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Social Progress (continued) page 2


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Setting aside a few small and insignificant bodies, we find a substantial agreement in doctrine and in sentiment between the various Protestant denominations in England. Varieties of opinion are a necessary consequence of our perfect religious freedom; and, considering the independent and the self-reliant character of the English people, the substantial agreement resulting from the exercise of private judgment in connection with conflicting sectarian interests is very remarkable. Nor has this virtual union been without its practical fruits, which are manifested in the cordial and liberal support of a number of institutions founded on what has been called the " catholic," or undenominational principle. These are the Evangelical Alliance, the British and Foreign Bible Society, the London City Mission, the British and Foreign Sailors' Society, the Jews Society, the Town Missionary and Scripture Readers' Society, the Christian Instruction Society, the British Reformation Society, and several others.

Different opinions have been formed as to the amount of church accommodation required by the population. Dr. Chalmers thought that sittings for sixty-two and a half per cent, would be required; but Mr. Edward Baines more correctly calculated that fifty per cent, would be ample, after deducting young children, aged persons, the sick, persons in charge of houses, and employed on public conveyances, &c. The infants and young children under ten years of age in 1850 were 4,440,000; the sick and infirm, 1,000,000; persons in charge of houses, 3,000,000; and the persons employed on railways, steamboats, omnibuses, &c., a considerable number, which may be roughly estimated from the fact that those engaged about omnibuses in London on Sunday are not less than 6,000. The deductions from all these classes would amount to 7,500,000; and consequently sittings in religious buildings in England and Wales cannot be required for more than about 10,500,000, or 58 percent, of the entire community, even if all who could attend were disposed to do so, which is far from being the case. Besides, it must be recollected that there are double, and sometimes treble services in many places of worship; but, unfortunately, the accommodation is not equally distributed: it is often abundant where the population is scanty, and deficient where the population is large - deplorably so in large towns. Now, the total number of sittings furnished by all denominations was 10,212,563, which is only 287,437 short of the number estimated to be sufficient. Nearly half that number are set down as free sittings, but a fourth of those are, from various causes, not available to the class for which they were intended. Mr. Mann calculates that the accessible provision made by the Established Church, which is based upon the assumption that it is to instruct the whole nation, is enough for only about 5,250,000 persons, or but 29 per cent, of the inhabitants of England and Wales. To supply all, it would want more than 5,000,000 additional sittings. From a comparative view of the provision furnished by the Church and by Dissenting bodies, it appears that throughout England and Wales, for every 100 sittings provided by the Church of England, Dissenters furnish 93, or very nearly an equal amount. Dissenters most abound in Wales, Monmouthshire, Yorkshire, Cornwall, Cheshire, Lancashire, Derbyshire, Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, and Bedfordshire, in all which counties their sittings exceed in number those provided by the Established Church, while in Wales and Monmouthshire they were more than double. In all other counties the Establishment has a preponderance, most conspicuous in Herefordshire, Sussex, and Oxfordshire, where the sittings of the Church are more than double those of the Dissenters. During the last half-century it has increased its provision by 24 per cent., but the population has increased at the same time 101 per cent.

It is interesting to ascertain the proportions of the population who actually attend the ministrations of the Established Church and the various Dissenting bodies. The Wesleyan Methodists have 11,007 places of worship, with 2,194,298 sittings; the Independents, 3,244, with 1,067,760 sittings; Baptists, 2;789, with 752,343 sittings. The total number of attendants in all places of worship in England and Wales on the morning, afternoon, and evening of census Sunday, was less than half of what there was accommodation for at the three services together. The Church of England had actually attending its three services more persons than all the other bodies put together - 3,773,474, against 3,487,558. But it appears the number of attendances performed by the 3,773,474 persons is actually less than the number performed by the 3,487,558; the former having attended 5,292,551 times, while the latter attended 5,603,515 times. Or if we assume that a service on an average occupies an hour and three quarters, it would seem that 3,773,474 Churchmen devoted 9,261,962 hours to religious worship (or two hours and a half each), while the 3,487,558 Dissenters devoted 9,806,151 hours to a similar duty, or two hours and three quarters each. Taking the whole of the denominations, we find that the average proportion of attendants to sittings varies from 24 to 45 per cent.; the Church of England being 33 per cent., the Independents 38, the Baptists 42, and the Wesleyans 35.

