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All the pleasures of that life of contemplative activity in which the highest truth is sought and then ministered to the souls of men, would in general be insufficient to attract to the ministry of the Church the spirits of larger mould and finer texture, if they knew that their subsistence would depend on the critical judgment of the little circle around their church. The congregational system would repel such men, and thereby unfit the Church for leading the nation; and unless the Clergy are to be stamped with an intellectual inferiority which would disqualify them for their national office, they must have their moderate incomes secured to them on a firmer basis.
22. This leads to the second requisite needed by the clergy who are to lead the nation. Their independence must not be unduly interfered with either in thought or action. Independence is the character of the nation throughout all those classes which are leading its progress; and if the Church is to hold her position in the van of society she must be independent too. Her influence with the nation depends on her possessing the nation's respect; for she need not now dream of spiritual dominion ; and that respect she cannot have, unless she is independent in her teaching and example. Her office is to give religious counsel to a nation whose free thought has been blessed by God with abundant knowledge, and whose history under His good providence has been a harmonious development of freedom such as the world has never seen. She may not hope to fill the high office of guiding such a nation with the counsels of God, and ministering to its civilization the principles of divine order and progress, unless she too can breathe its highest aspirations in the same spirit of freedom. She can retain her hold on the nation only by sympathetic union with its love of truth and sense of virtue; and the nation will accept her religious counsel only so long as it recognises in her free thought and unconstrained goodness. If, therefore, the Church is to perform efficiently her national office, the teaching of her ministers must be honest and their lives sincere ; and her system should be regulated with a view to these essential qualifications. Genuine sincerity may indeed be corrupted in the ministers of a Church, on whatever system it is founded; but the system itself should not tend to corrupt them. External restraints and incentives tending to regulate clerical life according to a certain pattern, are amongst the most potent influences in making the religious character of the clergy superficial and unreal; and from these the clergy should be preserved, that they may be respected by the nation. Now such influences are less powerful and less direct in their action in proportion as the clergy are independent of their congregations. Even the abuses which may exist in the disposal of the patronage of an Established Church are less injurious than the patronage of the congregation. For the spiritual life of the ministers of such a Church is free compared with those who are continually subject to the critical inspection of a congregation, and are obliged to conform to its idea of sanctity; and the spontaneous piety which flourishes in such a Church has not only more freshness of purity, but also more attractive influence on society, because it is free and independent. The Christian life loses its essence of goodness when it is formed under constraint; for goodness implies the free development of pure motive. And it is not in the constrained spe
cialities which congregationalism tends to foster that the nation should expect to find either that purest spirit of religion or that best embodiment of it which it concerns the nation's best interests to preserve as its ideal.
23. Nor is it only for the sincerity of their own lives that independence is needed by the national clergy. It is still more necessary for the faithfulness of their teaching on Christian duty. It is not consistent with the idea of a guide that he should be constrained to follow, and those who are to lead the nation's life must be free to move in advance of the people. The clergy who are to do this must not be made so dependent on their congregations as to be subject to pains and penalties, if their views of Christian duty coincide not with the prejudices of the day. It is theirs to brave the outcry of bigotry in the blessed cause of charity, to despise the anathema with which religious party excommunicates those who will not say its shibboleth, to disregard the condemnation too often pronounced on those who would draw the Christian life out of the refinements of exaggerated sentiment, and open it to the world by putting the weightier matters of the law in the place of the little code of artificial sins and duties into which it is apt to get contracted. Such bravery is needed in guiding the Christian life of the nation, and it can hardly exist unless the national clergy are made independent of those whom otherwise it would be dangerous to offend.
24. Their thought must be free, too, on the momentous subjects of the Christian faith; for the nation's faith will die if the faith of the Church contracts and hardens itself into unalterable propositions.
The great effort of the present generation is to see the realities of things for itself, and leaving behind the ideas of the past, to conform its thoughts to the actual verities of the world. The Christian faith cannot escape this process; and unless the intellect of the nation feels that the Church is ever striving to see religious truth more clearly, and to express it more fully, there can be no real communion of religious belief between them. If thought be busy on every subject but religion, while on religion its exercise is forbidden, the Christian faith will exist in the country as a form from which the life is departing, and will after a while be buried with the fossils of the past. Now free thought on the Christian faith cannot flourish under the congregational system. It is favoured only by those in whom the intellect predominates over prejudice and sentiment; and these are sure to form a small minority in any congregation. The majority will always consist of those whose intellect has been imperfectly developed by education, and those whose religious feelings impede its exercise on religious subjects. The momentous importance of faith as the condition of salvation, the sanctity that enshrines those forms of religious thought in which the lessons of piety are first conveyed, the solemn tenderness with which subsequent experience endears them, all tend to make men oppose the exercise of thought on religion, and to resist the least change in the faith which they have inherited. The majority of the congregation would almost invariably embody the force of all such sentiments in extinguishing free thought in the minister who was dependent on them; and would determine their present belief to be the final perfection of truth. Religious belief thus ruled by the majority tends ever
to separate itself from the growing thought and knowledge of the day, and to denounce new truth when it comes in contact with religious tradition. The new truth, however, prevails in the next generation; and every such triumph of reason over faith weakens the influence of faith amongst men, by associating it with ignorance and misrepresenting it as an essentially retrograde principle. Thus would faith gradually lose its union with the thought and life of the nation, and become a mere monument of the past, if religious belief was to be settled continually by counting votes, as a banker strikes his balances.
Nor is it only under the congregational system that this danger exists. Church synods under any system are apt to indulge in this dangerous practice, and to extinguish thereby that freedom of thought with· out which no Church is fit to guard the faith of a progressive nation. The extinction of new thought, or the generation of schism by its expulsion, is now the only effect of synodical decisions on questions of faith; for their efficacy in settling the faith of the people has passed away with all the circumstances on which their authority of old depended. The Church has lost the attributes which formerly invested her with such authority in the eyes of men, and individual thought has at the same time asserted its freedom, and repudiated the dominion of authoritative bodies. The one Church collected within herself for her struggle with heathenism, correcting local corruptions by declaring the universal traditions of Christendom, and maintaining the authority of the faith by preserving its Catholicity, has passed away, and no National Church inherits its commanding attributes. The ministers of religion no longer hold the key of knowledge and guard the traditions of civi.