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STATE OF RELIGION IN IRELAND.
To this unhappy isle the accession of George the first introduced a state of lasting external tranquill unknown in its ancient annals. The expulsion of the natives from their estates, confiscation of property, and the long train of former outrageous oppressions were now at an end: but of equal laws securing the rights, and having in view the welfare of the whole community it could not yet boast. The Roman catholic body was lying under the scourge of a multitude of unjust and cruel statutes; and in the course of this period too large an addition was made to the number. If ever a class of people was warranted to entertain prejudices against the protestant religion, the Irish catholics were the men, who, by the free government of Britain, that had the Hibernian parliament entirely at its command, were treated worse than slaves.
But, while crushed by the iron rod of power, the bitter hatred of their oppressions served to attach them more strongly to their religious opinions. Always superior in number to the protestants, during this period the superiority was 'greatly augmented; and a multitude of converts from the episcopal protestant church reconciled themselves to the see of Rome: protestant colonies planted in many parts of the south and west gradually disappeared, and nothing was to be seen but proselyted adherents to the Romish faith.
The episcopal protestant established church of Ire
land was rich in tythes and estates, for she is supposed to possess a thirteenth part of the soil; but poor in labours and in success'. The tythes her clergy exacted with sufficient strictness, and the estates were leased with abundant care; but the people were shamefully neglected. In some parishes there was po building for the established worship, in others no parsonage-house, and the incumbents were all their life non-resident; so that the only worship was that of the church of Rome: and in the greater part of those places where the service of the Irish church was performed, it was in so ineffectual a manner, that the people were gradually dropping off into the communion of Rome.
During the whole of this period, and indeed almost to the close of this century, Ireland presents a phenomenon which never did, and it is hoped, never will again appear in the Christian world. A poor, illiterate, persecuted priesthood with their whole flock groaning under oppression, is seen endeavouring amidst severe restrictions and under the frown of popular opinion, to propagate a system of gross error and degrading superstition. The opposite side presents a clergy pot deficient in literature, abundant in wealth, cherished in the bosom of power, and supported by the strong arm of civil authority, headed by a considerable number of archbishops, bishops, and other digni. fied ecclesiastics, with pure doctrine in her articles and liturgy, and employed to diffuse divine truth among the Irish people, all of whom, as they tythed, they doubtless accounted themselves bound to teach. The result of the contest must astonish as well as shock every pious and candid mind : the erroneous
ce Dr. Campbell's Answer to the bishop of Cloyne,
and superstitious priests of Rome gained the victory : the protestant episcopal clergy were driven from the field, and had the mortification to see (if they were at the pains to look) the priests leading away their flocks in triumph to the Roman fold.
The conduct of the clergy of the protestant Irish church, from the revolution till near the end of the eighteenth century, was indeed such, as with few exceptions, to merit the severest reprobation. Among them might be found a considerable number of worthy men, highly respectable in their deportment and character, eminent for literary attainments, and presenting to the public numerous efforts of genius and displays of learning both sacred and profane. But during all this time, not one perhaps in a county was an active parish priest suited to the state of the country and the people, preached the pure doctrines of the Gospel, visited and catechised his flock, and entered into the cabins of the poor to instruct them, to fortify their minds against the attempts of the Romish emissaries, and to reclaim those who had been led astray. Such indeed was the criminal sloth of the clergy, that it merits to be held up to the execration of all succeeding ages, as the grand cause of the deplorable state of religion in that country, and of the political calamities which have sprung from it, and been so severely felt.
The presbyterians, for of that denomination were nearly all the protestants without the pale of the established church, present a more pleasing prospect. In the beginning of this period, both the great body in the north, and those in Dublin and the south maintained the pure principles of the Christian faith ; and their ministers laboured among their flocks with an
the cause, but on narrower grounds; for at a meeting
the convention held at London in the year 1562. and referred to in the seventeenth and eighteenth of Charles the seconda.” Popery and arianism were very bad things, but this was not the legitimate method of prevention. To aim a thrust with a sword at the heart of a man in a raging fever, is but an awkward way of removing his disease.
Soon after this event, a root of bitterness sprang up, of the noxious fruits of which the Irish presbyte. rians are unhappily tasting to the present time. The arian heresy, soon found its way across the Channel, and infected some of the ministers of Ulster. Human depravity perverts every benefit from its proper use. External peace, while it gives leisure for theological disquisitions, too often makes men feel themselves not to be strangers and sojourners, but at home in their own country; and thus unfits the mind for in. vestigating them with that spiritual disposition which is so necessary to the discovery and reception of truth. In this list it is painful to insert the name of Abernethy, whose example was followed by some of his brethren in the neighbourhood. Enthusiasm gaining a temporary victory over prudence, did not allow them to keep their sentiments secret; and the rumour of heresy quickly spread over the whole country. The fears of the orthodox were alarmed, and that union and peace which had formerly reigned, gave place to discord and strife. But though they conversed freely with their associates, and gave inti, mations of a change, like their English brethren, the Irish arians did not come forward boldly and declare with frankness, “ we were in an error, but have now found out what we conceive to be the truth, which
2 See Biographia Britannica, vol. I. p. 30.