and Liturgy, we have pledged ourselves to discharge the functions of our ministry.
“I have been ordained to ‘administer the doctrine and sacraments and discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded, and as this church and realm hath received the same.’ And, until I am convinced that she is in error—that her Articles or her Liturgy contain ‘things which are neither read in scripture, nor may be proved thereby,’ as a minister of the Church of England, I may not indulge in speculations of my own imagination, or perform her offices in ways and modes of my own devising, but I must labor for the edification and salvation of the souls entrusted to my care, according to the laws, the regulations, and the spirit of the Church of England, which is the Church of p. 19Christ. When I can no longer do so conscientiously, it will then become me no longer to appropriate her emoluments.
“But revering and loving her doctrine, and approving her discipline, I can well repose myself under her guidance and administration. These, my Reverend Brethren, I may venture to hope, are equally the sentiments of us all.”
Whatever might be the individual opinion entertained of the obligations under which, on that occasion, I apprehended myself and all ministers of the Gospel to be, or of the sentiments which I expressed in regard to those obligations,—the Sermon, containing this acknowledgment of our ministerial engagements, and this expression of corresponding sentiments, was requested by the assemblage then present, without a dissentient voice, to be printed; and I think the charitable inference is, that each individual sanctioned with his approbation the sentiments delivered in that discourse.
If this construction upon their unanimous act be correct, the accidental publication of this Sermon will go far to exonerate the parties then present from the imputation of disingenuous Subscription, which, I must needs think, in your general remarks, you have endeavoured to attach to them.
But so far as it concerns my neighbours, I have yet something more certain than a fair and presumptive inference to advance. My personal intimacy with many of the Clergy around me, enables me to add my belief that these sentiments are theirs, equally as mine. And if this p. 20be true of the Clergy in one district taken indiscriminately, why should they not be the opinions of the Clergy of other deaneries and other dioceses? Until you can give me positive proof to the contrary, I shall charitably presume that they are so; and leave you to reconcile with fact the following extraordinary, and to me unaccountable, assertion:—
“Subscription, instead of being the tie which is to bind people to certain opinions or truths, is become a rope of sand. So uncertain is the trumpet’s sound, that it no longer, as of old, proclaims the spirit of an united host, but turns every man’s sword against his fellow: and Englishmen must soon awake to the conviction that Subscription, according to the plain meaning of the words, is blown to the winds, and become the disgrace and not the safeguard of the English Church.”
Under ordinary circumstances it would seem sufficient to have made a general statement in regard to Subscription, but as you have particularised three several points to which you take exception in the matter of Subscription, it might appear uncandid to pass them over without more especial comment.
These points will be best given in your own words:—
“I still maintain—
“That the condemnatory clauses of the Athanasian Creed, in their literal sense, are an un-christian appendage to a document of extraordinary merit, yet such that a true Christian may innocently differ from some propositions set forth in it.
“That a Bishop is not authorized by the Gospel to address a candidate for Ordination in the literal sense of the words, ‘Receive p. 21the Holy Ghost: whose sins thou dost remit, they are remitted, and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained.’
“That a Christian minister is not authorized by the Gospel to address any one in the literal sense of the words, ‘I absolve thee from all thy sins.’”
I am not sure that I understand your precise meaning in the expression, the “literal sense;” but I will not shrink from stating distinctly the sense in which I subscribed, and, so far as I have been able to ascertain, other Clergymen subscribe to these points.
Scripture itself is not always interpreted in a strictly “literal sense.”—Witness a great part of the sixth chapter of St. John. But in the interpretation of a particular passage, regard must be had to all the circumstances and considerations connected with it. The same observation, I apprehend, applies in ascertaining the meaning of the Articles and Liturgy.
