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AfiT. VII.—1. Christ our Example in seeking the Lost. A Sermon preached at St. James's Church, Piccadilly, before the Church Penitentiary Association, on the occasion of their First Anniversary Service, on Tuesday, April 26, 1853. By Samuel, Lord Bishop of Oxford, &c. &c Published by Request. To which is appended the First Annual Report of the Association. London. 1853.
2. A Place of Repentance. By Samuel Martin, &c. London: Nisbet 1853.
3. Notes and Narratives of a Six Years' Mission, principally among the Dens of London. By R. VV. Vanderkiste, late London City Missionary. London: Nisbet. 1853.
The subject to which we propose to devote a few, very few pages, is no new one to our readers. We will not do them the injustice of supposing that they have forgotten an article on 'The Church and her Female Penitents,' which appeared in the Christian Remembrancer for January 1849. Nor were we alone in treading this delicate ground. Almost simultaneously with our own paper, the Quarterly Review, and the late English Review, gave articles, and, as is well known, from the same pen, on the same subject. Mr. Armstrong, of Tidenham, in other ways identified with various attempts to reclaim fallen women, seems to have 'wielded at will that fierce democracy,' the periodical
Eress; for we believe that we are not inaccurate in attributing to im not only all the above essays, but also a series of powerful and brief appeals on Penitentiaries, printed in the Morning Chronicle, towards the end of the year 1851. To this set of papers, backed by the personal influence of leading articles, may be traced the germ of the Church Penitentiary Association, as far at least as the co-operation of the lay element is concerned.
Parallel however to this movement, literary in its origin, must be traced a distinct clerical appeal for Penitentiaries, which may be safely identified with the respected name of Mr. Carter, of Clewer. To him, we believe, belongs the credit of attempting Female Penitentiaries on a more religious principle, and aiming at a higher temper than the well-meant Magdalen Charities and Refuges of ten years ago. These latter institutions realized the want, and are highly creditable to the age which recognised it. But it is no disparagement to them and to their admirable founders to remark, that it were indeed strange, if the present religious revival had not, as it developed, very soon included a Penitential Discipline among its earliest aims, and this by way of advance of existing attempts to grapple with the evil. Strictness and repentance are the first and natural themes of a religious revival: sin is its prime object; and of sins, the sins of the body are those which, being most common, would first enter the field of spiritual vision. Thus an attempt to improve upon Penitentiaries, is only a natural and unavoidable form, which an age of some earnestness would spontaneously fall into. In our account of this natural process, we are losing sight of the fact itself, which is, that some time, about three years ago, the Bishop of London, at Mr. Carter's request, had commissioned certain of his own clergy to associate themselves, with a view towards establishing Penitentiaries, to be conducted by Sisterhoods. It does not appear that this body had proceeded far in its deliberations, before its members became aware of the parallel and somewhat more popular movement, which we have connected with Mr. Armstrong's name. Like of course attracts like; by a natural affinity the two bodies coalesced, and after absorbing much of irregular and immature zeal, the well-weighed and simple rules of the Church Penitentiary Association appeared. That body has now been at work more than a twelvemonth, and at its first Anniversary, that solitary star among the fuliginous haze of the May Meetings, was delivered the impressive Sermon, which we have named first in our heading.
We have been thus particular in our historical sketch, because we are not without hope that the Church Penitentiary Association may be the forerunner of some change in the character of our religious institutions. One, though a subordinate honour of the Association is, that it has innovated on the system of guineamembership. A mere money qualification is not required for admission to share in its pious works. It recognises, as far as is either possible or desirable, that ancient and natural principle of associated labours, which, under the form of guilds or brotherhoods for practically religious purposes, that of monastic orders for the cultivation of separate graces, or that of crafts and mysteries for commercial or artistic objects, has hitherto told largely both in the way of actual success, and on society at the same time. There is an understanding that in some way or other, by money, by time, by visiting, by procuring subscriptions, by rescuing fallen women, by procuring for them, as Penitents, an entrance into society, by assisting them to emigrate, by communicating with their parents or friends, every Associate should take an actual share in the objects of the Institution. The recent extortion attempted on the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, himself a member of the Association, is a specimen of one method of fulfilling the duties of membership; and so the sin-offering from one who has himself fallen under deadly sin, and the thank-offering from another who has escaped it—classes of offerings which in a way so exhaustive represent the personal duties of all Christians—might teach us that this is a work of charity, whose appeal it is literally impossible to escape. But besides this characteristic of the Association, we would specify its other happy peculiarity. Its anniversary—though it does not yet exactly dispense with the routine of Chairman and Resolutions—is spent as a religious celebration. It sanctifies the work of mercy by the highest act of Christian worship. It combines good-will towards man with the glory of God. It hallows its own feeble attempts at diminishing sin, and seeks higher than human aid, by the most solemn celebration of the perpetual memorial of the great Sacrifice for all sin. The members of the Association are invited to unite in prayer and praise, and communion, on the anniversary. A sermon was preached by the Bishop of Oxford, and the Eucharist was administered by the Bishop of London. The Breaking of the Bread, and Prayer, and Offerings at the Altar, for the sacred purposes of the Association, are, as we said, an innovation. We trust that Penitentiaries will not long be singular in this method of hallowing their object.
