With the accession of the Hanoverian line the church entered on a period of feeble life and inaction: many church fabrics were neglected; daily services were discontinued; holy days were disregarded; Holy Communion was infrequent; the poor were little cared for; and though the church remained popular, the clergy were lazy and held in contempt. In accepting the settlement of the crown the clergy generally sacrificed conviction to expediency, and their character suffered. Promotion largely depended on a profession of Whig principles: the church was regarded as subservient to the state; its historic position and claims were ignored, and it was treated by politicians as though its principal function was to support the government.
This change was accelerated by the silencing of convocation. A sermon by Hoadly, bishop of Bangor, impugned the existence of a visible church, and the Bangorian controversy which ensued threatened to end in the condemnation of his opinions by convocation, or at least by the lower house. As this would have weakened the government, convocation was prorogued, letters of business were withheld, and from 1717 until 1852 convocation, the church's constitutional organ of reform, existed only in name.
Walpole during his long ministry, from 1721 to 1742, discouraged activity in the church lest it should become troublesome to his government. Preferment was shamelessly sought after even by pious men, and was begged and bestowed on the ground of political services. In this the clergy, apart from the sacredness of clerical office, were neither better nor worse than the laity; in morality and decency they were better even at the lowest point of their decline, about the middle of the century. While the church was inactive in practical work, it showed vigour in the intellectual defence of Christianity. Controversies of earlier origin with assailants of the faith were ably maintained by, among others, Daniel Waterland, William Law, a nonjuror, Bishop Butler, whose Analogy appeared in 1736, and Bishop Berkeley. A revival of spirituality and energy at last set in. Its origin has been traced to Law's Serious Call, published in 1728.
Law's teaching was actively carried out by John Wesley, a clergyman who from 1739 devoted himself to evangelization. Though his preaching awoke much religious feeling, specially among the lower classes, the excitement which attended it led to a horror of religious enthusiasm, and his methods irritated the parochial clergy. Some of them seconded his efforts, but far more regarded them with violent and often unworthily expressed dislike. While he urged his followers to adhere to the church, he could not himself work in subordination to discipline; the Methodist organization which he founded was independent of the church's system and soon drifted into separation. Nevertheless, he did much to bring about a revival of life in the church.
Several clergy became his allies, and some preached in Lady Huntingdon's chapels before her secession. These were among the fathers of the Evangelical party: they differed from the Methodists in not forming an organization, remaining in the church, working on the parochial system, and generally holding Calvinistic doctrine, being so far nearer to Whitfield than to Wesley, though Calvinism gradually ceased to be a mark of the party. The Evangelicals soon grew in number, and their influence for good was extensive. they laid stress on the depravity of human nature, and on the importance of conscious conversion, giving prominence to the necessity of personal salvation rather than of incorporation with, and abiding in, the church of the redeemed. Prominent among their early leaders after they became distinct from the Methodists were William Romaine, Henry Venn and John Newton. Bishop Porteus of London sympathized with them, Lord Dartmouth was a liberal patron, and Cowper's poetry spread their doctrines in quarters where sermons might have failed to attract.
Religion was also forwarded in the church by the example of George III. During his reign the progress of toleration, though slow and fitful, greatly advanced both as regards Roman Catholics and Protestant dissenters. The spirit of rationalism, which had been manifested earlier in attacks on revelation, appeared in a movement against subscription to the Articles demanded of the clergy and others which was defeated by parliament in 1772. The alarm consequent on the French Revolution checked the progress of toleration and was temporarily fatal to freethinking; it strengthened the position of the church, which was regarded as a bulwark of society against the spread of revolutionary doctrines;, and this caused the Evangelicals to draw off more completely from the Methodists. The church was active: the Sunday-school movement, begun in 1780, flourished; the crusade against the slave-trade was vigorously supported by Evangelicals; and the Church Missionary Society (C.M.S.), a distinctly Evangelical organization, was founded. Excellent as were the results of the revival generally, the Evangelicals had defects which tended to weaken the church.
Some characteristics of their teaching were repellent to the young; they were deficient in theological learning, and often in learning of any kind; they took a low view of the church, regarding it as the offspring of the Protestant reformation; they expounded the Bible without reference to the church's teaching, and paid little heed to the church's directions. Dissent consequently grew stronger. By the Act of Union with Ireland the Churches of England and Ireland were united from the 1st of January 1801, and the continuance of the united church was declared an essential part of the union. No provision, however, was made giving the Irish clergy a place in convocation, which was evidently held unlikely to revive. The union of the churches was dissolved in 1871 by an act of 1869 for disestablishing the Irish Church.
This text forms part of the History of the Church of England originally part of the entry ENGLAND, CHURCH OF from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the content of which lies within the public domain.