Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

poral rights, was surely not the way to render the worship of the Church either interesting or venerable, to those who were opposing restraints to unlimited prerogative. There is little reason to suppose that the object of the patriots was, at this time, extended beyond the moderate limits of a monarchy, circumscribed by law. A government such as that under which we have the happiness to live, and which gives to the Monarch every power consistent with the happiness of his subjects, and with his own safety and honour, seems to have been the utmost wish of those who struggled, with the most persevering exertions, for the rights of the people. In the irritations which arose from the increased violence of tyranny, to preserve, and even to extend her conquests, it is easy to account for the jealousies and fears which afterwards hur. ried the eager, but incautious minds of the following race of patriots, into measures equally destructive to monarchy and to liberty. While History records, with impartiality, the errors of both parties, her aim is not to swell the triumph either of the one or of the other; but to teach the present and the future generations of men, wisdom, from the follies of the past. These are the only legitimate spoils which History teaches men to gather from the records of those, who have acted their part on the stage of human life; and who have given place to new actors, whose privilege it is to profit by the mistakes of those who have gone befor

before them. Though the awful sanctions of religion are, by Christianity, interposed in behalf of civil government in general, and in such a government as we have enjoyed since the Revolution, they are in no danger of being misapplied ; the controversy between the Prince who contends for the right of despotic rule, and the people who are struggling to limit the sceptre of their Monarch by the rules of legal authority, is one on which the precepts of the Gospel cannot be brought to bear, as it records no such opposition of claims. As Christianity has given no directions for the adjusting of such interfering interests, it would be absurd to suppose that the Saviour of the world has cancelled those rights, with which, as the Creator of it, he has invested men. The unnatural conjunction of religion with oppression, by which the former was called in, not to heal, but to inflame the wounds inflicted by the latter, was attended with fatal consequences to the Church; which, taking part with the Sovereign against the natural liberties of mankind, soon began to experience the enmity of the people, who supposed they would find their interest in her destruction. The tenets of the Puritans, being found in unison with civil liberty, were supposed by those in whose breasts the love of freedom strongly glowed, to have a more noble origin, and to conduct to higher and more sacred ends. Liberty has charms that melt the most unfeeling, that fix the most wavering, and that warm the coldest hearts, and the passion which it inspires is generally found to operate with the greatest force, in the noblest minds. In the struggle between its claims and those of prerogative, that form of religion which looked on the rights of mankind with the most friendly eye, was almost sure to obtain the preference, and to rise superior to a rival, which had no other lesson to teach than passive obedience. Even those who were indifferent to the opposite claims of the Church and Puritanism, were soon determined in their choice, by the political interests to which they were attached. The necessity of co-operation with their respective parties, in the attack, or in the defence of absolute

power, made them soon merge all other points of difference in the great lines of distinction. Thus many who, in other circumsrances, would have given a decided preference to the religious system of the Church, were, from political motives, ranged on the side of its enemies. Many, even of those who considered the religious opinions of the Puritans as frivolous and absurd ; and who, had they not been involved in the vortex of politics, would have rejected them with disdain, were induced to combat by their side for the principles of a free constitution. Even the friends of infidelity, who were equally hostile to the religious sentiments of both, were, many of them, found enlisted on that side to which they were naturally conducted, by their passion for liberty.

The spirit of intolerance and persecution, which the Church at that time possessed, in common with the Puritans, and indeed with all other religious parties, was one of the causes which contributed, in the issue, to the tri. umph of the latter party, and to her more speedy subversion. Of all the rights to which man can advance a claim, those of conscience are the most valuable and sacred. How bitter soever the draught of slavery is to the human taste, the dregs of the cup are soon wrung out, and a few short years will remove it from our lips for ever. True religion being the passport to a happy immortality, he who has found it has found the pearl of inestimable price, and in the possession of it, he has what will compensate for every human loss; whatever threatens to rob him of that, threatens to make him poor indeed. The worship of God in this world, being inseparably connected with the hope of glory in the world to come ; whatever tends to disturb him in that worship, attacks him in the very citadel of all his hopes. Other wounds, how deeply soever they may pierce, may be closed and healed, but those which the shafts of persecution leave, fester in the mind, and the world has no oil nor wine, which it can pour in to alleviate their smart. These considerations sufficiently account for the inveterate resentments, that have so powerfully operated on the minds of the persecuted, against their oppressors. The Puritans had, in the former reign, made some attempts to possess themselves of the liberty to associate in separate congregations from the Churců, for the celebration of divine worship. But these had been carefully repressed by the jealous government of Elizabeth. The only expedient that remained, was to assemble in private houses, with all the secrecy of which such meetings were susceptible. Though this practice seems at first to have had the connivance, it soon after roused all the energies of government, to put a stop to it. Fines, imprisonment, and a variety of other punishments still more severe, were employed to enforce uniformity, and compliance with the established worship. These compulsory measures, so repugnant to the feelings and sentiments of the human mind, which is apt to grow weary even of the objects of its own predilection, when they are no longer free, spread a general spirit of discontent and opposition through the country. The tide running strong in favour of popular government, and against the restraints imposed upon religious worship, so fierce was its current, that, in the next reign, it overpowered all the obstacles which had been opposed to its force, and swept them away with its overflowing flood.

The suspensions and deprivations of the clergy for nonconformity, though perfectly compatible with religious liberty, had very considerable influence in inflaming the animosities, which so many other causes had contributed

to disseminate. Men who accepted benefices, and yet refused obedience to the law enjoining uniformity, could certainly have no reason to complain of persecution. The sufferers, however, were considered as confessors who had fallen the victims of their piety and virtue, and the hand of vengeance was pointed against the inflictors of such punishments, as oppressors and persecutors.—The violence of James in tearing the Protestation from the Journals of the House of Commons, rekindled those embers which, though covered by the appearance of respect to kingly government, the agitation of political debate had never suffered to become cold. His conduct too, which seems to have been little formed on the spirit of devotion, was ill fitted to inspire reverence for those religious tenets, for the support of which his power was engaged. His boisterous passions, which he was far from careful either to curb or to conceal; and his addiction to wine and merriment, were little suited to conciliate veneration for the Monarch, or respect for monarchy. The pleasure he took in hearing and in rehearsing the tales of licentiousness, was calculated to stamp currency on immorality, and to smooth the way to dissoluteness of manners. His disposition to relax the reins of government, by softening its rigours to the Roman Catholics, while he drew them with increased vigour to restrain or to punish the Puritans; his eagerness to match his sons with princesses of the Popish religion, were all extremely hurtful to the interests of the Church of England. His attachment to worthless minions; the mercy he showed to the Earl and Countess of Somerset, though convicted as principals in the blackest and foulest murder, while the instruments of their crimes suffered the full vengeance of the law; his injustice and cruelty to Sir Walter Raleigh, whose fine genius, embellished with all

« AnteriorContinuar »