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One of the most characteristic specimens of the courtier prelate of the eighteenth century on whom so much abuse has been somewhat unfairly lavished both by contemporaries and by writers of our own time, who have dwelt exclusively upon the weak side of their character, was Bishop Hurd. Hurd is now chiefly known as the devoted friend--or rather the '_fidus Achates_'--of Warburton. He was a man, however, who had a very distinct individuality of his own, and may be regarded as a fair representative of a type of bishop now extinct. He was distinguished as a scholar, a divine, and a courtier. When, however, it is said that Hurd was a courtier, it is not meant to imply that he was servile or in any way unduly complaisant to the King or the Court. There is no evidence of anything of the sort. Neither does he appear to have been, like some of his contemporaries, unduly intent upon advancing his own selfish interests. His preferments came apparently unsought, and he refused the Primacy, although it was pressed upon him by the King on the death of Archbishop Cornwallis in 1783. Although he rose from a comparatively humble origin, 'his parents,' he tells us, 'were plain, honest, and good people' (his father was, in fact, a farmer); he seems to have been gifted by nature with great courtliness of manner, and with aristocratic tastes. On his first introduction at Court he won by these graces the heart of the King, who remarked that he thought him more naturally polite than any man he had ever met with. Hurd subsequently became the most trusted friend and constant adviser of George III. There is a very touching letter extant, which the King wrote to Hurd in one of his great sorrows, expressing most feelingly the value in which George held the religious ministrations of his favourite bishop, and the high opinion he had of his piety and worth. The mere fact that Hurd won the affectionate respect--one might almost say veneration--of so good a Christian as King George, furnishes a presumption that he must have been a man of some merit; and there is nothing whatever in any of his writings, or in anything we hear of his life, that should lead us to think otherwise. Nevertheless, it was just such men as Hurd who tended to keep the Church of the eighteenth century in its apathetic state. Hurd was a religious-minded man; but his religion was characterised by a cold, prim propriety which was not calculated to commend it to men at large. Like his friend Warburton, he could see nothing but folly and fanatical madness in the great evangelical revival which was going on around him, and which he seems to have thought would soon be stamped out. He only emerged from his stately seclusion on great occasions; but when he did go forth, he was surrounded with all 'the pomp and circumstance' which might impress beholders with a sense of his dignity. 'Hartlebury Church is not above a quarter of a mile from Hartlebury Castle, and yet that quarter of a mile Hurd always travelled in his episcopal coach, with his servants in full-dress liveries; and when he used to go from Worcester to Bristol Hot Wells, he never moved without a train of twelve servants.' Hurd has left us a very short memoir of his own life; but short as the memoir is, it gives us a curious insight into one side of his character. The whole account is compressed into twenty-six pages, and consists for the most part merely of a bare recital of the chief events of his life. But one day--one memorable day to be marked with the whitest of white chalk--is described at full length. Out of the twenty-six pages, no less than six are devoted to the description of a visit with which the King honoured him at Hartlebury, when 'no accident,' we are glad to learn, 'of any kind interrupted the mutual satisfaction which was given and received on the occasion.'

