The English Church in the Eighteenth Century eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 665 pages of information about The English Church in the Eighteenth Century.

The beginning of Queen Anne’s reign was in this respect a period of great promise.  Not only was the Church of England popular and its opponents weak, but both High and Low Churchmen had leaders of distinguished eminence.  Tillotson and Stillingfleet had passed away, but the Low Church bishops, such as Patrick and Fleetwood, Burnet, Tenison, and Compton, held a very honourable place in general esteem.  The High Churchmen no longer had Lake and Kettlewell, but Bull and Beveridge, Sharp, and Ken, and Nelson were still living, and held in high honour.  This latter party had been rent asunder by the nonjuring schism.  The breach, however, was not yet irreparable; and if it could be healed, and the cordial feeling could be restored which, under the influence of common Protestant sympathies, had begun to draw the two sections of the Church together, the National Church might seem likely to root itself more deeply in the attachment of the people than at any previous time since the Reformation.  These fair promises were frustrated, and the opportunity lost.  Before many years had passed there was a perceptible loss of tone and power in the Low Church party, when King William’s bishops had gradually died off.  Among High Churchmen, weakened by the secession, the growth of degeneracy was still more evident.  The contrast is immense between the lofty-minded and single-hearted men who worked with Ken and Nelson and the factious partisans who won the applause of ‘High Church’ mobs in the time of Sacheverell.  Perhaps the Church activity which, at all events in many notable instances, distinguished the first few years of the eighteenth century, is thrown into stronger relief by the comparative inertness which set in soon afterwards.  For a few years there was certainly every appearance of a growing religious movement.  Church brotherhoods were formed both in London and in many country towns and villages, missions were started, religious education was promoted, plans for the reformation of manners were ardently engaged in, churches were built, the weekly and daily services were in many places frequented by increasing congregations, and communicants rapidly increased.  It might seem as if the Wesleyan movement was about to be forestalled, in general character though not in detail, under the full sanction and direction of some of the principal heads of the English Church:  or as if the movement were begun, and only wanted such another leader as Wesley was.  There was not enough fire in Robert Nelson’s character for such a part.  Yet, had he lived a little longer, the example of his deep devotion and untiring zeal might have kindled the flame in some younger men of congenial but more impetuous temperament, whose zeal would have stirred the masses, and left a deep mark upon the history of the age.

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