AUTHOR OF 'LECTURES ON CHURCH-COMPREHENSION ETC.' AND OTHER WORKS
TO THE RIGHT HON. LORD EBURY, CHAIRMAN OF THE SOCIETY FOR THE REVISION OF THE PRAYER BOOK.
MY LORD,--I gladly avail myself of your permission to publish in the form of a letter to your Lordship, as Chairman of the Society for the Revision of the Prayer Book, the following pages, which I was precluded from reading at the recent meeting of its members. Let me congratulate your Lordship on the revived activity of this Society in bringing the object at which it aims under the attention of the Christian portion of the nation. Judging from the interest which, for I know not how many years, your Lordship has shown in this important matter, I think you will allow that the amount of attention which it has received has been very incommensurate with its importance. The question whether the Anglican Prayer Book shall be revised or not [5/6] involves the paramount interests of Divine truth, the cause of Christian unity, and, as I think it may be, easily shown, the preservation of the existing status of the Anglican Church. The revision of the Prayer Book has for more than a generation been earnestly advocated, both in speech and writing, but it seems to be no nearer than ever to its accomplishment. Yet, as I am led to believe, the educated and thoughtful members of the Anglican Church would for the most part favour the measure in question. Few only of such persons really approve of the Anglican doctrine of Baptism and the practice of Sponsorial Stipulations, or accept the opus operatum doctrine of the baptismal rite, or believe that an unconscious infant is, through his supposed answers to certain interrogatories, followed by the application of water and the pronunciation of certain sacred words, elevated at once to the highest moral condition of which human nature is capable, 'made a member of Christ and a child of God.' Surely these metaphorical terms, if they mean anything (and we know that they mean a great reality), imply the possession of qualities, dispositions, capabilities, which, where they exist, must energise and be evident in action, just as those persons who in Scripture language are called children of the Devil, and in common parlance limbs of Satan, do the works of their father and their head.
 The notion that through the above-mentioned baptismal process an infant is really and therefore practically made 'a member of Christ and a child of God,' is so abhorrent from experience and common sense, that the wonder is how, even with all the authority by which this notion has been recommended, it has been accepted so long and so widely in the world. It can only have thus prevailed through the explanations by which it has been 'explained away' to the minds of even many well-meaning and simple-minded Christians. Your Lordship will recollect some of the many attempts which, by a dangerous sophistry, have been made to explain away the terms in which this notion is conveyed. There was the hypothetical explanation which only resulted in the unsatisfactory meaning that an infant is supposed to be 'made,' through the baptismal process, 'a member of Christ,' &c. Another explanation was, that a person who had been baptized in infancy was not really made as above until he 'took up' his baptism. A third explanation consisted of some metaphysical distinction as to the meaning of the word 'made,' which, to my own understanding, resulted in the conclusion that the word 'made' in this case meant 'not made.' I would here pause to observe how great must be the perplexity and confusion caused to the mind of a [7/8] child of ordinary thoughtfulness and intelligence by the inculcation of the doctrine that he was at baptism made what the Catechism teaches him that he was made, and by the subsequent explanation that he was only supposed to be so made. I remember the case of such a child under religious instruction, who, when he openly congratulated himself, with the literal simplicity of his age, on the fact that he had been made in his infancy what the Catechism taught him that he had been then made, was quickly undeceived, perplexed, and cast down, by being told that his being so made was not real, but that it depended on his good conduct. The happy assurance given to him in one breath was taken away in the next. Such a child would be apt to conclude that his being so made was, in childish language, 'only in pretence.'
With regard to these explanations, I may observe that the employers of them do not seem to perceive that they are fighting not for a substance, but for a shadow; and that in reality they contend for the truth of a statement which they can only defend by explaining it away, and evacuating its meaning.
These explanations, however, which seem to have satisfied, or at least to have silenced, former generations, may be considered as obsolete and exploded in this more intelligent and exacting age, [8/9] which profits by the controversies of the past, interprets words in their obvious sense, dislikes nonnatural interpretations, refined distinctions, forced constructions, and all other sophistical methods of escaping from the plain meaning of plain terms, and rejects all the arts of theological diplomacy. The great majority of educated members, lay as well as clerical, of the Anglican Church would gladly see purged from her liturgy the baptismal statements in question, as well as some other 'doctrinal expressions of mediaeval invention or adaptation, marring the pure faith of true Christianity. Meantime book, pamphlet, and article after book, pamphlet, and article are from time to time written, and speech after speech is made, in favour of liturgical revision, all usually unanswered and met by a 'conspiracy of silence.' One argument indeed has been used against the revision in question. We are told, and with truth, that the objections to certain particulars in it have been often repeated. Is it then meant that these objections are false, because they have been often repeated?
The evil consequences of the delay in effecting this desired revision are sufficiently obvious, but I would briefly recapitulate them. Here then we have a liturgy, requiring important doctrinal amendments, but stamped with the authority of [9/10] the Church and State of England, which is annually scattered broadcast throughout not only the kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, but also among the many nations and languages of our colonies and dependencies with their millions of inhabitants. Another deplorable consequence of retaining the erroneous statements in question is that they give a tenable ground of defence to those who teach the doctrines involved in those statements. If charged with teaching error, such teachers can with perfect consistency appeal to these statements in formularies to which they expressed assent. Further, these statements must give to sceptics and infidels a ground for attack upon the Christian faith, the cause and credit of which must be affected by the doctrinal enunciations of so widespread and influential a Christian community as the Anglican Church in the United Kingdom and throughout the British colonies and dependencies.
