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it to its proper use? Is there no individual among the ten thousands of the clergy-not one of all her mitred dignitaries to stand up for the honour of their Master in seeking to remove from their communion the foul reproach? If in public stations such a man is not to be found, is there no Christian in private life who will step forward and endeavour to deliver his country from the divine displeasure, for profaning the most sacred ordinance of Christ? Exertions in this cause, even though not crowned with success, would give honour to his name both on earth and in heaven: if successful, he would merit a niche among the highest benefactors of his country. Already has the sacramental test dishonoured England for more than a hundred and thirty years ; again and again dissenters have cried to parliament againt the heinous crime, but they have cried in vain : it remains for churchmen now to wipe the patine and the chalice from their deep stains”.
If this was not the era of gaining triumphs for religious liberty, it was at least the era of attempts to gain them. There were still in the statute book, lawş
·m To consider the corporation and test acts'as the grand bulwark of the church of England, and to display zeal for them on that account is exceedingly strange, All they can possibly prove is, that the person who receives the sacrament as the qualification for an office, either does not exercise his conscience on the subject, and looks upon it as a thing of course; or that he does not look upon the thing unlawful in itself: but that because he complies with what the law requires, and kneels at the altar, therefore he is of the established church, and loves it, and will defend it against all its foes, is an inference altogether illegitimate. Yet on this foundation of sand rests all the importance of these acts, for the continue ance of which so much zeal has been employed.
inflicting penalties on persons who absent themselves from the service of the church of England, or who speak in derogation of the Book of Common Prayer, and many others of a similar nature. To free our venerable code from what he accounted a disgrace to the country and to the age, lord Stanhope, in 1789, made a motion in the house of peers for the intrar duction of a bill that these vexatious acts might be repealed.
The ire of the episcopal bench was kindled against his lordship and his motion, which they accounted a profane attempt to undermine the foundation of the established church, Dr. Moore, the archbishop of Canterbury, assured the house, that the bill, if per. mitted to pass, would serve as a cover to every species of irreligion: and if people were allowed without restraint to speak, write, and publish on religious subjects, there was scarcely any mischief to the church or to civil society that imagination could frame, which might not be effected: the very foundation of religion as by law established might be undermined.
Nor did his lordship stand alone in defence of the church, Dr. Warner, bishop of Bangor, Dr. Halifax, of St. Asaph, and Dr. Horsley, of St. David's, the last with his characteristic violence, confirmed by their reasoning the assertions and the fears of the metropolitan. The effect of these speeches on the majority of the temporal peers may be judged of by the expressions of lord Stormont, who may be considered as their spokesman. So powerful did the arguments of the prelates appear, and so meritorious their zeal, that, in raptures of delight, he exclaimed, “ our venerable fathers in God have done themselves infinite credit, and rendered their characters sacred in the public
estimation.” It need scarcely be added that lord Stanhope failed of success in the attempt.
· These repeated failures did not produce despair ; for, in 1792, another effort was made to extend the boundaries of religious liberty. Mr. Fox, who had ever displayed a readiness to advocate the cause, introduced a motion for the repeal of those penal statutes, which notwithstanding the toleration act, still hung over the heads of those who in any way impugned the doctrine of the Trinity. He represented them as a disgrace to the statute book ; adduced instances in which arians and socinians had suffered by their operation ; and expressed an earnest wish that not now, as formerly, heretics should be con, sumed by fire, but the persecuting acts of the English legislature.
As Mr. Pitt had in the debate on the repeal of the test act, declared in the most unqualified terms, the right of the dissenters to a complete toleration, it was expected by the friends of the repeal, that he would give no opposition to the measure. But they were mistaken ; for he argued against the motion from the irritated state of the public mind, which would be offended by granting such an indulgence; and the security, which antitrinitarians enjoyed in contending for their opinions to the disregard of statutes which had fallen into disuse and oblivion. On a division of the house, Mr. Fox's motion was negatived by a majority of seventy-nine votes. í It would have been to the honour of the nation to have granted the repeal, and highly to the satisfaction of all the enlightened friends of the important doctrine of the Trinity. It has so broad and so firm a founda. tion in the sacred scriptures, that no additional stability can be given to it by acts of parliament; and it needs not their pigmy and suspicious aid. It is a triumph to socinians and arians, that they can say, “ You dare not allow us to stand on equal ground: you are compelled to shelter yourselves and your doctrine behind persecuting statutes, brandishing the sword of the magistrate for your defence.” Alay the time soon come when the liberality of the British legislature will silence the keen reproach.
About this time (1789) an event occurred in the political world, of a magnitude unequalled in modern times, which excited through the whole of civilized society an attention and interest unknown before. Such was the French revolution, which is introduced in this work on account of its connection with the principles of religious liberty and with the character and conduct of the dissenters, and its influence on the public mind in England in relation to that most important privilege. To describe the enthusiasm with which the downfal of despotism in France was hailed by every Briton who had a spark of genuine freedom in his bosom, is beyond the province of ecclesiastical history: our task is to delineate its' moral tendency, and to consider the light in which it was viewed by Christians, and by the dissenters in the character of Christians.
An accurate observer of human nature must have remarked two classes among the disciples of Christ, of a spirit in one respect widely different from each other. Those who compose the first class, regard. less of events which are taking place on the theatre of the world, pursue their Christian course in the
diligent performance of personal and relative duties, accounting an active interference in other things foreign to their spiritual character and their business in life. The other class, while not inferior in the observance of the same personal and relative duties, feel themselves bound, because they are Christians and citizens of the great republic of human nature, to take an interest in the welfare of all mankind, and promote their highest happiness. Of persons of this disposition a more considerable number than in an establishment will be found among a sect placed in the situation of the English dissenters, and holding their distinguishing sentiments ; because they depend for their prosperity, and indeed for their very existence on the prevalence and dominion of the principles of political freedom. Accordingly multitudes of the dissenters entered with peculiar ardour into the French revolution, as an event apparently pregnant with happiness to the people of France, who had been for nearly two centuries groaning under the iron rod of despotism, and for more than one century under the uncontrouled rage of popish superstition, during which the unrelenting fury of the clergy never ceased to persecute the protestants, or to insti. gate the civil power to persecution. ,
Of the propriety of such a conduct in a Christian, some of the former class doubted; while others more decided in their judgment loudly condemned it as contrary to the spirit of the Gospel : but the condemnation of their brethren was dictated by their ignorance, which proceeded from their inattention to the subject. From the beginning, an accurate investigation had taken place as to the condition of individuals, their relations, and their personal and domestic