The controversy with Roman Catholics has overtaken us "like a summer's cloud." We find ourselves in various parts of the country preparing for it, yet, when we look back, we cannot trace the steps by which we arrived at our present position. We do not recollect what our feelings were this time last year on the subject,—what was the state of our apprehensions and anticipations. All we know is, that here we are, from long security, ignorant why we are not Roman Catholics, and they, on the other hand, are said to be spreading and strengthening on all sides of us, vaunting of their success, real or apparent, and taunting us with our inability to argue with them.
The Gospel of CHRIST is not a matter of mere argument: it does not follow that we are wrong, and they are right, because we cannot defend ourselves. But we cannot claim to direct the faith of others, we cannot check the progress of what we account error, we cannot be secure (humanly speaking) against the weakness of our own hearts some future day, unless we have learned to analyze and to state formally our own reasons for believing what we do believe, and thus have fixed our creed in our memories and our judgments. This is the especial duty of Christian Ministers, who, as St. Paul in the Acts of the Apostles, must be ready to dispute, whether with Jews or Greeks. That we are at present very ill practised in this branch of our duty (a point it is scarcely necessary to prove), is owing in a very great measure to the protection and favour which has long been extended to the English clergy by the State. Statesmen have felt that it was their interest to maintain a Church, which absorbing into itself a great portion of the religious feeling of the country, sobers and chastens what it has so attracted, and suppresses by its weight the intractable elements which it cannot persuade; and, while preventing the political mischiefs resulting whether from fanaticism or self-will, is altogether free from those formidable qualities which distinguish the ecclesiastical genius of Rome. Thus the clergy have been in that peaceful condition in which the presence of the civil magistrate supersedes the necessity of the struggle for life and ascendency; and amid their privileges it is not wonderful that they should have grown secure, and have neglected to inform themselves on subjects on which they were not called to dispute. It must be added, too, that a feeling of the untenable nature of the Roman faith, a contempt for the arguments used in its support, and a notion that it could never prevail in an educated country, have not a little contributed to expose us to our present surprise.
In saying all this, the writer does not forget that there is still scattered about the Church much learning upon the subject of Romanism, and much intelligent opposition to it; nor, on the other hand, does the present undertaking, of which this Tract is the commencement, pretend to be more than an attempt towards a suitable consideration of it on the part of persons who feel in themselves, and see in others, a deficiency of information.