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THE CHURCH IN IRELAND.
I have been requested to deliver a lecture upon the Church—a vast and momentous subject. I felt it to be my duty to comply with the request, because the subject affects an association that emanates from the Church ; because it is a child of the Reformation; because it is planted in the soil, and cannot be uprooted without a social and political convulsion; and, above all, because it is dear to our hearts.
It had been fondly imagined we had reached a peaceful period in our history—that a generous emulation would seize the minds of all classes amongst us to contend with each other who could serve their country best ; that in the glorious race of patriotism, the truest friend of Ireland might win the prize. Alas ! my friends, we have been sadly disappointed. A meeting was convened in this city, and a programme for future political action was submitted by a learned prelate, (an Archbishop in the Church of Rome, holding, it is asserted, the commission of Papal Legate in this kingdom,) and accepted by those assembled on that occasion. A chief place in the programme was assigned to the resolution demanding the overthrow of the Church Establishment in Ireland. From the moment that revolutionary principle was enunciated by such high authority, a series of attacks have been made
upon the Church in Ireland, by speeches, by the press, and, finally, in the Imperial Parliament.
The demand of the Legate has been re-echoed : the Church in Ireland established is said to be the greatest anomaly in the world ; it is the Church of the minority in one part of the United Kingdom ; it offends the sentiment of the Roman Catholic population ; it has got possession of the lands, glebes, and rents, which are said to have belonged to the Church of Rome. We should either have the Roman Catholic Church established, or, as some say, what might be better, have not any; and, therefore, upon the whole, the Establishment must be levelled in the dust; the glebes and the dwellings of the clergy seized as vacancies occur; the lands of the Church sequestered; the fabrics of the Church, perhaps, allowed to the Protestants, or perhaps converted to purposes of public utility, and a principle of religious equality, so-called, introduced, by which we might re-arrange the Constitution without any form of religion to be established or preferred.
I think I have fairly stated the creed of our modern political philosophers; it is in effect a proposal to revolutionize the existing Constitution. The maintenance of these opinions is not confined to the rash or to the unthinking, to the ignorant or to the bigot; an active party within the walls of Parliament adopt and repeat them; and they have hailed with acclamations the opinions expressed by Mr. Gladstone, a statesman of great abilities, high position, and surpassing eloquence-opinions hostile to the maintenance of our Church, under its ancient parochial system.
A numerous and active party naturally point at the man of genius to lead the assault against the Church in Ireland, preliminary to the grand and final assault to be made upon the same Church in England.
Under such a combination of seemingly adverse circum
stances, it may not be unserviceable that Protestants attached to their Church should assemble themselves together, consider their position, investigate the history of their Church, its relation to the monarchy, to the laws, constitution, and settlement of property within this kingdom ; should ascertain what are the solemn obligations resting on those who now assault the Church, and what would be the consequence of the success of their avowed designs.
Enthusiasm to destroy should be met by enthusiasm to preserve; but it has been always observed that the attacking party has the advantage in the strife, that property is sluggish, and long possession renders men cold and apathetic. I think, however, the revolutionary policy now propounded, will have the effect of uniting all classes of Protestants within this kingdom into a common bond of sympathy, resulting in a resolution to maintain what is the safeguard of their liberties, and defence of their common faith.
“The condition of a Church," writes Canon Wordsworth, “wherever that Church may be, is a sacred and solemn thing. A Church is a golden candlestick, whose light has been kindled by Christ. He walks near it. His eye is upon it. He watches over it. He vouchsafes to represent its angels as stars in his own right hand. Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm. He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye. Hence every Church, as a Church, has a claim to the reverence of all Christians. And in the present case, in regard to the Church in Ireland, this claim is strengthened by special ties, civil and religious. As kingdoms, England and Ireland are one. As Churches they stand side by side. If one of the candlesticks is removed, the other, it is probable, will not long remain. If the light of the one is pure, and streams forth in full lustre, that of the other will burn brightly also. Therefore, on the ground of our common nationality and common Christianity, we may well feel a deep interest in the subject before us.'
These are just and solemn reflections of the eminent
English divine, preaching on the Church of Ireland in Westminster Abbey.
Let us inquire what was the character and teaching of the ancient Church in Ireland, and wherein do we of the Established Church fall short of apprehending the primitive truths taught in the time of Catholic purity. Can we fairly prove that we inherit the ancient faith taught in Ireland ; and that we, by regular and unbroken succession, derive our episcopacy and orders from the bishops of that ancient Church. Canon Wordsworth thus puts the question :
“For a long time, the advocates of Romanism in Ireland have been commonly permitted to appropriate to themselves the venerable and attractive words 'the old Religion, the ancient Faith,' the Church of the Fathers.' Thus, many among ourselves have been led to imagine that these phrases are synonymous with the Religion and the Church of Rome. On this ground, some have gone so far as to affirm, that to encourage and endow Romanism in Ireland, would be only a work of justice, and an act of restitution. And, on the same principle, it has been asserted by some, that the hundreds and thousands of Irish who have recently renounced the errors of Rome, have, by so doing abjured the faith of their fathers, and have embraced a new religion. It is time that the light of history should dispel these illusions. It is time that they who hold this language should be called upon, in the name of Him who is the Truth, to substantiate what they say. Produce your cause, saith the Lord: bring forth your strong reasons. Let us not have assertions, but proofs. Let them show, if they can, that the Bishop of Rome exercised supreme authority in Ireland for a thousand years after Christ. Are they able to do so ? No; the truth is—and it is time that the truth shonld be known by all-that Romanism in Ireland is a new religion ; that it came in by stealth, in an age of darkness; and that the renunciation of the Papal supremacy is not an act of apostacy (Heaven forbid !), but a right and necessary exercise of Christian liberty; and if it be coupled, as it ought to be coupled, with the reception of Holy Scripture, (interpreted by antiquity,) as the supreme standard and all-sufficient Rule of Faith, then it is a blessed return to the Old Religion of ancient Ireland, the religion of the Island of the Saints, in her purest and happiest days.”