Memoriam from The Church Intelligencer
(Vol 2, February 1885)
To sketch in a short space the life of the founder of a great institution or a great society, is never an easy task. But when that founder happens to be the late Rev. Canon Blakeney, D.D., the original promoter of the Church Association, the difficulties of the work increase; for to present briefly anything like a clear description of the unremitting toil, the self-denying labours and the brilliant results, which characterized his life, would be almost impossible. At the present day it is the fashion to say many hard things against the Church Association, and to appear as the Promoter of that Society would be no recommendation to the minds of some. But the writer cannot help thinking that if the real circumstances of the case were more widely known, as well as the characters of those men who first directed the movement, many of the current prejudices would disappear.
Prior to the formation of the Church Association, the English Church Union had existed for some time. The members of this body, as well as the Ritualistic party in general, were loud in their assertions as to the legality of their doctrines and practices. The taunt was often thrown in the faces of Evangelicals that they had no real standing in the Church, that, in fact, they were little better than Dissenters, who refused to act up to the Church’s standard. General confusion prevailed as to what was right or what was not, and as a consequence it appeared that the whole Church was in danger of dismemberment. Many ideas were discussed and plans formed, but still nothing definite was done.
At last Dr. Blakeney, then incumbent of Christ Church, Claughton, an important charge near Birkenhead, formed the idea of having a Society, as a set-off to the English Church Union—a Society which should not merely exist as such, but which should engage in the active defence of the Protestant and Scriptural character of the Church. Dr. Blakeney, who as we all know, had been an earnest student, as well as a voluminous writer upon the Romish and Ritualistic controversies, had always asserted the Protestantism of the English Church as expressed in her Articles and Formularies. But still there were numbers who from non-aquaintance with these subjects began to doubt the Church of their Fathers. Consequently it was a matter of the greatest importance that something should be done to oppose the growth of error, as well as to banish false alarms. This, then, to put the matter very briefly, was the state of things when Dr. Blakeney first originated the idea of a Church Association.
At first the plan was received with very little hope. Even those who were most anxious that the progress of a hybrid Romanism in the Church should be checked, entertained but little hope of its success. Canon Blakeney, however, with that determination which was so conspicuous a feature of his character, was not to be daunted. He immediately commenced a huge correspondence with men of influence all over the country, the result of which was the Church Association. And, although residing a long distance from London, he constantly travelled all night, once or twice a month, so as to attend the Association meetings in town, and at the same time to avoid neglecting his parochial work. To say how a Guarantee Fund of £50,000 was raised; how case followed case; how on sixty points the Ritualistic practices and doctrines were condemned; and how in the remaining few points, though direct condemnation was not pronounced, still no justification was made, would be quite unnecessary. The Protestant character of the Standards and Formularies of the Church was uniformly recognized and established by the Judgments obtained.
These are now matters of history, and causes of the deepest thankfulness to all who love our Church as Canon Blakeney did. But as to-day we contrast our position with what it was before the Church Association accomplished its work, we must indeed feel grateful to God who made Dr. Blakeney the instrument in bringing about such a grand result. If our Church had not been vindicated and cleared of the suspicions which lurked in the minds of many, it is greatly to be feared that if she had not been then broken up, her end would not have been far off. Surely in all this we see a plain reason why the past work of the Church Association should not be considered as belonging to a narrow party, but rather to the great body of those who love their Church, as being free, on the one hand, from the errors and excesses of Rome, on the other, from the coldness and defects of Nonconformity. All honour to Dr. Blakeney, the founder of a Society which has accomplished so grand a work.
It may be interesting to many to know that Dr. Blakeney took a most important part in the general legal cases. Dr. Stephens, his intimate friend, made him his clerical counsel, and to his vast learning and profound knowledge of all subjects connected with ecclesiastical law, much of the success achieved by the Association in its cases is to be ascribed. Dr. Stephens, well qualified to form an opinion, regarded him as the ablest ecclesiastical lawyer of the day, and spoke of his large work on the Prayer Book in the highest terms of praise. In connection with the Church Association, Canon Blakeney delivered in former years many lectures, and wrote several invaluable tracts. His “Manual on the Lord’s Supper,” published in 1883, should be in the hands of every one who wishes to understand thoroughly and rightly the Communion Service of the Church of England.
But while we see that he was in every way one of the ablest champions of truth the present century has seen, we must also bear in mind that there was nothing personal in his controversial work. He warred not against men, but against error. And it is well known that he was on the most friendly terms with even his greatest opponents. His was one of those great and lofty minds which in their devotion to everything that comes from God, overlook entirely the mean and petty jealousies of smaller men. And though ever ready to defend his principles, he was not one of those red-hot controversialists who do so much mischief to the cause they profess to advocate by the incautious scattering of their thunderbolts; but wisdom, moderation, and fairness marked all his writings and words. And how clearly was the true gentleman displayed in him in every way; how quietly would he refute his opponents, as if to spare them all the pain of defeat.
Another conspicuous feature in his character was that he never courted disputes for the mere sake of argument, though, perhaps, no man ever possessed more brilliant qualities for debate. Whenever he could, he avoided any reference to subjects which might hurt the feelings of those present. His plan was to conciliate, and to win by love, rather than to drive. And, without doubt, it proved successful. No one, perhaps, ever had more warmly-attached friends than Canon Blakeney; and persons, at first rough and disagreeable, soon melted under the softening influences of one of the kindest of men.
People at a distance have sometimes regarded Canon Blakeney as an extreme party man, and as a very poor Churchman. A greater mistake was never made; he belonged to no party, except that which was allied with truth, while a more devoted Churchman never lived. The services of the Church were to him a never-failing source of delight and spiritual strength; and often did he preach and speak about the beauty and advantages of our matchless Liturgy. Order, reverence, and good taste characterized the services of his own church, and a deep sense of solemnity marked his preaching and reading. If a proof were required to refute the groundless charge so often brought against Evangelicals—that they care nothing either for the state of their churches or the style of their services—Canon Blakeney’s magnificently restored church, with its orderly services, would furnish the necessary evidence.
To describe fully the many splendid qualities he possessed would be far beyond our present scope. Our aim, in this short article, has been rather to dwell upon him as the Founder of the Church Association, and, at the same time, to dispel any false ideas which, in the minds of some, might connect him with bigotry or narrowness. A more liberal-minded man never lived, or one who hated more anything which partook of the nature of persecution. He used to say that bigotry and persecution were Rome’s weapons, and therefore unworthy of true Englishmen. May the spirit of Canon Blakeney ever animate the Association he founded, that the work he so ably carried on may flourish and succeed, to the Glory of God and the welfare of His holy Church. His earthly sun has set, but on the shores of the better world it has risen, to shine for ever. His works remain, and thus, “he, being dead, yet speaketh.”
Resolution of Condolence
At their meeting on the 15th of last month the Council unanimously adopted the following Resolution:-
“That the Council of the Church Association has received with the deepest regret the painful intelligence of the sudden death of the late Canon Blakeney, the principal founder of this Society, by whose ability, learning, and personal suavity of manner, the Association has profited most largely, and to whom it is deeply indebted. The Council feel that his loss deprives the Association of a warm friend, and the Cause of an able champion, and desires to express its most sincere sympathy with Mrs. Blakeney and her bereaved family in their deep sorrow.”