Page images
PDF
EPUB

Chancellor of the Exchequer, seemed almost certain ; but a coalition between the Liberal and Conservative candidates prevailed, as it has often done, over an individual majority of votes and the indubitable suffrage of the people. In 1848, the “Nonconformist' was enlarged, and, by the exertions of a public committee, one thousand names were added to its list of subscribers. The completion of this grateful testimonial to a journalist was celebrated by a soirée to Mr. Miall at the London Tavern. Twice in the same year he visited Paris--first, as a deputation from the inhabitants of the English metropolis, to congratulate their French brethren on the Revolution of February; and again, as a member of the Peace Congress. In the latter capacity he went to Frankfort in 1849. In the winter of 1849-50, he delivered a course of lectures on the British Churches in relation to the British People,' which, at their completion, were published in the volume thus entitled, and of which, we believe, more than two thousand copies have been sold. In the summer of 1851, he was invited to visit Rochdale, with the view of becoming a candidate for the representation at the retirement of Mr. Sharman Crawford; and at the late general election he was elected for that intelligent constituency by a majority of 155 votes.

We have left ourselves but little space for writing on what we intended to have been the main topic of this paper—the mental and moral characteristics of the man whose public life we have thus briefly sketched. But through that sketch, though imperfect, the mind and heart of the original are visible, and we may be content to bring out more fully the traits already suggested.

Independence of thought-boldness of speech and action-fearlessness of results, either to opinions, systems, or his own person-are universally attributed to Mr. Miall. But these are qualities diversely appreciated by different men, and which may, indeed, have for their basis very different elements; self-conceit, pugnacity, and recklessness or the modest consciousness of intellectual strength and moral rectitude, with a devout reliance on God and truth. Many, within our own knowledge, have changed from the former to the latter view of Mr. Miall's character. The writer has himself a vivid recollection, at the distance of some ten years, of the feelings with which he went to hear the editor of the “Nonconformist,' on a Sunday evening, from a suburban pulpit; of the incredulous surprise with which he beheld, instead of the loud-mouthed, fiery-tongued orator, he had expected, a gentleman of the neatest person and quietest demeanour, reading a profound and beautiful composition on the words from which so many have declaimed pompous platitudes, . God is love. The constant perusal of that preacher's writings must infallibly convey the impression that the writer has thought out, with pains-taking thoroughness, every sentiment he utters—that the method of his saying it is at once natural and deliberate-that a profound sense of responsibility to God, and a tender regard for the best interests of man, are directing and controlling his pen. Personal contact with the man would confirm this idea of the writer. It would be felt that whatever the defects of his cha

a

[ocr errors]

6

a

6

racter, whatever his mistakes, he is earnest even to the verge of fanaticism; and that this earnestness is based upon a sense of duty, and sustained by the spirit of devotion. 'I dislike political associations for young men,' said an eminent London minister, to one of his disciples; but I can trust you with Edward Miall, for I know he is a devout man.' There have been many men as intent as he upon the accomplishment of a given object, but very few men who have combined with their ardour the sobriety which is essential to skilful work. They have not been masters of their own enthusiasm, because they have not felt themselves servants of God. A spectator at the Anti-state-church Conference of 1850—when the movement appeared for a moment in eminent peril of retardation-remarked, • Miall talks like a fanatic, and works like a statesman ; fervently inculcates trust in Providence, yet keeps his eye on every minutiæ of arrangement.'

There is a logical as well as a moral unity about the man. That his opinions are self-formed is evident from their completeness, and the readiness with which he applies them to whatever question may arise. His theological, ecclesiastical, political, and social theories, appear to be all of a piece. They are evidently, in his own phrase, not a manufacture, but a growth. His central doctrine it is hazardous to designate—but we may roughly describe it as, the sufficiency of the individual to all but the highest ends of his creation.