Now whoever subscribes to the Athanasian Creed, subscribes to it in conjunction with the Thirty-nine Articles: and the 6th Article states that “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an Article of Faith.” By the standard of Scripture, then, we are bound to try every clause of the Athanasian Creed, and every other subject of Subscription, before we embrace it as an article of faith. And thus, the condemnatory clauses of that Creed are to be understood and received in perfect p. 22agreement with the Scripture. And to satisfy ourselves of their true sense we must have recourse to the Source of Truth. Then, are these clauses of universal or of limited application? Our Saviour’s words are—“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned.” [22a] And to ascertain the extent of the condemnation herein denounced against unbelievers, we must compare the passage with others evidently to be taken in conjunction with it. First, the words of our Saviour—“That servant who knew his Lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to His will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, neither did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.” [22b] Secondly, the declaration of St. Paul—“Now we know, that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law.” [22c] Hence we learn that our Saviour’s words in St. Mark are to be understood with this limitation, viz. “he that” hath the means and opportunities of believing the Gospel, and “believeth not shall be damned.” At the same time, to show that “there is no respect of persons with God,” whether Jew or Gentile, St. Paul expressly declares with reference to those who sin without revelation, “As many as have sinned without law, shall also perish without law.” [22d]
Hence we are bound, I think, to receive the condemnatory clauses of the Athanasian Creed in the same sense and p. 23with the same limitation as our Saviour’s words in St. Mark. They are declaratory of God’s revelation respecting those who have the means and opportunities of believing the saving truths of the Gospel, and yet do not believe. “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men have chosen darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” 
(2) Now, in regard to the Absolution in the Visitation of the Sick, the same rule of interpretation is to be applied. If the words, “I absolve thee from all thy sins,” were taken to convey to a fellow-creature an absolute pardon of sins committed against God as unreservedly as we may forgive his offences committed against ourselves, this construction would appear to invest us with an authority which every priest is sensible that he does not possess. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Whatever therefore be the signification of the words in this Absolution, we are certain they must be so understood as to harmonize with Scripture, which declares the forgiveness or remission of sins to be conditional. Faith and repentance are the conditions, and baptism the outward mean, whereby the forgiveness of sins is formally and legally made over to the worthy recipient. Acts II. 38, and VIII. 37. In accordance with these conditions, the Absolution in both the Daily and the Communion Service is framed; and in both places the priest pronounces pardon and absolution “to those who truly repent and unfeignedly believe,” agreeably to the Covenant of Baptism. And the p. 24authority on which he professes to do this, is—that “God hath given power and commandment to his ministers to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their Sins.” Hence, in these two cases, the office of the priest is clearly ministerial. If now we would reconcile the words in the other Absolution with the plain intention of Scripture, we have only to apply to the Liturgy the Apostolic Canon, which we ever adopt in the interpretation of Scripture—“Comparing things spiritual with spiritual,” and compare the latter Absolution with the two former, and we have no difficulty in convincing ourselves that the words, “I absolve thee from all thy sins,” (whenever it may be a point of duty to use them, viz. “if the sick person humbly and heartily desire it,” and having “made an especial confession of his sins,”) are pronounced ministerially and conditionally.
Take lastly the case in the Ordination of Priests. This consists of two parts:—
(1) “Receive the Holy Ghost, for the office and work of a Priest in the church of God, now committed unto thee by the imposition of our hands.”
(2) “Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained.”
(1) The authority on which a Bishop addresses these words to a Candidate for Ordination is derived through the Apostolical Succession. They are the words in which our blessed Lord thought good to invest his Apostles with their ministerial authority; and there is strong ground for p. 25believing, that the first Bishops received from the Apostles, upon whom Christ built his church, the like authority in the same form of words, and so handed it down to their successors. Some formula for Ordination there must be, as of baptism; and though the one is a sacrament and the other is not, my faith teaches me, that “where two or three are met together in God’s name,” in any Godly work, “there is He in the midst of them.” I would therefore humbly and piously hope, that in such a holy work as the Ordination of weak and frail men for the great and responsible office of the ministry, He will vouchsafe to be present with His church; and after care duly taken by the Bishop to “lay hands suddenly on no man,” the solemn vows sincerely taken upon himself by the candidate, the earnest prayers of the congregation, the pious invocation of the Holy Ghost “to inspire the souls” and “visit the hearts” of those engaged in the sacred investiture—upon a candidate so truly called, and so dedicated to the ministry, I would devoutly trust that God would be pleased to pour down a portion of the sanctifying Spirit, by the laying on of hands.