It has been already observed that the Church interest formed a most important element in the reckoning of statesmen of this century; and the extent to which the clergy were mixed up with the politics of the day must, under the circumstances, be reckoned among the Church abuses of the period. Not, of course, that this is in itself an evil. On the contrary, it would be distinctly a misfortune, both to the State and to the Church, if the clergy of a Church constituted like our own were to abstain altogether from taking any part in politics. It could hardly fail to be a loss to the State if a large and presumably intelligent class stood entirely aloof from its affairs. And the clergy themselves by so doing would be both forfeiting a right and neglecting a duty. As citizens who have an equal stake with the laity in the interests of the country, they clearly enjoy the right to have a voice in the conduct of its affairs. And as Christians they have a positive duty incumbent upon them to use the influence they possess in this, as in every other relation of life, for the cause of Christianity. But with this right and this duty there is also a danger lest those, whose chief concern ought to be with higher objects, should become overmuch entangled with the affairs of this life; and a danger also lest men whose training is, as a rule, not adapted to make them good men of business, should throw their influence into the wrong scale. In so far, but only in so far as the clergy fell into one or the other of these snares, can the political Churchmanship of the eighteenth century be classed among the Church abuses of the period. The circumstances of the times increased these dangers. During the reigns of the first two Georges political morality was at so low an ebb that it was difficult for the clergy to take a leading part in politics without injury to their spiritual character. They could hardly touch the pitch without being defiled. It is to be feared that politics at this period did more to debase the clergy than the clergy did to elevate politics. Not but that they often incurred an unpopularity for the part they took in political questions which was wholly undeserved. Nothing, for example, brought more odium upon the bishops than the share they had in throwing out the Quakers' Tithes Bill in 1736. Yet apparently without just cause; for a high legal authority of our own day, who certainly shows no prejudice in favour of the Church and her ministers, characterises this measure as a well-meant but impracticable Bill. Again, in 1753, many of the bishops were exposed to unmerited abuse for supporting, as they were clearly right in doing, the Jews' Naturalisation Bill. Again, in 1780, the bishops had the good sense not to be led astray by the senseless 'No Popery' cry which led to the Gordon riots; and by their moral courage on this occasion they drew down upon themselves much undeserved censure. The good sense, however, which characterised the political conduct of the clergy on these and other occasions was, unfortunately, exceptional. As a rule, the political influence of the clergy was not very wisely exercised.

In his summary of the period which closed with the death of George II., Horace Walpole writes:--'The Church was moderate and, when the Ministry required it, yielding.' From the point of view of this writer, whose sentiments on religious matters exactly corresponded with those of his father, nothing could have been more satisfactory than this state of things. To those who look upon the Church merely as a State Establishment, 'moderate, and, when the Ministry require it, yielding,' would represent its ideal condition. But to those who believe in it as a Divine institution, the picture will convey a different impression. They will see in it a worldly man's description of the spiritual lethargy which had overtaken English Christendom. The expression will not be deemed too strong when it is remembered what was, as a matter of fact, the real state of affairs so far as the practical work of the Church was concerned. Under the very different conditions amidst which we live, it is difficult to realise what existed, or rather what did not exist, in the last century. What would now be considered the most ordinary part of parochial machinery was then wanting. The Sunday school, which was first set on foot about the middle of this century,[679] was regarded with suspicion by many of the clergy, and vehemently opposed by some. The interest in foreign missions which had been awakened at the beginning of the century was not sustained. The population of the country had far outgrown the resources of the National Church, even if her ministers had been as energetic as they were generally the reverse; and there were no voluntary societies for home missions to supply the defects of the parochial machinery. The good old plan of catechising not only children but domestic servants and apprentices on Sunday afternoons had fallen into disuse.[680] In the early part of the century plans had been set on foot for the establishment of parochial libraries, but these had fallen through. In short, beyond the personal influence which a clergyman might exercise over his friends and dependants in his parish (which was often very wholesome and also very extensive), his clerical work consisted solely in reading the services and preaching on Sundays. When Boswell talked of the assiduity of the Scottish clergy in visiting and privately instructing their parishioners, and observed how much in this they excelled the English clergy, Johnson, who would never hear one word against that Church of which he was a worthy member and a distinguished ornament, could only reply, 'There are different ways of instructing. Our clergy pray and preach. The clergy of England have produced the most valuable books in support of religion, both in theory and practice.' The praise contained in this last sentence was thoroughly deserved. The clergy, if inactive in other respects, were not inactive with their pens; only of course the work done in this direction was done by a very small minority.

But they all preached. What was the character of their sermons?