The drawbacks, arising from the retention of the statements in question, to the efficiency of our Church in the fulfilment of her transcendent mission as a witness of Divine truth, will be evident to all who believe that serious error is mingled with truth in her teaching, and that she therefore 'speaks with the stammering lips of ambiguous formularies.' Her efficiency is greatly [10/11] marred in one important particular by her foregoing, through the difficulties in her formularies, the services of young men of superior intelligence and attainment, who would otherwise gladly enter into her ministry. I am myself interested in the career of a young man at Oxford, who has proved his intellectual capabilities by obtaining the highest honours of the university, and who, though attached to the Church of England, hesitates to seek ordination on account of the difficulties in question. From him, too, I learn that there is a society of able young resident graduates which has been formed with the view of promoting a revision of the Prayer Book.
But the repulsion of young men of talent and attainment from her ministry is not the only drawback to her efficiency which our Church suffers from the doctrinal blemishes of her liturgy. A grievous burden is laid on the consciences of many pious and laborious workers in Christ's vineyard, depressing their efforts, and driving some of them from time to time to quit the field of their labours. One of such men I knew, a man whose unfeigned piety, singleness of mind, sweetness of temper, humility, sympathy, self-denial, and stedfast zeal will make his memory always cherished by survivors of all classes who came within the range of his influence, teaching, and example. The living [11/12] which he had resigned was on two subsequent occasions of its vacancy offered to him, but was refused, though reluctantly, and in spite of the earnest reclamations of the bishop and of the parishioners. Truly what has been said of its greatest men may be said of its best--'the world knows nothing' of them. Such was Robert Matthew Milne, formerly Vicar of Youlgreave in Derbyshire. He, however, as your Lordship must well know, is not the only excellent man whom the liturgical difficulties in question have had the effect of ousting from his accustomed sphere of ministration in the Church. It may be urged that such men are over-sensitive and scrupulous: still their loss to the ministry of the Church is none the less. It may again be urged, with a better show of reason, that the retirement of such men from the ministry of the Church is no conclusive argument for the removal of the difficulties which caused their retirement, for that all who enter the ministry of any communion ought beforehand to be satisfied with regard to all the, doctrinal statements which they will be called upon to accept on entering it. Is it, however, to be expected that every young man, however pure his motives and earnest his intentions in seeking ordination, will have acquainted himself with the bearing of the many hundred theological propositions which are contained [12/13] in the Prayer Book and Articles, the adoption of which was historically a compromise made under Elizabeth between mediaeval and reformed doctrine, tempered afterwards, as regards the Prayer Book, by the reactionary revision of 1662? Is it to be expected that every such young man will be sufficiently well informed and enlightened to perceive the ambiguities and even contradictions which are contained in those formularies taken together? or sufficiently independent in judgment to think for himself on all these matters, and to resist the countervailing force of authority and of long-established custom and traditionary example? But, having given himself to the work of his sacred calling, he perceives, as he becomes more acquainted with the proportions and harmonies of Divine truth, the incongruity of the mediaevalisms embodied in our liturgical services. The result, in the case of such a man as I have here pictured, often is that, after many efforts to bring his convictions into accordance with the teaching to which he has pledged himself, he feels compelled to quit the field of his ministerial work.
