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Title: A Letter to the Bishop of Exeter
Author: Alderson, Edward Hall
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Letter to the Bishop of Exeter" ***

Transcribed from the 1850 Joseph Masters edition by David Price, email

                   [Picture: Public domain book cover]

                                 A LETTER
                          THE BISHOP OF EXETER.

                                * * * * *

                               BY A LAYMAN.

                                * * * * *

                      FOR PRIVATE CIRCULATION ONLY.

                                * * * * *

                        PRINTED FOR THE AUTHOR BY

                                * * * * *

                        PRINTED BY JOSEPH MASTERS,
                            ALDERSGATE STREET.

                                * * * * *




IN the course of our conversation yesterday you did me the honour of
saying that I had presented the decision of the Judicial Committee of the
Privy Council in a somewhat new point of view to you, and you wished that
I would put the same down in writing for your more mature consideration.
I do so now—not without the hope that my view, if it be correct, may tend
to quiet the fears of some of our more anxious friends by showing them
what the effect of that Judgment really is, and how little when properly
understood it affects the future prospects of the Church.  But first I
would wish to point out that a decision is not properly to be treated as
a law.  It differs in this most material circumstance; that a law governs
all future decisions, whether the Judges appointed to decide agree with
the law or not.  But a decision is questionable by them, and only binds
them if they agree with it.  I grant that a long course of uniform
decisions constantly made, and often recurring, would probably be so
nearly equivalent as to be treated practically as a law.  But we are
speaking of one decision and the effect of it.  We have now a practical
illustration of that in a case in which you are interested.  The Queen’s
Bench have refused you a rule for a prohibition, and you are questioning
that, by renewing the same application to the Common Pleas.  If they
agree with the Queen’s Bench on the merits of the argument, they will
decide as the Queen’s Bench have done.  If they do not agree they will
without scruple act contrary to that decision.  If the decision of the
Queen’s Bench were a law they could not do this.  It may be said no doubt
that these are courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction, and that the Judicial
Committee is the Court of ultimate appeal.  But this really makes no
difference.  It is clear that any future Judicial Committee could
overrule this decision; and so might even any inferior court subject
however to the consequences of an ultimate appeal against their decision,
to which appeal the Judicial Committee itself is not liable.  In truth,
where the House of Lords makes in a civil suit, a decision contrary to
the rules of law, the courts of law very soon, although they do not
expressly overrule it, make it practically inoperative by distinguishing
every case which comes before them from it, however minute such
distinctions may be; whilst if the decision be right and well-founded,
they carry it into effect fully and with all its reasonable consequences
as corollaries from it.  To those therefore, and there are many, who
think that this decision of the Judicial Committee is wrong, I should
say, “lay before the public the grounds of your difference of opinion
openly, in the shape of well-considered arguments; and in the next case
of a similar nature which arises go with confidence in those arguments to
the next Judicial Committee, and you will probably succeed, even if the
same Judges sit there, and more certainly if their successors do so, in
overruling this erroneous decision.  In the mean while you will say,
there is the evil of a clerk of heretical opinions admitted into the
Church; I admit the evil; but suppose it was one who had been acquitted,
improperly perhaps in your opinion, of any other offence by competent
authority, would it be fair to say, because the tribunal had mistakenly
acquitted him, that it was decided that the Church might properly be
served by a criminal, and therefore that you must leave it? certainly
not.  This clerk is in a similar category.  In your opinion he is a
heretic.  But it has been adjudged otherwise by a competent tribunal, and
you must acquiesce in this instance, in that judgment which you deem
erroneous.”  This, my dear Lord, is the advice I should venture to give
under these circumstances, and I hope that in so doing, I should have
your concurrence.

But there is another point of view also, and I think a very material one
in which I wish to present the decision to you.  And it was this of which
we were speaking yesterday.  Supposing the decision to be of greater
weight in governing future cases than for the above reasons I think it
is, what is the decision itself?  Now it seems to me quite clear that the
governing part of every decision as to future cases is the rule of law
laid down therein.  If the Judges who decide make a blunder as to the
facts of the particular case, and upon that erroneous view decide it,
laying down the law correctly supposing those facts to be true, the
decision may be a wrong one in the individual case, but the law laid down
will be right and may well govern in future.

To illustrate my proposition let me suppose that the Judicial Committee
in stating what they, from the facts before them, considered to be Mr.
Gorham’s opinions, had stated that they considered him as holding “that
all children duly baptized in the mode prescribed by our Liturgy were
thereby regenerate”—and had proceeded to lay down as a rule that a
Clergyman holding that opinion could not justly be refused institution by
your lordship.  Who could have differed from them as to the rule—however
much we might have been surprised as to their opinion on the facts?  The
rule would be that which would govern future cases.  It would have been
determined that Clergymen holding _the specified opinions_ must be
instituted—and no injury could arise to the Church from such a decision.
Our complaint would be that Mr. Gorham did not hold these opinions in
fact.  This wrong would only apply to his individual case.