Mr. Horace Mann makes some important reflections upon " the alarming numbers of non-attendants. Even in the least unfavourable aspect of the figures just presented," he says, " and assuming, as no doubt is right, that the 5,288,994 absent every Sunday are not the same individuals, it must be apparent that a sadly formidable portion of the English people are habitual neglecters of the public ordinances of religion. Nor is it difficult to indicate to what particular class of the community this portion in the main belongs. The middle classes have augmented rather than diminished that devotional sentiment and strictness of attention to religious services by which for several centuries they have so eminently been distinguished. With the upper classes, too, the subject of religion has obtained of late a marked degree of notice, and a regular church attendance is now ranked amongst the proprieties of life. It is to satisfy the wants of these two classes that the number of religious structures has of late years so increased. But while the labouring myriads of our country have been multiplying with our multiplied material prosperity, it cannot, it is feared, be stated that a corresponding increase has occurred in the attendance of this class in our religious edifices. More especially in cities and large towns, it is observable how absolutely insignificant a portion of congregations is composed of artisans. They fill, perhaps, in youth our national, British, and Sunday-schools, and there receive the elements of a religious education; but no sooner do they mingle in the active world of labour, subjected to the constant action of opposing influences, than they become as utter strangers to religious ordinances as the people of a heathen country. From whatever cause - in them, or in the manner of their treatment by religious bodies - it is sadly certain that this vast, intelligent, and growingly important section of our countrymen is thoroughly estranged from our religious institutions in their present aspect. Probably, indeed, the prevalence of infidelity has been exaggerated, if the word be taken in its popular meaning, as implying some degree of intellectual effort and decision; but no doubt a great extent of negative, inert indifference prevails, the practical effects of which are much the same. There is a sect originated recently adhering to a system called ' Secularism,' the principal tenet being that, as the fact of a future life is, in their view, at all events, susceptible of some degree of doubt, while the fact and the necessities of a present life are matters of direct sensation, it is therefore prudent to attend exclusively to the concerns of that existence which is certain and immediate - not wasting energies required for present duties by a preparation for remote and merely possible contingencies. This is the creed which probably with most exactness indicates the faith which virtually, though not professedly, is entertained by the masses of our working population - by the skilled and unskilled labourer alike, by hosts of minor shop-keepers and Sunday-traders, and by miserable denizens of courts and crowded alleys. They are unconscious Secularists, engrossed by the demands, the trials, or the pleasures of the passing hour, and ignorant or careless of a future. These are never or but seldom seen in our religious congregations; and the melancholy fact is thus impressed upon our notice that the classes which are most in need of the restraints and consolations of religion are the classes which are most without them." This attitude of our increasing population towards religion and religious institutions being naturally a subject of much anxiety to all earnest Christians, inquiry was directed to ascertain its causes. The first of these that suggested itself is the social distinctions that obtrude themselves in places of worship - the pew system, with its exclusiveness, its rights of property in the house of God, its graduated scale of rents marking the worldly position of the occupants, and the contrast presented by the rich dress of the higher classes. All these circumstances, it is alleged, make the working classes feel their inferiority. This is indicated also by the location of free seats, which are generally in the worst places for seeing or hearing, which seems to show that the managers of our places of worship regulate their congregational arrangements not by the personal worth of the members of their churches, but by their ability to pay. On the other hand, it is alleged, not without reason, that it is quite impossible, by any ecclesiastical arrangements, to level social distinctions - that respectable, well-dressed people will not sit in juxtaposition with working men and women, not always as clean as they should be, or free from what is unpleasant in their manners and habits. Besides, it is said that the latter would be much more comfortable aloof from the middle and upper classes in public assemblies; and that if there were places of worship for the working classes mainly, which they might regard as their own, and in which they might feel at home, they would be induced to attend in large numbers, especially if more attention were paid to them by the clergy, and by their influential neighbours taking a kindly interest in their welfare, and helping them out of their difficulties. The working classes, to a large extent, regard the clergy as hirelings, who would not care for their souls at all if they were not paid for it, and who, even in their zeal, are influenced by self-interest and professional ambition. This feeling towards Christian ministers is nurtured by a pernicious kind of cheap literature, which circulated very largely among the working classes till it was supplanted so extensively by a different class of publications, conveying useful knowledge and healthful entertainment, in connection with the soundest principles in morals and religion. It is only by personal intercourse, unpaid lay agency, and extra official exertions, that such a fatal suspicion of the clergy, and such practical alienation from Christianity in the most intelligent of the working classes, can be overcome. Again, it should be remembered that people who are hard-worked during the week, keeping long hours, many in the unwholesome atmosphere of factories and ill-ventilated apartments, and being unable, perhaps, to supply themselves and their families with Sunday dresses out of their scanty and hard- earned wages, feel naturally inclined to rest on Sunday mornings, remaining in their own dwellings during the forenoon, and seeking recreation out of doors, or in the public-house, in the afternoon. This would account for much of the non-attendance at public worship, even if the accommodation were inviting, if the mode of conducting the service were animated and interesting, and if the preaching were instructive, practical, and powerful - calculated to stimulate the minds and stir the feelings of the working classes, and adapted to their circumstances. But it is needless to say how extensively and how lamentably these conditions are wanting. Thus, it happens that there are many districts where, although the provision in religious buildings would suffice for barely half those who might attend, yet scarcely more than half of even this inadequate provision is appropriated. " Teeming populations often now surround half empty churches, which would probably remain half empty even if the sittings were all free, while myriads of our labouring population are really as ignorant of Christianity as were the heathen Saxons at Augustine's landing." Nor can it be said that these ignorant masses are inaccessible to Christian instruction, if aggressive efforts were made systematically in the spirit of apostolic Christianity, and if our divine religion were made to assume its real philanthropic aspect, and were accompanied in its teachers by the genial and comprehensive sympathies which distinguished its first preachers.