On this point, as on many others, the censure that has been passed upon the Church of the eighteenth century has been far too sweeping and far too severe. When one hears the sermons of the period stigmatised without any qualification as 'miserable moral essays,' and 'as unspeakably and indescribably bad,' one calls to mind almost indignantly the great preachers of the time, whose sermons have been handed down to us and may be referred to by anyone who chooses to do so. Surely this is not a proper description of the sermons of such men as Sherlock, Smalridge, Waterland, Seed, Ogden, Atterbury, Mudge, Hare, Bentley, and last but not least, Butler himself, whose practical sermons might be preached with advantage before a village congregation at this day. Too much stress has been laid upon a somewhat random observation of Sir William Blackstone, who 'had the curiosity, early in the reign of George III., to go from church to church and hear every clergyman of note in London. He says that he did not hear a single discourse which had more Christianity in it than the writings of Cicero, and that it would have been impossible for him to discover, from what he heard, whether the preacher were a follower of Confucius, of Mahomet, or of Christ.' The famous lawyer does not specify the churches which he visited. He may have been unfortunate in his choice, or he may have been in a frame of mind which was not conducive to an unbiassed judgment;[681] but we have the best of all means of testing how far his sweeping censure may be fairly taken as applicable to the general character of the sermons of the day. The most celebrated of them are still in existence, and will give their own contradiction to the charge. It is not true that the preachers of this period entirely ignored the distinctive doctrines of Christianity; it would be more correct to say that they took the knowledge of them too much for granted--that they were as a rule too controversial, and that they too often appealed to merely prudential motives. Even Dr. Johnson, who set a very high value upon the sermons of his Church, and declared on one occasion that 'sermons make a considerable branch of English literature, so that a library must be very imperfect if it has not a numerous collection of sermons,' yet confessed that they did not effect the good they ought to do. A sensitive dread of anything like enthusiasm was a marked characteristic of the eighteenth century: this dread did not originate with the clergy, but it was taken up by them and reflected in their sermons. This, of course, was at first greatly intensified by the excitement raised by the Methodist movement, although it was afterwards dispelled by the same cause. The orthodox preacher of the Hanoverian period felt bound to protest against the superstitions of Rome on the one hand and the fanaticism of sectaries on the other; in contrast with both of whom the moderation of 'our happy Establishment' was extolled to the skies. To such a morbid extent was his dread of extremes carried, so carefully had he to guard himself against being supposed to diverge one hair's breadth from the middle course taken up by the Church of England, that in his fear of being over-zealous he became over-tame and colourless. Tillotson was his model, and, like most imitators, he exaggerated the defects of his master. So far as it is possible to group under one head so vast and varied an amount of composition, produced by men of the most diverse casts of mind, and extending over so long a period as a hundred years, one may perhaps fairly characterise the typical eighteenth century sermon as too stiff and formal, too cold and artificial, appealing more to the reason than to the feelings, and so more calculated to convince the understanding than to affect the heart. 'We have no sermons,' said Dr. Johnson, 'addressed to the passions that are good for anything.'

These defects were brought out into stronger relief by their contrast to the very different style of preaching adopted by the revived Evangelical school. And the success of this latter school called the attention of some of the most thoughtful divines to the deficiencies of the ordinary style of preaching, which they fully admitted and unsparingly but judiciously exposed. Thus Archbishop Secker, in his Charge to the Diocese of Canterbury in 1758, in speaking of the 'new sect pretending to the strictest piety,' wisely urges his clergy 'to emulate what is good in them, avoiding what is bad, to edify their parishioners with awakening but rational and Scriptural discourses, to teach the principles not only of virtue and natural religion, but of the Gospel, not as almost refined away by the modern refiner, but the truth as it is in Jesus and as it is taught by the Church.' Still stronger are the censures passed in later years upon the lack in the sermons of the day of evangelical doctrines, by men who were very far from identifying themselves with the Evangelical school. Thus Paley, in his seventh charge,[682] comments upon this point. And Bishop Horsley, in his first Charge to the Diocese of St. David's in 1709, stigmatises the unchristian method of preaching in that dignified but incisive language of which he was a consummate master.

If, on the one hand, a somewhat heartless and vague method of dealing with the great distinctive doctrines of Christianity, and especially the practical application of them, may fairly be reckoned among Church abuses, there was, on the other hand, an abuse of sermons which arose from an excess of zeal. There were occasions on which the preacher could make strong enough appeals to the passions; but, unfortunately, the subjects were not those which fall primarily within the province of the pulpit. But here again, as on so many other points, the abuse arose rather from the circumstances of the time than from the faults of the men. The proper province of the preacher was not clearly defined. The eighteenth century was a transition period in regard to the relation between politics and the pulpit. The lately emancipated press was beginning to make itself felt as a great power in the country; periodical literature was by degrees taking the place which in earlier times had been less fitly occupied by the pulpit for the ventilation of political questions. The bad old custom of 'tuning the pulpits' had died out; but political preaching could not be quickly or easily put a stop to.

