Page images
PDF
EPUB

From what we have above established, it may be appa rent, with what justice the late acts in favour of Popery

. . are

« of a real ref rmation;" according to the words of the covenant itself, a copy of which is subjoined in the Appandix.

Whether these nations (for these Oaths were public and national) were rightly acquitted and absolved from this great and tremendous oath by the impious ca. suistry of a licentious court, the arbitrary acts of a perjured and abandoned prince, supported by a faction, like himself, openly at war with the religion and Jiberries of Protestants ;--- or whether they are yet in fact, to this day, absolved from it; or whether they ever can be so while they are nations, are queftions that des serve io be more seriously conlidered by all ranks, than they ever yet have been fince the commencement of that unhappy æra.- For my part, thou h we can: not here enter on the discussion of the subject, I think it clearly demonftrable on the principles of reason, the eternal laws of morality, and the sacred doctrines of the Bible and of the Reformation, that they are not and cannot. They must either fulfil the terms of that solemn oath, which hath never yet been done, or be responsible at the bar of the supreme Judge for their continued violation of it, and stand condemned for the deepest perjury. The whole series of those infamous laws made on this subject, in the reigns of the two brothers, overturning to the bottom that reformation in church and fiate, so happily begun, and so far advanced, in the preceding period, before anarchy and military force had prepared the way for the return of royal and legal tyranny;---laws infringing ihe strongest obligations of religion and morality; which eftablished the doctrine of paifive obedience and non-refiftar.ce, annuliing paft laws and deeds, and precluding every fucure attempt in favour of reformation; and which buried ihese, with the most valuable rights and liberties of the subject, in one common grave, call for a more careful review, and a fumer repeal than have yet taken place in ci. ther kingdom. While one of them is suffered to remain standing, it will be an indelible disgrace to the British code, and perpetuate the public guilt and infamy. Particularly the rescissory acts whereby the authority of all the parliaments and afsemblies, which had maintained the noble Aruggle, was at once abolithed, and all their acts and proceedings left promiscuously under the stigma of fedition and rebellion, are no less dishonourable to the cause which they were meant to condemn, than dangerous precedents for Itriking at the root of all human secu. sities, by which even our present conftitution may poflibiy be found to be illegal; and its existence precarious, and every parliament of Great Bri:ain, fince the Revolution, may be liable to the charge of nullity and fedition. · The mocking cruelty of that hateful period is now generally condemned and abhorred: but the heaven daring perfidy, apostacy, and ma'ignant antipathy against the covenants and cause of reformation, which was the leading and perhaps the principal part of its intamy and guilt, from which all the rest originan ted, are not so attentively considered, nor fo generally condemned and abborred; but, on the contrary, are equally common to the present age. Nay, every a& of settlement.pofterior to that time, and every law since palsts in the three king:

doms

are represented as an improvement on the law of toleration, and a necessary and equitable enlargement of the plan of true British liberty. Their friends boast, that they are entirely in the spirit of the Protestant religion, and framed on

the

doms with reference to religion, suppose the nullity and abrogation of these pub. lic vows, as well as the absolute nullity of those parliaments and aGemblies whereby they were promoted and established. These have still unitormly proceeded on the rescinding and dispensing doctrine, and our piefint constitution and the fabric of our laws are built upon the grave of these buried covenants, and of these murdered parliamenis and their laws. By the settlemeni of religion at the Revolution they were, ipfo faite, made void as really as by the most explicit and bloody acts framed against them in the preceding period; and, by the subfequent treaty of Union, the fulfilment of that former oach and covenant, in one of its main articles relating to the public legal uniformity of religion, was for ever rendered impracticable, and every man, by a fundamental law of the united conftitution of Great Britain, is prohibited, and precluded the liberty of ais tempting the reformation of religion in all the three kingdoms, according to the Scriptures, and the example of the buAt reformed churches ;--a law which in. volves in it the most palpable and dangerous absurdity; which, in any case, must be accounted a violation both of revelation and common sense, but is, with respect to Britain, accompanied with the aggravated criminality of gross perjury, open treachery, and impious apostacy. In consequence hereof, every public oath binding to, or reduplicating upon the present settlements of religion and Laws of the land, must be, in effect, an oath abjuring the folemn league, and the reformation sworn to therein ; and the swearer, in all of them, is interpree tatively obliged to say, what subjects were expressly required to say and swear, by the tests and declaratory oaths of Charles and James, nainely, “ That the fo“ lemn league and covenant was an unlawful oath, and that there lies no man“ ner of obligation upon them, or any other persons in these kingdoms, from " these, to attempt any alteration whatever in church or state, and that they “shall never atteir pe such altera:ions, nor vindicate or renew such a covenant, “ nor profecute the ends of it themselves, nor, so far as in their power, luffer “ others to do so." Whether persons who have a due rezard and veneration for oaths, particularly those who are convinced of the lawfulness and moral obliga. tion of that solemn league, and who reckon themselves ftili obliged to prosecure the great ends of it, and who are persuaded of the evil of prelacy, can take saths of such arrimport, any may judge.--I will yet go farther and say, that it is owing more to the reigning spirit of the times, and the mild:es of administration, than to any effential change in the system of government, or in ihe prize ciples or letter of the British laws, since the days of ihe Stuarts, with refpc& to the principles and cause of the Covenanters, that all who are of the sentiments above exprefed, (which include the whole hody of conscientious and consistent Pt byteriars) are not legaliy inbibited, and openly persecuted: for they are not

