Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

But as the protection I seek from your Lordship is not like those blind Asylums founded by Superstition to skreen iniquity from civil vengeance, but of the nature of a TEMPLE OF JUSTICE, to vindicate and support the Innocent, You will expect to know the claim I have to it; and how, on being seized with that epidemic malady of idle, visionary men, the projecting to instruct and reform the Public, I came to stand in need of it.

I had lived to see—it is a plain and artless tale I have to tell—I had lived to see what Law-givers have always seemed to dread, as the certain prognostic of public ruin, that fatal Crisis when RELIGION HATH LOST IT'S HOLD ON THE MINDS OF A PEOPLE.

I had observed, almost the rise and origin, but surely very much of the progress of this evil : for it was neither so rapid to elude a distinct view, nor yet so slow as to endanger one's forgetting or not observing the relation which its several parts bore to one another : And to trace the steps of this evil may not be altogether useless to those, whoever they may be, who, as the Instruments of Providence, are destined to counter-work its bad effects.

The most painful circumstance in this relation is, (as your Lordship will feel) that the mischief began amongst our friends; by men who loved their Country; but were too eagerly intent on one part only of their Object, the security of its CIVIL LIBERTY.

To trace up this matter to its source, we need go no further back than to the happy Accession of that illustrious House to whom we owe all which is in the power of grateful Monarchs, at the head of a free People, to bestow; I mean, the full enjoyment of the common rights of Subjects.

It fortuned that at this time, some warm friends of the Accession, newly gotten into power, had too hastily perhaps suspected that the CHURCH (or at least that party of CHURCHMEN which had usurped the name) was become inauspicious to the sacred Æra from whence we were to date the establishment of our civil happiness ; and therefore deemed it good policy to lessen the credit of a body of men, who had been long in high reverence with the People, and who had so lately and so scandalously abused their influence in the opprobrious affair of Sacheverell. To this end they invited some learned men, who in the preceding reign had served the common cause, to take up the pen once more against these its most pestilent enemies, the JACOBITE CLERGY. They readily assumed the task, and did it so effectually, that under the professed design of confuting and decrying the usurpations of a popish Hierarchy, they virtually deprived the Church of every power and privilege, which, as a simple Society, she had a claim to; and, on the matter, delivered her up gagged and bound, as the rebel-Creature of the State. Their success (with the

prejudice of Power, and what is still stronger, the power of Prejudice, on their side) became yet the easier, as the Tory Clergy, who opposed these Erastian notions, so destructive to the very being of a Church, reasoned and disputed against the Innovators on the principles commonly received, but indeed supported on no sounder a bottom than the authority of Papal or (if they like it better) of Puritanical usurpations :

: principles, to speak without reserve, ill founded in themselves, and totally inconsistent with the free administration of Civil government.

In this then, that is, in humbling disaffected Churchmen, the friends of Liberty and the Accession carried their point. But in conducting a purpose so laudable at any time, and so necessary at that time, They had, as we observe, gone much too far; for instead of reducing the Church within its native bounds, and thereby preserving it from its two greatest dishonours, the becoming factious, or the being made the tool of Faction, which was all that true Politics required, and all perhaps that these Politicians then thought of; their Instruments, by discrediting every right it had, and even stripping it of some of them, in a little time brought it into general contempt.

But this was not the worst. These Enemies of obnoxious Churchmen found much assistance in the forward carriage of the Enemies of Religion itself; who, at this time, under pretence of seconding the views of good Patriots, and serving the State against the encroachments of Church-power, took all occasions to vent their malice against Revelation itself: And Passion, inflamed by opposition, mixing with Politics throughout the course of this affair, these Lay-writers were connived at ; and, to mortify rebellious Churchmen still more, even cried up for their free reasonings against Religion, just as the Clergywriters had been, for their exploits against Church-government. And one man in particular, the Author of a well-known book called the Independent Whig, early a favourite, and to the last a Pensioner, carried on, in the most audacious and insulting manner, these two several attacks, together : A measure supported perhaps in the execution, by its coinciding with some Statesmen's private opinions ; though the most trite maxims of Government might have taught such to separate their private from their public Character. However, certain it is, that the attack never ceased operating till all these various kinds of Free-writing were gotten into the hands of the PEOPLE.

And now the business was done : and the sober Friends of the Government were become, before they were aware, the Dupes of their own policy. In their endeavours to take off the influence of a Church, or rather of a party of Churchmen inauspicious to a free State, they had occasioned at least, the loosning all the ties which till then Religion had on the minds of the Populace : and which till then, Statesmen had ever thought were the best security the Magistrate had for their obedience. For though a rule of right may direct the Philosopher to a principle of action ; and the point of honour may keep up the thing called Manners amongst Gentlemen ; yet nothing but Religion can ever fix a sober standard of behaviour amongst the common People.

But those bad effects not immediately appearing, our Politicians were so little apprehensive that the matter had already gone too far, that they thought of nothing but how to improve some coLLATERAL advantages they had procured by the bargain ; which, amongst other uses, they saw likewise, would be sure to keep things in the condition to which they were reduced. For now Religion having lost its hold on the People ; the Ministers of Religion were of no further consequence to the State ; nor were Statesmen any longer under the hard necessity of seeking out the most eminent, for the honours of their Profession : And without necessity, how few would submit to such a drudgery! For Statesmen of a certain pitch are naturally apprehensive of a little sense, and not easily brought, whether from experience or conviction, to form ideas of a great deal of gratitude, in those they have to deal with. All went now according to their wishes. They could now employ Church-honours more directly to the use of Government, that is, of their own, by conferring them on such subjects as most gratified their taste or humour, or served best to strengthen their connexions with the Great. This would of course give the finishing stroke to their System. For though stripping the Church of all power and authority, and exposing it naked and defenceless to its enemies, had abated men's reverence for it ; and the detecting Revelation of imposture, serving only for a State-engine, had destroyed all love for Religion ; yet they were the intRIGUES OF CHURCH-PROMOTION which would make the People despise the whole Ordinance.