His own intense individuality seems to make him jealous of human interference with any other man. Nothing but the word between God and the human soul,' is his constant demand. •Do nothing for a man that he can be made to do for himself,' is his unvarying warning. His hatred of State Churches and his dislike of Congregational Unions, spring from one root. He asks that every man have the suffrage, and objects to the education of the people by the Government, for the homogeneous reason that all may have room for self-development. Thus, in his religion there is nothing traditional, and in his politics no partizanship. He stands up in the world, saying, “I think he is not angry that others do not think with him, but that every one is not as independent a thinker as himself. Whatever objection there may be to this, is expressible in the aphoristic phrase, "measuring other's corn by his own bushel '—the lack of sympathy with people who were not born to stand alone.

Yet is Mr. Miall not without the lighter attributes of the intellect; and of tender sensibility he has an ample measure. Beneath that clear, calm brow, that self-possessed, taciturn exterior, it might be thought, there is no play of fancy, no vein of humour, little of human softness or passion. It is not necessary to be of the number of his familiars to be undeceived. The style of the writer is a surer index to the nature of the man than his bodily presence. His pages gleam with that mystic light which

*Shineth not on shore or sea,

The vision and the faculty divine.' He looks on nature with the eye of a poet, and on home with the heart of a father. The revolutions of the seasons are almost as visible in his writings as on the face of the sky and earth. One might tell the time of year at which any article of his was written without looking at the date. The icicles that fringe his eaves—the frostwork on his windows—the beauty and joyousness of spring—the 'tingling silentness' of a summer day in the woods—the melodious freedom of the autumnal waves are made visible and audible to his readers.

And, as it were, without effort, or even intent. His illustrations' are not painted on his page, but seem to breathe out from it. The best proof of their vividness or humour is, that they linger for years on the memory. The infant wriggling its unconscious way to manhood's strength'--the baby that is in everybody's way, and everybody is invoked to take care of '—the young pugilist with his fellow's head.in chancery'—the horseguard on duty with a parasol’-the smoky chimney'-are allusions intelligible and mirth-provoking to every ‘constant reader' of the “Nonconformist.'

Hitherto Mr. Edward Miall's career has been straight on. His every successive step has been in one direction. He might take for his motto, 'One thing I do.' To promote the separation of the Church from the State is the object which he has pursued with a remarkable single-mindedness. True, other movements’ have had his aid, and some of them not even indirectly contributive to that end; but they have all been made subordinate to his high purpose. That he may work the more effectually in this vocation was the professed motive of his undisguised desire to enter Parliament. He now stands upon the threshold of that august assembly, charged with a message from many minds, and the object of affectionate interest to many hearts. From the reputation that precedes him thither-his remarkable power of giving a popular shape to abstract truths—his ready wit and quiet earnestness of manner-even that most difficult of achievements,

parliamentary success,' may be hoped for him. That he may attain a position in the House of Commons alike honourable to himself and serviceable to his country—that he may long enjoy it, despite the weariness of legislative toils and the fickleness of constituencies-we heartily wish. Many, we know, are of opinion that what has been termed his impracticableness' will prevent his doing much more, either in or out of Parliament, for the Anti-state-church cause. Were it even so, we should not be without consolation. Mr. Miall has given lately hints of his eminent fitness for another service to Christianity and to the world. His volume on the relation of the British Churches to the British people is, to our minds, incomplete. It represents, truly enough, the dislocation of that relation, but indicates only a partial amendment. His remedial suggestions' deal only with what is exoteric. The disease, we suspect, lies deeper. Faults in the constitution or modus operandi of Christian Churches would scarcely account for the growing alienation of the people from Christian truth. The • separation of that divine and immortal essence from human admistures, even in the dissidence of dissent,' may lead to a 'reconciliation' as yet unattempted.

The abolition of State Churches is an object for which Mr. Miall has done more than any other living man -and its completion may be safely trusted to other hands. For that other work, we trust he may yet find a season of devout and phi. losophic leisure.

The Early Church and its Ministry.

