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ART. V.- Tracts for the Times. By Members of the Univer
sity of Oxford. London: 1833–1837. J. G. & H. Rivington. 4 vols. 8vo.
THESE productions have attracted great attention, and excited a great deal of interest, both favorable and hostile, as well in our own country as in the land of their origin. We have as yet taken no part in the discussion which is going on about them. We have no feelings of partisanship to indulge; certainly we have no disposition to contribute to Papal errors; but having carefully examined the volumes before us, as well as most of the pieces which have appeared against them, we wish to give our readers a better chance of judging what the real doctrines of these tracts are, than our religious newspapers have afforded. At the outset, we desire to be understood that we do not profess to give our unqualified sanction to every thing contained in them; at the same time, we are convinced that they contain nothing which is fundamentally or greatly erroneous — while the general strain of their doctrines is pure, and their spirit truly primitive. We are, therefore, unwilling that the judgment of our clergy, and of intelligent laymen, interested in theological science, should be forestalled by the very partial, and in many instances, false statements, which have appeared about them, in our popular periodicals. We devote, accordingly, a few pages of our journal to a statement of the causes which led to the production of these tracts, and to an impartial exhibition of their leading characteristics. How far these are in harmony with the genuine doctrines of the Reformation, will be seen as we proceed.
In judging of these volumes, the candid reader must always bear in mind that they are the Tracts for the Times. Their purpose is to contribute to the revival of doctrines once held and preached in the Reformed English Church, but which have fallen greatly into forgetfulness in more recent times. This being the special intention of the authors, they would, of course, dwell with emphasis upon those doctrines which, in their judgment, are now most neglected; whilst they pass over with slighter notice those which are gathering around them so much of the light and energy of the age. If this thought be carried along in reading them, many things now seemingly unfavorable to the tracts, will be obviated in the ingenuous mind.
For centuries past, there have been those, both within and without the church, who have maintained with more warmth than wisdom, that all the externals of christianity were of little importance, if indeed of any value. Ministerial Authority, the administration of solemn Rites, Absolution, Baptism, and all things pertaining to the Church visible, have been by them regarded as mere ceremonials, bardly to be accounted of by a christian man. The rise and spread of Socinianism, contributed greatly to divert attention from the sacred offices of religion, to certain speculations. In England, the writings of Hoadly, and of his disciple Balguy, exerted a similar influence. The labors of the dissenters have, for the most part, tended towards the same result; but especially has the philosophy of Archdeacon Paley contributed to spread the feeling that every thing connected with religion is important only as promoting the general advantage. With respect to the Establishment particularly, be maintained that it could be vindicated on no other ground than that it was the religion professed by the majority, * as if right ought to yield to numbers ! On the same principle, it would, of necessity, follow, that were Irvingism to become the faith of the nation, it ought at once to be made the established religion. However superficial and erroneous these views may be, they nevertheless take a strong hold upon a certain order of minds. And within a few years, as Political and Ecclesiastical Reform, so called, has been making more rapid progress, these sentiments have very generally become those of the people. At the time, therefore, when the publication of these tracts commenced, few were found willing to arraign the habit of regarding the English branch of the Church Catholic as a mere creature of the State a structure which the state had reared, and which it might of right destroy. And even those whose better sense taught them that it did not depend for its existence or continuance upon the good pleasure of the British Parliament or the British Crown, but was built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone, had still so far conformed to popular usage as to speak continually of the Church as identified with the Establishment. Unavoidably, therefore, the feeling had become generally prevalent, that the English church was merely part and parcel of the British constitution, and was as liable to transformations, to remodelling, or to total subversion, as any other
• Moral and Political Philosophy, book VI. c. 10. NO. IX. - VOL. V.
portion of the constitution. Hence, as one consequence of these views, it became a conviction among many of the more quiet and better disposed of the English people, that it was a duty to conform to the Church, simply as they ought to any other parliamentary enactment, without ulterior reference to the institution of Jesus Christ, or the divine origin of its doctrines and administration. Hence, too, the bishops came to be regarded in no other light than as Temporal Peers — differing, indeed, in their profession, but not sustaining towards the people any other relation, nor any other towards God. But by those who thus looked upon the Heads of the Church, priests and deacons, were, of course, considered merely as inferior instruments of the same government. As a matter of course, the office performed by these semi-political agents would not be held to have any special efficacy; and it could be a matter of no moment whether one went to church or to the meeting house, had it not been for the interposition of the civil authority. We do not say that this feeling was universal, but it was becoming very general, even among those who attended upon the services of the Established Church.
