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To free the dissenters from subscription, they said, would fill the country with enthusiasm, absurdity, and error. When the present wholesome restraint was removed, arians, socinians, and even deists would deface and undermine the Christian religion. As the application of the clergy, who had a prior claim to favour, was refused, certainly the dissenters ought not to be gratified with an acquiescence in their wishes. It might be called a bill not for the relief but for the encouragement of dissenters, by which the church of England would be weakened and injured, and a republican religion, at all times a foe to monarchy and episcopacy, would be strengthened and cherished. The act of toleration was designed for the protection of those who could subscribe the articles enjoined ; but those who now came forward with their complaints, must be persons of a different character, and therefore not entitled to its privileges. The penalties of the law, though they hung over them in terror, were never enforced against those who did not subscribe : why then did they trouble the government, from whose lenity they enjoyed so many blessings ? To pass this bill into a law, would be to reward them for their disregard of the act of toleration.
The reasoning of the friends of the bill easily dispelled the airy sophisms of their opponents; and more effectually to confirm their arguments in favour of religious liberty, they adduced facts. In neither Scotland nor Ireland is subscription required of any of the sects which dissent from the churches established in those countries; and yet not one injurious consequence has arisen from the enjoyment of their liberty. The weight of these considerations was felt by the house, the bill passed with a general concure
rence, and could even boast of the approbation, or at least the acquiescence of the minister.
From the lords it met with a very different reception. The bishops, those vigilant guardians of the church, ever anxious for its safety, and tremblingly alive to all its concerns, thought that they descried danger in the bill, and summoning up the powers of their eloquence, gave it the most decided opposition. That deference, which the British nobility may be expected to feel for their spiritual guides in matters of religion, so as to be a fair pattern to their inferiors, was felt on this occasion ; for when the vote was called for, the bill was thrown out by a hundred and two against twenty-nine.
Not driven to despair by the frowns of the epis. copal bench, the dissenters determined to make a second attempt, and in the following year (1773) the bill was again introduced, and passed the commons with substantial marks of approbation. But when it was carried to the lords, the former opposition was renewed, and with equal effect, for it was again thrown out. In the course of the debate, Dr. Drummond, archbishop of York, feeling all the spirit of his order, attacked the dissenting ministers with singular violence, and charged them with being men of close ambition. They had, however, the happiness to find an advocate in the great earl of Chatham, who arose in reply, and spoke in the following terms. “ This is judging uncharitably, and whoever brings such a charge without proof, defames.” Here he paused for a moment, and then proceeded; “ The dissenting ministers are represented as men of close ambition, they are so, my lords; and their ambition is to keep close to the college of fishermen, not of cardinals ;
and to the doctrine of inspired apostles, not to the decrees of interested and aspiring bishops. They contend for a spiritual creed and spiritual worship; we have a calvinistic creed, a popish liturgy, and an arminian clergy. The reformation has laid open the Scriptures to all; let not the bishops shut them again. Laws in support of ecclesiastical power are pleaded, which it would shock humanity to execute. It is said that religious sects have done great mischief when they were not kept under restraint: but history affords no proof that sects have ever been mischievous, when they were not oppressed and persecuted by the ruling church.”
A multitude of parnphlets issued from the press on the occasion, and both the friends and foes of subscription told their tale, and uttered their wishes, their hopes, and their complaints. Israel Mauduit, Dr. Furneaux, Dr. Kippis, Mr. Radcliff, and others in the new scheme of doctrines ; Dr. Stennett, Dr. Gibbons, Mr. Hitchin, and Mr. Fell among the orthodox; dean Tucker, Dr. Butler, and some anonymous writers in the establishment, all contended in this field of controversy : some on each side with ability and temper, and others with heat equal at least to their light
Those ministers, whose 'sentiments were hostile to
« See the Case of the Dissenting Mivisters by Israel Mauduit. Dr. Kippis's Vindication of the Dissenting Ministers. Radcliff's Sermon occasioned by the Denial of Relief respecting Subscription. Candid Thoughts, &c. by an orthodox dissenter. Objections against the Applications considered, by Thomas Gibbons. Remarks on the Postcript to Mr, Mauduit's Case, &c. by a firm friend to truth, &c. A free and dispassionate Account of the late Application, &c. by Samuel Stenạett,
the doctrine of the articles, were among the first to engage in the business, and in the beginning, the most active. Such, indeed, was their ardour, that they were accused of acting with imprudent and indecent haste. The meeting of the London ministers, it was said, was fixed on so early a day, that many had not timely notice: and when they assembled the business was so intemperately hurried on and concluded, that some who came a little too late, found every thing settled: nor were the country ministers consulted, as they ought to have been, nor their consent obtained. They were justly blamed too for the strain of their pamphlets, in which they rendered prominent their peculiar notions in theology; and instead of going on those broad grounds, which were common to all as dissenters, they spoke disrespectfully of the ancient nonconformists, as men groping in the dark, while they extolled themselves and their fellows as unspeakably superior in biblic... knowledge, in clearer views of truth, and in improve. ments without number. But had they not asserted this, and had they left us to judge from their discourses and their writings, no one would ever have made the discovery; nor have supposed that Baxter and Howe, Bates and Owen were in the smallest danger of being eclipsed by these panegyrists of themselves.
Greater commendation, in the prosecution of the business, is due to that more numerous body among the ministers who had no quarrel with the doctrine in the articles, but who preferred a declaration of their belief in the sacred Scriptures. While they considered arian and socinian sentiments as diametrically opposite to the principles of the Gospel, yet
because they were friends to universal liberty of conscience, and would not have truth defended by persecuting statutes and the magistrate's sword, they were desirous of lending their aid to free the men who had embraced these errors from the penalties to which they were exposed.
Some of the dissenting ministers opposed the application to parliament, because the relief was desired by men who opposed the truth, and wished to oppose it still more openly, whom therefore they could not conscientiously encourage by their approbation, or even by their silence. Whatever praise may be due to the good intentions of such men; on the liberal principles of general liberty and the rights of conscience, their conduct must be left to be vin-, dicated by themselves : we will not be their advocates.
More may be urged in defence of another class of ;"jsenting ministers, who said to the arians and Socinian teachers : “ we feel no grievance in the toleration act. If you do, go and apply for relief; but do it in your name and not in ours: we will not oppose you, but we will not patronize your cause, because we think your religious principles dangerous to the souls of men,” Such was the reasoning of Mr. Hitchin's pamphlet. Indeed in the various writings published on this subject, the orthodox display a great superiority of temper and moderation to those who had embraced the arian and socinian creed. To be convinced of this, it is only necessary to compare the pamphlets of Hitchin, Gibbons, and Stennett with those of Mauduit, and Radcliff, and some others of that class,
After repeated applications for' relief, rendered vain by an opposition so formidable and so decided, the