only

[ocr errors]

the principles of the Revolution, of which the repeated laws were a violation. They celebrate them as a noble effort of increasing freedom, designed to maintain the rights of conscience, and to extinguish every remainder of that antichristian spirit of imposition and persecution on religious accounts, which raged fo violently, and fatally, in times past; and which is one of the worst things in PoperyThis plea looks fo fair and amiable, it is the greatest pity it cannot be admitted. If our legislators really acted from such principles, we may regret that they have been so egregiously misapplied. For what can be more incongruous than an attempt to promote a plan of true Protestant liberiy, and to secure the rights of conscience, by supporting their most avowed and implacable foes;-or to think to chase away antichristian persecution, by bringing antichrist's bloody hounds again upon the field? The fox may, with as much propriety, be assigned the watchful guardian of the lambs;-and Satan may as soon be expected to cast out with Satan. While they meant to improve on the law of toleration, they have unawares made it a felo de fe, and turned its sword upon its own bowels. Instead of the fpirit of heaven-born liberty, they have conjured up the grim ghost of perfecution, to stalk once more abroad to the no small terror of his majesty's good and peaceable subjects. Like the romantic knight of La Mancha, they have paid their homage to an imaginary Dulcinea ; or like some blundering gallant in the dark, instead of their intended miltress, they have, by an unlucky mistake, stumbled upon her most hateful rival, and caressed her most deadly enemy.

only by the standing laws, and qualifying ouths, absolutely excluded from every place of power and trust, but also cast out of the protection of law, and left ex. posed to the mercy of every petty angry magistrate, and the caprice of a change. able ministry; and consequently are in a worse fatè than Papifts, Quakers, and others, who are legally fecured and protected:--for any act of toleration in their favour, of which they can take or claim the legal benefit, confiftently with their foresaid principles and firoples; there is, in fact, none in Scotland, England, or Ireland. This n'ay probably appear susp;ifing to some; but I am confident, that all who have carrou ly eximined this subject, and who properly under Aand the natue of the Biilih united constiiurion and laws, will readily acknowledge the truth of what is herc aflerted. Doch not this deserve the attention of the legislature, as it is a matter in which many thoufands of his Majesty's most loyal and conscienticus fubjects are deeply interested?

We have hitherto avoided entering into abstract reasonings on the subject of toleration and liberty of conscience, nor is it here needful to enter into them. This question has been fo often handled, and so fully discussed by men of the greatest abilities, and the Protestant part of the world are now so nearly agreed about it, that any discuffion of it here would be entirely superfluous. We have all along proceeded on the doctrine of toleration, most commonly embraced in Britain, and reason upon principles which those, on both sides of the debate admit without con· troversy. There are none who pretend to doubt but that

the civil powers are bound to preserve the rights of civil society, and watch over the public peace; and to restrain and punish with civil pains whatever is inconsistent therewith: and consequently, that religious opinions and practices, fo far as they are fo, belong to their department. All readily confefs the necessity of laying certain restrictions upon natural liberty in a state of society: and the 'greatest advocates for toleration, who have carried the principles of civil and religious liberty to the greatest length, are obliged to admit, that toleration can never be absolutely unlimited, and they are unanimous in excepting those from it, whose professed opinions or practices strike either against the safety and interests of society in general, or the lawful established government of a particular kingdom; or whose principles are utterly intolerant, and destructive to the civil and religious rights of their neighbours. Such, they hold, may justly be subjected to legal incapacities and penalties, whatever pretext of religion or conscience they may use; and none of them ever thought of calling this Ii 2

by

by the odious name of persecution for conscience fake, nor. considered it as a violation of true liberty, but as a necefsary mean of its preservation. Nor have our Pro testant writers, in pleading the cause of toleration, scrupled to mention the religion of Papists as answering to the preceding description, and consequently as deserving to be profcribed, at least in every Protestant state. We may farther. add, that at the period in which the laws against Papists, now stigmatized and condemned, were enacted, the subject of toleration, and the rights of conscience, were as narrowly and thoroughly examined, and perhaps as well understood, as at present; and they owe their birth to the same legislators and councils which had a little before overturned the bulwarks of tyranny, and broke the rod of the perfecutors, and which had, in a very eminent degree, asserted and established Britain's liberties. These laws, indeed, appear to have been only a necessary sequel to the former framed at the Revolution, without which that great work had been left entirely incomplete and defenceless. They were added as pieces of defensive artillery, to render the lovely and glorious fabric more strong and impregnable.

The question then comes to this: Whether the above characters belong to the Popish religion or not? As this is the main hinge on which the controversy turns, to ascertain this has been the chief object in eye in the foregoing review of its principles and history; and if this be once ascertained, the question is decided.' For if such be the principles and genius of Popery, our opponents themselves readily grant, that it is a proper object of coercion and penal laws, and may lawfully be restrained and even extirpated by the secular arm *.' But by this concellion the

charge *“ It has been said, and very juftly, that in every state, as in cvery indivi. «s dual, there is a right of self-preservation, which implies, amongst other

things, that of protecting itself again. violence offered, eitha from without

« PreviousContinue »