Let me now call your attention to what the Judicial Committee have done.
They begin by stating, as I have suggested, Mr. Gorham’s opinions as they
collect them from the documents laid before them.  They are these.

1.  That Baptism is a Sacrament generally necessary to salvation; but
that the grace of regeneration does not so necessarily accompany the act
of Baptism that regeneration _invariably_ takes place in Baptism.

2.  That the grace may be granted before, in, or after Baptism.

3.  That Baptism is an effectual sign of grace by which GOD works
invisibly in us, but only in such as _worthily_ receive it: in them
_alone_ it has a wholesome effect: and that without reference to the
qualification of the recipient it is not in itself an effectual sign of

4.  That infants baptized and dying before actual sin, are certainly

5.  But that in _no case_ is regeneration in Baptism unconditional.

Upon these opinions, and these alone, the Court proceeds to give
judgment,—and they hold that your Lordship was not justified in refusing
institution to a Clerk holding these opinions.  Even if the decision was
in the nature of a law, which it is not, it is at the most a law framed
in these specific terms.  Now taking this to be so, I am somewhat at a
loss to perceive which of these five propositions taken to the letter
necessarily and clearly militates against any known rule or doctrine of
the Church of England.

Does the first?  For I have divided the statement into parts for greater
convenience.  I apprehend not.  For that adults being baptized and not
sincerely believing what they profess to believe are not regenerate in
Baptism, is a proposition, I believe not disputed by many.  If this be
true, regeneration does not so necessarily accompany the act of Baptism,
that regeneration _invariably_ (that is to say in all cases) takes place
in Baptism.  As expressed therefore, the first proposition is not
necessarily inconsistent with true doctrine.  Its real fault is its
ambiguity.  It is open, as lawyers would say, to a special demurrer, and
if Mr. Gorham really so expressed himself, I should think that in him an
adroit special pleader had been lost to the law.

I proceed to the second clause.  That the grace may be granted before,
in, or after Baptism.  I doubt whether this be open to exception.  I
speak with diffidence, but I think there are passages of Holy Writ in
which it at least seems probable that the grace was granted before,
perhaps being confirmed in, Baptism.  St. Paul is one instance of it.
The assembly at the house of Cornelius another.  And who shall say that a
converted and believing heathen man, a sincere candidate for Baptism, may
not have grace before Baptism?  Grace in Baptism does not seem
disputable.  Grace after Baptism is surely possible.  Suppose the case of
an adult duly baptized with water, and in the Name of the FATHER, and the
SON, and the HOLY SPIRIT, who being not completely a believer, becomes a
complete and sincere Christian believer afterwards.  It is at least
doubtful, and that would be enough, whether a new Baptism would be lawful
in such a case.  But I conceive it is, as to this, sufficient to say that
the Church in her Articles and Liturgy has not clearly pronounced such a
belief to be erroneous.

The third clause which confines the grace of regeneration in Baptism to
those who _worthily_ receive it and to them _alone_ is, I conceive, true
as far as it goes.  It is defective in not adding that our Church holds
that all infants are worthy recipients.  But, as it stands, it is not
inconsistent with such an opinion.

The fourth clause is in the very words of the Liturgy.

The fifth, you will observe, is very carefully worded.  It merely
asserts, “that in no case is regeneration in Baptism unconditional.”  Nor
does the Church, as I believe, say otherwise.  There is always the
condition of being a worthy recipient.  If Mr. Gorham thinks all infants
are so, _and he nowhere in this statement of his opinions says the
contrary_, I do not think the Church will disagree with him, for it may
well be holden that a condition of worthiness is both required and
fulfilled in infant Baptism.  And in adult Baptism the Church does hold
that this condition is not only required, but that it may or may not be
fulfilled at the time of Baptism.  It may also be that this paragraph
means that the condition of using the element of water and the words of
our LORD is required.  And if so, I conceive we do not differ with him in
that respect.

I have now gone through the whole.  I hope I may satisfy you as I have
satisfied myself, that if this statement of Mr. Gorham’s opinions be a
true, full, and complete statement of them, and he holds nothing more
adverse to the Church than these exact words necessarily import, you
cannot with justice impeach or complain of the decision in his favour.
If such an opinion had come before you as Bishop, in his examination, I
do not for a moment suppose that you would have been satisfied with it.
What in it is ambiguous you would have required to be made more precise.
What in it is defective you would have caused to be supplied.  But this
the Court could not do.  They are limited by the actual examination and
the opinions to be extracted from it.  And they cannot refuse Mr.
Gorham’s prayer of institution if the case be not made out
_affirmatively_ against him.