In ranking political sermons among the Church abuses of the eighteenth century, it is by no means intended to imply that the preacher ought under all circumstances to abstain from touching upon politics. There are occasions when it is his bounden duty as a Christian champion to advocate Christian measures and to protest against unchristian ones; the danger is lest he should forget the Christian advocate in the political partisan; and it is only in so far as the political preachers of the eighteenth century fell into this snare (as at times they unquestionably did) that their sermons can be classed among the Church abuses of the period.

In treating of Church abuses, a question naturally arises which deserves and requires serious consideration. How far were these abuses responsible for the low state of morals and religion into which the nation sank during the reigns of the first two Georges? That lax morality and religious indifference prevailed more or less among all classes of society during this period, we learn from the concurrent testimony of writers of every kind and creed. Turn where one will, the same melancholy picture is presented to us. If we ask what was the state of the Universities, which ought to be the centres of light diffusing itself throughout the whole nation, the training-grounds of those who are to be the trainers of their fellow men, we have the evidence of such different kinds of men as Swift, Defoe, Gray, Gibbon, Johnson, John Wesley, Lord Eldon, and Lord Chesterfield all agreeing on this point, that both the great Universities were neglectful and inefficient in the performance of their proper work. If we ask what was the state of the highest classes, we find that there were sovereigns on the throne whose immorality rivalled that of the worst of the Stuarts without any of their redeeming qualities, without any of the grace and elegance and taste for literature and the fine arts which to a certain extent palliated the vices of that unfortunate race; we find political morality at its lowest ebb; we find courtiers and statesmen living in open defiance of the laws of morality; we find luxury without taste, and profligacy without refinement predominant among the highest circles. If we ask what was the state of the lower classes, we find such notices as these in a contemporary historian: '1729-30. Luxury created necessities, and these drove the lower ranks into the most abandoned wickedness. It was unsafe to travel or walk in the streets.' '1731. Profligacy among the people continued to an amazing degree.'[683] These extracts, taken almost at haphazard from the pages of a contemporary, are confirmed by abundance of testimony from all quarters. The middle classes were confessedly better than those either above or below them.[684] Nevertheless, there are not wanting indications that the standard of morality was not high among them. For example, it is the middle class rather than those above or below them who set the fashion of popular amusements. What, then, was the character of the amusements of the period? The stage, if it was a little improved since the wild days of the Restoration, was yet so bad that even a lax moralist like Lord Hervey was obliged to own in 1737, 'The present great licentiousness of the stage did call for some restraint and regulation.'[685] Such brutal pastimes as cock-fighting and bull-baiting were everywhere popular. Drunkenness was then, as now, a national vice, but it was less disreputable among the middle classes than it happily is at present.[686] What was the state of literature? Notwithstanding the improvement which such writers as Addison and Steele had effected, it was still very impure. Let us take the evidence of the kindly and well-informed Sir Walter Scott. 'We should do great injustice to the present day by comparing our manners with those of the reign of George I. The writings even of the most esteemed poets of that period contain passages which now would be accounted to deserve the pillory. Nor was the tone of conversation more pure than that of composition; for the taint of Charles II.'s reign continued to infect society until the present reign [George III.], when, if not more moral, we are at least more decent.'[687] What was the state of the law? The criminal law was simply barbarous. Any theft of more than 40_s._ was punishable by death. Objects of horror, such as the heads of the rebel chiefs fixed on Temple Bar in 1746, were exposed in the vain hope that they might act as a 'terriculum.'[688] Prisons teemed with cruel abuses. The Roman Catholics were still suffering most unjustly, and if the laws had been rigorously enforced they would have suffered more cruelly still. A more tolerant spirit was happily gaining ground in the hearts of the nation, but so far as the laws were concerned there were few if any traces of it. The Act of 1779, for the relief of Dissenters, is affirmed to be 'the first statute in the direction of enlarged toleration which had been passed for ninety years.'[689] It was about the middle of the century when irreligion and immorality reached their climax. In 1753, Sir J. Barnard said publicly, 'At present it really seems to be the fashion for a man to declare himself of no religion.'[690] In the same year Secker declared that immorality and irreligion were grown almost beyond ecclesiastical power.

