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[Price Sixpence.]


Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2006


46 St. Martin's Lane.

[3] A LETTER, &c.

London, June 27, 1838.


I HAVE in the first place to apologise for addressing your Grace in this anonymous manner, and to express a hope that the urgency of the occasion, and the greatness of the question to which attention is here drawn, will, in some degree, palliate an evil, too common in these times, that, namely, of unauthorised and irresponsible persons presuming to offer opinions, and suggest courses of action, to those who are their superiors both in station and capacity.

The subject and the occasion, upon the importance of which I so much rely for my excuse, are both furnished by the meeting in support of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, over which your Grace presided not many days since. The class of persons who constituted it, and the station and ability of those who addressed it, supply an argument, were others wanting, that it was upon a matter of no small moment that it was summoned. It is to state the facts which were published at that meeting, to keep alive the feeling which they were calculated to create, and to provide this feeling with a legitimate and permanent channel, that I now venture to address your Grace.

The Report of the Secretary, and the speeches which were delivered on the occasion alluded to, [3/4] sufficiently proved several important particulars. They shewed--

1st, That the most appalling spiritual destitution exists at this moment in the colonies of the British empire.

2dly, That not only has the legislature done little to remedy this evil, but that it is now taking, so to say, direct measures to increase it; and this in two ways:--First, by withdrawing the support hitherto afforded to the Church in the colonies; and, secondly, by encouraging rapid and extensive emigration. From the same proofs it appeared--

3dly, That the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel has for near a century and a half been struggling against this enormous evil; that it is still doing so with unabated, nay, rather, with increased zeal; but that, at the same time, it is impossible for this institution to perform any material part of the work still before it, unless it be supported in a far more vigorous manner than has yet been the case.

Besides these propositions, which may be called an abstract of the chief topics discussed, there were several principles more or less distinctly expressed by different speakers, from amongst which I am anxious to select one in particular for the consideration of your Grace.

That to which I allude was thus stated by the Primate of Ireland:--

"That which invests the Society with the greatest extent of interest in my eyes is, that it is directly connected with the Church establishment of the country."

Mr. Le Bas spoke still more plainly. "The Church," said he, "is the best missionary society."

[5] With great deference for both these speakers, I submit, my Lord, that the principle would have been more truly expressed had it stood thus:--

"The Church is the original and rightful missionary society; others are only then tolerable when she is inactive; and, even then, those are the most commendable which are the most nearly connected with her."

To develop this principle, as far as it may be done in so hasty and limited a publication, and to apply it to the facts which I have stated as having been proved at the late meeting, cannot, I think, be an uninteresting or useless employment.

First, then, in order to test this view by those elementary feelings which even the most unlearned must derive from the study of the Holy Scriptures, let us recall whatever is most ready to our thoughts of the Churches of Jerusalem or Antioch, or of that universal primitive Church which was made up of these and other similar societies; and let us suppose, for an instant, such a condition of things as that of the whole, or any one of these Churches, sitting idly by, while a voluntary association, consisting of some portion of one, or of several portions of many or perhaps all these Churches, was collecting funds, educating and selecting teachers, acquiring power and privileges from the civil rulers, and organising vast systems of correspondence and control, in order to propagate the Gospel of Christ throughout the world.

Let us further suppose the zeal of the Christians or the wants of the heathen to have gradually increased; and then let us imagine, not the ancient society to have been extended, not the Church to [5/6] have been set in motion, but new and separate societies to have sprung up, differing more or less from each other, and from the Church, in their manner of proceeding, and acting professedly with one object, but wholly without concert or unity of design.

Surely every reader of the New Testament would at once declare such a state of things impossible, or, at the least, wholly irreconcilable with the known facts of the case.
But to pass beyond this first impression, let us inquire what reasons there are why this could not have been the case in the primitive Church. We shall then, perhaps, better understand why it ought not to be so with ourselves.

1st, then, If there had been only one such society, it would have implied that a majority of the rulers and members of the Church were indifferent to the trust committed to them, and careless into whose hands it passed.

2dly, If there had been more than one, it would have implied disunion at home, and would have produced a variety of doctrine and a division of influence amongst the heathen abroad.

3dly, In either case it would have involved great irregularity and confusion, and would have deprived the apostles and elders of the Church of their due authority; since, though they might individually have been members of these societies, nay, though they might have been so on account of their office, yet they could not have presided in them (as they do in the Church) by and through their office alone.

4thly, and lastly, It would have run counter to the whole tenour of Scripture, when it speaks of the Christian profession as implying a "fellowship," a [6/7] "communion," a "citizenship;"--in short, when it describes the Church of Christ as a society into which admittance is to be obtained, and within which a free and privileged intercourse is to subsist. For what society but the Church can admit into the Church? by whose authority but her own can her communion be extended to others? If one man cannot do it of himself, neither can ten, nor twenty, nor a hundred, by the mere act of association, open her doors and impart her privileges to the world.

