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ligion to be strictly scrutinized even by the vulgar; and a man cannot, by the notice and deference of the high, secure to himself the veneration of the low.
This estrangement between the regular pastors and their flocks has been a principal cause of the extraordinary success of that body of religionists, who, originating in the bosom of the church, and at first professing adherence to her doctrine and discipline, have at length in great measure become separatists, and have in many places almost monopolized the religious affections of the inferior classes. The Methodists now compose a sect of great pub. lie importance from their numbers, zeal, and organization; and being closely allied in manners and doctrine with some of the most popular of the old dissenting sects, they are able to unite the mass of nonconformity into one active and zealous community. The rapid increase of this body has for many years been an object of alarm to the established clergy, who, with all the security they de rive from the laws and constitution, or from the private interests of the aristocracy, could not but feel with uneasiness that they were in danger of losing their hold on the attachment of the people at large. This alarm has been aggravated by the wonderful mutations which the last twenty years have exhibited, and by which the most firmly-built and magnificent structure of ecclesiastical power that ever existed has been nearly subverted—affording an awful proof, that it is not external splendour and prosperity that can secure a fabric of authority not based in the hearts of those subjected to its dominion. From these causes, it has been evident, for some time past, that the high-church clergy have borne an unfriendly aspect to that unlimited toleration which the laws of the country, administered by the spirit of the age, have introduced in practice; and nothing, probably, but the unwillingness of men in high political stations to infringe the maxim, "that things quiet should not be set in motion," together, perhaps, with a certain influence of Methodism upon themselves, could have prevented some earlier attempts to restrict the progress of sectarian proselytism. To declaim against this propensity to intole rance would be idle: it has accompanied, and ever must, all esta blishments of every kind which confer exclusive advantages on their members, who can never view without sentiments of jealousy and dislike any competition that seems to endanger their prerogatives. It is the business of an enlightened government to keep within due bounds this natural disposition, and to secure the be. nefits arising from such establishments, without permitting their selfish policy to interfere with general rights.
It has been the boast of this reign, that, during its course, toleration has not only been preserved inviolate, but has even been extended; nor have any ministers of the crown shown a disposi
tion to innovate (at least on the illiberal side) in a matter so liable to exasperate public feelings. When, therefore, a Nobleman, who had once been at the head of his Majesty's Councils, declared his intention of introducing a Bill into Parliament to make altera. tions in the Act of Toleration, much curiosity, and some anxiety, were excited as to the purpose and event. His reputation, indeed, for political sagacity was not very high; for he had been the author of an indecisive peace, and had been bullied into a renewal of war, which he was incapable of conducting: neither was he supposed to carry with him any considerable party: but he was generally regarded as a man of moderate principles and honest intentions. The Bill, when it appeared, was introduced with that species of cant which expresses the greatest affection for the thing, that is the object of attack-such as we see exemplified in the profound regard for the liberty of the press which the Attorney. General professes on opening an ex-officio prosecution for a libel.
On examining its tenor, we perceive two objects conjoined, which it will be proper to consider separately, as, in reality, they are quite distinct in their nature. The first of these is, the abuse of the immunities granted by the Act of Toleration to Dissenting Ministers, in consequence of the assumption of that character by persons who have no rightful claim to it. Now, it is undeniable, that when the State grants favours or privileges, it has a right to prescribe the conditions on which they are to be enjoyed; and that no natural right exists in any citizens, of immunity from pub. lic offices, which they can exercise compatibly with the profession which the laws have permitted them to adopt. With respect to the ecclesiastical profession, the use of arms is, according to gene. ral feeling, inconsistent with the decorum it enjoins; for though divines have been little scrupulous of blowing the trumpet of war when the cause was consecrated by their passions or interests, they have seldom thought it becoming their office, as ministers of a gospel of peace, to appear armed in the field. Not only, therefore, the established clergy, but such teachers of sects as the State has been willing to recognize, have always been excused from military duties; but as every exemption is an augmentation of the burden to the community at large, it is an act of justice in the Government to take care that they should not be obtained surreptitiously; which would certainly be the case, if merely getting up into a pulpit should excuse one who had no other pretensions to the clerical character. The immunities from civil offices usually granted to the clergy also partly result from notions of decorum; and in general it may be argued, that persons devoted to theolo gical studies ought to be freed from the pressure of secular cares and duties. It may, however, be remarked, that the clergy themselves have shown no aversion to undertaking such offices
when attended with power and dignity. Bishops have been will ing to add to their pastoral avocations the onerous service of lords of Parliament; and the laborious charge of a justice of the peace is voluntarily incurred by many of our country rectors.