The question, then, arises, 'How far were the clergy responsible for this sad state of affairs?' As a body they were distinctly superior to their contemporaries. It is a remarkable fact that when the clergy were, as a rule, very unpopular, during the reign of the Georges I. and II.,[691] and when, therefore, any evil reports against them would be eagerly caught up and circulated, we find singularly few charges of gross immorality brought against them. Excessive love of preferment, and culpable inactivity in performing the duties of their office, are the worst accusations that are brought against them as a body. Even men like Lord Hervey, and Horace Walpole and Lord Chesterfield rarely bring, and still more rarely substantiate, any charges against them on this head. Speaking of the shortcomings of the clergy in the early part of the century, Bishop Burnet, who does not spare his order, carefully guards against the supposition that he accuses them of leading immoral lives. 'When,' he writes, 'I say live better, I mean not only to live without scandal, which I have found the greatest part of them to do, but to lead exemplary lives.'[692] Some years later, Bentley could boldly assert of 'the whole clergy of England' that they were 'the light and glory of Christianity,'[693] an assertion which he would scarcely have dared to make had they been sunk into such a slough of iniquity as they are sometimes represented to have been. Writing to Courayer in 1726, Archbishop Wake laments the infidelity and iniquity which abounded, but is of opinion that 'no care is wanting in our clergy to defend the Christian faith.'[694] John Wesley, while decrying the notion that the unworthiness of the minister vitiates the worth of his ministry, admits that 'in the present century the behaviour of the clergy in general is greatly altered for the better,' although he thinks them deficient both in piety and knowledge. Or if clerical testimony be suspected of partiality, we have abundance of lay evidence all tending to the same conclusion. Smollett, a contemporary, declares that in the reign of George II. 'the clergy were generally pious and exemplary.'[695] When a Presbyterian clergyman talked before Dr. Johnson of fat bishops and drowsy deans, he replied, 'Sir, you know no more of our Church than a Hottentot.'[696] One of the most impartial historians of our own day and country, in dwelling upon the immoralities of the age and upon the clerical shortcomings, adds that 'the lives of the clergy were, as a rule, pure.'[697]

It is necessary to bring into prominence such testimony as this because there has been a tendency to insinuate what has never been proved--that the clergy were, as a body, living immoral lives. At the same time it is not desired to palliate their real defects. It is admitted that a more active and earnest performance of their proper duties might have done much more than was done by the clergy to stem the torrent of iniquity.

Yet after all it is doubtful whether the clergy, even if they had been far more energetic and spiritually-minded than they were, could have effected such a reformation as was needed.[698] For there was a long train of causes at work dating back for more than a century, which tended not only to demoralise the nation, but also to cut it off from many influences for good which under happier circumstances the Church might have exercised. The turbulent and unsettled condition of both Church and State in the seventeenth century was bearing its fruit in the eighteenth. As in the life of an individual, so also in the life of a nation, there are certain crises which are terribly perilous to the character. In the eighteenth century England as a nation was going through such a crisis. She was passing from the old order to the new. The early part of the century was a period of many controversies--the Deistic controversy, the Nonjuring controversy, the Bangorian controversy, the Trinitarian controversy, the various ethical controversies, and all these following close upon the Puritan controversy and the Papal controversy, both of which had shaken the Constitution to its very foundation. How was it possible that a country could pass through such stormy scenes without having its faith unsettled, and the basis of its morals weakened? How could some help asking, What is truth? where is it to be found among all these conflicting elements? The Revolution itself was in its immediate effects attended with evil. England submitted to be governed by foreigners, but she had to sacrifice much and stoop low before she could submit to the necessity. All the romantic halo which had hung about royalty was rudely swept away. Queen Anne was the last sovereign of these realms round whom still lingered something of the 'divinity that doth hedge a king.' Under the Georges loyalty assumed a different form from that which it had taken before. The sentiment which had attached their subjects to the Tudors and the Stuarts was exchanged for a colder and less enthusiastic feeling; mere policy took the place of chivalry.