We see, therefore, at once, why the primitive Church, either as universal, or as local but in communion with the universal, should have retained one of her highest prerogatives, and should have thus gradually associated to herself all the new societies of Christians which sprang up under her ministry.

Why, then, is it otherwise with the Church of England? Why does she, who with good reason thanks God that she has been maintained, as to many things, in strict conformity with primitive doctrine and practice, fail in this (surely not unimportant) particular? Does she deny any one of the principles which we have cited as influencing the Church in apostolical times? Does she disclaim her duty to preach to all nations? Does she make light of unity with regard either to faith or charity? Does she deny lawful authority, or set discipline and order at nought? Lastly, does she account herself, as a Church, to have no substantive existence except by the act of the State; or does she not rather in all ways assert that she is a true and legitimate member of that spiritual body, the Church Catholic of Christ, and that, through her, access may be had to the full communion of saints?

[8] Why, then, has she left to individuals, or to associations (which have no spiritual authority beyond individuals), the propagation of the faith? Why, above all, has she suffered professing members of her own body to pass into distant quarters of the world, without sending with them the means of maintaining themselves in her holy communion?

The question is surely a grave one; and it is one to which, had the mother Church of Jerusalem so acted, she would have had no answer to allege. Fortunately for us, who are her distant but lineal descendants, she needed no reply to such a charge. But what have we to answer to those colonies which have already grown up to independence of our government, but where the communion of our Church has, comparatively speaking, not passed beyond its infancy? Are not the many-coloured creeds of America a reproach which England cannot altogether disown? Again, to turn from the past to the present, we have yet many lands entrusted to our care for temporal and spiritual nurture. In the former we are diligent enough; when these new empires shake us off, what account shall we have to give of the latter?

The Church of England has one excuse; and, as far as I can see, but one. She has relied upon the State, and the State has proved unworthy of her confidence. She has been for two centuries and a half so closely allied with the State, and has suffered it to exercise so many of her functions, that she has thought that this privilege, like others, had been delegated to it. And this the rather as regards our own colonies, because their spiritual and civil interests have, throughout, appeared to bear the same [8/9] close relation to each other as that in which these interests are, by the constitution of the kingdom, acknowledged to stand at home.

In this way she has been lulled into apathy; and as the State has done, comparatively speaking, nothing towards the extension of Christianity, or its maintenance even where professed, pious individuals, nurtured in the principles, and assuming to themselves the duties of the Church, have at various times, either individually or collectively, endeavoured to supply the want, and to hide, as it were, the omissions and neglect of their rulers.

And this palliative, insufficient as it has proved in practice, might in theory have been sufficient still; that is, it might, on the one hand, have sufficed to confirm the zealous in their endeavours to promote, by civil associations, an object which, through the interference of the State, had acquired a civil as well as an ecclesiastical character; on the other, it might have kept the careless in their carelessness, by enabling them to throw off from themselves their responsibility as churchmen, and to lay the burden of blame upon the State. Late events, however, have scattered this theory to the winds; there is not a shred of it left to shelter the irregularity of the one class, or the indolence of the other. The State has declared, by acts of the most decided kind, that whatever constraint she may still submit to at home, she will no longer be shackled by any standard of positive belief abroad. New countries, in her judgment, require new moral systems for their prosperity and of these systems, unmixed truth forms no necessary ingredient. The Church of England, therefore, shall receive a pittance towards sending her [9/10] clergy to our colonies; but lest their teaching should have free course, and the balance be thus unfairly disturbed, the Church of Rome shall be invited thither too. Schism, in contravention of the law, has borne such good fruit amongst ourselves, that we are anxious it should have the additional advantage of the law in its operation upon others.

The blow, then, has been struck; and, as regards our colonies, the Church is well-nigh severed from the State. Her former excuse will therefore now no longer serve her; and all the duties which belong to an independent mother Church--the duties which the primitive Church of Jerusalem acknowledged and discharged--devolve upon her. She must exert herself, first as Anglican towards the English colonies, then as Catholic towards the whole race of mankind.

My Lord, if this view be a just one,--if this work belong again exclusively to the Church, or even if there be any danger that it will soon devolve upon her,--we have surely much need at once to determine what instruments she shall use, and in what channel her influence shall be exerted.