The case of immunities fraudently claimed under the provisions of the Toleration Act, formed a plausible topic of declamation for the Noble Mover of the Bill, and gave an apparently reasonable ground for some additional identification of the persons assuming the ministerial character among the Dissenters. It appeared, however, from his own confession, that for some years past the most important of them (exemption from the militia bal. lot) had been refused to itinerant preachers who belonged to no particular congregation. Had, indeed, the correction of this abuse been the principal object of the Bill, it would not have been difficult to fix upon some definition which should mark out all those for whom such exemptions could in reason be claimed; and I conceive that if none were thus indulged but persons bona fide set apart for the pastoral office, without participating in a secular calling, there could be no just ground of complaint. But the evils resulting from the abuses in question were much too trifling to have been the true motive for framing the proposed. Bill, which, in its provisions, afforded evident demonstration that the second was the preponderating purpose, namely, an abridgment of the liberty of preaching, and eventually, an extinction of those rivals to the established clergy, who, notwithstanding their ignorance and vulgarity, were found by experience to be the most formidable on account of their influence over the people. This, and this only, could have been the cause of the exhortations to proceed vi. gorously in the business, given to the Noble Mover in the piles of letters which he is said to have received on the occasion from cler gymen of the establishment; for, with the defalcation of names from a militia ballot, or a list of persons liable to parish offices, they could have no concern. Now it is here that the proposed innovations directly militate against the fundamental principle of toleration, which is, that no man' shall be restrained from pub. licly delivering his sentiments upon religious topics. In the exercise of this right, no other limitations can be admitted but such as the general sense of decency and morality prescribe; for if once the qualifications of the individual who undertakes the office of a teacher is made a subject of magisterial enquiry, an inlet is opened to interpositions of authority totally incompatible with that freedom which the Act of Toleration was meant to secure. Where no favour is asked from Government except protection in the performance of a lawful action, why should it impose restrictions? If dissenting from the established religion be permitted as the exer tion of a natural right, no good reason can be assigned why power
should interfere in the appointment of persons to fill the pulpits of Dissenters. Of what concern is it to the Government, that a me. chanic should hold forth to other mechanics?-that a coal-heaver or chimney-sweeper should wash his face on Sundays, and be lis tened to, by a gaping crowd, with the deference paid to any other gentleman in black? The fact is, that such men speaking to the people in their own language, and with the vehemence of downright earnest, and mixing edifying texts of Scripture with, perhaps, rant and jargon, produce effects upon their audiences which would in vain be expected from logical argument and polished eloquence; and if the regular clergy, established and dissenting, calculate their addresses exclusively for the genteeler part of their congregations, it is but reasonable that others should be found for the service of the vulgar part.
The noble author of the Bill, in his introductory speech, ex. pressed himself as greatly shocked with some instances of notorious immorality in these self-appointed teachers; and in his provisions care was taken to require due attestations of the morals of all candidates for the non-conformist ministry. His Lordship might have spared himself this trouble. Separatists are in general sufficiently attentive to the characters of those whom they choose for their pastors, well aware that they possess no means of rendering those respectable in the eyes of the world, by titles and dignities, who are not so by their conduct. Divided into a va
riety of sects, each turning a watchful and often a malignant eye upon its neighbour, and sensible that much of their credit must depend upon the estimation in which their ministers are held, they are more apt to be over severe than careless in scrutinizing into their morals. Humble in rank and station as many of their congregations are, they have at least as much delicacy as their supe riors in points of morality; and it would be more difficult for a kuown profligate to obtain one of their pulpits, than to get a presentation to a good living.
The leading purpose of the regulations in the proposed Bill was manifestly to throw obstacles in the way of admitting preachers to a license, by requiring a multiplicity of testimonials and recommendations which, in many cases, it would be very difficult to procure. These were to be subscribed by persons designated by the equivocal appellations of respectable or reputable house. holders, which (such is the moral laxity with which terms are ap. plied) might be construed as synonymous with wealthy, or of the superior classes. And as the validity of these testimonials was, of course, to be judged of by the justices at the quarter ses sions, of whom, in many counties, a large proportion now consists of clergymen, the decision would be thrown into the hands of the very persons most interested in reducing the number of such preachers.
preachers. That this stroke of policy should have obtained the concurrence of the high clergy is not to be wondered at; any more than that it should be encountered by a more resolute and unanimous opposition from Dissenters of all descriptions than was ever before known on any public question: both parties voted conformably to their principles:-but it certainly was wonderful that the framer himself should be so blind to the tendency of his own Bill, as to have been perfectly astonished at the violent alarm excited by it, and at the desertion of those from whom he expected support. Either an extraordinary want of penetration in himself, or the partial representations of the few whom he consulted on the subject, must have led him into this mistake. A king may enjoy the prerogative of never hearing an unwelcome truth in the course of his life. A man of rank may so far emulate royalty as never to hear one in his own house, or from his de pendents and correspondents: but when he produces his plans or notions upon the stage of an open assembly, his self-delusion is at an end, and he is sure to be taught the extent of his ignorance or misapprehension. His Lordship cannot now be uninformed of the principles of toleration, as they are understood by the persons most interested in maintaining them, and who regard them as the only security they possess against a domineering spirit always ready to usurp upon their rights. To enlighten him singly would, however, be a small point gained; but the clergy themselves may have learned, that it is dangerous to tamper with a system which is now interwoven into our constitution, and in the opinion of many, is one of the most valuable things in it ;-that it is their interest to remain content with the advantages they possess ;-and that if they are galled by the loss of influence, through the exertions of rivals whom they despise, it will be more prudent to attempt to regain it by imitating what is laudable in these compe titors, than to endeavour by political machinations to reduce them to silence.
These are times in which religion is fashionable; and although there is doubtless much cant and hypocrisy in the regard publicly professed for its interests, yet many are really serious in its cause. Such persons will not be satisfied with the pomp and splendour of a church which neglects its principal duties: they will be disposed to view with a degree of favour every subsidiary effort, however mean, to promote a religious spirit among the people, and will not readily permit obstructions to be thrown in their way. A respect for the rights of conscience, and a sense of the injustice and im policy of civil disabilities inflicted on account of differences in religious opinions, are also manifestly gaining ground, at least among the laity; and it is not improbable that, within no distant period, the supporters of exclusive tests will