Under these circumstances, as radicalism and destructive reform made advances, and separatists became more bold, the Church was violently assailed from different quarters. In one direction, the dissenting papist clamored for an equality of rights; from another quarter came up a cry equally loud from the dissenting Baptist, and Independent, and Presbyterian, calling for a recognition of their respective claims. The political power had of itself undertaken to remodel the dioceses of Ireland,* and serious apprehensions and even expectations were entertained, that the whole ecclesiastical establishment would be shivered to atoms and trampled in the dust. The Church, thus assailed with enemies innumerable from without, with many even of those attached to her communion, disposed to yield either in whole or in part to the demands of her opponents, was in great danger of being utterly subverted, leaving her ministers and members without any foundation on which to rest. To oppose this current of evil, the Oxford divines raised their voice; nor, under the blessing of God, has it been raised in vain. Though they have not been able to avert from the Church all the evils which threaten her; yet they have awakened a general inquiry into the grounds on which it rests, and have given a firm an
* Tract No. 2, page 2.
chorage to the faith of many a tossed and doubting soul. They have undertaken to show, and, as we think, they have successfully shown, that there is but one Holy Catholic Church, of which the English branch is the purest, and only reformed one; that her ministry is of the Apostolic succession, and may trace back their origin to Christ; that the sacraments by them administered are means of grace, and in general necessary to salvation ; and that all persons out of the communion of the Church Catholic, where it may be had, are rendering doubtful their acceptance with God. There are many other secondary points growing out of these, but our limits will not allow us to enter into a minute delineation of all which they contain.
It will be at once perceived, from this brief statement of doctrines, how much they differ from the ordinary themes of pulpit instruction, as employed by the great majority of what are called the different denominations of christendom. Though a certain class of churchmen have always maintained and preached them; yet as doctrines of popular instruction, they had become almost obsolete. For even those who held them, rather than incur the odium involved in their advocacy, for the most part chose to select other topics of exhortation and discussion. Accordingly, the Oxford divines, since they have given to them such prominence, and such an able defence, have been reviled, both at home and with us, as in league with papists, as enemies of “ vital godliness,"* and as laboring to bring into the church again the same corruptions which were put away at the Reformation. Any one, however, who will be at the pains of examining their writings with an impartial eye, may soon be convinced, that instead of favoring Rome, they are in fact the sternest opposers of papal error. We will adduce a few proofs from the tracts themselves in confirmation of this point. In tract No. 8, page 4, where we have an enumeration of the various changes which must take place in the religious world before the millennium can come, we are told, among other things, that “Rome must confess her papal corruptions, and her cruelty towards those who refuse to accept them. The Greek Church has to confess its saint-worship, its formal fasts, and its want of zeal.”
Tract No. 15 is throughout an elaborate defence of the English Reformation, in which the strongest expressions are
* Let the reader who wishes to sce a refutation of this charge, read Tract No. 14. It is a most simple and touchingly beautiful treatise on prayer - especially for the clergy — as much so as any we remember ever to have seen. It breathes forth the true spirit of Jesus Christ, and of his gospel.
employed against the corruptions of the Roman Church. We there read, that " at the Council of Trent she bound herself in covenant to the cause of Antichrist,” and that "superstitions and profanities had in the course of ages been introduced by her into the most gracious and holiest of God's gifts."
Again, in tract No. 20, page 3, speaking of the church of Rome in relation to the church of England, the author says: “ AN UNION IS IMPOSSIBLE. Their communion is infected with heterodoxy; we are bound to flee it, as a pestilence. They have established a lie in the place of God's truth; and, by their claim of immutability in doctrine, cannot undo the sin they have committed. They cannot repent. Popery must be destroyed; it cannot be reformed.” We very much doubt whether all the enemies of the tracts are able to produce, from their most admired authors, extracts containing expressions more explicit and strong against the corruptions of Rome.
In tract No. 35, page 4, the author says, " that the Roman Catholic clergy have so corrupted the truth of God's Word, that they are not to be listened to for a moment.” readers are desirous to see more fully their disapprobation of popery, we refer him to the works themselves; we will give a few references in the margin.' Before closing these extracts, however, we cannot but state, in the language of the writers themselves, some of those portions of the papal system which they repudiate. The author of tract No. 38, after vindicating his system from the charges alleged, goes on to say:
“I consider that it is unscriptural to say with the church of Rome, that we are justified by inherent righteousness.'
“That it is unscriptural that the good works of a man justified, do truly merit eternal life.'
“ That the doctrine of transubstantiation is profane and impious.
“ That the denial of the cup to the laity, is a presumptuous encroachment on their privileges as Christ's people.
“ That the sacrifice of the mass is a mere corruption, without foundation in Scripture or antiquity; blasphemous and dangerous.
“That the honor paid to images is dangerous, in the case of the uneducated, that is, of the great part of Christians.
" That indulgences are a monstrous invention.
“That the doctrine of purgatory is a wicked invention, at variance with Scripture, cruel to the better sort of Christians, and administering deceitful comfort to the irreligious.
* No. 11. p. 6. No. 34. p. 3. No. 36. p. 5. No.51. p. 6. No. 57. p. 13. No. 66. p. 9. No. 75. p. 9, 10 – 12, 23. Vol. 3. Introd. p. 4. No. 78. p. 7, 8. No. 81. p. 2.