Nor did the hopes of a better generation give much relief to good men's present fears or feelings. The People had been reasoned out of their religion, by such Logic as it was : and if ever they were to be brought back to a sober sense of their condition, it was evident they must be reasoned into it again. Little thought and less learning were sufficient to persuade men of what their vices inclined them to believe; but it must be no common share of both, which, in opposition to those vices, shall be able to bring them to themselves. And where is that to be expected, or likely to be found ? In the course of forty or fifty years (for I am not speaking of present transactions) a new Generation or two are sprung up: And those, whom their Pro

fession has dedicated to this service, Experience has taught, that the talents requisite for pushing their fortune, lie very remote from such as enable men to figure in a rational defence of Religion. And it is very natural to think that, in general, they will be chiefly disposed to cultivate those qualities on which they see their Patrons lay the greatest weight.

I have, my Lord, been the longer and the plainer in deducing the causes of a recent evil, for the sake of doing justice to the ENGLISH CLERGY; who in this instance, as in many others, have been forced to bear the blame of their Betters. How common is it to hear the irreligion of the times ascribed to the vices or the indiscretions of Churchmen! Yet how provoking is such an insult! when every child knows that this accusation is only an Echo from the lewd clamours of those very Scribblers whose flagicious writings have been the principal cause of these disorders.

In this disastrous state of things, it was my evil stars inclined me to write. I began, as these Politicians had done, with the Church. My purpose, I am not ashamed to own, was to repel the cruel inroads made upon its Rights and Privileges ; but, I thank God, on honester principles than those which have been employed to prop up, with Gothic buttresses, & Jacobite or High-Church Hierarchy. The success was what I might expect. I was read ; and by a few indifferent and intelligent Judges, perhaps, approved. But as I made the Church neither a Slave nor a Tyrant (and under one or other of these ideas of it, almost all men had now taken party) The Alliance between Church and State, though formed upon a Model actually existing before our eyes, was considered as an Utopian refinement. It is true, that so far as my own private satisfaction went, I had no great reason to complain. I had the honour to be told by the heads of one Party, that they allowed my principles ; * and by the heads of the other, that they espoused my conclusion ; t which however amounted only to this, that the One was for LIBERTY, however they would chuse to employ it; and the other for POWER, however they could come at it.

I had another important view in writing this book.—Though nobody had been so shameless to deny the use of Religion to civil Government, yet certain friends of Liberty, under the terror of the mischiefs done to Society by Fanaticism, or Religion run mad, had, by a strange preposterous policy, encouraged a clamour against EstablISHMENTS: the only mode of Religion which can prevent what they pretended to fear ; that is, its degenerating into Fana. ticism. It is true, had these Clamourers not found more enemies to the Establishment than they had made, (enemies on solider grounds, Bishop Ho.

| Bishop Sh.

to wit, the sense of their exclusion from the emoluments of a national Church) an Establishment had hardly given umbrage to the appointed Protectors of it. But these had the Sectaries to caress : and a private and pressing interest will often get the better of the most indispensible maxims of good policy.

It was for this reason, my Lord, that so much of the book is employed in the defence of a national or an established Religion ; since, under such a Form, FANATICISM can never greatly spread : and that little there will always be of this critical eruption of our diseased Nature, may have the same good effect on the Established Religion which weak Factions are observed to have on the administration of Government; it may keep men more decent, alert, and attentive to the duties of their Charge.

Where then was the wonder, that a subject so managed, and at such a juncture, should be violently opposed, or to speak more truely, be grossly misrepresented. Those in the new system accused me of making the State a slave to the Church; those in the old, of making the Church a slave to the State : and one passionate Declaimer, as I remember, who cared equally for Church and State, was pleased to say, that, the better to banter mankind, I had done both.*

Having thus, in the foolish confidence of youth, cast in my Goosequill, to stem a torrent that in a little time was to bear down all before it; I proceeded, with the same good faith, in another romantic effort, The support of Religion itself.

You, my Lord, who feel so humanely for the Injured, on whomsoever POPULAR INJUSTICE may chance to fall, have hardly forgotten the strange reception with which this my fair endeavour was entertained; and principally by Those whose interests I was defending. It awaked a thousand black passions and idiot prejudices. The Zealots inflamed the Bigots.

'Twas the time's plague,

When madmen led the blind.

For, the noble prosecution of real Impiety was now over ; or, at least, no longer serious. What remained, to belye a zeal for Religion, was a ridiculous Tartuffism; ridiculous because without the power to persecute : otherwise, sufficiently serious, as it was encouraged by men, at that time, in eminence of place. For false Zeal and unbelieving Politics always concur, and often find their account in suppressing NOVELTIES.

But things, unnaturally kept up in a state of violence, in a little time subside: And though the first Writers, let loose against me, came on as if they would devour ; yet the design of those who, at spring and fall, have ever since annually succeeded them, has been, I

[blocks in formation]
« IndietroContinua »