Nor was it only in her outward affairs that the nation was passing through a great and fundamental change. In her inner and spiritual life she was also in a period of transition. The problem which was started in the early part of the sixteenth century had never yet been fairly worked out. The nation had been for more than a century and a half so busy in dealing with the pressing questions of the hour that it had never yet had time to face the far deeper questions which lay behind these--questions which concerned not the different modes of Christianity, but the very essence of Christianity itself. The matters which had so violently agitated the country in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were now virtually settled. The Church was now at last 'established.' But other questions arose. It was not now asked, 'Is this or that mode of Church government most Scriptural?' 'Is this or that form of worship most in accordance with the mind of Christ?' but, 'What _is_ this Scripture to which all appeal?' 'Who _is_ this Christ whom all own as Master?' This is really what is meant, so far as religion is concerned, when it is said that the eighteenth century was the age of reason--alike in the good and in the bad sense of that term. The defenders of Christianity, no less than its assailants, had to prove, above all things, the reasonableness of their position. The discussion was inevitable, and in the end productive of good, but while it was going on it could not fail to be to many minds harmful. Reason and faith, though not really antagonistic, are often in seeming antagonism. Many might well ask, Can we no longer rest upon a simple, childlike faith, founded on authority? What is there, human or Divine, that is left to reverence? The heart of England was still sound at the core, and she passed through the crisis triumphantly; but the transition period was a dangerous and a demoralising one, and there is no wonder that she sank for a time under the wave that was passing over her.

It has been already said that the morbid dread of anything which savoured either of Romanism or Puritanism tended to reduce the Church to a dead level of uniform dulness. The same dread affected the nation at large as well as the Church. It practically cut off the laity from influences which might have elevated them. Anything like the worship of God in the beauty of holiness, all that is conveyed in the term symbolism, the due observance of fast and festival--in fact, all those things which to a certain class of minds are almost essential to raise devotion--were too much associated in men's minds with that dreaded enemy from whom the nation had but narrowly escaped in the preceding age to be able to be turned to any good effect in the eighteenth century.

On the other hand, stirring appeals to the feelings, analyses of spiritual frames--everything, in short, which was termed in the jargon of the seventeenth century 'savoury preaching' and 'a painful ministry,' was too much associated in men's minds with the hated reign of the Saints to be employed with any good effect.

And thus, both on the objective and on the subjective side, the people were practically debarred from influences which might have made their religion a more lovely or a more hearty thing.

Again, if the clergy showed, as they confessedly did, an inertness, an obstructiveness, a want of expansiveness, and a dogged resistance to any adaptation of old forms to new ideas, they were in these respects thoroughly in accord with the feelings of the mass of the nation. The clergy were not popular, but it was not their want of zeal and enterprise which made them unpopular; if in exceptional cases they did show any tendency in these directions, this only made them more unpopular than ever. Had it been otherwise we might naturally have expected to find the zeal which was lacking in the National Church showing itself in other Christian bodies. But we find nothing of the sort. The torpor which had overtaken our Church extended itself to all forms of Christianity. Edmund Calamy, a Nonconformist, lamented in 1730 that 'a real decay of serious religion, both in the Church _and out of it_, was very visible.' Dr. Watts declares that in his day 'there was a _general_ decay of vital religion in the hearts and lives of men.'[699] A modern writer who makes no secret of his partiality for Nonconformists owns that 'religion, whether in the Established Church or out of it, never made less progress than after the cessation of the Bangorian and Salter's Hall disputes. Breadth of thought and charity of sentiment increased, but religious activity did not.'[700] In 1712 Defoe considered 'Dissenters' interests to be in a declining state, not so much as regarded their wealth and numbers as the qualifications of their ministers, the decay of piety, and the abandonment of their political friends.' Such is the testimony of Nonconformists themselves, who will not be suspected of taking too dark a view of the condition of Nonconformity. There is no need to add to this the evidence of Churchmen. It is a fact patent to all students of the period that the moral and religious stagnation of the times extended to all religious bodies outside as well as inside the National Church. The most intellectually active part of Dissent was drifting gradually into Socinianism and Unitarianism.

