Page images
PDF
EPUB

REFLECTIONS ON THE REVOLUTION, ETC.

477

benevolence, and charity, spending much of her time in visiting the poor, the imprisoned, the sick, the fatherless, and widows, in their affliction: and in her exertions to do good had few equals. She died on the 27th of August, 1686, aged sixty-three, expressing to her friends who visited her the sentiments

of resignation and lively hope, and leaving impressions of affectionate regard to her memory in the hearts of many, whom she had helped by her charitable services

REFLECTIONS

ON THE

REVOLUTION, AND THE ACT OF TOLERATION.

The Revolution is the grand event, in which the affecting and interesting scenes and transactions of the preceding periods, from the Reformation to the accession of William III., happily and gloriously close. Here the struggles of the several parties have their termination; and though the episcopal form of churchgovernment obtains at last an establishment and permanent preeminence, yet that superiority is made easy to the other parties, by the security to their respective religious professions, and by the equality among themselves, which they enjoy by the act of toleration. Here the reader pauses with pleasure and hope ; humanity rejoices, that there is a period to the animosities and calamities that had torn and afflicted this country nearly a century and a half, and the prospect of better times opens before the wearied mind. The history through which he has been led, by its various details, giveth him a strong impression of the importance and happiness of the era to which he is at length arrived. Here despotism hath drawn its last breath; here religious liberty commenceth its reign: royal prerogative bows and yields to the voice of the people; and conscience feels itself, though not entirely emancipated, yet walking at large and breathing the open air.

Our author's narrative affords convincing and satisfactory proofs of the importance and felicity of the new state of things to which it brings us. But yet some considerations, arising from facts not mentioned by him, may be properly presented to the reader, to heighten his sense of the deliverance effected by the Revolution. Two singular doctrines had been industriously disseminated; viz. “ That there was no such thing as passive obedience for the cause of religion; and that kings are so far infallible, as that what religion they establish is the true worship of G in their dominion.” To insinuate more universally and effectually these sentiments, they were inserted and enlarged upon in the common almanacks *. No doubt can remain concerning the design of James II. from a review of the measures he actually executed ; and yet it is useful and interesting to bring forward the secret councils from whence those measures flowed, and to exhibit the systematical plan, for wbich, if they were not parts of it, and first attempts at the execution of it, they were evidently calculated to prepare the way.

* Gough, vol. 3. p. 183 -185.

Some time before the abdication of James, a “ Memorial” was presented to him, drawn up by a Jesuit, and exhibiting the methods he should pursue, not only to root out the Protestant religion, but to prevent even the possibility of its revival. The great outlines of the scheme were, “ that a council of reformation should be established, which avoiding the name, as odious and offensive at the beginning, should pursue some good and sound manner of inquisition; nay, should order, in divers points, according to the diligent and exact proceedings of the court of inquisition in Spain :--that the authority of the church should take place of the king's authority, and the civil powers be subjected to the ecclesiastical :--that the state of the Catholic religion, and the succession of the crown, should be so linked together, that one might depend on and be the assurance of the other:—that new ways of choosing parliaments should be followed, particularly one very extraordinary, viz. that the bishop of the diocess should judge concerning the knights of the shire, and as they were thought fit to serve in parliament by such bishops or not, so they were to confirm the election or have a negative voice in it. The Catholic prince, whom God should send, is represented as being well able to procure such a parliament as he would have. Many new laws were to be made, that should quite alter the whole constitution; but it was to be made treason for ever, for any man to propose any thing for change of the Catholic Roman faith, when it was once settled. As to those in low circumstances, effectuaļ care was to be taken to keep them low. New methods were to be observed for letting of lands, disposing of children, and ordering of servants.” The “ Memorial" complains," that in queen Mary's time, when so many were imprisoned, so many stripped of their estates, and so many burnt, there was a want of zeal, to the grief and discouragement of many; that some things were then tolerated upon constraint, and fear of farther inconveniences; and it is added, that matters are not to be patched up any more by such gentle and backward proceedings." For it is laid down as a

Crosby's History of the Baptists, vol. 3. p. 88.

first principle, that as soon as a good Catholic prince should be established upon the throne of these nations, he must make account, that the security of himself, his crown, and successor, dependeth principally on the assurance and good establishment of the Catholic religion within his kingdom.” The proposals in this piece were brought forward, not merely as measures which the writer desired to see executed; but such as he apprehended, nay, was confident, the temper and circumstances of the nation would soon afford an opportunity to accomplish. Several things are reckoned up, which gave great force to the Roman Catholics in England. It is said, that England would more easily receive Popery than any other Protestant country; nay, that difficulties which arose in some Catholic countries would not be found here. “All now (says the author) is zeal and integrity in our new clergy, (Almighty God be thanked for it!) and no less in our laity, and Catholic gentlemen in England, that have borne the brunt of persecution.”

These specimens of the designs formed, are proofs to what extent the scheme of combining the re-establishment of Popery with arbitrary power was to be carried; and shew what vast consequences were involved in the success of the spirited opposition that led James to abdicate the throne.

