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The New Zealand Evangelist

Secession of the Hon. Rev. Baptist W. Noel

page 58

Secession of the Hon. Rev. Baptist W. Noel.

No event that has occurred for a considerable time has excited so much interest among all denominations of Christians as the secession from the English Establishment of the Hon. and Rev. Baptist W. Noel, of the proprietory Chapel St. John's, Bedford Row, London, which took place in December last. The following are the leading particulars connected with this deeply interesting event. We are told it was not Mr. Noel's intention to leave the Church until Midsummer next, in order that due time might have been allowed his people to choose a successor, and make the necessary arrangements for carrying on the schools and the various religious and charitable institutions maintained by his congregation, but the Bishop of London sent for the hon and rev. gentleman, and after ascertaining from him that the reports of his intention to secede from the Church were true, at once intimated to him that he would be prohibited from preaching again in any church or chapel within the diocese of London. Mr. Noel, on receiving this intimation, said, in the most respectful manner, that he could not consent to act in accordance with the prohibition, as he had not yet spoken to his congregation in their collective capacity on the subject of his intended secession. The bishop said he was determined to enforce the prohibition. It was eventually agreed that Mr. Noel should be permitted to preach on the next Sabbath, in his chapel, on the understanding that he was no longer to officiate as a minister of the Church of England. Severe reflections have been made by the public press upon the Bishop of Loudon, for the indecent haste with which he precipitated this separation. When Puseyite clergymen in scores are hastening to Rome, all lenity and every indulgence are shewn them; and they quit the Establishment at their own convenience. page 59 But when an Evangelical clergyman proposes to leave it in an opposite direction, he is scarcely permitted to take a formal farewell of his flock.

On Sabbath the 3rd of December, Mr. Noel preached his farewell sermons to his congregation. As was to be expected, the chapel was crowded to excess during both the morning and evening services. At the close of one of his discourses the rev. gentleman addressed the following very striking remarks to those whom curiosity might have brought that day, and said, “What do you come here to see? You come here to see the separation of a pastor and his flock, between a minister and his people, who have loved one another, and been long united. Have you asked yourselves why they are to be separated? There is but one answer—it is because there is such a thing as truth; because truth is supreme; because we owe to it an undivided homage and allegiance. It is because there is such a thing as conscience, which sits in judgment on truth, and, therefore, pronounces what we are to do in accordance with truth. It is this which has produced separation between those who have long loved one another and acted together; and, if you live in the world capable of discerning the truth, but without consciences to embrace it, having come here this day to see the spectacle of a separation, grievious ou many accounts, which conscience has enforced, go back, I beg of you, to your homes, and ask yourselves, ought you not to be men of conscience, soldiers of truth, and righteous servants of the Most High?”

Before the end of the month Mr. Noel's reasons for seceeding were published, in the form of an “Essay on the Union of Church and State,” being an octavo volume of 600 pages. Its publication has produced an immense sensation. It has furnished occasion for a vast display of excited feelings on all sides.

The Watchman says:—

This gentleman's book has come down, like a tornado upon our page 60 religious literature. Notices, reviews, extracts, wholesale citations, flood, and almost swamp, the columns of the organs of all parties and churches,—Free, Presbyterian, Independent, and Established. To be quite silent about it is scarcely within the power of any public journalist. Yet the Record tells us, that it is compacted of “one enormous fallacy;” and if an irreligious judge may be thought the most impartial, here is the estimate of a writer who may obviously lay claim to that character:—

“Mr Noel is the John Bunyan of the present day, without the stern will, the excursive imagination, the vigorous conception, the masculine style of the old Puritan. But he is equally pious, almost equally ignorant of everything beyond the text of the sacred volume; equally incapable of seeing anything beyond a small cluster of dogmas; equally determined to stick to the baldest literal translation which the words will allow; equally unconscious of any large purpose which Christianity has to accomplish, Christianity with him means nothing more than the preaching of the doctrine of justification by faith to a select few, within the four walls of a chapel, It has nothing to do with the civilisation of the world, the emancipation of the intellect, the happiness of the race upon earth.”

We give this paragraph form, the Daily News, without mutilation; because it is just what the Record took care to leave out in quoting the judgement of the London liberal press upon Mr. Noel. It displayed too openly the animus of the writer as a religious critic; it sneered too daringly at the doctrine of justification by faith; and (without considering the injustice done to John Bunyan) too offensively misrepresented the religious manifestations, and well known universal Christian sympathies of one of the most catholic-spirited minds of our age.

Mr. Noels's book is written under the influence of warm and fresh feeling, and consequently in a spirited and telling style. Its illustrations, and some of its statistics, are new and modern; but the argumentation, as we last week stated, can seldom partake of the same characteristics; and the mere controversy is not greatly furthered. The question then is, how has it come to arouse such excited feeling on both sides, till all the welkin resounds with belligerents? Much must, undoutedly, be attributed to Mr. Noel's talents, piety, and eminent standing in the Church, and to the influence which he wielded within, and especially without, her pale. But more, probably, is due to the singularity of his position. Here is an ordained son of the Anglican Church who, having retired from her ranks, on this vital quarrel, has raised the hand, which had distributed the sacred elements to one fold of her flock, against her organisation and her national supremacy.