THE great practical utility of historical studies arises solely from the fact, that the course of events is no less regulated by fised laws, than the changes of seasons and the growth of a tree; that cause and effect are linked together with equal certainty in the spiritual and material worlds; and that, therefore, the same principles, in whatever nation, church, or age they prevail, will, cæteris paribus, pass through the same process of development, and lead to the same result. In form and appearance there will be diversities arising from national customs and the spirit of the age, but in essence the process will be the same. Hence we so often find in history a series of events, reappearing in similar order and with the same issue. • That which hath been is now, and that which is to be hath already been' (Eccl. iii. 15). We are, therefore, able to understand the present, and become the prophets of the future, in proportion as we cultivate a true acquaintance with the past. Such an acquaintance, however, consists not so much in a knowledge of events, as of the general course of things out of which they sprang, and of which they were but culminating points; nor so much of forms and names as of the principles which they represented. As the comparative anatomist must look at something more than mere resemblance of form, or the deer's antlers may be classified with branches of trees; so the student of history must bear in mind that the same names in different ages have frequently stood for different things, and that the same actions are not a proof of the prevalence of the same principles. • Ye build the tombs of the prophets—wherefore ye be witnesses against yourselves that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.' The chief end, then, in study should be not to heap up facts, but to trace the law which binds the facts together, the principles which they embody. The object of the present paper is to attempt this with regard to the first three or four centuries of the Christian Church. The limited space into which it must be compressed will involve the necessity of its being imperfect, and prevent, what would be most interesting, a comparison of that era with our own. The writer's object, however, will be attained, if the reader is tempted to carry on the investigation, and make the comparison and application for himself. One self-evident remark will be sufficient to show the utility of such a task at the present time, namely, that if the Church of the apostles grew into the Roman Catholic Church of the middle ages, and if by the same process the Church of the Reformation has borne as the fruit of one of its branches the Puseyism of our day, we cannot exaggerate the importance of searching well to detect any germs of the evil which may exist amongst us, lest, with all our boasted purity, modern churches should become the hotbed of error, whose growth may choke the truth, and make them antichristian in their turn. If we will open our eyes, we may learn much from our neighbours, and much more from our ancestors.

The only acquaintance we have with the churches of the first half-century after the death of Christ is derived from the Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistles, especially of Paul; in fact, so slender are the materials for a description of these churches, that, were it not for their extreme simplicity, it would be impossible to form the least idea of their constitution. A few hints, intended by the apostle to correct abuses, and one or two allusions in the Acts, constitute the whole. Yet these are enough to show that the churches of the first Christians assumed their form rather as the result of the circumstances in which they were placed, than according to any predetermined plan. As officers were wanted they were appointed, as in the case of the deacons, and probably of the elders; the guiding principle in the whole plan being evidently the desire, that each should take the position and perform the duty for which God had fitted him, and that thus, through the unfettered action of •

every man in his place,' the whole, under the guidance of the one Spirit which worked in all, should best work together for the growth of the Church and conversion of the world. But if the formation of the first church was evidently spontaneous, and determined by the circumstances of each church, there were certain principles held fast by all, and constantly enforced by the apostles, with which no arrangements were allowed to interfere; amongst these were the unfettered liberty with which Christ had made all free; the equality of all as ministers of Christ and priests of God; and the claims of Christ upon every member in the church to do the work and fill the post to which God had called him. As liberty is not licentiousness, this did not preclude the forming of plans and laws; and, since universal ministration tends as little to produce monotony in the church as in the woods and fields, it involved diversity • The divine life which followed the law of natural development did not destroy mental peculiarities, but purified, sanctified them, and promoted their freer and deeper culture. The high unity of life showed itself in the diversity of individuals, who were animated by one spirit, and supplied each other's deficiencies.'

In all arrangements within the early churches, the principle was maintained untouched, that every Christian has some ministry in the Church of Christ, the Spirit of God is given to every man to do good with. But there were three kinds of ministry, arising out of special gifts, or natural capacity, or the arrangements of the Church. 1. The first of these, such as 'tongues,' • healing,' “miracles,' &c., since we

« PreviousContinue »