The English Church in the Eighteenth Century eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 807 pages of information about The English Church in the Eighteenth Century.
and superior to them in intensity of purpose, were now wholly extinct.  The country increased rapidly in strength and in material prosperity; its growth was uninterrupted; its resources continued to develop; its political constitution gained in power and consolidation.  But there was a deficiency of disinterested principle.  There was an open field for the operation of such sordid motives and debasing tactics as those which disgraced Walpole’s lengthened administration.

In the following chapters there will be only too frequent occasion to refer to a somewhat corresponding state of things in the religious life of the country.  For two full centuries the land had laboured under the throes of the Reformation.  Even when William III. died, it could scarcely be said that England had decisively settled the form which her National Church should take.  The ‘Church in danger’ cries of Queen Anne’s reign, and the bitter war of pamphlets, were outward indications that suspense was not yet completely over, and that both friends and enemies felt they had still occasion to calculate the chances alike of Presbyterianism and of the Papacy.  But when George I. ascended the throne in peace, it was at last generally realised that the ‘Settlement’ of which so much had been spoken was now effectually attained.  Church and State were so far secured from change, that their defenders might rest from anxiety.  It was not a wholesome rest that followed.  Long-standing disputes and the old familiar controversies were almost lulled to silence, but in their place a sluggish calm rapidly spread over the Church, not only over the established National Church, but over it and also over every community of Nonconformists.  It is remarkable how closely the beginning of the season of spiritual lassitude corresponds with the accession of the first George.  The country had never altogether recovered from the reaction of lax indifference into which it had fallen after the Restoration.  Nevertheless, a good deal had occurred since that time to keep the minds of Churchmen, as well as of politicians, awake and active:  and a good deal had been done to stem the tide of immorality which had then broken over the kingdom.  The Church of England was certainly not asleep either in the time of the Seven Bishops, when James II. was King, or under its Whig rulers at the end of the century.  And in Queen Anne’s time, amid all the virulence of hostile Church parties, there was a healthy stream of life which made itself very visible in the numerous religious associations which sprang up everywhere in the great towns.  It might seem as if there were a certain heaviness in the English mind, which requires some outward stimulus to keep alive its zeal.  For so soon as the press of danger ceased, and party strifes abated, with the accession of the House of Brunswick, Christianity began forthwith to slumber.  The trumpet of Wesley and Whitefield was needed before that unseemly slumber could again be broken.

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The English Church in the Eighteenth Century from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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