The British Banner says:—

The appearonce [sic: appearance] of the volume will, probably, be an era in the history of the Church; for no such book ever before came from the hands of an English Churchman. It was worth while to be born, to submit to the toils of intellectual culture, and the acquisition page 61 of experimental wisdom, and to live in this atmosphere of siu and misery for some fifty years, to produce such a volume; and the man who has done this, should he do no more, has proved himself an incalculable benefactor to his country, his race, and the Church of the living God.

The Church and State Gazette says:—

To Republicans, to Dissenters, to Non-conformists of every shape, colour, and denomination, this book will impart a species of frantic gladness. The word to use it, as a means of assailing the Constitution as in Church and State established, has already been given in the enemy's quarters. The Anti-Church-and-Throne agitators have been already recommended to employ it as an engine of offence against our sacred and social institutions by their most rabid organ—a journal for ever execrable.”

The Non-Conformist says:—

All the circumstances connected with its publication serve to enhance its interest and value. The writer is well known to fame. His aristocratic descent—his position for a quarter of a century as a clergyman of the Establishment—his unquestioned and eminent piety—his rare candour—his gentleness of temper—his eatholicity of spirit, and his devotednens to all the high ends of his calling, have always secured for the effusions of his pen a large amount of public attention. From that elevated post which he had so long occupied with unblemished and growing reputation, we have seen him voluntarily descend, in simple obedience to the dictates of his conscience, renounce his connexion with the Establishment, and retire, for a season, into the seclusion of private life. There cannot be a doubt that such a step has cost such a man many a pang. He must have parted with much that he loved —he must have looked forward to much which he would have wished to avoid—and the noiseless, modest, single-hearted mode in which he has made so great a sacrifice must have cut him off from many of those supports which, in similar cases, the Old Adam within us is glad to enjoy. The convictions which have impelled him, therefore, must needs be deep and powerful. What are they? Whence do they spring? By what views, arguments, modes of reasoning, intellectual and spiritual tendencies, are they produced? To these questions the book before us supplies a copious answer.

Different readers and different parties have formed, and will form, different opinions respecting the merits of the question, the force of the writer's argumentation, and the prudence of the step that Mr. Noel has taken. We think, however, that there can be only one opinion among all christians at least, of the truly catholic spirit in which the book is written. Let the following extracts from the Preface and conclusion serve as specimens:—

page 62

“Still more anxious am I to do justice to my beloved and honoured brethren, the evangelical members of the establishment.— Having acted with them for many years, I can speak of their principles with confidence, Numbers of them, whose names I should rejoice to mention here with honour, are as sincere in adhering to the Establishment as I wish to be in quitting it. Of many of them I am convinced that they surpass me in devotedness to Christ, worthy successors of Romaine and John Venn, of Newton, Cecil, and Thomas Scott, of Robinson, and of Simeon. I hope that, remaining conscientiously in the Establishment, they will have the respect and affection of all good men. May they enjoy increasing comfort and usefulness to the end of their ministry!—While I condemn a State prelacy freely, I honour each pious prelate: while I mourn the relation of godly pastors to the State, I no less rejoice in their godliness.

Since many will hold back from even an examination of truths which entail momentous consequences to themselves, each disciple of Christ who ascertains the separation of the Churches from the State to be his Master's will, must count it an honour to serve him singly, if need be, in this conflict. Great events in history have waited on the actions of a few intrepid men. Hampden by his resolute resistance to an act of tyranny, awoke in his countrymen the spirit which secured our liberties. The gallantry of Clive saved our Indian empire. Luther long thought and laboured almost alone. The extensive revival of the last century was owing, under God, to Wesley and Whitfieeld, with very few companions. Let each member of the Establishment, therefore, who comprehends this duty, determine that he will, without waiting for the decision of others, do his utmost in the name of Christ to secure the freedom of the Anglican Churches from the shackles of the State. Members of congregations, who already maintain your ministers in connection with the Union, by which your own functions are abandoned and your own sacred rights, by declaring that you will be free. A few such instances in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, and Birmingham, would awaken the whole nation to their duty.

With greater confidence I address my brethren of the Free Churches. There should be no longer disunion or sloth. Independents and Baptists, Wesleyans, and members of the Free Church of Scotland, let us all, with united voices, from Caithness to Cornwall, claim, in the name of Christ, the Christian liberty of the British Churches; and this generation may yet see accomplished a second Reformation more spiritual and not less extensive than the first.

Above all, let us take care to fulfil this duty in a Christian spirit. No religious cause requires irreligious means for its advancement. Let us disgrace ourselves by no railing, condemn all personal invective, and be guilty of no exaggeration, for these are the weapons of the weak and unprincipled; but uniting with all those who love the Redeemer, let us recognise with gratitude every work of the Spirit within the Establishment as well as without it. And page 63 with much prayer, with constant dependence on the Holy Spirit, with a supreme desire to glorify God, and with an abundant exercise of faith, hope, and love, which are our appropriate armour in every conflict, let us persevere in our efforts, till the blessing of God renders our triumph a decisive step towards the evangelisation of the whole world.