(2) With regard to the second part of this formula—“whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted,” &c. It is generally admitted that one meaning of these words applies to Ecclesiastical Censures, in reference to the members of any Church who may have committed scandalous offences and incorrigible misdemeanours.  And comparing them with p. 26Matthew XVIII. 16, 17, 18, it seems almost impossible but to conclude that, in one sense, they relate to those matters. If this were the only signification, there would be no perplexity. But the words most probably have another reference—a reference to sins, as they are committed against God. And herein I apprehend lies the difficulty. To arrive at a satisfactory solution of this, we have only to consider (supposing the Priest to be endued with authority to remit and retain sins in a spiritual sense) the occasion on which he is called upon to exercise that function. Clearly, in pronouncing the Absolution, wherein he declares remission of sins to those who truly repent and unfeignedly believe. And although, in the Absolution, he declares not the counterpart of the sentence, yet he has equally authority to pronounce, that the sins of those who do not repent and believe, will be retained by God.
It has, I conceive, been demonstrated that the Clergy, with comparatively few exceptions, do not subscribe otherwise than ex animo, and by consequence disproved that they are the disgrace of the English Church, in that respect, at least, or, as you invert the proposition, that “Subscription is the Disgrace of the English Church;” it therefore might seem superfluous to discuss the Corollary, which falls to the ground as a consequence. But as there is reason to doubt whether you intend the alteration of Subscription, strictly as a Corollary dependent on the previous problem, or as itself a distinct proposition, offering a substantial improvement in the Constitution of our Church, it may be worth while to investigate the matter further.
p. 27You propose then, next, “the repeal of the present form of Subscription;” and instead thereof, “Subscription to the three Creeds, and an engagement to conform to the Liturgy:” and you add, that “assent to the doctrines of the Creeds would be almost Catholic.”—Would it? Could you subscribe to the three Creeds, or engage to conform to the Liturgy, without some modification or limitation? You declare that you still cannot accept, in the “literal sense,” either the Condemnatory Clauses of the Athanasian Creed, or the Absolution in “the Visitation of the Sick,” or the formula in “the Ordering of Priests;” and in your former publication, entitled “What is the Meaning of Subscription?” you stated that “you were not contented to take them otherwise than in a ‘literal sense,’ without a declaration from Authority that they are not strictly to be so taken; and you went so far as to offer to resign your preferment, if called upon so to do by the Archbishop of Canterbury, unless in the meantime you obtained relief in that respect.”  Supposing therefore the changes made; in this dilemma, how would your case be affected by them, one way or the other, without an authorised interpretation also, which should be satisfactory to you? But supposing further, that you obtained everything which would satisfy yourself and some thirty-five others who united with you in 1840 in a Petition to the House of Lords, how could the Arian and the Socinian subscribe to the Athanasian Creed with a safer conscience then, than now? Could those who deny Baptismal p. 28Regeneration repeat, “I believe in one baptism for the remission of sins,” in the Nicene Creed? Would the “Three Denominations” feel quite easy in repeating “I believe in One Catholic and Apostolic Church,” in the Nicene Creed, and cordially unite with our Church in maintaining the present Three Orders of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons? Would the Romanists be contented to reduce their tenets within the Confessions of the three Creeds, and confine their Services to our Ritual? It is really difficult to think you serious, when you say, that “assent to the doctrines of the Creeds would be almost Catholic.” But we will proceed; for the subject deserves grave consideration.
To maintain that your proposed alterations would insure anything like “Catholic assent,” promote union among Christians, and advance the growth of vital religion, is to contradict Catholic experience, derived from undoubted history. Do we not read of schisms in the Corinthian Church, even in the days of their Apostle, when the Confession of Faith must have been in the simplest form? And do we not find him sharply rebuking the Corinthian converts—“I hear there be divisions among you, and I partly believe it?”  Has not St. John left on record the extraordinary caution which he thought necessary, to guard the disciples against the errors of Gnosticism, which, in his time, were infesting the Church? Again, the history of the three Creeds is but an account of the rise and progress of the Gnostic, the Sabellian, the Arian, and the Socinian p. 29heresies, which successively sprung up, the former without, the three latter within the Church, and of the means devised and adopted to counteract them. Moreover, it is capable of proof, that every singular Article in the three Creeds, has application to some error at the time prevailing.  The history of the thirty-nine Articles is too well known to require more than the mention of them. They were drawn up designedly and expressly to exclude from the Reformed Church of England all those who still might adhere to the Romish faith.