We feel that already the Association may be considered a success. Not only is its constitution a revolution on the debased management of religious societies, but its method of dispensing assistance has its specialties. Iu this respect it resembles the Educational department of the Privy Council: its object is not to found, but to stimulate and bribe founders. It aids poor reformatory institutions: it helps to launch them; but it leaves the separate institution to its own independent action, its own government, and its individual method for attaining a common end. Its work is co-extensive with Christian penitence in its particular aspect towards fallen women; it does not restrict itself to this or that refuge or penitentiary. And in this way it seeks not only to cover a larger area, but to bring into correspondence and mutual offices institutions even in the colonies and our distant towns, which would otherwise be quite debarred from the interchange of much profitable advice and experience. Sydney and Capetown are as much within its range as Manchester or Regent Street Besides those established houses of comfort, known probably by more than name to many of our readers, at Clewer, Wantage, and Bussage, which are in direct communication with the London Institution, it has already been the means of opening three Houses of Refuge in the metropolis, at Pimlico, near the Regent's Park, and in Whitechapel.
Our readers are of course aware of the distinction between a Penitentiary and a House of Refuge. The Refuge is the house ' of the first instance,' as our neighbours would phrase it; an ordinary establishment, with its doors open night and day, so long as it has a bed or a floor unoccupied, to the poor daughters of sin, whose agonies of sin are often as transient as sharp. A Penitentiary aims at reclaiming the wanderers; at securing the means of penitence in a formal, systematic way. The Penitentiary, through the medium of its sisters, its chaplain, its service, its routine of worship and work, its tender yet austere discipline, deals with the soul, and proposes to itself the hardest, yet most blessed work of evangelical love—the conversion of a sinner. The Refuge simply opens its arms: it but pretends to hide in its bosom the outcast. It is subsidiary and instrumental to the Penitentiary; it tests the first throes of awakening; it sifts cases; it just breaks up the soil for the seed of true penitence to be sown. Not that the House of Refuge has not its discipline: but it only proposes to begin the work, and a work hitherto signally blessed. The houses already open are more than full; and we cannot plead the cause of their multiplication so effectually as by repeating the affecting incident alluded to in the Report before us, of many ' poor girls 'sitting for two or three days consecutively upon the door-steps 'of the Houses of Refuge, earnestly seeking admission; and 'when told of the impossibility of obtaining it, because the 'house was too small and too full to receive them, they have 'urged that plea which none who love Him can bear to hear in * vain, " For Christ's sake do take me in !"'—P. 14.
Nor is the work of reclaiming the outcasts of our streets, at least in its commencement, so difficult as might be supposed. True and entire and perfect conversion from a life of sin is, we know, rare; but to give every fallen woman a chance to begin is by no means a hard task, as it seems the very life which the polluted lead predisposes them to hasty and violent fits and spasms of remorse. Her reckless, thoughtless, uncalculating course, so unsystematic and desultory, gives her perhaps chances and leaves her open to appeals, and even to sudden passionate gusts of good, which are closed to the more deliberate and purposed sinners of other sorts. These poor creatures are always in extremes. Their moral nature, perhaps, is not so much obliterated as shattered. Here and there are found to exist among this class some strange startling relics and memorials of virtues,—great generosity, much unselfishness, and a shrinking cowering sense of religion. It is an awful thought, but a respectable tradesman, one in whom the renewed nature is just simply blotted out, may be in a less hopeful state than the streetwalker, in whom the image of God is in fragments. Fallen women are subject to fierce tempests of passion; the feigned mockery of fictitious joys alternates with frightful despondency and overpowering attacks of remorse. * Anywhere—anywhere out of the world,' is the predominant impulse, and in such a frame, or rather disorganization, of mind, an open House of Mercy is as likely to be appealed to as the terrible 'Bridge of Sighs.' Hence, as we think, the very first necessity incumbent on the Church Penitentiary Association is to encourage the opening of many Refuges—a necessity, however, with which its Council have anxiously complied. Penitentiaries, so to say, will take care of themselves, so that we encourage that first step on which everything, under God, in this matter depends. The characteristic, then, of such Houses of Mercy should be their freedom; interpose but the least obstacle to the mad, frenzied appeal for help, and the sinner shrinks back. The weekly day of admission, and the Committee sitting in judgment on the case, as in the older institutions, is, in nine cases out of ten, equivalent to ' Go and sin again.' The sole credentials required by a true House of Refuge should be only those which He, who was emphatically the good Shepherd of the lost sheep, required, that one who seeks for aid should be * a woman who is a sinner,' even one 'taken in the very act'— though taken only by her own conscience. To ask more is superfluous; and more than this the Church Penitentiary Association discourages its minor Houses from seeking to know.
Nor ought that cold philosophy to deter from this holy work which suggests that the ranks of misery will always be filled up; and that it is of little use to reclaim a single sinner if another is by some stoic law of wickedness sure to fill her place. We deny both the assumed fact and even its indirect relevancy on such attempts to reclaim the fallen as we are now engaged in. Taking up the matter even under that unchristian aspect which only looks at female degradation as a trade, there can be no question that the supply, in the language of the day, exceeds the demand: the evening aspect of our streets proves this. We say, that Penitentiaries and Houses of Mercy will and do actually absorb an excess of sinners, and do in fact therefore diminish the amount of sin. But even were it not so, our Christian work is not with average of sin, but with individual souls. The Church's mission is to the solitary outcast: it is ours to appeal to that single daughter or sister of ours, even though we were certain that her place in vice would not be for an hour vacant. Our Christian work would be at an end were we to acquiesce in the convenient fallacy that there must always be an average amount of wickedness in the world, and that crime