There is yet one more circumstance to be taken into account in estimating the extent to which the clergy were responsible for the irreligion and immorality which prevailed. A change of manners was fast rendering ineffectual a weapon which they had formerly used for waging war against sin. Ecclesiastical censures were becoming little better than a mere _brutum fulmen_. Complaints of the difficulty, not to say impossibility, of enforcing Church discipline are of constant occurrence. In 1704 Archbishop Sharp, while urging his clergy to present 'any that are resolved to continue heathens and absolutely refuse to come to church,' and, while admitting that the abuses of the commutation for penance were 'a cause of complaints against the spiritual courts and of the invidious reflections cast upon them,' adds that 'he was very sensible both of the decay of discipline in general and of the curbs put upon any effectual prosecution of it by the temporal courts, and of the difficulty of keeping up what little was left entire to the ecclesiastics without creating offence and administering matter for aspersion and evil surmises.'[701] The same excellent prelate, when, a writ _de excommunicato capiendo_ was evaded by writs of _supersedeas_ from Chancery, wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury asking him 'to represent the case to the Lord Chancellor, that he might give such directions that his courts might go on to enforce ecclesiastical censures with civil penalties, without fear of being baffled in their proceedings.'[702] In the later meetings of Convocation this subject of the enforcement of Church discipline was constantly suggested for discussion; but, as questions which were, or were supposed to be, of more immediate interest claimed precedence, no practical result ensued.[703] The matter, however, was not suffered to fall altogether into abeyance. In 1741 Bishop Secker gives the same advice to the clergy of the diocese of Oxford as Archbishop Sharp had given nearly forty years before to those of the diocese of York, but he seems still more doubtful as to whether it could be effectually carried out. 'Persons,' he writes, 'who profess not to be of our Church, if persuasions will not avail, must be let alone. But other absentees must, after due patience, be told that, unwilling as you are, it will be your duty to present them, unless they reform; and if, when this warning hath been repeated and full time allowed for it to work, they still persist in their obstinacy, I beg you to do it. For this will tend much to prevent the contagion from spreading, of which there is else great danger.' In 1753 he repeats his injunctions, but in a still more desponding tone. 'Offences,' he says, 'against religion and morals churchwardens are bound by oath to present; and incumbents or curates are empowered and charged by the 113th and following canons to join with them in presenting, if need be, or to present alone if they refuse. This implies what the 26th canon expresses, that the minister is to urge churchwardens to perform that part of their office. Try first by public and private rebukes to amend them; but if these are ineffectual, get them corrected by authority. I am perfectly sensible that immorality and irreligion are grown almost beyond the reach of ecclesiastical power, which, having in former times been very unwarrantably extended, hath since been very unjustly and imprudently cramped and weakened many ways.' After having given directions about excommunications and penance, he urges them, as a last resort, 'to remind the people that, however the censures of the Church may be relaxed or evaded, yet God's judgment cannot.' Yet even so late as 1766 he explains to candidates for orders the text addressed to them at their ordination, 'Whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained,' as conferring 'a right of inflicting ecclesiastical censures for a shorter or longer time, and of taking them off, which is, in regard to external communion, retaining or forgiving offences.' 'Our acts,' he adds, 'as those of temporal judges, are to be respected as done by competent authority. Nor will other proofs of repentance be sufficient if submission to the discipline of the Church of Christ, when it hath been offended and requires due satisfaction, be obstinately refused.'[704] This is not the place to discuss the possibility or the advisability under altered circumstances of enforcing ecclesiastical discipline, but in common fairness to the clergy, who were accused of doing little or nothing to oppose the general depravity, it should be borne in mind that they were practically debarred from using a formidable weapon which in earlier times had been wielded with great effect.[705]