That her constitution, being apostolical, is itself admirably contrived for apostolical purposes, we cannot for a moment doubt; or that, if her system could at once be set in motion towards this object, none better, none so fit, could be devised. But it may well be questioned whether, in some respects, long disuse may not have rendered the details of her machinery unapt for an immediate and general effort, such as is here required. We shall do well, therefore, to examine whether there is no other course open to us, by which the advantages of Church authority and [10/11] Church unity may be combined with the means of speedy and systematic exertion.

The plan which most readily suggests itself is, that the Church should adopt one of the societies already in existence, and should make it, so to say, its committee for this purpose.

In this way it would acquire at once a regular and organised system of correspondence, and all the other apparatus requisite for carrying on its operations abroad; while at home its own constitution might be strictly preserved, and its diocesan, parochial, and intermediate subdivisions supply the best and most legitimate method of collecting the alms of churchmen throughout the country.

I need hardly remind your Grace, that there are two societies at this moment in full operation, either of which would be no unworthy handmaid of the Church of England for this service.

As, however, it is requisite, for the sake of unity, that one of these should be preferred to the other, the preference must needs, I think, fall upon the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and that chiefly for two reasons:--

1st, Because of it your Grace, the Archbishop of York, the Bishops of London and Ely, the Divinity Professors in both Universities, and several other dignitaries, are, by charter, members, while its by-laws constitute the bishops of both provinces vice-presidents; and because, besides this nominal connexion with the society, the successive primates, and many other prelates of our Church, have, from its commencement, taken--as your Grace and our other prelates now take--an active part in its management.

[12] 2dly, Because its objects are such as most immediately concern the Church of England; and these, until they are attained, leave no room for her members to direct their missionary zeal or liberality to any other quarter.

These objects comprise, in the first place, the maintenance of true religion amongst those who leave our Christian country to place themselves in immediate contact with heathenism.

And surely, my Lord, this should be every Englishman's first care; surely it must be a distempered and romantic zeal which would lead us to convert Pagans to Christianity, while we suffer professing Christians to lapse into the vices, without the pardonable ignorance, of Pagans; while we allow the offspring of churchmen to grow up unbaptised and uninstructed, without the sacraments or doctrine of Christ. Is not this to take the children's bread and to cast it to dogs? The ardour of St. Paul to be first in his apostleship, and to teach no man who had been taught of another before him, was a noble example of what may be termed the chivalry of the Christian minister; but we do not read that he went amongst the heathen to the neglect of Christians; or that when he planted a Church, he was not careful to confirm, to exhort, and to rebuke it. Had this been so, the Acts of the Apostles would have shewn us a wider compass of his travels; and of his Epistles many would have remained unwritten.

Again, if we would but study the providence of God, we should perceive, in the circumstances under which the Church was first instituted and spread, a rule suggested for our guidance, and a sphere pointed out for our labours. Were not the civilised portions [12/13] of the earth chosen for the conversion of the barbarous? Did not all human science and refinement centre, as it were, in one spot; and was not that one spot, the empire of Rome, selected in the fulness of time to be the scene of the first propagation of Christianity? And shall we, who possess neither the gift of tongues, nor the power of working miracles, pretend to discard means of assistance which approve themselves so readily to our reason, and which the example of our Lord and his Apostles has so expressly sanctioned? Surely we shall act more wisely and humbly, as well as more charitably, if we look first to those who are of the household of faith; and when we
have taught them non magna loqui, sed vivere, proceed to their heathen neighbours, with example as well as precept at our command.

And this brings me to the second branch of the objects which the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel has before it, and which unquestionably has the next claim upon us; that, namely, of converting our own heathen subjects, and the nations immediately adjacent to them.

From the great demands which have been made upon the Society in respect of its primary object, it is not uncommonly thought that this is its only one. Such, however, is far from being the case, since both the terms of its charter, and the history of its early proceedings, are evidence to the contrary. And if we would but take into our account the numbers of the heathen who are under the dominion of the British crown, the relation which we, as rulers, bear to them, and the advantages which we derive from them, we should see abundant reason for directing our first efforts to their conversion, rather than to vague and [13/14] occasional missions among nations over whom we have no control.

This, then, is the other ground for preferring the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to be the peculiar organ of the Church; viz. that the field which it has chosen is that which most immediately concerns us, and that centuries may elapse before this field can be fully cultivated.

Further arguments in favour of this Society might be adduced from its antiquity, its services (especially in North America), and the sanction which it has received, and still receives, both from the Crown and Parliament: but I submit to your Grace that enough has been said to prove, that if the Church of England is to select a channel for her bounty, there is none immediately available which is so fit as this Society.