But although the light of Christianity has not directly penetrated the masses to anything like the extent that is desirable and practicable, it is a fact that its reflected influence has had a vast effect in promoting social reform of every kind. The picture which we have had presented to us of the old roads of England is not a greater contrast to the present state of things, than the picture of manners and morals in the early part of this century, as compared with the present moral condition of society. It is gratifying to observe that the educational and religious agencies which have been at work during the last generation have been very far from being inoperative. The reformatory results, though not all that we could desire, have been immense, and have effected a complete change in the aspect of society, a change as great as the conversion of a rake into a sober and respectable member of the community. The report of the select committee of the House of Commons appointed in 1835 to inquire into the state of education of the people in England and Wales, contains an amount of information concerning the increased and increasing decency of deportment within the present age, which is of the highest value. Among the many witnesses examined was Mr. Francis Place, who for more than half a century had been an attentive observer of the condition and conduct of the working people in London, and, to a considerable extent, throughout the kingdom generally. Scenes and events which he represented as being of common, every-day occurrence when he was an apprentice, are such as would be unbearable now, and have wholly- ceased. Speaking of the habits of tradesmen and masters, he says, "The conduct of such persons was exceedingly gross as compared with the same class at the present time. Decency was a very different thing from what it is now; their manners were such as scarcely to be credited. I remember, when a boy of ten years of age, being at a party of twenty, entertained at a respectable tradesman's, who kept a good house in the Strand, where songs were sung which cannot now be more than generally described from their obscenity. There were then few rational enjoyments at home; the men were seldom at home in the evening, except there were card-playing and drinking; they spent their time in a very useless, and but too generally a very mischievous manner. I made inquiries a few years ago, and found that between Temple Bar and Fleet Market there were many houses in each of which there were more books than all the tradesmen's houses in the street contained when I was a youth. The ballads sung about the streets and the books openly sold cannot be adequately described. I have given you in writing words of some common ballads which you would not think fit to have uttered in this committee. At that time the songs were of the most indecent kind; no one would mention them in any society now: they were publicly sung, and sold in the streets and markets.

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Archbishop Sumner
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