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Social Progress (continued)


Social Progress (continued) - The Religious Life of England - Mr. Horace Mann's Report on Religious Worship - Expansive Power and Vitality of the Church of England - Denominational Rivalry - Renewed Activity of Dissent; its Effect on the Established Church - Co-operation of the Voluntary Principle - Increase of Places of Worship - Church Extension; its Cost - Religious Societies in connection with the Establishment - The Evangelical Party - Missionary Operations - Nonconformist Communities - The Independents, their Institutions and Missions - The Baptists, their Institutions and Missions - The Wesleyan Methodists, and their Progress - The Centenary - Other Methodist Bodies - The Society of Friends - Unitarians - Moravians - Roman Catholics - Irvingites - Substantial Unity of Protestant Denominations - Societies based on the "Catholic" Principle - Church Accommodation - Number of Sittings required by the Population - Proportion furnished by the Dissenters - Proportion of Attendants in the different Denominations - Proportion of Attendants to Sittings - Numbers who neglect Public Worship - The Working Classes, their Religious Condition - Causes of their Estrangement from our Religious Institutions - Social Distinctions in Church - The Pew System - Free Seats - Proposed Remedies- Evidences of Social Reformation - The Leaders of Religious Progress- Exeter Hall.
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The report of Mr. Horace Mann on religious worship, in connection with the census of 1851, is one of the most important and remarkable documents ever issued by the government. It differs strikingly from the dry, perfunctory manner in which such statistical reports are generally drawn up. Entering upon the subject heartily, he traces the religious life of England through all its changes and revolutions from the earliest times to the present, presenting the results of extensive inquiry and great labour in an admirably condensed form, investing his résumé with the interest which only a sympathetic mind can impart to such details. In writing of each sect, one might suppose that he held its peculiarities and imbibed its spirit, so accurate is his knowledge, and so friendly his tone. But when he speaks of the Established Church, his language is that of a dutiful son towards a venerated mother. Speaking of the principal developments of religious sentiment, apart from the Established Church, at present prevalent amongst us, he says: - "How far some of these and others of a less numerical importance are substantially accordant with the teaching of the Church of England will be seen in the more detailed notices. That church herself - unaltered in her doctrines, discipline, and polity since 1688 - demands but a very brief description further, and that chiefly for the purpose of displaying by what wonderful, almost unparalleled achievements, in the way of self-extension, she has lately proved her inexhaustible vitality."