The law, then, laid down by the Judicial Committee is, that a Clerk
holding these specified opinions, and no more, must be instituted, if in
other respects unobjectionable.  This law, if it be a law, is that which
affects future cases.  If, therefore, a Clerk were avowedly to hold now,
totidem verbis, that _all Infants are not worthy recipients of Baptism_,
_and are not regenerate by Baptism_, he will find it impossible, in the
letter of this decision, to obtain protection for that opinion.  For it
is not mentioned in the terms of the decision at all.

Do I then say that I think the decision in this case is right?  Far from
it.  I own that to my mind it is altogether erroneous.  But the error
consists in this, that the Judges in their supposed abstract of Mr.
Gorham’s opinions, have not stated the facts correctly.  It seems to me
that he holds other opinions not stated in this abstract, which ought to
have produced an opposite decision.  But this is like the case of a Jury
mistaking, or falsely finding the facts of a case.  That makes no rule
for the government of future cases—though it does a particular and
irremediable injustice in the case in which it happens.

I conclude, therefore, 1st.  That this is but a decision and no law.
That it governs future cases only if the Judges who shall be called to
determine them, agree with the reasons given in this case.  That if on
argument and full consideration these reasons are insufficient, this
decision may—ought to be—and will be—overruled.  Therefore, it does not
govern or affect the Church, as a law made in Convocation would do.

2nd.  I conclude that even if it were a law, it must be taken in the
exact terms used by the Court; and that those terms construed literally,
are not necessarily inconsistent with sound doctrine.

3rd.  That the real error in this case is one of fact, viz., that the
Judges have misstated Mr. Gorham’s opinions, or, which is the same thing,
have not fully stated all the erroneous opinions which, from the
documents submitted to them, he really holds; and that this error,
lamentable as it is, does not go beyond a wrong decision in the
individual case, and cannot be cited as a precedent, except for the
purpose of avoiding such mistakes in future.

Now if this be so, why should this decision so much disturb the minds of
zealous and sincere men, who in all other respects, and up to this time,
have remained in our Communion amongst the most valued of its members?
After turning this matter much and often in my thoughts, I must
deliberately say, that in my humble judgment it should have no such
effect.  It may be that the prevalence of erroneous views, brought now
under our notice, should cause a greater care to set forth often and more
emphatically the truth in this matter.  In all probability this will
succeed.  For the truth needs only to be shown to be successful.  Or it
may be that your Lordship and your brethren will do well to assist the
inferior Clergy, and us, the laity of your flocks, with some assurance
and advice on this important subject in dispute, and to declare
authoritatively that our Church does not hold doubtful opinions on either
of the two great Sacraments, for surely if she did, she would not be a
true branch of the Catholic Church at all.  I trust we shall not look in
vain to our Bishops for an answer to this question.

But in any event, I see no ground for leaving the Church in such an
emergency.  We ought rather, I think, to cling more closely to her in
this struggle against error and latitudinarian opinions.

With many apologies for giving you the trouble of reading this long
letter, and with the request that you will favour me with your opinion as
to the subject of it.

                               Believe me,

                                                             My dear Lord,
                                                    Very faithfully yours.

The Lord Bishop of Exeter.

                                * * * * *

P.S.—I am aware that it is a received, and probably a correct opinion,
that Baptism, if rightly administered, is to all persons effectual
regeneration, either for good or for ill.  Perhaps it was for this reason
that the very same declaration, “Seeing now that these persons are
regenerate,” is retained in the service for adults, as is found in that
for infants, although the regeneration for good is in adults confined to
the worthy receivers of the rite.  And there is a further confirmation of
it in the peculiar wording of the Article of Baptism, which speaks of
them who _rightly_ receive it; whereas, the article as to the Eucharist
speaks of those who (not only) rightly (but) worthily and with faith
receive it.  If this be so, it would seem to exclude worthiness, and with
faith, from being necessary ingredients in the effectual regeneration of
baptism, though necessary in the effectual regeneration to eternal life.

But this really would not vary the above argument, and therefore I only
advert to it here, that I may not seem to have undesignedly omitted it.
For it is quite obvious that both your Lordship in your examination—Mr.
Gorham in his answers, and the Judicial Committee in their Judgment,
refer only to Regeneration to Eternal Life—using it always in the good
sense as distinguished from the effectual regeneration above referred to.
And therefore granting the above to be the true and correct view of the
doctrine, it will leave the present argument precisely of the same, if of
any, value as before.

                                * * * * *

                                * * * * *


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