I have said that the present state of our liturgy is a drawback to the efficiency of the Anglican Church as a witness for Divine truth. I believe it to be also a drawback to her prosperity as regards the attraction of numbers to her communion or [13/14] their continuance therein. It is calculated to repel a large number of fluctuating minds--earnest, undecided Christians, especially of the younger sort, hesitating in the choice of the communion which they shall join. Clergymen often, to their disappointment, find that the most promising, the most intelligent, dives of their parish schools go over, when they grow up, to the Dissenters. Our liturgical difficulties undoubtedly make men Dissenters, and, even still more, keep them such, if they were such from the first. Your Lordship may recollect the statements made on this latter point by the Rev. Isaac Taylor in his well-informed and temperate pamphlet, published in 1860, and entitled, 'The Liturgy and the Dissenters.' I will quote a few of his statements as favouring my contention that it is these difficulties which keep men in Dissent. At page 33, Mr. Taylor, speaking of Dissenting laymen, tells us as follows: 'They would probably waive abstract theories of Church government, and consent to share in the solid, tangible benefits arising from the endowments of the Church. Certain definite objections to a few phrases in the Prayer Book probably weigh more with them than all the ecclesiastical theories in the world. In fact, a large part of the Dissenting laity, if asked to state the grounds of their Nonconformity, would doubtless [14/15] put forward some of the old Puritanical objections to the Prayer Book, or some of those grievances which would have been remedied by the alterations which were proposed in 1689. It cannot be doubted that if the practical gravamina of Dissent were removed, large numbers of the Dissenting laity would feel themselves unable to justify, either to themselves or to others, their continued Nonconformity; and they would avail themselves of so fair an opportunity of rejoining the Church of their forefathers. The Political Dissenters--the uncompromising anti-State-Church agitators--would, no doubt, maintain a position which they find not altogether uncongenial. The Religious Dissenters--the calm, moderate, sensible men--would mostly join the Church. The Visionary Dissenters--the ecclesiastical doctrinaires--might not conform, yet they would cease to make converts, if practical grievances were all removed. . . . It is often the case that the clever and promising sons of Dissenting parents are desirous, from the highest motives, of devoting themselves to the work of the Christian ministry. They have been brought up in a theological atmosphere differing to no perceptible extent from that breathed by the great body of the church-going laity. Subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles would be no difficulty, for their doctrinal views accord precisely with [15/16] those of some of the highest dignitaries in the Church. They have little anti-State-Church feeling--they are not yet pledged to the Voluntary principle--no ecclesiastical theories have, as yet, been impressed upon them from the professorial chair of a Dissenting college. They are, moreover, keenly sensitive to the increased influence--the larger sphere of labour--the higher social status, which they would possess as clergymen of the Establishment than as Dissenting preachers. They have resolved on a clerical life, and for many reasons they would prefer the position of a clergyman to that of a Dissenting minister. With such men the required subscription to the Book of Common Prayer is the only insuperable difficulty.' These statements, which are of the more authority in that they are made by a man who came of a Dissenting family, have not lost their application to the body of Trinitarian Dissenters through the lapse of twenty-two years. Nor is their application weakened by the subsequent relaxation which was made in the terms of subscription, unaccompanied as that relaxation was by the removal of obnoxious particulars in the liturgical offices; for the use of these offices is as positive an avowal of assent to them as a previous declaration of such assent in precise terms; and most undoubtedly the lex orandi is the lex credendi.
 Certainly there is a lingering attachment among Nonconformists towards the National Church, as we may gather from the fact that their marriages more commonly than not are celebrated with the rites of that Church, from the generosity with which we have seen wealthy men of Nonconformist persuasions contribute towards ecclesiastical purposes, such as the endowment of new bishoprics and the building of cathedrals, and from the numbers in which Nonconformists are sometimes present, in a spirit of sympathy, on important ecclesiastical occasions. These facts, and other considerations, would seem to betoken that, if certain obnoxious particulars were removed from our formularies, many of such religionists would be the more inclined to return to the Church of their fathers. These particulars were the original cause of Nonconformity; and, though we cannot expect that the removal of the cause would in this instance be followed by the entire cessation of the effect, yet we may hope that it will sensibly diminish that effect as time goes on. The Dissent of the present day, as interpreted by its leaders, is actuated more by social jealousies and political antipathies than by that uncompromising repugnance which the fathers of Nonconformity felt towards certain statements of doctrine in the Prayer Book. But these statements supply a stock argument, a reserve force, [17/18] which can always be brought up at need by the violent opponents of the Anglican Church; and we might reasonably expect that the more moderate of their co-religionists would return to the Church, if these statements were removed.
It need not be observed how incalculably their return would increase the power, the influence for good, of the National Church, which would thus be enabled to present an extended and united front to the attacks of the common enemies of Christianity.
I have now expressed to your Lordship my belief that the efficiency and the prosperity of the Anglican Church--and by its prosperity I mean its national character, its hold upon the great body of the Christian population of this country--will greatly depend on the due revision of our liturgy.
I would ask, Is the present state of our liturgy, settled as it was three hundred and twenty years ago, with the slight but reactionary alterations made two hundred and twenty years ago, to be considered as crystallised, and, for some mysterious reason in the nature of things, incapable of amendment? 'Time, the greatest of innovators,' has been at work during this interval in enlightening and informing the religious mind of the nation: shall no corresponding change be admitted in the [18/19] doctrinal statements of the National Church, as embodied in her offices of public devotion?
I must, before ending this letter, notice one plea, grounded on the nationality of the Church, lately devised, and urged in behalf of the retention of the mediaevalisms contained in the Prayer Book. It is, as I understand it, that, because the Anglican Church is a National Church, the peculiarities of every theological 'school of thought' ought to be represented in its formularies. If such reasoning were correct, it would be conclusive against the existence of any National Church; for, whichever of two diverging 'schools of thought' within it be right, a Church embodying in its formularies conflicting statements to suit each 'school' must so far fail in its mission as a witness for Divine truth. 'Truth is truth to the end of reckoning,' and in matters of religion is admittedly of infinite importance. Hence, as I have argued, a revision of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer is not merely desirable and expedient, but necessary and indispensable. Doubtless great difficulties in the way of effecting it are to be apprehended from the active opposition of a small minority, and the probable inertness of a large though favouring majority, of educated Churchmen. But 'truth is great and will prevail;' and we may believe in this [19/20] case that the triumph of truth will be hastened in proportion to- our faithfulness in contending for it, by the blessing of the Author of Truth Himself.
Believe me, My Lord,
Your faithful Servant,
J. R. PRETYMAN.