One of the strongest arguments against the Established Church, and against religious or educational endowments generally, is their tendency to produce apathy and indifference in the minds of those who benefit by them - to paralyse private exertion and check individual zeal, from the assurance felt that they are not necessary to the support of a cause already sufficiently provided for by the state; and no doubt that would be the case to a great extent, and has been the case, where there was no room for competition or rivalry by other churches and parties. But when there is freedom for the development of dissenting bodies, and the growth of institutions on the voluntary principle, the zeal of established churches also comes forth to supplement and extend its regular agencies, and then the advantages conferred by its endowments come to be more fully appreciated and turned to account. Accordingly, during the last two reigns, the revived activity of Dissenters served to rouse the clergy and laity of the Established Church, leading them to put forth extraordinary exertions in order to meet the growing spiritual destitution arising from the rapid increase of population, for which old parochial arrangements and existing church accommodation were altogether inadequate. The sentiment began to prevail that the relief of spiritual destitution must not be exclusively devolved upon the state, but demanded also the efforts of private zeal and liberality; in other words, the co-operation of the voluntary principle, which of late years has produced astonishing results. In 1831 the number of churches and chapels of the Church of England amounted to 11,825; the number in 1851, as returned to the census officer, was 13,854, exclusive of 223 described as being "not separate buildings," or as "used also for secular purposes," thus showing an increase, in the course of twenty years, of more than 2,000 churches. Probably the increase is, in reality, still larger, as it can hardly be expected that the last returns were altogether perfect. The greater portion of this increase is attributable to the self-extending power of the Church - the state not having in the twenty years contributed, in aid of private benefactions, more than £511,385 towards the erection of 386 churches. If we assume the average cost of each new edifice to be about £3,000, the total sum expended in this interval (exclusive of considerable sums devoted to the restoration of old churches) will be £6,087,000. The chief addition has occurred, as was to be expected and desired, in thickly-peopled districts, where the rapid increase of inhabitants has rendered such additional accommodation most essential. Thus, in Cheshire, Lancashire, Middlesex, Surrey, and the West Riding of Yorkshire, the increase of churches has been so much greater than the increase of the population, that the proportion between the accommodation and the number of inhabitants is now considerably more favourable than in 1831. In the ten years between 1821 and 1831 there was an addition of 276 churches; from 1831 to 1841, 667 were added; and such was the zeal for church extension in the ten years ending in 1851, that the increase was nearly 1,200, or more than 100 a year. The whole results of the efforts made in the half-century in the way of church-building, in connection with the Establishment, is given by Mr. Horace Mann thus: - From 1801 to 1831, 500 churches were built, at a total cost of £3,000,000, nearly £2,000,000 of which was the result of private benefactions; from 1831 to 1851 there were 2,029 churches built, at a total cost of £6,000,000, of which only about £500,000 came from public funds, and £5,500,000 consisted of private contributions. Taking the whole fifty years, the whole amount contributed by the members of the Established Church, on the erection of places of worship, was nearly £7,500,000. These prodigious results were in only one department of benevolence. The period on which we have entered is pre-eminently the era of religious societies - of voluntary organisations, extraneous to the regular ecclesiastical system, new outlets opened for the exuberant vitality of the Church. Before the commencement of the present century there were only two societies in existence in connection with the Establishment - the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; but during the present century the urgent wants of different classes, which could not be provided for by regular pastoral ministrations, were met by the establishment of voluntary agencies, such as parochial societies, visiting societies, Scripture readers' societies, tract distributing societies, and the like. The interest felt in the conversion of the heathen, and the periodical appeals made for the support of the Church Missionary Society, especially in connection with the rise and progress of the Evangelical party in the Church, reacted upon the state of religion at home, and produced a very extraordinary revival, which has been progressing steadily ever since. In 1850 the Church of England had, by its separate centralised exertions, been raising £400,000 per annum for religious objects, of which £250,000 was devoted to foreign missions. The Incorporated Society for the Enlargement, Building, and Repairing of Churches and Chapels was founded in 1818; the Metropolitan Churches Fund, the Church Pastoral-Aid Society, and the Society for Promoting the Employment of Additional Curates in Populous Places, in 1836. The Colonial Church and School Society was established in the same year. In 1844 the Church Extension Fund, the Young Men's Society for Aiding Missions at Home and Abroad, and the Church of England Scripture Readers' Society were established. The income of the Church Missionary Society, which during the first ten years of its history did not exceed £1,500 a year, in the course of fifty years reached £120,000; and during that period it had expended £2,500,000, all the result of voluntary contributions. At home, church accommodation is afforded for nearly 5,300,000 persons, in 14,000 churches and chapels. The number of actual attendants on the census Sunday was as follows: morning, 2,541,244; afternoon, 1,890,764; evening, 860,543.

Taking the Nonconformist communities in the order in which they have been given in the census report, we find the statistics of the progress of the Independents, or Congregationalists, to be scarcely less remarkable than those of the Established Church. The earliest account of the number of Independent congregations refers to 1812. Before that period Independent and Presbyterian congregations were returned together. At that time the number of Independent churches in England and Wales was a little over 1,000. In 1838 the churches had increased to 1,840, and the census of 1851 made the number 3,244, of which 640 were in Wales. These places of worship furnished sittings for 1,063,000 persons. The actual attendance on census Sunday was, morning, 524,612; afternoon, 232,285; evening, 457,162. It will be seen that the morning attendance was about a fourth that, of the Established Church, and the evening attendance above half. Among the institutions established and maintained by this body, all on the voluntary principle, during the present century, are the Congregational Union of England and Wales, the London Congregational Chapel Building Society, the Home Missionary Society, the Irish Evangelical Society, and the Colonial Missionary Society. The London Missionary Society, though founded on the open or catholic principle, and aided by other denominations, is mainly supported, and almost exclusively worked, by the Congregational body. This society employs 170 missionaries and 700 native teachers. It had 32 boarding-schools, with 850 scholars; 8 institutions for training, 150 native evangelists, and 15 printing presses. Its annual income at the time of the census exceeded £65,000. At home this body has eight colleges for the education of ministers, of which the three largest were founded since 1816.

Under the general name of Baptist churches there are several sects: the General Baptists, of which there are 90 congregations in England; the New Connexion Baptists, with 179 congregations; 12 congregations of Scotch Baptists; and about 500 undefined Baptist congregations. The great body which bears that name, distinguished as "Particular," or Calvinistic Baptists, have about 2,000 congregations in England and Wales; they have a Baptist Union, a Baptist Building Fund, a Baptist Tract Society, a Bible Translation Society, a Baptist Home Missionary Society, a Baptist Irish Society, and a Foreign Missionary Society, with six colleges for the education of ministers. In 1832 the Calvinistic Baptist churches numbered 926; in 1839 they had increased to 1,126; and at the census of 1851 they had increased to 1,947.

