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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 27

Responsibilities of the Laity

Responsibilities of the Laity.

Do you think that we, the laity generally, can view our own conduct and position in respect to the churches with unmixed gratification? We criticise the clergy with unbounded freedom—usually, as it appears to me, with cruel injustice, and often in profound forgetfulness that our criticism reacts upon ourselves—for their alleged illiberal and narrow views, and for irrational, unpractical, and ineffectual teaching. But may we not be reminded that the views and the teaching of the clergy are the direct and the necessary result of the church systems which we, the laity, have helped to form, and which we continue to support, and to guard jealously against all change, even after we have ceased to entirely believe in them?

We imagine that we ourselves are free; and in a certain sense we are. We are not bound by subscription to any church; each of us is free to leave the church in which lie was born, and to go anywhere or nowhere. But should we not greatly en if we imagine that we are free from the influence of creeds to which we pay the observance of outward adhesion, but which do not govern our thoughts and convictions? There is not one of us who does not yield apparent assent to much that he does not and cannot really believe. Is it possible that assent without belief shall continue for an indefinite time without affecting the natural vigour of a man's intellect, and even the integrity and straightforwardness of a manly character?

Every day these burning questions of religious thought in connection with their general tendencies, and also with the personal applications they suggest, are brought nearer and nearer to us, and they naturally inspire an increasing number of us with uneasiness, and even with vague and terrible apprehensions. The state of the world as it now presents itself to our observation cannot, we may be sure, long tolerate the continued treatment by the laity of these questions with careless levity, or with self-isolating reserve, or with the boastful incapacity of honest agnosticism.