Important, valuable, and happy, as was the state of things introduced by this event, especially as it affected religious liberty, the operation of it was partial and limited : when even a bill of rights, after the settlement of king William on the throne, defined our constitution, and fixed the privileges of the subject, the rights of conscience were not ascertained, nor declared by that noble deed. The act of toleration, moved by lord Nottingham in the house of peers, and seconded by some bishops, though more out of fear than inclination*, exempted from the penal statutes then in existence Protestant dissentients only, and not all of them, for the Socinians are expressly excepted, nor did secure any from the influence of the corporation and test acts. It left the English Catholics under severe disabilities; it left many penal statutes unrepealed. The same reign which gave us the blessing of the toleration act, was marked by an act of another complexion; for the prince, to whom we owe the former, was prevailed on to pass another statute, adjudging heavy penalties, fines, and imprisonments, to those who should write or speak against the doctrine of the Trinity. There are claims of power over conscience not yet abolished: there are rights of conscience not yet fully recovered and secured. The very term toleration shews that religious freedom is not yet enjoyed in perfection; it indicates, that the liberty which we possess is a matter of sufferance, lenity, and indulgence, rather than the grant of justice and right. It seemeth to admit and imply a power to restrain conscience and to dictate to faith, but

• Sir John Reresby's Memoirs, p. 323.

the exercise of which is generously waived. The time is, even now, at this distance from the Revolution, yet to come, when the enjoyment of religious liberty shall no longer be considered as a favour; the time is yet to come, when Christians, of all religious forms and creeds, shall be on the equal footing of brethren, and of children in the house of the same heavenly Parent; the time is yet to come, when acts of toleration shall every where give place to bills of right.

But, though much is yet wanting to complete and perfect the blessings of the Revolution ; yet we cannot but review the act of toleration as a great point gained, as a noble effort towards the full emancipation of conscience. The preceding periods had been only those of oppression and thraldom. The exertions of any to procure release from severe laws, were rather attempts to gain the power of tyrannizing over conscience into their own hands, that they themselves might be free, and all other parties remain slaves, than liberal endeavours to ascertain and secure to every one security and peace, in following the judgment of his own mind. The preceding ages exhibit a series of severe statutes following each other; from passing the act for burning of heretics in the reign of Henry IV. to the enacting of that of uniformity, and of the Oxford conventicle acts, in the reign of Charles II. At the commencement of the Reformation, we have seen, that on the one hand they who could not admit, from religious reverence to the pope's authority, the supremacy of the king, and on the other, they who discarded any of the six articles which he formed into a standard of faith, were alike doomed to the sentence of death. In the reign of Edward VI. the pious and amiable Hooper, for refusing to wear a particular dress, was imprisoned ; and Joan Boucher, who religiously read and dispersed the New Testament, was burnt at the stake. Intolerant statutes marked the government of queen Elizabeth. Persecution, in various forms, by laws and by prerogative, stigmatized the successive reigns of the Stuarts. " In the interval, during the suspension of their power, a severe ordinance against heresy was passed: the livings of the episcopal clergy were sequestered; those ministers suffered under severe oppressions, and Presbyterianism was found to be not more friendly to the rights of conscience, or averse from intolerance, than had been the fallen hierarchy. Amongst two despised sects, hated and persecuted by all parties, the Baptists and Quakers, amongst almost them only, the principles of liberty had found able and generous advocates ; their writings placed the rights of conscience on a broad and liberal bottom. But they could support them by the pen only; they were never in power, and consequently had never, in this country*, an opportunity to carry

It is said in this country ; for when the forming the government of Pennsylvania and Rhode-Island in America rested, the latter with the Baptists, and the former with the Quakers, to their honour it should be said, that their conduct was

their principles into practice, and to shew that they could rule according to the maxims for which, when oppressed, they could forcibly plead.

This having been the state of things, the act of toleration, the consequence of the Revolution, was a great acquisition. It was the first legal sanction given to the claims of conscience; it was the first charter of religious freedom; it was a valuable, important, and permanent security to the dissenting subject. It opened to him the temple of peace, and afforded the long wishedfor asylum. To adopt the language of high authority :

66 The toleration-act rendered that which was illegal before, now legal; the dissenting way of worship is permitted and allowed by that act; it is not only exempted from punishment, but rendered innocent and lawful; it is established; it is put under the protection, and not merely the connivance, of the law *.” It hath been followed with a universal good effect and happy influence; it hath been the basis of the religious liberty enjoyed ever since that period; and with respect to the state of freedom and religious inquiry in these kingdoms, it was, as it were, a new creation. Before that period darkness, in a manner, hung over the spacious field of knowledge and divine truth, and the path to it was guarded by a flaming sword. That act said, “ Let there be light, and light there was." - The bounds of free inquiry were enlarged; the volume, in which are the words of eternal life, was laid open to examination." And the state of knowledge and liberty has been, ever since, progressive and improving.

To this general view of the effects of the Revolution, it is proper to add; “ that it drew considerable consequences after it all over Europe. It kept the reformed interest from sinking, secured the liberty of the British and the Netherlands, and disappointed the French of that universal monarchy, which they had been eagerly expecting, and had great hopes of reaching. And among other happy fruits of it, it was not the least considerable, that it was the means of saving the poor Vaudois of Piedmont from utter ruin, and of their re-establishment in their own country. These people were the remains of the primitive Christians, who were never tainted with the papal corruptions and impurities. In the year 1686, the duke of Savoy, at the instigation of Lewis XIV., because they would not forsake their religion, drove them from their houses and posssessions, forced them out of the valleys, and obliged them to take shelter among the Switzers and others that would afford them an asylum. But, in September 1689, eight or nine hundred of them assembled together in the woods of Nion, not far from Geneva, crossed the lake Leman in the night, and entered Savoy under the conduct of their minister M. Arnold. They marched through that counconsistent with the arguments they had advanced, and liberty of conscience, on an extensive and liberal scale, was a leading feature of each constitution. • Lord Mansfield. VOL. III.

II

« PreviousContinue »