Thus, then, we see, that when the Confession of faith was in the simplest form, the Church of Christ was not free from schism; and that Creeds and Articles of Faith were invariably the effects, and not the causes, of heresies.
But besides a retrospective glance at the past, it may not be altogether foreign from the consideration, to take a speculative view of the future results which would probably ensue, upon the Subscription being reduced to the three Creeds. It is often the best mode of trying a proposition, to suppose the thing done, and to follow it out into its obvious consequences. Suppose, then, Subscription reduced to the three Creeds. The first question which suggests itself is—How would this affect our two Universities, from which the nation has long derived “a supply of persons duly qualified to serve God, both in Church and State?” If p. 30this circumstance should open the door of admission to those eminent schools of education so wide, as almost to insure the resort of students essentially differing from the principles and doctrines of the Church of England as now constituted, and thus render probable a material change in the nature and mode of religious instruction there communicated—I think the conclusion would be inevitable, that the fabric of the Church of England, as at present founded on the Prophets and Apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone, would be greatly endangered; and consequently, that your proposition must be rejected as a rash and hazardous experiment.
Now, although the Romanists would not join your Communion in the altered form, it is certain that the Subscription to the three Creeds would present no obstacle to their entrance into the Universities, seeing that they do subscribe to them already, and something more. Then it is more than probable, that the mass of the dissenters would find the means of introduction and admission into those seats of learning—not even excepting the chairs of the Professors of Divinity. And thus the Orthodox youth of the Church of England would no longer enjoy the privilege of being educated exclusively and securely in their own principles and in their own Universities—a privilege, nay, a prerogative, asserted and exercised by nonconformists of different denominations, in their Academies founded for the tuition of youths of their own communion, in their own principles of religion, and in agreement with p. 31their own peculiar views; but they would soon have to encounter, in this new state of things, the conflict of discordant opinions, at all times unfavorable to the growth of true religion, but especially so in the ardent and restless period of youth.
In the year 1834, when the admission of persons into the Universities, without regard to their religious opinions, was urged with unprecedented zeal, Dr. Turton, now dean of Westminster, then Regius Professor of Divinity in the University of Cambridge, published some “Thoughts” on the subject, which were so convincing to my mind of the utter impracticability of that measure, that I must be permitted briefly to refer to them. To shew what would be the probable result of such a concession, he traced the operations of an Establishment, which had been tried on a plan very similar, on a scale sufficiently large, and for a time sufficiently long, through its various stages during sixty years, to its ultimate results. This Establishment was the well-known Academy which Dr. Doddridge instituted at Northampton, and which his successor removed to Daventry. The leading facts relating to this Institution, are, that its founder was a learned, talented, and in the main, orthodox divine, but a zealous non-conformist—that its “constitution was perfectly Catholic,” in other words, that students of any sect in religion were admissible—that the instruction was required to be taught according to the principles laid down in the Assembly’s Catechism—and that, after declining thirty-eight years under three successive p. 32tutors, after Dr. Doddridge, “holding the balance” (according to Mr. Robert Hall, a non-conformist,) “betwixt contending systems, without betraying the slightest emotion of antipathy to error, or predilection for truth,” it finally sank into Modern Unitarianism, under Mr. Belsham in 1789.
Upon an impartial view of the case, Dr. Turton attributes all the evil resulting from the system, to “laxness in the terms of Admission,” in the first instance, which afterwards led to a faulty mode of teaching Theology. And justly he remarks, “we have seen the effects of great diversity of belief at Daventry, and we may rely upon it that those effects were not accidental; they were such as will always be produced by the same cause.”