The Wesleyan Methodists are next in number to the members of the Established Church. The progress of this society- has been very great since 1820. In that year the number of its ministers was 718, and of its members or communicants in Great Britain, 191,000. In 1830 the numbers were respectively 824 and 248,000; and so rapidly did they increase in the next ten years, that in 1840 the ministers were 1,167, and the members 323,000. The census returns of 1851 show 6,579 chapels belonging to this connexion in England and Wales, containing accommodation for 1,447,580 persons. The number of attendants on the census Sunday was, morning, 492,714; afternoon, 383,964; evening, 667,850. The zeal and activity of this body is shown by the fact that their Foreign Missionary Society numbers 476 missionaries and 108,000 members, with an income of £105,000 in 1851. This body has an institution for the education of preachers, a Mutual Aid, or Annuity Society, and an Educational Fund. An interesting epoch in the history of the denomination was the celebration of the centenary of its existence in 1839, when the contributions for various connexional objects amounted to £216,000. Among these objects was the purchase of the Centenary Hall and Mission House in Bishopsgate Street, London.

There are other bodies of Methodists that have branched off from time to time, in consequence of internal differences of opinion, among which are the New Connexion Methodists, who had about 300 chapels, 95 preachers, and 16,000 members at the time of the census. The number of their attendance on census Sunday was 37,000 in the morning, and about the same number in the evening. The Primitive Methodists in 1850 had 1,500 chapels, 3,500 rented rooms, 500 travelling preachers, and 105,000 members, including those at foreign stations. They have a missionary society, with an income of £8,000 a year, and various small connexional funds. The Bible Christians, another community of Methodists, have 293 chapels, 61 itinerant ministers, 10,000 members, and an attendance of 15,000 at the morning services in their places of worship. The Wesleyan Methodist Association is of recent origin, arising out of a controversy in 1834 about the establishment of a theological institution for the education of ministers. The number of its itinerant preachers in 1852 was 90; of its members, 19,000; of its chapels, 329; accommodating about 100,000 persons. The attendance on census Sunday morning was 32,000, and in the evening, 40,000.

The Calvinistic Methodists now exist under two distinctive appellations, the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion, and the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists. The former had 109 chapels, accommodating 38,000 persons, with a Sunday morning attendance of 21,000; the latter had 828 chapels, accommodating 212,000 persons, and their attendance on census morning was about 80,000.

The Society of Friends, whose history is full of interest in connection with the cause of religious liberty and Christian philanthropy, has not made progress of late years. In the year 1800 they possessed 413 meetinghouses, and in 1857 they had but 371. They are generally a wealthy body; they make no proselytes, and many of their younger members join other communions.

The Unitarians, always a most influential body in proportion to their numbers, from the high culture and social position of many of their members, are also generally stationary or retrograding, owing mainly, no doubt, to the difficulties which minds familiar with the Scriptures find in the reception of their peculiar tenets.

The Moravians, or United Brethren, are chiefly distinguished as a missionary body, whose operations are mainly supported by other denominations, especially members of the Church of England.

The Roman Catholics made considerable progress in England during the last two reigns. In 1829 they had 394 chapels, which in 1840 had increased to 463, and in 2852 they reached 600. They had at the same time 11 colleges, 88 religious houses, and 875 priests. Their chapels at the time of the census furnished accommodation for 186,000, and the number of attendants on the morning of census Sunday was 252,983.

The Catholic and Apostolic Church, founded by the Rev. Edward Irving, had at the time of the census about 30 congregations, comprising nearly 6,000 communicants, and the number is said to be gradually increasing. Mr. Irving, (who in 1819 assisted Dr. Chalmers, at Glasgow) was the minister of the Scotch Church, Regent Square, London, very eloquent, and very eccentric; and towards the close of 1829 it was asserted that several miraculous gifts of healing and prophecy, and of speaking with strange tongues, were displayed in his congregation. Having been excluded from the Scotch Church, a chapel was erected for him, in 1832, in Newman Street. In the course of a few years other churches were erected in different places. The Apostolic Church was established on the model of the Jewish Tabernacle, with twelve apostles, a new order of prophets, &c. In 1836 they delivered their testimony to the Archbishop of Canterbury, to most of the bishops, and to many ministers in different denominations. They also resolved to deliver their testimony to the king in person, and " to as many privy councillors as could be found, or would receive it." In 1837 a "catholic testimony " was addressed to the patriarchs, bishops, and sovereigns of Christendom, and was subsequently delivered to Cardinal Acton for the Pope, to Prince Metternich for the Emperor of Austria, and to other bishops and kings throughout Europe. It is stated that from 1846 to 1851 this sect has made considerable progress. Their chapels furnish accommodation for 7,000 persons, and their attendance on the census Sunday was about half that number.

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