Nor should we forget that if the clergy were inactive and unsuccessful in one direction, many of them at least were singularly active and successful in another. There was within the pale of the Church at the period of which we are speaking a degree of intellect and learning which has rarely been surpassed in its palmiest days. When among the higher clergy were found such men as Butler, and Hare, and Sherlock, and Warburton, and South, and Conybeare, and Waterland, and Bentley, men who were more than a match for the assailants of Christianity, formidable as these antagonists undoubtedly were--when within her fold were found men of such distinguished piety as Law and Wilson, Berkeley and Benson, the state of the Church could not be wholly corrupt.

And, finally, it should be remembered that if England was morally and spiritually in low estate at this period, she was, at any rate, in a better plight than her neighbours. If there were Church abuses in England, there were still worse in France. If there was too wide an interval here between the higher and the lower clergy, the inequality was not so great as there, where, 'while the prelates of the Church lived with a pomp and state falling little short of the magnificence of royalty, not a few of the poorer clergy had scarcely the wherewithal to live at all,' where 'the superior clergy regarded the cures as hired servitors, whom in order to dominate it was prudent to keep in poverty and ignorance.' If the distribution of patronage on false principles and the inordinate love of preferment were abuses in England, matters were worse in France, where 'there was an open traffic in benefices; the Episcopate was nothing but a secular dignity; it was necessary to be count or marquis in order to become a successor of the apostles, unless some extraordinary event snatched some little bishopric for a parvenu from the hands of the minister;' and where 'the bishops squandered the revenues of their provinces at the court.'[706] If the lower classes were neglected here, they were not, as in France, dying from misery and hunger at the rate of a million a year. Neither, sordid as the age was in England, was it so sordid as in Germany, where a coarse eudæmonism and a miscalled illuminism were sapping the foundations of Christianity.

Moreover, England, unlike her next-door neighbour, improved as the years rolled on. A gradual but distinct alteration for the better may be traced in the later part of the century. Many causes contributed to effect this. After the accession of George III. a growing sense of security began to pervade the country. An unsettled state is always prejudicial to national morals, and there were henceforward no serious thoughts of deranging the established order of things. Influences, too, were at work which tended to raise the tone of morality and religion in all orders of society. The upper classes had a good example set them by the blameless lives of the King and the Queen. In the present day, when it is the fashion to ridicule the foibles and to condemn the troublesome interference in State affairs of the well-meaning but often ill judging King, it is the more necessary to bear in mind the debt of gratitude which the nation owed him for the good effects which his personal character unquestionably produced--effects which, though they told more directly and immediately upon the upper classes, yet permeated more or less through all the strata of society. Among the middle classes, too, there arose a set of men whose influence for good it would be difficult to exaggerate. Foremost among them stands the great and good Dr. Johnson. 'Dr. Johnson,' writes Lord Mahon, 'stemmed the tide of infidelity.' And the greatest of modern satirists does not state the case too strongly when he declares that 'Johnson had the ear of the nation. His immense authority reconciled it to loyalty and shamed it out of irreligion. He was revered as a sort of oracle, and the oracle declared for Church and King. He was a fierce foe to all sin, but a gentle enemy to all sinners.'[707] Sir J. Reynolds, and E. Burke, and Hogarth, and Pitt, each in his way, helped on the good work. The rising Evangelical school--the Newtons, the Venns, the Cecils, the Romaines, among the clergy, and the Wilberforces, the Thorntons, the Mores, the Cowpers, among the laity--all affected beneficially to an immense extent the upper and middle classes, while among the lower classes the Methodist movement was effecting incalculable good. These latter influences, however, were far too important an element in the national amelioration to be dealt with at the end of a chapter. Suffice it here to add that, glaring as were the abuses of the Church of the eighteenth century, they could not and did not destroy her undying vitality. Even when she reached her nadir there was sufficient salt left to preserve the mass from becoming utterly corrupt. The fire had burnt low, but there was yet enough light and heat left to be fanned into a flame which was in due time to illumine the nation and the nation's Church.