Here, then, we have an experiment before us, of a religious establishment, on a sufficiently large scale, commencing under an able, learned, and, in the main, Orthodox Divine, upon “Catholic principles,” and terminating within sixty years in the most disastrous consequences. The circumstances of the Academy at Daventry, and of the two Universities, under the new state of things, would obviously be so nearly similar, that the result which was produced in the former case, might with certainty be expected in the two latter. If a similar trial should be made by relaxing the present test, and thus enabling men of almost all shades of opinion to enter at our Universities, infidelity would, in like manner, be the result. And when the time shall arrive, that the youth who are destined to supply the Ministry of the Church, and to fill the Offices of State, shall no longer be p. 33grounded and built up in the principles of “that pure and reformed part of Christ’s Church, established in this kingdom,” but shall be taught some system of belief, composed and modified out of all the various and discordant elements of religion then existing in those ancient and peaceful Institutions of “sound learning and religious education,” the evil consequences will be such as it requires no ordinary nerves to contemplate.
Surely then the Church of England will pause ere she incline to adopt your proposition, and exchange a certain good for a certain evil.
Before I conclude, I have a few words to add in reference to the publication of your pamphlet:—and first I would observe, that if you have failed in the proof of your proposition—if your allegations in the main stand contradicted by facts—if there is every reason to believe that the Clergy, although varying somewhat in matters unimportant, do, with comparatively few exceptions, subscribe ex animo to the Articles and Liturgy—I then leave with you to determine, however you may “believe yourself engaged in the cause of truth,” in what manner your pamphlet is calculated to ascertain and promote it within the Church of England. Whatever may be your determination on this head, the judgment of the Clergy of this diocese, at least, is condemnatory of the course which you have taken. They feel that, for a period of years, from time to time, by your publications, you have vexed the Church in general, and this diocese in particular, troubled Israel, p. 34and given occasion to the enemies of the Church to exult. In this very pamphlet have you not described to us, in clear terms, what must be the value of a clergyman’s ministry among his flock, when his character for integrity—his honesty in his ordination vow—is suspected? Have you not put into the mouths of “some youthful profligates, led on by an ingenious sceptic,” questions relating to the Clergy, highly defamatory of their character as ministers of Christ, and injurious to the best interests of religion? Do you not suppose that your pamphlet has been perused by many who will rejoice in turning it to the worst of purposes—the purposes of infidelity—against the Clergy collectively, yourself individually, and the religion of Christ generally? Do you suppose that this publication has not been discussed in many dissenting assemblies of this diocese, and exultingly responded to—“Ah! so would we have it, so would we have it?” Too much reason have the Clergy to say, in sorrow and in sadness—“It is not an open enemy that has done us this dishonor;” it is a brother—one of our own order—a dignitary of our own Church, who is partaking of the same bread—
This, you may say, is hard language.—“But is there not a cause?” When I turn to the sentence, “While we thus perceive the variety of opinion prevailing amongst these several sections, we see also that from all of them, more or less, Subscription is requiring that which, in the ordinary affairs of life, high-minded men would abstain from, viz. the necessity for qualifying the plain and straight-forward use p. 35of language;” and when I find you finally concluding, “In this state of things, I can hardly imagine any diversity of opinion, with respect to the Thirty-nine Articles, which calls for the resignation of a Clergyman; indeed it appears to me, that it would be simply absurd in any one to resort to such a step, unless under a decided wish for communion with some other church or body of christians”—I own that I am still startled at this bold expression of opinion: and I confess that, after much reflection, I have been at a loss to couch in softer terms, my sense of this grave imputation, and of this deliberate avowal, thus placed on record.
I have now finished a task in which I engaged with reluctance. I trust that I have fairly and temperately gone through the discussion of the subject; and I can aver that I have carefully endeavored not to misunderstand or misrepresent any thing which you have written. I hope, also, that I have given an impartial consideration to whatever you have advanced in support of your case: unfeignedly have I labored to investigate the subject in all its bearings, and arrive at an unbiassed result. How far I have succeeded in my object, others will judge. This, however, I will affirm, that, in the discharge of a public duty to which I have been unavoidably called, I have been actuated by no motive of private consideration, and especially by no unfriendly feeling towards yourself. And in conclusion I will add that, if anything which I may have advanced in explanation or in support of the present Subscription to our Articles or Formularies, should happily p. 36have placed the matter in a different and more satisfactory point of view, so as to clear up your present doubt and perplexity, I should feel more gratification and delight than I am able to express. And I hope, by the blessing of that God whose providence over-rules all things for good, this feeble effort may not be without its use.
I have the honor to be, Sir,
Your sincere and faithful Servant,
8th July, 1843.