The argument, that a single society is not sufficient for such great purposes, can only apply where the one which is selected is too narrow in its constitution, or too meanly supported. And neither of these objections can find place here; for, as regards the former, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel is by charter capable of any extension in its numbers, and of any modification in the detail of its management; its committees might be multiplied, and its labours divided, in many different ways, without infringing any fundamental rule of its constitution: and with regard to the latter objection, it is one which the Church, by adopting the Society, would at once destroy, and which, if it can now be urged, must be urged to the discredit of our country rather than of the Society itself.

My Lord, if in what I have said, I have shown [14/15] any good grounds for the measure here proposed, your Grace will perhaps bear with me while I suggest a few of the means by which it may be carried into effect.

It is understood that the Society is at this moment preparing to make a vigorous effort to obtain increased assistance throughout the country. Indeed, the meeting over which your Grace lately presided may be considered as a sufficient proof of this. Were this effort to be supported, in a public manner, by those who have the best right to raise their voice in the Church--were the Society to be recommended to every clergyman in the kingdom by his own diocesan--still more, were the bench collectively to address the Church of England in its behalf--were the archdeacons, the rural deans, and the parochial ministers to urge its claims, at stated seasons, within their respective districts,--were all, or even some part, of this legitimate influence to be exerted, I do believe, my Lord, that there is that spirit of churchmanship still amongst us which would make us glad to collect our now scattered and irregular contributions, and to present them in their fitting time and place,--on the first day of the week, and at the communion table of the Church.

This, my Lord, is one most important, and not difficult, step; it is one which has already been partially taken, and the full accomplishment of which is absolutely requisite to any scheme of unity with regard to the missions of the Church.

There is another and more distant object which must also be aimed at if we would be united in the distribution, as well as in the collection of our Christian bounty. This object is the absorption into the [15/16] missionary system of the Church of all other societies which profess to propagate her faith, and especially of that great and zealous association to which allusion has already been made as a meet competitor for her favour.

To require of the pious and able men who constitute these societies, that they should resign their charge to any other private association, would be to ask more of them than it is reasonable that they should grant. Our own labour always throws a charm around its object; and in the absence of lawful authority, our own principles will naturally appear to us the most sound, because they are our own. To urge against such feelings the advantage of any scheme of unity short of the unity of the Church, would surely be an idle task; but when the Church speaks, her members are bound to hear her. Above all are they bound to this obedience, when she forbids them any longer to usurp her functions, or interrupt her in a course which is peculiarly, and ought to be exclusively, her own.

Should it therefore seem fit to your Grace, and to the other rulers of the Church, that the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel should be the Church's instrument in her missionary labours, the objection which arises from the (hitherto) private character of that corporation would cease, and other societies might fairly be required to resign to the Church, through its hands, their claim to an independent existence. By this, however, it is not intended that the talent and zeal now exerted in these societies should be robbed of their employment; on the contrary, it has been before observed, that the constitution of the Society for the [16/17] Propagation of the Gospel admits of indefinite extension, and of almost any modifications in its management. The most active and experienced members of other societies might therefore be adopted into it, and constitute sub-committees of the Church, for the guidance of her labours in those quarters with which their previous pursuits have rendered them familiar. Some sacrifice, doubtless, is implied by this, but it is a sacrifice of feeling, not of principle; and should the Church ask it, it will appear the more worthy of her acceptance in proportion to its cost.

My Lord, it is to the bench over which you preside that we must look in this, as in the former case, for example and assistance. Amongst the members of it we recognise as great a variety of opinion upon matters which the Church has left indifferent, as any which prevails throughout the clergy at large. It combines, therefore, the authority of office with the confidence which all men naturally place in those whose private opinions agree with their own; and it is thus peculiarly fitted to lead men to unity upon a subject in regard to which it is itself united.

The manner and season in which this point should be accomplished, it is not for me to dictate to your Grace. The success which, it is hoped, will attend the promised efforts of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, will probably offer better opportunities than at present exist; and, at all events, it is a matter more fit for the private discretion of your Grace and of the bench, than for public discussion.

My Lord, it would extend this letter to an undue length were I to push these suggestions any further, or to dilate upon the consequences which I am sanguine enough to anticipate from the adoption of [17/18] them. I will therefore conclude with an explanation of my own conduct in thus anonymously addressing your Grace, and then leave the question in your hands.

One principal reason of this is, that the publication of my name could add no weight to the arguments with which it would be connected, while it might fairly involve me in the charge of presumption for submitting them to your Grace. Another is, that the arguments themselves cannot be called mine: this letter may be said rather to be a collection from the scattered opinions of others, than to consist of original suggestions of my own. It would therefore have been unjust, as well as unwise, in me to assume the credit of having invented a project, which, in some form or other, has occurred almost simultaneously to many reflecting minds.

I remain,
My Lord Archbishop,
Your Grace's
Most obedient, humble servant.

St. Martin's Lane.

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